Voting for Peace

Religion for Peace and Violence

In October 2002, Russell M. Nelson spoke these words:

Now, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what does the Lord expect of us? As a Church, we must “renounce war and proclaim peace.” As individuals, we should “follow after the things which make for peace.”

I was a graduate student watching as the United States President was leading us to war on what was evident at the time, and confirmed beyond doubt in later years, bad or false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction. I was motivated to work for peace and to understand how we might achieve peace. How should we respond to religiously justified violence?

In this period I went to a debate, moderated by a political science professor, between representatives of two politically active student groups. The topic was whether we should go to war to stop Saddam Hussein’s abuses of power, or whether we should stay out of Iraq. Mostly it wasn’t a very subtle debate, and while better informed than your average political discussion with friends, I didn’t get much out of it. Except for this. I submitted a question that the moderator selected for further debate. I asked, what ways might we peacefully intervene to resolve the problems? Neither side had anything to say to that. It was intervene militarily or stay out (or use coercive economic pressures, but both sides agreed that was failing). However, the moderating professor indicated pleasure in the question, and I went to talk with him afterward. He recommended a book to me: Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, by Mark Juergensmeyer.

Terror in the Mind of God takes you into the thoughts of perpetrators and proponents of religious violence through interviews with proponents of a variety of violent ideologies and with some who perpetrated the acts. One thing stuck with me from reading this book:

Ignorance and poverty are the breeding grounds of soldiers for religious violence.

Women and Peace

For a time, that was the end of my intellectual journey regarding peace. I often wondered how we can educate the world and relieve poverty, and I learned more about education and economics, but it was much more recently that I learned of the book Sex and World Peace by Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett.

Sex and World Peace makes the case that the state of women in a country is tied to the peacefulness of that country. When women are
  • safe from violence, free of poverty, and educated,
a country is likely to be more peaceful.

When women are
  • equal under family law,
the country is more peaceful.

When women are
  • represented equally with men on decision making councils—both governmental and non-governmental—
the country is more peaceful.

That’s what the numbers show around the world and over several decades. The treatment of women is a better indicator than type of government, per capita GDP, or dominant religious ideologies (specifically, % Muslim). If you care about the reality of peace, this book is worth a read.

Equality and Peace

Most recently I listened to a TED talk by Richard Wilkinson, and have been reading his and Kate Pickett’s book, The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. Bottom line? Once you have brought the per capita income over a minimal level, the thing that matters is economic equality. More equal countries have:
  • less crime,
  • more social mobility
  • higher math, reading and science scores,
  • more stable economies,
  • less debt,
  • lower inflation,
  • more trust,
  • more civic participation,
  • less stress and anxiety,
  • longer lives,
  • lower mental illness,
  • lower obesity, and
  • lower infant mortality.
Economic inequality is a big problem, and there are effective government polices we can support to increase equality and make our countries better for everyone.

Voting for Peace

For the past 14 years I have been trying to understand how I can “follow after the things with make for peace.” (Romans 14:19) Now I’ve shared the background. Look into these books and the related evidence, and you will see why I support efforts and policies to relieve ignorance and poverty, and to promote women’s rights. Even if you ignore the rest of my post, go read these books—they are worth the effort.

Now I’m going to get political, U.S.-centric, and use the Transfigurist to share a controversial, personal opinion. My opinions do not represent the Mormon Transhumanist Association or its leadership. I plan to vote for peace this election. I plan to vote for Hillary Clinton.

First, I don’t believe she is particularly peaceful. I think her foreign policy is far too interventionist and hawkish to be peaceful. But once the door is opened for women in the exclusively male world of the U.S. presidency, we are closer to parity in our decision making councils. And when we approach parity, we make strides toward peace.

Second, Clinton has a lifelong history of advocating for women. Here’s a pretty even-handed summary of what she has done from The Atlantic. There is certainly room for debate and interpretation over policies Clinton has proposed and supported, but it is clear that she has sought women’s safety, equality in family law, and parity on decision making councils. Her senate office “hired twice as many women as men to work in her office—a proportion that upends the overwhelming trend in Washington.” Her pro-choice stance on abortion, that supports women's access to reproductive health care, is pragmatically speaking pro-life because, combined with her other policy proposals it would effectively reduce the numbers of abortions in our nation. Over her political career, that makes her three for three on addressing the measures that the authors of Sex and World Peace identified as promoting peace in the world. There is frankly no comparison with her principle opponent. He is zero for three.

Third, the Democratic Party platform she has adopted is more strongly geared toward increasing economic equality. It has a section specifically about “Fighting for Economic Fairness Against Inequality,” and more than half of sections are framed around fairness and equality. One subsection specifically addresses the issues of women and girls. Unsurprisingly, 2/3 of the Republican Party platform is focused on being great by becoming something from the past—“Restoring”, “Rebirth”, “Reform”, “Resurgent”. I have very little to criticize in the principles on which the Republican platform is based, just as Republicans are unlikely to disagree with the ideas of fairness and care around which the Democratic platform is based. Our disagreements are mostly in how to prioritize principles, not whether the principles are valuable. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the Republican platform is geared more toward maintaining, or returning to, systems that have created our current economic inequality. The Republican platform has a greater focus on what will increase GDP and on blaming federal regulation for the ills of our nation—for example blaming federal regulation of Wall Street for exacerbated economic ills following the 2008 recession.

Now go back and take a look at the data on the Equality Trust website. We don’t need a higher per capita GDP in the U.S. to be a better country. We already are at the top. We need greater equality. There’s a good chance that greater equality will also boost our GDP, but if we care about being healthy, happy, living longer, being able to trust people more, having a better educated populace, etc., GDP is not the goal we should have at the top of our list. Economic equality will do more to make our country great than economic growth, at this point in history. The economy is already big enough to take care of everyone—and then some. I favor continued growth, but not at the expense of human life and well-being. They don’t have to be in conflict, but they are when there is no equality.

From a Mormon perspective or a Transhumanist one, what virtue is there is struggling for a good life? Does God fear for his next meal? Shelter? Health care expenses? Whether his neighbor will judge him for having less of the good things? Is Zion a place of economic differences? If these things are not virtues at all in the worlds we wish to make or the worlds we believe will come, why do we turn them into primary virtues in this world?

Fourth, the Democratic platform takes time to specifically address the needs of women and girls. Guaranteeing rights to women around the world is promised as a central element of Democratic foreign policy. Whether or not you agree with the rights specifically mentioned, these are among the very rights that Sex and World Peace identified as correlating with making peaceful nations. Whether you vote like me or not (there’s a good chance the first author of the book doesn’t), go read the book. Women’s rights matter for our world.

The Republican platform's only mentions of policy proposals specifically aimed at helping women center on protecting them from having abortions. While many policy proposals focus on trusting people engaging in free-market enterprise, these policies focus on distrusting women and their care-givers, and (in the name of caring for mothers) propose to pass off societal care for mothers with unwanted pregnancies to the fathers—potentially requiring that women be financially dependent on fathers they want nothing to do with—because it isn’t fair for the mother to have to support the child alone. In my mind, I think, “If we care about children so much, why don’t we just financially support mothers and children through our taxes?” Let’s make undesired pregnancies less scary by making it so that ever being a mother is not one of the biggest predictors of poverty in old age (see Poor Women in Rich Countries and a summary).

So I plan to vote for peace this presidential election. I plan to vote for Hillary Clinton because 14 years ago I took to heart the words of a prophet and spent a lot of effort trying to understand what I could do to make a more peaceful world. This election I’ve concluded my right course is to vote for a woman who has done, and plans to do, more than any other candidate running, things that will make the world more peaceful.