Friday, January 13, 2012

Apocalypse Soon: The End of Shallow Peace

Below is a creative essay written for a graduate seminar on the foundations of peace. Most of the sources cited herein are the source of many of my more radical thoughts.

    Why does the Western political establishment view peace as an end product achieved through persuasion, economic gamesmanship or raw military power? What motivates practitioners to grant more attention to this shallow, abstract peace than a deeper peace that includes human actors? How does this conceptualization reflect the landscape of peace in the 21st century? These troubling questions suggest that the post-Cold War normative expansion of war-making cannot be alleviated using traditional structures—embassies, militaries, the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping etc. This fundamental socio-psychological difference can explain the failure of Western institutions to prevent conflict. Indeed, the same forces creating this “rational” approach to peace can be tied to the proliferation of violence in the last several decades.

   During the Renaissance, the resurgence of rationality—most obviously in the visual arts and spectacle of the built environment--helped establish the human-nature dichotomy as a fundamental component of modernism. Moreover, it created a Western predisposition to experience the world in a particular way (Howett 1997; Cosgrove 1997). The rationalization of the natural environment led to both private property through the systematic enclosure of the public commons (Cronon 1983, 76-79; Isenberg 2005, 137-139) and, more acutely, a grid survey system and land allotment programs that shifted human relationships toward one of improvement instead of stewardship (Kunstler 1993, 29-31; Cronan 1983). The conceptualization of land as where the “ax meets the tree” created an ethos that heralded exploitative capitalism—which would later quicken its pace with mechanization—to replace mercantilist trade economies (Merchant 1998). This process, which spanned hundreds of years, brought about a change in perspective that diminished relations between genders and across segments of societies, cross-border and otherwise (Berry 1977; Merchant 1980). Further, and most importantly, the industrial capitalist system that emerged in the late 19th century diminishes the bond between humans and prevents collective problem solving (Jensen 2009). Specialization is one rational tool that creates shallow peace.

    Specialization not only segregates peace research and practitioners from the breadth of social science (Udayakumar 1998), it has far-reaching implications within a culture. Specialization not only creates a class of disconnected elite, but also severs individuals from their communities spiritually (Berry 1977). Instead of viewing peace as a condition of human existence, specialists subdue the interconnectedness of cultural and structural violence for greater empiricism in direct violence studies (Galtung 1990, 302-303). Rational humanism and capitalist efficiency seem to have quantified peace studies when human beings are the only constant variable. In choosing efficiency of focus, peace practitioners fail to see the relationships between myriad factors of conflict (Jensen 2009; Udayakumar 1998). Holism, if it is to replace specialization in inquiry and practice, requires the destruction of the dangerous human-nature dichotomy and a relegation of industrial capitalism and its systemic feedbacks.

    Specialization, generally, leads to dependency of component parts on the whole (Weber 1999, 358), so systemic forces perpetually indenture human beings to the role of part, rather than seeking to be whole (Berry 1977; Weber 1999; Udayakumar 1998). Within the globalized capitalist system, specialization reflects not only the philosophical inadequacies of Western peace practitioners (Udayakumar 1998) but also the broader patterns of dependency between core and peripheral states in Marxist geographies (Klink 1990). Indeed, the replication of capitalist resource production and supply chains aggravates agricultural societies (Udayakumar 1998).[1] Peace research demands attention to intrastate conflict in the non-Western world. Thus, it is important to recognize that the core-periphery model of the world system is a relationship that exists within regions (Poon 1997) and within a state (Jacobs 1985). Therefore, using peace agendas to replicate the Western economic system abroad—call it imperialism of the core against the periphery (Galtung 1977)[2]—prevents deep peace.

    The landscape of peace reflects a fundamental disconnect between humanity and the natural world. The exploitation inherent in the global capitalist system undermines healthy communities. In respect for diversity—of culture, politics and economics—lies the foundation of peace because while conflict is rooted in differences, difference is the essence of humanity (Hume 2005). Paradoxically, rationalization and specialization have been employed to address arising conflicts. Since human beings treat each other as they treat the natural world (Jensen 2009), deep ecology should be viewed as complimentary, if not identical, to deep peace. As evidenced above, Western thinking and many complex, historical processes have created a schism between human and non-human. Thus, the roots of cultural and structural violence are deeply imbedded in the Western subconscious.

    Without an economic system that values human dignity, the world will never be at peace. Abstracting her spiritual and existential core, the commoditization of the individual’s labor diminishes her humanity (Heinberg 2011, 31). Capitalist enterprises seek profit and cast consequences aside unless they threaten the bottom line. Communities without the institutional histories of Western democracies have suffered—and indeed, the developed world is beginning to suffer the system’s injustices (OECD 2011)—as globalization and the idea that “there is no alternative”[3] economic system to industrial capitalism crept across the planet. Capitalism is “fundamentally inhuman, antidemocratic and unsustainable” (Jensen 2009, 151-152), so expanding this system as part of peace-in-practice is self-defeating. Normative changes in violence may be attributed to the Cold War stabilization effect, but it is hardly a coincidence that destructive and dehumanizing economic policies accompanied other forces of violence. Trying to create peace using the same logic that creates war is counterintuitive and destined to fail.

    Peace and stability require the “fullest respect” for human rights (Hume 2005), yet the system is clearly stacked in opposition to its realization. “Apocalypse” in the original Greek means a lifting of the veil (Jensen 2011). If we are to ever realize the deepest and lasting peace, the foundations of Western thought and practice must be broken. We must at once dispel an entrenched way of thinking and radically change the way we organize society. As the end of growth draws near (Heinberg 2011; Rogoff 2011) and dissent becomes the norm (Anderson 2011), we may be witnessing the lifting of this veil. If so, deep peace may prevail as the first flowers force their way upwards through cracks in the brittle earth of shallow peace.


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Berry, Wendell. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. SF: Sierra Club Books, 1977.
Cosgrove, Denis. “Spectacle and Society: Landscape and Theater in Premodern and Postmodern Cities.” In Paul Groth and Todd W. Bressi, eds. Understanding Ordinary Landscapes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.
Cronan, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, colonists and the ecology of New England. NY: Hill and Wang, 1983:76-79.
Galtung, Johan. “A Structural Theory of Imperialism.” Journal of Peace Research 8, no. 2 (1971): 81-117.
___________. “Cultural Violence.” Journal of Peace Research 27, no. 3 (1990): 291-305.
Heinberg, Richard. The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. Gabriola Island, British Columbia: New Society Press, 2011.
Howett, Catherine. “”Where the One-Eyed Man is King: The Tyranny of Visual and Formalist Values in Evaluating Landscapes.” In Paul Groth and Todd W. Bressi, eds. Understanding Ordinary Landscapes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.
Hume, John. “Nobel Lecture.” In Irwin Abrams, ed. Nobel Lectures in Peace, Volume 7: 1996-2000. River Edge, NJ: World Scientific Publishing Co., 2005.
Isenberg, Andrew D. Mining California: an ecological history. NY: Hill and Wang, 2005.
Jacobs, Jane. Cities and the Wealth of Nations. NY: Vintage Press, 1985.Jensen, Robert. August 8, 2011. “Nature bats last: Notes on revolution and resistance, revelation and redemption.” Available at Accessed January 5, 2012.
_______. All My Bones Shake: Seeking the Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice. NY: Soft Skull Press, 2009.
Klink, Frank F. “Rationalizing Core-Periphery Relations: The Analyt
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Kunstler, James Howard. The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-made Landscape. NY: Touchstone Press, 1993.
_______. “2012 Forecast: A Bang and a Whimper.” Clusterfuck Nation. January 2, 2012. Available at Accessed January 7, 2012.
Merchant, Carolyn. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution. NY: Harper Collins, 1980.
_______. Green versus Gold: sources in California’s environmental history. Washington DC: Island Press, 1998.
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. “Society: Governments must tackle record gap between rich and poor, says OECD.” OECD Online. May 12, 2011. Available at
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Poon, Jessie P. “The Cosmopolitanization of Trade Regions: Global Trends and Implications, 1965-1990.” Economic Geography 73, no. 4 (1997): 390-404.
Reich, Robert. “The Decline of Public Goods.” January 4, 2012. Available at Accessed January 7, 2012.
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[1] My own research interests seek to understand the confluence of Western capitalist economics and its correlation to quantitative burgeoning of violence from the socio-psychological perspective.

[2] Imperialism is the result of power dynamics and defines dominance through economic, political, cultural and coercive means. Power exerted over others precipitates structural violence, Johan Galtung notes, especially as the living condition gap between parties grows (Galtung 1971, 81-82). This inequality has increased greatly over the last three decades and will likely show itself as a destabilizing force in the coming years (Jensen 2011; Kunstler 2012).

[3] T.I.N.A., or “there is no alternative” is a phrase Margret Thatcher used famously to describe the neoliberal ideas of the Washington Consensus. Ronald Reagan echoed the claim and both major political parties in the United States adopted its policies. Not surprising, Thatcher also argued there was “no such thing as society,” and we see the consequences of privatization daily in the mainstream and alternative presses (Reich 2012).

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