A Changing Definition of Peace
As we see a comeback of the peace sign, audaciously plastered to the front of seemingly every bag and shirt in middle and high-schoolers nowadays, I find myself growing frustrated by this “hemorrhage” of the symbol – not because I’m an opponent of peace, but because the idea of peace seems to have been contorted in the minds of these kids into the new “cool” symbol, degrading the essence and beauty of peace that I value so deeply.
When reading Thomas Hobbes’ The Leviathan, I was troubled by his use of the idea of peace. In chapter thirteen he states that “the passions that incline men to peace, are fear of death.” Fear and death and nothing more. Is this how we contrive our ideas of peace in a contemporary world, so black and white? Merely for self-protection? Hobbes would say yes, since in his mind men are thought to “reap benefit[s]….for their own sakes, and not for love of others” (Hobbes, The Leviathan, Chapter 12). Perhaps many view peace through this same lens today, but I know I certainly don’t, and am joined with others from around the world:
“Peace means to me the highest quality of people living together. It includes tolerance, acceptance, understanding, dialogue, solidarity, caring, happiness.” Daniela, Austria
“Peace is sitting around a fire in the forest during twilight, listening to the silence of the woods, and looking out over a lake and seeing dots of mist floating above it. That’s absolute peace.” Hakon, Norway
“Peace, as I perceive it, is an ongoing process which should remain with each and every individual at all times. I do not think that peace is something that one achieves like anyone would achieve success. Rather I think peace is more similar to the sun. In other words, it is something no one can do without. Peace is something which should always be part of us.” Unika, Nepal
These ideas all hit closer to my interpretation of peace, a more internal peace that is embodied within and not necessarily defined by the occurrence or absence of war. It’s a peace of mind, of body and of spirit that manages to connect us with others on a human level and dismiss war.
Yet, the origin of the peace sign stems from a situation more Hobbesian than my “soul-searching” idea. Our commonly used symbol dates back to only fifty years ago, to the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. As the picture below illustrates, the design of the symbol was borrowed from a British naval procedure using flags to denote either an ‘n’ or ‘d,’ standing for nuclear disarmament. Gerald Holton reflected these naval images onto paper in 1958, and Wallah!: we’re left with our current symbol. In this case, the idea of peace directly reflects Hobbes’ idea on the subject, as a mere opponent of war. So somehow, over those fifty years, our notion of the concept as a society has evolved, digging more into our souls and less into our “fear of death.” We’re left to wonder how Hobbes would react to this change: perhaps shake his head, write it off as liberal arts nonsense or throw out the idea as frivolous rubbish altogether. Nevertheless, the evolution of the concept of peace is intriguing and adds a twist to my immediate condemnation of the current peace sign hemorrhage.
http://www.designboom.com/contemporary/peace.html; http://onemillionpeacesigns.blogspot.com/2009/04/origin-of-peacesymbol.html; http://www.globalvillage2006.org/en/find_out_about/conflict_and_peace/what_does_peace_mean_to_you; http://funwithlockelandart.blogspot.com/2009/08/peace-sign-art-images.html