I read about peace, I think about peace, I dream about peace. All the time. Yesterday, I may have finally figured something out. The ultimate, root-cause, preventor of peace is: fear. As long as anyone fears any other one, there is potential for violence. Fear leads to violence through two routes: one is fear of attack by others, the other is fear of material want, which can lead to greed and attacks on others. Although, these routes are only distinct when looked at from a single perspective – objectively, they are the same.
Whether through fear of attack, or fear of want, fear produces interest in developing and building weapons. Then the very existence of those weapons instills fear in others, and so they build their own. It has no end. Now, it’s happening with nuclear weapons. (Thankfully, people are finally starting to realize that it’s not actually a very good idea, to make things that will destroy our whole planet if they’re ever used. See: www.globalzero.org.)
Somehow, though, people fail to grasp that stockpiling huge amounts of weapons causes others to fear them – explaining it away as “well we’re not going to actually use them except for self-defense”. But how is anyone else supposed to feel confident about that? It continually amazes me, in general, how little people seem to understand about how they are perceived by others – in particular, I’m thinking of common Americans’ relative lack of global perspective, but I do think that it is generally true throughout the world, to a greater or lesser extent maybe, but still true. It’s because of a basic human condition that we judge others by their actions but judge ourselves on our intentions. And that is because we don’t know anyone’s thoughts but our own – and we don’t always even know that! We cannot ever really know the effects of our actions on someone else, so it is impossible for any of us to use our own actions as a basis for self-judgment. It is simultaneously impossible for anyone else to ever really know our intentions, so they cannot use that as a basis for their judgment of us, either. Only an impartial third-party can even approach the ability to judge each person’s actions, though intentions still cannot be known or judged. This predicament is the source of our need for institutions, such as governments — to be that third-party. Throughout our history we humans have also turned to religion, making a divine being serve as our impartial third-party – our ultimate judge – who, being endowed with omniscience, can judge intentions as well as actions. But then our governments and our gods, rather than solve the problem, tend to just become yet another source of fear in the world.
In his book Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond names one of his concepts The Anna Karenina Principle. His paraphase of Tolstoy’s opening line of Anna Karenina is “domesticable animals are all alike; every undomesticable animal is undomesticable in its own way.” (Tolstoy’s original was, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”) Upon reading that, I immediately realized that the “Anna Karenina Principle” applies to peace as well, and that is what makes it so difficult to solve. Peaceful people are all alike; every fearful person is fearful in their own way. We have become reliant on our governments and religious leaders to “protect us”, but these institutions are only composed of more people, each of whom have their own fears and demons with which they wrestle. Peace will only come when each and every one of us takes on our own fears, and conquers them.