Prof. Michael Nagler: The Reason Behind All Wars Is Egoism
According to Prof. Michael Nagler, the Occupy Wall Street movement was a popular uprising against the greediness and materialism of the influential 1 percent that controls and runs the media, multinational corporations and interest groups.
Regarding the future of the peaceful, non-violent movements in the United States and other parts of the world, Prof. Nagler said, “I can’t predict what will actually happen, but I can predict with certainty that to the extent these movements learn and practice nonviolence in the right spirit, they will succeed to exactly that extent. And I can say with equal certainty that there is no other way. Governments that recognize this reality and have the courage and dignity to respond to such nonviolent movements will save themselves and the rest of the world enormous suffering.”
Prof. Michael N. Nagler is a prominent American peace activist and a Professor Emeritus at University of California, Berkeley. Since 2008, he has served as the co-chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. Currently, he is the president of the Metta Center for Nonviolence Education, a public organization which is dedicated to raising public awareness of nonviolence and keeping activists informed. Nagler is a proponent of the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and has won the 2007 Jamnalal Bajaj International Award for Promoting Gandhian Values Outside India. Nagler is the author of 2001 book “The Search For A Nonviolent Future.”
Fars News Agency had the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with Prof. Nagler regarding the importance of nonviolence and peaceful resistance, the Occupy Wall Street movement as one of the significant nonviolent endeavors of the recent years in the United States and the military expeditions of the Western powers in the Middle East. What follows is the text of the interview.
Q: Why do you think the Occupy Wall Street movement emerged and turned from a nationwide protest against the economic policies of the administration into a movement that challenged the different aspects of the US governance, including its foreign policy and military expeditions in the Middle East?
A: All these issues are connected. It was economic hardship that first precipitated the protest, as it did in Greece, Spain, and other countries, but the underlying concern was always broader, a dissatisfaction with the whole direction of modern, industrial life. The same people who resent being taken advantage of by the banks and corporations tend to be those who fear and resent our dangerous policies abroad.
Q: In your view, how has the powerful, affluent one percent gained such an enormous amount of economic wealth and political influence in the United States? I’m referring to the multinational corporations, interest groups and mainstream media that are being run and controlled by an influential minority. Where is the source of their economic means and political dominance?
A: Ultimately, the source of their power is the worship of money, or materialism and greed. Materialism and greed always rise in those who are not aware that they have inner resources. They are not aware that, as Gandhi said, “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need. There isn’t enough for everyone’s greed.” Naturally, in a world of greed those who are clever at getting wealth for themselves, which today often means manipulating abstract and convoluted financial systems better than others, gain wealth which gives them power, again, because so many people have undue respect for wealth and little awareness of our real, inner -wealth.
Q: In your writings, you frequently refer to the non-violent struggles of the legendary Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and his efforts to liberate India from the jail of the British imperial rule. How is it possible for the freedom fighters of the contemporary world to replicate Gandhi’s model and use non-violence as a means for realizing their sublime goals?
A: It is actually happening, though at a smaller scale and by people who don’t have his tremendous self-mastery. More than half the world has experienced a nonviolent uprising of some kind, many of which succeeded. We need to learn more about the “science” of “soul-force” that Gandhi developed, and train ourselves to use it. It would be a blessing if such a leader were to arise again, but we should not wait for that to happen, but instead take training and learning in nonviolence. This is why I have written my book, The Nonviolence Handbook, which will be available in April.
It will also be necessary, of course, to develop a long-term strategy. Ideally we should all be doing personal empowerment, which each of us can do without any particular organizing, then look for what Gandhi called a “Constructive Programme” of things we can do without waiting on the government, and then be prepared to undertake direct action where the government in question has not responded.
Q: What should people do when their civil disobedience movements and peaceful protests are crushed and suppressed violently? You surely noted that the NY Police responded to the Occupy protesters of 2011 and 2012 in a harsh manner, arresting hundreds and imprisoning many others. Does the containment of the Occupy movement mean that its ambitions and objectives failed to be realized?
A: The Occupy movement in America has not completely failed. They made the mistake of taking to protest and confrontation first, without the preparation I just referred to: personal empowerment, constructive programs, training, self-education, building a strategy. In the case of Occupy, they are now pursuing more or less these very steps. So I would say that their immediate objectives were not realized, but in other ways they did succeed – showing their discontent, building networks, raising issues that had been deliberately ignored, etc. If they build on those successes we could well see very encouraging developments in future.
Q: As a scholar who has studied war, peace and conflict resolution, what do you think is the underlying reason for the wars and military confrontations that break out around the world, especially those in which the great powers such as the United States, Britain or France are involved? What’s your analysis of the causes for the eruption of such wars, which particularly take place in our tumultuous region, the Middle East?
A: I find it useful to look as deeply as possible into the underlying motives, or driving forces, behind large-scale violence, and when I do I find that the “reason” behind all wars is the same: egoism, the failure to empathize with or identify with others. Each war may have different excuses, the countries in question may be giving different reasons, whether truthfully or not, but underneath them all is the failure to recognize oneself in others, the alienation caused by exaggerated self-interest and egoism.
The conflicts in the Middle East may be particularly harmful and particularly dangerous, but they are caused by human beings and the same dark forces within all human beings. Therefore, the search for peace will have to be carried on not only on the level of diplomacy but in the cultures that glorify violence and wars. The recent slight movement toward understanding on the part of your country and mine, even if there are twisted motives behind it in some quarters, is a very welcome breakthrough that should be built on. There is no enmity whatever between the American people and the people of Iran; we should keep that in view always and build a peace program on it.
Q: Do you agree that many of the wars which are waged in the name of combating terrorism or liberating the nations are in effect wars for dominating the natural resources of the weaker countries and dominating them geopolitically? Many of these wars, like the war on Iraq or Afghanistan, simply wreak havoc on the civilian population and never bring any welfare to the subjected people. What’s your viewpoint on that?
A: I agree with the viewpoint you expressed, though once you get above the basic underlying fear and alienation in people there are usually complex reasons for enmity between peoples. Some Americans, including policy makers, are doubtless motivated in part by the imperialistic and greedy motives you mentioned, but in others the fears that are artificially exaggerated by the media, the general ignorance of other cultures, passivity and pessimism, also play a role. Still other Americans, we must not forget, have strenuously opposed these policies, and even given their lives for peace in the Middle East – think of Rachel Corrie, for example.
Q: You once wrote about the S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act and the fact that the Congress is going to give the US Presidents in the future the right to kill the American citizens without holding trials. We also have the PATRIOT Act by which the government can unrestrictedly monitor the phone calls or email correspondence of the American people. Can we link these restrictions imposed on the social freedoms and civil liberties of the American citizens to the 9/11 attacks and the fear that the administration has been trying to instill in the American society afterward?
A: Yes, of course, this is what happens in every country: enmity is exaggerated and people are made insecure as a means of control; a highly dangerous practice, but unfortunately a common one. And, as I say, that tactic has been used by every regime I know of: the more they cling to power, the more they use it. In the West, and elsewhere, “terrorism” is the latest scapegoat, the latest excuse for militarization at home and abroad – the role played by “Communism” in earlier decades. But we should remember that while “terrorism” is used as an excuse, it is also real. A very real threat. Therefore regimes that promote or tolerate terrorism of any kind are actually feeding the militarism in those Western countries, making things harder for themselves.
Q: Unmanned drones that unleash bombs on specific targets are the latest war technology being used by the US government against the civilian population in such countries as Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. These drones are said to be aimed at targeting the terrorists, but simply claim the lives of innocent citizens. Don’t you consider the drone attacks a violation of the sovereignty of these countries? If so, then who is responsible for administering justice to the US for this violation?
A: I firmly believe that it is first and foremost the responsibility of the American people themselves to bring this horrible practice to an end. My vision of justice, a justice that would engage nonviolent principles and lead to reconciliation, is what’s called restorative rather than retributive justice. In restorative justice, which is slowly gaining ground in US schools and even the prison system, offenders are invited to take responsibility for their acts and make amends, thus rejoining the community which, or in which, they committed offenses. The principle works as well in the international community as within a given society, though in the int’l community the institutions to exercise it are hardly developed; all the more reason that it becomes the responsibility of Americans themselves. While I am not a great believer in national sovereignty, because all people are part of the human family and that is becoming increasingly obvious, I of course reject utterly the use of violence against anyone for any reason, and therefore of course I cannot abide the practice of aerial bombing by drones or any other means.
Q: What’s your prediction for the future of civil, non-violent movements in the world, especially those which challenge the uncontestable dominance of the hegemonic powers? Can these movements lead to success and bring about a change in the way our world is ruled?
A: I can’t predict what will actually happen, but I can predict with certainty that to the extent these movements learn and practice nonviolence in the right spirit, they will succeed to exactly that extent. And I can say with equal certainty that there is no other way. Governments that recognize this reality and have the courage and dignity to respond to such nonviolent movements will save themselves and the rest of the world enormous suffering. As John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make nonviolent revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” Let us hope that governments recognize this and make nonviolent change possible in their respective countries. But even if they do not, if civil movements are truly nonviolent they will finally prevail.