Monday Muse: My Problem with Peace

I explore the difference between peace and feel-good, and how we say we want the former but really we want the latter.

Hello and welcome back to Thorough and Unkempt’s Monday Muse! The topic for this week – something everybody thinks they want but really don’t. It’s a bold statement to say that people don’t want peace. It seems like the logical thing to desire, except that it isn’t. We don’t want to be peaceful – we want to feel good, and we confuse the two.

People only say they want peace because it’s the opposite of conflict, and they don’t want conflict. Conflict aggravates a person. It makes them uncomfortable, and brings a whole range of short-term negative emotions with it. So people think that no conflict would be the way to go, but it isn’t, because people don’t really enjoy peace over a long period of time. It’s a classic case of choosing immediate, short-term benefit over sustained (and perhaps delayed) long-term benefit.

Peace is boring, and boring is not feeling good. The proof is in the way our entertainment works. Let us look at all the major forms of entertainment – books, theatre, circus, art, cinema, music, comedy and sketches, and all the services that make them more enjoyable and global, such as Netflix, YouTube and television. All of these forms of entertainment revolve around some sort of storytelling, and storytelling is built around conflict.

Storytelling is the oldest and most entertaining activity that we engage in, and is based on conflict and reaction. We don’t tell stories about the clothes we wear or the food we eat on a daily basis, because others do it too. We may describe the clothes we wear on a festival such as Diwali or Christmas, or food that was extraordinarily good or bad. Each form mentioned above functions in the same way – fictional books are about characters who deal with unexpected adversity, non-fictional books are about a variety of things – about adverse conditions in parts of the world, auto/biographies of people who went through their personal trials and tribulations, or about self-help to get through something difficult like depression, or building a shed etc.

Theatre and cinema are about conflict too – lost love and trials separating two lovers, gang wars, struggles of the common man, and whatnot. Look at Fairy Tales too – conflicts of interest between the step-family and Cinderella, three little pigs and the big bad wolf, Pinocchio and whether he was a real person etc. Comedy and sketches  (I include shows and soaps in sketches) bring to light issues of the world by exaggerating them, and by putting them in a nice way – they are the literal embodiment of ‘sugarcoating’.

Last is music, which is a bit of a wildcard, simply because of the huge variety in it. Music encompasses all of the other forms of entertainment mentioned above, and hence comes with plenty of storytelling and conflict in it.

We don’t even need conflict to not like peace. Beyond these basic forms of entertainment, let us look at vacations and travel – even when taking a trip to a resort, we don’t lie in bed all day resting, we go see the sights and taste the foods and breathe in the culture of the place we travel to. It’s enjoyable and delightful and refreshing. It’s different from the everyday. It’s new.

There’s a reason the entertainment industry is one of the biggest in the world, why Hollywood (and Bollywood) are household names, why the masses remember names like Steve Jobs but not Dennis Ritchie; or like Salman Khan, but not Ajay (one of his body doubles). The entertainment industry stimulates us, and it is a fantastic case of Abstraction (a programming term), where a layman doesn’t need knowledge of the product to enjoy it.

Essentially, it is easy now to get ready entertainment. Not many would spend their free time meditating or taking in the world when a movie or a YouTube playlist is so easily available. I’m not saying that everyone must meditate and take in the world, but I am saying that these don’t come to us naturally and we haven’t been conditioned to do those things. People take active decisions to meditate regularly for physical and mental health benefits.

Sports are perhaps the greatest example of conflict as a base for entertainment. Sports are basically controlled war – a clash between two individuals or teams trying to outperform the other for some goal (pun intended) or the other. Sports are entertaining for those performing them, and for those watching them. They are the watered-down PG versions of gladiatorial combat, which in itself was a form of entertainment (no matter how perverse and nightmarish) for the classes and masses.

This distinction in entertainment/feel-good and peace implies an important fact – disarmament and world peace are a fool’s dream. For whatever reason of wealth, power and superiority, there will always be a conflict between world leaders. The rich man fights for wealth and power, and the poor man fights for religion and difference and vengeance, and both disguise it in several layers of justice, righteousness, nationalistic pride, and entitlement, all in the name of peace. As long as pride, justice and vengeance exist, there can be no peace.

Perhaps it is simply a case of pessimism on my part, or perhaps it is a misnomer on the part of all of us. We want to feel good. We want to feel victorious. We want to feel adulated and wanted. We want to feel successful. But we don’t want to feel peaceful.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with this view? Am I too pessimistic? Did I miss out any form of entertainment? This post comes two hours later than Monday – do you want to scold me? Tell me in the comments below.

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