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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?

Bias regarding fear of war allowing wars to happen

As creatures, we are very poor at assessing risk.  This knowledge was reinforced by what I learned in the Open University module DD210 Living psychology: from the everyday to the extraordinary.  I suspect that is one of the reasons we allow wars to happen.

On the same theme The Ostrich Paradox: Why We Underprepare for Disasters by Robert Meyer and Howard Kunreuther may be a relevant and useful read.  It looks as though they consider why we allow things to happen.  They highlight six behaviours:

  1. Amnesia bias: only focussing on recent experience so we forget the experience of past wars.
  2. Optimism bias: we are optimistic by nature and although know wars happen, believe wars will not happen to us.
  3. Single action bias: it is enough to make one small act of protest thinking that will be enough to protect us.
  4. Myopia: only considering the short term, that war won’t happen soon so it will never happen.
  5. Inertia: it is too hard to face the problem and tackle it, when it might not even happen, thereby allowing it to happen.
  6. Herding: doing what we perceive everyone else to do, which is nothing, so nobody does anything.

But that list does not tell us what to do about them; perhaps the rest of their book does.

Are pacifists optimists or pessimists?

I was at a peace conference at the weekend.  A full-time peace worker said “Of course, you have to be an optimist to believe peace is possible“.  Puzzled, I disagreed, saying “In my experience, peace activists are pessimists and do what they do because they fear the worst will happen“.  Some discussion followed.

I have since worked out the difference: he was talking about employees and I was talking about volunteers.  He could not do his job if he was pessimistic and I would have no motivation if I was optimistic.

What you can do with that knowledge, I have no idea.

But what does it mean about me going from a peace-worker volunteer to becoming a peace sector employee?

“Religious” violence

My response agreeing with someone’s post on an Open University blog:

Every conflict which has escalated into terrorism has ultimately been resolved by listening.  “I think there has to be a political solution.  All wars have to end in some kind of political compromise.”  (Jeremy Corbyn)

I think you are right.  In this case it is not militant Islam that is the problem, that is the excuse.  It is the tool used by cowardly and genuinely evil people to get angry young men to commit murder and become suicide bombers.  It is the lazy branding used to explain the behaviour and ‘other’ those aligned with or sympathetic to their views.  But the claim that it is the cause or the causation is misinterpreting the situation; if it wasn’t religion making the divide it would be race or nationalism or political belief.

There were a lot of unhappy people in the Middle East cross with the Western world, united in a woolly concern about cultural imperialism or economics or tired of being sidelined or concerned about the future of the Middle East given an apparent bias in financial and political support to one particular country, or even a number of other things too.  And we weren’t listening, so the shouting got louder until a couple of buildings got destroyed in New York.  Given they were a global emblem of globalised capitalism I suspect we can take a guess at what the protest was about: cultural imperialism and the imposition of products, media output and values upon a number of closely-related societies who found those impositions increasingly intolerable.

And when protests are not heard, they get louder and louder until they go bang.

I am not aware of any great effort on the part of Western governments to say “Hmm.  There’s some unhappy people here.  Let’s find out what the problem is and come to an agreement.”  But there are many calling for airstrikes and selling weapons and destabilising governments and killing civilians.  And the protests are getting louder and more frequent.  The combined political view seems to be “The question is whether we can kill people who hate us at a faster rate than we make other people hate us by killing so many people.” (David Mitchell)

If there is a religion involved here, I fear it is the worship of Mammon or Plutus, or one of their many allies.

Why do otherwise sane people do this?

Do you mean the suicide bombers and murderers?  I think that is fairly easily answered; a lot has been researched and written in psychology and criminology about how people can be made to believe what our philosophy says is nonsense or wrong.

Do you mean those who recruit, indoctrinate, train, equip and despatch them?  The easiest ones to explain: power-hungry cowards who get a kick out of disruption.  ‘Psychopath’ and ‘sociopath’ probably cover it.  Every terror group needs those, as does most nations I suspect – I bet there’s plenty work in the various secret services.  It’s just these ones are the baddies and ours are the goodies.

Or do you mean the government leaders who believe airstrikes really are accurate, that military intelligence from foreign agents is never unreliable, that killing people because they hold a different passport is morally good, that killing people will make the related survivors more friendly, that using their land for our proxy wars won’t upset anyone?  The sort of people who proudly proclaim they would conduct the first strike to start a nuclear conflict?

We need to UNDERSTAND violent, militant Islamism – and writing if off as a form of insanity is simply an admission that we don’t understand it.

I agree.  Coming to the realisation that you have no option left to make your voice heard other than kill yourself and take others with you, is a very sane act.  When done in our name we consider it the highest form of self-sacrifice and heroism.  And it is done to make a point, whether it is holding out one’s hand in the flames when being burned at the stake for religious freedom, dousing one’s self in petrol and self-immolating for national freedom or any of the people who have died on hunger strike in prison.  These people are not killing themselves and others because they are insane.  They are trying to make a point, to be heard, a final desperate act in the hope their life can mean something by throwing it away.  Or rather they are the poor unwitting victims of the militant section of a much larger unhappy group of people.  It is that larger group who need to be heard.

But I don’t think we know who that group are.  And I’m not sure we’re even asking the question.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Woken by the 6:00 news as usual. Just one story: an explosion in a Manchester night club; Police say it is a terrorist bomb; grandparent in hospital with shrapnel wounds; children killed; people running, screaming, panicking, crying; the election suspended by all parties.

Stupid: the media reporting it as terrorism before it is confirmed. Exaggerating the known facts to sell news. They make things worse when they do this.

Stupid: the reporting of screaming, crying and panicking. Mobile phone footage on the main story site taken by some bloke outside the venue running away showing other people running away. Rather outweighs the other footage taken inside of an orderly evacuation. But it’s a funny kind of panic where someone gets their phone out to record themselves running down the street. Not the most useful evidence for the facts. But it does help create the moral panic – well done BBC for playing into the hands of those who want chaos.

(It probably is just random that the stories next to the video of the explosion are “Muslim comedian who sat next to a Trump” – omigod how did Trump survive? – and “The mysterious case of the missing Briton”.)

Stupid: a quote from every major political party – provided between the night-time explosion and available for broadcast by 6a.m. to say they are suspending election activity because of the blast. Well done, you’ve done the terrorist’s work for them, even if it turns out not to be a terrorist attack. You’ve stopped the election activity. So the government has ceased, democracy has ceased, you’ve added to the moral panic and the terrorists just won.

Every party that has done this is not fit to run a multi-racial, multi-religion country with a history of empire and links to the rest of the world and that likes to think it can stand on the world stage giving opinions based on centuries of experience.

Whatever happened to “starve them of the oxygen of publicity”?

Yes, it probably was a terrorist attack. Yes, it is appalling. Yes, it is pathetic they targeted teenage girls. I get all that. But I do not get the response. When did we become so frightened?

So, having written this rant, I shall finish my cup of tea, get dressed and go to work. I shall continue to talk to people and, more importantly, listen to people who have different opinions from mine, then try to discuss them in an open and friendly fashion, exploring differences and celebrating the things we have in common. As a citizen, that is how to combat terrorism. Not falling for the media- and political-party inspired fear and division that serves their ends but makes life more miserable.

Go and make a new friend today. Or at least, reach out to someone and say “Hi!”. Or just give a stranger a smile.

Make tea, not trouble.

Keep calm and carry on.

The Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict

I noticed this on the 1974 entry on Wikipedia’s page Timeline of women’s legal rights (other than voting):

Article 1 of the declaration specifically prohibits bombing of civilian populations.

Article 5 of the declaration requires countries to recognise the destruction of dwellings as a criminal act.

This applies to all member states of the United Nations and has since 1974.

Think on that when you see news stories of wedding parties being hit by drones or see destroyed apartment blocks and homes in the Middle East.

If these are war crimes, who are the criminals and where are the trials?

Giving prisoners the vote

I was asked today whether I thought prisoners should be allowed to vote.  I think so.  My argument is because while in prison they are still members of society as society is processing them as citizens while in prison.  That is, society has taken them, housed them and will continue to do so until a date determined by society and then release them.  All these things suggest to me the prisoners continue to be part of society and, as such, entitled to a say in how society is run.

Let’s see what the arguments are for preventing prisoners from voting.

For: prisoners are the worst criminals and deserve special punishments.

Counter: it is the opposite that is true.  It is being a particularly bad criminal that determines a prison sentence, not the nature of the sentence that determines how bad the criminal is.  However, disregarding that cause-and-effect error, worse crimes do result in prison.  But it is the being sent to prison that is the punishment, so why add other punishments?  There are a range of punishments available to the courts (prison, fines, warnings, suspended sentences, driving ban, removal of the right to be a company director, being banned from certain professions and so on) and why should the removal of the right to vote be automatically applied to one of those punishments?  There is no correlation between voting and freedom of movement and association, so why link them at all?  It is illogical.  It would make more sense to have the removal of the right to vote as one of the list of options and use it in cases of, for example, electoral fraud.

For: people in prison are different from other criminals.

The difference between prisoners and people being fined is the decision of the judge on the day: factors include prejudice, mood, current government policy on prison overcrowding and current media attention to the offender’s crime.  It seems somewhat random for these factors to determine whether someone loses the right to vote in one case (through being sent to prison) and another not losing the right to vote for the exact same offence (through being fined).

For: depriving the prisoner of the chance to vote is a punishment.

Counter: most people choose not to vote.  If it is to be a punishment, make voting by prisoners compulsory.

For: by committing a crime, a person loses their rights.

Counter: no they don’t.  A person found guilty of a crime has all the same rights as anyone else.  Even when someone is put into prison, they lose their liberty to freedom of movement and association, but they are entitled to a roof over their head, food, protection from violence, protection from self-harm, medical treatment, to speak to their friends and relatives by telephone, to have visits from people, to watch TV, to read books, to participate in education, to play games, to write and receive letters.  They continue to be a parent to their children and married to their spouse.  They continue to be entitled to pay for work, to receive legal representation and the right to appeal.  Picking the right to vote as a right to remove seems somewhat random, arbitrary and inconsistent.  In short, criminals do have rights.

For: sick-minded people like mass-murderers or serial paedophiles don’t deserve the vote.

Counter: the criminally insane are already covered by the 1918 Representation of the People Act which says people with a mental illness or disability that prevents them from making a reasoned judgement are disqualified from electoral registration.  But that argument does not explain why other prisoners should be excluded too.

For: prisoners are not entitled to have a say in how the country is run.

Counter: when prisoners come out of gaol they typically return home; they will certainly go somewhere.  Why should they not have a say in how the local area is managed or how the country is run since they have an interest in the state it will be in on their release?

For: prisoners might vote for better conditions for prisoners.

Counter: don’t they know more about prison conditions than anyone else?  Why should they be maltreated in bad prisons and not be allowed to have something done about it?  They might also vote for pay rises and more training for prison officers.

For: losing the right to vote is part of the prison experience.

Counter: why?  What about people committing the same crime but receiving suspended sentences because of their life circumstances – shouldn’t they also lose the right to vote?  And what about early release – they are still prisoners but on the outside.  Are they not entitled to vote?  If so, why?  They are still serving their sentence.  It is arbitrary and unlinked to the sentence to make the condition for voting whether they are inside the prison serving their sentence or at home tagged and subject to curfew.  If it is related to the sentence, not being in prison, then the argument for removing the vote from prisoners falls down.

For: it is because we do not want such bad people being able to influence politics.

Counter: to achieve this one must also remove the right to vote from ex-prisoners for life.  Then it is not a matter of being in prison, but of having ever been in prison.  But this results in injustice as seen in the USA where black men in some parts of the country are grossly under-represented in the voting, the societies are racist in their sentencing, but the black men cannot vote to change the system.  Removing the right to vote from prisoners creates sub-classes of society who become excluded and are kept excluded.  This is totally contrary to the concept of total suffrage: votes for all.  Either one believes in one person one vote – meaning prisoners can vote – or one believes only a select elite can vote.

For: prison is about punishment.

Counter: it is also about rehabilitation.  Those societies that permit prisoner voting have seen roughly a 10% lower re-offending rate s a consequence, seemingly to do with keeping the prisoner engaged with the community they came from and intend to return to.

For: we’re not interested in the opinions of people in prison.

Counter: prisoners have plenty of time and tend to read newspapers fully, keep up to date with current events and discuss societal issues.  They are often better informed on voting issues than busy parents and workers outside of prison.

For: denying prisoners the right to vote is a deterrent.

Counter: if being sent to prison is not a deterrent, then not being able to vote certainly is not.  Especially since most people don’t bother anyway.

Oh, there’s so much more to this, but I need to go to bed.

There are also some philosophical arguments for it and some social science arguments, but I need to spend some time digging those out.

Essentially those arguments boil down to: are prisoners human like the rest of us or a different kind of animal?  To answer that you need to consider what the circumstances are in any given time in any given society as to why an individual is sent to prison and then appreciate the rules change.  If the rules change – sometimes they are strict and sometimes lenient – then it becomes harder to attach removing the right to vote to being in prison.  Instead, it must be attached to committing an offence and be for life.  But that creates a society where a bad leader can invent a crime “Being in opposition” and suddenly the opposition cannot vote.  This has been done many times in the past in many countries and the way to prevent it is to allow everyone to vote, including prisoners.  Preventing prisoners voting enables far greater evils than prisoners can achieve by voting, and there is evidence showing allowing prisoners to vote improves their behaviour.

http://idebate.org/debatabase/debates/law/house-would-allow-prisoners-vote#

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/feb/12/uk-prisoners-banned-voting-echr

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/12/guardian-view-voting-rights-prisoners

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/26/prisoners-vote-scotland-kevin-mckenna

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/nov/22/give-prisoners-vote-not-because-europe-says

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’.

Optimistic about water wars

I have often heard it suggested or assumed that the next wars will be over water.  The International Water Management Institute is not so pessimistic.  Their article ‘Promoting cooperation through management of transboundary water resources‘ says:

Research is challenging the conventional wisdom that conflict over water leads to war.  The water wars hypothesis has its roots in earlier research carried out on a small number of transboundary rivers such as the Indus, Jordan and the Nile…because they had experienced water-related disputes.  Specific events cited as evidence include Israel’s bombing of Syria’s attempts to divert the Jordan’s headwater and military threats by Egypt against any country building dams in the upstream water of the Nile.  However, while some links made between conflict and water were valid, they did not necessarily represent the norm.

and

while it is true that there has been conflict related to water in a handful of international basins, in the rest of the world’s approximately 300 shared basins the record has been largely positive.

War is not inevitable.

This paper is an example of research into alternatives to international conflict over a specific resource resulting in evidence-based cases of violent conflict not being required to resole international problems regarding resource issues.  So if someone says to you “The next wars will be about water” you can now say “No, they won’t.  Water may be involved but we now know it is more likely to result in international co-operation.

A template for university essay introductions

An article in the Guardian entitled How to write better essays: ‘nobody does introductions properly’ has, toward the end, a template for any essay that produces an ideal introduction in under 100 words.  I was not convinced.  He says:

Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.

I was going to strongly disagree and came up with an example to prove it, but failed.  I took his template:

Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.

and tried turning it into a very simple (and silly) introduction to prove it cannot be done in 100 words:

I am going to argue that in visual perception black is actually white.  I am going to substantiate this with the claims that black is black, white is white and in between are shades of grey.  I am going to refer to Tom, Dick and Harry who say black is dark, white is light and there is a sliding scale between them.  I will conclude with some thoughts on how reading 50 Shades of Grey will pass some time but it will not clarify our understanding of optical perception in humans.

But that’s only 91 words.  He might actually be right.  His template might be a good one.

Oops, I forgot the “Never use the first person” rule that applies in some subjects.  Second attempt:

This essay argues that rodents in the visual media don’t always like aged pressed milk curds.  This will substantiated with examples from old cartoons, feature films and modern digital cinematography, drawing on productions by Fred Quimby, Walt Disney and Pixar.  Their works demonstrate titbit-laden mousetraps, no dairy products and toy rodents who don’t eat at all.  The essay will conclude that it depends on context but that there is an age to cheesiness correlation, and it might be worth watching some Dreamworks videos for further research.

How’s that for a comprehensive media studies TMA introduction in 86 words?

I’m convinced.  What do you think of this method?