Prison: Therapeutic Centers Or Academies of Crime?

We may know where one is, we may regularly pass by one, but most of us will never go to prison. Dark Islands of Confinement, existing in a space separated from the rest of society, where men, women and youths are locked up, often poorly treated, seldom rehabilitated.

Black men and people from Asian and minority ethnic groups including tribal peoples, make up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population in many countries. In America, where incarceration based on race is routine, Prison Policy found that “Black Americans make up 40% of the incarcerated population despite representing only 13% of U.S. residents.” In Britain, Government statistics show that, “people of minority ethnicities made up 27% of the prison population compared with 13% of the general population.” This figure increases further in young offenders’ institutions (YOI), where about 51% of boys aged 15–17 and young men, aged 18–21, are from black minority ethnic backgrounds, nearly four times the BAME proportion of the wider UK population. In addition between 2018/19, black people were eight times more likely than white to be stopped and searched, and police are five times more likely to use force against black people than white people.

Globally there are around 10.35 million people in prison (World Prison Population List), half of who are held in just three countries – the USA, China and Russia. With 2.2 million people behind bars America has the highest number of prisoners in the world; 655 people per 100,000, in Russia its 615 per 100,000.

At the other end of the scale is Norway, a world leader in prison reform. The total prison population is 3,207, equating to 60 people per 100,000 – over 10 times lower than the US and Russia and five times lower than Britain (87,900 behind bars – 148 per 100,000). Norway also has among the lowest re-offending rates in the world at 20% – by comparison in the US 76.6% re-offend and are re-arrested within five years; in the UK it’s almost the same.

These stark statistical differences reflect alternate approaches, in the judicial system the prison environment and in the nature of the society, the values and ideals. As well as levels of wealth and income inequality, which are much lower, and the overall atmosphere in which people live.

Prison officers are well-trained professionals, not merely ‘guards’. The Governor of Norway’s maximum security Halden Prison told the BBC “We make sure an inmate serves his sentence but we also help that person become a better person. We are role models, coaches and mentors.” Staff and inmates take part in activities together: “they eat together, play volleyball together, do leisure activities together and that allows us to really interact with prisoners, to talk to them and to motivate them.”

Prisons are well designed, well resourced and properly maintained, humane places in which inmates can study, learn skills and prepare themselves for a new life on release; centers of rehabilitated and education, rather than hostile places in which retribution is sought and punishment meted out. This rather crude, but widespread approach is based on the misguided belief that tough sentencing and a rigid penal system will act as a deterrent.

Is fear a deterrent?

The idea of prison as punishment posits the power of fear to change behavior. It is part of a broader ideological approach that believes in competition, together with reward and punishment as effective means of motivation, of manipulating behavior to achieve the goal, whatever that may be – obedience and conformity for one thing. It is a common technique in the world of business, is widely employed by parents and to a lesser degree teachers when faced with ‘difficult’, children, usually meaning children who won’t conform.

It is an approach that ignores, disregards or has no time for underlying causes – social, psychological and behavioral, and determines, that criminals should be punished. And while this approach appears justified, and commonly has public support, all the evidence suggests that not only does this method not deter criminals or, as re-offending rates show, change behavior, but it feeds into a societal atmosphere of intolerance and judgment, strengthening embedded divisions.

Instead of institutions of retribution, prisons should be refashioned as Therapeutic Centers for Change in which the criminal takes responsibility for their actions but is not made to feel guilty, or despised. An approach that looks at the range of influences that lead a young person into crime and to joining a criminal gang. Communities in which inmates are offered educational and therapeutic support; the whole focus of activity should be to rehabilitate, educate and heal, with the aim of releasing people back into society better educated and (psychologically) better equipped to deal with the demands of life. As in the Norwegian model, prisoners need to be shown respect and compassion and prisons need to be well resourced, funded by the state – private companies have no place in prisons or anywhere else in the criminal justice system – and staffed properly with trained personnel.

Wealth, crime and confinement

The underlying causes of crime and anti-social behavior are complex, but study after study shows that poverty, poor education and lack of parental guidance (specifically a stable father), are key factors. Education is consistently hailed as key to release from poverty and social deprivation, and therefore crime. The education a child/young person receives however, including extra tutoring, access to the Internet, parental support, exposure to the arts, freedom to travel, is conditional upon their social/economic background. Varied levels of opportunity are one aspect of a world defined by inequality.

Inequality is an issue of social justice. It is not simply a financial issue. It is inherent in the socio-economic order and impacts on all areas of life (including political influence – with wealth goes power), enabling broader social imbalances to prevail. Restricting social mobility, condemning those born into poverty, to, by and large – there are always exceptions – remain there. Interestingly there is a correlation between levels of inequality and crime. Homicides, suspicion and fear of others are higher in countries where differences in wealth/income/opportunities are most pronounced, as are child pregnancies and mental illnesses in addition to a range of other social issues.

Operating under the same socio-economic model all countries suffer from inequality. Comparing levels of inequality is not straightforward. South Africa often tops the list, with China and India close behind but according to inequality.org the US, is the “most top heavy, with much greater shares of national wealth and income going to the richest 1 percent than any other country.” America is also the prison capital of the world and has more people serving life sentences than anywhere else: 30% of the estimated global number.

All is interconnected; prisons and crime are consequential elements within a societal structure of injustice and prejudice, which requires fundamental change. The current outdated, habitual and in many cases shameful methods need to be reviewed, the interconnections revealed and alternate approaches developed.

Such an examination must seek to understand the psychological impact that certain habitual methodologies and relentlessly promoted values have; the widespread use of competition, reward and punishment; the impact of fear, its relationship with desire and comparison; the reductive construct of the self. It must also examine the social conditions people are exposed to. Education and housing, the lack of access to the arts and the impact of materialistic values relentlessly promoted by corporations and governments, as well as the behavior such ideals encourage and the focus on material success. Probably not everyone can be rehabilitated, but many can and all deserve the chance.

A radical shift is needed, rooted in the recognition that humanity is one, that prejudice has no place in our consciousness or society and that the seed of all that is good rests within each and every human being. In order for that to flourish the creation of environments free from competition, judgment and hatred is required; stimulating spaces (home, school/university, the workplace, prisons and society as a whole) built on compassion, understanding and tolerance.

July 2020

India

The Work in India is aimed at children and communites from the lowest castes, the Dalits and Schedule Tribe people. 
We began working in India in January 2008 when we ran a six week project with Familia Home in West Bengal. Two creative education programmes were given with children aged five to 16 and a training programme for teachers and parents. Familia Home is an alternative community; three large houses set in gardens amidst paddy fields are home to some 64 orphaned children. A parental couple live in each house and act as guardians for the children in their care.
In 2014 a long-term relationshio was started with Anuvibha, an Indian NGO concerned with education, working with children, many from the lowest castes in Indian society.  From March 2014 – May 2014 Creative education projects were run in government schools and Amloi village outside Rajsamand, in the state of Rajasthan.
In November 2014 this work continued and expanded untill the end of December 2014: We ran creative education programmes in Rajsamand, Rajasthan, with acutely poor village children, as well as a village health care project (delivered by a retired UK nurse) and a vocational training scheme for women, plus a series of teacher training sessions, given by Graham Peebles, in a teacher training college
October 2015 – December 2015, we were back in Rajsamand working with Anuvibha. Creative education projects were run in government schools and Amloi village outside Rajsamand. Together with a a series of teacher training talks given by Graham Peebles
Anuvibha. Rajasthan. November 2017 – January 2018: Creative education workshops were run in the school in Veerbanji village and in Amloi village outside Rajsamand. Together with a a series of teacher training talks given by Graham Peebles. In December 2019 Graham Peebles returned and conducted further talks in schools and colleges with teachers and trainee teachers.
The work with Anuvibha is ongong, further projects are planned for late 2020 and early 2021, we are also in discussions with HTCDN is a non-governmental humanitarian organization (NGO) located in the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, with the view to collaborating on projects in 2021.

Ethiopia

 The work in Ethiopia began in 2006 when at the request of Sara Cannizaro Child Minders Association (SCCMA), a local NGO in Addis Ababa, we organised and ran a three month programme of education workshops in the Ethiopian capital. This initial work established a deep commitment to the countryRead published essays on Ethiopia by Graham Peebles
Projects
F R I E N D S Ethiopia – July 2010 – June2011: A social development programme implemented by local volunteers at the heart of the capital, bringing together responsible adults with vulnerable children/young people and women. The programme included Mentoring, English classes and vocational training.
Hope Enterprises   Addis Ababa. October – December 2007: Hope Enterprises is Ethiopia’s oldest native NGO. They serve a large community throughout Ethiopia. The Create Trust a teacher-training programme for all the staff, a community theatre project dealing with child abuse and a support clinic for the children at the school. 
ANFAE. Addis Ababa. October – November 2007: Association of non-formal adult education Ethiopia (ANFAE) runs schools in rural areas of Ethiopia and in Addis Ababa. We ran a Community Theatre project with over thirty children aged six to 14 years dealing once again with corporal punishment in school and at home and a Teacher Training project. Non-formal education uses a flexible curriculum, to accommodate children who are working within or outside the family home and ‘street children’. 
GOAL Ethiopia. Addis Ababa December- April 2007: Goal is an international Aid organization, with a strong presence in Ethiopia. Create ran a major creative education programme in one of GOAL’s shelters for boys. We saw tremendous development in many of the children. During our time some were happily re-united with their families. A supplementary project focusing on the child’s ability to listen, retain information and concentrate’ was organised.
CHAD-ET Addis Ababa. July – September 2007: In the city Chad-et work with ‘street children’ and commercial sex workers, they also run schools and conduct sex education projects. A three-month creative education project was organised for two groups of women, totalling around 35. All had been and some still were, working as commercial sex workers in the Merkato area of the city. The programme was of great benefit and we witnessed change in many of the women, a growing self confidence and belief was seen and many ‘wallflowers’ blossomed. A pilot teacher-training programme was initiated. For six weeks we worked with a team of twenty teachers.
HAPSCO Addis Ababa. April– July 2007: Create ran a three month creative education project for a group of thirty or so women. Specialist volunteers from Britain contributed to the programme. HAPSCO is an Ethiopian NGO, founded by an Ethiopian nurse who, when working with HIV/Aids victims, set up the organisation to offer education and general support to women and children victims of the disease. 
FSCE (Forum for Street Children Ethiopia) Addis Ababa. November 2006 – May 2007: We designed a six month programme for thirty or so under 18’s children & women in the FSCE dop in centre in Mercato. Focusing on performance art- drama, dance and singing. 
May-July 2006. FSCE-Forum for Street Children, Ethiopia works with sexually exploited and abused women. Through poverty, these women are forced to work as ‘commercial sex workers’ and are often the victims of HIV/Aids.
SCCMA (Sara Cannizaro Child Minders Association) Addis Ababa. April-July 2006: The Create Trust ran creative educational workshops for a group of up to 35 beneficiaries, children aged from 8 to 17 years. The children are all living in circumstances of acute poverty and hardship. This was a community welfare project serving the community local to SCCMA.
CIAI (Italian Centre For Children’s Aid) Addis AbabaApril-July 2006: CIAI works with ex-street children. We ran workshops for a group of up to 30 children & young adults, ranging from 7 to 21 years old. All are living without parents in sheltered accommodation provided by CIAI, having previously been ‘living on the streets’, some for many years. The project included visual art, drama and photography.

Sri Lanka

Projects

In February 2005, the Sri Lankan NGO, Aqua Heritage Trust, invited Graham Peebles to design & deliver a ‘Healing through Art’ programme in Pettigalla Watta, Galle, Sri Lanka. This initial seven-week programme was the beginning of eight-months work in southern Sri Lanka and led to the founding of The Create Trust. 

Pettigalla Watta refugee camp. Galle. February – March & September – October 2005: We ran creative education workshops with around 30 children and worked with the whole community on a series of beautification schemes, awareness raising exercises and moral boosting endeavors. Self-respect and social unity was at the heart of all the work. A photographic project, ‘Family Friends and Home’ formed a part of the project – see the children’s photographs here.

Unawattuna refugee camp.  September – October 2005: In the center of Unawattuna this refugee camp housed a community of 70-80 people. We worked with the children, running creative education workshops for six weeks, delivering three sessions per week, to between 30 and 40 children.

Kasbapana refugee camp. Sept/Oct/Nov 2005: This camp outside Galle accommodated a community of around 90 people, including 40 or so children. We worked in the camp three days a week for three months. Visual art workshops were conducted with children and young people, ranging from six to 17 years of age.  From February to April 2006 we continued the project started in September 2005, with more photography and a series of Visual Art and Dance & Movement workshops.

Thellwatta, Hikkaduwa. April/May 2005: A very large refugee camp just outside Hikkaduwa. ‘Create’ worked here in conjunction with Danish Peoples Aid, running photographic workshops for some of the 200 or so children and teenagers in the camp. We instigated a photographic project, distributing disposable cameras and asking the group to make images of their ‘Families Friends and Homes’.

Akura, Hikkaduwa.  April/May 2005: In the sister camp to Thellwatta, we again teamed up with Danish Peoples Aid, conducting a related photographic project with children and teenagers from the camp. In total 42 children took part in the photographic project.

Teacher Training Programme.  March/April 2006: Graham Peebles was invited by the Galle Divisional Education Department to give a series of talks at the Ruhuna National College of Education. The talks focused on the underlying purpose of education, and how educators can best enable children/young people to explore their creative abilities and fulfill their innate potential. The impact of sociological and psychological conditioning was examined, in what proved to be a series of lively, interactive debates.

The Create Trust

The Create Trust is a UK registered charity, number 1115157.
It was set up by Graham Peebles in 2005 after he was asked to run a series of therauputic art workshops in Sri Lanka following the Sout east Asia tsunami on 26th December 2004.
We have run education projects and teacher training programmes in Sri Lanka – 2005, Ethiopia – 2006 – 2008, Palestine – 2009, India 2009 – current
India
Upcoming programme in India commencing October 2020, working in Rajasthan, Ladahk and possibly Tamil Nadu. All dependeng upon the Covid-19 pandemic being under control in these regions.
Projects
Anuvibha. Rajasthan. December 2019 – January 2020: Creative education projects were run in government schools and Amloi village outside Rajsamand. Together with a a series of teacher training talks given by Graham Peebles
Anuvibha. Rajasthan. November 2017 – January 2018: Creative education projects were run in government schools and Amloi village outside Rajsamand. Together with a a series of teacher training talks given by Graham Peebles
Anuvibha. Rajasthan. October 2015 – December 2015: Creative education projects were run in government schools and Amloi village outside Rajsamand. Together with a a series of teacher training talks given by Graham Peebles
Anuvibha. Rajasthan. November 2014 – end December 2014
Continuing the work begun in March. We ran creative education programmes in Rajsamand, Rajasthan, with acutely poor village children, as well as a village health care project and a vocational training scheme for women, plus a series of teacher training sessions.
Anuvibha. Rajastan. March 2014 – May 2014
Creative education projects were run in government schools and Amloi village outside Rajsamand.
Familia Home – January – March 2008
In January 2008 we ran, two creative education programmes with children and a training programme for teachers and parents in the West Bengal center. Familia Home is an alternative community; three large houses set in gardens amidst paddy fields are home to some 64 orphaned children. A parental couple live in each house and act as guardians for the children in their care.
Ethiopia
The work in Ethiopia began in 2006 when at the request of Sara Cannizaro Child Minders Association (SCCMA), a local NGO in Addis Ababa, we organised and ran a three month programme of education workshops in the Ethiopian capital. This initial work established a deep commitment to the countryRead published essays on Ethiopia by Graham Peebles
Projects
F R I E N D S Ethiopia – July 2010 – June2011      
A social development programme implemented by local volunteers at the heart of the capital, bringing together responsible adults with vulnerable children/young people and women. The programme included Mentoring, English classes and vocational training.
Hope Enterprises   Addis Ababa. October – December 2007
Hope Enterprises is Ethiopia’s oldest native NGO. They serve a large community throughout Ethiopia. The Create Trust a teacher-training programme for all the staff, a community theatre project dealing with child abuse and a support clinic for the children at the school.
ANFAE. Addis Ababa. October – November 2007
Association of non-formal adult education Ethiopia (ANFAE) runs schools in rural areas of Ethiopia and in Addis Ababa.
We ran a Community Theatre project with over thirty children aged six to 14 years dealing once again with corporal punishment in school and at home and a Teacher Training project.
Non-formal education uses a flexible curriculum, to accommodate children who are working within or outside the family home and ‘street children’.
GOAL Ethiopia. Addis Ababa December- April 2007
Goal is an international Aid organization, with a strong presence in Ethiopia. Create ran a major creative education programme in one of GOAL’s shelters for boys. We saw tremendous development in many of the children. During our time some were happily re-united with their families. A supplementary project focusing on the child’s ability to listen, retain information and concentrate’ was organised.
CHAD-ET Addis Ababa. July – September 2007
In the city Chad-et work with ‘street children’ and commercial sex workers, they also run schools and conduct sex education projects. A three-month creative education project was organised for two groups of women, totalling around 35. All had been and some still were, working as commercial sex workers in the Merkato area of the city. The programme was of great benefit and we witnessed change in many of the women, a growing self confidence and belief was seen and many ‘wallflowers’ blossomed. A pilot teacher-training programme was initiated. For six weeks we worked with a team of twenty teachers.
HAPSCO Addis Ababa. April– July 2007
Create ran a three month creative education project for a group of thirty or so women. Specialist volunteers from Britain contributed to the programme. HAPSCO is an Ethiopian NGO, founded by an Ethiopian nurse who, when working with HIV/Aids victims, set up the organisation to offer education and general support to women and children victims of the disease.
FSCE (Forum for Street Children Ethiopia) Addis Ababa. November 2006 – May 2007
We designed a six month programme for thirty or so under 18’s children & women in the FSCE dop in centre in Mercato. Focusing on performance art- drama, dance and singing.
May-July 2006. FSCE-Forum for Street Children, Ethiopia works with sexually exploited and abused women. Through poverty, these women are forced to work as ‘commercial sex workers’ and are often the victims of HIV/Aids.
SCCMA (Sara Cannizaro Child Minders Association) Addis Ababa. April-July 2006
The Create Trust ran creative educational workshops for a group of up to 35 beneficiaries, children aged from 8 to 17 years. The children are all living in circumstances of acute poverty and hardship. This was a community welfare project serving the community local to SCCMA.
CIAI (Italian Centre For Children’s Aid) Addis AbabaApril-July 2006
CIAI works with ex-street children. We ran workshops for a group of up to 30 children & young adults, ranging from 7 to 21 years old. All are living without parents in sheltered accommodation provided by CIAI, having previously been ‘living on the streets’, some for many years. The project included visual art, drama and photography.

Racism: Are We All Prejudice?

Loud acts of racism, like the atrocious killing of George Floyd by a US police officer; the disproportionate number of black men incarcerated in American prisons or the high percentage of young black or minority ethnic (BAME) men subjected to ‘stop and search’ by police in Britain are blatant and ugly. But an individuals ‘unconscious bias’ and the institutionalized racism festering deep within organizations is subtler, perhaps harder to recognize.
Racism is prejudice against BAME people/groups, it has deep historical roots within ex-colonial cultures (particularly in countries with large migrant populations, like Britain, France and the US), it is vile and abhorrent and it must be driven out of society. It is one of many forms of prejudice that exist all over the world. Prejudice against women, or LGBT individuals and groups, people with disabilities, tribal people and other minorities, prejudice against religious groups, certain nationalities and people of various ages. No matter how liberal minded and ‘progressive’ we believe ourselves to be, are any of us truly free from all forms of prejudice?
Learning to hate
Prejudice in all its foul forms, including racism, is not innate – nobody is born a racist – it is learnt. It results from psychological and sociological conditioning, which is absorbed unconsciously from birth and for the most part is acted on habitually, without thinking or awareness. Decisions, choices and actions that proceed from this position are in some way or other limited, colored, and distorted by dogma, motivated by desire and fear.
Such actions take place all the time; most are petty and relatively limited in their impact. But when prejudice is involved and the action is constantly repeated or exercised from a position of power – an employer, government official, a parent, someone in uniform or education then the effects can have long-lasting detrimental effects. Worse still, when racism has seeped into the fabric of the perpetrator and turned to blind hate, allowing for abuse (like kneeling on a defenseless man’s neck while arresting him for a petty incident) to occur the results can then be much more serious: recurring mental health illnesses, physical injuries, and sometimes death, of an individual, or in the case of genocide (the organized expression of hate) the systemic annihilation of a whole community.
Prejudice then is a form of conditioning; it is discrimination or bias unconsciously expressed in varying degrees, fuelling hurtful destructive patterns of behavior and social division. This does not in any way legitimize or excuse acts of racism and prejudice, but if such actions are the consequence of conditioning we have a key to eradicating this poison from society.
Young children do not on the whole exhibit signs of prejudice. They see other children simply as children, they don’t see black, white, brown, Asian etc., children. That is, until they are conditioned into seeing ‘difference’, into dividing people based on race, gender, religion, nationality etc., and encouraged to make judgments based on that prejudice. The agents of conditioning are (most commonly) ignorant parents, peers who have already taken the poison, government policy (on immigration, for example) and the media.
In 1968 an exercise in racial conditioning was famously demonstrated by the schoolteacher and campaigner Jane Elliot (credited with inventing the concept of diversity training): On 5th April, the morning after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jnr, she segregated the 28 children (eight/nine year olds) in her classroom based on eye color, with one group adopting superior status to the other. The following day the roles were reversed. It was a brilliant exercise that aimed to show what it would feel like to be discriminated against and also to discriminate.
Once the seed of prejudice and division is planted, false notions of superiority and inferiority are fed and the belief that some people are ‘like us’ and some people ‘are not’ is adopted. The idea of ‘the other’ separate from me, potentially a threat to me, takes root, and this, if reinforced by competition and fear (as is commonly the case) leads to distrust, further division and hate. Allowing for the creation of a violent minority, and, in extreme cases the birth of a flag-waving, swastika-bearing racist or bigot. In the majority prejudice leads to what is commonly called ‘unconscious or implicit bias’.
How unconscious is Unconscious Bias
In October 1998 social psychologists from the University of Washington and Yale conducted the ‘Implicit Association Test (IAT)’. An online research tool designed to “measure implicit or unconscious evaluations and beliefs that spring from strong, automatic associations of which people may be unaware.” The study found that 90-95% of people held such unconscious prejudices. The researchers, including Mahzarin Banaji, professor of psychology at Yale, stated that unconscious prejudice “results from the culture they [people] live in and the culture’s attitudes towards stigmatized groups …a culture leaves an imprint on the mental structure, and most people have more or less the same mental imprint.” This is sociological conditioning.
Various studies since have revealed that unconscious bias affects a range of everyday decisions impacting on people from minority groups. Job prospects, education opportunities and health care, as well as prejudicial treatment by criminal justice systems. While it may be unclear just how ‘unconscious’ an individual’s bias is, what isn’t in dispute is that it exists, impacting on almost all of us, creating division and injustice. But, as Professor Banaji said “the same test that reveals these roots of prejudice has the potential to let people learn more about and perhaps overcome these disturbing inclinations.”
Action not words
As Jane Elliot said, ‘there is only one race, the human race’: humanity is one, brothers and sisters of one humanity. This has been proclaimed many times, most famously perhaps by Mahatma Gandhi. Yet, like peace, brotherhood and justice, equality is nowhere to be found. It remains a noble ideal, but ideals, which are not made manifest become tools of deceit, feeding complacency and apathy, allowing destructive attitudes and behavior to remain intact, and to proliferate.
In the years since the introduction of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in March 1966 attitudes have changed and much progress has been made. But there is a long way to go if we are to create a world that is completely free from all forms of discrimination. To rid society of racism and prejudice a number of things need to take place simultaneously.
Education, inclusion and awareness (de-conditioning) are key, together with the introduction of urgent practical steps within all areas where institutionalized racism exists. The essential element to individual liberation from prejudice is awareness; the unconscious impulse of discrimination needs to be brought into the light of awareness where, when seen, it can rejected. Institutionalized racism collects out of the individual prejudice of people working within a particular organization, whether a police force, government department, school, university, corporation or small business. Eradicating prejudice from all such organizations and encouraging diversity and greater representation of minority groups must become a priority; more support needs to be given to children from BAME families (often among the poorest in society) to ensure equal education opportunities and, in order to limit prejudice by employers, schools, universities etc., the mandatory introduction of ‘blind CVs’ (without personal details concerning the applicant’s gender, age or ethnicity) should be brought about immediately.
The global response to the appalling killing of George Floyd and the widespread calls for fundamental change must not be ignored or the focus lost by distracting arguments about statues and artifacts. Certainly, following community debate, some statues should be removed – not torn down – and placed in museums, and items stolen by colonialists and now held in western museums returned.
But the primary issue is not what happened in the shameful past, it is changing existing attitudes and behavior. The momentum for change must not be lost as the mainstream media turn their attention elsewhere and politicians ruminate and set up yet more committees. Action is needed now, not endless speeches by duplicitous ambitious politicians. The rise of racism and all types of hate crime parallels the increase in political populism and tribal nationalism; these ideologies of division have stoked racial tensions and fed hate among the hateful. They are of the past and must be collectively rejected. The path to equality, social harmony and peace will come about through unity not division, cooperation not competition, tolerance not bigotry. It is these qualities that need to be adopted and cultivated, not as ideals, but as living principles animating and pervading all aspects of life.
https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/06/26/racism-are-we-all-prejudice/
June 2020

Reinvigorating the UN?

Whatever corner of the world one happens to live in, the most pressing issues of the day affect everyone. Pandemics/epidemics and the environmental emergency; war and terrorism; poverty and food insecurity; overpopulation and the displacement of persons. Such crises cannot be limited by borders or controlled by nation states; no government or corporate power can manage them. They are interconnected global issues and they require a coordinated global response.
Drawn together by economic interest or shared geo-political concerns various allied groupings and regional alliances exist in the world. While such assemblies present the possibility of nations unifying, self-interest, ideology and partisanship dominates the approach of many governments’ to global problems: achieving consensus is rare, and consistent implementation of agreements even more so.And with the rise of tribal nationalism in recent years, led by major nations like America, Russia and China, the space for cooperation and unity has been further eroded, the major issues of the times ignored, or in many cases enflamed.
The United Nations: What now? 
In addition to highlighting a range of social inequalities the Covid-19 pandemic has emphasized the need for nations to work cooperatively in response to global issues, under the coordinated stewardship of an international body. One that is free from political ideology is non-partisan and works to build the broadest level of consensus.
Established in 1945 at the end of World War II, The United Nations (UN), with its range of 15 specialized agencies is the obvious body to take on such an expanded, essential role. Not by adopting powers of governance over member states. But by being invested with a new status based on the recognition that certain issues demand unified strategic action and the understanding that the future of individual countries rests upon the health and stability of the whole.
Like all global organizations the UN is imperfect and reforms are needed, but it represents a high point in human achievement and the world is a richer place for its existence. Since its inception million of people have been fed, educated and cared for by UN agencies. Its overall aim is, “the maintenance of international peace and security.” However, with member states pursuing their own ideologically fuelled agenda’s and with limited or no influence to tackle the underlying causes of conflict, this has proven impossible. One of the most significant accomplishments in the history of the UN is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed in 1948. It includes the right to not be enslaved, the right to free expression, the right to food and shelter and the right to seek asylum from persecution.
Despite the fact that many of the rights expressed remain unrealized the existence of the UDHR is crucially important, establishing a clear set of rights for every human being in the world. And, as we move into a new time, the UDHR could serve as a guiding template for systemic change, in particular the rights outlined in article 25, which states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
Within the UN there are a range of relevant departments concerned with the global issues outlined, agencies that are overflowing with expertise and people of goodwill. But whether it’s the UNHCR (working with refugees), the WHO or the UN Environment agency, all to often their efforts to act for the benefit of those they serve are inhibited by the power exerted by the 15-member Security Council, in particular the permanent five (P5), by the self-centered short -term approach of member states, lack of funding and a somewhat ambiguous world role.
 Agents of Change
At the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic, the WHO works to bring about “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health… physical, mental and social well-being.” And much has been achieved in the 70 years since it was set up. But in developing regions (where nations cannot fund health care adequately) access to medical support is extremely limited and, as in countries where health care is not (freely) provided by the state, the quality of treatment received by patients is conditioned by their economic status. The agency has been criticized by some, most notably President Trump (who has now withdrawn US funding), for failing to act quickly enough over Covid-19. Certainly mistakes were made. The worldwide response to the virus, however, should have been coordinated by the WHO; consistent methodologies followed – while being adapted to specific populations – with clear messages and detailed scientific information. Instead, nations turned within and formulated their own approach.
Together with the IPCC, UN Environment has potentially the most important role of any UN agency. But their aim to encourage partnership in “caring for the environment” is frustrated by the forces of commercialization and the consumer obsessed way of life relentlessly promoted by corporate governments and followed by the mass of humanity. Governments are fixated on ‘growth’, and ‘caring for the environment’ is a secondary consideration, if considered at all. “Reducing food insecurity and rural poverty” is the concern of the UN food agency (UNFAO). Around 2 billion people in the world are estimated to be ‘food insecure’, of which, just under a billion ‘don’t have enough to eat’. The world is vastly overpopulated; common estimates suggest that the planet can comfortably support 3.5 – 4 billion people, but currently the global population stands at 7.8 billion. There is however food enough for everyone; starvation and malnourishment are fundamentally problems of poverty and distribution, not over-population, although this is a significant issue which is having a devastating impact on the natural environment.
Peace, hunger, displacement, environment, health care, every issue is interconnected, one impacting on the other. All arise from and are intensified by the all-pervasive unjust socio-economic system. Everything and all areas of life have become commodified and commercialized, including the natural environment, food, health care and education. No money no food, no cash no health care, no income poor or non-existent education and sub-standard housing. As a means of organizing the socio-economic life of humanity, promoting human wellbeing and environmental health it is utterly deficient, detrimental in fact. And whatever bailouts and stimulus programs are concocted to mop up the Covid economic spillage it is a system in decay; a vessel running on empty, propelled only by the momentum of the past.
Renewed UN
Key to overcoming the global issues here outlined and bringing about socio-economic change is the introduction of sharing, together with a reinvigorated expanded United Nations. Most people and many nations are poor, or poorly off, but the world is rich, overflowing; it is an abundant world and everyone is entitled to benefit from its collective riches.
Sharing as a principle of living needs to be planted in all areas of life, a unifying seed of goodness infusing all systems and modes of living. This will require the establishment of a new UN agency (‘The United Nations Office for Sharing (UNOS)’ perhaps) and eventually the dissolution of the Security Council, which is currently the most powerful arm of the UN.
The new agency would design systems of sharing and oversee the equitable distribution, firstly of food and water, then, through a massive volunteer program, of other resources that are held collectively, including knowledge, skills, creativity. Sharing is an extraordinarily potent quality, both an action and an attitude of mind. It is an expression of trust and an acknowledgment of our oneness, it encourages cooperation and cultivates trust, and when there is trust much can be achieved between individuals and groups. It a vibrant force for good and its time has come.
All countries are deficient in some areas, but as humanity begins to function as a World community, the needs of everyone can be met; all that is required is that we acknowledge the needs of all and learn to share. And although the current systems work against such commonsensical ways, through the application of creative thinking and goodwill, coordinated by a revitalized unifying UN, much can be achieved.

June 2020

Reinvigorating the UN?