Telling a New Story

(This is section 55 of the World Beyond War white paper A Global Security System: An Alternative to War. Continue to preceding | following section.)

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.

CouncilRing

“Based on designs by early-20th-century landscape architect Jens Jensen, the council ring was inspired by American Indian council rings and embraces the idea that all people come together as equals. It is a place where groups could gather for discussion or as a place for solitary reflection.” (Source: http://www.columbiamissourian.com/m/19411/hindman-garden-council-ring/)

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.

• Life is an interconnected whole of inestimable worth.
• 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

(Continue to preceding | following section.)

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Notes:
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)

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3 Comments

  1. Joe Scarry says:

    I feel “telling the new story” is like a muscle that we must constantly exercise in order to build strength. When I was in Israel/Palestine recently, I felt the challenge to ask, “Is it possible that the old story that ‘there’s not room enough for both peoples’ here is untrue? Is it possible that there is enough for everyone?” https://faithinthefaceofempire.wordpress.com/2015/03/14/the-land-of-milk-and-honey-and-the-garden-state/

  2. Within the last century the story of parenting and teaching children has changed from “stick and carrot” or “good child, bad child” to a different story where behaviour might be judged, but not the person. Further we inquire “How is it that an ordinary person, who wants to do well, get on with others, get on with living, made a choice of THIS behaviour?” Then, and then only, does that person’s story come to light and we see why destructive behaviour seemed like the best option at that time, in that place, for that person. By our hearing the story, the child’s own story gains other dimensions, the next time is not the same as the last time, different options emerge and exist.
    And so, for me, the new story has to include listening: only when we are willing to hear why people, rational reasonable emotional loving hating caring sharing people, end up feeling they must make war, will we begin to offer a different space where the options we have found seem just as good to them. My current example, that I would weave into a story, is “usury”. Western financial markets praise gains (gained from no productive work or service = usury) while islamic banking, especially fundamental islamist, utterly condemns the practice of such gain. Western social and welfare funds, pensions, etc. whatever supports our dependents, require, yes, require, that gain from shares is maximised. How do other systems of thought care for dependents? Possibly this is how patriarchal culture originates. So I return to the story of the child in a tantrum, jailed or humiliated or hurt by [hopefully temporary] mismanaged dependence and authority. The heirarchy becomes one where each or both is afraid OF th
    e other, neither can think or work with fear FOR the other. Indeed we cannot injure another without injuring ourselves.
    Listening changes stories. How can we share our stories, so that everyone’s story has a listener? How do we build Joe Scarry’s muscle (see comment above).

    Yes. I will share World Beyond War.

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