Summary of "Another Way: Positive response to contemporary violence"

Summary of

Another Way: Positive response to contemporary violence

By Adam Curle

Summary written by Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Adam Curle, Another Way: Positive response to contemporary violence, (Oxford: Jon Carpenter Publishing, 1995).

The end of the Cold War has not brought peace to the planet as was briefly hoped. Instead, horrifying and often seemingly pointless violence is all too common. Curle argues that much contemporary violence stems from alienation. Political processes alone cannot end such violence. Lasting peace requires "widespread changes of heart."[p. 5] Based largely on his experiences in the former Yugoslavia, Curle argues that such changes are possible, and offers a model approach to peacemaking in an era of alienation.

The Nature and Sources of Violence

Part I examines the nature of modern human violence. Violence is often contrasted to peace. Peaceful relations are "ones in which the various parties did each other more good than harm; whereas unpeaceful ones would be those doing more harm than good."[p.10] Violent relations are a form of unpeace.

Curle argues that human nature is not innately violent. Rather human violence stems from two commonly held myths: the myth that there can be external causes of the internal state of happiness, and the myth of stability or permanence. These myths "suggest to us that we can achieve happiness, indeed permanent happiness, by manipulating events and environments rather than by changing ourselves."[p. 16] The sources of unhappiness are projected out into the world. The frustration of unhappiness produces ever more violent actions upon the unmanageable events and environments.

Curle reviews forms and sources of violent conflict from early history to current times. While human nature has remained the same, contexts have changed drastically, and so then has the nature of violence. He discusses the violence of states and the role that global militarization plays in increasing violence. The speed of social and technological change has also played a role in producing modern forms of violence. Curle argues that these factors have left many people alienated from society and their common humanity. Alienated people have a damaged sense of relatedness to others, and so are particularly prone to unpeaceful relations and violence.

Curle describes six general situations in which alienation is likely to occur. Alienation is more likely among members of communities which have undergone rapid, constant change for more than thirty years. It is more likely in communities which have been under stresses such as war, famine and homelessness, or high unemployment. Alienation is increased in societies which have oppressed minorities. It is higher in communities which are isolated or marginalized from the general society. Alienation is increase by a cultural emphasis on competitive materialism over cooperation. Finally, alienation increases when traditional local culture is lost, overwhelmed by generic global practices. The ubiquity of McDonald's fast food is a potent symbol of such cultural loss.

Contemporary Approaches to Peacemaking

Part II explores peacemaking. Curle notes that traditional method of diplomatic peacemaking have been unsuccessful in dealing with the many "mini-wars." Traditional diplomacy rests on the assumption that the combatants are rational and motivated by self interested objectives, rather than by violence or destruction. Curle argues that "such assumptions are not valid in the tangle of phobias, cavorting egos, crazed convictions, vanity and greed that make up the psychic worlds of the mini-war."[p. 64] This situation is paralleled in the rise of motiveless, random violent crime.

Curle contrasts soft mediation in nonviolent contexts with hard mediation in violent conflicts. In both cases Curle argues that peacemaking is primarily a psychological activity. Peacemakers seek not just to settle a conflict but to create more peaceful relations between the parties. To be effective, peacemakers must cultivate a strong awareness of themselves, of others, and of the interconnectedness of life. Peacemakers must also cultivate a nonviolent attitude of mind. Nonviolence is more than just the will to refrain from violence, it is "an emotional orientation towards loving care and concern."[p. 71]

Aid in development has often been thought of as a way to promote peace by promoting prosperity. Curle points out that much of this development aid has not benefited the poor masses, and has even harmed them. If aid is to be an effective element in peacemaking, we must revise our ideas of development. Curle argues that development should focus on assuring all people of sufficient resources to live and flourish, a safe environment, the satisfaction of a rich cultural life, and of stimulus for further growth and human development.

Nonviolence training is a fairly recent approach to peacemaking. Workshops have become common. These workshops generally focus on training people to act nonviolently, to prevent and mediate conflicts, to support victims of violence, and to train other to do the same. Curle examines case studies of training workshops in Belgrade, the North Caucasus, and Sri Lanka.

New Approaches to Peacemaking

In Part III Curle discusses the Peace Center in Osijek, Croatia and argues that it offers a model for dealing with violent alienation. The Center's founding members were concerned not only with the physical damage caused by the war, but also with the psychological damage. The central goal of the Center is to "both stimulate and preserve the values on which harmony can eventually be restored."[p. 129] The Center has a strong nonviolent orientation, and focuses on offering healing and care wherever needed. Center activities include nonviolent intervention to protect human rights, education programs, and a variety of programs for refugees. Curle argues that the Center models an alternative to the alienated and militarized mindset. This alternative has "spread like leaven through the community, changing it; to use another metaphor, it is the antidote to the death dealing virus of alienation."[p. 128] Curle draws five implications for UN policy from the Osijek case. First, the use of UN military force should be sharply limited. Second, peacemaking should focus on preventing or ending violence. Preventative mediation should take into account the need to make psychological changes in the parties. More use should be made of nonviolent workshops. Third, preventative work will be more effective if pursued in cooperation with local people. Fourth, the UN should shift some of its attention from governments and officials to the peoples themselves. Finally, regional and even sub-regional groups would be better able to organize culturally specific development activities and mediation training than the UN. Curle concludes by sharing four basic understandings, reached after and confirmed by a lifetime of experience. The first is that violence is often pursued in the mistaken belief that some greater good will come of it. The second is that bad actions do not come from bad people, but are performed by confused, unskilled or misdirected people. Third, Curle observes, "violence lies not so much in action as in a state of mind: it is ultimately the violence of the heart rather than of the body which damages us."[p. 135] Finally, we all share a common human nature. Our common humanity is the foundation of a basic equality, which calls on us to care for each other as we care for ourselves.