Former Utne Editor in Chief David Schimke on conflict, compassion, partisanship, and peace
Wednesday, October 12, 2011 12:51 PM
Here’s an image worth posting on Facebook, putting on a t-shirt, or sticking on a bumper.
“Free as a Man,” created by Serbian artist Predrag Stakic, is the winner of an online competition conducted by the Human Rights Logo Initiative, which is on a mission to make the design an internationally recognized symbol for human rights.
An initial call for entries went out in May and kicked-up 15,000 submissions from more than 190 countries. After a healthy period for public comment, a jury made up of 36 designers, human rights advocates, and concerned politicians from around the world chose 10 finalists.
Because the aim of the initiative—which was supported by a host of supporters and partners, including Google, Typo London, and Cinema for Peace—was to create an image “by people for people,” the logo is an open source product, free for use without restrictions.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 4:29 PM
In an essay published by The Nation magazine on September 19, journalist and pacifist Colman McCarthy reports that in 1970 only one American college offered a degree in peace studies, but that now, according to the Peace and Justice Studies Association, there are more than 500 undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs available on U.S. campuses. “Nationally, the peace education movement is growing—some say surging—because of the continued failure of military solutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the belief that alternatives to violence do exist,” McCarthy reports.
A regular columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, McCarthy co-founded the Washington D.C.-based Center for Teaching Peace with his wife in 1985 and, by his own estimation, has taught more than 8,000 students to examine their choices regarding violent reaction versus nonviolent response. “Instead of asking questions, be bolder and question the answers,” he writes. “What answers? . . . Those that say that if we kill enough people, drop enough bombs, jail enough dissenters, torture enough prisoners, keep fighting fire with fire and not with water, we’ll have peace forever.”
While the good news regarding the growth of diplomatic scholarship is both welcome and encouraging, what makes “Teaching Peace” especially compelling is McCarthy’s ongoing struggle to make the subject not just a collegiate elective, but part of the core curriculum in secondary education; a move too many public school boards still view as somehow subversive and private schools dismiss as academically insubstantial (read: unnecessary in the pursuit of Ivy).
“I’ve been accused of teaching a one-sided course,” McCarthy writes. “Perhaps, except that my course is the other side, the one that students aren’t getting in conventional history or political science courses, which present violent, militaristic solutions as rational and necessary.”
As partisan activists have proved again and again over the past 20 years, lasting political movements begin and end on the local level. McCarthy’s tale is a reminder that citizens who wish for a more peaceful future should take the fight to their neighborhood’s next school board meeting.
Source: The Nation
Image by crazebabe21, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 30, 2011 12:29 PM
Back in the good ol’ days, when a nuclear family could leave its bomb shelter unlocked at night, America had soft power to burn. The country’s cultural ambassadors and renegade auteurs outgunned the taciturn commies, whose idea of a party still involved military bands and Lenin t-shirts. When the Cold War finally ended, MTV’s Kurt Loder was a global menace and punk rock was still armed and dangerous.
As Shikha Dalmia writes in Reason, the magazine of free minds and free markets, today’s young Muslims are not nearly as susceptible to the calculated chaos of Western pop culture as yesterday’s youth of the East Bloc. “While hip hop and heavy metal have helped inspire some of the street protesters demanding more freedoms across the Middle East and northern Africa,” Dalmia observes, “outside of the hardcore early adopters these cultural subgenres remain more voyeuristic than aspirational.”
This is no small thing, especially since the West’s use of hard power over the past decade—troops in Iraq, drone attacks in Afghanistan—has, in most cases, served to both weaken its reputation and further strengthen religious fanatics, who need a devil to blame for their hateful rhetoric and murderous behavior.
There is hope on the cultural horizon, however. And, no, Lady Gaga will not have to suit up for battle. India’s film industry is the free world’s new shining star—all kitsched-up, scantily clad, and subversively cool. “Islamic fundamentalists have long worried about the threat that Bollywood poses to their puritanical demands,” writes Dalmia, who is a senior policy analyst at the Reason Foundation. “They have ample reason to be worried: About 3 billion people, or half the planet, watches Bollywood, and many of them live in the Islamic world. By depicting assimilated, modernized Muslims, Bollywood—without even trying—deromanticizes and thereby disarms fanatical Islam.”
Like Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the powers that be in Pakistan, “India’s cultural twin in every respect but religion,” have tried to censor Bollywood and demonize its romantic heroes and heroines, who often fall in love outside of marriages already arranged, battle to mediate modernity and tradition, and navigate a Technicolor world free from conservative dress and outdated moral codes.
“Even as Pakistan’s resistance to America’s drones and raids has grown, its resistance to Bollywood’s soft power has crumbled,” Dalmia concludes. “The extremists who find sympathetic audiences when directing fire and brimstone toward the Great Satan are powerless to prevent Pakistanis form consuming Bollywood blasphemies.”
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 5:09 PM
Given the corruption that crashed the American economy (again), and the current administration’s unwillingness to seriously address class issues or corporate greed, it’s hard to find fault with Occupy Wall Street.
The “leaderless resistance movement,” which started in New York City on September 17 and continues to attract protesters to Zuccotti Park near Wall Street, is viewed by many, including Noam Chomsky, as courageous and honorable.
“Anyone with eyes open knows that the gangsterism of Wall Street—financial institutions generally—has caused severe damage to the people of the United States and the world. And should also know that it has been doing so increasingly for over 30 years, as their power in the economy has radically increased, and with it their political power,” Chomsky says. “[The protests] should serve to bring this calamity to public attention, and to lead to dedicated efforts to overcome it and set the society on a more healthy course.”
On the Washington Post’s editorial page, staffer James Downie concludes that “as long as the sluggish economy continues to hit Americans—and especially young Americans—hard, expect more and bigger demonstrations like Occupy Wall Street—unfocused, sometimes excessive, but fundamentally justifiable.”
Not everyone who agrees with the protesters’ principles is impressed, however. In an essay posted on Ted Rall’s website on September 26, the political cartoonist, commentator, and author says that “for me and other older, jaded veterans of leftist struggle, [Occupy Wall Street’s] failure was a foregone conclusion”—and that “yet another opportunity to agitate for real change was being wasted by well-meant wankers.”
This is not to say Rall doesn’t believe in the cause. The author of Wake Up, You're Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back from the Right, acknowledges in the first sentence of his critique that Occupy Wall Street “is and was important.” If only because it represents the first major repudiation of the Obama administration by the American left. But, he argues, good intentions are not enough, especially when the stakes are so high.
“Michael Moore complained about insufficient media coverage, but this non-movement movement was doomed before it began by its refusal to coalesce around a powerful message, its failure to organize and involve the actual victims of Wall Street’s perfidy (people of color, the poor, the evicted, the unemployed, those sick from pollution, etc.), and its refusal to argue and appeal on behalf of a beleaguered working class against an arrogant, violent and unaccountable ruling elite—in other words, to settle for nothing less than the eradication of capitalism.”
Rall desperately wants the protesters to be better organized, and points out that a number of those who did get interviewed by the mainstream media lacked a central message and the ability to articulately unpack key issues. To hammer home his point, he implores the kids in the park to “lose the clown clothes.”
“It’s not the early 1960s; you don’t have to wear a suit like the civil rights marchers did,” he writes. “But how about showing up on national TV looking decent, like it’s Casual Friday?”
Rall is a provocateur, and a few progressives have already taken him to task both for his hyperbolic prose and for his failure to support the troops. Fair enough. There’s a lot to chew on in this tirade, however, and when everyone goes back to their lives and Wall Street continues its run toward ruin, it demands a dispassionate revisitation.
Sources: Occupy Wall Street, Ted Rall, Washington Post
Image by Carwil, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011 4:45 PM
Paul Chappell still lives by the examples his Korean American mother set when he was growing up in Alabama: “Don’t talk too much; be stoic; be calm; be respectful; be on time; don’t gossip; keep your word; fulfill your promises; dress conservatively.” The 31 year-old West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran is neither soft-spoken nor passive when it comes to his decidedly progressive convictions, however.
A peace activist and author of two books, including The End of War: How Waging Peace Can Save Humanity, Our Planet and Our Future, Chappell now lives by the words of civil rights leader James Lawson, who said that the “difficulty with nonviolent people and efforts is that they don’t recognize the necessity of fierce discipline and training, strategizing, planning, and recruiting.” And, having seen combat up close and personal, he believes that that a world without war is not only possible, but that “what’s naïve is to think that wars can continue and humanity will survive.”
In a wide-ranging interview posted online earlier this year by KoreAm—a monthly magazine that covers and analyzes the news, culture, and “people of Korean America”—Chappell engages on a wide-variety of subjects: The racial challenges of his childhood (his father is white-and-African American); the seeds of terrorism, which grow in the soil of hopelessness; and the strategic importance of seeing things through the eyes of both your opponents and those you hope to persuade.
In a particularly thought-provoking segment of the conversation, Chappell compares war to slavery, both flawed institutions based on inaccurate assumptions and opportunistic lies.
“Today, many of us believe that human beings are naturally violent, so war is inevitable,” he tells interviewer Leslee Goodman. “Look at who benefits from that myth. If human beings are naturally violent, politicians can’t be held responsible for making war; they’re just trying to protect us from the violent people all over the planet. Weapons makers can’t be held responsible; they’re just trying to help us defend ourselves. But in truth humans aren’t naturally violent, so we’re all responsible. War is a choice. General Omar Bradley, a veteran of World War II, said, ‘Wars can be prevented just as surely as they are provoked, and we who fail to prevent them share in guilt for the dead.’”
Image by dewwww, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011 4:05 PM
Regardless of the author, political “tell alls” rarely tell readers anything they didn’t already know or firmly believe, except that the self-proclaimed hero or heroine of the tale is even more brilliant, arrogant, genuine, superficial, or petty than we dared dream. And given what I can only imagine lurks in the bionic heart of former Vice President’s Dick Cheney, I’m not making plans to curl up with his new book, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir, over the Labor Day weekend.
I have found one reason to be excited by the VP’s 576-page curtain call, though. The international human rights organization Amnesty International is shrewdly taking advantage of the momentary media buzz around the book’s release to remind people of the lies that Cheney, his boss, and their loyalists told and continue to tell to justify “institutionalized torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances”—all immoral and indefensible violations of the Geneva Conventions and the United States Constitution.
“Amnesty International is reiterating its call to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to immediately open a criminal investigation into the role former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and other officials played in the use of torture on detainees held in U.S. custody,” Tom Parker, policy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights for Amnesty International U.S.A., said in a press release on August 25.
On August 30, supporters of the organization showed up to protest Cheney’s appearance on NBC’s Today Show, and their signs calling for accountability were caught on camera. That afternoon, Amnesty members delivered a copy of Cheney's memoir to a spokesperson at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., along with a personal letter to Holder demanding that his office look into crimes committed during the Bush administration’s so-called “war on terror.”
Amnesty also launched Cheney’s Conscience, a parody account on Twitter that it hopes users will read and repost in an effort to remind people of the vice president’s actions in and out of office.
I’m still unsure why President Obama decided against pursuing his predecessors in the courts. A good case could be made that he simply wanted to keep his options open and continues to allow, if not encourage, torture and rendition off the grid. A more generous interpretation is that he didn’t want to get mired in a highly polarizing political fight. Either way, it’s a good guess he assumed Bush and Co. would show some gratitude and stay silent on the issue. Cheney, in particular, has chosen to do just the opposite. If there’s any justice, his braggadocio and the inventive work of organizations like Amnesty International will cause the Obama administration to reconsider its passivity.
Image courtesy of
Friday, August 26, 2011 2:59 PM
I’m not sure whether or not beauty pageant contestants wish for world peace these days, but lately the very idea, like Miss America herself, seems both antiquated and absurd. Including the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are 18 wars being waged at this very moment. And given America’s open-ended “war on terror,” the racial climate in Europe, the economic strife in Africa, and the globe’s seemingly endless supply of stubborn dictators, you couldn’t blame a person for concluding that things are going to get a lot worse. In fact, it’s easy to write-off anyone who dares to question the prevailing doom-and-gloom as a bleary-eyed idealist.
In a Foreign Policy piece that even the most cynical of realists will find hard to blithely dismiss, however, Joshua Goldstein, a professor emeritus of international relations at American University, concludes that “President Barack Obama was telling the truth in June when he said, ‘The tide of war is receding.’ ” And Goldstein, who authored Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide, has the data to back up his optimism.
“The last decade has seen fewer war deaths than any decade in the past 100 years, based on data compiled by researchers . . . of the Peace Research Institute Oslo,” Goldstein points out.
Worldwide, deaths caused directly by war-related violence in the new century have averaged about 55,000 per year, just half of what they were in the 1990s (100,000 a year), a third of what they were during the Cold War (180,000 a year from 1950 to 1989), and a hundredth of what they were in World War II. If you factor in the growing global population, which has nearly quadrupled in the last century, the decrease is even sharper. Far from being an age of killer anarchy, the 20 years since the Cold War have been an era of rapid progress toward peace.
Goldstein’s overall argument—that the end of war is “downright thinkable”—is structured around what he sees as a related series of commonly held misconceptions: war has gotten more brutal for civilians; wars will get worse in the future; a more democratic world will be a more peaceful one; peacekeeping doesn’t work; and some conflicts will never end. In each of these sections he artfully combines historical comparisons, recent data, and analysis to either counter the stated assertion or, at the very least, encourage a reassessment.
At times, Goldstein conflates his data or becomes almost too mathematical, forgetting to factor in the subtleties of human behavior and the vagaries of fate. But for the most part, he forces the reader to rethink current history and question the chaotic narrative that distorts our expectations.
Source: Foreign Policy
Image by Jayel Aheram, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 18, 2011 4:45 PM
We live in a country where a stunning number of TV meteorologists still aggressively deny the existence of climate change, so I couldn’t help but be both surprised and a bit encouraged by the results of a national poll conducted last November. It seems that Republicans who dare to take a “green position” on climate—which essentially means admitting that something needs to be done to keep the earth’s temperature from rising—could end up wooing undecided voters without alienating their core constituency.
According to The Daily Climate, Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment called 1,000 randomly selected participants and asked them to evaluate a hypothetical Senate candidate based on a number of issues and found that “taking a green position on climate won votes . . . and taking a not-green position [which includes sticking with coal and oil as the nation’s dominant energy sources] lost votes.”
Based on a detailed breakdown of the data, researchers concluded that while Democrats could strengthen their base by focusing on climate, Republicans hoping to woo Independents and disappointed Dems had more to gain at the moment, especially if their opponents stay silent on the subject. “On taxes and the economy, the Republicans are singing one note,” Bruce Cain, professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, told the Daily Climate. “The only way to win is by shining the light on the differences.”
This analysis squares with the findings of another Stanford poll released a year ago, which found that “three out of four Americans believe that ‘the Earth has been gradually warming due primarily or at least partly as the result of human activity and want the government to institute regulations to stop it.’ ”
Whether or not taking a pro-green position on the stump would actually result in actual legislation after the polls close is another question altogether, of course, but it will be interesting to see if data like this changes the conversational climate come primary time.
Source: The Daily Climate
Image by paul nine-o, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, August 15, 2011 4:32 PM
The assumption that human beings are inherently selfish—interested in the greater good only when it serves their own interests—has long-influenced capitalism’s most prominent thinkers (Adam Smith, Alan Greenspan, Gordon Gekko) and served as a litmus test for modern America’s so-called political realists. Employees are best motivated with bags of carrots and a big stick. Without law there is no order, and without the threat of punishment there is no law. We’re all out for number one. Greed is good. Dogs eat dogs.
Just turn on the news anytime of the day or night. The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming.
A compelling counter-narrative is emerging, however. In the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, Yochai Benkler points to “recent research in evolutionary biology, psychology, sociology, political science, and experimental economics [that suggests] people behave far less selfishly than most assume.”
“Evolutionary biologists and psychologists have even found neural and, possibly, genetic evidence of a human predisposition to cooperate,” he writes.
In the piece, “The Unselfish Gene,” Benkler, a Harvard law professor and author of The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest (Crown Business, 2011), aims to reach executives and managers who he believes must abandon traditional motivational strategies in favor of techniques that “rely on engagement, communication, and a sense of common purpose and identity.” Along the way, though, he points to scientific discoveries and psychological theories that will engage any reader who pines for collective solutions to common problems.
In one cited experiment revolving around cooperative behavior, for example, a majority of subjects consistently behaved cooperatively (some when treated reciprocally, others even when it came at a personal cost). In another revealing set of studies, participants showed that traditional incentives, such as monetary awards and the threat of punishment, actually hampered productivity and discouraged engagement. This can be explained in part by neuroscience that shows that cooperation, when chosen freely, simply makes people feel good.
“No, we are not all Mother Teresa; if we were, we wouldn’t have heard of her,” Benkler says. “However, a majority of human beings are more willing to be cooperative, trustworthy, and generous than the dominant model has permitted us to assume. If we recognize that, we can build efficient systems by relying on our better selves rather than optimizing our worst. We can do better.”
Source: Harvard Business Review
Image by lumaxart, licensed under Creative Commons.
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