I began to wonder: why is peace so hard to think about? Or conversely, why is violence so easy?
Margaret Paxson, an anthropologist, wrote a sort of prelude to her future book about peace, specifically peace within the French town of Le Cambin sur Lignon, whose residents saved Jews from Nazis at great risk and peril to their own lives.
Paxon attempts to give peace shape. She argues that war and violence have a quantifiable reality that peace often lacks. She wants to be able to study and analyze peace, in all its gritty details on the ground and face to face so that others can see what peace looks like in the flesh.
What if it can be seen not as timeless, but as dynamic; not located in the beginning or in the end but in the unfolding; something not of the ether but of lived soils and grounds? What if peace is, actually, something flawed and rough-grained?
Well then, social science can handle that. It can do dynamics. It can look towards the longue durée, settling happily into the study of actual, imperfect behaviour. That kind of research doesn’t require calls to the angels or to Elysium.
You just look into the faces of real people and the connections they make or don’t make with each other, and the stories they tell or don’t tell, and the ways they decide or don’t decide to treat a stranger as one of their own.
To give you an example of the thing-ness of evil, I point to a piece of art titled “HIM” by artist Maurizio Cattelan. It’s a statue of Hitler as a young boy, as he sits on his knees praying. The statue is usually shown so all you can see is the back of the statue down a long hallway. It’s currently on display in Warsaw. Whether or not it’s supposed to help you reflect on the nature of evil, remind you that evil can start out as a sweet little boy, or insult you, I guarantee it will elicit a reaction.
If evil can appear, at some point, so small and plain and innocent, then so can peace. Not just any peace, I’m thinking of a redemptive peace. Maybe it depends on your perspective, how you look at the world, or the statue, or those around you. We can choose to only see evil or we can choose to seek and find redemption.
That’s what I see or hope to see when I look at “HIM”.