Peace is a Bunch of Shit
Peace is a bunch of shit. Sure, it depends on your definition of peace. But, if it’s an absolute state of tranquility, then what is the difference between peace versus peace and quiet? This concept of peace reinforces the status quo, and people who point out injustice are too often seen as disturbers of the peace. I once worked at a place whose employees labelled me as “opinionated” for vocally supporting Black Lives Matter. At the same place, I tried to educate an American co-worker who doesn’t vote on the difference they could make. On one occasion, I said that a brown or black woman is more likely to be labelled as aggressive due to unconscious bias, and the awkward silence that ensued made me feel like I was being “too much”. This moment might have been the most ironic experience of my life; it was also the most frustrating. I was unable to leave this workplace for some time, so I shut up for the sake of peace. Me - the Māori activist artist, bowed down to social pressure to outwardly conform to more conventional ideals. After making this pact with myself, I had to endure dinners with white employees saying that their black live-in servant is just like a part of the family (I sat in disbelief that they said the most stereotypical sentence people usually use to mock racists). At the same dinner, I even tolerated a non-white person laughing about homeless black people, defending themselves as a pragmatist. While a small part of me was proud of my patience, I mostly felt deeply ashamed at my peaceful behaviour. Feeling complicit in the maintenance of attitudes I strongly disagree with hacked away at my self-respect. Suffice to say, the length of my employment didn’t last much longer. A little voice inside me screamed, “Get the fuck out of there - peace is bullshit.”.
“War and peace”, it’s a phrase so embedded in our cultural psyche that we assume we know what it means. But, what the fuck even is this supposed peace and what does it look like? Is it tranquility? After a bloody war people aren’t meditating en masse, revelling cross-legged in solipsistic nirvana. They’re engaged with the world, almost reckless, making love, their children are baby boomers, they’re kissing in the streets, they’re dancing, doing what the philosophers call “affirming life.” There is nothing wrong with mindfulness and stillness as a tool for awareness. But, the opposite of war isn’t peace - the opposite of war is a party. A party is disruptive, experimental and leads to new ideas. We embrace the ridiculous. What did they do when the Berlin wall fell? David Hasselhoff sang “I Been Talkin Bout Freedom” in a fairy light embossed leather jacket at the Brandenberg Gate. Berlin became the club mecca of the world.
David Hasselhoff hovers in the cage of a hoisting crane above celebrating people on the Berlin Wall and sings "Looking for Freedom" during the first German-German New Year's Eve party on Dec. 31, 1989, at the Brandenburg Gate.
Maybe I’m being a little unfair. Most people don’t think peace is just sitting in contemplation like monks on top of a mountain in the Himalayas. Usually, we are referring to a kind of harmonious joy, something more active than calm stillness. But, I think we should give the opposite of conflict its proper name, a more accurate descriptor, a word that doesn’t risk silencing activists as disturbers of the peace. The word peace doesn’t seem to capture the vibrancy of life we see in so-called peaceful times. It’s like saying a neutron (0 charge) is the opposite of an electron (negative charge) instead of a proton (positive charge). Let’s talk about parties, about celebration, about radical acceptance of weirdness, about euphoria, and their proper place in a just society.
Look at the most common and obvious party: Birthdays. Why do we celebrate birthdays? Consciously, it’s an excuse to have too many natties and oysters with some good mates, maybe send off a few birthday sexts in a celebration of the self. Unconsciously, though, we are celebrating the fact that we are not dead yet. Sure it’s macabre, but we live in a cause and effect universe. For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction; what is the emotional pay-off of a birthday? Like anyone who’s locked themselves in the toilet crying at their own 30th knows, the forced jollity of birthdays only makes sense because we are distracting ourselves from the sadness of death. Likewise, we party to resist war.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and Psy doing Gangnam Hands at UN Headquarters, 2012
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon invited Psy to the UN in 2012, because he believed the K-Pop star’s dance track, Gangnam Style (now with 3.78B YouTube views globally), had the power to bring the world together. Psy and Ban Ki Moon are Korean, and Korea itself has been in a state of constant war for over a century. From 1910 to the end of World War II, Korea withstood the horrors of Japanese colonisation, which decimated their culture. This was closely followed by the Korean War in 1950, where 3 million people died in 3 years, mostly civilians. These numbers are comparable to the Vietnam War which lasted 20 years, making the Korean War one of the deadliest and overlooked conflicts in the Cold War era. Even today, South Korea has a ceasefire with North Korea but is technically still at war, and they’re currently engaged in a trade war with Japan. At the same time, the world has experienced the “Korean Wave”. Referred to by Barack Obama in his 2012 visit to Korea, the “Korean Wave” describes the phenomenal growth of Korean pop culture globally. That year, Psy performed at the Christmas Charity Concert at the White House. This tiny half of an island in a constant state of war, has produced its own unique style of pop that has proliferated around the world - culminating in leaders of the free world to oppan Gangnam Style *cue signature hand dance*.
A giant gold painted statue of Gangnam Hands in Gangnam, Seoul in honour of the Korean Wave, 2020
Nina Kraviz is the biggest techno DJ in the world and she comes from Russia - where despite the Cold War ending 30 years ago, tense relations persist with the US, along with nationalism, homophobia, and corruption. Who remembers Pussy Riot? And anyone who hasn’t seen the Russian techno kid (1997) video has been living under a rock without wifi. I don’t even think I have to go into the history of resistance and club culture. Of queerness, of trans-histories. Thatcherite England and 90s Raves. Detroit techno and blackness. Readers of Lieu know it or have read my writing about it (or are one Google away from it).
Russian Techno Kid is over it, 1997