Saturday, June 24, 2006

Protesting the World Peace Forum

This morning Vancouver saw a different kind of Peace Protest than it's been accustomed to: a modest stand for realistic peace, protesting the standard Utopian peace protestors.

Utopia–seeking delegates attending the morning presentations of the World Peace Forum at Vancouver’s prestigious Orpheum Theater will hopefully have been tainted by second thoughts for their dogmatic belief system, courtesy of three simple souls daring to think differenly from them, and to say so in the street, in public, with signs.

Dag, Truepeers and your humble correspondant planted ourselves outside the World Peace Forum’s venue this morning, carrying signs with various slogans, and had quite a memorable time engaging curious (and not so curious) delegates in dialogue that ranged from pleasant to antagonistic. The most offensive was probably the guy who hit my sign. Then in descending order: slurs and insults, sneering condescension, sympathy for our supposed mental retardation… the real dialogue ended up being with people who were genuinely curious about how we could be apostates to their utopian religion, and politely asked legitimate questions to which they patiently listened to our point of view. If any of you are reading this, thank you for your civil debate; we may agree to disagree, but I certainly respect the courtesy you granted my perspective, and I hope I matched it as I listened to yours.

The looks of amazement we got from so many of the delegates suggest how rarely they must actually encounter alternative points of view challenging their agenda. Growing up in Canada, we've had more than enough occasions to get used to hearing their view passed off as *the* view, but seemingly they've never heard ours, so we must come across as mysterious aliens from another planet. I can sympathize with their puzzlement, for I find myself as completely baffled by the world view that they painted for me, as they likely were by my recounting of current events as I see them.

Trying to encapsulate three hours of experiences like this morning's, into a tight little blog post is daunting. I'm going to tackle it in two posts, this one in more stream of consciousness fashion, then hopefully find the time to write a second one seeing the day from a more detached perspective.

First, meeting the various delegates. The three of us engaged in a series of dialogues with Israel-hating jews, business-hating wealthy suburbanites, anti-american americans, and a certain lady whom I shall always remember for sincerely describing to us how the New York Times is a terribly Right-Wing media outlet. She also went on to confess to having killed “one million Vietnamese”, and I-can’t-remember-how-many Iraqis. “America killed them, in my name, so I killed them”, was her heartfelt explanation.

When Dag offered her our blog address to read, she stopped him in mid-sentence to honestly admit she wasn't interested in reading anything we might have to say. Yet we are the ones who are "close-minded", you see.

This was the first time I had ever done any protesting or picketing of any kind. Even during my (short-lived, thank goodness) rite of passage as an anti-american Canadian, I never did anything like I did this morning. No wonder the left do these things so frequently, it is definitely an exhilarating experience. In retrospect, I realize I wasn’t prepared to engage in such basic debate and dialogue as was required. I’m not in practice anymore at explaining why Bush isn’t evil, for instance, that caught me a bit off-guard, and so I regret I may have fluffed my response once or twice.

What made the morning so fascinating, however, was the number of average people just passing by on the street on their way about town, who read my “God Bless America” sign, stopped to thank me, and explained why they agreed with me. Their simple eloquence, mixed with gratitude for my sign's bold yet simple statement, really made my day; and unlike the activist delegates quick to brandish their “peace studies” university degrees as their rationale for their point of view, the pro-US Canadians passing by on the street managed to briefly phrase the common sense of the common man in a way that has truly inspired me. What a thrill it can be to meet like-minded people sometimes. Just one of the approving smiles I got from these fellow citizens more than made up for having to wake up at 5:00 AM on a Saturday morning to talk to so many grumpy people wearing name tags.

Looking back, it was interesting how those talking to us expected us to be in absolute lock-step in our philosophy, chanting mono-syllabic verses just like in the usual left-wing protests nowadays, whereas in reality we were all there for somewhat different reasons. We are three distinct individuals, with sometimes radically different beliefs on certain issues, yet we can readily come together around a common cause and find a way to negociate through each other’s differing points of view, to act in united ways towards shared objectives. (hm, kind of reminds me a country I know...) We seemed to be encountering people who were more used to protestors incapable of holding a range of motivations and belief systems, and it probably led to quite a bit of confusion. (I noticed a particularly confused expression on one delegate’s face as he read my “God Bless America” sign while listening to Dag’s atheistic justification for intervention in the Middle East.)
It was genuine fun seeing how surprised the peace activists were by Truepeer's articulateness, I don' t think they were expecting that degree of intellectual firepower from "conservatives". Many would start off talking to us as if we were children; one sentence from Truepeers would usually put an end to that kind of tone.

Final thought for now... a comment echoing in my memory comes from the start of our morning, as a loudly sarcastic peace activist established her math skills by revealing that there were only three of us, compared to "four thousand" of them, as if that in itself should disqualify our existence. So symbolic of the left: undisguised contempt for the value of the individual, despite all the rhetoric of valuing "diversity".
Madam, sometimes it only takes three people to make a difference.
Sometimes it just takes one person.
You should try it sometime.


-canuck- said...

Way to go. I wish I could have been there.

truepeers said...

Charles, I have been sitting here collecting my thoughts on the day and doing a little research to serve in writing up a post. I found out about the funding and budget of the WPF here. While the Canadian tax payers, though various governments, are the biggest contributor, there is one donation from a private foundaiton that matches that of the Federal Government - $350 000. THis is from the Simons Foundation of Canada - a family foundation headed by a peace activist and local academic, Jennifer Simons who has been active, among other things, in the movement to ban landmines.

I also found this article from 2000 by Simons. If this weren't a wealthy woman who has been able to make big donations to local universities, gaining her status (and perhaps positions) in the academic community, I might hesitate to link it and say how embarrassingly naive it is. For example:
I think if I had to broadly define Western Culture, I could, without hesitation, say that we live in a war culture despite the fact that the majority of the members of civil society are not interested in being warriors. In the twentieth century alone, in the neighbourhood of "two hundred million people have been killed, directly or indirectly, in wars" - over twenty million directly in wars - in man-made violence.We live in a world where, at present, there are about fifty small wars taking place - a situation that is likely to multiply as populations expand, resources shrink, or are destroyed.Even though, western culture has a history of democracy originating with the Greeks, war has always played a defining part.However, I am not suggesting that violence or aggressionare innate in humans, but violence and aggression may be culturally determined. (Bookchin, 110, Weeramantry, 11)

-the west is guilty of being war like
-they must be particularly guilty because violence is not innate in humans, though it may be culturally determined (i.e. particularly a western thing)

While our (western) capacity for violence is indeed a great problem that we must continually mediate, if one is going to do this it would help to know some basic anthropology. For example, does this woman know nothing of primate biology, of how aggressive our Chimp cousins can be? Does she know nothing of how human culture works? In what sense can anything be said to be "culturally determined"? Isn't it the case, rather, that culture is the medium of human freedom (and order) and as such it "determines" rather little - other than what is minimally necessary for any cultural scene/representation to emerge (one might say, e.g., that culture, since it is inherently scenic, determines that human culture is fundamentally scenic, but that's a bit pointless...)? Of course we are in many ways the products of our culture, as is our society as a whole, but this is not to say culture "determines". Rather, we make ourselves, through our cultural articulations, albeit with a capacity for both true or faithful and heretical articulations.

But in showing no hint of understanding of how culture first came into existence in order to defer or mediate the violence that was indeed innate to our pre-human forebears who became human through the emergence of our unique culture - which surely first emerged (whether as human self-creation or as gift of God) out of a need to replace an animal pecking order that had broken down precisely because of the innate aggression and mimetic desire of our prehuman forebears - Simons is able to scapegoat (western) culture as warlike, apparently unaware that the western capacity for war is precisely commensurate with the great capacity of western culture to defer its own violence. A wealthy, productive, and orderly society will also be, if it so chooses - and human necessities usually force the choice - a society with relatively high capability in war.

In other words, the culture that keeps us orderly is also the culture that allows us a capacity for war. The more free and open a culture, the more it can defer its own violence and the more it can organize itself to wage war.

To understand this, one must open oneself to the paradoxical nature of the human. If, on the other hand, one's religion is the victimary religion that scapegoats western success in the name of "peace", one is going to get quite lost.

To some extent I feel sorry for the people we met today, because they are a little lost and holding on to a religion that will disappoint them the more it is unveiled, an unveiling to which we, with no great pleasure, felt compelled - in the name of human freedom and security - to contribute today. If it weren't for the fact that our culture is so polarized, that the victimary religion makes it impossible to talk rationally about the best means to defer violence (e.g. by committing the lesser evil) I would leave these people alone. But I think they are not simply a danger to themselves but also to the future of western culture and the six billion + people who depend on the global economy that western culture leads. We can resent this fact and point fingers of blame at western culture. It might make us feel righteous, but how will we feel if we help kill reason in the west, and we end up with resentful chaos and then a return to a medieval economy that can only feed one billion? Will they volunteer to be the first to go?

Charles Henry said...

Canuck, thank you very much. I'm just back from visiting your blog, and you definitely sound like the kind of fellow I'd love to share a pint with at the Nelson or anywhere else.
Meanwhile you over in London can do things I've always wished I could do. I always wanted to visit England...

Truepeers, I remember reading a book, "War Before Civilization", that established how much more brutal humans were outside of the edifice of western civilization. I would recommend it to people like Ms Simons if I thought they would read it, but judging from what so many told us today, they outright do not want to explore other points of view.

dag said...

"We are the champions of the world!"

I keep hearing that song running through my mind, a tune that usually kicks in when I'm in reach of some great goal or accomplishment, usually at the top of a mountain I've spent much pain and fear climbing. This is a climb of a whole different sort but very much the same. We are excellent.

Sometimes just standing up is superiour to climbing the world's greatest heights.

The view from the ground is breath-taking.

-canuck- said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
-canuck- said...

its ironic that i meet you guys a month after leaving vancouver to come back to london.