Billy King

Return to Billy's contents page

Billy King: Rites Again
Well, nearly midsummer and as I told you the last time, I’m just getting into spring. Why does time move too fast? Discuss the theory of relativity and its implications for perceptions of time in not more than 100,000 words. But part of it is being busy. Slow down, you move too fast, got to make the Mourne-ing last, or something like that.

Meanwhile the Headitor asked me to mention that Nonviolent News is celebrating (if that’s the right word) ten years of continuous monthly production (well, of ten issues a year or occasionally eleven) – before 1994 it had been on an occasional basis, the first ever issue was in May 1990.  Or, as reminded by a junk e-mail received purporting to be an undeliverable message to insane@ntlworld.com , you don’t have to be stark staring mad to work here (with no office, no money, no nothing) but it helps.

Every Dogville have its day

Lars von Trier is not everyone’s cup of your favourite brew when it comes to film directors. I don’t review cultural events or films as a matter of course, only when it sparks off something I wanted to say (e.g. Bush and Blair ‘starring’ in Synge’s Playboy of the Western World, see NN 107). In the case of Dogville, a pedestrian paced film (there’s a lot of walking up and down the town’s ‘street’) still packs quite a punch, though the answer to the question of whether every dog will have its day is probably true given the end of the film.

An elegantly dressed young woman (played by Nicole Kidman) arrives at a small, deadend (literally) US town or village, seemingly fleeing gangster gunfire. Who she is or what she has done we don’t know. Her cause adopted by the local philosopher-king, a young man who becomes her boyfriend, the locals agree that she can stay in return for some help about the place. When the danger of shielding her seems to get higher, they demand more and more work so that an arrangement which initially was a fair deal for both sides becomes out and out exploitation – economic and sexual, as the local folks take advantage of the danger she is in and her naïve idealism.  She always and inexplicably seems to put the best face on people’s conduct.

In the end she is almost less than a slave. Finally subdued and after a failed and doomed escape attempt she is grossly betrayed by her erstwhile boyfriend, who eventually contacts the number given by gangsters who came looking for her early on. The towns people have finally decided to get rid of her, no matter what it means for her, but in expectation of a reward. When the gangsters arrive it turns out she is the mob boss’s daughter though the two had fallen out; in her idealism she rejected the way of crime, corruption, violence and power which he represented.

Which way would she turn now? The choice was hers.  It may be that blood proved thicker than water but in the end she decided to back her Da, with cataclysmic results for Dogville. What sense can you make out of this, beyond the ‘blood is thicker than water’ explanation? But her response does make some sense following her betrayal by her one seeming ally, her boyfriend.

My understanding of the change would be that it was because she was totally naïve in her idealism. There was good and bad in the towns people but her lack of resistance at crucial points, compounded greatly by her weak-willed boyfriend, meant that her idealism was unsustainable in the long term. Action earlier on through a minimal comprehension of the spirit behind trade unionism or nonviolent action could have made the town people aware of her exploitation, but that is outside the plot.  No one could sustain such idealism and passivity in the face of such oppression. And she turns, with a vengeance.

Idealism needs realism, and vice versa. How you hold these two values in tension is a difficult act but for is for me the concluding point of my thoughts on the film.  Idealism without realism is unsustainable.  Realism without idealism is just brutality. It is up to the individual conscience how these two values are held in tension.  I can’t tell you how you should do it even though I might agree or disagree with your analysis, in general or for yourself; in the end it is a question for everyone to answer in the quiet of our own hearts and minds. But I would like to end these short thoughts on the topic by quoting from the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who sums up the matter much better than I ever could:

                                    I love you, idealism and realism

                                    like water and stone

                                    you are

                                    parts of the world

                                    light and root of the tree of life.

Creation

I am a creationist. By this I mean that everyone has creativity inside them of all sorts, including artistic creativity, but our education system often makes us feel the opposite. I was never into art at school, only doing it to 13 or so anyway, and was made to feel it was esoteric and not ‘mine’; it is only as my life has progressed that I could say “yes, I am visually creative” or “yes, I am an artist”.  By that I don’t mean I am going to make a living from it but rather that I take pleasure from it, and some other people take pleasure from seeing or being given pieces I have created.

For me it’s a bit like nonviolence. I believe there is that of nonviolence in everyone but this is ignored because we are so surrounded with images and examples of violence (more from governments and states I would argue than from anyone else, though ordinary citizens don’t do too bad a job sometimes at exhorting it by ideas or example). There are many images of nonviolence or non-violence but these are usually only looked up to in the case of gurus such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King who we feel we can’t emulate.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for emulating the Mahatma and ML King (well, in some things, however I’ll skip their sexual practices!), but gurudom can again make an idea seem unobtainable. Art is somewhat similar; we see great artists whose skill and vision we could not match and we feel in awe but also artistically useless.

What occasions me to make these thoughts on paper is a weekend workshop I was on recently with Annabel Langrish near Knockvicar in Co Roscommon (though she may move to Co Cork in the near future). I was given a ‘creative weekend’ there with her as a present and I would challenge anyone who doubts their own creative/artistic abilities to try it.  Using a variety of techniques to decorate pottery and paper, and with an amiable and able teacher in a very small group, we came away with products of which we could be proud. If we had been paying Annabel for similar products which she had made it would have cost us more than the fee for the ‘creative weekend’, so learning to do it was very good value.

The key was using techniques which anyone could use (e.g. pressed, dried leaves and flowers, or free-flowing inks), and approaches which made us feel at home with giving it our best go. I learnt a lot in a couple of days and hope that it will inspire me to develop some of my own artistic techniques in interesting directions. If anyone else wants to try their creativity in a similar fashion I would recommend it.  Take, learn, and go and do your own thing. The e-mail address is   annabelc@eircom.net and her current address is Corrigeenroe, Boyle, Co Roscommon, phone 071 - 9666093 (as indicated above, she may be moving though the e-mail will probably stay the same).

One of the most pleasant parts of the weekend was a stroll down an early summer lane to pick leaves and flowers from the hedgerow for pressing, a fascinating combination of what was both botany and visual art in one, being helped to identify what was what and how it would look when pressed and dried. It is great to be in the countryside at this time of year and Lough Key Forest Park, where I went cycling in the early morning, was beautiful. The facilities in Lough Key Forest Park are due to have a major upgrading, and the ugly, modern multi-storey concrete tower where Rockingham House once stood (burnt down 1957) is due to get an external lift and glass viewing gallery at the top; one suggestion was that it could more suitably be knocked down.  You might get a beautiful view from the top of the concrete tower but if the structure itself is an eyesore, what is the point?  Making everyone’s view suffer for the sake of those who choose to get the view at the top seems somewhat counter-productive

Carbon dating

Got that holiday booked? Good, because I’m now going to try and make you (and me) feel exceedingly guilty. The global warming catastrophe which no serious world effort has yet been made to avert is human made. And a prime cause of that is transport.  But much travel is ‘unnecessary’ as in the sense of it being for pleasure, entertainment, holiday-making….and air travel is the worst offender in that pollution up there disperses much more slowly than pollution down here at ground level.

If you look on the web various websites offer you the opportunity to calculate the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by your mode of transport. Basically a weekend in Barcelona by air is likely to use up what Friends of the Earth would call a reasonable year’s emission per person (1100 kg per person per year)….and that is before you heat your house, your office, run your car, or go for a longer holiday or trip. We are living way, way beyond our carbon means, and that means disaster for low-lying countries and, through weather changes, for the rest of us.

In her useful recent article on the topic (‘Irish Times’ 4th June 2004) Iva Pocock quotes the figure of 1.3 tons of carbon dioxide per passenger for a Dublin to New York flight. That’s one hell (sic) of a lot of a contribution to global warning. Anyway, to work it out for your holliers or next trip, you can do a web search for something like ‘travel carbon dioxide calculator’; there are a lot of sites there and some that look interesting include www.bestfootforward.com/carbonlife.htm  (which includes general calculations as well as travel) and for calculations and possible remedies (e.g. by planting trees to assuage your guilty conscience) see for example www.co2.org (Climate Care) or www.futureforests.com (Future Forests).  For general purposes in calculating your carbon consumption you can visit www.carboncalculator.org (British site on general carbon use) or www.csgnetwork.com/carboncalc.html (US site).

But drastic remedies will have to be taken. Instead of planning more airport terminals we should be closing them down. And instead of aviation fuel being tax free it should be heavily taxed. But the only fair system in the long run is realistic carbon consumption quotas per head which will put the pressure on the rich world to get its act together. I’m afraid this is a topic which I will be returning to [by bicycle or plane? – Ed]  [In the natural cycle of things – Billy].

Papa Doc Paisley and the Pursuit of Truth

Recently I wrote about ‘Papa Doc’ Ian Paisley Senior and attempts to project him as a rosy, cosy elder statesman and all round loveable granddad. The mellowing we will wait to see.  But I am revisiting the topic here because I was just shocked by something he said and wrote.  You would expect the leader of a church and political party to be reasonably informed and while, like the rest of us, he would have his opinions and might bend the truth slightly to fit, his facts would still be a recognisable version of the truth, the whole truth, and something like the truth.  Not a bit of it.  If we go back four years he preached a sermon which also appeared in the official organ of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, the Revivalist (July/August 2000 edition).  This contains evidence of blatant lies and total ignorance to a shocking degree. 

Let’s start with what he had to say in this about Portadown. “A man said to me the other day, “Mr Paisley, why have we had all this trouble in what is the Protestant capital of the County of Armagh, Protestant Portadown.”  I said, “Because the Pope of Rome ordained Jesuits to go there and cause the trouble.”  Some years ago two Jesuit priests were brought into Portadown and slowly and surely and deliberately they worked up the situation that has come about which forbids Orangemen to walk home from their place of worship after worshipping God in the Church of Ireland Church at Drumcree. They have done it for over a hundred years but when Jesuits did their work and did it well they found a soil and a seed that could arise the tempers of the nationalist community and show them a way that they could effectively block the Protestants from worshipping in their own church.”

Where could you begin? Firstly, Portadown is not ‘Protestant’; the majority may be Protestant but it has a very substantial Catholic minority, to talk about ‘Protestant Portadown’ as if the whole town was Protestant is highly inaccurate as well as insulting, sectarian, and dangerous for anyone not Protestant in that town (because they obviously have no right to exist there).  Secondly, anyone who knows anything about the Catholic Church in reality knows that the Pope and Jesuits are more likely to be at loggerheads or at truce than in cahoots in some conspiracy about Portadown; the idea that the Pope deliberately directed Jesuits there to cause trouble beggars belief. Thirdly, anyone who knows anything about Portadown knows that inter-community problems pre-date the presence of the Jesuit community by a long, long way.  Fourthly, anyone who knows anything about Orange marches knows that there have always been contentious marches – so much so that there was a whole period in the mid-nineteenth century when all Orange marches were banned by the British government (most marches both then and now are non-contentious and pass off quietly). Fifthly, anyone who has had any contact with the Jesuit community in Portadown will know that they have had  a developing and moderating influence (including trying to deal with issues nonviolently at a community level) on the situation and have been involved continuously on a cross-community basis in Portadown itself.  Finally, his last clause quoted above is simply nonsense; no one was stopping or trying to stop Protestants worshipping in their own church, the problem was with Orangemen attending one (Orange) service in the year coming marching back through a Catholic area.  In essence, the quote above is a whole pack of lies.

Incidentally, the Protestant mythology about the Jesuits, as exemplified by Paisley’s ignorance quoted above, has practical, and dangerous implications, as with all sectarian lies in Northern Ireland.  During the visit of Jean and Hildegard Goss-Mayr, renowned nonviolence teachers and activists, in November 1988, a visit to Portadown by them revealed the fact that Protestant/loyalist paramilitaries had been dispatched to shoot and kill the couple of Jesuits when they arrived in the town. The Jesuits may only have been saved by the fact that the paramilitaries involved could not find the house in the estate where they lived.

There are other lies in the piece from which the paragraph above comes.  Paisley still targets the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to try to poach members so any attack he can make on it, he does.  The article quoted above is entitled “Irish Presbyterian Church re-enters WCC by the back door” (WCC being World Council of Churches). More cobblers here, and I have checked it out. He claims the World Council of Churches is prophetically indicted in the Bible; well, not in my version it isn’t, and not even in the King James version beloved of the Rev Ian, his claim is another example of wish-fulfilment. A couple of decades ago the Irish Presbyterian Church withdrew from the WCC in an argument which was more to do with the politics of Norn Iron than anything else (humanitarian aid to African liberation movements was equated with supporting the IRA).

Anyway, he develops his argument by saying that the Presbyterian Church has rejoined the WCC by the back door; “I have in my hand the Annual Report of the Irish Council of Churches of which the Irish Presbyterian Church is a member. We have discovered hidden away in this document that the Irish Council of Churches, who have in their membership the Irish Presbyterian Church, have by the back door rejoined the World Council of Churches. Because the Irish Council of Churches themselves have become a member of the World Council of Churches. No public announcement about that! It was hidden away in the pages of the document…”

Unlike Ian Paisley I try to check my facts.  The Irish Council of Churches (ICC) is not and has not been a member of the World Council of Churches.  The WCC members are individual churches though the WCC directory does list National Councils of Churches, and some of these it recognises as associate councils who are entitled to send representatives to WCC assemblies and meetings; the Irish Council of Churches is not even one of these (the position in this part of the world being held by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, CTBI). The Presbyterian Church is a member of the ICC, that much is true, but the rest is totally false and the Presbyterian Church is not, incidentally, a member of CTBI.  In addition, to be a member of one body which is in turn a member of another, third body, does not make you a member of the last; I may be a member of my local library, and the library may be a member of an association of libraries, but I am not thereby a member of such an association.

And even if it were true, the attempt to imply ‘guilt by association’ to such a degree is ludicrous. Modern folk wisdom says we are only seven removes away from anyone in the world (that you know someone who knows someone…….who, within seven linkages, knows anyone, anywhere).  While this ‘seven steps’ is probably a bit dubious, you might as well argue that Ian Paisley and the Pope are buddies because just one or two linkages between people could connect them (say someone in the European parliament that Paisley would have had dealings with)  Or, say, I happened to buy a house or a pint of beer off someone we subsequently discovered had had ‘links’ with a paramilitary organisation; would I then be labelled a ‘supporter’ of the organisation that this person had links with?

The other interesting thing in the quotation about the ICC is his allegation that a ‘fact’ (which is really a falsehood of Paisley’s imagination) is “hidden away…….No public announcement about that! It was hidden away in the pages of the document.”  So here we have the conspiracy theory about ‘facts’ being hidden away. The ICC annual report he refers to is a document available to the public and distributed widely in church circles. In the same way he makes his allegation, I could allege Paisley ‘hides his lies’ in the pages of a Free Presbyterian publication, the Revivalist. But all I will allege is that his lies are there for everyone to read.

If this is the standard of ‘truth’ exercised by Ian Paisley it is clear that he will distort anything he can, in any way he can, to make himself whiter than white and everyone else blacker than black. It is clear the ‘Paisley pattern’ is to sling as much mud as he can in the hope that some will stick but he evidently may not know the old Irish proverb, ‘Flinging mud loses ground’.  He has got away with such lies for a long time and it is well time that his bluff was called more widely. Any other church or political leader in Norn Iron who told a quarter of the fibs above would quickly be called to account by the Rev Ian Paisley. ‘The truth shall set you free’ may, in Paisley parlance, refer to the Christian message, but it would a fine motto for him to take up in everyday life.

Well, that’s that for another month, mid-summer is a-comin’ in and the holliers are not too far away. I must say I’m looking forward to a break from some things so I can do other things, well, some of them recreational and vacational. But there’s a load to do before then, including going to lots of successful meetings [So what’s a successful meeting in your book, Billy? – Ed] [One where I come out carrying less paper than when I went in – Billy]. And if you’re out to make a point about a prickly and woody herbaceous plant in a valley (Gorge Bush), do it with style and humour. So brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts twice removed from the pub for being rowdy, see you early in July, aye, Billy.

Billy.

Return to Nonviolence News 120

Return to Billy's contents page