IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

“…and then there was….what was there?”*

Just me noting a few things I have found interesting.

First, as I suspected the whole Euro issue would push the EU toward more governance.  Of course, many countries don’t like this; but personally, I think the Euro is here to stay and more centralized fiscal control is an inevitability.  Today Europe…tomorrow (well not exactly tomorrow, but anyway…) the world!

Second,  it is amazing how information diffuses these days, and also amazing that people who nobody thought were really interested in democracy, seem to be interested after all.  Who knew?  In fact, though, it is probably not democracy in any specific form that they want (you can fill in the names for the “they” here–just pick up a newspaper).  They want to have some say over what happens to them, they want to have a sense of identity that is not constantly being called into question by events…and they want to live in a society with meaningful relationships that confirm their identity and help them to participate in what shapes their lives.  We all want this.  You can call this human rights, or essential freedoms, or whatever.  It is what humans (as John Burton pointed out quite a few years ago now) need to be fully human.  Also, and this is the part we are seeing today:  it can’t be taken away forever; or, for that matter negotiated away.  People will, sooner or later, rise up to take it back.

Politics is a dependent variable.  Huh?  Well, while we go on and on about who is governing whom and who might get the chance to replace them in what election, we lose sight of the bigger picture, which I suspect has to do with the fact that our values and our culture pretty much determine what happens in our politics.  So, if you want to change politics (heck, what right-thinking person doesn’t?) you have to change those values and, by implication, the culture in which they are embedded….which explains, to some extent at least, why I am a teacher and not a politician.  True, I teach about politics, but I don’t practice what most would consider politics…but believe me, I see myself very much involved in the process of global change (even if in a small way).

We really need to unite, at least to a basic workable level, our planet.  Heck we are finding more and more  possibly inhabitable worlds.  Sooner, rather than later, the Star Trek scenario will be upon us (ie when we start to move at light speed through space).  Heaven (literally) only knows what will happen at that point.  Personally, I think we need all hands on deck on spaceship earth for what will be a probably never ending series of challenges without precedent.  No more time for squabbles, or neglecting suffering, or stupid prejudices…Everybody is “us”…no more”them”.  If you don’t get that, take a really hard look at the stars some night…a real hard, real long look.  Let that good old cosmic insignificance sink deep into you.  If you do this, you just might, as I did at one point, realize that that very feeling (as uncomfortable as it can be) is a creative force.  We really are all in this planetary life thing together.  There really is, as Sartre said, “no exit”.  Or, as Stuart Brand, creater of the Whole Earth Catalogue used to say “we are as gods, so we might as well get good at it”.

IGbarb says:  “Gods are as gods do…be as godly as you can!”

* I think this is from Frank Zappa, but I’m not sure (Karl Weaver are you out there?)


December 29, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More on Burton and the Middle East

A few days ago a wrote a short post about the Middle East and mentioning John Burton.  Well, shortly thereafter I wrote a somewhat longer article on the same subject, and I thought I would also share that here.


Human Needs and Events in the Middle East and North Africa

Like much of humanity, I have observed recent events in the Middle East and North Africa with both exhilaration and trepidation.  It is clear that change is occurring; but only a dyed in the wool optimist could think that positive outcomes are assured.  Too much that was “given” is now called into question.  Regimes in place for decades have been swept away or forced to barricade themselves behind walls and arms.  Autocracy seems to be on the defensive in a region where it was, in one form or another, the norm; and where countries considered “leaders of the free world” rationalized alliances with and support for dictators (and, by the way, realized great profits through arms sales and other contracts).

The implications of these events are far reaching indeed, since they may re-cast diplomacy in the region and beyond.  Judging from early “fall out” (the resignation of a French cabinet minister because of ties to the former regime in Tunisia is instructive in this regard), it may well become more difficult for the West to justify political and commercial ties with regimes that have bad (to horrific) human rights records, etc… This, in itself, would be very significant since at every stage of the emergence of the contemporary human rights regime, there has been opposition from those who argued that politics is inherently a dirty business and that the promotion of national interest should not be constrained by moral considerations.  Of course, the “international community” has articulated for some time a discourse of democracy and human rights, despite the many flagrant contradictions in the foreign policies of its leading members.  However, now, I suspect, the gap between theory and practice will close further; if only because dictators may no longer seem to be good political and economic investments.

Another striking aspect of current events is how surprised leading powers appear to have been by the scope and effectiveness of the various popular uprisings.  As with the rapid fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in the late ’80s and early ‘90s, almost nobody saw this coming.  There have been some preliminary analyses of how viral social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc…) enabled and accelerated the process, and I’m sure much more will be learned in the near future.  However, what should I think, be of concern, was that before the first wave of events very few commentators seemed to suspect that an end was in sight for these regimes—that they could not perpetrate themselves indefinitely.  This blind spot existed despite events in Eastern Europe, South Africa and elsewhere.  Here is where I think Peace Studies was to some degree “ahead”.  There is much work in our field indicating that human beings will not tolerate human rights abuse for an indefinite period of time.  If you add in the technological enablers, one can see it was only a matter of time till change came.  In this regard, I want to highlight specifically John Burton’s human needs theory (while acknowledging there are several other writers whose work also provides insight), since it seems to me to have been ahead of the curve in providing a framework in which current events can be seen to make sense.

Burton (1990: 23) starts from the premise “…that there are limits to the extent to which the human person, acting separately or within a wider ethnic or national community, can be socialized or manipulated…”; and “…that there are human development needs that must be satisfied and catered for by institutions, if these institutions are to be stable, and if societies are to be significantly free of conflict.” While acknowledging that this is still a new and contested research area, Burton presented a plausible list of needs. First, human beings require a sense of security and of identity. Second, since people have a generic drive to learn, they require a consistent response from the environment, without which learning is impossible. Third, from their social context people require both recognition and valued relationships, or bonding. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, individuals require (some) control over their environments in order to insure that their needs are fulfilled (Burton, 1990: 47 and 95) (1).

If, on balance, needs are met within a social institution (government, family, corporation, etc…), the institution receives support and is consolidated and perpetuated. If, however, needs are not met, the institution loses support and legitimacy, and confronts increasing opposition. In the latter case, authorities may react with repression and coercion, but if an institution is “de-legitimated” for enough people, conflict cannot be resolved this way. Rather, the institutional structures have to evolve, sooner or later, to more fully accommodate the needs of the people. To Burton (1990: 127), legitimacy is a dynamic, rather than a static, condition which “stresses the reciprocal nature of relations with authorities, the support given because of the services they render, and respect for legal norms when these are legitimized norms.” He contrasts this with a static notion of legality which “…has associated with it…loyalty to a sovereign or formal leader right or wrong, elitism, the common good and the national interest as interpreted by elites…” (1990: 127).

Furthermore, while a demand for democracy is a common theme in the current protests, and is undoubtedly an important part of positive change, Burton, suggests it does not, in itself, guarantee legitimacy for institutions of governance.  Rather he argues that conventional representative democracy is only effective in a society with “…relative ethnic homogeneity, classlessness and equality…”; and this model alone is not able to guarantee institutional legitimacy “…in a society that contains major income differences, and in which minorities are unrepresented but must observe the norms of a majority” (1998: 4) — conditions characteristic of many transitional countries. In summary, Burton’s work indicates that social reform which goes further than conventional Western models of governance to meet human needs is necessary if the deep-seated conflicts of the Middle Eastern societies currently in upheaval are to be transformed into more peaceful and creative social relations.

Early on, Burton emphasized that there were two fundamentally different approaches to the analysis of conflict.  Either conflict is due to inherent human aggressiveness and can, at best, be controlled; or, as outlined above, it results from inappropriate social institutions that frustrate human needs. The former position can be (and has been) used to justify coercion and elite control in society, but the latter points out a direction for positive change (Burton, 1998: 1). His analysis is compelling for the countries currently “making news” since their historic turning points have been reached through the collapse of overtly coercive systems. This fact, in itself, lends prima facie support to Burton’s second premise, and I would argue that this has been demonstrated several times in recent decades.  Perhaps it is time that more policymakers and commentators take note.  Finally, looking forward, if the institutions of civil society can define and focus attention on needs-related issues, such as human rights and sustainable development, and hold new public institutions accountable for steady progress in these areas, there may be grounds for cautious optimism about the region’s future.

(1)    His, and others, later work expanded and refined this initial list but the core elements remain.


Burton, John. 1990. Conflict: Resolution and Provention. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Burton, John. 1998. “Conflict Resolution: the Human Dimension. “International Journal of Peace Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, January, pp. 1-5.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

The Middle East, etc…

What’s a poor blogger to do: great events that merit being discussed are happening in the Arab world and yet he doesn’t want to come across as partisan. Anyhow, here are a few important points from a peace studies point of view. I’ve mentioned John Burton previously and what is known as the human needs approach to conflict resolution.  He talks, in some of his work, about the difference between legality and legitimacy.  Legality means just that:  an action or a policy is in accord with, or at least not in violation of, an existing legal order.  Whereas, legitimacy means that the people living in a society perceive its rules and institutions as adequately (not perfectly, of course) addressing their individual and collective needs.

The article linked to above  suggests the following list of needs

* Safety/Security — the need for structure, predictability, stability, and freedom from fear and anxiety.
* Belongingness/Love — the need to be accepted by others and to have strong personal ties with one’s family, friends, and identity groups.
* Self-esteem — the need to be recognized by oneself and others as strong, competent, and capable. It also includes the need to know that one has some effect on her/his environment.
* Personal fulfillment — the need to reach one’s potential in all areas of life.
* Identity — goes beyond a psychological “sense of self.” Burton and other human needs theorists define identity as a sense of self in relation to the outside world. Identity becomes a problem when one’s identity is not recognized as legitimate, or when it is considered inferior or is threatened by others with different identifications.
* Cultural security — is related to identity, the need for recognition of one’s language, traditions, religion, cultural values, ideas, and concepts.
* Freedom — is the condition of having no physical, political, or civil restraints; having the capacity to exercise choice in all aspects of one’s life.
* Distributive justice — is the need for the fair allocation of resources among all members of a community.
* Participation — is the need to be able to actively partake in and influence civil society.

The current events also confirm another of Burton’s arguments.  Quite some time ago he concluded from his human needs analysis, that a regime would not be able to maintain itself indefinitely if it did not adequately provide for the fulfillment of the needs of the majority of the population.

Of course, at this stage one cannot say where if at all regimes perceived to be more legitimate will ultimately appear.  We will simply have to wait and see.

February 26, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Some more gems found through tag surfing!

I found some interesting blog input right here on WordPress. Starting with the Asrudian Center, where there are some nice articles about Peace Studies. Here is one about John Burton (mentioned a few days ago in this blog); another about using medical analogies in peace studies; and still another about the conflicts of globalization (hmmm…that one looks sort of familiar 🙂 ).

Now for something a bit more esoteric…hop over to Center for Wellbeing blog and catch the physics professor talking about a “science of peace”. Again, I’m passing this on as interesting (I’m not necessarily endorsing).

Let’s get more “peaceniks” on WordPress…IGbarb says: Ya’ll come!

September 11, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Human needs, and why they matter

One of my personal favorite approaches to understanding conflict and changing the world so there’s much less of it, was developed by the Australian scholar and diplomat John Burton. Burton built on the work of Abraham Maslow about needs that were not just physical, and came up with a list which included identity, security, recognition and meaningful relationships (the list varies). Why is this important? Well for one thing social sciences have always had a problem with human nature…what makes people tick. Also, in his work, Burton argues that these needs can’t be bargained or negotiated away. They have to be met, one way or another. So, social institutions such as governments and laws must foster the fulfillment of these needs for everybody. If they don’t, then there will be conflict, and, very often, violent conflict. He even went so far as to argue that it almost didn’t matter how many police or other forms of oppression were applied, people would still fight for need fulfillment (one way or another).

This points very clearly to what Burton considered the key to the problem: find the needs not being met, and reform the relevant institutions so they fulfill these needs. For example: if political institutions deprive a group of identity, security or both, and that group revolts, you will, sooner or later, have to do something about those institutions. The “only” problem here, is that there would undoubtedly be some other groups who benefited from the unjust status quo ante, and who would very likely resist changes to it. But even this is instructive.

Human needs theory has its critics, of course, and you can read a brief and balanced assessment of it here. You can also find a nice short article on Burton and his work here.

August 27, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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