Culture Work for Peace*
Popular culture is the language in which societies discuss
politics, religion, ethics, and action. Culture workers are
committed to working in that language, to make interventions at the level of popular culture.
Culture work is values-driven work.
It is work you are
doing because you think it's a good thing
to do. It draws its
strength from the shining single value at
the heart of humanism:
the belief in humanity's power to shape its
own destiny through the
application of knowledge and thought.
We make the implicit
assumption that we can do good, and therefore
that we can know what
is good to do.
Culture work is a potent way of working for
Changing minds is ultimately more powerful
than blowing things
up. People living in the world today
are experiencing a
bewildering rate of change and complexification.
workers have these ethical goals: to
help people to retain
their integrity, to survive, and even to
flourish under conditions
of profound change. The strategy of
culture work is to inject
new material into the culture without activating
system. That new material coalesces
questions: What is the meaning of this?
Who am I? What
are the world and I becoming?
Culture work is direct action. You strive to understand
your audience. You respond with work that gives voice to
values. Your name is on it, not God's name or Allah's name or
Chairman Mao's. You deploy the tools of storytelling,
persuasion, technology, and economics to change minds. For
example, some of the most effective tools so far in the battle
against female genital mutilation in Mali have been the voices of
popular music and radio. And regardless of what we may think
of Rupert Murdoch, American television will be
corrosive to totalitarianism in China.
The absolutist narratives of religion have
proven in culture
after culture, century after century, to
lead to violent
conflict. Faith-based hate is a virulent
evil. Bardic tales and Greek comedy
and fairy tales and
Commedia dell'Arte and nursery rhymes were
each, in their times,
antidotes to the privileged narratives of
extremist nationalism and
religious intolerance. That is some
of the history of culture
work. Exercising our narrative intelligence
critical thinking and imagination, broadens
undermines absolutism. Change the stories,
and you change the
way people think.
So when I see signs that say "pray for peace," I want to post these signs: Work for peace. Speak for
peace. Tell stories for peace. Make music for
peace. Write books and make movies and build websites for
peace. Do culture work that corrodes extremism and
intolerance. Manifest peace.
*Contains exerpts from Utopian
Entrepreneur, MIT Press, 2001