Destiny of the United States of America

George Washington’s Remarkable Vision  •  A vision of the destiny of the United States, shown to George Washingon at Valley Forge in 1777. Although this essay is almost certainly fiction, it is still in my opinion worth reading and pondering.

Peace Pilgrim

Peace Pilgrim  •  •  From 1953 to 1981 a woman who took the name of Peace Pilgrim walked across the United States promoting peace. She accepted no money, carried all her possessions in her tunic, fasted until someone offerred her food, and slept outdoors unless someone offerred her a room. At the time of her death, she was on her seventh trip across the country.

Peace Pilgrim promoted inner peace for every individual as the key to making all of our institutions peaceful. She attained a remarkable degree of insight and wisdom using a technique of simply walking outdoors.

Her site includes a book of her writings edited by her friends, available as a free download or a free printed book.

As I looked about the world, so much of it impoverished, I became increasingly uncomfortable…. I had to find another way…. I walked all one night through the woods. I came to a moonlit glade and prayed…. “Please use me!” I prayed to God. And a great peace came over me. I tell you it’s a point of no return. After that, you can never go back to completely self-centered living…. I entered a new and wonderful world…. I haven’t had an ache or pain, a cold or headache since…. From that time on, I have known that my life work would be for peace—that it would cover the whole peace picture: peace among nations, peace among groups, peace among individuals, and the very, very important inner peace.
My peace message … says in one sentence: This is the way of peace—overcome evil with good, and falsehood with truth, and hatred with love. The Golden Rule would do equally well. There is nothing new about that except the practice of it…. These are laws governing human conduct, which apply as rigidly as the law of gravity.
It is through solving problems correctly that we grow spiritually. We are never given a burden unless we have the capacity to overcome it. If a great problem is set before you, this merely indicates that you have the great inner strength to solve a great problem.
— Peace Pilgrim, from her book of the same name
Jean Béliveau’s World Wide Walk

Jean Béliveau’s World Wide Walk for Peace and Children  •  •  Inspired by Peace Pilgrim (see above), from 2000 to 2011 a former sign salesman from Montréal named Jean Béliveau walked around the world. He walked over 45,000 miles in 64 countries. His mission was “to promote peace and non-violence for the children of the world” during the UN Decade for this purpose.

Like Peace Pilgrim, Jean Béliveau took almost nothing with him as he walked—just a few clothes and other essentials in a small stroller. He relied on people he met on the way to provide him with food, shelter, replacement clothing, and the like. He did not ask, but waited for these to be offered. Sometimes he went hungry or slept outside.

When asked why he undertook such a project, Jean says, “I saw this project of life out in front of me—it was so strong inside me. I didn’t tell my family for eight months … I prepared my project secretly.” Then he told his wife and two grown children. His says his wife was shocked but ultimately accepted the challenge as something he had to do. She spent a month of every year walking with him, and the rest of the time maintained a web site that chronicled the trip.

The surprising decline in violence

Steven Pinker’s TED talk on the decline of violence  •

Reviews of Steven Pinker’s findings on the decline of violence  •

Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker has given most of us a big surprise, by convincingly documenting the decline in violence from ancient times to the present. His studies show that, even though it may seem illogical and even obscene, we are actually living through the most peaceful time in the history of our species. Even though headlines of violent acts dominate the news, the bigger news is that it was much worse in the past. He shows, for instance, that when people transitioned from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to nation-states, their likelihood of dying a violent death dropped from 15% to 3%. This general trend has continued right up to the present day.

Many people scoff at such a conclusion because they have heard so often that the 20th century was the most violent in history. This would be true if we were looking at the total number of violent deaths, but we must also realize that the population was higher at this time than in previous centuries. Pinker statistics look at the rate of violent death. This is the number of violent deaths divided by the population, which is the probability of an individual dying a violent death. Pinker says that, in this light, the 20th century was probably not the most violent in history. (He says “probably” because statistics before the 20th century are incomplete or imprecise.)

I think this finding of Dr. Pinker needs some framing. Pinker’s research addresses only gross violence, not overall quality of life, or any of the many threats to quality of life other than gross violence, such as GMO’s, drug use, pollution, etc. Nevertheless, Pinker’s research shows that a positive trend has been present in at least one important area on a large scale for a long time.

I think Dr. Pinker also deserves credit for clearly separating his findings from his speculations about the causes of his findings. His speculations about causes include the growth of government, commerce, cosmopolitanism, etc. These sound rather superficial to me. One factor I would give greater credit to that he doesn’t mention is the growth of science, including the growth of subjective sciences in the last century.

As one becomes aware of the historical decline of violence, the world begins to look different. The past seems less innocent, the present less sinister. One starts to appreciate the small gifts of coexistence that would have seemed utopian to our ancestors: the interracial family playing in the park, the comedian who lands a zinger on the commander in chief, the countries that quietly back away from a crisis instead of escalating to war. — Dr. Steven Pinker
The Christmas Truce

The Christmas truce of World War I  •  •  From August 1914 to November 1918, World War I raged throughout Europe. But around Christmas of 1914, the first Christmas of the war, fighting paused in several places, when German, British, and French soldiers along the front spontaneously declared informal truces. Soldiers that had been shooting at one another suddenly put down their weapons, shook hands, sang songs to each other, exchanged gifts and food, and played soccer. It is estimated that 100,000 soldiers took part.

The truces were unofficial. The Pope had requested a Christmas truce, but no government agreed to one. High ranking army officers voiced their disapproval of the truces, yet they continued anyway. The press tried to cover them up, until the New York Times finally broke the story on New Year’s Eve.