Peace requires inventing. What else could ‘inventing’ mean here than the creation of something new. Usually war and peace are seen as the opposite of each other, there is either war or peace. In many ways, we can hear the echo of George Orwell, when he astutely wrote that the great propaganda machines of the twentieth century have claimed war as peace and peace as war. We can say that it is even more amplified in the twenty-first century. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to peace is the fear of peace – that is, there is a fear of uncertainty, since most of us have no adequate moral or visual vocabulary for peace.
German author Bertolt Brecht captures this absurdity of war and peace in his 1939 play “Mother Courage and her Children”:
Sergeant: It’s too long since they had a war here; stands to reason. Where’s their sense of morality to come from? Peace – that’s just a mess; takes war to restore order. Peacetime, the human race runs wild. People and cattle get buggered, who cares? . . . I’ve been in places ain’t seen war for nigh seventy years: folks hadn’t got names, couldn’t tell one another apart. Takes a war to get proper nominal rolls and inventories – shoes in bundles and corn in bags, and man and beast properly numbered and carted off, cause it stands to reason: no order, no war.1
A moral equivalent of war
What Brecht captures so well is how war is valorized, and peace becomes subsumed under the moral advances and passions that war engenders. For instance, virtues such as courage, heroism, hope, trust are produced by the necessity of war not of peace, just as peace is most often understood as ‘abstract’ and inconceivable and war as real and inevitable. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the American philosopher and psychologist William James wrote that we need to find a “moral equivalent of war”,2 since all the passions and virtues of war outweigh any moral significance or virtue of peace. Peace might be considered boring and uneventful in this light, as James suggests, we must “foster rival excitements, and invent new outlets for heroic energy”.3
Moreover, James writes that humans have adapted themselves to war in such a way that it is ingrained in our very cellular memories. It is the embodied habits of memory and culture that dictate our reactions to threat and conflict: “Man lives by habits indeed, but what he lives for is thrills and excitements. The only relief from habit’s tediousness is periodical excitement.”4
Humans are the only species that has developed the systematic habits of war through its language and technologies.[See James] We must consider these habits to orchestrate change, because when we live in a world of habit, we lose sight of the fact that war and peace arise from a common source or problem – that is, how to address violence. We can say that the dialectic of war and peace tends to be the norm in our thinking and morality, but this is a badly stated problem.
In the early part of the twentieth century, French philosopher Henri Bergson wrote about the problem of human habits and perception in response to the scientific thinking and philosophy of his time.5 Today, his writing gives us a method to consider this problem of war and peace. For Bergson, the problem of perception in a philosophical as well as an ordinary sense is that of badly stated questions or problems: humans tend to pose questions that assume ‘correct’ answers or absolute truths. So while it is necessary to acknowledge the dialectic structures of war and peace that frame so much of our cultural habits and perceptions of peace, rather than repeating these habits of mind and memory, we must pose new questions.
So how do we address the question of peace?
Bergson again offers some clues. For Bergson, all creative enterprise, all forms of invention rest in the power to decide, to constitute problems in themselves, that is, to invent what did not exist. For Bergson, there is a difference between inventing and discovery. Discovery is what might already exist, actually or virtually, so it will happen sooner or later. We might say, then to invent – as Bergson writes “gives being to what did not exist; it might never have happened.”6
To invent involves a creative impulse that arises from an open question, in this case: How do we invent peace? For Bergson, invention comes out of the creative potential of mind and memory. In essence, life is about energy and movement; the material world moves through a continual flow of time (duration), just as the mind inhabits the world of memory and imagination.7 In this view, our individual lives are quintessentially embodied time, the creative flows and energies that arise out of the real as it is lived and actualized.
To invent involves a creative impulse that arises from an open question, in this case: How do we invent peace?
So all worldly experience exists in the realm of time that is indivisible. We are immersed in time that co-exists on different levels and planes of experience (that is, memories, feelings and habits), whether we perceive them or not. While Bergson offers us a good account of lived time, he does not fully account for the moments of ‘interruption’ that are states of relaxation, the moments between stillness and action – the flow or rhythm of another kind – that are the ground of being.
French philosopher Gaston Bachelard suggests that lived experience is composed of moments of stillness and action, just as it is composed of flow and movement. For Bachelard, change arises out of “interruptions” in the flow of lived time, for instance, the conditions of repose – moments of reverie where there is stillness, an opening out of time and its density.8 Reverie understood in this way is not daydream in the usual sense; Reverie is the moment when thought and consciousness become pure states of observation and understanding. It is an awakening to the richness of reality and consciousness. Even more so, reverie is the imaginative potential of the human mind and the real that informs it.9
In this respect, Bachelard writes that matter is first dreamed and not perceived. Imagination comes out of the material world that we experience, not the other way around. Usually imagination is considered a collection of sense perceptions combined, but, for Bachelard, each moment has an imaginative potential to create and transform how we look at the world, because it is the world that speaks. In this potential, we can move between moments of stillness and action, of movement and perception. This potential can unite what may seem contrary, inexplicable or divisive in our perceptive habits. Bachelard writes, “One dreams in front of his fire, and the imagination discovers that the fire is the motive force for a world. One dreams in front of a spring and the imagination discovers that water is the blood of the earth, that the earth has living depths.”10
Inventing, then, arises out of a different understanding of time and space. This time is not clock time, but living time, the cycles and movements of life and death that are much like the seasons. In ‘real time’, change is inherent in every action, in every possibility. It is our habitual patterns of thinking that fragment time and immobilize it, so thinking becomes static and closed. A society that is closed in Bergson’s view has limited morals and spiritual temperament.11 We might say that a fragmented worldview separates and alienates us from one another, and in this alienation we lose sight of the uniqueness of each and every encounter in a more ecological state of mind.
Inventing, then, arises out of a different understanding of time and space. This time is not clock time, but living time, the cycles and movements of life and death that are much like the seasons.
Bergson offers a useful account of the time to invent, a method to help us pose questions about peace, just as he gives a sense of life’s energy and flow in time and its potential mystery. Just as Bachelard invites us to consider the time and space of living that can transform the very act of seeing, he writes that every moment is fertile in its newness and difference, its poetry. Memory in its etymological shape invites us to consider the Latin memor, which suggests the presence of mind, so there is a certain depth in each moment, each moment is pregnant with experience.12 It is in this quality of seeing that we move toward memory; with a certain presence of mind, we can look toward the past with grace as well as acceptance.
It is in the enduring quality of time that genuine experience and connectedness to the world can arise – Martin Buber calls this ‘genuine dialogue’ because it is in the flow of experience we are able to relate to each other and experience the world. As Buber notes, “the present is not fugitive and transient, but continually present and enduring.”13
It is the enduring quality of time that moves us closer to the infinite, but, as Rainer Maria Rilke once noted, there is another world out there, but it is the same as this one.