"Each individual has a universal responsibility
to shape institutions to serve human needs."
(The Dalai Lama)
On the other hand, there is much talk of the need to translate thought into action, but actually, this is only a challenge at the beginning, while attempting to leave behind old mental models and formulate new conceptual frameworks. Once the new has become deeply rooted in our subconscious through habit, it is difficult to get people NOT to act as they think, how much more if these conceptual frameworks are translated into collective practices, established norms, formal institutions, and other social structures.
A. Institutional Analysis
A good starting point for change agents seeking to achieve socio-structural transformation is to facilitate an analysis of current institutions and their underlying assumptions, in order to identify their adversarial elements and recover their mutualistic aspects. The most fundamental mental models to be analyzed and changed during this exercise include the concepts of power over and against versus power for and with, which are explained in an earlier section. Some of the main social structures whose elements we should review include:
- the economic system with its relations of production and consumption, market operations and exploitation of the earth;
- the political system with its power struggles, competing parties, logic of opposition, and electoral contests;
- the legal system with its enactment and enforcement of laws and the workings of the judicial structure;
- the role and operations of the defense system and national security paradigm;
- the institutions and approaches of the health and education systems;
- the role of the mass media and their common practices;
- relationships within social movements and vis-à-vis the status quo;
- normative configurations for games and sports;
- social relations;
- the collective discursive; and
- religious sectarianism.
Following an historical approach, it would be useful to understand the genesis, development and outcome of these social practices and structures. How did its elements evolve, in response to what needs, and based on what mental models? Why and how are they currently perpetuated, what pros and cons do they now show, and what would be the ideal or desired situation? With what alternative elements could they be replaced on the short, medium and long term, how would our mental models have to change in order for these alternatives to work, and what impact would this change have on our institutional life and society as a whole? In order to answer the last question, agents of socio-cultural change will need to research experiences had in other places and the lessons learned from them.
B. Social Laboratories
Transforming today’s adversarial institutions into social structures based on cooperation and mutualism requires cultivating a learning attitude. We have been accustomed to repeating the formulae of the past as if they were recipes that could simply be copied and applied to different situations with a minimum of tweaking. However, building a culture of peace requires generating new configurations that have had little or no testing in practice. Therefore, there are no recipes to follow. Rather, we are forced to try out new alternatives in the form of pilot projects and using small-scale ‘trial and error’ approaches.
We can view these projects as ‘social laboratories’ from which to learn, some of which are already in progress and others to be started from scratch. People tend to resist the idea of ‘experimenting’ when it comes to the social, political and economic life of a population. Nevertheless, each one of the practices and institutions that are currently in effect was once an experiment that, having produced favorable results, was replicated and adapted by one society after another and from one generation to the next. The only difference is the shared assumptions underlying in one and the other, assumptions that––like self-fulfilling prophesies––determine the feasibility or improbability of one or the other proposal, which makes it harder to study them scientifically. Karlberg (2004:185) says:
…it is difficult to verify empirically which of these views is more valid. Rather, we are confronted with two competing sets of difficult-to-test assumptions about human nature and culture…. [H]owever, …it is at least in our broadest collective interests to critically re-examine prevailing assumptions and begin experimenting more systematically with non-adversarial social structures and practices.
In order for a ‘social laboratory’ to be acceptable and useful for learning purposes, it must meet three requirements. First of all, participation in the experiment must be voluntary. People should not be forced to take part in an experiment with which they do not agree. Secondly, it should be respected by all as a learning opportunity. If internal or external forces seek to hamper the process, no one will ever know whether its failure was due to those obstacles, or because it was a bad idea from the start. Third, it should be studied objectively by impartial researchers seeking to learn from both its failures and successes, without falling into the temptation of demonizing its vices or exaggerating its virtues for ideological reasons. The indiscriminate criticism that is characteristic of some adversarial approaches will be of no use if it does not help us learn valuable lessons about what works, what does not work, and why.
Before designing new experiences, it would be advisable to research existing referents and benchmarks, and become familiar with tested approaches, their underlying assumptions, the outcomes and lessons learned. Some such referents or benchmarks that are currently available for review are:
- certain pre-industrial societies that are best known for their cultures of peace;
- the mutualistic aspects of some modern nations;
- intentional communities that were created to test new social alternatives;
- novel social structures that offer alternatives to institutionalized adversarialism;
- social movements that emphasize “living the alternative now”;
- subcultures of peace that coexist with the dominant culture;
- important iconoclastic figures that disclose the true potential of humanity;
- the mass phenomenon of every-day anonymous heroism;
- and others.
After reviewing the lessons learned from these existing referents or benchmarks, agents of socio-cultural change will be better prepared to generate new learning experiences or ‘social laboratories’. It is advisable to resist the temptation to begin with something large and complex from the beginning, since the risk of failure is much greater than when starting small and simple, and growing gradually based on experience and learning. It is important to ensure success in order to keep up the morale and enthusiasm, especially at the beginning stages.
In this process, one would do well to use the learning cycle, taking the following steps together with the other participants:
- reflection on experiences had with the old adversarial system and with any alternatives, seeking to gather lessons learned;
- formulating the conceptual framework for the new mechanism and developing an action plan;
- applying the framework and plan with an initial pilot test;
- generating in this way a new experience to learn from;
- repeating the process until the mechanism has been perfected; and
- starting a new learning cycle, adding an additional element to the first mechanism developed; and so on.
C. The Importance of Organizing
In all of these efforts, it is advisable to form a support group or work team. In this way, you can take advantage of a diversity of ideas, experiences and abilities, and generate collective synergy. Working together also helps to maintain a high level of commitment and motivation, even when the going gets rough. Finally, building a culture of peace necessarily implies being able to collaborate in an environment of trust, mutual support, cooperation, and friendship. Of what culture can we speak if we do it alone?
The historian Arnold Toynbee, after studying over twenty civilizations around the world, concluded that one common element that caused them to arise was a “creative minority” characterized by clarity and unity of vision, purpose and action. We should not underestimate our power to move the world. As the famous saying widely attributed to Margaret Mead goes: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
There is a common tendency to think immediately of starting a new organization whenever someone decides to do something new. As a result, there is a proliferation of ‘foundations’ with one or two projects, many of which are overlapping and duplicating efforts. We advise agents of socio-cultural change, at least in the beginning, to join an already-existing organization and strengthen its current lines of action or propose new ones. This will save you a lot of time, effort and energy, which will be better spent on the work of socio-cultural change itself. Once this resource has been exhausted, if experience advises the formation of a new organization, it will be more suitable to do so.
D. The Problem with Social Protest
The Problem: It is true that we should keep an open mind, but no so open that our brains fall out! If the alternatives we choose are not suitable, we could end up perpetuating the culture of adversarialism without even realizing it. When speaking of socio-cultural change, many people think of social protest methods such as demonstrations, strikes, political struggle, litigations, civil disobedience, etc. However, these approaches are part of the very adversarial culture that caused the problems in the first place. Albert Einstein is commonly attributed the saying: "We cannot solve our problems using the same kind of thinking as when we created them." In this regard, Karlberg (2004:68) says:
Oppositional strategies of social change create a paradox for these movements. On the one hand, such strategies may appear to be the only means available for the pursuit of social reform. How else can social activists bring about change but through partisan organizing, litigation or ‘taking to the streets’? On the other hand, the same adversarial strategies often prove to be self-limiting for a number of reasons...
This paradox is based on the myth of adversarialism, which dictates that strife is necessary for the operation of all social institutions, and that the best or only way to right their wrongs is through protest. According to this view, social administration is organized in such a way that those in power try to govern in accordance with their own interests, while all other sectors oppose their efforts by all means possible, including social protest.
However, building a culture of peace demands that we live the change today that we want to see tomorrow, that our current actions reflect that new culture. This does not mean denying the role that struggle may play in exceptional cases. However, social protest is presently a normal, routine strategy, which only serves to deepen and strengthen the culture of adversarialism. Karlberg (2004:68-9) adds that “normalizing adversarial strategies comes with a high price that is often overlooked, and routine reliance on such strategies may not be the most effective long-term approach to social change.” What are some of these costs?
First of all, when the world is perceived from a divisionistic, conflictual perspective, there is nothing to keep us from continuing to divide it into smaller and smaller particularities. For example, in addition to the struggle between right and left, the latter––especially––has become increasingly atomized over the past 100 years.
In this regard, Karlberg (2004:69) clarifies that: “Underlying this pattern of infighting and factionalization, it appears, is the tendency to interpret differences––of class, race, gender, perspective or political approach––as sources of antagonism and conflict.” He quotes from analyst Todd Gitlin, who states that “the politics of difference is built on a deep philosophical error: the insistence that people are and must remain incomprehensible to one another and what divides people must overwhelm what unites them.” This internal division will not serve the movement for a culture of peace well, as what it needs to seek is precisely unity, not merely within the movement itself, but also in society as a whole.
Secondly, social protest movements tend to be coopted by the mass media, which feed off the culture of adversarialism. Too frequently do they see social strife as a mere spectacle that serves to fatten their ratings. For this purpose, they tend to simplify and trivialize the original message, thereby exacerbating the dichotomization of the issues being dealt with, alienating those who otherwise could feel sympathy towards the movement’s cause, and legitimizing the adversarial structures supporting the commercial media, in which what is ‘alternative’ will always be at a disadvantage. As Karlberg (2004:73) says:
…most advocacy groups have to engage in extreme and confrontational tactics in order to gain any voice at all in the commercial mass media. By providing raw material for the manufacture of adversarial spectacle, these groups end up simplifying and distorting their messages, which in turn simplifies and distorts public perceptions of the issues they are trying to address. Packaging social advocacy as adversarial spectacle therefore undermines the ability of any social advocacy group to address complex and subtle problems.
Thirdly, although social protest is often promoted as being against the hegemony, in reality it follows the same hegemonic game of strife in which those who have traditionally won will continue to dominate. Attempting to enter into direct competition with the forces of the status quo means participating as a minority player in the same playing field as the major political, legal and economic powers, following the same game rules. As Karlberg (2004:70) warns, “...when social activists employ adversarial methods, they also legitimate the codes of adversarialism that underlie the unjust and unsustainable social structures they are attempting to reform.”
Accepting their game rules not only betrays the foundational principles of a culture of peace, but also means always being at a disadvantage. We may win a few battles, but will continue to lose the war itself as long as we adhere to the logic of the adversarial system. And that is precisely what the hegemony of adversarialism demands: That we all play the same game, so that the strongest players will continue winning by their own rules. Instead, agents of socio-cultural change should seek to change those rules in such a way that everyone can win.
Becoming Corrupted: Finally, the conflict underlying social protest and political movements often consists of a struggle for power, understood as the ability to govern, rule, make decisions that will affect others, impose one’s own will, and serve one’s own interests. This is power over and against,1 the kind of power that corrupts. Karlberg (2004:74) observes that "adversarial struggles for power tend to be self-corrupting as a strategy of social or political change. History provides countless examples of adversarial movements that have overthrown one oppressive class or regime merely to replace it with another.” As we have seen elsewhere, true power is not that which is taken but given, not the power to destroy but to build, not the power to conquer but to cultivate, not the power to hate but to love. It is a power that does not corrupt, but that generates new life in everything it touches.
In conclusion, when and where working for socio-cultural change is understood as social protest and political strife, it does not lead to a true change of culture, but rather ends up sowing more of the same. Its efficacy is severely limited, and even deepens the root problem, which is today’s culture of adversarialism. “[A]dversarial strategies of social change have reached the limits of their effectiveness,” says Karlberg (2004:73-4), who goes on to explain:
Even if adversarial strategies may have been necessary and viable in the past, when human populations were less socially and ecologically interdependent, such conditions no longer exist. Because our reproductive and technological success as a species has led to conditions of unprecedented interdependence, no social group on the planet is any longer isolated. Under these new conditions, new strategies are not only becoming possible, they have become essential.
So the challenge put before every agent of socio-cultural change is to find ways to heal the ills caused by the culture of adversarialism, without using the traditional adversarial methods in the process. What we need is alternative approaches to achieving social change––not movements ‘against’, but movements ‘towards'. Great creativity is required, to think and act ‘outside of the box’. Different authors have proposed a broad range of non-adversarial strategies, such as education and awareness building, cultivating new values and attitudes, and establishing new models of social practice.
These approaches may seem very weak in relation to the apparent sturdiness of the adversarial status quo. However, historically they have been the primary means for achieving many of the most significant social reforms, while adversarial methods have often consumed tremendous resources and attracted much attention without producing lasting effects. So let us not underestimate the dynamic power of peaceful transformation to bring about a radical change in the cultural codes that constitute the foundations for today’s social structures. As Karlberg (2004:179-80) explains:
...the only thing perpetuating the old games… is the fact that the majority of people consent to the rules. If alternative games begin to yield recognizable results (i.e. increased social justice and environmental sustainability), then the will become a source of attraction to increasing numbers of people (i.e. the majority of people whose interests and values are not well served by the old game). If enough people stop playing by the old rules and start playing by new ones, the old games will come to an end not through war or protest but through attrition (i.e. through simple abandonment and desertion). The alternative strategy, then, is one of construction, attraction and attrition. This strategy, moreover, is entirely non-adversarial. It reconciles the means of social change with the ends of social change. [I]t requires that we recognize the hegemonic nature of the old competitive and adversarial games, withdraw our time and energy from them and invest that time and energy in the construction of new ones.
1. Se analiza en cierto detalle el concepto del poder sobre y contra, versus el poder para y hacia, en otra sección.