|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
The people in the Republic, through the electoral system, have delivered a devastating blow to Fianna Fáil from which it may never fully recover. From 78 seats based on 41.6% of the vote on 2007 it has plunged to 20 seats and 17.4% of (first preference) votes; retaining only 41% of its vote and under 26% of its seats. Just as the cynical Haughey era saw Fianna Fáil lurch downwards to become a party that needed junior coalition parties to achieve power, it has now tumbled far further downwards to being the third largest party – with Sinn Féin not too far behind (on 14 seats).
If you had asked almost anyone some years ago the question – “If the Republic is to lose the dominance of one of the two major conservative parties, Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, which will it be?” – the answer in nine cases out of ten would assuredly have been Fine Gael going to the wall, since Fianna Fáil had the status of being close to a national movement with a populist touch. Truth can be very much stranger than fiction. Fianna Fáil’s mishandling of the economy, and arrogance in so doing, has led to its shrinking to almost minority party size. Since the days of Haughey, power had certainly corrupted it and its fate was certainly not too early. Climbing out of the hole it is in will not be easy for the party which, since 1932 has either been in power or been about to regain power. Losing one of the two big, conservative, parties would not be a loss but we will have to wait and see whether people are indeed willing to clamber back onboard the Fianna Fáil bandwagon.
The hope must be that in the incoming government Fine Gael’s conservative leanings will be tempered by the Labour Party which almost doubled its vote and its number of seats. A Sinn Féin representation of 14 seats, with some other socialists, will provide at least some radical input to the Dáil; the Green Party lost all its 6 seats with its vote declining from 4.6% to 1.8% through its identification with the ancien regime of the Fianna Fáil government. At the time of the last election we had commented that they were brave to go into the den with Fianna Fáil; we were wrong and they did not have very much to show for four years cohabitation. Perhaps the Greens will be forgiven more easily than Fianna Fáil, perhaps not.
Fine Gael does not have any radically different policies to Fianna Fáil, though it is to be hoped that positive moves to a universal insurance system for health care will be done in a way that does not further penalise the poor. On international issues and military cooperation with NATO, Fine Gael would be even further right than Fianna Fáil, so it also remains to see how this one will work out. With Fianna Fáil having given the USA the only resource it wanted in Ireland for its war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan – Shannon Airport – what Fine Gael will attempt to give away will be an interesting one to watch.
So the Republic has moved from a populist conservative government, with a small Green tinge, to what is almost certainly going to be a conservative coalition with social democrats. In the current economic climate, with large state debts due to bailing out the banks, this is likely to continue to mean austerity and cuts of various kinds. Just as Fianna Fáil has a massive hole to dig itself out of, the Republic as a whole has a lot of digging to do, whatever policies are instituted. And the lesson has not yet been learnt that reasonable services have to be paid for through taxes.
Unfortunately there is not likely to be too much questioning of prevailing economic orthodoxies in government. Economic growth, per se, is an unhelpful goal in the current state of the world’s ecological health. The Republic’s carbon emissions soared as the Celtic Tiger roared. Of course let us have growth – modest and steady growth by conventional economic standards if it is ecologically sustainable, and real growth in caring and sharing within society. As we have clearly stated before; moving from an increasing size of pie, where everybody’s slice gets bigger, to the pie remaining the same size is only possible if the size of slices is made more equal. This is simple enough but most Irish politics and politicians are not yet aware of this, the more is the pity. We need many redefinitions and the new government is not very likely to deliver; however, while the going will be very hard, it would also find it very hard to do worse than the previous government which has left a trail of debt, emigration and heartbreak.
2. North Africa and Middle East
Hosni Mubarak in Egypt was relatively constrained, for various reasons, from all out attacks on the citizens of that country, though violence was tried, and he was forced to leave power. Muammar Gaddafi has no such qualms or constraints on use of violence; there are many dangers in how the Libyan standoff between his regime and the popular uprising for independence from the Gaddafis will work, currently developing into a civil war. Gaddafi cannot now win back the whole country without ruining it but he could possibly win in a pyrrhic victory or lose in a very bloody fashion. Unpleasant as it may be, giving Gaddafi a viable ‘out’ will require some creative genius when it looks like he is not yet seeking one.
Gaddafi may have had the revolutionary talk but his walk was that of an old-fashioned autocrat and dictator, not worried about massacring his citizens or foreign nationals (e.g. with airplane bombs) and he had his family in all possible key positions. Mubarak had only an outdated nationalism to cling to and the protesters held out long enough to see him leave office; the question remains whether the Egyptian army will play democratic or autocratic ball and protesters were unable to get that one resolved before their disbursal was forced upon them. Unfortunately armies in autocratic societies tend to see their role as being key and other roles as of dubious worth.
Putting the genie of popular protest and nonviolent uprising back in the bottle will be a difficult act in the whole of North Africa and the Middle East for the rulers there. People in general do not want decisions made for them by autocrats and dictators, whether this is in Europe, the Arab world, or elsewhere. What a majority of people want around the world is remarkably similar, they just may not have the opportunity to show it. Gaddafi in Libya chose to try to suppress a nonviolent uprising with violence and how bloody the outcome will be remains to be seen. However Tunisia and Egypt are examples where repression in the face of mass nonviolent resistance did not work and rulers realised the game was up, and would be up even if they tried to use violence to suppress the revolts. Gaddafi has moved his game into all out violence. And of course he has been considerably aided by European arms dealers while evidently David Cameron has no scruples about using the current situation to sell more arms (reminiscent of Britain selling arms to both India and Pakistan early on in Tony Blair’s premiership at a time nuclear war beween the two was not impossible).
A key tenet of nonviolence is that governments can only govern with the consent of the governed. Arab leaders and autocrats are rapidly learning that lesson though Gaddafi prefers to use old fashioned terror. Let us hope the leaders are not slow learners because we can do without the kind of bloodshed which is now a feature of Libya. We look forward to further democratic, and nonviolent, successes across the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. But kicking out autocrats and dictators is only the beginning; overcoming the power of vested interests – including vested interests in the West – which kept those dictators there, and building a genuinely participative society is another day’s work, as is building a truly participative society at home.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
According to the Sioux Medicine Wheel, which might be considered a theological / psychological body of knowledge, people share the characteristics of animals and plants. Hyemeyohsts Storm in his book Seven Arrows (1972) writes that “The Medicine Wheel is the very Way of Life of the People. It is an Understanding of the Universe. ... All things are contained within the Medicine Wheel, and all things are equal within it.” (p.1-5) In the Medicine Wheel a person might be considered to have the psychological perspective of an eagle, which when perched high on a cliff has an overall view of the lay of things, while another might have the perspective of a mouse, in that they are disposed to always see things close up. Judging by the way humans interact with the environment it would be fair to say that we have the perspective of an ant.
Although there are exceptions, such as stratigraphers, who study the history of the Earth and might be said to have the perspective of an eagle, the perspective of most of humanity, now numbering nearly 7 billion, is incredibly small. Given the impact our species has on the planet the word incredible is apt, for as the biologist E.O Wilson calculates, the “human biomass is already a hundred times larger than that of any other large animal species that has ever walked the Earth.” (National Geographic, March 2011, p.73) Members of the Geological Society of London’s Stratigraphy Commission hold that our impact on the Earth is akin to a major planetary event and call the age we live in Anthropogenic. In other words, our alteration of the planet is so profound that it will be etched into its geological history legible to intelligent beings millions of years from now.
Some scientists think the Anthropogenic epoch began in the late 18th century when carbon dioxide emissions began to have a notable impact on the environment. Others hold that it began in the middle of the 20th century when there was an accelerated increase in human population and levels of consumption. The point is that our profligate levels of consumption, based on the philosophy of growth at all costs, will leave our children without the means to live productive and enjoyable lives. As E.F. Schumacher said, we are not living off the Earth’s interest but its capital.
If we continue to squander the Earth’s capital our civilization will collapse. This is as inevitable as the present popular uprisings against dictators in North Africa and the Middle East. One might consider this prognosis as scaremongering until we recall that the ruins of collapsed civilizations are scattered across the globe. At the apex of their development the folk of these civilizations would probably have never imagined that their world would come to an end. That their fine crafts would sink into the mud, their stone buildings become covered with sand or vines, and their songs and poems would one day be lost forever. We now know that these civilizations collapsed because the environment was unable to sustain them. Our civilization may be one of the grandest and most sophisticated, but based as it is on ever decreasing reserves of oil and an agricultural system that is increasingly undermined by climate change it may prove to be one of the most short-lived.
This does not have to be, for instead of behaving as ants we could adopt the perspective of eagles and look at things in a broader sense and give greater consideration to consequences. Perhaps the only way we can do this is through changing our value system and reinventing what it means to be human. Are we up to the challenge? Do we have the emotional and inventive wherewithal to live in an environmentally sustainable and peaceful way?