War OR Peace

Readers and writers each have their preferred genre and their own way of experiencing the world and two people with opposing personalities seldom take the same viewpoint. Consequently, readers and writers must be somewhat compatible to get a message across and to appreciate a book. Of course, the beauty of fiction is that by using different characters, the writer can represent more than one point of view.

Like in real life, so subliminal interactions between characters and interpersonal relationships tend to be very complex and multi-layered in my books, and I do not use stereotypes or ‘a bad guy’, but rather a multitude of well-intended people getting into conflict.

Like all my books, In the Real World is likely to anger or frustrate some people, especially those who tend to take their moral values from their environment, and who might not see the relationships presented or the behaviour of certain characters as appropriate. Others might accept the story, even if they do not agree with all the characters.

 

cover-RealWorld

Originally written in 2005 and first published in 2008 – second edit 2012 – the book is not meant for young readers only, despite the protagonists being 16 years old. It is written for any person above that age; any person who can think about ethical values, about parenting and about war, and it is not in any way simplistic.

Nor is it a ‘nice’ book with heroes and big win; it is not a fantasy story where the only danger comes from some evil overlord. This story is set in “the real world” and the conflicts are between people’s beliefs and the accepted norms that keep them apart. Through the eyes of the two protagonists, the reader is shown many other characters – grandparents, parents, teachers and students – of whom some agree and others disagree with these norms.

War is the main topic, but the story is not set in a time of war; it is set today, in an Australian high school. It begins during a family reunion on Anzac Day – the Australian memorial day – when a group of cousins are having a boy-girl prank ‘war’ that gets totally out of hand. It is the emotions that are evoked during that exchange that are responsible for all the actions that follow and it is those actions and emotions that reflect conflict on an international scale in the real world, and in the history lessons and family stories that relate what happens with the kids to the events of the two world wars.

Apart from that, there are complex and very real interpersonal relationships evolving between characters, some of which touch the line of what is considered decent in our western society. For example, the question of how friendly teachers and students are allowed to be with each other and whether parents should stand behind their kids or behind the school when conflict arises.

The book does not glance over those moral boundaries, but addresses them, with the characters being very aware, and, like the readers, some are more accepting of those than others. But the reader does not have to worry about In the Real World, for all interactions are between personalities and there is no implicit or explicit sex between students or between students and teachers, and no scenes that are not suitable for young adult readers. In short, showing the emotions of war in a time of peace, the issue is human nature and our ability to solve conflicts.

The book is currently on sale. The eBook is available from meBooks (both Epub and Kindle) and printed copies can be bought via The Copy Press or my website.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

The Happiness Inquisition

Before I publish a book, I usually do a Google search for the working title, to make sure mine is as original as possible. In the case of my novella, then titled The War on Parents, I came across an already existing non-fiction work with that exact title. The novella, only 20,000 words, contains a story within the story; a fairy tale one of the characters tells, and which was then called The Land of No Tears. I decided to change both the title of the novella and that of the fairy tale inside it to The Happiness Inquisition and it is according to that title that the cover illustration was designed – an image that has evoked quite different reactions over the years. But to understand the illustration and the title, one must understand the context and message of the book.

Happiness Inquisition - cover.jpg

It was 2009 when a New Zealand politician, following the example of big brother USA, decided to win herself some votes by pushing a bill that was to make smacking illegal. Before and after New Zealand, most western countries obediently did the same.

Having lived in the USA and aware of the psychological danger of such a one-sided law, I joined the protest, which included writing The Happiness Inquisition, to relate the emotional consequences of such a law to the readers and voters.

The protest, however, was predominantly led by people and groups with Christian values and within no time, those promoting the bill turned it into a science versus religion debate, while the real issue was ignored. Needless to say, apart from a few politicians, who were already against the bill, my book did not get much attention. Of all the publications and newspapers I did send a copy to, only one reviewer understood the message:

Nōnen Títi has written and published this book in light of the upcoming referendum on the “anti-smacking” law. It’s a relatively short narrative that could be read in under an hour, showing the disastrous effects of one anonymous telephone call.

It is set in a neighbourhood where everybody is afraid of the police and of each other, of being “dobbed in” and of having their children taken from them. While the story is written in third person, we see events through the eyes of several characters and each person’s perception of the incident that started the action.

This story is bleak. There is no happy ending although characters do come to realise that perceptions may have been wrong and conclusions jumped to that were not altogether correct.

If you’re against the “anti-smacking” law, this may be a book that you buy to distribute to those whose sensibilities are not so clear-cut. A terrifying and eye-opening read.
Naida Mulligen (The Southland Times)

The referendum was held, and despite efforts of those promoting the bill, most voters (many being parents) did not fall for the suggestion that the serious cases of abuse that were used as examples – like children being beaten to death and being put in the washing machine – had until then been legal. Nevertheless, the law was pushed despite this voice of the people, and, although it was recently declared a failure, it is still in effect.

As predicted, its consequences were destructive for decent parents, who now have to be afraid of the police, of neighbours, of school teachers and everybody else who’d been forced to report suspicion of parental discipline to the police, while the instigating politician fled the public scene, without taking responsibility for the countless destroyed homes, the massive increase in stress levels in parents and subsequent syndromes and insecurity in children, who today have to grow up without healthy limits – State Sanctioned Emotional Neglect.

Having recently reread the book, I still believe in its message, and I hope it will have a twofold role: to help efforts to reverse this destructive law and to help support those people who feel deserted and in emotional distress because of it to understand that it is not their fault and that they are not alone.

The only thing I might change for a second edition is the mention of the cost of a doctor’s visit, because in New Zealand a consultation for children is free of charge. However, the book was intended for all western countries, since this is not just a New Zealand problem. It is a short story with a very big message, and I hope that maybe a film maker somewhere will one day help bring it to a bigger audience.

The book is available as eBook (ePub and Kindle) from meBooks and as paperback from The Copy Press or via my own website.

Thank you for reading.

Rethinking International Media, Trade and Social Platforms

Millions of people use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media providers.

The film industry is still strongly dependent on Hollywood.

International authors depend on Smashwords and Create Space.

Most IT technology still operates from Silicon Valley.

In other words, the headquarters of most of our international information exchange is based in the USA.

But it is likely that information exchange from the USA will be censored more and more, that many opinions and expressions of free speech will become punishable, that books and films that criticize will be forbidden, that foreign entities will not be allowed to access these platforms.

Smart CEOs will diversify and move their headquarters elsewhere before it is too late, but not all of them have the financial means to do so and many may simply disappear.

It is up to the rest of the world to do something. It is not enough to use these channels to criticize Trump; we need to set up alternative international networks for social media and information exchange to support the existing ones and allow their vision to continue elsewhere.

IT geeks, moderators and organizers are needed as are companies who will take this on. Those of us who are the writers, filmmakers and users and have no technological skills need to support them. International libraries must start looking for their eBook listings in other places as well. Governments must support such exchange by making it as easy as possible for international opinions to be printed, screened and exchanged.

Just as with every other product that was conceived in one country and is now reproduced all over, so these media channels need to be based around the world, so that the voice of the people will not be silenced everywhere.

Freedom of speech depends on it.

 

 

 

 

According to the Dictionary: Schooling or Education

Although I have many times mentioned it as part of other discussions, I would once more like to come back to the role of the school with regard raising children and educating them, because this remains a topic of confusion.

I recently came across two articles in which upset or criticism was expressed about what schools tell children. One of those discussions was about “sexual education” and specifically the idea that the school allowed guest speaker to inform children that there was a good chance they might be homosexual. A second discussion was about dress codes and whether religious head wear should be banned to avoid inequality. The objection was that the child with the religious head wear was given special privileges if head wear for non-religious reasons was not allowed.

The point of both discussions was that the parents did not agree with what the school was telling the children about the topic. In the first case, the parents didn’t actually have anything against homosexuality, but they didn’t want their child told that certain superficial behaviour (such as playing with dolls) indicated that they might be – quite right. The second was about cultural diversity versus diversity of opinion.

These objections are equivalent to objections and discussions about schools making children stand up and salute a flag, schools teaching evolution theory (which religious parents don’t accept) and schools telling war stories with the message that soldiers are heroes (which pacifist parents disagree with), as well as those issues I have mentioned before, such as when schools tell children they have mental disorders if they can’t behave like their peers, or when schools criticize what children eat or tell them what their parents are supposed to feed them.

In short, the (public) school is instilling messages into the children’s minds, which some parents object to. And although I understand the sentiment of the writers of those articles, I believe they may have overlooked the difference between schooling and education.

Today, terminology such as “education” and “life-long learning” are considered positives. The vast majority of parents, teachers and politicians will tell you that they think children should go to school, because they need an education. The UN has made a moral law that ‘guarantees’ children “the right to an education”, which is made compulsory and equated with going to school. (see my article on this topic: Education and Human Rights). Thus, we talk about “the education system” when we mean schools.

Using these two words interchangeably results from  adults internalizing what they are told as children and then never questioning it again. I call this “The Santa Claus effect”. If you raise children with the belief that Santa Claus exists, they will not question it unless somebody starts hinting at the possibility that it may not be true. Usually, at a certain age, kids start informing each other or parents tell them, but if this was not the case – like it is when an entire culture is immersed in a view and schools and the media keep repeating it – they would grow up believing that Santa Claus is real.

And so parents, teachers and the media all repeat that going to school means getting an education and if the children never hear anything else, they will pass on this same message to their own children or students when they grow up.

Most teachers, no doubt, go into teaching, because they want to help children learn – they want to educate them, and most parents will send their kids to school, because they want them to learn. But it is exactly that confusion that lies at the basis of these disagreements between schools and parents.

So, let us literally quote the dictionary  – Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and I have used both the Ninth (1989) and the Tenth (2001) edition – and with apologies for any repeat from previous articles and in my young adult novel In the Real World.

The dictionary starts by listing the following synonyms, which are regularly used in relation to schools:

“teach, instruct, educate, train, discipline and school all mean to cause to acquire knowledge or skill”

Then it separates them:

to teach  is the most general and refers to “any manner of imparting information or skill so others may learn”

to instruct is “methodical or formal teaching”

to educate is “attempting to bring out latent capabilities”  In the 2001 edition, this is modified to “the development of the mind”

to train “stresses instruction and drill with a specific end in view”

to discipline is “subordinating to a master for the sake of controlling”  In the 2001 version this is modified to “training in habits of order and precision”

to school is “training or disciplining, esp. in what is hard to master or to bear” In the 2001 editions “or to bear” has been omitted. And the first entry definition given for the verb “school” is “to teach or drill a specific knowledge or skill”

Just to confirm, for those who object to my choice of dictionary, the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) says about “to school”:

  1. To educate or train (a person, the mind, etc.); to make wise, skilful, or tractable by training or discipline; to be educated in a particular belief, habit, outlook; to educate (a child) at a school; to provide (a person) with a formal education, typically at a school, college, or university.

More modern dictionaries, like the New Zealand Oxford  (2008) and some online equivalents, say:

to teach is “to give systematic information to (a person) or about (a subject or skill)”

to instruct is to “teach, direct, command or inform”

to educate is to “give intellectual, moral or social instruction as a formal or prolonged process”  

to train is to “teach a specific skill by practice”

to discipline is “mental, moral or physical training” or “control or order exercised over people”

schooling refers to “training or discipline” or “education at school”

So the more modern the dictionary, the more there is a tendency to relate schooling to knowledge and the mind, and education to schools, which is evidence of  language being interpretable and subject to fashions, even within the era. With that in mind, I also looked at the word origins:

According to the OED, the origin of “to school” is to reprimand, scold, admonish (obs.). To tell (a person) he or she is wrong about something; to dictate to (a person); to criticize, correct, ‘lecture'”.

And the etymology dictionary (online) agrees with this. The origin (around the mid 15th century) of “school” as a verb meant “to educate; to reprimand, to discipline”
And to educate, this dictionary says, stems from the same period and means to “bring up (children), to train”. The root of this word, “educe” means to “bring out or develop from latent or potential existence, which is therefore in agreement with the Merriam-Webster.

So, even if the word meanings change a little, there is a clear focus difference. “Education” means bringing out latent capabilities in the learner or to develop and bring up; in other words, the focus is on the child. It wants to raise an individual who can develop their own natural talents and skills as good as possible and so be happy contributing to the greater whole (the society). “Education”, by its very definition, acknowledges that not every child is born with the same talents and its goal is to discover and nurture those inborn talents.

“Schooling” focuses on the skill or the outcome. The goal is to create an individual who can perform the end goal, who can benefit the needs of the society.

This is a subtle, but very important difference, and it is possible that the half of the population who are Js (who naturally equate the needs of the group with those of the individual) might protest and say that this difference is contrived.

Nevertheless, the role of schools is to create citizens that will fit in the society, that will not cause trouble and that will contribute to its needs. To allow too much individuality is in conflict with these needs. An established society does not want people questioning it, it wants them to endorse it.

As said before, societies cannot exist unless the majority of their members obey their rules. And how do you achieve that better than by instilling the beliefs in the members when they are too young to question it?

In principle, education doesn’t need schools and, possibly, schools don’t need to provide education, but an institution that does not teach any skills or values is more like a prison. So, schools (as state institutions) can provide education, but that does not mean that the words can be used interchangeably.

Schools, as said in Changing Beliefs, at times run ahead or behind the popular opinion, but it is their job to make children accept the beliefs of the society they represent, whether that society is a religious group or the state.

The views of the current rulers are instilled in children through schools, and in a democracy those are the beliefs of the mob – beliefs that change with fashions and depend for a great part on trends.

Thus, if the vast majority of people believe that evolution and homosexuality are wrong (as was the case less than a century ago), then that is what schools tell the children. If the majority suddenly goes overboard to the other extreme (and mob beliefs are seldom moderate), then schools will follow that trend.

Schooling can only happen in an institution; education is something parents can do just as well. So if you send your child to school, you have to understand that your own beliefs could be dismissed in favour of those the school holds. The alternative would be to educate your own children according to your own beliefs.

However, as said above, the “right to education” has been made into an obligation to send children to school – and some countries will threaten parents with prison if they are not willing to subject their kids to the beliefs of the state (through school).

In general, the more open-minded and tolerant a society is, the more it will allow its members a mind of their own. In doing so, each individual is likely to contribute to the collective in their own area of expertise, which, if all different talents are valued equally, means each can feel satisfied and respected.

A stable society tends to be lenient, but the moment a society starts weakening, it will try and enforce its own views – the weaker it feels, the more moralistic and dogmatic it becomes and individual needs and views are suppressed. This is true for any group (whether the society at large or a club or a school) and the less tolerant a society, the more it will enforce ‘education laws’.

The common belief (also instilled in most adults through schools and the media) is that these laws prevent child labour. But in most cases that was a convenient excuse that played on the emotions and guaranteed compliance without effort.

In short, education is not schooling; a law that makes going to school compulsory is not there for the sake of the children.

My advice to parents: If you have a choice, go talk to the schools and find out how open-minded they are. Do they really allow the individual child to have its own opinion without being penalized with lower grades or a scolding, or is it just a slogan the school has adopted, because the word “individual” is a popular hype word?

But one more word of caution. As I said before, whether somebody is inclined to accept the popular view or go against it, whether somebody is by nature an individual or not, depends on their personality type and there is no guarantee that your child is the same type as you are. So it is possible that if you, as a parent, object to schools and to uniformity of beliefs, that your child actually prefers that and feels safe in such an environment. If you make a fuss, you could be compromising your child.

Similarly, if you believe that making children fit in the society is a good thing, because they will later get a good job, make sure that you are not forcing a naturally individualistic child into something that stifles their inner self.

Because, regardless of what schools do, most parents aim to educate their children and that means allowing their natural personality type to develop according to their own needs.

Freedom of Belief and Human Rights

A few years ago, a relative of mine was called for jury duty. In the summons there was a clause stating that those people who had objections for religious reasons could file for an exemption. My relative had no organized religion to call her own, but she did have ethical objections to participating.

When I wanted to continue home educating my children after moving countries, I had to register with the ministry of education and give my reasons for wanting to forfeit traditional schooling. The options given were “religious convictions” or “other; please explain”.

Just the other day I read an article in the news, stating that public child care centres (in NSW) are allowed to ban children who are not vaccinated, but there are exemptions for those parents who refuse to vaccinate their children for “religious or for medical reasons”.

Now, organized religions are moral institutions with their own moral values and rules that may, indeed, require of their members that they refuse to participate in state organized activities (such as jury duty, schooling and vaccinations) if the moral values of the state differ with those of their own belief system. A state, after all, despite being a social institution, tends to have a predominant culture and that culture tends to set the moral standards. In some eras the state will be very intolerant to other beliefs; in others eras there is more cultural mixing.

Today we live on the tail end of such a culturally mixed society and in that light – needing to present themselves as ethnically and culturally tolerant – most western countries will claim religious freedom. It is based on that claim that exemptions are granted.

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and all such documents are also an expression of moral values. A declaration is a set of moral laws that represent the belief system of the writers – in this case many countries:

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

So, article eighteen refers to thought, belief, conscience and religion, which implies the ethical and moral values a person holds, while article nineteen refers to the expression of such values to others.

Now, public institutions (like a state, school, church or group representing a certain belief or cultural system) have these sets of moral laws because they have certain beliefs and want their members to act accordingly. If you choose to join a group, you choose to accept its moral rules and the members of the group generally reserve the right to call each other on their actions would they stray. Moral rules therefore have to do with behaviour, which can be observed.

Conscience is a belief a person holds within, usually about being good or bad, and generally not clearly definable. In other words, if you ask somebody why he considers something good or bad, he either refers to the moral laws that describe the behaviour that represents that sense of good or bad for him – he may have internalized his conscience from the beliefs of his environment – or he cannot exactly say why, “It just is” or “it feels that way”.

Conscience therefore is about ethical values (not moral ones). Ethical values are about the sense of what is good or bad in a person or what makes a good person, while moral values are about right or wrong action.

What people feel inside (their conscience or ethical sense) cannot be objectively measured or defined, but public actions usually can.

For example, if you punch somebody in the face your action will be considered wrong by many people, but others may consider your motivations and consider it right, but their judgment is about the right or wrong of the act; nobody will argue about the act itself: it was observable.

If you punch people in the face regularly, then some people may judge you to be a bad person based on your wrong actions. But there will still be others who understand your troubled youth and argue that yes, the actions are wrong, but the person isn’t really bad. This inner person cannot be objectively observed and therefore cannot be measured to any standard.

As described in my book, a number of psychological types are more inclined to equate ethical and moral values; they internalize the moral values of their environment so strongly that they equate the behaviour with the goodness of a person, while other types feel a strong distinction between the two. This is not a choice people make, but part of their inborn psychology and therefore neither viewpoint is right or wrong, but we have to be aware that the other perspective exists.

Also be aware that, as a result of the people who organize society usually being of the former types, the term “ethics” (as in work ethics) actually refers to moral values, since they refer to a code of conduct.

Apart from distinguishing between ethical and moral values, I personally also distinguish “moral values” from “morality”, in which the former refers to the above mentioned considerations of right and wrong action and the latter to the peer pressure exercised by the majority of the members of a group in order to force people with different values to comply. They tend to do this with gossip, bullying, exclusion, disdainful looks or comments and so on.

I have no issue with moral values. In fact, a group’s identity relies on them, but I strongly object to morality.

The next step after morality is, of course, legality, in which the authorities of a group enforce their own moral values using the penal system.

Now, like I said above, we still live in a culturally diverse society and the authorities claim to be tolerant to different belief systems (different moral codes) and this is why they allow exemptions for people with regard jury duty, healthcare and schooling.

But what about ethical values or principles?

Why is it that my relative had to explain in a letter that she objected to being part of a jury on an ethical basis and that being forced to participate would influence her sense of objectivity?

Why is it that I have to choose between claiming a religious belief I don’t have or try to explain an ethical sense (which by its very nature is not objective) and risk not being allowed to home educate my children, while people who belong to an organized religion can simply tick a box?

Why is it that religious institutions have the right to protect their children from vaccines that may be potentially dangerous, but I cannot do so on ethical grounds?

Why is it  that people who object to military service on principle either have to do community service or go to prison? Why is it that people who cannot claim an organized religion are being chased by the police if they don’t want to expose their child to the poisons of chemotherapy?

Why is it that people with moral beliefs based on an accepted institution are allowed such privileges or exemptions, but people who do not belong to an organized religion are expected to be without values (except those of the state)?

One explanation could be that the authorities rely on publicity and being seen as tolerant. They don’t want to risk the wrath of an entire group of people – that isn’t good for their public image – but they have little concern for the individual.

So what happened to “everyone has the right”?

What happened to “alone or in community with others and in public or private”?

What happened to “without interference”?

The other, more likely explanation is that the authorities have no clue about the difference between ethical and moral values, because of the types of people they are, so they cannot see that they are in effect discriminating against inborn personality types.

I am not affiliated with any religious order, whether big or small, traditional or new and whether western or from anywhere else. Yet I have very strong ethical principals, which are not negotiable and I want respect for those. It consider it an insult that I am expected to submit my child to mass vaccinations, send them to traditional public school and submit to the legal system, because my beliefs are not considered legitimate unless I belong to a religious organization.

Sure, if I insist – write a letter explaining my philosophy – I do get exemptions,  but I want respect for the idea that people can have moral and ethical values without any outside authority having imposed them. I want my human right acknowledged by the government of a state that claims tolerance to individual opinions and beliefs.

Lest We Forget

Recently, in Australia and New Zealand “Anzac Day” was celebrated in honour of those soldiers who went to Europe to fight in World War One – although, of course, the day also commemorates soldiers of later wars.  Usually, during the Anzac Day week (as for the November Remembrance) I do a special book offer for my book, In the Real World (http://tinyurl.com/98c78ve) , that despite being set in a modern suburb in peacetime, is a young adult fiction that deals with war.

The book begins on an Anzac Day weekend, but the reader can fill in any war memorial day, any remembrance and any war of their own history; it makes no difference. The story is not about the actions of war, but about the emotions of it; those emotions that cause people to forget their humanity.

The period around such memorial days is usually punctuated by TV shows about historical events and ex-soldiers recalling the time they served, usually stories about friendships and heroes, while the media reports on the ceremonies with the inevitable “Lest we forget” to be followed by “the Anzac Day spirit is still alive”, which they base on the turn-out of people attending the official service – many of those being young school boys wearing their great-grandfather’s medals.

But what does it really mean that so many people attend the ceremony? Do they do so to remember the horrors of war, so they won’t be forgotten? Don’t we see the same turn-out on any patriotic event like a football match or a royal coronation or wedding?

I can imagine that families have made a tradition of memorial and remembrance days. They dig up old photographs of ancient relatives, retell the war stories to the younger members of the family and make a day of it.

I can imagine that there are people who say that we have to remember the wars, so they won’t happen again.

I can even imagine some people thinking they need to instil a sense of patriotism in their youngsters.

And I do understand that governments need these kinds of ceremonies to guarantee them soldiers for the next time – those that parade in the medals of their ancestors dreaming of being heroes – but is that really what the people want or need; the people who will deliver those next soldiers, just so they can set up the next memorial for them?

“… If people are only told of the heroes and friendships of war it’s going to attract young people. They are going to war with the idea that they’ll come back heroes, but soldiers used to go to war with the expectation that they’d die there. Not too long ago that was the desired way to go – for the Romans, for example. Many young boys, some indeed not much older than you, signed on to fight in the Great War. As far as I know, in this country no person was conscripted who had not reached the age to vote, but it isn’t like that everywhere. Anyhow, they went because they believed they’d be on a great adventure and would have a chance to show off their bravery. That was the dream for most of them. Everything they encountered came as a shock to them. Many couldn’t cope and they did remember the horrors at first when they returned, disillusioned, often mutilated, wounded and shell-shocked. They remembered the fears, the lost friends, the dirt, the lice, the rats and the stink of decaying bodies. But when they came home they didn’t get asked how bad the smell was. At best they were asked how many bad guys they’d killed and after a few years of war people are no longer interested in the politics.

 “The situation at home after a war is often one of economic decline as the war industry collapses. For a while the old life has to be built back up, but soon the soldiers find themselves without a job, without benefits for their injuries and in relative poverty in comparison to those who stayed home. After having told their horror stories once they don’t get much sympathy anymore and what is a medal on the wall if you’re being derided in the street?

“So they start longing for the good old days, the days of close friendships in the trenches, the day general so-and-so inspected the troops, the days they were still convinced they were helping their country and those at home would be proud of them. It’s those times that are recalled for the younger generation because those stories are more eagerly listened to; those stories are what are accepted by publishers because those are what people will buy and slowly the horrors can be truly forgotten.

“Having a parade, a get-together, once a year to remember that they were once important is all that’s left for them. Therefore the dilemma is this: Do we rob them of this last ritual to deter young boys from dreaming of war or do we let them continue and instil in the population the belief that wars can be won and a country protected? Remember that rituals are the quickest way for people to feel safe; rituals and belief. Do you want to take that away from people?”

Mr Fokker looks at me with that question.

“Yes, because that way you eventually keep people from having to forget those horrors, don’t you?”

“Now you’re jumping to conclusions,” he answers. “You say that remembering wars doesn’t stop a new one from happening. I agree with that, but does not remembering wars stop new ones from happening?” (In the Real World)

Do we go to a war memorial for the tradition or to prevent the next war?

Does “lest we forget” really mean what we are made to believe it does? Are we better off not forgetting than forgetting the wars? And what exactly of those wars is it we need to remember if we want to prevent the next one from happening? Is it the hero stories or the horrors? Do these ceremonies help remember the actual events of war or our idealized picture of it?

Considering that psychologists are now admitting that people don’t all remember the same details, not even a day after an event, do we really remember the war as it was or only that part that has been selected for reasons of patriotic propaganda? “So governments can trick stupid young boys into becoming soldiers,” Grandpa Will says.

People talk about “war ethics”. People say there is good reason for countries to go to war. People say, “we have to support our government”. Governments say, “we have to protect our people”. But when you look at all the past wars, did any of those benefit the people?

Artists across the warring nations still admire each other; scientists still work together or wish they could; women still feel for the children of all people. In the end, it is never the people governments go to war for, no matter what excuse they use.

So is there an ethic to war? Does not one person’s war impose on another person’s ethic of peace? Is it not freedom to be allowed to speak and act freely as long as those words and actions do not encroach on another person’s freedom? Doesn’t the government that engages in war encroach on the freedom it promised its people?

The UN Declaration of Human Rights, written in 1948, is a moral law.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

I say that a state of war is in violation with the provision of liberty and security of person for every soldier who is conscripted against his will, as well as for every civilian whose life is endangered as a result of attacks by the enemy due to this state. Since a dead person does not have freedom, the value of life itself has to take prevalence over liberty. Therefore, a government who cares for the safety of its people remains neutral or surrenders.  

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

I say that soldiers who are trained to obey orders without having an opinion of their own and to do the dirty work for their leaders are servants of the state. If conscripted, they are “held in slavery” and sending them to foreign lands makes that slave trade.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

I say that for some types of people – and this is part of their inborn psychology and not a choice – it is degrading punishment to be treated as a number in a army of identical beings and to be forced to wear a uniform.  

 Article 20

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association… No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

I say that an army is an association and it is not a peaceful one.

I understand that there may be situations in which is necessary to fight back, but each person will have to make the decision whether something is necessary for themselves; nobody can decide necessity for somebody else without invading on their privacy and freedom.

Ethical decisions are individual decisions. As long as there is no congruence about what is right or wrong, good or bad – and there never has been nor will there even be congruence, because not all people are psychologically alike – the imposition of one view upon others is itself an act of oppression.

So is it true that remembering dead soldiers will stop the next war? Did it help the last thousands of times? Is it true that we need brave soldiers to fight the next war? Isn’t the next war much more likely to be automated?

When I asked a peace organization if they would consider advertising my book,  they replied that they could not possible do so because they had to “support our soldiers”.  But can people really say they want peace and yet glorify war – or the symbols of it – without being hypocrites?

I will keep saying this: To portray soldiers as heroes – even if some of them were – is not helping peace, because it sends the wrong message. See my other post, Heroes and Cowardshttp://judgmenthurts.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/heroes-and-cowards/

The government tells people it wants peace but actively supports war and peace organizations repeat this message without giving a second thought to what they are actually saying.

So, do we really want more government money to be spent on war memorials, so the politicians can lay a wreath every year and be applauded for it?

I say “no”; enough is enough. The First World War is nearly a century in the past. If we want to give peace a fair chance, it is time that we stop deceiving our children with hero stories that are based on fantasy and on memories that are fictitious, or they will be the next soldiers to be brought home in body bags.

The PM who today lays a wreath at a war memorial represents the PM who sent those soldiers to die. If a politician today does not believe in war, he should not be at the ceremony.

And what about those medals?

How is it that those who have no voice, those who identify by a uniform and shout “yes sir” to a superior, those who kill on command without any regard for life itself,  those who cannot possibly be called “individuals” in any definition of the word, can get medals with their name on it as if they somehow acted on their own?

They didn’t. An army has no place for individuals. Soldiers who don’t follow orders are punished – in times of peace they may be kicked out, but in a war situation they face death and, lest we forget, hundreds of soldiers in the First World War alone, were killed by their own superiors (not by the enemy) for being disobedient.

InTheRealWorld

The State, Human Rights and Marriage

There has been a lot of attention lately to the topic of same sex marriages, so, in light of my focus on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  (U.N. 1948), I thought this might be a good topic to explore.

Personally, I know many same sex couples and I have friends who have successfully raised healthy families, friends who are now grandparents, so in my mind this debate was over a long time ago and it is about time the world caught up.

The reason why some countries seem to lag behind others when it comes to accepting laws that stray from the traditional are to be found in how much their government identifies with the accepted religious beliefs of its culture.

That is because legal laws are made on advice of ethical committees, which are composed of representatives of the dominant belief systems of a country; either its ruling religious institutions or in the case of countries claiming secular values and religious tolerance, the representatives from many different religions and members of (traditional) academic institutions.

In that light, and keeping in mind that this paper is almost 65 years old, let’s have a look at what the Human Rights Declaration actually says about marriage.

Article 16

 

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as a marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Now, “the family” as the “fundamental group unit” is defined in different dictionaries as either “a group of people sharing a household”,  “a social unit consisting of parents and their children”, or “a group of people closely related by blood”, but no matter which definition one chooses, nowhere does it mention that these parents have to be of a specific gender when founding this family.

Opponents of same sex marriage could argue that under 16.1, where it mentions “without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion”, gender is not specified so that a government has the right to make a law without violating the rights of its citizens.

This is true, but religion is specified and most of the objections against same sex marriage are based on religious arguments and religion is separately mentioned in the Declaration:

 Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

If everyone has this right, then one entity (including the state) may not impose its religious views on its members.

So, it isn’t enough to just look at the article that deals with the topic of discussion, in this case, marriage; we need to see it in the context of the entire Declaration and ask whether the state (the writer of the legal laws) and the church (the writer of the moral ones) have more rights according to the Declaration than do individuals.

We need to ask whether the purpose of the state (or the church) as a social or cultural institution is to protect its members or is it also a moral judge?

Article 29

  

(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms and others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

To begin with, 29.1 does not say that the duties of the individual are to obey the moral teachings of the community but rather that the community is there to ensure that he is able to be free and develop as a person. The “personality” of a homosexual person cannot develop fully if he is asked to oppress his nature.

According to 29.2, the state is there to make laws to protect the rights and freedoms of its people and to ensure public order. Outside of this, the state has no right in the daily life of individuals or to dictate their beliefs or lifestyle.

Therefore, if “only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of… the rights and freedoms of others and… public order…” then any limitations (prohibitions) shall have to be justified by their interfering with the freedom of others or with public order, and if not, they are in violation of human rights.

And seeing that the only difference between a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple is to be found in the bedroom – which is a territory that neither the state nor the church have any business entering – and which in no possible way disrupts the public order, the prohibition of same sex marriages cannot be justified.

Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.  

A state that poses as a moral teacher is no longer protecting individual rights. In all of history, those that stood out as dictatorships were those that interfered in people’s private lives, took over the rearing of the children and told people what to believe and how to live. The moment the state oversteps its limits as protector of the individual’s freedoms and rights within the community, by dictating their beliefs or lifestyle, it has become a dictatorship.

The only angle left, and the one used by every government or church opposing same sex marriage (and any other such alternative lifestyle), is to claim that this opposes “meeting the just requirements of morality”(29.2).

And here lies the weakness of the Human Rights Declaration itself, for “morality” is an abstract term that refers to a notion of right and wrong behaviour as interpreted according to the perspective of the reader. This means that a state (or church) can impose its interpretation of morality on its members and make legal laws claiming to be in accord with human rights, while, in fact, the individual’s rights and freedoms and his perspective of right and wrong are ignored.

So, despite the UN Declaration, as a moral law and not a legal one, claiming human rights on the basis of its democratic views, in fact the interpretation of its articles is subject to the accepted beliefs of every nation that signed it.

The reason for this lies not so much in the religious views themselves as in the idea that the church (or the state) has the right or duty to set the moral values for its subjects. And it is in that belief that I think it contradicts the very foundation of the UN Declaration: that of “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family”.

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