Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Propensity for Violence is Not Our Biological Fate

To truly be activists, advocates, and peacemakers—to create a just and sustainable and peaceful world— we must learn to question our assumptions and challenge what we are told when it becomes clear that the truth is not immediately evident.

I have been told throughout my life, by the news and in various aspects of my education, that humans are inherently violent.  The people who have assured me that war is simply the natural way of things have broken the news to me in a multitude of ways-- by scoffing at my naivete, or unleashing a barrage of historical and scientific “evidence,” or by simply sighing about the inevitability of violent conflict as if it is something entirely commonplace.  Those who maintain that humans are inherently violent cite three primary reasons for this belief: that we have inherited a tendency towards violence from our animal ancestors, that war and violent or destructive behavior is programmed into our genes, and that war is instinctual or caused by some innate human drive towards violent behavior.  When I put the pieces together, these claims are easily discredited. 

In terms of ancestry, our primate ancestors were not violent.  Unless the term “violence” includes killing to eat, predatory feeding on other species is not an example of the roots of human aggression. Any aggression that does exist comes about only as a result of the species’ environment being altered by outside influences. In addition, no animal has ever been found to craft tools to be used as weapons of organized violence against another animal.  Violence is not something that we have inherited-- it is a product of culture, as evidenced by its evolution over time.  

The claim that violence is in our genes can be thrown out with the simple matter of lack of any scientific evidence.  As UNESCO’s Seville Statement on Violence so eloquently puts it, “While genes are co-involved in establishing our behavioral capacities, they do not themselves specify the outcome.”  Think about it this way: just because cultures have been known to make pottery, that does not mean that that there is a specific pottery-making gene.  The same can be said for waging war.

The third claim is particularly ludicrous. We cannot presume that war is caused by some innate human instinct for violence.  War is engineered using a strict institution of manipulation created on the basis that humans can be trained to be violent.  Violence is the consequence, not the cause of, military training.  Although humans are able to act violently, this capability for violent behavior is shaped by how we have been socialized and conditioned and is in almost all cases able to be filtered before it is acted upon.  Indeed, if violence was a human instinct, aggression and war would be universal.  This is not the case-- throughout the world and historically there exist myriad peaceful societies in which violence is believed to be an unnatural phenomenon.

With all of this being said, we can conclude without hesitation that a propensity for violence is not our biological fate. When we view it as such it tends to become a highly destructive self-fulfilling prophesy.  Instead, we must go forth into our uncertain future with the strong belief that we who created war can also create peace.  We must live what we believe-- a just, sustainable, and peaceful world will be born out of constant questioning of our outmoded ways of thinking.


Alfie Kohn, Human Nature Isn't Inherently Violent, Detroit Free Press, 1988

Louisa (Lulu) Dewey is an incoming undergraduate student at UC Berkeley and an intern at NAPF.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Quaker Perspective on the Possibility of U.S. Strikes in Syria

Every Sunday I gather together with a group of children to discuss the Quaker testimonies-- simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality, and stewardship. These testimonies arise out of a deep, inner conviction and often challenge our usual ways of living. In our First Day School classroom we search for the ways in which the testimonies can become true for ourselves. 

The Sunday following President Barack Obama’s announcement to seek congressional approval for a strike on Syria, I brought the children into the main meeting just as somebody had risen to speak about the current situation. It struck me that as a Quaker, living these testimonies often becomes political. When one of the children asked me about Syria after meeting, I told her that there had been an extreme civil conflict going for more than two years and that many people were losing their homes and being killed. She asked me, “Why would America choose to destroy even more instead of trying to help?”

This simple question is one that our government is failing to ask themselves. The brutal chemical attack that took place in Syria should be unequivocally condemned for the same reason that we need to condemn the use of military strikes. These strikes would merely serve to continue the indiscriminate killing of civilians in addition to becoming yet another violation of international humanitarian law. A military response would only perpetuate further hatred and division in Syria.

It is essential for all who align themselves with a commitment to peace and justice, Quakers and non-Quakers alike, to be true to our principals as we strive to seek a non-violent resolution to the conflict in Syria. In this way I see the Quaker peace testimony inherently supporting a political settlement rather than an increase in military violence. A non-violent solution that fosters local diplomatic efforts will not be easy by any means but outside forces cannot be permitted to impose their own agendas. The path to long-term reconciliation lies in international humanitarian support for a nonviolent effort led by Syrians themselves to achieve freedom, equality, and peaceful co-existence.

This concept could easily be dismissed as overly-idealistic but I propose it out of the same deep, inner conviction that living the Quaker peace testimony in my daily life brings out in me. The children who sit with me on Sundays, seeking the answers to the myriad complications of our world, have wisdom far beyond their years. For them, the idea of U.S. military intervention to provide help for rebel forces in Syria is entirely nonsensical. It draws a blank stare. Why would we choose to destroy even more?

Louisa (Lulu) Dewey is an incoming undergraduate student at UC Berkeley and an intern at NAPF.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Must Be Unconditional

On August 20, 2013 the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, issued the CELAC Declaration on Nuclear Disarmament.  This declaration will be distributed as an official document at the September 26 High-Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament and covers numerous aspects of nuclear disarmament.  Among the most notable aspects of the CELAC Declaration is its treatment of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

In three simple resolutions within the declaration, CELAC expressed their steadfast rejection of the enhancement of existing nuclear weapons and the development of new types of nuclear weapons and called on all states to cease nuclear weapon testing, nuclear explosions, and relevant non-explosive experiments for the purpose of nuclear weapons development.  They also reiterated demands for a true comprehensive nuclear test ban.  Alternative methods of nuclear testing were described as “contrary to the object and purpose of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), its spirit, if not the letter, undermining its desired impact as a nuclear disarmament measure.”

One particular phrase within the CELAC Declaration stuck out to me: that failure to properly adhere to the CTBT is “inconsistent with the obligation of complete nuclear disarmament.”  Worldwide treatment of the CTBT continues to undermine its intended role as a measure towards complete disarmament.  As of 2013, China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States have signed but not ratified the Treaty. India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed it.  A variety of nuclear tests and a huge range of nuclear development continue to plague our world, compromising even further the fragile line that we tread between calm and calamity.

The CTBT around the world
As a country with one of the largest stockpiles and continuing nuclear weapons programs in the world, the United States’s treatment of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is particularly deplorable.  We have signed but not ratified this document on the grounds that we wish to continue experimenting with our stockpile in the name of “safety and reliability.”  

A recently updated page regarding the CTBT found on the U.S. Department of State website states that the primary rationale behind any possible ratification of the treaty by the United States is that “the CTBT will hinder states that do not have nuclear weapons expertise and experience from advancing their nuclear weapons capabilities, while not affecting the ability of the United States to maintain its own nuclear deterrent force.”  As a young person who has only recently realized how much power the United States holds in terms of worldwide disarmament, I cannot help but feel despair at the U.S. failure to ratify and adhere to the CTBT.  Even the continuing and maintenance and updates to our current nuclear stockpile are unnecessary and only serve to perpetuate the myth of nuclear deterrence.

This, as described by CELAC, is precisely the sort of backwards thinking that is leading us away from full nuclear disarmament.  The purpose of the CTBT is by no means to make it possible for a nuclear deterrent to be maintained and the U.S. delay in ratifying the treaty should not come at the cost of the safety of billions of innocent people.  The United States has made it clear that in order for the treaty to be ratified, certain conditions must be met.  Only then, it seems, will the U.S. be willing to move towards cooperating with the treaty.  These conditions exist in complete disagreement of the very nature of the CTBT: stockpile security, subcritical and laser testing, and further development of nuclear technology go against all that the CTBT intends to bring about.

The CELAC Declaration is definitely a step in the right direction towards revealing the discrepancies in CTBT adherence.  It is my hope that this declaration’s thought-provoking presence as an official document at the upcoming UN General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament could hold the key to further negotiations on not only the test-ban but on the eradication of nuclear weapons as a whole.  In the meantime, the struggle for nuclear disarmament will continue at all levels.

Louisa (Lulu) Dewey is an incoming undergraduate student at UC Berkeley and an intern at NAPF.


CELAC Declaration on Nuclear Disarmament, Buenos Aires, Argentina, August 20, 2013

Monday, August 26, 2013

Moral Obscenities

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a statement earlier today about the apparent chemical weapons attack that took place last week in Syria. I agree with him 100% that an attack with chemical weapons against innocent men, women and children is a "moral obscenity." In fact, I would go much further than Mr. Kerry to say that any attack (regardless of the weapon used) against innocent men, women and children is a moral obscenity.

However, in calling chemical weapons "the world's most heinous weapons," I must unfortunately disagree.

There is no doubt that chemical weapons are heinous, should not exist and must never be used again. There is no doubt that - whatever weapons were used on August 21 in Ghouta - the attack was cowardly, shocking and horribly killed hundreds or even thousands of people. But chemical weapons are not the world's most heinous weapons. That dubious distinction belongs to a class of weapons in the arsenal of the United States itself, along with eight other countries around the world: nuclear weapons.
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