Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 19, 2009

I have been reading a few speeches and quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. this morning, and I find him to be truly inspirational. He was an idealist in the most positive sense of the word, with sincere hope that a better world is possible and a deep belief in non-violence. Here are a few quotes from his acceptance speech for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize:

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome!

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a strong voice saying that we must find another way, an alternative to violence. Although he was speaking in the context of the Vietnam war, his words are timeless and sadly still applicable today. Here are a few more quotes (source):

I want to say one other challenge that we face is simply that we must find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Anyone who feels, and there are still a lot of people who feel that way, that war can solve the social problems facing mankind is sleeping through a great revolution.
– from Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution

It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.
– from Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution

At Oslo I suggested that the philosophy and strategy of non-violence become immediately a subject for study and serious experimentation in every field of human conflict, including relations between nations. This was not, I believe, an unrealistic suggestion. World peace through non-violent means is neither absurd nor unattainable. All other methods have failed. Thus we must begin anew. Non-violence is a good starting point. Those of us who believe in this method can be voices of reason, sanity and understanding amid the voices of violence, hatred and emotion. We can very well set a mood of peace out of which a system of peace can be built. Racial injustice around the world. Poverty. War. When man solves these three great problems he will have squared his moral progress with his scientific progress. And more importantly, he will have learned the practical art of living in harmony.
– from “Dreams Of Brighter Tomorrows” (March 1965)

And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.
– from “A Christmas Sermon” 24 December 1967

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and words serve as an inspiration to me that it is possible to be an idealist and create real change in society. Indeed, I remain convinced that holding the highest ideals of what is possible is necessary for change to happen.


Violence is not the solution

January 9, 2009

Last night I got into a discussion about Gaza, and, as is typical for me in a verbal discussion, I was not able to defend my arguments against violence very well. I was accused of “feeling” that violence is wrong, but not providing any rational argument against it or suggestion for an alternative in this particular situation. I think this is a valid point; I do “feel” that violence is wrong, but not everyone does, so in order to convince people to try something different it is important to show why violence is not just wrong, but ineffective, and to provide ideas for what to do instead.

I therefore would like to attempt to set feelings aside and argue that rationally-speaking violence is not an effective long-term solution to the conflict in Gaza, as well as propose some alternatives. I welcome thoughtful discussion; please feel free to leave a comment.

Why violence is not the solution

An argument in favor of Israel’s actions usually starts out with the point that Israel has a right – and perhaps even a moral obligation to its citizens – to defend itself. The word defend automatically brings up the image of force, but force is not necessarily the best defense. If what Israel really wants to do is ensure its security; that is, to protect itself and its citizens, then we need to stop thinking of violence as the only option.

Using force against one’s attackers will not ensure long-term security for one significant reason: violence breeds more violence. When people feel threatened and attacked, they naturally feel anger towards and fear of their attackers. They are not going to suddenly decide that they love the people doing the killing and want to make peace with them. No, they are going to continue to hate them and want to do violence in retaliation. Thus, Israel’s current actions are not surprising: Israel felt threatened and attacked by the rockets and decided to retaliate. However, the problem is that their retaliation will only increase Hamas’s hatred, anger, and desire to retaliate in return. Violence is a vicious, escalating cycle.

At this point one might argue that the vicious cycle does not apply in this situation because Israel’s military is so much stronger than Hamas’s. Israel can very likely “win” this particular battle, achieving through force their immediate goal of stopping the rocket attacks. They can perhaps even take down the terrorist-led government by killing many of the key people in it, leaving behind a seemingly subdued group of people. In the short-term, therefore, Israel may feel as if they have greater security after they have succeeded in this battle. However, their sense of security will be an illusion. The hatred will not have magically disappeared. No matter how many of the key militants they kill, there will be someone left behind in which hatred is brewing, someone who will become a new leader. Eventually the Palestinians will acquire more rockets or other weapons, and once again attack Israel. The violence, the battle that Israel appeared to have won, only ensured a short-term peace. There is no doubt that the conflict will spring up again, and another cycle of violence will begin. We do not need to only theorize about the future to be convinced; taking a look at the immediate past of the region shows clearly the cycles of violence and “peace.” Violence has been tried many times before and clearly does not work. Why should we continue trying to use an approach that will get us nowhere except to more violence?

In short, violence is not a solution because all it can do is lead to more violence and hatred. Violence cannot breed peaceful coexistence, because the use of violence requires an us versus them mentality that turns a group of people into the “other” and excludes mutual acceptance.

As I mentioned above, Israel’s actions are not at all unexpected given the situation. In the context of a society where we condone the use of violence as a solution to conflict, it does not make sense to condemn Israel’s actions. I condemn them in a larger context, one that says violence will not lead to long-term peace, as evidenced by history, sociology, and psychology, and therefore we should look for a different solution. I challenge Israel to take the high road, to break themselves out of the cycle of violence and try something different.

Alternatives to violence

Let me preface this section by pointing out that if I had all the answers, I would be over there helping them resolve their conflict, not sitting here writing a blog post. I am not an expert on the details of the situation and I have not studied the history of the region in depth. I do not presume to be able to solve a centuries-old conflict in one short examination of it. However, I have a few ideas of things they could try. Some of them may seem a bit out-there, unlikely to ever happen, but this is the type of problem that requires creative brainstorming of solutions. You never know until you try.

At the root of all conflicts are needs and feelings. Every human being has needs, and when those needs are not being met, conflict (and violence) often results. Every human being also has feelings, and when those feelings are not acknowledged and accepted, conflict (and violence) often results. (Note that accepting a feeling is NOT the same thing as accepting an action based on that feeling. It is possible to accept that Palestinians feel anger towards Israel without accepting their actions of shooting rockets at Israel). So one place to start with the conflict in Gaza is to do active listening with the key individuals involved. This means individual meetings where the person in the role of “counselor” listens to the other person talk about their perspective on the conflict. In order for it to be effective, the counselor needs to probe for the root needs and feelings (the person is most likely not aware of what these are; a good counselor can draw them out) and reflect back to the individual what they hear, thus acknowledging the person’s needs and feelings and making the person feel accepted.

I am aware that this may sound a bit too touchy-feely to many of you. Most of us are extremely uncomfortable thinking about our own or anyone else’s needs and feelings, let alone talking about them, because our society has taught us to repress them. This does not mean they are not important, however. In fact, I maintain that addressing each individual’s underlying needs and feelings is absolutely necessary to reaching permanent resolution of a conflict. As long as there are feelings going unacknowledged and needs going unaddressed, the conflict will not be resolved; people will continue to harbor resentments and bitter thoughts.

We cannot stop there, however. After individual meetings with the leaders as I described above, I would propose bringing the leaders together for mediation. I realize that negotiation has been tried and not succeeded numerous times. Perhaps true mediation has also been tried, but I do not know. By true mediation, I again mean something that includes needs and feelings. Negotiation by itself is not sufficient because it jumps right to the last step, of trying to come up with a compromise. True mediation starts by getting each party to truly hear what the other party is saying. They take turns explaining their position, and the other party is required to reflect back what they hear. The act of doing this results in each party gaining a better understanding of the other position. Only at this point will they be able to make progress together towards a solution. Furthermore, they should be seeking a win-win solution, one that meets ALL of their stated (true, root) needs, not a compromise with which neither side is completely satisfied.

It would be very difficult for Israel and Hamas to initiate these actions all by themselves. This is where the third side comes in. The rest of the world needs to put serious pressure on both Israel and Hamas to stop their censeless fighting and try something else. Some uninvolved third-party needs to step forward and lead the steps I proposed above. Someone needs to initiate individual meetings with each leader and work through their needs and feelings with them. Someone needs to lead the mediation (or most likely series of mediations) between Israel and Hamas. We cannot expect the involved parties to take these steps by themselves; the rest of the world must take action to help them work towards a non-violent solution.

However, perhaps none of this will work. Perhaps the Hamas leadership is simply too irrational, and there is little hope of doing enough individual counseling work with them to really reach to the root of the conflict. We of course cannot know this unless we give it the best try we can, but assuming that we do encounter failure, do we just give up and go back to violence? No, we should not go back to violence. There are other things to try.

I suggest to you that the majority of the people living in Gaza do not in fact harbor such virulent hatred against Israel. Yes, they elected a terrorist as their leader. However, I have read suggestions that this was because this same terrorist promised them social services programs, something the previous leader, being corrupt, did not provide. I do not know how accurate this evaluation is, but I don’t doubt that there is some truth to it. The people who elected Hamas likely made a very rational decision: when you are struggling for your survival on a daily basis, you are probably going to vote for the person who promises you the most hope of a better life, regardless of what other policies and beliefs that person might have. So instead of looking at the needs of the leaders, who may be beyond hope, let’s instead look at the needs of the people.

I can perceive a few needs from my perspective, although to really find out we could of course have to talk to the actual people living in Gaza and Israel. The needs that I see include the needs of those living in Gaza for sufficient food, water, power, health care, and education, and the needs of those living in Israel for assurance that they and their loved ones will not be hit by a rocket. I want to focus on the basic survival needs of those living in Gaza, because they are the ones who elected a terrorist. I suspect that if these people’s needs were met, they would be much more likely to elect a leader who is not a terrorist. Such a leader may be more rational, and thus more willing and able to enter into mediation with Israel. Furthermore, the people would not need to use Israel as a scapegoat for their problems (which they may or may not be doing now, and Israel may or may not actually have caused some of their problems – the point is that when people are struggling to survive they will look for someone to hate, someone to blame their struggles on). Essentially, meeting people’s basic needs for survival is a prerequisite to reaching peaceful coexistence. Thus, what can Israel and the rest of the world do to work towards a solution to the conflict? Ensure that everyone’s basic survival needs are being met.

However, meeting the general population’s basic needs is probably not enough. It is important to recognize that the mutual hatred and distrust between Arabs and Jews is centuries old. Many Arabs and Jews grow up with little exposure to each other, and they are taught – not necessarily explicitly (although that may be the case), but through their society and culture – to hate and more significantly to fear the other. Removing the centuries-deep layers of distrust and fear is neither an easy nor a fast process, but it is a necessary one.

Meaningful exposure and interaction is critical to removing fear and distrust. It is not as easy to fear a group of people as the “other” when you have a human connection with someone from that group. To bring this out of theory and back to the current situation in Gaza, I propose activities that bring Palestinians and Israeli Jews together in activities where they must cooperate to solve a problem. How about forming many small mixed groups and having them work together to tear down the barriers along the border of Gaza (if there are physical barriers)? Or having them work together half the day rebuilding a destroyed Israeli structure and half the day rebuilding a destroyed Gaza structure? Or perhaps building a community center together that sits right on top of the border, and then having them work together to come up with programs and activities that the community center could host. Some other ideas are an exchange program where a young college-age Palestinian spends a week living with an Israeli family and vice-versa, or bringing Palestinians and Israelis together to live in a Kibbutz-like setting for a month. Forming connections between children is also critical. How about a mixed Arab/Jew elementary school or after-school program that emphasizes cooperative interaction between the children, where they have to work together to solve some problem? Some of these ideas may sound impossible, but the point is that we have to be creative. We have to think of ways we can bring people together to build bonds and trust with one another. If we come up with enough ideas, we are bound to come up with something that is possible.

Building mutual acceptance, trust, and peaceful coexistence between two groups of people that have hated each other for a long time is anything but easy. It requires creativity and hard work, thinking of solutions and things to try that go beyond the easy, instinctual reaction of using force and violence. Violence may appear to solve conflicts in the short-term, but it is an illusion. As long as the two groups are using violence on one another, they will continue to fear and hate each other. Long-term security can only be guaranteed by breaking the cycle of violence and reaching beyond it for human connection and the gradual return of trust.

More police brutality

January 7, 2009

This is just horrifying: SF BART police shot and killed – executed, really – a young black man in the back while he cooperatively lay face down on the ground. There is no excuse for this kind of murder. I learned about the incident from Holly’s post at Feministe, in which she says:

According to witnesses, he was trying to de-escalate the situation between the cops and his friends. This is not an isolated incident, not by a long shot. This kind of thing happens all the time: out-of-control police violence in response to non-violent communication.

She pinpoints the problem: these police clearly had no training in how to de-escalate a conflict or how to recognize when someone is attempting to do so. They perceived the least bit of interference as a threat and responded with their finger on the trigger. This is frightening and disturbing. Ideally, police should be there to de-escalate conflicts, not escalate them even more. I do not know what sort of training police get in conflict resolution, but I’m suspecting that many receive more gun use training than non-violent conflict resolution training. A gun should be an absolute last resort for the police, but clearly that is not the case (actually, should they have guns at all? Many constables in the UK do not carry firearms).

Humanitarian technology? (Technology, progress, and peace, Part 2)

January 5, 2009

This is Part 2 in my series on technology, progress, and peace. Read Part 1 on “Is technology progress?” here.

With deep-seated interests in two disparate topics, analytical subjects and humanitarian work, I have sought numerous times to find a way to do both at the same time. That is, to do analytical, technical work that is humanitarian in nature, that is effecting social change in some way. I have serious doubts, however, that this is possible for me or for anyone.

I have always liked math and logic, and I enjoyed learning how to program in high school, so computer science seemed like a logical field to major in. However, I already had doubts about this choice when I was still applying to colleges. When I thought about studying computer science and subsequently becoming employed as a programmer, I imagined a future of sitting at a desk with a computer all day, doing work I found intellectually stimulating but not very motivating. People pointed out that there are many positive and important applications of computer science, such as health-related software, robots to do surgery, etc. I acknowledged that but I still did not see how working on a computer all day could satisfy me in terms of helping humanity. Despite these doubts, I proceeded to major in computer science and become a software engineer (this was perhaps aided by the fact that, although I am fascinated by many non-technical subjects, I find writing essays for college classes exceedingly painful. Programming for homework was a breeze in comparison). My vision of post-college life as a programmer was, unfortunately, not too far off. I do in fact sit at a computer all day, and the work I do does not fulfill my need to make a difference in the world.

Through-out college and in the years since, I have tried to explore ways to make my technical work more meaningful. When looking for jobs I tried to find the smaller, unusual companies that were doing something a bit different. I was somewhat successful; the company I ended up at is small and makes educational software, which is certainly much more interesting to me “business” software. I have also gone to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing three times, and each time I have attended numerous sessions on humanitarian-related topics. This included subjects such as technology-related non-profits, projects for/in the developing world, university classes where students work directly with a non-profit to meet the organization’s software needs (unfortunately, my university did not offer such a class), and various other things. I have enjoyed the conferences and the first two times I went (but especially the second time), I came back feeling very inspired. I recall well my sense of excitement and hope during and after the second conference I attended, in fall 2006. I felt that it was possible, that there was a way to help change the world through software.

However, between 2006 and the next conference I attended, in fall 2008, I lost this hope about technology and humanitarian work. I again attended many sessions on non-profits and the developing world in 2008, but I felt much more skeptical, and I came away still unconvinced that technology is the way (let alone the best way) to effect social change. What happened to change my attitude so drastically?

One thing I realized is that, for me personally to feel like I am making a difference, I need to be working directly with people. No matter how much it seems that the software I am working on has positive effects in the world, it is too far removed for me to feel by programming it that I am having an impact. This is, I think, simply part of my nature. I also realized that most of the software that gets programmed for non-profits is not really having a very direct impact. It is often software to help track people or money, or software for scheduling, or some other similar thing. Working on this sort of thing does not interest me very much. If I am going to work for a non-profit, I want to work with the people the non-profit helps, not in the back-end workings of the organization.

However, my change in attitude is not due just to a personal realization. As I realized that much of the “humanitarian” software is actually just to help with the inner workings of non-profits, I also realized that this is because the problems of the world do not necessarily need software to be fixed. Many of the problems are not primarily due to a lack of technology, and thus they cannot be fixed by technology. For example, hunger is a huge problem, but it is one mainly of food distribution. It is entirely possible to grow enough food on this planet to feed everyone, but the resources are unbalanced and the countries with more than enough do not share equitably with those who do not have enough. In other cases, the problems are ones that can be fixed by technology, but rarely by software technology. For example, many parts of the world do not have clean drinking water. This certainly needs technology (but not software) to be fixed, but the technology already exists and it is due to politics that it is not implemented.

There are some problems where I think software technology can be beneficial, mainly education and communication. Giving people the ability to become educated can help them rise out of poverty, and giving people the ability to communicate can help them rise up against oppressive regimes. For example, there are various programs that distribute laptops in developing countries and work to set up wireless internet access. These seem to be positive programs but again, I am not convinced of their necessity. Giving people books could help them become educated just as well as, if not better than, a computer could. Communication is perhaps the one area where technology really is progress with respect to developing countries.

Overall, though, I think that the most significant barrier to fixing the problems of inequality, poverty, enough food and clean water, and peace, is a human barrier, not a technological barrier. Human connection and compassion for each other is the most important thing that will effect social change. We need to understand our essential shared humanity and learn how to resolve conflicts non-violently. With more compassion, we would naturally become more equal. We would look out for each other and together develop creative solutions to inequalities. Technology may occasionally aid our progression towards a better world, such as long-distance modes of communication that enable more connection between people, and technology may ultimately be part of the solutions to some of these problems, such as creative ways to make water safe for drinking. However, technology alone will make little difference. Technology can sometimes be considered progress and is at best an aid in effecting social change, but it is never a panacea.

For myself, I have therefore decided to stop trying to connect my humanitarian interests with my analytical interests. I do not think I will find meaningful work that way. These two posts on technology, progress, and peace grew out of my attempts to find meaning in my technical work, and when I continually search for such meaning I start questioning the whole idea of technology and become seriously disillusioned about my work. Thus, since my job pays well and I intellectually enjoy aspects of it, I will continue to work as a software engineer at an educational software company, but I will look elsewhere to pursue my interests in peace and social change.

Is technology progress? (Technology, progress, and peace, Part 1)

January 4, 2009

This will be a two-part series on technology, progress, and peace. In this first part I discuss the general question of whether or not technology is progress.

I struggle with technology. Not because it is difficult for me to understand or use, but because I am not convinced that the ever-progressing technologies of today lead always to a better and better world. As a software engineer, I use technology – in the form of a computer and the internet – every single day. In fact, I write software that runs on computers and is used over the internet. In my personal life, I am becoming increasingly dependent on the internet. I can hardly imagine not having email to communicate instantaneously with friends and family. Whenever I am wondering about something I have Google at my fingertips for instant gratification. I use a cell phone, a dishwasher, a microwave, a hair dryer, a washing machine, a clothes dryer, a refrigerator. Which of these things are progress and which are not? Why is it that to me a refrigerator and a washing machine seem unquestionably to be progress, but a computer and the internet do not? Perhaps it is simply that I am conservative by nature and resist new developments and change? Or perhaps there is something more to my distinctions. I would define something as “progress” if it contributes to our general happiness and well-being. The question is, at what point does one draw the line between something that genuinely makes lives better and something that is simply an unnecessary, perhaps even detrimental, “convenience” that does not noticeably improve the quality of life?

Let’s look closer at some of the technologies and inventions I consider progress. One, without a doubt, is birth control. Birth control freed women from the burden of being unable to control when they had children other than by refraining from sex. As history demonstrates, this made a huge difference in women’s lives. Other technologies that seem to unquestionably be progress include major time-saving devices such as refrigerators and washing machines, which allowed people to spend time pursuing more meaningful activities than chores, and basic communication devices such as the wired telephone and the wireless radio, which allowed people to communicate more effectively across great distances.

On the other hand, one example of something that is in my mind unquestionably NOT progress is the television. One may argue that it allows effective mass communication. While I agree that communication is important, I think the television has overall had a negative impact on our happiness and well-being as a society, as it has helped create the overly consumerist society in which we find ourselves today. Another thing that I do not consider progress is the atomic bomb. It has no value other than to kill people in huge numbers. Earlier weapons, such as the bow and arrow, spears, and perhaps some guns, had value because people used them to kill animals to feed themselves. However, the weapons in modern times have no such value and are not progress.

Finally, there are the things that do not fall neatly on one side or the other, computers and the internet being topmost in my mind. Being dependent on them myself, it is difficult for me to say conclusively that they are not progress, but it is also difficult for me to see ways in which they greatly enhance our general well-being. I am not sure it is of value to be able to have instant gratification for just about any question one might have, to have to do so little work to find an answer. I am not sure the bombardment of news and the bombardment of entertainment is leading to people’s increased happiness. I am not even convinced that the many software programs intended to be educational or to aid with learning add much value in the end (although I work for a company that produces such software). The problems with education in our society are not ones that are going to be fixed by dumping more technology into people’s laps.

The primary aspect of computers and the internet that I think could be considered progress is the increased ability to communicate – not only with people that you would already be in touch with no matter what (your close friends and family), but with people that you would otherwise never know. People living halfway across the world. The internet has made the world a much smaller place. I could have a multi-way discussion with a person living in Thailand, a person living in South Africa, and a person living in Russia. This is, I think, progress. We have a much greater opportunity than ever before to get to know people different from us, and this is the sort of bridge-building connection that can help lead to a more peaceful world.

A major issue that must be considered when thinking about whether technology is progress is the fact that technology distinguishes between social classes. The upper and then middle classes get the new technologies first. Poor people were still washing their clothes by hand in washtubs long after the wealthy had washing machines. Only after a technology has become deeply entrenched in society does it become just about equally available to all social classes – such as the landline telephone or the refrigerator. Newer technologies are still very much classist. Only the (relatively) wealthy have computers and internet access. There are millions of people in this country (the United States), not to mention in the rest of the world, who do not have a computer or internet. The way in which technology starts with the wealthy and trickles down to the poor can be one way to try to measure progress. If a technology is unquestionably progress, that would mean anyone living without it is living an unquestionably lower quality of life than those with the technology. Looking at things in this light, it is difficult to say whether any technology at all is unquestionably progress. I believe, in fact, that it is entirely possible to live a high-quality, fulfilling life, with very little technology.

Is technology progress? In my short exploration of this question, I have not come to a conclusive answer, nor did I expect to. I do not think there is a clear-cut answer. What technology is considered progress is fluid, dependent on the social context, the use to which the item is put, and the potential increased quality of life, which may vary from one individual to the next.

Part 2 of this series on technology, progress, and peace, in which I discuss the question of “Humanitarian technology?” is here.

WILPF statement on Gaza

January 3, 2009

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom has released a statement on Gaza which expresses much more eloquently what I was trying to say in my post:

We join with millions around the world in protests and call for an immediate cease fire.

While we recognize the incredible military advantage of Israel, we also recognize the need for Hamas to cease firing rockets into Israel, as this threatens the lives of Israelis civilians and is used as a pretext to continue bombing.

We urge all parties to come to the peace table to negotiate an agreement that would restore a just peace, address injustices, and build long-term economic prosperity that would benefit all people living in the region.

They end with a quote from the Israeli Women’s Coalition for Peace, which sums everything up:

The dance of death and destruction must come to an end. We demand that war no longer be an option, nor violence as strategy, nor killing an alternative. The society we want is one in which every individual can lead a life of security – personal, economic, and social.

Shirin Ebadi under threat

January 2, 2009

Dr. Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is under threat in her own country of Iran. She works for human rights and works closely with the United Nations. Consequently, the Iranian government has begun persecuting her, closing down the Defenders of Human Rights Center that she helped found, and sending tax inspectors to remove documents and computers from her private law office. Yesterday, a violent mob gathered outside her home, yelling threats.

This awful and frightening news is not being widely reported on in mainstream U.S. media. I learned about it from several news release from Human Rights Watch: Iran: Reverse Closure of Nobel Laureate’s Rights Group, Iran: End Persecution of Nobel Laureate, and Iran: Threats to Nobel Laureate Escalate.