For all our hatred of war, Robert Fuller suggests, we’ve been eternally fascinated with the moments of courage and glory and camaraderie it provides, secretly attracted to conflict, and thus likely to keep making war, regardless of the horrible costs.
This is a problem for the peace movement, because compared to war, peace is, well, boring. As the absence of a “very exciting activity,” peace “isn’t the best way to express the goal of the anti-war movement.” Then what is? How do we devise “a better game than war,” which calls to us more intriguingly and more profoundly than armed struggle?
Fuller, a past president of Oberlin College and a roving citizen-ambassador who has traveled to Russia, China and the Mideast, thoughtfully considers this question and many others in this wide-ranging interview, included in a new anthology called Citizen Summitry: Keeping The Peace When It Matters Too Much To Be Left To Politicians.
Edited by Dan Carlson and Craig Comstock, Citizen Summitry is a provocative and valuable collection that sidesteps the usual hand-wringing on the subject of war by moving the discussion away from conventional politics to the much more interesting question of what we, as individuals, can do. Reaching across national boundaries as private citizens — to make friends, to do business — is a way to realize our own power to break through old barriers.
“Because of the failure of ‘experts,’ ” writes Carlson, “we must, as ordinary people, come to the rescue of our collective destiny. Not encumbered with the awesome responsibilities, rituals and reputations of ‘experts,’ ordinary people are capable of fresh perception, new goals, and wonderfully creative strategies; they are not experienced enough to dismiss daring and unprecedented actions as ‘unrealistic’ or ‘impossible.’ ”
One of the more compelling expressions of this kind of approach is Joel Schatz’s essay, “Through The Eyes Of A Citizen Diplomat.” It’s a touching statement in words and pictures of how Americans and Russians might better understand each other.
Schatz applied for a visa, boarded a plane, and flew to Moscow to discover Russians to be “more like Americans” than the people of any other country he’d visited. “At a distance” he writes, “Russians and Americans distrust and fear each other, but up close they tend to love each other.”
The editors of Citizen Summitry said they wanted it to be a book “to which people would turn not out of guilt, fear or duty, but out of a sense of hope, adventure and opportunity.”
Published by J.P. Tarcher, Inc., the book is also available from the Ark Communications Institute, which co-editor Carlson founded (Ark Communications Institute, 250 Lafayette Circle #301, Lafayette, California 94549, $13 paperback).
We’re thankful for permission to reprint “Through The Eyes Of A Citizen Diplomat” and “A Better Game Than War,” the latter of which originally appeared, in a somewhat longer version, in Evolutionary Blues, P.O. Box 40187, San Francisco, California 94140.
Making the bomb the issue and disarmament the goal shields us only briefly from the realization that it is we ourselves — we human beings — that are the source of the danger.
Where do you see the arms race going?
I was running around the track one sunny day, and I saw right behind me, connected to my own feet, my shadow. No matter how fast I ran, my shadow kept up with me, and it occurred to me that this was the metaphor for the arms race — a race with one’s own shadow. No matter how fast you go, the other guy’s going to keep up with you and stay connected with you; in fact, he’s a part of you. He is the projection of yourself — of your dark side — just as your shadow is the sun’s projection of your body on the ground. No one will win the arms race, nor will anyone drop out. We can never out-distance the fear of those parts of ourselves that we have projected on others: Americans on Russians, Jews on Arabs, Protestants on Catholics, whites on blacks. Making the bomb the issue and disarmament the goal shields us only briefly from the realization that it is we ourselves — we human beings — that are the source of the danger.
What implications does this have for dealing with the arms race?
Since the arms race is a race with our fear, we are going to have to deal with it on a psychological as well as a technical level. A real change can’t be had in human affairs by focusing exclusively on the technology, the weapons themselves. In addition, we must understand why it is we are afraid of our “shadow.” What is the origin of the fear of “the other,” and how can we deal with it? Why do we project on other people and societies qualities we have within ourselves, and then maintain that they are the bad guys and we the good? They are, of course, doing the same thing with us. Yet in our heart of hearts, we all know that it is only together that we constitute a whole. So I look at the arms race, and war itself, not in terms of a technical fix or some clever treaty that would reduce the number of weapons, which ultimately will be required, but rather at a different level having to do with the relationships among and the psychologies of people.
Could you give an example of this projection in U.S.-Soviet relations?
The Russians are our shadow: we project on them what we fear in ourselves and they project on us what they fear in themselves. The Soviets’ paramount social values have to do with providing a sufficiency for everyone, with some rough ideal of material equality; so they guarantee housing and education and medical care and safety in the streets. Our ideals have less to do with the substance of equality and more to do with the process of individual realization — with freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and so on.
Each side feels vulnerable when attacked for falling short of its principles. For example, when we were criticized for denying blacks the vote twenty years ago, we felt embarrassed and exposed. Similarly, the Russians squirm when instances of privilege are pointed out. Neither society yet lives up to its own ideals, and each projects on the other its own failures to do so and denounces it accordingly. At the same time, however, each society struggles to incorporate as much of the other’s central values as it dares (the Russians, our freedoms; we, their equity) without compromising its own primary commitment.
But saying that we’re each other’s shadow doesn’t mean we are any less of a threat to each other, does it?
Certainly not. The Soviets threaten us precisely because they’re afraid of us. The threat isn’t so much that they’re sitting there hoping to conquer our land: they couldn’t govern it if they had it — nor we theirs. The greatest threat derives from the fear they have of us and we of them, and we’re afraid of them partly because we know that they’re afraid of us. There’s nothing more dangerous than a scared bear — or a scared eagle, for that matter. Somehow we’ve got to interrupt this cycle of fearing each other to get at the problem, which is probably a more useful formulation than saying that we have to establish trust. Trust is one of the last things to develop, even in a personal relationship between two people. It comes only after years of intimacy, and it is never born directly out of conflict.
So how do we break this spiral?
Well, not by focusing on disarmament. There’s almost no chance that nations are going to disarm willingly in the near future. We must recognize that fear of the other society is the most dangerous thing, and take conscious steps to reduce this mutual anxiety. For example, the confidence-building agreements we have with the Soviets to give each other advance notice of missile firings and troop exercises are good ways to avoid arousing certain sudden apprehensions. The only real safety lies not in getting rid of one or another type of weapon — it lies in inoculating ourselves against acting upon fear.
This represents rather a major shift, historically speaking, doesn’t it?
Absolutely. Throughout human history it has been thought that to be stronger was to be safer, to be feared was to be more secure. Nuclear weapons change this: henceforth, to be feared is to be in jeopardy. By instilling fear in others, you diminish your own safety.
The only viable strategy that remains, given the presence of these weapons, lies in accepting parity, and eventually in mutually scaling back. We’ve got to stop trying, with one more technological thrust, to be number one again. That scares the other side more than anything, and it doesn’t work. Your shadow keeps up with you.
The Soviets threaten us precisely because they’re afraid of us. The threat isn’t so much that they’re sitting there hoping to conquer our land: they couldn’t govern it if they had it — nor we theirs. The greatest threat derives from the fear they have of us and we of them, and we’re afraid of them partly because they’re afraid of us.
What does this have to say about the policy of deterrence?
It suggests the existence of a hidden but deadly flaw in this policy, for deterrence is a strategy based upon fear. The subject is more subtle than we’ve realized. We’ve taken it for granted that it is the fear of retaliation that has been deterring aggression. I’m beginning to question that. Such fear does not deter my four-year-old son from initiating fights with his six-year-old brother — fights he knows he’ll lose. Perhaps it is actually something other than fear of retaliation (or the absence of such fear) that deters (or releases) aggression. And perhaps the induced fear on which deterrent strategy is based actually constitutes a hidden threat to the safety that deterrence is supposed to provide.
Ultimately, to feel safer, we shall have to attend directly and explicitly to the safety of others. The ancient ethical prescriptions, common to all religions, become self-enforcing in a nuclear world.
Some of this is not so different in a personal relationship, is it?
No, it’s not. In fact, the analogy is an instructive one. You can usually get to a place in a personal relationship where the expression of anger is permitted — it’s something the human animal seems to need. You do this with the understanding that it’s just something that occurs, and then you let go of it — you don’t hang on to it because to do so sours the relationship. Since apparently there is something necessary about expressing anger, we need to create within society channels for doing it which aren’t lethal. Athletics, of course, is one realm where on occasion you can express a certain amount of anger and even violence and have it dissipate into the world and do negligible harm. We also need to learn which particular escalations of that impulse to violence finally get out of hand and produce uncontrolled spasms of mutual destruction. For in international relations we are now capable of the ultimate nuclear spasm; it has been called “omnicide.”
So the fact of nuclear energy is forcing us to examine our tendency to violence?
Yes, and to learn which of its manifestations we can no longer permit if we want to go on living on Earth. We have in the twentieth century stolen God’s fire for a second time, as it were, although this time the fire doesn’t just burn your finger — it destroys your civilization. The ceiling this places over our impulse to escalate violence is going to force a transformation in the nature of the human animal. There is, therefore, a respect in which we can be thankful that God placed this extraordinary energy down there in the nucleus, and that we have teased it out. The Promethean theft, forty years ago, of God’s nuclear fire is forcing us to reheed His commandments.
The problem then isn’t just nuclear war. Are you saying that because of the likelihood of escalation, war itself must somehow be eliminated?
Yes, that’s a necessary conclusion. In my twenties, I studied and worked with some of the physicists who first built nuclear weapons. The knowledge that these weapons work, how they work, and what they can do is lodged within me; and that secret knowledge sits side by side with the “secret” that human beings love war, as well as hate it. People fight, and when they do, things can get out of hand; but with nuclear weapons, to let things get “out of hand” is to commit suicide. This is more than a “historical dilemma”; it’s the worst crunch we’ve ever faced. We’re still prone to battle, yet horrified at where it may lead. We must find new channels for our fighting energy or we’ll end up with one war too many, if only to let off steam and “get it over with.”
Do you see any way out of this crunch? Will war always be with us?
It’s illuminating in approaching war to look at the histories of some other human scourges such as illiteracy, slavery, and hunger. Let’s deal first with illiteracy. A thousand years ago the only persons who knew how to read were priests and the very wealthy, and it was believed at the time that you could not learn to read unless you were close to God — say, a priest — or rich enough to have a tutor. This special knowledge was hoarded and transmitted selectively from elite to elite. Gradually, though, it dawned on people that anyone who went through a certain process could learn to read. Through new institutions for literacy called “schools,” and then via universal compulsory education, a great transformation occurred: from the idea that only a special privileged few could ever learn to read to the idea that anyone could learn to read, and ultimately to the idea that everyone learn to read and write.
This is a prototypical example of what I call a psychotectonic shift. It is not a shift in genetics or biological evolution; it is a shift of our deepest assumptions about ourselves, a shift in what we take for granted, in what we think we are capable of. A psychotectonic shift is to the realm of moral understanding and human behavior what a paradigm shift is to scientific understanding and behavior. It is a reconceptualization of what it is to be human — a transformation of our “self-model”; and it projects a shift in human destiny with a full range of legal, political, economic, social and spiritual consequences.
Could you illustrate this concept with another example?
A psychotectonic shift with profound implication for mankind was the one surrounding slavery. For thousands of years it was considered a natural thing, if you could manage it, to enslave other people. Sometime about the eighteenth century, in England and in Europe, significant numbers of people began to raise doubts about the justification of one human being owning another. By mid-nineteenth century the issue came to a head in America, and what was still a widespread practice rapidly became totally unacceptable and outlawed. Abraham Lincoln presided over and came to symbolize this shift in people’s mind set. As decades followed, instances of slavery around the globe were eradicated, so that now it is essentially non-existent. This does not mean, of course, that all exploitation has ceased. Some day “wage slavery” will undergo a similar transformation.
What is it that causes psychotectonic shifts to occur?
We can transcend a condition like illiteracy or slavery when we can thoroughly imagine and know how to produce another condition that’s manifestly preferable. Perhaps it’s easiest to see this with regard to hunger, which is a shift we are just now creating. Hunger is a phenomenon that communicates at a very deep level between human beings, so that there is actually a direct pain one experiences when one sees a hungry person. The only way really to rid yourself of this pain is to see the other person fed. The dynamic is something like that of a yawn by another person creating a yawn in you: it happens on a psychological and physiological level; it’s an imitative, direct coupling to another person — something similar to but much stronger than the “power of suggestion.”
Now in the past we have mostly repressed this pain because we didn’t know how to alleviate hunger systemically. But now that we do, I think nations will eventually adopt an implicit and explicit policy that human starvation and hunger are simply unacceptable. Actions that cause them, whether foreign or domestic, will be elevated into consciousness and will no longer be tolerated.
So to generalize, conditions like slavery, hunger or illiteracy become morally repugnant when we discover ways to discontinue the practices that sustain them. As long as the only way we can see to get a job done is to force another person to do it, we inure ourselves to his or her pain, and consider this a “normal” condition. As long as we see no way to get food to hungry people, we repress our true reactions. But when we find a way of dealing with these situations, of alleviating the other person’s pain and thus our own, we move quickly to do this.
We like to think of new moral ideas as preceding the technical solutions, but widespread moral acceptance may as often follow the technical solutions. It’s pointless to speculate on which comes first; they are deeply intertwined, and both the moral and the technological shifts are necessary to move mankind and transform our practice.
Does this suggest then that our job is partly that of the ad man, in a sense “selling” the world on ending hunger and making peace?
Yes, I think so. If we’re actually going to transcend war-making and end hunger as we’ve ended smallpox and slavery, we’re going to have to use the skills of the best “ad men.” An idea must be good and timely in order to strike a resonance. But the speed at which “an idea whose time has come” can go forth into the world and belong to everybody is just dazzling — it moves like a sharp knife through soft butter, taking hold of everyone who is exposed to it. One way in which non-politicians can support political leaders is to hone ideas to the point where, when they are given public expression by a leader, they have that kind of rousing effect. If we want to see the world changed, it’s our job to craft the rhetoric so that when it’s spoken from a public forum, it moves people toward better goals — toward feeding the world, ending material and educational deprivation, establishing justice and equity, eliminating torture, and bypassing war-making.
Returning to your earlier point about the relationship between technology and morality, if the invention of the cotton gin helped make slavery morally unacceptable and the printing press and the schools did the same for illiteracy, what will it be for war? Can we say that the invention of the atomic bomb is the technological innovation that will make war unacceptable?
Well, the existence of nuclear weapons creates a situation in which we have a sharp, compelling incentive to examine our war-making tendencies. But such an examination reveals an important difference between the three psychotectonic shifts I’ve mentioned — having to do with slavery, illiteracy and hunger — and that of eliminating war. The difference stems from the fact that slavery, hunger and illiteracy are conditions that people live under, and that it’s possible to imagine another set of conditions that could replace each of them. This alternate set of conditions may be extremely complex and require far-reaching changes in a society, such as in the case of slavery. Nevertheless an alternative can be imagined — dimly at first, then more and more concretely.
With respect to hunger, for example, you imagine a world well-fed; you can specifically imagine loaves of bread in every culinary style on every table in the world. And in the case of illiteracy, you imagine a world where everybody reads. You see books — millions of books. You see not just priests holding books with fancy calligraphy, but everybody reading, the Bible at first and then other books, printed books! And you imagine schools where reading is taught to all. This is not to say that imagination, although necessary, is also sufficient for transformation, for it leaves the actual work still to be done. But I want to stress that thoroughly imagining an opposite state is a prerequisite for the eradication of unwanted conditions.
Now the point is that we’ve been dealing with conditions; but war is an activity. War differs from hunger, illiteracy and slavery because it is something we do, a complex societal activity that we participate in. If you imagine its absence, what you get is nothing; you get non-activity. We call it peace, but the problem with peace, and the reason it’s hard to create a desire for peace except in the immediate aftermath of a war, is that no one can imagine it, or everyone imagines it so very differently. “Peace” is not a set of activities that people do. That’s why I maintain that the bypassing of war will require the delineation of a set of activities that can serve certain of the purposes that war has served, that provide people with something to do, and can meet the real needs that wars have met in the past.
People who are experiencing hunger or injustice don’t want peace; they are, in fact, willing to make revolutions and wars to secure food and justice. . . . So peace isn’t the best way to express the goal of the anti-war movement.
Are you suggesting that peace is actually not a viable goal for the “Peace Movement”?
Yes I am, exactly. Peace is the absence of a very exciting activity — war. And nobody ever opted for nothing in place of something, especially something exciting. Peace has the connotation of peace and quiet, of serenity, of bliss; and people aren’t actually attracted to that very much. It’s boring after a while. Also, if you look to see who is in favor of it, it’s usually people who are living a privileged life, and who therefore wish to maintain the status quo. People who are experiencing hunger or injustice don’t want peace; they are, in fact, willing to make revolutions and wars to secure food and justice. For people who are hungry or afraid, material well-being or security is of more immediate concern than peace. So peace isn’t the best way to express the goal of the anti-war movement. And you can’t express it as “anti-war” either because that’s merely “against.” We’ve got to figure out what it is we actually want, and then be for that.
Is this the meaning of the question you’ve posed. “Is there a better game than war?”
Yes. And it’s meant to be a provocative question, suggesting that war has in fact been an activity that men and women have played and have loved. They have also hated it, but it’s crucial if we’re ever going to bypass or transcend war-making that we admit our own eternal fascination with the business of it, with the fact that it provides moments of individual exhilaration, camaraderie, nobility, leadership, courage and glory that other human activities seldom match. The horrible side of war is well-known and usually focused on, but until we acknowledge our secret attraction to it we’re likely to keep on “doing” it. In using the word “game” I do not mean to suggest that war is in any way frivolous. War is war — an immensely complex, irreducible activity of institutional character involving virtually all facets of society. In addition to provoking the recognition of our attraction to it, referring to war as a game suggests there are roles, moves, transactions, strategies, outcomes, winners and losers — and, most important, that we do have a choice as to whether to keep playing it.
I suppose one of the reasons it’s difficult to invent a game that is more engaging than war is that in playing war we get to experience vicariously the ultimate sacrifice, the giving of one’s life. Denis de Rougemont saw in the act of dying for the one we love the supreme expression of eros.
Yes, we have to acknowledge what genuine purposes wars have served — psychological as well as political. Then we’ve got to see if we can invent and design and authorize another game, another set of activities which meet those needs which wars have met. Incidentally, it’s important to realize that the game of ending particular wars is completely different from discovering the game that replaces all war. Peacemakers who have an answer to the question, “What would I do if peace broke out?” are apt to be more effective in their work. At any rate, in my thinking I’ve moved past disarmament as a primary strategy and past peace as an immediate goal, and on over to the question of what the activities are which will replace the game of war and meet some of the same needs. We are beginning to design a game that is more fun to participate in than the old war games, or even the inseparably related “stop-a-war” games. The game that might be better than both these games is that of completion — of completing ourselves through each other by incorporating into ourselves the empowering truths that other peoples embody and exemplify. That is really what our work in the Mo Tzu project is about.
Would you describe the Mo Tzu project?
In the fifth century B.C., during the time in Chinese history known as the Warring States period, Mo Tzu and a few of his followers would travel on foot to sites of developing conflict among the various feudal “states” and there attempt a kind of diplomatic aikido. If the opposing parties would not agree to sit down together and mediate their dispute, Mo Tzu would join the weaker side, offer training in how to withstand a siege, and then again sue for a negotiated solution. Precisely what his magic consisted of is not known, but his willingness to commit himself personally to a vision of a world without war is a source of inspiration to us. The definition of what among ourselves we call “Mo Tzuing” is “finding what you love in what you hate.” You might admit that you sometimes hate the Russians, for example, but if you can remember what it is you love within all that and use it as a handle, you can hold your hatred in its proper, subordinate place. Until you know what you love in what you hate, your hatred can assume command over your behavior. But when you’ve found what you love and can maintain it as a clear vision, it becomes possible to surround your hatred and get past it. That’s “Mo Tzuing.” And it applies as much to personal relationships as to relationships between whole cultures, societies, or nations. The minute you find what you love in someone else, you’re bigger yourself and stronger; you’re more powerful. That will be, I think, the meaning of power in the twenty-first century. It’s power that comes from the completion of self, from the incorporation into your behavioral repertoire of the other person’s (or culture’s) “secrets.” And there’s an interesting flip side to this: it is finding in yourself what you hate in your “enemy.” For we only hate in others — whether in individuals or whole peoples — what we cannot accept in ourselves.
What was the source of this understanding in your own experience?
While teaching in a black ghetto high school in Seattle in 1967, I came to feel that I was somehow incomplete as a person. There was something in these black teen-agers, something they embodied, that I was attracted to and wanted to be around. I noticed also that there was something attractive about me to them. It was here that I first experienced the notion of the complementarity of cultures, and that’s been a central idea for me ever since: that you can make yourself more whole and complete by assimilating the truths borne by other cultures. We need our enemies in order to complete ourselves. It’s interesting to trace the first stages of this process. As the sense of threat diminishes, we redesignate our former “enemies” as adversaries. With the first hint of positive mutual value, “adversaries” become “rivals,” a term which acknowledges each as a secret teacher of the other. Finally, “rivals,” recognizing their mutual dependency, come to see themselves as “partners.” Completeness is also a key concept in mathematics, so it’s been with me since my formative intellectual years as a student of science. One learns that a set of things, a set of mathematical objects, can be complete or incomplete. If you want to say where something is located, you need three numbers; if you use only two, your knowledge remains incomplete. And if you want to locate an event, you need four numbers — three spatial coordinates plus time. The notion of completeness is central in science and I believe it is central to the present human predicament.
So this is how you relate to other cultures now?
Yes, in looking at black, Islamic or Russian culture, I try to identify that aspect of the truth they bear most prominently. Our initial reaction to other people is often negative because we see that they fail to embody something we take as supremely important. Only after getting through this can we appreciate what it is that they have to offer. I don’t expect ever to assimilate fully into my perspective the way a Chinese sees the world or landscape, or the way Muslims feel about their friends. But to begin to see what such qualities are, and to square another way of seeing or being with your own so the two are not in contradiction, is the work that the world urgently has to get on with. Otherwise we’re going to react out of our initial distaste and annihilate the differences.
In a sense we commit a kind of psychic suicide, then, by severing ourselves from other cultures?
I think so — by making them wrong, by humiliating them, by invalidating them. They in turn become angry with us. We cut ourselves off from engaging with other cultures and try to crush and expunge our differences instead of celebrating them. We need only reinterpret the old French maxim, “vive la difference,” to have the best anti-war cry imaginable.
In short, the activities that outmode and replace war must deal with incompleteness, whether it be of the body, mind or soul. No one activity embodies all these aspects. Nonetheless, to deal with want in any of its forms is to move toward bypassing war; and conversely, not to deal with want is to court war. We begin to see the outline of another grand human game on the horizon, coaxing us away from the thrills of the battlefield. It is the discovery and completion of one’s own self as experienced in one’s culture, and one’s self as manifested in one’s supposed enemy or shadow. This may well be an activity exciting enough and profound enough to supplant war. Completing ourselves is actually what we’ve always wanted; in fact, it is partly what we’ve sought for in vain through the cruel instrumentality of war. We now, finally, have the wisdom to get at these nurturing, self-completing truths directly. Hegel expressed this over a century ago:
“Each . . . part lives only by participating in and eventually giving itself up to the whole. . . . The ‘self’ or identity which is given up, however, is only the claim on the part of a fragment to be the whole, a truth claiming to be truer than it is. . . .”
What kind of “warrior” will be needed for this new game you’re proposing?
What the world needs now are nonpartisans — people who specialize in introducing different cultures to each other, people who develop the skill to create in antagonistic nations or cultures the capacity to hold in check that ancient familiar impulse to fight. And this involves a philosophical shift in thinking away from dualistic, possessive presuppositions to a more inclusive world-view. In traditional political or economic terms, the focus has been on who has what privilege, what right, what “stuff,” what power. Those issues tend to be divisive because the prevailing view, at least in the past, has been “If I’ve got something, you don’t have it” or “If I control this, you don’t” — categories of exclusion which make for dispute. But mathematics has taught us about non-zero-sum games. A zero-sum game is one in which my gain exactly equals your loss, whereas a non-zero-sum game is one in which it’s possible that we both gain. It’s going to become a central value in politics to move past this zero-sum game framework and hold out for that solution in which everybody experiences a win simultaneously.