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Taking a stand for peace: Inside or outside the tribe?

Community is important, but there is a risk of being subsumed into a collectivity in a way that diminishes one's ability to see the humanity of others outside it. Jeremy Driscoll:

It is possible to say we in a mistaken and dangerous way. This would be the we of a nation or any group that is said at the expense of the individual subject, the individual I, such that there are no Is in the we; their only identity is their we. Sometimes people are forced into such a we, as in totalitarian governments; other times they choose it, as in a radical and mindless belonging to a group. When there is this kind of we, it is possible to look at others as only a they...

One can stand outside all tribes to defend an ideology of peace, but then, belonging to none, one receives the scorn from all. Alan Watts:

It is both dangerous and absurd for our world to be a group of communions mutually excommunicate. This is especially true of the great cultures of the East and the West, where the potentialities of communication are the richest, and the dangers of failure to communicate the worst. ... On the one hand, it is necessary to be sympathetic and to experiment personally with the way of life to the limit of one's possibilities. On the other hand, one must resist every temptation to "join the organization," to become involved with its institutional commitments. In this friendly neutral position one is apt to be disowned by both sides.

But even when disowned by people, one may have the company of one's ideals. Balzac in The Inventor’s Suffering refers to "moral aloneness," which Erich Fromm describes as the thing that monks and political prisoners lack – they are not alone because they have the company of their convictions.

To practice peace is to have the ability to see suffering others – when it really counts, when one can do something about it – as part of one human family, regardless of tribe. Michael Lerner:

Imagine that you lived in a family in which there were five children. One of those children had been given 40 percent of the resources of the family, a second had 32 percent, a third had 20 percent, a fourth was struggling with 6 percent of the resources, and one was starving to death with only 2 percent of the resources. Surely you would reject the argument of the richest child who praised the arrangements and pointed to the way that it was good for the family because a majority of the children were thriving. You’d say: “No, it is unacceptable to see one of these children starving and another struggling so hard to survive. This is a crazy and immoral arrangement, and it must immediately be changed. I will not be part of any arrangement that has these consequences.” The only reason we don’t say that about the world we live in today is because we refuse to acknowledge these others as actually part of our family.


Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B. A Monk's Alphabet: Moments of Stillness in a Turning World. Boston: New Seeds, 2006. p. 196.

Alan Watts. The Way of Zen. Originally 1957. Vintage Spiritual Classics Edition 1999. p xi-xii.

Erich Fromm. Escape from Freedom. New York: Avon, 1941. pp. 34-35.

Michael Lerner. The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right. HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. p. 341-342.


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