Saturday, December 31, 2005

Peace is Breaking Out All Over

Ask people what would be the best thing that they can imagine happening in the new year and most people would probably reply: ".” Then they’d add something about how hopeless are the odds of getting it. But that’s mistaken. We are getting more peace all the time. So now you have something to celebrate on New Years Day.

The problem is, not many people are aware of these changes. In part it is because of the inadequate methodology of counting wars and instances of peace. For example, Dr. (see photo) used to head the Strategic Planning Unit in the office of Secretary General – a role the included planning for human security around the world. He was disturbed to realize that the United Nations does not keep a and threats to human security, so it was sometimes hard to be sure what the trends were. Few states keep accurate records about their own crises. Indeed, peace research institutes also have . They often have to rely on the reports of journalists for counting wars and acts of . As we all have come to realize, the press is not even-handed in what it covers, so this source is far from ideal. Moreover, the states where human rights violations occur most frequently often dispute the evidence proving these grim facts.

Despite these methodological problems, it has become quite clear since the early 1990s that the frequency and gravity of political violence has been declining sharply. The wars that do take place are almost all within states, rather than between states, and even those have been decreasing in number and severity.

Dr. Mack now heads the Human Security Centre at the University of British Columbia’s for Global Issues. His organization has begun to compile annual reports on human security, drawing heavily on data collected at the , which counts human security by using a wider range of indicators than most other databases.

His centre’s 2005 declares that:
• During the 1990s, after four decades of steady increase, the number of wars being fought around the world suddenly declined. Wars have also become progressively less deadly since the 1950s. In 1992, more than 50 armed conflicts involving a government were being waged worldwide. By 2003 that number had dropped to 29.
(intrastate conflicts) increased after World War II until 1992, but have declined sharply since then.
• The international declined in dollar value by 33 percent between 1990-2003.
• Military have declined 60 percent since 1963, when there were 25 actual or attempted coups around the world. By 2004, there were only ten, all of which failed.
• Because of the decreasing number of wars, the dropped by about 45 percent between 1992 and 2003.

The explanation for these changes must be, to some extent, speculative and theoretical, yet most of us will readily accept the majority of the researchers’ arguments. They point to two main determining factors: the decline in (which not only involved violence against the indigenous populations but stimulated violent resistance) and the ending of the , which had kept the world polarized in a prolonged state of ideological belligerence. To be sure, the two sides refrained from direct war themselves, but they instigated and paid for large numbers of proxy wars, especially in the poorest countries. It is still the poor countries that experience the most violence, but nowadays the wars are internal rather than international, and are often between non-state actors, such as tribes or ethnic communities fighting against each other.

I am not satisfied with two of the explanations proposed in the Human Security Report. The first is their claim that the cold war system of mutual actually succeeded in preventing a live nuclear war. It is never possible to know what would have happened if what did happen had not happened. In that sense, Mack and his group have a perfect right to claim that deterrence worked, since indeed no nuclear bombs have been explored as weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, most experts who know how these systems work call it a miracle that no such catastrophe has occurred accidentally. The have been completely beyond any rational justification and remain inexcusable to this day. If we do not eliminate nuclear weapons they will eventually eliminate us.

The second argument that I cannot fully embrace from this report is its relative dismissal of the importance of as a cause of the declines in war. The authors do point out that democratic states almost never go to war against other democracies. They further point out that “The number of democracies increased by nearly half between 1990 and 2003 while the number of civil conflicts declined sharply over the same period.” However, they do not credit democratization for this enhanced condition of peace. Their reason is that, whereas fully-fledged, well-established democracies have few wars, states that are only partly democratic have numerous wars. They argue that the number of partial democracies has increased along with the number of full democracies, thus possibly offsetting the advantages conferred by democracy overall in the world. To make that claim (which may perhaps have some validity) one would need to present mathematical tabulations analyzing the data. They offer no evidence on the point, however, and I would not want to accept their conclusion without strong evidence.

They do, however, reach one conclusion that seems insightful and valid. They show that the ending of the cold war liberated the United Nations to become more effective in working to prevent wars and to restore peace after wars. The vast upsurge of activism is credited — rightly, I believe — with much of the progress that the world has made. It happened becayse of on the part of the UN and other multilateral bodies, and also on the part of non-governmental organizations. These interventions often work – and we should be reminded more often that they do work. We have many reasons to rejoice.

So on New Years Eve, let yourself go. Rejoice!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Adam, Charles, God, and Me

The December 2005 issue of Mother Jones Magazine is about religion. Though not all the articles are equally dismissive, I have a mixed response to ’s essay, “Smith vs. Darwin.” Galbraith, who writes a column called “The Econoclast,” criticizes religion from the perspective of an “,” if there is such an intellectual category. He makes two interesting points.

First, he argues that ’s brilliant contribution was not to “introduce the concept of evolution; it was to debunk the concept of supernatural — the idea that the universe is the result of an idea.” Second, he maintains that ’s concept of the “invisible hand” was an economic theory resembling today’s theory of “intelligent design.” Indeed, Galbraith suggests that economists have continued to cling unreasonably to the theory of an eighteenth century deist, whereas they ought to embrace a more evolutionary and materialist kind of scientific explanation. He sees the notions of both the and of intelligent design as persisting today in the face of overwhelming evidence, yet he does not specify the nature of that evidence. I paused, therefore, to imagine what relevant facts could possibly disprove either of the theories.

Can Adam Smith’s theory be falsified? Perhaps so. At least, can be shown to operate only under certain conditions. (For example, if a is dominated by monopolies, the invisible hand will not work optimally. And some government regulation seems to be advantageous, if not indeed necessary, to make it operate effectively.) But such conditionality does not disconfirm the theory.

What about the evidence for or against ? That’s a more interesting question, for indeed the proponents of that theory seem to assume that it is scientific – hence one that can be disconfirmed, at least in principle. It seems to me that in that respect they and Galbraith are equally mistaken. I think the existence of intelligence in the orderly workings of the universe is not a scientific but a religious assumption, though it is no less important for that reason. Any notion of that could be disconfirmed would seem to be a remarkably limited one.

As intelligent design theory is explained in popular accounts (I have not read the canonical books on the subject) apparently it asserts that certain complex evolutionary advances were too complex to have come about by random genetic mutations. On these occasions, at least, we must assume that God had a hand in the developments. Unless I have misconstrued the theory, it indicates that there are two kinds of evolutionary changes: routine ones involving natural selection, and extraordinary ones representing some manifestly divine intervention.

This dual explanation puts me off. I will not dismiss it out of hand, but it is a less attractive answer than an alternative one that portrays God as working with and through, not against, the regular processes of nature. It seems that the intelligent design theorists imagine God as “out there” somewhere, from nothing and occasionally poking into its processes, adjusting or revoking particular plans as they unfold. As for myself, I can only imagine God as inhabiting every atomic particle, every galaxy, every flower petal, every flock of birds, every mathematical truth, every musical composition, and every human act — benign or evil. If there is no place where intelligence is absent, then God is equally the source of good and evil, equally the author of love and war. So it’s a mistake to be overly certain about how things ought to present themselves. Here’s a story that illustrates what I mean.

There’s a flood. A devoutly religious man, watching the waters rising, climbs onto the roof of his house and begins praying for help. A neighbor tosses him an inflated inner tube and a pole, but he refuses them. “No, thanks. I have faith. God will take care of me,” he says.

A little later, a policeman comes by in a rowboat and urges him to climb in and row to higher ground. “No, thanks,” he says. “I have faith. God will take care of me.”

But the waters still rise. Finally, a helicopter flies over and drops a rope and basket down, ready to pull him up. “No, thanks,” he says. “I have faith. God will take care of me.”

Yet the water covers his house and he drowns. He’s quite annoyed about this when he meets God at the entrance to heaven. “Lord, why didn’t you save me? I had faith. Why didn’t you answer my prayer?”

God replied, “Listen, I sent you an inner tube, I sent you a rowboat, and I sent you a helicopter. Why are you complaining?”

What could be more brilliant than the everyday workings of physics, psychology, evolution, and all the other normal processes that support life? Does God suspend these regular systems occasionally to introduce special changes as she goes along? I don’t know. Mr. Galbraith claims that we have evolved from , chance events. I wonder how he knows. Anyway, what an impressive stunt! Whether God works with rowboats or helicopters, whether with miracles or evolution, I am still grateful. That’s faith, not science.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Preventing Wars – One at a Time

My mother used to say that peace activists were kidding ourselves because there will never be an end to . I replied that conflict will definitely exist forever, and it would be a boring world without it. But surely wars sometimes have been prevented. And if all we do is prevent one war at a time, that’s a worthy thing to do. This is the season when Christians celebrate the birth of the “.” Instead of exchanging bottles of aftershave lotion, a better way of celebrating might be to pick one potential war and do something to try to prevent it. You may not succeed, but it sure beats wrapping presents.

If you’re not sure which potential war to pick, you might have a look at the recommendations of the , a remarkable organization that has existed for ten years, investigating hot spots around the world and calling attention to the most dangerous ones. Right now, the area that is at the top of their list is Ethiopia/Eritrea, which fought a war in 1999-2000 and where there is a serious prospect of renewed fighting.

An international panel has decided that that recent war was started by , which attacked Ethiopia under circumstances that did not amount to self-defence. They judge that it in fact violated international law and owes compensation to . That outcome seems highly unlikely. The fight occurred because the separatist movement in Eritrea declared independence from Ethiopia. The ceasefire acknowledged their independence but the possession of a border town, , remained in dispute. It still does. Two months ago the boundary commission decided that Badme is Eritrean, but the Ethiopians have not conceded – at least without negotiations, which the Eritreans refuse. Indeed, a year ago, Ethiopia sent seven divisions of its armed forces into the area, where they remain now. For its part, Ethiopia has imposed limitations on the peacekeeping forces, asking the western members to leave the country; the ones remaining there are mostly African.

The head of the UN peacekeeping force in the area has warned that time is running out and tensions are rising around Badme. If the two states do not come to an agreement soon, the Security Council may have to reduce its presence.

According to the International Crisis Group, “Those who helped put together the Algiers peace accords in 2000 – the African Union, the UN, the U.S. and the EU – need to urgently put together a “3-Ds” strategy, involving concurrent de-escalation, demarcation and dialogue. The stakes could hardly be higher: neither side appears eager for a second war, but the situation is very fragile, and to dismiss current tensions as mere sabre rattling would be a serious mistake.”

The Crisis Group has sent out an e-mail alert, requesting that citizens press their governments to convene and develop such a strategy. The Security Council is scheduled to deal with the matter early in January. Political pressure within the member states may make a real difference. Send an e-mail or two, in addition to your usual holiday greetings.

Several crises in the Horn of Africa interact. A year ago, the rains had failed and it was expected that up to fourteen million people might die in a new . However, the international response to the food shortage has been magnificent — the most effective ever known in history — and the rains have returned. Nevertheless, some seven million people still require food assistance for survival. Poverty and lack of democracy are major factors exacerbating the chance of war.

In addition to this ad hoc way of preventing wars one by one, I prefer to approach the problem in a systemic way, paying attention to the general factors that typically result in wars and attempting to change the causal policies and structures. In this respect, the Ethiopia/Eritrea conflict is a perfect case study. It illustrates one of the most consistent causal dynamics: separatism.

When a country contains two or more ethnic populations that are concentrated in different regions, any conflict between the two groups is likely to prompt some resentful nationalist leader to argue that what his group needs is a separate state of their own. In many cases they convince their allies that life will become better for them as soon as they have control of the state. This is particularly true in a newly democratizing state where one of the groups is a minority, hence regularly outvoted in elections, though it is a majority in its own local region. Clearly, by breaking away from the larger state, they would constitute the majority population in the new, smaller state and would regularly win elections.

This is a logical argument, but it doesn’t work that way. The fight for an independent country exacerbates tensions that may have been managed fairly well before. If the breakaway state is able to establish itself by being recognized internationally, there are bound to be some within it too, and they will likely feel downtrodden. Conflicts that had been internal before the partition now become international disputes, with the two countries now possessing their own armed forces. Families and trade and business relationships will be broken by the . Sizeable populations may flee from the new country where they feel they can never belong. All this is justified in terms of giving “a people” the right of – a notion that does have status in international law.

But where did the concept of self-determination arise? Answer: from the historical movements that sought to free countries from colonial rule. It was the European colonial masters who were supposed to be removed, so as to let the local populations determine their own political lives. The same goes for, say, the control of by China; it is a definite instance of invasion and subordination by an outside power. But it has usually been a mistake to try to apply the concept of self-determination as a justification for separating a country into distinct ethnic or nationalistic states. It is not just the war for independence that costs lives; it is the warfare that follows independence – often for several successive generations. The splitting of was one notable catastrophe. To this day, the two countries are in conflict. That is what must be expected when separatist aspirations are achieved. With very few exceptions (e.g. ) wars and strife follow the partitioning of states. If this were understood enough so that the international community would make it clear to separatists that their sovereignty will never be recognized, we would have overcome one of the most predictable causes of warfare.

Still, it is a hard argument to make. Nationalists feel a passionate desire for independence. You cannot easily reason with them. The only argument that makes sense is to point out that what they really need is an alternative mechanism for protecting the rights of their particular minority within the larger democratic state.

There are many ways in which such improvements can be made. What is important is the creation of forms of democracy that assure minorities that their strong needs and desires will not be overlooked or disregarded by the majority of voters. One way is through the provision of legal charters of rights and freedoms. No existing democracy is perfect. The world is on a wonderful path toward freedom, but even the best states have taken only a few steps down that path. The world needs great political innovations even more than we need technological innovations.

It’s too late to apply this insight to the prevention of war in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where the partition has already taken place. Now the only thing that can be done is to continue managing the conflict that will almost certainly continue for many years. But the world should learn from such cases, and prevent new partitions. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that we are learning.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Memories of a Traveling Journalist

Yesterday I traveled from to . Physically I was mostly on a jam-packed Airbus, but mentally I was outside time, reading a novel about an advertising agency in the 1920s, then checking back in occasionally to notice the people around me, where our time was not the same as that of anyone, anywhere on terra firma. is a different kind of world, temporarily disconnected from this earthly society. Yet it is an occasion when I’m most likely to be interested in and contrasts. How things are done in a new way, compared to previous journeys. How people in California behave, compared to Torontonians. How Berkeley resembles or differs from the city where I spent twenty years.

The newness began at the airport in Toronto, where I obtained my own boarding pass from a machine. I had seen such machines before, but this was the first time everyone had been expected to manufacture their own .

The Berkeley-Toronto contrast appeared as soon as I landed and needed guidance in buying BART tickets. The manin the ticket booth helped surmount my errors in buying from the machine, then added some friendly extra advice. I was to change trains at the Balboa Park station by stepping off, waiting exactly there for the Richmond train, then stepping back on. Once aboard, I met two fellows who confirmed this advice and took charge of telling me when we were approaching Balboa Park. We got into a jovial conversation about the “Berzerkeley” of the 1960s. That would not have happened in Toronto.

I got off as instructed, but the Richmond train hadn’t come 45 minutes later, so I had to devise an alternative way to get to Berkeley. It went well. BART had not been built when I left the Bay Area, but people are extremely proud of it, though this was not the first time I’d experienced a long delay because of some breakdown in the system. Anyhow, the cars are carpeted. Toronto subways are more reliable, I think, but they will never have carpets.

Leaving the BART station in Berkeley was a challenge with my two suitcases. I got stuck in the exit turnstile, but a sweet older man rescued me with his keys and summoned an elevator to take me to the street, adding some advice of his own about how I should get to my destination. I had known exactly where I was going, but I appreciated his kindness. Pulling my two bags along, I sensed that Shattuck has come to resemble Avenue of the 1950s. Shattuck used to be a place for business people — townies, not students, but the line between them has blurred. There are more Indian, Vietnamese, and Mexican restaurants now, though there are still banks and regular stores too. When an old man asked for money I said I was sorry. He said, “No need to feel sorry. You have a wonderful day.”

This apartment building is a completely conventional 1930s construction occupied by Jim Leonhardt, an undergraduate student in cognitive science and his beautiful psychologist girlfriend Riana. They will be snowboarding during the vacation at his country place in Truckee. I remarked that there seemed to be some animosity between . He agreed, but said that snowboarding has revitalized the skiing world, which had become too elitist. The snowboarders include young rappers – a different culture that skiers disdain. Jim showed me some books and lecture notes by his professor, , with whom I also had studied while I was an undergraduate. Searle has to be as old as I am, but he’s apparently still going strong. I asked about this new field, “.” It came in when Artificial Intelligence came in. Jim has a graphic in the hallway showing the brain and some obscure findings about its functioning. He also has some pills in his medicine cabinet that purport to be good medicine for the brain. I assume that he knows what he’s talking about on that topic. He says it doesn’t pay to get a Ph.D. in cognitive science because there are few universities that offer it and hence there are few jobs. He is a philosopher personally, but I suppose mainly psychologists specialize in that area. I haven’t spent time with Searle’s two books yet, but I want to. This is another way in which Berkeley is more stimulating than Toronto. It’s just plain easier to get into conversations about new areas of research.

Berkeley’s the place for every kind of newness, not just research. When you cross the street here, the signal gives you a white pedestrian sign at the beginning, then starts counting down the number of seconds remaining for you to finish crossing before the light will change on you. Nice innovation.

Imagine eating a taco for lunch. It was easy to find. But across the street there was a McDonalds, and I stopped in there to read a newspaper and drink coffee. They haven’t got the Berkeley sensibility. A young male student was sitting across from me. The woman came to tell him that he had used up his fifteen minutes. They have a new rule: You can sit there no longer than fifteen minutes! We laughed about it, but he left pretty soon. There was a black family sitting nearby, listening to this and laughing too. “Don’t pay any attention to that,” they told me. I had really anticipated spending about an hour reading the paper. It must be a case of culture trumping Berkeley culture. Yet as I was about to leave, another woman – a hunchback bent over half double with some kind of infirmity, was cleaning off the tables. Unexpectedly, she wished me a happy holiday season, as if to show that she could maintain a kind heart in all kinds of unconducive places.

It is raining. I have stayed in most of the day, trying to master two technological challenges – my new computer and the new , which came without a manual.Eventually I sent out an SOS on the computer, asking advice from experienced cell phone users. Jonathan figured it out for me. He seems to live right by his computer, as I do. This is not a locally specific culture pattern.

But there are some academic culture patterns that seem locally specific. Jonathan sent me information about the peace studies program here. Riana had already mentioned that it’s extremely popular. They cap the enrollment and hold up higher standards than other majors. It’s hard to get in.

And I spoke with tonight. She’s going to teach an interdisciplinary course next term on globalization and in Africa. It will be large because it counts toward the breadth requirements. I don’t think Toronto offers many interdisciplinary courses on such cutting-edge topics.

The house next door has a poinsettia plant that probably qualifies as a tree. It reaches almost to the windows of the second floor. It’s in bloom, just as it should be in the Christmas season.

I went into the on Center Street to get a new ATM card. When I mentioned to the man that I had worked in that branch about 53 years ago, he was skeptical. The branch hadn’t been here that long, had it? It had been over on Addison Street. Yes, I said. It had been right here. I remember it well. I spent two years working there during the years. The managers had told us to stop discussing it because we got into too many fights. Right here. I think as I type now, my mental image of that old Bank, and even the people who worked there, is far more vivid than my memory of the new building where I spent twenty minutes this morning. Newness does not always trump oldness.

Sometimes it should, though. The Dorothy Sayers novel has been my companion in three restaurants today: McDonalds, the taco joint, and this evening an expensive bistro down the street where I had coq au vin while reading the mystery. Sayers’s advertising copywriters seemed just as alive as the people around me, who were talking tonight about how to improve the school system. Yet there was a shocking moment when the advertising people referred to .” I remember having come across anti-Semitism in Sayers long ago. They say she never recanted those views. Here she was, as devout a Christian as anyone could be, yet an unrepentant racist, even in her old age. In this respect, at least, the new culture has genuinely progressed. I am glad to be alive today, in this city that used to know so well.

And tonight, after I returned from walking along Berkeley Way, the street where Bob and I lived when we first married, Jonathan sent me another e-mail. Bob has bone cancer.

And so it goes.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Instead of Launching on Warning…

The public considers an obsolete issue. The world survived it in the 1980s and can now forget about it. Supposedly, what we confront now instead is the problem of “,” and even those WMDs are no longer high on the global agenda, since we have learned that didn’t have any. According to this theory, we can just cross nuclear weapons off our list of worries, unless something unexpected happens.

If you believe this, I’ve got news for you. “WMDs” include nuclear weapons. Indeed, they are still the most dangerous kind of WMD. Moreover, some 27,000 of them still exist on the planet, many of which are on “” status. We should be as worried as ever about them, and they still belong among our top priorities.

Nuclear weapons exist for only one purpose: . And, if I may revive the terminology of the Cold War, nuclear deterrence is a policy of MAD: “Mutual Assured Destruction.” Let me explain. Suppose we have two sides in a conflict, both of them armed with nuclear-armed and both fearing that the other side might attack them. They both realize that they must convince their opponent that, if they do launch, they too will certainly be destroyed.

To make this threat convincing, both sides have concluded that they cannot afford to wait for missiles to land on their own territory before retaliating. Delay may result in the destruction of one’s own missiles before they can get off the ground. Both sides need to retaliate before the incoming missiles hit. This requires launching as soon as it is known that incoming missiles are on the way. To do so is to “launch-on-warning.”

The problem with “launch-on-warning” is that sometimes the warning is only a . In fact, that happens quite often. There’s less than half-an-hour in which to re-check the alarm and discuss what to do. Within 30 minutes the incoming missiles will land and civilization will end. Fortunately, whenever there has been enough time to re-check, the warning has always turned out to be a false alarm that could safely be ignored.

However, on several occasions the warning has not been disconfirmed during the available time frame and, had the prescribed operating procedures been followed, you and I would be dead. For example, in 1983 the commander of a Soviet nuclear missile bunker , refused to obey orders, even though the radar detected a group of incoming American missiles.(See his photo, and also see He saved the lives of many millions of human beings. Yet,nuclear weapons experts all agree that unless this dangerous system of launch on warning is abandoned, our luck will run out some day. Eventually, a false alarm will trigger Armageddon, for not everyone is as courageous and independent as Colonel Petrov.

So what can be done to prevent this mistake?

Certainly the best solution is complete nuclear disarmament. However, the Bush Administration is not willing to abolish their nuclear weapons, nor have other previous US administrations done so. They believe somehow that mutual deterrence is still necessary. I believe, on the contrary, that nuclear weapons are a terrible scourge for the world. Nevertheless, until we can persuade powerful decision-makers, we need a Plan B: something that will reduce the dangers of launch-on-warning, without actually eliminating mutual deterrence. I know of one such solution, proposed by Dr. and Mr. Steve Starr. They call it — “Retaliatory Launch Only After Detonation.”

By no means does RLOAD completely eliminate the prospect of a nuclear war. In fact, it only eliminates one of many possible ways in which a nuclear tragedy might take place. Fortunately, however, that one way is the most dangerous of all and it can be addressed and resolved immediately. The only change consists of this new policy: Instead of launching a as soon as a credible warning has been received, the president of a country will launch that retaliatory strike only if a nuclear detonation is reported at a place and time consistent with the plotted trajectories. All preparations are made at the silos to launch instantly without further orders when notification of a detonation is received. The order is automatically voided if no detonation is detected by a certain stated time.

Compare the outcome of the two options, launch-on-warning and RLOAD. In the case of launch-on-warning, war starts, regardless of whether the incoming attack was real or a false alarm. In the case of RLOAD, war starts if the attack is real. But there is still peace if the presumed attack was a false warning.

The and Russia are, to this day, the owners of the greatest nuclear arsenals. I wish they would disarm, but there is no foreseeable prospect that they will do so. The other nuclear powers possess weapons capable of causing devastation in a few places on earth, but humankind as a whole would survive their nuclear exchanges. None of us would survive a nuclear war between the United States and Russia. Above all else, we must keep that from happening. It is most likely to happen by mistake, rather than intentionally. The mistake would arise from one of the false alarms that frequently take place. RLOAD, if adopted as a policy by both Russia and the United States, would prevent nuclear wars started as the response to a false alarm. That is all it would do. It’s not the solution to all our problems. Nevertheless, it is an enormously valuable suggestion that could be adopted by even the most hawkish military leaders who want to keep their nuclear deterrent. I vote for RLOAD.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Democide and Democracy

(see photo) e-mailed me again this week, making yet another correction in his estimates about . I’ve never met the man but I’m on his list – and gladly so, because he has fascinating things to say, though I agree with only half of them.

I wrote a blog recent blog entry about Rummel’s previous correction, only a week or two ago. He was so impressed by the new book on Mao that he concluded that the famine resulting from the was, indeed, democide. knew what was happening and simply didn’t care. That made the famine count as murder, not a well-meaning mistake.

“Democide” is probably a term that Rummel invented himself. At least, I’ve never heard anyone else refer to it, though it makes perfect sense. It means “any murder by government – including genocide, politicide, massacres, mass murder, extrajudicial executions, assassinations, atrocities, and intentional famines.” Rummel’s imaginative line of research consists of exploring the causal relationships among democracy, war, and democide.

The relationship between has been investigated by other researchers. It is an established (though insufficiently recognized) fact that democratic states do not go to war against other democracies. Sometimes democracies do fight against non-democratic regimes. And of course, non-democratic states commonly fight against other non-democratic states. Those findings about war are well established. Not everyone likes to believe them, but no one has successfully refuted them.

But democide? That association is still surprising. Rummel shows that democracies even have less domestic violence than other types of regimes, both at home and in foreign relations, and that democratic regimes commit less democide than authoritarian regimes, which in turn commit far less democide than totalitarian regimes. Moreover, as and have shown, never occur in democratic countries.

Now it seems that Rummel was reading s book, , which prompted him to read some other research about the . Now he’s aware that he had drastically underestimated the extent of democide in the world because he had missed the scale of Leopold’s atrocities.

King Leopold II believed that overseas colonies were the main factor determining a country’s economic success. However, the Belgian government had no interest in acquiring such lands, so he simply became the ruler of the Congo – the personal owner of the country. He hired the explorer Henry Morton Stanley to establish a colony there that was 76 times larger than . He ruled as its sovereign until 1908, when the Belgian parliament compelled him to cede it to Belgium. The brutality of the period was astounding in scope, for the Congolese natives were compelled to collect natural rubber for export. One common procedure for controlling the forced laborers was to cut off one of their hands.

Leopold’s murderous ways were well known at the time but have been almost forgotten since then. The Encyclopedia Brittanica claims that the population declined from 20 or 30 million to 8 million. Other estimates range from 3 million deaths (Peter Forbath) to 10 million or half the original population between 1885 to 1900 (Adam Hochschild) and even 21 million (Fredric Wertham). Rummel is simply astonished that he had overlooked these facts. Now he’s adjusting his estimates.

Now he estimates that over all of colonized Africa and Asia, 1900 to independence, an additional 50 million natives were murdered during colonization. This brings his total democides to 262 million. He writes,

“Incredible. Incredible. By my conservative estimate, governments in the last century murdered more than a quarter of a BILLION people. Enough bodies head to toe to circle the earth ten times, or the equivalent of the estimated toll of a nuclear war between major powers. We should all weep.”

Yes, weep. Or smile, depending on whether you’re looking to the past or the future. More and more countries are becoming democratic. (Just today I saw evidence that one more may be moving in that direction: Burma. ASEAN has pressed the junta there to release and reinstate democracy, and General Soe Win has promised to do so.) As democracy spreads, the number of wars and murders has been declining. To be sure, we worry (properly so) about the abuses that the press covers. But the diminished numbers of wars and democides are not immediately visible. You can’t tell by looking. Someone has to collect the statistics. Fortunately, the peace research institutes around the world are collecting the evidence, and they all agree that the acts of violence are diminishing. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. Or Maybe Not.

I really don’t know how much to worry. My friend Jack Santa Barbara is alarmed and he’s a level-headed guy. He’s preoccupied with the looming energy crisis. ( Others, however, worry more about , the extinction of species habitat, or the still-increasing human . Actually, these issues are so interdependent that it hardly matters which one you take as primary. But it’s certainly realistic to take the as the primary concern, since it’s going to happen so soon, and with probably catastrophic results.

Practically everybody who specializes on is pessimistic. There’s is no prospect of an alternative energy source that is as rich as oil — and when oil is gone, it’s gone forever. Oil accounts for over one-third of the world’s total global energy use and some 90% of its uses. Of course, oil is required for production. No alternatives are ready yet. Moreover, the worrisome question is, what’s the ratio of a fuel’s energy, compared to the energy required to get it? A new well pumping sweet light is ideal; its ratio is about 100:1. Coal’s return of energy on energy invested is about 60:1 or 80:1, but it causes terrible pollution, and cleaning it reduces its ratio to only 5 or 6:1. has the next highest return — about 30:1. from corn is only 1:1, but by growing five crops a year, Brazil’s sugarcane yields ethanol with a ratio of 5:1.

In November Santa Barbara attended a conference in Denver on Peak Oil and Gas and has e-mailed me his notes. Right off the bat, he said that the world’s second largest oil field in the world, in Kuwait, already has peaked and that the decline of oil production rates may be running at 8% per year, not the 2% that had been widely projected. That’s a shocking rate of depletion, but natural gas, which peaked 32 years ago, is being depleted even faster. Some people were counting on (LNG) to make up the shortfall as oil production declines, but Americans are refusing to allow LNG plants to be built nearby — understandably so, since each one has the potential explosive force of a small atomic bomb. Half the natural gas that we’ll need in 2012 just to stay even hasn’t been discovered yet. Over 27,000 new wells will be required, and there aren’t enough drilling rigs or technical experts to do the job.

With the world’s population growing at 250,000 persons per day, if the oil declines at 2%, we’ll have 24 billion barrels left in ten years. If it is depleting at 8% per year, we’ll only have 13 billion barrels left. is no solution, says Santa Barbara. It would require that all land now used for farming be shifted over to producing energy crops. There are environmental problems to that as well; the pesticides and our water.

The speakers at Denver offered no hope of relying on to fill the gap. “It could not possibly make a dent in the shortfall of oil and natural gas we’re facing,” reports Santa Barbara. “This is a liquid fuel crisis: wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal, wave, and hydropower are irrelevant.”

I hope he’s wrong, but he’s certainly not ill informed. Many economists are more optimistic, believing that the market will save us. As oil becomes scarce and its price rises, they say, this will increase the incentives for innovators to produce other, more efficient products. Perhaps so, but can this happen quickly enough? The Peak Oil experts are predicting that we’ll start feeling a significant pinch in five years. My own sense is that our standard of living is going to hit the wall; we’ll have to start conserving in ways that are absolutely unfamiliar to anyone in affluent societies. We can get by okay on one-third the energy that we use now, but the changes won’t be welcome.

One night at 4:00 AM, all of this got to me. I got up and checked the Internet for more cheerful sources. One fellow in Ohio had written a 48-page fantasy story that gave a happy ending to the oil crisis. He had us shifting to hybrid-fuel vans that carried ten persons in , organized by cell phones. (That’s not far-fetched. Only today Toronto inaugurated new rules reserving certain lanes for cars with multiple passengers.) His plot involved a decision by the Muslim oil-producing countries to overthrow their dictators, form a political union, and allocate sharply reduced amounts of oil to the OECD countries. With the support of Russia and China, these forward-thinking Arabs wind up saving the world from us rich capitalists.

It was a good yarn, but I wouldn’t bet on its happening.

Much more encouraging is the letter I received today from the Earth Policy Institute, which is run by authentic experts — notably . (See photo.) He has a new book coming out shortly: Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble. His promotional letter opens by invoking Jared Diamond’s specter: Easter Island. We are headed toward a decline and collapse. Yet Brown does not sound as gloomy as the Peak Oil conference speakers who were so skeptical about renewable energy. Brown’s Plan B is a roadmap for restructuring the global economy to “one that is powered by renewable energy sources, that has a diverse transportation system, and that comprehensively reuses and recycles materials. We have the technologies needed to build the new economy.” Brown even foresees new gas-electric hybrid cars with an extra storage battery for short-distance driving, including the daily commute, by electricity. He has put the first chapter of his book and the table of contents on their web site:

Part of the plan is to eradicate and stabilize population. That will involve providing universal primary school education, basic health care, and reproductive health and family planning services for women everywhere. The total cost of this: $68 billion. The plan will also reforest the earth, protect topsoil, restore rangelands, stabilize water tables, restore fisheries, and protect biological diversity. The budget totals $93 billion per year. Together, these two global initiatives come to a total of $161 billion –only one-sixth the size of the global military budget.

Just think how much more favorably the poor people of the world will view us rich folks if we make that kind of contribution! Now that’s a real solution to terrorism!

How realistic is the prospect of renewable energy? I'm not technically sophisticated enough to judge. But I came across an encouraging article today by Stefan Lovgren in the National Geographic News of Jan. 14, 2005. It's about a new application of to absorb the infrared spectrum from light. These solar cells could be sprayed on or woven into our clothing and used to charge items such as cell phones.

"A hydrogen-powered car painted with the film could potentially convert enough energy into electricity to continually recharge the car's battery." According to Ted Sargent, an electrical and computer engineering professor at the University of Toronto, the sun that reaches the Earth's surface delivers 10,000 times more energy than we consume. “If we could cover 0.1 percent of the Earth's surface with [very-efficient] large-area solar cells, we could in principle replace all of our energy habits with a source of power which is clean and renewable.”

According to Peter Peumans, a Stanford University professor, with further advances, the new plastic “could allow up to 30 percent of the sun's radiant energy to be harvested, compared to 6 percent in today's best plastic solar cells.”

So there you have the controversy. Is such hope realistic? We won’t know unless we try it out in practice. And, realistic or not, that’s how I prefer to live my life. Yesterday my friend Ed said something unexpected when I mentioned these dark problems. He said: “What a privilege to be alive now, with an opportunity to address problems of this magnitude! What a privilege to know that we can really make a difference in the future of humankind!” Wonderful. I love it.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Ms. Chow Will Write a Letter

Having become acquainted with a previous entry on my blog, Olivia Chow has indicated that she will be happy to write the letter that Science for Peace requested. I am pleased tdo hear it and will not resign from the NDP, as I previously intended to do. This is a season of peace, and I shall celebrate.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Arbour vs Bolton on Torture

The Administration’s loss of popularity – even credibility – around the world is not news to anyone living outside the (you’d have a hard time finding any boosters of the US in any foreign country) but the precipitous drop since is new. And every week some new allegation emerges that the Bushies cannot rebut. This week it was the use of by Americans, coupled with the practice of ,” whereby a suspect is transferred to some secret location abroad where there are few witnesses to potential abuse.

This practice has been alleged in the past, but now the issue is heating up again. The Spanish government has been investigating claims that aircraft stopped over several times on the island of while transporting terrorist suspects to various countries. Rumors have been flying about the location of these detention centres, with unspecified Eastern European countries considered most likely. And of course the situation of detainees at Bay has been known recognized since the war in began, and the abuse at is also well known.

However, this week the Administration has been confronted repeatedly over the issue. Secretary of State traveled around Europe, partly soothing politicians there, while also brazening the situation out. She denied that the US resorts to cruel and degrading interrogation methods, without giving any examples of unacceptable practices. Nor did she say whether the rules applied to private contractors or foreign interrogators. She did not say whether there were any exceptions to the rule. And she warned foreign governments not to challenge the US practices if they want to maintain any mutual cooperation in the .

This week was the annual Day when the world marks the adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since that document specifically outlaws torture, the United National High Commissioner for Human Rights, (see photo) took the occasion to warn that the US war on terror is eroding the worldwide ban on torture. Immediately (and not unexpectedly) U.S. Ambassador to the UN John immediately replied with anger that “It was inappropriate and illegitimate for an international civil servant to second-guess the conduct that we’re engaged in the war on terror, with nothing more as evidence than what she reads in the newspaper.”

Both Arbour and Secretary General replied that she was doing her job by raising the question. She further asked, “do you or do you not operate undisclosed detention centres in undisclosed locations? And if so, does the International Committee of the Red Cross have access or are people detained totally incommunicado?”

Arbour is almost certainly right in her allegation that the ban on torture is being “eroded.” I don’t have earlier , but an Associate Press-Ipsos poll was reported this week showing that in the United States, as well as Canada, Mexico, and Germany, people are divided on whether torture can ever be justified. Most people opposed torture under any circumstances in Spain and Italy. Whether he will gain political respect for it or not, Senator John has been developing legislation in Congress to prohibit torture. There seems to be support among Republicans as well as Democrats, and some kind of deal with the White House may be in the works.

Naturally, I am shocked at the widespread acceptance of torture – though perhaps one should not be totally surprised. According to , two-thirds of all countries practice torture. Certainly torture was taken for granted as an appropriate method of extracting confessions or other information in previous centuries – notably by the Catholic , though the interrogators were limited in the amount of injury they were allowed to use. Occasionally they would hand the prisoner over to a secular authority to finish the job, for they were allowed to inflict unlimited amounts of abuse.

Ms. Arbour has made it clear that, according to international law, there is no circumstance whatever that justifies the use of torture. No ifs, ands or buts. This flatly contradicts the Bush Administration’s equivocation on the matter, whose support for the use of torture is supposedly based entirely on practical “realpolitik” considerations. But in practical terms, there are serious questions about the validity of information that can be extracted by inflicting pain. Such information is known to be unreliable.

My own practical concerns are not only about the truthfulness of the information torture elicits, but about its – both on the victims (who often say that the memories stay with them endlessly) and, especially, on the . What can be expected of young Americans who have been authorize to brutalize other human beings? What suffering will they undergo throughout their lives, or what toughness of character will they acquire as a way of protecting themselves from their own conscience? I am sure that the psychological pain for me would be even greater after I had perpetrated such abuse than after having received it.

Nevertheless, the Bush Administration had been garnering a degree of support from surprising sources – notably from the lawyer Alan , who had proposed a hypothetical situation involving a “ticking time bomb.” According to this theory, even nations that normally uphold human rights can justify torture legally when they are holding a suspect who possesses knowledge, say, of the location of a time bomb that would soon explode and kill many innocent people. Dershowitz claims that he certainly does not support torture as a routine practice, but that it is important to think ahead and decide what circumstances might justify it, so that a “torture warrant” can be issued legally on the rare occasions when it's necessary.

I agree with Dershowitz to this extent: I think maybe George W. Bush should think ahead and specify the kinds of suspects on whom torture may appropriately be used. And he has perfectly adequate standards available, as a devout Christian who is supported primarily by other devout Americans. I suggest that he set up a panel of theologians to identify the kinds of persons whom would be willing to torture. I, for one, would be satisfied with that criterion.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Why I’m Mad at Olivia Chow

“Anyone can be angry; that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right way, this is not easy.” (Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics).

would acknowledge that my today is appropriate. He said that only persons who are “slavish” never feel angry. Anybody who has integrity and cares about other persons or issues will want to defend them and will feel outraged if they are wrongly treated. Well, I am a peace and I feel outraged today.

was, until a couple of days ago, a Toronto city councillor. We’ve been slightly acquainted for over twenty years, since she worked for Don Heap, then a who let me come to his office to phone peace activists across Canada, gathering news for Peace Magazine. I know Olivia’s husband, , somewhat better. (At least I guess so; he hugs me instead of shaking my hand, if that counts for anything.) I was invited to their wedding. Jack’s the leader of the , Canada’s own social democratic movement. We’re in the midst of a federal election campaign in Canada now and Olivia just resigned from to run for parliament – her third attempt. Three weeks ago I attended her $150 a plate fundraising banquet. It was billed as a celebration of her twenty years as a politician.

Well, I have also been busy over the past twenty years. As a university professor I ran a program in which up to thirty students majored. I also participated in NGOs in Canada and abroad, especially Science for Peace, a Canada-wide organization of some 300 scientists and other intellectuals headquartered at the University of Toronto. (I understand that its members have included all Canadian Nobel laureate scientists since it was created.) I have edited Peace Magazine, firmly convinced that the most valuable way of contributing is to identify and show how to curtail .

Evidently Ms. Chow does not agree, for she has refused to write a letter saying so. I cannot help regarding her dismissive response as an affront. To be sure, one way of reducing conflicts is to learn not to take issues personally, but sometimes that would miss the point. (There’s a scene in an early comedy when his girlfriend decides to break up with him. He asks why she’s dissatisfied. She replies that he’s no good in bed — “but don’t take it personally.”)

I take peace personally because that’s been the main aspect of my life for twenty-two years — especially when it involves Peace Magazine. Like virtually everyone else in the organization, I have worked without pay the whole time and, indeed, have often paid from my own pocket to keep it going, especially in the early years. (I stopped counting such expenditures long ago, after I’d covered $60,000 of its costs.) In the early years we published an issue every month, but gradually decreased publication frequency to quarterly, with a current print run of 3,000 copies. Our editorial committee meets twice a month in my home, after which I design the pages on my Macintosh. Besides volunteers, the staff consists of one employee whom the magazine pays for approximately eight hours per week. (Most magazines have a paid staff, of course.) In recent years my able assistant, Ken Simons, has shared the time-consuming work of production with me.

In the early days the magazine had considerable financial support. During the nuclear movement of the 1980s, the federal government supported an institute for peace research, which in turn helped pay the magazine’s expenses, sometimes to the tune of $30,000 per year. Our founding honorary patrons included Toronto’s mayor, Art . From the outset and always thereafter, we have sent a free copy of every issue to every city councillor, every parliamentarian in Ontario and Ottawa, and every senator. The magazine is an open forum. Naturally, there is considerable agreement among contributors and readers, but occasionally articles (and especially letters) take positions that are at odds with the average Canadian peace activist. Our publication is absolutely consistent with the political and social values of the NDP.

In the 1990s the disarmament movement declined, probably because the Cold War ended and people mistakenly believed that weapons were no longer a threat. Subscriptions to dwindled and we faced insolvency, though activists appreciated the work we were doing. Eric , the founding president of , proposed a contract between the magazine and SFP, which had charitable status and was therefore eligible for a lottery license to run bingo games. I was on the board of directors of SFP and have served three times as its vice president.

Like most other peace activists, I have felt frustrated that universities and other government-funded institutions support research on strategy, but not peace research institutes. However, there was a chance to use the provincial government’s provisions for charities to hold bingo games. I suspended my misgivings enough to explore the opportunity and found it less repugnant than expected. The average player seems to regard the hall as a social club where one can spend three or more hours for about $15. I didn’t see anyone who appeared to feel desperate about winning or losing, and indeed I found a British study showing that bingo players have greater life expectancy than their stay-at-home counterparts. (Simply going out is healthy for people and helps keep old people mentally alert.) (See photo.)

In any case, for the past decade I have regularly officiated, as a director of Science for Peace, at bingo games about eight hours per month. From the proceeds, SFP pays for publication of peace-related research books and certain pages in our magazine. Two members of the Peace Magazine board of directors are appointed by SFP. In each issue, twelve pages are now devoted to material selected by editors representing Science for Peace; the magazine is paid $5,400 per issue, which has enabled the publication to continue, with funding from the heritage ministry. The remainder of the proceeds constitute a significant part of the money that Science for Peace spends on its research and extensive public education program.

Nevertheless, a few years ago the province approved the establishment of casinos, and this has drawn away part of the bingo clientele. A number of bingo halls have closed, though an increasing number of charities request licenses. Several months ago the municipal administration of licensing was consolidated and everyone was told to expect closer reviews of renewal applications. Science for Peace has an excellent record of compliance with the regulations, such as submitting game reports promptly. Nevertheless, the new official in charge of recommending renewals decided not to support our application. It seems that a new criterion had been adopted without notifying us: the proceeds must be spent mostly in Toronto. Nevertheless, we have managed to adapt our circulation arrangmenets to comply with this rule.

Still, in his letter to the Mr. Frank Cuda, the provincial authority who actually rules on such matters, the municipal manager, Mr. Gary White wrote: “…it would appear that the organization is ineligible due to a lack of programs and/or services that directly benefit the residents of the City of Toronto. Currently lottery proceeds are spent on the publication of the magazine “Peace Magazine.”

Since all city councillors have been receiving Peace Magazine since its inception, several members of the Science for Peace executive committee met with the assistants of three of them, Councillors Chow, Giambrone, and Pantalone, requesting that they write to Mr. Cuda, explaining that Torontonians do benefit from the magazine and the numerous public events that Science for Peace organizes at the University of Toronto. Councillor Pantalone has replied that he defers to the decision of Councillor Chow, in whose ward the University of Toronto (and hence Science for Peace itself) is located. But Councillor Chow has declined our request.

Unlike Olivia Chow, I do not want a banquet to celebrate my twenty years of public service. I do not want celebrities to give speeches about how wonderful I am. I already know that what I do is valuable. I want much more modest levels of recognition than she does: I just want a letter acknowledging that the work I do, along with the other good members of Science for Peace, counts for something. We want to be able to continue working for peace and publishing facts and opinions that will inform Torontonians and their leaders about how to preserve the world.

As an active member of the New Democratic Party, I normally contribute hundreds of dollars per year and have participated in numerous advisory consultations. I can no longer participate with integrity in the party. Confronted by this insult, I must resign my membership and work instead through non-political activities. As Aristotle recognized, there are times when one must either feel anger or act as an obsequious slave. I believe one has an actual duty to express indignation when that is the . Now is one of those times.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Syriana Will Make You Smarter

wrote a book recently called Everything Bad is Good for You, which argues that and are . I know virtually nothing about video games but I believe he’s right about television. In fact, I’d already made the same point about in my own book – on the basis of the same evidence: that IQ levels are increasing three points per decade around the world. Not all aspects of intelligence are improving in the same way, but specifically such factors as spatial relationships, which might be influenced by watching a screen.

Johnson (see photo) has previously written popular books and articles about the ways in which specific kinds of challenging brain activities alter the very structure of the brain. It’s comparable to building bigger muscles through body-building exercises. When you learn how to juggle, there’s a part of your brain that enlarges. A different part enlarges when you memorize the street map, for example, as must do to qualify for their jobs. Whatever you do that puts you through a mental workout will develop that particular aptitude somewhat and affect the corresponding brain structure.

Most people say that television dramas are mindless drivel, but Johnson believes otherwise. He says that shows have become more complex and subtle over the years, requiring viewers to pay attention and think fast, just to follow what is going on. Whereas thirty years ago there would be one plot per one-hour episode, now there may be up to a dozen. There is far more , too. The writers do not allow the characters to articulate all their intentions and interpretations. We have to guess, sometimes piecing together bits of information that refer back to a statement that may have been uttered three episodes earlier. There’s a lot of irrelevant information in the dialogue for the viewer to sift through; you must listen carefully to pick out the significant comments while ignoring the rest. With so much action packed into an episode, the story must move quickly. The scenes are fast-paced and cut short in the editing room. Blink your eyes and you may miss something crucial for understanding the plot.

One TV show that Johnson cites to illustrate all these trends is ER, the series in which made his mark on Hollywood. There may be no connection, but I can’t help imagining one between ER and – not, of course, in their content but in the qualities that, according to Johnson, make audiences smarter. Complexity, ambiguity, implicit but not explicit meanings, fast cutting, unexpressed intentions, and so on. I found it hard work to follow Syriana. This is not a criticism, for I respect the show’s message and think it will make us smarter in some ways.

I even believe it’s going to make lots of spectators more savvy about the looming crisis and the corruption that greed creates. There are damn few characters with integrity in the show, and they don’t come out as winners in the end. As an action film, it will appeal more to men than women and it may confirm the worst prejudices of political cynics. This is a film made by an idealist, reminding us of our own forgotten ethical concerns, but it is a cautionary tale, a story about the defeat of idealism by avarice. That’s okay. I am willing to accept the film’s sobering reminders, its call to moral vigilance. I am just troubled by my inability to follow the story. I watched so little ER over the years that my IQ has not kept up, and now it’s too late.

Besides, I wasn’t cut out for that kind of intelligence anyhow. There are several different kinds of intelligence, not just one. Howard , a Harvard psychologist, takes pleasure in identifying more and more new dimensions of smartness. I’m good at one or two of them, but subnormal at others – especially at the strategizing skill that a person requires to follow these newfangled television shows or, for that matter, Syriana. I prefer to explore empathically the psychological states of characters and the philosophical issues that are troubling them. That takes slower, more discursive dialogues than Clooney’s movie offers. I wish I’d been invited into the inner life of the protagonist — indeed into anyone’s inner life. Clooney’s character does learn from his wasted life and finds – I guess – some kind of redemption before the end. I just wish he’d been allowed to articulate what he’d learned, passing it on to the moviegoing audience before meeting his own fate.

Some reviewers have criticized Syriana for talking too much. I don’t think that’s the problem. It’s what they don’t say that left me unsatisfied. I did, however, love one little by-play between a torturer and his victim, where the torturer threatens to make the victim recant his deepest beliefs – but notes that it will be hard in this case, since he has no deep beliefs. Exactly so. And he’s not the only character who lacks real beliefs. That very absence may be the factor explaining the lack of integrity in all of them. I wonder whether that’s what the writer wanted us to learn.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Uttering the P Word

There I was, blithely running on about the altruism of and for taking such noble risks with their wonderful, socially relevant new films. Their innovation has been the single most promising development I’ve observed in the past year and I talk about it all the time, as if it were my own accomplishment (which in a way it is, since I thought it up and started promoting it in my book several years before I ever heard of Participant Productions).

But a few days ago I ran into the first critic of the idea – someone who wrote a comment on my blog entry saying, “Far be it from me to question anyone’s sincerity or motivation. But let us also acknowledge that are nothing if not sincere. And let’s not exaggerate the degree of actual financial risk incurred by these super-rich propagandists. Finally, let’s not cheapen the word ‘altruism.‘”

Such cynicism. Nevertheless, one has to expect some people to react that way. And so it’s time for me to reckon with this word “propaganda” – a strangely pejorative term in Western society. What does it mean and how bad is it, anyhow?

Nicholas has written a relevant book on the subject, The Power of Film Propaganda. He accepts the definition proposed by Terence Qualter: “ is the deliberate attempt by the few to influence the attitudes and behavior of the many by the manipulation of symbolic communication.” Reeves points out a couple of interesting facts: First, the truth or falsity of the message is not what makes it propaganda. Instead, the defining quality is how the message is intended to be used. Second, propaganda, by definition, is intentional. It is perfectly possible to influence large numbers of persons without intending to do so, but such outcomes cannot properly be considered as propaganda.

According to this definition, people who try to influence each other individually or in small batches are not propagandists. Almost everybody does try to influence others – usually in a personal way. Parents influence their children. Teachers influence their students. Therapists influence their clients. Managers influence their employees. None of these relationships constitute propaganda. As a professor I hope I had some influence over my students and colleagues – sometimes even in large batches. Occasionally I had to teach 300 students in one lecture hall, so that makes me a propagandist, I suppose. What about pastors? How large does their congregation have to be for them to qualify as propagandists?

The people whom I respect most are those who want to in the world. Since the most effective way to do that is through mass communication, evidently the people I respect are propagandists. Of course, I admire only those propagandists whose ideas and values I honor. It’s the validity of their message that matters – not the sheer fact that it is delivered by just a few persons to large audiences. I wouldn’t admire Clooney and Skoll if their movies were promoting foolish ideas, and my admiration of their work is not diminished by calling them “propagandists.” What will benefit humanity most is storytelling that conveys wise messages and influences large audiences to live in more constructive, sustainable ways. If you want to call that propaganda, fine. It sure beats telling stories that amount to silly twaddle. We’ve got a world to save, people!

There is another question that’s important: To what extent is propaganda effective in changing the hearts and minds of audiences? I’ve said that storytelling is immensely powerful, but you may doubt it. In fact, there’s a lot of research on the question, and the conclusions of different studies do not always agree. Here I’ll contrast two books, Reeves’s The Power of Film Propaganda, and a book by Arvind Singhal and Everett M. Rogers, Entertainment-Education: A Communication Strategy for Social Change.

Reeves compares the success of propaganda films made by Britons, Soviets, German Nazis, and Italians between 1917 – 1948, which were intended to stir up the of their respective citizens during and after wars. For some reason, he does not cover the Hollywood films made during World War II, notably by , or the numerous pro-war films featuring (see photo). Reeves points out that some of the finest films ever made were propaganda movies, such as Eisenstein’s , and Leni Riefenstahl’s , which glorified . Yet he concludes that public opinion was not affected by these powerful images as much as the creators had expected. The truly effective films were also entertaining. People went to see them for the same reason they would choose other movies: great stories, excellent photography and music, and fascinating characters. Unless these qualities were present, people tended to avoid shows that they knew had been produced by the state to promote its . Reeves wrote,

“Of the films that did reach that mass audience, those that were positively received were almost always films that confirmed and reinforced existing ideas and attitudes – films that set out to challenge and change those ideas and attitudes proved almost entirely unsuccessful….In very different ways, therefore, the history of film propaganda in Nazi Germany and Britain during the Second World War serves to demonstrate not the power of film propaganda, but rather the powerful constraints within which such propaganda operates. …Cinema audiences exercised considerable discrimination, both in the films that they chose to see and in the meanings that they constructed in the films that they did see.”

Reeves concludes, then, that propaganda films were far less effective than expected, even by , the most powerful propagandist of all time.

However, filmmakers need not give up hope of making a difference, for other studies reveal much stronger effects. The book by Singhal and Rogers does not refer to “propaganda” at all, but “education,” presented in the context of programs that are entertaining. By now, the techniques for making influential educational dramas have been well documented and are being used in many countries around the world. The approach was invented in Peru in 1969 in a television soap opera called Simplemente Maria about a single mother who enrolled in adult literacy classes in the evenings and climbed the social ladder by hard work with her trusty Singer sewing machine. Lots of other young female viewers enrolled in adult literacy and sewing classes. The show was broadcast in other Latin American countries, always with the same impressive results.

Between 1972 and 1982, produced one new per year in Mexico, which produced dramatic public responses in terms of adult literacy, family planning, and gender equality. These shows were commercial successes even while they were influencing Mexican society measurably. Sabido always began the story with the characters holding views typical of the larger society. Throughout the year, they encountered situations that challenged their assumptions and made them consider making changes, such as adopting birth control. As the audience followed their story, they adopted the same values. Everywhere in Mexico the shows were discussed, and during that period Mexico’s dropped more than in any other country.

television has been introduced to many other countries, where the social messages are proving to be remarkably influential. In South Africa, for example, there is a mass media campaign called “Soul City,” which promotes health and education. Soap operas are unmatched as a means of promoting the prevention of HIV in Africa. By the definition proposed above, these programs can certainly be considered “propaganda,” but I can’t imagine anyone objecting to them for that reason.

If propaganda comprises only productions that are created specifically to sway the opinions of viewers, then relatively few such programs exist. But if we look at shows in general, we’ll find an enormous number of influential productions, most of which are not created deliberately to change the viewer’s mind.

In fact, everything we do in the presence of other people may influence someone, whether we intend it or not. The same goes for filmmaking. It’s impossible to avoid influencing people, unless you become a hermit, and even then others will inhale air molecules that you’ve exhaled. We are all connected, and we all make a difference, for good or ill. It’s a delusion to try to avoid making a difference, so we’re better off purposefully leaving the best possible mark on the world.

The films that show violence teach people to solve their problems by resorting to violence. Women learned to smoke from watching glamorous movie stars in the 1930s. People are learning to stop smoking by watching shows today that no longer show characters smoking. We can teach ways of living sustainably in the world by producing shows about lovable characters who take care of the environment.

You can’t help sending messages by the way you live, just as you can’t help speaking prose. We may as well decide what messages we’ll try to send, even if, in forming our conscious intention, we become “propagandists.” Likewise, filmmakers can't help influencing their audiences. They have no choice. But they can choose how to influence society.

I can live with that. Can you?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Mao Outdid Stalin, Who Outdid Hitler

is the world champion counter of dead people. He’s an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Hawaii who has spent most of his career estimating the number of people killed in wars and by murderous regimes. He coined a new word, “,” to designate perpetrated by a against its own citizens. By every measure, the victims of democide outnumber those people killed in battle or, as helpless citizens, by the actions of armed forces. I’m 74 and I have been reading Rummel’s research occasionally since I was a graduate student, so he must have started early in this line of work. Certainly he still continues it, publishing his research on web sites and now on a blog. See Also, see his blog on democratic peace at

Rummel had hammered home one specific point over the years: that is the ideal protection against warfare. He has shown, time after time, that democratic countries do not go to war against other democratic countries. Yes, they go to war against undemocratic states, and of course undemocratic states also make war against each other. But democracies do not fight democracies. Naturally, lots of people want to contest that conclusion, which Rummel states as a simple, unequivocal fact without a single exception. I won’t try here to review specific cases that are sometimes trotted out as disproof of his theory. Rummel himself gives a reasonable account of the so-called exceptions to his generalization. Maybe there are one or two that we might consider a stretch (I honestly can’t say, since I am not a good enough historian) but it is clear that the exceptions, if any, are mighty few. The implications are also stunning: if all countries were democratic, there would be no more inter-state wars.

The evidence in favor of is really overwhelming. As a social scientist I know of no other causal relationship that holds up empirically on a comparable level. Usually a researcher is happy to find correlations of, say, .3 or .4, but the relationship Rummel calls “democratic peace” is virtually absolute. Critics cannot deny that fact. I say this as a half-hearted admirer of his, for I don’t much care for his politics. I’m a left liberal, but Rummel’s politics are frankly conservative. Obviously, there’s no necessary connection between his admiration for, say, and the validity of his research on democratic peace. Still, I find his politics disappointing just because I would like to promote his work without harboring any mental reservations.

Besides his powerful work on democratic peace, Rummel has investigated the relationship between democracy and democide – which of course is strongly negative. That part is not particularly surprising. After all, if a government massacres or deliberately starves its own people, it would simply have to be called undemocratic by definition. But by combining the number of deaths caused by warfare with the number in the same country caused by democide, Rummel can give a good estimate of the overall number of deaths that a dictator caused during his career.

This week I received an e-mail message from Rummel that he apparently sent out to everyone on his hard drive file – everyone with whom he has corresponded during the past several years. This message is an acknowledgment that he had made a major error that he wants now to correct. It’s a fascinating letter.

He says that he had previously calculated that 174,000,000 persons had died of democide (genocide and mass murder) during the past century. However, two books have convinced him that he must revise the numbers upward to take account of ’s democides. He already knew, pretty well, how many people had died in of 1958-61. He had not believed, however, that Mao had intentionally killed those people, even though they did die as a result of his faulty policies.

Rummel had attributed the famine to the Great Leap Forward, Mao’s enormous effort to catch up with the West in producing iron and steel. Part of that campaign involved the change from small peasant agriculture to . The managers of these communes curried favor with their superiors by over-reporting agricultural production to conform to the quotas that had been assigned. This over-reporting allowed the officials to believe that surplus food was being produced and that they could, therefore, export some of it without starving the peasants. When reports began coming in that in a few places some peasants were starving, Beijing sent out investigators, who discovered that there was in fact . Immediately the Party stopped exporting food so as to stop the famine. It would be mistaken to call the famine “democide,” as many other scholars was doing, because Mao had been misled and when he found out the truth, he changed his policies.

Or so Rummel believed until recently. In his letter he refers to the other scholars whom he had previously criticized. “They were right and I was wrong.” This admission became necessary after he had read two books by , Wild Swans: Two Daughters of China and the new one she co-authored with her husband, , Mao: The Unknown Story. Rummel respects their research, which involved hundreds of interviews with Communist cadre and former high officials.

These books have convinced Rummel that Mao knew all along what his policies were doing to the people; he just didn’t care! The famine was intentional. The former officials recalled that Mao tried to take even more food from the peasants to finance his international ambitions, but was overruled by a meeting of 7,000 Party officials.

What remains debatable is the that the famine cost. Rummel had previously concluded that 27,000,000 Chinese died of starvation or associated diseases, though other scholars put the number at 40,000,000. Chang and Halliday put their estimate at 38,000,000 and, given the thoroughness of their research, Rummel now accepts that number.

This change makes it necessary for him to alter a number of his previously published figures. He now says that Mao murdered about 77,000,000 persons before and after taking over the mainland. He writes, “This exceeds the 61,911,000 murdered by the Soviet Union 1917-1987, with Hitler far behind at 20,946,000 wiped out 1933-1945. For perspective on Mao’s most bloody rule, all wars 1900-1987 cost in combat dead 34,021,000 – including WWI and II, Vietnam, Korea, and the Mexican and Russian Revolutions. Mao alone murdered over twice as many as were killed in combat in all these wars.”

So Mao outdid Stalin, who outdid Hitler. Oh, my God. What numbers: 77 million!

Rummel concludes that Communist regimes murdered four times the number of people killed in combat in the twentieth century, while “globally the democide toll was over six times that number.”

Maybe that does partially explain Rummel’s political . It seems almost logical to prefer a form of government that is at the opposite pole from Communism. If that were the only choice, I’d agree with him. Fortunately, it's not.