Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Living the Cascade: Why Johan Galtung remains the indispensable man

In Intellectual History, Reviews on May 12, 2010 at 10:22 am

I was having a chat with one of ICAR’s most thoughtful master’s students, Jay Filipi, yesterday in which he asked me about the soul of the field of Conflict Resolution. Jay’s question touched on what most of us likely ask ourselves all the time who have joined this strange enterprise that goes by the name of Conflict Resolution, Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies. He wondered what it was that made CR any different for me from my home discipline Sociology. Couldn’t one think of it as a kind of sub-field of (fill in your own home discipline here)?

My answer is that yes one could think of it in that way, but I don’t think that this is the right answer. Instead, I think that we get a sense of how to think of the field from Andrea Bartoli’s Lynch lecture given this Monday. Andrea, who is self consciously and brilliantly attempting to invite us to invent some coherent collective purpose for our field, focused on the second side of the escalation curve, the one that in most models goes down from the peak of escalation, but in his model climbs up from the well of despair. What we do that others do not is to investigate why conflicts fall into the well and why they climb back out.  This is why ICAR is called the Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution. The Analysis part is the climb up the hill or the fall down the well. The Resolution part is the climb back down the hill or the ascension from the well. Andrea knows what this thing is that is emerging and he cares little if we call it resolution, transformation or peace so long as we do it (well he is sticking to resolution, but has “a rose by any other name” attitude toward it). If you want to know what Andrea’s speech was all about, and further if you want to know why you are in this crazy business at all, as opposed to sensibly joining up with some prestigious political science program, you have to watch the interview that Johan Galtung did this March with Riz Khan on Al Jazeera. In a dramatic gift to the field, Mr. Khan has shown us the spirit of the man who created the space for what we do as much as anyone else. This is Galtung as World Physician, as a true philosopher in the spirit of Socrates, wandering the world to heal it and acting the insufferable gadfly when in the company of those he deems unable to enter his world of rigorous and visionary questioning. One need not agree with Galtung or accept his political stances to step into the light of the vision that he projects against the wall, but we see in Mr. Khan’s interview why Johan remains the indispensable man for the field.

I have heard from various readers that I gave Johan a rough go after his talk in DC the other day. Not at all. I treated him as he demands that we treat him–as the kind of violent angel apocryphally attributed to  Meister Eckhart in the film Jacob’s Ladder: “You know what he [Eckart] said? The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of your life; your memories, your attachments. They burn ’em all away. But they’re not punishing you, he said. They’re freeing your soul. … If you’re frightened of dying and holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the Earth.” There is something mystical in Galtung’s science and he sees that his mission, as I said in my previous post, is to burn away our attachments to nearly 200 states that do inherent violence to the 2000 nations that live within them. When in Rome, Johan does not do as the Romans do; rather he does what he thinks will prompt those new Romans into constructive action. As I said, if you are American or Israeli, Galtung the social physician has some bitter medicine for you. You surely will not like it, but the point is to discover objectively if it will really do the job.

My favorite part of this interview comes as the end (21:49) where Mr. Khan asks Johan what he would like his legacy to be. He glows as he reveals that he is drawn to a Buddhist idea that he wants not to survive as a soul or in monuments, but rather as “the sum of the sparks of inspiration you give to others, and they give to others, so there is a cascade. Well that cascade is my afterlife.” So we are living the Galtung cascade. That is what you are doing at ICAR; that is what you are doing at Eastern Mennonite and at Notre Dame and Nova Southeastern, PRIO and all of the other places that he helped to inspire. That cascade is the field and Galtung is that field’s indispensable man. So, are you fired up, ready to go? I am.


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