Paradigms of a Culture of Peace

Conferência proferida por Ravindra Varma, presidente da
Gandhi Peace Foudation, em setembro/2005
página 2/2
There may be many other important and explosive issues that have not been referred
to in this list. It is not our intention in this paper to enter into a substantive
examination of these issues. But there can be no doubt that all these are issues that
call for incisive, unprejudiced and earnest introspection, examination and innovative
solutions, if we are to prevent them from becoming the cause of violent conflict. It
may therefore be useful to draw attention to some aspects of the context in which
we are being called upon to find answers to these questions.

1.Technology has brought about a sea change in the material conditions
in which we live. These changes have affected mindsets, changed mental dispositions
and affected the goals that people set before themselves. Many of these changes are
irreversible, and therefore compel us to examine what (from the past) has become
obsolete, untenable, and therefore calls for replacement. Old habits of thought and
action may not only be inadequate but may be counter-productive. Survival and
progress depend on resilience in thought and action. Resilience does not mean total
rejection of the past; but it means readiness to respond to and mould the present for
a better present, and a better future.

2.Technology has abridged distances. The days of isolation have ended.
We have entered the age of proximity. All people have become neighbours. We have
therefore to know each other, to live with each other, to help each other, to put out
the fires in our neighbourhood so that they do not burn our houses down. Interaction
has become inevitable. Proximity has increased the impact of my neighbour's action on
my well-being; and in compelling me to realize that my actions affect the society in
which I live, and can therefore can therefore boomerang if I am remiss or seek to spite
my neighbour in the belief that he is another, and has nothing to do with me.
Technology has exposed and accentuated the paradigms of interdependence within
which we live. When our lives have become so interwoven, can we maintain standards
of behaviour and beliefs that guided our lives in the age of isolation or comparative
isolation? How then shall we define our 'identity' in an age of interdependence and
interaction in which we are constantly exposed to and unwittingly influenced by
others, including those who are different, and even embarrassingly dissimilar? How can
one preserve pristine identity in a world in which all walls seem to be getting
increasingly porous?

3.Do the perceptions of sovereignty and the fierce and aggressive
nationalism of the 19
th century still evoke the same loyalties in our century, or are
they being slowly pushed into the crucible?

4.Technology has added to the power at the disposal of human kind. This
is so in the field of production, destruction, transport, communication and so on. Has
this augmentation of power also led to increasing concentration or centralization of
power in the hands of a few, – whether it is in the field of industry, commerce,
banking, other forms of economic activity and economic institutions, – or in the field
of political organization or the field of communication? Has it then increased the power
of a few to manipulate conditions that affect the vast majority, and has it reduced
the power of the many to control or protect themselves against the manipulation by
the few who control economic institutions or political institutions or institutions in the
field of communication? How then can we control the power that we generate, and
ensure that it is not used to create inequality, create conditions of deprivation,
poverty and exploitation – which in turn lead to under utilization of human resources
as well as conflicts that may lead to war or terrorism or widespread breaches of

5.Technology has led to centralization and giganticism. Technology has
also led to the information revolution that has made it possible for information or
knowledge to reach the masses almost instantly. This has made it possible for them to
form their own opinions on the actions and decisions of those who are in command.
They have therefore begun to realize that they have to bear the consequences of the
decisions that other people take for them, and have therefore begun to demand full
and effective participation in the processes and organs that make decisions affecting
them. They have also begun to demand transparency and accountability, both of
which have become more easy to achieve in the current state of technology.

6.The last two centuries have caused incalculable and irretrievable
damage to the environment. Chemicals used in industry, effluents that have been
discharged by industrial plants, transport vehicles and the like, chemicals used in
agriculture as pesticides and fertilizers, explosives, ammunitions, land mines, gases etc
used in war, mining, lumbering and the like have resulted in denudation of the forest
cover, destruction of bio diversity, pollution of air, water and soil, the depletion of the
ozone layer, changes in the climate cycles, the green-house effect, melting of the
polar ice caps, choking up of rivers and lakes, erosion of coastlines, and rise in the sea
levels threatening coastal habitations. All these are the results of deliberate human
acts and the attitudes motivating and sanctifying them. What were these motives,
and what were these attitudes? Were they motivated by the desire to meet the basic
needs of the common human being, or where they prompted by the desire for profit
even at the cost of the common human being and the cost of irreplaceable resources
that were the precious heritage of humanity? Could industry have wanted to produce
these articles of consumption if they were not confident that they could find
consumers? That they could depend on brainwashing human beings into believing that
it was the multiplicity and variety of material goods that they possessed that
determined their standards of living and levels of advance along the path to
civilization? Have our perception about standards of living and our life styles had
anything then to do with the irreparable damage that we have caused to the
environment, endangering the lives and standards of living of our children and grand
children and succeeding generations?

7.The technology that we have adopted since the Industrial Revolution
and the unequal access to it has resulted in appalling disparities in "development" or
economic advancement. In 1998, the top 20% of the world's population earned 89%
of the global income while the share of the poorest 20% was only 1.2% of the global
income. In 1960 the top 20% of the world's population had a share of 70.2%, while
the share of the poorest 20% was 2.3% of the global income. The world has been
divided into the 'developed' or 'advanced' North and the developing or the
disadvantaged or poverty stricken South. In spite of the Declaration of the U.N. and
the solemn commitments of the advanced countries to try and bridge disparities
through pledging a percentage of their GNP to the needs of the 'developing countries',
the outflow from the 'developing countries' to the developed countries continues to be
higher than the inflow in aid, trade and investments, and disparities continue to
increase and not decrease. At the present rate of transfer of resources, with the
present gap in technology and capital, there seems to be no hope of the disparities
being appreciably reduced in centuries. In the same way, the disparities between the
industrially more advanced and less advanced parts of the same country continue to
increase. Does this indicate any characteristic or tendency that is inherent in the
technology that is being employed? Will globalization accelerate disparities and further
impoverish the disadvantaged and the dispossessed? Will the perpetration of
disparities ensure peace or endanger peace? Will it promote equal opportunities, and
assure equal human rights? Or will it eventually provoke upheavals that endanger
peace? Have we not seen enough evidence in the massive demonstrations that were
witnessed in Seattle, Cancun, London?

8.The disintegration of colonial systems and empires that followed the
Second World War, the U.N. Declaration on a Charter of Universal Human Rights, and
the endorsement of the Charter by most member nations have created world wide
awareness of Fundamental Human Rights. The Declaration has set a "standard" for
nations. It has also become a charter of demands for those who have never enjoyed
the rights enshrined in the Charter, and those whose rights have been abridged or
taken away openly or covertly. The rights that have been formulated in the Charter
are conditions and opportunities that human beings need to live in peace with each
other, and to remove the seeds of conflict that are found embedded in many social,
economic and political systems and institutions. Struggles for these rights and
movements to honour these rights have therefore become struggles to lay the
infrastructure of a peaceful society.

9.Religion has also to cope with the impact that science and technology
have had on the minds and beliefs of people. One cannot ignore the impact that
observation, experience, reason (logic) and introspection have on human minds. It is
only resilience that can enable one to deal with changing situations and new
evidence, not rigidity or an iron curtain. A closed mind cannot be resilient; it can only
become rigid. A rigid mind tries to protect its beliefs and views through orthodoxy,
'blind faith', (unthinking faith) and fanaticism. Fanaticism leads to fundamentalism,
fundamentalism leads to intolerance, superiority complex, the desire to suppress or
eliminate all difference that is condemned as heterodoxy, apostasy, blasphemy and
anti-God. This attitude leads to aggression and conflict. In the age of science, religion
cannot be impervious to reason and evidence. It has to learn to distinguish between
what is contextual, peripheral and ritualistic, and what is trans-contextual and trans-
ritualistic, and is purely spiritual.


Upon our answers to these questions will depend the nature of the culture that
we evolve or maintain. The answers to these questions involve choices from among
alternatives, each of which in turn will determine the direction in which we go and the
nature of the institutions we build or live in. Choices reflect values, and are made on
the basis of the values we cherish and the goals that attract us. These values may
have been deliberately chosen or may have been inherited or ingested from the
atmosphere in which we live. It is therefore meaningless to argue that values are
irrelevant or that decisions are not made on the basis of values, whether they are at
the back of our minds or in our sub-conscious or at the forefront of our minds,
spurring us, and acting as the spearhead of our motives. Those who argue that values
are extraneous (to scientific enquiry) and can vitiate the objectivity of a scientific
enquiry must be able to distinguish between an enquiry to establish facts or laws of
nature or causes, and an occasion in which one is called upon to choose from among
alternatives that take the results of scientific enquiry into account. The question is
whether values are extraneous in choosing or necessary for choosing. The second
question is whether, given the law of cause and effect, even as science looks for the
cause of an effect, decisions on action does not need a preview of the effect that is
likely to come from the cause one creates by one's choice. A social scientist therefore
has to think not only of the causes that have led to the effect one sees, but also of
the effects one is likely to produce from the action that in turn is going to function as
a cause.

To argue for a value-free world is itself a subtle plea for the adoption of a new
value that is individualistic. To free society from values is to create a vacuum in which
the gravitational forces that hold human beings together, the forces of cohesion no
longer operate. Human beings cannot hold together without values. Families cannot
hold together without values. Societies cannot hold together without values. There
can be no 'law and order', no penal code, no norms of ethical conduct without values,
since laws and penal codes are themselves based on values, and often change with
the values of a society opts for. A society without values will then revert to the state
where might was the value that ruled, that set values. Can individuals co-operate
without values? Can culture evolve without values? Can the values that generate
culture be such as are repugnant to co-operation or peaceful coexistence?

What then are the values that promote cohesion, co-existence, creative
cooperation and conditions conducive to a culture of peace? The Human Rights
enshrined in the U.N. Declaration derive their inspiration from and reflect some of
these values. It may not be possible for us here to list all these values and their
corollaries in terms of codes of conduct, life styles and shapes of institutions. But let
us look at some of the basic values that are crucial for a culture of Peace, – in other
words, for survival itself.

1.All phenomena in the world are inter-dependent. They arise in
dependence, exist in dependence, disappear in dependence. Their origin, existence
and dissolution are all conditioned by interdependence. Human beings and human
societies too are conditioned by this universal paradigm. We cannot then consider
ourselves as islands in a sea of non-existence. If we are inter-dependent, we cannot
survive or prosper by destroying or harming what we are dependent on. Harming
another is harming oneself. One has therefore to conduct oneself in such a way that
one does not hurt others: one helps oneself by helping others. The fact of
interdependence is unalterable. Therefore there is no escape from it. We are subject
to the consequences of interdependence. Self preservation, therefore, prescribes
ethics or codes of conduct or/and life styles that depend on the paradigm of
interdependence. This then is a basic value, since we value self-preservation.

2.If we are interdependent, everyone of us is equally important. Everyone
is equally necessary for the whole. Every one therefore has an equal right to exist,
and consequently entitled to equal opportunities for survival and growth. Equal
opportunities mean equal access to the sources of sustenance and growth, to self-
expression, to growth that does not impede the right to growth that others are
entitled to in equal measure. Equality of rights and opportunity then is another value.
Denial of equality will lead to disparities, frustration, anger and indignation, and will
provide incentives to revolt, conflict and violence.

3.The resources in the world are finite or limited. Many of them have
come into being millions of years ago through processes that we cannot reproduce or
repeat. These cannot therefore be replenished, when depleted. Consumption depends
on production, and production depends on natural resources and human effort. Since
resources are limited, what we can produce too is limited. There can be no unlimited
production. We cannot therefore allow our minds to desire unlimited consumption. We
have to reconcile our wants with the limits that nature has imposed, and also
reconcile them with the wants of others. The use that we make of our productive
resources therefore becomes important. The quantum that we want to utilize for
consumption becomes important. Life styles are related, not merely to our perceptions
of what characterizes 'high society', but also to the levels of consumption that
depleting, unreplenishable resources and the equal rights of access that others have,
warrant. Does this create a duty to minimize consumption, and maximize efforts at
replenishment? If it does, does it become a Value?

4.Today, consumption levels are related not merely to the satisfaction of
wants but also to perceptions of social status. This is one of the reasons for the
spectacle that we see of the affluence and opulence of the few, and the poverty and
the deprivation of the many. The notion that the multiplicity and variety of goods that
one possesses indicates the level of culture and civilization that one has reached does
not stand the scrutiny of logic or experience. Nor even does the possession of
unlimited access to material goods offer any index of the extent of happiness or peace
or contentment that the possessor enjoys. But the notion does lead to acquisitiveness
or the greed to possess. Acquisitiveness or greed is insatiable. Greed cannot be
identified as a social virtue. It generates mental attitudes that justify inequality and
exploitation, and therefore to envy and conflict. Acquisitiveness demands readiness to
protect acquisitions by the force of law or by brute force if necessary. The force of
law can be invoked only if the legal system recognizes private property or unlimited
private property and the right of inheritance. What are the considerations that justify
unlimited private property and the unlimited right of inheritance? How far can they be
reconciled with the right to equal opportunity? These are questions that are bound to
arise; and humanity may be compelled to think of the value of Gandhi's theory of
Trusteeship which holds that all property and all that generates power should be held
as a Trust for society, that rights of ownership should be tempered by the duty to use
in the interest of society, in recognition of the fact that all or almost all economic
activity is interdependent, is the result of one form of social co-operation or another.
Is this attitude to property, possession and consumption a value that leads to greater
justice? Is it more consistent with the needs of a non-exploitative and peaceful

5.We have looked at some of the problems that giganticism has created.
We talk of the freedom and right of the common man to compete, and the need for
level playing grounds. But competition has led to the emergence of giant corporates
and cartels that establish monopolies or oligopolies. We may be ready to acknowledge
interdependence and the need for cooperation but we also believe in cut-throat
competition, and survival of the fittest in a battle in which the weak are pitted against
the mighty. Is it not necessary for us to rethink the limits of competition in a world
that is based on interdependence?

6.Giganticism has also raised questions of control, accountability and
transparency. These apply to corporates in the manufacturing sector, trading sector,
banking and financial sectors, and also giant structures in public administration and
government. In fact they appear in some form or other in all organizations even at the
micro-level. There is an increasing demand for new forms and processes of
participation and participatory decision making and participatory management at all
levels. There is realization that fraudulent and manipulative practices can be checked
only by transparency. Transparency includes the right to know. Is transparency then
a new Value that can ensure control over the powerful decision makers and decision
making processes that can reduce those who generate power to the status of victims
of the very power they generate?


If we accept these and similar values we must also accept that these values
can become operational only if there are attendant and consequential changes in our
attitudes and our institutions. These institutions stretch from United Nations to the
family and the school at the lowest level. It is beyond the scope of this paper to go
into the attitudinal and institutional changes that these and similar values demand; or
into the dynamics and action that can bring about these changes necessary to usher
in a culture of peace and non violence.

We have already made some reference to the corollaries that flow from
interdependence. One is non-violence. Another is co-operation. Yet another is mutual
reinforcement. To go a little deeper the implications of these:

1.If the awareness of interdependence is genuine, one cannot entertain ill
will even in moments of friction that may arise due to differences in the perception of
self-interest. Friction should lead one to examine who has overstepped one's space or
been remiss in performing the duties that arise from being the intermediate link in the
chain. This examination can take place only through introspection and dialogue.

2.Perceptions arise or take shape in the mind. Processes that can modify
them have also to occur or be induced in the mind. Like all perceptions, misperception
of what constitutes self-interest also arises in the mind.

3. Application of physical force can lead to the suppression of the
articulation of one's perceptions but not to the transformation of one's perceptions.

4.We have already pointed out that co-operation, not competition is the
corollary of interdependence. When taken to extremes, competition can have all the
characteristics of warfare. It has therefore to be transformed; and contained within
the limits that interdependence imposes.

5.Wars are not bolts from the blue. Nations prepare for them, build up for
them, arm themselves to the teeth in the name of deterrence or defence. Deterrence
can be a strategy in warfare; it cannot be a strategy that nations adopt to create a
culture of peace. You cannot generate the intentions and attitudes of a peaceful mind
by preparing the mind for war. Have faith in, but keep your powder dry many a good
pragmatic adage. But it cannot prepare the mind for peace or lay the foundations for
a culture of peace. Forces that are antithetical to peace should not be allowed to
build up in the mind. They should be detected through introspection. Wherever they
manifest themselves they must be detected and treated with antidotes and opposing
forces, in the mind, in the family, in the school, in institutions, in conduct, in

6.If everyone realizes that we cannot survive without peace, and peace
is therefore a universal aspiration, a goal that everyone accepts, what we have to
look for is the means that can take us to the goal. War or violence must therefore be
examined as a means to reach the goal of peace. Up to now it has failed in this role or
function. Increase in the quantum of the destructive power of weapons of war, or
violence, has not helped to increase its efficiency as an instrument that can bring
about peace. Nor have innovations and variants of warfare like guerrilla warfare or
terrorism done so. This should surprise no one, since the law of nature clearly
demonstrates that the force can be countered or overcome only by its antidote, not
by a stronger dose of the same force. Yet, in the name of deterrence or wars to end
war, we go on strengthening the sinews of war. A culture of peace can arise only
when war is no longer looked upon as the road to peace or justice, and since culture
is a composite of many beliefs, attitudes, norms, accomplishments and the like, a
culture of peace cannot evolve from constituents that harbour violence.


1. Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict. Preventing Deadly Conflict: Final Report.
(Washington: 1997) p.12

2. Smith, Dan. Occasional Paper 16: War, Peace and Third World Development. (Oslo:
International Peace Research Institute: 1994)

* The goal of modern civil wars usually is not so much to eliminate the opponents' military
power as it is to destroy their culture and the very fabric of society. New wars seek to
obliterate people's way of life: schools are bombed, crops burned, wells poisoned; large
number of people are displaced, and women become victims of rape and torture, often in
front of their children. The use of rape against women and girl is an increasingly common
tactic in modern war, demoralizing individuals and destabilizing whole communities. Women
and girls in refugee camps are also highly vulnerable to sexual assault and other forms of
violence. (Source: State of the World's Mothers 2002: Mother and Children in War and Conflict.
Westport: Save the Children, May 2002. p.10-13)

One of the greatest atrocities of modern warfare is the exploitation of children by national
militias and armed opposition forces. Military servitude, which includes everything from
actual combat and scouting missions to sexual and domestic services, is not something
children do willingly, or voluntarily. Those who are not actually kidnapped or physically
coerced may be pressured psychologically with threats to their own or their families' safety
and well-being.
Current estimates place the number of children under 18 who are involved in war activities
today at 300,000. the majority of child soldiers are boys, but a growing number of girls are
being forced to work as cooks, messengers, spies or "wives" for soldiers. The most
vulnerable children are those who live in extreme poverty, who have been displaced from
their homes by war, and those who have been orphaned or separated from their families
and communities.
The harm to children who participate in armed conflict is severe. In addition to a high risk of
injury, permanent disability and death because of their proximity to combat, many children
are psychologically and socially scarred for life. Their formative years are spent witnessing
or participating in brutal acts of violence – sometimes against members of their own family
– and without normal socialization or moral guidance. Reintegration into family and
community life is often impossible, and children – especially girls – who have been sexually
abused and infected with HIV virus and other diseases may be cast out and condemned to
a life of prostitution at a very early age. On a larger scale, the destruction of childrne's lives
has a devastating impact on the healthy development of families and society, and can take
generations to repair. (Source: McKay, Susan and Dyan Mazurana. "Girls in Militaries,
Paramilitaries and Armed Opposition Groups,"