Anthropological Challenges of Our Future

by Hugh M. Lewis


The suffering of the few is the plight of the many.


We have yet to consider the ultimate challenge to our anthropological knowledge--the problem of peace in the world. We have a long tradition of intellectual and social movements in the West that have had paradise and perfection as their professed project. Enlightenment, capitalism, and even communism all shared wholeheartedly in this common culture historical tradition.

We must see and seek peace in the world not as some absolute state of the absence of war or violence in the world. We must seek it rather in terms of the relative pacification of humankind and the reduction of the evil of war and its effects. The realization of relative peace on earth entails more than the absence and demotion of war, but also the liberation from the tyranny of war and the treat of violence and violent victimization in all phases of life. Furthermore, it is inextricably tied up with the emancipation of humankind from the bondage of its own prejudices and ignorance, and the promotion and realization of human freedom, dignity, equality and rights on earth.

The cultivation of a pacifist orientation entails a new perspective and a new way of life that has no more room for guns, bombs, for violence and victimization, or for the suffering of any life on earth. A pacifist orientation is of necessity an orientation of nonviolence.


What are the anthropological implications of pacifism in an earthbound world? Violence is seen to come from a perverse attachment to power in the world--a kind of ego-empowerment based upon the principle of becoming which promotes its own security and realization over that of other life. Liberation from the common human heart of darkness comes from the coming to terms and embracing of that heart of darkness such that it opens onto the light of the world. The appeal of the non-violent demonstrator is to the awakening of the common spirit of humanity--with both its potential for violent action as well as for justice, that is found in the heart of the potentially violent executor. The common ground of humanness, of human sentience shared by victim and victimizer, makes such an appeal a possibility, and potentially powerful agency for nonviolent action. In this regard the capacity for violence and for impersonal victimization must be seen to depend upon the denial of the subjective humanity of the other--in other words upon a basic complex of misanthropy. This common denial of the subjective other has as its root the denial of the subjective otherness within the self. Consequently, the appeal of nonviolent action is ultimately to the subjective sentience of the victimizer, and to its power to heal the human heart of darkness. The awakening of the potential capacity to feel, to empathize and find sympathy with the suffering of others, ultimately comes from the realization of the imagined possibility that the suffering of others could be our own suffering.

This entails a Buddhist prescription of active versus passive resistance to violence. It entails a demonstration to the victimizer of the consequences of victimization in a way that does not invite or encourage retribution. We should not seek blood for blood, but to turn tears into blood and blood into tears. It is the sharp but harmless rapping on the head of the violent to invite the opening of the doors of consciousness. To victimize the heart of the victimizer is to transform the monster into a pacifist soul sister.

It is apparent that from a psychological standpoint, the cultivation of a pacifist orientation entails the letting go of anger and hatred, and a coming to terms with the things which cause such anger or hate. Anger, hatred, jealousy and false pride are feelings which are inherently destructive of human relations and which can eat up the human heart. One must seek out within oneself and exorcise the sources of one's negative feelings about the world, no matter what its external, objective symbolic manifestations.


Peace and power; have been known in human history to stand in uneasy relationship. Power is often wielded by the threat of war, while peace can only be sometimes had at the cost of such power.

The pacifist doctrine holds a fundamental nonattachment to power. All forms of empowerment in the world bring with it the potential for violence. Cultivation of a pacifist orientation therefore dictates a renunciation of all external forms of power, and an actual seeking of depowerment in the world.

But there is, anthropologically speaking, another form of empowerment which is not inimical to a pacifist way of life, and is in fact necessary to the fulfillment of such a way of life. This is the cultivation of independent, internal forms of power that come from the liberation and freedom from the constraints of external forms of power. These independent forms of empowerment consist of many different means of self-fulfillment and the normative expression of individual creativity in the world.

Peace demands a dual ethos of tolerance and respect for human differences in the world, and of moral responsibility to honor one's obligations and the rights of others over one's own prerogatives of power. In this sense, peace in the human world must await the realization of human rights and equality on earth.