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War and Violence: The Problem of Teaching the Like-Minded

Page history last edited by Peace Studies 11 years, 7 months ago

FrontPage     Resources     Concepts:Themes

 

Peace Review 17 (2/3): 247-259 2005.

 

War and Violence: The Problem of Teaching the Like-Minded

Swindling requires not delivering lies but confirming preconceptions— Richard Flanagan (2001:21)

                                                         I

p.1

     In the 1980’s when Peace Studies began to be formalised and offered as part

of the university curriculum, it met with various objections.1 We shall examine the

two principal objections before stating a hitherto largely unnoticed third. It is our

contention that this latter objection is at least as serious as the other two and merits

close attention.

     According to the earliest line of objection, there was no need for Peace Studies

to be introduced as a separate area of the curriculum since what Peace Studies courses

were expected to cover could be better taken care of in the context of the wellestablished

disciplines in the humanities such as history, philosophy and English

literature. This objection was rooted in a rather narrow view of disciplines—

sometimes pumped up with claims of the specialized methodological grounding of

traditional disciplines—but perhaps also in a territorial and self-protective mentality.

Funds to universities were being cut at the time and the introduction of new

disciplines or fields of study was often perceived as a financial threat to established

disciplines. This battle over the exclusivity of traditional disciplines in the humanities

has now been lost with the widespread introduction of fields such as cultural studies

and a hard won place for multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary studies. The change

has come about primarily from within, with humanities disciplines re-conceiving and

 

1. See, Aspin (1986 a; 1986b); Cox and Scruton (1984); Harbottle (1985); Laity (1985); Marks (1984); 

New Zealand Government (1985); O’Connell (1984); Weaver (1985); Wragg (1983). Aspin (1986a: 

133) defines Peace Studies as “an ‘area study’ that is both theoretical and practical. ‘Conflict Studies’

helps us to understand and explain the causes and origins of human conflict, violence, and aggression;

‘Peace Studies’ enables us to use that knowledge and understanding and, along with other

considerations, to attempt to frame answers to the practical question. ‘What ought we to do in order to

promote the absence of war, conflict, and aggression and the attainment of amity, concord, and mutual

trust?’ These two areas of reflection and deliberation provide us with the agenda and curriculum for

any course of ‘Peace and Conflict Studies.’”

 

p.2

reinventing themselves. Studying English literature, philosophy or anthropology is

now very different from what it was in the 1980s.

     A second objection, or series of objections, to the introduction of Peace

Studies was directed at the nature of the field itself. The claim was that teaching in

such a field could not be objective and may even become doctrinaire. The

consequences of this, according to Cox and Scruton (1984), Marks (1984) and others,

could be devastating. Aspin (1986b; 405)) sums up some of the criticisms and

implications of Cox’s and Scruton’s (1984) critique of Peace Studies as follows:

     ‘Peace Studies’ ought to be removed from the curriculum of any genuine

     educational institution concerned with the pursuit of truth and the promotion

     of academic ends, to receive no further research funds or public recognition

     and to be replaced by an education committed to ‘the traditional concept of

     good manners….’ ‘Peace Studies’ is not a genuine educational discipline; it is

     poorly taught; it represents a limited way of examining the current world

     situation; it is part of a trend towards politicising educational institutions and

     endeavours; the intentions of its proponents and teachers are disingenuous, in

     so far as these are concerned … to call our own national interests into question

     in favour of those of an alien political ideology.

Though Cox and Scruton never explicitly say it in quite these terms—Marks (1984)

comes close—what their arguments reveal is a fear that such studies would produce

legions of “peace-niks” that posed a grave danger to national security and the freeworld.

     There is irony and disingenuousness in Cox and Scruton arguing on behalf of

objectivity and against indoctrination given that their book is published by The

Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies. Similarly, Marks (1984) was

 

p.3

published by Women and Families for Defence. Although their own arguments are

by and large overtly political—unapologetically advocating a conservative agenda—

they claim them as unbiased, generally objective and empirically grounded. Even if it

were true that Peace Studies is somehow inherently biased and politically loaded, the

Cox, Scruton and Marks criticisms are a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The

issue is nonetheless a serious one. The central charge is that Peace Studies is

constitutionally biased: more political adventurism than a serious field of study. It is

easy enough to see how individuals, courses and approaches within Peace Studies

could be biased in this way, but its difficult to conceive how the problem can be

inherent - constitutive of Peace Studies.

     Aspin (1986a) quotes Marks (1984):

     If we fail to win the battle now being waged for the minds of the young, in a

     few years there may be no battle left to fight. As Plato wrote, more than 2000

     years ago, of those who speak incessantly of peace: ‘…on account of this

     fondness of theirs for peace, which is often out of season where their influence

     prevails, they become by degrees unwarlike, and bring up their young to be

     like themselves; they are at the mercy of their enemies; whence in a few years

     they and their children and the whole city often pass imperceptibly from the

     condition of freemen to that of slaves.’

It is one thing to argue for Plato’s thesis on empirical grounds and quite another to

attempt to turn what is essentially an empirical argument into an

attempts to show that the consequences Plato envisions must logically follow from

something like Peace Studies—assuming one can also show that Peace Studies

inherently contains an undue “fondness for peace.” Pacifism as such, in particular

absolute pacifism, is not a position that should be equated with the field of Peace

 

p.4

Studies and it is not a position that those in Peace Studies need be committed to. It is

a position that those with views like Scruton, Marks, and the current U.S.

administration, are apt to impute to those who have quite different views about what

genuine defence and security consists in. But this is mere rhetorical play. One can—

and indeed many do—support Peace Studies as an essential part of a curriculum while

maintaining the need for a strong military and defence apparatus.

     Political and religious points of view, like other beliefs in which we have

strong emotional investments, are often the product of wish-fulfilment. They are after

the fact rationalizations for what we would like or need to believe for various reasons

having to do with ego-defence and self-image. We often believe what, emotionally

speaking, we would like to believe or what we need to believe. But this does not

mean that arguments cannot be rationally put forward and examined. The

intractability of many of the debates central to Peace Studies and the value-charged

arena in which they are usually carried out constitute one of the main challenges for

everyone working in the area, but attributions of inherent and unreflective bias in the

field are unwarranted. As Aspin (1986a; 1986b) shows, objections to Peace Studies

framed by Cox, Scruton, and Marks all fail because they rely on a host of unwarranted

assumptions, including assumptions about its inherent bias.

     Both of these lines of objection were refuted at the time, though political

conservatives and religious fundamentalists are never likely to abandon the second

line of objection. For our part, we believe that both lines of objection ought to

function as perennial reminders. The presence of traditional humanities disciplines

may not negate the need for a dedicated Peace Studies curriculum, but traditional

humanities disciplines have a richness and integrity that ought not be discounted.

They obviously have a great deal to offer those working in Peace Studies. The second

 

p.5

objection serves to remind us that the risk of unreflective, doctrinaire and dishonest

work is always present in highly charged and value-orientated study. At any rate,

what is interesting in hindsight is that neither of these lines of objection identify the

primary or most formidable difficulty that those teaching Peace Studies—or the

plethora of new courses that deal with violence and terrorism or with prejudices like

racism and sexism—have had to face. There may be difficulty in achieving objectivity

and fair-mindedness in some courses, but as Aspin (1986a; 1986b)2 pointed out, these

difficulties are not intrinsic to the field. These are issues that need to be dealt with

pedagogically—perhaps especially so in courses like these. The risk, however, is

spread far and wide, and one needs to work at fairness and objectivity in teaching

history and philosophy as well as Peace Studies.

     It is also important to critically examine, in an on-going way, what is meant by

objectivity in these cases. Some people appear to think—or really do think—that

objectivity, or presenting balanced views, consists in searching out the middle ground

on each and every issue: a best compromise between competing views or an

equilibrium point within a field of competing reasons. This is often, but clearly not

always, the case. A balanced and fair approach requires that one present the best

available rationale, for example, for racist policy or for going to war. But it does not

necessarily require endorsing these reasons or automatically giving them weight in a

calculation of the balance of argument. Objectivity is not simply a matter of balancing

competing reasons, but of critically teasting them. Objectivity may require exposing

reasons as false, misleading, duplicitous or illogical. Pointing out that

“Hitler made the trains run on time” is, after all, a bad joke, not an invitation to

 

2 Aspin’s critique of these early kinds of objections to Peace Studies in general, and to its inclusion the

curriculum at all levels, is thorough and successful. This does not mean that particular courses

in Peace Studies, and associated pedagogy, will not fail for some of the very reasons and kinds

of reasons that Cox, Scruton, and Marks give.

 

p. 6

balance considerations for and against Nazism. Questions about when to compromise

in terms of action and policy should also not be conflated with issues of objectivity

and truth. Political compromise is a matter of adjusting expectations in the light of

failures of persuasion. The discourse of inquiry, which primarily drives the Peace

Studies curriculum, is not a search for working compromises, but a search for

understanding.

     The Cox, Scruton, Marks line of reasoning may be unpersuasive, but it serves

to introduce a related consideration. It is possible to teach an ethics course without,

for example, letting one’s own views about the morality of euthanasia be known to

the class. There may be good pedagogical reasons—we think there are—why one’s

own views on matters like this should generally not be made known. Both sides of

the position can be examined more fruitfully, more objectively, in the absence of a

teacher’s self-revelations. However, in a course on Peace Studies, where, for example,

possible justifications for terrorism or the causes of terrorism are being discussed, it

seems impossible to adequately engage with the arguments without revealing

something of one’s own views or leanings. The nature of the material is such that

unlike the case with euthanasia, a critical engagement with argument appears to

involve putting one’s own convictions in full view. In the case of euthanasia, one is

faced with a far more discrete and narrow set of issues and problems than in the case

of war, terrorism and violence. It is possible to discuss, for example, if legalised

euthanasia represents a dangerous precedent without actually saying what one’s views

on the subject are. By contrast, the issues involved in putative justifications of

terrorism or war are much less discrete. They involve a such wide range of

perspectives and views that it is often very difficult—pedagogically impractical and

even disingenuous—to prevent ones own perspectives seeping in.

 

7

     It is not just that refusing to reveal one’s own views about specific arguments

is disingenuous, the practical difficulty of keeping one’s views under wraps, given the

nature of what is being discussed, is often a decisive consideration. Furthermore,

unlike the situation of teaching moral problems like euthanasia, it is often not at all

pedagogically desirable to disguise basic views and values when teaching Peace

Studies courses. A teacher remaining aloof from the general sway of a discussion all

too readily generates an unwelcome and unproductive distancing of students and

teachers. It is very hard for students to pursue wholehearted discussion of wideranging,

value-charged material—material connected in many different ways to basic

perspectives and fundamental values—when they feel monitored by an inscrutable

teacher, judging the discussion from a perspective that remains hidden to them. The

fact that good teaching involves participating in discussion, not just monitoring it

from above, may seem to threaten objectivity. This is at least part of what is behind

the views of Cox, Scruton and Marks about the alleged lack of objectivity and

tendency towards indoctrination in such courses. No doubt there are examples of

actual courses and classes in which there is a noticeable lack of objectivity and

tendency towards indoctrination. There is, after all, bad teaching. Nevertheless, it is

possible to acknowledge the special problems and pitfalls of teaching Peace Studies

while rejecting the view that this necessarily undermines the pursuit of objectivity and

honest critical reflection.

                                                    II.

     What then is the primary problem with teaching Peace Studies courses—a

problem that perhaps can be seen as an objection to the field itself? It is actually, and

interestingly, just the opposite of the problem of indoctrination. It is the problem of

teaching the like-minded. This is a situation not only in which indoctrination is not

 

p.8

possible, but where the cognitive and affective homogeneity of presuppositions, views

and feelings can undermine critical inquiry and turn a classroom into revival meeting.

Having a few (poor souls) in the class who, for whatever reasons, hold, or pretend to

hold, opposing views tends to exacerbate rather than mitigate the problem of teaching

the like-minded. Having a few students in the class for the majority to direct

vehement and “righteous” opposition to does little to improve the quality of a critical

inquiry—let alone open or change anyone’s mind about anything (cf., Levine, 2003).

It is easy to see that the source of majority opposition to a dissenting minority voice is

itself not always rationally or cognitively grounded, but is instead a function of egodefence,

projections, elimination and irrational emotional satisfactions more

generally—the same processes that lie behind the various prejudices operating in

daily life.3 And bringing these forces openly into play only serves to increase the

difficulty of fostering honest critical inquiry.

     It is not all that easy to explain just what constitutes like-mindedness in Peace

Studies. It has to be something more than just claiming to be for peace and against

war since just about everyone is apt to claim that mantle. As Wragg (1983) says, “I

don’t actually know of anyone who is against peace. Try as I might to trawl through

my memories of all the people I have ever known, I cannot for the life of me find

someone who is against the notion of living in peace.” It may be that Wragg has lived

a sheltered life, or has taken professions of value too much at face value, since it does

seem that, whatever they may say, there are people who give every indication of

valuing as ends in themselves conflict, violence and the military assertion of their will.

Even Henry Kissinger, George W. Bush, and Tony Blair, would claim to favour war

 

3 For an account of various prejudices see Elisabeth Young-Bruehl (1966; 2004). Studying the nature

of prejudices should be an important and indispensable part of Peace Studies. Also see essays by

Levine, Pataki and Young-Breuhl, in Levine and Pataki (2004).

 

9

only as last resort, but the measure of a person’s values is not discovered by

inspecting their autobiography.

     At any rate, the like-mindedness that characterises typical Peace Studies

classes is a matter of sharing, not only similar views about the immorality of war in

general, and specific conflicts in particular, but also a similar world-view and ethos

regarding violent conflict. The like-minded think and feel about war and other kinds

of violent conflict in very similar ways. In regards to war, the like-minded tend to

believe that the reasons leaders have given for going to war are not only inadequate,

they are not the real reasons. They believe that moral justifications for war are very,

very rare and that pursuit of non-violent options is not just practically preferable but is

morally obligatory. This descriptive account of the viewpoint of typical Peace

Studies students can be bolstered by an ostensive one. The like-minded are those who,

in a classroom, will agree with another, share points of view and amplify rather than

criticize the points and arguments made. Like-minded students tend to celebrate and

reinforce the expression of their shared perspectives; but they can also turn very

swiftly and effectively against dissenting voices.

     In the context of a classroom, the combination of a frank, open teaching style

and a class of like-minded students can make it very difficult to pursue honestly

critical and open-minded inquiry. It exacerbates the risk of biased and sloppy inquiry:

where exploration of too many alternative views is closed off from the start; where

everyone knows already what to think of a controversy, what everyone else will think

of it and what they will say of it; where the critical facility of the class is lost in a fog

of self-congratulation. Like-mindedness makes the challenge of generating high

quality critical discussion that much greater.

 

p.10

     Like-mindedness is a pedagogical challenge, not an intrinsically undesirable

condition. Being fair-minded and objective in one’s teaching does not require that

one teach to a fractious and disagreeable crowd. Objectivity is not a democratic

process of equal representation for equally foolish ideas. It is a process of critical

engagement with manifestly unfoolish ideas: the careful philosophical and empirical

support of them and challenge to them. This is especially important when teaching

moral issues. Neither dogmatism nor uncritical agreement need ensue because one is

teaching about moral issues in an engaged and open way. Some illustration of how

moral judgments and points of view (ones that would be firmly rejected by those who,

for example, support the war in Iraq), might be explored in Peace Studies in an

objective and theoretically useful manner, and also in a way that challenges the

complacent agreement of like-minded students, can support the claim that objectivity

can be preserved even where moral points of view are taken up in a class.

                                                    III.

     Cross-cultural diversity—understanding and appreciating attitudes very

different, even if not radically different from one’s own—in western and especially

non-western cultures, represents an important avenue for breaking through

unreflective presuppositions of the like-minded. People from non-western

backgrounds are often better equipped to see straight through lies, misrepresentations

and obfuscations of western powers. For example, from the distance of a non-western

perspective, the rhetoric of freedom and call for democracy by the current U.S.,

British and Australian administrations is shorn of its ringing obviousness, its veil of

authenticity. When a rallying call to freedom sounds merely odd, not at all obvious

and self-validating, it is all the more readily seen in a critical light: as, for example, an

attempt to redirect criticism away from alleged reasons for going to war (whether lies

 

11

or convenient mistruths). A call for freedom and democracy may even be seen as a

cynical ploy shifting focus from fundamental questions of social justice onto issues of

the form of government. Or, as in the current Iraq conflict, it may be seen as a way of

disguising US pursuit of a compliant polity under its pursuit of a free one.

     Challenging the automatic validation of a quest for democratic freedom is a

critical project—a move from bias and subjectivity to a more robust and critically

stable set of views. It involves, for example, an analytical process of distinguishing

out oft-conflated views and problems. The conflation of freedom and democracy

furnishes an especially important example of this. Even if it is true that democratic

forms of government are, as a matter of fact, most conducive to a respect for human

rights and personal freedoms, it is also true that some democratic governments—

governments, such as the current US and Israeli administrations, who congratulate

themselves loudly on their democracy tradition—have lamentable records of human

rights violations, of undermining as well as supporting freedom. Of course, part of

the work of any decent Peace Studies course is to tease apart concepts and bring

conceptual precision to students’ appreciation of conflict situations.

     The critical work of a Peace Studies program requires—at least

provisionally—some movement away from the received opinion of a student’s

background. Even like-minded students, trenchantly anti-war and automatically

suspicious of its promotion, are readily challenged by this shift of perspective.

Ready-to-hand criticisms of US foreign policy, for example, must be deepened by

critical reflection on the character and value of democracy, on the relation between

the moral standing of nations and their democratic pretensions. When President Regan

claimed that the only thing wrong with the Vietnam war was that we did not win it, or

when the U.S. uncritically supports Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the rest of

 

12

the world knows something is wrong even if the U.S. Congress takes no notice.

Democracy and freedom are not the primary issues in cases like this, but social,

political and legal justice. It is not only war, and the conduct of war, that can be

fundamentally and intractably unjust. A peace can be an unjust peace, a democracy

an unjust democracy. In his speech on 7 November, 2003, in response to increasing

criticism of the Iraq “policy,” Bush claimed that the war in Iraq was part of a larger

moral mission in the mid-east to make the countries there democratic. In so doing he

attempted to equate morality with democracy. Not only can the two not be equated,

but the effort to do so looks like another attempt to deflect attention away from issues

of social justice such as the illegal and immoral detainment of prisoners—alleged

terrorists—without charge by the U.S.. The critical work of a Peace Studies program,

then, involves the interrogation of policy, motive, the manipulation and distortion of

debate, the conflation of goods on one side and evils on the other, the rhetoric of

power in all its arrogance and disingenuousness. To move students from a

complacent, like-minded agreement about the evils of war towards the uncomfortable

interrogation of received views is to move them away from subjectivity.

Objective inquiry is not simply a matter of following sound logical and epistemological

principles—it is this but not only this—and it is certainly not a matter of avoiding

value claims. Objective inquiry is a matter of unsettling received views by putting

them under genuine pressure.

     Putting received views under pressures requires a capacity to appreciate and

move between different conceptual frameworks, including intellectual and

philosophical traditions that have critically examined aspects of social and political

thought since well before Hobbes. It is no small part of the work of Peace Studies,

and the disciplines within it, to provide a variety of such frameworks. However, some

 

13

such frameworks from both non-western and western cultures increasingly embody a

cynicism so pervasive that they fail to acknowledge any western ideals or social and

political achievements as genuine. One form this cynicism increasingly takes is to

see, or pretend to see, everything in purely economic terms. Western powers are seen

as not only holding and controlling the wealth, but as acquiring it unjustly, unfairly,

and as being willing to do everything and anything to continue doing so. Everything

else, talk of freedom and democracy, is either an outright lie or false belief generated

by self-deception and stupidity. Such views do not tell the whole story. They are

often held, in part, due to a need to generalise and reduce explanations to something

manageable—to a slogan and a way to avoid intellectual and personal anomie. We

say that some “pretend” to see the matter in these terms, or in other equally

reductionistic and hence simplistic terms. Hypocrisy, self-deception and insincerity

are ineliminable. They characterise proponents on all sides of an issue.

     An increasingly difficult challenge for those teaching peace and related topics

like race, religion, violence and terrorism is to get students to be more discriminating

in their cynicism. Much of their cynicism is well grounded—but not all of it—and

this introduces a special problem in teaching peace. For if an all-pervasive cynicism,

in any of its variants, runs too deep, there is little to teach or discuss. Teacher and

students alike are apt to rehearse a litany of the guilty’s deeds and reiterate their own

explanations—nowadays it is primarily globalisation/capitalism and racism—for the

causes of war and terrorism. Complacent and cynical explanations of this kind need

to be critically assessed and elaborated upon. For example, the concept of

globalization is a source of seemingly endless confusion. One should not be against

it—whatever we decide it is—

(Although nothing stops this fact functioning as a good prima facie reason to be

 

14

suspicious of globalization—just as a person with a sound environmental sense would

be correct in being robustly suspicious of an environmental bill supported by such an

administration.)

     The challenges posed by cynicism are specific forms of the more general

problem of teaching the like-minded. The most virulent instance of this kind of

problem is going to arise precisely in situations like teaching classes on war and

peace—where teacher and students alike have strong views accompanied by, and

often the product of, even stronger feelings. It occurs where such views are

constitutive of a shared worldview and ethos, constitutive in other words, of one’s

identity—especially vis-a-vis others. Not everyone in such classes think alike, and

often there may be factions and disagreement about a range of issues relating to war

and peace. Nevertheless, the participants in such classes are self-selecting and real

disagreement is often minimal.

     Where the disagreements are real, whether or not they are substantively

articulated, it is unlikely that views will be changed—beliefs, opinions and feelings

altered. One task in such situations is to help students first to articulate the bases for

their views—bases that can be both rational and irrational, and then to critically assess

them. Where there is no real disagreement, the problem of teaching the like-minded

is present and pervasive. How can one convince anyone of the truth (or falsity) of

beliefs they already hold dearly? If one is not merely conveying facts, but trying to

uncover the merits of a particular point of view that others more or less hold—even

when critically and fairly expositing the views of others—what can one do in such a

setting? What should the task be? How can one avoid the classroom becoming a

confessional, a place where people “testify” to the truth of views definitive of how

they see the world and how they hope the world will see them? This kind of setting

 

15

serves a role in the context of Alcoholics Anonymous, but is it at all useful—

pedagogically, socially, and politically—in a class on war and peace?

     Such “preaching to the converted” can be challenged on the grounds that it is,

by definition as it were, ineffectual. More significantly, it can and should be

questioned on moral grounds. The moral challenge comes not just from demanding a

uniformity of belief (and feelings), though this threat is real enough even where one

seeks to avoid it. It comes instead from adopting techniques one elsewhere abhors—

that of oversimplifying and ignoring data and approaches in a way that makes one’s

explanations and stories plainly false. The moral views one promotes in this way are

tainted because they are not well reasoned, adequately justified and examined.

Specific cases may, for instance, not be examined, theoretically or empirically, in a

sufficiently finely grained manner. One can be “against” the Vietnam war, for

example, without supposing Vietnam, at the time or now, to be a nation of free people

holding to or exhibiting principles of social or economic justice, and one can be

against the Iraq war without supposing it is all about oil. The Iraq war may, so to

speak, be about something even more disturbing than oil. It may be about sheer

power and mindless, or child-like, revenge. Students and teachers alike, often

justifiably critical of the media, may be far more forgiving of their own glossing of

issues, truncated accounts and explanations, and empty rhetoric.

     One strategy for partly avoiding the problem of teaching the like-minded—the

simplest one—is to demand justification and critical examination of overgeneralised

and platitudinous assertions. This involves more than merely playing the devil’s

advocate. Indeed, it is something quite distinct. It seeks to avoid straightforward

reaffirmations of the views dominant in the class by not only critically examining

them, but also seeking deeper and different kinds of support for them in various

 

16

disciplines. Peace studies is a naturally interdisciplinary field partly because issues

relating to social and political justice are omnipresent. Even so, psychological features

of the nature of conflict are often overlooked. To think that one could come to even an

approximate understanding of the causes of violent conflict apart from understanding

something about the psychological mechanisms that underlie attitudes and their

expression in action, is like trying to explain how a car works with mentioning the

engine and its transmission.

     Other obvious strategies are to look for areas of disagreement or to look for

opportunities of discomforting, far-reaching critical interrogation, perhaps trying to

engender them through a more fine-grained approach to a subject. Another obvious

strategy is to look at new issues, issues that have not had time to generate prepackaged,

ready-to-wear responses. Each conflict or series of conflicts involves

issues peculiar to it. In the case of Iraq, even among those who agree it was wrong to

go to war, one might ask, in the face of the fact that no weapons of mass destruction

have yet been found—that seemingly the reasons stated for going to war were not the

real reasons—why there seems so far to be little in the way of political consequences.

In October 2004, the Howard Government in Australia—a principle supporter of the

war—was re-elected with an increased majority. Why is this? Is it due to the media

manipulating people or the media being manipulated by governments or, selfreferentially,

by itself? Is it because of a pervasive and seemingly debilitating

cynicism on the part of both government officials and citizens? What are the

implications of each of these possibilities? The situation seems less the dated one of

politicians (and the media) saying “Ask us no questions, and we will tell you no lies,”

than of people saying to those in power, “Tell us the lies we want to hear. We will

reward your mendacity. You are lying for us, after all, as well as to us.” Is there any

 

17

way to control dishonest media manipulation and to maintain a genuinely free press?

Is such a thing possible? How might we recognise such a medium if we saw one? Is it

possible, or probable, that the chances for peace, or more peace than we have known,

and a greater degree of social justice can be undone by apathy and selfishness? If so,

can these be dealt with, and if so, how?

     Australia’s response to the war in Iraq illustrates how central, but also how

intractable, these questions are. In the case of Australia, the most likely explanation

for a lack of political consequence issuing from the war turns, not just on the blanket

coverage of a compliant, pro-war media and on an all-persuasive cynicism within the

voting public, but also on a fundamental indifference within the country to matters of

foreign policy. Australia got itself mixed-up—in a minor, grandstanding sort of

way—in a conflict few in the country cared much about and the voting public were

more than happy to move on from the issue once Australia’s active involvement in the

conflict was settled, recognised to be of limited tenure and of limited cost (no

Australian military personal have been killed so far in the conflict). Australia has a

long history of not caring about the past, and once an issue is sold as a done-deal,

there is little public clamour to reflect upon it. How much this is a native feature of

public opinion in the country and how much it is an artefact of a manipulative media

is almost impossible to tell.

     How is the unease and dissatisfaction that many feel with the reporting of the

Iraq war and on terrorism in general to be explained? To what extent does media

influence itself, and what might the implications of this be? For example, does the

media report news that is already filtered through the media—reporting, in a sense, on

itself and its own reactions to that which it is supposed it should be reporting about?

If any of this is true in regard to the media, is it anything new? Has the media always

 

18

been like this, and if so can we even know? Is this a sufficient reason for supposing

the media creates and editorializes what it reports in a way that undermines its

credibility by distancing it from a more objective perspective? What needs and whose

needs might such creation and editorializing meet? They must, after all, meet

someone’s interests. Is what the media reports a self-fulfilling and perhaps wishfulfilling

phantastic representation of reality as conceived by those in power or by the

ones being reported to—the media’s audience?

     Let us give one final example of the kind of provocation that is vitally

important to breaking down the stultifying atmosphere of a like-minded class. The

moral outrage and anger at the attack on the U.N. headquarters in Iraq seems to have

been almost universal and is justified. Yet given that the U.N imposed sanctions that

according to some are responsible for hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths 4, primarily

infants and children, it seems odd, even macabre, to cast the U.N. as a friend

of Iraq—an agency that should somehow be immune from hatred and attack. The U.N.

has arguably played the role of a prime combatant in regards to Iraq. Why are these

kinds of questions barely raised? 5 These specific questions are indicative of the kinds

of issues that even the like-minded may disagree about—and they worth pursuing

even if it turns out in the end that there is widespread agreement. They are worth

examining and may help to mitigate the problem of teaching the like-minded.

Exploring these sorts of questions and finding others—finding the “right” questions to

ask—is basic to a vibrant program of Peace Studies. It will also tend to point to

fundamental issues of value and social justice, and hot topics like the nature of the

 

4 See Gordon, (1999a; 1999b; 2002). Also see essays by Levine, Pataki and Young-Breuhl, in Levine

and Pataki (2004).

5 For some answers see Foucault (1972); Badiou (2002); Baudrillard (2001); Butler (2002) and Zizek

(2002).

 

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media, and the role of religion in violence, where even the like-minded are apt at

times to find themselves in genuine disagreement.*

 

*My thanks to David Aspin, Claire Bremner and Andrew Nichol for comments.

 

Michael P Levine

Philosophy

University of Western Australia

 

Damian Cox

Philosophy

University of Queensland

 

 

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