Beyond Opposites

By Donna Smyth | 1990-10-01 12:00:00

I REMEMBER Millie Ryerson sitting on the grass at Daihousie University, years ago, talking to a group of us about educating children. "First," she said, "we must teach how to dance."

She meant, of course, that we must educate the body as well as the mind, the heart as well as the head. She meant that the split between thought and action is part of the logic of opposites (either/or) that mustbe transformed; its better to assume many choices within a situation. For example, instead ofsaying we must have either nuclear energy or coal as future energy sources, it suggests that alternative energy sources canbe explored, energy conserved, and the very questions we ask about energy can turn around to address need rather than demand. Our new logic can acknowledges differences: energy needs will vary according to geographical location, climate, population base, and existing social structures.

Another example is the concept of partnership described by Riane Eisler, in The Chalice and the Blade. Partnership is to replace the logic ofopposition in which one of two terms must dominate: man/woman; us/them; capitalism/communism; winner/loser.

The peace, environment, social justice and feminist movement have prepared us for this new way of thinking:

Over the past twenty years, these movements have sometimes come together for common cause, sometimes pursued similar goals by different means. The Bruntland Report, Our Common Future, spelled it out: Until we solve the problem of world poverty and hunger, we cannot begin to solve many of the global environmental problems. Until we solve these problems, we'll never achieve authentic peace. The Green Party has tried to address these issues politically as have various groups within the movements. For example, the Great Walk to Ottawa, starting this August, brings peace people, environmentaliStS, feminists, and aboriginal peoples togetherincommoncause.This is where the real "action" is.

F OR ME, PEACE education is a matter of survival -individual,collectivc,andplanetary. It's based on the values and concepts of the four major movements and its goal is to create the material and spiritual conditions for authentic peace.

Authentic peace is grounded in the right of every person to live without fear, and to live with health, dignity, enough food, clean air and water, shelter, clothing, access to education-and a little beauty to light the spirit and lighten the burden.

At present, this kind of peace education takes place more easily outside than inside the education system. This is because our education system is based on the old logic of opposites, reflected in its hierarchies, its territorial divisions, its gate-keeping. We mistake information for knowledge and separate the head from the heart, from the body. This allows us to think the unthinkable-such as about winning a nuclear war. Some of the most "educated" men in the United States and the Soviet Union have spent years of their lives planning global destruction of one kind or the other.

THE PRESENT system is "mal-education"and we must seek to change it. We can begin with reforms from within. Peace Studies courses and programs are an important new feature of the academic landscape. I think that such courses must be multidisciplinary and integrate concerns about peace, environment, social justice, and feminism. A Peace Studies course that does not include feminist analysis and thought is notadequate. To achieve authentic peace, we have to understand the nature of power relations on every level: individual, local, regional, national, international. Then we can see that sexism is the symptom ofa form ofsocial relations based on the power ofone partner over the other. We can see that it is intimately related to militarism and to militant neoconservativism. Look at all the "Cold Warriors" of the 1980s, the economic Rambos who are now turning up in Eastern Europe to take advantage of European Communism's self-destruction. look at how the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have manipulated developingcountries, subjecting them to what Susan George calls FLIC: financial low intensity conflict. When you can cut off the credit lines, you don't have to call in the Marines. As an example closer to home, when you create jobs dependent on military budgets and weapons manufacturing, you can't afford "peace breaking out all over."

IT MAY BE, TOO, that we have to re-define our ideas about "actions." We tend, be-cause of the media, to notice the most visible ones, such as Greenpeace actions. But many small, personal or local actions are needed to effect real social change. On every level of function, there is much work to be done.

One danger of inserting Peace Studies into the present academic system is that accommodation to the system can seriously distort method and content. The modes of authority the professor and various "experts" lecturing, dutiful students taking notes and defer-ring reflect and re-inforce another aspect of power relations. Similarly, academic defensiveness about "territory" and competition for grades contradict thc new models of cooperation and partnership. So too does the type of academic operation that confuses research with action the attitude becomes "I don't have to take action about nuclear war (ozone layer's holes, the Brazilian rain forest, battered women, racism in the education system) because I've done apaperon it." Also, like many other professionals, academics are generally reluctant to get involved with citizen groups or grass roots politics because of a fear of being thought "unprofessional," of being, in effect, declasse. They send their students to interview those of us who have been involved in such groups as tho ugh we were some exotic species

PEACE education, then, is a radical challenge to this system. If we take movement discourses, values, and concepts, it can be the bridge between thought and action. We have our own "elders" who can bring their experience and wisdom into the classroom, who show different aspects of the new consciousness. I think of Muriel Duckworth, Ursula Franklin, Giff Gifford, Rosalie Bertell. Every-where there are heroes, a rich resource bank of talent to be tapped. On the national and international level, there are people like Elijah Harper, George Erasmus, Nelson Mandela.

In every community, there are citizen groups and ordinary people with a wealth of experience. They are part of the bridge between academe and the "real world." There are theatre people, writers, artists, musicians who know how to work from imagination and feelings, how to restore connections between heart and body and mind.

We live in a time of cutbacks in education funding. There is pressure on educational institutions to turn out workers with skills fitted to new technologies, adjusted like any other commodity to the demands of capital. Teaching "entrepreneurial skills" is seriously considered as one of the answers to the complex challenges of the 21st century.

These circumstances simply highlight the necessity for peace education. Millie Ryerson was right-only Iwould go further and add: We must all become dancers. The Gnostic Gospels teach:

"To the universe belongs the dancer" and "[She] who does not dance does not understand what is happening."

Donna E. Smyth is a feminist peace anden vironmental activist who teaches at Acadia University, Wolfville, N.S. She has published two novels, Quilt, and Subversive Elements and lives on an old farm with assorted creatures, including a donkey named Mirandat.

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1990

Peace Magazine Oct-Nov 1990, page 13. Some rights reserved.

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