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Nonviolence News August supplement

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Eco-Awareness with Larry Speight: Lessons from Grenfell Tower

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Billy King: Rites Again

Billy King

Number 241: July2016

[Returned to related issued on Nonviolence News]

Well, what a month it has been if you are a Euros footie fan (I'm not – if the entire sporting calendar of the world fell off the edge I would probably fail to notice), or if you are anyway interested in politics with Britain looking like it's heading for the EU exit - it's not quite sure where it is yet but it is asking the proprietors to be let out following the 3% or 4% victory for the 'outs'..

Civilisation
When I think of the term 'civilisation' I think of a number of thin gs. One is an old cartoon of a military tank trundling past trees and jungle. Eventually it comes to pass another tank going the other way and the driver says "Civilisation at last"! Another is the, apocryphal, comment attributed to Mohandas Gandhi when asked what he thought about Western civilisation – "I think it would be a very good idea." We all tend to think 'we' are civilised and 'they' are not. A young Norn Iron Protestant guy of 18 once said in a history workshop that I was facilitating that the 17th century settlers came from England and Scotland to Ulster to "civilise the natives". Ahem, those natives thought the 'civilising' settlers were barbarians.

There are many different possible definitions of 'civilisation'. One online dictionary definition is "the stage of human social development and organization which is considered most advanced." Well, yes, but what is 'advanced'? Your 'advanced' can be my 'barbaric'. Wikipedia is a bit more detailed and specifically political in saying "A civilization or civilisation is any complex society characterized by urban development, social stratification, symbolic communication forms (typically, writing systems), and a perceived separation from and domination over thenatural environment by a cultural elite."

This definition begs many questions about what values are held. Is a hunter-gatherer tribe living in complete harmony with nature, and not disturbing the ecosphere, less 'civilised' than a high-carbon use Western society sending the world down the path of global warming? Does a 'civilised' society have to have 'social stratification'? And what is 'urban'? Were early Irish Christian monasteries 'urban' at a time in Ireland there were no cities or even towns?

I have included the last question in the context of Thomas Cahill's book "How the Irish saved civilization". Well, they helped save a certain kind of civilisation (learning after the fall of the Roman Empire) though as I pointed out in my previous comments on his book he didn't even mention Islamic scholars. All in all, 'civilisation' is a debateable term; our definition is likely to be a political one which has echoes of who we are politically. The Wikipedia definition above goes on to talk about civilisation as centralised, and various other features (which you can look up if you like). Cambridge Dictionaries Online is a bit less value laden with its definition human, society with its well developed social organizations, or the culture and way of life of a society or particular period in time".

How 'civilised' were highly authoritarian and militaristic societies where there was no space for individualism? Indeed, how 'civilised' are modern societies where massive inequalities flourish, far more than in our parents' or grandparents' time? How 'civilised' are societies which unleash the dogs of war on other societies with calamitous consequences for the invaded country but little ramifications for the invader? How 'civilised' are societies where politicians and others wilfully use sectarianism (Christian, Muslim or other) and racism as tools to advance their own ends? Or societies which adapt extremely slowly to the demands of avoiding catastrophic climate change – which, as with everything, will affect the poorest in the world the worst?

Anyway, all this was occasioned by finds of massive cities in the Cambodian jungle "some of which rival the size of Cambodia's modern day capital, Phnom Penh" and which date from 900 – 1,400 years ago. (Guardian 12th June 2016) These cities have been discovered through using airborne laser scanners. They may have made the largest urban society in the world at the time they flourished, some about 100 km from Angkor Wat.

I was wondering whether one aspect of what might be stereotypically defined as 'civilisation' is societies which have a non-organic built environment (stone, brick etc) but where would that leave the people who lived in the Céide Fields in north Co Mayo 5,000 years ago? Yes, they build stone walls but their houses were not as permanent. And while you might argue, in similar vein, that it is to do with the growth of cities, with reference to my comment on Irish monasteries, that can't quite be it either. It is difficult to come up with a comprehensive answer.

The anti-racist learning from all this is that 'anywhere' in the world can be at the 'peak' of however you might define civilisation. Asia, Africa, the Middle East (cradle of 'civilisation' depending on your definition of it), Central and Latin America, Europe, and elsewhere, all have had complex societies develop and flourish at different times and more powerful empires have waxed and waned, many for resource reasons (there is a lesson there), changes of weather and water patterns etc, or because of war or natural disasters Europe often likes to see itself as the home of civilisation but it would be a very narrow and blinkered view that kept to that view of things. And those so-called 'primitive' societies living pretty much in harmony with nature? Well, they have such a small carbon footprint as to be invisible.

Oh, and is 'civilisation' the opposite of 'militarisation'????

It would be good to have a civilised discussion on what civilisation is because there are some pretty uncivilised assertions made at times.

Brexit hexit
The editorial in this issue notes that most Prods in the North who voted in the UK referendum on the EU would have voted to get out. Fintan O'Toole in The Irish Times was scathing about the lack of perspicacity on the behalf of the DUP supporting Brexit and a policy which, if instituted, would also likely to lead to Scotland leaving the UK and thereby destabilising the UK as a whole. Clearly their (DUP) sense of Britishness or British nationalism trumped their pragmatism and common sense. Scottish nationalists are now chomping at the bit to get a second referendum and if Scotland did leave it would be a fascinating to watch what Northern loyalists do.

A United (or rather Disunited) Kingdom without Scotland would be a strange place. Wales as an older English colony has never got much of a look in as a separate entity and is usually lumped together with England; there is even no Welsh symbol on the Union Jack/flag. How Norn Iron would fare in this situation would be fascinating and probably somewhat disconcerting to watch – England would probably try to forget about it as much as possible. That might be OK if the few bob kept coming and the NI Assembly got its act together to actually make decisions on matters of importance. But it is also possible that the £'s would dry up more and that the result would be closer links with the Republic began to look more attractive.

The economy in Norn Iron is a strange beast, low unemployment but heavy dependency on the state, and low productivity. With the vicissitudes of foreign investment, and that likely to dry up even more with Brexit, if I had any money on behalf of the North I'd be putting it into third level education and skills training of young adults, trying to encourage home grown economic development. A sustainable and developing economy would also pay a peace dividend; there is some correlation between economic deprivation and engagement in paramilitarism and political violence. It's not that there is an economic answer to the problems of Norn Iron but that without appropriate and human-centred economic development any political answers may not stick.

Woodburn
Well, it may have been for the simple reason there's no oil there but it's great to see that the Woodburn drilling site near Carrickfergus will be returning to its old normality of forest and water. Perhaps you could say Infrastrata, the company involved in the drilling, got burnt at Woodburn by not finding oil. Had it done so there would have been a massive campaign to oppose planning permission for them to extract the oil, which would have been their next step.

As it is, the rock and water underground will be left undisturbed. Well done to all those who were involved in an energetic campaign to keep it in the ground (if it existed which it didn't!) and oppose the crazy situation of oil drilling immediately beside a major water source. I think NI Water, who own the land, have some questions to answer about why they facilitated Infrastrata in the first place.

- - - -

Well, that's me until September, the time of year I dread the most (initially) when, after the relative relaxation of the summer, autumn schedules kick in. But summer is here and meanwhile I wish you all the very best for getting your head showered (most likely literally if you're in Ireland and its rain) and a good holiday break. As is my wont at this time of year I remind you of the wonderful definition of holidays in Christy Moore's old song Lisdoonvarna: "When summer comes around each year / They come here and we go there." I hope you have a great time, wherever is 'there' – 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).

Copyright INNATE 2014