To Save the World in Secret

To Save the World in Secret

- in Culture
@Annika Skogar
Illustration: Cecilia Hansson

Why has it become so silly to dream about peace?

January 2015. In Nigeria, 2,000 people were killed by an explosion in the city of Baga and in Paris 12 persons were killed by terrorists at a newspaper office. The Swedish party leaders have spent three days at a conference about defense in Sälen. There, all have agreed to either spend much more, or very much more, money on the defense.

At the same time, a majority of the country’s editorials has demanded Swedish membership in the military alliance NATO. It is said that different winds are blowing right now.

In the same month, a friend of mine hands in her thesis at the Faculty of Law in Lund. As a freshman, she one day dreamed of working with human rights, making a difference in a distorted world. Today she thinks that it’s awkward to even let anyone know about it. She doesn’t like to appear naive.

At first I don’t understand it at all. Later I realize that whenever I come to speak about my activism in a peace organization that favors disarmament, I laugh apologetically. As if I want to underline for outsiders that I don’t seriously believe that world peace is possible. That would be a crazy thought after all.

This reservation also comes back in Sveriges Radio P1’s health journalistic program Kropp & själ (Body and Mind) (January 5th) when they visit an information meeting for ”Doctors without borders”.

In the program they interview a student nurse on why she would like to go away. She mentions the adventure, and that it would be meaningful. At the same time, she carefully stresses that she absolutely isn’t someone who “believes in saving the world”.

How can it be so awkward to want to be a world reformer? I call Sweden’s former archbishop, KG Hammar. In 2013 he wrote the book Peace is the road to peace in which he advocates for a world characterized by non-violence and peace-building.

He says that people often contact him and think that his ideas sound beautiful, but that he lives in a fantasy world.“Reality doesn’t look like that, KG.” He mentions that Sweden celebrated 200 years of peace in 2014. He hoped that the celebration would have a large impact but instead it passed relatively unnoticed. Peace doesn’t sell particularly well.

According to Anton Geels, professor in History of Religion, this is nothing new. In his recently published book Laga världen (Fix the World) (2014) he argues that there is no scientific ground for the idea that humans by nature are violent, but that this idea has settled deep in Western thought.

He gives the example of Kofi Annan, the UN’s former secretary-general, who in a speech for the UN General Assembly stated that it would never be easy to end the evils of war, which are “deeply rooted in humanity’s history – maybe even in human nature”. This kind of reasoning has then become a profitable part of both the world economy and the states’ identity and thereby crowded out all other explanations of conflicts. And not least of all: all other solutions.

This recurs in the research of Cynthia Enloe, professor in Political Science: We live in a militarized culture, where male encoded attributes (strong, determined, self-confident) are valued higher than the opposite words, which are classified as female (careful, emotional, soft). As long as the economy and politics are characterized in this way of thinking, it becomes naive to come up with different proposals.

This gender coding may sound abstract, but a statement of the world’s politicians makes it quite easy to understand. When Barack Obama as newly chosen president proposed that the USA would look into the possibilities of nuclear disarmament, he was accused of wanting to “castrate the nation”. Another example is India that in 1998 did a nuclear weapons test and then the Indian politician Bal Thackeray declared in a speech that they “wanted to show that they aren’t some eunuchs.”

But a militaristic culture can’t be the only reason for this awkward idealism. Something being considered “unrealistic” has earlier neither stopped women from demanding the right to vote, nor the Berlin Wall from falling or humans from walking on the Moon.

Po Tidholm, writer and cultural analyst, thinks in a column in Sveriges Radio P1’s God morgon världen (Good Morning World) (January 18th) that the current political climate is characterized by a huge lack of vision. An explanation for that, according to her, is that the era of social media has given the papers’ editorial writers and the best-known columnists more and more writing space.

With that, it has become hard for politicians to say something that isn’t directly feasible, without directly meeting opposition. If you say that the climate threat is horrible, you directly have to come with practical proposals on how it can be stopped. And as most human critical issues lack a simple action program, many have decided to just stop saying anything at all.

The same issue is brought back in Cecilia Jonsson’s dissertation Volontärerna (The Volunteers) (2012). In this, she has mapped the motives of different generations to travel for doing volunteer work. The change of attitude is clear. Volunteers from the 1960s left with a pronounced belief and vision about making a difference. Volunteers from the 2000s in turn state that their main argument is that they want to get a unique qualification and that they want to “grow as a human being”. Even if they’d like to, they are doubtful on whether they actually can change anything.

Cecilia Jonsson thinks that the change of motivation originates in the neoliberalist trends that have permeated society the last decades. The focus of the individual on the right to freedom of choice, to independence and to go your own way has made life into an “I”-project, instead of a “we”-project.

January 2015. I read that Ukraine will add another 68,000 soldiers to its army. Also that the amount of armed conflicts has grown since 2013. At the same time, every person who has heard of my fear of being naive, has nodded in recognition. I think that the desire for a peaceful world seems to be rooted in human nature at least as much. The least we can do is to stop being ashamed of it.

Translation: Paula Dubbink

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