The following interview was taped after a workshop, led by Alia Johnson, called Women, War And Peace. While her comments are explicitly directed toward women, from my perspective they apply to men as well. It is offered with the hope that we can all become more aware of the subtle ways we help to perpetuate war.
Alia, together with her husband Robert Fuller, has been actively involved in peace work since 1979. The Mo Tzu Project that she refers to is described in a later article called "A Better Game Than War". She currently lives in Berkeley, California. Cathy Burton is a psychologist living in Seattle, Washington.
Cathy: How did the Women, War & Peace work start?
Alia: I was in Ireland, in the spring of 1982, doing work with the Mo Tzu Project, about the Irish conflict. I was reading The Year of the French, a book about a small and failed insurrection that the Catholics attempted against the Protestants in what is now the Republic of Ireland. There was a scene in it where a woman – who’s the wife of one of the Protestant landlords, rather wealthy, had all this land with tenant farmers on it – was sitting at breakfast with her husband. As they’re drinking their tea after breakfast, the wife says to the husband, "William, you’ve got to hang the tenants." He says, "What do you mean, hang the tenants?" She replies, "Well, there’s an insurrection fomenting, and if you don’t hang the tenants, me and the children and you will all be out on the road with no food and no house, having to fare for ourselves." When I read that, I realized that in the same situation, I would have done the same thing.
That was the beginning for me of stopping to blame men for war, for stopping the ideas that I had in my head that war was an entirely male phenomenon, that it had to do with their aggressiveness and their desire to conquer things, to conduct conquests, and the other various causes of war that all seemed to have to do with male energy and male realities. I realized then that women were colluding in war in a way that I’d never stopped to consider before.
Cathy: What are some of the ways that you see women colluding in the game of war, or supporting men?
Alia: Well, as is seen in the case of the Irish woman, there’s the issue of wanting wealth and wanting financial security at the expense of other people. Women like to have fine houses, they like to have security for their children, they like to have slaves and beautiful dresses and all those things, and women throughout history have encouraged men to provide those things for them without actually being on the front lines to provide them for themselves. So wanting to be rich, wanting wealth, is a good example of that.
I came home with that issue in my mind in the summer of ’82 and stood around a lot saying, how actually am I relating to these realities that generate war, how am I relating to the generals and the military who are now supposedly protecting me from nuclear war, yet are also creating the threat of nuclear war. What do I have to do with the whole phenomenon of nuclear war? And I was asking myself that question for the hundredth time while standing around in my kitchen, staring distractedly at my refrigerator, and the answer finally came in this flash, and I said "Oh! What those generals are doing for me is protecting the Quiche Lorraine in my refrigerator, they’re protecting my wealth from all the poor people in the world." I want to be rich, I am a rich American (not rich by American standards, but all Americans are rich by world standards) so I saw that I have not only the generals with their nuclear weapons, but I have the Berkeley police, the Oakland police, the State National Guard, the US Army, and all of NATO protecting that Quiche Lorraine in my refrigerator, so that none of those poor folks are going to come eat it unless I invite them.
That was another level then of dropping some of the illusions of how I was a morally superior person looking for peace, and the military and the politicians were the bad guys who were perpetrating this terrible thing on me. I was getting something out of the whole system and something I was in fact emotionally attached to. A question that arises when you start to face those issues is, well, do you start coming from guilt, and drive your refrigerator to Guatemala, or do you start blaming your country and blaming the system and starting to do all kinds of crazy, radical things which have never led to anything so far in this country, or what do you do?
And the only answer I’ve come up with so far is that to know the truth about a situation as best you can and tell the truth about it and try to hold the truth in your heart as you deal with these things, at the same time as being concerned with issues like reducing your consumption and reducing the destructiveness of your life as the only thing you can do to begin to face your own connection with the system that creates the threat of nuclear war.
And women are a very big part of the materialist, consumerist economy. They’re really the backbone of it – they spend all the money, they consume most of the goods in a direct way, more so than the men of this country do. So that’s a big thing – wanting to be rich, is one of the ways, then.
Cathy: Rich, or being financially taken care of.
Alia: Right, wanting to be taken care of and to be comfortable in various ways. That’s a fairly obvious one. Other ways that I have seen myself colluding in realities that tend to produce the mentality that leads to war in men, has to do with the expectations I have about men. I think that men grow up with an expectation that they be strong and powerful and successful and that we as women want them to be that way, and that in western cultures the effect that that has on men is to alienate them from their own hearts and from their bodies and ultimately from the planet. I think that we encourage that kind of alienation because we’re afraid of direct interaction, the kind of direct interactions with the external world that would require strength that we don’t have. So it’s out of our own weakness that we say, hey, take care of me, be strong for me, know how to fix the car, know how to go make $60,000 a year, know how to prevent nuclear war, know how to make my country the most powerful country. Whatever those demands that we have on them are, are all demands that ultimately, when you really look at it, make the man alienated from his true self and from true reality.
We have to stop. We have to stop as mothers, and wives, and women, and daughters. We have to stop those expectations if we’re to free men to find out what their true path is going to be, what true awakening is really needed from them.
Another very closely related expectation and projection that women have on men is that women want men to know what they’re doing, women want clarity from men, women want men to be more intelligent than they are, women want men to explain things to them, women want men to understand politics, women want men to understand institutions, women want men to understand history, to understand what’s going on in the world and how the world works. And not only do they want it but in a sense they demand it – they say go, run these institutions, run these governments.
Cathy: My son the doctor and lawyer…
Alia: Yes, it’s that whole thing, that I’ll live through my son the doctor, through my son the lawyer, through my son the Senator, and the way that the demands are created is not a way that creates wisdom in the sons, in the husbands. It creates false wisdom, just as the same thing creates false strength, it creates lying, it creates an illusion of certainty. All the men in this culture have a tremendous pressure to act like they know what they’re doing even when they don’t. And then, of course, they produce whole networks, whole institutions full of people who verify each other in a reality that’s ultimately illusory. It’s a kind of ultimate cutoff, from what actual effect their actions are having on the planet, on the people in the planet, and the physical reality of the planet.
So that’s another kind of alienation from reality that I think women very strongly encourage in men. Other ways I’ve discovered I collude in war has to do with what I call the "false valuing" of the reality of men, meaning that even when I see that men that I’m working with are in their heads and out of touch with their hearts, or on some kind of mind trip, or just living in some illusion, or off on some ego trip of "let’s go do this and that and it’ll be cool and make me a great person," – when those things happen historically I have not spoken up and said "Hey! This isn’t valuable, this isn’t what the world needs." Instead I would say, "Yes dear, that sounds wonderful. I’ll follow you around, I’ll pack your suitcase" – I’ll do these things that will support you in this reality in my hope – again, it goes back to my hope that they really aren’t an illusion, that they really know what they’re doing. But even when I know in my heart that they’re lying to themselves, or pursuing an illusion, historically it’s been hard for me to speak up and say "I don’t think that’s right, I think something else is needed," – and that’s a change I’ve made in my own life and I think women are making to say, "Hey wait a minute, this reality is not going to work."
One last thing I have to say about how I collude in creating the reality that encourages war, encourages violence, has to do with how I treat my sons. I see a lot that I treat my sons as if I expect them to be little men. I’m afraid of them in some ways, I think they’re more important than I am in certain ways, they’re more important than little girls would be, and it’s a whole lot of subtle messages I give them that have to do with their strength and the things that I expect of them. Even though superficially I don’t treat them in a sexist way, there’s a lot of subtle messages. I think there’s not much we can do about that except get conscious of it and try to clear it as much as we can from our own lives.
So those are some ways that I’ve seen in myself that I collude in the process that leads to the threat of nuclear war.
Cathy: Given then the different ways that women collude, and support men in creating war, what would you think is needed now, especially in terms of the larger picture, going beyond war?
Alia: Good question. In terms of the larger picture, I think that what we have to realize – as we sit here asking ourselves these questions, and asking ourselves over and over again what must we do, what should we do, what are we doing right or doing wrong – is that the process of evolution, the process of the history of consciousness, the process of the planet itself is leading us to ask these questions, is leading us down a path that we’re not controlling. That’s a very important perspective to get to begin to listen for what’s required, for the process that’s going on. Not what’s required to control or change all the things that are wrong, but to learn how to cooperate with the process of the planet and the planetary mind that is so much larger than we are.
In that context, I think that what I call the planetary mind is going through a real crisis right now. I mean – and many of other people talk about this – the transformation that the planet is undergoing in terms of consciousness. There’s a lot of talk that has a spiritual ring to it, and I think that’s all relevant, but one particular aspect of it I’d like to address is the question of the crisis that’s arising as the culturally- defined realities that are basically male-oriented realities, that have to do with the power of the individual, the power of the ego, the power of the control, the power of the technology, the conquest of nature, are reaching their limits. As I was saying earlier at dinner, once the power of the rational reaches its limit you have to go back to the intuitive.
But women are not in a position where they can say, well, I’m intuitive and the men are rational. They have to integrate the two things and stop that projection on men, and help the men in this same process of integration. That means having the strength and the freedom to witness compassionately the men in the world and what’s happening, either consciously or unconsciously, to a lot of them. Many of them are losing the convictions, the beliefs, the securities they’ve had. The pursuit of this increasingly obviously obsolete way of behaving in the world results not only in personal crises for the men who begin to see that their strategies aren’t working, their institutions aren’t working, but it also occurs on a cultural level. All around the world the whole cultural definition of what a culture is is being eroded by the small world phenomena of television, travel, and that kind of thing. And that kind of phenomena sometimes, as in Iran, results in actual mass insanity where the reaction to the fear of losing the identity is so very strong.
Women have an advantage, I believe, in dealing with this phenomenon, because in the West basically the position of women is somewhat less alienated from body and nature and mortality than the men. There’s a little bit more groundedness, there’s a little bit less desperation in the identification with the culture, because the male has carried the burden of the conquest of nature, of the gathering of riches, and the woman has been allowed to be a little bit more real and a little bit more grounded, a little closer to the earth. So she’s got a little more sanity, a little more health to deal with, I believe, at this time in history, and what she needs to do is let the man be lost. Let the man come to those boundaries, and let him founder, and be there with the right kind of loving and supporting energy that doesn’t say, "I told you so, I knew you were going to screw it up," or whatever kind of blaming modes that it’s been easy to get into. Say, "Yeah, this isn’t working, what do we do together from here?" and to contribute what we do have to contribute, and to let man be reborn in a healthier relationship to the planet, in a healthier relationship to the planetary community as well.
All that is too one-sided. It’s not really strictly a dichotomy of men and women, because women do have to go through the same thing and there are lots of men who are much more conscious than lots of women on these issues, but just to simplify the matter I do see that role of women in providing the space by not interfering with the process of the man being lost and frustrated, which is a necessary part of reaching the limits of the old paradigm and searching for a new one. Not insisting on the security, not insisting that he know what he’s doing, not insisting that he always be strong, but letting that dissolution happen without making demands that he keep being the same. And also then to use our own knowledge, not only our own intuition, but our whole life force, our whole inspiration and vision to say, "Yes, we do have a vision, we do have an alternative to the old paradigm that is here in our hearts, and we can work together for it," and not just sit around waiting for the man to come up with the next one. Which he can’t, given the problems that we’ve put on him, he can’t anyway.
So I see that role for women very strongly, and I take it as a sacred responsibility, that we have to get off of our own attachments to the old paradigm that are much more subtle and much more insidious than the men’s and to take responsibility for telling the truth about our own vision and our own experience.