Point/Counterpoint: World Peace

Point/Counterpoint: World Peace
Photo from ShutterStock Protestors picket against war in Ukraine, held in Moscow, Russia, March 7.

Photo from ShutterStock
Protestors picket against war in Ukraine, held in Moscow, Russia, March 7.

On Peace and Violence

by Abel Tomlison

What are the origins of American violence? Is peace possible? To investigate these questions, we must first look backwards.

In terms of violence, the media incessantly reminds us of extensive violence from murders and police brutality to terrorism and endless wars. Stories of peace rarely make the news.

As Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker documents in The Better Angels of Our Nature, the world has become increasingly peaceful. Compared to historic tribal violence, empires, and wars, modern societies experience proportionally less barbaric violence.

In general, people are less cruel now and the most powerful countries are not going to war with each other. Why?

Pinker finds international commerce has made foreign consumers more valuable alive than dead. Cosmopolitanism is also identified, with people traveling and reading more about foreign people, inspiring empathy. Additionally, an increase in rationality, science and literacy have demonstrated that violence is problematic.

Although there are likely selfish causes of violence decline, such as economic reasons, it is this idea of empathy that is most intriguing. Empathy, or understanding the feelings of another, is at the core of the decline in violence and a focal point for a world of deeper peace. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.”

Naturally, babies are born somewhat selfish creatures with crucial needs and little capacity to serve others. Young toddlers act with characteristics of a political dictator. They want the world exactly as they desire, and throw tantrums when their desires fail to materialize.

As a child matures, their capacity for empathy expands. At the very least, most adolescents learn to care about their family and friends. However, in many cases individuals fail to mature past childish self-centeredness.

Humans can learn to extend their circle of empathy far beyond family and friends. We can empathize with all people in our village, city, region, state or country, and all people of our social groupings, economic, religious or political. Empathy can extend to all people of the same sex, age, race or ethnicity.

Yet, empathy can expand much further. We can understand and identify with not only those most similar to us, but those much different. We can extend our care to people of all colors, ages, religions, political affiliations, and sexual orientations from every culture and nation everywhere. Furthermore, we can include animals, plants, water and soil.

It is this process especially that has contributed to a decline in violence. The abolition of slavery, the environmental movement, and advancement of equality for blacks, women and gays are examples of progress, which show we are becoming a more empathic species.

Evolution entails much more than physical evolution of organisms. It also includes our individual psychological evolution and social evolution as a species. Just as a selfish toddler can become an adult with compassion for all people, our species can mature likewise.

Why is America so violent? It goes deeper than recent history of war, slavery and genocidal terrorism of Native American “savages.” The archaic center is separation, domination and hierarchy.

Beyond various political, economic and religious institutions that place one man above another man or woman, there is something more fundamental. In Eastern philosophy, it is Maya, or the illusion of separation. Speaking to this idea, Albert Einstein called this an “optical delusion of consciousness,” which is a “prison..restricting us to our personal desires and affections for a few persons nearest to us.”

Eastern Wisdom goes into further detail about the idea of self. Many people think of self as simply a physical body, or an isolated spirit within. However, there is a higher Self, which is God, Brahman, Atman, Allah, or whatever name you prefer. This Self is the loving source of all existence that dwells within everyone and everything.

Western Wisdom also speaks of this in much muddier texts. Jesus says, “…they may be One as we are One..so that they may be brought to complete unity,” (and) God is Love.” From synthesis perspective, the philosophy of Jesus was one of peace through Oneness in Love. Too many followers get lost with the purely symbolic death of Immortal Spirit, distorting the message into a death cult that worships the graven idol of a bloody cross.

Like an individual, our species started as a relatively unconscious, selfish child, and has now evolved into a semi-Self aware teenager. When everyone learns to see our Self (God) in all others, we will awaken as a peaceful adult species with compassion and empathy for all.

I know atheists that are full of God, and Christians that unknowingly lock God out in the cold. To accelerate peace, we must simply focus on Love. Words we say, books we read, and buildings we visit matter less. Becoming One in Love is the answer.

Imagine Whirled Peas

by Dane La Born

We live in turbulent times, of that there is little doubt. All one needs to do is turn on the television to hear about the latest in humankind’s atrocious existence. There is a tendency, though, to overlook our own history when we talk about violence. After all, this isn’t new.

Mankind is a petulant little species, full of malice and self-loathing. Why else would we insist, so often, on murder as an option to settle an argument, or determine who is the better, or sometimes just for fun. History is littered with genocide, witch burnings, wars of faith, country, or ideology. No matter where you are in history, there is one commonality: we sure do love to kill each other.

The past few years in the U.S. we’ve seen mass shootings at schools, malls, and army bases. People look at the TV and say to themselves “These surely are the end times.” and pause for a moment to mourn for the lives lost, then continue on their days. This is not because they don’t care, there is just SO MUCH to care about. “These surely are the end times,” right?

Hang on a second though. That can’t be right. I mean, how many ‘end times’ can there be? Statistically speaking, violence is actually on the decline, and even the shootings we hear so much about on our own streets are down from years past. So what’s the deal here? Why does everything seem so lousy?

We’ve never, as a species, held the power we hold today with the internet. As I sit and type, I can go over to Facebook and ask a friend in the UK, Vietnam, Russia, Canada, Brazil, Pakistan, or Germany what their opinion on this would be. Where it used to take months to get a letter from Europe to the U.S., it now takes moments. With this level of connectivity comes a sense of connection with other, ACTUAL people. The difference between now and when many of us were growing up in the days of AOL and dial-up is that now, our screen names are our actual identities. There isn’t the safety net of anonymity that once was there.

You can absolutely find places online where anonymity is still preferred, but Facebook, Twitter, and the social media sites in that umbrella are the sites that people use to stay connected. When we use our actual names, our actual identities, maybe it makes us less inclined to act like asses, and treat people just a little bit better. The generation that is ‘plugged in’ all the time may have the best chance to eliminate violence, and actually attain the pipe dream that is world peace, simply because of the way we interact with each other. It just makes sense to treat people like they have feelings, and murdering them generally doesn’t line up with that.

Video games are prevalent an often violent form of entertainment in our society, and one of the leading scapegoats for the “Why” factor in so many mass shootings. We’ve heard the arguments going as far back as Columbine, that the kid who decided to open fire on a school played Doom! Nowadays they like to go to ‘Grand Theft Auto!’ instead. But before video games? Dungeons & Dragons! Before that? Rock & Roll Music! Before that? Comic books! Before that? I don’t know that far back, but I imagine it’s something ridiculous like Playing with a hula hoop! or maybe those satanic Jacks!’ My point here, buried amidst the sarcasm, is that as long as there has been some form of entertainment that was popular with younger people but totally foreign to older people, it has been blamed as the root cause of all of society’s ills. They are never actually the cause. Our humanity, inescapable as it is, is the cause.

I know total peace is a fairy tale. I know there will always be people who mess that up, because, in some cases, violence is not something that can be chalked up to the environment in which someone was raised. It’s just something in the brain, a switch set to off. I do believe that war, things that tear thousands of lives away, is something that we could put an end to. It’s not that complicated to not kill, but sadly, those pesky human ideologies oftentimes get in the way, blind people to seeing anything but hate or acting any way but hateful. One day, hopefully, we can get past that together, as one species, and stop dividing ourselves up with lines consisting of murder and yelling.

Categories: Legacy Archive