Billy King shares his monthly thoughts
I am not sure where the rhyming phrase ‘culture vultures’ comes from but to me it summons up images of people who will attend any cultural event they possibly can in their favoured fields. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, and a lot positive, if it doesn’t mean they ignore the rest of life. Some definitions imply pretension to the person so described, and another meaning indicates those who seek to make profits from types of culture they neither like nor understand.
However there are other forms of culture vultures around. There are those who use their local culture for narrow nationalist and political aims; again there is nothing wrong with calling on the best (most progressive and welcoming) aspects of local culture, e.g. the Irish tradition of céad míle fáilte, to look for a positive way of welcoming immigrants and asylum seekers, or for other inclusive and egalitarian ends It is dangerous when there is an attempt to define ‘national’ culture in a narrow and exclusive way; an ultimate on this is the way Nazi Germany promoted an imaginary ‘Aryan’ Germanic culture which condemned others to the gas chamber.
But there is another from of culture vultureism which is in line with one of the more despicable definitions above. A piece in the Guardian on 30/10/21 (I can’t find it online) asked “Are films becoming more violent?” – and the answer is ‘Yes’. Steven Gaydos of Variety is quoted to say the prevalence is “to do with what computers tell the financiers how they can recoup their money – and that’s movies where people kill each other.” An informal tally of deaths in James Bond movies shows a mounting death toll over the years.
There are other references in the short article to studies showing this change. “And in 2017 another study conducted an experiment that indicated that children who watched a film containing guns were more likely to play aggressively with and try to shoot real-seeming guns than those who had watched a film without any guns.” Steven Gaydos is quoted again at the end that “In the same way Facebook figured out a way to manufacture products to create a need, I think the need to see violence and gunplay on screen has an addictive nature to it at this point. The new movie of today is designed by an algorithm, and the algorithm is dictating violence. And that’s what people are watching.”
This is so sad. And it is well known that the US military is completely embedded in Holywood because it sees the clear advantage of showing it in a ‘good’ light. So rampant capitalism is promoting violence with no regard for anyone, at home or abroad. We have a lot of work to do to undermine this reprehensible aspect of vultures in ‘culture’. Some psychologists and others dispute whether violent video games make children – or adults – more violent; I have a gut feeling that it increases tolerance for violence even if it does not make individuals in general more violent (and there are presumably exceptions to the rule). These things are complex but if it quacks like a duck, well, it is worth betting a few bob that it is indeed a duck; and if something promotes violence on screen it is certainly not challenging it off screen and may be encouraging it.
Typo of the month
I thought slavery was illegal, as was possession of a public servant. However The Irish Times reported (online 10/11/21) about a man, in the throes of drugs and alcohol, brandishing a realistic looking imitation pistol in a Dublin pub late in an evening in autumn 2016. The paper reported that “He then left the pub with another man, but was later arrested. He subsequently pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to unlawful possession of a fireman. “ Fear maith. But he couldn’t, with an imitation pistol, fire at any man, though those in the pub were understandably extremely frightened, not knowing the weapon was incapable of being fired.
Whether the story has a totally happy ending or not, it was reported the man concerned has been working to deal with his demons and even had a chip implanted which makes himself very sick if he drinks alcohol. He was given a four year suspended sentence so let’s hope all will be fine for the future. But as for the typo, well maybe the proofreader wasn’t fired up enough to see it though they are unlikely to be fired for this omission.
Dublin on 24th November saw a truckers’ protest which severely disrupted traffic. The truckers involved, in a wildcat (non-haulage association organised) protest descended on Dublin city centre and environs, blocking roads and/or driving very slowly, e.g. 15 km an hour on the M50 ring road, three lorries abreast. They were protesting about the rise in the price of diesel making their livelihoods precarious or impossible to sustain.
There are a lorry load of issues concerning this protest. On the one hand the truckers certainly achieved publicity for their cause and forced people to pay attention. It would have been difficult to be in and around Dublin during the day concerned and not be aware there was traffic disruption – and most people would then have sought an explanation as to what was causing it.
However, while you can argue there is no such thing as bad publicity, there was a cost for ordinary workers, citizens and travellers. There was considerable traffic disruption, people late for work, appointments, medical and otherwise, missed, and in addition increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other fumes due to traffic being snarled up.
I imagine the truckers concerned considered any kick back from the public was worth it. But nonviolent activists do have to take into account, in considering an action, a variety of issues, most notably whether the action is likely to advance ‘the cause’ or not. In terms of nonviolent resistance, the first point is defying immoral and unnecessary or discriminatory laws as part of a campaign; these laws may, indeed, be the target of the campaign itself. But a further step is to disobey ‘neutral’ laws as a symbol of popular resistance on the issue in question, i.e. laws which are not unjust, and may even be beneficial if obeyed in normal times, This is a further public step in showing opposition to measures or a desire for change; it is the breaking of ‘the’ law, any law, which signifies the seriousness of the protest.
But being creative in protest is important. Doing the same-old, same-old, is not necessarily going to inspire your own supporters let alone the public of the justice and strength of your case. You don’t have to break the law to make your point though, depending on the issue, doing so may demonstrate your seriousness.
Some irate newspaper letter writers have vented their anger on the truckers, and one suggested they could have marched in the city centre as pedestrians and left their trucks at home. This is unlikely to have had the same effect since city centre demos are two a penny or cent. I am not necessarily supporting their protest though everyone has to make a living and we do currently depend mainly on diesel-powered deliveries. But with a little bit of effort and time they could have come up with something more imaginative; dumping lots of boxes outside the Dáil, playing ‘pass the parcel’ in long lines, an open lorry loaded up with musicians singing protest or other songs, a mass canvas of the public and politicians at and outside the Dáil, et cetera. I think they need a good brainstorm if they want to keep on truckin’ and avoid ordinary citizens thinking it was a trucking stupid protest.
It is going to be interesting to get to grips with the Norn Iron Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition report (FICT – although the problems it deals with are anything but FICTitious) which has been sitting on shelves at Stormont for some considerable time and now, with publication, has no implementation plan. Flegs and territory marking – often in the name of remembrance of victims or perpetrators of violence who can be the same people – is a real and lasting issue in Northern Ireland. This issue is not just a superficial one, it is much more important and very thorny. To what extent and how can people celebrate ‘their’ culture – whatever that its – in a way which does not antagonise others and promote violence and division? And what should anyone be permitted to do?
It is also symbolic of Norn Iron’s political stasis that the NI Executive have no plans to implement any one of 44 recommendations in this important report. It also has plenty of lack of agreements which is not that surprising given the difficulties in this area. Semaphore signalling may have gone the way of the dodo but if I knew it I might be tempted to flag up one or two strong epithets, not about the report itself but the inability of politicians to act. And even my erstwhile semaphoring would be more positive than some of what you can see on walls and lamp posts in the North. The 168 page report is available at https://www.executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk/publications/commission-flags-identity-culture-and-tradition-final-report
A WRI smile
The War Resisters’ International (WRI), which INNATE is linked to, recently had a centenary conference which was held online, surprise surprise, due to Covid. I got to three of the plenary sessions and a similar number of workshops. I would like to share a few things from these and I hasten to add that this piece is not an attempt at a comprehensive summary of anything but just to share a few of what I would consider notable or memorable parts.
International (or indeed any) Zooming can be a fraught process and tolerance for technological imperfections of malfunctions is necessary but with this programme everything went fairly smoothly, at least what I saw, you always expect the odd glitch. We tend to think of ourselves as progressive but one of the most intriguing and informative contributions was from Joanne Sheehan from the USA (yes, with an Irish surname/heritage…) who spoke about the struggle women had in WRI to be heard and get the space they needed. The WRI was traditionally associated mainly with conscientious objection and COs were almost all men so for that and other reasons there was resistance to women taking their proper place in the organisation. But through women’s workshops and gatherings, and a newsletter, they were gradually able to do so. However one of the lessons in life is that an issue is never ‘done’ – backsliding is always possible – not that anyone was accusing the WRI of this but I am mentioning the fact, e.g. that because women have ‘achieved their place’ we don’t need to consider gender issues any more. None of us is perfect – as the bumper speaker says “I used to be conceited but now I’m perfect”.
I won’t talk about INNATE’s two seminars on Irish peace movement history which formed part of the programme except to say they seemed to go down well and the ‘ten minutes to share an experience’ model seemed to work. The link to the videos of these is in the news section of this issue.
The WRI workshop on constructive programme was….constructive. This topic immediately brings up images of Mohandas Gandhi for me. It is about walking the walk as well as talking the talk, an example given at the start of the workshop was of citizens working on housing associations and social housing. Being the change we seek is a key part of it; one person defined it as entailing sustainability, our values guiding our goals, and resisting in a different way (outside stereotypes and expectations).
One example I quoted in the workshop was Kilcranny House in Coleraine which promoted ecology (by doing it), peace and good relations. I also wondered whether something like AVP/Alternatives to Violence Project could be considered ‘constructive programme’; by passing on skills and approaches which help people deal with anger and the potential for violence in their lives; it is making a practical difference. – it does not require any ideological adherence and you don’t even have to sign up to the AVP mandala of transforming power.
One of the questions asked was how constructive programme or projects could be more involved with acts of resistance, and how protests could be augmented by constructive programme. That is a good question which we could continually ask ourselves. But it is fundamentally about being open and willing to change ourselves as well as recognising that We Don’t Have All The Answers.
The workshop on ‘intersectional antimilitarism’ was a good event on this issue, not one I was familiar with. An initial participant explanation said it was not about the overlapping of interests but recognising the reality and life experiences of other people, and allowing people affected by an issue or a life experience (being poor, black, female, disabled, LGBT etc) to lead on the issue. Inclusion is part of it, and thinking how something affects others.
It also requires recognising the different experiences and possibilities for people within our movements as to what people can or can’t do. We can support other people, not because we are looking for support ourselves – though it is possible that might happen through contact and understanding being developed – but because it is the right thing to do. Think of the British film ‘Pride’ (2014) where lesbian and gay activists supported coal miners in the 1984 strike….eventually the miners’ union supported gay rights but that was a product of the relationship built up and nothing to do with the original solidarity’s intention.
There was much more that I was present for and much that I wasn’t there for. The campaign in Larzac, antimilitarism in the former Yugoslavia, the use of innovative methods in dealing with issues of violence and human rights abuses (the creation of arpilleras) were all covered in the opening seminar which covered ‘work done’. A final session looked forward to the future. These sessions covered some important ground and issues. ‘Putting it all together’ is a big challenge but the impossible is only impossible until it is done (as many different people have said in different ways).
The WRI website is at www.wri-irg.org
Well, that’s me for another calendar year and the approach to cancelled seasonal festivities (again). Santa Claus’ partner, Mary Christmas, asked him what it was going to be like out on Christmas Eve and he said “Rain, dear”. Ho, ho, hum. And how do we know Santa Claus is into nonviolence? Because he only believes in one kind of sleighing. Now you don’t need to read your Christmas cracker jokes because you have just had enough of them here….[Haven’t we herd that reindeer joke before from you? – Ed] [Yule regret taking me to task for that – Billy] [Stop or people will think you are crackers… – Ed]
As is my wont, I wish you a Happy Christmas and a Preposterous New Year. Take care of yourself and each other and I’ll see you at the start of February, Billy.