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                                                    The Art of Peace

Note:  This Earth Manifesto essay is in early stages of work, having just begun to evolve, so it is merely a rough draft of its eventual contents.

“I realize that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war … But we have no more

    urgent task.”

                       --- John F. Kennedy

The Art of War is an ancient Chinese military treatise attributed to Sun Tzu, a high-ranking military general and strategist.  The text of The Art of War is composed of 13 chapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of warfare.  The treatise, published more than 2,250 years ago, is commonly considered one of the definitive works on military strategy and tactics.  Thousands of books about war have been written since The Art of War was published, and much could no doubt be learned by a close study of a representative sample of them.

In 1532, the famous book The Prince appeared in print.  Written by Niccolo Machiavelli, this book was one of the first works of modern political philosophy.  Its general theme was that the aims of “princes” (rulers) include things like glory and political survival, so it is easy to see how they justify the use of immoral means to achieve those overarching ends.

In 1869, the novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy was published, and it is regarded as one of the most important works in world literature.  Wikipedia notes that Tolstoy himself, “somewhat enigmatically, said of War and Peace that it was ‘not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle’.  Large sections of the work, especially in the later chapters, are philosophical discussions rather than narrative.”  Wikipedia further informs:

“War and Peace delineates in graphic detail the events surrounding a French invasion of Russia, and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society, as seen through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families.”

I haven’t read these books. War and Peace alone is one of the longest novels every written.  Wondering about the themes explored and the insights conveyed in War and Peace, I referred to SparkNotes to see what the arcane hoopla is all about.  SparkNotes laudably provides valuable General Information about many books and their Context, Plot Overview, Character List, Analysis of Major Characters, and main Themes, Motif & Symbols.  A lifetime could be spent exploring important books in world literature, and curiosity and interest could be stimulated with even a partial such undertaking.

Tolstoy was born into a well-known family of old Russian nobility.   SparkNotes elaborates on Tolstoy:  “His contact with his own peasants led to a heightened appreciation of their morality, camaraderie and enjoyment of life, as evidenced in his celebration of Platon Karataev in War and Peace.  Indeed, Tolstoy became quite critical of the superficiality of upper class Russians, as we can sense in his portraits of the Kuragin family in War and Peace.  Ultimately, Tolstoy developed a desire to seek a kind of spiritual regeneration by renouncing his family’s possessions, much to the dismay of his long-suffering wife.”  One can just imagine!

Tolstoy grew from a somewhat “dissolute and privileged society author to the non-violent and spiritual anarchist of his latter days”.   The salient influences of his experiences in the army, and of travels to Europe, surely swayed his understanding.  He was disillusioned with abuses of power by the Russian government, and he finally reached a point where he declared:  "The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens ... Henceforth, I shall never serve any government anywhere."

Tolstoy was struck by descriptions of ascetic renunciation as being a path to holiness in Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.  After reading passages such as the following, which abound in the ethical works of German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, the Russian nobleman chose poverty and formal denial of the will:

“But this very necessity of involuntary suffering (by poor people) for eternal salvation is also expressed by that utterance of the Savior (Matthew 19:24):  ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.’  Therefore those who were greatly in earnest about their eternal salvation, chose voluntary poverty when fate had denied this to them and they had been born into wealth.  Thus Buddha was born a prince, but voluntarily took to the mendicant's staff; and Francis of Assisi, the founder of the mendicant orders who, as a youngster at a ball where the daughters of all the notabilities were sitting together, was asked: "Now Francis, will you not soon make your choice from these beauties?" and who replied: "I have made a far more beautiful choice!"  Yes?  "Whom?"  Well, "La povertà (poverty)":  whereupon he abandoned every thing shortly afterwards and wandered through the land as a mendicant.

These words are scarcely comprehensible to us in our busy, variety loving, materialistic and pleasure-seeking 21st century America!

Tolstoy, interestingly, was a contemporary of Mark Twain’s;  he was born seven years before him, and he died the same year that Mark Twain died in 1910.  Though the two writers never met, they both share a common legacy of having had a “gargantuan influence” on world literature.

An Interlude of Machiavellian Introspection

Niccolo Machiavelli was born in 1469 in Florence, Italy.  He passed his childhood peacefully, receiving a humanistic education that was customary for young men of the Renaissance middle class.  He also spent two years studying business mathematics, then worked for the next 7 years in Rome for a Florentine banker.  After returning to Florence in 1494, he witnessed the expulsion of the Medici family, the wealthy and highly influential “oligarchic despots” who had ruled Florence for many decades, and the rise of Girolamo Savanorola, a Dominican religious zealot who took control of the region shortly thereafter.

Italy at that time became the scene of intense political conflict.  The city-states of Florence, Milan, Venice and Naples fought for control of Italy, and so did the Vatican and France and Spain and the Holy Roman Empire.  Each of these powers attempted to pursue a strategy of playing the other powers off against one other, and they also engaged in dishonorable practices like blackmail and violence.  The same year that Machiavelli returned to Florence, Charles VIII of France invaded Italy.  This was the first of several French invasions that would occur during Machiavelli’s lifetime.  These events influenced Machiavelli’s attitudes toward government, and they formed the backdrop for his later impassioned pleas for Italian unity.

Machiavelli wanted to gain political power, so one of his goals in writing The Prince was to win the favor of Lorenzo de Medici, who was governor of Florence at the time and the person to whom he dedicated the book.  Machiavelli hoped to land an advisory position within the Florentine government.

The most revolutionary aspect of The Prince is its separation of politics and ethics.  Classical political theory traditionally linked political law with a higher moral law.  In contrast, Machiavelli argued that political action must always be considered in light of its practical consequences rather than some lofty ideal.  It is a practical but not notably ethical guide for a ruler rather than an abstract treatise of philosophy.

Machiavelli’s book also distinguishes itself on the subject of free will. Medieval and Renaissance thinkers often looked to religion or ancient authors for explanations of plagues, famines, invasions and other calamities;  they considered the prevention of such disasters to be beyond the scope of human power.  In The Prince, Machiavelli argues that people have the ability to shield themselves against misfortune, and he expresses an extraordinary confidence in the power of human self-determination.  He also affirms his belief in free will as opposed to a predetermined divine destiny.

People tend to admire generosity, courage, honor and piety in others, but generally do not emulate these virtues themselves.  “Ambition lies among those who have achieved some power, but most common people are satisfied with the way things are, and therefore do not yearn to improve on the status quo.”  -- SparkNotes, The Prince

Knowing human nature, we see that people generally remain adequately content and happy so long as they do not suffer too much injustice or hardship or oppression.  Given this fact, ruling elites are wise not to let hardships become too extreme, or oppression too blatant, if they want to protect their hopes and expectations for indefinitely perpetuating their high status.

Machiavelli’s ideas have been oversimplified and vilified since they were first published.  His political thought is usually, “and unfairly”, defined solely in terms of The Prince.  The adjective “Machiavellian” is used to mean “manipulative,” “deceptive,” or “ruthless.”  But Machiavelli’s Discourses, a work considerably longer and more developed than The Prince, propounds republican themes of civic virtue, patriotism, and open political participation.

Machiavelli also wrote a book titled The Art of War.  It consists of a preface and seven chapters that take the form of a series of dialogues taking place in gardens built in the 1490s for Florentine aristocrats and humanists to engage in philosophic and political discussions.  Let’s imagine ourselves visiting these gardens, together, for similar purposes.  Let’s talk. 

Machiavelli developed the philosophy of "limited warfare", asserting that when diplomacy fails, war is an extension of politics.  The Art of War also emphasized the need to have a state militia, and promoted the concept of a valid need for an armed citizenry.  He believed that all society, religion, science and art rested on security provided by the military.

In The Prince, he declared that "a prince should have no other object, no any other thought, nor take anything as his art but that of war and its orders and discipline;  for that is the only art which is of concern to one who commands."  Civilization has come a long ways since those days;  or has it?

Reflections on War – and Peace

My own thinking about war and peace are exhaustively expressed in Reflections on War – and Peace.  The ideas in all these Earth Manifesto books and essays point the way for expanded reflections on the Art of Peace.  This new art should be developed and honed and honored and pursued with much greater conviction and commitment than ever before.  Generous incentives and effective disincentives should be established to make peace much more profitable, and to make war a significantly less desirable boon to anyone, especially including those who profit outlandishly from wars.

 “Peace cannot be kept by force;  it can only be achieved by understanding.”

                                                                                                                   --- Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was a scientist who did not feel detached from social responsibility, and he became one of the world's leading spokesmen for pacifism and non-violent conflict resolution.  He is honored for his ceaseless struggle to achieve peace and world order and international cooperation.  These are the hallmarks of a great man, and they are great ideas!

“There’s a wonderful mythical law of nature that the three things we crave most -- happiness, freedom, and peace of mind -- are always attained by giving them to someone else.”

                                                                         --- Unknown, from Peace Be with You, compiled by Dan Zadra

Words of war throughout history have become acts of war, so I’m thinking that clearly articulated words of peace may contribute to our societies becoming more peaceful.  Let’s give peace a chance, like John Lennon lyrically encouraged us to do, and take steps to promote peace more wholeheartedly!

  “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

                                                                                                                                                         --- Anne Frank

Personal Reflections

 “The everyday kindness of the back roads more that makes up for the agony of the headlines.”

                                                                                                                                                  --- Charles Kuralt

After I graduated from college and worked for a year, I spent 15 months vagabonding around Europe and the Near East and North Africa, enjoying many memorable experiences and meeting some generous and kind-hearted people.  When I came back, I encountered more culture shock in America than I had experienced in any foreign culture, and I set about trying to figure out what to do with my life.  I ended up working at a number of temporary jobs, one of which gave me an office for a year where I struggled to help straighten out a colossal corporate accounting mess.  I still have a faded wall hanging that I made and put up in that office.  In my boldest dark blue calligraphy, it reads:

“Plans are one thing and fate another.  When they coincide, success results.  Yet success mustn't be considered the absolute.  It is questionable, for that matter, whether success is an adequate response to life.  Success can eliminate as many options as failure.”

                                                                                            --- Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

A Telling Tale

  “Life is like a bicycle;  in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

                                                                                                                     --- Albert Einstein

I have an old friend named Sam who once joined me on a memorable excursion to the Eel River in Northern California more than forty years ago.  One day along this beautiful stream, in the vicinity of some towering and hauntingly beautiful groves of the tallest living trees (Sequoia sempervirens, i.e. coastal redwoods), we were enjoying a lovely afternoon along the river, as high as kites, and we began skipping stones on the river.  I would find a nice smooth flat rock and let it fly, generally hoping to have it skip a dozen times before sinking into the water or striking the opposite banks of the small river across the riffled pool where we found ourselves.  Sam had a different approach;  he would hunt around gathering up a whole stash of the best-looking river-smoothed stones, saving them up until he had a dozen, and then he would announce the launch of a fusillade, and he would skip one after another.

The quality of a stone’s shape, along with the skill of the throw, tends to be strongly correlated to the success of any given toss, yet there were always times when a perfect stone thrown just right would catch a riffle in the river and plummet straight to the bottom.  My friend had enlisted in the military for a brief spell before the harshness of the discipline compelled him to leave a Texas Boot Camp for a decades-long stint in the Coast Guard Reserves.  So when he declared, “That rock had an attitude problem!”, I suspected that the observation had a deep subtext of chagrin-engendering precedents.

All these years later, in a quite curios contrapuntal echo across four decades, I am the one today who has saved up these written salvos rather than being the type who tweets them spontaneously on Twitter all the time, and they are on the cusp of a launch of themes so broad in scope and so cacophonously harmonious that I have no clue how the resulting splash will really play out.  Like Ishmael undertaking a journey that eventually led him to a Great White Whale, I proceed.   

“God willing”, and with the passive collaboration of the first million readers, this broad fusillade could continue skipping across the surface of human consciousness indefinitely into the future, and “make all the difference”, like a road taken by the poet Robert Frost, when presented with choices of many possibilities that diverge before us in the undergrowth of our lives.  Who’s to say?

Ishmael is the narrator and one of the main characters in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  The name Ishmael sets the stage for a Biblical allegory, because in Genesis, the biblical Ishmael, Abraham’s first son, was banished to wander in the desert wilderness, while in Moby Dick, Melville's Ishmael wanders upon the sea.  Both Ishmaels experience a miraculous rescue, the one from thirst, and the other as the only crew member rescued from drowning when the whaling vessel Pequod sank. 

Ishmael famously postulated that mankind lives out a "story" that each person knows by the time they are "six or seven," a story that covers all areas of life including race, politics and nationality.  The story is so ingrained in culture that it operates like background noise and nobody actually hears it, even though it plays continuously.  Ishmael tried to learn to discern this voice of “Mother Culture”, and he would hum the story to himself in the background, always remaining conscious of it, and was thereby alienated to a degree from the people around him.  Ishmael established a vocabulary that had to be used in order to avoid abstraction, so he suggested that the world's “civilized” people be called the "Takers," and the “primitive” people be called the "Leavers".  No matter where they live, Takers are united by their desire for civilization, and their embrace of it, while Leavers are united in their eschewal of civilization.   Absquatulate!

Ishmael defines a "story" as a scenario that connects and explains the relationship between mankind and the world and the gods.  People "enact" a story by living so as to make it a reality.  "Culture" involves a people enacting a particular story.  Ishmael introduces this idea of a living mythology in which a civilization enacts the story it believes.  Ishmael asserts that Takers regard the Earth as a life support system, and since they consider themselves to be the central entity in the Universe, they expect it is be subservient to them.  The creation myth of Mother Culture assumes that the gods created the Earth solely to engender and support mankind.  Ishmael suggests the dangerous extension of this premise:  man is entitled to treat the Earth however he wants.  This story essentially allows human beings to blame everything on the gods, since it was they who gave man dominance, and if the Earth is being destroyed, that must be what the gods wanted.

A curious aspect of the overarching mythologies by which all human beings see themselves is that, despite having been on the Earth for a relatively short amount of time, humans assume that we are the very pinnacle of life, solipsistically ignoring the certainty that a million years from now, evolutionary change will have altered that perspective just as it has radically changed the perspective of a dinosaur 75 million years ago that might have regarded itself as being the pinnacle of creation at that stage in the evolution of life on Earth.

It may seem like I have lost track of Sam in the seemingly haphazard drift of this digression, but I remember him well, and fondly, for he died young, and I miss him yet.  Sam and I and our best college buddy Terry had all climbed beautiful Mt. Shasta one spring weekend (14,179 feet, as Terry would characteristically declare, selecting from an extensive array of mountain elevation statistics and other details of geology that he loved to store in his brain).  This majestic peak in the southern Cascades was clothed in deep snow that day in late May, and I still have an old photo of the three of us atop the peak, Sam with his ice ax held aloft in triumph at our success in the strenuous endeavor of getting to the summit of that towering volcanic mountain peak.

“Here and there, now and then, lose yourself in nature and find peace.”

                                                                                                                      --- John Muir


       Dr. Tiffany B. Twain

         First published May 5, 2015, modified a bit in August 2016


“People who develop the habit of thinking of themselves as world citizens are fulfilling the first requirement of sanity in our time.”

                                                         --- Norman Cousins