Written by the Douglas Baumwoll
The 2017 World Human Rights Cities Forum (WHRCF) will be held in Gwangju, September 14–17 at the Kimdaejung Convention Center. The theme of the forum is “Do We Live in Peace?”
This is the central theme of this year’s World Human Rights Cities Forum taking place here in Gwangju this month. The forum will consider this question as it applies to cities, however, I will consider it here somewhat more philosophically (as I do hold a degree in that practice). To me, the real question is “Do we live in relative peace?” or “Why don’t we live in peace?” A better question yet, “Can we all get along?” as Rodney King famously asked the American public in 1992 following the Los Angeles riots that killed 62, sparked by his unfathomable beating at the hands of police. More than that, the question of this article begs two additional ones: who, precisely, is “we”; and what, exactly, constitutes “peace”?
Peace Among People
Let’s start with the second question: What is peace? Regarding individuals’ behavior, my life is fairly hunky-dory. I mean, I haven’t been personally assaulted lately. Nor has my home been broken into. I have not been a victim of domestic violence. Nor has anyone I know, on all these counts. Then again, as I watched the news about the vehicular homicides recently perpetrated in Charlottesville, Virginia (USA), and Barcelona, Spain, it seems some people really can’t get along with the rest of us. And why were these acts of wanton violence committed? Bad ideology, misguided belief, and extreme malcontent.
Another troubling fact is “intentional homicide.” The United Nations reports that in 2012 roughly 500,000 people were murdered worldwide, and the number of victims extends into the millions when we consider the suffering of immediate and extended family members. I’ll spare you the global statistics on rape, aggravated assault, domestic violence, nonfatal shootings, and the Mexican Drug Wars.
Not very peaceful, really.
Peace Among Nations
Governments, that is, nations, have behaved particularly immorally over the last 120 years (if you consider intentionally killing people in the name of the state as an immoral act). Estimates vary, but during the 20th century an incomprehensible 123,000,000 of our fellow human beings perished due to wars. The Korean War alone cost 1.6 million civilian lives and 1.2 million combatants’ lives. Humans seemingly have fared better this century: war has killed 1,000,000 of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters. Syria alone has lost between 325,000 and 475,000 of her citizens since just 2011.
Today, there are 10 “official” wars in the world, along with armed “military conflicts” involving 64 nations and 576 separatist and militia groups. Why all the bloodshed? Again, it’s really a very simple answer: ideology. Ideologies born of religion, tribalism, political theory, and straight-out land-and-natural-resource-grabbing, all of which date back to the Romans and Mongols. Ideologies of domination, superiority, intolerance, ambivalence, hatred: all are manifestations of human belief. The good news is, of course, so are collaboration, acceptance, brotherhood/sisterhood, empathy, and love.
Do we live in peace? The implication is “do we live in peace with one another?” But who is “we”? I mean, we need to consider the idea of “Do we each live in peace with ourselves?”
Hmm. Do I live in peace with myself? Well, I certainly cogitate on the notion that I absolutely need to lose weight, exercise more, be vegetarian more than one or two days a week, and be less judgmental of hypocrites and liars and Trump supporters. Failing at this causes me some degree of guilt and inquietude; therefore, I do not live in total peace with myself. We all love Homer J. Simpson’s complete inner peace as he dupes other people for his own personal gain or wraps a pancake around an entire stick of butter and then mindfully chows it down. But even Homer suffers a conscience sometimes, engages in self-reflection, and then acts morally toward himself and others. Of course, there are plenty of very bad people in the world who commit very bad acts and are at total peace with themselves. For now, I am leaving them out of the equation.
The Dalai Lama advocates many forms of meditation, but recently he’s been speaking of “analytic meditation,” the analyzing of information and views on a given topic using “human intelligence.” He believes this to be an indispensable tool in the fight against the “prevalent violence and anger across the globe.” Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle knew this 2,500 years ago. Socrates died for his belief in asking incisive questions. I think we all need to get on this bandwagon once again.
Where do your beliefs come from? How were they formed? When were they formed? Try an exercise: state a belief you have and then analyze it. Choose a belief about a stereotype you hold involving such concepts as these: driving a car, where electricity comes from, how gasoline gets from crude oil to the pump, why people commit crimes, the environmental impact of raising cattle, the number of companies owned by PepsiCo., or the number of people living below the poverty line in the USA (it’s over 40 million). You and I may not be murdering people, hating people due to race, or causing international armed conflicts, but we still have a responsibility to question our beliefs daily on the most mundane issues and the status quo. Question the statements by press and politicians passed along as fact.
The Dalai Lama told The Wall Street Journal that “meditation in general is good for humanity.” I trust him on this. I personally have witnessed this, in myself and in others. There is now a documented “neuroscience of meditation,” which reveals, scientifically, all kinds of physical and mental health effects from meditation. The point here is this: “we,” as in individual human beings, will never be able to live in peace with one another until we live in peace within ourselves. Michael Jackson told us this years ago, when he advised us it all starts with “the man [or woman] in the mirror.”
We, as a race, need to work on the whole living-in-peace deal. Humanity has achieved many milestones in terms of art, beauty, science, sociology, and charity. Nevertheless, war, violence, and domination live on vigorously. The wealthy dominate the poor. Owners exploit workers. The distribution of wealth within and among societies is wacked. The company store and the company town thrive, albeit in evolved forms. Humans voraciously consume nonrenewable natural resources while at the same time dumping astronomical quantities of wastes into the air, water, and soil. Conventional war continues. Predatory lending abounds. Credit card debt is rife. Economic monopoly exists, despite anti-trust laws.
And there is outright war against the planet. Humanity has added its last 1 billion players to the game in just the last 12 years. We will number 9.7 billion by 2050, and everyone will want the natural-resource consuming, toxic-waste-generating lifestyle that we enjoy today in the G20 nations.
Current human beliefs drive current human actions. Nations are extensions of individuals, and nations’ behaviors reflect those of its individual citizens. Once individuals act peacefully, it follows that nations will as well. How do we get there? We must each reach a state of inner peace. We must tame our doubts, fears, aggressions, and angers. We need meditation. Self-reflection. Introspection. Self-enquiry as to “who am I?” Conversation. Socratic questioning. These techniques result in inner quietude. And from quietude, our individual actions will flow from a place of tolerance, understanding, empathy, love, and compassion toward all people, animals, and the Earth.
Could the answer really be so simple? I don’t know. But it seems to me we’d better try something. And quick.
Doug Baumwoll, a professional writer and editor for 25 years, trains in-service teachers in writing skills and methodology. His personal writing interests include visionary and speculative fiction, climate change, energy, and social justice. He is the founder of SavetheHumanz.com.
As is always true of our Op-Ed pieces, the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gwangju News, the GIC, or the Gwangju city government. — Eds.