Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed
As the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) celebrates the 71st birthday of its Constitution (November 16) where the phrase is enshrined and has given UNESCO its motto: Building Peace in the Minds of Men and Women. It might have been overlooked in the hype over the election of Donald Trump as the next US President - incidentally on the anniversary of the symbolic end to the Cold War in the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9). Incidentally too, Trump was born just days before the signing of the Charter of the United Nations which makes their fates remarkably intertwined, and maybe too co-dependent. On my calendar, too, is another anniversary, that of the Commonwealth People’s Forum in Uganda, Africa on this day (November 18) and encounter with another world leader, Prince Charles who celebrates a birthday on November 14.
UNESCO’s anniversary focus on its goals for a culture of peace and the current climate of unease at the fate of peace efforts, give cause to pause and reflect, not only in the contexts of Trump’s platform pronouncements on the need for walls and to review America’s relationship with these institutions, even as we remember that one of the authors of the UNESCO Constitution was an American - poet/playwright/essayist, Archibald MacLeish.
MacLeish is credited with authorship of the phrase in the UNESCO Constitution, Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed. Of Scottish immigrant parentage, his life’s work pronounces on and paints with haunting prophetic poignancy the pathologic state of panic of a country where individualism has metamorphosed into intense greed reflecting democracy gone awry, floundering freedoms and the rise of fascism and self-serving free enterprise:
And there, there overhead, there, there hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark, the poise, the hover,
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark, the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing -- nothing at all.
From The End of the World,
Archibald MacLeish – American Poet, Author, Essayist
MacLeish has among his legacies of poetry, plays, essays and musings on the minds of men, his achievements as a statesman and Librarian of Congress who set the LoC on the path of the international status it enjoys as a repository of intellectualism and culture. He headed the first US delegation to UNESCO when its Constitution was crafted 71 years ago, and composed the phrase from which is derived the motto of the UN organization charged with the processes – education, culture, science and information - that shape, if not govern, the minds of men. The motto remains embedded in the UNESCO psyche and modus operandi, although America’s relationship with the institution has been on rocky ground intermittently since the 1980s, more intensely so in recent times with renewed uncertainty from Trump’s proposed dollars and cents approach that could easily overlook the more esoteric and intangible values that peace building involves.
The Prince Eyes The Wall of Greatness
It brings to mind another time and another world leader, Prince Charles, who incidentally celebrates his birthday two days before UNESCO. Almost nine years to this day, on November 18, Prince Charles is the chief guest CPF’s Chief Guest at the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF) in Uganda, Africa in the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
The Prince and I, with scores of onlookers, are standing before another wall – The Wall of Greatness.
The Prince’s eye is on one or the other of the messages on the wall. One reads, “A brick a day builds the future from today and a palace for tomorrow.” This wall is constructed from people’s desire for peace, prosperity, equality and equity. The Wall is an open platform for ideas, not unlike the platform and repository of diverse ideas and opinions that founding architects envisioned UNESCO to be.
In the face of looming challenges, seventy years on, how many bricks have been laid and to what extent has these peace building institutions been able to live up to the vision of its founding architects, then intent on constructing a culture of peace out for a world emerging out of the ravages of war, colonialism, Nazism and Hitlerism, racialism, bigotry and prejudice?
The Minds of Men and Women: The clock ticks to Paris Attack
One year ago, hours before the world would be rocked by a fatal series of explosions across Paris on that fateful day in November 2016, the exact thought played in my mind: who knows what lurks in the minds of men and women?
From the days earlier, I sat with scores of other men and women from across the globe,
in utilizing, framing, altering, adapting and crafting mechanisms to help in the construction, and in some cases, deconstruction and reconstruction of the defences of peace.
After an intense two-year-plus of international to local level consultations and discussions, followed by days of sittings to iron out directions, clauses, phrases, and firm up actions and maneuvering the multitude of variations of opinions driven by cultural, social, political and economic differences, we had reached unanimous consensus. Our recommendations for the future direction for global education includes its intersections with culture, information, communication, science, humanities and technologies and incorporates future-looking dimensions of inclusive lifelong learning in synergy with conventional learning forms, and forward thinking global citizenship issues. The Report of the Education Commission, which I chaired, was set before the UNESCO General Conference for approval.
The General Conference is the biennial gathering of member-states, one of the organs – the other is the Executive Board – that approves the suggestions from the meetings of the minds of men and women to construct the defences of peace. Location is the bedecked Salle One at Place de Fortenoy in UNESCO’s Headquarters in Paris.
As I waited for the General Conference to signal its acceptance of the Commission’s work, I thought of the security processes applied to get into the building. It included a system of accreditation along with meeting visa requirements and the airport and immigration requirements of the host country. Then there were the physical security scans from friendly gate keepers, and badges that function as the passport into the meetings. Through the portal of peace, in dark and not so dark suits and demure or colourful dresses, passed benign philosophers, poets, peace advocates and lobbyists. The same processes were used for those of the more radical ilk; technocrats of conservative or liberal order; politicians visionary or mundane. Among them were men and women who held lofty ideals and outlooks and were thrilled to be part of the process of upliftment and charting the course for development in the path of human history; but among them, too, were, also, novices, inexperienced politicians and power mongers and those with petty ambitions, institutional and personal insecurities, harbouring grudges, prejudices and hatreds.
A microcosm of the minds of the men and women in the world poured through the security posts, but the scanners would be hard-pressed to detect any dangers that may lurk in the minds of any of those, I thought, privy to some of, but not all, of the undercurrents – political, social, cultural, economic –and going over potential scenarios and their treatment and handling that will not expose the façade of diplomacy that pervaded the atmosphere.
So what mechanisms were there; what checks on the minds of the men and women entering the walls and halls, and the danger that may lurk therein? What defences did the organization or any of the occupants have if not peace, but war, vengeance, violence raged in some of the minds of the men and women who were entering its walls? What inspection and what security checks were there on these? And what warnings and signals of danger should we look out for?
To build the defences of peace, the institution and those participating were making themselves vulnerable to such unknowns in the minds of men and women.
From unfolding occurrences behind the scenes, it seemed that while the processes of physical security might have been well thought-out, the defences of the institutions and its peace processes remained significantly vulnerable to the unknown, metaphysical elements in the ‘minds of men and women’.
And indeed, this nebulous factor became the source of the most challenging moments of the meetings and encounters within the walls.
It was answered with forethought and careful planning for potential scenarios and identifying markers that will raise flags of potential disruption about which we kept informed from observable ‘trends’. These may take the form of the ideology or pronouncements of an individual or country, the issues they hold on the front burner, the way they might have voted in the past on an issue, the resolutions they might have piloted or in which they would have taken a keen interest.
But was that sufficient? What of those with no known history, who had not articulated a position?
Insidious stirrings on the days involved in moving the Education Commission to consensus had brought closely home how precariously stood the goals of constructing and maintaining the defences of peace, and how easily the selfless contributions of the global community can be overturned by an underdeveloped mind and uninformed actions and posturings of the uninitiated, the uninformed, the ignorant, the insecure and immature egotist.
Emblazoned with Prometheus’ Fire
That the light that seems to irradiate out of the fire of my badly lit ‘Prometheus’ may illuminate the spirits of those who are in charge of the tremendous task of unifying the world through culture.
It crossed my mind that if it was that kind of embedding that was required in constructing this peace, one could not expect that it would be accomplished just by the few minutes within these walls.
The painting framed the deliberations as we put the finishing touches on what has become the global agenda for education that would impact future generations, and I had cause to draw strength and inspiration from it in the ensuing days. I drew attention to it, as did my associate, the Mexican Ambassador to UNESCO with whom I had co-chaired on the UNESCO Programmes and External Relations Commission as we prepared some of the draft decisions that were now before the Education Commission.
Prometheus is the fascinating Robin Hood-like figure of Greek Mythology who is reputed to have stolen fire from the Gods and gave it to mankind. The son of Jupiter, Prometheus personifies forethought, as the one who thinks of and plans for the future, as were many of those who had taken the time to stay in Salle II and conduct the business of future generations, rather than succumb to the effervescent and alluring charms of the host city, Paris.
Those who worked with and empathised with the plight of the underprivileged, the marginalized and disadvantaged, sat through the meetings offering their fire – the light of their knowledge – that will help identify solutions that may alleviate the plight of others, not unlike how Prometheus was moved by the plight of mankind, shivering with the cold, dying from hunger, and the prey of wild beasts, without fire. His father rejects his request to give fire to ease their plight. Jupiter’s generation held the conservative view that if men had fire they might become strong and wise and turn against the Gods, so they demonstrated preference for a world in poverty and ignorance as the already endowed gods continued to amass wealth to maintain power and dominance, not unlike, it seems, some of the leaders in our own generation.
Fired by the potential opportunities envisioned from an education agenda that would reverse traditional notions of the knowledge as the purview of Gods to broaden access to the less privileged, we formulated solutions and resolutions that could ease the plight of those in a world where Pandora’s miseries were multiplying; crafting the tools that would help the marginalized and underprivileged have equal access to the tools and technologies that will help them keep warm and fed. Constructing a more equitable world was one of the defences of peace we could devise.
At times the process was tedious. Like Prometheus, filling his reed with fire, it required patience to draw out one suggestion, that sparked another and another idea. Sometimes one extreme position would spark another extreme position. But others will pop in with idea after idea that will bring each extreme closer together until we reached the point of consensus, which invariably would be celebrated with applause.
People come to the table, whether representing individual, collective or national ideologies, present these, debate and negotiate with others the pros and cons of these, and around the table options are presented, analysed and decided on.
The Wall of Greatness becomes flesh. With all its vagaries, the 70-year old bureaucracy charged with building peace in the minds of men and women, has walls that are porous for negotiation, to collate and engage those who wish to participate in building and fortifying elements of peace in the minds of men.
Yet, it is most vulnerable to the minds of men and women who enter with sometimes fixed, inflexible and hidden agendas that are undetected and impermeable to the systems and mechanisms it have evolved, albeit still in the process to perfection, and which remain the glaring gaps in its defences. In effect, it is in its strength and openness to engage, is also its weaknesses through which those who are the enemies of freethought, ideas, equity, inclusion, can penetrate.
For there are always other antithetical Epimetheus-like disruptive forces at play. Epimetheus unleashed those forces by consorting with Pandora who was sent by the almighty, vengeful and power-engrossed Jupiter to revenge Prometheus and interrupt the prosperity he was bringing to humankind. As the myth goes, Pandora gave in to the temptations of opening the box prepared by Jupiter with its array of diseases, depression, and miseries for mankind. As the legend goes, the vengeful Jupiter also sent Vulcan to chain Prometheus to the mountain peak where he was left exposed to the shrieking storm winds, eagles clawing at his body for ten generations until Hercules rescues him.
Constructing Consensus, Building Peace
At its most balanced and inclusive, the processes of UNESCO, reputed as the UN’s incubator of ideas, facilitate and create an environment for open embrace of ideas and ideologies that allow for easy engagement of seemingly conflictful and contentious positions, bridging gaps and breaking down divisive walls to construct inclusive defenses through education, culture, science and information. UNESCO’s system of negotiating consensus, what I have elsewhere identified as the institution’s prime and most underrecognized asset, its intangible resource. Its successes and experiences of negotiating consensus from extreme positions to grounds acceptable to the majority, have been the moments when in its 70 years it can hold its head highest, and I was fortunate to be part of some of these, as MacLeish himself have been. The most fulfilling moments will be when delegates rose above the narrow localized and domestic tethers to acknowledge the greater good and reach consensus. It is an invaluable life skill. Those who take the time to sit through the meetings would appreciate how it is done and better yet have faith restored that it can be done.
But that’s at the best of times.
The worst of times are when the institution and its processes are waylaid and forced to deviate from its goals – particularly when it allows the intrusion of other forms and methods of persuasion and capitulation: the unbalanced pressures of political and economic powers, or dominant cultural prejudices– to overshadow and derail its core focus of building peace. We experienced many, many moments of these as well.
Yet, we were able to, with unanimous consensus, craft actions for education so next generations to be able to warm, cook, and feed themselves and develop lifelong tools for sustenance. So concluded our report and presented it before the UNESCO General Conference feeling, like Prometheus must have, that with fire would come that new Golden Age, brighter and better than the old.
That November day, the day Paris rocked, unknown to many in the room, was played out several signature moments when the constructs of peace would be challenged and the individual and organizational strengths were tested to hold its own against understated threats to its processes of building the foundations of peace. It was a test of the minds of men and women with knowledge, experience and understanding to triumph over inexperience, ignorance and prejudice.
Then the final moments. The Chairman of the Conference was just about to drop the anvil to announce adoption of the Commission Report, when somewhere among the delegation, a hand went up. The Hall paused, in silence. It was not unusual for a delegate to make an intervention at this stage, in fact the procedures allowed for and encouraged it. It was part of the consensus building mechanism, to ensure that no one leaves with doubts. It was not unusual, nor was it altogether unexpected as the Chairman and a few relevant others are kept apprised of potential scenarios and of any undercurrents that may precipitate disruption of the proceedings.
He graciously allowed the delegate requesting the floor. It turned out to be an assertion and reinforcement of the raison d’ etre of UNESCO, followed by another, from delegates with experience to understand how various stages of the processes may be used to construct the defences of peace in the minds of men, coming at a time when they felt such reinforcement of the processes, principles, and ideals were needed. The interjections deepened the acknowledgement of the processes that go into holding the fragile strands of peace building together, above the petty insecurities, egotism, cowardice and prejudices. Knowledge, experience and cooperation had come together as defences of peace, perhaps just as MacLeish and the other authors of the UNESCO Constitution might have intended.
‘Congrats Kris. Well done. It is adopted. It is over.’ Relief poured out with messages I received commending the successful and satisfactory completion of the agenda and the adoption of the report.
Foregoing the round of chatter and cocktails that would later follow, I left the building and its pseudo constructs of security against the minds of men and women to connect to the buzz of humanity that is Paris. It was Friday the 13th November 2016. The day Paris shook and the walls of several of its cultural institutions would come under attack.
(To Be Continued - Next: Paris Under Attack ...)
PostScript: The US Elections and the UN
A Great Wall of Isms Schisms
One year ago, as now, a collision and collusion of coincidences create cause to contemplate the construction of the defences of peace of the UNESCO motto.
Who are the cast for the task, where are the energies and imagination to be harnessed from the architects of peace?
What are the steps to construct, reconstruct, repair, raise and/or reinforce its walls?
How would they ward off the rising decibels of the cries of havoc that signal the impending release of the dogs of war?
When may the walls be relaxed, relax to release the bridges to consensus building that will be its ultimate test of endurance?
While there has been much spotlight on the election of Donald Trump who will take office in January 2017, there has been much less attention on the new leader of the United Nations, Portuguese António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres who also begins his term in January 2017. UNESCO would also be choosing a new leader in 2017.
Where the UN has been engaged in their deconstruction, Trump has vociferously championed the construction of walls. The optimist anticipates that, campaign rhetoric behind him, the responsibilities of the office will afford the pragmatic businessman, himself a child of the post-war world (born on the same week the UN Charter was drafted) to well appreciates the importance of stability and peace for a prosperous business environment and the value of embracing the best talents of all individuals and institutions across borders and boundaries to achieve those ends.
For a character who has shown that he knows what to say to win an election, it may not be farfetched to believe that he would also do what needs to be done to right the imbalances and inequities, once he understands what they are.
Trump’s platform rhetoric that presents the UN and its agencies as ‘not a friend of the USA”, promises or threatens – depending on from whose perspective it is viewed in the current polarized climate - to cancel the US involvement in hard-won long-negotiated global agreements on climate change, nuclear weapons, trade deals and other international treaties and what he perceives to be the UN’s ‘weaknesses and incompetence’. His views draw on criticism of the UN and its agencies and many of its institutions over the decades, some not unfounded, though largely evident when it imitates or bows unfairly to the pressures of existing super systems.
The UN’s own involvement in soul searching over the last few years have not been impervious to its need to effect greater efficiencies and provide member states with greater value for money, but, much of the value of its work remains unassessed, under assessed and eludes the application of monetary accounting tools, like the intrinsic values of social stability, peace, and social inclusion.
These can easily fall off the radar in any assessment as Trump’s dollars and cents approach, or stated concerns in relation to its occupation of headquarter space on US soil that resonate with similar force as his pronounced intolerance of illegal immigrants and advocacy of a wall between the USA and Mexico. While playing on some general concerns about the shortcomings of the organization, it overlooks the non-monetary and intangible values of the peace processes, social stability and appreciation of diversity and inclusion.
Consensual Consensus – the post truth of elections
The English definition of consensual is ‘existing or made by mutual consent.’ The definition of consensus is, ‘a general agreement about something, an idea or opinion, that is shared by all the people in a group.’ The subtle difference, discernible to a native speaker of English, is generally lost in translation in the multilingual environment of global policy making.
At the sessions of the Commissions of the UNESCO Executive Board, as at the Education Commission of the General Conference, the consensual (with emphasis on each syllable) approach, climaxing in consensus was often loudly applauded, with good reason. It is the keystone for the construction of peace. An idea crafted into a resolution might have a few consensual supporters and many dissenters, but building it block by block to consensus involves long tedious hours, sometimes days or even months and years of thoughtful drafting, crafting, lobbying negotiating ideas and finalizing their transference into acceptable texts towards agreement.
The post truth of election will be the leader and his/her followers’ consensual embrace of negotiating consensus so as to meet the aspirations of the many. In the tableau as vast as America claims is its reach, Trump may yet learn of not just consensual engagement and interaction, but also its discourse, texts and context in negotiation and achieving consensus.
That is almost diametrically different to the markers by which he has judged his success as an entrepreneur, and now as a politician, where winning is the name of the game. It is not only the swamp of lobbyists in Washington that has made murky the waters of negotiations and created imbalances in the mutuality of consensualism. The darkest moments of organisations like UN and UNESCO, as with governments across the world have been when the swamp creeped in to drown, choke off and misdirect the paths too its vision and goals. Some recent developments, including in the negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals come to mind.
The challenge is for the incoming leaders of the US, UN along with other nations and institution to work towards identifying common ground, adopting consensualism, and by meshing pragmatism with creative incorporation of the mechanisms for peace, equity, inclusions and sustainability work towards countering the explosion of intolerance, extremism, racism, nepotism, bigotry across not only the US, but in societies where similar murkiness is testing their tolerance and appreciation of diversity. For a character who has shown that he knows what to say to win an election, it may not be farfetched to believe that Trump would also do what needs to be done to right the imbalances he has frowned on, once he understands what they are. It’s the starting point towards consensus building to what now seems the two forces of peace and its opponents. Trumpism could yet assume an entirely novel character than the current hysteria envisages with a challenge the consensus-builders towards a convergence of ‘isms’ and ‘schisms’ and construction of new directions for peace, equity and prosperity drawn from the best experiences of capitalism, communism, socialism and the other isms that have evolved into schisms.
It the test of the mettle of the leaders, thinkers and technocrats administering the process to utilise the best skills, talents, experience, imagination, creativity of architects of peace with the best of the knowledge, skills, talents, imagination and experiences of those who have been calling for its greater efficiency and relevance?
It is commonly held that the United Nations system was born off the ravages of the extremism demonstrated by Hitler and the resultant devastation of the second world war as a vow that such travesties never be repeated. But it may more accurately be said to have been been sustained by every generation’s universal desire for harmony, peace, and prosperity. Its achievement requires consensual cementing of the schisms between the isms – and the time may yet be ripe for that.
Dr Kris Rampersad is an independent sustainable development educator, multimedia practitioner & advocate for equity & change who likes to think.
LinkedIn: krisrampersad; FB: krisrampersad1 T: @krisramp; Blog: Demokrissy
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