Peace studies, and irritating McDonald’s adverts.

If McDonald’s just spent its time busting unions, ravaging the third world and poising I could live with them.  But their new adverts are obscene; witness the recent “just passing by” world cup campaign.  Here in a virtue is made of the fact that vast majority of people eating in McDonald’s had no intention of committing that act.  What is basically a defence in a criminal court is not what anything but the most desperate brands use to sell themselves.  The sell seems to be something like “we know you intended to eat proper actual food that comes from meat and vegetables and that, but couldn’t be arsed.  Don’t Worry!  No one ever decides to come to Maccy D’s, you just kind of end up here.”

What really grazes about this state of affairs is the affront to our collective intelligence.  Ronald seems to think we are going to forget about the McLibel trial, the gobbling of third world land and general union busting because of some fucking god awful greetings card sentimentality.  As Jung said, “sentimentality is next to brutality”.

This sentimentality is inscribed in still grater typeface all over the vom-fest that is their newest TV advert.  Some nauseating state of affairs in which we are told that we should stop thinking about rain and wind in summer as somehow contradictory, but rather wonder at their mystic power when they come together as “The British Weather” (or TBW for short).  From this synthesis the noble yet heroic (noticeably White British) farmers of our country can, through their sweat and tears, produce the kinds of crops one can, presumably, expect to be fed on at the food outlet in question.

Of course the first irony that one is drawn to here is that the only white British people who call themselves farmers in this country don’t generally have the time to do any digging, ploughing or whatever else farmers do.  They are far too busy raising funds for UKIP, shagging foxes and trying to get their youngest daughter to stop sleeping with “Tim” the “ganj” smoking “Rasta” she met on gap year in Goa.  As far as I can tell all the actual farming in this country is done by brutalized, right-less, immigrant labour and a smattering of the kind of white people your average countryside alliance would cross the street to get away from.  I’m not a big fan of the anti-Semitic echoes of a romantic link between worker and soil either, but I digress.

At the heart of the advert is this theme of the weather.  Apparently, if we should compress everything we experience as weather into some shapeless formless mass, as if our experience of life is best when it reflects the form of one Ronald’s own meat patty sandwiches.

On the contrary, we should think about our summers the way they do in sunny Belfast.  “Sunny” , but anyone who has spent any time there will tell you that that is not ever really the case, not in any simple sense.  To be fair, it’s not really true to say that it’s constantly rainy or cold either; four seasons fly past in about half an hour.  For the English, rain stops play in the summer months, but in Belfast the hegemonic understanding seems to be that rainy/windy/sleety summer madness has a byzantine coherency all its own.  It always feels like summer; you want to stand outside. Disparate components can  do that sometimes, come together and make a virtue out of misunderstanding one and other.  Rain and sleet and wind and sun, we should not try to wish these away, in the name of some McDonald’s summer.  That isn’t life, it’s an abstract and non-existent whole.  Belfast people recognize that round here, our experience of summer is of these kinds of contradictions.  That it is precisely through considering the contradictions that the only real understanding of any system can be reached.

I have had to spend some time there recently with work, and the North of Ireland/Northern Ireland is somewhere well worth going to.  The Derry art’s scene for instance is a seriously healthy and committed one.  And while your there, and get caught in the rain, you will, I’m sure, shelter from the summer rain in one of the myriad centres for research into and resolution of conflicts.  It’s fucking crawling with them.  In fact, it’s a veritable centre of the conflict resolution industry.  Apparently, if your issue is famous enough and if there is enough EU money flying about, anywhere can become the centre of an up and coming academic discipline.  Bradford may yet become the world’s leading centre of criminology for all I know.

Within these hives of activity, you will see the cream of many nations intellectuals busy themselves with the tasks of counting, measuring and calculating how to get people to stop caring about what once drove them to arms.  In the name of peace, that which was once a political struggle is reduced to a question of management;  “How can we, as experts”, they ask themselves “stop these people reverting to violence?  How can we fudge the old divisions and contradictions?”  Essentially the discourse of “Peace Studies” is designed precisely to suspend disagreement, to “resolve conflict” in a very specific way; by stopping you thinking about it.  The warming coffee being served so hospitably to any passing rain-sodden Bradfordian, by the lovely people at the Institute for Political Pacification, or the European Peace Research Project or whoever, will perk you up, but their ideas are designed to make you sleep.

The north of Ireland/Northern Ireland is a funny place.  Asides from the fact that no one can even agree on what it’s called, the Unionists as a whole did not do very well from the period of their domination of local politics.  Although, Catholics were denied jobs, proper housing and even the right to vote, this is no Apartheid South Africa, with every Protestant owning a mansion staffed by Catholics.  Equally it is not even an Israel.  Some of the worst poverty in Belfast and Derry has always been visited upon the Protestant working class.  “Maybe”, naive Bradfordian, you might ask, “the people should just stop thinking about the issues that divided them, resolve the conflict through peace studies, and that.”  But then this article would refer you to the role so-called “conflict resolution” and its mutant cousin “peace studies” play in places like Palestine.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre is to open a centre for mutual understanding  and conflict resolution, specializing in ecumenical work with Muslims, Christians and Jews.  In occupied East Jerusalem.  In this case as in many others, thinking through the apparently liminal, freaky contradiction tells us an awful lot about what’s really going on.  Here we have the ideology of “Conflict Resolution” literally covering over a series of contradictory racial/ethnic and class relationships.  On the broken backs of the Palestinians and the workers of the middle east this temple to the managerial life will be erected.  Community leaders from all sides will rejoice at the modern IT facilities and good quality organic food served at all the conflict resolution seminars.  Zionists haven’t historically been so bothered about the rest of the world seeing them as some sort of vulgar Boer like settlers, so they probably won’t be massively disconcerted about the fact that part of the centre will be built on a graveyard said to contain the bodies of people killed defending Palestine from proto-colonialism in  the Crusades; like Immortal Technique says, sometimes “the Crusades and Vietnam stand blasted together”.

This obfuscation of actual conflicts in society allows the theologians of Peace Studies to construct themselves as a caste above other human beings, managing their conflicts and wars.  For the conflict resolver has in practice given up the idea of a just peace.  The idea that through some (any!) process violent or otherwise, the wrongs of the past my be righted and justice might prevail is cynically dismissed as dangerously utopian and “dragging people back to conflict”.  The problem with this is that conflicts are still going on. And Palestine is still being strangled.

Indeed, the issue in Palestine is not one of improper communication, or resolution strategy or whatever piece of meaningless one-dimensional ideology we wish to conjure.  On the contrary it is a brutally simple one.  It is one of colonialism and racism, the triumph of market capitalism and the utter destruction of proletarian organization.  To put it bluntly, if people stopped colonizing the Palestinians and their land they might be a little less pissed off.  In spite of this I have been personally witness to a Peace Studies student and practitioner talking about the “incredibly complicated”  religious and ethnic divisions between the “two sides”.  Which two sides? They talk as if both “sides” have F 16s and tanks.  Imagine the High Priests of Peace Studies talking about the witch trials; “It’s very easy for us to sentimentally side with the witches but, you know, the peasants have noticed a lot of failing crops and talking horses this year, and it’s important that everyone’s view are heard…”

Here is the thing.  Like Ronald and his approach to the meat patties for his eponymous sandwich, these people want to mash together all the conflicts and contradictions that are symptomatic of the way we live into an homogeneous, unintelligible package, that they call “conflict”; something that can only be thought about from the vantage point of fucking Peace Studies and the advanced dogmatics of Conflict bastard Resolution.   This dishonest and oppressive idea must be kept up to justify their whole existence.  But they miss the whole point.  You only understand a conflict by being involved in it, you resolve it by fighting for justice and for freedom in whatever way appropriate, not by trying to find new and exciting ways of drugging people into forgetting about the realities of their life.  What is truly revolting about McDonald’s hamburgers is that they are only whole.  Perfectly homogeneous, there is nothing you can discernibly refer to as a part- just a mashed together wholeness.  Like that stupid farmer the Conflict Resolver takes a mass of contradictions and moulds them into a homogeneous unit.

Fortunately, people are not stupid.  We know that our world is one of conflict and contradiction that can not just be wished away.  We know perfectly well that the world is divided into competing groups and that the majority are losing.  And frankly we do not want to be trained to forget about it.  Or to be made to feel that the division between rich and poor, powerful and powerless can be synthesised on some higher level, celebrated even as the diversity of points of view in what is fast becoming a post-political world.  I will invert Mao and say that politics is the continuation of war; political struggle can overcome violent struggle only by restoring justice, or revealing deeper conflicts beneath the apparent ones.

Everyone knows what is wrong with McDonald’s burgers.  They are rank because all difference and particularity is crushed out of them.  Our understanding of society is profoundly impaired when we pretend that all its antagonisms and contradictions can be flattened out.  It’s the whole thing that needs to be changed.  If meat based patty sandwiches are so awful, lets not learn to love them; let’s start demanding steak.

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