VI. The Socio-Political-Military-Industrial Arena
The past few thousand years have seen the formation of a rigid socio-political machine assuring an unprecedented focusing and control of power in the hands of a few. Threats to the power and authority of this structure have been met by incredible atrocities--from Roman times; through the "burning times" that peaked in the 16th and 17th century, when an estimated 10 million witches (healers, primarily women) who challenged the patriarchal values of Britain and Europe were tortured and killed; to the atrocities our government inflicts on millions of our brothers and sisters this very day.
Half of our tax dollars go to the military. Billions and billions of tax dollars are spent every year, spreading torture and death around the globe. While the media presents us with a stream of rationales for our country's behavior, we must question why our "allies" in the Third World all too often preside over regimes full of repression, poverty, torture, "disappearances," and plain old-fashioned murder.
The richest 2 percent of our population reaps the rewards of our foreign policy. Most Americans have no real self-interest in supporting this system. They do so because we have been indoctrinated to hate and fear communism, and to consider the American way of life to be beyond reproach.
We tend to think of the "enemy" as barbaric, but it was our ancestors who greedily stole the land of the aboriginal societies of Australia, New Zealand, and North and South America. These same people subjugated a fourth continent, Africa, kidnapping its natives and selling them into slavery. The machine rolls on relentlessly. Vietnam, Cambodia, the Middle East, and the war in Nicaragua and El Salvador, all supported by the US government, show us to be as cruel as any enemy.
Today, in the name of peace, we are brought to the brink of annihilation by two rivaling male-dominated power structures, the United States and the Soviet Union. In both countries, an undeniable conflict of interest lies between the military/industrial machines and the interests of the citizens. In the USA, money and employees flow abundantly back and forth between those who run the governments and those atop the industries that build the weapons that threaten our lives. The common citizen's income and wellbeing erodes as valuable assets and funds that could save lives are taken out of the economy to rust as stockpiled weapons. Both nations have developed a level of overkill aptly named "MAD" (Mutually Assured Destruction).
In the USA, the need to keep the power-over mentality of the socio-political machine in motion is reflected in keeping alive memories of the cold war, the Berlin Wall, Khrushchev's shoe pounding, and slogans like "we will bury you" by leaders who want to justify their positions and convince us of the threat of "the evil empire."
Fortunately there are signs that the pendulum is swinging the other way. Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are examples of the organizations founded in this century to defend human rights.
One of the most dramatic forerunners to this movement was the abolition of slavery in the last century. Today, the impact of this change tends to be taken for granted. While class oppression and exploitation are still very much alive, a major shift in consciousness was seeded when it was determined to be illegal to own another human being.
First brought to public notice with suffrage, the women's rights movement has grown steadily in this century. While one dictionary defines feminism as a "doctrine advocating social and political rights of women equal to those of men," this definition falls short for a growing number of feminists who do not want an equal share in the existing system, but a completely different system. They see the women's movement as "...not merely about equality within a patriarchal society (a contradiction in terms). It is about power and redefining power." Within patriarchy, power is generally understood as power over people, the environment, and things. In the rising consciousness of these women, power is experienced as "power of presence to ourselves and to each other, as we affirm our own being against and beyond the alienated identity bestowed upon us within the patriarchy.
A notable step toward protecting individual rights was the formation of Common Cause by John Gardner in the early seventies. A people's lobby to counter special interest groups' lobbies in Congress, it was instrumental in limiting campaign donations by vested interests. Around this same time Ralph Nader championed the consumer and became a household name.
In this century we have seen the emergence of several national leaders who worked to break down the patriarchal power structure with non-patriarchal tactics. Mahatma Gandhi freed India with his powerful model of non-violent action for change. Following Gandhi's example, Martin Luther King, Jr, helped win black rights with non-violent tactics. Many organizations now follow Gandhi's inspiration, visible especially in the growing commitment to resolving differences through conflict resolution rather than violence.
Another hopeful sign is the survival for over forty years of the United Nations. It has provided a place for nations to talk rather than inflict their beliefs on others by making war. Robert Muller (New Genesis--Shaping a Global Spirituality), former UN Assistant Secretary General (for forty years!), claims there is a much higher degree of consciousness among many international leaders than our media report.
Despite its Spanish authoritatian-oriented heritage, the country of Costa Rica, where the authors lived for the better part of four years, abolished its army in 1948 and declared perpetual unarmed neutrality in 1983 (against US pressure not to do so). It continues to break down authoritarian patterns by peaceful example. One of its recent past presidents, Rodrigo Carazo, donated the land and facility that has become the UN University for Peace. In 1985, Robert Muller (see above) retired from UN service to accept the leadership of this fledgling organization in Costa Rica. Oscar Arias, President of Costa Rica in 1987, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his initiation of a regional peace plan involving all the countries of Central America.
More hopeful signs appear as the black and white distinctions of patriarchy begin to soften at least a little around the edges:
A warming of relations between the US and the Chinese, unimaginable a decade before it happened, is now fact. A result of the mutual opening is the integration of elements of capitalism into their communal farm system, which provides an incentive to increase production. At the same time we have become interested in learning about acupuncture and other areas of Chinese knowledge.
USSR Secretary Gorbachev, facing the inefficiency of an aging bureaucracy and the impoverishment of diverting so many resources into weaponry has, at this writing, made major overtures towards the US in the name of world peace.
A rapidly growing number of grassroots, non-partisan efforts working toward human rights and world peace are springing up in all parts of the globe.
Frances Moore Lappé (Diet for a Small Planet) began challenging the myths of hunger in the mid-seventies and helped people realize that hunger persists because of the self-interested politics of those in power, which ensure poor allocation of resources.
Charlene Spretnek, Politics of Women's Spirituality.
The Hunger Project, originated in 1977, has enrolled over six million people committed to changing our beliefs about world hunger. The Hunger Project has done a great deal to remove the myth that there is not enough food on the planet and that people will multiply faster if fed. Although widely misunderstood by people who were upset that money was being spent to change beliefs rather than to buy food for the needy, The Hunger Project's stand that hunger can be ended by the year two thousand has increased public interest and has motivated many people to take action. Events such as Live Aid and Hands Across America would have been unthinkable prior to the changes in consciousness promoted by the Hunger Project.
In 1988, Diana Glasgow of the Earthsteward's Network (see below) organized groups of disabled US Vietnam veterans to go to the Soviet Union to meet with returnees from the Afghan war. Bridges to peace were forged among former enemies as the two groups shared their experiences in dealing with the long term sequelae of being wounded in unpopular wars.
Beyond War, an organization that differed significantly from most earlier organizations devoted to peace, does so by helping people realize that peace begins with each individual. It is founded on three principles: 1) One person can make a difference; 2) War is obsolete; 3) We are all one. By not taking partisan stands, Beyond War has enlisted thousands of business and professional people, regardless of political persuasion. Each year it presents an award to the organization or group it believes has contributed the most toward world peace. Using satellites, Beyond War linked up Moscow and San Francisco to present the 1984 award to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. In 1985, it linked five continents with fifteen satellites to present the award to the Six-Nation Peace Initiative (Delhi Declaration): Sweden, India, Mexico, Argentina, Tanzania, and Greece.
Participants in these Space Bridges have been moved by the powerful effect of being linked, both visually and verbally, with people on the other side of the planet.
American Peace Test, an offshoot of the Nuclear Freeze organization, regularly held "actions" at the Nevada US Nuclear Test Site, and elsewhere, to raise citizen awareness that nuclear weapons are being exploded underground in this country approximately every three weeks. In addition to the escape of radioactive gasses into the atmosphere (increasing the already high levels of radioactivity in the area), these tests open the way for the development of first strike weapons, which the US military seems all too eager to incorporate.
Many other actions are regularly scheduled around the US by a growing network dedicated to returning socio-political power to "the people." In encounters with these people, authorities are confused by the fact there are no definable leaders they can single out and arrest to demoralize the groups. An exciting aspect of these groups is the development of the consensus-decision making process that is intrinsic to a real sharing of power.
The Earthsteward's Network is one of many organizations sponsoring citizen diplomacy trips between the USA and the USSR, linking individuals in both countries.
The sixties saw the dramatic emergence of people interested in creating supportive environments with the ideals of making a better world for themselves and others. Many of these communities offered environments where people strived to live cooperatively with each other and with the earth. While the hippie movement appears to have died out, many of the values it introduced--cooperative living, shared resources, and, perhaps most important of all, the development of models enhancing power-from-within and power-with rather than power-over as a mode of living together--have made a considerable impact on our socio-political structure.
For example, Neighborhood Watch programs, food co-ops, and co-housing projects indicate a steady move toward re-creating the sense of community/small town feeling destroyed by the mass movement of people into cities.
Here we see many signs of the dismantling of the rigid socio-political structure that has dominated the past thousands of years. Here we see people, from national leaders to just "ordinary people," taking action to create a world beyond war, a world beyond patriarchy.