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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Editorial 229: May 2015

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]


The word 'subservience' has implications of obeying unquestionably, servility, and subordination. There are many reasons for being subservient and subservience can take many forms. Subservience can come because of violence, intimidation, established patterns, feelings of inferiority, feelings of insecurity, expectations of reward, or fear of some form of retribution. Subservience can be established and highly visible, as slavery or colonialism once were (they are not so easily visible today) or it can be hidden, and it can also be almost unconscious or unquestioned – or it can, it some cases, be a simple coping mechanism for survival.

Subservience is an enemy of humanity, of progress, or wellbeing and of peace. If we are created equal then no one should be subservient. That does not mean that we do not allow others to influence us, or to lead in their field of expertise and knowledge. Knowing the extent of what we do not know has always been important but especially so in a modern and complex society. But there is a big difference between interdependence and subservience. In an interdependent situation we are equal, we recognise each other for what we can contribute and who we are; we do not bow the knee to 'superiors', whether that is at a personal, corporate, state or international level. We have our own identity and culture, we have our own strengths, we have our own humanity which does not depend on the superiority of someone else.

How do we overcome subservience? In a variety of ways. The language and practice of human rights can be of great assistance in general. Continually using different methods to show up the subservience, and even using drama and other methods to expose it is another. Contrasting the ideology of both the dominant and submissive parties, on the two sides of the coin so to speak, and the reality and practice is another method. Both may have ideologies which seem to abhor subservience and subjugation; the reality may speak differently. There is likely to be plenty of hypocrisy about which can be shown for what it is. But we also have to organise, socially and politically, to build a movement to overthrow an unjust and iniquitous situation; we can build towards a tipping point where those who are subservient are willing to take it no more and the dominant party is forced to adjust.

There is a long history of subservience in Ireland, just as there is as long a history of resistance to it. There is the obvious colonial situation as a background. But new regimes can bring new aspects to it. The Irish Free State and Republic continued as a society not so dominated by class issues as some other countries but nevertheless there was, and is, a very definite economic elite and many more at the bottom of the pile. There was also, in the party political sphere, a political elite who, once the revolutionary morality of the founding fathers of the state had disappeared, was more than happy to be in bed, metaphorically speaking, with the economic elite and thereby assist in feathering its own nest. In Northern Ireland we see the transition of the DUP and Sinn Féin from being parties of the underdog to being the establishment, albeit with some limitations on their power, not least that they have to carve up power between the two of them.

The Republic may have forged its identity largely in opposition to Britain but it took on many of the political and cultural instruments which had been forged by the British in Ireland. By no means all of these were bad or inappropriate and eventually the Republic was able to establish an identity not so dependent, directly or indirectly, on Britain. But psychologically the situation of colonialism and subservience was difficult to overcome. Feelings of inferiority and subservience were that deeply ingrained that they continued, and continue in some ways today. The USA, which had always been considered (rightly or wrongly) a friend of Ireland and a friend of freedom was always looked up to and has tended to receive uncritical adulation. The EU has also tended to get an uncritical approach to a variety of unwelcome policies, partly because it has been helpful to Ireland economically.

The USA may have the rhetoric of freedom but it is a colonial entity by origin, taking over the land of the native peoples of that part of the world and quickly establishing itself as a colonial or neo-colonial power in the hemisphere and then on the world stage. The term 'imperialist' in a narrow sense (relating to empire) may no longer pertain in too many parts of the world but used more loosely, or qualified by the addition of 'neo' to make the word 'neo-imperialist', can be taken to describe the attempt to dominate other countries in an unhealthy, underhand or military way. We can certainly describe the USA as neo-imperialist; it may see itself as "the world's policeman" but the interventions it makes, however they may be dressed up, are generally for its own narrow ends. This is true from the Philippines at the end of the 19th century through to the Vietnam war in the 1960s and the Iraq war in the 2000s.

The EU has a neoliberal economic agenda (privatisation) and a developing military policy, in alliance with NATO, which may develop into a fully-fledged, neo-imperialist one as the 21st century progresses. The situation in the EU is to a considerable extent masked by the fact it is a 'union' of countries or nations. We are certainly not denying that EU membership has been good for Ireland in some ways, economically and in some ways psychologically, but it has come at a cost.

Subservience is, unfortunately, alive and well in Ireland. While it looks like the Republic is starting to emerge from the worst effects of the banking crisis, which to a significant part was created by the subservience of the political elite to the economic elite, the result was a different kind of subservience – to the Troika of economic powers, and to the banks – at a very considerable cost to the citizens of the country and services to those in need. The rapprochement between the Republic and Britain over the last number of years is welcome in many ways but concerning remembering past wars there is a risk of again being subservient to the remnants of an imperial past. Liberalisation and privatisation policies of the EU may not be appropriate, most especially for a small country like Ireland. But the political leaders of the Republic have been afraid of antagonising, in any way, what has been the leading world military and economic power, the USA, and are not always great at standing up to the powers that be in the EU either.

The situation at Shannon Airport is perhaps the most blatant example of Irish subservience to the USA. Irish neutrality is still on the books, so to speak, and definitely popular among citizens. But the Dáil refused to enshrine Irish neutrality in the constitution because that would have obliged the state to act in a consistent and moral manner. Other neutral countries are clear that belligerent war planes do not pass through their territory. Whether subservience to the USA in permitting totally unchecked access through Shannon for their war machinery and personnel is due to fear of the consequences of standing up, to an ingratiating attitude, or whatever, does not matter in its effect though it does matter in working out how to end this hypocritical situation. The result, clearly, is blood on the hands of the Irish state and resultantly of the Irish people.

It is further ironic that when a couple of Irish parliamentarians, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, did try to act on what the state should be doing they are taken to court, found guilty, and fined, all for trying to do what the state is obliged to do by its own rubrics – inspecting US planes to see they do not contain weapons. In fact however the transit of armed forces personnel is just as much a breach of neutrality as the transit of weapons – which do not fire themselves. Many 'ordinary' civilians have also tried to inspect or act concerning US planes in Shannon, the latest being Edward Horgan, and they too are then dragged through the courts.

Subservience, as we say, comes in many forms. When it is not acknowledged then it is at least partly hidden and more difficult to deal with. Irish subservience regarding Shannon will continue to be an issue until it eventually gets resolved. The state already had an opportunity, after the work of the Pitstop Ploughshares activists and trials, to end US military flights through Shannon; subservience was so ingrained in the political elite that they refused to take that opportunity. Let us all work to overcome this contribution by Ireland to US wars, and ensure that no further assistance to world powers is contributed by such subservience. As Jim Larkin said, "The great appear great because we are on our knees: Let us rise."


Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Wilful Blindness and the 2015 Elections

"Now is the moment to catalyse a transformation."
(Mary Robinson, UN envoy on climate Change, The Guardian, 18 April 2015)

Against the background of climate change, rapid loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, pollution of the seas and air, domestic and global inequality, the rising number of people suffering from loneliness and depression the 2015 Westminster election is in the words of Mary Robinson, albeit used in a different context, "the moment to catalyse a transformation." The political parties compete with each other in claiming to be the one that will do this through creating meaningful work for all, building affordable homes, creating a more efficient National Health Service, providing better public transport and quality education for children and young people. The political parties in effect claim that if elected they will herald in a new age. Their litany of promises and derision of their adversaries is pantomime and most of the electorate recognise this, which in part accounts for why so few people vote.

All, except for the untested Green Party, speak from the same script, which is acceptance of the economic paradigm that has prevailed since the industrial revolution. A paradigm, as E.F. Schumacher argued in his 1973 classic book Small is Beautiful is delusion as there can't be unlimited use of resources, bio-wealth and places to dispose of 'waste' in a finite world. The 2014 Living Planet report informs us that Ireland has the 10th largest eco-footprint in the world and if everyone were to live as we on these islands do we would need 3.4 Earths.

The commitment of the Conservative Party, Labour Party and the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland to the renewal of Trident nuclear-armed submarines illustrates how seriously flawed the dominant paradigm is. The estimated £100 billion that would be spent during the course of its 25-year life-span would be lost to the common good such as health, social care, education and the environment. The political parties who support the renewal of Trident are wilfully blind to the fact that use of the missiles would be the ultimate terrorist act causing the death of millions and an unimaginable amount of suffering and destruction. The renewal of Trident is also a theological oxymoron as it contradicts the credo common to the world's major religions of love your neighbour as yourself.

The reason why the 2015 Westminster election will not be transformative, and there are not enough Green Party candidates to form a government if all are elected, is because of the widespread acceptance of modernity as articulated in political debate, commentary and the manifestos of the political parties. We have been socialised to accept a fossil-fuelled based way of life and a consumerist definition of 'the good life' through our family upbringing, years of formal education, advertising in its various guises, and the influence of various religions. The process of socialisation is so effective and the responsibilities of life so immediate and pressing that most people most of the time passively accept the world as it is and have neither the time, energy, inclination or sense of empowerment to think the world anew.

At this point in history the idea that there are viable alternatives to the trickle-down idea of wealth distribution, that there is no causative link between well-being and economic growth, and that large military budgets don't equate with national security has not registered with a sufficient number of the electorate. Likewise our political culture, which is imbedded in the banks, investment houses and large corporations, has not acted on the evidence based link between climate change and our dependency on fossil fuels suggesting that the unfolding catastrophe of climate change, as well as loss of biodiversity, has not yet become a part of peoples' mental framing of the world. This helps explain why there is no Manhattan-like project to design and manufacture reliable, environmental friendly and affordable means of generating, storing and moving energy to its point of use. * This view is supported by Kieron Flanagan of Manchester Business School who is quoted in New Scientist, 18 April 2015, as saying "if you're serious about low-carbon technology, you must invest serious amounts." It also accounts for the acceptance of much else that needs changed such as the way food is grown, sold and so much wasted and why we have an economic system that is designed to benefit the rich rather than all members of society.

Thankfully there are signs that our political culture is beginning to awaken to the fact that radical change in how we do things is needed. One sign is the 'Keep it in the Ground campaign' started by and championed by The Guardian newspaper. This is based on the idea that three-quarters of known reserves of fossil fuels have to be left in the ground if we are to have any chance of preventing the Earth's temperature rising above 2 degree Celsius. The success of the campaign is marked by the fact that Rockefeller Brothers and Stanford University are among the 180 institutions that are withdrawing their investments from the fossil fuel industry.

Judging from the nature of the political debate the 2015 Westminster election won't catalyse the cultural transformation needed for the medicine of bio-friendly and economic justice policies to be applied to our biosphere and society. That said we can elect to role model the positive changes we desire.

The Manhattan Project is the dedicated effort the United States made to build the first nuclear bomb.

Copyright INNATE 2021