Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Notes from Nonviolence: Waging Peace

The evening program for Day Nine of the 12th International Nonviolence Summer Institute was much anticipated by institute participants and the community at large:  Paul Chappell spoke on The Art of Waging Peace.
Paul Chappell spoke about the importance of understanding violence and why we should have hope in nonviolence
Paul is a West Point alum, veteran of the Iraq War, and is Peace Leadership Director for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.  A peace activist, he is author of several books on war, killing, and nonviolence.

He highlighted a quote from Gandhi, which I'll paraphrase:  If humans are naturally or inherently violent, then Gandhi's methods won't work.

He also gave a powerful metaphor: Doctors learn to heal and promote health by learning about disease and injury.  Similarly, he says, nonviolent leaders and peace activists need to learn about violence if we want to create effective change.

Paul cited work that provides a lot of evidence that we are not violent by nature - particularly research on how violence-averse we are as people and how this parallels greatly with research on mammals (and other animals) on how they actively work to avoid unnecessary violence.

A key takeaway he gave our group was an understanding of how we distance ourselves - in modern times and throughout several millennia of war history - in order to be able to act violently towards others:

  • Psychological Distancing - Dehumanizing others so that we don't feel as though we are harming another human.  War propaganda materials provided visual evidence of this.
  • Moral Distancing - Convincing ourselves that we have a moral imperative to enact this violence.  Military movements that frame themselves as "saving" or "liberating" the people of the country they're invading are an example of this.
  • Mechanical Distancing - Creating a physical distance from the violence we're enacting.  For example, using a long-distance rifle or using remote-controlled drones to kill others.
This is not the speech he gave last night, but this video gives an example of the kind of program Paul provides:

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