Put in the simplest possible terms, a peace culture is a culture that promotes peaceable diversity. Such a culture includes lifeways, patterns of belief, values, behavior, and accompanying institutional arrangements that promote mutual caring and well-being as well as an equality that includes appreciation of difference, stewardship, and equitable sharing of the earth’s resources among its members and with all living beings. It offers mutual security for humankind in all its diversity through a profound sense of species identity as well as kinship with the living earth. There is no need for violence. In other words, peaceableness is an action concept, involving a constant shaping and reshaping of understandings, situations, and behaviors in a constantly changing lifeworld, to sustain well-being for all.
This is a far cry from stereotyped notions of peace as a dull, unchanging end state. A static image of peace, as reflecting human inactivity, is dramatically opposed to the characterization of peace as process, of peacebuilding as adventure, exploration, and willingness to venture into the unknown. Pacifism, which literally refers to the making of peace (from pace and facere) is often mistakenly understood as passivism. One major attitudinal obstacle to the acceptance of peaceableness as a desirable social norm is the connotation of inactivity associated with it.
Society does not exist apart from the activities and environments that sustain, shape, and reshape it. The ceaseless culture-creating activity that characterizes the social body involves interaction at every level, from the intrapersonal (the inner life of the individual human being) to the interpersonal – in household, neighborhood, and community, on through successive levels of civic organization from city to the United Nations, and finally to interaction with the planetary lifeworlds of which we are a part. Because there is constant interpenetration of levels, the societal capacity for aggression or peacebuilding depends on patterns developed in every domain, from the individual and the interpersonal to the national, and interenvironmental, for dealing with the ever-present conflicts that arise from the great diversity of human and more-than-human wants and needs.
It is how we deal with difference that determines how peaceable society is. Nature never repeats herself. Therefore, no two human beings are alike. Difference is a basic fact of life. Among the needs every person is born with are two of special importance to our capacity for peaceableness. One is the need for bonding, for closeness to and acceptance by other human beings. The other basic need is the need for space, separateness from others, room to be one’s own self, to be autonomous. A society with only bonding relationships would be a passive, dull, enclosed society. A society in which separateness predominated would be an aggressive society in which everyone would be concerned with their own space. When groups of humans hold the need for bonding and autonomy in balance – nurturing one another, engaging in many cooperative activities, but also giving each other space – then we find the conditions for peace culture. Another very important dimension of that peace culture is bonding with, feeling at home in, the living bioregion that the members of that culture inhabit. Groups characterized by power struggles, patterns of domination of the strong over the weak, of men over women, by frequent physical violence and constant competition, and seeing nature as something to be conquered can be thought of as warrior cultures. We will not find peace cultures or warrior cultures in a ‘pure’ form. Peaceable societies will have some conflictual behavior, and war-prone societies have some patterns of nurturant behavior in certain settings and under certain conditions.
There is a vast literature on the issue of whether humans are by nature cooperative and peaceful of by nature competitive and violent.
A third alternative to the essentialist arguments about human nature is a social learning approach. In this approach, humans are seen as having the potential for both aggressive and peaceable behavior and are socialized into the behavior patterns that have evolved in the course of dealing with conflict and danger in each society. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was founded on the assumption that attention to the process of peace learning was necessary to avoid the development of fear and mistrust and to encourage understanding and cooperation among peoples. The Seville Statement on Violence, written by an international team of scientists to address the myth that violence is inherent in human nature (at a UNESCO Conference in Seville in 1986), is the classic statement of war as learned behavior, inspired by Margaret Mead’s often quoted remark that war is a social invention. This gave rise to UNESCO’s Culture of Peace Program, as well as to UNESCO’s biosphere-geosphere program, which evolved out of the understanding that part of that peace learning was learning how to interact sensitively with the planet itself.
Gene Sharp’s earlier pathbreaking work on The Politics of Nonviolent Action has drawn attention to the superior effectiveness of nonviolent action as an instrument of struggle in conflict situations, particularly for the powerless (who, in attempting violence, would only invite extermination). Sharp and his colleagues at the Albert Einstein Institution have undertaken extensive documentation of the widespread use throughout history of nonviolent action by the oppressed. While not always successful, nonviolent struggles have often achieved their goals – unlike violent struggles, in which at least one side loses. Gordon Fellman, in Rambo and the Dalai Lama: The Compulsion to Win and Its Threat to Human Survival, points out that while a compulsion to win is often found, it is not inevitable and leads to poor survival strategies. He develops the concept of mutuality as an alternative strategy that is superior to adversarialism in solving human problems. According to that view, peaceable societies are those that have discovered the advantages of mutual aid and teach the skills of mutuality to their children. The fact that historians overwhelmingly focus on the history of violence and war accounts for the widespread ignorance about nonviolence as an effective survival strategy. The conditions under which the strategy evolves and is practiced, taught, and passed on are still not well understood and represent an urgent research agenda. The Earth Charter movement and the antecedent deep ecology movement are beginning to extend our understanding of mutuality and nonviolence to the human relationship with the natural world.
As I see it, cooperative and autonomy-seeking behavior evolved together and had survival value when kept in balance. Among humans, there is clearly a capability for both cooperative and violent behavior, and children are socialized from infancy into behavioral sequences that either tend to be cooperative or tend to be violent or – not infrequently – represent some combination of cooperation and violence. These are learned behaviors, based on genetic predispositions, but there is no specific genetic programming for either nurturant or aggressive behaviors. The actual patterns are the result of social learning.
In general, societies tend to be a blend of peaceable and warrior culture themes – the balance between the themes varying from society to society and from historical moment to historical moment. In our time, the tensions between the two themes have become a heavy social burden as a worldwide military forcing system linked to a destructive, planet-harming mode of industrialization and urbanization is distorting the human capability for creative and peaceful change. No sooner did the fear of nuclear holocaust fade with the end of the Cold War than the fear of genocidal ethnic warfare reducing once proudly independent countries to a series of dusty battlegrounds rose to take the place of earlier fears. Urban violence – now manifesting itself in gun battles in the cities and neighborhoods and even the schoolyards and playgrounds of the industrial West – has unleashed other terrors. If every society is a blend of the themes of violence and peaceableness, why is the peaceableness so hard to see?
It is there, but not well reported. The tendency of planners and policymakers to prepare for worst-case scenarios leaves societies unprepared for the opportunities involved in best-case scenarios. Nevertheless, the longing for peace has not gone away. The hiddenness, and the longing, create an urgency to understand what works to strengthen one of the two cultures and what works to weaken the other. We are not helpless. We have at our fingertips an incredible storehouse of wisdom and knowledge from the past and new knowledge, new wisdom, new science and technology from our discovery-minded present that, together, offer great resources for the rebuilding of peaceful lifeways for the planet as a whole. A richer and more diversified peace culture than any of us can now easily imagine, an interconnected global peace culture, is there to be built out of the languages and lifeways and knowledge and experience worlds of the ’10,000 societies’ now spread across the 185 states of today’s world. The possibilities for the transformation of our current war- and violence-prone international system into an interconnected localist world of adventurous but peaceful problem solvers, using technology to nurture the planet rather than to stress it, exist all around us.
Because we live in a much more multicultural world than most Westerners realize, and because the failure to understand that variety is a continuing source of anger in the non-West, there will be a continuing emphasis in what follows on the diversity of the peace cultures that hold the promise of our future. ‘Ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, through the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the people of the world through which their differences have often broken into war’ (from the UNESCO Constitution). A prescient 1972 report from a Bellagio Conference on ‘Reconstituting the Human Community’ speaks of the need for ‘a transcendence of “only a European point of view” in regard to the origins of science, democratic development, nationalism and the United Nations, as well as transcendence of the psychology of dominance, especially in regard to the power of science and technology.’
Slowly, we are learning from many sources that monocultures are dangerous both for humans and for the natural environment. Cultural diversity is as important as biodiversity for the survival of the planet. Maruyamah, who has written a great deal about the importance of heterogeneity, entitles a chapter in a recent book ‘Diversity Enables Mutual Benefit: Sameness Causes War.’ He describes how African elders teach children about diversity by means of metaphoric tales. For example, an old man says: ‘Look at your hand. All fingers are different; that is why a hand can do its work. If all fingers are the same, your hand cannot function.’ The philosophy in Malinke culture is that all individuals, both humans and animals, are different, and if you force them to be the same, the only way left for them to be different is to get on top of one another. This creates conflicts and war. For the Malinke, heterogeneity means interaction for mutual benefit (positive sum relations), while for many of the Europeans and North Americans, heterogeneity tends to mean competitive, adversarial diversity (negative sum relations). A paradigm shift in the West is clearly in order.