On Transition: An Introduction

“Take an average student revolutionary, high on education and knowledge, low on power and age. He lashes out against the powers that be for engaging in policies benefiting themselves, impoverishing others, and rightly so. She lashes out against men in power, pointing out how they engage in policies strengthening patriarchy with all its direct, structural and cultural violence, and rightly so.

Catching up on age comes automatically to all; catching up on power only to some. And then they may find many of their ideas known, tried out and found wanting, in a more complex reality. And join the conservative quietude of balance; never being heard from ever since.

But then there are those who persevere. Better informed, lifting the veils of conservative “wisdom”? Driven not only by the drive for balance and power, but by values so deeply internalized that they last the whole life. Some slide into the pigheaded if reality gets remote.”

-Johan Galtung. “BRIC(K)S for a New World Economic Order!” July 28, 2014.      .

This is my first blog post as a Junior Research Fellow here at the Galtung-Institut, and I would like it to be a welcome, both from me and to me, but primarily to you, the reader. This first post should give you a taste of who I am and what I will be writing about. So, why did I begin with this lengthy quote from Prof. Galtung’s piece about a new world economic order?  TL;DR: I am in this very state of transition he describes.

I began my academic career at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA as a Government and International Politics major. I was part of the debate team in high school, founded my own youth organization called the Kansas Consortium for Youth Voice, and was quite involved politically. Coming out of high school, it was difficult to see any other path of study that would fit my interests. However, after my first semester of several boring and abstract International Relations courses, I was ready to search for something new. Fortunately, George Mason is also home to S-CAR, the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. After my introductory class, I was hooked. Conflict analysis is my true calling. But as with any discovery, it led to new questions. What branch of conflict analysis and resolution was I interested in? Mediation? Interstate conflict? Community organizing? Critical conflict resolution? Something else? The way that I answered this question, at least until now, was heavily influenced by my participation in the International Socialist Organization and Students Against Israeli Apartheid. In short: I was a student revolutionary. I worked long and hard in these organizations to fight for justice and change the conversation in campus in order to win the struggle for the oppressed. This is what Galtung explains in the first paragraph.

In the second, he speaks of transition. This transition is not just of a political position, but a transition of identity. In the past months, I have seen the logical extension of some of my beliefs fail. I have witnessed rhetoric recycled again, and again, and again. I hear a lot of talk, but I don’t see any organization, and concrete movement toward the achievement of political objectives. And, perhaps most importantly, I have seen the “pigheaded” in the form of overgeneralizations and condemnation of people with good intentions. So now, I seek some balance. Does this mean that I give up the principles that I held? No. Does this mean that I regret what I was doing? No. Does this mean that I look down upon those who continue to work as student revolutionaries? Absolutely not, I still believe in you, root for you, and will help you if possible. Everybody has a role to play. I am able to make this analysis now because my semester in Buenos Aires has allowed me to take a step back and examine while detached from the political reality that I was living. This being said, I refuse to join the “conservative quietude of balance.” This is why I am interested in conflict resolution, and this is why I am thrilled to be a new Junior Fellow at the Galtung-Institut.

I am just ten days into the junior fellowship, but I feel I have reconnected with the values that drove my student activist work in the first place: the sacredness of human life – the axiology of the Galtung-Institute is based on the Homo Homini Sacra Res principle–, and nonviolence from a technical (many times tactical) perspective in all situations, exempting violence for self-defense understood as defensive defense – if life is sacred, it ought to be preserved and protected. While I think a longer post about nonviolence and theory is in order, I include this point to highlight that conflict resolution as a field of academic study is not reducible to its deep moral perspective. I think part of being a conflict resolution practitioner is moving beyond the moral, but justified, outrage at every infraction of human rights, and utilizing this energy into action for constructive conflict transformation. Being outraged is tiring and impossible to maintain. Stepping back and thinking about practical solutions, playing the political games that are a part of our reality, and working with power that already has legitimacy (or at least vying for it) need not be a betrayal of our ideals. After all, what are our ideals without results? This is not a platitude, I believe in putting things in context. Conflicts in our world are understood as ubiquitous social phenomena that trigger the exceptional or occasional escalation of a given set of problems into destructive eruptions and violence, either direct, cultural, or structural. It is imperative that we resolve these conflicts, in any manner necessary.

Now, with this basic introduction out of the way, let’s get to why I am really here: the intellectual discussion. Each week I will be reading a set of articles and additional materials as part of my work on the Global Domestic Politics and Octagon Project. This blog will be a place where I will try to draw connections between different aspects of Prof. Galtung’s work, pulling out general themes and patterns and comparing these findings to those of peers in the larger field of social sciences. Working under the assumption that his method for prognosis and conflict resolution is coherent, I will do my best to figure out the general scheme and note incoherences where I find any. As we progress, I hope to also begin discussions about special topics in Latin America.

Formulating Peace

Preliminary Observations:

For those of you interested in following along and taking advantage of the amazing TRANSCEND Media Service, that features weekly articles by Prof. Galtung since August 2008 and a wide range of multi-media related to peace journalism, here is what I covered this week:

01: Galtung-Editorial: An Octagonal World

An introduction to the formation of the geopolitical octagon, consisting of “Eight big states or  regions: clockwise USA, Russia, India, China, OIC-Organization of Islamic Cooperation (the 57 Muslim countries), EU-European Union (28), Africa (AU, African Union, 54) and CELAC (Comunidade de Estados Latino-Americanos e Caribenhos), Latin America and the Caribbean (33).” A starting point for understanding how the world will be without singular hegemons.

02: Galtung-Editorial: BRIC(K)S for a New World Economic Order

Explains what the BRIC(K)S countries bring to the world in terms of economic alternatives, and what the rise of these countries  means for the current hegemons who have tried to prevent them from controlling global economic institutions.

03: Galtung-Editorial: Structural Violence Re-Explored

Responds to Philip Leech’s criticism concerning structural violence in Sierra Leone; Galtung elaborates that structural violence is part of a discourse and should be used to understand one aspect of conflict, that it constitutes violence “of omission,” that structural violence “keeps people in their place” and thus spawns forces of revolution and counterrevolution, and finally critiques the use of law (punishment) instead of fulfilling basic human needs.

04: Galtung-Editorial: Methodological Macrohistory

Analysis of John B. Sparks 1931 histomap. Societies and empires follow a life-cycle, but India and China have continued for much longer than others. Galtung offers an empire-dynasty dichotomy, in which empire expands spatially and dynasty expands through time, creating a dialectic externally (empire) or internally (dynasty). Learning and cooperating with others is key to maintaining these formations, or else a fall will result.

05: Galtung-Editorial: Criminalizing Aggressive War

Galtung makes the case for criminalizing aggressive war. He points out  a disconnect between law applied to individuals and that of states creating room for impunity at the macropolitical  level, so a solution would be to universalize law- “crimes against humanity punishable everywhere.” War must be viewed as an institution like slavery or colonialism, social evils with which the world has already made codified progress in criminalization.

06: Galtung-Editorial: Mono Multi Cross Disciplinary Peace Studies

The East-West divide viewed in the context of academic intellectual modes. While Western thought divides problems and breaks them into parts for detailed analysis (based on Descartes), Eastern thought looks at holism, dialectics (entirely different from Hegelian or Marxist dialectics), and counterforces. Mono-disciplines can result in the abstraction from values, and so we need more cross-disciplinary academics that make human needs and universal values more explicit in both their research-design and understanding as a whole.

07: Galtung-Editorial: The Art of Prognosis: Why Does the West Fail to Understand Reality

West vs. Rest framed through the analysis of economic, social, cultural, military, and political power. West fails to understand rise and patterns of resistance of Rest because of the style of analysis (explained more  extensively in the previous article) that doesn’t view the world as a series of holons with internal counterforces. Must search for balance points with the Rest to ensure peace with the coming necessarily multipolar global order.

08: Galtung-Editorial: The Art of Prognosis: Change happens but how, why, when, where?

Discusses technological changes, primarily the transition to the automobile, in cultural context: the west solves problems with technology, losing the holistic vision of Eastern epistemology. Technology, in a variety of forms, changes the positionality of humans, from participants and drivers to riders, which is essentially is an alienation from agency – a transformation with profound socio-cultural implications.

09: Galtung-Editorial: Slavery Colonialism and the Church

Reflects on slavery and colonialism into the Abrahamic logic of Christianity. Analogy of African slaves being the “sons” that must suffer on the cross for the betterment of all, and the inversion of Christian logic.

10: Galtung-Editorial: Partyocracy-Technocracy-Autocracy-Bankocracy

Describes the decline of democracy and the transition to technocracy, autocracy, and bankocracy. Again, Western mainstream logic will not solve the problems that it has created. To solve this crisis of democracy, Galtung suggests the economic solution of selling local production directly to consumers, taking “unfair commissions” out of the logic of society and government.

The Octagon Model: The octagonal model of the world is a way of understanding the current and future dynamics of geopolitics and globalization. Here is a partial graphic representation of the model:

Much of this is explained in the first reading, but you can see that the octagon consists of the great powers like USA, Russia, and China, then India and several regional organizations. The octagon model indicates that the world is less dominated by singularly outstanding hegemons, a process Barry Buzan calls de-centered globalism (comparative analysis to come).

The trend toward a world without towering superpowers is part of the outcome of the “West vs. Rest” battle. In reading number 07, Galtung analyzes this struggle for hegemony through economic, military, political, social (this is one quite similar to Buzan’s prognosis) and cultural lenses. The West is being outpaced in economic growth, cultural ideas are being challenged through non-Western development, and politically the West has lost credibility, especially in regard to policy in the Middle East (all from the article).

From what I have read so far, I am also beginning to see how the idea of movement toward a West vs. Rest balance is guided by Galtung’s interest in analyzing civilization as a guiding logic that is imprinted geographically, and evolutionarily derived. In the few articles that I read, Galtung links Western civilization to the inner workings of the Christianity-Secularism tension and compares it to “the Rest” and Islam though he points to the common Abrahamic genesis of Islam and Christianity. These religious roots come into play because the logic for the West is more missionary, singularist (our truth is the ONLY truth) and universalist (our truth is valid for everybody, everywhere ad eternam), while Eastern religions offer a more holistic login, often with a more idealized communitarian vision to be reified. Singularism and universalism combines, forming missionary logic.  And there is a notion of countercyclicity (from another article- Spanish translation forthcoming) that relates these two abrahamisms through space-geography and time-history; the idea that as Christianity rises, Islam falls, or vice versa. One thing that I find extremely interesting and refreshing about this approach to civilization and religion is that it avoids the racism and awful analysis of Huntington – a former colleague of Galtung’s in Columbia – for example, and conceptualizes these vital aspects of humanity as conditional (N.B: not essential) collective logics that societies develop and apply. The conflict between Islam and Christianity, from this view, is not just “religious differences,” but because theology results in different political strategies and claims to power: the social and cultural imprint of religion has a visible impact on how societies engage with others. In future posts, I hope to make connections between Galtung’s analysis of civilization with some of the analysis about the logic of neoliberalism (Wendy Brown). I think that the same analysis can be applied to homo economicus.  How do differences in economic strategies clash, and is there a notion of balance of countercyclicity there? I think the answer to the second part of the question is probably no, but I will develop this idea in a future post.

There are two final points that I would like to consider in relation to economics.

First, in the 10th article, Galtung writes the following, “Because corruption in the political system, converting money into decisions, has a close relative in the economic system, a commission.” This subtle change in labeling makes a world of difference conceptually. In the article he goes on to describe the economy as a series of people skimming commissions off that never get paid to the people who produce basic materials. The idea is that many of the political problems we have, such as “technocracy” and “partyocracy” are actually rooted in the economic system that concentrates wealth at the top. He goes on to  suggest that the solution is more democracy. I sent the article to my friend and colleague Jonas Upman at Evergreen University, and he replied with the following comment, “Arguably, the concept of the nation-state is coming to an end. Multinational conglomerates have proven more adaptable and coercive, and democracy has long been dead. Is democracy, as contemplated under the nation-state apparatus, really what we need? If we are being pushed to globalization by these conglomerates, would a more regional or bioregional movement be a more appropriate response?” His response brings this post full circle. In the spirit of the Galtung-Institut, we must attempt to connect the micro-meso-macro levels, often broken apart for analytical ease, to understand the full picture – especially when designing policy. From the angle that corporations (the private sector) actually hold much of the power on the global stage, what arrangements are necessary to balance this power? If we fit the private sector into our analysis of geopolitics, what are the methods for comparison? How can the impact corporations have on policy be balanced through state apparatuses? Or people power for that matter. Will there be more 99% and occupy movements or “springs”? Will they have agency? I believe that democracy is certainly a good goal, but there is a paradox: to reach democracy, there has to be a powerful challenge to the largest economic institutions and the international system of capitalism carefully constructed by American policy makers and carried out by the G8 since WWII. But from a geopolitical perspective, Galtung roots for the Rest to challenge some of the damaging ideas imposed by the West in its relatively young history of global dominance. Contrary to a superficial reading, this is in no way barring the meliorative contributions to the human condition provided by the West. Galtung’s point is to integrate the best practice contributions of all civilizations in addition to those of the West and disseminate them species-wide.

At this point I would like to emphasize that this blog is part of the G-I Network/Community. I don’t want to just be writing into the void here. So: make yourself an account and let’s have a conversation. I am open to suggestions for topics, readings, criticism, anything really, that will advance the work of the Institut (which is now my work too). One thing that I love about the conflict field is that it is centered on working together to build new ideas and implement action. I look forward to working with you!



Twitter: @kleggers