Friday, November 04, 2011

More on Peace

Anon1 and Josh both wrote some comments on Peace and Rehabilitation that deserve more space than the comments section.

Josh wrote:
"Do you think though that there are states of affairs -- call it "peace" or what you will -- that are stable situations worth working towards? If there are, what are some of the more important elements?"

My gut reaction is "No." I don't think stability is healthy. I also don't think it is sustainable or occurs in nature. Evolution doesn't stop; and societies continue to change. If change could be stopped and a society or group could be held in stasis, the best outcome I see is an entropy death and the total annihilation of art and creativity, because creativity will always threaten and eventually destroy the status quo. Not talking just art, either. Creativity in science and technology and commerce and agriculture have all far more profoundly improved the lives of average people than any changes in painting or music or literature.

Because people, like all organisms, seek homeostasis this natural change in life is profoundly threatening. That constant tug of war between a changing world and a desire for stability drives a lot of things. Including movements that purport to be about 'making a better world' but appear to concentrate efforts on stopping some of the forces that are directly responsible for the leaps in life expectancy and comfort that we have experienced since the industrial age.

And the last part, with any sort of stability, call it peace or whatever... I don't think you can create an unnatural state without coercion. I think any effective peace movement must, by it's nature, become totalitarian. It can't embrace diversity, since diversity would mean tolerating people who enjoy harming others or see force as an easy means to an end... so in order to get everyone to live in peace, you must first eradicate all the people who don't share that ideal.

But people are creative, and once the majority of people have forgotten the power of force the first person to figure it out will be, effectively, superhuman

I called Anon1 on the difficulty of defining peace except as an absence of conflict.
He wrote:
OK - Peace is the context in which the growth of relationship, culture, and civilization can occur.
That definition isn't static, and it goes back as far as Thucydides...
I don't recall Thucydides ever saying that... but for what it's worth, I'm okay with non-static definitions to an extent, as long as it's not a fudge factor built into the definition. But this definition doesn't hold up at all. I've seen too many relationships, good and bad, forged in open conflict; read too many poems written by soldiers; have a pretty good idea that the laptop I am writing on would never have been invented without the double influences of the Cold War and an essentially adversarial free market.

I'm trying to think of an era of peace. Tokugawa shogunate, maybe? Enforced caste systems with a ruthless totalitarian information system to enforce it? Graveyards are peaceful.

...peace isn't the *absence* of war; it's something *other* than war.
Does this mean (sincere question, not a debating trick) that peace can exist within a war? That this other-than-war peace can exist in a firefight? If you are talking about an internal feeling... maybe. But it is something that could be given to everyone who wants it chemically* while everyone else could play merry hell with violence and I'm pretty sure that's not what anyone else means when they say 'peace.'

More, and this gets close, IMO, to the meat of the disagreement here:
...violence wasn't the only real thing. It was one of the tools you used to achieve a "real" thing.

Part of what disturbs me about your notion that peace is simply the absence of violence ... is that it means that violence is the *only* "real" thing. That not only is violence/peace binary, but that violence is the #1, and peace the #0.

Why? Why not the other way round? Even if things are binary (and I don't think they are), couldn't violence as logically be the void when peace is absent? Why is violence primary?

The world is full of real things. Goals are real things, but so are tools. So in Clausewitz's definition, war and politics are both real. Violence is far from the only real thing. And there are lots of intangible things that I consider real, like love and compassion. But a sociopath's lack of compassion is really hard to define without accepting compassion as a baseline. Vacuum is it's own thing, but only as long as matter exists. Remove all matter and there is nothing but nothing.

Violence is the primary because it is the active force. I can show you videos of violence. I can show you videos of compassion and generosity and kindness and a thousand other active and real things. To show you a video of peace, would I show you an empty piece of space? Or a graveyard? Not a plant growing, those little devils are constantly strangling and shading each other to starvation...
So, not:
I suspect you'd say because you know violence is "real." You've experienced it.
And love and a bunch of other things... but the thing that marked the peaceful moments was a lack of conflict.

It's light and darkness (not in the metaphorical or value sense). Light is photons hitting things; dark is photons not hitting things. We can talk into we're blue in the face and convince ourselves that 'dark' is its own, real, separate thing; that darkness is a thing totally separate from light and photons or argue (and even decide to agree) that the absence of photons is the primary state. And photons are the zero.

But I wouldn't buy it.

So I'm still not seeing any definition of peace other than as an absence of conflict.

I also want to apologize. Nature of the medium is that Anon1 and Josh and I couldn't get together and talk before I wrote, which means that this is unfairly one-sided. So don't take it as a debate. Some smart people got me thinking. This is what I thought. Nothing more.

*When I went in for knee surgery I wanted to watch, so we did an epidural. Just before the surgeon started the nurse injected something into the port in my IV line saying, "This will take the edge off." No idea what it was, but even when blood splattered over the TV screen and the surgeon said, "Shit! We measured it wrong!" I didn't care. Sure felt peaceful. Wouldn't want to live that way.


considerphlebas said...

I have always found this to be a concise guide. from a science fiction novel, L.E. Modesitt's "Adiamante".

"Mutual individual respect and self-respect must be maintained, since the greater the mutual respect between individuals and the respect for the role of each individual within society, the more stable the society.

Because society is based on trust, trust cannot be withheld on unfounded suspicion.

Threats are a form of mistrust; so are unprovoked violence, use of physical force, and manipulation of another. Failure to be trustworthy requires removal from society.

Attempts to redefine principles into written rules of conduct reflect mistrust and are doomed to failure.

Direct statements of individual desires are not forms of mistrust, but no individual or group of individuals is bound or required to fulfill another's desire.

Society may agree upon mutually restrictive and/or coercive measures, but only so long as such measures have commensurate impacts upon those who develop and impose such measures."

i would say that conflict arises in an absence of trust.

Josh Kruschke said...

If we are defining peace by its opposite or lack of violence/war/conflict, isn't a more true opposite or what is lacking is turbulence, chaos uncertainty?
Violence/war/conflict are out comes of chaos, just as innovation/creativity/learning come from dealing with chaos.

Does this make any sense?

Anonymous said...

That's something I never want to hear my surgeon say: "shit".

Josh Kruschke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Josh Kruschke said...

Rory -

When you walked into a cell, and didn't have to use force to get your way would that be an example of "peace?"

Just a thought,

Fliff said...

This post reminds me of the movie Equilibrium. If you haven't seen it, here is a summary: Essentially after WW3 the powers that be have decided that human emotion and creativity are the problems that lead to conflict, war, and violence and need to be kept in check. It's an interesting view and the dystopian society that results is rather bleak. People are required to take a drug called Prozium every day in order to suppress their emotions. There is no music, no art, no anything creative. This has to be enforced with (Like Miller said) a totalitarian attitude. The Tetragramaton (police) hunt down and eradicate 'sense offenders' or people who are feeling The Tetragramaton also burn any art, music, anything that has been labeled emotional contraband since it might tempt people to feel again. The totalitarian government attitude is the only way to keep people in line and make sure they stay on the drugs and away from creativity etc.

However, as the movie shows, entropy always takes over, humans are (as Miller said) creative by nature, and do not thrive in a stagnant society where there is no diversity. Everyone lives day to day without feeling anything, leading identical lives. BORING.

I have to agree with Miller, and while the movie is obviously a work of science fiction I think it displays some good points to support his argument. Society can only be at peace (total lack of conflict) when it is forced upon them. Even then the forces entropy are always fighting against stability and imposed 'peace'. I do think that without conflict society would stagnate and crumble. It sounds like dying slowly to me and it sounds miserable. Without conflict (and conflict doesn't always have to mean raw violence in my opinion) there would be no growth, no creativity, no innovation.

On the flip side, I think the IDEA of peace gives society something to strive for. It gives them hope. Its an ideal. Human beings need down time to rest and re cooperate. Without the idea of peace/calm/lack of violence we would be in fight or flight mode at all times and would burn out in a flash. Like a bonfire, sometimes you can stoke it up, sometimes you let the coals burn low, but you can't let it burn up all in an instant and consume all its fuel.

Just some thoughts and observations...

Andy said...

I don't think peace should be defined as the absence of conflict... I agree that the absence of conflict is sufficient to achieve peace but is it necessary? Can I be in conflict yet still be at peace?

Anonymous said...

Peace is the resolving of conflict in non-violent ways.

Like Heraclitus said: "War is the father of all things"

So I would say war (conflict) is the "real thing" (in nature, in society, in discourse).

Peace is the temporary way to resolve it, or to postopone it.
So peace is not the absense of violence (conflict, war)....peace is the result of symmetrical violence.

In a martial arts or self defence context that would mean...a society is peacefull if everyone is capable to harm everyone. If asymmetry arises, peace is gone.
I also would note tha total war (or total asymmetry would end in peace...peace of the graveyard.

Ernie said...

The problem here becomes (unfortunately, as this IS debate trick in a form) the definition of the word we're throwing around.

Peace appears to be a human notion. What I mean by this is that the human mind, capable of all that it's capable of doing, occasionally allows us to create neat little limiting factors to our thoughts and behaviors. Looking back, we can see this in every superstition and mythological ancient religion. When our brains hit a wall, we make stuff up.

Peace is one of these notions.

In the animal world, we don't find animals striving to avoid killing one another. It's just not the way of things. Even so, none of these animals appear to be particularly sad about the state of affairs. This should indicate that they haven't been able to separate periods of life in the same way we have.

Humans, however, really like the idea that all violence should serve toward the end of peace, but peace is an imperfect idea in the first place. The idea that no conflict is occurring for any serious length of time may certainly be enjoyed by the individual, but on a larger scale it simply cannot be. If our definition of peace is to be "the complete and total absence of violence", we're talking about what's called "Total Peace".

So long as two human minds exist, so to will conflict. Total peace will occur as soon as all life in the universe is annihilated.

So we find that in order to attain "peace", we must first define it for ourselves. What is peace to me?

For myself, it means I'm not forward deployed, and generally not being immediately threatened. That's easy enough to achieve.

Fascinating stuff to consider, but it makes for naaaasty arguments. Belief-level stuff we're poking at, I think.

Rory said...

Thanks, everyone, but I think Ernie nailed it.

This is why I'm demanding definitions (based on an e-mail I wrote earlier today):

"Actually, it's all bullshit. Conflict and peace are words more than they are events, especially in this debate. That's one of the things that really bothers me about this particular peace activist. She sees herself as loving, but she is more than willing to get innocent people killed and remove all freedoms for a word. A word she can't even define. Until she can define it, it is only a word. I can't imagine getting angry about that, much less killing over it or using the 'common good' of an undefined word to justify total control...."

Josh Kruschke said...

Rory you're to nice. IM*H*OP

This why you will live a long life with K, and I will probable be killd by someone I irritated.

What's a few bruised ego, amongst friends. (Not speaking for the other Josh who's been silent lately.)

I think there is a reason the first written languages where pictographic; as we think in pictures, feelings, and the five senses.

English is not the best language for conveying ideas.


zzrzinn said...

I think that most 'peace activists' (and I've had my share of involvement with them, being a bleeding-heart pansy myself) have hard time understanding that what they are really driving at is not absence of conflict, but some form of reciprocal existence or balance based on an idea of justice.

A world of pure peace cannot exist, but a more just world (which hopefully would provide less conflict..or at least define it to certain parameters) does not seem such a far-fetched goal..

Josh said...

So if I'm understanding the point, Rory your objection to "peace" as a rallying-call is that the presence or absence of violence is at least somewhat tangential to the factors that make a society one you would / wouldn't like to live in. I.e. there can be societies without violence that are static or oppressive. And to Ernie's point, people don't actually visualize what the word "peace" really means, they have a fuzzy placeholder that's not necessarily connected to something concrete. I buy it...

Scott said...

I think the ability to think strategically is rare, most people don't have it. If it can be learned, most people don't learn it.
Someone who thinks strategically knows that if you want to create war, you start disarming. If you want peace, build up your offensive capabilities. Flux is the norm.
So I disagree with the notion that peace doesn't have a definition. Peace is the terms of a surrender--a specific surrender--that's why we 'sue for peace.'

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Konrad Lorenz observes in his book, "On Aggression", in the animal world the deepest expressions of care and support and what ultimately becomes in humans things like love are in those animals can also show the most aggression and violence to both members of the group and to those outside of it.
As such his argument, in support of much that has been said already, is that one can not exist without the other.