A painting that supposedly encapsulates the concept of world peace.
In the rasping, screamed words of Cro-Mags, "World peace can't be done. It just can't exist." Then again, one of the band's former members was arrested for stabbing two of the current members last summer, so they're maybe not the best source to rely on when it comes to matters of peace.
I'll tell you what kind of people normally are reliable, though: scientists. So when I heard that some of them from the University of Oslo and the Center for the Study of Civil War have been analyzing the history of internal conflicts across the globe to determine what the future holds for the human race—and concluded that things are set to get a lot more peaceful—I thought I should give them a call. Half because I was interested in how they decided that we're all going to be a lot nicer to each other and half because I wanted to make sure they weren't all idealistic hippies in lab coats.
I spoke to Håvard Hegre from the University of Oslo to find out how the world is going to get better.
VICE: Hi Håvard. Can you give me a quick rundown of your study?
Håvard Hegre: Yeah, it looks at factors associated with internal conflicts within countries—stuff like past conflicts, population size, poverty, and a few other things—and relates them to projections from the UN and the IRASA in Vienna to try and foresee the future of internal conflicts around the world. When we paired the statistics, we saw that conflicts will decrease steadily in the coming years. We predict a decrease from about 17 percent of countries involved in internal conflict to about seven percent.
That sounds good. Does that mean world peace is in the cards?
Well, that may be a bit optimistic. Previous studies have shown a massive decrease in violence in general, though. I do think that people will always use violence, but it's becoming rarer and rarer in modern society compared to medieval society. But no, I don’t think that world peace is ever going to happen.
That's a shame. I noticed that one of the factors you mentioned affecting conflict is oil—do you think that resources running out could spark a rise in violence?
It's possible, yeah. One explanation of the decline is that warfare is becoming massively costly, destroying economic links between individuals, countries, and groups within societies. Engaging in conflict puts you at risk of severing those links and losing out on money. Oil is one of the things that's still profitable enough to go to war over, but if an alternative is found, the economic benefits of fighting for it will be greatly decreased. I think natural resources are becoming less important over time, but it's difficult to predict.
Do you have trouble applying rational statistics to a lot of the irrational, unpredictable stuff going on in the world? Like recent events in Gaza, for example?
Well, yeah. There's more to war than economic constraints, so you can't be completely rational, meaning we don't believe our findings are completely flawless. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is a tricky one to categorize, because we only deal with internal conflicts and this is a bit of special case.
Do you think that every internal conflict has an end? Or is there such a thing as an irresolvable conflict?
Some are very difficult to end, but I’m quite sure that it’s possible to stop any conflict. Violence is not the only way. There are some conflicts of interest that maybe can’t be resolved, but it’s definitely possible to stop using extreme violence as a way of settling it. There are some conflicts that look a bit desperate at the moment—in the Middle East, for example. Mind you, the relative peace in east Asia didn't look too positive at the end of the Vietnam War, but that changed really quickly, which I don't think could have been foreseen.
So a resolution is closer than we think?
Yes, definitely. The decline in organized violence in the last 50 years is under-appreciated. However, if our predictions are wrong, that obviously has an implication and we’re missing something very important.
Hopefully you haven’t. Do you think this peace and love study comes down to the fact that you're just a bit of a hippie?
[Laughs] Yes, maybe. Although I think a lot of the most important factors are to do with money, so I’m a bit more of a liberal. We need to realize that fundamental economic changes have the ability to change the world. When the economy becomes dependent on monetary compliance from the major economic actors, then we can steer away from violence. That’s not really a hippie argument, more a standard conservatory argument.
Fair enough, you big hippie, you. Thanks, Håvard!
Follow Patrick on Twitter: @spirit_of_yoof
Interviews with people who disagree with Håvard and think we'll all be fucked pretty soon: