Sunday, 10 June 2018

We Can Stop War

Back on the 21 April 2013, I wrote a blog referencing Donovan's “Universal Soldier”. I took the following words as key in that blog which I titled “Universal Conformist”.
But without him,
How would Hitler have condemned him at Labau?
Without him Caesar would have stood alone,
He's the one who gives his body
As a weapon of the war,
And without him all this killing can't go on.

He's the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame,
His orders come from far away no more,
They come from here and there and you and me,
And brothers can't you see,
This is not the way we put an end to war.” (Buffy Sainte-Marie, 1964).
As I prepare to retire from forty five years involvement in computing with twenty five of those being involved in teaching, I am doing a lot of reflecting on why I am leaving now. I keep coming back to the idea that I have to do what I believe in and not conform to a system in which I no longer have any faith or belief.
We are reading a book by Peter Price (2018). In the current chapter (29), he talks about the importance of relationships in peace building and keeping the doors open for communication. He says “All peace processes come down in the end to making relationships” (p 130). The more that I have read on peace making, the more that I have come to see that relationships are all important but they are relationships built in trust and equality. This is where I see my relationship with my workplace failing. I am little more than a cog in a large machine conformed to the wishes of higher leadership. My services are only wanted provided they conform to the direction in which the the workplace is moving.
This made me wonder what would happen if we no longer made ourselves available to support systems that are not working for the good of all (the common good. This is what I have decided to do. Remove my support so I can pursue what I believe to be important.
When I turn this thought to war and economics, I have to conclude that the reason that we have war and our current economic strategies is that we have learnt that these are the only way that things can be (see Price’s discussion of the story of Cain and Abel as described by a chief rabbi of Israel, p 130). Cain had to learn to commit murder and as Price argues, we have to learn to live in peace. We have learnt to be the universal soldiers of Donovan’s song whether it is in the pursuit of war or the pursuit of economic objectives. Maximising individual utility (maybe that should be futility) functions have to be learnt. Our learning brings us to a point of conforming unless we are influenced by something outside of the system.
But let us take this further. If you look at war, it is not the soldiers who make the decision to go to war. In fact, it is not even the military commanders. It is politicians who will not have to go out and face the opposition. Those that go to war are the paid soldiers or the universal soldiers. They are paid to fight. Their allegiance to the campaign has been brought about by a system of obedience to instruction and an acceptance that those issuing the commands are right.
I see the same thing happening in the workplace and our economic environment. Those who suffer from economic decisions are not the decision makers but the poor and the vulnerable. This has been true for quite a lot of western history. Watch any programme on family history and sooner or later, you will hear stories of the work houses or of avoiding the work houses. Those that land up there are not there because of their own fault. They are there because their skills and abilities became redundant or managers decided that they were no longer needed. The capitalist market driven system has never delivered equality and the evidence suggests that it is very unlikely to.
What would happen if the people, the workers and the poor decided that they were not going to accept the way things are and developed their own local communities that focused on meeting need rather than maximising value or utility? What would happen if the soldiers on both sides of a battle put down their weapons and said we are not fighting this battle for distant leaders?
War only happens because soldiers are willing to be paid to go to battle. Our economic system only operates as it does because we, the people, accept and go along with its current practices. We are capable of learning alternative ways. We are able to develop alternative ways of interacting with one another and some communities have. The question is whether we are willing to say “enough is enough” and let us build a new society based on building relationships and not on building barriers? We do have a choice, it is simply that so few are prepared to take the risks involved and be rejected by the current system.

References

Peter B Price (2018) Things that make for peace: A Christian peacemaker in a world of war. London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd.
Buffy Sainte-Marie (1964) Universal Soldier (recorded by Donovan in 1965).

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