Bullet Points or Peace Points

In a discussion in my current Open University module, A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity, someone mentioned the Imperial War Museum Exhibition People Power: Fighting for Peace.  Cutting a long discussion short:

Me:

There’s something about the words “exploring how peace movements have influenced perceptions of war and conflict” that troubles me.  I think it is the implication they have achieved nothing other than change perception.  As if it is the output from a War Studies course, rather than Peace Studies.  Certainly that web page has not been written by someone immersed in the peace sector as they would not have used the title “Fighting for Peace” as it is not considered proper to use that expression any more (“working for peace” instead), just as it is not considered appropriate to wear camouflage as a civilian (camo baby’s bootees – why?) or use bullet points in presentations (use “peace points”).

Alternatively, is it merely focused purely on that aspect (influencing perceptions) of the peace movements?

Damn this module!  Now I am more interested in who constructed this exhibition, why, who for, who paid for it and what is their agenda than I am in the exhibition!

A contributor (paraphrased):

The effectiveness of such peace efforts are open to debate, for sure, but surely history has shown that perceptions matter greatly, particularly public perceptions.  I have to ask though:

use bullet points in presentations (use “peace points”)‘.

As for bullet points being ‘inappropriate’, since when?  Is that a joke?  If so, it went right over my head.  surprise

My response:

I find some of the hard liners in the peace movement difficult to relate to, but once one has been given an awareness of the militarisation of everyday language, clothes, euphemisms, education and so on, it starts to become glaringly obvious.  In the case of words, the fear is that routine adoption of military language into everyday life normalises violence as a default response to anything requiring action.

One becomes entrenched (I’ve never dug a trench), attacks a problem (I’ve never beaten up an equation), uses bullet-proof arguments (I actually use normal paper), takes flak from objectors (I can’t even fly), works on the front line (i.e. answers the ‘phone) and so on.

To eliminate sexism, it was necessary to remove certain words from our everyday language so that they could not be used to denigrate women when referring to them.  It’s not about how they feel about those words, it is about the effect they had on us men and, therefore, how society functioned.

To eliminate racism, other words that were used without thought are now verboten – we would never dream of using them in writing.  Again, this is not because of the reaction but on society: if derogatory, generalising or belittling words are used to define groups then one assumes those groups are deserving of being treated that way.  (Why did I use ‘verboten’?  Because it has a cultural association with a violent and potentially fatal reaction as a punishment; being associated with Nazi militarism it is a far stronger word than merely ‘forbidden’.  Doing so also reinforces our traditional view of the Germans.)

Likewise disability or other forms of difference from “the accepted norm”.  You need words to create boxes to put people in so they can be managed as a group in a certain way.  Once the language has been created and established for that group, it can be re-used on another, and another, and another.

It comes out of the likes of linguistics philosopher Wittgenstein (“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”), military writer von Clausewitz (education, culture and the media are foundations for war) and social psychologists.  For example, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: our world view can only be constructed from the words we have to describe it.  It is a well-known and well-established concern: extremists of all sorts have wanted particular books burned because of the political or religious ideas they convey – if people cannot read the books, they won’t get the ideas.  Words are dangerous; words convey emotions and reactions.

If we rely on military words for dealing with civilian problems, then military solutions become the default solution because that is how we think.  If we can change the language to use positive verbs and adjectives rather than violent ones, it would change the mindset of the public toward how they should be resolved.  Hence a drive in the peace movement to not use military terminology in a civilian context.

Hence ‘peace points’ not ‘bullet points’.

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.

Killing for Christ

Personally, my main concerns over starting wars are the financial and social costs and the subsequent consequences from a desire for revenge.  Lately, I have been spending more time with people who object from a conscientious objective, sometimes from a religious viewpoint.  I have also been exposed to a forum where I regularly hear “people with no religion have no moral compass“.

I do not see there is necessarily a link between a care for humanity and adherence to a religion.  I shall explain.

When gathering evidence that argues against capital punishment, I was surprised at how many American Christian Baptist groups demand the death penalty because “it is God’s will according to the Bible“.  Funny that, because I thought the 6th commandment to not kill, and the subsequent teachings of Jesus in the Gospels to turn the other cheek and forgive, were supposed to take precedence over the Old Testament’s millennia-old verbal story traditions of nomadic desert tribes-people.

That made me contemplate the “you need religion to have morals” claim since some Christians are saying killing people is good, right and proper because it is what God wants.  But other Christians are saying they think the teachings say it is always wrong (which was my interpretation from reading them, too).

But I think learning about a variety of religions and their pros and cons is helpful and informative.  It tells you about the ground they have covered and what to think about.  It also protects one from the more predatory organisations.

If I were writing about political systems and claimed “absolute power corrupts absolutely“, few would disagree and most would sagely nod their heads and agree it has been proven time and time again through history.

But when you have any form of organised religion that says “Do exactly what we say” and “Think what we tell you to think” combined with “It is a sin to read the scriptures of others” and “Only we tell the truth“, it will always go wrong.  Organised religions are run by people and absolute power corrupts absolutely – we know that from history.  Giving them absolute power over your behaviour is naïve or foolish.

This is why I worry about people who operate in such organisations and demand people follow them blindly.  What kind of person wants that kind of power over others, and why do they want it?  Why are they attracted to that role, or create it for themselves, and why enforce it so thoroughly?  Scary people!

Then I worry about those who specifically promote such religions to vulnerable people: the homeless, refugees and students who are living away from home for the first time and who may be spiritually lost, home-sick or lonely.  Why are people who want absolute power over others so keen to target people who are already in turmoil?  Sounds like abusers looking for easy victims to me.

That is why I get so cross with people advertising or promoting the Mormons, the 7th Day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and now the Revival Fellowship too.  Relatively new organisations who demand total blind adherence to their teachings and rejection of all other beliefs such that their members are forbidden to even find out about them.  They all typically have ‘scriptures’ that have been amended many, many times, they have false end-of-the-world predictions and a history of turmoil in their leadership as different power nuts fight for control over their followers.  Organisations defending young earth creationism, faith healing, evidence of aliens or that Jesus went to America.

It is also why I would always advocate to someone feeling a need for spiritual guidance to always shop around.  You wouldn’t buy a house or a car without looking at a few first, so why commit your immortal soul (if such a thing exists) to the first Honest John dealer (“Honest John, Honest John, the others are a con!“) who approaches you?  And remember, if they are reaching out to you, it is because you have something they want, not because they have something to give away.  If you are being approached in the street or online to “open your mind” and accept their teachings blindly and reject things that most of the rest of the world believe, then you can be sure you are being conned – all cold callers and spammers are just trying to get something from you and that includes those promoting too-good-to-be-true “religions” too.

Find out about a variety of big religions and faith systems – both with and without gods – what they stand for, their history, what is involved, what the criticisms are.  Get a feel for what is right, honest, decent and true.  Become wise enough to spot the outdated, the inappropriate and, sadly, the liars hiding amongst them.

I did that and came out the other side as a confirmed atheist.  You may come to a different conclusion.  But either way, you’ll have worked out for yourself a pretty good idea of what you think is right or wrong.

More Killing for Christ: bombers, Catholic revenge on Protestants, black-policeman-killing survivalists, their own membership, lynchings, migrants, death penalty and anti-peace!   And sometimes, a religion can be very wrong indeed.