Monday, March 29, 2010

Schematics for Peace: AC or DC

When electricity was discovered to have practical applications in the late 19th century, there were two proponents for the way it should be generated and distributed. One, by Thomas Edison, advocated the use of direct current (DC) where electricity generated by batteries flow only one way through the wire. Edison’s proposal of using DC for our electrical needs meant that the generation would have to as close to where it was consumed as possible since losses in transmission lines would be high.

The other way of electrical generation, called alternating current (AC), is made by rotating magnets around coils of wire (a generator) and was favored by guys like Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse. That camp won out on the early debate and today our house wiring, light sockets and large appliances, are AC powered. In this system electricity alternates polarities 60 times a second in a sine wave. A device called a transformer can increase the voltage while subsequently reducing the amount of current (thus losses) in transmission lines. Electricity could be generated great distances away and fed by huge overhead hi-tension lines into urban areas. Ironically, green electricity generated by fuel cells and solar electric panels, work best when electricity is produced and consumed locally.

What does this have to do with peacebuilding? Often the attention for peace process in any war situation is the national/international level peace talks. While these agreements may be necessary, if they are not adapted and internalized at a local level they are often not sustainable. Asking; “what is the genesis of peace… locally grown or generated from ideas outsiders and transported into the community?” The locally generated capacities for peace are what enable communities to resist violence. These local capacities in many of the places I have worked were traditionally quite large. Through colonization, globalization and cultural homogenization these capacities have been diminished. Restoring these local capacities for conflict mitigation and transformation is essential to sustainable peace.

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