The best way to honor past accomplishments is by building on top of their breakthroughs. Bill Johnson
To the surprise of many, we are already well along the way to the goal of a warless future. In this essay we’ll consider from an historical context to the present how far we’ve already come.
Why Our Time In History is Uniquely Poised to End War
Six major historical events have created a window of opportunity for us to achieve the goal of ending the barbarity of seemingly unending, inescapable cycles of mass indiscriminate killings and destruction.
The Renaissance and Reformation These two great cultural shifts in Europe institutionalized two ideas that are part of this window of opportunity: 1) that each man should be allowed and encouraged to think for himself and 2) that each man is important as an individual. These radical changes began during the Renaissance (from the 14th to the 16th century) and the Reformation (beginning in the early 1500s).
During this turbulent period, for example, the view of the relationship between the individual and authority shifted: worldly authorities such as kings and priests were no longer to be deferred to simply because they sat at the top of the grand dominance hierarchy. Most notably, this radical idea expanded into the notion that it was possible for individuals to approach God directly, rather than exclusively through a church intermediary. Artists even began to paint and write about common individuals, not just religious or mythical themes, the aristocracy, or the royals. In such a painting a lovely light might fall on the kitchen maid baking bread, as compellingly as the general daylight in an epic portrayal of a glorified duke leading a brigade in battle.
A much later outgrowth of these remarkable shifts in view—about thinking for oneself and individual worth—is the very recent phenomenon of the conscientious objector. In some places we have moved to the point where many members of a community can decide that they won’t answer a call to war by authorities, something that only a relatively short time ago might have shamed them within their community or even cost them their heads.
The modern scientific method The introduction of the modern scientific method, which developed roughly 300–400 years ago, is a second great change. This caused an extraordinary and powerful shift from the past in our methods of acquiring knowledge. Previously, philosophers and authorities, often from armchairs, proclaimed notions about the nature of men—and women—that fit preconceived religious, intellectual, or philosophical convictions.
It used to be said, for example:
that black-skinned people are inferior, more animal-like than light-skinned people
that women are not quite fully developed humans, while men are the supreme creation
that men make war because they were born in “original sin,” a tragedy that resulted from trickery and the defiance of the woman Eve as she was led astray by a devil.
The application of the scientific method by anthropologists, primatologists, sociologists, psychologists, and evolutionary biologists has given us a fact-based understanding of human nature as it is, not as any group or dominant paradigm might imagine it to be.
This carried us another step closer to abandoning war as a chosen means of resolving conflicts because ideologies and philosophies that veer too far from scientifically proven facts provide increasingly weak justifications for armed aggression. This is particularly the case if such unfounded concepts argue that the inclination for war is innate to our nature, or that original sin or inherent human evil mandates that war is our inescapable fate.
Given this fact-based approach to gaining knowledge, we also now know—and are coming to appreciate the importance of the fact—that men and women differ significantly, in general, when responding to and using physical aggression. The differences are the result of natural selection affecting the reproductive success of men and women during thousands of millennia when we lived as nomadic foragers. (Hand 2014, 2018) The essays “Empower Women” and “Differences between Men and Women with Respect to Aggression and Social Stability,” an excerpt from that eassy, summarize the consequences of these differential pressures on men’s and women’s reproductive success.
Gaining a correct understanding of human nature through the use of the scientific method is another historical trend that has opened this window of opportunity to end war.
Reintroduction of democracy Paradoxically, a third set of historical phenomena—revolutionary wars—also moved us forward. They reintroduced the idea of governing by democracy. The revolutions and wars for independence and democracy, particularly the English (1688), American (1775), and French (1789) Revolutions, resulted in attempts at republican/democratic governance that continue until today.
Democratic government, specifically in the form of liberal democracy, is critical to eliminating war because democracy is the most successful means we’ve yet devised to constrain the urges of leaders inclined to start wars.
Particularly in a liberal democracy—governed by the rule of law and honoring the concept of human rights—citizens ideally have the ability to limit the aggression of individuals or factions inclined to make war, in no small part because wars can be funded only with public consent of all citizens or their elected representatives (“Spread Liberal Democracy”).
Enfranchisement of women A fourth window opener, the enfranchisement of women, began only a little over a century ago. New Zealand stepped out first, giving women the vote in 1893.
In retrospect, although understandable from a cultural perspective, it seems unfortunate that this step was never taken by early democracies and republics in places like Athens and Rome. They were patriarchies. In some instances women in these patriarchies might wield power in the domestic sphere, which is often the case in patriarchies, but women had no voting influence in public affairs. Perhaps one of the principal reasons for the ultimate failure of these early attempts at government “by the people” was that neither the citizen participation of Athens nor the laws of Rome could curb the natural inclination of dominant men to seek power by instigating wars to enlarge their wealth. Over time and under that stress, initial democratic attempts broke down.
Empowering women fully—to the point where they are sharing with men equal influence in governing—is a critical catalyst for the changes we need to make. It will also be critical to any hope that whatever future without war we establish will persist over time. Explanations for why this is the case are presented in two of this book’s essays: “Empower Women” and “Women: The Pivotal Catalyst for Positive Change and Long-term Stability.”
Effective birth control The most recent historical steps toward making war obsolete began in the 1960s. One was a quiet revolution in family planning introduced by the invention of highly effective means of birth control.
In the 1960’s the average global fertility rate in a woman’s lifetime was 5 children. Women often bore 10-15 children. By 2003 this global rate had dropped to 2.7 children (Cohen 2003). Women’s ability to control the timing and numbers of their children is critical to their full empowerment in larger social and political affairs, including any decision to launch a war. Women who are bearing and rearing large families of six or more children, as they did in the past, cannot readily participate in higher political levels of state in sufficiently great numbers to influence public affairs. Giving women reliable control over their reproduction is another essential step in the campaign to end war because it is a critical key to their empowerment.
The internet and worldwide web Finally, a sixth major facilitator of a campaign to end war also took place in the 1960s when the first steps were taken to produce what has become the Internet and World Wide Web. The explosive growth of this instrument of information and communication makes it possible for people across the globe, including those who wish to end war, to connect—to feel and act as one. Creating a sense of human community is another key to ending war, described in the essay “Foster Connectedness.”
Communication between global citizens now exists in ways that were unthinkable only fifty years ago. It enables the ability to share the knowledge needed to convince people in vast numbers that ending war is even possible, that they can and should “Embrace the Goal” and demand that their leaders pursue peace, perhaps by pressing leadership to adopt an enforceable global peace system.
In the cornerstone essay “Provide Security and Order” the characteristics of peace systems are described in some detail. The simple knowledge that they have existed and still do exist is a profoundly important bit of forward progress. First, peace systems already in place provide a clear sense of what a global and enduring peace needs to include. And second, this knowledge of their existence takes the theoretical possibility of peace between diverse peoples or nations and demonstrates that where the will is present, a way can be found. We are given encouragement that we can make the existence of a global peace system a reality.
All the above critical basics are now in place. Thousands before us have struggled and many have died to bring us to this unique point in time. This is absolutely a time like no other.
The challenge of this generation, then, is to fulfill the promise of these preceding historical events. As several essays explain, the roots of war are to be found in male biology. War is overwhelmingly a male phenomenon. It is, however, not a biologically inevitable phenomenon. It is the result of choices we make about how we live.
Will we work to build fully mature liberal democracies in which citizens have access to the basic necessities of life, enjoy respect for their human rights, and have the power to restrain leaders desiring to make war?
Will we embrace with our votes and passion leaders who understand how the nine cornerstones (to be described below) are inter-connected, leaders who devise and show us a strategy for success that integrates the hundreds of elements required to build and maintain a global peace, and who lead us with determination and urgency?
Will we fully empower women around the globe? Will we make it a top priority because we recognize that women’s empowerment as co-leaders with men is a necessary condition for establishment and maintenance of a warless future?
News broadcasts, newspapers, and other media exploiting disastrous yet exciting events may (and, in fact, generally do) give the impression that all is lost. That endless war is humanity’s destiny. But we are a highly adaptable species, perfectly capable of creating societies that reject the use of war and direct our resources to building, creating, innovating, caring, and sharing.
The knowledge of how to engineer social change, using active nonviolence, is freely available. It has been demonstrated in real-life by the movements of such luminous figures as Mohandas Gandhi, women suffragists, Martin Luther King, Jr., and hundreds of others less well known. (e.g., Sharp 2005; Stephan & Chenoweth 2008) We understand the fundamentals underlying peace systems. (Fry 2012) At this time in our history, reaching the goal of global peace is now very much a matter of generating the global will to do it.
Within the last 100 years, here is what has already been accomplished
Approximately seven centuries have passed since the first of these pivotal historical changes occurred. Upon learning just how much would still be required of us to achieve success, the absolutely normal response is likely to say with a head shake, “It won’t happen. It’s too much.”
To counteract this fatalistic negative response, we need to understand just how much has already been done in the last roughly 100 years. The speed of these historically astonishing changes can give us a sense of how rapidly we are now moving toward the ultimate goal.
Perhaps the best place to begin is a short video available on YouTube entitled “The Evolution of a Global Peace System,” based on the work of historian Kent Shifferd. (Shifferd 2012) It summarizes nearly two dozen major steps the global community has made toward establishing a global agreement to end war.
The chart below lists them. Details and many examples of each can be found in Dr. Shifferd’s book From War to Peace (2011). Recent Historial Changes in the Direction of a Global Peace The Evolution of a Global Peace System K. Shifferd, From War to Peace Supranational Parlimentary Systems Spread of Democratic Systems International Laws and Treaties End of Colonialism and NeoEmpire Rise in International Justice Long-term Peace Regions Emergence of Peace-Keeping & Building End to DeFacto Sovereignty Spread of International Development Human Rights Principles Recognized Rise of Global Conferences Granting Rights to Women Rise of Global Outlook of NGOs Decline of Institutional Racism Emergence of Peace Activism Trend to End Capital Punishment Surge in Nonviolent Direct Action Rise in Environmental Activism Nonviolent Conflict Resolution Training Trend to Peace Oriented Religion Spread of Peace Research & Education Trend to Conscientious Objection Trend Toward Peace Journalism Rise of Internet and Cellphones Decline in Prestige of War Rise in Planetary Loyalty
We are living in a unique historical moment that offers the human community an astounding opportunity. We can shift the trajectory of human destiny in a momentous, positive new direction. We need to fire up young and old, all races and all religions, in every corner of the world with the knowledge that we have already come very far in this historical journey. We are now realistically very close!
Cohen, Joel E. 2003. “Human population: the next half century.” Scientific American 32: 1172-1175. Fry, Douglas P. 2012. “Life Without War.” Science 336: 879-884. Sharp, Gene. 2005. Waging Nonviolent Struggle. 20th Century Practice and 21stt Century Potential. Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers. Shifferd, K. (2012). Evolution of a global peace system. Available on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=f1HMRAZNQd8. (Accessed 29 May 2017). Stephan, Maria J. and Erica Chenoweth. 2008. “Why civil resistance works. The logic of nonviolent conflict.” International Security 33 (1): 7-44