IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Globaliz(s)ation and Peace

I am preparing a course that will consider North-South relations, understood broadly (ie not just politics and economics), and I have decided that the best way to organize this material is against the background of globalization.  This has led me to revisit a number of the (very interesting) topics associated with this contemporary buzzword.  One of the most interesting, is, in fact, the very diverse views on whether the “big G” is, fundamentally, good or bad for us; and more specifically in regard to the concerns of this blog, does it promote peace or something else.  You too can have fun with this:  go to Mr. Google and search “globalization and peace”, or “globalisation and peace” if you are in the more British tradition.

I suspect what you will find will be something like the following.  First there are those who draw on some now rather conventional economic reasoning that globalization promotes trade links and trade links are inversely proportional to conflict between/among countries.   This is valid, I think, as far as it goes…but it probably doesn’t go far enough.  After all, there has been a lot of talk about “free trade” vs. “fair trade”.  While globalization might be seen to be promoting the former, it is only indirectly, at best, promoting the latter; meaning that concern about fair trade emerges in reaction to the social, political and economic concerns arising from the excesses of unregulated (ie “free”) trade.  Consider in this regard, coffee.  As I understand it, the dynamics of the global coffee market have created a situation where there are only a handful of firms that actually buy raw coffee beans from growers.  This is what is called an oligopsony–many sellers/few buyers.  As you can imagine these buyers can more or less dictate the price they pay.  In many cases the price is too low for peasant farmers to make much of a living (and hence we have the “fair trade” movement in regard to coffee–Max Havelaar and others), and they have an incentive to grow other crops, which would not be a problem except that the best alternative for them in places like Colombia and elsewhere is coca….which feeds the cartels, undermines governments, etc…etc…. The dynamics are not always that simple, but I think you can see what I’m getting at.  One could multiply examples here, from culture to the environment.

Basically, globalization brings us closer to together and changes, thereby, the ways we think about and deal with our problems.  In itself, it does not foster peace.  Consider, if you are closely linked with a trading partner, this may either cause you to be wary of getting into conflict with that partner, or to be more inclined to intervene (through various means) and try to make sure the “right” decisions are made by that partner (“right” meaning those more closely aligned with your own interests).  It can go either way.

So, what am I saying?  Globalization certainly makes peace more urgent since in a small(er) space more damage is created by conflict.  It therefore creates more possibilities for moving toward peace.  One might even argue that such movement becomes increasingly likely, since its opposite will create more and more problems (not to say tragedies and disasters).  So, once again we come down to the ever present “learning curve”.  How steep is it?  That is exactly what we are finding out every day!

IGbarb says:  “Get out your thinking caps…there is a lot of learning to do (in a hurry)!”


February 1, 2012 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

Being Fran(c)k about opposites

I was reading an interesting article the other day and came across some of the ideas of Sebastian Franck about peace. Who, you may ask, is/was this Mr. Franck? Actually it was Herr Franck. He was, according to Wikipedia, “… a 16th century German freethinker, humanist, and radical reformer” (you can find the complete article here). He got into all sorts of trouble for being suspected of heresy (many were in those days).

But in the article, I found the following: “Franck…disputes impressively the usual argument that war can lead to peace. Nothing can be achieved by its own contrast: poverty would never lead to riches, neither would dishonesty create honesty. War brings about more damages than profits, even if this does not always become obvious as the damages suffered by souls…are less visible” (from Istvan Kende, “The History of Peace: Concept and Organizations from the Late Middle Ages to the 1870s”: Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 26, No. 3, Aug. 1989, p. 236).

First of all, Herr Franck seems to have been way ahead of his times, since these arguments are certainly part of much contemporary writing about peace. Second, what do you think of his argument about “contrasts”. I found myself thinking about it for some time. I have always believed, for instance that the end rarely justifies the means. Rather, if you want a peaceful, beautiful, just…etc..end, your means must have those same qualities.

Anyhow, hats off to Sebastian!

August 25, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inner and outer peace (a few initial thoughts)

So do we have to have peaceful people (people who have achieved some degree of inner peace) to have outer, societal (and international) peace? Put more analytically, are these two points on a continuum, and do they depend on each other? As you might know, there are people who put much more emphasis on one than the other, arguing either that “outer reality” is a reflection of “inner reality”, and that to change the former you have (but) to change the latter. This might be considered a more spiritual view (as defined in one of my earlier posts). There are also those–for instance of a Marxist persuasion–who, being more materialist, argue that social conditions determine individual consciousness. According to this perspective, the “contradictions” in the socio-economic order have to work themselves out–ie there has to be class conflict–until a more stable, and peaceful social order can be achieved.

While I have, for the sake of brevity, caricatured both positions, these really are rather different views of where peace, and social change in general, comes from. Of course, there are ways of reconciling them, along the lines of peaceful people creating peaceful social conditions, and vice versa. But that leaves a problem: when a cycle of violence starts, and increasingly violent people create increasingly violent conditions that make people even more violent, how do you stop and reverse the process? I personally think it has to do with values: people with peaceful values and the spiritual strength to try to promote those values commit themselves to change. So, in that sense you do need inner peace to create outer peace; but inner peace, while probably involving an inner life of meditation and prayer (at least for some), is an active posture and not a passive one. Here Ghandi or Martin Luther King are excellent examples.

I know I have just scratched the surface on this one, so why not discuss it further in the comments.

August 18, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

IG’s first post on peace

Welcome to my new blog! I plan to be writing about “everything and anything” relating to what I think of as the problem and challenge of peace. I have taught (and continue to teach) courses related to peace and I have published articles about peace and related topics, so I guess some academic-speak will creep in here from time to time. However, I am now becoming convinced that while there are many dimensions to peace, it is not, fundamentally, a complicated subject. Rather, it is, or should be accessible to everybody since it concerns everybody; and I hope what I discuss will be just that– accessible. For instance, have you ever wondered why, if just about everyone would rather live in peace, there is so much war and violence? To me this is one of the “big ones”…right up there with “why are we here”, “what is time”, etc…:-) As you might expect the question has been asked at many times, in many cultures, and answers vary, and keep evolving. Just to hint at some interesting things that have been learned in this area: human nature does not seem hard wired to behave like this. We’ll get back to this, but for now I leave you with the words of John Lennon (I think)…”Why in the world are we here? Surely not to live in hate and fear”

BTW…please leave comments if you feel like it…let’s get some discussions going!

July 14, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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