January 2016 (supplement)
|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column–
The world is often a violent place and, in some cases, getting more violent. That is not to say that nonviolence and nonviolent approaches are absent, far from it especially at ground level, but that violence tends to be seen, by governments, proto-governments (ISIS) and insurgents, as the normative way to go. Unfortunately it is usually the way to go, or take people, to hell and not return. In the case of violence by the rich West, a feature is also the failure to take responsibility for what is, in part or in whole, the repercussions of their own violence (e.g. in the flow of refugees to Europe).
Some great advances have been made over decades in a variety of fields of human endeavour. Awareness of alternatives to armed conflict is more prevalent but even where people are aware of them they may be discarded, by the powerful or the would-be-powerful, as unnecessary or not applicable to them. Possibly the most impressive relatively recent surge forward for humanity, in thinking and in practice, has been the advance made by women over a number of decades but stemming back centuries. This has taken place through sustained women’s activism.
Even in Western societies, however, feminism still has much to achieve, in breaking through glass ceilings in work and other environments, achieving equality in work tasks in the home, eliminating everyday sexism, and overcoming so-called, interpersonal, ‘domestic’ violence, the figures for the last being horrific. Unfortunately patriarchy is still alive and kicking in both active and passive resistance to the advancement of gender equality. In the international scene, and specifically in relation to women’s involvement in peacemaking, UNSCR 1325 (do a word search if you want to look it up), dating from 2000, is often seen as setting the scene for equal women’s participation.
However, “Candid Voices from the Field” (mentioned in the news section of Nonviolent News and featured in our Readings in Nonviolence in this issue) is an up to the minute review of the limitations and barriers to women being fully involved in peacemaking; the subtitle is “Obstacles to a Transformative Women, Peace and Security Agenda and to Women’s Meaningful Participation in Building Peace and Security.” In some ways it makes depressing reading because there are many such obstacles. It does however make strong and valuable conclusions and recommendations, and there are positive stories included too.
In relation to Northern Ireland the report points out (p.32), “....17 years after the peace agreement, with the refusal of the UK government to include Northern Ireland in its NAP [National Action Plan] on UNSCR 1325, the political environment for women’s empowerment and participation in Northern Ireland’s post-conflict governance remains extremely challenging.” The UK government proclaims that every peace process everywhere should fully involve women - except for that in Northern Ireland which happens to be part of the United Kingdom and the primary peace process within its borders. This speaks volumes for how seriously the issue is taken by those in power in Britain.
Which brings us on to the issue of masculinity and violence, and ‘Candid Voices’ speaks of the need to “include work on alternative masculinities with men to challenge the gendered roots of armed conflict and the role of patriarchy in maintaining the power and privilege of make power elites....” (p.63). There is a clear need to challenge and overcome what could be termed ‘masculinearity’ – the socialisation of boys and young men into patriarchal roles and approaches, and the notion of only one, macho, definition of manhood. Redefining masculinity is a key factor in overcoming violence at all levels; most violence is perpetrated by men.
However men can also be victims of dominant definitions of masculinity and gender, and this was largely the focus for a Transitional Justice Institute/Ulster University postgraduate seminar which is also written up in this issue, on ‘Masculinities, Violence and (Post-)Conflict’. We have to be careful in this area not to wander into ‘Masculinist’, ‘Fathers For Justice’-type territory, blaming women for the position of men, and problems men have. Men need to be allies to women and support the wide changes which are necessary for full women’s involvement in society and in peacemaking. But women can also be allies to men in helping men change; you just need to look at the gender of most of those presenting at this seminar to realise that (see photos).
There is an INNATE poster which speaks of ‘Gender’ as ‘a word that many men believe does not include them’ and then goes on to advise them to consult a dictionary. Men and women are sometimes projected as binary opposites. We do not want to say there are no differences stemming from nature or nurture but that quite clearly we need to be allies to, and for, each other, both in change to do with gender and wider change. We all need to be peacemakers and changebuilders, and we need to help each other as much as we can, in whatever ways we can, whatever our gender.
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
The December - January floods in parts of Ireland and the UK, the 2015 Paris climate change agreement and concerns expressed by politicians and commenters about the state of the Chinese economy brings an aspect of how humans think into sharp relief. The aspect in question is best described as ‘doublethink’, a term coined by George Orwell in his dystopian novel 1984. Orwell describes doublethink as:
“The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. … To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies.”
The cause of environmental problems such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, death of the seas, soil erosion and air pollution are widely understood as is the role they play in undermining the fabric of life, disrupting economies, causing ill-health, early death and creating conditions that lead to civil unrest. In spite of this, powerful political players and complacent citizen alike employ doublethink through supporting the values and practices that cause ecological collapse while simultaneously pledging to conduct their affairs in a more ecologically sustainable way.
Doublethink can be seen in everyday life. During the fine months of April to September many people on these islands take woodland walks, cycle through rolling hills, fish in lakes and picnic in parks and at the seaside. Yet a substantial number of them undermine the ecological integrity and aesthetic value of the places they visit with litter amounting to millions of tons a year. While thrilled to see wild animals and plants we are driving many to extinction through pollution and destruction of their habitat. In fact, as New Scientist, 23rd January 2016, reports we cause 100,000 species to become extinct every year.
Whilst doublethink causes great harm through dishonesty and the role it plays in oppressive attitudes such as racism, sexism and militarism, it can serve useful purposes as in enabling people to deal with psychologically challenging situations. Examples include enabling medical personnel deal with mangled bodies caused by serious traffic collisions and helping people come to terms with personal tragedy. Doublethink helps many people live a meaningful life in the face of the glaring inevitability of personal oblivion. Doublethink likely evolved as a survival mechanism and will probably always be a part of what it means to be human. The challenge is how to prevent doublethink subverting our need to effectively address issues that affect our wellbeing and survival.
One possible way is expanding the circumference of our sense of identity through accepting the case that in spite of cultural diversity, different religious beliefs and skin colour we are all related through shared ancestry. We also need to accept that we are not a species apart from nature but are nature and wholly dependent on it for every nanosecond of our life. There is no escaping the fact that our origin is shared with all life forms going back 3.8 billion years when single celled prokaryotic cells, such as bacteria, evolved. (www.bbc.co.uk/nature/history) Our bodies are composed of the substances spurted across the cosmos at the moment of the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.
Current political and environmental events show that a sense of identity based on these inclusive factors is not a theatrical construct divorced from everyday life. In all probability the mass movement of refugees into Europe is in large part due to the United States, Britain and France selling arms to countries such as Saudi Arabia and in the past Syria who unsurprisingly use them. The Guardian, 27th January 2016, reports that since Prime Minister David Cameron came to power Britain has sold £7 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia who are using them to kill civilians in Yemen. Another factor is the recent overthrow of governments that Britain and the United States decided were despicable, although they had done business with them over many years. The political chaos and unending wars that have followed have caused civilians to seek refuge in other countries. Treating other societies as ‘other’, which is doublethink, brought about the circumstances that have caused the refugee crisis. Treating nonhuman life as separate from us, as a bank of resources to be used not only to meet our needs but for superficial gratification – which is doublethink, has led to climate change, the loss of biodiversity and other maladies which are the cause of great suffering and may lead to the collapse of civilization as we know it.
The hope for humankind and our fellow species is that change in how we think, relate and do things is a constant. The question is, will enough of humanity embrace a more inclusive and empathic sense of identity before it is too late?