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“ON PEACE PSYCHOLOGY OF OUR TIMES” by Olga Louchakova-Schwartz

This theme was on my mind for a while, but it became especially demanding over the last week, in conjunction with a New Year’s conversation with an old friend. The conversation was supposed to be a good one—two old friends looking back on the passed 2022—but the end of our talking suddenly went sour. I doubt that we will talk again any time soon. What revealed a deep disagreement between us was the topic of war and peace. The dilemma that it brought to my mind is nearly Hamletian, whether one should choose war over peace, or peace over war.  The question is, of course, a complicated one. I intentionally simplify it to nearly an abstraction, disconnected from the purposes and circumstances of a particular war. I do so because (it seems to me after the conversation with my friend) all of us spiritual people somehow forgot the value of peace, the value of nonviolence, and the value of ahimsa.

In the 1990s, serious practice of non-violence among the former hippies was an a priori, a given. We took to vegetarianism because we did not want to participate, even indirectly,  in the slaughter of animals. The first dissertation I read in transpersonal psychology described the horrors of the mass murder of animals and birds by profiteer food corporations. Then came a dissertation on the possibilities of a peaceful resolution to the bloody conflict between Israel and Palestine. Then, a dissertation on the role of peace in the healing of trauma.  We learned–not just because peace was a spiritual value but because we view it as psychologists, that there is always a path out of any conflict, a path that leads to the co-existence of opposites through a  non-violent dialogue. A path of sanity amidst psychoses.  But now, peace psychology is somehow out of vogue.  Mentioning it to my friend, a former Gurdjieffian and nowadays faithful Episcopalian, caused his absolute, angry,  self-righteous rejection.

My friend argued that a good war is better than a bad peace. But I cannot doubt that peace is a higher value, an absolute value. Older religions, which had their share of violent fights in history, tell us that peace, love, compassion – values preserving life–come before things such as justice or fairness.  “Do not kill” is the absolute value. Leaving my friend aside, I am thinking about Bhagavad-Gita, and Arjuna on the battlefield facing his friends and relatives in the bloody war. He has to kill them all, and he is in doubt if he should. God tells him: You are not killing them because I already did. One can give all responsibility to God, or one can think of killing as a non-dualist.  But even if one is a non-dualist for whom “nothing ever happened”, and the world with its suffering is held to be an illusion, one knows that invoking this outlook is better done in tranquility than in a mind clouded by violent passions.  The admission of violence into human relationships has never solved any problems: remember the endless wheel of Buddhist Kalachakra with rage at its core.  Legitimizing violence, i.e., legitimizing massive human losses due to war, assumes “the other” is not worthy of being. It assumes dehumanizing, de-“consciousness-izing” in our minds the other persons, other cultures, and other countries. Remember Roy Batty’s remark in Blade Runner: “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”  I do not think we, as humankind,  should agree on such useless losses.

Another reason we should not agree on losses of human lives to wartime violence is that mass killing of people is not easy. It needs special machines–and machines designed for killing take a toll on the environment. In writing this essay, I tried to find how much heat, exhaust, carbon trace, toxic gas emission, etc. a single missile explosion produces – no such data! How long will it take the soil to recover its structure so that something can grow on this devastated soil? Visit the lava fields of Kona to see what comes out of artillery shelling, not even mention the nukes. How much stress can the earth’s mantle take before the next earthquake or tsunami?  And what’s the toll of generational grief and hate in the wake of the use of these weapons in human communities? And if our economies depend on the production of such weapons, doesn’t it mean that “something is rotten” in our reasoning and needs to be stopped and rethought?

The philosopher Rene Girard once had an experience which one can qualify as “spiritual emergence”. He realized that violence is built into the very nature of life, and thus, unavoidable. Our myths, e.g., the myth of the crucifixion, reflect this violence, as well as striving for redemption. But it seems to me, redeeming violence via more violence will never succeed. We need to step back, pause and think, before pouring more fuel into the raging fire. The old-fashioned, hippie-ish peace psychology still has its uses, and it seems so today more than ever.


– Olga Louchakova-Schwartz