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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 138: April 2006

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News]

The truth, the hole truth, and something like the truth
The BBC’s “Facing the Truth” programme, aired in early March, has been controversial in relation to dealing with the past in Northern Ireland. Desmond Tutu chaired a small panel which oversaw the bringing together of victims/survivors and perpetrators. Was it ‘good’ (= riveting) television? Yes. Was it ‘good’ (= useful) television? Yes and no, largely depending on the stage that ‘victims’ and perpetrators’ were at when they sat down.

Where the two sides, however that might be defined, had already worked through the issues to be at a useful stage to meet and seal a kind of reconciliation and forgiveness, then it felt fine, another stage on the road to survival and recovery. The pain of grief and loss at losing a loved one never leaves you and this is incredibly stronger when the death is a traumatic one. Of course people can move on, time heals some wounds, and there was certainly an amazing amount of courage shown by all those involved. But in the case of the final programme the cameras did feel intrusive, it did not feel things were at a stage to be captured by the cameras. Television often makes us feel like voyeurs, that is part of its attraction and the whole of its attraction in ‘reality’ programmes, but to be made feel like a dirty voyeur is a step too far in a situation where there is real grief and a huge amount of real healing to be done. Some of the final programme also felt like trying to put a sticking plaster on a gaping wound; it is certainly not helpful and might in some way hinder the healing process.

There were cases where those involved had already moved on to a very significant extent. There was a sister whose brother had been killed by a British soldier, he had already been seeking forgiveness and for her it was conditional on recognition that he was not an IRA man; the soldier recognised he could have made a mistake. An English policeman shot and seriously wounded by an IRA man had recovered, we were not told whether fully, but sufficiently to move on with his life and was able to be genuinely philosophical and good natured about it despite the emotion involved (the fact that it was not the death of a loved one presumably made this less difficult but you could also see the individual’s nature at work). These were people who were ready to meet and be reconciled face to face because they had already done most of the work.

For’give’ness is a gift, whether you consider it in secular or religious terms. It is not something that you can decide on logically (though you can decide you should forgive, which is not the same thing). And it is especially not something which you can be told to do. It is deep down in the human personality, deep in an individual’s emotions where it comes when it comes. Of course personality, beliefs, circumstances and so on affect it, and we have had some amazing examples in the Troubles when the loved ones of a victim pronounced forgiveness almost straight away. But forgiveness and reconciliation, however much they can be worked on and facilitated, cannot be forced. There was a risk with some of this series that it was seeking too easy a reconciliation at too early a stage. And that can set back healing and be unnecessarily traumatic.

A quiet week at the Section 419 factory
It must have been a quiet week. I was only offered $91.389 million commission for handling $396.3 million (the uneven figures are because one or two of the sums were in UK£) – some weeks I think it’s probably rather more. You know, those e-mails promising endless wealth for opening a bank account and facilitating the transfer of millions of dollars to ‘my’ location. They all seem to think I’m honest (which is a bad thing if they want me to do some illegal money dealing and handling of dodgy money). Named after the section (419) of the Nigerian criminal code which outlaws them, there are a number of common themes.

Disaster is one common theme, a husband/parents/children killed in some terrible disaster (sometimes referenced to a web report of a real disaster – which doesn’t prove anything except that disaster actually happened), e.g. “My father was captured and murdered along with half brother in cool blood during a midnight rebel shoot out”. Oh dear, that’s not so cool. Resultantly, the writer is looking for someone to accept the money and they came across me as being ‘honest and trustworthy’. Through a spam e-mail? One recent offering even managed to build in Irish racism (touches of realism are always a winner) – the child of Irish-Black American parents, born in Ethiopia, they had not returned to Ireland after their mother brought them to her family in the Mrald Oil and “they made mockery of us as we visited, which made us return to ERITERA”. XX years later, his wife and three children killed in an accident, he wants someone to take control of his legacies. Pull the other legacy. The writers might however have a future winning short story competitions for imagination scenarios if they ever give up the scamming.

They also build in deliberate errors, or are deliberately careless with spelling and grammar, to make it look like the person writing is unsophisticated. “I know this massage will come to you as a surprise” – no, not really, I get dozens like it in a week, though there’s nothing like a good rub down or is it a rub over or rub out (citizens who end up paying ‘fees’ for the release of ‘their’ money and pursue their quarry to Nigeria can end up kidnapped – for more money! – or even murdered). One 22-year old ‘deaf woman’ even offered “…I will come and live with you as a partner and I’m ready to do anything of your choice.” My choice? Not to get involved beyond having a bit of a laugh at human inventiveness.

You would think at this stage in the history of the internet there would be nobody who had not twigged that it was all one ginormous scam. But if the number of people still at it is any indication, there must be people still responding and sending “bank fees”, storage fees, legal fees or maybe a “bribe to a bank official”, or whatever they ask for so that the non-existent enormous sum of money can be released. The credulous are stalked by the credit-less.

But the other fun part of it is those whose hobby it is to scam the scammers, well at least lead them up various garden paths, feeding them incredulous stories back. One sometimes humorous example is at You have to admire the energy of someone who takes so much time to scam scammers though I think I might prefer to do something a bit more useful. Still. human greed, you can’t beat it for making eejits of us and getting us to suspend our critical faculties [I thought ‘suspending critical faculties’ was done by university chiefs to departments under threat in university reorganisations? – Ed] [Yes, but that’s academic – Billy].

Lifestyle choices
The comparison is a bit over the top but an Irish study by a professor of psychology at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin showed senior managers to have a quality of life “lower than any group of patients we looked at, including those who are terminally ill and those with motor-neuron disease.” And “Newly appointed managers had a lower quality of life than patients with osteo-arthritis and peptic ulcers”. (Irish Times 1/3/06). I suppose it all depends what criteria you use and what questions you ask. If you asked the terminally ill would they like to swap with a senior manager, even knowing the pressures on them, the answer would be an unequivocal yes, and the answer the other way around would be an equally vociferous ‘no’.

But there are important issues here. These managers are expected to be available 24/7 and the stress and pressure can be enormous. They don’t have only themselves to blame, particularly in the culture of the Cultic Tie-Grrrrrrr (it’s interesting that the use of the term, ‘Protestant work ethic’ seems to have disappeared in Ireland since the Tiger roared).

In reality what we need is the ‘greening’ of Ireland. If we can’t have the unsustainable growth we have been so busy pursuing (and we can’t in the longer term or even in the shorter term without messing up the globe and its inhabitants) and if the cake cannot get bigger and in fact needs to get smaller, then a number of issues come into focus. One is the redistribution of wealth so fat Celtic cats get a bit leaner and the share out is more equitable (who is going to settle for an unfair slice of a diminishing cake? Not me nor a lot of other people). But another implication is either an end to the ideology of consumerism, as least as we know it, or its redefinition - and that cannot be a bad thing. And if consumerism is out the window, what do we replace it with? I could suggest all sorts of values but one basic one would certainly be work/life balance.

To this end, people could generally work less or work in more fulfilling tasks some or all the time. They would have significant time for other activities including recreation and self-fulfilment, whether they chose to use it constructively or not (sitting in front of the television for long periods is not particularly constructive but may be some people’s choice). Currently, most people are probably too tired at the end of their day’s labours to think about creative activities and beyond their immediate family.

With this ‘greening’ we might not end up wealthier but we would be healthier in a number of different ways and happier too. The transition would not be easy but if we made it then we would look back in amazement at how captive we were to the gods of greed, plastic and metal. We don’t need a ‘section 419’ e-mail to make us greedy, it’s already firmly imprinted on our early 21st century consciousnesses and consciences (or lack of them).

- - - - - - - - -

Right, that’s me for now, I hope spring has sprung for you in your step, it’s great to see the longer evenings so it may be light when you’re heading out, even if only out to the garden after dinner. Ciao agus slán, 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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