Monday, December 5, 2016

An Educational Alternative to Rivalry

The thinking that will usher in a "world beyond war" must include entirely new approaches to education: a re-thinking of how human society experiences "enough."

Several weeks ago, in one in an ongoing series of posts about "world beyond war thinking," I talked about the need for a overhauling education to become relevant to a time when war is over:

In a world beyond war, it will no longer make sense to spend a lot of time becoming knowledgeable about war.

I went on to talk about a different type of knowledge -- how to "resolve conflict in the absence of war -- particularly [how to provide] value in the form of outcomes that give maximum possible satisfaction to all the parties to a given conflict."

I continue to think that's a good description of what's needed. But/and I believe we need to go even deeper . . . .

What "education" looks like

I started by thinking about how history is taught in our schools. I started down the path of examining the state-mandated history curriculum in California, and to see what peace studies scholars have found about the weighting of curricula.

My mental image of myself, c. 1976
(Green Bay Packer Jerry Kramer leading power sweep.)
At the same time, I struggled to step further back, to ask what paradigms currently shape our education, and what we need to do to embrace a new paradigm.

(As someone who devoted year after year to playing football in high school, I am acutely aware that history class is not the only place we educate young people about social values.)

I thought of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and the idea that if your model of life is banking, you view education as a process of shoveling "wealth" into the heads of students.

I reflected on the writing of (recently deceased) futurist Alvin Toffler, which suggested that once we no longer live in a factory-centered society, we'll need to have schools that look a lot less like factory preparatory schools.

I began to wonder if we don't need to root out an enormous amount of bias in our education system based on the idea that there's not enough to go around, and eventually it's going to come down to a fight . . . .

"Non-rivalrous" goods

I have been intrigued by a concept in economics -- one that I learned about through the study of intellectual property. As the goods and services provide each other come to consist less and less of solid "things" (think: "potatoes") and more and more of "ideas" (think: "a song"), the social consequences of consumption change dramatically. We start to notice that our existence is tending away from competition for scarce resources, and toward abundance.

In economics, this latter category of goods is referred to as "non-rivalrous" -- essentially meaning that my consumption doesn't leave less for you.

And once you wrap your head around the idea of formal rivalry, you begin to notice the much wider scope of practical rivalry. (Example: is the shortage of iPhones or tickets to Hamilton real or constructed? Example: you know how they say that there's really not a shortage of food in the world, but rather a failure to distribute it . . . ?)

"Struck it rich!"
(Prospectors in the Black Hills)
in Harper's Weekly
"A Journal of Civilization"
August 12, 1876
The story of the loaves and fishes and the feeding of the multitude in the New Testament comes to mind. One way of talking about that story is as "a miracle." Another way to think of it is that the desire to share outweighed hunger in a way that eclipsed rivalry. (Perhaps both descriptions are right.)

Another story: the conflict at Standing Rock has led me to go back and study some Native American history. I learned that one phase of the conflict during the 1800s followed the discovery of gold in the Black Hills. The Black Hills were and are sacred to the native people. It made perfect sense to them that something tremendously valuable lay buried in those mountains. The question to them, however, was, "Why wouldn't we all just leave it there, all the more confirmed in our knowledge of the great spiritual potency of those lands?" (Black Hills, including gold therein: non-rivalrous. Mined gold: rivalrous.)

"Leave it in the ground?" Just a short time ago -- in the days when the world was afraid it would run out of oil -- those words made no sense. The rapid realization that the climate crisis will require us to change our energy systems, and in fact our entire approach to consumption and to growth, has also opened the possibility of taking a hard look at our bias for rivalry.

These are just a few initial thoughts. There is room for a greatly expanded exploration of the degree of rivalry in our economics is required, with strong emphasis on the way in which our pre-existing bias for rivalry has conditioned our economic outcomes.

TR and James

Theodore Roosevelt in Africa
(Source: Almanac of Theodore Roosevelt)
I recently read The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898. What I was most struck by was the degree to which people like Theodore Roosevelt were conditioned to believe that conflict was just a necessary component of a healthy mental, emotional, and physical makeup for the individual -- and that the same applied to society overall. War against Spain wasn't directed at any desired outcome; it was just "the thing to do."

The philosopher William James thought about all that he saw and heard during the US rush to war with Spain, and struggled to articulate a different path for the country. In "The Moral Equivalent of War" (1910) he conceded that perhaps people couldn't resist throwing themselves into a "noble" and challenging endeavor; but, he suggested, we could use reason to identify constructive endeavors that benefit all of us.

"The Moral Equivalent of War" is an important document for all of us who are trying to think about a world beyond war.  For one thing, it is sobering to observe how even a great thinker like James could be so enmeshed in the rivalry, competition, conquest, and war thinking of his time that he had trouble stepping outside it. It is also worth noticing that a hundred years ago someone was calling on the peace movement to take ownership of the limitations it imposed on itself through rhetoric and style. Most important, James illustrates the power of offering a fresh choice.

All of this leads me to posit that our challenge as "world beyond war thinkers" will be to work together to come up with mass education that looks entirely new: an "educational alternative to rivalry."

Related posts

There is a growing movement of people focused on the "world beyond war." To many of these people, the question is not "if" but "when?" They share a conviction that the world will get there, and they see that it makes a difference how quickly (and in what manner) the world gets there.

(See WAR: Headed for the junkheap, yes . . . but how quickly?)

Adopting a "world beyond war" frame -- saying "war is going away; the question for me is how fast" -- implies optimism-realism, outcome orientation, and humility.

(See The Mind of the "World Beyond War" Activist)

It seems very hard to imagine having arrived at the world beyond war without the hand-in-hand changes in education, infrastructure investment, and the way society decides on communal action in the face of conflict.

(See Where to Put Effort for a World Beyond War)