By Dr Kailash Vajpeyi
In a society based on the supply and demand principle, goodness, love and kindness are social products like any commodity, the excess of which might reduce their value
In a world full of chaos and hatred, it is tempting to ask if the quest for peace is morbid and suicidal, the sole preserve of philosophers, evangelists and other such cranks. Is the idea of peace a mistake? Can it ever be practiced as a value? Could man, who has become a tool of his own tools, still hope to find inner harmony in the jungle of skirmishes that our world has become?
These are some of the questions which were discussed at a three-day Peace Conference organized by the World Buddhist Cultural Foundation at Kyoto, Japan in November last.
Dr. Karan Singh, leader of the Indian delegation, said in his keynote address that those attending the conference represented two thirds of humanity: Buddha was born in India, therefore, every Indian to some extent is a Buddhist. The president of the World Buddhist Cultural Foundation Dr. B.K. Modi, requested the people of Japan and India to work together for amity, peace and universal brotherhood. What stimulated my own inquiry where the papers read by Dr. Uchida Jagatguru Shankaracharya and Prof Yukio Yamada.
Clearly, there are five dimensions of peace: individual peace through meditation peace in the family between man and woman child and parent peace in society, between various communities; peace in the nation and peace on the planet and among nations.
We begin with the sad assumption that peace is a rare phenomenon; that the challenge of peace is more demanding than that of war; that man in the process of civilizing himself has reached a stage where all the niceties of life are judged from the viewpoint of utility. How did things come to such a pass?
If we review the history of though we find that the philosophers of the golden age of Pericles were mainly interested in the laws of nature and their possible relation to the human mind. Among them, Socrates exhortation to “know thyself” was the last attempt of a free mind to gauge its own depth and to attain inner harmony.
In India, Gautama Buddha—the first metaphysical rebel—renounced the world in protest against suffering and pain. A host of poets, philosophers and kings followed, who seriously thought and worked for the cause of peace. In the western hemisphere, the history of though took a new turn through the introduction of reason by Plato who insisted that all of God’s creation, including man was created for the best.
Things, however, changed during the middle ages. Thomas Hobbes said that man was basically asocial and hedonistic interested in pursuing his own ends. William Harvey went a step further and declared the human body to be a machine. Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, even doubted the existence of his own body. By the end of the 19th century the circle was completed when Nietzsche pronounced that God was dead. Meanwhile, the challenge of peace remained.
In his book, The Dynamics of Culture, Prof Pitirim Sorokin writes that in the past 800 years, most of the world’s countries had involved in warfare 50 percent of the time. Fighting, according to him, seems so natural to the human temperament that no amount of education can cure this universal malady.
History vindicates him. About 700,000 years ago, man’s brain doubled in size; he left his hunting gathering days behind him, tilled the land and started living in villages and towns. Religion and culture came, and yet aggression survives in us till today. If peace had been a characteristic of the educated mind, the so-called cultured races of our time would not have produced men like Hitler and Joseph Goebbels.
“Happiness,” said Freud, “is no cultural value.” In a letter to Einstein he wrote: ‘Conflict of interests among mankind is in the main usually decided by the use of force. This is true of the whole animal kingdom from which mankind should not be excluded.” Freud’s analysis seems apt, in the sense that people normally believe in bellum ominum contra omens (every body is against everybody). Since the basis of survival is struggle, it is not stranger that people fight for existence. But what is strange is that even after attaining the maximum possible security, people still cannot live peacefully.
Dynamic psychology deals with this problem from the individual’s point of view. Competition, diffidence and personal glory are what make men aggressive or violent, apart from the innate destructive tendency in man. Social factors include power politics, morality and the tremendous technological progress the world has made in this century.
Due to man’s extended hearing and vision, the world has shrunk. The geographic isolation of countries is no longer a guarantee against war. Men, though they refuse to be treated as objects, are made to believe by politicians that war is indispensable. According to Prof Griffith, author of The Coming Crisis of Western Society, the art of politicos is to persuade people that they make decisions while ensuring that they do not.
Technology enhances this illusion further. Mass media has rendered every human situation so absurd and abstract that a civilian can never sense the real horror of war. Reading the news from Bosnia next to an advertisement, or watching the Gulf war reports sandwiched between TV commercials, it is hard to believe that the people being killed are made of flesh and bone. People’s senses have been dulled by the surfeit of violence, crime and bombings on screen. Technology has sanitized war.
The question of whether an action is intrinsically right is increasingly superseded by the effort to appraise its consequences. Having known this, French sociologist Emile Durkheim opposed the idea of technological progress unless morality grows too. In a society based on the supply and demand principle, goodness, love and kindness are social products like any other commodity, the excess of which might reduce their value. Similarly, the production of arms in an industrialized society cannot be stopped, particularly because it supports a complex system of economy and international trade.
Military expenditure gives a sense of pride to a nation and its people. Cutting down on military personnel would give a further push to rising unemployment. Them in order to maintain the soldiers motivation levels, the state needs to create a fear psychosis or resorts to jingoism. Psychologically it creates a market for perverse morality that cannot be replaced by a dull slogan for peace. War glorifies both, the civilian as well as the infantrymen.
Power politics damages the cause of peace, within a nation or among nations. White lies are glorified in the name of diplomacy. In our times most of the decisions, especially crucial ones, are taken by a group of people. Groupthink is a stultifying dull and tedious job. During World War II the idea of attacking Moscow did not generate from Hitler’s mind alone. In the case of Bangladesh, it is yet to be known how many people advised Yahya Khan to suppress the rebelling masses at gunpoint.
The paradox of groupthink is that the individual seldom suffers from a sense of guilt. In spite of the risks and massive killings involved, members of the group feel that they are moving in the right direction. Even John Kennedy could not avoid the mishap when the CIA strategy for the Bay of Pigs was being discussed. The war in Vietnam is another example of group stupidity.
Ideals are either forgotten or put on the backburner, for the private use of the individual. Only functionalism dominates the scene.
Einstein in his reply to Freud had pinned his hope on some international league or legal body that would prevent the tragedy of war in future. But we know how ineffective the United Nations has become.
Now, since faith has been replaced by reason, religion by politics, conscience by military strategy, personal courage by mechanical adventure, God by party boss and the individual by group-stupidity, we had better focus our fight against these usurpers.
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