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What It Would Take to End Racism and War

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I'd say pursuing riches over friendships. Conspicuous consumption. Brand consciousness. Shopping as fun or therapy. Honoring the hoarding of vast filthy piles of wealth. Electing people president who claim to be better than you because they're rich. Allowing a concentration of wealth beyond medieval levels. Letting single individuals hoard money that could otherwise transform the world for the better, and praising them for it. Shunning any collective good even when more efficient, even when it makes everyone better off, things like universal healthcare and education and retirement and everything else shunned by the Mercatus Center of George Mason University and formerly of UVA. Or, how about this, the willful destruction of the earth's climate, air, soil, and water for the short-term monetary profits of a small number of people? If that's not extreme materialism, I don't know what is. How about tax cuts for billionaires as an answer to hurricanes?

And how do King's evil triplets relate to each other? Wars are fought for, among other things, profits. Racism is fueled by, among other things, economic insecurity and greed. Extreme materialism seeps in to fill a void in lives lacking the pursuit of peace, justice, community, generosity, and the curiosity needed to learn from those who are different, and its worst impacts are imposed on people and communities with the least wealth and power.

Is it possible to get rid of all racism and war? What about extreme materialism?

While we can point to numerous hunter-gatherer societies that have lived without war or extreme materialism, for obvious reasons of their isolation we cannot claim they have lived without racism. Yet we can point to countless examples of people living without apparent racism, and of people of every description risking their lives to help end racism. There has never been anything found in human biology to mandate racism for all or any segment of our population. Children are not born blind to superficial features of human appearance any more than they are to behavioral differences. But whether they attribute racist significance to those features depends entirely on whether anyone teaches them to do so. Therefore, there is no reason grounded in our genetics to prevent our living without racism.

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The same is true for war. War has only been around for the most recent fraction of the existence of our species. We did not evolve with it. During this most recent 10,000 years or so, war has been sporadic. Some societies have not known war. Some have known it and then abandoned it.

Just as some of us find it hard to imagine a world without war or murder, some human societies have found it hard to imagine a world with those things. A man in Malaysia, asked why he wouldn't shoot an arrow at slave raiders, replied "Because it would kill them." He was unable to comprehend that anyone could choose to kill. It's easy to suspect him of lacking imagination, but how easy is it for us to imagine a culture in which virtually nobody would ever choose to kill and war would be unknown? Whether easy or hard to imagine, or to create, this is decidedly a matter of culture and not of DNA.

According to myth, war is "natural." Yet a great deal of conditioning is needed to prepare most people to take part in war, and a great deal of mental suffering is common among those who have taken part. In contrast, not a single person is known to have suffered deep moral regret or post-traumatic stress disorder from war deprivation.

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War in human history up to this point has not correlated with population density or resource scarcity. It's not simply created by powers beyond our easy control. The idea that climate change and the resulting catastrophes will inevitably generate wars could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is not a prediction based on facts. The growing and looming climate crisis is a good reason for us to outgrow our culture of war, so that we are prepared to handle crises by other, less destructive means. And redirecting some or all of the vast sums of money and energy that go into war and war preparation to the urgent work of protecting the climate could make a significant difference, both by ending one of our most environmentally destructive activities and by funding a transition to sustainable practices. In contrast, the mistaken belief that wars must follow climate chaos will encourage investment in military preparedness, thus exacerbating the climate crisis and making more likely the compounding of one type of catastrophe with another.

Human societies have been known to abolish institutions that were widely considered permanent. These have included human sacrifice, trial by ordeal, blood feuds, duelling, slavery, the death penalty, and many others. In some societies some of these practices have been largely eradicated, but remain illicitly in the shadows and on the margins. Those exceptions don't tend to convince most people that complete eradication is impossible, only that it hasn't yet been achieved in that society. The idea of eliminating hunger from the globe was once considered ludicrous. Now it is widely understood that hunger could be abolished -- and for a tiny fraction of what is spent on war. While nuclear weapons have not all been dismantled and eliminated, there exists a popular movement working to do just that.

But what would a world without racism or war look like? There's no way to actually predict, but I can propose one way it could look. Without racism, we'd have more community, more security, more love and enlightenment, less fear and resentment. But without racism people struggling with poverty, injustice, and insignificance would have to find somewhere else to vent their anger and blame, or some way to overcome it, or they'd have to reinvent racism and other similar hatreds. Without war, we'd have more global community, more security, less fear and violence. But without war we'd have a gigantic pile of money almost too big to possibly figure out what to do with. We hear about the wealth of the billionaires sometimes, when people make enough noise in the streets. But you could tax all their wealth away once, and it'd be gone -- and we absolutely should do that -- but you wouldn't have anything like the kind of money you could take away from U.S. military spending each and every year. Tiny fractions of it could transform this country and the world. It was doubled after the events of 16 years ago this week, and we're much the worse off for it.

People don't engage in racism simply because they are financially insecure, and such contributing factors to racism don't excuse it, but people who are living well and securely in a relatively egalitarian society don't have to blame any problems they don't have on other racial groups. So if you're going to end war, why not also create universal healthcare, education through college, retirement, vacation, unemployment insurance or basic income, etc., and not create these things for whites only as so many government programs were in the United States in the last century, and not create them for other groups only even as reparations, but create them equally for all with no bureaucracy needed to identify the worthy.

The fact that historical injustices have left us with a vast racial wealth gap is a problem, and some form of reparations is probably part of the best answer. Affirmative action as it has been done is a problem as well, in so far as it creates resentment among whites. Basic human rights like education should not be parceled out as weak reparations. Even aid to the poor creates vicious resentments, especially when combined with racist thinking that falsely imagines the poor as of a particular race, and especially when combined with the ideology of a place like the Mercatus Center that sees assistance as theft and suffering as irrelevant or educational. All of this is transformed if we consider the possibility of using all or part of the U.S. military budget for something else. If college and healthcare were guaranteed to all, and the land of opportunity offered the opportunity to improve that some other nations do, reparations of past wrongs would be less resisted, including perhaps reparations to people like Iraqis whose countries have been damaged or destroyed.

We are often distracted from the fact that war is the primary thing our country does. War and militarism and bases and ships and missiles and sanctions and nuclear threats and hostility make up the filter through which much of the other 96% of humanity experiences this 4%. The U.S. Congress chooses how to spend a great deal of money each year, and chooses to put 54% of it into war and preparations for war. The wars demonstrably increase rather than reduce or eliminate anti-U.S. sentiment and violence. They endanger us rather than protect us -- and those dangers may last in foreign lands as long as the U.S. Civil War is lasting here. Gallup polling finds the U.S. widely considered the greatest threat to peace in the world. The wars are a top cause of death and injury in the world, and a top cause of famines and disease epidemics and refugee crises that cause massive additional suffering.

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But war kills most by diverting resources. Small fractions of U.S. military spending could end starvation, provide clean water, end diseases, even make major strides toward ending the use of fossil fuels worldwide. Military spending also reduces jobs in comparison to other spending or not taxing working people in the first place.

The U.S. military consumes more petroleum than most entire countries and has a bigger budget than most governments and about the size of all other militaries combined. The U.S. military destroys areas of the earth on an unfathomable scale, including back home where it is responsible for 69% of environmental disaster superfund sites. Yes, the top destroyer of the U.S. natural environment is the U.S. military.

By the way, we are organizing a flotilla of kayaks to the Pentagon on September 17th to hold up giant banners in front of it protesting its role in climate change. You don't need your own kayak or skills. You just need to sign up at WorldBeyondWar.org or BackboneCampaign.org. And we're planning a big conference at American University on September 22-24 bringing together top environmental and peace activists, and you can come if you sign up at WorldBeyondWar.org.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
 

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