Let’s Imagine a World Without Violence

I truly appreciate simplicity. I am a poet, not of epics, but of haikus. “Boil it down, please” has always been my mantra at work and in life.  When my staff give me pages upon pages of analysis on a topic, I thank them for gaining an understanding of the complexity, then tell them to go back, write a journalist’s opening sentence, and boil it down to no more than one paragraph for each of the 5 W’s and perhaps an H. If annexes and more data or detail is sought, we will ask for it, but few of us have time to read treatises. What we need is succinct information and real analysis – a perspective unattainable from a google search. Above all, we need much more IMAGINATION.

Therefore I have always been a fan of thinkers like Abraham Maslow and his theory on the Hierarchy of Human Needs.  These last many months I have looked at tons of models that explain why people behave as they behave. But one that can’t be beat for its simplicity is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs that basically states that we react negatively when our needs are not met. (See this link for a very good description: http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html and another great article on Maslow’s theory: http://academic.udayton.edu/jackbauer/Readings%20595/Koltko-Rivera%2006%20trans%20self-act%20copy.pdf)

Human needs theorists argue that one of the primary causes of protracted or intractable conflict is people’s unyielding drive to meet their unmet needs on the individual, group, and societal level. (See this excellent article from Turkey examining the Chechnya conflict from a human needs lens: http://www.turkishweekly.net/article/264/reducing-violence-applying-the-human-needs-theory-to-the-conflict-in-chechnya.html)

I thought surely, this year of studying violence would be primarily about the lower two strata – physiological issues and safety issues.  And I was curious as to what Maslow had to say about it.  And this is what he said in 1968:

“In 1941 I dedicated my life to helping to construct a “Psychology for the Peace Table”. Indeed I had been preparing myself to write an encyclopedic book on aggression and hostility, destructive and constructive by getting training in animal psychology, child psychology, psychoanalysis, social anthropology, endocrinology, constitutional biology, ..etc,…Today of course it is absolutely impossible.  Yet my conviction remains that these and more disciplines (eg history, politics, sociology, social philosophy, et.c) must be integrated if we are to understand violence well enough to manage it within the society and internationally.”

So my work has encompassed almost every discipline at a liberal arts university! ( And my blog postings have gotten REALLY long!) I have never studies anything as complex as violence. I have worked with Dr. Bandy Lee (http://www.who.int/violenceprevention/about/participants/yale/en/) and her students at Yale where we have all been very fortunate indeed to be a part of the fulfillment of this vision of integrated work by a broad variety of disciplines.  Our readings and guest academicians and practitioners have been from across a broad spectrum of disciplines. 

Yet, the need exists to simplify the complicated so that people can make USE of the information.  The Prevention Institute’s work has enabled a conversation across the spectrum of violence prevention professionals who normally work in silos (http://www.preventioninstitute.org/component/jlibrary/article/id-356/127.html) to find effective and efficient ways to prevent violence.  Still, according to my discussions with professionals in the field, it is still untenable for many dealing with the victims of sexual violence to even fathom locking arms with those who would seek to treat sexual abusers.

Gary Slutkin’s model of violence as a disease (http://cureviolence.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/iom.pdf)  Fuses biology, sociology, public health, and psychology making it easier for people to discuss violence in a way that offers more clarity than the conventional criminal justice approaches.  He writes:

“Likewise there are different violence syndromes that are currently viewed as different “types of violence” to the general public, such as community violence, intimate partner violence, child abuse, and suicide. I suggest that these now be classified as different syndromes of the same disease because they derive from the same cause, but manifest under different circumstances. Differences in susceptibilities, contexts, and ages may play a part, just as polio may have different manifestations in very early ages than in childhood, or how influenza differentially affects older and very young persons.”

While Slutkin challenges the basic assumptions in his sphere of influence in the medical professions and those concerned with public safety, in the book Global Non-Killing Gobal Political Science by Glenn D. Paige (http://www.nonkilling.org/pdf/nkgps.pdf) makes the case to his fellow political scientists that they have ignored one of the biggest elephants in the room – the assumption that killing is a necessary evil in the arsenal of tools available to social/political groupings. 

Another political scientist Hannah Arendt states that violence is the opposite of power.  Those truly in a position of political or any other power have no need for overt violence – only structural violence (a term not yet coined when she was active in the 50’s and 60’s) to keep the existing power structure in place. Both Arendt and Paige seek to pointedly challenge stale thinking.

The authors of Virtuous Violence (http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/psychology/social-psychology/virtuous-violence-hurting-and-killing-create-sustain-end-and-honor-social-relationships?format=AR) make the case from strong cross cultural study, that across most cultures and every type of violence – that we propagate beliefs that it is right and necessary to hurt and suffer harm – to die and to kill.  Paige makes the bold assertion that to end it, we must very deliberately TEACH and instill a new culture across every field – to truly examine our age-old assumptions about violence as inevitable and instead to protect and foster relationships without hurting or killing. 

As an undergraduate in the early 80’s, I took a interdisciplinary seminar in imagining the future. One way that we began to visualize alternative future scenarios was to imagine ourselves, back in time, when the present was very different from what it was then (or is today).  Remember, this was before personal computers, much less laptops – we were still typing our papers and using white-out to make corrections.  Before mobile phones, we still carried dimes and quarters to make calls.   All of these things were part of a future we could not see. But our lives were immeasurably different from our grandparents and great great grandparents, much less more distant ancestors.  So we imagined…

I wrote my first paper in that class from the perspective of a female objector to slavery in 1750, living in Philadelphia.  I did not want to call her an abolitionist.  She was in the position of observing the abolitionists, to hearing their arguments, and also to living in a society fully entangled in the economy and ideology of the institution of slavery.  Could she imagine the Philadelphia into which I would be born some 200 years later? And so we began to envision, knowing how much things really can change, what our world might be like in another 20-50-100-200 years… 

That course changed my life.  I began to take a MUCH longer term view on the changes I felt needed to happen in our world.  Not that things are changing at the pace they used to.  But how many years do you think it will take to bring into reality non-killing societies – where it will seem totally preposterous to nearly all of us that we spent 60+% of our budget on the “defense”/killing apparatus of warfare in the early 21st century? How long before most every Political science department becomes, basically, an Institute of Peace, where arguments that war/violence/killing is logical and inevitable are no more.

I have found reading the Work of Hope (http://workofhope.theharwoodinstitute.org/) a useful resource for thinking about launching from thinking about these issues to doing something about them.  What does this author say about what needs to happen to engage people in forging a better society?

“First, we do need “fast and easy” ways for people to engage with one another in the public square.

Second, we do need “big impact” solutions, for tremendous, seemingly intractable problems do persist in communities and must be addressed.

Third, we do need “efficiency.”

Fourth, we also need new “systems.”

That all add up to: Our task then is to know that “change” won’t come all at once— it never has. to inspire us, along the path ahead, we must create a new narrative about being on a better course, one that offers genuine hope. This happens when we “connect the dots” for people—so they can see how one proof point of real action connects to another—and many others. Coherence and meaning are essential to people gaining a new sense of possibility.”

My work this year has been to take what Harwood describes as the Tower of Babel of knowledge and thought around violence where it might feel like noise and disfunction, and instead weave a cohesive story of that states that violence CAN be understood, and demonstrate how we ARE working together toward a less violent world and society. 

This is why one of the most effective groups I have seen for combatting violence in all its forms is what is popularly called the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_Mondays).  It has taken a broad spectrum of issues people care about, involve people themselves, and have strategy at the level of people to people at the neighborhood, county, school district and wider State systems.

Tens of thousands of people have been marching and organizing in North Carolina and other States, and the traditional media has barely taken notice, regardless of how strongly the #moralmondays or #moralmarch trends. The Forward Together movement is officially known as the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) coalition, made up of 170 member organizations spanning multiple issues. HKonJ unites these groups under a 14-point agenda emphasizing an intersectional approach including: high-quality public education, living wages, healthcare for all, racial justice, voting rights, affordable higher education, fairness for state contracting, affordable housing, criminal justice reform, environmental justice, collective bargaining and worker safety, immigrants’ rights, a new civil rights act, and bringing the troops home. The leadership encourages other movements to adopt a similar approach and focus on pressuring state legislatures and governors, not Washington politicians.

If anyone asserts that violence  is a natural part of the human condition, assure them that yes, even Maslow – the guy with the nice simple typology of human needs – asserted that aggression is a basic part of the human personality.  However he and many other learned people who have thought long and hard about this also assert that we can and should imagine a better future.  We should imagine a future where all communities employ our resources, science and the arts for the betterment of mankind.  Then, rather continuing to deal with conflict over the first three levels of physiological, safety and belonging, perhaps we could begin dealing with our aggressive discontent at the higher levels that would lead to conflicts about the higher order of things over LEVELS of justice, truth, beauty and so forth. Let’s get THERE.

3 thoughts on “Let’s Imagine a World Without Violence

    • Thanks for the feedback and for sharing, especially because now I have been inotrduced to Musings of a Middle-Aged PeaceSeeker (paxgirl). I really like her blog and will visit regularly!


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