Update: I had a great time talking with Rob about peacefulness and peace economics. You can listen to the interview here.
One listener/reader has sent me a question, so, Q&A post forthcoming. Send me your thoughts and questions, too.
Our headlines have been filled with an overwhelming amount of violence and conflict lately – Ukraine, Gaza, Syria, Central America. Fortunately, this week, Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol has published a New York Times Op-Ed about how we can build peace.
The article is titled Turkey Can Teach Israel How To End Terror. To me, that headline exemplifies our cultural focus on war and violence at the expense of focusing on the outcome we want – peace. Terror gets more clicks than peace.
But regardless, Akyol makes several salient points.
Last month, the Institute for Economics and Peace released the 2014 Global Peace Index. The results are frustrating: the world has been getting less peaceful for the last several years. And at the same time, the number of wars between countries is also declining. How is that possible? Read my analysis of the 2014 Index report on Pacific Standard:
In short, the nature of peace is changing. Breakdowns in peacefulness are becoming more decentralized, and peacefulness relies more heavily on social structures and non-state actors as opposed to exclusively governments and formal militaries. Peace is becoming more democratic, if you will. Given the severity of organized, inter-state conflict in the 20th century, the trend of declining militarization and international war implies that we have made progress in solving 20th-century problems.
The rise of internal conflict, in all its forms, demonstrates that people are unsatisfied with their governments, economies, and social structures. We don’t need complicated econometrics to tell us that—the Arab Spring movements, the anti-austerity protestors, and even ISIS have made their dissatisfaction abundantly clear. Meanwhile, violent markets—like the drug trade—are growing as opportunities in formal, non-violent markets disappear.
Click through for the full article.
The Pacific Standard site doesn’t do comments, but I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions here or on social media. Do you think this analysis makes sense? Are we doing the right things to address our 21st century problems? Do you have an innovative idea for building peace?
Last Friday, the complicated term #economicviolence began trending on Twitter in the U.S. after Andy Smith, Suey Park, and Prison Culture initiated a tweet chat. People shared personal experiences, and the statistics that represent those stories in aggregate.
Of course, before long, tweets along the lines of “get a job,” and “get a dictionary” began to appear. Accordingly, as my job is to deal with the issues and ideas of economic violence, I want to discuss a few definitions. (And that’s not to say others aren’t already articulating these ideas well. I just hope to add to the chorus.)
Violence is a notoriously difficult thing to define. It seems straightforward at first – we can all immediately picture a fight, a war, murder, or rape.
And yet there is a lot of harm and pain in the world that is seemingly difficult to classify. For example, too many of us are familiar with the way language can be violent, even in the absence of physical contact between two people. Whether property damage is violence is a classic question, especially among activists.
There is also a great deal of clearly preventable injury and death that does not appear to come directly from an individual – the death of a child from hunger or from a disease easily cured in a richer part of the world; the illness suffered by a homeless person in a city full of vacant and foreclosed homes.
Or there is clear violence, but from an amorphous source, such as war waged by The United States. (Who, exactly, is The United States?)
And for all forms of harm – either directly inflicted or of a source more difficult to identify – there are the cultural norms that make us comfortable with its use. We may believe capital punishment or a “just” war are necessary evils, but they are violent nonetheless.
These different kinds of harm are known as direct violence, structural violence, and cultural violence.
Direct violence refers to observable incidences of self-directed, interpersonal, or collective violence, including physical, verbal, or psychological acts and acts that inhibit or insult our basic needs and/or physical persons.
Structural violence refers to the systemic ways in which a given social structure or social institution harms people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs.
And cultural violence is the ways in which aspects of our culture – art, media, political and economic narratives – legitimize the use of direct and structural violence.
Economic violence can be, and is, all three.
On paper, we’ve changed the rules (in the U.S.) so that neither direct nor structural economic violence should remain. Women and Americans of color – responsible for the vast majority of the unpaid and underpaid labor that made the wealth of white men possible over the course of several centuries – are now legally allowed to participate in the economic rule making (via voting) and cannot be officially barred from the spaces of power and privilege (university classes, board rooms, golf courses, etc.). But as groups, we still work from a structural disadvantage.
Personally, my family’s story looks like the American dream. You could attribute the lack of harm, illness, and injury in my life to my hard work and that of my parents and grandparents. But my race, citizenship, and class privilege have meant I’ve had help: I’ve gotten a loan when I needed it, been given the benefit of the doubt in a court room, been able to take unpaid internships, and have had access to professional networks that I did not build. It is a fact that not all Americans can say the same, and that they do experience harm and hardship in their lives because our culture and social structure do not make these benefits available to all.
In the post-financial crisis economy, the difference between economic privilege and not is homelessness, hunger, imprisonment, illness, and increased exposure to direct violence. Economic privilege affords safety: safe working conditions, safe neighborhoods, cab rides late at night, somewhere to go for help, and the assumption of legitimacy when we need to call on police.
Violence is a complicated element of humanity, and the injury or harm one person experiences may not look like direct violence at the individual level. But when we step back, for a broad view of the structure and the culture, and we see that the same harm is repeatedly inflicted upon individuals from the same groups, it becomes clear that violence is in fact taking place. In part, we find it to be violence because our culture and social structure are our own creation. We make the rules, and we can make them differently.
Predictably, it didn’t take long for the #economicviolence hashtag to fill with anger (and misconceptions) about communism and socialism. I’m partially motivated to present this larger framework around economic violence because I think that responding to a concern about harm inflicted upon people by the current economic system with hyperbole about alternative economic structures really misses the point.
Shortly before Howard Zinn passed away, I was fortunate enough to hear him speak. He shared that, in his experience, when the average person is asked if everyone should have access to health care and education, they say yes. When asked if the poor should be provided with homes or if corporations should be given the opportunity to build high rises and earn more profits, people say that the poor should be given homes. He gave several examples and concluded by noting that we may call these things socialism, but by and large, when asked about the realities without the vocabulary, this economy that provides for all is the one we want to live in.
I am not aware of anyone in the United States advocating for a USSR-style centrally planned economy – that the government should tell us how many shoes and light bulbs and toilets will be produced and when and where and by whom. Where the market works, we’re happy to work it. But the economy is our own creation, and if we seek to create it in a nonviolent way that reduces harms and supports the health and happiness of our neighbors, that isn’t something to argue about. That’s something to build together.
I just sent the below email, with this post’s title as the subject, to the women I’m close to. But I thought others might like it too. Send this to an expert you know.
Women are roughly 50% of the world’s population, but a vast minority of the voices in one of today’s greatest collections of knowledge: Wikipedia. Experts estimate the same is true of people of color and other marginalized groups.
You are an expert in something. Today, March 15th, is a feminist & POC edit-a-thon.
Check it out here on Al-Jazeera, or head straight to Wikipedia. Pick something you know & find it’s page. Where there’s something you can add, or correct or improve, click edit and share it with us. It’s easy. Women everywhere will be sharing what we know and adding to the world’s knowledge.
Please & thank you.
Follow the edit-a-thon on Twitter with the hashtag #toofew
Get started in the Teahouse – “A friendly place to help new editors become accustomed to Wikipedia culture, ask questions, and develop community relationships.”
Or go to straight to a page you know & like! I think I’ll work on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_economics later today. All the important people listed there are men!
In January of 2007, I traveled to Southeast Asia on a service trip, where my classmates and I volunteered in Thailand, Burma, and Laos. The service learning office at Eckerd College recently asked alumni to write about the impact their service work has had on their lives during and after college. The following is my report-back:
As our group paraded through their village for the last time, little children hovered on all sides, beaming smiles and new tricks up at us. The reached out for high-fives and grinned from ear to ear as we slapped their hands. They tugged at our longyis (the traditional outfits we bought there) and paused in place next to us, preparing to perform. Just as we showed them, the held up two fingers in a V, tilted their heads to the side, and said “Peace!” in a perfect American-college-kid accent. As far as I knew, that was the only English word these kids could say. In their remote village in the Irrawaddy Delta region of Southern Burma, white faces and English words were startling new excitements.