New strategic culture for peace and a green world


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Creative Commons License New strategic cultural for peace and green world by Alix Landmann is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Based on a work at wiwitan.org.

It seems conflict over power and resources, inequality, and poverty are the predominant reality. Peace, or the process of adjustment between interests, capabilities, and wills of individuals and groups based on a consequent balance of powers and a corresponding structure of expectations and patterns of cooperation, occurs sporadically throughout history and is interdependent with conflict and renegotiation of power balances. Today it seems that democratically elected representatives of populations are inclined to perpetuate established systems that serve those in positions of advantage at the cost of the majority human environment and the natural environment. How to create a world with no war, hunger, poverty, homelessness, and unnecessary suffering? Or better, how to create a world with peace, abundance of food and wealth, and bliss?

The founders of three universal religions all have been social activists at their time. Buddha raised the issue of equality as a revolt against the hierarchical social system in India – he carried out a vigorous campaign against social discrimination. 500 years later, Jesus has been crucified for a very alike social activism and attempts of reformism. Prophet Muhammad taught that all humans were entitled to the same rights and privileges – therefore society’s wellbeing was paramount to the Prophet. Mohammad shook the structure of the unjust society he lived in by bringing about social reforms: he forbade exploitation of the vulnerable, protected the poor by establishing regular charity; and dwarfed an arrogant class and race-based system by upholding equality.

Compared to those personalities, I do not feel in the position to offer a strategy or solution to the issue of peace, poverty reduction, or conflict prevention. In consequence, I will approach the topic from an academic perspective of religious and cross-cultural studies.

Peace derives its meaning and qualities within a cultural framework. Such a framework is a cultural perspective – so before we ask “Can there be a cultural strategy for peace?” - we need to ask first “What is culture?” As the existence of God has less been proven empirically, rather inter-subjectively, I will treat religion as a cultural system providing rituals, and institutions for a moral community with shared values and norms – those values and norms are unevenly distributed in group members. In this, I think of culture and religion as strategies for survival and reproduction – as man went tribal he needed to communicate meaningful with each other and thus reduce misunderstanding and conflict by establishing a social order to increase cooperation based on reciprocally shared meanings and expectations and thereby securing individual and group survival with increasing reproduction and access to life supporting resources as food and water.

There is no universal culture, universal or generic to human beings is that they have local cultures. Local cultures provide a specific matrix of meaning for a given social group in a given geographic environment at a specific point in time. Motivated by and based on this matrix, individuals and the group act and interact with their human and natural environment – and change the given meaning systems according to individual experience and learning, as well as social and environmental changes throughout the ages. Depending on social organization, cultural strategies are chosen based on some sort of authority, which is differently legitimized. As we see later, the Pancasila is such a cultural strategy.

If we define human reality as a constant confrontation with the problem of existence characterized by historic, bio-socio-cultural, and environmental impermanence, then all religions, cultures, nations, tribes, and individuals invented their own legitimate contextual strategies to face the problem of existence. In addition, if impermanence is the basic reality of life, a matrix for survival needs to welcome change and negotiation. When culture as a survival strategy becomes reified into an orthodoxy backed by the authority of a minority, which does not serve the needs of the majority of the people, then it is locked or frozen into a framework which is unable to answer the needs of the many, compete with change or cope with negotiation. Consequently, it will be defunct and nurture voices of resistance and rebellion in itself as a natural process of renegotiating power balances.

Following RJ Rummel, (cf. RJ Rummel, http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/TJP.CHAP2.HTM; http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/WPP.CHAP20.HTM) I think of conflict and peace as interdependent phases in a social field – much related to predictability of negotiated power balances in a given community or society. Conflict appears to be a balancing of powers during a negotiation of opposing interests, capabilities, and wills between two or more parties involved. This process determines some social contract – a relationship or interaction between two or more wills and the harmonization of expectations amongst those wills. The stability of this social contract may be called peace. Peace then is determined by a process of adjustment between what individuals, people, groups, or states want, can, and will do. Peace is based on a consequent balance of powers and involves a corresponding structure of expectations and patterns of cooperation. Moreover, peace may become unstable when an increasing gap develops between expectations and power and may collapse into conflict, violence, or war. Thus peace and conflict are obviously intrinsic to survival – two sides of one coin.

Cultures, nations, religions, economic elites – they all have their own strategies for survival, consequently Christian, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or Indonesians, Indians, Chinese, Mexicans and Germans, they all will see peace differently. Socialists, fascists, liberal capitalists and ecologists have different perspectives, as do academics of anthropology or international relations, and especially economists. In this abundance of diversity of meanings, peace is no different from such concepts as justice, freedom, equality, power, conflict, and, any other concept. All those concepts are defined within a cultural perspective and the group that shared that cultural perspective.

What is peace?

  1. The most popular (Western) view  on Peace – from latin pax “freedom from civil disorder” – is as an absence of conflict, violence, or war.
  2. Peace is also seen as concord, or harmony and tranquility.
  3. It is viewed as peace of mind or serenity, especially in the East.
  4. It is defined as a state of law or civil government, a state of justice or goodness, a balance or equilibrium of powers.

All those meanings of peace function at different levels: Peace may be opposed to conflict, violence, or war. It may refer to an internal state (of mind or of nations) or to external relationships. Or it may be narrow in conception, referring to specific relations in a particular situation (like a peace treaty), or overarching, covering a whole society (as in a world peace). So the definition of peace depends on the situation and a specific cultural perspective.

Let me adduce two examples. The Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed” – by promoting Human Rights within Educations for example. Millions of US Dollars are spent for those programs. But – do we see more peace in the world? Even if a historic coincidence elevated Human Rights policies and Human Rights education as first duty in the contemporary world – we’ll actually all know that the nations who act as Human Rights promoters on the first front are very fond of breaking those rules….and even imprisoning people criticizing them for this. British police have spent some $4.5 million in patrolling for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, eight months into his confinement at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London. (http://rt.com/news/assange-london-police-cost-363/)

Another example to be adduced, today we witness a global crisis of income inequality caused by particular survival strategies of corporatocracy or media, corporation and stock exchange backed governments. According to conservative reports the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total of global assets. In comparison, half the world’s adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth. Near the bottom of the list were India, with per capita wealth of $1,100, and Indonesia with assets per head of $1,400 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2006/dec/06/business.internationalnews) With regard to income inequality and poverty, the 2013 Oxfam report states: The world’s 100 richest people earned enough money in 2012 to end world extreme poverty four times over. In a statement, Oxfam warned that “extreme wealth and income is not only unethical it is also economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive.” (http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/cost-of-inequality-oxfam-mb180113.pdf) If we had used the money that has been spent on military systems and wars in the last 40 years, and utilized it for developing strategies to reduce poverty, or clean sources of energy, for example, today’s world would be more civilized place. With regard to conflict and poverty, NATO spends $1 trillion annually, and Afghanistan alone, where NATO and the U.S. have been at war for more than ten years, costs a little under $300 million per day.

Consequently we need to look at the interdependence between conflict and peace and at specific actors providing definitions of peace and ideas of how to organize social life. Therefore, in the effort to talk about a cultural strategy for peace, that shall reduce conflict and poverty, we need to ask further: “From whose culture and based on whose authority such a strategy shall emerge? Which perspective will be chosen, based on which principles and criteria, and more important, by whom and which decision making models? Who is going to enforce such a strategy? Whose voices are included or excluded?”

So whose peace?

A current global cultural strategy seems to me, that some actors define peace and justice using their personal interests and profit as framework and thereby create inequality and poverty of masses while others exploit the natural environment recklessly. A new cultural strategy for peace should introduce a value shift: the basic perspective should be that we are all part of one human family sharing one planet and thus need to concentrate on conceptual sameness instead of differences. In my opinion, a cultural strategy for peace which shall reduce conflict and poverty must take into account three relations – the relations between humans and God, the relations between humans and humans and the relations between humans and nature/non-human beings. I have learnt this not in a Western University but in Indonesian adat communities. For me then, peace refers to healthy, restored, equal and just relationships at five levels:

  1. Peace – psychological/individual (internal peace and respect of God/higher values)
  2. Peace – interpersonal (internal peace and respect in face-to-face relationships)
  3. Peace – social (peace in internal relations and external relations of social groups)
  4. Peace – political (peace in internal relations and external relations of nations)
  5. Peace – ecology (relationship with nature that might be characterized by sustainability, protection and conservation)

What could be conditions for peace? If we can agree on shared conditions for peace across religions and cultures, on conceptual sameness, on kalimatun syawa, a word that is equitable between us and you (Ali Imran 3:64) maybe we can find strategies for a common survival. Those concepts should be ideologically neutral and found in all spectrums of human activity. They should allow for difference, as only the common goals are sets, but the means to achieve them may vary. A common ground understanding for peace and reduction of poverty and conflict focuses on symbiosis of human beings with fellow human beings and nature – we are not separate entities and a working cultural strategy for peace must develop a new social model that departs from this logic if we hope to survive and prosper in the future. Gandhi famously said “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Thus, Oxfam calls to end extreme wealth and inequality. From an ethical point of view, it is extremely difficult to justify excessive wealth and inequality. In fact, most philosophers and all of the major religions caution against the pursuit of excessive wealth at all cost and mandate sharing of income with less fortunate members of the community. (http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/cost-of-inequality-oxfam-mb180113.pdf)

The first step in achieving peace is reducing greed, hate and ignorance. Another one is tearing down perceived differences – boundaries. In the old days, such boundaries were fluent and overlapping, in modern times, however, boundaries are constructed exclusively and antagonistic – capitalist and communist, Western values and Asian Values, or more worse, Islam and Democracy. Those differences do not help us. They create conflict. We need to agree that there is no given peace in nature; like love, peace is a decision and hard work. We need to welcome change and conflict is necessary process to achieve progress. We need to acknowledge the abundance of beauty in the difference of creation. Difference is said to be divine and beautiful by all sacred scriptures and strengthening sameness is a valuable strategy for peace. The names for our places of worship or sacred narratives or scriptures may vary, but we all have those places and stories.Talking about differences is nice but we need to strengthen cooperation and sameness. We need to strengthen conceptual sameness found in the cultures that evolutionary divide us despite we are members of one human family sharing one planet with limited resources. Such concepts might be helping the vulnerable with charity and preserve nature for our own future.

Sukarno presented the Pancasila in terms of a traditional Indonesian society in which the nation parallels an idealized village in which society is egalitarian, the economy is organized on the basis of mutual self-help (gotong royong), and decision making is by consensus (musyawarah-mufakat). Sukarno always stated that Pancasila was a philosophy of Indonesian (indigenous) origin, which he developed being inspired by philosophical traditions in Indonesian history, including indigenous philosophical traditions, Indian-Hindu, Western-Christian, and Arab-Islamic traditions. Those principles are

  1. belief in God as necessary precondition for individuals to develop inner peace and understand fellow humans and nature a related parts of creation, in order to develop
  2. a just and civilized humanity, based on decision making processes of
  3. consensual consultation, that shall realize
  4. social justice

First, individual or psychological peace - faith outlines manuals for inner peace. Humans as agents make choices – they have the right to self-determination, individually, socially, institutionally – who is to decide when, why, whether a particular choice or paths is right or wrong? In the field of faith and what is considered ethics (right or wrong), the only guideline we have is that as human species we have a symbiotic relationship with nature and each other, we are not separate entities, we depend on each other and earth, and if we expect to survive and prosper we need to find a just model for a common word that fits all perspectives. The limit is harming others or depriving others of their needs – as different as they may be.

Psychologically, peace has two levels. Inner peace (or peace of mind) refers to a state of being mentally and spiritually at peace. Peace of mind is generally associated with bliss and happiness. Peace of mind, serenity, and calmness are descriptions of a disposition free from the effects of stress. In some cultures, inner peace is considered a state of consciousness that may be cultivated by various forms of training, such as prayer, meditation or bodily exercise, for example. Many spiritual practices refer to this peace as an experience of knowing and thus controlling oneself.

Besides bliss, peace can be realized through the promotion of individual morality or the understanding of one’s moral responsibilities towards others. Humans have obligations first, and then rights. Obligations rank before rights in indigenous communities in Indonesia. In other words, individual rights and dignities are strongly intertwined with corresponding duties. Rather duty is more important than right, and the individual is responsible for the society as well as for himself. In this, humans shall learn control of negative attitudes (in the extreme, greed), aversions (fears), or delusions. Thus peace of mind is the precondition for a just and civilized humanity, in which all people can prosper equally.

 So what equitable word should be there for all on an equal and shared basis to realize a just and civilized humanity at the interpersonal, social, and international level? Remember the previous given features of peace, I think besides the psychological peace, social justice and ecology are necessary. To achieve equitable words, one needs to engage in consensual consultation in order to balance power relations and achieve social justice. Sukarno promoted the principles of consent and consultation in an Indonesian state “all for all,” not for one individual, for one group, or for the wealthy – because in all models of state there is conflict inherent and to balance powers and expectations negotiation and consensus are necessary.

Social justice intended to provide equal share of the economy to all Indonesians, as opposed to the complete economic domination by the Dutch and Chinese during the colonial period. Sukarno said, quite relevant for today: “There shall be no poverty in Free Indonesia. … Do we want a free Indonesia whose capitalists do as they wish, or where the entire people prosper, where every man has enough to eat …” Sukarno acknowledged that capitalism carries with it an ugly risk. He noted that social justice means not only political equality among people but also economic equality and prosperity for the average person.

Social justice is in my opinion grounded in the individual. Obligations rank before rights in indigenous communities in Indonesia. An individual understanding about one’s moral responsibilities towards others is the base for a civilized humanity that implements social justice (as traditional leadership based on abilities and unpaid). But social justice needs to be a regulative principle of order as well that is related to power. In this, social justice is the product of the virtuous actions of many individuals – whether they are members of governments, corporation, non-governmental organizations, civil society, or mere citizens.

Social justice cannot be imposed from above as abstract ideal. Social justice is a grass roots mechanism; it emerges organically and spontaneously from the free will and behavior of individuals understanding of one’s moral responsibilities towards others. One characteristic of this definition of the virtue of social justice is that it is ideologically neutral. It can be found in all spectrums of human activity. And it allows for difference, as only the common goals, the equitable words between us, are set, but the means to achieve them may vary.

In this social justice is predominantly a moral concept and opposed to economic theories. Because neither capitalists nor communists concern themselves with ethics, all economic theories undermine the unity of society – in considering what is right and what is wrong – a question which relegated to the field of religion. But we need to agree on what is right and what is wrong – individually, socially, ecologically and globally. The confrontation with the problem of existence is everyone’s business, and people as Bill gates who spend their fortune should be copied.

The Quran contains numerous references to elements of social justice. Charity and assistance to the vulnerable are and have historically been important parts of the Islamic faith. Islam is deeply rooted in the tenets of volunteerism and social activism. Islamic notions of social justice are

  1. Charity and assistance to disadvantaged or weak (poor, children, minorities, women)
  2. Volunteerism and social activism
  3. Ecological well-being of the planet (animal rights, natural resources preservation)
  4. Safety and security of minority populations, women and children, elderly, physically disabled,

I would like to combine those notions with following modern ideas of social justice:

  1. Right to self-determination
  2. Wellbeing (equally provided access to basic needs as food, drink, health, shelter, education)
  3. technology can help a lot if power supplies are sustainable and clean sources for energy
  4. sustainable economies advocate for conservation of nature as a key premise in social justice
  5. equal access to resources for all, fair distribution of resources, and local groups manage their resources, and produce commodities locally
  6. rule of law
  7. some so-called political freedoms (according to Rawls)
  • Freedom of thought; Liberty of conscience as it affects social relationships on the grounds of religion, philosophy, and morality
  • Political liberties (e.g. representative democratic institutions, freedom of speech and the press, and freedom of assembly
  • Freedom of association
  • Freedoms necessary for the liberty and integrity of the person (viz: freedom from slavery, freedom of movement and a reasonable degree of freedom to choose one’s occupation);

Important to the concept of social justice and peaceful relationships, is the conservation and protection of nature, or ecology. Indigenous communities try to resist the raping and pillaging of nature and earth. Based on their traditions, they advocate protecting the earth from carnivorous and capitalistic predatory spirit that wants to exploit and extract every last bit of resources – water, timber, jungle or forest, animals and raw materials as minerals, oil, gas and resources. As Indonesian and other indigenous communities since millennia, Pope Benedictus XIV linked peace to ecology in 2007:

humanity, if it truly desires peace, must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology. Experience shows that disregard for the environment always harms human coexistence, and vice versa. It becomes more and more evident that there is an inseparable link between peace with creation and peace among men. Both of these presuppose peace with God”

(http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/peace/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20061208_xl-world-day-peace_en.html)

Cosmic harmony, justice and peace are closely interrelated – just as indigenous Indonesian communities practice since thousands of years. What cultural strategy could be the response to “business as usual” or “semau gue” throughout the entire world? Despite protocols on climate change, reforestation programs, water protection plans, conservation of nature programs, the same elites exploit nature and the last money belonging to the people, and retreat to their gated enclaves of privilege. In conclusion, what we see globally, is that first, global and national corporations pollute and exploit nature without mercy belying international covenants, and second, stock exchange, banking and assurance backed governments destroy financial markets to their own profit on cost of the tax-paying populations. Representatives across the globe talk in liberal, progressive platitudes, but they seem bought and paid for by the lobbyists of the corporatocracy – even the academics are no exceptions as they write assessment papers paid by the very institutions they assess. Efforts of social reclamation of community or communal rights and land are increasingly labeled anarchy. And mass movements that protest against neo-capitalist and authoritarian forms of democracy that continuously are disempowering and impoverishing the masses are under surveillance at taxpayers’ costs. I think a cultural and rational strategy for peace, reduction of poverty and conflict, must be the true reconstruction of the institutions of power across the globe. Extreme wealth and inequality on cots of nature and the people must be ended.

As a researcher on Indonesia, I found today there seems to be a controversial tendency in Indonesia to follow, copy, or import cultural elements or trends from several parts of the world – and to give foreign investors easy access to resources by unclear licensing. In my view, instead of imitating or importing trends from the United States, Europe, the Middle East, or India, the amazing treasure or richness of local cultural heritage and local wisdom contained in ancient traditions – “the old ways” – should be revived into the contemporary context instead of being neglecting or marginalized as traditional, backward, pre-modern or even primitive as they provide meaningful answers and concepts. Ancestors of Indonesian tribes and people laid out refined sophisticated and sustainable concepts for social organization, alternative dispute resolution, and protection of nature. Commencing with colonialism and after democratization and decentralization, we observe an increasingly neo-capitalist and liberal predatory behavior, authoritarian foreign corporatocracy actually exploits Indonesian natural and human resources for their own profit, as outlined before, those are global conditions, and Indonesia is a mirror of such condition. The reactualization of Pancasila, reclamation of lands by Indonesians, control of foreign investment and outsourced profits, taxation of foreign companied and investment, development of a micro and medium businesses and industries to process the raw materials currently exported and re-bought are some ideas how to realize a just and civilized humanity and social justice in Indonesia. The old ways need to be the researched and prototyped, as they could serve as a common ground (kalimatun syawa) for Indonesian multiculturalism to preserve local resources.

Denpasar 24.04.2013

Paper written for http://youngleader-forum.com/information-all-about-young-leader-forum-for-asia-pasific-regians-borneo-summit-2013/

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