The deepest crises experienced by any society are those moments of change when the story becomes inadequate for meeting the survival demands of a present situation.
Thomas Berry (“Earth Scholar”)
Crucial to further developing a culture of peace is the telling of a new story about humanity and the earth. The old story, beloved by governments and too many journalists and teachers, is that the world is a dangerous place, that war has always been with us, is inevitable, in our genes, and good for the economy, that preparing for war ensures peace, that it’s impossible to end war, that the global economy is a dog-eat-dog competition and if you don’t win you lose, that resources are scarce and if you want to live well you must grab them, often by force, and that nature is simply a mine of raw materials. This story is a fatalistic self-fulfilling deterministic outlook that claims to be realism but is in fact defeatist pessimism.
In the old story, history is presented as little more than a succession of wars. As peace educator Darren Reiley puts it:
The assumption that war is a natural and necessary force of human progress is deeply ingrained and continues to be reinforced by the way we teach history. In the US, the content standards for teaching American History go like this: “Cause and consequences of the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, the Great Depression (and how World War II ended it), Civil Rights , war, war, war.” Taught this way, war becomes the unquestioned driver of social change, but it is an assumption that needs to be challenged, or students will take it for the truth.
All the cooperative endeavors of humanity, the long periods of peace, the existence of peaceful societies, the development of conflict resolution skills, the remarkable stories of successful nonviolence, are all ignored in the traditional recounting of the past that can only be described as “warist.” Fortunately, historians from the Council on Peace Research in History and others have begun revising this view, bringing to light the reality of peace in our history.
There is a new story, backed up by science and experience. In fact, war is a relatively recent social invention. We humans have been around for over 100,000 years but there is little evidence for warfare, and certainly interstate warfare, going back much more than 6,000 years, very few known earlier instances of war back 12,000 years, and none earlier.note2 For 95 percent of our history we were without war, indicating that war is not genetic, but cultural. Even during the worst period of wars we have seen, the 20th century, there was far more interstate peace in the human community than war. For example, the U.S. fought Germany for six years but was at peace with her for ninety-four, with Australia for over a hundred years, with Canada for well over that, and never at war with Brazil, Norway, France, Poland, Burma, etc. Most people live at peace most of the time. In fact, we are living in the midst of a developing global peace system.
The old story defined the human experience in terms of materialism, greed, and violence in a world where individuals and groups are alienated from one another and from nature. The new story is a story of belonging, of cooperative relationships. Some have called it the story of a developing “partnership society.” It is the story of an emerging realization that we are a single species –humanity — living in a generous web of life that provides all we need for life. We are partnered with one another and with the earth for life. What enriches life is not mere material goods, although a minimum is surely necessary—but rather meaningful work and relationships based on trust and mutual service. Acting together we have the power to create our own destiny. We are not doomed to failure.
The Metta Center on Nonviolence holds four propositions that help define the new story.
• We cannot be fulfilled by an indefinite consumption of things, but by a potentially infinite expansion of our relationships.
• We can never injure others without injuring ourselves . . . .
• Security does not come from . . . defeating “enemies”; it can only come from . . . turning enemies into friends.note3
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2. There is not one single authoritative source providing evidence for the birth of warfare. Numerous archeological and anthropological studies provide ranges from 12,000 to 6,000 year or less. It would go beyond the scope of this report to enter the debate. A good overview of selected sources is provided by John Horgan in The End of War (2012). (return to main article)
3. http://mettacenter.org/about/mission/ (return to main article)