Peace and justice -it’s complicated

Many if not most people would say that justice and peace of course belong together. One is dependent on the other, they are almost identical.

The words “of course” sometimes serve as a warning, indicating that we have not really given much thought to the matter.

My own ponderings show that, sorry to say, the relationship between peace and justice are not self-evident, even are complicated.

For this we need to make clear what we mean by justice and peace.

Possibly our idea of justice is clearer than our idea of peace, because the latter, as far as I have discovered through reading and talking with peace workers, is muddy and vague. Some say it need not even be defined, everybody knows what it is.

Well, maybe until they get the question. What happens after that is more unclear.

These are my own working definitions:

Peace is very close to the concept of HARMONY. Different parts, moving in maybe very different directions, work together, in concord, towards the same end.

The best illustration of this is perhaps music. Witness the motet Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis. Choir music is often in four parts (soprano, alto, tenor and bass). This piece is in forty (!) parts.

It is very harmonious, but at the same time very complex, in the sense that no two voices sing the same melody. Forty totally distinct and different parts! This is as far as we can come from sing-song, where everybody conformistically bellows the same tune.

So here we have total concord, all moving as one, but with all individuality intact. A very rare condition, captured in the expression “unity in diversity”.

This is what I mean by Venusian peace. Allowing differences while simultaneously working together.

However, what we usually see in the world are un-harmonious versions of this. Either unity OR diversity.

Either conformist bonding, mirroring, imitation, where we relish the warm feeling of singing the same refrain, belonging to the same party or shouting the same slogan in a demonstration. This is consonance without real harmony.

The other common extreme is polarization and conflict. Here we relish the feeling of NOT agreeing, of criticizing, blaming and attacking each other. This energy is found in heated discussions, political debates, football hooliganism, demonstrations, quarrels and of course war of different kinds.

In the first instance similarity and concord are too excessively important. In the second not important at all. But in music the two meet harmoniously.

This is what I mean by good peace, dynamic peace. I call it Venusian peace because it is filled with the Venusian qualities of art, love, harmony and beauty.

What is justice then?

A kind of balance (also a Venusian quality).

What is the difference between peace and justice?

It can be the difference between WE and I. While peace is something that you and I or our countries strive for (thus a big WE is involved)  justice is much more concerned with only me or only us.

Justice can be a holistic thing, but often is not. What we term justice can be a mere matter of personal winning that I or my group do not want to be without.

In this way people who work for the rights of others are closer to justice than those who want justice for themselves. Of course it is terrible when you feel that you have been abandoned and badly, unjustly treated. You want to stand up for yourself and get some human rights. That is logical, understandable and right.

However, there is a scale here. Some people are so destitute that they can hardly stand on their feet, even less fight for their rights. Others are much much better off and when they protect their rights only the words are the same.

While the former wants to have a meal and a bed to sleep in the other wants privileges, money and luxuries that he thinks the world owes him. And we know that some people even hurt themselves in order to get money from society. Others practice the game of Suing, something of a national sport in the USA.

So while all these people — from the beggar sleeping in the street to the discriminated rich person who is out to use the system – are talking about rights and justice, they are in effect doing very different things. One wants to survive and have some kind of satisfaction on the lowest steps of Maslow’s pyramid of needs. The other is only concerned with the Pyramid of wants and lusts.

So my critique of the term “justice” is that the same word can mean very different things, and can also be a very egoistic and manipulative thing, not at all concerned with peace (which involves some kind of concord, a WE) but only with personal winnings (I).

In very simple terms: Justice, especially if demanded for ourselves, can be self-centered, an ego thing concerned with winning and gain usually in tune with the normative win-lose model of our world.

Peace, the kind of peace I talk about, can by definition not be that. Venusian peace is a win-win affair, reminiscent of music making.

There is obviously much more to say about this. This is just a preliminary sketch (but still more than the usual fare).

When noting the non-obvious identity of peace and justice, or even the obvious non-identity of peace and justice, one can ask:

Which is the greater, peace or justice?

That question is not amiss nor academic.  Sometimes, quite often in fact, we need to make our priorities clear. Instead of answering A or B I want to rephrase the question.

Which is more important, that you, or me, or the alto or tenor part (or whichever part you sing in) is dressed most magnificently, sing loudest, fastest and strongest, gets the most attention, applause and flowers from the audience — OR that we sing as with one voice, unite in phrasing, breathing and feeling and try to realize as much as possible the conductor’s and, ultimately, the composer’s intentions?

What would YOU answer?

Maybe: I don’t want to choose, I want both!

Yes, in the best of worlds justice and peace go harmoniously hand in hand. I just want to point out that in our less perfect world the matter is often unclear and complicated.

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Peace walker reflection

(Some thoughts about what it takes to be a peace walker)

I look around in our world and what do I see?  Violence all over.

  • Common sense becoming more and more uncommon.
  • Moderation becoming a rarity.
  • Extremism is no longer extreme, it is the common thing. (Which does not mean that we know about our extremism. Unconscious extremism; a strange beast. )

People are radicalized, but what does that mean?

Radical comes from the word “radix”, which means root. But it does not mean going to the root of things, walking round the proverbial elephant and noting different sides of it, considering different aspects of the question.

Radical now means being more or less VIOLENT.

Good people, can we (as we like to sing) give peace a chance? I see so few people REALLY caring about peace. Nobody says a bad word about it, but it is the walk, not the talk that counts. Especially for peace walkers.

Two central aspects of peace, as I now see it, is “Ahimsa” and honesty.

Ahimsa means “harmlessness”. It is for me not the same as non-violence, which is more known.

Non-violence is a choice not to use violence (but you can still feel rage and anger inside). Ahimsa I see as the non-ability to be violent. The war weeds are more or less cleared away.

Obviously only a few of us have reached that level, but I also think that that should be the goal and aim of peace workers/ walkers.

So why bring honesty into the picture?

Because lying and dishonesty is a kind of minor war.  Not black but grey violence, not large-scale but small-scale battle, not outer but internal disharmony. And from these seeds bloom the flowers of bloody wars.

I hear many people demanding truth, fighting for truth. But I see no Honesty Movement (although we do have Radical honesty).

Truth sounds like the grandest thing on Earth, but I think it is not good enough. Why? Because your truth and mine differ, and somehow we have this idea that there should only be one truth. So which one is it, yours or mine? Let’s fight it out!!

And so, once again, we turn into the Street of Violence.

Many people hate, torture, oppress  and kill in the name of Truth. Truth does not automatically create peace, on the contrary it creates black and white polarization, tension, conflict, antagonism and agony. Harmless it is NOT.

Honesty is something else. Honesty is the mirror. Honesty means being able to say: “You are no saint, but neither am I.” Honesty is the impulse leading us to try to be better than what we criticize.

The Bible talks about “he who is without guilt…” It is honesty that tells us that we cannot cast the first stone. We are not good enough for that.

“Truth” tells us to blame, accuse, point fingers, cast stones and drop bombs. So Old Testament, don’t you think? If we were really good, really harmless, we wouldn’t want to stone anybody.

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Polarization, an enemy of peace

When  thinking about peace and war, the impulse towards one or the other, the direction we choose to walk in, I have arrived at this strong suspicion:

Polarization is one of the main obstacles to peace.

Polarization = stressing differences, almost nurturing differences so that tension builds up and we can fight (one of Homo sapiens’ favorite, if not admitted, activities).

The expression “unity in diversity” points to two aspect of the question.

Diversity affirms variation, difference, individuality, being who YOU are, not just being a clone or imitation of somebody else.

Unity concerns the possibility and impulse towards, yes, unity. Listening to each other, trying to understand each other and moving in the same positive direction in spite of our differences, even with the help of our different perspectives.

Both factors can lead to or away from harmony.

Too much diversity makes us dense egotists who does not understand that there is enjoyment, fun and gain in doing things together. (This realization is very much present in music making. Play and sing more together!)

To much unity can turn into boring, tyrannical, Big Brother conformism, making people small, identical cogs in a big smog-producing industrial machine. It can also turn us into all too predictable middle of the road kind of people who cannot handle differences in thought, feeling or skin color (in spite of mouthing “vive la difference” and similar phrases).

Luckily there is a middle ground which is not “middle of the road” but a golden mean: Unity in diversity.
We need to see these two unbalanced impulses realistically. The third, attraction to the golden mean, is probably the weakest of them all. That is what peace walkers need to water.

We enjoy conflicts too much. We might not call them conflicts but it is the emotional energy that counts. 

Look at what media are feeding us with, and how we gulp it down. Scandals, sensations, crises, debates (comes from the word for strike or hit), sports (a win-lose domain), politics, wars.

If Man is a musical instrument (and he is) media are playing Allegro Barbaro on him. The music that comes from our soundboard when watching somber, dark, violent and quarreling news, is somber, dark, violent and quarreling.

We cannot only blame media. If nobody watched all this, it would not be broadcast.  We actually enjoy  almost being glued to the violence spewing tube.

When we recognize and admit our enjoyment of conflict and polarization we also see that it goes against our impulse for peace, that harmonization and polarization  are two very different things.

But conflict is not all.

We also enjoy the other extreme, conformism, too much. We derive much satisfaction from articulating what in our circle is considered “right” opinions, “right” thinking. A million flies can’t be wrong, neither can twenty friends.

These twenty friends, however, may not really be in tune with each other. Maybe they just enjoy the cozy feeling of being in a group, the warm sensation of not being alone in their opinion.

This kind of self-deception can be marginal and of no importance. It can also be  very serious and create a kind of sticky mental atmosphere where any kind of divergence or difference is viewed as a mistake, even treachery.

Safety in numbers. All together now!

Conveniently enough we often move between these extremes, sometimes enjoying the martial energy of violent conflict, sometimes the warm, cuddly reassurance of thinking alike. 

But as the proverb say: Extremes are neighbors. The real opposite here is balance.

In that direction, as far as I can see, lies harmony. That is, peace.

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Peace walk with me

Moving from peace talk to peace walk

Self-delusion exists in all spheres of life.  Of course. Why  should a certain life domain be protected from this virus?

It also exists in the peace domain. If you ask people “Are you for peace or war?” probably no one, not even military people, would answer “war”. But words and talk is cheap. Walk is more costly.

Differentiating between talk and walk is made  difficult by the very vagueness of the word peace. What exactly do we mean by it?

Some say a definition  is not needed, everybody already knows what peace is.

Maybe… Until they are asked to define it. Then things get more difficult, more floating…

But if we don’t really know what we mean by peace, don’t know what it is, only what it isn’t  — peace is very often defined negatively:  absence of outright war, hunger, injustice, poverty, etc. — then differentiating between peace talk  and walk is not going to be easy.

The whole field is mentally messy, vague and unclear.

Contrast this with the clarity not only desired but demanded in matters of war. Soldiers are rigorously trained; exact planning, strategies, protocols and objectives are de rigeur. You cannot  wage war with a hippie go lucky attitude, unless you are one of Kelly’s  heroes.

“Hey, let’s shoot a bit. Who knows, we might get lucky and hit some enemies. If not, I suggest a joint and a glass of wine!”

Let me try to be as orderly as the military folks are. What do I mean by peace walk?

Most importantly I mean bringing ourselves into the picture. Know thyself, thy peace side and war side.

One can “work for peace” while turning a blind eye to some aspects of oneself. Like our lively enjoyment of football, pro wrestling, heated political debates on TV, partaking in demonstrations with lots of aggression and angry shouting.

Amazons for peace?

I am not expecting anybody to be a saint. I am certainly not one. And shouting has its place.

No, I am talking about self-reflection.

“Charity begins at home”, so people say. That’s good advice for peace as well. But let’s not forget the second part of the saying, often forgotten or not known: Charity begins at home, but  should not end there.

So, peace work/walk should begin at home, but not end there.

To really “peace walk” we should start with ourselves, but definitely not stop there. Joining inner and outer results in better peace than if we work for global peace while watering our own war seeds.

That’s like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde both trying to control the steering wheel.

Introspection can also show us that:

The model of war — close to the model of sports (there will be one winner and one or several losers) — is so common and widespread in our world that it easily becomes invisible. We breathe it like air.

Mass media is built on this model. What is constantly highlighted, also in social media, is what is sensational, odd, strange, conflicting, violent, hurtful. War has a seat of honor in the news, peace might (on a good day) enter through the kitchen door….

It takes effort and sharp thinking to separate ourselves from the win-lose norm of society. Just as air in our urban areas is impure and smoggy, so is the emotional and mental atmosphere of our media-ridden world.

— So what is a real peace walker then?

A person who is not free of war-like impulses, but who is aware of and seriously tries not water hos own war seeds, to hold these weeds in check.

This makes the peace walker more tolerant and wise than a mere peace talker. He knows that when he is pointing a finger at someone three fingers are pointing at him. So he understands that, yes, there is blame on both sides. It is not the fault of ONE if TWO are  quarreling and fighting.

This way the much needed impulse of self-betterment — trying to be better than what we criticize — enters the picture.

We move beyond the blaming attitude: “Why are you so stupid and violent!?” when we see the  violence in ourselves. Understanding that we are sitting in the same planetary boat the word “brotherly” becomes more than just euphonious sounding prattle.

Talk turns into walk.

Aim high!

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How to spell Peace – part I

Of course everybody can spell “peace”. Five letters, 2xe, 1xp, 1xa, 1xc.

But that is just the word “peace”. I mean the reality PEACE, not the word.

Seems to me that most of us can spell both the word war and war itself.

War to me is a spectrum. Just as WARM can be anything from say 20 degrees to 60 degrees Celcius and more,  WAR has also gradations.

There is a very neutral state between peace and war, both peace and war, neither peace and war.

But as things heat up (listen to the language) neutral moves into more hot, and hotter still. Finally it is red hot and we burn our fingers.

I call the three gradations of war “Agon” (neutral), “Antiagon” or “Antagonism” (warm) and “Agony” (hot). (Agon is Greek for battle, contest.)

The last stage Agony is practically “war in bloom”, what we usually think of as war:  people battling each other, bombs, shooting, missiles, torture, blood, killing.

When I say that everybody knows how to spell war I don’t mean that everybody is a soldier, shooting and killing others. I mean that the milder states of the war-complex, mainly “Antagonism”, is something we all know and practice (in different forms and at different levels).

What then is “Antagonism”? By that word I mean a energetic, most often emotional, relation between parties – people or groups – where we for a time become contestants, opponents, even mildly enemies.

This happens in many ways  and in many forms. However, all of them have a certain recognizable taste to them.

Again there is a scale. Antagonism can be two friends joking in a teasing way, pinching each other figuratively. The antagonistic energy can be there for seconds or minutes.

Or we have the domestic quarrel — small or large– going on all the time in the world. Maybe a big hurdle or just a question of who forgot to turn off the stove.

Or the debate (even feud) between two scientists, or really anybody — standing on different sides of a question. Each one defends his side, his point of view, and often becomes even more a believer in his faith because disputed by the other party.

Antagonism can be subtle, almost loving, more marked, a disturbing irritation (as when somebody we like says something unkind to or about us (“How could he say that…??”) and, moving to Agony, actually violent.

Very few of us are total strangers to antagonism. A number of us are also familiar with Agony, the more gruesome stages of the energy.

That is why I say that we can all spell “W-A-R”.

What would it then mean to spell peace?

To a large degree, to be able to neutralize and stay away from war in its many forms and disguises. To really recognize Antagonism and put out its fire. Or lets say — before you think that I am talking about denying conflict – to tire of and leave behind pyromanic tendencies.

To stoke on the fire of Antagonism, to water the war seeds, different ways of saying the same thing: We are moving away from harmony, towards conflict

From Harmonize to Polarize.

(As to “rights” and why that word drags down peace work, see this article.)

I don’t mean that conflicts should be denied or given euphemistic names.  I just think we should upgrade our questions, from “Who is right?” and “Can I not demand my own rights!!” to “How can I be better than what I criticize?”

Conflicts look very different seen from the vantage point of these different questions. Wanting to be right is a very different impulse than wanting to be better.  (Better than who? Yourself yesterday.)

If there is very short advice leading peacewards this might be it:


This could be one letter of peace. Now we are starting to spell the reality, not just the word.

If trying to improve ourselves is a step towards peace, slogans like “hate hate!” typify the opposite direction, making us MORE like what we criticize.

Here is an insidious, thus dangerous war seed — namely the impulse to see ourselves as entities already being right, having nothing to LEARN and everything to TEACH.

The premise is that in some mysterious way we have gotten (cheaply) tickets to the section of life’s theater called The Right Side. Those we disagree with, criticize, attack and wage war against are sitting not on the Left Side but on the WRONG SIDE.

A current example of this is people who are shocked, indignant and furious because Donald Trump has made a statement about “blame on both sides”. Something one would have thought to be a truism. Not so, it seems.

Enough! That was today’s spelling lesson.

–To sum up: As long as we take it totally for granted that we understand peace — without actually looking at the function and dynamics of harmonious and polarizing tendencies  — we will just repeat ourselves, going through the same old (more or less antagonistic) movements as before.

The spelling of war we well (TOO WELL) understand. With the spelling of peace we are beginners.

A musical map of peace, part 5

Let’s continue exploring and building our peace map, which is more and more turning into a peace handbook or manual.

It must be like that, because a mere map does not help. Yes, orientation IS important, especially when it comes to an area that we think we know but actually haven’t assessed in a really careful, open-minded way. But we also need to know the steps to take to reach peace; just looking around is not enough.

–And as you notice this is a map in progress, meaning that I am “discovering” it while I go on. It’s not something that was finished when I started writing. You can regard it as a stream of consciousness thing (which is often pretentious) — or a journey to which you are invited. Presenting finished ready-mades to readers is standard procedure, but I choose another road.

One important aspect of the map is the division into two halves, with a neutral area in the middle. And as with Yin and Yang both sides seem to contain traces of the other side.

One half deals with, works according to the Win-Lose model, the other with Win-Win. One could say that one is dualistic, binary, oppositional, while the other is more wholeistic and friendly, with no element of duel.


On the left side you have two teams (or individuals), on the right everybody is member of the same team. (In a way in sports you have the peaceful version as well, but only on one side, within the team [or within the contesting individual, who surely wants to be in harmony with himself].  In peace there are no sides, just one big team, one big orchestra if you will.)

We’re in this together.

A very important thing if we want to go from theory to practice, to really move from the left to the right side , is maintaining interest.

So much advertising has been done throughout history for the dynamic values, interest and excitement of sports, contests and battles. We have books, plays, movies, poems, symphonies, odes, statues, monuments, all (critically or positively) concerned with  war, battle and fighting.

Positive or negative does not much matter; all attention is “good” attention, as the moderns like to say.

So most everybody knows, feels and understands the left side.

If peace is to have a fair chance one must demonstrate that it too can be dynamic, interesting and exiting. Otherwise it will, in all frankness (and we badly need to stand on the terra firma of frankness) remain the concern of a small minority, a group of idealists who don’t “understand” that peace is not really possible, who are too stupid to see that if one wants peace “one should prepare for war”, etc.

Thus peace remains, in spite of all the grand things said about it, a pastime for a minority.

So what can we do?

We need to find  Win-Win without boredom, build peace that is not bland, create harmony that is not tasteless and wishy-washy. It is now my task to demonstrate and convince you of this. I daresay, a beautiful and wonderfully challenging task. May the Higher Powers guide my hand and thought in this endeavor.

Of course we cannot expect peace to be dynamic, interesting and exiting in the exact same way as war, sports and contest are. That would be no progress at all, we would remain in the same place, just renaming things. (And we already live in the age of Beautiful (but false) Euphemisms.)

So we need to actually move and travel and transition.

Now there is a very important and interesting transition / conversion from the excitement of war to the excitement of peace. A word for that transition is “refinement”.

I note that some people are afraid of that word.

However, they probably would not protest if invited to a Michelin restaurant where they could eat food the level of which, and the rarity of which, was up in the stratosphere compared with what they usually ate, and drink wine far far above their income.

That kind of refinement few people would protest against. Everybody would gives one’s taste buds a chance to try something truly sublime for a change.

Yes, I’ll have a bite of that.
That one also looks interesting…
Maybe that one, too, but not too much!
And surely we must have dessert!

If somebody invited us to listen to their million dollar stereo equipment to compare it with our 20 dollar MP3-player, we also would not protest.

Yes, let’s listen to some true HI-Fi sounds and see what they “taste” like.

Sounds good to me.

Again refinement is just fine.

And if we were offered a free sample of the most expensive and delicious spa treatment–aromatherapy, massage, pedicure, the works — we also probably would just accept and enjoy.

Looks good.
A caviar facial, yes.
And a 24k gold facial mask!
Let’s not forget the pedicure.

Again we would welcome refinement.

— So let’s remember how much refinement we would gladly accept — and have that insight as a springboard for moving on.

There are novel untasted joys around the corner, new sensations and experiences beyond the McDonald’s fast-food paradigm. Instead of preferring refinement here but not there, this way but not that, let’s open-mindedly explore new areas of dynamism, interest and excitation. And let’s abandon our foolish fear of a word that basically means more, higher, further.

Now that was a lengthy pep talk but I think we need it. A theory can be fabulously brilliant but if nobody feels an inclination to try it out it will remain academic.

Peace can be described in glowing terms but if war-like activities attract us more we will remain in the Talk-the-walk sector. And we clearly need to move into the Walk-the-talk area.

This is a big enough chunk for now. To be continued soon.

PS:  Somebody protests: “What you have described is not refinement but luxury.”

Yes, but luxury can be inspiration and invitation to refinement, to move and progress beyond cheap thrills, from eating to tasting, from hearing to listening, hopefully from war to peace.

Let me end (after all, this is supposed to be a musical map) with a piece of luxurious music.

Part 6

Aim for the stars (or at least the planets)

There is in paxology a certain fear of aiming high. A fear of sounding too idealistic, too naive,  too starry-eyed, etc.

Also, many people “know” that peace, world peace even more, is impossible. They have all kinds of more or less intelligent arguments  and theories for asserting this.

But people who “know” what is possible and impossible are, even though they might be well-meaning, not helping .  On the contrary, they are themselves unwitting obstacles to peace.

What we dare not think we surely will not attempt.

This is also important when it comes to definitions of peace.  “Well-managed social conflict” is not good enough.  Careful, conservative definitions that still contain elements of war (“war can never be really stopped”), and also definitions that are limited to a political kind of thinking, are working according to an inverted saying by Ralph Waldo Emerson: Aim below the mark to hit the mark.

Emerson actually said Aim ABOVE the mark to hit the mark.

So which accidental shall we use,  the sharp that raises?

Aim high. Aim at the sun, and you might have a good chance of at least hitting a planet. Why not Venus?

Or the lowering flat?

Be careful and conservative!

And your very carefulness (in many situations a virtue) will hinder you from even reaching the stratosphere.

The fear of sounding idealistic or even Utopian (not one of my fears) is weighing us down and ties us to the ground —  a ground where war, war seeds and the interest in and fascination for war-related things (much encouraged by mass media, for whom bad news are “good” news) has become the norm.

We need a peace norm, and for that we need to be more, not less, “starry eyed”. It would actually be naive NOT to aim high, considering how many obstacles there are to peace. Let’s not add weak faith to the list.

Only the bravest efforts and greatest idealism will succeed in getting us there. Careful pragmatism will only redecorate the room, keeping the same old furniture, the same old curtain, same old carpet.

We need a new room, a peace room.

Not good enough…