These few examples suffice to show that we are surrounded by diverse cultures of cooperation and peace which, while plentiful and pervasive, are largely obscured by the dominant culture of selfishness and violence. In fact, it is because of these elements of mutualism that humanity has been able to preserve its cohesion and vitality. They offer a rich reserve of non-adversarial strategies and resources for sociocultural change. Finally, they offer indisputable proof of the possibility of a different world, as per the famous truism of the renowned social scientist and peace activist Kenneth Boulding: “Whatever exists is possible.”
One of the mental models that linger as a byproduct of the early stages of social science is the myth that human beings are selfish, greedy and competitive by nature. This section reviews how this myth has spread, scientific evidence that contradicts it, efforts to force such evidence to conform to the myth of inherent selfishness, and reflections on this type of anti-scientific approach.
One of the most basic of all human needs is to have a positive identity. In our eagerness to achieve this, we sometimes use various strategies to ‘enhance' our self-image without needing to change, by convincing ourselves that we are all right the way we are. One way to do this is to identify with a group to which we attribute favorable characteristics, be it our family, community, race, ethnic group, gender, religion, organization, etc. In this case, I know I am a ‘good’ person because I am part of a group that has a positive identity which, by association, also belongs to me.
This chapter questions the traditional concept of the ‘Law of the Jungle’ and the saying that ‘man is the wolf of man’ under the light of recent findings by ecology or the study of ecosystems. This is followed by an analysis of the social implications that these old notions have had, and of conclusions that might be drawn from those new understandings in the promotion of a culture of peace.
Common mental models according to which war is inevitable and/or beneficial tend to be historicisms. Historicisms come from reviewing historical data looking for patterns that would suggest an historical process, from which to establish a social theory through induction and predict that these patterns will repeat in the future. This is the case of the popular statement, “There has always been war and there always will be”. In his criticism of the type of historicism practiced by philosophers such as Hegel and Marx, Karl Popper [2002:Intro] defines an historicism as: “An approach to the social sciences which assumes that historical prediction is their primary aim, and which assumes that this aim is attainable by discovering the ‘rhythms’ or the ‘patterns’, the ‘laws’ or the ‘trends’ that underlie the evolution of history.” The problem with this type of interpretation of history is that it tends to result in the subject under study––in this case war––being essentialized as inherent to human nature and/or naturalized as a sine qua non of society. As Glenn D. Paige says in his book “War”: “We continue to think of war as a natural and justifiable part of the way we behave. And if it is, of course, then we are doomed; but maybe it isn’t”.
In the Western world, a predominant cultural trait is competition, defined as a relationship of opposition or rivalry in which two or more individuals or groups attempt to achieve the same goal in such a way that if one of them wins, the others necessarily lose. This model has become materialized in most modern institutions and social practices, including economics, politics, judicial systems, education, sports, and even the arts, religion and daily social relations.
The last section reviewed some of the mental models that seek to define human beings in an ontological sense as an individual or group of individuals. Other mental models refer to the nature of social order as such. At first sight, it might seem that this nature should reflect that of man as an individual. However, deeper consideration reveals that society is more than the sum of its individual members and therefore requires separate treatment.
Science is not limited to seeking the truth, but actually creates realities. This article looks at how science forms and justifies social attitudes in order to legitimize and perpetuate the status quo. It poses the need for a paradigm shift in the social sciences in order to achieve a culture of peace, and to recover the role of social and human scientists as peace activists or agents of socio-cultural change.
The concept of power is one of the most difficult issues when dealing with the nature of society and of the necessary relations among its groups and individuals. When speaking of power, people usually tend to think of it as something that is wielded over or against someone, within relationships of struggle and domination, of competition and conflict. According to this assumption, power is perceived as a scarce resource, so acquiring it requires entering into a power struggle with others who want it. This mental model is so deeply ingrained in today’s society that most people define ‘politics’ as a ‘power struggle’. This shows how completely we have taken in the worldview and culture of division and conflict. Karlberg (2004:23) observes, “In a culture of contest, people tend not only to be preoccupied with relations of power, but tend to think and talk about power as though its exercise is inherently competitive and conflictual”.
We have seen how to modify mental models, which is part of the psycho-cultural dimension. Some believe that this should be enough to change the world. However, the expected transformation will not be achieved unless the structures of society are changed simultaneously. Although it is true that you cannot build a house of gold with bricks of lead, it is no less the case that a pile of golden bricks is not a house. Even if all the individuals in the world were to change their mental models, this would not have the desired effect without socio-structural reform.