Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Johan Galtung: Conflict and Civilisation

Thanks to Agent 99 for pointing out the updated link, the first location of which had lapsed (also updated on audio page). I’ve taken the opportunity to upload this talk again by Johan Galtung which I attended last year. His hybrid-but-mostly-Norwegian accent may make him sound like Inspector Clousseau as our friend notes, but his reflections are always worthwhile and enriching. (RT 81 m)

Galtung talks about enacting a positive peace through meaningful dialogue, about spiritual syncretism and an alliance of civilisations, with reference to the Danish cartoon controversy and other topical conflicts. This elder spokesman and founder of peace studies delivered this address at the Brisbane Festival of Ideas on the 31 March 2006.

Original .mp3 url

Relevant links:

Further links: Conflict transformation

5 comments on “Johan Galtung: Conflict and Civilisation

  1. 99
    30 June, 2007

    Wow! Thanks Ann. I have to listen to this a few times because Inspector Clouseau sends me into fits of laughter that can sometimes last for hours. After seeing one of his movies, I literally cannot finish a sentence without the laughter cutting it off and pitching me back to the floor or doubling me over. A lot of that was the voice. I really highly recommend this lecture for serious reasons and there isn’t anyone here to throw a bucket of water on me.

    The spiritual syncretism he advocates has its merits in terms of tolerance and mutual acceptance — plus the pursuit of happiness and, certainly, mass appeal — but I don’t think it has the remotest chance of dealing with the malign forces at work in our world right now. It also does not arc toward enlightening being, but merely lightening being, huge improvement as that most definitely is. I’m wary of his injunctions against taking the “violent” parts of any religion — not, certainly, because I advocate violence — no indeed — but because in so many cases the killing and warring and lopping off heads language is meant for the crucial INTERNAL work. I believe religious leaders would do well to stress this; that if they are not enlightened enough to realize and preach that this terminology was NEVER meant to mean going out and killing people, they don’t belong leading. Galtung’s way is not a solution to this. Galtung’s way is a very good way to diffuse tensions between hostile populations IF there is enough support for it.

    It certainly also would be a nice way for humanity to proceed, but very unrealistic in the first place, and not effective quickly enough in the second. If global warming and WW3 were not staring us in the face, I think I’d feel better about his advice. As it is, and until I can listen again, I think that lecture was mostly a very positive use of one’s ears.

  2. 99
    30 June, 2007

    Okay. I’m listening again, and I can’t tell you how much that picture has helped dispell my Clouseau hysteria. I find already that he said “evil parts”, not “violent parts” and, in fact, allows as how there is peace in violence and violence in peace. I feel much better about that.

    He does not have the world’s greatest understanding of Buddhism/Hinduism/Taoism/Confucianism/Sufism and I think this is a shame, and a nearly inevitable consequence of his syncretic approach. The point that should be made is that the spiritual disciplines, mystical schools — as distinct from religions, even the religions that grew up around true schools — hold for the human the true way to complete maturity, complete manifestation of positive potential. The original point was that there could be no rigid approach to teaching these. They had to fit the mentality of each seeker. There had to be mastery in order to be able to tailor teachings to individuals. AND the seeker cannot be expected to know, or even to discern minutely enough, the true way. Almost no one can find it alone. The best one can do is make oneself attractive enough to interest a master to befriend one. A true teacher picks the student because a student has no idea to whom he or she should look. Galtung is clearly a great scholar, but his spiritual syncretism is pure mediation tool. Strong on syncretism, but fairly weak on spirit. Useful. Practical as heck… but… ultimately arcing toward competent-but-plodding conflict resolution. We need more. Faster.

    I have the miserable distinction of being an administrator for a popular blog. Just today Professor Galtung’s words about the components and efficacy of apology have played out precisely before my eyes, completely unprompted by me. Commenters who were at each other’s throats yesterday have done a 180 on account of a properly executed apology. In fact, some who were most viciously against the truly repentant commenter are now lobbying for him not to quit posting his diaries and comments, and scolding the still self-righteous among his detractors. So Galtung’s expertise as a mediator for peace is indisputable.

    I believe he errs in the apparent and understandable strong bias against the U.S. and Britain, unless he would be so brave as to suggest realistic ways to speedily-enough stop their aggression, render them impotent. I cannot stress enough that we are, in fact, in the grip of TWO global emergencies. Emergencies. It is NOT just the oppressors who have to wake up RIGHT NOW. No. Indeed, it is equally the duty of the oppressed and the bystanders to wake up, stand up, FUNCTION. These lectures should be taking place everywhere, and at all levels, even down to the completely illiterate of every nation. This stuff, very seriously, is not for intellectuals alone.

  3. Servant
    30 June, 2007

    Galtung’s cross cultural summary of the Golden Rule went down quite nicely with me and didn’t belie any ignorance of the traditional forms that I could tell. I found no fault with anything he said.

    I enjoyed his thoughts about the Hindu trinity, which includes destruction and failure as real near valid possibilities. We in the west are conditioned to think that failure is not a real option and therefore we always fail to plan for it.

    I like the idea of a cultural smorgasbord where we are free to pick and choose lessons we find useful from any tradition without covering unified theory completely. A short talk in a long seminar must feel quite confining next to so many other well informed speakers.

    I heard something quite new for me in his way of looking at conflict. We’ve all heard the saying “if you want peace work for justice” which is a relatively recent permutation of the golden rule. But he said that what goes around comes around must be measured at the point of origin. I have never heard anyone define it so clearly as a quid pro quo. We receive what we wish for others.

    So it is Quixotic for Israel to clamor for justice while withholding it from Palestine at the same time.

    He also said that the key to conflict resolution is to help people create new realities, which is why I love the mission statement here at Reclaiming Space.

    There’s quite a lot of material to cover here, Professor Ann. Can you tell us what’s going to be on the quiz?


  4. Nasim Fekrat
    1 July, 2007

    Salam! I am writing from Afghanistan, you have a nice blog here

  5. peoplesgeography
    1 July, 2007

    Thanks very much for the excellent discussion which really has done justice to the import of Galtung’s talk and welcome aboard Nasim, good to have an Afghani visit.

    99, thanks for the astute observations re. the wonderful potential as well as potential pitfalls of taking a syncretic approach. I think literal meaning can be a problem everywhere and a lack of spritual imagination is in part what impedes our progress, in tune with your point about the lopping off heads language being meant for internal work rather than to be literally played out. I appreciate your point about self-righteousness as a blinder in your blog administrator experience, which confirms for me that honest humility serves as a clarifier. This stuff does indeed deserve wide dissemination.

    Serv thanks very much for your always excellent insights. “We in the west are conditioned to think that failure is not a real option and therefore we always fail to plan for it.” Civilisation, Plan B? :D Here’s to doing our bit to create new and better shared realities, of the creative, positive, urgent, fruitful, sustainable, empowered kind.

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Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"