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The Shared Characteristics of Peace Systems.

August 21, 2018

by Judith Hand, Ph.D.

Something that has changed very recently is that scholars have developed an understanding of what have been called “peace systems.” In a May 2012 issue of Science, Doug Fry, in a paper entitled, “Life Without War,” presented research looking for shared characteristics of groups who consciously created an alliance designed to prevent wars between them. They created “active peace systems.” He wanted to know if these have features in common that maintain peace. It’s important to note that some of these groups make war with communities that aren’t part of their alliance, but that within the peace system, peace holds. Also, from a number of peace systems, he picked three with very different cultures for detailed comparison.

Looking for commonalities among very different cultures allows us to ferret out features that are key to success of any peace system. The three alliances he focused on were4Maps.001

  • 10 tribes of the Upper Xingu River Basin in Brazil,
  • the Iroquois Confederacy in what is now the United States, and
  • the European Union.

Although he didn’t include it, he could have added the United States, because as you’ll see when we go through the shared traits, they also apply to the US. It is a confederation of states that do not use violence to resolve differences…they abide by the “rule of law.”

Six general kinds of factors are associated with all of these peace alliances. These factors are not so much responsible for MAKING the peace, but for ensuring that it endures.

Longhouse.001First, they develop ways to tackle xenophobia by creating an overarching sense of shared identity: it is essential to tackle the “us-versus-them” mentality, because us-versus-them inevitably fosters conflicts. They devised means to “expand the us.” For example, the Iroquois tribes pictured their union as a shared longhouse…the symbolism of being one family. The United States has a flag with stars on it, one star representing each state, and they take great care to maintain respect for the flag as a symbol of their committment to each other.

EUSymbols.001Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, and other influential European men believed there could be a kind of United States of Europe that could end vicious and destructive cycles of war, and they acted on that belief. The European Union fosters shared identity with EU passports, automobile license plates, currency, an EU parliament and EU flag, etc. This peace system has worked for 70 years. The stresses they are now suffering, from things like the finances of Greece or influx of Syrian and other refugees, is a serious test of their union…will it disintegrate or strengthen? Only time will tell. The British recently held a referendum in which they voted to leave a union that has worked to keep peace between these nations.

A second key to keeping the peace is the existence of interdependence among subgroups. People from the different groups need to depend on each other. Doug Fry reported a fascinating case in which two tribes lived in very similar environments and had similar resources. Their lives were sufficiently simple that each tribe was perfectly able to make anything they needed. Both, however, made a distinctive, and highly prized, type of pottery. They recognized that a practice that tied them together and prevented fighting was exchanging goods at big meetings, including exchanges especially of the pottery. So they purposely refrained from making the distinctive pottery of the other group because they realized the importance of interdependence. Note that conscious choices and decisions are being made by all these people as they forge their alliance.

The United States allows its states to have their own laws covering many social functions–e.g., education and schools, their elections. But interstate commerce is encouraged by creating laws that are the same in all of the states so that commerce can flow freely.

The European Union founders decided to build economic and political interdependence by incrementally integrating their national economies. The first step, in the 1950’s, was placing coal and steel—critical resources—under supranational control. That initiated an agenda of cooperation and unification they’re still working on. The British exit, if it does occcur, will have potentially alarming implications for splintering of the entire union.

A third feature essential to maintaining peace is establishment of intergroup social ties. One of the most prevalent is intermarriage. Among non-warring nomadic foragers, both men and women frequently marry outside their small band, so that everybody has kin and trade partners and friends in other groups. Bonds of kinship and friendship discourage violence between groups. The practice of intermarriage was true for the Iroquois and the 10 river tribes. In some peace systems, ceremonial marriage unions or ceremonial adoptions between groups are performed to decrease chances that conflicts will result in war.

In the United States, which is a melting pot of many races and religions, serious court battles were fought to allow marriage between persons of different races. Allowing, even encouraging by giving social acceptance, to marriage between the races makes for cohestion of the people while forbidding it would facilitate splintering.

Fourth, they create shared symbols and ceremonies. These reinforce unity, and serve as a reminder of their commitment to peace. All the 10 tribes of the Xingu peace system, for example, participate in mourning deaths of chiefs and inaugurating new ones. Fry provides a quote: “We don’t make war; we have festivals for the chiefs to which all of the villages come. We sing, dance, trade and wrestle.”

LongHouseTreeofPeace.001The “long-house” drawing symbolically represented the Iroquois Confederacy as one family. They also created a “Tree of Peace” symbol, first as a reminder of unity. The roots also symbolized their vision and hope that the peace should spread beyond the confederacy. The eagle on the tree top symbolized that they must remain vigilant to any threats to the peace; their wise and foresightful founders believed, probably rightly, that if a society takes peace for granted they will eventually lose it.

A fifth characteristic of these systems is that they foster values for peace. Fry points out that some value orientations are more conducive to peace, and that what people express and think is important if peace is to endure stresses over time. And given bitter prior hostilities between groups, they may have to make a conscious effort to foster peace-enhancing values. For example, in the 10 tribes of the Xingu peace system the role of warrior is shunned—they have a shared expression, ‘peace is moral, war is not.’ Furthermore, Fry points out that over time, shared spoken and practiced peace-promoting values become internalized and eventually, self-sustaining: it’s no longer imaginable, for example, that the United States would invade and begin killing people in Canada, or the British in France.

The Iroquois also made the peace value explicit. This is an Iroquois quote: “Thus we bury all the weapons of war out of sight, and establish the ‘Great Peace.’ Hostilities shall not be seen nor heard of any among you, but ‘Peace’ shall be preserved among the Confederated Nations.” Their alliance endured over several hundred years, until ended by the American Revolution.

The EU was founded after the disaster of WWII with the explicit goal of ending the barbarity and destruction of war, and peace related values serve as the EU’s uniting moral compass (democracy, social equality, human rights, respect for the law). This is a EU quote: “Promoting these values, as well as peace and the well-being of the Union’s people are now the main objectives of the Union.” Many aspects of EU behavior reflect this peace commitment to “all of the people’s well-being” (e.g., free health care systems, free university education, accessible child-care, and so on). When there is general well-being in a society there is less social turmoil and a vastly reduced desire to be led into a war. When any part of the population does NOT feel their well-being is fostered—as is increasingly true, for example, for some groups of Muslims in France and Belgium—anger can lead to violence within the country. When economic disparities grow too vast between members of an alliance, e.g., between Germany and Greece, conscious effort must be applied to rectify the situation lest anger leads to violence between the parties to the peace.

Recall that a trait of non-warring hunter-gatherers was an egalitarian social system. All members of the tribe had equal status. They lived with a sense of fairness, that we are all equal. Well, in our current vast, hierarchical, complex societies like the EU we certainly cannot go back to that condition. But the principles of equality and fairness and the need for the people’s well-being to be met are still operational for us emotionally. Developing and maintaining conditions that foster a sense of equality and fairness within countries and between them will be a necessary condition to keep a global peace system from eventually unraveling.

Finally, humans will always have conflicts, including serious ones within and between groups, over religion and economics and their vision of what the future “ought to be” and so on. If a peace system is to hold, it must create some kind of superordinate institutions to resolve conflicts through nonviolent means: negotiation, mediation, and adjudication.

For example, in the United States, conflicts are not resolved by taking up arms against each other. Frequently by going to court. And the final word comes from the Supreme Court. In essence, in complex societies, higher levels of government than just the local ones can be created to decide what is best for the whole. Regulations and laws are created to which everyone agrees to follow. This is what’s called the “social contract.” People voluntarily give up the right to total freedom to do whatever they want whenever they want it in order to live in peace, as opposed to living in some kind of Wild West where the fastest gun or biggest army imposes the will of some on others. The Iroquois Confederacy established a Council of Chiefs of all their nations. Many chiefs could attend, but only one from each nation, could vote. This was their version of a Supreme Court.

IndianWomen.001

Recall that while tribes of the confederation didn’t make war with each other, they might get into wars with tribes that weren’t members of the alliance. Here it’s important and relevant to point out the role of women among the Iroquois. Women were social equals and had powerful voices. For example, although women couldn’t serve on the council, they could nominate, elect, and impeach their male representatives. The women could also decide between life or death for prisoners of war, they could forbid the men of their houses to go to war, and they could intervene to bring about peace. My work on male and female biology indicates that it is critical to recognize and never underplay the important influence of women to maintain a working peace system.

Consider that in 2014, 37% of members of the EU Parliament were women. As of 2016, virtually all countries of the EU had a higher percentage of women in their national governments (e.g., Sweden 43.6%; UK 29.4%) than did, for example, the United States (19.4%) or Russia (13.6%). There is increasing interest in and ongoing research on just how tight the relationship is between empowerment of women in a society and that societies’ rates of all kinds of violence, including war. In non-warring hunter-gatherer societies women had social status equal to men’s, whereas in warring societies they did not.

So, the comparative study of peace systems in widely different cultures is a reason for encouragement that we can end war because we now clearly understand that 1) peace systems exist – and have worked for long periods, and 2) we know what is required to create one and make it sustainable. Given that knowledge, we have a sense that with sufficient will and leadership a global peace treaty could be achieved, and we have some clear ideas about the societal features that would need to be encourage to maintain a peace once achieved.

Ending war would be an enormous task. It would also be one of humanities greatest accomplishmets. A website, A Future Without War, (http://www.afww.org) is dedicated to the proposition that such a paradigm shift lies within human capabilities…we are an enormously adaptive species…and explores the many facets of our societies and behavior that would have to change to succeed. For the future’s children.

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Nothing is stronger, even than armies, than an idea whose time has come.

 

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