By Hussain Abdullah
“If we do not end war, war will end us.” – H.G. Wells
The quote here by Wells, I believe, is one of the most powerful and simple reminders of the finality of war. So why, then, am I alone in thinking this? I showed this to my friends and about the most I could get out of them was, “That is awesome, dude!” I thought maybe my friends are stupid, so I showed it to other people but it turns out stupidity is a bigger problem than I had previously thought. I mean, not one of their hairy brows fell upon reading this. Not one realised how absolute our end will be if we accept war as an inherent, infallible function of humanity. How did peace get so lost in this torrent of apathy? Why have we forgotten about our right to demand peace, our monopoly on the language of peace, and most importantly, our duty to peace?
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. I was reading through my copy of 1984 when I discovered Orwell’s terrifying Ministry of Peace. “Why terrifying?” I hear you say, “It sounds lovely! Get the hamper Ethel, we are going for a picnic!” It is no place for a picnic; the Ministry of Peace is anti-peace, a dystopian monolith whose shadow falls across the machinations of war and violence. Sadly, more and more, I see governments committing actions and declaring words that would mould them into that terrifying monolith.
Dramatic? Maybe, but the most recent event to affirm this tendency was the response to Osama bin Laden’s death. I was shocked and saddened by the way the concepts and language of peace were being used to support the morality of violence. Not only was this language being ‘hijacked’ to justify death (the identity and legacy of the deceased are irrelevant), but it construed violence as a means to peaceful ends.
One possible, deeply overlooked, explanation for why the language of peace has been hijacked, is that peace has long been politicised; it has become a cheap consort of politics. It has been overlooked because it addresses the very essence of political science; its nature as a science. Political science has been failing, rather spectacularly might I add, at being a science. In every science there is a methodology – a set of rules and norms of thought designed to standardise knowledge for confirmation and critique – and political science has one; it’s called Positivism. The problem is these rules and norms are generally not being adhered to, and when they are, only selectively. Lazy researchers aren’t the only problems political science has. Long has it been debated that Positivism is not even an appropriate methodology to employ in any social science.
For you proles, Positivism is the same methodology used in the natural sciences such as Physics and Biology; observe the physical world and report patterns, or laws, that arise from certain experiments. The poor attitude of scientists, in combination with the positivist methodology, has been primarily responsible for the hijacking of peace. The evidentially starved research that is produced as a result of this are happily accepted ‘laws of political reality’ upon which pragmatic realities are founded.
For example, let’s take the postulate concerning fundamental human nature, that man is inherently violent. This has now been accepted as a general law of human nature. As good scientists, we would demand evidence for this claim. Sorry, there isn’t any; human as inherently violent sounds about right, so we just ran with it. When you look passed all the pedantic justifications, this is what it really boils down to. Several intelligent political scientists, like Johan Galtung and Bertrand Russell, have shown there is, in fact, more evidence to support the view that man is inherently peaceful!
Why then has this postulate become so ingrained in political thought? So much so, that the supposedly best and most accurate theories of political science; Realism and the democratic peace theory, nurture this postulate at their core. To answer this we have to turn to an age old philosophical chestnut; is positivism a feasible approach to the creation of knowledge in politics? This is a completely valid question. Humans are not inanimate objects which react to their environment in predictable ways; we are reflexive. Put simply, we can change the way we react to certain things if we so desire it. Whereas say, a ball pulled by gravity has no such capacity. The positivist approach has created a field of study where opinions guided by political interests are transformed into facts or laws without any evidence to corroborate them as such.
Through this process, ’peace’ has become another key in the politician’s toolkit. It can be called upon at will to conjure up a dialogue that lends moral support to any action, violent or oppressive. The blame for this lies squarely with us, the citizenry. As educated, intelligent and enlightened individuals, how have we become so indolent and apathetic as to allow the above wild lapses and failures of science? People I know that have been studying political science didn’t even know that Positivism was the prevailing methodology of their chosen field. How can they possibly conduct rewarding and accurate research when they don’t know how to?
Immanuel Kant once said, “All Politics must bend its knee before Right.” And he spent a lot of time thinking about these things. What he means here is that Politics should be a tool for achieving peace; politics should be part of the toolkit of peace. This is because morality and peace are intertwined. Together they pervade every capillary of our existence, every level of our being, and even our very humanity. Peace is something we know as intuitively good and, as such, it is above and beyond politics. In the purview of a politicised peace we are only citizens and we only exist when we are part of a state and corresponding defined territory. This is simply not true; we are mothers, brothers, sci-fi fans, feminists, anarchists and a whole cornucopia of other things, which have no conceptual or physical boundaries. Politicised peace cannot speak to all these levels because politics itself does not address all these levels. What kind of peace is only applicable to those that live in democracies or North of the equator?
This is the kind of peace that politics produces and can only ever produce in its current predicament. We have a duty to peace as we have a duty to morality, which in neglect will lend us to ruin. It is time we started fulfilling this duty.
Hussain Abdullah recently graduated from the London School of Economics with a Master’s in the Philosophy of Social Science. He currently works for FrontlineSMS as a Media Project Assistant.
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