What does ‘peace’ mean?


When I think of the word ‘peace’, a heterogeneous array of words flashes through my mind: quietness, health, freedom, United Nations, treaties…I find myself confused in trying to define what peace means to me. Not to the dictionary nor to the politician, but to me as an individual, with a personal experience and background.

 

I want to try and disentangle my thoughts.

I always thought that in order to appreciate the meaning of a concept such as peace, one has to fully interiorise its meaning, and thus relate it to one’s own experience.

No notion is meaningful if it does not relate to us as individuals. Although we may not consciously realise it, every now and then a word or an idea rings a bell in our minds: we feel connected to it in some recondite way which is often not obvious and unclear even to ourselves.

I’ve always had mixed feelings when I heard the word ‘peace’: possibly, even a sense of confusion about a term which carries the weight of such a meaningful and powerful concept. Isn’t it overwhelming? Whatever I say in relation to it, I feel obliged to ponder my language and consider so many aspects. Am I turning myself into a politician simply at the mere thought of ‘peace’? Feeling this way, I suppose that I could never rank myself amongst those who use and abuse the word peace for whatever purpose they have in their minds… How many expressions, slogans and advertisements employ the word ‘peace’? The weight of its meaningfulness allows it to have an immediate impact on most of the public, because of the emotional factor that it carries. It doesn’t matter what people relate this term to: what matters is that whatever their emotion, it induces them to draw their attention towards it. This proves the powerfulness of the word ‘peace’.

I do not understand how the word ‘peace’ can be employed without thinking, saying or writing some thousand words about it (in fact, considering the amount of literature on the topic, I am surely not the first to believe this!). Whenever the word ‘peace’ is used out of context, without wasting enough time and words, its meaningfulness is necessarily carved out. We are left with the form and no substance. It is not a discussion on peace, but an instrumental use of its inherent emotional factor.

For this reason, I must admit that I am often exasperated with empty talks on peace, peace, peace in every possible form and way.  What is the point? How can it be constructive? In other words, the term ‘peace’ shouldn’t be abused, or it is deemed to loose its significance. So let me try to understand what it really means to me.

 

In the attempt to find some order in my head, I have come to the conclusion that I associate the word ‘peace’ with two sets of thoughts: on one hand, ‘peace of the self’, and on the other, ‘peace of the people’.

I think that I speak your mind if I describe ‘peace of the self’ by depicting myself on the stereotypical Hawaiian island, on a hammock drinking cocktails and admiring the breathtaking landscape. More realistically, I have experienced this inner peace when reaching the top of a mountain and skiing down with the wind in my face, or standing on the Irish cliffs watching the sunset, or admiring the island of Capri from the Amalfitan Coast. So it is true that nature recalls peace and freedom. I don’t think anyone could possibly associate London to the word ‘peace’! But the feeling that I call ‘peace of the self’ can arrive in the most turbulent external conditions. Do you ever experience that feeling of ‘fitting-in-the-world in that-particular-moment’? I often have that sensation in my room (not technically mine, actually!): I love to indulge in my cosy bed with a good book and misty light. Even better if outside it’s pouring cats and dogs!

I feel safe, and, yes indeed, peaceful.

 

What about the expression ‘peace of the people’? This really does sound high-resonating! I refer to a collective meaning of ‘peace’, as a condition of a group of individuals, be it an ethnicity, or a nationality. I imagine ‘peace of the people’ as requiring a relationship with someone else as opposed to the ‘peace of the self’ which is a relation with one’s self.  Too convoluted? Briefly, the ‘peace of the self’ implies an internal mechanism, whereas the ‘peace of the people’ is external to the self.

The ‘peace of the people’ is itself on two planes: an inter-personal level and an inter-State level.  Nowadays, international news seems to mainly revolve around one omnipresent concept: peace, or, rather, war. All considerations expressed with regard to ‘inter-national’ relations can be equally applied on a micro-interpersonal level. The relations between States are a mirror of the relations between individuals. This was clearly envisaged by Kant. In the preface to his Perpetual Peace, he wrote:

 

Whether this satirical inscription on a Dutch innkeeper’s sign upon which a burial ground was painted had for its object mankind in general, or the rulers of states in particular, who are insatiable of war, or merely the philosophers who dream this sweet dream, it is not for us to decide.

 

Kant was ironically referring to the expression ‘Perpetual Peace’ as an inscription, to indicate its inherent idealism. Is there any possibility of reaching the ‘peace of the people’, with its double connotation, as a permanent status of humankind? Or is it deemed to be temporary? It would take me another few thousand words (or more) to attempt to answer these questions…so I turn to my dictionary (yes, despite my intentions) to consider if its necessarily synthetic definition of ‘peace’ sums up my thoughts…I read: ‘1. Freedom from noise or anxiety; 2. Freedom from or the ending of war.’ Well, I suppose that it does summarise the key points without all of my blabbering. So, here we go, in general, ‘peace’ is freedom from almost any term with a negative connotation I can think of: freedom from fear, worries, chaos, violence, work, illness, etc.

 

After all, I am not sure if I have actually unscrambled my thoughts or tangled them up even more… but I should have proven my point: the word ‘peace’ must be used with parsimony and awareness. I leave you to reflect on this!

Culture Industry


Celebrity, Pregnancy and Sexuality

 

As I woke up this morning I turned the radio on and I found myself listening to a discussion on the BBC London Radio, with the appetising title of “Yummy Mummy Tummy”.  Instinctively, my attention was drawn to it…I was curious of understanding the whole point of it. Was it going to be a shallow discussion on food and mums, or would it be focusing on the ‘yummy’ sexuality of motherhood? Could the BBC be actually broadcasting something with such a poor content? Indeed, no.

 

Drying my hair, I followed carefully the discussion. It turned out that it had been stirred by the appearance on page 12 of today’s Sun of a very pregnant and very naked Christina Aguilera. Apparently (I haven’t seen the picture myself!), the ‘dirrrty’ singer was not just exposing pregnancy and nudity, but insinuating a rather sexual message with a Marilyn Monroe hair-style, high heel stilettos, heavy make-up and slightly tilted head.

 

What was the purpose of the photo? Precisely, what reaction did it want to instigate?

Putting on my make-up, I decided that the points made by the phone-callers on the radio were very varied and interesting. Generally, men didn’t seem to have any problem with such an exposure (no wonder!): if a woman is beautiful, and she is pregnant, then what is there to hide from the public? Women were divided: some were horrified by such a utilitarian disclosure of this extremely important private moment of a woman’s life. A mother said: will you ever find an ordinary pregnant woman wearing high heels and looking so perfect (If we define perfection as the result after hours of make-up sessions and professional photographers using some kind of photo-editing programme)? She went on affirming that a pregnant woman generally stays at home reading books on motherhood, finds it tiring to walk – let alone with high heels! –and conducts a healthy life-style, with the view of planning her new future which will revolve around a new creature other than herself. Other women proclaimed that Christina was in such a way stating as a feminist that pregnancy is a moment of internal and external beauty, when a woman realises herself fully.

 

However, most considered that the photo was more about Christina, as a celebrity, rather than about pregnancy and women. This was the main point which captured my attention and encouraged me to write.

Why? The strong meaning of pregnancy can be historically identified by finding it as a recurring very strong symbol unifying all faiths due to its connection with concepts such as fertility, creation, life, nature, instinct, evolution. How do these high values of human-kind be possibly expressed by a sexually appealing singer who is exposing her own fertile body? Someone commented that the message would have been different had she posed in a poppy-field, with no make-up and an overall attempt to show the link between woman-pregnancy and nature.

 

At the stage of folding my clean laundry, I started to think that all this was going totally in the wrong direction! Christina didn’t probably even contemplate such a complex discussion arising from her public exposure. After all, she is a celebrity and she is used to paparazzi-style attention on her, ready to judge her life and her behaviours. Christina, like all celebrities, lives and dies (metaphorically?) together with the attention that the public gives to her. The peculiarity of this mixed message creates exactly that attention that celebrities crave for. Madonna is the best example of a celebrity who always went for the ‘unexpected’, because she very well understood that the public’s attention comes when it is surprised with something it was not prepared for, which goes beyond the ordinary schemes of the ‘acceptable’ and clearly does not represent the ‘right thing to do’.  Why do people always fall for these provocations? No matter what each one of us believes of Christina Aguilera and her ‘naked pregnancy’, this discussion goes beyond this particular picture.

 

This picture is really not about her, but about us, the ‘ordinary people’.

We are all getting confused about the distinction between reality and fiction. This is why gossiping is so popular and successful. We are drawn to believe that the magazine’s issue on some VIP is giving us a special insight on that person’s life. We think that we are powerful, because, from the top of our throne, we are totally clear about our judgments and we are capable of objectively deciding if these people are leading their life in the right way or not. As a consequence, we feel better because we know that, no matter how everyone around us might be judging us, we are not in their position. On the other hand, whenever we discover that a celebrity is doing what we are, be it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, or simply by dressing the same way, we feel gratified, because we see that what we do is ‘cool’.


Reading the Law & Social Theory module, I see how well contemporary philosophy (Adorno, Horkheimer and Habermas) explains the dynamics of the ‘modern culture industry’. The relationship between the private and the public sphere is vitiated by illusion. How?

The public believes that it is criticising the system, exactly as the BBC London programme was raising a discussion fundamentally aimed at criticising the media coverage of celebrities. The public of the ‘culture industry’ believes that it is critically analysing what the media are presenting to us. We get to the philosophical problem of the ‘happy slave’. How can I tell a slave about his condition and thus encourage him to free himself, if he is happy about it? You might wonder, how can he be happy for his lack of freedom? He is happy because he does not know other than his own condition, and he does not know the other possibilities. It is exactly the same when the public is relating to the ‘culture industry’. We are tricked to believe that it is helping us to understand the system, be critical and active actors within it, while in reality all is happening is that we are being immunised against the system itself.

So the issue of media coverage of celebrities’ lives is really something which is up to us to block out, be it because we feel pity for some of them (see Britney Spears) or because we are disturbed by their attention-seeking attitude (see Amy Winehouse) or for any other reason. All the criticism around this will always miss the main point: the distinction between reality and fiction that, if forgotten, leads us to be the only ones really falling into the paparazzi’s net.