When the Berlin Wall came down all those years ago, a lot of writers thought that this event would bring an end to the communist system, but they also thought it would mean the end of the capitalist system. Just like a house of cards: when one thing supports another, on falls and they all come tumbling down. However, as the years went by the opposite seemed to be true, the capitalist system gained followers and expanded into more and more countries. Levels of growth and welfare achieved around the world justified the so-called “neocons” and despite a few deviations, economic models have survived numerous stampedes.
Last summer the financial crisis that had already begun to take effect in 2007 provoked suspicion that the boom years of the capitalist system had actually been an illusion. After many years of cold war the fall of the Berlin wall took the brakes off the wheel of the capitalist system, allowing it to turn even faster. But it was just a matter of time before the wheel had to come to a stop because, on its own, capitalism without other accessories was unable to satisfy the needs of the world today. We all agree that certain aspects must be modified, because this system is like a house built on sand and cannot hold itself upright without significant structural changes taking place. The question is, do we simply need to make a few minor adjustments or carry out a complete overhaul of the very criteria that define the capitalist system? Also, in recent years this system has been subjected to the phenomenon of globalization and thus capitalist structures have been imposed all over the world. We must now ask ourselves if these structures are the best ones for us to achieve and consolidate world peace.
But restructuring or changing a social system is not an easy task: it requires effort and a great deal of creativity. Fundamentally, capitalist social structures are based on the personal interests of different social groups in terms of their personal and collective ambition. And if this has provided us with a certain level of wellbeing, albeit for a small minority of human beings, it is unlikely we will want to change it. We ourselves perpetuate these structures because we do not wish to renounce our pursuit of personal or collective gain. The danger we are now faced with in the context of the current crisis is that we pretend to change the structures without changing the values that these unjust social structures are built on, the very values that we recognise do not bring us peace. If this crisis succeeds in dismantling the current structures, but we then build the new structures on the old foundations, we would be giving reality a new image, but at the heart of it nothing would have changed. Official changes are just a show to dress reality up, but they do not lead us towards new goals. If we want to achieve a more peaceful society, most importantly we must change the foundations and not just the structures.
In the world we currently inhabit we must seriously ask ourselves if we want to achieve economic improvement and return to the tranquillity of our western wellbeing, or if we really want peace, even though we will have to make changes and assume attitudes that will effect citizen’s lives and values. We will have to ask ourselves if society as a whole must be built around a set of social structures that have endured through time and that some believe to be untouchable, or if we can go right to the very base and begin to build new social structures. Every moment and every situation requires us to be flexible and organise ourselves using different elements that enable us to guarantee a more solid peace. One thing is clear: if we want to build a peaceful society then we need social structures. We will surely have to keep some and create new ones in order to attain the goals we set for ourselves. Mistakes may be made, but something has got to be done in order to prevent these events from determining which path we take.
People often say that times of crisis are times of opportunity. Basically because there tends to be a shortage of things and this allows human beings to look towards other things and at the same time makes them more able to adapt to new circumstances, seek out, improve and find new things. People can use this opportunity to look for something they have lost, which is in fact impossible because time moves on and circumstances change, making it impossible to repeat the past. Human beings need time to modify or loosen up certain attitudes and this loosening up allows them to modify social structures. Perhaps it is time to question which compass we are using for our journey. Do we carry on using the same parameters we have used up till now? Are we going to make the most of these disconcerting times in order to introduce a different set of values that will help us to mark out the path of the future?
Point VI of the Letter of Peace addressed to the UN states that new social structures must be based on open structures. In other words, we cannot rely on structures that close in on themselves, like dead end streets. And we must open up structures that are confined by these dead end streets, which stop a wider common base being created for all beings. The foundation of these structures is what the Letter of Peace calls brotherhood in existence. This represents the interests of all existing beings rather than the interests of a particular group, ethnicity or nation. If we cannot understand this idea, we will not be able to create the conditions that are necessary for people to experience the brotherhood of humanity.
We tend to believe that these structures define our identity, which we know is linked to space, time and history. But we forget that different groups share common roots that are linked to the same history, because we are all children of the same history. By escaping the dead-end-street we discover that if universal roots really exist then we won’t lose our group identity. Not only are we a reduced collective defined by a particular geography: we are also contemporaries as we are all living in the same period. Thus we can go from seeking brotherhood with a just a few people, our own people, to pursuing brotherhood with everyone who exists today. If the obstacle that stops us opening up the structures from their base is the fear of losing ourselves, we cannot deny the fact that we are human beings and we all have the right to live with dignity. The notion of existence provides us with the correct foundation to build peace-consolidating structures. And we must not forget one other basic criteria: structures are there to serve people and not the other way round. When we are able to understand this, we will let go of a lot of our fear of change, because despite revising and changing things, we will remain calm, because all the things we renew and create will be there to serve people, all the people of today.
The Letter of Peace does not state that basing new social frameworks upon existing ones is impossible; it says that doings so could be dangerous. This is because most of these structures were organised at a point in time in order to resolve situations and were based on specific principles. Faced with new circumstances these structures have a limited capacity to respond to the current context. Also, these structures are associated with particular ideologies and interests and are the product of historical situations that have been the cause of lasting resentments for certain sectors and communities. It is not easy to dismantle all of this and care must be taken so that the socio-economical, cultural and social achievements that have been made are not damaged in the process. Dismantling structures because we believe them inappropriate or unsuccessful at achieving the results we hope to attain will undoubtedly help to eliminate resentments felt by groups in society.
Everything that human beings do is limited and we cannot guarantee we will always get it right. We must continually review things and lay our cards on the table. Celebrate our achievements and do what we can to remedy our failures. And it is undeniable that everything has a cost. We also have to evaluate what cost we are willing to take on in order to attain peace. We can see that if we let time go by without doing anything, the consequences won’t always be so fair. The “invisible hand” that drives the marketplace is evidently not always that invisible and often seeks to benefit a few to the detriment of the rest of the world. This kind of “peace” can also be too costly.
There is no need to be pessimistic however. Some writers say the 20th century was the worst century because of all the atrocities that were carried out in the name of progress, but it was also the time when three of the most important movements emerged: feminism, environmentalism and pacifism. This complex and complicated world has become more sensitive to peace. Surely many realities capable of recreating social structures and a more peaceful world will emerge in an environment such as this one.
Peace Institute of Barcelona
Carme Maltas Freixas, Francisco García Bastida, Ignasi Batlle Molina, Jordi Cussó Porredón.