What is this blog?

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The purpose of this blog is to allow me to record my journey, the formation of the No New Wars organisation (whatever form that may take), the Eleven Eleven Twenty-Eighteen campaign and the supporting resources and networks of people and organisations.

This idea crystallised for me in 2012 when I decided it was not enough to be angry about wars being started in my name (that is, by my government) that I could not prevent.  Instead I would do something.  Not march with a banner, or send a letter to my MP, or write to the embassy of the enemy state, but instead stop the war in the first place.

I realised that I could not stop foreign countries starting wars.  But I can do something to influence my own government.  I could start a movement that makes it clear to our politicians that we do not want war, and that we will make them pay if they start one.

In a democracy we have only one tool available: our vote.  If enough of us pledge to remove our vote from any politician promoting an unjust, illegal or unnecessary war and to instead give that vote to an opponent, then we can make the politicians and major political parties too frightened to want to start a war.

It does not even need many of us to sign up to this.  In many constituencies it would only take about half of the MP’s majority to take the pledge to make the MP realise their next election might be their last.  And if people who do not vote – which is most of us – sign this pledge saying we will turn up and make a protest vote, it will make the political parties sit up and think about the consequences of the actions of a few war mongers.

I haven’t done the sums in detail, but if this campaign had been in place by 2003 when the 2nd Gulf War started, and if just 1% of the electorate had signed this pledge, then 170,00 non-voters voting against Labour plus 1% of Labour voters voting for either of the other major parties, would have resulted in Labour losing the 2005 General Election.

Between 750,000 (Police figures) and 2,000,000 (organisers’ figures) people marched in London alone to protest against the 2nd Gulf War.  Just 400,000 registered voters making a pledge would have more effect.

We actually can stop wars from starting by targeting the real cause: politicians who want to start a war.  By telling them we as voters will end their political career and wreck their party’s future prospects of power at the same time.

Would you consider war prevention a big enough cause to change your vote, or to make you go out and vote?

First Level 3 module chosen

After my experience this past academic year, there is no way I am doing more than 60 credits at once at Level 3, that is, full-time study while working.  The year saved is not worth the stress, the loss of value-for-money from skipping material, the lost opportunity from not having time to read around the subject nor the impact on the grade.  And at Open University Level 3, it’s all about the grade since that is most of the final grade weighting.

I was going to do A333 Key questions in philosophy but my experience of A222 Exploring philosophy has put me off.  It was not what I thought it would be.

I had also planned to do DD301 Crime and justice as it includes ‘trans-national policing, international criminal courts and universal human rights‘ but those are only a minor part of the syllabus.  Also, it is intended for those going into ‘crime prevention and conflict resolution‘ (amongst other things) and my desired career is in conflict prevention.  Similar, but not the same thing.  I’ll need to have another think.

I downloaded the list of all the 107 Level 3 modules available to me and went through each module in turn, deciding afresh if I wanted or needed to do it.  A day’s work turned that into a shortlist of 12.

So many things to consider:

  • When does the module first run?  (DD317 Advanced Social Psychology should have started this October but will be October 2017 and DD311 Crime, harm and the state in October 2019 which is one year too late for me to do it.)
  • When does the module cease to be available?
  • 30 credits or 60 credits?
  • Does it have an exam?
  • Is there team work?  (No thank you.  I’ve carried others before, and discovered you don’t get any thanks for doing so.  A shame, as that has put me off S382 Astrophysics which I really fancied.)
  • Will it help my career?
  • I only have 120 credits left (or 150 if I’m devious and willing to add another year by doing 30, then 60 then 60).
  • Which 60 credits I want locked into the 300 credits that make up the open (non-honours) component.  (What a weird rule.)
  • Whether I want a name degree (that was a realistic option until A222 put me off philosophy).
  • Will I enjoy it?  (I can’t excel at something I do not enjoy.)
  • Ought I to do it for my career?  (Peace Studies.)
  • Will I learn something useful?

I really fancy S350 Evaluating contemporary science as it would be interesting, challenging and probably very useful to me.  One is expected to research, produce and present a scientific paper as practice for being a real scientist!  I could do something on sensor reliability in unmanned ground vehicles (or autonomous fighting machines, multi-function utility vehicle, warbots, kill-bots, autonomous drones, call ’em what you will) or the environmental impact of war in an oil-producing region.

But, it is 30 credits and I have talked myself out of the other 30 credit modules.  I’ll re-consider it this time next year.

I think I have settled on which one to do next, A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity, mostly because it will look relevant on a Master’s Degree application and because it ought to be relatively easy for me.  I’ve been informally studying war and how & why it happens for decades, so those parts ought not to be too alien.  However, although the title sounds relevant, I’m not terribly interested in war in history as a subject of study because that has changed nothing.  My interest is evidence-based peace process research.  But, I shall use it as a corridor of doorways to other paths to study.

Risk: what will be new to me is that it is a history module and I’ve never done one of those.  I wonder what new skills and methods I will need for that.

I’ve bought and downloaded the A327 exam paper for 2015 and it asks for “Write a commentary on the following primary source extract…” but I do not know what a ‘commentary’ looks like.  It also says “Answer the following thematic question” but what is a thematic question and what is special about how one answers one?

I have asked those queries on the Arts & Humanities forum and I hope somebody understands.  I should probably ask it on the Open Degree forum – the polymathic folk there might understand my concern better.

Meanwhile I can do advance reading by getting the set book and by going through the OpenLearn material that has been produced based on this very module.

What is the point of academic philosophy?

I have been struggling with my philosophy module all year, mostly because I cannot see how it applies to real life.  It has contained dualism (the mind is not a physical thing), arguments for ‘the self’ that do not consider sociology or psychology and, to my utter incredulity, intelligent design (FFS!).

On talking to a different tutor last weekend, it was explained that modern teaching of philosophy in the UK does not teach one philosophical thinking, it teaches one philosophical methods and tools.  Hence we have had to study 16th and 17th century texts that are clearly utterly irrelevant today.  They are contrived arguments produced by withholding modern thinking and results of scientific research to produce ways of writing essays.  Sadly, in so doing, they are also teaching some of their students to believe utter bollocks.

My mind-set is that of a practitioner, not an academic, and I do not enjoy studying a pointless subject for the sake of studying it.  If it cannot be applied to real life then it is a waste of time, energy and neurones.

So I have been wondering why it is taught this way.

A common accusation aimed at the priesthood of just about any significant religion, anywhere, at any time, has been of being very conservative, advising the little people to support the status quo, pay their taxes, respect their betters and be glad their suffering will be compensated in the next life.  Meanwhile, the little people are assured the rich and powerful will suffer for their comforts.

But why aren’t philosophers challenging the status quo?  “Isn’t that what they are for?” I thought.  What I am seeing is more like the behaviour of this stereotypical compliant priesthood, telling the little people how to behave.  Then as I was typing up my notes on political philosophy and the arguments for political obligation, a little light came on.  There are shed-loads of reasons provided for why we should adhere to the law and fulfil our political obligations and scant few for why we should not.  Why is this?  It seems this goes back to Socrates who was sentenced to death 2,500 years ago for subverting the state.  He had the chance to not be executed but instead we get a long treatise from him on why he should allow himself to be executed by the state, in a particularly ghastly way, for a variety of reasons.  He is trotted out time and time again – a lesson to young wannabe world-changers: “This will be your fate if you do not comply!

How many academic philosophers since then have stood up to the state?

I think the purpose of philosophy as it is taught might just be to maintain the status quo of the paymasters who pay for the establishments in which the teaching is done.  It is just one huge “busy work” subject, of negative worth to society.  There to prevent students rioting on the streets, chucking petrol bombs at the Police, in protest at the behaviour of the government of the day.

As far as I have seen in this module, philosophy is not about teaching you to think and change the world, it is how to stick your head up some dead bloke’s arse and comment on whether he should have kept that second packet of crisps to himself or shared them out.

As it is taught, philosophy is a pointless dead subject that just serves to maintain the status quo and convert otherwise activist students into confused compliant citizens.

Our tutor said, at the start of the year, he has students who drop the subject early because “This is not what I wanted, it’s just telling me what to think“.  They were right to do so.  I have learned nothing of any practical use.  What a waste.

How might post-traumatic stress disorder change warfare?

This is a brief note from thinking about Open University DD210 Living Psychology module, book 2, chapter 13, page 149…172 ‘3. The impact of extreme circumstances‘, ‘4. Recovery, resilience and post-traumatic growth‘ and ‘5. Perils, pitfalls and positive effects of psychological interventions‘.

Post-traumatic stress disorder.  People can be damaged by what they are ordered to do; might this change how warfare is conducted?

Millennia ago and centuries, marching off to another country or city allowed preparation time, bonding and training time on the way there.  On the way back there was lots of time for reflection with those who had been through the same experience, done in an environment of routine, with physical activity and done outdoors.  Might that have prevented PTSD for most people?  Is PTSD a phenomenon that arrived with the ability to leave the front line and go home fairly quickly?

Might the consequences of PTSD on military personnel make government change the way warfare is conducted so that it is prevented?  If so, what will that look like?

Is PTSD just an infantry complaint?  Do snipers get it worse than combat area engineers?  Do bomber crews get PTSD?  What about drone pilots who work 9-5 and go home every evening?  Who suffers most: conscripts, volunteers or militia?  Do revolutionaries / guerillas / freedom fighters get it?  Do victors get it?  Is it worse for those who suffer defeat?  How bad is it for child soldiers?

How bad is it for civilians in a war zone?  Refugees?  Survivors?  Orphans?  (And does anyone in governments care about civilians in war zones? It does not seem so.)

What research is being done in PTSD?  By whom?  Why?  Is it for peaceful purposes to demonstrate how warfare is bad, or to make warfare and killing less stressful for the troops so that it can continue?

Philosophy at third year of study – yea or nay?

Been too busy to post, lately.  Life, eh?

Anyway, do I do philosophy at level 3 in my custom Peace Studies degree?

I had intended to do module A333 Key Questions in Philosophy with the Open University specifically for topic 2 of 5: “War – Can there be justice in war?

That part is described thus:

“Is there a clear moral distinction between killing combatants and killing non-combatants? Are there circumstances – situations of supreme emergency – in which it is justifiable to suspend the accepted conventions of war? Should all soldiers be treated in the same way, regardless of whether their cause is just? This book will guide you through some of the core ideas of Just War Theory and recent criticisms of this approach.”

I could just study those questions for myself and produce my own conclusions on here.

Is western philosophy inherently violent?

I’m studying philosophy (“should war criminals should be punished for crimes committed half a century or more ago?”  “what we ought or ought not to do”  “what brings about the greatest possible amount of happiness in the world?”  ought we fight for our country if it is under threat?” “political obligations: can I just opt out? When did I opt in?“) as part of my custom Peace Studies degree.  But sometimes the best material comes not from text books but from unexpected sources.

A favourite web cartoon strip is Dead Philosophers in Heaven.  In the comments below the strip about Machiavelli: immoral sociopath or satirist?, is this:

Machiavelli’s The Prince just describes the fact that there is no state or nation in history that hasn’t been founded on massive violence.  Arguably creating the biggest, fattest, ugliest paradox of western political philosophy.  He also lets us know that any state at least partially dependant on consent, if it’s going to last, is going to have to learn how to deceive its citizenry.

Ouch!

So much to be done: life gets in the way

After an evening spent updating life plans a restless night followed.

It is amazing how life interferes with one’s plans.  Full time study, looking for work, moving house, trying to remember to do exercise, managing one’s weight, domestic chores… they take so much time.

Ideas pop into my head every day that I want and need to record, but I cannot find the time to properly consider them and write them down.

This morning there are many to do with how long to spend on the degree and the master’s degree, whether to take full-time or part-time work, where to live.  But I also had a thought about psychological defence mechanisms of which there nine that I have learned about.

I have about 15 minutes to hand; I thought I’d nip onto the Open University site, get the list of them, mention that each of them can be used to consider:

Why do people put up with war?

Each of the nine could result in multiple blog posts considering how to tackle people’s attitudes to war and rejection that peace is worth the effort.

But I can’t because:

OU web site down when I need it

OU web site down when I need it

And now I have a train to catch.  Damn.

Finding and documenting empirical evidence for peace

Utilitarianism is the aim of choosing ones actions (be they of individuals or governments) such that the most happiness is achieved for the most people.  However, empirical evidence is required to quantify the results of the various possible actions.  Also, definitions are required for ‘happiness’ and scales are required to quantify the measures.  This was the aim of 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham when considering such things as social policy for punishing criminals.

I suppose what I want to achieve is to gather together empirical data for the cost and implications of different approaches to preventing international violent conflict as well as for conducting international violent conflict, such that the various options can be considered in a measurable way.  Utilitarianism is a way of doing this by—at the risk of oversimplification—using the formula:

happiness = pleasure - pain

I am thinking more along the lines of:

peace = positive outcome expected - negative implications

where ‘violent conflict’ is quantified and included with the investment cost to form the ‘negative implications’.  Those wanting to start a war must be claiming a positive outcome, so that can be quantified too.

This should help eliminate, or at least help counter, “for our security” and “because they are a threat” and other such woolly thinking from the decision making, at least publicly.  It is also more human than my original idea which was purely cost-based.

What happens now about the burning Syrian oil fields?

The oil wells currently being blown up in Syria and being used by IS should have been dealt with months ago.  This has been said by quiet lone voices but only became newsworthy just this past week as the airstrikes against them began.

We know from the 2nd Gulf War that these will burn and continue to burn until the fighting is over.  Presumably, if IS somehow manage to put out and cap a well, it will become a target again and this continue until the territory is retaken.

This will mean months, or years, of the burning of crude oil polluting the local land indefinitely and air downwind for the duration, which the government cautiously warns will be three years or more.

What a waste of an irreplaceable commodity.  What a filthy, highly carcinogenic, CO2-filled cloud it will produce.

And the workers at these oilfields are not going to be AK47-wielding jihadists but the same oil-field workers who were there before.  Civilians.  Likely doing their job at gun-point now.  Now being blown up or burned to death by our bombing.  Airstrikes kill civilians.

War is great, innit?  Lovely grainy black-and-white pictures of something going “Puff” from 12,000 feet up reported as the good work of terrorists being dealt with, when actually it is just destruction and killing and maiming and polluting.

About 300 to 1,000 civilians were killed in Iraq for each person killed in the Twin Towers terrorist attack.  I wonder what the kill ratio will be for the Paris terrorist attack.  At that rate it will need to be about 39,000 to 130,000 ‘collateral’ civilian deaths.

62 workers were caught up in the recent Azerbaijan oil rig fire accident, of whom half are likely dead.  It is looking like a tragedy caused by lax safety measures and a violent storm.  Bad enough, but still not as bad as the awful, no, horrific Piper Alpha disaster which took 167 of the 228 lives on board.

Syria has about 40 oil fields with a number of wells per field but I cannot find the latter number – shall we assume 10?  Assuming 62 workers per well (as they are all land-based, I believe) that gives us 34,800 civilian workers as potential death targets of the oil well bombings.  That’s a ratio of 190 civilian deaths for each Parisian victim.  I wonder if that will be enough to satiate the politicians’ blood lust?  If not, there’s the fire control crews, the replacement workers for wells that are put put and repaired, pipeline maintenance crews, pumping station crews, management and admin offices and all manner of other support and ancillary staff who come under the heading of ‘infrastructure’.

I’m sure that with a bit of effort—killing the accountants, secretaries, maintenance staff and cleaners too—it ought to be possible to get up to the same kill ratio of 300 foreign civilians to victim as was achieved in Iraq.

Do think on that when being impressed by those grainy, black-and-white videos taken from long range – that ‘infrastructure’ includes the people who work there, leaving their widows, angry fathers and brothers and embittered children ready to refresh the ranks of IS or produce the next generation of terrorists.

Assuming the cancer from the oily black smoke doesn’t deal with them first, of course.

Confidence in our leaders

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced that the RAF would move to round-the-clock bombing raids and taunted the terrorists that they will enjoy no respite at Christmas.
Daily Mail.

I wonder if someone should tell him IS are Moslem extremists and, as such, probably don’t book a week off for Christmas to scoff pigs in blankets and quaff sherry.

Still, I shouldn’t be nasty.  Peace and good will to all men, and all that.

Lest we forget

An exchange on an Open University forum.

Fast Forward

 ‘Named, unnamed. Remembered, forgotten. They all did that trick the dead do. Whether they died immediately, more or less immediately or later, they all did that trick. From living human being to corpse – the fastest transition in the world.’
(Robert Mc Liam Wilson, Eureka Street)

As I lie here
crimson rivers stream by
painting obscene pictures on my brain.

Beside me
half a young man’s face, open minded, sanguine
looks on. He was smiling

when he ceased to exist.
That girl has something recognisably human about her meat,
others have been blown entirely to bits,

soft unresisting flesh to be scraped up and shovelled
into plastic bags. Cajun dust settles on carnage.
Does a meld of politics ordnance and circumstance

explain all this? In the aeons after the blast
in the ringing piercing silence
in my head, I hear distant white coated voices,

‘Treat only those you think you can save,’
as the last sigh of life escapes my torn lips
unheard; the fastest transition in the world.

Sheena Bradley, 2012

Me: Lest we forget.

Sheena: Do you think there might ever be a time, a decade or a century when there is even a slight chance we could forget? I doubt it.

Me: There’s always hope.

I’m aware “Lest we forget” has different meanings to different people and in different contexts.  With hindsight, it was an inappropriate response to your post, Sheena, and I’m sorry I made it.  I was thinking of the Great War, not the Troubles.

For me, “Lest we forget” means “never forget the suffering we bring upon ourselves by blindly following orders to subject others to violence”.

For others it seems to mean “Never forget what sacrifices others have made for you, so be prepared to make sacrifices for them”.  There “Lest we forget” is used to promote what was Veterans’ Day and is now Armed Forces Day – but why don’t we also celebrate Peace Day with parades and banners?  There’s money and street closures made available to celebrate the military, but why not the Fire Brigade too, for example – they also put their lives on the line for us and they do it more often – what makes the military so different?  I’m coming round to the way of thinking of Forces Watch, that such events are the marketing activities of the arms industry, making killing palatable and something to be proud of.  And that way of thinking leads to “Lest we forget” meaning a demand for patriotism, nationalism and bigotry, where expressing a preference for peaceful solutions gets one called a coward or a “terrorist sympathiser”.

Then there’s the version of “Lest we forget” that seems to me to be the underling problem to finding peace in Northern Ireland, the perpetuation on both sides of “Never forget what those b~~~~~~s did to us”.  The perpetual generation of hatred, especially as indoctrination of the young.  Earlier this year we witnessed in Glasgow an Orange parade – bands and marching and banners and crowds coming out to watch the spectacle.  All I could see were bitter old men and angry middle-aged men wearing orange sashes, and lots of small boys dressed in military uniforms looking all proud to be maintaining the tradition.  The atmosphere was just anger and hate; it was appalling and pathetic to see.  It is nothing like a Scouts’ St George’s Day parade and poles apart from the likes of Warrington’s Walking Day.

As well as talking, listening and reconciling, there’s an awful lot of forgetting needs to be done in and around Northern Ireland: forgetting to maintain the tradition of instilling children and young adults with blind hate.  It makes us sick when Moslem extremists like IS do it, and when Christian extremists like the Lord’s Resistance Army recruit child soldiers in Africa.  So why is it OK for religious extremists in the British Isles to recruit children to propagate and perpetuate their militaristic tradition of violence and hatred against their fellow people?  And it would help if we quietly dropped Armed Forces Day in Northern Ireland too – it is counter-productive having the British Army setting an example of militaristic street marches.

For the love of God, as a society, can we please just stop passing on a tradition of hate and instead learn to forget?

 

PS: Airstrikes kill civilians.