So, yesterday, I began to face the idea that there may be people who don’t actually want peace. Until now, I have been unknowingly operating under the assumption that everybody really wants to live peacefully and so the reason that we’re not, is that there are lots of external problems getting in the way. If that assumption is true, then we can obtain peace by solving each of these external problems. Which is not to say that these problems are easy. And, there are a huge number of these problems. So, while I viewed the process as difficult, and one that would take many generations to work through, I did believe the problems were at least solvable. Now, the recognition and questioning of a fundamental assumption on which that view was based, means I have some work to do to determine whether I still believe that.
One thought I’ve had since writing yesterday’s post is that the question, of whether peace is ultimately attainable or not, is irrelevant to the moral superiority of nonviolence over violence. In other words, yesterday’s realization has, for me, changed the scale of the problem but not the nature of it. The crisis was not one of method, as I briefly feared yesterday (that’s what the “philosophical abyss” sentence was about). It’s more like the experience Bill Bryson described, in A Walk In The Woods: Rediscovering America On The Appalachian Trail, of thinking he had finally finished climbing a big mountain, only to discover that what he had finished climbing was in fact, by comparison, a hill that was only just-large-enough to obscure his view of a gigantic mountain he still had yet to climb. His method didn’t change. He just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and did eventually make it to the top of that mountain as well.
Even supposing the existence of people who do not want peace, I still think it has to be the case, that the vast majority of humans would naturally prefer to live in a peaceful society over a violent one. Yes, sadly, I know plenty well about certain groups who so highly glorify suicide attacks that some people actually rejoice in the death of a family member in this manner. In my opinion, this is the result of nurture, not nature. It is the result of relentlessly inculcating violence into the minds of their people, starting from the time they are born. That is what it takes to overcome our natural desire to live. The enormity of the effort they put in, just shows the strength of that natural desire for life. Then, given that one has this strong desire for life, it seems apparent that one must necessarily prefer a situation where said life is not threatened in any way, over one where it is. I realize I’m taking a large logical step there, so if anyone sees error in it, please comment. If this is correct, though, then in the vast majority of cases, the problems getting in the way of peace are still those of my original “hill”.
I am still more certain than I am of anything else, that nonviolence is the only way to true peace. Maybe the difference is that some people are content with the goal of a superficial, temporary “peace”? Frankly, that kind of peace probably can be obtained through violence. But it won’t last. You’ll never have truly achieved anything, if you achieve it through violence. In The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, Kao Kalia Yang quotes her grandmother as saying, “lasting change cannot be forced, only inspired”. This is so true. And it means that if we want to change the world — i.e., if “we” (no matter who the “we” is) want peace for ourselves — then the only thing we can do is to act in ways that inspire, rather than instill fear in, the “others” with whom we desire peace. Peace that is one-sided, is not peace at all.