Towards a non-vacuous concept of “Just Peace”

All parties in conflict want peace. Oppressed groups want peace in the sense of the end of their oppression, which they interpret as a continuation of war, whereas oppressor groups want peace and quiet, in the sense of the absence of any rebellion against the oppression they instituted through mechanisms of pacification. Calls for “peace” without reference the context, or the terms of peace have, politically speaking, no content, and certainly cannot be assumed to contain anything like “justice”. At best they are context-poor expressions of a desire to see the end of the most extreme forms of human suffering, at worse, they are affirmations of mechanisms pacification towards oppressed people who refuse to let oppression be carried on in an atmosphere of peace and quiet. Worse, the concept of “justice” has no special relationship with “peace”, because a “just war” is only as far away as some example of rebellion you consider justified.

Generally, the problem with both these concepts, “peace” and “justice”, is that there is a tendency, we might even speak of an incentive to call for their implementation without specifying their content. The more we say what we mean by “justice”, the more we specify the terms for “peace”, the more we risk division, disagreement. In other words, there is an incentive, especially in online environments where the gladiatorial nature of the public space is more explicit than usual, to avoid saying what we mean by things, to avoid conflict by allowing each to interpret a value such that the appropriateness of that value obtains for them. Baudrillard talks about this in terms of his concept, (or his interpretation of Reagan’s concept) of the “silent majority”:

Microgroups and individuals, far from taking their cue from a uniform and imposed decoding, decode messages in their own way. They intercept them (through leaders) and transpose them…contrasting the dominant code with their own particular sub-codes, finally recycling everything passing into their own cycle…

We perhaps should see the incentive to speak in a way that avoids conflict as the object side of a coin to the tendency to re-interpret in terms of a particular sub code forms the subject side. And “flame wars” are perhaps just one kind of symptom that manifests when our normal agreement to sustain this two-sided mechanism of non-interaction, breaks down. No one wants flame wars, but also, none of us should want rhetorical exchanges based on false manifestations of agreement, from the perspective of the desire for the genuine interaction of interpretive perspectives, these are both disasters.

Instead, I would suggest, and I think is especially relevant for philosophers desiring to influence the public discourse, that when we assert the need for “just peace”, to be as explicit as possible concerning which prescriptions we believe must be implemented in order for a state of affairs to qualify as both just and peaceful, and also to be as thoughtful as possible concerning the mechanism for instituting of those prescriptions, including the contradictions and conflicts that can be predicted to arise from their implementation.


This is Not a Post about Boston

This is not a post about Boston. This is not even a post, as I can barely bring myself to write about all the mourning that is demanded by 90 dead in Iraq in 3 days, 5 killed by drones in Afghanistan. And thinking about the last ten years of Occupation, and the million dead. A million. And the Nation weeps for 3. So I can’t write a post about Boston, but I can do something much better, because Asam Ahmad has written the perfect poem. 

I no longer know

how to grieve

“innocent” American victims


I can’t remember how

to bear my head down low

and wring my hands and nod

in agreement yes,

this was a horrific act of violence,

yes, of course, violence is never okay


I can no longer bear

the violence of these

ritualized gestures,

the violence

of this language of mourning

reserved only for the upstanding

Citizens of Empire;

lives vaunted

and cherished,

infinitely more valuable

than the hundreds of thousands

of brown bodies that now litter

the Middle East because America

was too hurt

or too angry

or too traumatized

to see beyond its own

misty haze of grief


There is too much pain in this world

and I’m afraid

I no longer remember


how to grieve