And they shall live secure

At the end of October I attended a small conference in Birmingham, organised by the British section of Church and Peace.  Rethinking security was a strand throughout the day, coming at this both from a theological perspective and from the very real experience of intercommunal (and intra-communal) violence and conflict.  This is just a summary of some of the themes, questions and ideas from the day that seem pertinent to our own exploration of security. [a video of Simon Barrow’s opening address is here – other links will be added as and when they become available ]

Whilst many of people’s concerns about security are very immediate, based around such fears as burlary, cyber-threat, fear of shortage etc the response is very often one that is about responding with force or strength. How can such thinking be reversed, particularly drawing on faith?  This could be along the lines of building security through the valuing of sharing rather than of hoarding, accepting vulnerability and contingency (‘stuff happens’) , by offering shelter and welcome, and by finding ourselves in the other.

Societal and inter-community conflicts can be based around contested spaces and contested world views, being about ‘them’ and ‘us’ and in which there is a deep-rooted fear of the other. By sharing vulnerability, we can make connections in new ways. ‘It is in the shelter of each other that that people will live’ says an Irish proverb.

Mediation was described by one church minister from inner-city Birmingham as her mission, a form of ministry. But if mediators are our ministry, how can they be strengthened? How can we go against the natural pull to avoid those who are different to ourselves? By sitting in silence together with someone who we disagree with, that can be the beginning of a mediation journey.

There is a need to widen knowledge and thinking on nonviolence and peace-making in the mainstream churches, moving from the concept of Just War and towards Just Peace. Challenging nationalisms and putting up barriers, changing mindsets, critiquing the lies we are told about what makes us secure, gaining confidence in speaking out and changing the narrative.

But when people are really insecure in society, holding onto and emphasising identity becomes more important. How can we provide listening spaces, being alongside those who feel marginalised, building connections and providing mutual support, engaging with the deep roots of fear and powerlessness?

Whilst identity is important, we all have multiple identities and this is inescapable. None of this is simple – dealing with the conflicts that arise, particularly after violent conflict, is a slow and long-term process.

Churches’ role may be to model unity in diversity, supporting opportunities for genuine dialogue that is really inclusive. Recognition and acceptance of the nature of a conflict can be the start of a process towards positive change.  But the recent shift towards xenophobia in British civic and political discourse has undone so much good work, which means that the atmosphere in which these things are discussed can be very difficult. How do we repair the harm that has been done so we move to an approach in which people are not seeking their freedom and identity at the expense of others’?

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Rethinking the Basics


I’ve spent far too long trying to understand why the world is as it is and where it might be going. The following are some brief thoughts about basic principles and how our human behaviour affects how they work out:

That things stay together when the pressures pulling them together predominate over the pressures pulling apart seems to be nothing more than common sense. The obverse, that things fall apart when the pressures pulling them apart predominate, appears similarly self-evident.

Put in different language, when cooperation predominates over competition we’ll have cooperative societies that do pull together. When competition predominates over cooperation we’ll have competitive societies that fall apart.

Cooperation is built upon the common moral values of being kind, compassionate, generous, honest, trustworthy, fair, moderate, patient, forgiving, faithful and non-violent. These are the values built into the moral codes of almost all religions, they are the values of the Enlightenment and the Enlightenment philosophers, they are the values observed by anthropologists in mobile forager societies and, if we go back to the beginnings of the written word, they are values recorded in the coffin and pyramid texts of ancient Egypt.

Competition, particularly the competitive aggression that exists at the highest levels of power and drives economic inequality, political oppression, political and military aggression, and environmental exploitation presumes a very different set of values. These include risk-taking, personal desire, hypocrisy, objectification, self-justification, dogmatism, intolerance, promiscuity and hubris.

These values, and the logic underpinning them, are justified through the Darwinian conception of “survival of the fittest”. This nineteenth century insight received twentieth century approval from sociobiology, being “proved” in the 1960s by its maths, and confirmed in the 1970s by further research. These together provided the foundations for 1980s neoliberalism which, in essence, was the application of “survival of the fittest” logic to economic markets and to human societies in general.

Neoliberalism didn’t preach the virtues of hypocrisy, objectification etc. directly. These self-centred and self-serving values were instead “reinterpreted” to emerge in such statements as “competition generates wealth”, “the pursuit of self-interest is a natural good”, “greed is good”, “you have to be cruel to be kind”, “risk is at the forefront of progress”, “wealth is a natural aspiration”, “the wealthy are wise”, “responsibility lies with the individual”, and “you get what you deserve in life”. These attitudes not only justify the above values, they embed them within common culture. In doing so they directly refute the values of common morality and, as they predominate, so they pull human societies apart – all seemingly corroborated by science.

It is in this light that the mathematical insights of modern day sociobiology make interesting reading. In their book SuperCooperators published in 2011 Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield describe the efforts taken by Nowak himself and by Corina Tarnita to prove the seemingly simple hypothesis about pulling together/apart. This wasn’t quite as simple as we would assume. Nevertheless they did it. When cooperation predominates things do pull together, and when “cheaters”, for whom we can read non-cooperators or competitors, predominate, things fall apart. Dynamic societies need both pressures but which “predominates” and has the final say is crucially important.

“Mutation and natural selection are not enough in themselves to understand life. You need cooperation too. Cooperation was the principal architect of 4 billion years of evolution. Cooperation built the first bacterial cells, then higher cells, then complex multicellular life and insect organisms. Finally cooperation constructed humanity”.

Given that this insight is opposed the base on which our present economic, political, industrial, financial and social systems are built, there should be little surprise that no-one is in a hurry to change. Nevertheless, as a scientific discovery that positively rebuts “survival of the fittest” as the primary evolutionary drive, that refutes its merit for driving human societies and human economies, whilst also happening to accord with very ancient wisdom, it emblazons the need for a new direction. This would seem to be particularly important and particularly urgent given the accumulating stresses within human societies and within nature caused by the predominance of behaviours that are pulling these structures apart.

As Adam Smith, the man who is portrayed by neoliberals as the father of their creed, gracefully stated regarding the values of common morality:

“.. if without regard to these general rules, even the duties of politeness, which are so easily observed, and which one can scarce have any serious motive to violate, would yet be so frequently violated, what would become of the duties of justice, of truth, of chastity, of fidelity, which it is often so difficult to observe, and which there may be so many strong motives to violate? But upon tolerable observance of these duties, depends the very existence of human society, which would crumble into nothing if mankind were not generally impressed with a reverence for those important rules of conduct.”

Here, in stark relief, we are faced with the real significance of our moral values. Smith, we discover, was far wiser than the neoliberals perceived. More astute, perhaps, even than Darwin?

Geoff Fielding

Peace, Media and Change

Darlington Meeting House was the venue for Northern Friends Peace Board’s conference on ‘Changing the Narrative for Peace – Critical role of the media’ on 24th September. Organised by the Board’s ‘Sustainable Security’ project group, the event was attended by around 40 participants, speakers and committee members. Local Quakers supported throughout the day with a warm welcome and hospitality.

Informal ‘World Cafe’ style conversations got the conference underway, with different themes being the focus for introductions and for mapping out the issues. The environment, social justice, militarism, political participation and accountability were some of the subjects covered. David Gee, our first speaker, continued the broad focus with a challenge to’ rethink security’, introducing a document of that title that he and others have published on behalf of the Ammerdown group. The thrust of the report is the urgent need to change the narrative about security. Whilst David was optimistic and positive about some of the changes that have already taken place, he finished his talk with a question as to whether ‘the system’ should be encouraged to change at its own pace, or whether a more significant change of the system is needed, taking power back from the elite.

The journalistic focus from our next two speakers provided participants with an insight into the opportunities and practicalities for getting concerns about peace, security and disarmament into the public realm. Michael Gray, a young journalist from the even younger CommonSpace website and The National paper in Scotland, shared his experiences of working in a changed and changing political and social context. There is a new sense of a Scottish internationalism, and Michael emphasised the importance of new radical voices at a time when so much media communication is owned by a powerful elite. He gave an account of some of the work he was most proud of, publishing information and creating space for a debate on current air wars.

Andrew Smith, the Media Coordinator at Campaign Against Arms Trade , introduced himself by saying that he was probably the only person who has worked for JP Morgan and his current employers – but now with a very different motivation. Having worked in public relations in the corporate world, Andrew’s skills are also applicable to the task of promoting news and awareness of peace and disarmament concerns. Andrew had a lot of practical advice, from the value of brevity in catching attention, to being able to identify when, where and how news content can most effectively see the light of day. He explored the potential and dangers of new media and social media in shaping news, and encouraged us to be smarter and more responsive in how we engage.

The day continued with workshops, building on the themes of the speakers and giving participants an opportunity to dig deeper into some of the practicalities and context. With the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader happening that day, we were very conscious of the potential and of the problems in how the media both reports and contributes to thinking and action on political, social and international issues. We were very pleased to have a good mix of ages, perspectives and backgrounds in our participants, being reminded as the day closed of the need for us also to be ready to have our own narratives challenged.

Changing the narrative as part of wider efforts for change

The level and tone of the debate around the EU referendum was deeply dispiriting. It seemed to bring out some of the worst aspects both of politicians and media, in the attitudes expressed and in a disregard for accuracy and integrity. (see NFPB’s statement on this) What has become very clear is that there are very different discourses taking place, self-reinforcing arguments and discussion that pay little heed to alternative views or approaches to a common issue.

Those of us who are committed to promoting and building a peaceful world through non-military means have been only too familiar with a narrative that sees ‘security’ in terms of military might, of clamping down on dissent and on fear of the other. The 15th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York again remind us of how we have become so accustomed to the language of the so-called ‘War on Terror’.

Whilst the UK and other governments have sought to promote support for the military, and to invest in ever more costly and sophisticated weaponry, some of the underlying conditions for living at peace with one another on this planet have gone un-addressed. This isn’t for want of trying. Some peace writers and researchers have for a long time been promoting the concept of ‘sustainable security’ – a security built on tackling climate change and other environmental pressures, changing the economic system to one that is both fairer and less exploitative of people and planet, to hearing and responding effectively to the concerns of those people in the world who feel socially, politically and economically marginalised.

We are clear that what is needed, if we are to have a turnaround in how we approach peace and security, is nothing less than a change in mindset. This will and can happen in a number of ways; there is already a myriad of groups, campaigns, movements and alternatives that are taking action, from the practical to the spiritual, and the social to the political. What is the role of different news and discussion media in shaping and transforming the narrative, for helping the move to a different mindset?

NFPB is very aware that the role of the media is just one component of the work for change that is needed. We nonetheless feel that it is particularly timely to explore the relationship between movements for change towards a more peaceful and equitable world and the media, from radical independent online journals to social media and national broadcasters. We hope our conference in Darlington on 24th September will be a valuable first step to bring concerned Quakers and others together with journalists and writers to explore these issues, looking both at strategy and at practicalities for helping develop that different narrative.

Changing the narrative for peace – speaker details

a bit more about our speakers on 24th September (https://www.facebook.com/events/1784481555131362/):

David Gee took a lead role in writing the discussion paper on Rethinking Security on behalf of the Ammerdown group (see http://rethinkingsecurity.org.uk/discussion-paper) . He has also written and worked with Quakers and Forces Watch, amongst others. The Ammerdown Group brings together practitioners and academics in search of a new vision for the future of our common peace and security. The group includes participants from Conciliation Resources, Campaign Against Arms Trade, International Alert, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, Oxford Research Group, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, Saferworld, and Three Faiths Forum, as well as independent practitioners, and academics from the universities of Bradford, Coventry, Leeds Beckett and Oxford Brookes.

Michael Gray is a reporter and journalist for CommonSpace and The National, a pro-independence newspaper in Scotland (http://www.thenational.scot) . His work has focused on political reporting, land reform, social and economic inequality, campaigns for greater democracy in public life, international affairs, war and disarmament. CommonSpace is a digital news and views service and a place to network, share ideas and discuss the issues affecting Scotland (see https://www.commonspace.scot) . It is owned by the Common Weal think tank.

Andrew Smith is the Media Coordinator for CAAT, Campaign Against Arms Trade, which is a UK-based organisation working to end the international arms trade. (https://www.caat.org.uk/). Andrew works with the team to ensure that our positive campaigns and messages reach as many people as possible. Andrew has worked on press and media strategy for all sorts of companies and charities and has written about politics and culture for a range of publications. CAAT considers that security needs to be seen in much broader terms that are not dominated by military and arms company interests. A wider security policy would have the opportunity to reallocate resources according to actual threats and benefits, including addressing major causes of insecurity such as inequality and climate change.

Changing the narrative for peace – critical role of the media

 Conference – Darlington 24th September

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‘If the only tool you have is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail’ – a quotation sometimes used when the possibility of going to war is in the air. It alludes to a wider issue of how we view security and how news sources and other other media outlets frame the discussion.

It is now widely recognised that underlying drivers or causes of insecurity range from economic inequality, to climate change and arms exports and other forms of militarisation. And yet there is a narrative and approach to international conflict that is too often framed as a violent situation that needs a violent response.

How can we, Quakers and others concerned for peace, support and promote a broader concept of security, one that takes a longer term view and recognises the factors that create the conditions of peace? What role does the media have to play?

Our conference in Darlington on 24th September will be an opportunity to engage on these issues, with speakers from the worlds of journalism, campaigning and research and participants weclome from a range of backgrounds.

Themes

  •  the need to change the narrative and thinking around what we mean by security, peace and conflict
  • the role and opportunities for independent voices and forms of media, and
  • how campaigning and awareness-raising can most effectively be taken forward using existing media, new and alternative media.

Speakers will include

There will be workshops on these and related themes, giving space for exploring practicalities and possibilities and to network with others

The conference is free and open to all those interested in exploring and taking action on these issues. Lunch will be provided. It will take place at the Quaker Meeting House on Skinnergate in the centre of Darlington, approximately 12 minutes walk from the train station.

Please register by ….
Phone – 01204 382330,
Email – nfpb@gn.apc.org
Via Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/events/1784481555131362/

And check this page further updates

Northern Friends Peace Board, work for peace with and for Quakers in the North of Britain
NFPB, Victoria Hall, Knowsley Street, Bolton BL1 2AS Charity: SC 024632

First post from me

So I just thought I’d write something to get used to writing on the blog.

I thought I’d put a few questions out there first.

I admit that I struggle sometimes with the concept of sustainable security, not because I don’t agree with it, but because I sometimes find it dizzyingly complex and I don’t always understand it. So how do we find a way of communicating those concepts to those like myself whose heads are not always able to take in huge abstract ideas that come from economic theory and politics?

I have what might be called an ‘artistic’ brain; not a very ‘analytic’ one. I balk at a lot of facts and figures. Those facts and figures do have to be there, however, if not at the forefront then at least somewhere they can be accessed; I don’t want to be given a lot of highly emotive soundbites that aren’t actually backed up by real research. But I do want to be able to use my imagination to understand them. I don’t want easy answers like ‘vegetarianism will solve all our problems,’ for instance.

So finding ways to communicate the concept of sustainable security is an important one for me, and one I will be looking at in the future.

Steve Waling