Paradigm Shift and a Future of Peace

June 6, 2011

by Judith Hand

(excerpt: from a paper “Shaping the Future: a proposal to hasten a global paradigm shift for the security and well being of all children everywhere” – 2011 in preparation)

Our Dilemma

Earthrise - Apollo 8 - NASA

On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts beamed a message to earth, including the photo, Earthrise. This image of our tiny blue-and-white globe against the vast darkness of space is a powerful envisionment of something critical about our human journey; we evolved in a tiny corner of one continent, in Africa, we spread throughout a planet originally empty of humans, and now, in the words of ecological economist Herman Daly (1999), our globe is full. We have been fruitful and multiplied so that our kind occupies every niche capable of sustaining a human community.

On our lovely blue-and-white, full world, many people—thoughtful futurists or just plain folks—sense that ways of living that worked during our long journey out of Africa…well, those habits aren’t working so well any more.

Perhaps you look into the years ahead with dread, aware of monumental, self-inflicted problems that might even threatening our existence.

Nagasaki Cloud

Abject poverty that triggers revolution and wars, the cruelty of the slave and sex trades, the waste of lives to drug addictions, violence in our homes and communities, the unsustainable consumption of life-sustaining resources. Then there are the potential horrors of newfangled weapons of mass destruction, a global pandemic, or global economic collapse triggered by vicissitudes attendant upon global climate change. Can we adapt? Can we change?

Our political, cultural, and ecological world is shifting with such speed that we can scarcely catch our breath, and the shifting can’t be stopped (e.g., Fukuyama 1999; Hawken 2007; Korten 2006; Toffler 1970, 1980).

And our dilemma? We have nowhere to flee. There ARE no unoccupied lands with fresh resources and no other human competitors. Pioneering a new frontier has always been part of our survival strategy. As long as parts of our world remained empty of humans, we could move to where as yet unexploited resources of food, water, and shelter were available. Or where we could escape from other humans with whom we had conflicts if we wanted to avoid a killing war with them.

No more. The elimination of this option has enormous consequences for our survival. Elsewhere I argued that, within limits and without being able to control all unknowns and unpredictables, we can indeed significantly shape our destiny (Hand 2010; link to web page).

The Shift Movie

We are a supremely adaptive species—without peers in adaptability—and our survival instinct has been aroused. In some quarters, it is in over-drive. Many organizations and individuals are broadcasting alarms and searching for change that will save us from ourselves. A positive Global Paradigm Shift Campaign is possible. But only if our underlying worldview about how to live together and deal with conflicts changes.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as continuing to do the same thing while expecting a different outcome. Current modes of thinking and behaving have created looming problems too big for minor or even major tinkering.

The roots of our ills—political, social, cultural, and ecological—run deep within our dominant cultures. To achieve a major breakthrough a thoroughgoing cultural uprooting is required, and something new, something more adaptive for our altered situation, needs to be put in place.

The good news is that those most keenly aware of our current dangers are calling for is a shift in a fundamental working paradigm. But which paradigm?

The Trouble with Paradigms

The online free dictionary offers this definition:

Paradigm: A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline…. Applications of the term in other contexts show that it can sometimes be used more loosely to mean “the prevailing view of things.”

Because essentially all members of a group, organization, or culture embrace a paradigm, it shapes the values and decisions of virtually all members without question or thought by them. Worldview is a term close in meaning to paradigm, except possibly larger in scope.

And the trouble with paradigms is that they can be dead wrong. Here are examples of paradigms widely embraced at some time, some true and some not: 1) the world is flat, 2) people with dark skin are inferior to people with light skin, 3) the earth is the center of the universe, 4) women are not quite fully developed humans, 5) angry spirits cause diseases, 5) germs cause diseases, 6) all matter is made of atoms, 7) humans will always make war.

Note that wrong paradigms may wear out their usefulness and come to be seen as false. We aren’t eternally shackled to them. In fact, progress has often been made by challenging and then rejecting old paradigms

Shifting the Current Paradigm from What to What

To purposefully make an adaptive shift in our behavior, we require a clear understanding of the current dysfunctional (maladaptive) paradigm. A campaign that doesn’t have a precise idea of the root problem to be challenged isn’t likely to enjoy success. So, to shape a positive global paradigm shift that would free us from war, we need to answer two questions:

What exactly is the current dysfunctional paradigm that we want to shift?
What is the paradigm we want in to put in its place?

Strategic thinking can then address two related questions. First, if there is a particularly egregious “evil” produced by the maladaptive paradigm, what is it? The logic is that by tackling the most egregious evil, or a particularly outstanding evil, we direct effort at the heart of the problem. While other goals may be worthy, we will squander time and resources and risk backsliding if we don’t resolve the core problem.

And second, if we can agree on some particularly egregious evil, what is the “good thing” we could do that would most directly eliminate it? This “good thing” will be a cause around which millions will rally.

What Paradigm Needs Shifting and What is the Most Egregious Evil Product of the Current, Maladaptive Paradigm?

The project A Future Without War.org (AFWW-Hand 2005) is about creating a massive paradigm shift; obviously, to create a future without war, something huge in our worldview would have to change. War is defined as groups taking up weapons to indiscriminately kill individuals in other groups.

Pollaiuolo - Men in Battle

For AFWW, murder isn’t war. Revenge killings by individuals for perceived wrongs by other individuals also isn’t war. Addressing murder and revenge killings isn’t the goal of AFWW. The goal is to dismantle all components of the war machine—that is, to make obsolete the production and use of weapons of war, the worldview that promotes war, and ultimately war itself.

In the case of war, the maladaptive paradigm that needs to be shifted is:

Domination of others using force and violence is inevitable and hence to be endured/accommodated/worked around.

In cultures this worldview permeates, belief in the inevitability of domination of others by force and violence, including war, underlies all aspects of law and common practice—even child-rearing. In some cultures, war is justified as occasionally being necessary, even righteous. In spite of the stupendous waste of material resources and the destruction of communities and lives that war entails, we stumble forward in the embrace of what is arguably a form of social insanity.

U.S. Budget Discretionary Spending

The belief in this inevitability underlies decisions by governments deciding budgets (budget for Defense Dept is at top in red – budget for State Departmnet is the green sliver at bottom left). And because it is assumed by all of the world’s current dominant cultures, it is the single biggest barrier to ending wars. If even one of the world’s current dominant cultures operates from this assumption, it becomes a barrier to stopping the destruction since all other cultures must then defend against the aggression paradigm.

War is arguably the most egregious evil produced by this currently maladaptive paradigm, and the goal of preventing, and even ultimately eliminating, war can provide the broadest possible umbrella for unifying legions striving to be part of a positive Great Shift, but which lack coordination. Many evils challenge us, from poverty to pollution, slavery to racism. But of them all, only war kills outright and immediately. It is the finality of death for large numbers of us along with the awesome waste and destruction of resources that qualifies war as arguably our most egregious evil.

You Must Believe to Achieve

Furthermore, it is a truth of our nature that if we believe something is impossible, it is impossible. Such belief creates a psychological barrier to envisioning and working for some other possibility. Belief in the inevitability of violence and war will absolutely shape the culture a society creates, and that culture will inevitably include violence and wars. To generate a truly epic, historical, positive paradigm shift, something as big as the Agricultural, Industrial, or Digital Revolutions, we need to stop believing that war is inescapable (Hand 2005a, 2010; link to web page).

Answer to Key Question Number Two – What Adaptive Paradigm Needs to Replace the Old One?

Nonviolent cultures (Fry 2006, 2007; Peaceful Societies.org) typically share traits emerging from a paradigm that can be stated roughly as follows:

Use of force and violence on others is anathema, intolerable under any conditions.

Could we bend the arc of history toward nonviolence? The longing to do so is expressed in one form or another in all major philosophies. In some nonviolent cultures, people’s response to violent acts perpetrated on them is to flee or move away, never to fight (Fry 2006, 2007). In some, this underlying nonviolent worldview is so deeply embedded in their ethos that the very idea of using physical violence on another is literally unthinkable (Peaceful Societies.org). Violence is essentially never observed by children or adults. The point is that war is not biologically innate or socially inevitable, it is a creature of the kind of culture we create and in which we raise our children (Hand, 2009). Biologically speaking then, could we bend the arc of history away from war? Emphatically, yes. Change the culture appropriately, and you can end the violence of war.

The answer to question number 4, “What is the “good thing” we could do,” becomes: Mount a Campaign to Dismantle the War Machine: Remove the Root Causes of Wars and Render War Obsolete.

The simple but profound beauty of mounting a campaign to take on the collective insanity of war is that it will give synergistic power to many urgently needed Great Change efforts, far beyond the arena of war. It would encompass causes from ending poverty to creating sustainable communities, fostering democracy to empowering women, teaching peace to devising economies that foster ecologically sustainable work, and much more.

All of these are key good works necessary to ultimately dismantling the war machine. Living under the sway of a paradigm of domination, including domination by force, we have created cultures in which struggles for wealth and power are more important than care for family and community. If we are to create safe and healthy communities, for all children everywhere, this needs to change.

This leads to a fifth key question, which deals with operation: Is there a mechanism that will allow vast numbers of people to unite and take action with great effectiveness in order to achieve the shared goal and while in the process of achieving that goal, also hasten the paradigm shift we desire?

Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams

Fortunately, the answer is yes. The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jody Williams and those working with her created an operating concept for the International Committee to Ban Land Mines that, with modifications, can provide the necessary uniting mechanism (Williams et al., 2008).

Working to inspire the assembly of the kind of organizing hub pioneered by the ICBL—a concept with the power to unite millions in a concerted effort to use not only good works of spreading the art of living in peace but also using nonviolent direct action to hamper and ultimately dismantle and war machine—this will be the focus of AFWW into the foreseeable future.

Daly, H. 2005. Economics in a full world. Scientific American 293 100-107.
Fukuyama, F. 1999. The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order. NY: Simon & Schuster.
Fry, D. 2006. The Human Potential for Peace: an Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions about War and Violence. New York: Oxford University Press.
——— 2007. Beyond War: the Human Potential for Peace. NY: Oxford University Press.
Hand, J. 2005a. A Future Without War.org. Available as the entire website:  (accessed August 2010).
——— 2009. World Peace Map – Nonviolent Cultures. Available at http://wp.me/p45hl-5b (accessed 13 March 2011).
——— 2010. To Abolish War. Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research 2:44-56.  Link to web page.
Hawken, P. 2007. Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. NY: Viking.
Korten, D. C. 2006. The Great Turning: from Empire to Earth Community. San Francisco, CA: Barrett-Koehler.
Peaceful Societies: Alternatives to Violence and War. Available as the entire website: http://www.peacefulsocieties.org (accessed 30 January 2011).
Toffler A. 1970. Future Shock. NY: Random House.
——— 1980. The Third Wave. NY: Bantam Books.
Williams, J., S. Goose, and M. Wareham. 2008. Banning Landmines: Disarmament, Citizen Diplomacy, and Human Security. Lanham, Md.: Bowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

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