January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]
This editorial refers to two other pieces of content in this issue; Mairead Maguire’s “The demonization of Russia in a new Cold War era” and INNATE’s “Nonviolent manifesto” to look at what is necessary if we take a peace stance in the world.
We can feel powerless in the face of the forces for greed, for militarism, and reactionary politics. It is, unfortunately, often a violent, unjust and oppressive world out there, and those promoting peace, justice and human rights can feel like a reed blown about in the strong winds of global warming.
We should not ignore successes we have already had. Northern Ireland may not be ‘solved’ but there is relatively little political violence and all to play for. We can argue over who created the current conditions, good or bad, and indeed how to move the situation on to a more stable peace, but the relative peace of the current situation should not be dismissed as worthless. A huge amount of work by many different people has contributed to the relative current calm. But there are always threats to peace, and the relative peace enjoyed on the island of Ireland is no exception. In the Republic, Irish neutrality is severely at risk but activists have not rolled over and continue to struggle in opposition to NATO and EU militarism.
Successes internationally – on chemical and biological warfare, on landmines, cluster weapons, and most recently nuclear weapons, should be noted and built on to move towards a situation where war itself is unacceptable. None of these victories for peace are straightforward and powerful countries of all sorts (not just clear tyrannies but also ‘western democracies’) try to evade their responsibilities in international law, let alone considering any issues of morality. And we are not even touching on global warming which threatens the well being of the world.
It is not our role to either demonise or sanctify anyone; our role is to analyse and organise. Mairead Maguire in this issue looks at how Russia has been demonised again in recent years. There are many things to criticise about Russia; Putin is an authoritarian ruler not averse to locking up or murdering opponents. However, how many people, innocent people as well as political or military opponents, have been killed by US or UK drone strikes which we hear nothing about? These killings (in the case of the USA sanctioned by President Obama and continued by Trump) are as extrajudicial and illegal in international law as anything Russia may have got up to in poisoning the Skripals without scruples, and have totted up a much larger death toll. There may not be symmetry in the way world powers behave outside legality and morality; violence and evil can come in different forms and be manifest in different ways. We should not condone the violent actions of the USA or Russia. We do not need to take ‘sides’ or support one violent country or party because we perceive one to be marginally better than another.
It may suit the leaders of Russia to portray it as threatened by ‘the West’ but, as the saying goes, ‘just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get you.’ ‘The West’, including NATO, contributed significantly to the destabilisation of Ukraine, a situation in which Putin then took advantage. What Russia has done in Syria is not in essence any different to what the USA and other countries attempted to do in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya; the difference is that Putin’s side seems to have ‘won’ (at an incredible cost in human suffering and displacement). In her piece about Russia, Mairead Maguire argues for building cooperation rather than conflict and it is difficult to argue with that.
We do also need to set out our stall, in a positive sense. That is what the ‘nonviolent manifesto’ included in this issue is about. Nonviolence is a much misunderstood concept, sometimes thought of as passivity and ‘pacifists’ can be thought of as narrow minded zealots who have a totally unrealistic view of the world. On the contrary, we would argue that those who believe in nonviolence are likely to have an excellent understanding of how the world works and for that reason commit themselves to avoiding the use of, or support for, violence. We consider that key nonviolent concepts are essential for building a peaceful world but, as stated in the nonviolent manifesto, other approaches such as a green one, must be incorporated in how we go about things.
But we are not sitting on pedestals pontificating about the world and how others should behave. We believe in acting on practical projects which will be of benefit both locally and on a wider plane. These include projects for humanitarian purposes and the good of society as well as ones which will build a movement for change. In regard to the latter, INNATE (for example) tries to share information about what different people and groups are doing so that cooperation and networking is more possible, and we do not need to reinvent wheels which are already on the ground and turning. Through its work on peace trails, as well as trying to ensure that the story of civil society work during the Troubles in Northern Ireland is told, INNATE tries to ensure that there is also an understanding of what people have done in the past; as the INNATE poster says, the past is not water under the bridge, it is water filling a reservoir – and that can be taken in a positive as well as a negative sense.
Continuing (again as an example) on practical work which INNATE has been involved in, it has included the development of monitoring of contentious situations in Northern Ireland. Work on training has included the provision of materials on nonviolence training and strategising, and workshops for those involved in the anti-fracking movement. The development of material on consensus, and support for the general area of consensus voting, has been part of INNATE work. All of these have very practical applications. There are thousands more examples from other people’s work, in Ireland alone.
We cannot build a peaceful and just society overnight. However we can both set out what we believe in and win some successes on issues of concern, and build on those. ‘Europe’ in particular may have been travelling in a rightward direction politically of recent times but this is not ‘written in the stars’, in other words it is a particular phenomenon at a particular time and our day will come, but not until after a huge amount of work. ‘Modelling’ what we want to see in the future is an important part of building a more just alternative and showing that a different world is possible, and it is possible.
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Following on from the Editorial Essay series
To follow on from the series of editorial essays which have appeared in recent issues of Nonviolent News, looking at different approaches to life and their relationship to nonviolence, we publish here ‘A nonviolent manifesto’ from the INNATE group. It will be produced in paper format and available from INNATE.
- All people are equal members of the human race. The fact that we are not treated equally is due to injustice and structural violence. A peaceful world is impossible without an economically more equal world while respecting differences of culture.
- We will work locally and nationally but we will also have a concern globally and refuse to take the nation state as the most important unit.
- A violent response to violence and injustice is likely to cause more suffering than a nonviolent response, and is also likely to lead to more repression. We choose to work without violence.
- Our task is less to decry violence than it is to try to build justice and nonviolent means of struggle. Judging people who are oppressed and use violence is not very helpful; being of solidarity and exploring how they can work and struggle nonviolently is more useful.
- We see care, compassion and nonviolence as being at the very root of what it means to be human.
- We see that there are people in every era who have chosen a nonviolent path, even in the most difficult and violent of circumstances.
- We also seek to build an understanding of nonviolence based on equality which goes beyond traditional understanding of gender roles, including redefining masculinity
- Nonviolence is an essential part of our response to what needs done in the world but it is not a panacea in the sense that we will always need to build alliances with other progressive forces.
- To be nonviolent we have to be green, which is nonviolence towards the earth. This is a key point since global warming threatens great violence towards billions of people on our globe.
- To be nonviolent we have to uphold human rights including social and economic rights.
- Our nonviolence is rooted in our political, philosophical, religious or other beliefs.
- In addition, our nonviolence is based on a pragmatic understanding of what works. In Ireland, our nonviolence is also based on our understanding of the Irish historical experience and of the divisions in Northern Ireland.
- We see laws and the rule of law as important and useful where they promote peace, justice and wellbeing but recognise that laws can also be used to promulgate division and injustice. We are therefore willing to regard unfair laws and policies as illegitimate, and to oppose them by nonviolent methods which may be deemed unlawful.
- We take full responsibility for our role in society and for our actions.
- We believe in positive change for society and the world to work for a situation where all people can live in peace with fulfilled lives. To this end we will take action on a wide range of issues, large and small. Some issues can be dealt with in a very short time, others may take decades or generations.
- We need to recognise both our capabilities and limitations while celebrating our successes. We commit ourselves to work for change in the long term; in some cases this may be witnessing to possibilities and to the fact that a different society can be created. We will attempt to model the new and nonviolent society we are seeking in the way we work and live.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
“The BBC’s approach to environmental issues is highly partisan, siding with a system that has sought to transfer responsibility for structural forces to individual shoppers. Yet it is only as citizens taking political action that we can promote meaningful change.”
George Monbiot, The Guardian, 6 September 2018
We are confronted by two diametrically opposed views when it comes to addressing the global ecological dysfunction in which our lives are imbedded. One view is that we should try to realize positive environmental change through individual action, the other through societal change. Individualism is deeply rooted in western-type societies. Various Christian dominations for instance place the emphasis in how one should live one’s life on the exercise of one’s informed conscience and say that the salvation of one’s imagined soul is solely one’s personal responsibility, with many dominations saying that this can be done through simply believing that Christ is their Saviour. This enables the rich to go through “the eye of a needle” as in live without regard to justice issues and their negative impact on the environment. (Matthew, 19:24).
Many secular philosophies share this view as testified by the thousands of different self-help books published on the subject since the end of the Second World War. Some of the most influential include The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale (1952) and Your Erogenous Zones by Wayne Dyer (1976). Few of these books, as well as self-help blogs, recognise the impact of the social and ecological on one’s physical health and emotional wellbeing. The widely respected Indian born thinker J. Krishnamurti (1895-1986) spent almost his entire adult life expounding the view that we can be our own saviour. Satish Kumar in his review of the most recently published Krishnamurti book, What Are You Doing with Your Life, (2018), summaries his philosophy as follows:
“Krishnamurti explores and explains the causes of these problems (emotional) and moves on to suggest that the solutions are not to be found outside ourselves. No guru, no cult, no religion, no theory, no dogma and no sect can provide us with the answers. We have to look within ourselves: know ourselves, and find freedom from fear, which is the root of all our sufferings.” (Resurgence & Ecologist, September / October 2018)
The main problem with the exclusive self-help philosophy that “The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars but in ourselves” (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 111, Line 140-141) is that it does not accord with scientific findings which tell us we are social creatures, rather than self-contained compositions of DNA, that we are, in other words, more social-directed than self-directed. Kevin Laland, professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Scotland and author of Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind (2017) writes in Scientific American, September 2018 that:
“It was not our large brains, intelligence or language that gave us culture but rather our culture that gave us large brains, intelligence and language.”
The politics and public policies of this mean that it is a serious mistake to think that placing the resolution of environmental problems in the hands of individuals through their life-style choices is the way to resolve them. The individual salvation approach to environmental problems ignores the fact that most if not all our environmental problems are at root structural. This means that positive environmental intention is, but for the fortunate few, rendered ineffective by the highly integrated nature of our global economic system. Further, paragons of sound ecological and equitable living are exceedingly unlikely to persuade consumers whose antennae are acutely tuned to the behaviour of other consumers to follow their example en masse and thereby avoid, within the sliver of time left, global ecological catastrophe. This means that accomplishing significant positive environmental change lies through societal action, which in effect means enforceable legislation.
The decline by hundreds of billions of single use plastic bags annually across the world would not have happened without legislation. Few householders on the island of Ireland would willingly pay an upfront water charge. Yet, given the change in weather patterns as experienced this summer both legal jurisdictions are going to have to impose upfront charges it they are to address the enormous leakage in their respective water distribution systems, upgrade water treatment plants to filter out micro-plastics, educate the public not to use toilets as bins and ensure the entire community has drinkable water in times of prolonged drought.
Although we are essentially the product of our culture we can, within the small circumference of our self-autonomy, act to influence the dominant cultural norms through setting an example and living the change we want to see, while simultaneously working to persuade legislative bodies to act for the common good. The latter can be done through letter writing, which Amnesty International will vouch is effective, lobbying, protesting, signing petitions as well as taking part in public consultations. We can blend the personal with the societal through art, poetry, drama, music, fiction, public discussions, and journals such as this one, to bring about a societal wide change in behaviour towards the environment.
A long neglected agency of societal change is the courts, which groups such as Friends of the Earth are increasingly using in order for legislation that protects the environment, human health and animal welfare to be upheld. We need to leave the cocoon of individualism, the idea of saving one’s soul, and promote community solutions to community-based problems.