Memoires has never been my favourite reading, and I would find writing my own rather dull. I know already what happened in my life, what I achieved and failed to achieve. What counts is what you leave behind and not the process’s account. Also, I don’t believe my memoires would be interesting to enough people to make it worth the effort to write.
Perhaps because I am a sociologist, I’ve always been interested in broader perspectives on the world than that of the individual’s. Of course, some individuals have lived lives so extraordinary that others take a keen interest in them. Me too.
Instead of the “me” reflective aspects or the me in the world, I am interested in people who have acted into the world. Women and men who have left some footprint on the world and grappled with the issues of their times.
Placing people and their actions as reflections of their time and learning how they were driven by an urge to influence and shape it always made me curious: How did they do it? What talents were they born with, and how did they utilize them and focus throughout their lives to achieve what they did?
To put it crudely: If writing about one’s life, write not about yourself, write about the world and what you did to it.
That’s world-moires rather than me-moires.
That said, I am not an autobiography writer. I’ve lived my life rather intensely and, simply, don’t possess a memory of many details. I’ve been a doer. I never kept a diary. My archive materials, notes and calendars are work-oriented and anything but systematic. I also would not trust that I would resist the temptation of painting a too nice picture of my motives, activities, and results. Vanity and ex post-rationalization exist, and I do not underestimate them.
With the exception of Chapter 1, there is no chronology in what follows. It doesn’t cover all my life, only aspects of it. It is more about what I have done vis-a-vis the world and only about myself to the extent that it may explain what I thought and did. (You may read more about the differences between memoirs and autobiographies here).
Why write about one’s life now?
In my case, it has to do with six things: I’m turning 70 and feel a need to reflect on the road I have travelled and those new roads I intend to explore. I have enough ongoing tasks and new ideas to fill a life beyond 100 – and I hope to get there but you never know. So better take stock and get this writing done.
Secondly, I’m approaching the 50th anniversary of my work as a peace, conflict and future researcher. I’ve jumped in and out the roles of being an author, teacher, professor, public lecturer, researcher, analyst, media commentator, and conflict mediator in a series of international conflict and war zones. I’ve worked in several countries in different cultures. Even my art photography is related to peace. I have some insight into the West from the outside.
Thirdly, I find that I have lived, and will live, in extraordinarily interesting times filled with more world history per year than most in the past. Humanity stands at an existential crossroads. Perhaps it is time for a moment to take a step back and contemplate? And then say something.
Fourthly and as I argue throughout this book, my analysis-based belief is that the US Empire must fall – and will fall. The West must stop being a violence-based leader, and become a partner for the world to become better, solve its main problems and live more peacefully. Until that happens, it makes no measurable difference whether I work 6, 8 or 14 hours a day for that better world. Western leaders live in an information and knowledge echo chamber and – in contrast to decades ago – do not see a need to seek any advice from alternative expertise – which in itself is a sign of our democracy’s intellectual decline.
So, it is only reasonable to take a break or respite and write something else. And then be ready to resume peace full-speed when the peace discourse returns and people engage in the larger issues than at present.
Fifthly – and perhaps immodestly – I am inclined to believe that I have something to say about important matters in a global perspective at a time when the culture I live in is more inward-looking and nationalistic than ever in my lifetime.
Finally, I feel an urge to reach out in plain language and leave my academic writing style behind – which doesn’t mean that I am leaving the intellectual approach to my themes behind.
Why the title “Goodbye Peace”?
Is it all over? Is the sun setting like on the photo on top taken out of a plane window somewhere I no longer remember? No, I just take a longterm or macro perspective. Our lives are incredibly short in the larger scheme of things.
Since I was about 25, in the early 1970s, I’ve worked in many and different ways for a less violent world. But that vision has not materialised – although many good developments have taken place. Indeed, I have argued that grosso modo, the entire peace discourse in research, politics, media and the public debate – with a few exceptions – has been destroyed.
It’s been destroyed by what I call the MIMAC – the Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complex – that is, the small elites in virtually all countries who drive militarism and ‘security’ to the detriment of all of us and of the environment.
Western civilization – which Gandhi smilingly said would be a good idea – has said goodbye to peace.
Without further elaboration in this chapter, I would argue that secularization has gone so far that society is now stripped of values, ethics and common understanding among the citizens. Alienation and atomization, not to mention a consumerist enough-is-never-enough boredom opens the road to secondary realities or living as in reality shows with a series of entertainment options. When there is little to share in society, we can at least share something on Facebook.
The only standard that seems to be common is that of objectification on a market where everything has a price. When nothing is sacred, everything can become a commodity. Someone has said that we now know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
In such a world, in such a time, militarism provides us with meaning, with power, with a strength that compensates the existential weaknesses (denied) deeper down at the individual as well as national level. When everything else is in crisis, we can still smash up someone we consider morally or otherwise inferior to ourselves.
The Norwegian philosopher Harald Ofstad (1920-1994) – whom I am deeply grateful to have known and worked a bit with – argues in his classical 1971/1989 book “Our Contempt For Weakness: Nazi Norms and Values – and Our Own” that contempt for what we see as the weakness in others and the glorification of (our own) superiority is essential for the understanding of Western culture in general and its acceptance of violence and war in particular.
I tend to agree. Has there ever been a war in which “the other” was not first demonised as weak, bad, evil and ‘lower’ only to, later, be humiliated, harmed or destroyed? Isn’t that – rather than racism or economic exploitation – what has driven colonialism and imperialism, too?
Might makes right makes belief.
The US and the rest of the NATO, in particular, world believe in militarism – violence, strength, superiority, armament, warfare and interventions, etc. – in the same way, people believe in God. Without the slightest reference to evidence, they maintain that this militarism has saved us from the Evils of this world and created – in NATO’s mantra – “stability, security and peace.”
However, if militarism and weapons could bring peace on Earth, today’s world would be wonderfully peaceful, free from hunger and poverty, in balance with Nature and full of socio-economic progress, joy and conviviality.
Anyone who is not a member of these elites and does not live inside some anti-intellectual and/or ideological box knows that this is not the world we live in. But those who, conveniently opportunistic, are part of militarism’s structures and group think will be the last to wake up of their fundamentalist worldview – “we can’t be wrong!”
But despite this flirt with militarist madness and ongoing nuclearism – playing with the very existence and future of humanity – there is no discourse, no fundamental questioning today. You just can’t question the existence of that God-like militarism with its immensely powerful, well-financed priesthood and disciples everywhere.
Now, is there a metaphor for how these events and trends will play out over time and change the world?
What I see is a staircase spiralling downwards. At every step, many – including I myself – have argued that we should see this crisis – say 9/11 or the Corona – as an opportunity, a wake-up call to change course.
Regrettably, the continued existence of a) capitalism – in particular in its neo-liberal version – b) the outdated state-based Realpolitik character of the global geopolitical system as well as c) militarism – to just mention three things – have made such a hopeful perception of history’s event as wake-up calls or turning points frighteningly delusional.
There is something called metal fatigue. The West is now an example of system fatigue.
In my lifetime, the US has been the Western world leader, and it has sought to lead the rest of the world. I belong to a generation with boundless admiration for the United States (often wrongly confused with “America”). The idea of the mission – making others think, believe and be like us – is as old as Christianity itself, whether practised by the Bible or by the Sword.
While that West, or Occident, has given the world many good things, its net contribution has now become negative. Its manifest destiny is decline and fall. For quite some time the West has been declining on all indicators, except military high-tech power. It is a safe prediction that it does not have that long time left as a leader and will fall – as all empires before it have fallen.
What we do not know is whether it will fall with a Whimper – like the Soviet Union under Gorbachev, one of the greatest leaders of our time – or with a Bang that will unfold either as a series of smaller societal breakdowns and wars or as one big war which may very well include the use of nuclear weapons.
So, have the “hawks” won and the “doves” lost? Yes, but only if you take a short-term perspective. What looks like a victory now will, I argue, soon turn out to be completely self-defeating. The image I see is of civilian and MIMAC leaders enjoying themselves in the elegant restaurant onboard a civilisational Titanic. Or, to quote Bob Dylan, “for the loser now will be later to win, for the times, they are a-changin’.”
That is, if humanity survives the next few years. There is certainly no guarantee.
The crisis times in which I put this together has said goodbye to peace and adopted militarism as a fundamental belief system, as God. That goodbye is a major reason why the West is falling and in moral decay too. Strutting with a lot of weapons should not be mixed up with being healthy, strong, visionary, or loved.
However! If humanity survives in the longer run, one reason will be that the West has again said Hello to Peace – like we did after 1945 to create a new system, the United Nations in particular.
Here is a simple but important distinction made by eminent peace researcher, Johan Galtung (1930 – ) – that between negative and positive peace:
Hello Peace would mean to work for both negative peace such as:
– reduce considerably the violence that lies under all our problems, the violence against other human beings, gender, race, children etc., against other cultures and against Mother Nature; this also means dis-armament and new ways of defending citizens and their societies;
and for positive peace such as:
– go in the direction of intelligent conflict-resolution instead of using violence, move forward to solve humanity’s real problems such as inequality and poverty, discuss and create a new global decision-making structure – and embark upon a type of global thinking and order that puts cooperation over confrontation.
The discourse of peace can be revived. We don’t have to end project humanity. But we must stop playing God and become humble exactly because of all the technical power we possess. We must begin to care. Every kind of missionary politics must go, and we shall instead celebrate unity in diversity, not in anybody’s imposed uniformity.
For as long as I can, I’ll work for that new post-Western, post-militarist world future which will be dynamic, ever-changing and multipolar. I’ll do other things that are more intuitive, joyful and creative such as developing my art photography. In the longterm perspective, I am neither an optimist nor a believer in utopia. I am also not a pessimist believing in dystopia and spreading gloom and doom. That leads us nowhere except to passivity and collective depression.
I consider myself to be a realist, one who believes in eutopia – a place of ideal well-being, as a practical aspiration (compared with utopia as an impossible concept). It’s much the same as Martin Luther King’s “beloved community.”
Just because, perhaps, I shall not see the world I hoped and worked for all my adult life, I don’t want to become a grumpy or bitter old man.
That world may very well emerge – if no sooner, then after me. I hold that scenario possible but don’t know its probability. Since we do not know it is impossible, it is still wise and meaningful to work for it.
Of course, there could also come decades of permanent peaceless-ness, of muddling through in a very drawn-out whimper. And some psychopathic person may drop nuclear weapons here or there tomorrow afternoon…
In other words, omnicide – much faster and more complete than the ecocide everybody talks about these days – an example also of the typical inability to focus on more than one thing at a time.
The better future will, by necessity, have to be about humility, unity in diversity, conflict-resolution instead of violence, and about creating win-win solutions for the common global good. That is, for all of us, or for none of us. The Danish designer, multithinker and universalist, Piet Hein (1905-1996) has stated it in simple, yet succinct, words: It’s either Co-existence or No-existence.
Therefore, towards the end of this book, Hello Peace perspectives gain momentum. Because neither you nor I would appreciate a doctor who can only do the Diagnosis and the gloomy Prognosis but has no ideas whatsoever about Treatment, Healing and Recovery.
So much for the title and what it and the subtitle reveals about this book and where I stand.
At least for now.
2 thoughts on “A. Introduction – Why “worldmoires”?”
Very good Jan. I look forward to reading more, and love the take on Jasper John’s image. I have a different view of Gorbachev, actually an opposite view of him, but agree on everything else and you have inspired me to try to escape my own pessimism. Peace.
Dear Chris – many thanks. Of course we can discuss Gorbachev. No matter how we see him in the larger scheme of things, I think we should be grateful that he did not use violence or turn on other countries when he saw the game was over. I am not that sure of what we are going to see when the people in Washington are in his situation. That said, I am very grateful for your comment. I really do think we need some constructive longterm view – and that we need voices like your own.