Whatever our differences, beliefs and prejudices we can all agree that peace is a good thing, can’t we, don’t we? All rational decent human beings would, I’m sure, nod enthusiastically, and who among us would admit to not being rational or decent…..even the despots believe they are – rational, just misunderstood. So why are human beings in constant conflict, why are there wars and the like at all, whether it’s in Ukraine, Ethiopia, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan etc., etc.?
Fighting, violent conflict, heated arguments, all bad, harmony and peace good; it’s simple, obvious, right? Up to the point when someone somewhere attacks the rational decent men/women, in some way. Insults their family, belittles their religion or political ideology, criticizes or denigrates their country, burns their flag. At that moment, while peace is, theoretically at least, still cherished, it is forgotten, laid asunder, trampled underfoot. Heads locked, anger and rage unleashed, escalation is swift, intransigence immediate, forgiveness unthinkable. And, in a world of quick judgements and rabid tribalism, to not fight implies cowardice, moral weakness, leaving one open to abuse and exploitation.
Humanity is at war, not just with rival groups or nations, but within relationships, with the planet and with ourselves. Conditioned: psychologically and sociological conditioned, into war, into nationalism, into isms of all kinds, into competition and selfishness. And from this conditioned center action proceeds, action that is fragmented, ridden with desire and self-serving motives. The inevitable result is the world around us, chaos, violence, destruction and division. A harmonious peaceful world rests upon humankind being in harmony with itself;
Some will argue that human beings are innately violent (in the same way they say that man is born to compete); we’d like to be peaceful and kind, but, they claim, we just can’t help ourselves. By this fatalistic and false logic the men of war – the politicians, generals, terrorists, criminals and lovers of violence everywhere (including Putin) – could propose that some uncontrollable instinct forces them to fight, torture and kill; an ancient instinct rooted in tribalism, self-protection and fear, a dark shadow of man’s ancient past when right and wrong were unknown and survival was all.
Well, laying aside such spurious, albeit convenient nonsense, we can all agree that war is forever wrong, abhorrent and ugly on all levels, including the attack on Ukraine (ditto US attack on Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam etc); a brutal act of aggression taking place within a historical and geo-political context, which, whilst not in any way justifying the attack, is relevant. Repeatedly laid out by commentators and analysts in recent weeks, including John Mearsheimer in his interview with The New Yorker, this context includes NATO expansionism, in spite of US commitments to Russia that no such expansion would take place; the US/West arming Ukraine and supporting the overthrow of the government in 2014, and in the months leading up to Russia invading, agitating, virtually demanding a war. Constantly prodding The Russian Bear, egging him on, daring him to attack with various threats – ‘there will be serious consequences’ and so on. Mainstream/corporate media functioned as the megaphone of political agitation and aggression.
Putin would probably have attacked anyway, but the constant screaming from the touchline certainly wasn’t designed to deter an invasion and foster peace, tolerance and understanding.
Western leaders, particularly the bumbling fumbling Johnson (desperate to be seen to be relevant), and bewildered Biden, repeatedly praise Ukrainian heroism and armed resistance. President Zelenskiy echoed Churchill in his address to the UK parliament, declaring that the people of Ukraine would battle on relentlessly, “We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets.” For this fighting spirit and steadfast ‘leadership’, which the media lap up, Zelenskiy is praised, hailed as a hero. It’s an approach that suits The West well, particularly the (US-dominated) arms industry; but by encouraging people to fight he is condemning more Ukrainians to death, because, having committed himself and his troops this far, Putin will not withdraw, on the contrary the bombardments will only intensify, causing more suffering and destruction until a deal is agreed.
Stop fighting and reduce the carnage; never surrender, resist fiercely and consistently, but stop fighting and allow the Russians to do the same. The Stop Fighting Keep Resisting approach, is not pacifism or weakness and does not imply giving up, acquiescing; non-violent resistance is a powerful force against aggression and injustice of all kinds. It is also the method recommended by enlightened teachers throughout the ages. Christ, for example, in His inspired Sermon on the Mount, said: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28), and taught that if “someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well” (Luke 6:29). He, Christ, is not suggesting a passive, weak-kneed response to a cruel bully, but a resolute one – defiantly standing one’s ground with pride, but not reverting to violence and hate.
This compassionate non-violent response was also taught by the Buddha 600 years prior to Christ; in fact Buddhism, like Jainism, rejects any type of violence to all forms of life. And within the Upanishad (the oldest philosophical text known, and basis of Hinduism) a similar approach is found: ‘Non-injury’ as the Hindu might term it.
Not responding to violence with violence weakens the forces of hate and fear that impels and empowers the aggressor; as Dr. Martin Luther King said, “returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” In this materialistic cynical world such statements, and they are statements of truth, are totally disregarded, laughed at.
Love, whilst superficially cherished, has been reduced to crass sentimentality, to a warm comforting ‘feeling’; replaced by desire, distorted and corrupted. To even suggest that the demonstration of love, which is a dynamic creative energy inspiring all that is good, might be a solution to conflict, a requirement and facilitator of peace, is to be dismissed as a deluded dreamer. As, then, is Christ, whilst still being worshipped (something He never wanted or asked for incidentally), ditto the Buddha, the Ancient Rishis of India and others. It matters not it seems what the source of such wise advice and guidance is: no matter how enlightened, humanity ignores and laughs at it; labels the speaker as naive, someone ‘not living in the real world’.
But, in order to live peacefully together, love and the qualities of goodness that flow from it are essential. Not romantic love, weak idealism or religious rhetoric, but love as a living force animating our actions, influencing the design of socio-economic-political systems and institutions, inspiring social justice; love shaping values and behavior and purifying, quietening thought, unifying communities and peoples, allowing peace to naturally come about.
Although there are (decent) people living ‘good’ wholesome lives in every corner of the globe, this common-sense image, which I’m guessing all would applaud and many long for, is a long way from the current world in which we live, a utopian fantasy almost. Competition, nationalism and selfishness dominate world affairs and many personal relationships, and form the structure of the socio-economic Ideology of Greed and Division; conformity, noise and intolerance abound; short-term pleasure sold in place of lasting happiness.
These are the methodologies and values underpinning an approach to life that has poisoned the planet, created societies of unhealthy men and women and fed an atmosphere of conflict and violence. It is an ugly cynical way of living based on false conclusions and ignorance that has denied all wonder and mystery while strengthening reductive self-centred constructs (rooted in a belief in separation) about who and what we are. It is an approach to life that, if we are to save the planet and create peaceful societies made up of contented, heathy men and women, indeed if we are to survive at all, must be rejected totally.