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Our Race to the Bottom

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With our daily news running to atrocity after tragedy, Americans are frightened and angry. Some are resonating with hate talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh or quintessentially enraged TV bloviators like Bill O’Reilly.

This gets them pushed toward candidates who use the same or similar self-righteous militarized rhetoric. It paints Americans as victims, the system as rigged against us, and the world full of ungrateful evil misfits who unjustly hate and attack us.

This strand of candidate sees its exemplar in Donald Trump, of course, but the angry white man rhetoric runs like a bright red thread throughout the entire rightwing side of the American political landscape. The risible reaction from Paul Ryan to overt racism, when he builds at least a good portion of his career and base on covert, dog-whistle structural racism, should tell us something.

But can we imagine a solution that does not involve even more hypermilitarization than we already see, with the US attacking in at least eight countries around the world, against whomever it likes, at will? Can we foresee a day when our paychecks are not shredded by Pentagon expenses that gobble up half our tax dollars every year?

In my field of Conflict Transformation we can envision a conversion to that world, that structure, that social civilization that spends its resources on life-affirming goods and services, that has a robust safety net for all, and that draws no hatred from those who live in other places of the world. That vision is only a fantasy unless we offer realistic steps to achieve it, of course, so that is what we study, research, and teach. Frankly, we are barreling down the tracks on a runaway militarized train of hatred and fear right now, so our first baby steps are needed to slow, stop, and ultimately change course onto a much better track, the track of peace and justice.

To begin, we might do best by taking these measures:

-Increasing funding and emphasis on research to determine both anecdotally and empirically the salient characteristics of a society that has strong indictors of social justice, civil discourse, peaceful relations with others, prosperity for most, and citizen satisfaction.

-Begin pilot projects that experiment with incorporating the findings of such research into portions of our American culture.

-Begin decreasing our heavy dependence on global military dominance and start shifting to projects that feature collaboration rather than fierce and forceful competition.

None of these changes are major and all could inform us about the possibilities. The good news is that research already exists that can help us take these steps with confidence and success. Then, as we see the relative benefits and low comparative costs, we can make additional informed decisions.

Right now, sadly, we are racing to the bottom. Before we hit it, and please understand that the bottom is the use of nuclear weapons by a US President acting while full of irrational blind hatred, can we access our big human brains that know how to imagine, to dream, to create workable new paths to peace and prosperity? It is truly up to us.

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Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice

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