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par Graham PEEBLES
We all want peace, don’t we ? Peaceful relationships and communities, an absence of violence and conflict, a world at peace. This is surely everyone’s heartfelt desire. Without peace nothing can be achieved, none of the subtler essential needs of our time, such as feeding everyone and providing good quality health care and education to all –let alone the urgent need to save our planet, beautify the cities and develop sustainable alternative energy sources.
Despite the fact that we all hanker after peace, there are currently around thirty armed conflicts (1) taking place across the globe –wars in which many hundreds or many thousands of innocent people are being killed. They are not on the whole conflicts between one country and another, not directly anyway, although some may be. Ideology fuels much of the fighting, as well as popular armed resistance to corporate state power, state terrorism and repression.
It is worth saying at this point, that in addition to armed conflict the war on independent free thinking, true democracy and the freedom of the individual is a constant one. Brutal and unrelenting, it is fought by the “masters of mankind” (Adam Smith’s famous term for the ruling elite) against the rest of us, the 99 %.
War, and armed conflict more broadly, comes about when the conditions for such are present. Remove the causes of conflict –which, we accept, may be intricate– and, logic dictates, peace will come about. Alternatively, manipulate the conditions, distort and pervert information, create fear and suspicion and you engineer conflict.
Does the current socio-economic paradigm (let’s call it market fundamentalism) encourage the conditions for violent conflict and social tensions, or negate the causes of such conflict ?
In order to engage in wars that supposedly nobody wants, weapons are developed, manufactured, energetically sold (often by heads of state on corporate trade missions) and eagerly bought. The jets and tanks, guns and drones are used to destroy and kill “the enemy” –“terrorists” and those who dissent and agitate, increasingly regarded by governments as the same thing. They are used to create an atmosphere of fear in which control of the people becomes easier. These murderous gadgets add prestige and status to those states that can afford them, and show the world that they are growing, developing and should be taken seriously.
In democracies the state can no longer use weapons to suppress the people and curtail independence. Here thinking is controlled using mass propaganda : advertising, the media, consumerism and education, among other national armaments.
Making weapons and associated paraphernalia is big business, perhaps the biggest. In 2014 worldwide expenditure on arms, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) (2), was about USD 1.7 trillion (about 3 % of global GDP). The United States is responsible for around 70 % of worldwide arms sales and spends as much on the machinery of war as the rest of the developed world combined : USD 610 billions (SIPRI 2014).
Why would a government spend 16 % (3) of the total US federal budget on killing machines and supporting technology if it were working for –and wanted– peace or was concerned about addressing social injustice and poverty ? After all, there are estimated to be around 50 million (15 %) Americans living in poverty, people, who, one would imagine, would benefit from some of these funds being pushed their way.
It is a country run by an oligarchy dominated by neo-liberalism : it has the highest level of Income and wealth inequality of all the industrialised nations (which feeds all manner of social ills, from mistrust to homicide). Moreover, and while its leaders self-righteously talk of peace, democracy and human rights on the world stage, it is said that since the end of World War II America has launched the overwhelming majority of military operations in the world.
In fact, according to Scientists As Citizens (4) (referring to an article in the American Journal of Public Health), it is responsible for a staggering 201 of the 248 armed conflicts that occurred up to 2001. The renowned American documentary film-maker, Michael Moore, whose latest project, “Where to Invade Next”, focuses on America’s warring obsession, says (5), there is “this constant need, it seems, to always have an enemy –where’s the next enemy so we can keep this whole military-industrial complex alive, and keep the companies that make a lot of money from this in business”.
The desire for peace that we all supposedly want runs contrary to the drive for arms sales and the primary imperative of neo-liberalism : profit and the constant increase of a nation’s GDP figures. Nation states build armies and develop weapons in order to fight wars –to achieve what ? Peace, or the extension and domination of an ideology, the raping and pillaging of another country, the justification and growth of an industry ? In Capitalism A Ghost Story, Arundhati Roy asks (6) : “Do we need weapons to fight wars ? Or do we need wars to create markets for weapons ?”
The current socio-economic system of market fundamentalism, as Indian writer P. Sainath describes (7) it, is the suffocating paradigm of contemporary civilisation under which all of us live. It has infiltrated every area of living, has caused worldwide inequality on unprecedented levels, reduced everything and everyone to a commodity, sees all people as consumers, all places as markets and is the poisonous hand behind the global environmental catastrophe.
Is it a model for peace ? Does it facilitate peaceful coexistence and social harmony ? Indeed, are such ideals even relevant within a system that is content to allow men, women and children to die of hunger in their thousands simply because they are desperately poor ; where the quality of health care and education someone receives is dependent on the size of their bank balance ? Financial profit is the motive driving all action flowing from its pernicious core, and all means are justified by this greedy, short sighted, short term end.
It is the shiny, noisy face of a materialistic ideology which dominates all areas of life and promotes a particular set of values. These are false values, many of us believe, that are causing a range of destructive, unhealthy, social and environmental effects.
Under market fundamentalism, the crudest and most basic aspects of human nature are emphasised : selfishness, nationalism, individual success and personal fulfilment are all fiercely encouraged and excess championed. Divisive goals tightly knitted together and relentlessly fed by desire, which sits at the agitated centre of the whole structure ; a house of cards that would collapse without the constant itch of insatiability and perpetual discontent. And can peace exist where there is discontent ?
Ambition –personal and national– together with the competitive spirit is almost mandatory within the confines of such a conditioned space and, as the Indian thinker J. Krishnamurti said (8), an ambitious man (or woman) “is not a peaceful man, though he may talk of peace and brotherhood”. He was equally damning of competition, saying “there can be no peace, no enduring happiness for man as long as we –the individual, the group and the nation– accept this competitive existence as inevitable. Competitiveness, ambition, implies conflict within and without”. These ideas are shared by Albert Einstein, who maintained (9) that the competitive spirit destroys “all feelings of human fraternity and cooperation”.
Injustice is inherent in the system –of income, wealth, influence and opportunity. It strengthens social divisions, causing tensions, both seen and suppressed, and conflict within and without. It facilitates concentrations of power and control and its opposite : marginalisation, exclusion and vulnerability, leading to exploitation and abuse.
Is peace possible along such perverted lines of living ?
War comes about when the conditions that create conflict are present. Ideologies of all kinds, together with the divisive, selfish values that neo-liberalism promotes, encourage such conditions. Given the nature of these ideas and the range of self-interests that support them, it is hard to see how the current system can do anything other than facilitate social conflict and perpetuate war –“infinite war” which Michael Moore maintains is the calculated intention, certainly of the American government.
A range of inherent tendencies exist within us all, many good, some not so positive : violence is one, tribalism and anger are others. And yes, there is violence and conflict in our communities because human beings are themselves violent. But the environment in which we live can either facilitate the good or agitate the destructive elements in human nature. With its inherent injustice, and values encouraging materiality, selfishness, nationalism and desire, the current system feeds and strengthens the negative.
Peace will come about when there is social justice, contentment and trust. All of which are the enemies of the ruling elite. All of which must be repeatedly and relentlessly called for.
Cooperation, tolerance and, crucially, sharing the world’s resources equitably among the people of the world –these would go a long way towards establishing social justice and trust, which in turn would help facilitate peace. Such perennial principles of goodness need to sit at the heart of a radically reformed socio-economic model, and in place of the existing divisive ideals, true values inculcated that unite people and evoke the good.