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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Number 275: December 2019

[Return to related issue on Nonviolence News]

Overcoming division

Sectarianism and divisions in society happen for many different reasons including vested interests, powerlessness, oppression and fear. Depending on their nature, once institutionalised or normalised, divisions may need conscious and sustained action to be overcome. In other cases, divisions may fade away because of changing norms, habits and beliefs. Cultural differences are not of themselves a cause of division but they can become a symbol of division; they are not by themselves a cause of division because in a really multicultural society people would be, or are, keen to learn about, and from, others of different cultures and beliefs, and no one culture is considered superior to another even if each has positives and negatives.

In Ireland the biggest division historically has been between those who identified as Irish and those who identified as British. This continues to be the main division in Northern Ireland. As elsewhere, the British state in Ireland used ‘divide and rule’ as its means of trying to keep control, a policy which was continued by the Stormont regime following partition and up until its end in 1972. South of the border, the old divisions gradually faded away though the two main conservative parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, still owe their origins to different sides in the Civil War in 1922.

In both jurisdictions in Ireland, the growth in numbers of people coming from outside, dating from the end of the twentieth century, has been an important development. In the North it has helped put the Protestant-Catholic divide into some sort of perspective. In the Republic it has added vibrancy to public life. South of the border the old religious divisions were fading as the twentieth century was getting old, partly due to secularism but also changing religious beliefs and norms. North of the border similar forces have been at work but the picture is more mixed, and the Catholic-Protestant divide remains a very significant factor primarily because it is the main marker for political and cultural beliefs.

There is no one and simple answer to overcoming division. However the first prerequisite is a desire to do so. In the North while the largest parties pay lip service to overcoming the Protestant-Catholic divide they have not taken the necessary action; this is largely because they do not actually want to overcome the divide since that threatens their existence and power. Some of the people in Northern Ireland have moved on but others are still trapped in the prison of division.

Part of the responsibility of the state is to oppose divisions in society by all means possible. The state in the Republic has not done anything like what it could have done for integration of newcomers because of the direct provision system which often isolates people in centres outside of population centres, and which does not encourage integration in other ways too. In the North there is no government at Stormont, a blot on the copy book of the two largest parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, and when there has been their reluctance to move beyond a power carve up to any kind of integration has been stunning, in the worst possible sense. But the British state, in the shape of the Conservative government of Theresa May, in allying with the DUP has done considerable harm to prospects of moving forward.

Part of overcoming division is to move beyond zero sum concepts, that a victory for ‘us’ is necessary which will be a defeat for ‘them’. When Northern politics, and indeed often politics in the Republic and worldwide, is often presented in such zero sum terms it is difficult to even try to move beyond it. But it can be done. The reality in Northern Ireland is that both sides of the sectarian house need to be thriving and happy for society to prosper; zero sum victories are a recipe for disaster. Moving forward in this situation is difficult but certainly not impossible.

On the whole island, as elsewhere, the issue of class and poverty is a great divider. The haves, by and large, are content that they are not have nots. The majority of have nots are too busy surviving to worry about larger issues. Class and poverty are not totally overlapping factors but there is a very significant correlation. And both jurisdictions remain places where wealth is very unevenly divided. Poverty leads to violence, directly and indirectly; the structural violence of going without, and the physical violence which responses to violence can engender. However it would be wrong to identify violence particularly with those who are poor; it is the rich who can afford to avoid problems and who may have much larger carbon footprints and own arms shares or be involved in exploitative practices, much of which escapes exposure.

How newcomers are treated in a society is a good indication of its true nature. The Republic’s Direct Provision system for refugees and asylum seekers is an affront to human dignity in removing personal choice from people, sometimes for a significant number of years. It does violence to people who may already have experienced great violence and dislocation in their lives. If there was an induction period for six months in a centre which is specifically geared to the needs of newcomers that might be acceptable; after that it is a human right to be able to choose accommodation, who you associate with, and what food you eat (and cook). Of course the housing crisis in Dublin in terms of the lack of affordable accommodation is an issue but it is an issue and not an excuse for inaction.

Just as we get rid of enemies by turning them into friends, so we should deal with divisions by transforming them through contact and win-win solutions. Ireland has gained greatly, in many ways – including culturally, economically, and politically – by newcomers arriving. It has helped Ireland to become a different and better place without losing any positive aspects of culture. In the North, if the old Protestant-Catholic division can be overcome, there would be a torrent of positivity which could transform the six counties of Northern Ireland not least through retaining the vibrant young people who currently flee elsewhere.

In all this we need a vision, not a blinding vision but a vision to work towards. Overcoming poverty and deprivation has to be a concomitant part of building a green and ecological future; if the pie isn’t getting bigger, and the ingredients are becoming more wholesome, then the shares have to be much more equal. Regarding newcomers, we do need awareness building about what they have been doing for those of us who have been around for generations, and not least is contributing more to the economy than they take out. And Northern Ireland needs a clear vision, and resultant strategy, for overcoming the great divide that history has bequeathed that part of the world.

A divided society is a weak society and one which is is prone to all sorts of threats as unscrupulous political operators can exploit fears and perceived threats. A united society is a strong one which can deal with issues effectively as they arise and not let them fester. We have a choice.

Not celebrating NATO...
NATO is currently ‘celebrating’ 70 years of existence but there is nothing to celebrate, rather it should be a cause of mourning: mourning the waste of money spent on armaments and armies – and therefore not socially useful goods and services – and mourning the continued international division and violence which are facilitated by great power politics and global carve ups.

NATO was a product of the Cold War between ‘the West’ and the USSR. When communism was ended by people power in Eastern Europe, NATO should have been abandoned but instead – and in opposition to an agreement with Russia at the time – it was been allowed to creep up to the Russian border. Russia is an authoritarian and militarist state which has engaged in destructive military escapes in its own backyard and in Syria but it is still nowhere near the USA’s record for military intervention overseas which has greatly destabilised whole swathes of the world over many decades – most recently the Middle East but previously Asia and Latin America.

The post-Cold War mission creep or redefinition is covered in the recently produced pamphlet “NATO – What is it good for?”, a briefing from the Stop the War Coalition in Britain: “The new mission was presented in terms of security and the defence of western values, but at its heart it as about projecting US power and preventing the emergence of new challengers. A 1992 Pentagon strategy document spelt out the thinking: “Our primary objective is to prevent the emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the old Soviet Union or elsewhere....” “ The same publication also details how all NATO members are required to share in the responsibility for maintaining nuclear weapons in Europe.

Roger Cole, Chair of PANA (Peace and Neutrality Alliance) was one of the speakers at a NATO Counter Summit in London on 30th of November. He said: "Northern Ireland has been part of NATO since its foundation. The Republic of Ireland is signing up to the emerging EU Army via the PESCO Agreement and well over three million US troops have landed in Shannon airport on their way to their perpetual wars in the Middle East and north Africa. Yet despite the fact that a RedC/RTE poll in May showed that 82% of the Irish people support Irish Neutrality in all its aspects, the reality of Ireland's integration into the US/NATO/EU military axis is ignored.”

The vast majority of military expenditure in the world is made by NATO members. The EU is becoming a European arm of NATO, and while Northern Ireland’s membership of the UK gives it NATO membership, the Republic has effectively been cooperating with EU and NATO militarism, as the quote from Roger Cole above indicates. It is a sad state of affairs for a ‘neutral’ country with a proud record of standing up for policies which are aimed at establishing peace that it should now be jumping into bed with the big militarists – and this does nothing for peace and stability in the world which, now more than ever in the light of the global heating catastrophe, needs a very different approach. We need to serve neither ‘King nor Kaiser’ but the world. Ireland should be leading a move away from militarism in favour of urgent internationalism, partly through a reformed United Nations.

War is outmoded and outdated. The war machine is itself a significant contributor to global heating. The arms industry is a corrupt blot on the landscape of the world, selling things that countries do not need and depriving the poor and those in need of vital services, and also drawing attention away from the real crisis of global heating.

“War is ours, we buy it, sell it, spread it and wage it. We are therefore not powerless to solve it” (Dr Samantha Nutt in the short Stop Refuelling War pamphlet “8 myths about the arms trade and defence” - of which INNATE has some copies available). NATO is the most formidable part of the global war machine.

We need different standards to judge the world, ones which come from our own ethical/philosophical/secular/religious foundations which reject violence as a means of dealing with issues and problems and which build on the established methods of building peace nonviolently. NATO has no part in building a peaceful and secure future for all the people of the world and needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs. This is not idealism; it is realism about what the world needs.

- - - - - -


Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Caring for Nonhuman Nature

Although our assault on the biosphere is absolutely horrifying the evidence suggests that the majority of people are not moved to take robust and effective action to prevent it. In regard to the warming of the planet the head of the World Meteorological Organization reported on the 25 November that climate-heating gases have reached a record high and that the gap between targets and reality were both “glaring and growing". Damian Carrington in The Guardian, 20 November 2019, informs us that the production of fossil fuels between now and 2030 is expected to increase “heading for 50% more than is consistent with 2C, and 120% more than that for 1.5C.” An increase in average global temperature above 1.5C will lead to dire consequences for humankind and other life-forms.

An important reason for the wide-spread reluctance of governments, companies and the general public to take effective action is that relatively few people, especially in the economically wealthy countries, have first-hand experience of the terrible harm done to nonhuman nature and the devastating consequences. Few for example have witnessed the incineration of life in a rainforest or seen elephant corpses, minus their tusks, decaying on an African savannah. By way of contrast much of the plastic pollution in the oceans is submerged and the rise in sea-levels is not immediately detectable. Bearing witness to the destruction of nonhuman nature would more easily arouse a person to do something about it as opposed to occasionally seeing a few minutes screening of such on television.

Not been aroused to protect nonhuman nature is not a failing but is a feature of our evolutionary make-up. We are sensual beings hard-wired to respond to the immediate and direct, to that which we see, hear, smell, touch and feel. Thus while we can intellectually grasp the tragedy of environmental destruction and appreciate the consequences we are nevertheless not as moved to act with the passion and urgency we would to obvious environmental destruction in our own locality. The on-going environmental catastrophes in wealthy countries like Ireland and the UK are in the main silent in nature. These include illegal waste dumps out of public view, the pouring of untreated sewage into the sea, chemical-saturated soils and the continual decline in nonhuman life forms. Air pollution which cannot be seen or smelt causes tens of thousands to suffer from chronic ill-health and die prematurely every year.

A further factor that has a bearing on our lack of inclination to protect nonhuman nature is that we simply don’t care enough about it. This lack of care is often not a matter of personal morality, of committing venial and mortal sins against nonhuman nature. Our lack of care for nonhuman nature is an integral part of our culture which has infused us with environmentally harmful ideas about what to value and aspire to, what tastes in all matter of things are good for us and socially desirable.

At the time of writing people are being exposed to advertisements and digital chatter encouraging them to buy goods on what is duplicitously labelled Black Friday, which will be followed by other ‘buying days’ including Cyber Monday. Buying is presented as a fun, up-lifting, communal activity. The human suffering, and harm to the biosphere, which are an integral part of the production, transport and disposal of most goods is not mentioned.
Viewing nonhuman nature as warranting care, respect and love has been absent from the socialisation most people in modernity have received from family, schools, faith groups and other socialising agencies. This can be contrasted with the enormous amount of time and money these agencies spend in teaching people to love and pay homage to an all-powerful, all-seeing and all-knowing entity which in all likelihood does not exist while point-blank ignoring an entity that is very much alive, warranting as well as needing our respect. The latter of course is nonhuman nature and the former God.

Thankfully the socialisation process in a wide range of cultures is gradually disseminating values and a worldview which says that nonhuman nature is important, not only to humankind but in its own right. That it has intrinsic value. The idea is beginning to take root, become normalised, that a healthy biosphere is indispensable to the wellbeing of humanity and that caring for the emotional and material wellbeing of our children is not separate from caring for the wellbeing of the biosphere. The increasing emphasis in BBC wildlife programmes on environmental issues is evidence of this, as is RTE’s recent Climate Week when climate breakdown was given widespread coverage.

This past year has seen public protests by Extinction Rebellion about how we ill-treat the biosphere and end-of month strikes for climate action by school children. The state of the environment, in particular climate breakdown, has, with the exception of Northern Ireland, got the attention of the political parties in the upcoming UK general election with pledges to transit to a carbon neutral economy within the coming decades.
Living in locality, as we must, does not mean we are not part of the global, connected to the slum dweller in flood-prone Jakarta and to the melting glaciers in Antarctic. The realisation is taking hold that everything and everyone is connected and everything we do has consequences. In caring for the local we are at the same time caring for the biosphere.
Wishing readers an eco-friendly Christmas.

Copyright INNATE 2021