|These are regular editorials
produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent
[Return to related issue on Nonviolence News]
Our columnist Larry Speight often points out, in different ways, how we not only feel distanced from the natural world – of which we are totally a part - but do not connect our actions with what is happening in terms of global heating. There are many disconnects which operate in our world and this piece will look at just a few of them. Joining up the dots can be difficult when there are so many powerful forces, state and commercial, as well as ideological, trying to ensure that we do not actually put two and two together.
Beginning in Ireland, there is a disconnect in Northern Ireland between what happened in the peace process and attitudes to violence in a wider frame. The relative peace that came about in Northern Ireland was the product of dialogue – often pilloried during the Troubles, particularly by right wing figures – and the realisation by those engaged in the violence that it was counterproductive and that there was a stalemate.
Yet few people in Northern Ireland, or on the island as a whole, have extrapolated to say: Internationally, violence is not going to work, it is dialogue that is the way forward. The corollorary of this is also that armies and paramilitary armies are not the answer (or if they are perceived as the answer then you are asking the wrong question). And furthermore, a logical conclusion is that to protect against the possibilities of violence, at home and abroad, we need experience and learning in the fields of mediation and nonviolence, at all levels.
In the Republic, the state still proclaims its neutrality, or ‘military’ neutrality, when its participation in PESCO (EU militarisation programme), NATO’s ludicrously named ‘Partnership for Peace’, and particularly blatant and unfettered access by the US military to Shannon Airport is the exact opposite – support for the big military powers ‘of the west’ on the international stage. It is a lamentable departure from what has been, often in the past, a positive neutrality in the world. And yet ‘the powers that be’ continue with the chimera of ‘Ireland is neutral’ as an unqualified mantra.
Regarding Covid-19, it is difficult to say anything which is universally true, but there are many instances of people, and most of us are probably guilty at some level, thinking “This doesn’t need to apply to me”, for a variety of reasons – exceptionalism, youth or authority, and apathy – which put others in danger. Maintaining social solidarity requires a strong feeling not just of one’s own vulnerability but also of connection with others. Of course many, most, people have met what has been asked of them, sometimes at considerable personal cost, and they can be put at risk by those who have not considered appropriately their connection to others.
Social support and intervention during the coronavirus crisis shows the extent to which the state can intervene and support people when it wants to. This raises the question as to why the state has not thrown all possible resources at issues of poverty, homelessness, and social or medical need in the past. Where there is a will, there is a way, and this is a clear message from what states have done when they felt they had to. Again, this indicates a lack of connection by those in power to those who are poor, homeless, or in any kind of need. We can and should demand in future, when the coronavirus crisis is over, that the state shows much more solidarity than heretofore.
On the international stage, the issue of global heating throws into stark relief various divides. It is predominantly the rich west which has been, and is, the source of the greenhouse gases which are threatening to put our biosphere out of control. Yet it is the poor south which is already suffering the consequences and will do so in a most terrible manner if heating cannot be reined in. This disparity, this mismatch, is an indication of the lack of connection between peoples but principally by rich people who feel their wealth can insulate themselves from, or deal with, any climate emergency.
The way that would-be migrants and refugees are treated who try to come to Europe is a matter of grave concern. Germany’s acceptance of a million refugees some years ago is very much the exception to the rule of ‘Fortress Europe’. At stake is not only international law, in terms of countries’ obligations, but also a severe deficit of humanity or empathy. And those European countries which are on the front line of receiving refugees are not receiving the support and solidarity they need from other European countries.
Of course on another matter internationally, there is a lack of understanding of where the wealth of many in Europe came from. It came from the colonies belonging to these countries, countries around the world which were bled dry by their ‘owners’. This has had a knock on effect hundreds of years later. And in many cases exploitation continues today by multinational corporations who avoid paying any, or fair, tax in the poorer countries which they use as their source of labour or raw materials. Instead they manipulate their tax affairs to maximise their profits, not to pay a fair contribution to the wellbeing of the people and countries they benefit from. This situation will continue until there is a fair international system of people paying tax on profits where they actually originate, not where their own manipulative accountants dealing with tax say they arise.
On the issue of human rights or questions of justice, many countries are afraid to bite the hand of the rich and powerful – obviously the USA (in the case of Ireland and Shannon) but the latter now includes China which treats Tibet, Xinjiang and ‘its’ (Inner) Mongolia and their indigenous peoples in a very colonial way, and indeed continues the old colonialist policy of plantation (in this case the plantation of Han Chinese). How to effectively intervene on behalf of such people is a difficult question but it would seem that most countries are not interested in even trying because of the perceived, or real, economic effects of crossing an economic superpower like China. Again there is a failure of connection and empathy for people who are oppressed.
We could go on but that is enough. We live in a world of fractured perceptions of reality. We live in a world of fear. Building a peaceful and just world requires empathy, solidarity and connection. We, you and I, can make a difference however and that begins by thinking of all humans as our sisters and brothers. The present time gives us adequate space for analysis. And after analysis and connection comes action.
Continuing isolated solidarity
We are facing into an autumn and winter of great uncertainty as Covid-19 cases increase in Ireland, Republic and North (as well as further afield), and schools return after 5 months or so.
Maintaining self discipline and social solidarity is vital but also easier said than done. The sacrifices many have made, willingly or unwillingly, have been massive which is why flagrant breaches of the rules by politicians and peope in authority who should know better have rankled so much.
It is quite possible to think of this phase of life, however long it will go on for, in purely negative terms, and obviously it is not a situation to be wished on anybody. However if we think in terms of personally rising to the challenge then it becomes more bearable. Setting or resetting our own personal challenges, some of which may date back to March and the original lockdown, and adjusting them to the winter months could be important in many ways. Not least of these should be an exercise regime and looking at our general activities, and maintaining contact with others even if that is done remotely.
And as well as utilising whatever skills and time we have for our local community, peace and political activities should not be forgotten. There are many things which can be done in relation to the latter. You can have your own personal brainstorm on this and then select what you can do.
It can also be a time of learning and reflection so that we are better prepared to deal with issues in the future. All of us can benefit from such reflection time. In relation to peace and nonviolence in ireland you need go no further than the INNATE resource ‘Nonviolence in Ireland: A study guide’. And do let us know if we can help with anything.
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Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –
One of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic that government policy makers the world over had not foreseen is its psychological impact on those who were infected by it and recovered, those who are particularly vulnerable to getting infected and those whose life has been upended by it through losing their job or business, not been able to spend time with loved ones and friends, attend funerals and partake in various recreational activities. Nicola Davis in the Guardian, 15 August 2020, reports that research in Italy of those who spent time in hospital because of Covid-19 found that one month after discharge 28% showed signs of post-traumatic disorder, 31% had depression and 42% displayed signs of anxiety. There is no reason why these outcomes are not the same in other countries.
We can find reassurance in the fact that Covid-19 is a manageable disease that can be contained and if a vaccine is produced eventually be eliminated. A greater threat to humanity than Covid-19 for which there is no vaccine is climate breakdown, the mass extinction of species and structural inequalities. Recognising the serious threat of Covid-19 governments threw away their austerity handbook and are spending beyond what was thought possible in easing the hardship of those whose earning capacity has been reduced or annulled by it.
A significant sum of money has gone into purchasing personal protective materials for front-line workers and educating the public about how to stay safe and prevent the spread of the virus. The ethos ‘that we are all in it together’ continues to be espoused. The ethos is even more applicable to the consequences of our abuse of the planet for which better government planning, international cooperation and a much bigger spend is needed to put right than has gone into addressing the Covid-19 pandemic.
The harm we are inflicting on the biosphere will almost certainly lead during the course of this century to the collapse of the finely-tuned ecological and technological systems we depend on for our everyday existence. One of these is the production, processing and transportation of food. Another might be the availability of vital medications. A severe drought in densely populated areas of the world would lead to mass migrations across international borders. The terrible war in Syria has been dubbed the first climate change war. This is because a prolonged drought lead to an influx of people from the countryside into towns and cities which did not have the infrastructure to cater for them. Mass public demonstrations calling on the government to meet peoples’ needs led to the present war. This out-working of events could be replicated elsewhere.
The time has long passed for governments, international bodies and financially bloated corporations to work cooperatively in implementing the recommendation made by the scientific community to transit from our extractive, fossil-fuel based, continual growth economy to one that is equitable and ecologically sustainable. The critical factor that will make this happen is a change in the normative view about what it means to live a good life and how we see our place in nonhuman nature. The change has to embrace the idea of us being both good ancestors and global citizens. This means living in ways that don’t compromise the ability of unborn generations to live comfortable fulfilling lives or harm others no matter what country they live in or community they belong to.
Given that the planet may be able to support life for another billion years this is a tremendous responsibility on people alive today as it is we who will determine the quality of life of future generations and the number of species that will continue to exist. An off-shot of this responsibility is that it gives our life tangible meaning and heightens the significance of every one of us, the sense of which is important to mental wellbeing. Given the environmental and justice challenges we face no one can argue that their life is without purpose. Our purpose is to love our neighbour as our self, which includes human and nonhuman beings, the biosphere, or as some would say God’s creation.
Bringing about this change in mindset and psychologically preparing people to cope with challenging circumstances can be done through environmental education beginning in nursery through to university. The idea of living out what it means to be a good ancestor and global citizen needs to permeate every aspect of society, be as much a part of us as our accent and manner of speech. Covid-19 has caused 800,000 deaths so far and has affected the mental health of millions. This will be as nothing compared to the physical hardship and mental anguish caused if the temperature increase rises above 1.5° Celsius, or we extinguish so many species crops cease to be pollinated or the water is so polluted by microplastics and other contaminates it is no longer safe to drink.
That we act to protect ourselves and others from Covid-19 yet are blasé about the collapse of life-sustaining ecosystems surely tells us that we need to waken-up and reconfigure our view of ourselves in the world.