Mar 8, 2020

'Progress Comes From Changing How Humans Think' — a Conversation With 'Soldier of Peace' Paul K. Chappell

"What makes nonviolence so different from violence, is the way that nonviolence seeks to address and confront root causes of problems: violence addresses the symptoms and nonviolence goes at root cause of the problem."
By Paul K. Chappell /
'Progress Comes From Changing How Humans Think' — a Conversation With 'Soldier of Peace' Paul K. Chappell
NAPF Peace Leadership Director Paul K. Chappell. (Flickr/Rick Carter)

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This week’s episode of Nonviolence Radio brings author, speaker and trainer Paul K. Chappell into conversation with Michael Nagler and Stephanie Van Hook. Paul is now the Peace Literacy Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the author of the “Road to Peace” book series. As a West Point graduate and veteran of the war in Iraq, he is in a unique position to explain how the power of nonviolence exceeds that of traditional forms of military power.

During the interview, Paul, Stephanie and Michael explore the ways in which the methods and strategies of nonviolence are actually aligned with human nature: Far from being inclined to fight, we have an innate urge to love and care for one another. Paul highlights the ways in which trauma and loss of dignity — not our natural instincts — can lead directly to violence. As a result, there is a critical need to take better care of those who have suffered.

While noting how some advances in technology seem to be eroding our communities and dissolving the trust we need to live well together, Paul insists that we can learn — much like how we learn algebra or basketball — to realize our fundamental human potential to build a peaceful world.

Stephanie: Welcome everybody to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host Stephanie Van Hook and I’m here in the studio with my co-host and news anchor, Michael Nagler, who’ll be doing the Nonviolence Report later in the show.

At the beginning of this show you heard Gandhi saying, “I consider myself to be a soldier, but a soldier of peace.” Today we’re going to explore that topic and the work of somebody who used to be in the military, Paul K. Chappell, who is an international peace educator and he serves as the Peace Literacy Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He graduated from West Point, served in Iraq, and has come back to tell us how he transitioned into his work for peace and what peace literacy means today for him. Welcome to Nonviolence Radio, Paul.

Paul: Oh, good morning Stephanie. Good morning Michael. I’m getting over pneumonia, so my voice hasn’t come back yet.

Stephanie: Thank you so much for doing this show. Even on your sickbed.

Michael: Wow.

Stephanie: Michael wanted to say hello.

Michael: I just wanted to say hello Paul, and I’m so sorry to hear you’ve got that bug. Maybe we can cheer you up.

Paul: Thank you. Great to talk with you, Michael. I really appreciate all that both of you do and am just really grateful to be able to speak with you.

Michael: That should be wonderful, Paul. Thanks.

Paul: Thank you.

Stephanie: So, let’s get into that topic real quick of Gandhi saying, “I consider myself to be a soldier, but a soldier of peace.” What does that mean to you, Paul Chappell, who has been to West Point?

Paul: I think it means that Gandhi realizes so many of the characteristics of soldiers have, nonviolent activists also need, such as discipline, courage, selflessness, strategic thinking, leadership. And of course, there’s enormous differences between waging war and waging peace in terms of how waging war not only relies upon violence but also relies upon deception.

But Gandhi’s view is that courage, discipline — all these things that are necessary for warfare are also necessary for nonviolence.

Stephanie: That’s beautiful, Paul. And what does nonviolence mean to you for our listeners? How do you define that?

Paul: I think that what makes nonviolence so different from violence, is the way that nonviolence seeks to address and confront root causes of problems: violence addresses the symptoms and nonviolence goes at root cause of the problem.

And if you just think about that strategically, unless it’s able to deal with root causes, for example, understanding the root cause is often the person’s way of thinking, the root cause can be a misunderstanding. The root cause can be misinformation or deception. The root cause of a problem can be trauma or historical trauma. Or it can be a system rather than an individual.

Violence really doesn’t have a way to go after hatred, ignorance, misinformation in ways that nonviolence does, and violence isn’t really able to change underlying problems in terms of nonviolence. Understanding nonviolence means that all of these systems and all of these problems ultimately resort to how humans think. And nonviolence is the most effective method for changing how humans think about situations and all kinds of other things.

Michael: Paul, that was simply wonderful. It reminds me, in peace science we always talked about peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. Getting aggressively closer to the root causes, but nowhere near as close as what you just articulated, that it is in the mind. Gandhi even went maybe half a step further than what we’re saying here, in saying that the power of nonviolence arises because you need something that cannot just appeal to reason, you need to move the heart also.

Paul: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a really good point, Michael. I think a key point here is that nonviolence is strategically superior to violence. Any method that can address the root cause of the problem is going to be strategically superior to a method that can only address the symptoms.

If all our human problems come from how humans think, and all progress comes from changing how humans think – think about our attitude towards slavery, women’s rights, civil rights, all those things were changed by changing how humans think. I think Gandhi – like you’re saying, Michael – he realized that reason and facts are not the only way to change how humans think.

Empathy and conscience dramatically change how humans think. You can argue that empathy and conscience change how humans think more than facts do. And so, when we think about how we change how humans think, we think about facts and information, but Gandhi’s realization was that empathy, conscience, integrity, ideals, these things have a dramatic impact on how humans think and perceive each other and perceive our world.

Stephanie: Now Paul, with that in mind, there is often an argument levied against nonviolence is that it’s human nature to be violent. I know that this is a question that you have been working with over these years given your own background. You said that you grew up in somewhat of a traumatic household, had traumatic experiences that led you into the military. Can you talk about that aspect of human nature and why it’s so important? Are human beings naturally violent?

Paul: That’s a really great question. I think what’s very interesting about that question is when you look at military history, military history offers overwhelming evidence that humans are not naturally violent. It seems very paradoxical because you think, “Oh, military history would show that humans are actually violent because there’s so much military history and there are so many wars.”

But when you look deeper, you see overwhelming evidence that humans are not actually violent. I can just give a few examples. The greatest problem of every army in the world’s history is when a battle begins, how do you stop soldiers from running away?

If you look at combat, in combat our flight response is far more powerful than our fight response. Most people’s natural reaction when you try to stab them or shoot them is to run away as fast as they can, as far as they can. Militaries have used all kinds of techniques to get soldiers to not run away. For example, money.

The issue with money is that some people will kill for money, but most people won’t die for money. The military puts you in a situation where you’re going to have to risk your life, and what militaries have found is the most effective technique for getting soldiers to fight is love of comrades, love of country. This is why war propaganda always says, “Your family is in danger. These people want to come kill your family. These people want to come kill your children.” The Army has to build this kind of camaraderie and band of brothers.

So, it’s very interesting how the way that effective militaries get soldiers to fight is not by tapping into some sort of natural inclination for destruction or killing, it’s actually by tapping into our inclination to love and build families. And militaries turn soldiers into a kind of family unit and then puts people in a situation where their families are threatened and then people have to protect their family.

Also, the fact that war traumatizes the brain. After enough prolonged exposure to war and violence, it really affects the human brain in harmful ways. If you raise a child in a peaceful, loving environment, that’s good for the human brain, good for human development.

If you raise a child in a violent, abusive environment, it’s not good for the human brain, not good for human development.

Another piece of information is that all wars in history rely upon dehumanization. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman talked about this in his book “On Killing.” Humans have this natural aversion to killing humans, and this is something that transcends culture. This is why every war in every culture that’s been studied relies upon some kind of dehumanization where you don’t view the people you’re killing as being like you.

When we think about this, it is why armies draft men to fight in wars. There’s this mythology or myth that men are natural — that they just want to go to war and kill everybody. Well, what percent of American men today have joined the military? Very, very few. And you can trace this all the way back to “The Iliad” where – I mean there’s a whole bunch of things I can list from “The Iliad” that could tie into this.

But if you think just today in the U.S. how many famous basketball players, baseball players, rappers, Silicon Valley CEOs, actors, have joined the military, the only one I can think of is Pat Tillman. And he wasn’t even that famous. But today, if a man is wealthy or he has money or he’s famous, he’s not going to join the military – for the most part, right?

Then when armies do need soldiers to volunteer, they have to appeal to something that’s outside of war, like an ideal, self-defense, honor, liberty, freedom — and those are just a few examples. I could go into a lot more detail, but military history does show this very interesting paradox that although war is very common, all kinds of different techniques have to be used to get people to fight and risk their lives in battle.

Stephanie: Wow, Paul, this sounds like you really have done a lot of research on this topic because your answer was so clear and so understandable and relatable, intellectually and at a heart level. And yet, you have spoken, written about your own trauma growing up, and how you used to want to kind of fantasize about violence and want to fight people. So, how do you reconcile that aggression?

Paul: Yeah, that’s a really great question, a really great point. Something about warfare that’s interesting: when you think about the human yearning for food or for water or for sleep, people often compare violence to like this kind of natural urge, like for food or water.

Now, when you think about food or water or sleep, if I want food, water, or sleep, I will actually pay you money for me to get food. I’ll pay you money for me to get water or something to drink. I’ll pay you money for me to have a place to sleep, right? A hotel room, an apartment. So, for food, water, and shelter, I will actually give you money for me to get food, water, shelter, sleep.

When it comes to violence, the government has to pay me. I’m not paying the government to go to war; they’re going to have to pay me money. And when you think about food, people will just eat food for the sake of eating food, they will just drink water for the sake of drinking water.

Wars have to be framed in the context of an outside motivator. War has to be about freedom, self-defense, liberty, national honor, all these different things. When you think about food and water and drinking something, nobody ever has to say, “We’re going to eat this sandwich for freedom, or drink this orange juice for freedom.” People will just eat the sandwich or drink orange juice.

When you think about war, because you’re risking your life, you’re risking being maimed and killed, people kind of lose track of how frightening violence is when it’s up close and personal. I think this is captured when there were mass shootings, where most people’s natural reaction is to panic and run away.

When one person with a gun, often who has no military training, starts shooting a bunch of people, the reaction of the vast majority of people is to just panic and run as fast as they can. The people who stay behind and try to help are typically people trying to protect their loved ones, or to protect the students, or protect other human beings with this impulse to protect those we care about.

On the other hand, I grew up in a very violent household. I also grew up with a lot of racial alienation. I grew up as a racial outcast because my mother is Korean, and my father is half-white and half-black and grew up in Alabama, and I developed a mass shooter personality when I was in high school.

For many, many years I just wanted to kill people just for the sake of killing people. And the Army has estimated around 2 percent of people in the military had a personality type where they really want to kill people. But it’s a minority of the human population.

We also have to take into account the elephant in the room which is trauma, and the way that trauma – childhood trauma, racial trauma — can really kind of warp and harm our human development. If somebody wants to commit a mass shooting, and they want to kill a bunch of people who have never hurt them, and they want to kill themselves in the process, that person is really struggling. They’re having some very severe distress and some very severe pain that’s causing them to want to kill a whole bunch of people who have never harmed them and also kill themselves.

I think that’s the kind of thing that really adds a lot more complexity to the situation as trauma, how we don’t really have a good understanding of trauma in this society, how political leaders can manipulate people’s trauma and rage and mistrust and direct it towards one little group of people.

So even though we’re not naturally violent, humans can become extremely violent and trauma is one thing that can make humans incredibly violent.

Michael: Paul, thank you again for a very articulate description. I was wondering as you were speaking whether you know the work of James Gilligan. He was a forensic psychiatrist who studied people of the personality type that you were just referring to: apparently, wanting to kill just for the sake of killing. But what was really underneath every single case, he said, was a need to restore, reclaim your dignity.

Paul: Yeah.

Michael: So there really is no such thing as killing for the sake of killing. It’s killing for the sake of, because you’ve been humiliated, and you cannot abide that and you want to get it back. Now, of course, it doesn’t work, but you’re so disoriented at that point that you don’t realize it’s a complete failure. But that is the underlying motivation.

That means that when you talked about changing how people think, if we could raise the level of human dignity generally in the culture, we would see a lot less violence. Would you agree with that?

Paul: Oh, you’re absolutely right. When I said, “Killing for the sake of killing,” that’s what it appears to be on the surface. But that’s not really what’s going on underneath. It appears to be like that because when people look at the person, they can’t immediately identify an outward cause like revenge, or this person was paid by somebody.

It’s similar to how we hear all the time in the media today when people say, “Senseless violence.” Well, violence is never senseless to the person committing the violence. The person is willing to risk their lives in many cases to commit this act.

I think you really are talking about what’s going on is the dignity, the self-worth, the lack of dignity, the alienation — even the lack of meaning in life. All these things beneath that are driving this person to do something that’s potentially very dangerous for them and those around them. Absolutely.

Stephanie: For those of you just tuning in, you’re at Nonviolence Radio, and we’re talking with Paul K. Chappell who serves as the Peace Literacy Director at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He is also a graduate of West Point, now working on issues of nonviolence and peace. And he’s written several – many books. You have a series of seven books, I believe. “The Road to Peace” series, Paul.

And you have two more books coming out here in the near future including “A New Peace Paradigm” and “The World of Electric Light.” These can all be found at Paul K.

I’d like to get a little bit more into this idea of peace literacy then, Paul, because your education for peace began with, in a sense, your training as a soldier, your training at West Point and then in your work in the military. Can you talk about that transition point, of what transitioned you out of the military into what you say you committed yourself to nonviolence full time? Can you speak to that?

Paul: Yes. That’s a really great question. I think for me, why I found nonviolence so compelling is its strategic power. As I was studying military history, military strategy at West Point, I started to read about nonviolence and Gandhi. I thought, “Wow, Gandhi is more strategically brilliant than these generals I’ve studied.” He developed a – what Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. would call a kind of warfare — a kind of asymmetric warfare that is able to challenge these powerful nations in a way where they’re not confronting them at their strongest point, which is the military force, but he’s able to confront them at their weakest point, which is their moral authority.

Understanding that you have to build a community and you have to build trust, like Michael was saying about dignity: if people’s self-worth is damaged or wounded, if people don’t belong, if people don’t have meaning, if you don’t deal with those underlying potential causes of violence, you don’t have a strategic approach to dealing with violence.

Gandhi has a much more comprehensive understanding of what is needed to create a peaceful community, a peaceful world. I was so blown away and impressed by the strategic power. The military recruits a lot of people who are idealistic and who genuinely want to make the country and the world safer, and if you have that ideal and you read about Gandhian nonviolence and you see it through that kind of strategic lens, it’s very, very compelling.

Also, I think I was very compelled by nonviolence because of the amount of pain I was having. When you’re dealing with rage and alienation and trauma, and you have these violent urges, it’s really not – it’s not a pleasant state of mind to be in. That’s part of the reason why some of these mass shooters – or many of these mass shooters — end up killing themselves along with other people, it’s just not a pleasant state of mind to be in.

Nonviolence and the philosophy of nonviolence offers ways for how to heal those wounds, not just within yourself, but also within society. The traditional method of warfare doesn’t offer any guidance for how to heal these really deep wounds of alienation and rage.

I think about racial trauma in this country and the method of warfare, the traditional method of waging war doesn’t have any solutions for how to deal with racial trauma, but nonviolence does have methods for how to make that situation better.

Stephanie: Paul, you said that there are people who are very idealistic and they recruit based on that idealism. Also, there’s a poverty recruitment, I’m aware, as you were mentioning, that we have to be paid to do this. There needs to be kind of moral standards lifted up of why we would do warfare.

Do you believe that people in the military also understand that by keeping war going, keeping the agitation, that the point of it is to keep the violence going? The point of it is to keep the agitation going? In terms of power display, in terms of the military actually not wanting there to be peace or government? Not wanting there to be what the goal of peace achieved?

Paul: That’s a really great question. I think that there’s a variety of ideologies within the military. The military is not monolithic. There are people who work in positions of power — and it can be outside the military, in government, in large companies where they don’t have good intentions — and their consciences or their empathy is not developed highly and they just really don’t have good intentions.

Then there are a lot of people who believe in what they’re doing, and there’s this kind of interplay between a lot of people who really – maybe I can relate this to my own personal background. I think a lot of people today in power are really – they don’t really understand what’s going on.

I graduated from West Point in 2002, so September 11 happened my senior year. Everybody in my year group and before was raised with this Cold War paradigm. When you think about this Cold War paradigm, there’s things I can go into about how there’s the kind of logic to it that kind of makes sense. I think that this view that I’m sharing here was validated by the Afghanistan Papers; when you look at the reports from the Washington Post and Afghanistan Papers, it was driving a lot of this really terribly policy.

These leaders in the government or in the military didn’t understand what was going on. It wasn’t even known. It was just they they couldn’t comprehend what warfare means in the age of digital media and social media, in the age of these different ideologies that get spread around the world online.

When you’re brought up in a Cold War paradigm of how security works, and then you’re living in this world of this dramatic technological escalation with social media, digital media, the way that has changed warfare or changed how wars can be fought, I think a lot of people in government don’t understand. It seems like even a lot of people in Silicon Valley don’t really understand what they have created.

Today, if you want to conquer a nation, if you want to overwhelm a nation – look at what’s happening in this country. You don’t send an army over there. You start targeting their fault lines. You start targeting their trauma and their mistrust. And you try to divide those people and make them not trust each other, or make them not trust their own government, make them not trust institutions.

You try to increase and magnify all of the mistrust in that nation so that the people turn on each other and their government becomes non-functional. That’s how you fight a war today. And it’s not this traditional, “Here’s a battle line, send an army over there.” Those days of warfare – like the bow and arrow and the horse and the knight — that’s just not how the world is today.

When you see how democracies are being undermined globally, digital technology is, by far, the more powerful weapon than traditional artillery and planes and bombs.

Stephanie: With your work “The World of Electric Light,” is your premise that the digital technology is helping to dehumanize the youth and preparing them for the kind of frustration and trauma suppression that can be harnessed for warfighting and violence? Or do you go in another direction?

Paul: It’s basically that. Let’s do a quick thought experiment. Imagine if you went back to 1900. If you went back to 1900 in the U.S. and a person says to you, “Oh, I heard you’re from the future. I heard you’re from 2020, and I heard that in 2020, most people get their news from something called social media. Most people get their news in the future in 2020 from social media, something called Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and even Instagram, by the way.”

So, what if this person said to you, “So, Facebook and YouTube and Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter — are those newspapers? If most people get their news from those things, are those newspapers?” How do you respond to that question? How do you explain to people there’s no – like movie theatres are not widespread yet, radio is not widespread. No television. How do explain to people in 1900 what social media is? The only reference point must be like a newspaper if most people get their news from them.

It’s interesting how that’s changed. I was reading in the Pew Research, 6 percent of people get their news from Snapchat, for example — which people don’t even think of as a news source. So what I’m trying to say here, we are going to be dealing with problems in the next decade.

The issue is not going to be how to come up with a solution. The issue is going to be the problem is incomprehensible to people. We do not have frameworks right now, ideological frameworks, to even comprehend the kinds of problems that are going to exist is in 10 to 20 years. And those problems are going to result from new technologies that actually replace smartphones. Virtual reality, augmented reality.

Right now, Facebook, Apple, a number of other major tech companies are planning to get rid of smartphones, hopefully around 2030. Our current mental models are going to not be able to even explain to people what these problems are.

Climate change, we can comprehend what a solution is. We can comprehend the problem. But there will be problems emerging for people today which are incomprehensible. It’s going to stir a lot of panic, and it’s going to stir a lot of inaccurate explanations for what’s going on if we don’t develop these new frameworks for explaining what the problem is, which is something I’m really working on with peace literacy.

Stephanie: You’re here at Nonviolence Radio and I’m Stephanie Van Hook. I’m here in the studio with Michael Nagler who will be doing some news a little bit later in the show. Right now, we’re speaking with Paul K. Chappell. You can find him at

He is a West Point Graduate, an Iraq War veteran, former Army captain, and he is now working with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation on peace literacy. Michael, you had a question for Paul before this short break?

Michael: Yeah. A couple of them, actually, Stephanie. Thanks. Paul, as you were speaking, it made me think of Neil Postman’s book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” He studied how technology inexorably steadily degraded the role of news media from news to entertainment. And it sounded to me like from what you were saying, that this is now carrying that to its final conclusion, where you have no professional journalism left. All you’ve got is like the destruction of truth, which of course, is the first victim in war.

That was my first question, Paul, is that how you see things going? Are they going in that direction?

Paul: Oh, that’s a really great, great point, Michael and a great question. I was reading a Pew Research study that found that trust in institutions has been declining dramatically over the past decade. Trust in the government, trust in churches, trust in the media, trust in journalists — a lot of these institutions have done things to earn distrust.

Even though there’s a lot of distrust towards journalists right now, we have to remember how the journalists – many journalists, not all – but most of them reported the lead-up to the Iraq war and spread misinformation. That created a mistrust that many Americans felt towards journalists. The view was that many journalists had not accurately reported information prior to the lead-up to the Iraq War.

Maybe if they had accurately reported the information, or questioned more, or just did some more exploration, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten into that war.

According to Pew Research, the most trusted institution in the U.S. today is the U.S. military — and we’re a democratic society. It’s not a healthy thing when the most trusted institution in a democratic society is the military, and what we’ve seen over the past decade is this dramatic decline in trust in institutions.

In the Vietnam War, Walter Cronkite said the war in Vietnam was unwinnable, and the majority of Americans believed him. Today, there is nothing a journalist could say that more that half the American public is going to believe in 2020.

As we’ve seen trust in institutions decline, we have simultaneously seen the rise of peer-to-peer communication. If somebody had a conspiracy theory or an extremist point-of-view, [in the past] they could maybe tell ten people about it in their neighborhood, now, they can tell millions of people.

As we’ve seen the trust in institutions decline and the rise in peer-to-peer communication, we have to recognize we have not really taught people in our society how to discern what’s true from what’s untrue. We’ve always relied upon people trusting institutions.

People will say, “Well, what we need is critical thinking in schools and this is going to solve the problem.” This problem is way more complex than that. I was reading a study that found that the most common characteristics that people will believe in conspiracy theories have are feelings of helplessness.

Something you can tie not just to people who believe in conspiracy theories, but also people with violent extremist points-of-view or extremist points-of-view, are strong feelings of rage, strong feelings of mistrust, alienation. And an extremist group is giving somebody a sense of belonging or a sense of community, or a sense of epic purpose in life.

So, if somebody is really looking for something to speak to their helplessness and their mistrust and their alienation, and if somebody is really deeply desperate and hungry for belonging and self-worth, dignity, and purpose, they’re not going to really care about facts.

And we have all these pathologies in our society. We have this helplessness. We have rage and trauma and alienation. And we’ve been sweeping all these problems under the rug. What the technology has done, it’s magnified these. Technology has lifted the rug up and magnified these pathologies.

The fundamental issue here is we have to deal with the mistrust issue in this country, and the way the technology is working; it’s being used by many people to amplify, magnify mistrust, rage, alienation for their own purposes. And it’s going to force us to confront some root causes that for a long time we just felt comfortable – I mean not both of you or myself, but many people have felt comfortable just sweeping it under the rug. And now we’re going to have to really be able to get at those root causes. We’re going to have to deal with it through education and through a variety of other means.

Michael: Paul, it’s really sounding to me that you’re reinforcing something that’s been slowly growing on me, which is kind of scary, but kind of inspiring. And that is that we need fairly rapidly to move into a future which is totally reorganized. Every institution has to be kind of re-thought, re-grounded, re-purposed. And like I say, you can either be utterly paralyzed or extremely energized by that fact.

But one element of that is something that you almost touched on earlier and I wanted to get your thoughts on it. In Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s second book – at least the second that I’m aware of, called “Let’s Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill,” he talks about how in modern military arrangements, people have been dehumanized in order to get them to kill, to get over that natural instinct to run away or to love your neighbor. And the way they do it is with video games, very often. You, of course, can comment on this very personally, I’m sure.

It’s not special video games that have been designed for the purpose. They pull video games off the shelf which are being seen and played by our young people. So, if we think it’s dehumanizing soldiers, what would it be doing to the rest of us? Give me some feedback on that, if you would.

Paul: That’s a really good point. I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about virtual reality. I’ve had a virtual reality headset for a number of years now, and it’s going to change everything. There’s too much news going on or something, or people can’t understand really good virtual reality unless they try it, but when you play a traditional video game, you hit a button on your controller and your character does a pre-rendered animation. If you hit a button, the character does a stabbing animation, or you use a mouse and keyboard and use a thumb-stick to kind of maneuver this reticle on the screen, or you hit a button and the character shoots a bullet or some kind of animation.

Virtual reality, you actually use the same muscle movements as if you’re actually shooting or stabbing. And the skills that people have developed in real life to shoot weapons translate into VR. For example, the New York Police Department uses virtual reality to train police officers on different tactics.

And so VR is going to be orders of magnitude more compelling and intriguing to people than video games are now because of the unlimited freedom and unlimited possibilities. This kind of ties into what Stephanie was asking earlier when we think about technology, it’s not so much preparing soldiers to kill or getting them trained for that, it’s the way that the technology today, especially digital technology, social media is able to weaponize mistrust or alienation.

Now, the weapons that you use is not a 500-pound bomb. the weapon you use is mistrust and alienation. How can you target a population, sow mistrust, sow alienation, actually magnify the mistrust and alienation that’s already there? And VR and AR are also going to allow for new ways to weaponize mistrust, weaponize alienation, weaponize rage, weaponize trust in what is actually real.

And also, weaponize addiction. The kind of weaponized forms of addiction that are going to exist are going to be really, really difficult for people to deal with, especially with our current value system and our current ideologies not being prepared for those kinds of weaponized forms of addiction. Just like our current ideologies are not able to deal with mistrust being weaponized in this country.

And just one more thing to add, Michael, about what you were saying, I was reading an article about how the purpose of this divisiveness, the purpose of the people who want to split the country and polarize the country and create this divisive hatred, the main purpose is they want Americans to be disgusted with each other.

They want Americans to feel disgust toward other Americans. And so the feeling of disgust, the feeling of not recognizing someone’s dignity is actually a weapon of war in the 21st century. It’s a very effective dangerous weapon of war for tearing nations apart and tearing societies apart.

Stephanie: Paul Chappell, it’s been wonderful having you on the show. And I wish I could go in so many more directions and follow up on so many more questions, so I hope that you will join us again another time. But as my last question to you, I’d like to do a kind of summary of some key points that you feel are important for peace literacy today in terms of what you’ve been saying.

One, for example, to get you started is that we need to pay attention to trauma. We can’t sweep trauma under the rug if we want to have a robust world of nonviolent action and peaceful conclusions. Trauma needs to be addressed otherwise it can be exploited, right?

Paul: Yes.

Stephanie: What else would you add to this list for our listeners?

Paul: A big aspect of this is we don’t teach any of this. So, let me just end by providing some hope, some realistic hope. Imagine if you had a basketball game and nobody was taught how to play basketball. It’d be a mess, and nobody would be shocked. Nobody would be surprised. Nobody would feel hopelessness or despair. If you had an orchestra play Beethoven and nobody was taught how to play their instruments, it would be a mess and nobody would be shocked or feel despair. That’s what we should expect to happen.

We live in a society where people are not taught the most basic peace skills. We don’t teach the most basic peace skills. We don’t teach people how to heal mistrust or rage or trauma or alienation.

And so, if you have a basketball game and people aren’t taught how to dribble or shoot the basketball and it’s not going well, you wouldn’t feel hopeless. And if we don’t teach people in our society how to heal mistrust or how to recognize their own dignity or the dignity of others, or how to heal alienation, why should we feel helpless about that? That’s what we should expect to happen.

I’ve been doing this work for 20 years, but I’ve been doing this work for 10 years full time. And over the past 10 years, teachers would often say to me, they’d say, “Can you come to this school and can you give a 30-minute talk about peace?” A teacher would never say, “Can you come to the school and do a 30-minute talk about algebra?” And next year, we might do another 30 minutes on algebra, or can you do 30 minutes on geometry? And next year we might do another 30 minutes on geometry. Or can you do 30 minutes on grammar or how to speak and foreign language? We might do another half an hour next year.”

We realize in our society that literacy in math and literacy in reading/writing are competencies. We have to view peace literacy as a competency that is even more complex than literacy and math and reading and writing. If you weren’t teaching people mathematics at all…And not only are we not teaching people peace, by the way, we’re teaching people the opposite of that.

Imagine if our society was actively teaching people the opposite of mathematics and people weren’t doing well. There’s no reason to feel despair or hopelessness about that. I know a professor. He teaches peace studies, and he also teaches middle school. He told me that he showed a documentary about Martin Luther King Jr. to his middle school students, and his middle school students really liked this documentary about Martin Luther King Jr. A few hours later they went out to recess and they went back to pushing each other around, and he said, “I don’t understand how I can show this documentary about Martin Luther King Jr. to my middle school students and then a few hours later, they go back to pushing each other.”

And I said, “Well, it’s like showing people a video of Michael Jordan playing basketball and then you expect them to play basketball like Michael Jordan.” We don’t teach people all the processes which allow people to do this in the midst of adversity.

When teachers say to me, “We’re going to get all the ninth through twelfth graders in the auditorium and you can do something on peace.” Or, “We’re going to get all the kindergarteners through 6th graders in the auditorium. You can do something on peace.”

I say to them, “We don’t teach any other subject in school that way. We do not teach mathematics or history or language by saying let’s get a four-year gap of ages into an auditorium and give them all a math lesson. Let’s get six years of students in terms of age into an auditorium and do a grammar lesson. So if we don’t teach any other subject like that in K-12 education, why is there this view that we can just get a person in an auditorium and have some kind of inspiring speech and people are going to learn peace that way?”

So, if we really teach this, if we were to take peace as seriously as we take mathematics and reading and writing, if we were to take peace as seriously as we take basketball, things would be dramatically different.

And I’m surprised things aren’t worse. I think it’s a testament to when I talk about humans not being naturally violent: most people actually aren’t mass shooters, and a lot of people would have reason to be. But again, we don’t teach this. The last thing we should feel is despair or hopelessness. Just like we shouldn’t feel despair and hopelessness if people don’t know how to play basketball because they weren’t taught and they were taught the opposite.

So, going with what you were saying, it’s not just about healing the trauma, we have to take this far more seriously as a society. And the evidence for us having to do that is increasing every year that goes by.

Stephanie: Beautiful. Paul Chappell, thank you so much for joining us today on Nonviolence Radio and please do come back as often as you’d like.

Paul: Thank you. And if people would like to learn more, they can go to Stephanie, Michael, I’m so grateful for all the important work that you do. You both inspire me and I just really appreciate all the important work you do, and the compassion you have for humans and for life beyond humans.

Again, I apologize. I’m just getting over pneumonia, so I’m out of breath and my voice is not – still hasn’t come back, but thank you so much for having me on.

Stephanie: Thank you for using your breath for this message. Thank you very much.

Paul: All right. Thank you so much.

Michael: Well, that was just a wonderful interview. I’m just going to try to pick out a couple of key items here to fill us in a little bit on the other story of what is happening in our world that we don’t hear about through those mainstream media, needless to say, much less on social media if we’re not careful and pick them carefully, which ones we look at.

One of the biggest items going on right now is a momentous win has been celebrated by climate campaigners in Canada, after Teck Resources – this just happened on Sunday – withdrew its application to build a tar sands mine in Alberta. The CEO of Teck Resources admitted that this is because of “the growing debate over fossil fuel use amid a climate crisis.” And continuing, he said, “It is now evident that there is no constructive path forward for the project.”

So, this was a very, very big destructive episode that was being planned. And as usual, the government was not getting in the way. It was getting them permits, but personal individual and group resistance managed to bring it to a stop — and that shows that we can make this happen. If we did it in strategic places and often enough, it would make the whole industry collapse. I’m going to say more about that in a second.

We also have – speaking of Canada — a partial win for the Wet’suwet’en people who had been blockading TC Energy. This began way back in 2012. They wanted to build the Coastal GasLink Pipeline that would run through their territory for Canada’s $40 billion export facility in British Columbia.The pipeline is owned by TC Energy, which is based in Calgary, but the problem was the We’tsu’we’ten people have never ceded their land to the government of Canada.

The Canadian Supreme Court has upheld their title to their land, which means the ability to determine who is going to dig into the soil and build pipelines. One of the really nasty things that was happening was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had conducted pre-dawn raids and arrested people who were basically peaceful demonstrators, peaceful campers, who were committed to peaceful action.

Finally, with what I’m referring to as a partial win, is that the RCMP has withdrawn over the last outrage. That provides what they used to call in Peace Brigades International, “A space for peace.” So now the Wet’suwet’en can get into a dialogue with the Canadian government as nation to nation.

I’d like to commend them for using an adroit combination of court actions and peaceful blockades, which seems to me to be the ticket for campaigns of this kind today. It’s an interesting case of using nonviolence to uphold laws or at least operate within them.

A little bit like the MST, the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil which is still, I think, until the recent demonstrations in India, but at least we can say the largest ongoing sustained social campaign in the world involving millions of people, has been taking place in Brazil.

Long story short, there is a stipulation in the Brazilian constitution that if land is not being used for any beneficial purpose, it can be occupied by others who can then apply for the title to that land. I think it’s something like a million landless individuals have been doing this. Although, a thousand of them, at latest count, have actually been killed by paramilitaries and thugs who are hired by the owners of these vast, vast latifundia type properties that they’re not doing anything with.

But the MST is simply getting the law to be upheld. So, I’m going to coin a new term here. Remember, you heard it today on Nonviolence Radio – and that is, “Civil obedience.”

Along this general line, a very interesting event has just happened in France where a thousand French scientists have gone on record calling for massive civil disobedience. Now, of course, civil disobedience against climate destruction is only the supply side of the problem.

We’ve just been talking about how to prevent people in the extractive industries from carrying on this fossil fuel development, which is one of the main causes of climate destruction.

But the scientists took the other step. They are calling for massive civil disobedience and the development of alternative lifestyles. That’s where you and I come in. This is the demand side. If we stop driving gas-driven cars, if we stop eating animal-based foods, if we stop getting all of our electrical power from vast combines instead of being parts of a co-operatives, etc., etc., we make all those changes which are going to be, in some cases, uncomfortable, in some cases, require some sacrifice.

But nothing like the discomfort and the sacrifice that’s going to happen if we don’t have an alternative lifestyle to back our demands. So, this is the good ol’ principle that Gandhi called, “Constructive program.” We do our part first. Then they have to do their part.

Now, I was given this item actually by an intern of ours, Astrid Montuclard. And she made five points that I would like to share with you today. She thinks that this is a historical event because the French have traditionally relied on the government’s protective role to do things. I would go further and say it’s a historical event that scientists, as a body, have called for civil disobedience.

A close example would be after 9/11, 1600 architects and engineers issued a statement that the government’s story on what happened at 9/11 was completely bunk. It’s physically impossible. Something else went on. They called for another investigation, and of course, that call was never answered. But that was not a call for breaking the law. That was not a call for civil disobedience.

I think this is the first time in history that scientists have stepped out of their role as scientists in order to protect the planet and everything that they work on – have called for civil disobedience.

The second point that Astrid makes is that this is a call to continue integrating the truth, and that our lives will have to change because of this.

A couple more points and then Stephanie has – whoops, and then we’re out of time. She says, “It’s a cry for solidarity beyond time and spatial borders.” She says, “Climate inaction is annihilation.”

Thinking of the Jonestown massacre back in 1978, I wrote an article saying that we’ve gone now from cyanide to ecocide. She also says, “This is a unique opportunity to heal intergenerational traumas as individuals and communities.” As one who in the Free Speech Movement went around saying, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” I really appreciate that now that I’m way over 30.

And here’s a really key point, the chance to personally shape the world is coming, as we were saying in connection with Paul Chappell’s interview.

Stephanie: Thanks so much, Michael Nagler. Thanks to our mother station KWMR, to all our listeners, to Matt Watrous, Anne Hewitt for helping get this show transcribed and archived. Until the next time, take care of one another everyone.

Transcription by Matthew Watrous. Edited for Waging Nonviolence by Annie Hewitt.


 received her PhD from the Government Department of the London School of Economics and has taught political theory in London, New York and Rome.

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