Thursday, May 24, 2007

Constructing the Defenses of Peace

"Since wars begin in the minds of men,
it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed."
From the preamble of UNESCO's Constitution

UNESCO was created in the aftermath of World War II by hard headed statesmen who agreed on this very idealistic sounding phrase -- a phrase that has be very influential during UNESCO's six decades of life. Is it in fact idealistic to assume that educational, scientific, cultural and communications and information development can help to build the defenses of peace?

Surely countries with high levels of educational, scientific, cultural, and communications achievements have gone to war, and not always justly. Indeed, the most advanced of nations were the primary combatants of World Wars I and II, which was why those wars were so terrible -- a fact clearly known to the founders of UNESCO. Of course, in part they were asking the world to further increase and disseminate knowledge and understanding, feeling that still more advanced nations would not again war among themselves. They must also have felt that it was not simply a question of more knowledge and understanding, but of the kinds of knowledge and understanding.

Is there a genetic predisposition to war in our species? Perhaps! Our closest relatives in the animal kingdom do seem to fight for territory, as to other territorial species. On the other hand different cultures seem to differ significantly in their willingness to wage war, so society can regulate the expression of any genetic predisposition towards war that may exist.

Certainly, it is people who make the decisions that lead to war. If we change the way people think, why should we not change the likelihood that they will make decisions leading to war. The problem, of course, is figuring out what changes in the way people think will decrease the likelihood of war-favoring decisions, and figuring out how to make those changes.

Perhaps there is a more fundamental way in which we can use the minds of men to safeguard the peace. Wars come from conflicts of interests and the ways in which institutions resolve those conflicts. If society can find better ways to reduce and/or resolve conflicts of interests, or better institutions and institutional processes to resolve conflicts, then peace will be more likely. But society will find such better ways only if individuals find them and communicate them to others. Here again, the defense of peace must begin in the minds of men.

UNESCO is a man-made institution, governed by the representatives of 192 nations. Indeed, we know that at least half the nations of the world are themselves under governments of less than average quality. Still, "the ideal is the enemy of the good". UNESCO remains an organization that is worth working for and with, so that it can better help to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men.

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