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Billy King: Rites Again

Billy King

Number 180 : June 2010

[Go back to related issue of Nonviolent News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil, Ireland, the UK, Belgium….

I told you before, some years ago, that I gave up coffee because of George W Bush. That’s as true as I’m sitting here typing this but I won’t repeat why although I have the story off to a ‘tea’. However I did go back on coffee though I drink a variety of substances – certainly not all of them with caffeine, and even coffee substitutes that aficionados of the black bean would consider totally heretical. I was interested to see the recent research about coffee which shows that the fix regular coffee drinkers get doesn’t take them to any more alertness than anyone else (who doesn’t imbibe) – it only brings them back up to the same level of alertness as others. In other words, the more caffeine you drink through coffee, the more you need to drink to get yourself alert and high-ish. So it’s pretty much the standard human reaction to any kind of stimulant or drug with decreasing returns as you consume more. Mind you then I haven’t had my latte today….maybe that’s why the Mormons are called the Church of Latte Day Saints, because they don’t drink tea or coffee.

Sex and the Pity

Good piece by Lara Marlowe in the Irish Times of 28th May 2010 on USA military use of drones. The technological advances made in remotely controlled warfare means that, yet again, the percentage of civilian casualties is likely to increase. I note that the Fellowship of Reconciliation in England has a project on drones – I’ll bet no one drones on at their meetings. But what I wanted to pick up on is the language used by Lt Col Kevin Messer, talking about the Predator drone, in Lara Marlowe’s piece; “It it’s a target I want to prosecute, I can do it. If it’s a target I want to kill, I can do it. It is the sexiest programme in the army.”

Where should I begin to dissect the language here? The enthusiasm about killing? The enthusiasm about such technology? The matter of fact description of being able to kill at will? Or the use of the word ‘sexy’, or in this case ‘sexiest’, as a term of approval for a murder weapon – and drones are used in Pakistan and elsewhere (see e.g. ‘Peace News’, June 2010) outside of the conventions of normal warfare so the term ‘murder’ is a reasonable one. The word ‘prosecute’, used in this quote, can mean simply to follow up or pursue so that is understandable.

I think there is something deeply misogynist about using the term ‘sexiest’ to describe a lethal weapon of warfare. Adjectives to do with sex are used in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of purposes but using the term for such a weapons system is taking something which originates in what should be a healthy and consensual human activity, or associated with that, and using it to approve what is the ultimate in inhumanity – killing, and killing ‘in cold blood’ and at a very safe distance – ripping at the very heart of humanity. Have we really sunk so low that an adjective taken from a pleasurable, consensual human activity can be used to approve murder? It’s not sexy, it’s not sexiest, I think metaphors to do with sex should be avoided in this context, as in many others, but if we were to chose ones then it would be the noun and adjective ‘rape’ and ‘rapist’, giving at least some indication of the violence used, but again those adjectives are best kept for what they really describe.

Language is important. This is not just Billy analysing a couple of sentences ad absurdum. Allowing the thinking which can describe such weapons of death as ‘sexy’ is tolerating and encouraging the macho, militarist thinking which means war, and the resultant misery following it, are not just possible but increasingly likely as boys with their toys inflict their warped fantasies on the world. And given that playing military attack computer games is training for controlling drones, the term ‘boys with their toys’ is extremely apposite. But while they may feel like ‘toys’ they are really weapons of destruction and even mass destruction.

Been there, redundant that

I am just amazed at how disruptive the process of redundancy has been for me over the last months. I already wrote about it in a previous Colm (NN 178) so I don’t want to go over old ground, but there have been so many aspects to it; fighting redundancy itself, dealing with the indignities, injustices and pain involved in the process – exacerbated by it being poorly executed and atrociously planned, trying to see it as a mediator and person involved in conflict and decision making issues professionally, the knock on effect on the rest of my life (including a major effect on some aspects of my life), and of course then the search for alternative employment. My head and my energy have been disrupted for months while this went on. When you are already busy to the limit but nevertheless comfortable with it, as I was, a knock like this can put everything in a spin.

One of the primary lessons of nonviolence is that even the ‘powerless’ have power of different kinds. I did not have to assent to anything, and I could speak truth to their power. For me part of my power was in the knowledge I had of conflict, and of careful analysis in a conflict situation. On the one hand it meant that I was not as belligerent as I could have been because I was busy pointing out to those involved what their process could have been like, and at certain times that might have been both disadvantageous and advantageous; disadvantageous if those involved thought I was a pushover and not too concerned about my own personal situation, advantageous in the longer term that I was being ‘reasonable’ and not out to get them. But without the conflict basic of ‘separating the people from the problem’ I could have had deep problems, both practically and emotionally.

Taking me seriously, and on the terms I wanted, was certainly helped by the fact that they did not adhere to the required redundancy procedures. I pointed these facts out while indicating I did not therefore want to take them to the cleaners (more politely than this expression would indicate), and, whether they liked it or not, there had been a shift in the power relationship. They were now apologising and explaining, something which I felt was appropriate even if they had adhered to every jot of redundancy procedures. What I asked to settle was deliberately not the impossible, and I was given it; I wasn’t agreeing with their decision to get rid of my job, I was simply not going to take my case further, as I would have been entitled to do, to the Labour Relations Agency in Northern Ireland. My job was going, ultimately I did not have the power to alter that; I could have got an ‘unfair dismissal’ judgement from the Labour Relations Agency but that would not have restored my job or meant I felt valued by those who decided to make me redundant, and it would have been very much a response of last resort for me. But I was leaving with my head held high.

I believe they made the decision to make me redundant without in any way considering the effects on those I worked with and for, and one of my conditions was that they should look seriously at how they could support these people in future (rather more difficult with me out of the way in future but not impossible) as well as what they could and should have done in terms of a broader process, relevant for them in the future. Quite fortuitously in terms of timing, I found another job straight away; anxiety on this score, and resultant time in job hunting, was alleviated by another body immediately hiring me. I have spent lots of time unemployed before (writing down my employment history seemed quite repetitious as it jumped from employment to unemployment and back again a considerable number of times), and can turn my hand to different things, but fortune smiled on me this time.

There are undoubtedly good redundancy procedures and bad redundancy procedures, but at this time of job losses it has given me a new insight into what people go through when their employer decides, for whatever reason – good, bad, or indifferent - to shed their jobs. It can be an attenuated and extended minor version of hell, and hell in a variety of forms as one thing comes after another. I didn’t have too much financial worry which made it considerably easier - I wasn’t over-extended on a credit card or even paying off a mortgage any more. The personal cost in job losses in itself is an argument against boom and bust economics but sín scéal eile, sín scéal mór eile.

- - - - -

Well, summer is, amazingly, here, who would have believed it a couple of months ago as we had one of the longest winters for a long time. One more Colm to write and then I/we get a month off for good behaviour. So, until I see you again in a month, stay on the sunny side of the treat, Billy.

 

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

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