Some of my academic friends thought the peace gathering was smug, self congratulatory, and anti-intellectual. Some of my flag protesting friends thought it was an exercise in embracing trees. I didn’t. I knew quite a few people who would attend and I know they are great people, so I tried to write a piece that was balanced and looked at the good aspects of such gatherings as well as offering a critique. I was well aware that for many of the people involved I was preaching to the converted. However, I was also pointing out to others, both on the left and right, that it was not all liberal nonsense.
I was surprised by the reaction I got from some of those involved. At first I laughed at it but then the more I thought about it I felt I needed to write some sort of response. I have copied the conversation between them below. This was a conversation that took place on one of their facebook pages. I post it here because it was not a private conversation or just available to their friends but was available to the public. I assume it was probably read by hundreds of people. You can click on each photo to read it. In my comments underneath I have used some quotes from their conversation but I haven’t matched them up with names. This is because I don’t want to particularly single out anybody or attack them personally. If you want to know who said what you can read it yourself.
Admittedly, some of their feedback was not that bad. ‘He means well’, ‘he has some good points‘, and ‘I think his conclusions are valid. He just goes off the rails for the middle part of the piece I reckon.’ However, some of the other stuff was beyond what I would consider reasonable criticism.
My main problem with many of the responses is that they are informed by the values of domination. They seem to want to dominate the conversation about what being committed to peace looks like. If someone doesn’t want to be part of a peace gathering for whatever reason, that should be fine. If someone wants to offer a critique, that should be fine too.
If we want to resist the politics of domination we have to reject the language of domination in our own discourse. We must not let the longing for affirmation drown out our willingness to be critiqued. To show that I am willing to be critiqued I left their criticism on my blog unchallenged for anyone to read. It’s still there. If someone disagrees with me then they are free to post on here and say so. That’s fair enough.
What’s not fair enough is when you are unwilling to accept criticism and your first reaction to someone challenging you is to say they are ‘yet another dick talking from behind a computer and doing nothing or making no proactive movement’. I did actually outline what it is that I do at the beginning of the article so whoever wrote this clearly didn’t read very far in before deciding I was yet another dick who does nothing. Later on when someone else did read it and realised that actually I am not ‘doing nothing‘, they posted: ‘Portraying himself as Mother Teresa while noone else does anything? Piffle. The rest is just window dressing.’ The unwillingness to initially even read what I wrote and the need to dismiss my voice is interesting. It seems that if one put-down doesn’t apply then they just substitute it for another. This is the language of domination.
The terms ‘patronising’, ‘arrogant’, ‘idiotic’, ‘niavity’, ‘stupidity’, and ‘superior’ were also used, as was ‘Up his own arse’. This type of mud slinging is easy to dish out in the heat of the moment but less easy to take back in the cold light of day. For example, ‘Mere opinion dressed up as insight’, is a fair comment, if that’s what you think. But the other stuff, this is the language of domination.
To be told that I’m a ‘would be Nolan‘ and a ‘shit-stirer‘ by someone who in the same thread says he is checking out media photos of himself is deeply ironic. On the issue of being a ‘would be Nolan’, I have been working on peace related grassroots projects for a decade and not been on tv once, nor do I want to be. These guys organise one gathering and seem preoccupied with how much media coverage they will get. It’s clear we have different values when it comes to the media.
Towards the end of the thread they posted this video from youtube, saying ‘whose side are you on?’ I suppose they were accusing me of being disloyal to the cause of peace because I was offering a critique and wasn’t lining up to give them the proverbial slap on the back they wanted. This too is the language of domination.
Another post said that people like me who critiqued the peace gathering were ‘not-helping’. Not-helping with what exactly? Perhaps the person who said this did not read the part in my last post where I made the point that the peace gathering was ‘not helping’ those who were actively involved in trying to keep the flag protests nonviolent. Like I said in the first post, perhaps we could ask them what we could do to help?
It then became clear why they wouldn’t. ‘I disagree with the fella entirely. The whole ‘not everyone flag-protesting is bad’ thing is bollocks.‘ This is simply not true. Talk to anyone involved working on the ground to try to make things better and they will tell you there are many good people working very hard to keep the peace. When you demonise everybody like this you do them a great disservice. This is the language of domination.
They seem also to have taken the term ‘sanctimonious irrelevance’ out of context and turned it into a direct insult. ‘putting down any kind of positive movement as “sanctimonious irrelevance” is inflammatory language and demeans the efforts of everyone involve [sic] imo…’ This was a news to me. Instead of criticising me for something I did say, here they are criticising me for something I didn’t say. Just to be clear, this is what I actually said, ‘I would go so far as to say that if peace rallies are not coupled with a deep commitment to social transformation then they are nothing more than sanctimonious irrelevancies.’ I would have hoped that if they are involved in as many social transformation initiatives as they say they are then they would agree with this statement and not try to twist it to mean something I did not say.
If we are to be involved in peacemaking it means both our actions and our language must be informed by different values than the powers of domination. These values mean that peacemaking is not a new terrain to be colonised. No one owns the conversation about how best to make peace. Those same values mean we do not put ourselves outside of the world of critical feedback. They mean if we do find ourselves critiqued we should read what people actually say about us before responding with insults, and they mean we should not distort what people say to mean something they never intended.