The human race is the only species (that we know of) that is capable of imaging its own frightening demise in such technicolor detail. In fact, looking at most science fiction produced today, a dystopian future where the world has been shredded by war, scorched by nukes and/or dominated by cruel and vicious despots is the norm. Science fiction tells us what the future will look like in some jolting ways. Author Arthur C. Clarke predicted satellites in geo-sync orbit decades before that became reality(1). Isaac Asmov wrote about the 3 laws of robotics as ways to keep robots (think AI) serving humanity instead of the other way around. (2) Kim Stanley Robinson wrote of how mars was colonized with the cycle of power, domination and war predictably following. (3) This last one has yet to play out although it is clear we will colonize mars . . .
Does it have to be this way? What I suggest is that sci-fi writers have a huge role to play in helping humanity imagine that we will ‘get it right’ in terms of bright, happy futures filled with dignity for ALL. In this blog series I will suggest paragraph book starts with ideas that could be expanded upon to imagine a bright future on this planet. Here goes with my first Bright Future sci-fi starter. . .
The Cost of Denial
By the mid-2020s it became clear that the political cost of climate change denying made running untenable. In fact, in the 2024 presidential elections, not a single candidate in any of the 6 parties who fielded a congressional candidate had a record of silence, if not outright denial, of the so called ‘climate debate’ at the turn of the century. Such was the tsunami of unanimous demand from the populace for leadership to act!
Image from Wikimedia commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Robot-clip-art-book-covers-feJCV3-clipart.png
Meeting in shadow and light
Kabul Afghanistan 2011
We do meet for a moment,
my war waging compatriots,
In the blink of an eye they pass overhead,
a liquid shadow, casting a strobe like effect
from their Blackhawk rotor blades.
It is the occultation of light that connects us.
The outline of the helicopter,
here and gone,
for that one instant we merge,
inhabit the same space.
Why does it have to be the darkness,
cast over my small compound space
for the briefest of time,
which brings us to together?
How is it that we can be one in the light?
4. Creating Reality
I have been intrigued by the question of how much of our world we create in our own minds. This question was made really clear on the streets of Kabul and rural north of Afghanistan. This journal entry from: 24 Oct 2012…posted to a student on the topic of culture on the Etown Blackboard Discussion Board…
This past weekend I experienced the hospitality of the people of northern Afghanistan. I felt safe, cared for and the warm welcome of a people who have an ancient culture. Yet just at arm’s length away were the vehicles of war from my own nation, on edge for fear of being shot at. They were at war. How can our two realities exist within the same space-time continuum? What is the difference between me in my host’s Toyota Corolla enjoying the beauty of rural Afghanistan and my compatriots in their Armored Personnel Carrier who see danger behind every rock?
Could it be that the language we use helps create reality? If you have not done so already, check out the Handbook on Human Security: A Civil-Military-Police Curriculum* that was recently written by Lisa Schirch and co-published by Alliance for Peacebuilding, Kroc Institute and Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC). On page 146 is a chart comparing and contrasting State and Human security terminology. On the one hand the ‘other’ is an enemy, criminal or perpetrator. On the other hand the ‘other’ is a more neutral term; stakeholder. A stakeholder is someone to engage, hear a story from and who has an interest in what happens. Stakeholders, being such a generic term, begs questions about who, what, when, where, why and how. The other 3 terms, enemy, criminal and perpetrator denote a precast, prejudged role with no room for story or depth.
*Schirch, Lisa. Handbook on Human Security: A Civil-Military-Police Curriculum. The Hague, The Netherlands: Alliance for Peacebuilding, GPPAC, Kroc Institute, March 2016. P. 146
- Interlude to the Present
I am currently in northern Thailand giving a series of talks on peacebuilding and human security at the Institute of Religion, Culture and Peace (IRCP) at Payap University. I experienced a wonderful example of the positive/creative language I have been blogging about when Dr. Suchart Setthamalinee, IRCP faculty, invited me to the local mosque for Friday prayers. The message, brought by a student, urged the faithful to “resist retaliation and embrace forgiveness because forgiveness is central to life.” He implored “when someone does evil to you and you retaliate, the evil they have done comes to you. But if you don’t return evil for evil then the evil stays with them.” With those simple yet profound words the Islamic community in Chiang Mai reinforces the tradition of neighborliness and unity which has characterized interfaith relations here.
Chiang Mai Thailand is a place where the major religions have a long history of natural co-existence. As I chatted with the leaders of the mosque, however, I became aware that the historical mutual respect these leaders have toward each other, is under stress from global attitudes and realities. Many times in our conversation the term ‘Islamophobia’ came up.
It strikes me that the normative impulse for humans to get along with their neighbors can be understood as a kind of passive co-existence. The globalization of division, hate and exclusivism is challenging the interfaith sphere in Chiang Mail to become active co-creators of harmonious living. Can we imagine communities where we more than tolerate each other but embrace the notion of thriving together in our diversity? The mosque in Chiang Mai can!
- Alternative Language (cont.)
In my last few posts I suggested that we dispense with fighting enemies and focus on creating the world of peace and security we want. I pondered if the place to start was transforming our English Language idioms that are shot full war-like language. …How many of you caught that I just used one of those violence oriented saying …”shot full of…” ?
I challenged the readers in the last post to shift language to more organic and peaceful language. How about instead of “shot full of…” that I used the word “peppered, salted or spiced?” Our English Language is peppered with war-like language.
Have you thought of alternatives to the use of “bullet points?” How about “pearl points?”
I posed this challenge to a class at Elizabethtown College and they artfully came up with this substitute. Instead of “targeting that idea for a campaign” they suggested, “planted that seeds for future growth.”
I propose using earth-based, organic language to orient us away from war-like language and toward a nurturing, sustaining language that reconnects us to Mother Earth. The effect might be increased awareness for our biological, finite nature which in turn could increase respect for this little blue ball spinning around the sun we call home.
(Picture is of earth (the small blue dot) from the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn)
- Alternate language
Have you ever pondered if and how our very use of language keeps us focused on the fight with enemies? For example, what do we call the dots in front of a series of items on a page? Bullet points? Have you ever noticed how soaked the English Language is with war making? Take these examples:
- ideas shot down
- attack a problem
- more ammunition for the argument
- magic bullets
- combat illness
- campaigns and crusades for issues
- aim your sights higher
- in the trenches
- doing battle with my kids
- charge into a situation
- armed with the facts
- taking flack for some decision
- fight for justice
- saying ‘shoot’ when I goof up
- drawing the battle lines
- ambush journalism
And if that were not enough we are constantly urged by advertisers to “arm ourselves against” ignorance, insurance fraud, termites ….” We declare war, endless wars on drugs, poverty, corruption, crime, cancer, rust, toilet bowl rings.
I am tired of war. I want something different and I believe the place to start is my own thinking which directly impacts my language.
I challenge you, until the next posting in a few days, to find alternative, more organic ways to say the things listed above without the aggressive, warmongering language.
- Human Security Goal
Since taking on an advisory role for the Alliance for Peacebuilding I have been pondering the meaning of security in light of the stream of violence and fear that wash through our news each day.
I contend that the opposite of violence is not peace. It is imagination and creation. To put energy into these enterprises will bring about a human centered security that truly fits the UN definition . . . freedom from want, freedom from fear and a life lived with dignity.
Focusing on fighting the enemy, is I believe, a distraction from nurturing the deep roots of security and inner peace. I can imagine a day when the human race will no longer waste so much energy on fighting the enemy and will instead focus on satisfying our most pressing needs as well as imagining and creating the things that fill our deepest desires and those of others. In the coming few blog posts I will be contemplating true human-centered security in light of one of the grand visions I am working toward; the end of the enemy paradigm. I will ponder a few ideas and skills that will suggest how to create this new human space where genuine security can thrive for the earth and ALL her inhabitants.
One of the ‘truisms’ I teach my students about the use of nonviolence as a change strategy is that nonviolent methods start by looking really irrational, even laughable at first. But after the conflict progresses these methods look more and more rational compared to the options of violence. So with that in mind, I want to float an idea about how to deal with ISIS that seems, at first, downright ridiculous.
Now one of the international concerns about ISIS and in general the deteriorating conditions in the Middle East is the loss of life. In her TED talk, The game that can give you 10 extra years of life, Jane McGonigal suggests 15 minutes into her talk that we can extend our lives by evoking powerful positive emotions. I thought of this recently in a Facebook posting circulating of a baby getting a backrub from a dog.
Now here is my idea…since the world has tried everything else, why not try dropping Youtube loaded IPADs showing baby animals, the antics and innocence of children and other heart opening videos. Sounds ludicrous? Perhaps, but remember that the patterns we have in the US of dropping bombs on problems has a pretty poor track record and even looks rational at first but later on looks pretty irrational. Dropping Ipads would be cheaper AND boost our economy in the process. Start to look a little more rational? Since nothing else has worked, maybe it’s time to try some off the wall ideas and see.