Script of this teleseminar

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Conversation #6 Listen: "How Can Peace Psychology Help Us Understand How to Take The Lead in Building a Culture of Peace?" - with Hal Bertilson, August 6.

What I intend to do this evening is to give people unfamiliar with peace psychology a sense of its scope. Following those brief comments I will describe how peace psychologists define the field and do that with some examples. What may be most useful will be the books and web pages that I identify. I will make the case that in order for us to reduce the magnitude and frequency of violence in the word and make the world a peaceful place we must engage everyone in changing our culture. The resources included in this discussion will provide us with suggestions on how to make these cultural changes.

Peace Psychology is a junior level course that I have been teaching yearly at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. This course serves psychology majors and majors in our Peace Studies Program. The link to the syllabus for that course will be shown in the transcript ( The syllabus will be one way to have an overview of the field. Another way to have an overview of Peace Psychology is to go to the web page for Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR) at PsySR offers a number of resources on that web page. PsySR publishes a journal, Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, which reflects the scholarship of leading peace psychologists.

Another strategy for finding relevant applied and theoretical scholarship in peace psychology is through the data base psycINFO. psycINFO is the data base of the American Psychology Association (APA) and is available at many libraries. I recommend that for any search of psychology publications that you begin with psycINFO. Peace psychology is an area of rich resources. A review of psycINFO showed that the number of journal articles, chapters, and books published in peace psychology, broadly defined, totaled 60,000 to 86,000 per year for the years 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003 (Blumberg, 2006).

The largest number of these publications were in conflict resolution. The area of greatest growth has been peacemaking. Examples include United Nations interventions in intercultural and often intra-national disputes. Similarly there has been a rise in peace psychology research publications focused on particular, often crisis-ridden locations in the world. There has been an increase in research and individual publications in peace education.

These are a great many publications to search through. Fortunately there are some excellent books written and edited by peace psychologists that review and interpret peace psychology literature. These books will be the most effective way to access the scholarship in the field. I will mention some of them and include them in the reference list to this transcript.

A 2 X 2 classification system proposed by Christie, Wagner, & Winter (2001) has been widely accepted by those in the discipline to define Peace Psychology. Their edited book, Peace, Conflict, and Violence: Peace Psychology for the 21st Century, is out of print. However, they made it available at no charge at the PsySR web site. It is the primary textbook I have been using to teach Psychology of Peace. It’s 30 chapters by noted scholars in the field provide a good introduction to the field.

The 2 X 2 classification system describes two types of violence and two types of peacebuilding. Direct and structural violence describe the two types of violence. Structural violence refers to conditions that make direct violence more likely. Examples of structural violence include poverty, contamination of water, destructive changes in weather, lack of education, hyperinflation, spent nuclear tipped warheads and landmines left in fields leading to the maiming and death of innocents. Direct violence occurs quickly and is obvious to the observer. Structural violence kills slowly and is chronic and continuous. It is often difficult to observe and is quote “unintentional.”

The third category in their system is peacekeeping and peacemaking. It addresses the problem of direct violence. Peacebuilding is the fourth category. It addresses structural violence. I will now discuss each of these four categories further and note implications for peacemaking.

I will seldom use the term nonviolence because to many peace psychologists nonviolence means no more than the absence of violence, something called negative peace. One theme in these remarks is that reducing violence is not enough. We must build peace. It follows that we must change the culture.

Direct Violence

I will turn now to direct violence. I tell my students that the problem with aggression is that “it works.” By that I mean in the short run, at least, the aggressor gets his or her goal: expressing anger, feeling powerful, attacking a scapegoat, etc.

A large amount of systematic, empirical research has been conducted on aggression since the 1950s. My comments will necessarily be brief, but several lessons from this work are relevant to our study of peacemaking.

From laboratory research on interpersonal aggression with college students, we know, for example, that physical attack reliably leads to counter attack and more aggression (O’Leary & Dengerink, 1973). That finding alone says to me that we must find other ways to prevent violence than to use violence against violence. Indeed psychologists argue that parents should rarely use physical punishment with their children. Punishment teaches children the wrong lessons that physical aggression can be used to get what you want. A parent using punishment serves as a model that a child is likely to imitate. Punishment diminishes the emotional, loving bond between the parent and the child.

A parallel that I find between those studies of interpersonal aggression and the aggression of nations is a study in which college students were led to believe they had the ability to administer twice as much punishment to an opponent than the opponent had available to use in response. Having much more force available than one’s opponent did not lead the aggressor to act with caution and responsibility. Only the weaker opponents inhibited their aggression. The dominant players did not (Dengerink & Levendusky, 1972). I can’t help but think of this research as a metaphor for U.S. national hegemony. Caution is always urged when generalizing from one level of analysis (individuals) to another level (nation states)(Levinger & Rubin, 1994), but when the behaviors at both levels are the same there is a “take home” message. And the take home message for me is that the Monroe Doctrine, the Spanish American War, the war in Iraq, and other similar wars are not anomalies. They are what one should expect to find when one nation has so much military force over all other nations.

In 1939 an interdisciplinary group of Yale social scientists reconceptualized Freudian clinical theory into scientific testable propositions. One of the most productive areas emerging from this team effort was the study of frustration and aggression (Miller, 1941). Initially it was believed that frustration was a major determinant of aggression. But from more than 40 years of laboratory and field research on the question by Leonard Berkowtiz (e.g., 1989) and his students, a radically new view emerged. As the program continued and research from both human and animal studies revealed new insights, frustration began to be seen as only one of many precursors to aggression. Berkowitz and his students began to find that angry words, similarities in appearance between an innocent person and one’s antagonist, and other aggressive symbols, for example the mere presence of a weapon, increased the likelihood of aggression in the laboratory and in the field. As the program continued, however, it became clear that anything in one’s history or present circumstance that created a negative, hostile, or painful mood increased the likelihood of aggression. This was one of the early findings that began me thinking that the problem is a cultural and structural one, one in which all the interlocking features of a culture such as good paying jobs in military complex, competitive physically aggressive sports, and dependence of some people on the earning power of others increases the likelihood of violence. Anything we can do to make the environment less painful and more fulfilling and equitable for individuals and families will move us toward a world of peace.

The literature on aggression is huge and I necessarily must be very selective for our purposes this evening, but there are two more areas I would like to touch on before I turn to structural violence. Beginning before I entered the Ph.D. program at Washington State in 1970, early research on attribution theory was creating a great deal of excitement. For our purposes the discussion of moral behavior by Albert Bandura in Understanding Terrorism by Fathali Moghaddam & Tony Marsella (2004) will make the point. Bandura demonstrates that self-sanctions play a crucial role in the regulation of inhumane conduct.

Most of us are taught in childhood that cheating, hitting, and stealing are bad and are not done by nice people. As we mature these admonitions become part of our moral selves. We learn to criticize ourselves if we failed to follow these rules. They become self-control mechanisms. But Bandura points out, that there are many ways to avoid these self-sanctions. These cognitive manipulations may include moral justification (carrying out God’s will), advantageous comparison (your action was much worse than mine), euphemistic language (collateral damage), displacement of responsibility (I didn’t kill, I only gave the orders), minimizing and distorting the effects of actions, victim blaming, and others.

While applications of self-sanctions can reduce the likelihood of violence and at the same time give people self-satisfaction and a feeling of self-worth, these self-control mechanisms do not operate unless they are activated. People become responsible when the conditions of the environment remind them of socially responsible behavior. They do not automatically engage. Inhumane behavior can occur when these mechanisms are not available in conscious awareness at that time. This suggests another way we can make a peaceful culture.

At the time that Moghaddam and Marsella finished reviewing the manuscripts for their Understanding Terrorism book, there were 68 low-intensity wars going on at the same time in the world, a measure of the problem we are dealing with. Betty Glad and Charles Taber in an earlier volume (1990) in discussing the American Domino Theory, show how war benefits so many individuals and institutions, something in psychology we label instrumental aggression. The Domino Theory was a useful metaphor in arguing for additional military resources. Congress and the President could skip the hard, cognitive work of justifying each specific expenditure and their long-term consequences. I am reminded here of Stiblitz & Bilmes’s (2008) The Three Trillion Dollar War which projects the long term cost of the war in Iraq. As Glad and Taber pointed out the president and congress could just invoke the image of “falling dominos” and assert that we must spend this money to prevent the Communists from invading the west coast of the United States. Humans are “cognitive misers.” We don’t wish to do any more cognitive work than is necessary. The Domino theory was a way to extract money from Congress without real justification. But just as important in the build-up of U.S. war machine after WW II was the bureaucratic and career interests served. The new civilian strategists could advance their careers by arguing for these military expenditures

Before we leave the topic of direct violence the impact of violence on infants and children should be noted. Early in life brain circuits are being established which have a life-long impact on the individual’s personality and his or her capacity for anger, sociability, and caring human relationships. Disruptions in this physiological/psychological development process can have lasting tragic effects (e.g., Siegel, 1999; LeDoux, 2002). Consider also the impact on children forced to serve as child soldiers (Wessells, 2006).

Structural Violence

It is time to turn to structural violence. In their chapter on “Understanding Militarism,” Deborah Du Nann Winter and colleagues (2001) argue that preparation for war is a global form of structural violence. They show that money, masculinity, fear, and militarism are the forces that make opposing military growth difficult to counter. Militarism, they argue, has psychological similarities to mystical experience, thus making it resistant to rational arguments. In fact, Barbara Ehrenreich (1997) has put mystical experience at the heart of her theory of war. People can be swept into an altered state of consciousness with pride for military preparedness. I have time to mention just one other aspect of militarism, arms profiteering. Unfortunately, the increasing global production system makes arms control difficult. We can only reduce arms profiteering by changing the motives, needs, and values worldwide.

Mark Pilisuk, is a past president of the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence and a Steering Committee member of PsySR. In his (2008) book, Who Benefits from Global Violence and War: Uncovering a Destructive System, Pilsuk comprehensively shows in meticulous detail how a relatively small, interconnected group of corporate, military, and government leaders increase their excessive fortunes through, restricting information, and clandestine dealings. His theme is that we can change that hegemonic system if we understand and act on the roots of violence. He argues that citizens’ actions can become “a second super power” and that it is the system that must be changed.

Peacekeeping and Peacemaking

In the interest of time I am going to skip discussion of peacekeeping and peacemaking. There are eight excellent chapters in Christie, Wagner, & Winter (2001) on peacekeeping and peacemaking. These include accounts of social work under conditions of war in Bosnia, post-war reconstruction in Angola, and cooperation and conflict resolutions in the schools.


In their chapter on Building Cultures of Peace, Michael Wessells, Milton Schwebel, and Anne Anderson (2001), propose seven core elements “that vary in form across cultures yet are universals of positive peace.” The elements are:

1. “Social justice: institutionalized equity in distribution and access to material, social, and political resources: truth-telling, reparations, and penalties for infractions; full participation and power-sharing by different groups; gender justice and full participate by women;

2. Human rights: rule of law and adherence to human rights standards;

3. Nonviolence: Institutionalized arrangements for nonviolent conflict resolution and reconciliation; values and attitudes of civility; norms and processes that promote human security, cooperation, interdependence, and harmonious relationships at all levels;

4. Inclusiveness: respect for difference; participation by different groups; meeting identity needs; cultural sensitivity;

5. Civil society: strength and diversity of civic groups in sectors such as health, business, religion, and education; community action, support, and hope through these venues; full citizen participation in government;

6. Peace education: formal and informal, experiential education for peace at all levels; socialization of values, attitudes, and behaviors conducive to peace and social justice;

7. Sustainability: preservation of global resources; meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability to meet the needs of future generations.”

We may all contribute to the construction of cultures of peace through work at many levels. Some among us can lead planning groups; others can take minutes; some can write letters and articles for newspapers. Educators can teach skills of nonviolent conflict resolution. Others can work for social justice at the community level. Therapists can help reduce family violence and help build equitable, nonviolent relationships in families.

A number of ideas and strategies for working for peace at the local level may be found in the PsySR handbook for building peace, Working for Peace: A Handbook of Practical Psychology and Other Tools, edited by Rachel MacNair (2006). Examples from the 34 chapters include (1) Building confidence in social action, (8) Parenting in a peaceful home, (11) Motivating others to work for you, (12) Effective group meetings and decision making, (15) Storytelling: A workshop for inspiring group action, (17) Using conflict constructively, (24) Effective media communication, (30) Principles of opinion change, and (31) Techniques of behavior change.

Ultimately, however, large-scale systemic social change is needed to build cultures of peace. To be maximally effective, we must take our work into the public arena, reaching larger numbers of people, constructing social policies that help institutionalize social justice and end oppression.

For systematic, global changes in economics systems I recommend Riane Eisler’s (2007) The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating Caring Economics, Richard Gilbert’s (2001) How Much Do We Deserve? An Inquiry Into Social Justice, Marilyn Waring’s (1988) If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics, and Jeffrey Sachs’ (2008) Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet. For peace we must have an economics system that recognizes debits. For a peace culture, we cannot continue to use an international system of accounts created to justify expenditures for the Second World War.

I recommend two recent books which recommend the systemic, global policy changes required of a Peace Culture. One is David Korten’s (2006) The Great Turning. The Second is Michael Lerner’s (2006) The Left Hand of God. For a comprehensive list of policy issues designed to replace the cultural emphasis on maximizing money and power with love, justice, and generosity, see The Left Hand of God. The Spiritual Covenant with America listed below, is just one of a series of policy recommendations suggested by The Left Hand of God. It includes: 1. Covenant with American Families. Among other things this covenant calls for a living wage, full employment, affordable high-quality child care, access to excellent education, and flexible work schedules. 2. Covenant of Personal Responsibility. This covenant asks us to accept responsibility for our decisions and to live with integrity, openheartedness, forgiveness, and generosity. 3. Covenant of Social Responsibility. Included in this covenant is a Social Responsibility Amendment to the constitution that requires corporations to apply for a new corporate charter every ten years. Such charter would be granted only to corporations that can demonstrate to a jury of ordinary citizens a satisfactory record of social responsibility. 4. Covenant for a Values-Based Education. We support education that fosters children’s capacities to be loving and caring human beings and helps students grow into responsible, ethically and ecologically attuned adults. This covenant also will make teaching a more valued (and better paid) vocation, building schools that inspire learning. 5. Covenant for Health Care. “Everyone deserves affordable health care. “Equally important, the bonds of trust and caring are shattered in a society when we feel that no one cares whether we live or die unless we have enough money for expensive treatments. 6. Covenant of Environmental Stewardship. Policies that are environmentally responsible and just. 7. Covenant for building a safer world. This covenant is a recognition that our well-being as Americans is tied to the well being of everyone else on this planet. It calls for America to harness our generosity to heal the pain caused by hatred, poverty, hunger, inadequate health care, inadequate education, and the manipulation of the global economy to serve the interests of the few.

Another policy recommendation of The Left Hand of God is A Global Marshall Plan. It has already been introduced into congress and has several sponsors.

Take Away Points What are some take away points? I am suggesting that massive cultural change is necessary. I am also suggesting that we expand our cooperation with other faith communities and others of similar values. Many of our congregations are already involved one way or another with the Network of Spiritual Progressives, the activist groups created by The Left Hand of God to work for these and other policy recommendations. With the policy recommendations from our own Actions of Immediate Witness, Covenant with America, Global Marshall Plan , recommendations from the Great Turning, The Real Wealth of Nations, and Economics for a Crowded Planet, we have a direction. As Van Joes said at this year’s Waring lecture, we UUs know well how to protest. We now need to learn how to govern.


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