Two views of “human nature”: Which do we choose?

Tell me. In your deepest heart of hearts, have not you too longed for the American military — which currently devours some 58% of our taxes, is spread out onto  1000 bases worldwide, routinely kills and destroys with impunity, and all in the interests of so-called “national security” — to TRANSFORM, into  . . . into what, exactly? How do we ensure “peace and security” without having somebody’s military breathing down somebody else’s neck?

Are we humans truly, in our deepest heart of hearts, just as the philosopher Thomas Hobbes feared, innately violent, territorial, locked into a battle of all against all, forever?  


In Leviathan, Hobbes set out his doctrine of the foundation of states and legitimate governments and creating an objective science of morality. This gave rise to social contract theory. Leviathan was written during the English Civil War; much of the book is occupied with demonstrating the necessity of a strong central authority to avoid the evil of discord and civil war.

Beginning from a mechanistic understanding of human beings and the passions, Hobbes postulates what life would be like without government, a condition which he calls the state of nature; much of this was based on Hugo Grotius‘ works. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This, Hobbes argues, would lead to a “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes). The description contains what has been called one of the best known passages in English philosophy, which describes the natural state mankind would be in, were it not for political community:

‘In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’


But what if that’s not true? What if Hobbes is wrong? Or sometimes wrong, depending? For example, archeological ruins show that in ancient matriarchal cultures, walls were not necessary. See Riane Eisler’s  The Chalice and the Blade.

Aha! Just ran across this 2010 video: I endorse it wholeheartedly, unless used to promote a monocultural “globalism.” To me, it’s crucial to realize that we can let go of walls AND celebrate decentralization, BOTH.

Way back when, in late 1959, during what we now call “The Cold War,” the Soviet Union gifted the United Nations (unfortunately, a globalist institution) with a sculpture, Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares,  by Yevgeny Vuchetich.

Daniel Berrigan


Twenty-one years later:

On September 9, 1980, Daniel Berrigan, his brother Philip Berrigan, and six others (the “Plowshares Eight”) began the Plowshares Movement under the premise of beating swords to ploughshares.[3] They trespassed onto the General Electric Re-entry Division[4] in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, where Mark 12A reentry vehicles[5]for the Minuteman III missile were made. They hammered on two reentry vehicles, poured blood on documents, and offered prayers for peace. They were arrested and charged with more than ten different felony and misdemeanor counts.[6] On April 10, 1990, after 10 years of appeals, the Berrigans’ group was re-sentenced and paroled for up to 23 and 1/2 months in consideration of time already served in prison.[3] Their legal battle was re-created in Emile de Antonio‘s 1982 film In the King of Prussia,[7] which starred Martin Sheen and featured appearances by the Plowshares Eight as themselves.[8]

And for recent actions, see also wikipedia:

On April 30, 2008, three Plowshares activists entered the GCSB Waihopai base near Blenheim, New Zealand and punctured an inflated radome used in the ECHELON signal interception program, causing $1.2 million in damages. In March 2010 the three men stood trial by jury at the District Court in Wellington and were acquitted.[13] The New Zealand Attorney-General then lodged a civil claim, on behalf of the GCSB, for $1.2 million. This claim was dropped in February 2014.[14]

On November 2, 2009, a Plowshares action took place in the U.S. at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, where Trident nuclear weapons are stored or deployed on Trident submarines.[15] These weapons constitute the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the US.[16]

On July 28, 2012, three Plowshares activists, Sister Megan Rice, 82, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Michael Walli, 63, who compose the Transform Now Plowsharesmovement, breached security at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, causing the government to temporarily shut down the weapons facility.[17] Once inside a “secure” area, the activists hung protest banners on a uranium storage site, poured human blood and spray-painted the walls with anti-war slogans.[18][19] Following a controversial trial, the three activists were convicted in early May 2013 on the charges of damaging property in violation of 18 US Code 1363, damaging federal property in excess of $1000 in violation of 18 US Code 1361, and intending to injure, interfere with, or obstruct the national defense of the United States and willful damage of national security premises in violation of 18 US Code 2155.[17] Megan Rice was sentenced to 35 months, or just under three years. The other two protesters, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli, both were sentenced to 62 months, or a little more than five years.[20]


Protests are one thing, transformation is another. I am heartened to hear about a phrase, “conflict transformation,” as distinguished from “conflict resolution.” Whereas the latter can be myopic, advocating quick fixes for existing problems, conflict transformation asks us to widen the context, enlarges the frame within which one views a conflict. According to the inventor of the phrase:

For J.P. Lederach, conflict can be imagined as a vast mountain range,J.P. Lederach with peaks and valleys all around.[2] The tendency of CR, he explains, is to see the mountain which we currently climb as the whole of the conflict, and thus when we reach the peak, we are finished. Conflict resolved – never mind all the other mountains. According to Contemporary Conflict Resolution, Lederach critiques CR as – among other things – being focused on content rather than relationship dynamics and seeking only immediate agreement between conflicting parties.[3I


I imagine Einstein would agree:




Meanwhile, two evenings ago I watched a Netflix offering that held me captivated all the way through. Grace of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman. What captured me was both the similarity between my conflict as a young woman and hers (wife and mother? or strike out on independent path), and even more, what the film depicts as a situation in which she transformed a developing conflict between France and Monaco that was on the verge of war. And she did it, yes, by reframing, enlarging and deepening the context. Don’t want to spoil it for you, but do watch.

I looked up reviews for this film, and predictably, they were terrible, jaded, cynical, much like current mainstream culture still is. Moreover, it appears events in the film are not exactly as depicted, but to my mind, they are true enough, and do show her emergent capacity for conflict transformation.

The lotuses are coming up from the mud, but it’s sure a long slow process!



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