Monday, May 26, 2008

Why the Importance of Peace is Overstated

It's not the second part of The Growth of High Technology, but I'm working on that. It'll be here eventually.

Possible spoilers from Star Wars: Episode III (as if anyone hasn’t seen that movie), Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, and a book titled Epic.

Peace, stability, security. All sound like important goals. Especially peace; right now in the U.S. political climate, there’s a massive debate on the subject, especially as it relates to the war in Iraq. People tend to view peace as superior to war, and I can’t say I entirely disagree with that idea.

Yet I also believe that there are things more important that peace or stability. Which doesn’t mean that I think war is a good thing, but sometimes, it’s better than the peaceful, stable alternative. And frankly, Star Wars is probably too obvious of an example of that.

After all, when Chancellor Palpatine made his speech before the Senate about what the Jedi had done and announced the formation of the Empire, he emphasized the positive to an extent. He spoke of ensuring the security and continuing stability, along with the justification, “for a safe and secure society.” And with all due respect, I can’t say that the Empire wasn’t a stable, secure government.

If the priority of a populace is on peace and stability, they might get just that. And indeed, for the decade and more that the Empire reigned supreme, I have no doubt that the vast majority of the Empire lived in what could be called peace. They weren’t living in fear of the Separatist droid armies or some other major threat. For most, the idea that there were stormtroopers was probably viewed as a good thing; after all, said forces would protect the people from outside threats.

And yet, who can call the Empire a good society? If the standard used is the presence of a peaceful, stable, secure society for the majority of people, then by that standard, the Empire is a good society. The standard used, however, is flawed, for a number of different reasons.

The first of those is the importance placed on peace. As was expressed in the Gundam Wing movie, Endless Waltz, “peace is not something that is just given to you.” People cannot sit back and wait for peace to arrive, and people cannot ignore the fact that there will be threats in the world. Pacifism is a lofty ideal, but as the movie demonstrated, it can only work when every single person in the world is a pacifist.

If a government disarms completely or nearly so, as the Earth Sphere Unified Nation did, they become a target. There was no one capable of fighting the army that landed and took control. And that shows why peace must take a backseat to preparation. A nation or a group of people that cannot defend itself against groups that have no desire for peace is a nation that will fall to such groups.

In addition, the presence of weapons that can be used for war is not an assured war. Peace can be maintained even in the presence of weapons. Disarmament is not a path to peace any more than maintaining weapons is a path to war. In the end, the presence or absence of a peaceful society will be decided by the people of that society. If the people either place too much importance on military power or on the absence of such weapons, the ability to maintain peace will be severely hindered.

The importance of stability in that standard is also a problem. Certainly, stability is often preferable to the alternative. That said, though, if the choice is between a stable Empire and an unstable civil war between the Empire and the Rebellion, who can say that they’d prefer the stability? Sometimes, action must be taken. Justice carries more importance than stability.

One book I’ve read, titled Epic, is another excellent example of how the ideals of peace and stability can be seriously misused. In the world that the book describes, a person’s life is all but dependent on their ability in the game world, Epic, that everyone in the world participates in. Any physical violence in the real world is a crime punishable with immediate exile. Legal challenges and many other issues are resolved through player-vs-player combat in the arena. And unsurprisingly, those people in charge of this society are the ones with the best players.

Thus, any challenge to the decisions of the central ruling committee ends in combat against them, which inevitably results in death. In essence, that committee can do anything, and no one can argue. And when the main characters of the novel earn enough money to become a threat to this committee’s characters, one of the rulers of this society lectures his fellows, “We preside over a society of what, five million souls? A peaceful society, a stable society. And what keeps it so? Epic. […] A better system of government has rarely been achieved. Certainly the warfare that our ancestors fled has no possibility of appearing.”

Again, I see the importance placed on peace and stability, on the lack of any physical violence. And yet. The people of that world are ruled over by an oligarchy that cares nothing for their welfare. Anyone who defies the government dies, even if that death is only in a virtual world. Is this a good society, or one that deserves to be ranked high?

In the end, the message I can find in all of these different worlds is much the same as the one that motivated the creation of the Declaration of Independence. “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” Sometimes, peace and stability isn’t enough. People deserve more than just stability.

And if the choice is between a stable, peaceful rule by a government that ignores the ideals of justice and liberty and an unstable time of war to overthrow such a government, then I say: let there be war.


Renegade Paladin said...

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." -- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

In short, you were beaten to the punch by about 150 years. :p

Counterpower said...

Somehow, I doubt that John Stuart Mill referred to Star Wars and Gundam Wing in making his point.

You are right, this is hardly a new idea. All I can assuredly promise from what I'm doing here is showing the relevance of modern entertainment to issues like this one.

Renegade Paladin said...

True, true. It's not a new idea, but it's a noble one, and it's encouraging to see it espoused; sometimes it seems that the ideal is dying out.

Anyway, to get totally off topic, check out the top of the Nerd Report. I think you might have something to say about that yourself. :p