I’m touched seeing the sincerity directed at reaching peace. Religious and political leaders alike speak its praise. None respectable or to be believed questions the virtue of peace. But what if peace is a misdirected goal? Is our species cut out for it? What if the best humans might manage is non-violent or less-violent conflict? A realistic aim seems a better target than an impossibility no matter how praised or desired.
But why consider praise of peace a waste of effort? I say because the premise has a fatal flaw. Peace is no more attainable than we can build a motorway on which there will never be accident or injury. If all wheeled travel was banned and everyone had to walk there would be no car crashes, but would that prevent someone in a hurry from running by so fast another would tumble to death off a bridge? Cage all walkways and keep them single-lane only? Then how do you get a new stove home? Establish sidewalk friendly dimensions for all furniture and appliances? Presumably the raw materials and other produce would have to follow the same guides. Peacefully safe as all that might be it is not workable.
I suspect the bigger flaw in praising peace is the underlying assumption that people and society are perfectible. Those saying current problems are traced to colonial or other Western causes please suspend these judgments for a moment. Instead of holding the West responsible for all world history point to a specific time and place where perfected people ran unspoiled societies. Where and when might that have been? Take areas with open spaces and ample food supplies such as the American Great Plains, African Veldt, or Asian Steppes. Those are three places where humanity had open horizons. What happened? Did the Mongols, Africans, or Plains Peoples never clash? You know the answer. Far back in time and history as we can go there has been conflict. The isms given blame today were beat to the punch, though it might be fun hearing the argument that imperialist Neanderthals were pitted against colonialist Cro-Magnon early in the sapiens dawn.
As a simple exercise imagine a band of imperfect humans appearing on the horizon of the plentiful plains of perfection. Before advanced civilization and ahead of hierarchy in society there is little cause for conflict. No one has a car or cell phone, let alone one that can be seen as better than another. Humans are without matriarchal queens or patriarchal kings. Inhabitants on the plains of perfection are without fear and do as we might imagine. They go forward happily to meet their less fortunate, less perfected visitors bringing to them flowers, food, song, and warm wishes. All of this is much appreciated by the visitors who are pleased their hosts have arrived conveniently bunched up and defenseless. It’s perfect that way, and so much easier to make slaves of them.
Or picture an earthly paradise suffering catastrophe that sent its peaceful people in search of a new home. Eventually a meeting of peaceful societies results. Double the perfection should be twice as good, shouldn’t it? But one perfection doesn’t understand the other’s language, and one prefers boiled to roasting when dining on young canine. One perfection reveres the Earth Mother the other bows to a multitude of mixed gender deities. What’s to be done with such a glut of perfections other than sort them according to laws of natural perfection that are different as rain is from drought. Is it best if perfections go their separate ways or at least avoid one another’s comfort territories? If you, for instance, enjoy a beer after work to add a touch of perfection to your day you’d best not look for a liquor store in teetotaler land where beer equals Satan and some true believer will turn you in to the Prohibition Police charged with performing the perfect punishment of driving a nail through your tongue and hanging you outside the Portal of Perfect Justice as a sign to all that perfection must be obeyed.
Virtue sounds fine preached but easily turns dangerous when attempts are made to establish and enforce it. A worthy goal can bring a bad end. Recognizing imperfection reminds a person or society they are not equipped to fix the world, a reminder the believer in perfectibility sets aside as not suited to their aim. A quickie look at systems thought perfect might help. Diving Right of Kings was perfect at setting the ruling order to serve its own ends. That perfection fell by the way. Another perfection, religious, comes from a source often acknowledged as perfect. Can’t go wrong there, except when perfect beliefs require enforcement they become tyranny. Perfected religion had many followers. More recent perfections are political and governmental, you might say religion minus a conventional god. Those were/are the perfected forms of Socialism known as communism, but also having other attempts at perfection of form known as Fascism and Nazism. Ah, don’t forget the clean slate perfectionists seeking a fresh start wiping out everything they don’t like.
Perfecting society or government will require enforcement because there’s just too damn much imperfection in the world that has to be corrected. As perfection can’t be the problem, the flaw has to be people and societies not being obedient to perfection. The potential for building gulags and exterminating doubters is boundless. Rather than diverse, perfection needs conformity. I think it wise to be leery of better ways, especially ways that smart of wholesale perfectionism to fix us. Call it a practical objection based on perfectionism hot having all that good a record.
I had an interesting reminder last week. I had a grammar school classmate named Barron. We called him Barry. I am intrigued by speakers accepting an anglicized pronunciation as correct. We pronounced the name more softly with a rolled R in keeping with the name’s origins and traditions. The beauty of a name lost in narrow definition that I suppose might be applied to my cousin Duke and dogs named Rex. What monarchy the Dukes of Hazard or of Duluth?