By Joe White
Recently, I was invited to give a presentation to a Board of Directors divided over their organization’s formal partnership with 2020 A Year Without War. We wanted to put their organization on our 2020 AYWW website as a supporting partner and for them to put 2020 AYWW on their website. We also wanted them to invite their members and affiliates to JOIN and PARTNER with AYWW. However, skeptical members of their Board apparently thought it a waste of time, even silly, to partner with AYWW. Our goal of a global cease-fire during the year 2020 the skeptics claimed will never happen. “Why associate with, perhaps even embarrass ourselves by encouraging, such doomed naiveté?” So, I was invited to try and persuade these skeptics. Appearing before the Board, I told them I had only four points to make on behalf of 2020 AYWW. I thought these points would demonstrate that the remark, “a year without war will never happen,” is most likely false but also irrelevant to partnering and supporting 2020 AYWW.
My first point, and it seemed to me somewhat ironic, was that their own well-established, well-respected, good-will organization had a number of quite noble goals that it had been committed to over their organization’s one hundred plus years of existence, yet their goals had not been realized nor was their realization expected in the foreseeable future. They seemed a group dedicated to unrealized, if not unrealizable, goals. One would think they would be natural partners and supporters of an organization with an “unrealizable” goal.
Many organizations, especially churches, philanthropies and governments, have noble goals that they have pursued for decades, if not centuries or millennia, without having attained their goals but that doesn’t lessen their commitment to such noble goals. Perhaps, 2020 AYWW is simply a new organization with a new noble goal that may not be attained but, as with so many other organizations, including the one I was addressing, commitment nonetheless seems not only reasonable but par for the course. After all, if we are all variously committed to a variety of unrealized, even unrealizable, noble goals, what difference does one more unrealizable, yet noble, goal make?
However, on this same point, history does sometimes surprise us regarding what is attainable. If this were the 1850’s in the U.S., how many times was it argued that slavery would never be eliminated? Slavery had been a part of history in every major culture. Given slavery’s long historical shadow, the practice seemed an inevitable part of human society. “You are naïve to try to eliminate slavery,” concluded this historical argument. One can also consider similar historical arguments against Women’s Suffrage and genocide. However, abhorrent social practices with long histories have been significantly tamed, sometimes eliminated. So, why not war? Even such natural scourges as the many varieties of plague, which have been with humanity for nearly all of its history, have not dissuaded us from strong social commitments to eliminate them. Now many of these diseases have been significantly tamed with small pox eliminated and polio nearly eliminated. Again, why not tame, perhaps eliminate, war? Since war is not a natural scourge but is always chosen, eliminating war should be a tad easier. Why not simply not chose war? Since the goal of most of today’s wars is peace, why not skip the war-step and go directly to peace?
My second point had to do with actually measuring 2020 AYWW’s success. With the goal of a yearlong, global cease-fire resulting from the dedicated and engaged work of at least 800 million members, what if AYWW does not hit its membership goal nor create a year without war in 2020? Does that mean 2020 AYWW was a failure? Not really. If the AYWW community grows to only 50 to 100 million members and does not stop war for the year 2020, it will still be one of the most popular, unique, global, social movements on Earth. It will be larger than the fan base of any present celebrity or popular show and will garner global attention for the first ever grass roots, global conversation regarding the elimination of war and the reaping of a peace dividend for all of humanity. So, if 2020 AYWW does not succeed in its primary goals, there are profoundly significant successes along the way prior to the historical success of its ultimate goal. However, as I told this Board of Directors, contrary to their skepticism, I believe it is more likely that 2020 AYWW will succeed.
Third point, you should bet on 2020 AYWW’s success. There are presently three historically unique social forces significantly enhancing 2020 AYWW’s success. It may simply turn out to be 2020 AYWW’s historical moment. The first of these unique social forces is history itself. Prof. Steven Pinker in his recent book, Our Better Angels, defends, with substantial data, the fascinating thesis that over the past 8,000 years humanity has been on a more or lessconsistent trajectory in becoming less violent. The 21st century is actually one of humanity’s most peaceful times thus far. Even after calculating the violence from two world wars and periodic genocides in the 20th century, Pinker argues that the sweep of history is toward less violence. This seems counter-intuitive given our daily media exposure. If Pinker’s research, which predates the creation of 2020 AYWW and was unknown to the creators of 2020 AYWW, then 2020 AYWW may be a first historical attempt at succinctly articulating the culmination of this subtle historical process. War will apparently end, if not in 2020, at some time, all things considered. Visit the AYWW website to view a lecture by Prof. Pinker.
Additionally, we now more fully understand that significant social change does not require an entire population’s involvement. Rather, social change may occur as a result of a dedicated, engaged minority realizing its social goal. Such minority-motivated change is referred to as a social tipping point. While there appears to be no hard, fast number defining a social tipping point in a population, the fact that social tipping points occur is a focus of 2020 AYWW. Cases such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Arab Spring, Women’s Movement, the protests ending the Vietnam War have all been offered as examples of the power of a minority within a population tipping complex social processes. Hence, 2020 AYWW’s goal of recruiting and engaging at least 10% of the world’s population appears to be a conservative social tipping point for creating a year without war. Perhaps, 2020 AYWW will go viral, like no other program in history, signing up a couple billion members. In that case, social science suggests the dedicated and engaged force of such a large minority should successfully realize a year without war.
Even more significant here, however, is the unique historical force of the internet itself. Humanity has created a vast system of instant global communication never before available. The internet already has billions of users and continues growing rapidly. For the first time in history there is a unique opportunity to actually create a dedicated, engaged global web community focused on tipping history away from war as we continue to move historically away from violence. Add to these forces the powerful catalytic force of a new, unique generation, the millennials.
Globally, there is a generation coming of age referred to as the millennials. The millennials, roughly, those thirty-something and younger, are scattered around the globe but share much in common. Technology is trumping geography and provincialism. Millennials tend to be tech savvy, cosmopolitan, socially tolerant and more focused on common human global problems than previous generations. Put a millennial in a room with his or her parents and grandparents and you will in all likelihood discover the quantum leap millennials have made in being tech savvy with social media. The millennials are also a global phenomenon in that their similarities cross all major cultures. They are cosmopolitan in typically having friends from other countries and cultures on their social media sites. They readily travel the world on-line and pervasively desire to travel the world literally.
Millennials are more tolerant than previous generations. The millennials in the Middle East, who have been given credit for sparking the Arab Spring, particularly in the case of Egypt, were calling for Democracy and Rule of Law with a vocal minority demanding a respect for Pluralism. Millennials are significantly less xenophobic, sexist, racist, homo-phobic and religiously intolerant. Finally, millennials appear more concerned with global issues of sustainability and pollution than ideological conflicts and apostasy. They have deep concerns over problems urgently facing all of humanity. Being war weary, they wish to reap the benefits of a global peace dividend estimated to be approximately $9 trillion a year. In the U.S., millennials are frustrated by the fact that the U.S. defense budget is larger than the next ten countries’ defense budgets combined while none of those ten countries are presently on a war footing with the U.S. yet U.S. educational costs are becoming prohibitive due to a loss of government support. With hundreds of millions of millennials globally, they constitute a unique historical force unto themselves. 2020 AYWW plans to reap the whirlwind of their war weary passion to tip history away from war as a traditional means of conflict resolution. Don’t bet against the millennials.
My fourth and final point to this Board of Directors was simply, what do you have to lose by partnering and supporting? What is wrong with simply supporting, even encouraging, these millennials, who are now optimistically and diligently building history’s first global, grass roots, social movement to stop war for one year? If you think they are naïve, so what? Why can’t this unique, tech savvy, global generation dream while actually and impressively attempting to change the world they are about to inherit with the technology they know so well? Isn’t theirs a most noble goal? Why wouldn’t you simply support their efforts? Often I hear “adults” criticize millennials for their consuming fascination, perhaps obsession, with endlessly sharing insipid, ungrammatical tweets on twitter or wherever. But 2020 AYWW is not insipid. It is inspiring. It is a hope of youth. It is exactly what should be supported and encouraged. The AYWW millennials only ask that you JOIN their web community at their website and LIKE them on Facebook. They are not even asking you for money though it is expensive to keep building this global community and your generosity would be most gratefully and deeply appreciated.
I concluded my presentation to this Board with a 19th century reference. It seemed to me it would take a deeply disgruntled scrooge to “Ba Humbug!” such noble aspirations, which demand so incredibly little from anyone of us individually. I thanked the Board for their willingness to listen and departed their meeting after being told they would hold a final vote that evening. I would be duly informed of their final decision. The next day I received an email that they had voted to partner and support 2020 AYWW. Thank you Board of Directors. I hope all of you who read this response to why “a year without war will never happen” are also persuaded that such a remark is not only irrelevant but quite likely false.
Yours in optimism and gratitude.