by Gilles d'Aymery
"Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice."
—Baruch Spinoza (1632 - 1677)
(Swans - December 28, 2009) EARTHY WISHES: My brother from Sicily, Guido Monte, ended his latest contribution to Swans thusly: Pace, e un abbraccio fraterno a Jan e a te ("Peace, and a fraternal embrace to Jan and you"). Guido, being our multilingual poet, included -- it was prior to Xmas day -- good wishes in German, Spanish, and Italian, which I felt I should extend to all readers, adding the wishes of my African brother, Femi Akomolafe, in his own poetic Yoruba idiom. What this small bevy means to say is:
Merry Christmas. Greetings and best wishes for the New Year. Peace on Earth! (English)
Feliz Navidad y próspero año nuevo. Paz en este mundo. (Spanish)
Buon Natale e un felice anno nuovo. Pace sulla terra. (Italian)
Frohe Weihnachten und ein schönes neues Jahr. Friede auf Erden (German -- thanks to Lüko Willms for his translating help.)
Joyeux Noël et bonne année à tous. Paix sur le monde. (French)
And here is a beauty out of little-known languages, courtesy of our "man in Africa," brother Femi Akomolafe:
E ku odun, e ku iyedun. Odun a bawa layo. Alafia ni gbogbo orile ede agbaye. (Yoruba)
ONLY SIX LANGUAGES out of hundreds, each meaning the same thing -- above all, "Peace on Earth." It shows, once again, time and again, that we are all (supposed to be) brothers and sisters, whatever the language we use to express ourselves. It furthermore demonstrates once again, time and again, that low- or high-melanin humans and albinos (no-melanin individuals) are the same. At least, that's how it ought to be -- but is not. While Homo sapiens keep calling for human commonality they manage to create as many differences as they can imagine. We are not doing a good job in the field of peace. It's ironic that the religions, which all advocate love and peace, have been so enmeshed with religious wars. To justify war, great thinkers like Cicero and Augustine of Hippo even cogitated the concept of "just war" (bellum justum).
ONCE UPON A TIME, back around 390 A.D., it was said that if one wanted peace, one should prepare for war (Si vis pacem, para bellum). Note the notion of preparedness. For some reason it has not worked out too well. Perhaps someone figured out that there was little money to be made in preparing for war in comparison to waging war. The idea that to deter war one had to wage war was advocated in 1907 by no one else but Andrew Carnegie, who -- height of irony (or hypocrisy)! -- would found the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace three years later in 1910. By World War I, the world entered the territory of Si vis pacem fac bellum ("If you want peace, make war") in earnest and it has not looked back ever since. We've been in a state of perpetual war to "defend" peace from then on.
THIS MINDSET was eloquently reflected in the remarks President Obama delivered on December 11, 2009, at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
[...] We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations -- acting individually or in concert -- will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified. [...]
[t]he United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. [...]
So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. [...]
I -- like any head of state -- reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. [...]
HOW THE WORLD CAN tackle the tremendous challenges that the planet faces with this kind of mindset defies the imagination. In Copenhagen 10 days ago, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! asked Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the chief negotiator of the Group of 77, what he thought was needed from President Obama. He answered: "Leadership requires taking very bold stands. Leadership is a set of elements including moral, ethical, economic, political. That's what is necessary." Left unexamined, however, was what should have been the follow-up question: "Do you think this set of four elements is part of Mr. Obama's leadership or making?" Whatever Mr. Obama's intrinsic qualities as an individual, he is to be judged not as a man but as the person who presides over a web of powers that fundamentally are amoral and unethical. The principles of the economic system he defends and promotes, a critically weakened system, are the antinomy of morality and ethics. And even if he had the fortitude and the convictions of a Martin Luther King, Jr. or a Gandhi, he still would have to deal with the powerful forces -- corporate and Congressional -- that are in command of that system, forces he was elected to represent and serve, not to change. He is the public face charged with selling the policies advanced and concocted by the Establishment -- the spokesman for that Establishment, or in other words, a figurehead, much like Mr. Bush was.
HE HAS PRIVILEGED cannons over butter, Wall Street over Main Street, the health industry over people's health care, because that is what the system commanded. In Copenhagen he offered fig leaves because he had nothing to offer but fig leaves and conveniently finger-pointed at the Chinese -- any bold move would have been shot down in Congress, whether a real diminution in CO2 emissions, or money to help the Global South to mitigate through transfers of technology the harsh consequences of climate disruptions. (One should add in all fairness that the vast majority of the American public sides with Congress and cares little about island nations, global warming, and climate disruptions.)
AT THE END OF THE DAY, it is rather inconsequential whether Obama is a bona fide member and champion of the system he presides over or is its prisoner projecting hopes and dreams that progressives can hold on to like a buoy in the middle of frigid waters amid the drowning of an ocean liner. He is a whole part of the theater company that is carefully scripted by the directors and financed by the producers of the show. To criticize President Obama or be disappointed by him without the willingness to change the script and create a new show is meaningless. It's the roots of the system that need to be changed, which is very much what radicalism is about -- radicalism comes from the Latin radix ("root") and the Late Latin radicalis ("of roots").
IF ONE WANTS peace, what is more radical then than to prepare for peace, work for peace (Si vis pacem para pacem)? This is the only true moral and ethical stand from which economic changes would necessarily derive and politics fundamentally be altered and upended. Antiwar activists who eschew pacifism are not really against wars, only those they condemn, which means that they accept as a truism that there are "good" and "bad" wars, and, therefore, remain paralyzed within the same systemic mindset with all its economic and political consequences. They do not go after the roots of the predicament. Go back to the early ages of socialism (a word that was coined by Saint Simon in France and Robert Owen in England) and you'll find that the notion of working for peace was very much in the mind of these political philosophers and activists. Only then shall we deserve the appellation of brother and sisterhood, with the immense political ramifications that would entail.
OBVIOUSLY, those who try as best they can to dutifully, morally, ethically, work for peace are easily dismissed as being naïve or "radicals" and slandered as being anti-patriotic, anti-American (or any other nationality) traitors. This incoherent balderdash does go with the territory, sadly, and incurs unpleasant societal risks. So it is.
JAN BAUGHMAN AND I, and a few more Swans contributors, are a tiny link to the long chain of the miserly few that advocate humanness and call for equality and solidarity, cooperation over competition, collectivism (that which benefits the whole) over individualism, and respect of "the other," among assorted political, philosophical, and ecological considerations. We may not see eye to eye on a specific issue, but whoever contributes to Swans knows what we stand for passionately...and peacefully. We intend to keep at it in 2010.
TIME TO THANK A FEW PEOPLE: Our readers, of course, but first and foremost Swans contributors who have to deal with the Gallic tantrums of this author, editor, and publisher, who file their work regularly without any financial remuneration, and have to do it within our policy of Web exclusivity (in exchange they receive meticulous editing attention and consideration). Thanks are extended to the authors with whom we part company due to either miscommunication or more probably mutual misapprehensions. It takes time for an editor to find out whether an author fits within the editorial line and convictions of the editors. Nevertheless, they deserve our appreciation for their work. Finally, to those readers who sent us financial contributions and helped us meet our fund raising goal in the midst of dire economic times and many requests from other worthy outfits, a big thank you to all. We could not carry on without you. Thank you all.
SOMEONE ELSE deserves a special mention by name: this decade, year, and these Blips would be an orphan without remembering our faithful and kind companion, Priam, who died early November and was very much a part of Swans too. We'll never be grateful enough for the love he bestowed upon us.
. . . . .
C'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can.the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.