True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. Franklin D. Roosevelt
Providing Essential Resources – Fundamental to Ending War
It is self-evident, or should be, why any effort to end war must include giving the world’s teeming millions access to life’s essential resources: fresh water, food, shelter. Without these, survival and reproduction aren’t possible. Natural selection has built into all of us the drive to acquire or have access to these things, and when people don’t have them, they will do whatever they can, including fighting and killing if they are able, to acquire them.
Furthermore, basic medical care to keep people from debilitation and premature death is now considered to be “essential” to quality of life in the modern world. AIDS and malaria are such devastating scourges that many efforts focus on these two ills in an effort to bring some social stability to heavily afflicted parts of the globe.
A means to make a living to support one’s own life and the lives of one’s close allies and offspring has also been an “essential” to human reproductive success. In an ever more technically complicated and globally connected world, education that will enable people to make a living in the age of robots must include basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic—and for a real chance at successful employment, often much more.
The rapidly increasing, even explosive, introduction of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) that will enable robots to more quickly, efficiently, error-free and cheaply perform tasks which were once the source of human livelihoods presents a huge threat to employment opportunities. Teeming numbers of global citizens living without meaningful work will be both fuel and fodder for warmongers eager to lead them into war. So in this modern world, access to education, to prepare women and men with the means to make a living, is arguably also a basic necessity and key to ending war.
Some good news - Fortunately, legions of organizations are already devoted to projects and programs that encompass the work of this AFWW cornerstone. There are hundreds of thousands of small, local projects in villages and towns on every continent. Massive efforts led by international organizations are based at the United Nations. Other examples are personality-based efforts like the Jimmy Carter Foundation, the rock star Bono’s ONE, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Clinton Global Initiative. A list and links to a sample of two dozen are given on the AFutureWithoutwar.org (AFWW) website.
People laboring to meet these needs most often do this simply to relieve suffering. They want to provide what their moral values tell them are basic necessities. They don’t want to live in a world where some people enjoy fabulous plenty while others live and die in squalor, pain, and the absence of hope. And most especially, a driving motivation behind this tireless work stems from the desire to create something better for the future’s children. This alone is often sufficient motivation for their labors. But what they accomplish, which they may or may not appreciate, is that it also contributes fundamentally to the quest to create and sustain a war-free future.
“Poverty devastates families, communities and nations. It causes instability and political unrest and fuels conflict." Kofi Annan
Some bad news – The existence of the efforts just described is certainly good news. All are positive and necessary to creating a better future. Unfortunately there is also bad news. Such efforts alone will not end war.
Realistically, even if we were to ultimately provide access to essential resources to every human community across the globe, achieving that level of success would certainly take us much longer than a generation or two, and in that span of time countless things can go wrong that would precipitate a war.
One often hears the hope expressed that if we “end poverty” it will end war, or eliminate the major cause of war. This is a mistaken belief for two major reasons. First, the root cause of war is the desire for power by leaders willing to kill or have others kill for them in order to secure that power. Eliminating poverty will not cure that problem.
And second, other pressures and issues, encompassed by other AFWW cornerstones described in these essays must be dealt with as well. It’s quite possible to eliminate poverty, as is generally true in the well-developed democracies, and still have unhappy people who can be led into wars.
Some of the challenges needed to address these other pressures and issues are:
embracing and doing the work to create an enforceable global cessation of war, perhaps via a global peace treaty,
establishing and training a police/military force fully able to enforce a global peace,
empowering women so that their strong natural inclinations for social stability serve as a check on more aggressive inclinations of men,
enlisting restless young men as workers for and defenders of the peace so that they become a part of the solution, not a part of the problem,
teaching from childhood into adulthood the power and techniques of nonviolent conflict resolution to deal with inevitable conflicts,
shifting our economies purposefully to ones that are both sustainable and just,
and last, but not least, spreading and ensuring the maturing of governing by liberal democracy, with its respect for human rights.
To ensure that the Earth’s now burgeoning billions have access to essentials requires us to make significant changes in our behavior with respect to the planet that supplies them. The essay “Shift Our Economies” focuses on the economics of why and how we can approach making those essential changes.
Global Climate Change, a Global Peace Treaty, and Essential Resources
Global climate change and providing people with essential resources, clearly these are intimately connected subjects. Roughly forty years ago, scientists began to warn that the climate of the planet seemed to be entering an unnaturally rapid warming trend. They felt that humans, including the energy industry, were the root cause. Much debate, and denial, followed.
In 2010, the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued a definitive report. For 99% of climate scientists, the debate is over. The globe is warming. It is warming at a rate even more rapid than original estimates, and this warming is triggered by human activity from forms of energy used for everything from transportation to air conditioning and including eating great quantities of beef.
The debate among experts now is about exactly how much the climate will warm, how fast, and what exactly are going to be some of the consequences for societies and countries. The general outlook is not good. For example:
more and stronger hurricanes,
more and longer droughts,
uncommonly heavy rainfalls that bring on flooding and mudslides,
a rise in sea-water level that will wipe out some countries and a lot of the shoreline real estate of others,
disease-bearing insects moving into formerly disease free locations,
shifts in agricultural productivity as seasonal changes alter,
the extinction of plants and animals that can’t move fast enough to settle into a location that can support their lives.
All of these will negatively affect everyone’s access to resources, basic ones and even many luxuries. Tragically, the poor will be affected most of all.
One can make a legitimate argument that we are already seeing increased deaths and destruction of property from this climate shift (e.g., massive community-destroying wildfires, record-breaking floods and tsunamis, swarms of tornados) . Just how bad it will ultimately be, nobody knows.
So how does this massive climate shift relate to a campaign to end war and to the need to provide people with essential resources to avoid wars? Here are two possibilities.
First, imagine that we continue to deny that the phenomenon is real or, because of something or some things in the nature of our species, we prove incapable of responding adequately [e.g., our tendency to be short-sighted, our enormous capacity for denial, or the desire of the powerful to protect financial interests that would suffer if the needed changes were made]. We do absolutely nothing adequate to blunt the effects of the change, and the immense assault on our affected populations causes social disruption and migrations on an overwhelming scale. We end up at each other’s throats on an equally massive scale. We fall into a kind of perpetual “Road Warrior” future brought on, not by war, but by the collapse of order in the face of economic, social, and physical chaos.
Or alternatively, we take this human-made gigantic lemon and make a fabulous lemon meringue pie. Perhaps the magnitude of this onrushing global catastrophe will bring out the best in us, specifically our ability to survive and thrive through cooperation…not fighting. Disaster often has this uniting effect.
A number of students of human evolution are turning away from a “man-the-warrior” hypothesis for why we make war; the hypothesis that war is in our nature because ancient ancestors who survived and passed the genes that shape our current state were the ones able to eliminate (wipe out) competing groups. The emerging hypothesis is that what enabled us to be so enormously successful is, on the contrary, our ability to cooperate: the “humans-as-cooperators” hypothesis (Hrdy 2009; Fry 2013; Hand 2014, pp. 81-86).
If what our survival instinct brings out is a massive global move toward determined cooperation, that would be a profoundly positive development. One hopeful sign that this in fact could happen is that by July 2018, 195 parties had signed and 179 parties had ratified the Paris Climate Agreement. The goal of the agreement is to combat and mitigate the effects of global gas emissions. Despite the 2017 freak abandonment of this agreement by the United States, the other nations remain committed to it. This is good news for the possibility of global level cooperation on survival issues.
To slow and somehow mitigate the effects of the rapidly increasing atmospheric warming many commitments will be required of us. One having enormous and widespread positive benefits would be to secure to a global peace treaty (Hand 2018b). The nations of the world would meet, agree to, and sign an enforceable pact the result of which would be to stop wasting astronomical financial resources on wars.
This treaty would not eliminate all poverty, or empower all women, or stop all gang in-fighting or terrorist acts, or rein in corporate greed and ravishing the environment for profit. But assured of their national security, all nations could shift attention laser-like to creatively dealing with climate change and to ensuring that access to basic resources remains sufficient to prevent massive social chaos or even global social collapse.
Nothing new needs to be learned to make such a peace. We know how to make treaties. Even given all the enormous political and social challenges, with shared will to do so an agreed upon global peace agreement could be ours in much less than a generation. Douglas Fry’s 2012 paper “Life Without War” provides examples of working peace treaties created by disparate societies tired of war. Coming to agreement didn’t take them hundreds of years. We could, if we choose, recognize global warming as our common enemy and a compelling reason to stop making wars so human and financial resources can be directed elsewhere.
Young people around the globe will inherit whatever conditions climate change generates. It’s exciting to see many of them taking up the challenge they face. (First-Arai 2019) As part of their actions to ensure a better future for themselves and those who come after them, they would be wise to unite and begin demanding from their leaders a treaty to end war.
Population Growth and Essential Resources
Providing people with essential resources and population growth, or as some people would call it, population explosion, are also intimately related subjects. Like several other topics within this essay, their interrelatedness illustrates several ways AFWW cornerstone issues overlap. The essay “To Abolish War” also addresses this kind of overlap. (Hand 2010)
Here’s this issue, simply put. This planet has a limited amount of land and fresh water. Also a limited amount of critical but non-renewable resources, notably metals required for many high-tech devices. Furthermore, every place on the planet that is readily habitable for humans is now “full” of us—we are everywhere. There is nowhere to move to find unoccupied land and fresh resources.
Consequently, we cannot continue producing more humans with longer life spans without at some point 1) seriously depressing our quality of life and 2) creating environments unable to support our existence. Doing business as usual simply is not, into our future, likely to result in a desirable outcome [the essay “Shift Our Economies” further explores this aspect of our current dilemma”] In fact, it may well produce catastrophic social collapse.
So the question is, how do we respond to this reality? Will we make plans and conscious decisions, or simply hope for the best? If we decide to make plans, population growth is a key issue we must consider.
What to do about our burgeoning global population is a very complicated challenge. It forces us to address questions about our reproductive lives, and so it hits strong emotional chords and deeply-held religious views. It also forces us to think about quality of life issues such as how densely populated we want our cities to be; assuming that we can provide the basic essential resources as defined above for teeming billions, just how much crowding are we willing to tolerate? The population density of Norway or of Japan? Of Iceland or of India?
And beyond the bare life necessities, we must think about how much comfort we want to have at our disposal; what level of pleasures are we willing to sacrifice to allow us to support vast numbers of people at the bare essentials level?
We are forced to think about the fact that, as many Catholic scholars argue, our problem isn’t over-population. It’s unequal distribution of the earth’s resources. What exactly can we do to make distribution equitable?
What is thus evident to any serious consideration of ending wars rooted in conflicts over essential resources—or over resources that provide the comforts and technological advances we don’t wish to give up—is that we must find a way to keep our numbers in balance with our natural assets.
In the immediate future, that means we must reduce the overall rate of population growth so that (1) essential resources are available to everyone in all countries, and (2) scarce and non-renewable resources needed for pleasures or new inventions (e.g., iPhones, computers, hybrid cars, wind turbines--anything that is essential to their manufacture) do not become disastrously depleted.
One vital key to solving the problem of growing population size is to provide women with knowledge about and access to family planning. As it turns out biologically, women are adapted to adjust their reproductive output (how many children they decide to have and care for) to the resources each woman perceives that she has available to help her raise those children. This is most clearly described in two works by anthropologist Sarah Hrdy: Mother Nature: a History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection, and Mothers and Others: on the Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding (1999, 2009). If a woman knows or believes she will not have adequate financial and/or family assistance in raising a child, or that an additional child will likely take needed essential resources from children she already has, she may choose to abandon a newborn or the option of abortion.
The vast majority of women choose to have fewer children and give them exceptional care. [For the biological explanation of this female preference, see “How Long It Will Take to Abolish War”). The result of this “quirk” of human female biology is that given knowledge and access to the means to determine when and how many children they have, women voluntarily tend to have fewer rather than more children.
So the single most powerful tool for reducing population growth and bringing our reproductive output into harmony with resource availability is the education and empowerment of women. This is one of the clearest examples of how two AFWW cornerstones (in this case, “Empower Women” and “Ensure Essential Resources”) are intertwined.
Happiness, Wealth, Ending War, and Essential Resources
To secure an enduring warless future it’s critical that we take advantage of our understanding of the sources of human happiness and how they relate to resources. Happiness can be broadly defined as a sense of fulfillment, satisfaction, and contentedness.
Happy people are reluctant to go to war themselves or to send loved ones into battle. In a functioning democracy, where citizens are free, leaders must virtually always rattle some dire threat posed by an enemy, real or concocted, to shake happy citizens from their profound reluctance to go to war. [As an aside, if a democracy does not use a draft and instead pays hired warriors, the leader or leaders will find it much easier to entice the citizens or their representatives to vote for war—they have no skin in the game.]
Skeptics of any possibility of ending war sometimes woefully bemoan that there is no way to make all the people in the world happy. Since this means there will always be discontented people vulnerable to calls for war, so there is no way to end war. They point out that the globe simply cannot sustain worldwide consumption even at the level which developed countries enjoy. This is indisputably true. But the logic of their argument is wrong. It stems from the false premise that happiness depends on level of wealth. In reality it isn’t necessary or even desirable to raise all societies to American or European levels of affluence to eliminate the dissatisfactions that lead to violent conflicts.
Why? Because being wealthy isn’t necessary for a man or woman to be happy. (Layard 2005, “What Makes People Happy”). In fact, great wealth has the potential to be a burden. Suggesting that we need to do the impossible—raise the whole world to American or European levels of affluence—in order to foster the happiness that leads to social stability is simply an excuse to do nothing.
It is our good fortune that a human spirit in possession of life’s essential resources and living within the context of family and community will find happiness if it is within the capacity of that person’s personality (Layard 2005). When people everywhere are asked if they are happy, a remarkable, almost counterintuitive, conclusion emerges. There is no correlation between happiness or life satisfaction and absolute level of affluence.
If they have access to basic resources, even people from poor villages in India may say they are happy and their lives are fulfilling, often even more so than the happiness reports of CEO’s of major corporations sitting comfortably on one-hundred-foot luxury yachts. Financial resources are an ingredient of happiness, but by no means are they the most important one (again, see “What Makes People Happy”). What is bottom-line critical is for people to have access to the basics: daily food, clean healthy water, adequate shelter, a means to make a living and in the modern world, for their children to have access to health care and education.
Democracy, Middle Classes, Income Inequality, Happiness, Ending War, and Essential Resources
Finally, a consideration of democracy, specifically liberal democracy in which wealth inequality is systematically curbed, is another issue at the heart of abolishing war. It’s an example of how the AFWW cornerstones “Spread Liberal Democracy” and “Shift Our Economies” are intertwined with the need to “Ensure Essential Resources.” This is a way to look at the issue of essential resources and global stability not with an altruistic but with an economically oriented viewpoint.
The cornerstone essay “Spread Liberal Democracy” highlights the importance of democracy as the best means we’ve invented so far to constrain individuals most responsible for starting wars. But liberal democracy, with its respect for human rights and belief in equal opportunity and justice for all, is also essential because it can produce a middle class. Why is creating a middle class important?
Studies of what causes people to feel happy have shown that we compare ourselves to the people around us (Layard 2005).
We tend to feel happy about ourselves and our circumstances if we are at the norm (in money or goods) or above.
We tend to feel happy about ourselves and our circumstances if we feel we have a chance to rise in status, or our children do.
We tend to feel bad if everyone around us seems to be better off or our status is sinking or we are unsure whether we will be moving up or down.
In a liberal democracy, with a large middle class, people can always feel good when they look around and see others who are not quite as well off as they are. In a well-functioning liberal democracy, the great numbers of people in the lower and middle class also feel that they or their children have a future in which their status may rise.
Convincing comfortable, middle class citizens to go to war is a tough sell. It can, however, be done. Pearl Harbor made middle class Americans willing to enter WW II. The hunt for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction was the rationale the government used on the American public to justify starting the second Iraq war. In both instances, only the fear of encroaching subjugation or death itself was sufficient to rally the support of the majority of United States middle class citizens. Other military engagements for less immediately threatening causes do not garner anything close to universal support of the middle class; in fact, their response is for the most part to ignore the issue and get on with their middle class lives.
By setting the goal of creating a global middle class—in other words, by creating the means for people to feel their basic needs are well met and there is positive promise for themselves and/or their children in the future—we not only create buyers of the goods we need to sell, we also create people less inclined to make war with each other.
Naturally the common people don’t ant war….[But]….the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” Hermann Goering (told to Gustav Gilbert during Nuremberg trials)
To abolish war we must ensure that essential basic resources reach all of the world’s citizens and do so in ways that foster the dignity and self-reliance that is characteristic of a middle class. Even the emerging middle class of an illiberal democracy like China, essentially a male-dominated oligarchy, would not eagerly embrace sending their children to fight and possibly die in some other land. Unless they were attacked, a lot of persuasion and propaganda would be required to muster support for a war.
Fry, Douglas P. 2012. “Life Without War.” Science 336: 879-884. Hand, Judith L. 2010. “To abolish war.” Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research 2 (4): 44-56. (see also: http://www.afww.org/ToAbolishWar.html Hand, Judith L. 2018b. “The shared characteristics of peace systems.” https://afww.wordpress.com/2018/08/21/the- shared-characteristics-of-peace-systems. (accessed 23 December 2018.). Hrdy, Sarah. 1999. Mother Nature: a history of mothers, infants, and natural selection. New York: Pantheon Books. Hrdy, Sarah. 2009. Mothers and others: on the origins of mutual understanding. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Layard, P. Richard G. 2005. Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. New York: Penguin.