The Learning Curve of Peace

"Why are we violent, but not illiterate?"

"Why are we violent, but not illiterate?"

question, originally posed by writer Colman McCarthy, was asked at the
Midwest Regional Department of Peace conference, which was held last
weekend outside Detroit. It cuts to the core of our troubles. The
answer is agonizingly obvious: "We're taught to read!" Could it
be we also need to be taught, let us say, calmness, breath and impulse
control, practical applications of the Golden Rule? But until we know
enough to ask these questions, violence, like ignorance, is just a fact
of life.

humanity. In Russian, the word "mir" means "earth"; it also means
"peace." We know the answers. They're hidden in our language. We long
for peace with every fiber of our being, yet we spend countless
trillions annually pursuing its opposite, as though determined in our
perversity to be the worst we can be, to squander our enormous
intelligence chasing fear and rage to their logical conclusion and
annihilating ourselves.

ladies and gentlemen, to H.R. 808, the bill to create a cabinet-level
U.S. Department of Peace. It was first introduced by Dennis Kucinich in
2001, and reintroduced in every session of Congress thereafter. It has
some 70 co-sponsors in the House right now -- thanks to the tireless
grassroots lobbying efforts of members of the nationwide Peace Alliance
-- but remains a long way from passage, or even congressional debate.
That's almost beside the point, however. At this stage, the legislation
is a focal point for spreading awareness and getting people (members of
Congress and everyone else) to start asking the right questions.

"From the
growing rate of domestic incarceration to increasing problems of
international violence, the United States has no more serious problem
in our midst than the problem of violence itself."

So cries
the Peace Alliance website, going on to point out that, while we pursue
incarceration, punishment and war with enormous gusto, economically,
emotionally and spiritually, "there is within the workings of the U.S.
government, no platform from which to seriously wage peace.

"We place
no institutional heft behind an effort to address the causal issues of
violence, diminishing its psychological force before it erupts into
material conflict. From child abuse to genocide, from the murder of one
to the slaughter of thousands, it is increasingly senseless to merely
wait until violence has erupted before addressing the deeper well from
which it springs."

This begins
to get at it. There's an enormous amount of data, scholarship and
technology available on the root causes of violence and the waging of
peace, but the fact of this has yet to be embraced politically. To a
large extent, government and its attendant industries (especially the
media) remain part of the problem -- a huge part of the problem -- rather
than part of the solution.

To know
this, ironically, is to know no peace. Building peace is a lot of work,
and the work never stops, nor does the awareness that, if we fail to do
so, we're headed, as a nation and a species, along an arc of
self-obliteration. It's far more "peaceful" to remain in denial, to
shut down awareness, to numb ourselves with "the comforts of pessimism"
(in the words of Paul Williams, in his poem "Common Sense").

The irony,
of course, is linguistic, not real, because working for peace is a
process of connecting and bonding with others in deep and joyous ways,
which I learned again and again during the conference weekend. Indeed,
creating peace means creating connections with one another and
pushing past our isolation. Doing so sometimes feels risky ("the luxury
of enemies, the sweetness of helplessness," Williams writes), but is
satisfying beyond measure.

establishment of a cabinet-level Department of Peace, while it would
hardly solve all our problems -- and while it may not be the mechanism
for challenging the rampant militarism of the American empire -- is to
my mind a crucial step in the de-escalation of American violence.

department would recognize and fund a myriad of programs already in
place, in our schools and courtrooms and on our streets, and signal
that government itself recognizes the value of nonviolent conflict
resolution. The legislation would also fund a peace academy, advancing
our awareness that peace education and the presence of peacemakers in
our society are crucial parts of the future we hope to build.

"We have to
take the lead on peace," said Detroit's Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, the
longtime peace activist who gave the keynote address at the conference.
He also made a heartfelt plea for the abolition of war, and described
in vivid detail the human cost of war in the modern era, mostly as it
waged by the United States.

Right now,
and throughout my lifetime, we have been the planet's primary purveyor
of violence. For too many, this remains a source of pride -- though I
doubt those who feel that way would feel a sense of righteousness if we
chose, instead, to spread illiteracy in the name of God and country.

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