Peaceful Societies: Alternatives to Violence and War by Bruce D. Bonta

cover of Peaceful Societies, featuring an image of San rock art

Might it be possible to build a more peaceful world by studying other societies that are already peaceful? It seems logical, right?

I’m grateful to the Global Center for Nonkilling for undertaking the publication of my Dad’s last book, Peaceful Societies: Alternatives to Violence and War, which we discovered in his papers after he died – even Mom hadn’t known about it! It’s his attempt to distill everything he’d learned from 25 years of deep immersion in the anthropological literature about peaceful societies around the world. It’s available as a free download (PDF) or a $15 paperback.

Is it possible to draw conclusions about the possibilities of building a more peaceful world by studying peaceful societies? In response, this book attempts to demonstrate that peaceful societies are inspiring and that they frequently shed light on difficult aspects of the paths to peacefulness; but there are no good, easy, or obvious answers. These groups of people provide inspiration about possibilities, however. The careful reader should be inspired to look for ways forward on many different issues related to building a more peaceful world by studying societies featured in this book: Lepchas, Ifaluk, Semai, Piaroa, Batek, Buid, Ladakh, Kadar, Chewong, Paliyan and others.

Failing to mention that he’d been working on this was typical of Dad, a deeply private person with an unusually low need for external validation. I’ve also been reflecting lately on his boundless faith in human beings to do the right thing – faith not always repaid, of course, but somehow still undaunted. I don’t think he ever really understood why his work documenting peaceful societies never got a whole lot of traction in activist circles, let alone with policy-makers. He just didn’t understand ethnocentrism and parochialism, and how much even supposedly open-minded people are really not interested in learning from non-Western societies, or even from groups like the Amish or Hutterites. But as I think Dad tries to suggest with his opening story of conversing about peacefulness at a local Audubon Society event, true open-mindedness is often more common among people who are not experts in a field and don’t already have their minds made up. Perhaps over time the message will spread. I’m cautiously optimistic that this publication will reach faith leaders, community organizers, and other grassroots leaders for whom alternatives to violence and competition seem less like an ideological challenge than an urgent, practical need.

For more on the book, here’s the Center’s press release. Please share widely. Thank you.

Educational Films

This entry is part 13 of 22 in the series Alternate Histories


In elementary school, sometimes we would drop everything & watch movies in the middle of a slow afternoon, old educational films from Coronet, Encylopedia Brittanica & Disney. My favorites were the ones with time-lapse photography. A great boat would take shape in minutes as scaffolding expanded like notebook doodles & workers leapt & swarmed as quick as thought. Or the classic: the wonder of a bud becoming a bloom, shedding its petals & swelling into a fruit.

Most educational of all were the rare occasions when the teacher would decide to feed the film back through the projector as she rewound it, so that everything went backwards at high speed. The law of gravity was replaced by the law of levity. We laughed & laughed as raindrops rose from puddles & cars sped through intersections in reverse gear without a single crash. You had to pay attention; everything happened so fast. I saw an oak shrink, furl its first green flags & curl up, the acorn closing around it like a healed wound. I saw a collapsed building rise from the dead, bullets return to their guns like homing pigeons & an ashen cloud condense & give birth to a bomb.