Interview led by Salimjon Aioubov from Radio Free Europe with
Martin Auer, proprietor of the site http://www.peaceculture.net on May 17, 2007
What does “peace” mean?
On a superficial plane peace just means the absence of a state of war. In this sense peace is just the interval between wars. We cannot really call this peace. Peace in a deeper sense would be a condition of society that makes war unnecessary or even impossible. Now what could this condition be? To find an answer we must look at the origins of war. It is not so important to know why this or that war broke out. It is important to understand why for so many millennia war survived as an institution. When I am speaking about war I mean the sort of war that is the main topic of our history books. The war of our history books is an institution that is about 10.000 years old. This sort of war is not about solving some conflict by using violence as we are often told. No. This sort of war is always about expanding the empire.
Now why should anyone want to expand the empire?
Imagine a society of egalitarian farmers. Let’s say that each family cultivates their own plot and more or less subsist on what they produce, or they may cultivate a bigger estate collectively and share the produce. Why would they want to conquer more land? There is a certain amount of land they can cultivate, and owning more land than they can cultivate would not benefit them in any way. So they might feel they could use a few more acres, but there would be a certain limit beyond which more land would not be of any advantage to them.
This sort of society is not expansionist.
It seems that at some point in history some bands of hunters discovered a new sort of prey, the farmers and their storehouses. And they soon found out that if they did not kill all of them and did not rob them of everything, they could rob them again next year. They could even promise them to protect them from robbery if they paid a regular tribute. Protection money we would call that today. So a tiered society emerged, consisting of peasants and warriors, with the warrior chief now functioning as king.
Now why would the king want to conquer more land?
For the king and the warrior caste more land meant more peasants to pay them tribute, more resources that would be concentrated in the capital, more craftsmen and priests that could be fed, more palaces and temples that could be built, better weapons that could be crafted, more warriors that could be fed and so on, and this sort of progress would again mean more land that could be conquered and so on and so forth in a limitless spiral. In principle there was no limit to the size of empire a king could wish to reign.
This sort of society is expansionist, and its expansionism is limitless.
Of course I am drawing a very much simplified picture, But what I hope to illustrate is that a society that is based on exploitation must be expansionist. If it does not expand it will be overtaken and finally conquered by the competing empire. So if we want peace we need to transform our societies into non-expansionist societies and that means non-exploitative societies. A society based on exploitation cannot be a peaceful society.
What is the connection between the following words: “peace” , “justice”, “development”, “respect”, “goodwill”?
Lets talk about development. When I was in Africa I saw that there are many skilful mechanics there who can repair everything, a truck, a sewing machine or a bicycle. Now why could not one of them start making bicycles instead of just repairing them? In Europe industry also had to start with handicraft. So why can’t they also start building their small industries and go on from there? Because everybody buys Chinese bicycles. If the mechanic would have to sell a more or less handcrafted bicycle for the price of a bicycle that comes from a factory he would starve. And he can never scrape together the capital necessary for building a factory.
In our capitalist society we have companies that compete with each other. In the long run a company will survive only if it keeps up with technology, if it does not lose the race for efficiency. So they must constantly invest in modernization, rationalization and try to expand. To be able to invest they must seek to keep expenditures low and takings high. All very logical. But this leads to a situation where not all the products that are produced locally can be consumed locally, because companies tend to keep wages as low as possible. But to realize their profits they must sell their products. So they strive to export them. So they compete for markets. The areas with the highest efficiency of labour force their products on the areas with lower efficiency and thereby impede their development.
Now what would happen if I had the power to force just one company to pay higher wages, to spend more on improving working conditions, to spend more on protecting the environment? This company would in fact lose in the race for efficiency. But what if I could force all of the companies in a given economy? None of them would lose in the race, and they would be able to sell more of their products locally and the pressure to conquer outside markets would be lessened.
Well, I do not have this power. But trade unions have this power, states have this power, consumer organisations have this power. Strong trade unions, good labour laws, good environment protection laws help to slow down the competition for markets. And if because of the globalisation of the economy local trade unions and nation states don’t have so much power any more, then trade unions, NGOs and states must cooperate globally to achieve this.
If we manage to slow down this race of producing more things just to be able to produce more things we can take away the pressure from the areas with a lower efficiency of labour and give them time to develop in their own time, using their own resources. And they will not be forced to compete only for efficiency of labour and will have a better chance to start developing education, developing health standards, improving the food situation and then begin their own modernization by drawing from their own human resources.
I’m not so much for justice. Justice is about giving everybody what they deserve. Not less, but also not more. If you strive for justice, you have to measure: You have been good, you deserve a reward, you have been better, you deserve a greater reward, you have been bad, you deserve punishment. And who is to decide? My grandparents have been murdered in a concentration camp. There can never be a just recompense for that, there can never be a just punishment for that. It is impossible. We need less justice, more sharing and more mercy. Respect and goodwill are necessary. But teaching respect and goodwill does not help much, if the inner structure of a society is competitive and expansionist.
What does Culture of Peace mean?
All development is based on two things: Competition and cooperation. It’s the same in biological evolution as in the evolution of societies. Ant colonies compete with each other, but inside the colony the ants have achieved an astonishing level of cooperation. Empires compete with each other, but the soldiers of each army have to cooperate. Companies compete with each other, but the workers of a company have to cooperate.
A Culture of Peace must understand the workings of both competition and cooperation and must make use of both. To be able to cooperate, we must be able to communicate. You will have heard of the prisoner’s dilemma. It’s a little fable: Two thieves have been put in prison for stealing a goose. The king is also quite sure that they are the ones who have broken into his treasury a short while ago. So he has them put in different dungeons without any way of communicating. Then he visits each one and tells him: “I know you two have broken into my treasury. If you admit it, I will let you free and have the other one executed. If none of you admits it, I can only have you pay a fine for the goose. If it should happen that both of you admit breaking into my treasury I will not execute you but each of you will have his right hand cut off.” So each of them thinks: If the other one squeals, I will be better off if I will squeal too, because only my hand will be cut off. If he doesn’t squeal, I will be better off if I squeal, because I will go free then. So in any case I am better off if I squeal.” So they both admit breaking into the treasury and they both get their right hand cut off. But if they could have communicated, they could have agreed to keep mum and they would only have had to pay a fine.
So it is not true that if everybody looks after themselves everybody will be looked after. Very often we can improve our situation if we communicate with each other, if we find a common goal to our mutual advantage and agree on a way to achieve it.
So a culture of peace must be a culture of communication. And communication is not possible without knowledge, without education, and without free access to information. We are more than 6 billion people on this planet and we must find a way to communicate with each other, all 6 billion of us.
When and how to start peace education?
All education starts at birth. A warrior society raises its children in a different way from a peasant society. From the first moment parents communicate their attitudes and values to the children. Peace education should be about understanding the workings of competition and cooperation. You experience competition and cooperation as soon as you become part of a group. This happens in the playground, in kindergarten, in pre-school. Most games have both elements. In a game of football two teams compete with each other and cooperate among themselves. But the children must understand that to have a good game of football the teams must cooperate not only among themselves but also with each other: They must agree on the rules of the game, otherwise they will not be playing football but they will have a brawl.
For educators it is important to understand that it is not enough to preach certain values to the children, like goodwill, respect, tolerance. Children educate themselves. They observe what happens around them and if they see that a certain kind of behaviour, a certain set of values is more successful than another one, they will adopt it. So it is necessary that children can see and experience in real life that people who practice values like tolerance, goodwill and respect are not being laughed at as losers, but are respected by society and trusted with important functions. We are moving in circles a bit here. But educators must understand that it is not possible to change society just by teaching different values to the children. If you want to educate children for peace you must be a fighter for peace on all levels.
On the level of higher education an understanding of history, of politics, of economy, of psychology and sociology must be the goal of general education. Because without this knowledge it is very hard to take part in the process of communal decisions. A culture of peace means higher education for everyone. And education not seen only as a prerequisite for a successful career, but as a means of understanding the workings of society, not only your own but also of different cultures, a means of taking part in decisions, a means of taking part in democracy.
Why is peace so fragile?
Peace will be fragile as long as it is just an intermission between wars. Peace is fragile if it is just a state of equilibrium between competing powers, the time when none of them feels strong enough to attack the other.
If one day we can succeed in transforming our societies into non-exploitative, non-expansionist organisms, peace may be the rule, not the exception.