Searching for peace in a troubled world
Since the Cold War ended in 1989 violent conflict had been decreasing but, according to the Global Peace Index, in 2016 this trend was reversed.
Terrorism, it says, is at an all-time high, deaths in conflict are at a 25-year high and the number of displaced people is greater than it has been for 60 years. Deaths from terrorism increased by 80 per cent compared to 2015, with 94 of the 163 countries surveyed recording at least one terrorist incident, and 11 countries suffering over 500 deaths, compared with five the previous year.
In addition to the heightened threat from terrorism, of significant concern is the US military build up in the South Asia Sea, where China is being encircled, as well as the concentration of NATO forces in Eastern Europe, where Russia is being contained – or threatened, depending on your point of view. While the US and its allies paint China and Russia as the aggressors, such sabre rattling is provocative and increases tensions.
The roots of conflict
So, in this the midst of a world in turmoil and transition, what do we need to do to create peace? What are the causes of conflict and the obstacles to peace? In order to approach these questions it is essential to understand the relationship between society in all its forms, and the individuals that make up society.
Is society and all that takes place within it something separate from us or, as the Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti said, we are the world and the world is us, “our problems are the world’s problems”? It is an obvious statement of fact: there is violence and intolerance within society because we ourselves are violent and intolerant. Any change within the world is therefore dependent upon there being a change within us: to put an end to war, you must begin by putting an end to war in yourself.
Recognising the inter-relationship of the individual and society opens up other enquiries, chief among them is what we might describe as agitation or elicitation.
A multitude of qualities and tendencies rest within all human beings – some good, some not so good – and while we accept the logic of Krishnamurti’s assertion, it must also be true that the nature of the society within which people are living, its values, beliefs and methods, encourage certain attitudes and types of behaviour. Therefore, the question of peace, and how it can be realised, needs to be approached both from the perspective of the individual and his/her role and responsibility in bringing it about, and from an understanding of the collective atmosphere within which we are living, and how one impacts on the other.
Injustice and tension
We live in a world shaped by structural constraints – political, economic, social and religious. These are ideologically rooted and promote certain values and ideals, many of which feed selfish attitudes of ambition and self-aggrandisement which, in turn, strengthen divisions and engender separation.
They also serve to order society, to exert and maintain control and, their proponents maintain, to establish practical methods of meeting humanity’s needs. These needs are universal – food and water, shelter, clothing, health care and education – and are now considered to be rights, as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. However, as with peace, many of these rights remain little more than pretty words on a dusty page of exploitation and apathy.
In every country in the world such rights are dependant on the size of a person’s bank account. If you happen to be born into a poor family in either a developed or developing country, and/or are part of a minority group, your rights will be denied or restricted. If you live in sub-Saharan Africa or rural India, for example, the chances are that food will be scarce, housing basic, health care and education poor or non-existent. In contrast, if you are born into an affluent family, the world and all that is in it is yours. The wealthy live in complacent bubbles, and have little or no idea – or interest – in how the majority of people exist.
The prevailing economic system has allowed for wealth and political power to be concentrated in the hands of a hideously rich elite, while condemning billions to live in poverty and suffering. Income and wealth inequalities are greater than they have ever been. A recent report by Oxfam revealed that the world’s eight richest billionaires control the same wealth between them as the poorest half of the globe’s population of 3.6 billion people. Can there possibly be peace in a world where such inequality exists?
Neo-liberalism is an inherently unjust and blind system that is devoid of compassion. It promotes the decrepit idea that some are more deserving than others; some are entitled to live lives of excess while hundreds of millions have literally nothing.
This division of men, women and children on the basis of money, privilege and social standing is totally unjust. There seems to be an assumption among the privileged that those living in the developed nations are entitled to be as greedy, selfish, rich and powerful as they like, while billions live in crushing poverty. Such inherent injustice is a cause of tension, resentment and conflict – all of which run contrary to the cultivation of peace.
These feelings of hostility have been suppressed for generations but are now beginning to surface as anger and frustration directed towards systemic injustice and governments that have constructed policies for the benefit of the few and at the expense of the many.
Neo-liberalism is an inherently unjust and blind system that is devoid of compassion. It promotes the decrepit idea that some are more deserving than others; some are entitled to live lives of excess while hundreds of millions have literally nothing. It pollutes democracy and relies on voracious consumption, which is poisoning the planet, for its survival.
Social injustice promotes separation and works in opposition to humanity’s underlying unity. It is one of the principle causes of conflict, and if we are to inculcate peace it is a poison that must be driven out of our world. This means we need to design new, just systems which work for everyone; economic and political models that hold as their principle aim meeting the needs and rights of every human being.
To achieve this requires nothing more than the principle of sharing being firmly planted at the heart of human affairs; sharing of the world’s resources, as well as skills, knowledge and technologies, among the people of the world on the basis of need. Making sharing the guiding ideal of systemic change would foster trust, and where there is trust peace becomes possible.
Change of heart
In order for sharing, cooperation, tolerance and understanding to underpin the political, economic and social systems and create the conditions in which peace becomes possible, a major change in attitudes is required, a shift in consciousness that allows social responsibility and a new imagination to flower. As Krishnamurti says, “to bring about peace in the world, to stop all wars, there must be a revolution in the individual, in you and me”.
A revolt against ingrained, selfish ways of thinking and acting is needed to bring about such a movement, and fundamental to such change is the recognition that humanity is one.
We are brothers and sisters of one humanity, and when this underlying unity is sensed the focus on the individual, with its various self-centred constructs, begins to fade. Harmlessness and responsibility for the group – humanity – would be fostered, allowing peace within to grow.
New systems that take fear and uncertainty out of life, and unite people instead of dividing them, will aid such a shift but, as Krishnamurti makes plain, an economic revolution “without this inward revolution is meaningless” and would probably not take place. “For hunger is the result of the maladjustment of economic conditions produced by our psychological states: greed, envy, ill-will and possessiveness.,” he says.
An ‘inward revolution’ that recognises our essential unity, dissipates selfishness and allows for peace of mind to quietly settle, would lead to a revolution in how life is organised, and would quite naturally lead to peaceful relationships within individuals, among communities and between nations.