By Liesel Mitchell and Nick Tobia

Nick: In one of those forays into lateral thinking, I had chanced upon the concept of maodun in Chinese philosophy. It literally means spear-shield, and references the symbols of an invincible spear and an impenetrable shield. In Western-oriented binary logic, a spear that penetrates anything cannot exist where there is a shield that is impenetrable to anything as well, and vice versa. In orientalism, however, there is such a thing as four-cornered logic which allows us to transcend binary logic. These corners of logic accommodate four possibilities: the proposition of the spear alone is true; the proposition of the shield alone is true; both are false; and both are true. Particularly on the last corner, wherein the spear and shield exist simultaneously, maodun is most clearly understood as contradictory unity. The most familiar illustration of maodun is the simultaneously Communist and Capitalist character of modern-day China. A frequent extension of this is the One Country, Two Systems policy of Deng Xiaoping, most visible in the unificationof Hong Kong with mainland China. A peek around similar fields of philosophy and logic yielded scholarship on dialetheism and paraconsistent logic, both of which also contemplate the simultaneous possibility of contradictory propositions.

The concepts of maodun, dialetheism and paraconsistency are essential to my project that challenges the binaries that are embedded in liberal peace logic. The primary target of the challenge is consensus, understood both as a modality of decision-making in peace negotiation and as a decision that terminates the negotiation. In both instances, consensus grapples with a participation conundrum of inclusion and exclusion, both in its negotiations and its applicability in post-conflict society. Is it at all possible to imagine peace processes that are both inclusive and exclusive at the same time? Is it possible to imagine peace agreements that are both final in the sense of decisiveness, yet at the same time contingent? Is it possible to imagine resolutory decisions that embody both agreement and disagreement? How do these imaginings generate new possibilities for consensus-seeking and decision-making in peace processes?

Years ahead of finding the answers to these questions, I ran into Liesel Mitchell, in the kitchen and we found ourselves talking about maodun while setting the time in the new microwave. Her brief ruminations on the idea of maodun and paraconsistent logic yielded a staggering insight.

Ceasefires are considered mere intermediate stages, or navigation points on the way to a final negotiation destination – peace agreements. Ceasefires by themselves, curiously, also represent a paraconsistent event that embodies both the agreement and disagreement of conflict parties. A ceasefire, as in the case of the Koreas, is both an official state of war and an enduring though precarious peace. Understood in these terms, I ask if is there something in ceasefires that can inform us on the manner by which we conduct our peace processes, both in negotiations, in the nature and form of agreements, and the post-conflict peacebuilding? If ceasefires are maodun, can peace negotiations and agreements also be maodun? Indeed, there are still many questions to ask and answer.

Liesel: While peace agreements exclude groups in order to reach consensus, ceasefires only work by inclusion. By acknowledging there is agreement between warring parties (to cease the armed conflict), it allows disagreement to remain on the table. Can a ceasefire offer a far broader scope of possibilities for all parties within the space that is ‘disagreement’, than the narrow door of peace agreements?

As Nick puts so eloquently, peace agreements are seen as the “final destination” yet we are overly concerned with a destination that doesn’t exist. The process of disagreement is the destination, and it is through the push-pull contradictory space of maodun that ceasefire can uncomfortably offer a point in the ongoing process where agreeing to disagree may be allowed to exist.

Some may consider ceasefires to be a deadlock, which implies there is no movement. However to use the case of the two Koreas again, since the ceasefire in 1953 there have been varying levels of engagement across the DMZ that separates the two. At times this has grown peaceful initiatives between the two countries, and at other times communication and negotiation has broken down. But nothing is static in this space of maodun, and maybe it’s more helpful for terms of agreement in peace negotiations to be seen as ‘constructive conflict’ rather than ‘peace agreement’. Therefore, does the perceived ‘deadlock’ of a ceasefire actually offer something quite different from the ‘lockdown’ of a peace agreement by allowing for exploration of ‘constructive conflict’?

Nick is a new NCPACS PhD researcher on the subject of Agonistic peace. Liesel belongs to the founding cohort of NCPACS postgraduate students, and is at the cusp of earning her doctorate degree in nonviolent discipline.

Editor encouragement:  A philosophical discussion that encourages, perhaps even begs, for participation.  Please feel free to comment below.