Dreamer of dreams

March 6, 2011

I continue to struggle with something I have written about on this blog before, which is how to take actions that uphold my ideals. I have not written much here recently, in part because I have not felt particularly inspired in the past few months. In fact, I have at times felt quite hopeless and powerless, such as when I read about the flurry of reactionary bills in Congress or budget cuts to K-12 education in Colorado.

I encounter many demands – through my church and on the blogs and websites I read – to be a political activist, to write yet again to my congressperson, sign yet another petition, or attend yet another rally. Even though I know there is evidence of such things actually having an impact, I find it difficult to gather the motivation to partake in these actions myself. I remain unconvinced at a visceral level that doing so actually makes a difference.

However, the constant bombardment of demands to act combined with my lack of motivation to do so results in guilt. Am I not doing my part to make this world a better place because I do not partake in political activism? When I am feeling neither completely hopeless about the world nor guilty about my political inaction, I remember that there are many ways of being in and contributing to the world. Political activism is only one such way, and it is not for everyone. Politics have always sickened me and made me feel hopeless and powerless, and I don’t think this is likely to change.

As I search for my way of acting towards peace and a better world, I take inspiration from the first stanza of the poem “Ode” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

I am a dreamer of dreams. I am a music maker. It is through being these things that I will move and shake the world. My way of acting is not in political activism, but in waking people up, shaking them out of their sleep and shifting their perspective on life, on the world, on their community, on their meaning. I believe that my way in the world is as a “quiet leader”: I am not out to be the next senator but as a dreamer of dreams I am a leader nonetheless.

Therefore, I must learn not to feel guilty in the face of demands for political action that I do not fulfill. For I am a dreamer of dreams, a music maker, and a mover and a shaker of the world.

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Book review: Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community

October 1, 2010

Note: I cross-posted this on my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany.

Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community is a collection of eight essays by Wendell Berry. Although each essay is on a different topic, covering subjects such as economics, conservation, tobacco farming, war and peace, Christianity, and sex, all eight essays are closely linked through a centering focus on the concept of community. Wendell Berry is an exceptionally clear thinker and writer, and he presents compelling arguments for why globalization is causing more harm than good and why we must instead return to true, localized communities (and, consequently, economies). In the title essay, he defines community as follows:

By community, I mean the commonwealth and common interests, commonly understood, of people living together in a place and wishing to continue to do so. To put it another way, community is a locally understood interdependence of local people, local culture, local economy, and local nature… Lacking the interest of or in such a community, private life becomes merely a sort of reserve in which individuals defend their “right” to act as they please and attempt to limit or destroy the “rights” of other individuals to act as they please.

A community identifies itself by an understood mutuality of interests. But it lives and acts by the common virtues of trust, goodwill, forbearance, self-restraint, compassion, and forgiveness. If it hopes to continue long as a community, it will wish to – and will have to – encourage respect for all its members, human and natural. It will encourage respect for all stations and occupations. Such a community has the power – not invariably but as a rule – to enforce decency without litigation. It has the power, that is, to influence behavior. And it exercises this power not by coercion or violence but by teaching the young and by preserving stories and songs that tell (among other things) what works and what does not work in a given place.

A community as described above serves neither private interests nor “public” interests, but rather the interests of the localized community as a whole. A major point that Berry makes is that it is only in the context of such a community that we will take care of each other and the land and live out the higher human values of respect and compassion. For example, in the globalized economy, where our food comes from thousands of miles away, it does not seem to matter how we treat the land around us, because it does not directly impact our ability to obtain food. On the other hand, when our food comes from the land near where we live, we see the consequences of poor treatment and are therefore are more motivated to care for that land in a way that ensures it continues to produce the food we need.

Occasionally as I read the essays I sensed a hint of glorifying the past. However, on the whole Berry maintains a nuanced perspective on the reasons our society is broken and what it would take to fix it. Although his proposal for more localized communities and economies does hint back to lifestyles in the past, I do not think the Berry is proposing that we return everything to exactly as it was 100 years ago. Although Berry does not address this explicitly, I believe that we can take the aspects of life 100 years that will improve our society (e.g. more tightly-knit, localized communities and economies) and leave other aspects (such as oppression of women) behind. Overall, Berry makes important points about globalization and communities that hold a lot of truth.

Although I agree with much of Berry’s arguments, I do not agree 100% with everything he says. Take this perspective on technology:

We must give up also our superstitious conviction that we can contrive technological solutions to all our problems. Soil loss, for example, is a problem that embarrasses all of our technological pretensions. If soil were all being lost in a huge slab somewhere, that would appeal to the would-be heroes of “science and technology,” who might conceivably engineer a glamorous, large, and speedy solution – however many new problems they might cause in doing so. But soil is not usually lost in slabs or heaps of magnificent tonnage. It is lost a little at a time over millions of people. It cannot be saved by heroic feats of gigantic technology but only by millions of small acts and restraints, conditioned by small fidelities, skills, and desires. Soil loss is ultimately a cultural problem; it will be corrected only by cultural solutions.

I do agree that we sometimes try to solve problems with technology when in fact they cannot be solved in that way, because they are cultural and societal problems. However, I think there is a place for science and technology, for example in harnessing clean energy sources. Our extreme overuse of unsustainable energy sources is of course partly a cultural problem, but ultimately we will need sustainable, clean energy, and that requires a technical solution.

Reading Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community left me feeling a bit hopeless. The community-based society he describes is so very different from our current globalized society, and things seem to be going only further in the direction of globalization. I am left wondering how we get from here to there? The obstacles sometimes seem insurmountable.

I do not mean to leave you with negativity, however. Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community contains important, and at times very radical, ideas and one way that we will get from here to there is if more people read it and contemplate the ideas in it. I highly recommend it – you do not have to agree 100% with Berry in order to find his ideas worth thinking about. If you are not already convinced, here are some more quotes:

But a conservation effort that concentrates only on the extremes of industrial abuse tends to suggest that the only abuses are the extreme ones when, in fact, the earth is probably suffering more from many small abuses than from a few large ones. By treating the spectacular abuses as exceptional, the powers that be would like to keep us from seeing that the industrial system (capitalist or communist or socialist) is in itself and by necessity of all its assumptions extremely dangerous and damaging and that it exists to support an extremely dangerous and damaging way of life. The large abuses exists within and because of a pattern of smaller abuses.

Many people would like to think that our diseases are caused by one simple thing, like tobacco, which can be easily blamed on one group and fairly easily given up. But of course they are fooling themselves. One reason that people die of diseases is that they have grown old enough to die of something; they are mortal, a fact that modern humans don’t like to face. Another reason is that as a people we live unhealthy lives. We breathe unhealthy air, drink unhealthy water, eat unhealthy food, eat too much, do no physical work, and so forth.

So long as there is a demonstrable need and an imaginable answer, there is hope.

This war was said to be “about peace.” So have they all been said to be. This was another in our series of wars “to end war.” But peace is not the result of war, any more than love is the result of hate or generosity the result of greed. As a war in defense of peace, this one in the Middle East has failed, as all its predecessors have done. Like all its predecessors, it was the result of the failure, on the part of all its participants, to be peaceable.

The significance – and ultimately the quality – of the work we do is determined by our understanding of the story in which we are taking part.

The difficulty is that marriage, family life, friendship, neighborhood, and other personal connections do not depend exclusively or even primarily on justice – though, of course, they all must try for it. The depend also on trust, patience, respect, mutual help, forgiveness – in other words, the practice of love, as opposed to the mere feeling of love.


Restorative activism

April 17, 2010

Today I attended a workshop on Restorative Activism, offered by Scott Brown and John Ehrhart of Open Path Trainings. It was a beautiful, inspiring, and renewing experience.

Below is a short summary of what restorative activism is, but I recommend Scott Brown’s blog post on it if you want to learn more.

The fundamental premise of restorative activism is that we must prioritize relationship, recognizing that we are all connected. A quote from Neem Karoli Baba captures the essence of this philosophy:

Do what you must with people,
but never let anyone out of your heart,
not even for a moment.

Engaging in restorative activism requires engaging with oneself, by cultivating mindfulness and self-awareness. Through connecting with our inner self and paying attention to what is deepest in our heart, we can then reach the place from which we can be out in the world. Being authentic with ourselves is the only way in which we can be authentic in the world. True activism stems not from anger and hatred, but from love, compassion, and recognition of our interconnectedness. This form of activism is not divisive and does not lead to shaming or blaming. Instead, it leads to healing and repair of relationships.

The atmosphere at the workshop was calm, safe, and accepting. Everyone spoke authentically and we all went deep in our self-exploration. Much of the content resonated deeply with me, and I came away feeling connected and less alone in my beliefs in peace and compassion. I also feel that I gained some small bit of clarity about how I need to engage with the world, in part through the many mindfulness exercises we did. I found these exercises both challenging and renewing, and I am contemplating finding a mindfulness practice to incorporate into my routine life.

The workshop was a beautiful experience and I will hold it in my heart as a source of inspiration.


Book review: Seeds of Peace

October 17, 2009

Note: I also posted this on my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany.

I picked up Seeds of Peace: A Buddhist Vision for Renewing Society, by Sulak Sivaraksa, at a garage sale because it sounded intriguing and I am drawn to books about peace. Unfortunately, I did not get that much out of it. I started it August, but it did not hold my interest that well, so I interrupted my reading of it with The Rabbi. I came back to Seeds of Peace in September because I did want to finish it, but I couldn’t really get in to it.

I found it difficult to tell what exactly Sivaraksa was getting at in Seeds of Peace. The chapters felt somewhat disconnected from each other, each one its own self-contained essay. Several of the earlier chapters address specific historical and political events in East Asian. I am not familiar with recent East Asian history and most of the time did not know the context of what Sivaraksa was referring to. This was not really what I was expecting in this book, and I didn’t find it that interesting.

The last chapter in the book, “A Buddhist Model of Society,” probably summarizes all of Sivaraksa’s main points and is the closest to what I expected the book to be. Sivaraksa starts the chapter by telling two Buddhist myths, proceeds with a discussion of what the ideal Buddhist society looks like and how the myths illustrate that, and then continues with an exploration of what needs to be done in our society to achieve peace. I found this part mildly interesting but most of what he said seemed similar to other things I have read or thought. For example, he says that we need to curb consumerism, strengthen democracy, and work towards both internal and external peace, all of which I have thought about before.

Seeds of Peace has the most non-Western perspective of any non-fiction book I have read. Sivaraksa writes quite firmly from an East Asian perspective when he addresses historical events and politics. He describes Buddhism and the role it plays in East Asian culture from the perspective of someone who is a part of that culture, as opposed to the perspective a Western person might write from. Reading it made me realize how accustomed I am to reading books in which my identity as an American of European descent is taken as a given. I felt more like an outsider with this book and I suspect that this may have contributed to the fact that I did not get as much out of the book as I hoped. It may be a book worth reading again someday.

I am counting Seeds of Peace towards the Culture/Anthropology/Sociology category of the World Citizen Challenge. I definitely feel like I got a view into a different culture. It is my sixth book for the challenge but I still have two more categories.


Human nature

July 18, 2009

Why is the term “human nature” so frequently used to mean only negative, “animal” characteristics of humans, such as aggression, violence, and greed? I noticed this in a talk I heard last week and it got me thinking. Positive characteristics such as cooperation, compassion, and generosity are just as much a part of “human nature” as aggression and greed, but these seem to be much less frequently referred to as such. I think this is actually an important indicator of why we are still such a violent, unpeaceful society. We have it drummed into us from when we are young that life is about overcoming these negative natural instincts of aggression and selfishness. This orients how people approach life and their interactions with each other. What if instead we taught our children that life is about drawing out and encouraging our natural instincts towards cooperation and compassion? I think our society would look very different from the way it does today.


Book review: Small is Beautiful

May 22, 2009

Note: A substantially similar review is cross-posted at Books and Other Miscellany.

After reading Deep Economy, I wanted something that went into more depth about what a small economy would actually look like, so I turned to the book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, by E. F. Schumacher. Schumacher was an economist who wrote this book in 1973. Although parts of it were dated, much of his general point is still frighteningly relevant to today. The book is divided in to four sections, titled “The Modern World,” “Resources,” “The Third World,” and “Organization and Ownership.” I had a mixed reaction to the book. When I started it I was initially quite engaged and read quickly through the first section, finding that Schumacher had many insightful observations about economics, growth, and related subjects. When I hit the second section, for some reason it did not initially hold my interest as well – I found that he was too critical of science, for one thing, and his specific discussions of oil, coal, and nuclear power were dated. However, I found his chapter on “Technology with a Human Face” quite illuminating, as the question of whether technology is progress is something I have struggled with. In the third section, Schumacher again grabbed my interest with his discussions of devlopment in third world countries, but he lost it again in the fourth section, which I found too technical and detailed about how exactly organizations and ownership should be structured.

The basic point that Schumacher is making appears right at the beginning, when he points out that economists treat limited resources such as oil and coal as income rather than capital. Essentially, classic economics ignores the fact that these resources are, in fact, limited. Schumacher’s point is that unlimited growth is simply impossible. This seems to be a lesson that we, especially in the United States, still have not learned. From this basic point Schumacher progresses along several paths, but the other aspect that particularly caught my attention is his discussion of work: he looks at the Buddhist attitude towards work, which says that creative work is important to the well-being of people, and that the goal is not to produce as much stuff as possible, but to ensure that as many people as possible are gamefully employed. This is another point that seems to be lost on Western culture, where the goal is only to make the most money, which is usually accomplished by increasing automation and putting people to work doing drudgery rather than meaningful, creative work. Along similar lines, when he discusses third world development, he points out that the third world does not need all the sophisticated technologies of the first world. It makes much more sense to use more basic technologies that require more people-power (and thus employ more people) and less capital than to use the latest technologies that require a great deal of capital but do not provide as much employment for the impoverished citizens.

As I was reading Small is Beautiful, it was easy to become utterly depressed about the current state of affairs. When you take a step back, most of what goes on in the Western world (and now often in the Westernized third world) seems so utterly meaningless. Many people do distasteful, meaningless drudgery each day simply to earn enough money to buy all the stuff that we produce, much of which is useless and does little to increase our happiness or standard of living. If people were the center of our economy rather than money, things would look very different. Imagine if our entire economic system were designed not for continual growth and profits, but rather to ensure that each individual had the following things: shelter, food, clean water, health care, and meaningful, creative work. This seems so unattainable, but I think it is a worthy ideal to keep in mind.

I was surprised to find that E. F. Schumacher actually explicitly discussed peace at a few places in Small is Beautiful. It did not seem out of place, and I do feel that this topic is closely related to that of peace, the most obvious relationship being that wars are frequently about resources. If we used fewer resources, then we would have less of a motivation to go to war. More generally, an economy that is people-focused rather than profit-focused would be more likely to promote peaceful resolution of conflict.

If you are interested in a rational, logical discussion of a different approach to economics, I recommend Small is Beautiful. I think it is an important book that should be read by all economists. Keep in mind that while parts of the book may seem dated or tedious, other parts are quite insightful and relevant.

I wrote down several quotes from the books. Here is a sample:

At present, there can be little doubt that the whole of mankind is in mortal danger, not because we are short of scientific and technological know-how, but because we tend to use it destructively, without wisdom.

What makes us think we need electricity, cement, and steel before we can do anything at all? The really helpful things will not be done from the centre; they cannot be done by big organisations; but they can be done by the people themselves. If we can recover the sense that it is the most natural thing for every person born into this world to use his hands in a productive way and that it is not beyond the wit of man to make this possible, then I think the problem of unemployment will disappear and we shall soon be asking ourselves how we can get all the work done that needs to be done.

No doubt, a price has to be paid for anything worthwhile: to redirect technology so that it serves man instead of destroying him requires primarily an effort of the imagination and an abandonment of fear.

It is of little use trying to suppress terrorism if the production of deadly devices continues to be deemed a legitimate employment of man’s creative powers. Nor can the fight against pollution be successful if the patterns of production and consumption continue to be of a scale, a complexity, and a degree of violence which, as is becoming more and more apparent, do not fit into the laws of the universe, to which man is just as much subject as the rest of creation. Equally, the chance of mitigating the rate of resource depletion or of bringing harmony into the relationships between those in possession of wealth and power and those without is non-existent as long as there is no idea anywhere of enough being good and more-than-enough being evil.


A critique of just war theory

February 6, 2009

Note: I cross-posted this on my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany.

Arguing About War, by Michael Walzer, is a collection of essays on the topic of just war theory. The first section of the book contains essays on the theory of just war, the second section looks at specific wars in the 1990s and early 2000s through the lens of just war theory, and the third section contemplates what the best form of world government would be. Walzer’s perspective is a philosophical rather than a political one: he analyzes the morality of war.

I chose to read Arguing About War because I feel that to fully understand and argue my own pacifist position I need to consider arguments for why war is sometimes necessary and just. I admit, therefore, that I came to the book with a bias: I did not expect to, nor did I want to, be completely convinced by his arguments. However, I feel that I have read his work critically and have not blindly tossed it aside due to my biases.

My understanding of just war theory is that it is a moral framework for examining war critically. For a given situation, it asks whether choosing to go to war was or is the correct moral choice. It also looks at conduct during war, holding up each action taken during a war to moral critique. In Walzer’s words:

The theory of just war…is, first of all, an argument about the moral standing of warfare as a human activity. The argument is twofold: that war is sometimes justifiable and that the conduct of war is always subject to moral criticism.

Walzer is careful to point out that a true application of just war theory should not be to “excuse” a war:

Just war theory is not an apology for any particular war, and it is not a renunciation of war itself. It is designed to sustain a constant scrutiny and an immanent critique.

He also clarifies the use of the word “just,” and admits that all war is in some senses “unjust”:

But just is a term of art here; it means justifiable, defensible, even morally necessary (given the alternatives) – and that is all it means. All of us who argue about the rights and wrongs of war agree that justice in the strong sense, the sense that it has in domestic society and everday life, is lost as soon as the fighting begins. War is a zone of radical coercion, in which justice is always under a cloud. Still, sometimes we are right to enter the zone.

The last sentence summarizes both just war theory and my doubts about it. The basic assumption of the theory is that such a thing as a “just” war does in fact exist. I am not fully pursuaded by Walzer’s arguments that this is the case outside of the theoretical realm, but I also have not established a convincing argument for myself that one never could exist. World War II is a classic example that is held up as a just war – it was in self-defense and there was an awful genocide to be stopped – and it is certainly one of the most troubling wars to consider from the perspective of pacifism. However, regardless of how one analyzes WWII, there are many aspects of just war theory and Walzer’s arguments that I am deeply troubled by, and that I think prevent us from moving beyond war.

The assumption that just wars can exist is seemingly the base assumption one must accept to accept just war theory. However, there is another, more troubling, assumption underlying this one: that force and violence, and therefore war, is or can be an effective means of resolving a conflict. This is a belief so pervasive in our society that Walzer may not even be consciously aware that he is assuming it, but it is clearly there in his writing. I question this very assumption: as I have written in a previous post, violence is a vicious cycle; if one side uses violence, the other side is very likely to retaliate with more violence. How, then, can violence be an effective way to resolve a conflict? In order to eliminate war, we must critique this assumption rather than blindly accept it.

In defending force, and even war, there is often an argument that it is for the purposes of security. However, I think that Walzer’s view on what makes a nation secure is narrow. He claims that “The ‘reason’ of soldiering is victory, and the ‘reason’ of victory is the protection of one’s own people, not of other people.” While I agree with this statement, I do not agree with the unstated assumption that victory is in fact a way to achieve protection of one’s own people. If one nation is a victor, then another nation is the loser, and that loser will most likely harbor negative attitudes towards the victor. This is not a very secure situation. To probe this issue deeper, let’s look at Walzer’s argument about weapons inspections in Iraq:

Third, the U.N. inspections: these will have to go on indefinitely, as a regular feature of the Iraqi landscape. For whether or not the inspectors find and destroy weapons of mass destruction (some of these are very easy to hide), they themselves are a barrier to any deployment of such weapons. So long as they are moving freely and aggressively around the country, on their own time schedule, Iraq will be under increasing restraint. But the inspection regime will collapse, as it collapsed in the 1990s, unless there is a visible readiness to use force to sustain it.

Presumeably we are trying to ensure our own security by preventing Iraq from having weapons of mass destruction. However, I do not think that the permanent presence of inspectors will do much to make us secure. If the inspectors leave, Iraq will go back to its business of creating weapons of mass destruction, no doubt with more determination than ever. Therefore, our security was only temporary, only as long as we could forcefully keep inspectors in the country. Force is ineffective for permanent, long-term security in this situation because it demonstrates an immense lack of trust and serves only to antagonize the other nation further. There is only one way to build mutual security between nations, and that is by building trust. Force will always damage trust, and is therefore not effective to ensuring security.

In assuming that force and violence can be effective, it is also necessary to assume an us verus them mentality, and Walzer does so without hesitation. For example, in talking about Bosnia, he says:

We are extraordinarily dependent on the victim/victimizer, good guys/bad guys model. I am not sure that any very forceful intervention is politically possible without it. One of the reasons for the weakness of the United Nations in Bosnia has been that many of its representatives on the ground do not believe that the model fits the situation they have to confront.

Indeed, I agree that a forceful intervention is not possible without a good guys/bad guys model to back it up. But again, I ask, is this an effective way to approach situations? Perhaps the problem with the U.N. is not that they do not buy in to the us versus them model, but that they still buy in to a model of force as conflict resolution. In another essay, Walzer does not seem to recogize quite how fundamental otherizing is to war. He writes:

Wartime propaganda commonly has the same effect, demonizing the other side, even when both sides expect the war to end with a negotiated peace. Once the Enemy has been created, any of ‘them’ can be killed, men, women, or children, combatants and noncombatants, ordinary folk. The hositlity is generalized and indescriminate.

I agree with what Walzer is saying here, but I do not think he follows his own argument far enough. He recognizes that wartime propaganda can create an enemy, which leads to indescriminate killing. I would argue that the creation of an enemy is not only the result of wartime propaganda, but is in fact a prerequisite for going to war. It is not possible to send your fellow citizens off into battle unless you believe that there is an enemy to be fought, posing a threat to the security of your nation.

The entire theory of just war is therefore based on the assumptions that security can be achieved through force and violence and that it is morally correct to view some citizens of the world as the “other.” These assumptions prevent us from reaching peace. The only way that we can move beyond war is to move beyond these underlying assumptions to a world view and morality that does not legitimize force and otherizing.

Walzer demonstrates a distinct lack of imagination as to how one can resolve conflicts through a means other than force. This is particularly clear in his essay on Kosovo. Towards the beginning, he writes, “The truth remains, however, what it was before the inventions: soldiers with guns, going from house to house in a mountain village, can’t be stopped by smart bombs. They can only be stopped by soldiers with guns.” Later on in the essay, he explains the justification for forceful humanitarian intervention by using an analogy to a fire: “If the building is burning, and there are people inside, firefighters must risk their lives to get them out.” Walzer’s use of this analogy does not make any sense: I agree, if a fire is burning, you take whatever risks necessary to put it out, but last time I checked, you do not fight a fire with more fire. He might argue that there is a difference, that the fire is genocide against innocent people while the fight against it is a war fought against the country’s military. However, these two actions are fundamentally the same thing – the use of force and violence – and furthermore Walzer seems to recognize that in saying that the only way to stop soldiers with guns is with soldiers with guns. I would argue that in fact we do need to put out the fires of the world, but we need to do so in the same way that we put out real fires: with something other than fire. Trying to stop soldiers with guns by bringing in more soldiers with guns will only escalate the situation, just as trying to fight fire with fire would. If we truly want to stop the violence and descalate the situation, then we need to look further, for a means of stopping the aggressors that does not cause them to feel threatened and become more fearful, angry, and defensive.

Walzer does not even seem to grasp what peace really looks like. He writes about Iraq: “Though Iraq did not use weapons of mass destruction in the Gulf war, the peace agreement imposed after the war – which was authorized and, in part, implemented by the U.N. – included restrictions on the development and deployment of such weapons.” There is a fundamental problem with the wording in this sentence: peace cannot be “imposed.” As long as there is coercion involved, there is no peace. In another essay, Walzer derides the Peace Corps, demonstrating a lack of understanding about what they actually do: “Soldiers are not like Peace Corps volunteers or Fulbright scholars or USIA musicians and lecturers – who should not, indeed, be sent overseas to dangerous places. Soldiers are destined for dangerous places, and they should know that (if they don’t, they should be told).” First of all, Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholars are not at all equivalent; Peace Corps volunteers work in devasted parts of the world specifically to improve the possibilities of peace in those areas, while Fulbright scholars take residence at a university to pursue research. Peace Corps volunteers work on fundamental issues such as education and health, and these issues are absolutely critical to a future peace. Furthermore, they do go to places that could be considered dangerous, and there is no reason why they should not. No, they are not being sent off to kill or be killed, but they are taking risks just as much as soldiers, and working more towards peace than any soldier ever could. Finally, the strongest indicator that Walzer does not fully understand what peace means is a section in his last essay, on “Governing the Globe.” In discussing the idea of a unitary version of governing the globe, where there is a single world republic, he writes: “…I don’t want to deny that something is lost when one gives up the more unitary versions of globalism. What is lost is the hope of creating a more egalitarian world with a stroke of the pen – a single legislative act enforced from a single center. And the hope of achieving perpetual peace, the end of conflict and violence, everywhere and forever.” The funadmental problem with this statement is that perpetual peace does not mean the end of conflict. There is nothing wrong with conflict; in fact, it is absolutely inevitable in any community or relationship, no matter how large or small. The goal of peace is therefore not to end all conflict, but to resolve conflicts in ways that are constructive instead of destructive.

I have one final issue with just war theory, and that is from the point of view of a realist rather than an idealist. Every war the Walzer discusses in detail in these essays was in fact not just in practice. He points out how some of these wars could have been just, if certain things had been done differently, but the fact of the matter is that these wars were only just in theory, only if something had been different. The question I have is therefore, is there ever such a thing as a just war in reality, and if not, is it useful to have a theory of just war? I suspect Walzer would argue that even if no war is ever actually, perfectly just, that just war theory is still an important framework for holding war up to a moral critique. However, I argue that it is not possible for a war to ever be completely just in practice because of the fundamental nature of war. No matter how hard we try to hold war up to a moral critique, it will not meet that critique because war itself is a flawed means of achieving the goals of security, human rights, and other things for which a “just” war may be fought. Thus, I claim that just war theory is not a useful framework for critiquing war, because it is based on the same flawed assumptions and does not question deeply enough the effectiveness of war in reaching the stated ends.

Although it was at times painful, I am glad that I read Arguing About War. It has helped me to clarify why I have always been disturbed by just war theory. It is not simply that I feel so strongly that all violence and killing is wrong (although I do), but that just war theory relies on assumptions about the world that I do not agree with. I do not think that if we truly want to work towards peace it is useful to use just war theory, because it prevents us from considering a new way of looking at the world. In our imperfect world there may very well be times when war seems inevitable, but trying to consider whether the war is just or not keeps us in the cycle of force and violence. In order to move beyond war as an acceptable option we need to break out of this cycle and imagine a different world.