Peace, technology and the role of ordinary people

By Ursula Franklin | 1996-01-01 12:00:00

What I would like to do tonight is to look at what has happened to the concerns about peace and science since 1989 when John and Lois Dove so tragically left us. I want to do it by looking at the three corners that encompass this field of concern: one is peace, the second is technology, and the third is the role of ordinary people in the search for peace.

In 1989 it looked as if our concerns for peace were coming to some resolution. It looked as if there might be peace because the end of the Cold War appeared to be in sight; the quest for peace in some way was going to be, if not completely successful, at least substantially advanced.

The general quest for peace can be seen as the set of questions that makes us think: how do we get from here to a world in which there is, to use a term that Kenneth Boulding favored, stable peace?

We know that peace means the presence of justice, and the absence of fear, as well as the absence of war--war both as a threat and as a reality. It appeared in 1989 that there might be a chance to get closer to that goal of stable peace. Our dream of getting there seemed closer to realization.

The peace we pray and work for is not a commodity, but the consequence of a just ordering of society. Thus there are essential political, human, and economic components that make peace possible. What would become possible through stable peace is the prevalence of justice, compassion, and fairness and with it the absence of fear.

Unfortunately, the sphere our own reality has changed very drastically since 1989, mostly for the worse, even though our activities in the quest for peace have not diminished. The global political realities have changed in a very strange way. All who had hoped that, with the end of the Cold War, some of the developments that we had pressed for would come to pass were deeply saddened by the turn of events.

No Peace Dividend

There had been, for instance, the expectation that money that used to be spent on the arms race would become available to meet human needs. In other words, there was the hope for a peace dividend. We expected there would be more money for teaching and research, for arresting environmental deterioration, for building institutions of peace and international cooperation. Once the burden of the arms race would be lightened or lifted, we thought, a very different set of priorities for the use of public funds would emerge. Why did this not happen?

The end of the Cold War did not re-channel resources into peace, the environment, or unmet human needs. Instead of the promised peace dividend, we got a displacement of war, rather than an abolition of war. The displacement of war occurred essentially on two levels. On the first level, war as the old shooting reality is still painfully present in Bosnia, Chechnya and many other places in the world.

But in addition to the replacement of the threat of war between the big powers by war among smaller states, we have witnessed another form of the displacement of war: its displacement into the economic sphere. As part of these developments we have seen significant transmutations of the social institution of war. War has been updated with a set of modern instruments to assist in the struggle for global commercial hegemony.

Economic competition and conflict have taken on the very characteristics of active, slaughtering warfare--from propaganda and scapegoating to the loss of lives, displacement of populations, and the destruction of natural and built environments. These events put the peace movement again in the position of having to struggle against the arrogance and ignorance of power, against impending destruction, occupation, and conquest.


Instead of enjoying a peace dividend, we see in our own country cutbacks and layoffs. We see neglect and degradation of scholarship, of the civil environment and of nature. The so-called job crisis, the automation of work and human tasks, is on the most profound level a war against people. The new policies of rationalization and globalization of alliances and trade agreements are part and parcel of the type of threat system that the peace movement has tried to expose and fight at least for the past four decades.

In spite of the end of the Cold War, neither the mentality nor the practitioners of the threat system have disappeared. On the contrary, the threat system is growing internationally and nationally. What we have seen at the end of the Cold War was not, as one might have hoped for in 1989, a decrease in the incidence of war. What happened, I hold, is that war has been transposed into another key.

Just as music can be transposed into another key, I would like to put to you the thought that war, in addition to its continuing presence in terms of armed struggle and the preparation for armed conflict (complete with arms sales and attendant profits) has undergone a social and political transposition into a new key. We, as peace people, need to understand, explain and confront the new transposition, the new mutation of the social institution of war.

At this point you well may ask: How come? What happened? Surely, with the end of the Cold War, the justification and the stated reason for an arms race ended (remember, there was an evil empire, justifying everything from Star Wars to stealth bombers). Why did the major world power not convert to peace? Why did the cooperative and constructive developments we had hoped for not come about? In order to come to grips with these questions, let us reflect for a moment on the nature of the transposition of war into a new key and on the new instruments that are now playing the old tunes.

First, anyone wanting to make war needs an enemy. In the new war context one may ask: Who is the enemy? Where is the enemy? In looking for an answer, it will be necessary to give some special attention to the recent manifestation of modern technologies.

Let's start with a definition of technology. From my point of view, technology is best defined as practice, i.e. the way things are done around here.

Current practice, of course, includes machines and devices, computers and every form of network and machinery. Yet all these instrumentalities are embedded in something larger, which is why I find helpful the definition of technology as the way things are done around here. Clearly, the way things are done today is not necessarily the way things were done in the past nor the way things will be done in the future. Thus this definition of technology lets us keep determinism and fatalism at bay.

Citizen advocacy has often involved discussions of technology, critiques of the way things were done--as well as what was being done. Technological changes have frequently brought groups within society face to face with the need to influence decision-making and regulations in areas that suddenly affected everyone's daily lives--be it the testing of nuclear weapons, the pollution of air or water, or the depiction of violence on television. The subject and thrust of citizen interventions can be a sensitive barometer indicating incipient changes in social and political relationships.

What then should be the themes of citizen interventions in the mid-90s, particularly those involving the work for peace? I am convinced that it is necessary to re-focus the citizens' perspectives and priorities as well as to scrutinize the role technology played in the transition from the Cold War would to the present post-Cold War relations.

In the Massey Lectures on The Real World of Technology I tried to illustrate the relationships between the development of military technologies and economic policies of national governments. I said then that there are two distinct tasks for any state that wishes to use military production as an infrastructure for the advancement of technology and employment: (1) the state has to assure the flow of money to the military-industrial complex, and (2) the state has to assure at the same time the ongoing presence of an enemy who can justify massive outlays of public funds for research, development, and procurement of instruments and infrastructures of defence.

The designated enemy must warrant the development of the most advanced technological devices. The enemy must be cunning, threatening, and just barely beatable by novel, truly ingenious and heroic technologies. And I added then (it was 1989) that it will be interesting to see how Western defence infrastructures respond to the possibility that internal changes in the Soviet Union could eliminate its role as the designated enemy.

I ventured the thought that the social and political needs for an enemy might be so deeply entrenched in the real world of technology as we know it, that new enemies would have to appear relatively speedily, so that the existing technological power structure could be maintained. Even then I was afraid that there could be a turning inward of the war machine. One has to remember that, after all, the enemy does not have to be the government or the citizens of a foreign state. There is a lot of scope, as well as historical precedence, for pursuing the enemy within.

War Turns Inward

Unfortunately, it seems that this turning inward of the war machine was what happened when the evil empire collapsed. The West's technological infrastructures were not dismantled but continued to be used. Their new use, I would suggest to you, is a new form of war (i.e. the transposition I spoke about earlier) that is now called globalization and global competition.

In other words, the technological tools of control and conquest are now serving their old functions in a new key, thus creating a new form of war. The new battlefields are the markets, though not pleasant local markets like the St. Lawrence Market or the Kensington Market, where real people sell and buy, chat, and get to know each other.

The new markets are the stock and currency markets, the faceless markets of electronic transactions. The responses of these markets have become significant indicators of the supposed well-being of people and nations. How the stock and money markets react to elections and referenda appears to be much more meaningful to governments than the so-called will of the people. It is, of course, not new that wars are being fought for access to resources, for the enhancement of commerce and trade. What is new, in terms of the transmutation of war itself, is that the battlefields are no longer territorial. There is no physical ground involved that may be ours or theirs.

What the technologies of forty years of war-making have achieved is to make territory immaterial, just as intercontinental ballistic missiles have made national boundaries immaterial and neutrality irrelevant. The development that we witness now is an internally consistent extension of the extra-territoriality in modern weapons developments.

The full arsenal of the publicly financed technologies of war, from operations research to computer systems, from satellites to space communications and integrated networks, have become the instruments of a new transposed war for global commercial power.

You may well ask, If what we experience today is indeed a war without national boundaries and defined territories, who is the enemy? Where is the enemy?

Let me give you my response first, and then my arguments--which you may or may not consider valid. In the war of global competition the enemy are people--not the people, meaning a particular class, group, or nationality, but all those people who look at community, at work, at nature, and at other human beings as sources of meaning and interaction and not as commodities.

Whatever cannot be merely bought and sold, whatever cannot be expressed in terms of money and gain/loss transactions stands in the way of the market and is enemy territory to be occupied, transformed, and conquered. Whatever work can be done by machines or devices, will be done by machines or devices, rather than by people, who become surplus; they have to be laid off--put aside like dirty dishes, sent away to someone else--the nightmare of ethnic cleansing in a technological transposition.

Let me now restate my interpretation of the current scene, because I would like to come to the third strand of my argument: the question of the role of ordinary people. I hold that in the new form of transposed war there is no longer a clear distinction between them and us--a distinction that passports might define. The new enemy territory that is being attacked is the territory of non-market forces and its inhabitants.

It is every area that is informed by concerns other than the market considerations of buying and selling and profiting. The new battlefields are in those territories, physical as well as mental, that are the home of the common good, of art, of friendship and scholarship, of whatever is held in common and cannot be cut up into private parcels of property. This realm and those who care for it contain the main targets and enemies of the new war.

Neither Buyer Nor Seller

It may be that I am wrong in my interpretation and I would be most happy if this were so. Yet I feel compelled to make this argument and urge you to talk about these thoughts. It is imperative that we not close our eyes to what is going on in our country and in many other countries.

From a historical peace perspective we are in the middle of a market-driven war on the common good. Wherever human beings see themselves neither as buyer or sellers, as customers or clients, but feel that their values, their vitality, and their sustenance comes out of a collectivity of interests, a community of shared experiences, their lives may be under attack. The attack can be subtle or neighborly. It is not always clear and overt. Yet for the peace movement, this face of war must become as unacceptable as the old face of war.

When we began the work for peace as the Voice of Women we tried to speak to women across the globe about the future of all our children. We must now speak about the new war in the same manner. We must ask each other: what about the common good, the care of the environment? What kind of work will there be for our children? What is happening to the human community? In what way can we make cause with other ordinary people of this world in a concerted resistance against the new war?

You may ask how we can refocus the new peace approach, when many of the old problems are still so much with us. There are still nuclear weapons and their testing, land mines, arms sales, and weapons development.

The new developments, however, are so much embedded in the old, both technologically and politically, that both can and should be addressed together. We need to analyze as clearly as possible the market ideology as war, identify its destructiveness as well as its immorality, and protest its practice by our country and with our money.

Surely, the commandment thou shall not kill does not apply only to those who use guns or bombs. Peace is a most pressing issue to engage all of us who wish to use Camus' words--to be neither victim nor executioner.

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1996

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1996, page 13. Some rights reserved.

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