Given the grinding wars and toxic political divisions that dominate the news, it might come as a surprise to hear that there are also a multitude of sustainably peaceful societies thriving across the globe today. These are communities that have managed to figure out how to live together in peace—internally within their borders, externally with neighbors, or both—for 50, 100, even several hundred years. This simple fact directly refutes the widely held and often self-fulfilling belief that humans are innately territorial and hardwired for war.
The international community has struggled with a similar attention-to-peace deficit disorder. In fact, the United Nations has been attempting for decades to pivot from crisis management to its primary mandate to “sustain international peace in all its dimensions.” Yet by its own account, “the key Charter task of sustaining peace remains critically under-recognized, under-prioritized, and under-resourced globally and within the United Nations.”
Science could play a crucial role in specifying the aspects of community life that contribute to sustaining peace. Unfortunately, our understanding of more pacific societies is limited by the fact that they are rarely studied. Humans mostly study the things we fear—cancer, depression, violence, and war—and so we have mostly studied peace in the context or aftermath of war. When peaceful places are studied, researchers (much like the U.N.) tend to focus primarily on negative peace, or the circumstances that keep violence at bay, to the neglect of positive peace, or the things that promote and sustain more just, harmonious, prosocial relations. As a result, we know much more about how to get out of war than we do about how to build thriving, peaceful communities.