Search Our Site

Page Navigation

Section Banner

I. Peacemaking in Our Lives and World (A)

A. Human Nature, Gender, Culture, and Conflict

For this section there are two resource groupings. One involving ideas about basic human biology and culture, which can only be representative of a vast literature from various fields of anthropology, social science and history. The second group includes issues about American culture in particular, which draw on the more general concepts and can be seen as case studies to help motivate meaningful discussion.

Basic Human Biology and Culture

Moral Disengagement in the Perpetration of Inhumanities (PDF), by Albert Bandura, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 3, 193-209, 1999.
Bandura describes the processes of moral disengagement by which otherwise decent people justify the atrocities of war, and justify environmentally dangerous business practices. The process includes the following steps: being convinced that one is engaged in a just case; euphemistic language for negative consequences of one's actions (i.e. collateral damage, acceptable risk); dehumanizing or demonizing one's victims; disadvantageous comparison (our evil pales in comparison to theirs); diffusion of responsibility (one was only following orders, or acting as can only be expected in war or business).

Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Penguin Putnam, 2001.
Simple language and intimate stories pull the reader into the possibility of transforming anger into compassion. Clear and concrete exercises show how to cultivate skills to reconcile conflict. As we expand awareness of universal suffering and the suffering caused by anger and conflict, we mindfully shift attention to gratitude and deeper understanding. These insights are consistent with nonviolent communication. Both approaches are relevant in intimate and diplomatic relationships.

The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, by Steven Pinker, Penguin Press, 2002.
Pinker builds a rational case against historic conservative/liberal debates about human nature by showing that equality, progress, responsibility, and purpose have nothing to fear from discoveries about the diversity of human nature. He disarms even the most menacing threats with clear thinking, common sense, and pertinent facts from biology, linguistics and history. Despite its popularity among intellectuals during much of the twentieth century, he argues, the doctrine of the Blank Slate may have done more harm than good. It denies our common humanity and our individuality, replaces scientific analyses of social problems with dismissive slogans, and distorts our understanding of government, violence, parenting, and the significance of shared endeavors such as science, art and religion.

Warfare Is Only an Invention—Not a Biological Necessity, by Margaret Mead, 1940.
Mead argues that war is not a natural outgrowth of human nature, but an invention that is handed down through generations. This essay challenges readers to asses the roots of our most basic assumptions and to reflect on how war, as an invention, could be replaced.

The Stanford Prison Experiment, by Philip Zimbardo, Slide Show.
What happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph? These are some of the questions we posed in this dramatic simulation of prison life conducted in the summer of 1971 at Stanford University. A planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended prematurely after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.

Current Cultural Dilemmas and Their Affects on our Nation and World

Approaches to Peace: A Reader in Peace Studies, by David P. Barash, Oxford. 2000.
Approaches to Peace provides a unique and interdisciplinary sampling of classic articles and short literary selections focusing on the diverse aspects of peace and conflict studies. Readings cover the causes of war and proposed means of preventing it, so-called "negative peace", and the universal concern for positive peace. The material examines nonviolence movements, peace movements, religious inspirations, and our future prospects for peace. The book's balanced approach makes it easily adaptable to both general discussions of peace and conflict as well as the rapidly changing issues of the moment. Each selection is prefaced by a short introduction highlighting the author's background, the work's historical context, and the selection's significance in terms of the "big
picture."

Roots of Violence in the U.S. Culture: A Diagnosis Towards Healing, by Alain J. Richard, Blue Dolphin Publishing, Nevada City, CA, 1999.
This French Franciscan puts the North American way of life in historic context, showing how physical force and greed are foundations of our culture. He explores seeds of violence in racism, the messianic role, the importance of being number One and ongoing imperialism. He points to market culture and individualism as dominant forces for violence. The mirror Richard holds up provides opportunity for personal reflection as well as social critique. Recognizing the depth and pervasiveness of violence broadly understood shows how it can be faced in many spheres.

Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women's Lives, by Cynthia Enloe, University of California Press, 2000.
Enloe offers a feminist discussion of the impact of "militarization" on women's lives globally. Militarization is never gender-neutral, Enloe claims: It is a personal and political transformation that relies on ideas about femininity and masculinity. Films that equate action with war, condoms that are designed with a camouflage pattern, fashions that celebrate brass buttons and epaulettes, etc.—all of these contribute to militaristic values that mold our culture in both war and peace. Enloe outlines the dilemmas feminists around the globe face in trying to craft theories and strategies that support militarized women.

What Torture Has Taught Me, by William Schulz.
The Berry Street Lecture at 2006 General Assembly, Schulz assesses his ministry, his view of human nature, and his beliefs in light of the longstanding prevalence of torture. Drawing upon his experiences as Executive Director of Amnesty International, Schulz explores and challenges the notion of the inherent worth and dignity of all persons.

War Is the Force That Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges, Random House, 2003.
"The communal march against an enemy generates a warm, unfamiliar bond with our neighbors, our community, our nation, wiping out unsettling undercurrents of alienation and dislocation," writes Chris Hedges, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times. In War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Hedges draws on his experiences covering conflicts in Bosnia, El Salvador and Israel as well as works of literature from the Iliad to Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism to look at what makes war so intoxicating for soldiers, politicians and ordinary citizens.

Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation, by Myra MacPherson, Doubleday, 1984.
Based on more than 500 interviews, this is journalist Myra MacPherson's acclaimed exploration of the wounds, pride, and guilt of those who fought and those who refused to fight the war that continues to envelop the psyche of this nation. Also available in a film version.

The Ground Truth, 2006.
Told through the eyes of veterans, this film provides a detailed picture of the issues faced by Iraq War veterans during and after their combat experience.

For more information contact socialwitness@uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Monday, January 27, 2014.

Sidebar Content, Page Navigation

 

Updated and Popular

Recently Updated

For Newcomers

Learn more about the Beliefs & Principles of Unitarian Universalism, or read our online magazine, UU World, for features on today's Unitarian Universalists. Visit an online UU church, or find a congregation near you.

Page Navigation