The Education of a Peacemaker
EDITORIAL, 6 December 2010
by Philip Grant interviewing Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service
I first set eyes on Johan Galtung, often referred to as the “founder of the field of Peace Studies,” in the fall of 1986. I had stumbled into the coffee shop of my Amman, Jordan hotel after only a few hours sleep, looking for a caffeine rush to get me through what promised to be another raucous day of debate. From all over the Middle East and much of the rest of the world, participants had come to the first conference ever held on Arab nonviolent political struggle. On the previous day the divisions between conferees had been deep and rancorous.
Seated at my usual table I found an imposing, rather gaunt, extremely Nordic-looking man with a shock of silver hair, quizzing some of my colleagues on the details of what had transpired. True to form, Johan Galtung had flown into town in the middle of the night, and now, with even less sleep than me, was preparing to jump into the middle of the fray. Later, after effortlessly leading one of the closing discussions on how the Palestinians could more successfully achieve their goals with a well-orchestrated campaign of nonviolence, he hired a taxi and, with some of the other participants, went over to the West Bank to explain to both Israelis and Arabs why nonviolent struggle would get them both what they really wanted: peace and security.
In the years that followed, I always invited Johan to attend whatever meeting I was organizing on global conflict resolution. In 1987 he received the prestigious Right Livelihood Award, often described as the Green equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. Johan now spends much of his time on the road, using the knowledge gained through his half-century of study to train diplomats, housewives, statesmen, and students in the art of conflict transformation.
Last year, he came to teach for three semesters at Ritsumeikan University, close by Kinkakuji, the “Golden Pavilion,” one of Kyoto’s most famous cultural treasures. One day in late December, I arranged to meet him at his office to tape this interview. Having recently run across a bibliography of his writings, which include scores of books and hundreds of articles, I was eager to find out more about the intellectual journey that he had taken, from his student days in Oslo to his present role as what must surely be a prototype for tomorrow’s global citizen.
I’d like to mention the names of some people you have written about and ask how they influenced your intellectual development. Let’s start with perhaps the most difficult one, Adolph Hitler.
A propos Hitler-vergleich und Johan Galtung: Fehlgeleitet. Galtungs Lebensmotto in drei Worten: “Nie wieder Hitler!” Als Galtung 11 Jahre alt war, war er Kurierbursche für den norwegischen Widerstand gegen Hitler. Seine älteren Geschwister, ebenfalls im Widerstand, mussten das Land fliehen, sein Vater, ein hochrangiger HNO Arzt, war Gefangener im Konzentrationslager in Oslo und diente Hitlers Nazi- dort als Verhandlungspfand. Wie hat Galtung seine von den nazi-verübten persönlichen Traumata verarbeitet? Es gibt zahlreiche Bücher in denen Galtung-zitate noch und nöcher beschreiben, dass Gandhi dem jungen Galtung als Vorbild gedient hat, um nach dem Schlüssel zur Überwindung nicht nur der Gewalt wie er diese durch Hitler selbst erlebt hat zu suchen, sondern auch zur Überwindung der direkten, strukturellen, kuturellen Gewalt weltweit und überhaupt. Im übrigen hat Galtung bisher 150 Bücher geschrieben aus denen jedem aufrichtig interessierten Menschen umittelbar deutlich werden dürfte was hier beschrieben wurde.
One could, of course, talk about negative learning from all of the terrible things Hitler did. But I remember the American psychiatrist who was interviewing the war criminals in the prison in Nuremburg. Hitler was not there; he had cowardly committed suicide. Instead, the doctor was talking with all of the others. There were twenty-two of them, eleven of whom were later hanged. His conclusion was that, with the exception of Goering, they were normal people. He felt that Hitler, too, was probably a normal person, but with two distinct characteristics. He was an exceptionally hard worker, as were all of the twenty-two. And secondly, he and the others were extremely strong believers. With all of them, there was a combination of a strong faith that set the direction, coupled with the hard work that led to accomplishment. My conclusion then is: be very careful about what you believe in. I always must ask myself this, because I’m a hard worker, too. In fact, maybe this has led me to one working formula that I’ve become increasingly in love with– and nobody puts it better than the Americans–never do what cannot be undone. The Reversibility Principle. That was not Hitler’s strong point; everything he did was highly irreversible.
Was it Hitler that led you to Gandhi?
I think so. I was nine years old when the Nazis came to Norway. We called them the “green ones,” because that was the color of their uniforms, and we were not supposed to say ‘Germans.’ So we would say, “Have you seen any green ones in the street?” And they were, of course, all over the whole country. There were 400,000 of them in a little country of, at that time, 2.8 million people. So you can imagine my impression, especially when my father was put into a concentration camp. Like everybody else, we all started searching– there must be some alternative to this. It led me to Gandhi, and many others to NATO. Somewhat opposite conclusions. Anyhow, Gandhi has been with me ever since.
Do you recall the first encounter you had with his ideas?
The first absolute sure memory I have is of the day he died: the 30th of January, 1948. I remember weeping. And being a Norwegian boy, I didn’t have much talent for weeping. It was not my way of being and I was almost surprised: “Why do I weep?” And I started looking at newspapers, listening to the radio, and it just struck me that Gandhi was about the greatest thing in our century, and I felt this awe in front of something infinitely big.
Was it your teacher Arne Naess who got you more deeply interested in Gandhi, or did you work with Naess after you had studied Gandhi on your own?
I had studied Gandhi on my own. What happened was a coincidence. Arne and I had become very good friends. He was eighteen years older, but I was a kind of a pet student and he was certainly my pet professor. And then came an enormous challenge. The Norwegian government gave the left wing of the Labor Party compensation for Norway entering NATO, which the Left had strongly opposed. This ‘gift’ was development assistance to India. It was called a “contribution to peace,” which it wasn’t necessarily. Anyway, Arne said: “if Norway should do that, it will be fine. But let us also learn something from India, and the best thing we can learn from India right now is Mahatma Gandhi.” This was four years after his death. Since Arne needed an assistant for this research, he chose me. I remember still his telephone call that afternoon, how extremely full of happiness it made me. I now had that to which I could dedicate myself.
What work came out of that collaboration?
The book is called Gandhi’s Political Ethics, published first in 1955. By coincidence I actually completed it when I was in prison myself, as a conscientious objector. Not unexpectedly, I found that sitting in prison, writing of Gandhi, was not a bad combination. I was reading his prison diaries with considerable interest and finding quite a lot of similarities in the experiences. To guide our research, Arne had a method, and this was to try to reduce Gandhi’s enormous amount of writings, and acts in an extremely active life, into a set of norms, rules for nonviolent behavior. My task was to dig up more data from which we could derive more norms.
How successful do you think you were?
We succeeded in making Gandhi communicable. You see, his writings are so enormously inspiring, and he writes in such a beautiful Victorian English that today very few Britons are able to duplicate. Gandhi’s prose was full of fine sentences like: “There’s no road to peace, peace is the road.” Fantastic ideas. But many people become impatient with his writings, there’s simply too much. The collected works are 82 volumes, of about 1000 pages each. To get that down to 25 norms was not easy. I think we did a fair job in that afterwards many people felt they could fathom relatively easily what Gandhi was up to. What I would have liked us to have communicated better was his optimism. I understood that afterwards.
What we really did was to make his ideas explicit. We gave them a little bit more shape, using forms coming out of ethical theory. As Arne used to say: “Gandhi doesn’t by himself utter these norms; he needs a little help from a philosopher.” But Gandhi’s optimism says: “My friends, it works if you do it. It may take time. It may take hard work.” We go back to Hitler again. We should do it in a way which is reversible. We should do nothing that cannot be undone. Gandhi said: “You may make mistakes. You are not infallible.” Now, that combination of courage, conviction and humility is something we don’t find in many human beings. I know from our century only two more examples: Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. I’ve had the great honor of meeting both of them; Gandhi, however, remains my guiding star.
Did you have a chance to talk to King about Gandhi?
Oh yes. He also radiated an enormous confidence that nonviolence works. Now, Martin, being an American, was of course, a pragmatist. You Americans are supposed to be concerned about results, which I don’t think is bad–it’s a good test. The question: “Does it work?” doesn’t necessarily bring you a good degree in philosophy, but it puts the stress on action. Martin breathed this intoxicating inspiration whenever he spoke. He not only preached the norm, he urged, “Go ahead. Try it out this way,” which is what we did!
King wrote his doctoral thesis on the dialectic of nonviolence, drawing on the ideas of Hegel and other European thinkers. Do you think this way of looking at non-violent struggle is useful?
Not particularly. You should rather start with a Buddhist-Hindu conceptualization of karma, and stress the Co-dependent Origination Principle in Buddhism which, in Japanese, is referred to as ‘engi.’ This idea is that you and I may think we are separated today by gigantic differences, but if we look a little bit deeper, back in time, we are actually united. We have to get back to this bedrock of universality whenever there’s something separating us. If there’s conflict we must step back and say, “Why don’t we sit down and talk about this?” The image I use is of karma as a boat. The problems of life require us to travel in that boat together when the water is seeping in and the boat is slowly sinking. Now the good Western approach is to blame somebody for the predicament. We want to assemble a courtroom at the tail end of the boat while it is sinking nicely. A good Buddhist approach is to say, well, let us meditate first. Go inside ourselves. Then we can have a dialogue, and out of the dialogue we can decide what to do about the leaks. And while doing that, we may consider constructing a new boat. The question “Who did what?” becomes immaterial. I completely embrace this method, and so did Gandhi. At one point he even said that perhaps he was actually a Buddhist.
When you developed your own methods for understanding and transforming conflicts, did you draw on your training in mathematics and sociology?
In mathematics you can do almost anything. You define your concepts. You state your axioms. You start intuiting and deriving a few good theorems, and your task is to prove them. But there’s one thing you’re not permitted to do, and that is to end up proving both a theorem and its negation. In mathematics it’s called the Principle of Non-contradiction. That means that any portion of mathematics that you want to apply to social understanding must be contradiction-free. My problem with this is, how can you get a contradiction-free system, or model, of something so contradictory as a society? In any attempt at social analysis, we find the most stupefying contradictions around every corner. So I left this kind of “hard mathematics” in favor of other approaches that still include a kind of mathematics I call ‘soft’ — a disciplining of your own thinking so you can more clearly see a problem. It’s invaluable to ask questions like: “What is the range of logically possible answers to your inquiry? What are the combinations you should look at?” I stand by this kind of rigor as long as it’s not too strict.
How do you stand on the dispute between the proponents of verstehen, a subjective approach that examines social problems from “the inside,” so to speak, as opposed to wissen, the positivistic approach that stresses looking at things from “the outside?”
I stand very firmly on both approaches, and find most such dichotomies misleading. If you take an objective approach and establish a deductive system under which you can deduce sound, empirically verifiable statements, I find that excellent. It is very external, very much on the outside, quite formalistic, and considerably different from the method the Germans call einfuhlen, where you try to become what you’re studying and look at it from the inside. The British philosopher R.G. Collingwood once recommended that you should study history or society so deeply that you can act out the parts of the personalities who were the key players; get under their skin, so to speak. In a way this goes even deeper than einfuhlen. It is very important to distinguish this kind of methodology from ‘sympathy.’ It doesn’t mean you have to like or admire anything or anyone that you wish to understand. Used together, both approaches are excellent.
Do you use both in your own work?
I certainly do, particularly in the conflict work that has occupied more and more of my time these last five years. The basic pillar of my approach is to sit down with all the parties in the conflict. Not together, only one at a time. They should not meet if the conflict is hard. They should only meet when they are ready for it, and they’re usually not. So you sit there and try to have a dialogue without any predetermined end. What you do is to try to understand the inner logic of the person you’re with, to the point where you almost feel that the borders between the two of you start disappearing. On some occasions, during this process, the other person has often exclaimed to me: “It’s amazing, you understand me better than my own deputy prime minister!” Such responses have convinced me that peace workers can train themselves to establish this deep kind of communication. Of course, sometimes I have to restrain myself, and not point out that perhaps the deputy prime minister wants to replace his boss, and so needs a certain border between them. I, on the other hand, have no interest other than understanding the positions of the persons I’m working with. Often, this can make it easier for the peace worker to work with a leader than even his closest advisors.
When I’m invited to enter a conflict, the first thing somebody usually tells me is: “Professor Galtung, this conflict is absolutely unique.” I’ve heard that so many times and, of course, in a certain sense it’s true. Anything human is unique. Wilhelm Dilthey called this the idiographic aspect of a social phenomenon. But everything human also looks like something else which is human, and that is where you get the nomothetic, or the universal quality that allows you to make generalizations about people. If you now ask where I stand on the choice between nomothetic versus the idiographic, the generalizing and the individualizing, I guess I take my answer to a large extent from my father.
He was a physician who was always telling me about the uniqueness of the patients he was treating. Nevertheless, he insisted that inside a patient was also something called a “case,” and that was what that patient had in common with some other patients. The case had a name and that is how he diagnosed a disease. To successfully treat someone, he would always tell me, he somehow had to keep the two perspectives in balance. If you only saw the uniqueness of the patient you wouldn’t be able to use any of the knowledge you had gained of other patients. But if you only saw the case, you wouldn’t be able to fruitfully apply your knowledge to cure the unique individual you were treating.
Isaiah Berlin liked to put this methodological tension in terms of the twin currents of the modern age: the Enlightenment and Romanticism. He said that to understand modern life, human beings continually have to shift their thinking between these two philosophical approaches, almost like first standing on one foot and then the next. How did you find your balance between these two perspectives? Is it something you’re still learning?
I’m still learning it, but I’ve found two words very useful: “both-and,” and the hyphen that connects them. It was so liberating for me when I finally discovered that you don’t have to think “either-or.” I know exactly when it happened. It was in a schoolyard at my high school in Oslo. We must have been sixteen or seventeen, all boys from the West Oslo, discussing what was the big issue at the time, planning versus the market; whether it was better to have the private sector make our economic policy or continue with the Keynesian policies of our government. Now, West Oslo being the conservative part of town, everybody was in favor of the private market. It’s what they had heard from their parents. And I remember myself saying, “How about ‘both-and’.”I think I just liked the sound of those words, and it became my job to voice them.
Everybody turned to me and said, “What do you mean?” So I was forced to come up with some reasons. I remember saying exactly what I’m saying today. In every debate there are usually good arguments on both sides, positive and negative arguments about the desirability of different policies. Now if you have a “both-and” position maybe you can use the strongest points of each position instead of just cutting it off and saying let’s go in just one direction. During the beginning of the Cold War, when I was still a student and they had all these meetings about which was better, East or West, I usually came up with positions that were against both the United States and the Soviet Union. That’s also a “both-and” position, but in a neither-nor negative sense, I remember an East German who said in response to this: “This isn’t the position of Johan, but Johan without a position.” And I still like that. Because I can understand that for someone committed to a heavy, dualistic point of view, my “both-and” position must be deeply irritating.
Your intellectual life certainly seems one that tests at every point your committment to transcending dichotomies. In the 60s you were attracted to the social experiments of Castro, but repelled by his imposition of a bureaucratic state. You even wrote an article that asks the question, “Cuba: the Country that Creates the Future?” Would you use that same title today?
I see Cuba as something almost incredible. A little island ninety miles away from Florida has been able to keep up and keep going. I have been there many times, and I was there last October. I saw Fidel Castro moving from a Red economy to a Green economy, but he did it in a very Red way so he was handing out diplomas to something half-humorously called the Brigade for Organic Agriculture. It had to be a brigada, you see, and in this case it was Las Mujeres de la Provincia de Santa Clara, the women in the province of Santa Clara, who had always been the heroines of revolution and they were now at the ‘front’ of organic agriculture. These comical Castroisms, however, don’t dissuade me from seeing in Cuba a very genuine effort to develop self-sufficiency through Green economics. That’s taken them a very long time.
When I was there in 1973, I was sitting with people high up in the system and they knew that I was both a friend and a critic of their policies. So they asked me what I thought and I said: “I have two pieces of advice, and the first one is not to be trapped between Red economics and Blue, capitalist, economics. There is also a Green possibility. What does that mean? Well, it means self-sufficiency. It means using your own resources, being better on nature.” I suggested they take basic needs as primary, think less of export, and take more satisfaction with the welfare society. This was important, I said, because if you switch from dependency on the United States to dependency on the Soviet Union, such an arrangement cannot last. Well, it lasted fifteen more years before Gorbachev severed the tie.
The second thing I said was: “Here on this island you have an enormous amount of debate about politics, but you don’t dare to make it public. It’s not that you don’t debate. You are debating more than almost anywhere about socialism, communism, and so on. Why, then, don’t you make it public by having two political parties? You can learn from the United States. They have two conservative political parties. You could have two radical political parties, and say to the U.S., “We also have a two-party system.” It would not be the two-party system they would love, but that’s their problem. Now, the first has been done. Expect the second to come, too, and again they may be pioneering a different path.
Did you have the same feeling of admiration towards another social experiment in Latin America, that of Salvador Allende’s Chile?
No. I knew Chile very well, and I will tell you exactly what I felt. You see, Salvador Allende was a pediatrician, not a politician. There’s nothing the matter with that. His agony in life had to do with nutrition for children. The basic platform upon which he based his politics was free milk to all children in Chile. Now that is beautiful. There is nothing much revolutionary in it, and I deeply wish the world would know what a sweet and soft man he actually was. To achieve his dream, he wanted to nationalize the copper mines, get money by selling copper, and buy milk. I knew people very close to Allende.
In one debate we had, I suggested that a more direct way of getting more milk was to have more cows. I wasn’t sure they had to go by way of copper. The second suggestion I made was more important. If you nationalize the copper mines, I stressed, you’re up against something called imperialism. That beast is going to react strongly and you must prepare. They were not prepared. And really, they did only a technical take-over of the mines. But from a Kendicott-Anaconda corporate point of view, it was merely a question of having friends in Washington, like Kissinger, who had friends in Brazilian intelligence. And out came the Brazilian-backed campaign of economic destabilization that finally put Pinochet in power. So I could accuse Allende of naivete. I would never accuse Fidel Castro of that. Castro always knew exactly with what he was dealing.
Prior to this you had a personal experience with the reach of US imperialism when you were asked to participate in Project Camelot. In fact you gained something of a reputation after the project was cancelled. What happened?
I was at a meeting at Princeton University on my way down to an assignment for UNESCO in Chile, in 1965, and ran into a professor who said, “Johan, you have the three abilities that we need for a project called ‘Camelot.’ You know about conflict, you know about development and you speak Spanish. We would like to ask you to participate in this project that has to do with the relationship between conflict and development. You’ll work with a team in Chile.” I said, “Okay, send me the papers.” Now the secretary who sent me the papers made a mistake. She put in a slip of paper intended for a higher level of participant. On it was written the real purpose of the project: to find out how the United States Army could help armies in friendly countries. I was not supposed to have seen that, but I did.
I started writing letters to my American colleagues. “Are you aware of what you are participating in?” These scholars comprised the blue book of U.S. Sociology at the time. They wrote letters back saying: “Johan, don’t take it so seriously. In the U.S.A. you always have to bring in the military to get money and you should see it as a very good way of starting funding for social research.” I was not buying that. I knew my colleagues too well. I replied: “Okay. Either you or I are making a basic mistake. I think I’m closer to the scene, and I’m going to do my best to work against Project Camelot.” Two months of very intensive work followed, and in the end the documentation landed on the desk of the President of Chile. His name was Eduardo Frei, the father of the present President of Chile. The father became absolutely furious. He had just had very difficult negotiations with the Americans over the same two copper mines that Allende later nationalized, and said that if the Camelot project wasn’t cancelled immediately, Chile would break off diplomatic relations with the U.S.A.. The project was set up to have American social scientists, together with their Chilean counterparts, spying on Chile for the U.S. Army. Fortunately, after receiving the Chilean ultimatum, President Lyndon Johnson cancelled the project the same afternoon. It was in the New York Times, and there was somewhere mention of an unknown Norwegian sociologist with the name Johan Galtung.
I also remember the communist paper in Chile had a big headline calling me the “Archangel of Chile.” Interesting communist terminology, but this is, you know, Don Camillo country, so we have a nice relationship between left-wing Catholicism and Marxism. But I’d like to add a comment. In order to get the project rescinded–which was not easy–I had to cooperate with some Chileans who had declared themselves Marxist. I didn’t find a single one who wanted to completely torpedo the project. They said: “Ah, but this is so much money, and we can just give them fake information.” Now, I don’t play with science that way. The person with whom I could cooperate was a left-wing Catholic. He and I did the job together.
As in Project Camelot you’ve witnessed political influence on social research for a long time. In an article “Is Peace Research a Science or Politics in Disguise?” you faced this problem in your own field of study. What was your conclusion?
In this case my answer is not “both-and.” My answer was that peace research is both a science and participation in politics. But not in disguise. The chief difference is that in my work I try to be very explicit. Peace researchers must say what they are trying to do. There can be no attempt at concealment, no disguise about it. When I enter a conflict, like the Great Lakes in Africa, is my purpose to come out on the Hutu side or the Tutsi side? No, my purpose is to be on the side of trying to find a way out of the conflict which combines the three principles that guide all of my conflict transformation training work: creativity, nonviolence and empathy, and with all the parties involved. It’s not my job to distribute blame and arraign anybody into court. For example, after considerable work on the conflict between the Hutu and the Tutsi, it became apparent that all parties were suffering from extreme tunnel vision. They just didn’t have a perspective that would allow the emergence of any creative solutions.
To help break the logjam, I’ve recently been advancing the idea of a confederation of countries from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. Rich countries could then finance an excellent railroad and a four-lane highway from coast-to-coast, making the borders so osmotic that Tutsis and Hutus would not be closed into one cage called “Rwanda” and another cage called “Burundi.” This would then open a huge territory for facilitating east-west relations in Africa, opening up the continent to South Asia and Southeast Asia on one side, and Latin America on the other. Also necessary would be proposals to allow participating nations to retain enough of their independence so they wouldn’t be bullied by outside forces. No doubt the politics over such a proposal would be hot and heavy.
It would be expected that there would be divisions between the parties, requiring a series of rounds of discussion and negotiation. But my experience is that after talking for some time, even if the parties are still divided at the end, each side will end up with more points on their agenda than they had before. Their perspectives on the initial conflict will have broadened and deepened, allowing for much more space to seek solutions than they thought they had before the discussions. In other words, the context of the conflict would have been transformed to the advantage of all the parties involved. The railroad and highway might not be accepted, but the tunnel vision would have been weakened and new, nonviolent solutions could then be pursued.
You seem to be working out a sophisticated Gandhian approach to the problem of conflicts that spring from national identity. What do you think of a statement once made by Isaiah Berlin, that “nationalism is a reaction to wounds.” Is this similar to your recent discussions of “collective trauma” and the role that it plays in fostering international conflict?
Definitely, but I think Berlin picks up only one point of the causes of destructive nationalism. I try to make it a triangle, and one corner of that triangle is the collectively suffered and collectively remembered traumas or wounds. At another corner of the triangle are the collectively experienced glories that may glow greater over time as the distance from when they took place increases, thus providing opportunities for fantasies of future glories. The third corner is the concept of “chosenness,” the conviction that you’re chosen by some over-arching principle independent of human will. It could be God, as in the U.S.A., or Amaterasu the Sun Goddess, as in Japan. It could be, as I think Lenin saw it, History, with a capital H, where Russia is given the key role in promoting the majestic forward march of the proletariat. This triad of chosenness, glory and trauma produces vicious types of nationalistic ideologies that are continually threatening world peace.
Now, not all nationalisms are as hard as this. I am not talking about nationalism that defines certain points in space as sacred–a hill, a stone, a homeland. Certain points in time can also be held sacredÑthe memory of battles lost and won, the memory of a constitution well-written–all can have a certain nobility. So nationalism is not the same as the idea of “culture.” It’s not a language. It is not a religion. Nationalism lays claims on land and time and that’s when nationalism enters geo-politics. Recently, I have worked quite a lot as a consultant to the Hawaiian Independence Movement, voicing sentiments of perhaps twenty percent of the population. This movement has a problem with celebrating the Fourth of July, because if Hawaii became independent it would no longer be one of the United States.
Even now, what happened in Philadelphia in 1776 is not relevant to many Hawaiians. Nevertheless, they’re supposed to celebrate it. So they have a party and make July 4th their day. My recommendation to them was to expand on this and claim as Hawaiian as many days on the calendar as possible. I also suggested that they designate many landmarks, or points in space, as sacred Hawaiian places. In other words, you punctuate space and time with your own indigenous traditions. Hawaiian history allows them to do this quite easily because of all the legends and folk tales associated with the landscape. This can then become an incredibly effective way of laying claim to territory without changing any constitution, or having a referendum, or participating in any way whatsoever in the political status quo. This is a strategy that’s creative and totally nonviolent.
You and other scholars have often deplored the marginal status of indigenous peoples like the Hawaiians. But there was a time in American social sciences, as early as the 1920s, when the idea of marginality was celebrated as the bridge to the future. In an important essay entitled “The American as a Marginal Man,” the late Robert Park, using Jewish-Americans as his example, argued that the more marginal an ethnic group, the better. Marginality, he asserted, ensures the necessity for creativity and for experimentation. Marginal people are unable to take refuge in custom and tradition since their precarious social position drives them towards innovation. Today, however, we look at marginality as a weakness, as something to be avoided and eventually eliminated.
Probably, Robert Park, one of the early American fathers of sociology, was thinking of marginal white people. His conceptualization became a trend in development theory that today can be used to justify continued victimization and neglect of non-white populations. He thought that the entrepreneurs were those possessing marginal characteristics, and made them more representative of the future than the more established people at the center of a culture. I tried to reformulate his thesis by using the idea of “rank-disequilibrium.” In other words, Park was really discussing people who have unbalanced status, one high and another low. Usually the high status is education, and the low status is acceptance by white society. Where the Jew would be low in social acceptance, he would probably be high in educational achievement. There are many reasons why a person with such a disequilibrium in rank should be creative. In fact that would be about his only strategy–to try to convert the intellectual potential he has into political-economic power. But for non-whites today, I think we should use another term introduced relatively recently, the idea of almost total exclusion. This is a much more brutal term because, if you’re marginalized, you are, nevertheless, on the margin of something. After all, a margin is a part of the sheet of paper; while if you’re excluded, you don’t even make it on to the page.
I was just lecturing today about the 1.3 out of 5.8 billion human beings who have less than one dollar a day. This must be contrasted with the 358 billionaires who have more money than the lower 50 percent of the total world population! If you have less than one dollar a day, you cannot possibly enter the market except to buy something very cheap like a cigarette or maybe a few milligrams of some drug. You are sort of pulled into the world system by means of those few pennies you have, yet excluded by what you must do to yourself to get them. That’s the way those in power like to work it, to exploit the poor as much as they can yet keep them out of any meaningful participation in the system.
Micro-banking is also an attempt to bring very small spenders into the market and it’s achieved a kind of cult status among development agencies around the world. Does this movement have the potential to really enrich the lives of the world’s poorest people?
On this I am very positive. The different kinds of micro-banking, especially those of Mohammed Yunus, were acts of pure genius. The interest is actually quite negligible, about one or two percent. The repayment percentage is often quoted at 98 percent as opposed to 38 percent common in commercial banking. But there’s something much more important than that: the idea of a circle of ten persons supporting and being responsible for the welfare of another person. Ten persons with ten dollars each can lend somebody with nothing one hundred dollars and in so doing capitalize that person so that she achieves equity with everyone else. This process is very close to an idea Gandhi once had if the person who has been helped feels an obligation to participate in another circle.
The process may then snowball and, in principle, it may continue indefinitely into Gandhi’s oceanic circles. Also, there is a second message which often is forgotten by those who write about this system. Bangladeshi micro-banks only give loans to women, since they have a very dim view of us men. The problem with men is, number one, that we’re not interested in basic needs, but in motorbikes. Number two, we men are professional alcoholics or worse; and number three, on top of that, we are utterly unreliable. A signature on a document from a man has about 50 percent of the value of the same signature from a woman. Now there is some evidence behind these three ideas; it’s not very complimentary but it should be publicized and explored. When the World Bank organized a conference recently on micro-banking, the responsibility of men for world poverty was not high on their agenda. Of course, the conference organizers were almost all men!
You’ve been interested for some time in the work of Vinoba Bhave and also Danilo Dolci, both of whom dedicated their lives to enriching the lives of the poor in creative and unusual ways.
I met Vinoba Bhave only briefly, and he said something very impressive when I came to his tent to interview him. As usual, he was walking the length and breadth of India to get landowners to donate some of their holdings to the landless. In response to my request he merely looked at me and said: “To walk is better than talk.” I got the message, joined in the walk, and afterwards came the time for talk. Of course for Bhave the walk was very religious, almost a sacred ritual. It was meditation. It was being gracious to nature. It was enjoying being with others. He had this enormous map of India with his incredible route marked out over the whole country, a walk that took him fifteen years or so to complete. Gandhi once said that Vinoba Bhave was the spiritual inheritor of his message.
While Vinoba Bhave was not a very political man, Danilo Dolci was. With him, I had a very strong and direct contact ever since I first visited him in 1957. The same evening I came to his town he brought me to the slum quarters of Palermo and demanded that I stay overnight. This was one of the more gruesome experiences of my life. At that time I was 26 and not mentally prepared for it. I saw a poverty in Italy which we today would associate with some of the worst Asian cities. It was terrible. But there was a sort of shiny side, the amount of solidarity, closeness and warmth of these people. Unbelievable. They were living in the sewers, in the gutters, and the kind of housing they had was negligible, particularly when it was raining. Everything they had was inadequate.
Nevertheless, they possessed a strength that Danilo Dolci was tapping into to mobilize them against the Mafia. In the Palermo case, it was not only the usual pattern of capitalist exploitation that was so tragic but how it was compounded by Mafia control. Dolci persevered through the most vicious opposition. When the Mafia gradually loosened its control over a lot of public works projects that were supposed to be benefitting poor people, it was due to him. In 1958 a magazine called him, “Sicily’s Gandhi,” much to the dislike of Cardinal Ruffino, who objected to Dolci’s criticism of Sicily’s social system. Yet in his later years he’s become almost a cultural prophet, having anticipated the reforms now going on all over Italy.
So you think he was influential in the crackdown on the Mafia currently going on in the south of Italy?
There’s no doubt about it. He has made people courageous, made them see the reality of their situation. Before he started his work most people in Sicily accepted the Mafia as part of the social landscape. Like the weather, the gangsters could only be endured. Due to Dolci’s work they finally developed the courage to stand up and that prepared the background against which police action became a possibility. Today the mayor of Palermo is a Green politician, and with his support we are trying to create a training center for conflict transformation.
These men, Vinoba Bhave and Danilo Dolci, seem to be archetypes of an occupation, that of conflict worker, that you’ve called for as being crucial to societies in the future. How have both of them, in their work, exemplified the principles that you are attempting to communicate in your Transcend Training Seminars?
The principles are nonviolence, creativity, and empathy. Empathy means respect for the humanity deep down in everyone, even in someone like Hitler. It means finding, amidst every disgusting thing that such a person might do, something to agree with. In Hitler’s case, for example, I could completely agree with his hostility to the Versailles Treaty. So you enter a conflict with a will to find something to respect in everybody. In 1997 I was amused to read that the President of South Korea would have liked to put on trial those economists whose advice had ruined his country. I completely concur with him on this. Yet, given my principles, I guess I would have to find something good in even an economist!
When I was young I was so moved reading about Gandhi collecting money for the British merchants, whose lives he had made miserable by boycotting the goods they were selling. He said that he wasn’t against these merchants, that he didn’t want their families to starve; he was only boycotting them because their goods destroyed Indian independence. In other words, we are to systematically distinguish between the good that is in all people and the actions of a person that we feel are evil. Dolci and Bhave did this and also were immensely creative, always coming up with new perspectives. Then there was their nonviolence: not only abstaining from harming and hurting, but emphasizing the unity of life. A doctrine of indivisibility is absolutely essential to the practice of nonviolence. For the future, we need a couple million people like Bhave and Dolci.
It’s unusual that a Catholic Italian with leftist leanings would exemplify the same principles that someone like Vinoba Bhave, a Hindu, did in India. How do you account for this similarity?
It’s probably the mysticism. Mysticism is an experience of union or unity, and I think for Dolci that struck him at a very early stage of life. I was Dolci’s interpreter in India when he met some of the leading Gandhians and he was systematically searching and exploring for those mystical links. His trip was not only about Italy finding India and India finding Italy, but about that which is much deeper in all humans, Dolci finding himself, something fundamental and universal that has different expressions in different cultures.
How do you tap this in your classes?
I always start my training seminars with something simple, like what happens when you have two children and only one orange? The solutions proposed usually reflect cultural differences, often fascinating, but there’s also a sort of commonality that transcends cultures. This is usually expressed in the seeing of conflict as dangerous, but also as an opportunity to make a leap and take a chance.
What about the failure in what we know today as liberal education to teach values like tolerance and civility? Has this provoked the great need in the world for conflict workers? What grade would you give today to modern education?
Very close to an F. I think education has degenerated into schooling, schooling has mutated into a way of earning degrees, and degrees are seen simply as a ticket to earning a living. Most students seem only to be interested in the quickest way to get into a well-paid job. Forty or fifty years ago, I remember meeting other students to discuss deep existential problems and search for answers to predicaments common to most human beings. Today some students still do this, but I find them few and far between. Sadly, most seem to lack the sense of solidarity that was common when I was young. Most lacking in modern education is any attention to the relationship between such ideas as empathy, nonviolence, and creativity. Instead of tolerance, I like to teach respect and curiosity. If I can generate these two qualities in my students, they might want to find out what others believe in and stand for.
This initial curiosity might then prompt them to sit down together and exchange views. Different views become intriguing. I can learn something from you and just maybe you can learn something from me. Now in the process of doing so, you may find out that what I stand for is something rather dangerous. But this in turn provides the opportunity to evaluate ideas using criteria such as reversibility. And then both of us can see better where we really stand and what the implications of our thinking are for other people and the world. Most of us, I believe, really long for just these kinds of encounters in an educational setting. Why else do we seek nonformal education through weekend seminars, camps, and other opportunities that allow us to come together and discuss exactly the types of issues I mentioned? It’s just beyond me why this couldn’t be a part of formal education.
Why do you use theater in your courses?
I have found the theater a fantastic way of teaching creativity and empathy. If you ask students to write a dialogue, and usually I give them a list of characters for whom they must write the plot and the lines, they can build the dialogue so as to see different issues from different perspectives. Often they can see different sides at the same time in a way that exposes all the contradictions that people usually bring to social situations. Textbooks and monographs, on the other hand, often only present students with a streamlined, contradiction-free view of a conflict.
Since some cultures are more theater-friendly than others, what might peace educators do to stimulate creativity in students who have been brought up to believe that dramatic self-expression is not appropriate?
The way I try to do it is to construct a conflict situation and ask people to discuss what can be done. This may require time. But the first step is always simple, such as: two persons, one orange. Of course, the obvious thing is to divide the orange. At a seminar yesterday, there was a man who wanted to cut it and a woman who wanted to peel it. It’s almost like a cultural projection, you see, a kind of a test. I once used the same example in a little school in India. I was so moved when two girls said: “We don’t want to do anything. The orange is so beautiful. We can just watch it together.” A fourth approach was given by two slightly arrogant British schoolboys who said: “We’ll both turn our backs to the orange and leave it to its own devices on the table.” This approach also refuses to accept that the situation warrants a hot conflict but it doesn’t have the beauty of the Indian girls’.
All four solved the problem and all four of them expressed different cultural values. There is evidently a male culture, female culture, boy culture, girl culture. There is an Occident-Orient divide where the Occident always feels it has to do something active. Watching was not quite active enough for the British boys, but it was very soft on the orange. My experience has been that each culture has a new angle on conflict transformation. We have this incredible, rich humanity which makes it possible to draw on a vast reserve of ideas. So I’m optimistic about globalization as a means of expanding our conflict horizons, exposing us to previously untapped repertoires of knowledge, all of which can offer diverse ways to get out of our crippling illiteracy about conflict transformation.
How would you interpret the great nonviolent revolution of 1989 within the current context of economic globalization? Do you think the disappointment that has followed the early hope for many of those ex-Soviet bloc countries demonstrates the truth of Alexander Herzen’s observation: “One can’t build a house for free people out of the bricks of a prison”?
It’s obvious to anyone that the former territories of the USSR are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It’s also a study in the workings of the revolution of the Taoist wheel of yin and yang. After all, isn’t it fascinating that at the very moment the brutuality of the Stalinist system was overthrown, the world suddenly began to appreciate its long ignored bright side?–the keeping in check of equally brutal nationalism, and the providing of basic human needs to the vast majority of its people. If you asked the bottom 50 percent of Russian society to compare their condition today with the situation twenty years ago, I know exactly what they will say: things are much worse now. That doesn’t mean that they want to go back to the horrors of the Gulag. But like any rational person they want both material security and the freedom they have now. They want both-and, as any civilized nation should.
So the search for that is now occupying the Russian and the Eastern European mind. But they’re running up against a nasty inheritance from their intellectual tradition: the curse of extremely dichotomous thinking. If you hate communism, and are told that the opposite of communism is capitalism, you embrace capitalism. If you start hating that, then you are lost and you either become apathetic or want to go back to communism. So in Russia today you get three big groups: those who want to continue with capitalism, those who want to go back to communism, and those who feel lost and disoriented. It’s a very sad situation. I only wish current debates could be more open and include more alternatives. Those countries really do need a rich tradition of innovation.
You once wrote an article entitled, “Does Pacifism lead to Socialism?” Today, would you still define conflict resolution as pacifism? Would you continue to call the society that you’re searching for, one of less conflict and more peace and love, as socialism?
Today I don’t use those terms very much. Pacifism has a connotation of conscientious objection and maybe a relatively passive form of nonviolence, whereas what I try to do and teach is an active engagement with a conflict. Conflict workers must go into a conflict, have dialogues, come up with proposals, discuss them, and finally, practice them in small ways to lay the groundwork for big changes. I also take two points from what used to be called socialism. First, the provision of basic needs. We must start with those who suffer most, because their needs are the greatest. We can’t start with the people at the top in the hope that benefits will trickle down. The trickle down theory has proved to be just a theory.
The second point I take from socialism is the necessity to bridge all of the fault lines in contemporary societies. The early socialists were trying to eliminate only one division, class differences, so they concentrated on the creation of a classless society. Today, we must also think about gender, conflict between generations, race, the divide between people and nature and the lines that separate people into nations and states bitterly opposed to one another. We then have at least seven major barriers that create the most awful problems today. One can look at bridging them as part of conflict resolution but, to me, it’s all a part of socialism. Socialism does not stop at the nationalized post office. It goes beyond that, into something deeper that lies at the root of the human condition, like making public space beautiful, efficient, accessible to all.
What about the fault line between people and culture? You served in prison and that seemed to have influenced some of your social analysis. Do you think all cultures have an aspect of imprisonment and do you think it would be fruitful for members of every culture to try to bridge that?
I think a culture opens some doors and closes others. Most of us are brought up to see our cultures as necessary for social survival. We’re supposed to say: thank you, culture, for what you make me see and I’ll promise to stay within your boundaries. Now that is not a very fruitful point of departure, but that’s the way we raise children. Raising children is the biggest exercise in brainwashing that exists in this world. And unfortunately, most of us raise our children very much like we were raised. But what if we try to open the child’s natural curiosity for other cultures, provide insights into other languages and other ways of being human? It’s a way of getting our cultural prison walls to start crumbling down.
We can go back again to our friendly formula, “both-and.” But we don’t have to limit it to two or three cultures. If you combine two cultures, that becomes in itself a culture and then you can take that culture and combine it with some other combination of cultures. This seems to me the positive aspect of globalization. I don’t see globalization as being condemned to the spread of some kind of basic English at the level of twelve-year-olds, with the triple M–Mickey Mouse, McDonald’s, and Madonna–thrown in. There must be more to globalization than this. What’s going on today I see as a transitory phase. This is not to deny the enormous democratizing aspect of plebeian American culture. It’s so very different from the vision held by the people in the British Council who were disseminating English to the world in the hope it would be used to learn Chaucer, Bunyan and Shakespeare. Today there ain’t much of that. The Triple M has come instead and it must be rather disappointing to those gentlemen in the British Council.
How do you interpret attempts by mass entertainment at what we might call “humane” education? I’m thinking of films like Schindler’s List. It was roundly criticized in Europe for being superficial, for being American, for being not as grand and profound as the great films Shoah and The Sorrow and the Pity. At the same time, it provoked a worldwide response that other Holocaust films didn’t achieve. Do you think that Hollywood can be tamed for peace?
I hadn’t thought of it but I should have. Schindler’s List was a very touching film. It was also very honest as an illustration of the yin-yang principle. You see Schindler with all his obvious shortcomings exposed, especially his colossal vanity. At the same time you see his genuine solidarity with suffering people, and his tremendous courage in taking risks to help them. I thought it was a fantastic film and I hope it will encourage many people to become Schindlers, because we are facing difficult times ahead. When I say “difficult times ahead,” I wish our Jewish friends would be able to come out of the position that Shoah [the Holocaust] is absolutely unique. I think that’s just a way of making them seem unique. The position is really self-defeating, because the moment you say “Shoah is unique,” it means you can no longer learn from it. You just put it in a box and exclude it from the rest of human experience.
What about recent Hollywood movies about Tibet and the Dalai Lama, such as Seven Years In Tibet? Can they be useful in peace education?
Heinrich Herrer, himself, is quite honest about his book, Seven Years in Tibet, and emphasizes that he never was a teacher of the Dalai Lama, just a practical man who tried to be helpful. What is troubling about the film is the failure to make a distinction between Buddhism and the feudal structure that grew up around it, which some have called Lamaism,. I think this system, which allowed the great monastaries to monopolize the resources of the entire country, was horrible. Anybody with some decency would have turned against it, and somebody I know very well, the Dalai Lama, did just that. Buddhism is probably the most beautiful of all the world’s religions but in Tibet, as in every other country, it had become corrupt. Since neither the book nor the movie brought this out, they can be faulted for misleading a lot of people and giving the Chinese an opportunity to claim they had been misrepresented. In my view, the high point of central Asian culture was the time of the Mongolian-Tibetan axis, when the road from Karakorum to Lhasa was a major avenue of cultural exchange. Slowly, however, the rich vibrancy of Buddhist culture was ossified by the growth of monastic despotism.
A friend of mine recently pointed out that before he died, Arnold Toynbee was reported to have said that he thought that Buddhism offered the surest guide to what religions in the future might be like. Did Toynbee influence you?
What has continued to impress me about Toynbee was his courage to approach macro-history. This was quite daring in the atmosphere of historical science in the United Kingdom. Usually, British historians are extremely rich on detail and extremely poor on the general sweep of things. Toynbee had a theory and the theory’s not a bad one. I made a comparison of twenty macro-historians in a book called Macro-History and Macro-Historians, and I must say Toynbee stands out as a giant. My conclusion is that all these twenty giants are fantastic and the only thing we should be careful about is not to believe in any one of them. We should, rather, see them as an inspiration for our own social inquiry. If we believe the world is like any one of them says, we’d go wrong. But if we can combine twenty or more perspectives, and try to see the world in that way, we’ll get a rich and diverse understanding of social change. Toynbee’s ideas offer a brilliant explanation, for example, of the end of the Soviet Union and the utter inability of the party elite to develop creative solutions to the challenges that confronted them.
During the Cold War physicians and scientists took up the banner of peace more actively than social scientists. Why?
This is a very touchy point for the social sciences. You are absolutely right that the least active group working against war in general, and particular wars, like Vietnam, were the political scientists. To understand this, we have to look at their career pattern. Where can they get a job? The people most likely to appoint them to any position would be either the University or the State. So we are talking about the military-industrial-state system, of which the universities are just a part. This system would not be interested in employing anyone who is permanently critical of the whole system, although if you only criticised one particular war you might just be tolerated. This leaves us with the natural sciences and humanities. My experience has been that within these professions there are groups of potential Buddhists. I always find professors of English particularly active, probably because of their knowledge of general culture.
I was very active in the Pugwash movement to stop the use of nuclear arms. Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein set it up, although Einstein died soon afterwards, and Russell went his own way and never showed up at the conferences. My experience was partly positive, partly negative. The positive thing was contact between the two sides of the Iron Curtain at a very high level. No doubt that was useful in bringing about a little bit more of confidence and trust between East and West. The nuclear physicists involved in Pugwash were so closely linked to their respective establishments, that they functioned almost like an alternative diplomatic channel between the two sides. Henry Kissinger made use of it in the negotiations that ended the Vietnam War. Some people in Pugwash played a major role.
We have to look at what motivated these physicists. Imagine you are a respected scientist who is a German Jew and you have participated in developing the bomb in order to stop the Nazis. To your amazement it’s not used against Germany, but against the Japanese, with whom you have no quarrel. Then books start coming out about what happened to the civilians of Hiroshima. When I first went to Pugwash in 1964 I was told by several of these men that they were so troubled by what they did that they couldn’t sleep. Unfortunately, however, their intense and passionate committment to preventing any future use of the bomb was accompanied by an equally intense conviction that only they knew how to accomplish this. They earnestly believed that if someone had the brain of a nuclear physicist, what he said about international affairs should be regarded with the same respect as what he said about nuclear physics. We who were brought in from the outside and who, frankly, knew much more about conflicts than they, were supposed to sit in a circle and applaud all the platitudes they uttered. Eventually this made Pugwash almost irrelevant. Today the conference continues by sheer inertia. But the leader, Joseph Rotblat, got a well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize.
You once were quite interested in what became known as futurology. This had a vogue in the social sciences that began in the middle 60s and continued to the late 70s. If you were going to advise those who wanted to be involved in some sort of analysis of future worlds, what would you tell them?
There are two types of future studies. The normative, what we would wish to happen, and the predictive, which is essentially trend extrapolation with a little bit of imagination put in for dialectical jumps. I think that the normative point was picked up by the Green parties. The prediction point was picked up by the conservative parties and became a part of planning ministries in Western governments who are trying to tame and domesticate the future by anticipating it. So in that sense I think we who began future studies had an enormous success. We made ourselves superfluous. I was the first president of the World Federation of Future Studies in 1973-4. At that time Robert Jungk, who had created our predecessor, Mankind 2000, insisted that we should not bring in too many social scientists, and instead should enlist artists, literary people, architects, sculptors, painters, and poets. He thought we could learn much more from them, and I agree completely. That advice was not heeded.
So the Federation became like a second-rate club of political scientists and, unfortunately, has remained that way ever since. If I could give this errant child some advice, it would be to urge it to come back to the artists. There is nobody, for example, who has predicted post-Second World War history as well as George Orwell. I am not thinking of the terror scenes, or the torture techniques in Nineteen Eighty-four. I am thinking of the way he anticipated the geo-political divisions of the world. It was absolutely astounding how correct he was! Moreover, his essay about the use of language, what was called Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-four, accurately predicted the alliance between public-relations firms and governments in a way the media have picked up. I have never seen any political scientists coming up with anything as prescient as that.
A predecessor of George Orwell was Aldous Huxley. He once remarked that Brave New World was partly a satire on the ideas of Bertrand Russell. He was poking fun at Russell’s faith in science. Ironically, however, Brave New World also seemed to have anticipated what people will be facing in the twenty-first century. The idea of genetic engineering, of mass use of medications to make a pain-free life, the idea that human beings can be categorized into more human and less human types, and trained to accept their lot. Did Huxley inspire you in any way?
It was great entertainment, but I see Brave New World less as a guide to Bertrand Russell than to the United States. It seemed to me that his Alpha types, who were having a great stupid life enjoying good things and reflecting on nothing, were typical of middle-age middle-class people in that country. I think that was his source of inspiration. Aldous Huxley stands out as one of those seers, although with a different polarity than Orwell, who were living examples of how future studies could benefit from the artists rather than the social scientists.
Before Huxley, H. G. Wells, in The Time Machine, introduced an idea that Huxley drew on and satirized, the division in a future society between the Eloi, or beings of light and beauty, and the Merlocks, the subterranean dwellers upon whose labor the Eloi depend, but who require their flesh as payment in return. It was a tale obviously calculated to shock the smug Edwardian capitalism of his time. Do you see science fiction as an artistic tool for visionary social speculation?
If you go back in time, before H. G. Wells there was Jules Verne and that was fantastic science fiction. Many of those things have happened. To me that is just one more way in which the artist can look more deeply into the future than others, and maybe make us see dangerous possibilities and avert them in time. Unfortunately the depictions of danger might also attract us to them. When I read science fiction that has to do with interstellar or intergalactic space, I’m almost always struck by how negative and boring it is. Invariably there is some blonde, European-American beauty captured by some kind of evil-looking half-human, half-animal, from some bizarre planet. Instead, I would so much like to see artists creatively portray new ways in which people could love each other, be beautiful, kind and good, and in so doing project positive images of the future. Why can’t we encourage artistic geniuses to use their talents in this more constructive direction?
A Victorian novelist and science fiction writer, Bulwer Lytton, wrote a very interesting book, The Coming Race, in which he depicted an energy that had been discovered by future generations that was the key to the energy powering the universe. It had a dual polarity hat allowed the future inhabitants to create literal paradises through their positive thoughts, as well as corresponding hells through their negatives thoughts.
One more example of how artists are more capable of doing this kind of thinking than social scientists because they have categories that appeal to a much richer band of the imagination. A sensitive social scientist can then systematically access these ideas. This is so crucial to our social science methodology when we make our taxonomies, classifications, conceptual schemes, and things of that kind. Whenever I construct a scheme of classification to better understand a social problem, I’ve trained myself to be much more interested in the empty cell, the unknown category in the classification. To take just one example: we are told by global economic analysts that if you want to be rich, a certain amount of inequality is inevitable, and the reason is simply this: in order to be rich some people have to work very hard and they’re called entrepreneurs. They’re the locomotive dragging that slow train. Now you wouldn’t expect them to work hard for nothing. They have to be rewarded, because they are also taking risks on behalf of the future. This causes class formation, the necessary social price you pay for economic growth. Well, that gives you four categories to understand society: poor, rich vs. egalitarian, non-egalitarian.
Conventional sociology says that you start with poor-egalitarian and then you introduce some element of inequality, and then you become rich. But imagine that you would like to have a society that is rich and relatively egalitarian. Imagine you accept that this is an empty box right now; we simply don’t know how to achieve it. Using creative thinking to fill this box is what C. Wright Mills called the sociological imagination. This is the most important thing we need today. All over the world, social scientists could sit together with their artist friends in coffeehouses and pubs and speculate about the content of this box, how to make a new society. These two types need each other, since they have different ways of visualizing the goal.
When you were just beginning your career, you raised the question: Does human life and work have to be so monotonous? This is a question that hasn’t been answered in our century. If the current trends in economic globalization continue, with highly capitalized production and poorly paid labor, it probably never will be. But if we go back to the nineteenth century, to Fourier, the French social thinker, we find someone who utilized his rich sociological imagination to consider the possibility of organizing work so as to allow for the expression of every element in the human constitution. He believed you could make life and work infinitely interesting. In our own time, Abraham Maslow tried to do a similiar thing in his attempt to fuse industrial organization with humanistic psychology. Why do you think we’ve fallen so far short of even partly realizing these utopian dreams?
Because we’ve become scientific in the sense of “empiricist.” It’s so interesting that you mentioned Fourier. Marx was always snarling about him, having written off both Fourier and St. Simon as being utopian, not scientific, socialists. Marx defines scientific exactly the same way as Pasteur, who also castigated his rivals. These scientists saw the human being as something holistic, and therefore defined disease as a basic problem of equilibrium or balance of energies within the human constitution. Pasteur, however, introduced the idea of microbes invading and immunity and things of that type. This was much easier for empiricists to live with as a theory. Similarly, Marx introduced the idea of the revolution as the surgical operation that would put the workers in control of the means of production and save them. It was a much simpler theory than Fourier’s rich mix. Regrettably, in much of our basic thinking, the end of the nineteenth century is still with us.
We have continued the practice of decontextualizing and reducing the richness of holistic thinking down to a handful of variables which we think we can manage. In methodology we call it the principle of Occam’s Razor. But it doesn’t work at all, it cuts away too much.
In organizing modern society, this kind of thinking is reflected in what I call the CEWR system. It stands for Childhood-Education-Work-Retirement. All the possibilities of life are contained in this sequence of four boxes. Can anything be more restricting to human possibility than this imposed linearity? So my question is, why can’t we design a more interesting life by rotating the stages? We could have a C-R-E-W-C-W-R-E sequence or any other that would fit our personal needs. Workers could go back to school, or take sabbaticals. It’s obvious that almost all adults need to have a second and third childhood. Our entertainment industry is based on that fact. So why not have camps for adults and let them play in sand boxes? I remember when I published these ideas for the first time in Norway, in a conservative paper, the editorial comment was that it’s very clear that Professor Galtung is taking one of his childhood years right now. I wrote back and said: “You are absolutely right; and I’m thriving.”
What do you mean by the “tyranny of the middle aged”?
That’s the group that’s running us. It’s a certain very self-contented way of life. I call them MAMUs, a middle-aged male with university education, an acronym that sounds a little like “mammoth.” This endangered species usually makes an alliance with the MAWUs, women of the same type, who are often feminists with a university education. That’s about as progressive as the MAMUs can be. So you get a MAMU-MAWU combination agreeing on keeping the young, the old, and the uneducated out of any responsible role in society. That’s why they like to talk about early retirement and publish propaganda about the aging society. In Japan, for example, there are so many talented people in their 90s who are more active than they were when they were younger. They may be a little bit less agile running up and down stairs, but that’s not so important. The creative young and old both pose a threat to the MAMUs, so the latter respond by preaching a kind of age-fascism.
A last question, Johan. Do you see the computer revolution as contributing to the withering away of the state?
I think the Internet proves the possibility of this happening in a significant way. In one part of the global society that I know well, that of UN meetings and conferences, the information revolution has allowed the emergence of a culture of counter-conferences, organized by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), able to draw on a vast amount of information to challenge and criticize constructively what the official UN conferences are saying. Not only that, but the UN has encouraged this by putting all their documents on the Internet, and allowing NGOs to attend conference meetings and report on what is being said behind closed doors.
I know of no legislature in any country that allows NGOs to scrutinize their meetings in this way or who allow the minutes of their meetings to be accessible to the public, except in highly edited versions. Instead, legislatures in today’s global society want to keep NGOs ignorant, unless they are business lobbies that contribute money. They want to control information through manipulating the media. But if you look at some of the UN sessions, I find the NGOs very well prepared, with not only criticism, but also constructive ideas that, in many cases, they’ve taken right off the Internet. There is no doubt that this level of information, until recently, was reserved only for those who were able to pay the transaction costs for the communications. Perhaps, then, there is a fantastic potential here for global democratization.
Moreover, I see some kind of global citizenship coming up on the horizon. With 1.3 billion people now excluded from the global economy, and the numbers are certainly going to rise, the only way we can really bring everyone into the family of humanity is to create a concept of citizenship at the global level. This would involve a core of basic needs, rights and responsibilities that anyone, by virtue of being a human being, could appeal to, and that anyone in a position of authority would be bound to respect, as a condition of exercising that authority. We must reinvent the concept of the commons at a global level, and establish some kind of global welfare society that would furnish a safety net for every woman, child and man on the planet. Only then could we look upon the idea of globalization with any sense of satisfaction. If our civilization is to command any respect from the coming generations it can leave no one on the outside looking in. The global communications revolution could certainly assist in this larger revolution, which is much more noble and heroic than anything humanity has ever attempted before, and certainly goes far beyond the idea of a market economy.
And who will speak for this future that you envisage?
I think people themselves. If we were to depend on governments it would never happen. I remember what Jody Williams said in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech. She threw away her prepared text and said straightout: “It was a superpower that tried to destroy this work on banning landmines and that was the U.S.A., but they came up against another superpower that won–an alliance of cities, friendly businesses, NGOs and small countries.” So I think it’s within this emerging network of small units that we’ll find the real agents for global transformation. In today’s system small is beautiful and small countries are usually a bit more decent. But I’m sure everyone will be allowed to participate in the great work before us, even the U.S.A. and Walt Disney. After all, the future can exclude no one. If it did, it wouldn’t be the future but a replay of the past.
Philip Grant is the author of Shiva and Hermes and Toynbee and Buddhism. He teaches politics at several universities in Kyoto.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 3.0 United States License.
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