This is another blog post in which I consider ideas raised by Molly Scott Cato about how we defend democracy and resist fascism.
Peace is essential for the good functioning of a community, and for the safety of all its members. This does not mean freedom from conflict, it means having the mechanisms to resolve conflict without violence.
Too often, what we mean by peace, is only superficial. Apparent peace can mean the silencing of dissent, the disempowering of minorities and a lack of space for difference – this is not real peace. Peace-making is not the process of normalising us all to fit in small boxes, it is the process of learning to live with our differences.
Peace is not the tolerance of intolerance, either. Those who are invested in hatred and violence will try to manipulate others by demanding that they too should be shown tolerance. This simply doesn’t work, it creates situations in which peace is bound to break down.
Real peace is achieved through dialogue, real listening, respect and open-mindedness. It means recognising that difference and threat are not the same things. But then it raises the questions of what we do with the haters, and the people who delight in violence.
Education is key. If what people mostly hear are the voices of other haters and violence-pedlars, some will be persuaded that violence makes sense and hate is justified. The media is also key here. It is difficult to build peace when sections of your media are running an agenda of hatred. It is difficult to build peace when real fears, and real feelings of scarcity are harnessed to power that agenda. However, the more we can do to tackle inequality, poverty of opportunity, lack of hope, and lack of education about difference, the fewer people will find hate persuasive. There are no quick fixes here.
We have to call out those whose behaviour is unpeaceful. It may seem at odds with the work of creating peace, but it isn’t. Ignoring abuse, bullying, harassment, prejudice, and violence towards others does not lead to peace, it leads to conflict. To call out behaviour without resorting to the same methods isn’t easy, but it is possible. We have to let go of ideas of revenge, and point scoring, and focus on moving people forward.
We can support work of this nature by sharing stories of peace making, inclusion, and co-operation. We can call out hate where we see it, and gently disagree. (That may sound like a weak response, but trust me, if you want to impact on haters this is more effective than playing them at their own game). We can refuse to get into arguments with people who feed on arguing. We can avoid the behaviours that leave some people saying that all sides of the ‘debate’ are equally horrible and aggressive. We can resist violent solutions wherever they come up – both the real ones, and the ones we put in our fictions.
I think we also need to treat hate-driven behaviour as shameful. Perhaps the best way of tackling this, is with humour. Aggression simply fuels more aggression, but if your hate makes you the butt of jokes, responding with more of the same just proves the point. Laughter can be a powerful tool for deflating aggression and undermining feelings of entitlement. It does disempower people, and if the hate is coming from feelings of lack of power, that won’t help. But often it isn’t. The architects of hate in our society are people with plenty of power. By laughing at them, we can undermine that and make them less attractive. Satire, used well, can be a very effective tool for peace.
More about Molly Scott Cato’s work here – http://mollymep.org.uk/molly-at-work/campaigns/fight-fascism/