peace culture

Western Worldview: A Latent War Myth

francois_dubois_001

“St. Bartholomew Day’s Massacre,” oil on panel, by François Dubois, circa 1572-84. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I recently came across a striking depiction of the dominant Western worldview, which underlies our conventional way of thinking about violence, especially our assumption that war is natural and inevitable. It is our present-day mythos—our deeply embedded conception of humanity—rendered so starkly that it startles one momentarily into a state of recognition.

I found this remarkable depiction in a book about the history and vitality of peace movements, specifically a chapter on psychology and peace. The authors, Marc Pilisuk and Mitch Hall, observe that we live in a world we have created, both a physical world we have significantly changed and “a symbolic world of mental images that define what we assume to be true.” Our prevailing myths are our most comprehensive symbols for identifying our place and purpose in life. They constitute social and political entities, such as nation-states, that “exist only because we believe they are real,” that is, “because we invest them with sovereign powers and sacred attachments” and “willingly kill or die for them.”[i] (more…)

An Answer Other than War

President Ronald W. Reagan salutes military personnel gathered in his honor, Oct. 12, 1986. (Credit:  PH1 Sammy Pierce / Wikimedia Commons)

President Ronald W. Reagan salutes military personnel gathered in his honor, Oct. 12, 1986. (Credit: PH1 Sammy Pierce / Wikimedia Commons)

To say that war is not the answer (as suggested in a previous post) is to underscore that war lacks salience in the public mind and that peace is next to impossible for Americans to envision. US war culture displaces both an understanding of peace and a desire to pursue it.

War culture is difficult to change. It is deeply ingrained. Americans have been continuously at war for the past 250 years. The absence of war—which is not the same as a positive state of peace—is a rare and short-lived phenomenon in U.S. history. A condition of positive peace is unprecedented.

Nevertheless, culture is something learned and, therefore, subject to change. War culture does not just naturally persist. It is sustained by ritual. At least theoretically, a culture of war can be transformed over time into a culture of peace. (more…)