Peace by Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization


Johan Galtung

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  • PRIO

    International Peace Research Institute, Oslo

    Fuglehauggata 11, N-0260 Oslo, Norway

    Telephone: (47) 22 55 71 50

    Telefax: (47) 22 55 84 22

    Cable address: PEACERESEARCH OSLO


    The International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) is an independent international institute of peace and conflict research, founded in 1959. It is governed by an international Governing Board of seven individuals, and is financed mainly by the Norwegian Ministry for Education, Research, and Church Affairs. The results of all PRIO research are available to the public.

    PRIO's publications include the quarterlies Journal of Peace Research (1964–) and Security Dialogue (formerly Bulletin of Peace Proposals) (1969–) and a series of books. Recent titles include:

    Robert Bathurst: Intelligence and the Mirror On Creating an Enemy (1993)

    Nils Petter Gleditsch et al.: The Wages of Peace: Disarmament in a Small Industrialized Economy (1994)

    Kumar Rupesinghe & Khawar Mumtaz, eds: Internal Conflicts in South Asia (1996)

    Jørn Gjelstad & Olav NJølstad, eds: Nuclear Rivalry and International Order (1996)


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    This book is intended as an introduction to peace studies – but in the sense of opening the way for many directions of inquiry, not of being elementary or easy reading (the introductory chapter has that function). Those with some knowledge of the fields explored in any one of the four parts may find the whole text more useful.

    Peace politics is soft politics; to a large extent dependent on very concrete decisions made by elites, but increasingly by people doing their own peace politics: at the micro level of the inner person and the family (where there is always much to do); at the meso level, that of society; and at the macro level of inter-societal, even inter-regional conflict. At all these levels, there is room for politics in the sense of peaceful steering toward peace.

    But underlying political decisions are military and economic realities – in this book explored under the broader headings of ‘conflict’ and ‘development’. And underlying those, in turn, are the still deeper realities of our civilizations: in particular, the deep cultures, the cosmologies, so influential in conditioning our behavior in the other three fields.

    The four parts of this book are outcomes of comprehensive research programs in major parts of peace studies:

    A Theory of Peace

    A Theory of Conflict

    A Theory of Development

    A Theory of Civilizations

    This book, however, is the only effort to bring all the four fields together.

    To make the four parts more independent of each other there is some repetition. On the other hand, everything is meant to hang together, hence the many references among the parts; and the conclusion.

    A word of warning: it has not been my experience that mainstream security studies/international relations (IR), conflict studies, economics and culture theory can be used as they are for peace studies, in the sense that all that would be needed is simply to bring them together and then start an interdisciplinary dialogue. To the contrary: they have to be rethought from the beginning, and probably much more so than in the following pages (which, incidentally, have been long in coming anyhow; the task is problematic to say the least).

    Thus, peace and violence will have to be seen in their totality, at all levels of organization of life (and not only human life). Inter-state violence is important, but inter-gender and inter-generation violence even more so. So is intra-personal violence, both intra-spirit (repression of emotions, for instance) and intra-body (say, cancer). Moreover, as the purpose of the whole exercise is to promote peace, not only peace studies, a non-positivistic epistemology is indispensable, with explicit values and therapies, rather than stopping once the diagnosis has been pronounced.

    Conflict is much more than what meets the naked eye as ‘trouble’, direct violence. There is also the violence frozen into structures, and the culture that legitimizes violence. To transform a conflict between some parties, more than a new architecture for their relationship is needed. The parties have to be transformed so that the conflict is not reproduced forever. There are intra-party aspects to most inter-party conflicts.

    In this book mainstream economics is mainly seen as cultural violence, concealing and mystifying what happens when people produce, distribute, and consume. Most causes and effects are made invisible as ‘externalities’, outside mainstream theory and practice. By making them explicit and internalizing them into theory and practice, less violent economic structures may emerge.

    And the focus in culture theory is not on the visible and audible, on the artefacts, but on the deep culture sedimented in the collective subconscious, in the assumptions that define, for a given civilization, what is normal and natural. The focus on culture should not be confused with the ‘idealism’ a Hegel embraces and a Marx rejects. Rather, the point of departure is the poverty of instincts in the human organism, yet the need to act and the impossibility of deciding for each act as if it were for the first time. There must be some programming, some automaticity bypassing individual consciousness. For the single individual that program is known as the ‘personality’, sedimented in the individual subconscious. For the members of a civilization the collective program will be described here as the ‘cosmology’, the collectively shared and subconsciously held assumptions.

    Being subconscious, these assumptions are just enacted, they are not discussed. And being collective, there is reinforcement in seeing all others doing just the same. The steering comes not through the pull being exercised by ideas, but through the push from the cosmology, the code, the collective program. That does not mean that ideologies, consciously held systems of belief, individual or collective, are not very important. But they are far from alone in steering human action.

    Make the subconscious conscious and we may be liberated from much protracted structural and repetitive, direct violence. Perhaps this will also make us better see how the modern, Western economy functions, and how mainstream economics is a decoding of the deep assumptions of some type of Western civilization. And some of the same holds for mainstream conflict and security analysis: much of it is a decoding of collectively and subconsciously held assumptions not subjected to serious inquiry.

    In short, when we do peace studies one of the first tasks is our liberation from forms of academic cultural violence that become more, not less, violent by having survived too long. And the next task is not to become a prisoner of those who present themselves as liberators – including the present author.

    I would like to express my deep gratitude to the many students at the universities of Alicante; Bern; Burg Schlaining (European Peace University); Cairo; City University of New York; Duke; Firenze; FLACSO Santiago/Mexico; Freie Universitét Berlin; Gujarat Vidyapith; Hawai'i; ICU Tokyo; Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik; Oslo; Princeton; Queensland; Saarland; Sichuan; Tromsø Witten/Herdecke and the Peace Studies Around the World; for countless active, critical and constructive dialogues. And to the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, for support at a crucial moment.

    Deep thanks to Dieter Fischer, Susan Høivik, Hajo Schmidt, and Håkan Wiberg, and to my critic Peter Lawler (A Question of Values: Johan Galtung's Peace Research). There are answers in my writings to what he says; but the issues are perennial.

    The book is dedicated to my wife, Fumiko Nishimura, who has taught me more about peace and conflict than anybody else.

    JohanGaltungHonolulu, Hawai'i March 1995
  • Conclusion: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization

    We cannot do with less than all four parts of this book: peace and conflict, development and civilization. If dynamic peace, as process, is what we have when a conflict – the Destroyer and the Creator – can be transformed nonviolently and creatively, then structure and culture must enter. Most important are the deep structures and cultures because they are unreflected, even unknown. Lying in the human collective subconscious, they are the lowest common denominators, something everybody can rally around.

    Positive terms, like ‘development’ and ‘civilization’, have been used to introduce discourses about structure and culture. Development covers not only economic factors, but also political and institutional ones. And throughout this book the reader will find the four spaces – Nature, Self, Social, World – and then Time and Culture. Violence and peace are relevant concerns in all six, because life can suffer and be enhanced from all of them. The problems of pain-avoidance, panetics, and human betterment are ubiquitous. Causal cycles wind their ways through all spaces, with violence and peace in their wake.

    Peace research is now broadening, encompassing all spaces, including intra- and interpersonal peace, and deepening by reaching into the individual and collective subconscious. There we find Freud and Jung; just as we find Smith and Marx and Locke and Mill in economic and political development; and Weber and Nakamura, Toynbee and Sorokin in civilization. And yet theory-building is not the goal: action to reduce violence and enhance peace is the goal. But: for accuracy in diagnosis and prognosis, and adequacy in therapy, we need both broad and deep theory.

    Defining Peace: A Never-Ending Process

    I have long argued for an expanded peace concept, building on a violence concept beyond direct violence so as to include structural (indirect) and cultural (legitimizing) violence. Peace = direct peace + structural peace + cultural peace. But this definition has a basic shortcoming: it is too static. Hence, a dynamic peace concept was introduced: Peace is what we have when creative conflict transformation takes place nonviolently. Hereby peace is seen as a system characteristic, a context within which certain things can happen in a particular way. The proof of the pudding is in the eating; the test of a marriage is when the going gets rough; the test of peace is in the ability to handle conflict. Three points are made in this definition: the conflict can be transformed (conflicts are not (re)solved) by people handling them creatively, transcending incompatibilities – and acting in conflict without recourse to violence.

    This puts some demands on the conflict system and the actors embedded in it. The actors have to be nonviolent and creative. And the transformation (inside and outside parties, dialogues and conferences, etc.) should be peaceful in itself, meaning low on structural and cultural violence. When a transformation process is underway, vertical, elitist structures should be avoided (or at least not be sustained). The process should take place within a peace culture legitimizing creative, nonviolent handling of conflict, ruling out physical and verbal violence.

    Peace is a revolutionary proposition. Needed is not only a peace culture, but also a peace structure: the two peace system characteristics, shaping the actors nonviolently and creatively, and vice versa.

    In the Name is the Message

    Peace researchers are now progressing from such typical university activities as peace research, with a certain distance to the phenomena involved, and peace education, communicating the results of peace research, to peace action, practicing the findings of peace research, relating directly to at least one party in an ongoing conflict. What should such people be called?

    People doing research are obviously researchers; the more modest ‘peace studies’ presumably being what students do (and of course professors also continue studying …). People doing education are educators – teachers or professors. But how about the people doing peace action – what are they?

    ‘Actor’ smacks of theater, or sociology. ‘Peace-keeper-maker-builder-promoter’ are fine as descriptors of activities, but if they are taken as a contract with the public, it may lead the practitioners into promising more than they can deliver. Thus, in Yugoslavia today even the modest ‘peace-keeper’ at best sounds like a joke, at worst like a fraud. ‘Peace activist’ covers all of this, but also has a touch of the naive and unskilled. ‘Conflict manager’ would be ruled out by anybody with a sense of structural violence as non-peace; ‘conflict helper’ or ‘conflict assistant’ reek of false modesty. ‘Conflict facilitator’ could be interpreted as meaning ‘conflict enhancer’, really getting the violence going. And ‘conflict transformer’: too electrifying.

    So I would suggest peace worker, and conflict worker. These terms are modest and carry no built-in promise that may fall short of what is delivered. The workers should be skilled; but the unskilled are not ruled out. The point is to do an honest job, not to claim fame or to call a press conference – rather like the Catholic nun who acts but is neither seen nor heard.

    Social workers seem to see themselves that way; health workers, at least in the lower echelons of the health professions, likewise. There is also a connotation of quantity: there could be many, even very many of them. Like a swarm of conflict and peace workers, unleashed upon a conflict until parties with violent inclinations give in, if for no other reason than to get rid of them. This may sound slightly violent, but far better than the naive alternative: some empty agreement signed at the top level, usually binding only on some highly forgettable ‘statesmen’ trying to substitute structural for direct violence.

    Realism of the Brain, Idealism of the Heart

    Much is needed if the task of the peace worker is to reduce suffering (dukkha) and enhance life (sukha), for all life, also as peace with nature. The brains will have to absorb, produce, and store knowledge – holistic, not only transdisciplinary, and global, not only transnational – and the knowledge must be realistic to be adequate. Nobody does anybody any favor by projecting unwarranted optimism or pessimism on reality.

    There is the danger of apodictic ‘knowledge’, the synthetic a priori, true by fiat, needing no check against empirical reality. In the West layers of ‘apodicticity’ can be found in the successor sciences to theology as carrier of unfalsifiable knowledge, when God started dying during the Enlightenment, leaving behind State and Capital: jurisprudence in general and diplomacy in particular for the State; economics for Capital.

    Such knowledge may hold in an ideal reality with perfect individual ‘rationality’ and perfect insight into consequences of possible actions pursued, and maximization of product-sums of probabilities and utilities so as to abstain from all crimes, and to make optimal choices in the market. If people do not behave according to theory they tend to be blamed as irrational, not the theories. Perfect individuals would fit the predictions perfectly, in a seamless union of the prescriptive and the predictive. Such quasi-science, so basic in our civilization, can also be found in a Gandhi, or in any peace worker whose ‘knowledge’ can be encapsulated as: ‘perfect nonviolence works perfectly’. And indeed it does: in ideal reality.

    And yet, empirically based knowledge is far from sufficient. The struggle for peace is usually a struggle to transcend that empirical reality precisely because it does not permit nonviolent, peaceful conflict transformation. This means that new realities must take shape in people's minds, as potential, even ideal realities. The right to entertain and pursue modest utopias is a basic human right – but not the right to pursue totalitarian utopias encompassing all aspects of everybody, except as pure phantasy. Nor do we have a right to believe that we already live in partial or total utopias, and that empirical evidence to the contrary can be dismissed as irrelevant.

    The capacity needed to transcend empirical reality is known as imagination; it is related to knowledge, but not identical with it. But, however imaginative our hypotheses about how a potential reality would be and how to obtain it, under no circumstance should we fall into the trap of protecting our hypotheses in the way the three producers of apodictic knowledge have done. Falsifiability remains an important guide (but is that guide itself falsifiable?).

    Then, we would like our hearts to absorb, produce, and store compassion, with suffering, as well as with joy and enhancement. Like negative peace, corn-suffering is only part of the story; there is also the need for com-happiness with the joys of others.

    And yet this is far from sufficient. This all has to be so deeply rooted in the peace worker that it can survive setbacks and backlashes. In short, perseverance, the capacity to go on despite no positive feedback or no feedback at all. This, of course, raises the problem of apodicticity again. How can I know I am on the right track with no or even negative feedback? You can't. You have only your intuition and the guidance of others to steer you.

    Knowledge, imagination, compassion, perseverance… The argument that they add up to skills, a syndrome of mutually reinforcing faculties, can be posited against the argument that ‘this is demanding too much’. Role-models do exist. There are such easily recognized models as the monks and nuns of any religion, fully dedicated to serving other human beings on the basis of brain and heart. There are doctors and nurses; social workers, etc. And there are models so close that we often do not see them: our own mothers, other family members, at our best ourselves, in circles of kinship and friendship.

    At best, the university caters only to knowledge, in the positivist tradition, leaving out the other three; and at worst it is so high on apodicticity that the knowledge is useless. No doubt the families of origin and procreation are the major universities and laboratories; that is where we learn the basics (or fail to learn them), that is where we are tested. But the primary group is not the only place, nor the only test.

    We are now facing the concrete problem of the inadequacy of universities for training peace workers. There is probably much to learn from monasteries and from military schools: both take in much more of the person. Of course, the military imparts knowledge of how to increase suffering and decrease life, with compassion only for their own kind, and hatred of the other side. But imagination and perseverance are key ingredients. Put a manual for soldiers – essentially teaching how to commit murder without suffering the same fate – next to manuals in nonviolence; identifying the dissimilarities is easy, but the similarities go much deeper. There is space for much mutual learning here as the military become gradually weaned from their violence, from attacking other nations and other social classes.

    State System and Peace System: Compatible or Not?

    One reason why the state system today is basically incompatible with peace lies in the state patriarchy, in the arrogance and secrecy, in the causa sua mentality of being their own cause not moved by anybody else (and certainly not by democracy), in having a monopoly on the ultimate means of violence and being prone to use them (‘to the man with a hammer the world looks like a nail’). All this is bad enough, even if generally less pronounced in smaller states, more in the larger ones, and even more so in super-states. But in addition states are also sustaining themselves by a specific belief system that runs roughly as follows:

    • the world system is basically a system of states;
    • states are represented in the world system only by the heads of states/governments, foreign ministers and diplomats;
    • the representatives have a monopoly on defining the state interests (national interests), and their task is to promote them;
    • state interests are sometimes incompatible; the instrument for removing incompatibilities is negotiation; the inputs are state interests and the outputs are ratifiable treaties/conventions;
    • the sum of mutually adjusted state interests is the world and human interests (like male interests = human interests).

    The problem rests with the first and the last propositions. Both are blatantly wrong, probably tenable mainly to people with the mind-set described in the opening sentence of this section. The belief that people trained in promoting national interests (and even paid to do so) are ipso facto adequate for the promotion of world and human interests is an act of faith (apodicticity again).

    Paradigm I: Balance of Power (Mainly Inter-System)

    Peace research, as it became institutionalized in the late 1950s, was obviously in part a child of the Cold War (Peace!). The balance of power paradigm – which the West interpreted as superiority and the East as parity – was not rejected by peace researchers as a descriptive model of what actors were pursuing, but as a normative paradigm of peace.

    One line of critique focuses on ‘balance’, claiming that the term has no operational counterpart and thus becomes vacuous. Neither the actors nor others would ever agree on the meaning of ‘balance’, except under the highly unrealistic assumption of two countries/alliances, both equally endowed, with qualitatively identical weapons systems, and then as quantitative identity. Remove only one such assumption and all parties can claim a deficit – and the paradigmatically built-in right to quantitative and/or qualitative armament, even in the name of peace.1

    Concerning ‘power’, the critique focuses on what may lie waiting at the end of the arms race spiral: war ‘with all necessary means’. The subjective probability of nuclear war held by nuclear planners may have been low, but it was not zero lest the credibility of a second strike also become zero. Planners were, in fact, contemplating a holocaust, exterminating, say, 500 million in the NATO-WTO ‘theater’. Most of these planners are still at large today.

    But there was no war, so ‘deterrence worked’? Leaving aside that this presupposes that either, or both, in fact were planning a nuclear war but were afraid of the consequences, there is the basic problem of how this brutalized both planners and planned, legitimizing mega-violence.

    Imagine an Auschwitz, complete with gas chambers and the crematorium, but built to scare people, including Jews, to deter ‘deviance’. Would we condone that as innocent? Or, would we see the enormous psychological violence perpetrated on potential victims even if the threat was not carried out, and the brutalization of all those engaged in such a monstrous exercise?

    Paradigm II: Rule of Law (Mainly Intra-System)

    The Cold War over, Paradigm II entered fully, a paradigm for handling inner conflict by punishing those inside the system who break the rules, rather than by deterring those outside. The paradigm starts with rules legitimately produced, and proceeds to their use to classify acts as infraction, infractions as a reason to arraign actors into court, the use of courts to acquit or sentence, the use of sentences to impart pain, the use of pain to satisfy •the victims’ presumed need for revenge, and to serve the functions of individual and general prevention. This is a paradigm with religious roots, now with the State in God's place. There is no room for reconciliation between perpetrator and victim, but for a clean slate after punishment has been delivered

    Internationalization of this paradigm means international rules (law), and the conceptualization of the world system as an inner system. In the wake of that follow UN Charter Chapters 6 and 7, from diplomatic and economic sanctions via peace-keeping to peace-enforcement. This gives license to isolate countries, marginalize and stigmatize them as pariah, slowly killing the old and the sick, the women and the children – in short, killing along the margins of patriarchic/meritocratic societies, ultimately bombing ‘them’ back into pre-industrial or stone ages. From a military point of view this means a chance to unleash violence with impunity since the other party is weaker – if not, Paradigm I would have been used. For the more violence-prone this must be marvelous, a chance to practice what they have learned but were not allowed to do during Paradigm I time, like a monastery having sex education, but yearning for some practice.

    This violent, revenge-loaded Paradigm II – with apodictic knowledge of the Rule of Law – should not be hailed as a peaceful alternative to Paradigm I. Empirical studies of the individual and general prevention theses in connection with domestic legal systems indicate that punishment works badly intra-state; how can we then assume that it should work at the inter-state level, where norms are even less internalized? Diplomatic sanctions isolate the actor with whom we need most dialogue. Economic sanctions are a slow way of killing everybody except those able-bodied males who may be killed by direct violence. The two together stigmatize a country as a pariah country, readying it as a recipient of ‘all necessary means’, abetted by the mass media.

    War crime tribunals, like the International Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTFY) in The Hague with its 24 prison cells, are also a way of creating martyrs. Actors are punished for ghastly deeds when they are low-class people from low-class countries (“the Balkans”) and murder directly, face to face, often torturing and raping first – as opposed to the cool killing from a distance, and as opposed to those high up who give orders from the outside or manipulate political situations from the inside. The fateful premature recognition mid-December 1991 made by the European Union (then Community) Council of Ministers was a mistake possibly of 3V magnitude, V being the Versailles Treaty mistake of 1919 (another mistake of the same magnitude being the failure to honor the Algerian election in favor of FIS, some weeks later, at the end of December 1991). Whether by the EU or the rulers in Algeria, these were autocratic decisions welcomed by manipulating and manipulated media.

    But should we let individual crimes pass, focusing only on the bad, collective karma, through dialogue and reconciliation exercises, focusing on the sinking ship and its holes rather than on guilt-attribution? Are the victims not entitled to the exercise of justice? Are the co-nationals of the authors of these hideous crimes not entitled to acquittal from collective guilt by having fingers pointed in the right direction?

    These are valid questions, and there are no perfect answers that I can see. So, just as for Paradigm I above, I am not rejecting Paradigm II completely; but position myself as a critic under the obligation to come up with constructive answers.

    Some of that can be found in the very promising instrument of the Truth Commissions operating in post-dictatorship Central and South America, and in South Africa. Let us assume that they have the empirical job of assessing what happened, wie es eigentlich gewesen; the critical job of evaluating this in no uncertain terms in the light of basic values, sacred and secular; and the constructive job of addressing two basic questions: what should and what could we have done at this and that cross-road in the past (the therapy of the past), and, what can we do now.

    Tall orders. But the documents already emerging are very promising, particularly when there are many and diverse citizens making depositions. Even if done without names, everybody will know who they are: and, they will know. But they are also less stigmatized, more free to draw the same conclusions as the rest of society. If a dialogue is organized between them and the victims and the bereaved, instead of creating prison walls in between, a much deeper peace might – just might – be possible.

    Peace by Peaceful Means: Three Points

    If Violence = Direct + Structural + Cultural violence, then exactly what can a peace worker do to prevent and undo violence? Diagnosis, Prognosis, and Therapy no doubt, but how?

    Much direct violence can be traced back to vertical structural violence, such as exploitation and repression, for liberation, or to prevent liberation. In the background is cultural violence legitimizing both the structural violence and direct violence to undo it and to maintain it. The prognosis is bad: violence breeds violence; partly through the simple mechanisms of revenge, and partly because acts of violence are utilized to cancel any bad conscience arising from one's own use of violence.

    One approach would be to increase the space for actors to proceed nonviolently in conflict by building more nonviolent (or low violence) roles into peace-keeping.

    Military training is indispensable: to contain violence. Knowledge of the means of violence and the mentality behind their use is needed. But, for ‘crowd control’ police training may be better, more based on a show of authority and minimum use of violence. And in addition would come active nonviolence training, also training to train the local population, and training in conflict mediation techniques, knowing what to say, what to do when suddenly in a room with the conflict parties present, filled with mutual and well-justified hatred.

    Then, if women are better at relating and less inclined to use hardware, make sure that 50% of the peace-keepers are women. Peace-keeping is 40 years old: the next 40 could be still better.

    Peace-making activities can be identified with the search for creative, and at the same time acceptable and sustainable, outcomes of the conflict. There is one mistake which is no longer pardonable: the single-shot ‘table at the top’, the high table, for the ‘leaders’. Rather, let one thousand conferences blossom, use modern communication technology to generate a visible flow of peace ideas from everywhere in society. Proposals may be contradictory – but why should peace look the same at all places? Tap the insights all over, marginalizing nobody, making peace-making itself a model of structural peace. To believe that a handful of diplomats can do it alone is like the (post-) Stalinist belief that 400 apparatchiks can plan the economy for 400 million. Or, look at Israel/Palestine in the hands of the political leaders on both sides, peace movements apparently being deactivated. These issues are so terribly complex that mass participation in their solution is needed. And creativity can be found all over, when properly stimulated.

    Peace-building activities can be identified with building structural and cultural peace. Ability to identify the non-articulated structural conflicts throughout society is needed, not necessarily trying to solve all of them (which would be impossible anyhow), but to recognize them – a very important step toward positive transformation. This means identifying exploitation, repression, and marginalization (vertical structural violence) as well as groups that are too close to be comfortable with each other, or too far apart to interact symbiotically (horizontal structural violence). The vertical should be made more horizontal, and the horizontal more optimal.

    Undoing cultural violence is even more difficult. Again the ‘hidden part of the iceberg’ metaphor is useful, as it was for structural violence. But now the hidden is not deep down in social structure, but in the culture, hidden in the collective subconscious. When diplomats negotiate, four layers can be identified: the national interests they are supposed to represent (like obtaining bases abroad), the individual interests (like displaying negotiating brilliance for career purposes), the individual subconscious (like overcoming a sense of inferiority), and the collective subconscious, with implicit assumptions about what is normal/natural (cosmology, cultural codes, deep culture).

    One example: the DMA (Dichotomization, Manicheism, Armageddon) syndrome. The world is seen in bipolar terms (like the West against an Islamic/Confucian alliance),2 one is seen as good and the other as bad (guess which one), and there will be a battle (so better get ready). With DMA as the shared collective subconscious of negotiating, a natural next step is diplomats drawing lines on maps, with rulers (note the double meaning of that word). Any such line may be a line of armistice. It may stick, and may even one day become a line of peace if it is based on real self-determination. But it may also become a line of war, an invitation to ethnic cleansing on either side of the line to solidify the territory for the nation.

    Thus, a collective subconscious may be particularly dangerous if those shared unstated assumptions are bello- rather than paxogenic. Negotiating elites, impeding transparency not only of the outcome (secret) protocols, but also of the process (secret ‘sensitive’ negotiations) are major obstacles to peace.

    Legitimizing Peace Action: The Principle of Reversibility

    ‘Because it leads to peace’ is not good enough; we cannot know that in advance, that would be apodicticity. ‘Because it is intended to lead to peace’ is not good enough either; everybody can say that; even the military ready to spread death around may protest, ‘peace is our profession’. ‘Because there is a demand and we deliver the supply’, or ‘because we are the supply and create the demand’ are the two sides of market logic, but not good enough either, placing the responsibility with the demand side. If that demand comes from the state system, this may be seen by some as solving the problem of legitimacy, particularly if the government is democratic, and if the UN were democratic. The UN system will probably change toward global democracy, but not quickly.

    The right of everybody to act out of compassion, according to their best knowledge, to reduce suffering and enhance life, should not be disputed. But human beings are imperfect: so is our compassion, so is our knowledge. This principle of general human fallibility should, then, have one very basic consequence: Act so that the consequences of your action are reversible. Prefer action that can be undone. Proceed carefully. You may be wrong. Your knowledge may be inadequate, your compassion misguided.

    But is that not counter-intuitive? Why not engrave peace in stone, even in steel? Because it may be the wrong peace, and even if it is right it may prove too static. Peace is a process. We can assume a general inclination of human beings toward life enhancement, or at least away from suffering. Adequate peace, an ever better peace, or an ever better peace process, will attract support. But there is no perfect recipe, no panacea.

    Of course, irreversibility is a question of degree. Physical death is recognized by most as irreversible for the body, as final; a strong argument not only against capital punishment, but against lethal violence of any kind. It cannot be undone. Moreover: you may kill the wrong person. Such arguments are stepping-stones toward a more general position on nonviolence; an argument that certainly can also be rooted in the assumptions of immanent religion, ‘there is that of God in everybody’. Be cyclical, not linear, in thought and action.

    This also applies to physical violence to artifacts: a building destroyed can never be rebuilt. It can only be imitated, as anyone who has experienced European reconstruction after the violence of World War II can testify. Anything blown to smithereens suffers the high entropy of violence and death, the total irreversibility. Violence is so irrational.

    But how about the violence that may harm and hurt, but stops short of death? This is known as trauma, and even the best job performed by the specialists in physical traumas to the body, and spiritual traumas to the soul, can never undo them completely. Scars remain – also on the bereaved, those left behind after an unacceptable death of a beloved one. To assume that all scars can be removed is to assume bodies and souls without memory, reparable by substituting spare parts.

    Can learning of the techniques of direct violence (military training), and of structural violence (like aspects of mainstream economics and jurisprudence) be unlearned, or is the damage, such as knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons, irreversible? Maybe, but that does not mean all knowledge has to be enacted.3

    There is an entropy of war and violence; there is an entropy of peace.4. I have argued for some time that chaotic, highly diverse structures – and cultures! – with all kinds of linkages, are much better carriers of peace by peaceful means than clearcut structures (e.g., polarized alliances) and cultures (with DMA-syndromes) low on entropy but high on energy; ready for the final battle. A contradiction? No, the entropy of peace presupposes intact, even enhanced life, but then organized so as to increase the spiritual entropy of a complex Self, and a social entropy of super-complex social and world disorders. The entropy of peace is a barrier against the physical and spiritual entropy of death and violence. And there is an entropy of nature known as mature eco-systems, based on the diversity and symbiosis of deep ecology. Again the formula is the same: high entropy.

    The task of creative, positive conflict transformation is not only to avoid violence, to abstain from the irreversible, but to increase the entropy by emerging from that phase of conflict with more mature selves and more mature social formations around. Conflict, then, becomes the Great Teacher, a spiritual gift to all of us. But conflict transformation may also be negative, leaving enormous irreversibilities in homosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, cosmosphere, and damage to the soul not easily reversed: hatred, cravings for revenge and restitution, building one's future life around the desire to exchange one irreversibility for the other. A spirit of forgiveness on top of complex, creative conflict transformation may be helpful, as practiced by that second giant of this century after Gandhi: Nelson Mandela. Like Gandhi, a gift to us all.

    A Therapy for the Past: Versailles and Yugoslavia

    A useful approach, in simple and complex conflict formations, is to ask the participants to identify turning points in the past and then ask: what should, what could still have been done? Counterfactual history, in other words. That exercise for World War II invariably brings up the Versailles Treaty of 1919. Of course it was reversible. There could have been a second, review, conference five years later, undoing this highly violent collective humiliation, exploitation, repression, and marginalization of a country whose sin had been to engage in a favorite pastime of European nations (if history is a guide): killing each other. The reward might have been considerable: depriving Hitler of his major argument, avoiding World War II. Those who did not think such thoughts, or, having thought them, did not implement them, share responsibility with the Nazis. In fact, responsibility is always shared, in a collective karma.

    A more recent case: what should have been done instead of the premature recognition of parts of Yugoslavia as independent states? Self-determination is not problematic, but where are the selves and how do they relate to each other after determination? Self-determination for Croats implies the same for Serbs in Croatia; with the same reasoning for Croats and Serbs in Bosnia, and for Albanians in Serbia and Macedonia. And so on. The instrument may be vote by district like in the Danish-German process of 1920; the independencies emerging may then be confederated afterwards. But a mistake committed by the EU, the USA and the Security Council is not easily reversed: there are claims to infallibility at stake, meaning irreversibility.

    A Therapy for the Future: Non-Territorial Federalism

    More promising is another proposal addressing the major theme of inter-cultural, meaning inter-nation, conflicts. Nations are cultural constructs built around the kairos of sacred time and sacred space, the times and places of trauma and glory, weaving them into religion/ideology and language. The spatial component – to protect the sacred places with enough contiguous territory to be self-sustaining over time – leads to incompatibilities when the entropy is high, when all nations within the territory have claims on those same square kilometers, and nobody wants to move. When the representatives of a state system, which itself embodies the DMA syndrome, start ruling by rulers, drawing lines on the map, or in the desert sand,5 the D-job of separation has been done. M and A are then around the corner, thereby keeping the diplomats in business. If there are 2,000 nations in the world capable of articulating such claims, but only 200 countries and 20 nation-states,6 then there are 1,980 more battles to fight, a suicide recipe given the quality and quantity of arms there are around. D and M have to go.

    An alternative would be to keep the high entropy of living next to each other, building autonomy around one parliament for each national constituency, with a monopoly on the administration of the sacred points in space and time, on language, religion, ideology, and idiom (meaning most of education), on policing and courts for self-policing and self-adjudication, and for some aspects of the economy. The way US Democrats and Republicans do when voting in the primaries, or the Sami in Norway do when they vote for the Sami parliament.

    Peace is a revolutionary idea; ‘peace by peaceful means’ defines that revolution as nonviolent. That revolution is taking place all the time; our job is to expand it in scope and domain. The tasks are endless; the question is whether we are up to them.

    I have argued above for deep insertion into conflicts, invited or uninvited, basically bypassing the state system, deriving legitimacy partly from the right that stems from compassion with victims (which ultimately could be all of us as conflicts become ever more indivisible), and partly by advocating a basic principle for peaceful action: reversibility, doing only that which can be undone as we may have been in the wrong. That, needless to say, also presupposes that rare commodity, the ability to admit mistakes, and the ability to listen to the verdict of the empirical world rather than to the ‘self-evident’, apodictic, truths in our mind, in our ratio.

    But peace is also an exercise in perseverance. Decades may pass before a good idea is implemented, if at all; and even if it is implemented the author may never know. For one thing, he may be dead by then; or the idea was co-opted by somebody who ‘had always been of that opinion’. Peace work is not a pathway to immediate gratification. The goal is peace, not publicity.

    Sooner or later this will lead peace-workers – regardless of which of the many established or potential peace professions they exercise (and there are many taking shape right now) – to the problem of establishing a code of conduct. If they do not do sure somebody else will, like a state system highly jealous of its presumed monopoly on conflicts. This is a major task – and one to be taken on sooner rather than later.


    1. This is explored in some detail in my There are Alternatives! (Nottingham: Spokesman, 1984), chs 3 & 4.

    2. One of the destructive phantasies in Samuel Huntington's ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis.

    3. Thus, the knowledge of how to make pyramids is still there or can easily be recovered: yet very few pyramids have been built recently.

    4. For one exploration of this, see my ‘Entropy and the General Theory of Peace’, pp. 47–75 in Essays in Peace Research, vol. I (Copenhagen: Ejlers, 1975).

    5. An example would be the line drawn by Sir Percy Cox in 1922, in the desert sand, as the border between Iraq and Kuwait.

    6. I am indebted to Hâkan Wiberg for these approximate but easily remembered figures.

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