World Peace Is Possible - Part 2
What are the psychological requirements for constructively exploring world peace?
This post will attempt to explore the primary obstacle we face in taking world peace seriously. The quick answer is, we don’t take world peace seriously, because we don’t take world violence seriously. If we don’t perceive a problem, why would we need a solution?
After writing about a “world without men” for some time, it’s become clear to me that so long as we don’t experience human violence emotionally, where we actually live as human beings, then discussions of possible paths to world peace will almost always devolve in to debating games which we soon become bored with.
If we don’t experience world violence emotionally, then discussion of world peace will be about our ideas, our arguments, our egos. Without emotional engagement, the victims are soon forgotten, and our focus shifts to us.
World peace can not be achieved by intellect alone. Rational thought and facts become useful only after we have engaged violence emotionally. It’s only when we’ve engaged violence emotionally that we’ll find the motivation to think boldly about peace. And thinking boldly is what’s required, because everything we’ve tried so far has failed.
We know a great many facts about human violence. Corporate media is constantly bombarding our brains with a relentless parade of horror stories from all over the planet. If we’re plugged in to any kind of media such stories are almost impossible to avoid.
And because human violence is so pervasive, and in our modern times so well covered by the media, to function in this environment we’ve developed sophisticated psychological defense mechanisms. If we are to ever take world peace seriously, these defense mechanisms have to be understood, and to some degree undermined.
Keeping Violence At Arms Length
There are at least two ways we protect our sanity by keeping the human violence all around us at arm’s length.
First, there is the geographical distance between ourselves and much of the violence.
I’ve never been to Iran, I’ve only seen it on TV, I’ve only heard about it on the radio. So I experience the violence being perpetrated against Iranian citizens by their government as something that is happening “over there somewhere”. Mass killings and drive by shootings in the United States don’t happen in my neighborhood either, so while I’m concerned, I don’t consider these events to be a personal threat. I feel safe, and so I experience these events intellectually.
On the other hand, about 30 years ago there was a serial killer on the loose in our city, and every few days another body turned up. All of a sudden the violence we normally experience as happening somewhere else was right in our face, maybe right around the next corner, maybe hiding in our backyard, a direct threat to each of us personally, and overnight that radically changed the psychology of an entire city. The geographic distance we normally depend on to feel safe had been breached.
Another important factor in keeping violence at arm’s length is how we convert tragedies that should be an emotional event in to intellectual experiences. Real human beings suffering real pain become concepts, intellectual abstractions, data points.
A good example of this method of psychological escape might be how every mass shooting in America almost immediately becomes a debate about gun control. These debates are well intended, and probably necessary, but…
More importantly, such intellectual exercises are also an effective mechanism for getting the vision of a five year old girl with her head blown off out of our minds. And because we succeed at that, the gun control debates never seem to go anywhere beyond tribal warfare finger pointing.
Breaching The Wall Of Our Defenses
In order to take ANY plan for world peace seriously, the first step would seem to be to somehow undermine the sophisticated psychological defenses we use to distance ourselves from violence.
So long as we feel safe within our geographic and abstraction bubbles, we’re unlikely to find the motivation needed to embrace a vision of world peace, do the difficult thinking involved, and make the hard choices that will be necessary. So long as we feel safe, so long as we don’t feel the pain of those suffering from violence, then vision, thinking and choices will seem like more work than they are worth.
And then it won’t matter what the world peace plan is.
I recall watching a movie awhile back where the story came upon a rape scene. Normally I might fast forward or hit the back button in this circumstance. But the director of this movie skillfully drew me in. The director carefully sidestepped gratuitous sex and violence, while effectively communicating the horror of being physically violated.
When the scene was over I remember sitting there stunned, and my mind was flooded with the thought, that should never happen to anybody. That should never happen to anybody, that should never happen to anybody, that should never happen to anybody, playing on a loop in my mind.
The director had succeeded in taking me where I needed to go to be a real human being. Out of my mind, and in to my heart.
And then, after a period of time, I retreated back in to my defense mechanisms. And while I don’t remember a single other thing about that movie, not even it’s name, that scene has taken up permanent residence in my mind, because I was for that moment willing to experience it emotionally.
Somehow, by some means or another, if we are ever to achieve world peace, if we are ever to largely liberate ourselves from the violence and fear that so afflicts our species, it’s these kind of psychological transformations that we must learn. Each of us must get there in our own way however we can, but we must get there somehow, or we can say goodbye to ever being safe from violence.
The secret to ever being safe may be to stop running from our fears, and from other people’s pain, and instead turn and face them.
Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way
The media stories about violence that we consume can help teach us about ourselves. As each such story appears in our news feeds we can ask ourselves….
How brave are we? How much do we care? How deeply are we willing to experience the reports of violence which are all around us? How much of other people’s suffering are we willing to look at, feel, and experience as if it were our own?
I heard a story on National Public Radio yesterday about a Ukrainian woman whose house had just been destroyed by a Russian missile. All of her possessions collected over a life time, all of her security, her protection from the elements, the home where she loved her husband and raised her children for years, the home she had planned to grow old and die in, all completely destroyed in one horrible moment of senseless male violence. She stood in the street crying to the reporter, “Now I have nothing, nothing, everything is gone.”
How far in to such stories are we willing to travel emotionally? Our answer to such questions will likely determine whether we have constructive discussions of world peace, and whether we ever reach it.
In human affairs, what often determines whether we succeed at something is simply how strongly we wish to win. We see this phenomena at play today in Ukraine. The Ukrainian people are reminding us of something very important. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
We aren’t reaching for world peace because we don’t have the will.
We don’t have the will because we don’t feel the pain.
We don’t feel the pain because we’ve become too skilled at protecting ourselves from it.
If we can become less skilled, and allow ourselves to feel more of the pain, we can find the will. And with that will we can then find a way.
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