Peace studies by peaceful means

By Johan Galtung

Peace studies matter; same as health studies. We are born with the inclination to reject suffering, be it from violence or disease, and to seek wellbeing, call it peace, call it health. But we are not born with the knowledge and skills, theory and practice.

We have found causes and conditions for health in the body-mind-spirit context, as in the World Health Organization’s focus on health as physical, mental and social wellbeing. We rejected illness as divine punishment for the sick person’s Evil and explored pathogens–factors carrying diseases–such as traumas (also from violence, wars), contagious diseases, stress diseases (cardio-vascular, malignant tumors, mental disorders), chronic diseases that we can learn to live with, etc. To be adamantly against disease and in favor of health was seen as necessary – adding human will to the healthy as a sanogen, a factor carrying health. But health studies were needed. Knowledge and skills were needed. Theories were as indispensable for good health practice as vice versa.

The result is impressive: beating mortality with longer lives and morbidity with more healthy lives. It was afforded us longer, healthier lives; and to persons in love, to enjoy their togetherness much longer. How well we use this gift is another matter.

Like health like peace. To be against violence and war and in favor of peace in countless resolutions and demonstrations is necessary, setting the course. But knowledge and skills to overcome major bellogens, carriers of wars, like unreconciled traumas from violence and unresolved conflict, are as indispensable as knowledge and skills to build such paxogens–carriers of peace–as equity (cooperation for mutual and equal benefit) and harmony (suffering the suffering of Other, enjoying the wellbeing of Other). Instead that atavistic Evil, meaning possessed by Satan, it is invoked: Other is seen as a threat to one’s own security; peace as containing or eliminating Evil.

Universities are increasingly embracing peace studies as knowledge, less so as skills. And the setting has often been outside any particular discipline, for instance as liberal studies, or just as Peace Studies, like Woman Studies or Environment Studies, privileging no particular discipline as carrier of the field. Like “medicine” – a strange word for health studies – was wisely lifted out of any discipline to constitute a separate faculty. As peace studies will.

Unfortunately there are some built-in contradictions between peace and universities as they have developed. They are old, but only from the high Middle Ages and early modern in the West, emerging with the state system (like the media). The state is today less salient, yielding both to local communities and to regions, to nations, civilizations and global Trans-National Corporations-TNC, making wars among states yield to direct violence involving nations and civilizations, and to major increases in structural violence. But the universities are still carriers of the myths of the dominant nation, and Western universities to Western civilization myths, like universality. With consequences.

[1] Leading universities will tend to identify with their states and accept what that state defines as peace. Academic freedom scanning the world transnationally for good ideas about bellogens and paxogens anywhere, building peace transnationally yields easily to being a good civil servant, promoting national myths and state interests. Hence a key Western intellectual error: confusing the sum of state democracies and rule of law and human rights with world democracy, UN Parliament, global referenda, etc.; world law inspired not only by the Western focus on acts of commission but also by other civilizations’ focus on acts of omission; global human rights inspired not only by the Western individual but also by the collective rights on the many we-cultures in the world, and respecting equally human lives across borders, not killing them with direct and structural violence.

[2] Universities are divided into faculties and disciplines, key carriers of world views, deeply internalized by spending major parts of one’s life studying, teaching, researching, enacting. Universities cling to their states and nations as carriers of peace, and academics are disciplined by their disciplines to cling to their turf for Peace Studies rather than scanning them all for a transdisciplinary Peace Studies in general, and Conflict Studies in particular; going beyond.

[3] Peace theory and practice have benefitted enormously from being translevel; not only inner life or person-to-person, social life or group-to-group, interstate life or state-to-state, nation-to-nation (and. indeed! to state) and world life with regions and civilizations; let alone with life itself, fauna and flora, nature. Peace Studies are now all of the above, focusing on similarities in solving conflict and building peace, learning from healing a broken marriage to heal broken state relations and vice versa; focusing more on relations, structure and culture and less on individual parties. Of course it is also aware of dissimilarities along the micro-meso-macro-mega axis.

[4] Universities are still dominated by the Weberian approach, to be “value-free” in the sense of not taking stands when enacting accumulated knowledge as skills. Physicians are permitted to make the jump from theory to practice, and back again, with a stand in favor of health. Obviously the same applies to those studying peace, with a solution-orientation, seen as “unscientific”, and “arrogant”. Well, health serves the elites, but some elites are not served by peace.

[5] Universities are still dominated by the Cartesian atomism-deductivism, which no doubt has increased both knowledge and skills. But so do alternative epistemologies, like the daoist combination of holism and dialectics[i]. They do not exclude each other and the both – and is much more than the sum. As a both-and too along the other dimensions cited above. Indispensable, as truths know no monopoly.

First published at Transcend Media Service

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