Robert Fuller, husband of Alia Johnson and former President of Oberlin College, is currently part of the Mo Tzu Project, a group that takes its name from a traveling peacemaker in fifth-century B.C. China. David Hoffman is editor of Evolutionary Blues (P. O. Box 40187, San Francisco, CA 94140, $6 per copy), a peace journal where this interview first appeared (volume two). The interview is reprinted with permission.
David: WHERE DO YOU SEE the arms race going?
Robert: I was running around the track one sunny day, and I saw right behind me, connected to my own feet, my shadow. No matter how fast I ran, my shadow kept up with me, and it occurred to me that that was the metaphor for the arms race – a race with one’s own shadow. No matter how fast you go, the other guy’s going to keep up with you and stay connected with you; in fact, he’s part of you. He is the projection of your body on the ground. No one will win the arms race, nor will anyone drop out. We can never outdistance the fear of those parts of ourselves that we have projected on others: Americans on Russians, Jews on Arabs, Protestants on Catholics, Whites on Blacks. Making the bomb the issue and disarmament the goal shields us only briefly from the realization that it is we ourselves – we human beings – that are the source of the danger.
David: What implications does this have for dealing with the arms race?
Robert: Since the arms race is a race with our fear, we are going to have to deal with it on a psychological as well as a technical level. A real change can’t be had in human affairs by focusing exclusively on the technology, the weapons themselves. In addition, we must understand why it is we are afraid of our "shadow." What is the origin of the fear of "the other," and how can we deal with it? Why do we project on other people and societies qualities we have within ourselves, and then maintain that they are the bad guys and we the good? They are, of course, doing the same thing with us. Yet in our heart of hearts, we all know that it is only together that we constitute a whole. So I look at the arms race, and war itself, not in terms of a technical fix or some clever treaty that would reduce the number of weapons, which ultimately will be required, but rather at a different level having to do with the relationships among, and the psychologies of, peoples.
David: Could you give an example of this projection in US-Soviet relations?
Robert: The Russians are our shadow. We project on them what we fear in ourselves and they project on us what they fear in themselves. The Soviet’s paramount social values have to do with providing a sufficiency for everyone, with some rough ideal of material equality; so they guarantee housing and education and medical care and safety in the streets. Our ideals have less to do with the substance of equality and more to do with the process of individual realization – with freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and so on.
Each side feels vulnerable when attacked for falling short of its principles. For example, when we were criticized for denying Blacks the vote twenty years ago, we felt embarrassed and exposed. Similarly, the Russians squirm when instances of privilege are pointed out. Neither society yet lives up to its own ideals, and each projects on the other its own failures to do so and denounces it accordingly. At the same time, however, each society struggles to incorporate as much of the other’s central values as it dares (the Russians, our freedoms; and we, their equity) without compromising its own primary commitment.
David: But saying that we’re each other’s shadow doesn’t mean we are any less of a real threat to each other, does it?
Robert: Certainly not. The Soviets threaten us precisely because they’re afraid of us. The threat isn’t so much that they’re sitting there hoping to conquer our land: they couldn’t govern it if they had it – nor we theirs. The greatest threat derives from the fear they have of us and we of them, and we’re afraid of them partly because we know that they’re afraid of us. There’s nothing more dangerous than a scared bear – or a scared eagle, for that matter. Somehow we’ve got to interrupt this cycle of fearing each other to get at the problem, which is probably a more useful formulation than saying that we have to establish trust. Trust is one of the last things to develop, even in a personal relationship between two people. It comes only after years of intimacy, and it is never borne directly out of conflict.
David: So how do we break this spiral?
Robert: Well, not by focusing on disarmament. There’s almost no chance that nations are going to disarm willingly in the near term. We must recognize that fear of the other society is the most dangerous thing, and take conscious steps to reduce this mutual anxiety. For example, the confidence-building agreements we have with the Soviets giving each other advance notice of missile firings and troop exercises are good ways to avoid arousing certain sudden apprehensions. The only real safety lies not in getting rid of one or another type of weapon – it lies in inoculating ourselves against acting upon fear.
David: This represents rather a major shift, historically speaking, doesn’t it?
Robert: Absolutely. Throughout human history it has been thought that to be stronger was to be safer, to be feared was to be more secure. Nuclear weapons change this: henceforth, to be feared is to be in jeopardy. By instilling fear in others, you diminish your own safety.
The only viable strategy that remains, given the presence of these weapons, lies in accepting parity, and eventually in mutually scaling back. We’ve got to stop trying, with one more technological thrust, to be number one again. That scares the other side more than anything, and it doesn’t work. Your shadow keeps up with you.
David: What does this have to say about the policy of deterrence?
Robert: It suggests the existence of a hidden but deadly flaw in this policy, for deterrence is a strategy based upon fear. The subject is more subtle than we’ve realized. We’ve taken it for granted that it is the fear of retaliation that has been deterring aggression. I’m beginning to question that. Such fear does not deter my 4-year-old son from initiating fights with his 6-year-old brother – fights he knows he’ll lose. Perhaps it is actually something other than fear of retaliation (or the absence of such fear) that deters (or releases) aggression. And perhaps the induced fear on which deterrent strategy is based actually constitutes a hidden threat to the safety that deterrence is supposed to provide.
Ultimately, to feel safer, we shall have to attend directly and explicitly to the safety of others. The ancient ethical prescriptions, common to all religions, become self- enforcing in a nuclear world.
David: Some of this is not so different in a personal relationship, is it?
Robert: No, it’s not. In fact, the analogy is an instructive one. You can usually get to a place in a personal relationship where the expression of anger is permitted – it’s something the human animal seems to need. You do this with the understanding that it’s just something that occurs, and then you let go of it – you don’t hang on to it because to do so sours the relationship. Since apparently there is something necessary about expressing anger, we need to create within society channels for doing it which aren’t lethal. Athletics, of course, is one realm where on occasion you can express a certain amount of anger and even violence and have it dissipate into the world and do negligible harm. We also need to learn which particular escalations of that impulse to violence finally get out of hand and produce uncontrolled spasms of mutual destruction. For in international relations we are now capable of the ultimate nuclear spasm; it has been called "omnicide".
David: So the fact of nuclear energy is forcing us to examine our tendency to violence?
Robert: Yes, and to learn which of its manifestations we can no longer permit if we want to go on living on Earth. We have in the 20th century stolen God’s fire for a second time, as it were, although this time the fire doesn’t just burn your finger – it destroys your civilization. The ceiling this places over our impuIse to escalate violence is going to force a transformation in the nature of the human animal. There is, therefore, a respect in which we can be thankful that God placed this extraordinary energy down there in the nucleus, and that we have teased it out. The Promethean theft, 40 years ago, of God’s nuclear fire is forcing us to reheed His commandments.
David: The problem then isn’t just nuclear war. Are you saying that because of the likelihood of escalation, war itself must somehow be eliminated?
Robert: Yes, that’s a necessary conclusion. In my twenties, I studied and worked with some of the physicists who first built nuclear weapons. The knowledge that these weapons work, how they work, and what they can do is lodged within me; and that secret knowledge sits side by side with the "secret" that human beings love war, as well as hate it. People fight, and when they do, things can get out of hand; but with nuclear weapons, to let things get "out of hand" is to commit suicide. This is more than a "historical dilemma;" it’s the worst crunch we’ve ever faced. We’re still prone to battle, yet horrified at where it may lead. We must find new channels for our fighting energy or we’ll end up with one war too many, if only to let off steam and "get it over with."
David: Do you see any way out of this crunch? Will war always be with us?
Robert: It’s illuminating in approaching a war to look at the histories of some other human scourges such as illiteracy, slavery, and hunger. Let’s deal first with illiteracy. A thousand years ago the only persons who knew how to read were priests and the very wealthy, and it was believed at the time that you could not learn to read unless you were close to God, unless you were a priest, or else rich enough to have a tutor. This special knowledge was hoarded and transmitted selectively from elite to elite. Gradually, though, it dawned on people that anyone who went through a certain process could learn to read. Through new institutions for literacy called "schools," and then via universal compulsory education, a great transformation occurred: from the idea that anyone could learn to read, and ultimately to the idea that everyone learn to read and to write.
This is a prototypical example of what I call a psychotectonic shift. It is not a shift in genetics or biological evolution; it is a shift of our deepest assumptions about ourselves, a shift in what we take for granted, in what we think we are capable of. A psychotectonic shift is to the realm of moral understanding and human behavior what a paradigm shift is to scientific understanding and behavior. It is a reconceptualization of what it is to be human – a transformation of our "self-model;" and it projects a shift in human destiny with a full range of legal, political, economic, social and spiritual consequences.
David: Could you illustrate this concept with another example?
Robert: A psychotectonic shift with profound implication for mankind was the one surrounding slavery. For thousands of years it was considered a natural thing, if you could manage it, to enslave other people. Sometime about the eighteenth century, in England and in Europe, significant numbers of people began to raise doubts about the justification of one human being owning another. By mid- nineteenth century the issue came to a head in America, and what was still a widespread practice rapidly became totally unacceptable and outlawed. Abraham Lincoln presided over and came to symbolize this shift in people’s mind set. As decades followed, instances of slavery around the globe were eradicated, so that now it is essentially non-existent. This does not mean, of course, that all exploitation has ceased. Someday "wage slavery" will undergo a similar transformation. In fact, I suspect that in the twenty-first century, leadership will fall to that society which provides the most satisfying work to its citizens of age 14 to 84 (or should it be 4 to 104). By the way, in the course of this, we’ll probably have to completely transform our present educational practices; in a phrase, we’ll have to design "a better game than school."
These shifts in the shape and structure of the world mind are what I am calling "psychotectonic" shifts. Winston Churchill said, "We shape our buildings; then they shape us." Just as our architecture shapes physical space, which in turn shapes our movement and behavior, so too there is a "psychotectonics," created by us, that thereafter shapes our thought and action. Psychotectonics is the invisible "architecture" of the world moral "space." And although often appearing as given and rigid, it is, in fact, quite malleable. It is we who create it and we who change it. This is the real power of this concept: we begin to take into consciousness, and assume responsibility for, powers we have unknowingly abdicated. An example of a psychotectonic shift being created before our very eyes is the current work of Amnesty International on torture and political imprisonment.
David: What is it that causes psychotectonic shifts to occur?
Robert: We can transcend a condition like illiteracy or slavery when we can thoroughly imagine and know how to produce another condition that’s manifestly preferable. Perhaps it’s easiest to see this with regard to hunger, which is a shift we are just now creating. Hunger is a phenomenon that communicates at a very deep level between human beings, so that there is actually a direct pain one experiences when one sees a hungry person. The only way really to rid yourself of this pain is to see the other person fed. The dynamic is something like that of a yawn by another person creating a yawn in you: it happens on a psychological and physiological level; it’s an imitative, direct coupling to another person – something similar to, but much stronger than, the "power of suggestion".
Now in the past we have mostly repressed this pain because we didn’t know how to alleviate hunger systemically. But now that we do, I think nations will eventually adopt an implicit and explicit policy that human starvation and hunger are simply unacceptable. Actions that cause them, whether foreign or domestic, will be elevated into consciousness and will no longer be tolerated.
So to generalize, conditions like slavery, hunger or illiteracy become morally repugnant when we discover ways to discontinue the practices that sustain them. As long as the only way we can see to get a job done is to force another person to do it, we inure ourselves to his or her pain, and consider this a "normal" condition. As long as we see no way to get food to hungry people, we repress our true reactions. But when we find a way of dealing with these situations, of alleviating the other person’s pain and thus our own, we move quickly to do this.
We like to think of new moral ideas as preceding the technical solutions, but widespread moral acceptance may as often follow the technical solutions. It’s pointless to speculate on which comes first; they are deeply intertwined, and both the moral and the technological shifts are necessary to move mankind and transform our practice.
David: Does all this suggest then that our job is partly that of the ad man, in a sense "selling" the world on ending hunger or making peace?
Robert: Yes, I think so. If we’re actually going to transcend war-making, and to end hunger as we’ve ended smallpox and slavery, we’re going to have to use the skills of the best "ad men." An idea must be good and timely in order to strike a resonance. But the speed at which "an idea whose time has come" can go forth into the world and belong to everybody is just dazzling – it moves like a sharp knife through soft butter, taking hold of everyone who is exposed to it. One way in which non-politicians can support political leaders is to hone ideas to the point where, when they are given public expression by a leader, they have that kind of rousing effect. If we want to see the world changed, it’s our job to craft the rhetoric so that when it’s spoken from a public forum, it moves people towards better goals – towards feeding the world, ending material and educational deprivation, establishing justice and equity, eliminating torture, and bypassing war-making.
David: This calls to mind your attempts to get President Carter to take on the world hunger issue. Would you tell us about that?
Robert: There were many who urged Carter to tackle the hunger problem, including members of his own family. The sources of my particular effort were manifold. Like many of us I had had images of starving children seared into my soul by television – especially by coverage of the Biafran starvation. In early 1977, as Jimmy Carter took office, I saw a film entitled The Hungry Planet, which simply and clearly detailed the steps necessary to the elimination of hunger in any social system. The technical answers – agricultural, economic and political – were public knowledge.
Carter had been a farmer. He was clearly a spiritual man. I imagined that he might be willing to give the hunger problem the kind of leadership that Lincoln had given the issue of slavery. He was pushing human rights. What human right could be more basic than the right to eat?
I had been struck by the way President Kennedy’s summons to put a man on the moon and return him safely within the decade had galvanized and focused the nation into producing this result. Of course, putting a man on the moon and ending hunger are goals alike in neither substance nor significance. Yet Kennedy’s call had helped make an old dream plausible, feasible, and finally doable. I thought that Carter, recalling the power of that historic summons, and knowing of the recent success of the World Health Organization’s global campaign to eradicate smallpox, could provide leadership in the elimination of hunger by the end of the century. He had an opportunity to go down in history as the person who named and orchestrated a World War on hunger, a psychotectonic shift of unparalleled importance in the creation of humane human beings.
So, armed with an outline of a plan to end hunger by the end of the century, I began a series of trips to Washington. There were many steps on the way to a meeting with the President, and the openness of leadership to "an idea whose time has come" was always astonishing. I began with the Undersecretary of State for Economic Affairs, detoured through a dozen senators and congressmen (including Humphrey and McGovern), met with the Undersecretary of Agriculture, the AID Director, various presidential assistants, Energy "Czar" Schlesinger, Budget Director Lance, U.N. Ambassador Young, Vice President Mondale and finally, the President. To all of them I communicated the message that there existed at the present time a historical opportunity to end hunger; that a formal commitment to doing so could now reasonably and responsibly be made; and that the making of such a commitment would in itself help in the realization of the goal. The budget for the program was approximately the same, on an annual basis, as that of the moon program, but extended for two decades instead of one.
President Carter did create a Commission on World Hunger which issued a report confirming and proclaiming the feasibility of actually ending hunger on a world scale. Soon afterwards, his term of office came to an end. The task of mobilizing the will to end hunger on earth remains unfinished. Hunger awaits its Lincoln.
David: Returning to your earlier point about the relationship between technology and morality, if the invention of the cotton gin helped make slavery morally unacceptable and the printing press and schools did the same for illiteracy, what will it be for war? Can we say that the invention of the atomic bomb is the technological innovation that will make war unacceptable?
Robert: Well, the existence of nuclear weapons creates a situation in which we have a sharp, compelling incentive to examine our war-making tendencies. But such an examination reveals an important difference between the three psychotectonic shifts I’ve mentioned – having to do with slavery, illiteracy and hunger – and that of eliminating war. The difference stems from the fact that slavery, hunger and illiteracy are conditions that people live under, and that it’s possible to imagine another set of conditions that could replace each of them. This alternate set of conditions may be extremely complex and require far-reaching changes in a society, such as in the case of slavery. Nevertheless an alternative can be imagined – dimly at first, then more and more concretely. With respect to hunger, for example, you imagine a world well-fed; you can specifically imagine loaves of bread in every culinary style on every table in the world. And in the case of illiteracy, you imagine a world where everybody reads.
You see books – millions of books. You see not just priests holding books with fancy calligraphy, but you see everybody reading, the Bible at first and then other books, printed books! And you imagine schools where reading is taught to all. This is not to say that imagination, although necessary, is also sufficient for transformation, for it leaves the actual work still to be done. But I want to stress that thoroughly imagining an opposite state is a prerequisite for the eradication of unwanted conditions.
Now the point is that we’ve been dealing with conditions; but war is an activity. War differs from hunger, illiteracy and slavery because it is something we do, a complex societal activity that we participate in. If you imagine its absence, what you get is nothing; you get a non-activity. We call it peace, but the problem with peace, and the reason it’s hard to create a desire for peace except in the immediate aftermath of a war, is that no one can imagine it, or everyone imagines it so very differently. "Peace" is not a set of activities that people do. That’s why I maintain that the bypassing of war will require the delineation of a set of activities that can serve certain of the purposes that war has served, that provide people with something to do, and can meet the real needs that wars have met in the past.
David: Are you suggesting that peace is actually not a viable goal for the "Peace Movement"?
Robert: Yes I am, exactly. Peace is the absence of a very exciting activity – war. And nobody ever opted for nothing in place of something, especially something exciting. Peace has the connotation of peace and quiet, of serenity, of bliss; and people aren’t actually attracted to that very much. It’s boring after a while.
Also, if you look to see who is in favor of it, it’s usually people who are living a privileged life, and who therefore wish to maintain the status quo. People who are experiencing hunger or injustice don’t want peace; they are, in fact, willing to make revolutions and wars to secure food and justice. For people who are hungry or afraid, material well-being or security is of more immediate concern than peace.
So peace isn’t the best way to express the goal of the anti-war movement. And you can’t express it as "antiwar" either because that’s merely "against." We’ve got to figure out what it is we actually want, and then be for that.
David: Is this the meaning of the question you’ve posed, "Is there a better game than War?"?
Robert: Yes. And it’s meant to be a provocative question, suggesting that war has in fact been an activity that men and women have played and have loved. They have also hated it, but it’s crucial if we’re ever going to bypass or transcend war-making that we admit our own eternal fascination with the business of it, with the fact that it provides moments of individual exhilaration, camaraderie, nobility, leadership, courage and glory that other human activities seldom match. The horrible side of war is well known and usually focused on, but until we acknowledge our secret attraction to it we’re likely to keep on "doing" it.
In using the word "game" I do not mean to suggest that war is in any way frivolous. War is war – an immensely complex, irreducible activity of institutional character involving virtually all facets of society. In addition to provoking the recognition of our attraction to it, referring to war as a game suggests there are roles, moves, transactions, strategies, outcomes, winners and losers – and, most important, that we do have a choice as to whether to keep playing it.
David: I suppose one of the reasons it’s difficult to invent a game that is more engaging than war is that in playing war we get to experience vicariously the ultimate sacrifice, the giving of one’s life. Denis de Rougemont, in Love In The Western World, saw in the act of dying for the one we love the supreme expression of eros.
Robert: Yes, we have to acknowledge what genuine purposes wars have served – psychological as well as political. Then we’ve got to see if we can invent and design and authorize another game, another set of activities which meet those needs which wars have met.
Incidentally, it’s important to realize that the game of ending particular wars is completely different from discovering the game that replaces all war. Peacemakers who have an answer to the question "What would I do if peace broke out?" are apt to be more effective in their work.
At any rate, in my thinking I’ve moved past disarmament as a primary strategy and past peace as an immediate goal, and on over to the question of what the activities are which will replace the game of war and meet some of the same needs. We are beginning to design a game that is more fun to participate in than the old war games, or even the inseparably related "stop-a-war" games. The game that might be better than both these games is that of Completion – of completing ourselves through each other by incorporating into ourselves the empowering truths that other peoples embody and exemplify. That is really what our work in the Mo Tzu project is about.
David: Would you describe that project and explain what you mean by this "Mo Tzu" work?
Robert: In the fifth century B.C., during the time in Chinese history known as the Warring States period, Mo Tzu and a few of his followers would travel on foot to sites of developing conflict among the various feudal "states" and there attempt a kind of diplomatic aikido. If the opposing parties would not agree to sit down together and mediate their dispute, Mo Tzu would join the weaker side, offer training in how to withstand a siege, and then again sue for a negotiated solution. Precisely what his magic consisted of is not known, but his willingness to commit himself personally to a vision of a world without war is a source of inspiration to us.
The origins of our current Mo Tzu Project go back, I suppose, to my traveling to Vietnam during the war. I had learned in War and Peace about Pierre going to take a look at the Napoleonic War and how much it affected him to actually see war-making and to see people dying from violence. So I got on a plane and flew into Saigon on a regular tourist visa.
I was President of Oberlin College at the time, and when I walked into the American Embassy and said I’d come to learn what was happening, they grabbed hold of me, thrilled that someone was there to see for himself. They even provided me with a helicopter and a personal pilot and took me wherever I wanted to go. I traveled all over and saw a lot of people, some grievously wounded and dying of burns, some children who had lost limbs. It engraved in my consciousness what the consequences of this "glorious" activity of war actually were to individuals.
Then in 1978, another formative experience was a trip that my wife and I and our child made to the Soviet Union for a month, traveling by train across the whole continent to Japan, talking with hundreds of people on the way. It was on this trip that I began to see Soviet society as complementary to American.
More specifically though, the Mo Tzu idea developed in response to the suggestion that a peace institute be created at the University of California. I started to imagine groups of people who would actually go to the world’s trouble-spots, immerse themselves in the situations, learn about them, and then see if there was something that could be done to broker a better relationship amongst the "partners" in conflict.
There is today a great deal of knowledge and experience regarding the process of negotiation between antagonistic nations. But before this knowledge can be applied to alleviating ongoing tensions and conflicts, there must first exist the sine qua non of successful negotiation: mutual respect, or to put it in Mo Tzu terms the willingness to see one’s own culture and a rival one as complementary, as each bearing an aspect of a larger truth, a truth that embraces them both and compromises neither.
The peace institute I imagined was one which would focus at that more primary level of trying to build the willingness for diplomacy to work, to lay the groundwork needed before either governmental representatives such as Gromyko or Habib, or professional mediators such as Roger Fisher or John Burton, could bring their specialized skills to bear on the issue.
The definition of what among ourselves we call "Mo Tzuing" is "finding what you love in what you hate." You might admit that you sometimes hate the Russians, for example, but if you can remember what it is you love within all that and use it as a handle, you can hold your hatred in its proper, subordinate place. Until you know what you love in what you hate, your hatred can assume command value over your behavior. But when you’ve found what you love and can maintain it as a clear vision, it becomes possible to surround your hatred and get past it. That’s "Mo Tzuing." And it applies as much to personal relationships as to relationships between whole cultures, societies, or nations.
The minute you find what you love in someone else, you’re bigger yourself and stronger; you’re more powerful. That will be, I think, the meaning of power in the twenty-first century. It’s power that comes from the completion of self, from the incorporation into your behavioral repertoire of the other person’s (or culture’s) "secrets".
And there’s an interesting flip side to this: it is finding what you hate (in your "enemy") in yourself. For we only hate in others – whether in individuals or whole peoples – what we cannot accept in ourselves.
David: What was the source of this understanding in your own experience?
Robert: While teaching in a Black ghetto high school in Seattle in 1967, I came to feel that I was somehow incomplete as a person. There was something in these black teenagers, something they embodied, that I was attracted to and wanted to hang around. I noticed also that there was something attractive about me to them, something about me that they wanted to hang around. It was here that I first experienced the notion of the complementarity of cultures, and that’s been a central idea for me ever since: that you can make yourself more whole and complete by assimilating the truths borne by other cultures. We need our enemies in order to complete ourselves.
It’s interesting to trace the first stages of this process. As the sense of threat diminishes, we redesignate our former "enemies" as "adversaries." With the first hint of positive mutual value, "adversaries" become "rivals," a term which acknowledges each as a secret teacher of the other. Finally "rivals," recognizing their mutual dependency, come to see themselves as "partners."
Completeness is also a key concept in mathematics, so it’s been with me since my formative intellectual years as a student of science. One learns that a set of things a set of mathematical objects, can be complete or incomplete. If you want to say where something is located, you need three numbers; if you use only two, your knowledge remains incomplete. And if you want to locate an event, you need four numbers – three spatial coordinates plus time. The notion of completeness is central in science and I believe it is central to the present human predicament.
David: So this is how you relate to other cultures now?
Robert: Yes, in looking at Black, Islamic or Russian culture, I try to identify that aspect of the truth they bear most prominently. Our initial reaction to other people is often negative because we see that they fail to embody something we take as supremely important. Only after getting through this can we appreciate what it is that they have to offer. I don’t expect ever to assimilate fully into my perspective the way a Chinese sees the world or landscape, or the way Muslims feel about their friends. But to begin to see what such qualities are, and to square another way of seeing or being with your own so the two are not in contradiction, is the work that the world has urgently to get on with. Otherwise we’re going to react out of our initial distaste and annihilate the differences.
David: In a sense we commit a kind of psychic suicide, then, by severing ourselves from other cultures.
Robert: I think so – by making them wrong, by humiliating them, by invalidating them. They in turn become angry with us. We cut ourselves off from engaging with other cultures and try to crush and expunge our differences instead of celebrating them. We need only reinterpret the old French maxim, "Vive la Difference," to have the best anti- war cry imaginable.
In short, the activities that outmode and replace war must deal with incompleteness, whether it be of the body, mind or soul. No one activity embodies all these aspects. Nonetheless, to deal with want in any of its forms is to move towards by-passing war; and conversely, not to deal with want is to court war. We begin to see the outline of another grand human game on the horizon, coaxing us away from the thrills of the battlefield. It is the discovery and completion of one’s own self as experienced in one’s culture, and one’s self as manifested in one’s supposed enemy or shadow. This may well be an activity exciting enough and profound enough to supplant war. Completing ourselves is actually what we’ve always wanted; in fact, it is partly what we’ve sought for in vain through the cruel instrumentality of war. We now, finally, have the wisdom to get at these nurturing, self-completing truths directly. Hegel expressed this over a century ago:
"Each… part lives only by participating in and
eventually giving itself up to the whole… the ‘self’
or identity which is given up, however, is only the
claim on the part of a fragment to be the whole,
a truth claiming to be truer than it is…"
David: What kind of "warrior" will be needed for this new game you’re proposing?
Robert: What the world needs now are nonpartisans - people who specialize in introducing different cultures to each other, people who develop the skill to create in antagonistic nations or cultures the capacity to hold in check that ancient familiar impulse to fight. And this involves a philosophical shift in thinking away from dualistic, possessive presuppositions to a more inclusive world-view.
In traditional political or economic terms, the focus has been on who has what privilege, what right, what "stuff," what power. Those issues tend to be divisive because the prevailing view, at least in the past, has been "If I’ve got something, you don’t have it" or "If I control this you don’t" – categories of exclusion which make for dispute. But mathematics has taught us about non-zero-sum games. A zero-sum game is one in which my gain exactly equals your loss, whereas a non-zero-sum game is one in which it’s possible that we both gain. It’s going to become a central value in politics to move past this zero-sum game framework and hold out for that solution in which everybody experiences a win simultaneously.
David: What is the role of television in this work?
Robert: Television is a revolutionary form of witness that makes us all onlookers. It can be a kind of world conscience. You know how each of us has a voice inside that serves as our moral conscience? Well television is the voice outside us. The images we received of the Biafran starvation and the My Lai massacre changed history.
But also, I want to find a way of showing on television the creativity and dignity of different peoples. At first, you don’t experience another culture as having dignity; you tend to see a bunch of "Martians." You may experience them as different and wrong-headed, as inefficient and making a lot of foolish errors, because often they are inept in areas where we excel. If they were good at just what we are good at, they would be bad at just what we are bad at. So usually when we come into a culture we notice the ineptness. But eventually we may come to understand that through their "weaknesses," they are in part protecting and preserving their strengths. They are protecting a certain class of insights or a certain truth-seeking strategy that characterizes, even generates, their particular perception. They are protecting that and preserving it at all costs because that is their uniqueness, their essential gift.
Television can be a very powerful tool in communicating this. It is interesting to note that the discovery of the transistor, which led to both television and computers, and the first man-made nuclear reaction occurred within a few years of each other. Used properly, the telecommunications revolution could serve as a technological counterweight to the threats posed by nuclear weapons technology.
David: Do you see television as being able in the future to substitute completely for direct human contact?
Robert: No, I think first-hand exchange and experience will always be essential. The value of groups like those doing this Mo Tzu work is due less to whatever particular insights they might bring to a situation, than to the consciousness that the mere fact of their presence as witnesses creates in parties to a conflict: namely, that there is a "view from afar," visible to neither party.
Another function these groups serve is that of a mirror. And we need first to mirror the value, the truths of a given people, so that security and a sense of compassion will allow them some disidentification with the beliefs which are supporting their involvement in the conflict.
David: Have your initial Mo Tzu efforts been encouraging?
Robert: As we go about this work we are constantly aware of how small our contribution is relative to the size and seriousness of the problems in which we’re immersed. But it’s like throwing a stone into a lake: you don’t see the water level rise, but you know the stone is sitting at the bottom, so you conclude that the water level must have risen. In our work it’s hard to measure the effects, but when we have done well by a situation we feel the water level has risen. In 1982, our little band of travelers went to the Middle East in April, Ireland in May, Poland in October and Kenya in November.
We are not representatives of any government or any organization. But people who encounter us realize quickly that we’re just as interested in the process and in the outcome as if we were professional diplomats. The human quality of our interest draws people into intense discussions. Our presence is an expression of our view that diplomacy has become too important to ordinary people to be left only to professional diplomats.
And we’ve noticed that government figures are often more open and forthcoming with us than they could be with either fellow diplomats or journalists. When people realize that we’re coming from a nonpartisan place, that our focus is to discover the complementarity in the parties to conflict, they become less righteous, defensive and belligerent. They often join us in looking for at least a theoretical solution – one which would leave both parties with their self-respect and each with a sense that they own a piece of the truth, while glimpsing the possibility of owning a larger truth by incorporating that of the other side.
David: So at this point, do you feel you’ve really got a better game than war?
Robert: This Mo Tzu work is exciting, as well as difficult and frustrating. It contains many of the elements of what I’ve called "a better game than war." Yet in at least one vital respect Mo Tzu work is not adequate as a replacement for war. Mo Tzu work at this point is essentially an individual or a small group activity. But wars are more than individuals engaged in parallel activities. War is a collective activity and as such has been a provider of Myths – unifying overviews of triumph and tragedy in which each individual has a role. If another game can in fact be substituted for war, it will have to meet not only the individual’s need for challenge and adventure, but also the collective need for an integrative myth that renders life and lives meaningful.
David: Do you envision any way in which this could happen?
Robert: For Mo Tzu work to begin to fill this collective need it would have to be multiplied many thousandfold and perhaps be given the status of an Event. Imagine that an agreement were negotiated among the nations of the world to exchange for two years, beginning in say 1985, a million people, going and coming from nation to nation in approximate proportion to population – a mammoth, multinational Peace-on-Earth Corps moving not just from America to developing nations but rather from each country to all the others, focusing on the issue of establishing relationships, and thereby building mutual security. An event on this scale could mark a turning point in human affairs and initiate the needed psychotectonic shift away from war.
The people of the earth are in a most dangerous passage. We have only the barest knowledge of each other, after centuries of relative isolation. And a little learning is a dangerous thing. We must move rapidly to reduce the danger, so greatly enhanced by nuclear weapons technology, by learning enough more about each other to overcome the fright of first encounter. Paradoxically, it is technology that makes this awkward passage both necessary and possible.
The global event here imagined could be financed with one percent of the world’s defense budgets. Such an expenditure would surely enhance the security of individual nations, and that is precisely the purpose of national defense budgets.
The age-old mechanism for transcending civil strife – aligning against an external enemy – is no longer workable. There are no external enemies for all mankind to unite against. Thus, we’ll have to transcend global civil war not by allying ourselves with former enemies in the face of a new enemy, but by learning enough about our adversaries to establish forbearance for the differences that have, during these first close encounters, so scared and agitated us.
The linchpin of forbearance for another people is to identify the truth or value their culture has borne forward through its particular history. And the key to evoking a reciprocal respect is to know the truths exemplified by one’s own culture. Both sides must find what they love in what they may at first be inclined to hate. Then, and only then, can two cultures truly meet.