Archive for the ‘Good News!’ Category

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Darwin, Gandhi, Obama, and Berkeley University’s Greater Good Science Center all Agree – Humans are Basically Good

December 14, 2009

The fact of human essential goodness is our greatest hope—the foundation we rely on—for ultimately abolishing the despicable habit of war

by Judith Hand

A few years ago I wrote an essay for A Future Without War.org called “Essential Human Goodness.” The subtitle was “Our hope for abolishing war and ushering in the next great shift in human history-the Egalitarian Revolution.” In it I stressed three things:
  • First, Mohandas Gandhi, the master student of social transformation, built his program for nonviolent social transformation on a fundamental belief about us: that humans are essentially good. Actually, I believe Gandhi would have said we are all part of the divine, and he would probably have included our rare sociopaths, which I would not. His technique, called satyagraha, relies on using love and understanding to bring out the best in others, to win them over to a better, less violent way, to empathize with them and in return gain their empathy.
  • Second, to transform warrior, dominator cultures into more egalitarian, just, and less violent ones free from war we’ll have to use nonviolent means. We can’t build a peaceful future using violence, most certainly not the violence of war. And so our ending-war campaign, like Gandhi’s campaign to win India’s independence, will also be built on the foundation that people are at heart empathetic, altruistic, and caring…in short, that they are at heart “good.”
  • And third, the essay stressed then current research available about human nature…whether it is in fact selfish or altruistic, mean or caring.

That essay is still available on the AFWW website.

In the intervening two years, support for this positive view of our nature has begun to pour in. The news is GOOD indeed.

Allomother Sarah Hrdy & Shanika Jayasuriya - Photo by Dr. Anula Jayasuriya

The retired Harvard-trained anthropologist Sarah Hrdy, in her book Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding, makes a totally compelling argument that human beings come by our altruism from our very very deep past. That in fact, pre-human ancestors, probably Homo erectus, were what biologists call “cooperative breeders,” and they were so cooperative because no one individual can raise our extremely helpless and long-dependent young. It takes not only mothers, but OTHERS as well to raise a human child to maturity. And all of that cooperation in raising our young selected for the traits we call empathy and altruism. (see a review on the AFWW website)

 

Frans de Waal

Not long after, out came another book, by anthropologist, Frans de Waal, (director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta). In The Age of Empathy. Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, De Waal approaches this question of our nature from his studies of primates: monkeys and apes.His work was among the very first, if not the first, to point out that even primates such as chimpanzees can empathize with other chimpanzees, and that they in fact have social mechanisms designed to repair relationships between individuals that become damaged because of social conflicts.

While some students of human behavior still argue for the provocative and violence-as-a-way-of-life “man-the-warrior” model of human ancestry, in an essay about the discovery of our very oldest ancestor known so far, Ardipithecus ramidus, I propose a “humans-as-cooperators” model. As noted by the specialists who did the arduous work of reconstructing what we know about Ardi, Ardipithecus ramidus has physical traits, especially their un-chimp-like teeth, that suggest they were socially very different from violence-prone chimpanzees. The males of Ardi’s kind were more likely to have been cooperators in the hunt for food to provision females and developing young and quite incapable of using their teeth to kill others in battles, as chimps do.

Douglas Fry

Another anthropologist who in the past few years is challenging the notion that we’re incurably violent and warlike and our ancestors always have been is Douglas Fry. His first book on this subject, The Human Potential for Peace: An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions about War and Violence, strongly influenced my thinking, and the AFWW website provides a review of his second book, Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace. Fry takes a critical look at artifacts that have been used to suggest that war goes into our deep past. He also presents careful analysis of nonviolent cultures studied by anthropologists, some of them entirely without war, to see how they resolve their conflicts.

Datcher Keltner - photo by Wendy Edelstein

Now on 8 December 2009 on the PhysOrg.com website comes a posting describing the work of researchers at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits. They call it “survival of the kindest.”

The door to a very different way of looking at what kind of creature we are is now open and new views are flooding in.

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin firmly believed that competition was a critical component of natural selection, but it was his followers who invented the phrase “Nature red in tooth and claw” and applied it to our species. Darwin himself was convinced that our defining traits were cooperation and sympathy.

Which brings us to the current President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. He, too, believes we are essentially good, each of us possessing an innate morality. I quote from his speech:

“The nonviolence practiced by men like Gandhi and [Martin Luther] King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached—their fundamental faith in human progress—that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey. For if we lose that faith—if we dismiss it as silly or naïve, if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace—then we lose what’s best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.”

Barack Obama

Will Obama live up to his promise? Will he fully earn that Nobel Peace Prize? The entire world waits expectantly to see, and many pray that history has delivered to us the right man for our troubled time.

While the daily news seems dire, and many of us suffer from a sense of hopelessness and now and then feel that maybe we’re just too stupid and violent and selfish to survive….it seems that may not be at all true of us. We may simply have got stuck for a time, out of ignorance of how to prevent it, in the destructive habit of war. With better understanding of our nature and of the causes of war, (www.afww.org), perhaps we can break the habit. For humanity, greater and better days may actually BE our destiny.

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The “View” comes to the Arab World

August 10, 2007

“Dishing Democracy” is a documentary on the women of the Dubai-based Arab satellite network MBC show called “Kalam Nawaem” (Sweet Talk). The documentary aired on PBS in the U.S. on 31 July 2007. Using four women (Palestinian, Egyptian, Saudi, and Lebanese) who take up every imaginable subject, including such social taboos as homosexuality and masturbation and who display their varied views on those subjects, the show is a great favorite in the Middle East. The show also is an expression of the power of satellite television in the Muslim World. For more information about the documentary and about Sweet Talk itself, go to: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/wideangle/shows/cairo/filmmaker.html.

Links from that page can introduce you to the wide variety and the increasing influence of satellite television shows to the spread of democracy in a world mostly unfamiliar to Western countries. Democracy is something that cannot be imposed from without but must grow from within and it is much more than just a vote: it’s the desire for the recognition of individual worth in the governing of our lives. There is a hunger for it in the Muslim world. But according to this film maker, the emphasis there for women is more on the importance of community in their lives than on the importance of the individual. (EW, FC, SD) Los Angeles Times, 31 July 2007, Paul Brownfield, “Arab world has it’s own type of ‘View.’”

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Southeast Asian Countries Seeking to Unite Against Military Coups

August 10, 2007

A draft charter is being prepared by Southeast Asian countries that would ban unconstitutional changes of government and Thailand, in spite of it’s own recent military coup, is backing this provision. The bloodless coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last Sept. 19 was a temporary “glitch” and Thailand will return to democracy, Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram said. “We agree. We would like to go back to being fully democratic,” Nitya said of the provision. (SD) International Herald Tribune, 1 August 2007

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Calls for More Women in Politics in Zimbabwe

August 10, 2007

Although Amnesty International reports increasing political repression for Zimbabwan women, the NGO, Women in Politics Support Unit (WIPSU), is leading a campaign to achieve gender parity in choosing candidates for office. The campaign is called Fifty:Fifty and the current effort is “to audit the constitutions and manifestos of all political parties,” said Rutendo Hadebe, the WIPSU director. “We want to see if they have any policies on equality in decision-making; if they have any clear policies on how they ensure that women politicians also participate equally in terms of decision-making, including within the political parties themselves.” Currently, 22.2 percent of political offices are held by women in Zimbabwe, including five female ministers in a cabinet of 53; 24 of the country’s 150 parliamentarians are women; two of its 10 provincial governors are women, and of a total of 305 councillors in urban areas, 43 are female. (EW, SD) IRIN-Humanitarin News and Analysis, 27 July 2007.

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In Lebanon, a Powerful Shiite Cleric Bans “Honor Killings”

August 10, 2007

Lebanon’s most senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, issued a religious edit (fatwa) banning the custom of killing a women for supposedly bringing shame to her family. He called this “a repulsive act.” These killings are illegal but still common in much of the Middle East, and condemnation of it by powerful clerics is rare. (EW, PNCR) Los Angeles Times, 3 Aug 2007, “Shiite cleric bans ‘honor’ killings.

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A Nonviolence, Civil-Disobedience Voice in the Muslim World

August 10, 2007

Violence only begets violence. To end war we will have to use nonviolent means. Akbar Ganji is arguably Iran’s most famous dissident intellectual. Recently released from five years in an Iranian prison, he is on a speaking tour in the U.S. talking about Iran and world politics. His book, “Dungeon of Ghosts,” implicated senior Iranian officials in a series of assassinations of Iranian writers and intellectuals. Like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and other wise users of nonviolence, Ganji advocates civil disobedience by his own people as the means to build a Republican government in Iran. He stresses the need for a strong middle class, a market economy and political and social cultures based on pluralism and tolerance. He also says that a just resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict would be the best contribution the United States could make to the Middle East. (Northwestern Univ. News Center, 3 August 2007).

His compatriot, human rights lawyer and Nobel Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi also argues that change from within Iran by Iranians rather than interference from external forces is the way forward for any positive outcome. Her book, “Iran Awakening,” is a beautifully written, powerful memoir chronicling forces that have swept through Iran since the CIA collaborated in the assassination of the elected nationalist leader, Mohamad Mosedegh. (PNCR, SD)

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A New Generation of Students Begin the Work for Peace

August 10, 2007

On October 19th and 20th, The Student Peace Alliance will hold its first Student Peace Alliance National Conference, hosted by Brandeis University. Their theme is: Our Generation Calls for Peace.

Featured speakers are Betty Williams Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1977 for organizing work through Community for Peace People, to promote peaceful solutions to the violent conflict in Northern Ireland. Arun Gandhi – Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. Trish Jones – A leader in the field of peace and conflict resolution education and President of the Conflict Resolution Association (CRA). Will Spencer – Coordinated the National Peace Academy Campaign that lead to the establishment of the United States Institute of Peace.

There will be experts in diverse fields from the Arts and Peace, School and Gang Violence, and the Economics of Peace. The hippies of the 1960’s wanted world peace but thought that all you needed was love. This generation knows that hard work will be required and they are rolling up their sleeves to do it. (EW, EYM, FC, PNCR, SOE). The Peace Alliance Newsletter, 2 August 2007.

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Palestinian Shift Toward Nonviolence

August 10, 2007

Had the Palestinians had the good fortune to have a Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Mandela in their midst, they could have long since had a homeland and peace. Instead they were led by men who espoused armed conflict. In a potentially profound shift, the new Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is rejecting “resistence” (mukawamah) and stressing “steadfastness” (a tactic of peaceful, civic resistance to any taking of their land or livelihoods). The idea is to use resources to give the Palestinian people a better life so that they will reject bombing and killing as a way forward. This, indeed, is good news and to be celebrated. But to achieve their goal of a reasonably just end to this tragedy, even more will likely be required of the Palestinian people in the form of Gandhian satyagraha—willingness to use nonviolent, civil protest that at least initially may result in even more suffering by the Palestinians. That’s the way of nonviolent change of unjust situations. As Martin Luther King put it to explain civil rights workers’ willingness to be jailed or beaten: “We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our ability to endure suffering.” (PNCR) Los Angeles Times, 1 August 2007, Richard Boudreaux, “Shopkeepers enlisted in West Bank Struggle.”

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The US will have a woman President – Using the media for change.

August 10, 2007

Fox TV’s hit show “24” will cast a woman, Cherry Jones, as the U.S. President in the upcoming season. This is good news because, as the astronomer Carl Sagan once said, people have to experience chance in the stories they tell before actual change can happen. The TV show “Commander in Chief,” starring Geena Davis, was considered unusual. Having a woman President on 24 will still be seen as unusual. But the more frequently we see a woman in this role, the sooner it can happen in reality. (EW) The White House Project newsletter, 24 July 2007

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India Elects it’s First Woman President

August 10, 2007

Last week, India chose its first female president, 72 year old Pratibha Patil, a lawyer, congresswoman and former governor. Although the position is largely ceremonial, her post, which brings visibility, is a win for the country, where gender discrimination has long been a problem. (EW) The White House Project newsletter, 24 July 2007

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Big Subsidies for Coal Process

August 10, 2007

A New York Times article reports that there is a big push for providing subsides for companies working on coal-to-liquid fuels technology. The article stresses that this reflects a tension between slowing global warming and reducing dependence on foreign oil. But from the AFWW point of view, this is also a way to shift our economy to provide work for people and profits for employers that is not built on the war industry. (SOE) New York Times, 29 May 2007, Edmund L. Andrews, “Big Subsidies for Coal Process.”

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Liberia is Allowed to Export Diamonds

August 10, 2007

The enlightened ex-president of Botswana made certain that the diamond resources of that country would fund improvements in the life of his people, which they have done. The newly elected president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also wants to do the same for desperately poor Liberia, and she persisted and has convinced the U.N. Security Council to lift a 6-year-old ban on Liberian diamond exports. The ban, aimed at stopping blood or conflict diamonds from reaching the market, was lifted because of Liberia’s significant progress in setting up control on its diamonds. (IER, SD, SOE). Los Angeles Times, 28 April 2007, New in Brief: “Liberia allowed to export diamonds.”

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Arab and U.S. Women Scientists Build a Network

May 4, 2007

On 8-10 January 2007 at the Arab Organization Headquarters Building in Kuwait, a group of more than 200 scientists and engineers from 18 nations in the Middle East and Northern Africa and a delegation of about 20 from the United States held a landmark forum—and virtually all participants were women. The conference was under the patronage of Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al Mohammed Al Ahmed Al Sabah and organized by the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research and several other organizations, including the U.S. State Department and AAAS (The American Organizations for the Advancement of Science). In February 2007, a symposium on the role of women and innovation in the Arab world was held at the AAAS Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Said one of the opening address speakers in Kuwait: women “are becoming an important asset” to the development of Kuwait, and “We want more women to take part in the developmental process of the nation through their contributions to the society on firmly rational grounds…” Arab women in great numbers are seeking advanced degrees in many Arab countries…but they face huge hurdles afterward. Many Arab women had never experienced anything like the Kuwait conference and the contacts made there will enable women of the east and west to connect on many levels. (EW, FC)
Science, 23 February 2007, Becky Ham, “Arab, U.S. Women Scientists Build Network at Landmark Kuwait Forum.”

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The Human Journey into Space

April 11, 2007

Six separate private ventures are racing to lift our visions of what can be while lifting our bodies into space and making a profit (eventually). As these projects grow, they’ll provide work for legions who might otherwise be making war weapons—a way to help shift our economy from dependence on war for employment—and provide inspiration for young people, especially young men who need to be part of something exciting and grand and even a bit dangerous. From Sir Richard Branson’s “Virgin Galactic” to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s “Blue Origin,” these visionaries intend to grasp the glory and wealth to be had by making space access available to Everyman and Everywoman. The 100 first tickets on “Virgin Galactic” are already sold out at $200,000.00 a pop. Branson plans to make the first flight himself, taking his two kids and his mom and dad with him. Space also happens to be literally and figuratively a gold mine: comets and asteroids contain water and minerals, more gold than all the gold on earth and hydrogen and oxygen, the basics for rocket fuel. At last count, at least seven plans for spaceports for tourism and exploration have emerged, from New Mexico to West Texas to Wisconsin. Elon Musk operates his SpaceX from old shops and warehouses in El Segundo, CA, and has hired talent from Boeing, Grumman, and Silicon Valley. (EYM, SOE).

Time Magaine, 5 March 2007, Cathy Booth Thomas, “The Space Cowboys.”

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Anglican Bishop Plans ‘U-2-charist’

April 9, 2007

“Rock music can be a vehicle of immense spirituality,” said Timothy Ellis, the Bishop of Grantham. He was announcing that a live band would play U2 classics such as “Beautiful Day” and “Mysterious Ways” with special sing-along lyrics in the English town of Lincoln in May. People will also be able to dance and wave their hands, and their focus is to be on the Millennium Development Goals of the UN, a plan to alleviate world poverty. The sharing of music powerfully binds people together and A Future Without War looks forward to more similar concerts staged world-wide where the focus will be an ending war for all time. (FC)
<P>Los Angeles Times, 30 January 2007, “Anglican bishop plans ‘U2-charist'”</p>