Peace for Life: Pluralism,Economism

International Conference on Peace for Life in North East Asia
Korea Christian Faculty Fellowship
15. – 19. May 2005 at Roman Catholic Retreat Center, Uiwang, Korea

Reaction paper to Professor Lu Feng’s

“Pluralism, Economism, and the Two Kinds of War”
Prof. Dr. Mark E. Caprio

My heart skipped a beat upon learning of my responsibility for this conference: responding to a paper written on what appeared to be a topic concerning China. It skipped a few more beats after I received Professor Lu’s paper: while not particularly on China, its focus entered fields even more foreign to me—economics and philosophy. I consider myself a student of modern Korean matters with primarily interests in contemplating historical and political science questions. I have what I consider to be a natural human interest in peace topics, albeit one that I have not considered extensively at the academic level. Professor Lu’s paper, though, makes a rather sophisticated statement to answer a very fundamental question: why do we continue to wage war against each other? I will offer what I fear will be a rather unsophisticated response to Professor Lu’s academic treatment of this funda-mental question.

Professor Lu succeeds in turning one of the fundamental capitalist tenets on its head: the idea that the more states strengthen their economic relations the less likely they are to wage war against each other. The reasoning behind this tenet seems rather logical: the more states have to lose (i.e. in economic investment and trade) the less likely they are to run the risk of throwing it all away by engaging in war against each other. It should thus follow that the more globalized the world becomes the less likely that states will engage in war. This paper challenges this assertion: we have succeeded in establishing procedures for economism but not an ethics of globalism.

One of the turnoffs that has dissuaded me from pursuing economic studies is its omni-presence, a point also made by Professor Lu. It dominates our education in subtle and not so subtle ways. It is entrusted far too often with providing answers to questions over moral value, of objects, but also people and even ideas. What are its costs overrides con-siderations of what is right or wrong. An 1871 article published in the liberal magazine The Nation exposes this rather crudely when it argued for the education of the Native American by citing expense as a reason to end the slaughter of Native Americans: killing them ($70,000 per head), it calculated, was much more expensive than educating them. Modern day examples of economic statistics being used to attach a monetary value to life are much more prevalent today.

Professor Lu’s paper points to two wars that are a direct result of this economism: the war on nature and the continued human wars. Both wars are based on greed. The war on nature is based on the determination of the human race to expand economically even in the face of environmental catastrophe. Protect the environment, but not at the expense of the present “Ultimate Reality”: economic growth. Indeed, environmental protection has adopted economic principles as the wealthy states barter emission reduction points with the developing countries whose emission levels remain below their allotted “quotas.” The wealthiest of states withholds its participation when a major environmental agreement requires the less developed states to accept less of the burden of responsibility. It con-veniently ignores the scientific evidence that demonstrates a direct link between global warming and human behavior. Little progress can be made with the world’s largest pro-ducer of ozone threatening emissions refusing to budge on its stubborn policy of accept-ing its responsibility.
A similar phenomenon is seen in the nuclear arms race as the five blessed states—those al-lowed to hold nuclear weapons—refuse to disarm (and in one case endeavor to create the next generation of weapons) while threatening states who refuse to cooperate with sanc-tions and preemptive attack to halt their nuclear development—peaceful or otherwise. In a similar vein, the world’s premier arms dealer paints as evil governments that sell weapons to their fellow “rogue states,” without a hint of recognizing the contradiction in its policy, without even an attempt to search for solutions that address the roots of the problem—the embargos and economic restrictions that prevent such states from engaging in “legal” economic transitions.

I can find no better example to illustrate this than the behavior of Non-proliferation treaty (NPT) review going on as we speak. This treaty, delivered in 1970, sought to control the nuclear arms race by 1) stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and 2) rollback the weapons held by the five states that had conducted a nuclear weapons test to date. The proliferation side of the bargain until recently has proven to be rather exceptional: the numbers of states with clear nuclear weapons potential has risen slowly and no non-nuclear member state has verifiably been proven to be true. On the other hand, the non-nuclear state NPT review meeting participants again bring to the table their disappointment over the failure of the nuclear states to destroy their nuclear arsenals.

Such behavior increases the chance for war as friction develops and intensifies between the states that have and the states that do not have. This road is not new to us. It is a sce-nario that history has repeated often, one that also creates friction in society, as well. Quoting Apel, Professor Lu emphasizes two important principles: all members of commu-nities sharing equal rights and accepting equal responsibility. The two must work together. All too often—both at home and abroad—hegemonic societies and states demand equal responsibility without ensuring equal rights.

The second wars addressed by Professor Lu include those fought globally between recog-nized states, and those fought internally between different ethnic or political factions within a state. Again economics plays an important role. Conglomerates realize a short-term benefit from the sale of their war-related products to the warring states (and at times to both sides). Yet, more critical are the long-term benefits from war, particularly the fear that sweeps the nation throughout its duration and aftermath sustains a war-dependant economy.

This war-dependant economy depends on wars for other reasons, as well. Such an economy thrives on developing stronger weapons that require not only a threat to maintain their demand, but wars to test their reliability. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are two examples: two different (uranium and plutonium) bombs, dropped on two civilian populations, on two cities previously untouched by this war, within three days. Japan, of course, is not the sole victim of such experimental warfare. Within weeks after the United States entered the Korean War one writing made the following prediction: the war would serve “as a test-ing ground for new weapons. Korea may turn out to be like the Spanish civil war, where [Germany, Italy, and Russia] tried out some of their weapons before World War II.” This was not a prediction entered into a secret document penned by a military strategist, but speculation included in an article published in a popular U.S. weekly magazine.1 One year and a few months later this same magazine asked whether the war—now already “the ‘Forgotten War’”—will “be used indefinitely to blood troops, test weapons, try out new tactics for later big wars?”2

The absence of peace is also beneficial to maintain social fear. This also has its economic and strategic benefits. Fear of invasion by first Russia and then by North Korea (next China?) has prolonged the U.S. military occupation in Northeast Asia for decades after these political occupations ended. North Korean missile capabilities—now (we are told) within seven minutes striking distance from U.S. territory—require budgeting for multi-billion dollar missile defense systems that redistribute money away from critical social needs and once again threaten to launch a needless arms race. This result, of course, serves a number of interests—both economic and political, domestic and diplomatic—that I am sure do not need to be spelled out here.

Rather than concentrate on the problem, I would like to devote the remainder of this paper to discussion to alternative solutions to this madness. Let’s return to Professor Lu’s paper for guidance. His argument for solution emphasizes pluralism over relativism to establish a “universal ethic.” If my interpretation of this argument is correct, Professor Lu is ar-guing the value of diversity in supernatural principle (pluralism) over diversity in human interpretation of these core principles (relativism).
This argument relies on the premise that since human values and morals overlap, we have common ground to begin the dialogue needed to determine the content of this universal ethic. It notes that historically we have enshrined these overlapping elements in our code of ethics: the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have others do unto you), Chinese philosophy (Mencius and people being “citizens of the universe”), and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. The problem is that states, and particularly democracies, neglect to practice internationally what they advocate at home. Democratic consideration is a right beholden to only those who agree with its tenets.

Professor Lu argues, however, that democracy must be practiced in both arenas. We cannot expect the ideology to spread if we do not demonstrate its benefits to those who do not obey its principles. A “democratic international society,” Lu continues, requires our “transcending modernity” to reach a higher plateau: “People must cultivate more their ar-gumentative reason and become more reasonable animals. They not only should use ar-gumentative reason to calm down the conflicts within a state, but also should use it to calm down the conflicts in the world.” International law has to replace the use of force to calm both domestic and international conflict.

Professor Lu’s challenge requires reexamination of the very foundation of the nation, and the institutions upon which it was built and is sustained. None more important is the ba-sic premise upon which our compulsory education systems are built. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights that demands free and compulsory education for every child is based, I believe, on the idea that the fundamentals of education—reading, writing, and arithmetic—are the fundamental building blocks for success in life. At the national level this fundamental institution provides the stepping-stones for the creation of its citizens. History classes promote national histories, language classes develop national language skills, and arithmetic classes (in the United States at least) capitalist thinking. This is true, and considered natural, in the majority of education situations around the world. States such as Germany and Japan, forced by neighbors to include their dirty historical laundry in their compulsory education textbooks are exceptions rather than the rule here.

To promote the world that Professor Lu envisions requires the challenging task of chang-ing the way we educate our children, and the way we promote educational challenges in human life after graduation. For democracy to be successful, the goal of education must shift from national to international; from learning how to seek information to learning how to evaluate information; from learning how to answer questions to learning how to ask questions. In other words, our target should be the creation of the thinking human being. More states have to be held accountable for the information included in the education ma-terials they provide for their students.

While Professor Lu’s challenge preaches optimism, I remain pessimistic. I am familiar with but two education systems—that of two of the more powerful economic states in the world—the United States and Japan. At least at the compulsory level—elementary and junior high school—it would appear the goals to limit rather than expand the human ca-pacity to think. And in the United States, with the popularity of standard testing, it would seem the trajectory to be de-evolutionary, rather than progressive. As in Japan (and other states) this education targets the test, limits choices to the correct choice, and stifles crea-tivity and imagination. For Professor Lu’s vision to have a chance we need imagination and creativity.

Finally, Professor Lu’s treatise places great faith in the principles of democracy, the success of which depends on our commitment to universal ethics. The democratic system is probably the best political system available to us at this time. Yet, present societies will find difficulties approaching the goals laid out in this paper without a fundamental overhaul in our thinking toward this ideology. One problem involves lethargic interest. Democ-racy requires rule by the majority, even if it is a slim one. More often than not the victor in an election does not even attain a majority, but simply wins because his or her 30-some percent is better than that accumulated by the other opponents. With more people opting to forego their right to vote, victorious candidates are actually gaining even less of the population’s overall approval.

A second problem with contemporary democracy is the economics behind it. Fair elec-tions don’t permit vote buying but not much is said in regard to influence buying which begins with the election contributions that big businesses and people of financial means make as a down payment to future influence should the candidate of their choice prevail.

These influences rarely consider, much less support, the interests of the minority sectors of society, which when combined often form a silent social majority. To have their voices heard will require a serious adjustment to the principles to which democracy aspires at pre-sent. There may come a time when the “steadfast believer in economism and consumer-ism…[has already] become the minority” will have “dropped out from the mainstream of human lives.” But this does not necessarily mean that these principles will weaken in the influence that they wield over society as a whole. The success of the Ultimate Real-ity—Nature—faces a strong, perhaps even perhaps insurmountable, opponent in economism. Perhaps the papers and discussions of this workshop will guide us in the di-rection to strengthen its chances.


1 “Enemy has Big Edge—at Start,” U.S. News and World Report (July 14, 1950): 19.
2 “Korea: The ‘Forgotten War,’” U.S. News and World Report (October 5, 1951): 21.

Mark E. Caprio: Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan