Saturday, 27 May 2017

A Call for Peace Building Programmes

This week has seen a suicide bomber kill people in Manchester, Jeremy Corbyn state that UK foreign policy is implicit in and part of creating terrorists, Theresa May condemn Corbyn for excusing terrorists actions even though he never did, receiving an announcement about a peace and conflict studies MA at Coventry University, and this morning reading a story about an American soldier in the Iraq war's struggle with despair and loneliness (Arnold, 2002). My conclusion is that all who pursue the course of violence as a solution to conflict or who build weapons to enable violence are equally at fault. No government that has entered into a war is innocent of killing and maiming innocent people who live in these territories. They also send their young people to be killed in wars that have little meaning other than in the power struggles of the leaders.

A quick search for possible statistics on the arms trade reveals the following headlines: “Britain is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world” (Stone, 5 September 2016), “UK weapons sales to oppressive regimes to £3bn a year” (Doward, 28 May 2016), and “America's arms exports dominate despite global competition” (Soergel, 27 December 2016). The list of articles goes on but are these based on accurate statistics? Few, look at the consequences of this trade on world peace or the nations to which this weaponry is sent.

The search also uncovered the following statistical sources: The UK government statistics on defence and security export for 2015, and UK trade statistical bulletins. The trade statistics may hide some of the military exports in other classifications such as the sales of aircraft but for 2016, the sales of arms and ammunition was £884 million pounds out of a total export of £160 billion. Aircraft sales was over £8 billion and I am assuming some of that is military aircraft. The March 2017 statistics show similar trends. UK defence and security export figures are available separately (see references).

What left me horrified was the apparent openness to accepting these military sales as just another part of the export trade. Like all trade, increased trade in defence and security is seen as good and decline in trade is seen as bad despite the evidence of the misuse of this equipment. It seems growth in the arms trade is desirable regardless of the consequences.

If I come back to the debate, I see the UK having a vested interest in fostering violence in other parts of the world. It is good for UK exports. The problem is the complete disconnect between this fostering of violence elsewhere and the increase in violence at home. It seems that it is alright for us to commit acts of violence on foreign soil but not alright for those people to react back in violence. That sounds like parents hitting their children to apply discipline.

Our acts of violence are not the only way that we show that violence is the way to deal with international problems or that drive individuals to feel not wanted or enabled in society. The government attitude of penalising those already suffering (i.e. the unemployed, homeless, and poor) also adds to alienation and not feeling part of society. The message that we portray is that if you are disadvantaged or suffering then expect to be accused of it being your fault. There is no understanding of the implications of the reactions of people when they are trapped and depressed. There is even less awareness of the consequences of inequality on the quality of life and cost structures of society.

We need new ways of looking at international conflict and dealing with inequality. Continually seeing it as the fault of the other person doesn't heal the wounds and bring peace. This is where I see the value of more emphasis on peace and conflict studies. Shouldn't we spend as much or more in peace studies and peace-building as we do in research on armaments. ways to destroy each other, and armament construction?

As I write this, I am wondering about whether I am prepared to take the risk of losing my current income in order to learn more about peace-building and how to apply it internationally and locally. This seems to me were solutions to our current world crisis can be found and not in the weapons of war.

Not directly related but I don't see the current education system with its focus on grades and employability delivering solutions to the current crisis. Shouldn't education be working alongside people so they develop the skills, thinking ability, and critical assessment skills so that they can search out the evidence rather than simply pull what someone else has said as a solution to the problem? Doesn't this also start with relationship building or peace building and not a judgemental system that is sole destroying to the participants.

References


Johann Christoph Arnold (2002) Escape Routes for people who feel trapped in life's hells. Plough Publishing House.

Jon Stone (5 September 2016) Britain is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world. Independent, Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britain-is-now-the-second-biggest-arms-dealer-in-the-world-a7225351.html.

Jamie Doward (28 May 2016) UK weapons sales to oppressive regimes to £3bn a year. The Guarden, Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/28/uk-weapons-sold-countries-poor-human-rights-saudi-arabia.

Andrew Soergel (27 December 2016) America's arms exports dominate despite global competition. U.S. News, Available from: https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-12-27/americas-arms-exports-dominate-despite-global-competition.



Department of International Trade Defence and Security Organisation (26 July 2016) UK defence and security export figures. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uk-defence-and-security-export-figures-2015.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

When the people lead, leaders will follow

As I have read more of Martin Luther King's writings and speeches, I am reminded of the quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “When the people lead, leaders will follow”. I am particularly reminded of this when King (1967) in the third of his Massey lectures for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation talks about the young negroes ceasing to imitate “whites in dress, conduct, and thought in a rigid, middle-class pattern” and “began initiating” (p 46). The result of this change was that the young negroes changed from being followers to being leaders of social change.

In the fourth lecture, King talks of the laws being in place and commissions having written reports but still no change was happening for those in poverty and segregation was not being broken down. It was not until the people took to nonviolent resistance being willing to go to jail in their masses that the political leaders began to implement what the law and commissions had already said was what should happen. The people caused the change in direction. It was not the elected leaders or the industry decision makers, those in business leadership, those with a stake in keeping the system as it is. These were the people who failed to provide the leadership for change. The leadership for change had to come from the people.

Why do I think this is relevant for now? I see in the British election an attempt of a leader to strengthen her hand for the changes that she wants to make in British Society. She, Theresa May believes that she has a majority backing of the people to take Britain out of the European Union. This is the will of the people she keeps telling the 48% who voted remain. What she is not saying is whether all the other policies that she wants to force through are the will of the people. She would prefer not to talk about those.

However, the key issue here is that she in her so called position of leadership seeks to follow the will of the people as fashioned by an election campaign. If she gets the majority in the forth coming election, it will not just be Brexit that she will claim is the will of the people but the whole package of social reforms tucked into a manifesto that few will actually read. She will swear adamantly that the vote for a Conservative Government means that Conservative policy is the will of the people.

However, there is another element of King's message that is easily overlooked. This is the place of the middle-class. King in the third lecture goes on to say “It is ironic that today so many educators and sociologists are seeking methods to instil middle-class values in Negro youth as ideal in social development. It was precisely when young Negroes threw off their middle-class values that they made an historic social contribution. They abandoned those values when they put careers and wealth in a secondary role. When they cheerfully became jailbirds and troublemakers” (p p 46-47).

Hidden in this message is the power of middle-class thought to control the population and restrict the prospect of change. This message still applies today with the British education system instilling in the youth of today the middle-class values that will hopefully make them followers rather than free thinkers. The problem is that "Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave." (Lord Henry Brougham). The type of education desired by leaders is the education that encourages conformity to the current middle-class norms but education should encourage critical analysis and when that occurs the people will in time revolt against the indoctrination and attempts to enslave.

However, there is also another way to look at this message and this is how do we encourage the middle-class to seek the changes that are necessary and not simply to go along with the way things are? We have to challenge those middle-class norms and the comfort that the middle-class feel they have obtained. Racial segregation would never have been removed from the US if the middle-class had not felt that their position and status was under threat. It was as their felt sense of security declined that they became willing to change. Lecturing people on the monetary system or inequality will not bring change. Those who want to hear listen to lectures. We need to motivate change by challenging the security of the middle-class so they are motivated by their self interest to support the required changes.

King's fourth lecture to some extent addresses this issue because following the nonviolent resistance that brought down segregation, there were riots in the US that King describes as being against property. King didn't support the riots but understood what motivated the rioters. However, this raises the issue of what is the best approach to expose evil in the system and bring about the changes that are necessary?

Martin Luther nailed his proclamations to the doors of the of the temples of his day. Could we nail our proclamations on the doors of financial services organisations, the temples of modern society? Or should we camp outside these temples as the Occupy movement endeavoured to do without success? Or should we as the civil rights marchers did hold our ground nonviolently in resistance being willing to fill up the jail system for the changes we believe are required? Or do we implement our own solutions that disrupt and expose the corruption of the current system? Or should we like the rioters physically attack the physical buildings (not the people as terrorists tend to do) that these institutions operate from? Or do we use some other invasive attack that destroys the financial infrastructure? I exclude terrorism or attacks against people but I also would argue against destructive attacks against property or systems.

The course to change is motivating the people so that in large numbers they demand the changes required. Ideally, I would contend we achieve this through nonviolent resistance and through working to build the alternative structures required as the current system comes crashing down. The 2008 financial crash was an opportunity for change but no one believed there was an alternative system or way of operating. The wheels need to be in motion for the alternative as the current system begins to crumble under the pressure of the masses rising up in protest against its suicidal path.

References

King Jr., M. L. (1967). The trumpet of conscience. Boston: Beacon Press.
King Jr., M. L. (1967). Youth and social action The trumpet of conscience (pp. 37-51). Boston: Beacon Press.

King Jr., M. L. (1967). Nonviolence and social change The trumpet of conscience (pp. 55-66). Boston: Beacon Press.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

What drives terrorism?

Martin Luther King Jr. (1967) in one of his Massey Lectures quotes Victor Hugo who said “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.” King used this quote in the context of talking about riots in the US against segregation and unequal opportunities. King wasn't endeavouring to justify the riots but was showing that he understood why the repressed might accept violence as an option.

For me, what is key in Victor Hugo's comment and in King's talk is that the oppressors or those causing darkness blame the rioters or those rising up against their regimes. In our case, the western world is blaming those rising up to oppose them as being at fault. This blame is revealed in the name that is given to them (i.e. terrorist). There is little consideration given for why they are rising up in opposition to western regimes. That would be to acknowledge that we have done something that caused them to feel downtrodden or neglected or ... and that we are causing the “darkness”. The “terrorists” are “terrorists” because of their attitudes and nothing to do with our actions.

If this sounds a little like blaming the poor for being poor because they are unwilling to work and you don't believe this lie then you are getting my message. The poor are poor because of the nature of the system that we work under. A system that rewards (transfers the wealth to) the rich and enslaves everyone else. Our system relies on some people taking on less skilled essential work at lower rates of pay in order to survive. Because it is seen as low skilled work, it is believed they are easily replaced (i.e. they are just another resource in the system that can be replaced if required).

What I call “economic slavery” is the foundation of western capitalism and free markets. A market requires consumers preferably with artificial needs and in order to be come a consumer, you have to contribute to production. That is we will engender false needs in order to create a need for something that has no value and then force people to work to produce meaningless outcomes.

Despite all the claims of equal opportunities, this just isn't the truth of how the system operates. The market driven economy puts a price on everything including human life and the environment. By insisting that people must work to have an income and then controlling their status in the system and what they are paid based on perceived market value, we are simply enslaving people to the system. A system that is unwilling to pay the price for unskilled essential work to be done. A system which through a education process increasingly aimed at employability and competition squashes people into roles and lifestyles based on their assessed ability. A system that doesn't look at a person's potential but simply looks to fit them into a cog in the system.

Under such a system should we be surprised that there is increasing dissatisfaction with the established elite?

References


M.L. King Jr. (1967) The Trumpet of Conscience. Boston: Beacon Press.

Is the record stuck? The issue of leadership

Those of us who recall vinyl records for our music can remember when scratches on the surface caused the needle to get stuck and it repeated the same portion of a track over and over again. That is what the UK elections seem to be about. Despite efforts by some politicians to move on, much of the British News media is stuck on BRExit and Corbyn's ability to be Prime Minister. Of course there is the usual themes of the Conservatives are better financial managers (not supported by the economic facts – see https://mainlymacro.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/economic-competence-revisited.html) but the crunch really should be what type of society do we want.

The issue with Theresa May is that she is stuck in a record of strong economic management and the need to be strong for a 'hard' BRexit. So far, she seems to have shown little willingness to listen and seems dogmatic on an approach to exit that doesn't seem to be taking into account realities. As a leader, she seems to welcome the use of military force and unwilling to hear messages that suggest the economy and society might be racing in the wrong direction. Her message seems to be trust me, I know where I am going but what I see is that she hasn't a clue where she is going or she is totally unable to communicate it.

Is Jeremy Corbyn and Labour the solution? I see Jeremy Corbyn as a leader struggling to maintain his own principles in the face of a parliamentary party that largely disagrees with him and a membership that seemed to back his ideals. The result is policy that is neither what he really wants nor what the parliamentary party desires. As a compromise there is no clear message to the public and for better or worse what appears to be weak leadership. Corbyn seems to be in a no win situation unless the parliamentary Labour Party listens more to its membership and less to its concerns about gaining power.

What is a viable solution? The Labour party seems to have ruled out the possibility of a progressive alliance with other parties who hold some similar views. Labour like the Conservatives seems to want to hold on to a first past the post electoral system even though this clearly favours the Conservatives. The Conservatives seem to be able to support diversity and disunity in their ranks better than the Labour Party. Unless Labour is able to work with a diversity of views on the left, I see the UK continuing with a Conservative government and a race to 'hard' BRexit. The solution has to be in the melding of a stronger opposition grouping, a progressive alliance, to the Conservatives. One that is prepared to allow diversity of views but not allow itself to be disabled by that diversity.

I doubt whether either the Conservatives or Labour could work as a minority government having to negotiate policy with minor parties or each other for the best for the UK. The idea of government and opposition is so ingrained in British politics that they do not know how to arrive at a consensus to deliver government that is the best interests of the nation.

I see neither major party leader as someone I really want as Prime Minister and neither party as the government that I want to see leading during this time of upheaval. I want to see neither party having a majority in the house and I would prefer that none of the minor parties entered into a formal coalition. What I would prefer to see is that the minor parties would pledge to support the highest polling party on any vote that would bring down the government but would have the freedom to vote according to their party policies on any legislation brought before the house. However, this takes a different attitude to those shown at present by the Conservatives and Labour.

In or out of Europe?

Let me say up front that I do not believe Britain is in a state where it can leave Europe without economic consequences. I say this because of the “single”/”global” market mentality. This mentality says we have to export what we produce in order to have a local economy. It argues that we need access to the European common market in order for Britain to survive.

Is there an alternative to dependency on Europe or some other external market? I believe there is and I believe it doesn't mean isolation from the rest of the world. Let me try to explain.

The health of any nations economy tends to depend on the health of the world economy. This is because we have headed toward global markets. As a result, an economic blip in one country tends to vibrate around the world causing economic shocks or blips in other nations.

What would happen if instead of focusing on a global market, we focussed instead on vibrant, sustainable local markets and communities. This isn't to eliminate trade between communities but it is about giving priority to the health of local markets over the larger world market. If local markets are healthy and providing the bulk of the essentials for a local community then there is less likelihood that a local glitch in one economy would rebound through other local economies. This doesn't stop local economies and communities helping each other when times are tough but does remove the effect of global economic impacts.

A local sustainable market would have its own currency and have control over its own currency. The objective of the local currency should be on ensuring that local resources can be interchanged in an equitable manner to meet needs. This means it can be used to facilitate the local economy without concern for wider economic activity. To understand how this might happen, you need to understand monetary systems including the way money is created and how the money supplied is maintained. There should always be enough money in a local economy for it to buy and sell the goods and services that it produces provided there is no over supply of those goods and services. The foundation of money is a promise to supply goods and services to the value of the currency. Just a word of caution, I place the emphasis on meeting needs and not on building artificial markets. The way we construct local markets will influence rates of resource consumption and wastage. Excess goods and services produced by a community is what it uses to exchange with other communities for goods and services which it is unable to produce for itself but again the focus should be on need and not maximising profit or growth. Being sustainable means that it wants to ensure a continued viability in the local market and community and not extract current goods and services for short term gain at the expense of longer term viability.

There are other advantages of local economies and these relate to community spirit and community building. The global economy tends to draw people away from their local community and consequently decrease local dependency and interaction. This also means a decrease in the awareness of need within the local community. Restoring a local economy helps get people interacting on a local basis and builds more awareness of each other's needs.

Interaction between local communities starts at regional level and then a national level finally leading to exchange between nations. At all levels, the focus needs to be on satisfying needs and ensuring sustainability. As soon as it switches to maximising profit or return on services, the community spirit is destroyed and inequality will increase.

So, I could accept BRexit if I saw more vibrant sustainable local economies operating in the UK. Since I don't and I don't see any group advocating BRexit promoting such a strategy, I don't believe BRexit is a good idea.