Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Philosophy Weekend: Why World Peace Will Happen

By Levi Asher on Saturday, January 19, 2013 06:50 pm

An epiphany (from the ancient Greek epiphaneia, "manifestation, striking appearance") is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe breakthrough scientific, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. Epiphanies are studied by psychologists and other scholars, particularly those attempting to study the process of innovation.

Epiphanies are relatively rare occurrences and generally follow a process of significant thought about a problem. -- Wikipedia

In the comments following last weekend's blog post about militarism, I mentioned that I believe we'll see world peace in our lifetimes. Yes, real world peace -- not perfect, but enduring. And soon. And, yes, on planet Earth.

Why would I believe such a thing? Well, I guess any person's degree of optimism or pessimism must be rooted in that person's life experience, and I have observed many examples of sudden positive change since I was born. Here's one example that may appear trivial in light of the horrors of war, but it does provide a real illustration of the kind of rapid, sweeping cultural change I'm talking about.

When I worked at a bank in Manhattan in the early 1990s, I had to wear a suit and tie every day. This was the standard dress code for professional software developers in every corporate job sector. Some workplaces allowed developers to eschew the jacket and shiny shoes, but never the tie, the button-up shirt, the tailored slacks.

Like many of my co-workers, I deeply hated the dress code. I hated the conformity it symbolized; as software developers, we were supposed to be creative and original thinkers, and yet we all had to wear the same silly Brooks Brothers pajamas, white or pale blue shirts (no other colors allowed), absurd swaths of brightly colored fabrics dangling from our necks. I hated the symbolism of conformity, and I also hated the physical sensation of a tight collar around my neck. Most of all, I hated wearing a suit because a suit must be kept pristine, and this limited my movements during lunch hour, when I liked to take long walks and explore the city. You can't jump a fence in a suit. You can't sit on the grass in a park.

I used to complain about this to my co-workers, and I would always hear the same response. Don't bother thinking about it. The dress code will never change.

Then, in a sudden flash between the summer of 1995 and the end of that year, Manhattan suddenly threw off its dress code. It was an amazing, unplanned, inexplicable event. I was among the first to enjoy the change when I joined a new media venture at Time Warner. Everybody dressed up in the Time-Life Building, but my New Media department was located in a basement across the street, and since we were trying to prove that Time Warner could nurture a hip Silicon Alley startup (actually, we eventually proved that Time Warner couldn't, but we tried) we were actually instructed to not wear ties. I was pretty happy about this.

But the ripples of change were emerging from a deeper source, and spreading everywhere. All of Time Inc., I heard, was beginning a tradition of "casual Friday". In weird synchronicity, and to my utter shock and disbelief, I heard around the same time from a former co-worker that my old JP Morgan office was now instituting "casual Friday".

"No way," I said to my friend. "Do they even know what casual means down there?"

"No," he said. "It's going to be pretty awkward at first."

I'm sure it was, but before the year 1995 was over, casual Friday had become casual everyday, and this happened everywhere: Time Inc., JP Morgan, all of Wall Street, most corporate offices in Manhattan. The casual dress meme came from nowhere, and was championed by nobody (certainly not by Brooks Brothers) ... and yet it took over the city. Why?

It's called an epiphany. I have seen and experienced many epiphanies in my life, and I'm sure you have too. The signature feature of an epiphany is that, even though it may reflect a long process of agitation or preparation for change, it happens suddenly and naturally, and spreads rapidly by its own power. An epiphany creates itself, and contains its own logical justification. Most importantly, epiphanies have power. Once they occur, they can't be stopped.

An epiphany can be societal or individual. When I was a teenager, I was very shy and had trouble making friends. But when I was in 10th grade, I experienced a sudden realization that I didn't need to be shy anymore. That realization was the entire epiphany; there was no event that preceded it, no logical proof behind it, no evidence to support it. I don't need to be shy anymore. The idea simply justified itself, simply popped into my brain and made itself real. The fact that I had this epiphany didn't mean I would never feel socially awkward or alienated anymore -- but it did mean that I would no longer allow myself to be limited by this handicap. Maybe it's because I remember so vividly the positive impact this epiphany had on my life that I believe so strongly in the power of epiphany today.

We've been talking here on Litkicks about redemption. Epiphany is often the engine of redemption. Another term we've discussed here is satori. This word describes the intellectual apprehension that an epiphany is taking place.

Can we have a worldwide epiphany for peace? Sure we can, and we will, because peace is the better idea, and a better idea will always make itself known. An amazing epiphany for peace already occurred in Western Europe in 1945, when World War Two ended. This is an example worth paying close attention to.

Some might scoff that the end of a war is not an epiphany for peace, and this is true. There was no epiphany for peace in Western Europe after France and Germany and England and Austria tore each other to shreds in the First World War, or after the Franco-Prussian War, or after the Napoleonic Wars. Each of these earlier wars left violently passionate resentments in place that led to the war that followed. When these wars ended, the participants remained militarized, and hostilities simmered.

But when World War Two ended, somehow Western Europe found itself done with war. For the first time in 200 years, everybody knew that France and Germany would not fight each other again. All sides laid down their arms. Hostilities continued around the world, of course, in Asia, Russia, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, India, South America. But Western Europe, the central hotbed of nationalistic hatred and rampant militarism since the days of Napoleon, truly laid down its arms. The fact that this happened proves that a large-scale epiphany for peace is possible, and that its power can endure.

In the case of Western Europe in 1945, the epiphany was born of necessity. I think the whole planet is due for a similar epiphany today. This, too, is an epiphany of necessity.

It may happen quickly, but it won't happen easily. Many people gain various kinds of satisfaction or pleasure or profit from the militarization of society, and they will resist. However, Brooks Brothers couldn't stop the casual dress revolution, and I don't think the world's military-industrial complex will be able to stop the peace revolution, even though it will surely try.

A global epiphany for peace will also be resisted by an assortment of pessimists and doomsday preppers of all political persuasions, who will be disappointed to see the scary dream of global apocalypse vanish. Apocalypses, after all, are exciting and enticing things to dream about.

But the world can shake off that scary dream, and in fact we're probably ready to start shaking it off right now. Is this too much to hope for? I don't think so. Epiphanies are powerful things, once they get rolling.

So, when exactly does this world peace epiphany get rolling? I don't know, but I'll keep urging it along from my little blogger's perch here at Litkicks. A good first step, I think, would be for the nation in the world that spends six times as much as any other nation on weapons and soldiers to cut its defense budget.

* * * * *

The picture at the top of this page depicts a Bogoyavlenie, the annual Bulgarian celebration of the Christian Epiphany, during which people jump into icy water to rescue a cross, and then dance a horo.


This article is part of the Philosophy Weekend series. The next post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: A Cartoon Epic of Bertrand Russell. The previous post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: What Militarism Does To Our Brains.


14 Responses to "Philosophy Weekend: Why World Peace Will Happen"

by Michael.Norris on

I would like to see an epiphany in which people in the US come to a realization that military style weapons are meant for the military, and it is not a invasion of your rights to not be able to own them. Or massive rounds of amunition.

Come to a realization that hand guns cannot be sold with a backround check.

Here in Chicago we have daily shootings and killings. They make the local headlines, but don't get the press that a school massacres like Sandyhook gets. But they are equally as tragic.

People need to stand up to the gun lobby, and the gun lobby and gun manufacturers need to be made to feel real shame over their contribution to this insane violence.

This would be a real epiphany.

by Wojciech on

I sure hope you're right, Levi.

It is interesting to me that we see statistics on military spending, but where are the stats on profits? Who makes money from war? How much money is made from war? I'd like to see who profits the most because we could then see who would resist the epiphany of global peace the most.

Also, on a semi-related note, I wish we could throw away the petty dualism of optimism and pessimism. I don't think anybody is 100% optimist or 100% pessimist. Like all things, I think we all have a little of each within us, and its not a black or white, all or nothing idea.

I just came back from an all day meditation retreat, and feel very peaceful. If we taught meditation in school, something that is void of dogma and religious judgements, I think this could be a real catalyst towards global peace. Having entire generations who understand how to quiet the mind, and understand how the mind works could prove to be very important when they become adults. Just an idea.

Great article, love the perspective... I think we all may have gotten so used to historicizing the Western European 'peace-epiphany' post-WWII that we don't fully appreciate what a magnificent and game-changing shift it was. And you're right, it really does give credence to the idea that widespread shifts like this can occur on a massive scale.

Many of us may have heard of 'The Hundredth Monkey' effect. While the factual claims have been debunked as myth, the story is very powerful as a symbolic way to understand our individual contribution to the greater course of history and consciousness...

"The Japanese monkey, Macaca fuscata, has been observed in the wild for a period of over 30 years.

In 1952, on the island of Koshima scientists were providing monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand. The monkeys liked the taste of the raw sweet potatoes, but they found the dirt unpleasant.

An 18-month-old female named Imo found she could solve the problem in a nearby stream. She taught this trick to her mother. Her playmates also learned this new way and they taught their mothers, too.

This cultural innovation was gradually picked up by various monkeys before the eyes of the scientists.

Between 1952 and 1958, all the young monkeys learned to wash the sandy sweet potatoes to make them more palatable.

Only the adults who imitated their children learned this social improvement. Other adults kept eating the dirty sweet potatoes.

Then something startling took place. In the autumn of 1958, a certain number of Koshima monkeys were washing sweet potatoes — the exact number is not known.

Let us suppose that when the sun rose one morning there were 99 monkeys on Koshima Island who had learned to wash their sweet potatoes.

Let's further suppose that later that morning, the hundredth monkey learned to wash potatoes.

THEN IT HAPPENED!

By that evening almost everyone in the tribe was washing sweet potatoes before eating them.

The added energy of this hundredth monkey somehow created an ideological breakthrough!

But notice.

A most surprising thing observed by these scientists was that the habit of washing sweet potatoes then jumped over the sea —

Colonies of monkeys on other islands and the mainland troop of monkeys at Takasakiyama began washing their sweet potatoes!

Thus, when a certain critical number achieves an awareness, this new awareness may be communicated from mind to mind.

Although the exact number may very, the Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon means that when only a limited number of people know of a new way, it may remain the consciousness property of these people.

But there is a point at which if only one more person tunes-in to a new awareness, a field is strengthened so that this awareness is picked up by almost everyone!

Your awareness is needed..."
-Ken Keyes Jr

by hypcollector on

...I'm not so sure, although i'm hopeful of eternal peace. For widespread peace, folks need to find peace within. Anxieties are running high. People are riled up and mad. The cycle will run and the other side will rule. No peace in our time. Only when time is done. The Prince of Peace awaits. This ole gutter world.

by mtmynd1 on

Does the acceptance of peace end the battles for improving the hu'man condition? Methinks not. As long as there is inequality, starvation, sickness and dis-ease, poverty of the body, mind and spirit... as long as there are the unenlightened amongst us peace may remain a long term goal of the collective mind yearning to be realized.

by hypcollector on

...in the words of Warren Zevon, I'll sleep when I'm dead. However, important to note that peacemakers will be blessed. The implication is that we continually work for peace, influencing others to turn inward as well. A peaceful person will act out peacefully. Actions being louder than words.

by mnaz on

back in my desert wandering days a few years ago i met a world war 2 vet in some godawful dive bar. he was 84 years old but looked like he was in his late 50s, a small man, very soft-spoken. i don't remember how the subject came up, but he told me about how his unit was nearly overrun on the island of saipan, and there was no bluster or bravado to his story, only a quiet, grim recollection.

one can easily argue that "some wars are necessary." it's almost like breathing at this point after centuries of conditioning. but ww2 ushered in the nuclear era, and the stakes have been much higher ever since. it pains me to no end that we continue to glorify these past collective human failures, like a form of religion. or worse, use past negative history to "justify" new war-making (saddam is "another hitler," etc.).

levi, what you're talking about would take a basic collective "shift in consciousness," which i think we're converging on (at some point if we don't, then we're left with a smoldering shithole, and it's all moot). i'm just not sure of the rate of convergence. so many of us are convinced that the institution of war is actually genetic. militarism is such a dominant cultural "paradigm," and the war industry is pervasive and powerful. and if anything, peace is arguably a tougher prospect now than it has been throughout history. yes, i think the communication and (non-militarized) tech explosions are beneficial, but we're also up against a serious population explosion--- the world's population has doubled since 1968 or so.

anyway, "be the change you wish to see" is what comes to mind. pardon the ramble.

by mtmynd1 on

Re: " However, important to note that peacemakers will be blessed."

Blessed by whom? is my immediate question here. Is this a biblical promise or a religious desire... perhaps a "blessing" is an idea or a theory..?

And as far as the 'importance'... for whom is the importance directed. Me? Any reader of this comment? And what gives peacemakers such importance .. if that is your position?

I only offer up these questions because I want to know who is saying them, you understand. Peace is not perpetually possible for any one person to attain and keep within without reaching a testing point as to the validity of that feeling of peace.

by hypcollector on

...this is a beat as it gets..the beatitudes...blessed literally means 'truly happy'...peacemaking is one of many...'poor in spirit'..(accepts their sinfulness)...''those who mourn'....'the meek'....'those who hunger and thirst for righteousness'....'those who show mercy'....'the pure in heart' (the mind is not mentioned)...'those that are persecuted' (mockers keep mocking)....Jesus is talking about our own actions, meaning you are blessing yourself. It has nothing to do with a tangible reward. It's a one person transaction. Truly happy are those that tale these actions. However, its only a moment in time and happiness is not a constant state like joy. It is fleeting for now, but worthy of pursuit always. He was just teaching. Take his advice or not....go for the opposite and test the outcomes. Many do, including myself. --there's not a peaceful one.

Regarding the importance of my note. That was important only to me to clarify the original comment. My mind lingers on these things and it is the selfish need to explain and expand, perhaps to myself only. Thanks for the inquiry as it led me back to Matthew 5...that's beat.

by David Sage on

That's a great point about who makes money from war. I have no doubt that a popular epiphany is possible if isolated from external and powerful forces, but I worry more in the case where the elites and even the system will resist it.

by Bill_Ectric on

I can think of three events that gave me hope and belief that world peace can be achived. The first one may sound silly to some people. It was reading a quote from Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, about the future in which poverty, racism, and war have ended.

The next event was hearing the words to John Lennon's "Imagine."

But over the years, I grew pessimistic, looking at all the greed and ill will in the world. I started to believe the old predictions that "the poor will always be with us" and "wars and rumors of wars" will culminate in one big armegeddon that would kill us all.

The third event, and it's not really a single event, is the culmination of articles written by our own Levi Asher. Levi, because of your writings, I have been thinking WHY NOT? I have come to believe that world peace IS possible.

by Levi Asher on

I wish I could figure out a way to put a "like" button on these comments, because I like a lot of them. Thanks, peeps.

by Bill_Ectric on

One problem is that if a person profits from war, such as a weapons manufacturer or an oil magnate, good people would not murder that person to stop the war. But if the profiteer happens to be immoral, he would kill someone to keep the war going.

by Jeff camp on

Thank you for this beautiful site.

Peace begins in the heart of each human being.

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside dreams, who looks inside awakens.”
Carl Jung

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