A New Year’s wish: Go beyond !

By Johan Galtung

Yes, go beyond, transcend! That is our message, New Year or not.

Take the US school shootings. The National Rifle Association’s vice president on TV: “the only person who can stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun”. That statement struck many cords.

There is the deep US culture of Dualism – two kinds of people – and Manicheism – one bad, one good. There is Armageddon in the class room, the teacher or resident police pulling out the gun–bigger, better, more accurate–for the final battle, for the final and only solution. The NRA is riding on this DMA (Dualism/Manicheism/Armageddon) ground swell from below, and so are millions of others. It is concrete, feasible, and could start January 2013.

There is confirmation from above: this is US foreign policy. The only way to stop a bad country with arms is a good country with arms; the only way to stop evil terrorism from below is good state terrorism from above. Balance of power, countless bases, search and destroy.

We agree about the critical focus: school shootings–the USA committing suicide! – must not happen. But what do we know empirically to be constructive, creative? The answer is wrapped in ambiguity.

Of course deterrence sometimes works. So does incapacitation by violent means, including killing, obliteration. Or at least it may look so; at least for some time. Particularly for the untrained eye.

The trained eye sees other things going on. Deterrence is a stage; then the arms race sets in, within and between countries. The NRA escalates by arming the schools, to the considerable profits of the gun manufacturers and shops with NRA as publicity front. And the bad persons? The step from hand guns to assault rifles has already been taken. Next step: putting schools on fire? Bombs? 9/11? Ominous.

The trained eye also sees killing as a stage; then revenge sets in. The mass murderers committing these atrocities may not know each other; but the shared interests may lead to joint revenge. Ominous.

The NRA’s concrete gun proposal may be very destructive in practice. But the statement opens for two constructive ideas:

– Deprive bad persons of guns
– Make bad persons better persons

A “war on arms” means US domestic disarmament. One “war” has been quite successful: the war on smoking, even if still a major cause of death. Enlightened self-interest was involved. Engrave “Arms are dangerous to your and your family’s health”, ban publicity of any kind, and as a first step ban the NRA from interfering with the US political process. Quit smoking, quit arms. Launch a culture where having arms, and making a living on arms, is as immoral as slavery, human trafficking.

So much for capability, access to arms in USA and in Germany, in Finland (some school shootings) and Norway (Breivik), using hunting licenses and online shopping. How about the intent of bad persons?

The sad long list of school tragedies in the US from a beginning in 1764 to 8 in the 1970s, 18 in the 1980s, 16 in the 1990s, 21 in the 2000s – the 2010s on the way – indicates three factors: some minority background, some conflict with the school, some mental disorder. Many Americans would meet those criteria. But they point beyond negative peace through balance of power and disarmament to a positive peace with constructive protection through mutuality and equality.

To start with the obvious: The NRA, like many, blames TV-video games violence. No doubt both normalize violence in general and shooting in particular. So do news over-reporting violence, domestic or global. And news glorifying US military interventions–fiascos or not–take the step from normalization to legitimation. “If my country can do it so can I” went through the head of a Timothy McVeigh, possibly also an Anders Breivik; but neither the USA nor Norway want any focus on that.

However, this approach is still only within negative peace. Limit TV-videogame-news violence to reduce violence: good, but not good enough. We need constructive approaches beyond reducing the destructive elements.

Here is the wish for 2013, for the decade, the century:
Fill TV and video-games with the true-to-life dramas of conflict resolution and trauma reconciliation without violence!

Authors, where are you?–lost in the aristotelian drama=tragedy+comedy? Show how we humans usually muddle through–in the family, at school, at work–and could do better inspired by visions and skills!

Journalists, where are you? – lost in the idea that only bad news are news, that peace is normal, not worthy of reporting, including the struggle for peace?

Art and TV fare so incredibly badly that even small steps forward could make a big difference. There is optimism in that! The SABONA Project in elementary schools and kindergartens in Norway shows that so much can be gained by training the kids in conflict handling – not only teaching “good manners”. It is almost unbelievable, but TV channels that pick up anything to portray “reality” fail on this one. There is Dr Phil on US TV, fine, but limited to inter-personal conflicts.

There is some state logic at work: states are addicted to violent options and the idea of “necessary wars”; solving underlying conflicts to the benefit of all would undermine that doctrine.

There is some capital logic at work: bad news sell. Maybe, but good news might sell even better among women, the young, the old.

Imagine good conflict resolution stories becoming the talking point of nations: how about trying it on what we saw last week on TV? Or asking a prime minister how he will handle the underlying conflicts?

Including school conflicts, the key focus. Super-competitive schools produce winners, losers, hatred, violence, bullying. Shootings are bullying US style. Make schools cooperative, let students compete with themselves to improve. Make everybody a winner. Not fail-proof: Finland[i] also uses that constructive, concrete and creative approach. Students might even become interested in the content, not only in their grades. And even small steps may pay off quickly.

[i]. See Paul Sahlberg, Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland, NYC: Teachers College Press, 2011. Diane Ravitch in The New York Review of Books (8 March 2012): “The central aim of Finnish education is the development of each child as a thinking, active, creative person, not the attainment of higher test scores, and the primary strategy of Finnish education is cooperation, not competition”. In addition, “Finnish schools have the least variation in quality, meaning that they come closest to achieving educational opportunity-an American ideal”.

The same actually applies to economics, as argued in much detail in my book Peace Economics, TRANSCEND University Press, 2012, now available.

Originally published here.

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