Sunday, January 30, 2011

Peace In Our Lifetime? Maybe - Take a Look at the Data

Much to the chagrin of my end times religious friends who remind me that "wars and rumors of wars" is a sure sign of the apocalypse, there are fewer wars in the world. Not only are they fewer but since the bloody turn of the 19th/20th century, war as a tool to solve problems has been trending downward, rather dramatically.
Yep, it's true.
Make no mistake, there ARE wars in the world as we speak - the Afghanistan conflict, Iraq, Palestine, Sudan, Burundi, Somalia and let's not forget about Columbia. But the onetime regular tool of conflict resolution - fought between two, uniformed, state-sponsored armies - is on the way out. The news gets better. Not only are the big nasty fights that defined World War I and II are gone, but there has also been a significant decrease in the number of civil wars in countries around the world since the early 1990s. This is the news coming from a number of organizations that pay attention to these kinds of things, including the prestigious University of Uppsala Conflict Data Program in Sweden. What we have left are the vestiges of war-like behavior - guerrilla campaigns, insurgencies and terrorism. But then, even terrorism has been trending down, despite the popular media feeds that would make you believe just the opposite. Acts of terrorism have been trending downward since the height of bombings against people in the mid 1980s. During this period of time, the Jewish Defense League, Eco Terrorists and the Columbian Popular Liberation Army were active and deadly. While there were more people killed in the 9/11 tragedy, the trend of terrorist acts have been trending down significantly. These are the latest findings from the FBI National Counterterrorism Center.
Another clear sign that war doesn't have the same power in our lives that it used to: fewer people are dying. According to researcher Milton Leitenberg of the University of Maryland, from 1900 through 1950 over 3.8 million people were killed each year because of wars and conflicts. In 2008, 25,600 people were killed (both soldiers and civilians) total. Not only are there fewer conflicts, they kill fewer people.
Of course, all of this is cold comfort for those who have suffered under the cloud of armed conflict, but make no mistake - there is a change in the way humankind looks at armed conflict, and it bodes well for that dream of world peace that seemed virtually impossible just a few years ago.
How did this dramatic development escape us? Why are we not dancing in the streets?
I'm a J-School graduate, and my professor, Dr. Robert Brown, used to remind me of a basic truth about the human condition: we are instinctively wired to seek out and pay attention to threats to our survival. Call it a gift from our early days on the plains of Africa, but this survival technique helped us escape the saber-tooth tiger and all of the other dangers that threatened our very existence as a species. We still have that programming. So while there may be news about wonderful developments happening around the world, we only pay attention to the ones we perceive as a threat. There is a reason why the dooms day talk show hosts do so well --- as long as they wrap their rhetoric in threats to your survival and your way of life, your instinctive brain sees that information in the same way it sees a Saber tooth tiger, thus the guy who talks about your country going down hill in a handbasket is going to get more attention than the guy who talks about the great things that are happening. The dooms day people have a genetic advantage on their side, not necessarily their glittering personalities. In addition, it's been estimated that ½ of 1 percent of the world's population are doing terrible things. That means the remaining 6 billion people are doing the right thing, yet who commands all of the attention?
I travel extensively around the world, and I have friends that I maintain regular contact with in 15 different countries. The new social media is making it even easier for this to happen. My experience used to be considered exceptional, but now, more than ever, we are connecting with people who live thousands of miles away. Why would we ever want to go to war with someone we're sharing our personal photos and experiences with?
When peace activists, beauty pageant contestants and little children would talk about world peace, it always seemed more like a hope than a possibility. Now, the numbers show that possibility is within our reach.
I am not so naïve as to believe there will not be wars in our future. What I'm saying is that the data is giving us evidence to know that wars are not necessary. People have to choose war.
Chet W. Sisk is author of the new book "Think This, Not That: It's Time To Update Your Conventional Wisdom". He is also founder of the Quality Foods For Everyone program with Whole Foods to bring organic foods to homeless shelters across the US.

No comments:

Post a Comment