Academia is not helping

For some reason I could not post a comment on this page (and why is that to be done through Facebook??)…

The Study of Peace and Conflict: in Need of (Intellectual) Insurgency?

so I’ll post it here.

Peace is much more than a question for scholars and academia. That’s a small world and peace is potentially enormous, encompassing, among other things, musical aspects.

The article above writes about the dichotomy of emphasizing peace vs. war in academic discourse. What it does not address, understandably but regrettably, is the dichotomy between academic and non-academic ways of thinking, square and extraordinary approaches to peace.

Our world has this almost anal fear of venturing outside the fence of academia. Sure, something of value MIGHT be found outside, in the cold… But why take the risk, why bother, when we have all these certified scholars and professors?

Let’s play it safe, so the world seems to reason.

Which means, let’s play it COMFY. It surely is possible to appraise the quality and potential value of non-academic ideas – obviously “non-academic” does not mean “valuable” — but it takes longer time. It’s SO much easier to just check if the ideas meet the usual academic criteria, and dump them if they don’t.

This checking can nowadays be done with algorithms and AI — which takes away the burden of thought, and gives us more time to play golf.

Think inside the square.

Violence, made in USA

I just learned that there exists something called “active shooting drills” in American schools. I will not try to analyze reasons for this, nor mouth usual phrases like “how terrible and awful!”. If I were an American parent, maybe I would.

As a European non-parent (and peacenik) I reflect on the close relation between USA and violence.

In 1989 I traveled to New York to enact a repeat of a “happening” I had performed in Stockholm, Sweden a couple of times: my Dependence Day Celebration (5th of July). (Basically, it said: Man is a dependent creature, let’s admit it without shame, maybe even celebrate it.)

I am not ashamed to say I wanted attention in NYC. I sure didn’t want to sit in a corner and mumble to myself. I brought my chain (chained myself to a tree), my posters and my speech and headed for Central Park. After an hour or so the police ordered me to leave.

In sunny Stockholm (by Kungsträdgården) nobody cared, and not a few people enjoyed my quiet protest. In New York, begone in ten minutes!

Okay, maybe Central Park wasn’t the best place for my protest. A New York friend commented afterward: You know, to get attention here you almost have to kill somebody. I wasn’t prepared to do THAT, but I see the logic in her comment.

Stalk a film star, kill a rock star. Or at least kill yourself. That way a bit of posthumous attention (better than nothing) will come your way.

In the 1988 movie Dead Pool with Clint Eastwood there is a character named Gus Wheeler. He wants/ needs attention badly. First, he claims responsibility for murders he didn’t commit, and when the press turns up he douses himself in gasoline and threatens to immolate himself. He wants to be on camera. He is no murderer, just a lonely man who wants to be seen. On TV.

“I’m really gonna set myself on fire. And it’s gonna be on the news… and then finally everybody will know about me. About me! Gus Wheeler!”

If all else fails…

And how did the Unabomber get our attention? With his manifesto? Well, eventually, but only after he sent some bombs to scientists.

Violence is what gets our attention. Of course, that is a really somber conclusion that puts our hopes of peace in the shadow.

I may be biased but USA seems to be in the center of the storm of violence. Sure, we Europeans knew and know how to kill, maim and torture, but not on the grand scale of Oncle Sam.

As I see it, very important war and violence seeds are coming from mass media (for whom “good news is no news”). Social media are not that different; the same longing for something wild, violent and tragic hangs in the air of Twitter. Internet (originally an America military invention) generally is no self-evident tool for peace.

Of course, there are individuals in USA who are intelligent, insightful and pacific. But the general trend seems to move towards greater tension, more and more polarization.

USA really lives up (or down) to the saying “If you want peace, prepare for war”. However, the word peace as used in that sentence is practically synonymous with war.

Whether you want peace or war — prepare for war. Sancta simplicitas!

It now strikes me that one motive for violence could be exactly this longing for attention, or large-scale attention: fame.

I believe that if an individual does feel loved or at least liked (not just on Facebook), he will not be desperate about getting on the News. His microcosm will supply him with love vitamins and trace substances. A total lack of this supply, and seeing attention-seeking people all around you (and in the news), you might be tempted to admit crimes you didn’t do, maybe even put fire to yourself.

This probably does not explain why countries (= politicians) make war, but could perhaps throw light on private violence, like school shootings. Not a theory, just thinking aloud.

Seven obstacles to peace

What stands in the way of peace?

Here is a sketch with seven obstacles. Actually there should be one more, let’s give it number zero.

0) “If you want peace, prepare for war” (Si vis pacem, para bellum. No less idiotic for being said in Latin.)

If you want peace prepare for war, and if you want war prepare for war..?

Seems we are always preparing for war. How on Earth is that going to give us peace?

Now on to the seven obstacles.

1) We don’t know what peace is.

2) The word is empty, or negative, or filled with explosives.

3) We are blind to the seeds of war and inspiration to war all around us.

4) We don’t desire it enough.

5) We don’t really believe that peace is possible.

6) We think that we peace-lovers are a weak minority.

7) We turn to the wrong people for peace.

shakehands-751) We don’t know what peace is.

Even a small child can tell you, in a simple, basic sense, what war is. Most everybody understands war.

Ask even intelligent grownups to define peace, and they will have problems. They will probably resort to lame clichés. Can YOU define it?

If we don’t really know what “peace” means, how then can we work for it, find it, manifest it?

Let’s also add 1b.

1b) We don’t know what kind of peace we want.

Because there is not only one kind of peace. 
We don’t even know that there ARE different kinds.

2) The word is empty, or negative, or filled with explosives.

The word “peace” is either a nicely wrapped Christmas present that turns out to be empty, devoid of clear meaning. Or it is mainly defined negatively, as absence. “We have peace when we don’t have war.” This can be logical if you live in a country at war, but not if you live in a country not at war.

Finally, some people talk about “balance of power” as an aspect of, or means to, peace. If every party has enough (same amount) nuclear weapons then we will have balance = peace.

Such weapon-based or war-based peace doesn’t sound peaceful to us, to put it mildly.

3) We are blind to the seeds of war and the inspiration to war all around us.

We think that only politicians and soldiers are making war. At the same time we ourselves are busy doing microwar and protowar. Where? How? In our arguments, quarrels, debates (battere = hitting, beating), discussions (= to strike apart, asunder), verbal wars, “flame wars” on the Net. All of these manifestations are a kind of ritualized “battles”, war seeds.

Mass media inspires us in this same direction, with all these competitions and contests based on elimination, reporting political debates as if they were boxing matches. Social media are no better, focusing on conflict, polarization, even the potential of digital lynching. Being surrounded by such media with all their protowar inspiration, of course we are going to see life and society as a win-lose affair. However much we mouth the cliché of win-win.

4) We don’t desire it enough.

There are so many things more interesting than peace. Adventure movies, bungy jump, computer games, Eurosport, Facebook, Pokemon go, sex, hot gadgets, cool apps…

Besides, it is quite logical NOT to give our energy to something that we don’t really grasp and cannot define. If peace at least had some of the excitement of sports, or politics, or even opera. But it seems to be a static, sterile phenomenon. Yes, sure, fine and high and lofty, but somehow still unable to catch our actual interest.

5) We don’t really believe that peace is possible.

Fatalism is major disease with mankind. Our scientists have not only dethroned God (and made themselves our new gods) but also informed us that we are “mere specks of dust in the Universe”. Hardly pep talk for taking our, mankind’s, destiny into our hands.

The forces working in the opposite direction (war) seem overwhelmingly strong, our mass media constantly shows us examples of war (their logic is “good news is no news”), hordes of people around us say that voting is meaningless, “you cannot really change anything and peace is an impossible pipe dream for naive people”.

Is it any wonder that one turns fatalistic?

6) We think that peace-lovers are a weak minority.

Actually we are a majority but the “hawks” and the winners of war (those who profit by it) are strong, well organized, well financed, and armed to the teeth. They project a scary image — and we let ourselves be scared.

Some like to say that man is evil, but behind war and strife stands only a small negative minority. Why don’t we send off these guys and gals to a small planet where they can act out their war games without dragging the rest of humanity along with them?

However, for this we also need better, active citizens. Being a “voter” who votes every other year, maybe follows politics on TV, complains on Facebook about political decisions that don’t please him — that’s not enough. Enough to sustain status quo (and war), yes, but not enough for creating peace.

7) We turn to the wrong people for peace.

Peace work needs to be separated from politics. Peace is apolitical, utopian, win-win. Politics is win-lose, separatist, based on elimination.

Think about it. The repeatedly demonstrated talents of politicians are1) rhetorics (including dishonesty and downright lying), 2) putting part-, party-, partisan interest (or just ego) above the common good, 3) more or less common corruption and even criminality,  and 4) war (direct and indirect).

Hoping that somehow peace will flower from such a mould, such a questionable domain, is a bit like entrusting a village of picturesque wooden houses to a pyromaniac. Wrong tool, wrong person for the job.

Peace is also not going to flower from the academic domain (too stiff, too much Inbox, to many rules and regulations), or from diverse organizations (too much conformist group-think and bureaucracy)

So who SHOULD we turn to? Maybe a new class of peace pilots, Jedis of peace who understand harmony, consonance and dissonance, found in abundant measure in music.

Ladislaus Horatius — classical pianist, writer, peacenik


Peace map – phase 2

Opening conclusion:

I write this for those readers who are not that interested in the process I am describing but just want to hear my “conclusions”. Well, since conclusions, as the word indicates, mean closing, they are no favorites of mine. Enough doors, windows and minds are closed on Earth, we don’t need any more.

However, here is a kind of “abstract” of this text:

Peace is possibly not the opposite of war. War is both destructive and creative (during and in the wake of war, industry, innovation and creativity – if only of the killing kind – flowers). Peace is often neither destructive nor creative, more like a Ferdinand the Bull kind of stasis.

If we take peace to mean a kind of stasis (which many people seem to do) then, yes, that can be an opposite of war. If we however think of peace in a much more dynamic (“Venusian”) sense, peace becomes more like a middle stage, a harmonizing mean between extremes.

Thinking along these lines “peace” can be viewed through the filter of diverse models: The Eastern triune models of Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) and Tridosha (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas) but also meteorologically, i.e. as the harmonizing role of mid-latitude areas between the extremes of tropic and polar weather.

Rather exciting perspectives, if I may say so.

I have not worked on my peace map for a while, and sometimes non-thinking is the best way of thinking. When I ponder the map anew things have started to move.

Very broadly speaking my older map had war on the left side and peace on the right. You could call them black and white.

WAR>>>>> (grey)>>>>>>> CENTER >>>>>(grey)>>>>>>>> PEACE

In between you had a large, very important and neglected grey area, which is neither pure war nor peace. Here you find un-war, non-peace, war seeds, etc.

The grey area very much concerns the war that does not look like war, but which nevertheless is an important close relative to it. Music and the concepts of harmony-disharmony, consonance-dissonance, also enter the map.

But now I start to question some of my premises. For example the very obvious pair of opposites war-peace. Is peace really the opposite of war? (And let us not forget that there is peace and peace. Country music, Indian ragas and techno are all music, and all very different.)

Should peace and war be at the extremes of the map? Is peace somehow extreme…?

More and more I see peace in the very middle of the map.

War is still furthest to the left, but what should be in the right corner? Another, different extreme. Let’s call it stasis (inactivity, suspension, stagnation). Peace in the middle position then becomes a harmonious mix of action and stasis.

WAR>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>VENUSIAN PEACE<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<STASIS

In the corners we have two kinds of disharmony: too much antagonism and too much conformism. I believe this is an important revision of my former model. Let’s call it Rev. 2.0 of peace in progress.

One imperfection of the former map was this:

In the middle — just to the right of center AGON — came what I call mirroring/ tuning / conformism, which is rather obviously something negative. Here individuality is lost and one blends into the mass, many examples are found in memetic aping of viral ideas and phrases. This is clearly unbalanced.

So we have a imbalance to the left (War) and an imbalance in the middle (mirroring). And then balance to the right…?

That sounds unbalanced. Better of course to have balance in the middle.

WAR >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> BALANCE <<<<<<<<<<<<STASIS

Other aspects of the “elephant”.

I am inspired to look at the peace-war dichotomy (if dichotomy it is) through the lens of the Indian model of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (trimurti) and Sattva, Rajas, Tamas (tridosha).

Keep the elephant-mode in mind: I don’t expect any of my models to mirror reality in full, but I do try to find models that capture an angle of the elephant well. In short, different models complement each other, plus it is good for man to be mobile and not get stuck in one viewpoint, ride just one hobby-horse.

I have also opened the door to a slightly unpalatable thought, namely that war creates jobs, opportunities and progress in many ways. I doesn’t only kill (Shiva) but also creates (Brahma). It allows new life to bloom by killing off the old, like removing weeds in gardening.

If war kills but also creates and allows new life, what then does peace do?


That question has a strange tinge to it, not least because we are working with such a poor concept of peace; vague, idealist on the verge of naive, dealing very much with absences, what is NOT  (weapons), what does NOT happen (poverty, killing, oppression, etc.)

This prosaic, negative kind of peace — reminiscent of FTB (Ferdinand the Bull) who sat all day long under the cork tree and smelled the flowers —  is in itself a peace problem: We don’t aim high enough, at a good enough kind of peace. It’s like talking about how fantastic and wonderful music is, and only listening to dixieland or recipe-based hit songs.

So let’s aim at a peace that is really balanced.

Remember, Venus  and Libra (The scales) are all about balance and harmony. And balance means at least two components. Let’s talk music and call them consonance and dissonance.

Consonance in a broad sense means that things melt together easily, there is no or hardly no resistance, the process is streamlined, it’s like curling with no friction. Taste: sweet. Language: euphonious words and concepts that go with the grain.

Dissonance means friction. Here there is resistance, maybe even aversion. Things don’t flow easily. The taste is sour, salty or bitter; the words foreign and brush us the “wrong” way, against the grain.

The second category sounds less attractive than the first, but that’s in large part because we as a culture are weakened, spoiled, eat to much sweets. In the restaurant and gastronomy we understand the need for spices; too little salt is almost as bad as too much.

We also well understand the need for dissonance in sports. If contestants tried to please their opponents, the audience would cry BOO! and protest. In sports we want opposition, challenge, even harshness. AGON, to use that old word.

Consonance alone is bland and boring, at least after a while. It is unbalanced by itself.

The second component, dissonance, is harsh and violent. It lacks calm, rest, and the familiarity of safe boredom. It is also unbalanced by itself.

Consonance and dissonance in a good proportion however is the peace doctor’s orders. It satisfies hunger on many levels. Action and stasis combine to create HARMONY.

So far harmony. How then should we think about disharmony? Let me suggest: either as a poor relationship between action and stasis, or overdose of either.

Woolly conformism, people mouthing the same dusty cliches over and over is disharmonious, even though consonant. It may not be unpleasant however; it is a kind of disharmony that is easily accepted.

Dissonant violence is accepted in certain strict forms (sports, for example) but is otherwise looked down upon. At least in theory. In practice we have diverse forms of entertainment and punishment that entails violence, plus our (un)justified wars where young men are ordered to kill other young men for the greater glory of national, religious or business interests.

The terrain (the elephant) is not simple and unequivocal; much depends on where and from which height we observe things.

There is for example a strong peace-element in war, namely within an army. In the unit of an army you want total, mutual harmony between the parts, military language must be precise and correct, etc. Nevertheless the final aim might still just be plunder, reputation augmentation and national chauvinism.

What then is the war element in peace? One could of course say demonstrations that turn violent. Personally I think the dynamic, active (war) element in peace is too small. That is a great weakness of our current Ferdinand the Bull-model. FTB-peace is too passive, negative, sentimental, consonant, too hung up on tired catchwords that are so dusty that they make us sneeze.

Gesundheit! Peace comes from within…

Oh, yeah? Never heard that one before.

So my current suspicion in this peace mapping in progress is that the opposite of war is not peace but stasis / stagnation / bland consonance.

But stop a second! That — stasis / stagnation / bland consonance — is very close to how many people, pros and laymen, see peace! As a kind of huge relaxation. War is over; fighting is over; let’s put down our weapons and relax, enjoy ourselves, let our hair down, watch more TV, do more Facebook and computer games, turn obese.

That’s not my Utopia. My Utopia consists of an improved, upgraded kind of peace. Venusian peace, in contrast to the Ferdinand the Bull-variety, is not the opposite of war. Balanced peace should embrace opposites, not BE an opposite.

Or rather, if peace equals harmony then its opposite is disharmony, which is something else than mere dissonance.

As you can hear, this is an invitation to immerse ourselves in musical thinking. That should be a very good peace investment.

One final angle of the peace-elephant.

As far as I understand, in meteorology one divides the Earth into three broad horizontal (latitudinal) regions. The outer, cold polar regions and the inner hot tropic region seem like extreme phases of Yin and Yang.

But between the hot tropic and cold polar regions we find the mid-latitude regions, which have a tempering, harmonizing effect. They serve as a bridge between extremes which, without this go-between, would be too different from each other [as war vs. stasis], too incomprehensible to each other [as boxer vs. bookworm].

Is peace perhaps a mid-latitude thing?

Of course as a musician I come to think of a Harmonilehre, the art of gracefully dissolving dissonances but also of adding enough dissonance so that music doesn’t turn into a sleeping pill.

More anon.

Peace by committee

When we well know that the most important scientific inventions, philosophical breakthroughs and musical or literary masterpieces have all come from individuals – from a Leonardo, Einstein, Beethoven, Goethe – why then do we believe that peace, one of the most difficult things on Earth, is going to be created by committee?

My reason for saying this: I have been domain-traveling throughout my life. My starting point was and is music, a wonderful domain, much more valuable and precious then most of us understand.

Then philosophy, a so-so domain. After that politics, a real stiff one.

And now paxology, peace work, peace research. I’ve been at it now for around three years and what I see makes me confused, disappointed and frankly scared. There is so much muddiness in this domain, so much surface — empty phrases, gestures, cliches and thinking inside the box.

Much feel-good, not much think-good. As somebody put it: peace is about releasing captive white doves by political leaders.

Is it really this simple?

There is also an underlying premise that peace is the job of groups, committees and organizations. Not individuals.

I don’t know where this view comes from and frankly don’t much care. What I do know is that this goes against the insight that breakthroughs and masterpieces never come from groups or organizations. Always from solitary, isolated, not seldom ridiculed individuals. Why should the situation be different when it comes to peace?

In this most difficult of tasks, Groups — until now inert, square and predictable — (supposedly) suddenly bloom and reach genius level, become innovative and find brand new paths. Do we really believe that?

If not, why don’t we look in new, fresh directions?

The peace domain is like Wikipedia that says “No thanks!” to original research.

Of course I am talking about my own work here, no denying it. I have in my relatively short time in the peace domain contributed valuable, innovative material – that nobody seems to be interested in.  I guess it feels… unaccustomed and different.

“War seeds”, musical peace map, Agon and antagonism… what IS all that about? It’s not our usual fare. Vive la similarité.

Meanwhile, many other domains, like the business sphere for example, are SCREAMING for innovation! Yes, much of it is lip-service; what one really wants is a new look or vogue, a new viral term, a hip new costume — but at least one is screaming. It’s a start.

I wish there was more screaming, shouting and excitement in the peace domain. As it  is, it reminds me of this picture.

“All quiet on the Western front.”

Quiet indeed.

Am I saying that peace should be conducted as business? Not really. Maybe as its opposite, as WAR.

War is a by and large a very efficient affair. In spite of obvious blunders it aims at precision; logistics are of prime importance; goals and targets are well defined. Language is highly efficient in order to avoid mistakes, semantic clarity is essential to avoid ambiguities which can have fatal consequences, Roger that!

War hires  (and pays) the best brains; just look at the Manhattan project where more than a dozen Nobel prize winners were involved. (How many Nobel prize winners are working on building peace…?) There are huge amounts of money in war and innovation is constant; always there are new and more streamlined ways of killing our fellow man.

All this is the opposite of the peace domain, where vagueness is okay, where we don’t even need a definition. It’s not really important to pinpoint it, everybody knows what peace is anyway… Perhaps. Until they are asked to define it.

On the other hand, even a small child in the street can basically tell you what “war” is! Imagine the military reasoning in the same vague way.

Ready guys? Let’s fire off some of these old rockets in about THAT direction, give and take a few miles, in the next day or two. We THINK the bad guys are somewhere around that corner. God willing we might actually hit some of them, and hopefully not as many of our own people as last time.

That would be a bad joke, but that is what happens in the peace domain. 
No precision, no hardcore thinking, no innovation. Just a predictable collection of second-hand phrases and goals that are inherited from other eras, other peace organizations.

Maybe I am too harsh, but we do need more harsh now, and less cuddly feel-good. Peace needs precision. Clarity is a precursor of peace.

We need blueprints like this.

Laser guided peace, anyone?

All of this has to do with another big, unacknowledged problem. Namely that very few people (I mean individuals) get truly excited about peace.

–Yes, peace is something fine, lofty and very IMPORTANT;  but right now we want to watch that cool YouTube video and an action movie. But we DO wish the peace organizations all the luck!

This distanced, lukewarm, not my table-attitude is not helpful.  If war, at least in its sublimated forms (sports, contests, competition, debates, etc.) is SO MUCH MORE interesting and exciting (and fun) than peace, then of course peace is going to remain dutiful committee work, nothing for individuals to be excited about and engage themselves in.

As this curve shows…

This is the reason I talk about a specific variant of peace, namely Venusian Peace.

Peace that is not just absence (of war, conflict, poverty, killing) but has actual positive content. Namely the qualities associated with Venus: art, beauty, harmony, music, balance, love.

None of that is boring, none of that is created by committees. Sometimes by composers.

Now please visit the YouTube channel of the VPP   for peace-thinking outside the usual box, and feel free to support the project on Patreon.  Thank you.

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.

PLEASE fund with a dollar on Patreon if you see value in my independent peace research.

Dichotomies — the good, bad and the ugly

Touching, concerned  and always caring Facebook asks me:  How can we spy on you today?  I mean…What’s on your mind?

Dichotomies on my mind. Lots of them.

The basic idea of dichotomy:

To go left or right, that is the question.

Now we need to realize that there are good and bad dichotomies, positive and destructive, harmonizing and polarizing.

Some of the most popular ones — because they further well-known and much practiced agonistic energies, make it easier for us to quarrel (still one of mankind’s favorite sports) — are rich-poor, male-female.

These are polarizing dichotomies, creating tension and dissent.

With them we move further away from each other, stand in far off corners, view The Other through  military field glasses. Then we discharge our verbal missiles, tirades, accusations and complaints. This happens not least on social media where the temperature is always high, untempered by the presence of real bodies which usually add an element of decency and consideration.

In short, such dichotomies give us ammo so that we can continue ranting, shouting, accusing.

Rich-poor is complicated and one can, and should, argue that it is not wrong to reason in those terms. I agree.

Male-female is different and much more complicated.

Some suggest, with a big dose of populism, that “male” implies “rich” and “female” implies “poor”.  That depends on who is talking. Place a loud-voiced, high-heeled feminist beside some poor bastard from Gambia and take a good look at the picture. Two different kinds of poverty.

Now I am myself starting to heat up and become polarized. That’s exactly what we don’t want, so let me just say that there are much better dichotomies than male-female .. if we want to move forward towards benign harmony rather than malignant (but FUN!) discord.

And that’s a rather big IF.

Let us turn eastward.

While we in the West talk about gender and men vs. women our oriental sisters and brothers talk about Yin and Yang. It’s a different planet of thought! Just look at the Yin Yang symbol.

To begin with, it is round. Not a square or rectangle.

It has two halves, kind of,  but they are curvy and flowing, not boxy. They look like playful fishes chasing each other. No straight lines anywhere.

What is more, they contain their opposites.; the white “fish” has a black part and the black a white. So even thought it looks black and white there is also grey here.

These aspects already defuse polarization and black/white thinking. They say in effect: “You contain your opposite and shadow”.

To glance for a moment into the political domain, I find it interesting, and significant, to see how much RAGE Donald Trump has aroused by saying something very basic like “there is blame on both sides”.

Why is this not popular? For many reasons, but one root reason I believe is our lack of Yin-Yang thinking plus our love of black-white thinking. We just don’t well understand what is round, and love what is square too much.

In this transformation of Yin and Yang have already turned more “Western”, more stiff, immobile, with more sharp, hurting corners.

The next step is the home base, our bad old, all to familiar camp fire.
THIS is our most used dichotomy. No roundness, no shared opposites, no fishes,  no forgiving! Just two enemies facing each other in black and white.

Going back to the round Yin and Yang we can also imagine it as a coiffure.

What is also interesting is that Yin and Yang turn into each other. Yin starts small, in a careful way, then grows bigger and bigger until it turns into its opposite.

Well, not opposite. This is another great thing. Yin and Yang don’t oppose, they complement.

Does my right hand oppose my left? No…

Is my opposable thumb the enemy of my other four fingers? No…

Those are really stupid questions. But they are only stupid because in some areas we understand the flow of Yin and Yang and how they help each other. In other areas, we don’t.

And don’t even WANT to.

If we are honest, we have to admit that a part of us ENJOYS polarization – Enmity – Opposition – Strife – Battle – Quarreling – Debating.

Polarizing is FUN! That’s the war-cry of this part of us.

Another part wants peace, harmony and co-operation. But that part has to live together with the fight-enjoying, belligerent part.

This is not so strange, and even not so bad. What is regrettable is that the parts don’t know each other. It’s like Yang not knowing that it has a Yin spot, and vice versa.

WHITE, let’s say “the good guys” (supposedly totally without blame) don’t know their black side, and usually BLACK (the “crooks”) never hear about their white side.

[A very interesting reflection about the black called “psychopathy” is found in THIS VIDEO.]

There is a wonderfully saying that I loved long before I understood it. Its very sound, so musical, charmed me.

“There but for the grace of God go I.”

It’s a fascinating, mysterious sentence, and now I have also learned what it means.

Look at that poor bastard there in the street. It could have been me, if I didn’t had been more lucky in life. His fate could have been mine..

No, life and success and happiness is not just about luck. It also takes intelligence and wisdom.

But realizing that we who see ourselves as “white” (on the inside, not talking about skin color here) also have “black” in us, that we are actually, colorwise, GREY,  and that life is more like fishes waxing and waning than a rectangle, and finally that we probably enjoy violence and opposition more than we think — ALSO takes intelligence and feeling.

So let us use our intelligence for differentiating between benign, harmonious dichotomies and belligerent, polarizing ones.

Even if, or precisely BECAUSE the latter often are more exciting and enjoyable.

Harmonize or polarize?

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 7

Time to wrap things up. No need to go into all kinds of details, there will be time for chiseling and polishing later.

Summing it up:

  1. There are two “halves” to the map, a left side and a right side. Two keywords for Left and Right: Conflict and Concord.
  2. In the outer corners, war in bloom and peace in bloom.
  3. The left side is much more known, explored and experienced than the right. We know a lot about war, competition and conflict but what does “peace in bloom” mean…?
  4. In the center, a neutral pair of “twins”: Agon/ and Concert.
  5. From this center we move into antagonism and violence towards the left, into consonance, music and friendly concord towards the right.
  6. The right half needs much study and thought. In music we are just as familiar with consonance as with dissonance: in general everyday life consonance and harmony are not well understood.
  7. In a way, war is also not well understood, if you allow for intermediate stages like “crypto-war” and “war-seeds”. (All of this is about the left side.)
  8. We are used to define peace with strong elements of war present. (Power of balance = weapon based peace.) Let us now define it with elements of music.

These are the parts of the map:

CENTER: Agon/Concert

LEFT SIDE: War in bloom – Agony – Antagonism-

RIGHT SIDE: Musica subliminalis (mirroring, bonding, entrainment)- Musica instrumentalis (music making)- Musica humana (harmonious living in everyday life)- Peace in bloom

As you can see the left side is immediately understandable even by a small child, while the right side needs much explanation and clarification.

My understanding is that we know so much more about “left” than “right” = are better at quarreling than listening, competing than cooperating, disagreeing than finding common harmony, hanging out in the War room than in the Peace room.

Phew, I now the declare the map finished, at least ready enough to be used.

What follows from now on will be clarifications in practical contexts. The adventure continues in the same galaxy, but in a more musical key hopefully…

A musical map of peace, part 6

Let’s move on with our map. I fear that even though this is supposed to be a musical map, the music has to wait a bit. (We have something to look forward to!)

What becomes increasingly clear is that we are looking at a picture with two halves. The center point seems to be the twins Agon/Concert.

WAR-AGONY-ANTAGONISM-AGON¦CONCERT (subliminalis/ instrumentalis/ humana)

Somewhat arbitrarily (or intuitively) I have put war to the left and peace to the right. Let us pursue this left-right dichotomy further.


Left and right is not just normal but the norm in much of our thinking, especially in politics.

Sure, we have gradations like “far left” and “extreme right”, but these don’t reduce and soften the polarity but only make it stronger, even more tension-filled and explosive.One probable reason for the ubiquitousness of left-right thinking is that is it so easy. We have a body with a left and right side, a left and a right hemisphere. But even more basic is the view in front of our nose: our two hands.

The word “right” has a double meaning in many languages, indicating both a direction and a value (the right thing, right thinking). In Hungary this is extremely clear in the name of the radical right wing party Jobbik. “Jó” means good, “jobb” means “right” as direction and “better” as value, while “Jobbik” means “even better” or “even more to the right”

Now that’s a good meme for a party that wants voters (and which party doesn’t?).

It would now be quite natural and predictable for me to make the suggestion: Let’s get away from our left-right thinking. Let’s be holistic and look beyond; think outside the box, go outside our differences.

But what my map has uncovered, what it has turned up to be, IS actually a left-right model. Only different from the usual political one.

So I will retain the left-right model but redefine, magnify and widen it. In doing this it actually will become holistic, go beyond our usual thinking. It will include, encompass and “hug” our bad old political left-right model.

So, all of the political left-right model will be on the left side in my map.

Agon and antagonism go well together with our usual political thinking, which is mostly competitive, aggressive, critical, polarized, exaggerating differences of aims and agendas in order to get a clearer “profile”. (One doesn’t want voters to think: “These parties have so many similarities that I might as well vote on the one or the other.” That way political defeat lies, or at least party defeat. Which might not be such a bad thing from my perspective.)

So polar tension is magnified, not diminished. And all this competitive tension takes place on the left side of our map.


The right side of our map, on the other hand, is almost apolitical.

It lacks exactly that tension which seems to be the stuff of politics. It does not talk about ratings, statistics, winners, losers.

Of course success and failure, even fiasco, are not unknown in art, music and theater. They can sometimes act as thrill and “spice” in art and music (at least while we still enjoy the excitement of Agonistic energies).

And right here I want to STOP because I hit on a very good word for the Left Side: Agonistic

That would be the adjective, and Agonism the noun.

In this way, all the polarity, quarrels, fighting and wars between left and right can now be moved to the left. They are the New Left. A different kind of Left.

Thus we arrive to a


If is tempting to think in terms of the classic dichotomy Yin And Yang, but I don’t see an obvious correspondence at the moment.

One should not invent unnecessary neologisms but here I feel that we can benefit from two new words.

Agonism would be the first one, our new left side.

The right side, following the logic of having concert as the twin of Agon, could be Concordism, our new right.

AGONISM: Contest, competition, battle
CONCORDISM Concord, friendliness, co-operation
In this way we can continue talking and thinking about left and right. We can still look down on our hands, but see a new meaning in them.

The old left and right (battling, competing, warring, explosive) would both be included in the New Left side. While the New right would be a largely unwritten page, leaving us with new hopes, giving new aspirations and new optimism.

Part 7