Sunday, 12 August 2018

Fight Conflict

We can spend a lot of time debating what civilisation is or isn't. But when its opposite shows up in all its brutality and cruelty and intolerance and lust for destruction, we know what civilisation is. We know it from the shock of its imminent 
loss, as a mutilation on the body of our humanity.1

A friend of mine who is a Pastor gave a talk one Sunday morning where he began by saying "I could stand up here and deliver a sermon with, let's say, ten bullet points. Perhaps you agree with nine of those points and disagree with one. Guaranteed it'll be the one point you disagree with that you'll remember! Why!?”

What is it about the current condition of the human psyche that wants to seek out that one point to argue about yet apparently fails to celebrate and build on the ninety percent of stuff we agree on? As one negotiator's maxim puts it "there is probably more that unites us than divides us".

Can we think of a better starting point than that?!

Yet we continue to see the polarising of extreme views, even within our own neighbourhoods; views that refuse to tolerate anything other than their own narrow mindsets. The clash between the religious and secular spheres for example has to be seen as indicative of a wider, interconnected conflict of global ideologies, religions and geopolitical power struggles alongside the marginalisation and persecution of minority opinions or lifestyles.

However, if we look at the situation on a global scale we will in fact see that it isn't as hopeless as we perhaps assume or perceive it to be. For although it seems that democracy is on the back foot and that the age of the strongman is on the rise, history has shown us that human nature is not on the authoritarian’s side.

The BBC’s foreign news editor John Simpson recently pointed out that two hundred years ago there were only handful of democracies around the world. Even by the 1970’s there were still only 20 or so. “Today, despite the continuation of Chinese and Russian authoritarian regimes, there are well over a hundred….for every example of democracy fading out or finding itself under attack, there are countless examples of democracy and democratic activists moving forward and finding solutions” 2. Also it is surprising to learn that deaths from terrorism were statistically much higher in the 1970’s than now! Although on the increase, we are not yet back up to 70s level! 

Stephen Pinker in his book Enlightenment Now demonstrates at length many statistics that support a considerable rise in our level of well-being and security within a range of societies. And although not all-pervasive it is widespread, showing that any negative perception of humanity in a downward spiral is essentially inaccurate.

Despite our impatience for wanting speedy solutions in an age of rapid change where democracy by nature is slower to deliver, and when so-called strongmen such as Trump, Putin or Xi Jinping tout their ability for instant response, humanity at heart still abhors Authoritarianism.

Democracy is not perfect. It is subject (as is religion) to abuse and manipulation and was called by Churchill, the worst form of government, except for all the others. “Forgive its failings, and work to improve them as long as it’s core institutions further civil rights, guarantee rule of law and are subject to the will of the people” 3.

“Want to fight religious extremism? Then don’t push secularism. Marginalising religion, asserting that you can’t be part of mainstream society without being secular, pushes both alienated Muslims in Europe and Jews in Israel [and I would add Christians in the US and elsewhere] towards isolation and extremism”4.

Fight social and economic inequality, engage with the marginalised and disenfranchised and teach our children the critical thinking skills to separate truth from lies.

In short, although it may sound paradoxical, fight conflict!

Top Image: © Stuart Duffin 2018 "The Paradox of Prophecy" (detail)

About the new work...

"On the Making of Errors" - mezzotint

Charlottesville lawyer Charles Weber who is fighting to retain the cities confederate statues said in their defense “it’s not in the US DNA to deny its history”. And with respect, that is a valid point. Those who forget history are bound to live through it again. The problem is not about denial, but essentially with the glorification of that history. Perhaps a considerate solution would be to allow statues of civil rights heroes such as Martin Luther King alongside those of Robert E Lee; this too is our history, let’s not forget it. The mezzotint “On the Making of Errors” relates (coincidentally) to this while also playing on title of one of the 19th century’s standard treatise on the art of etching called “On the making of Etchings” by Frank Short RE (published in 1888 and of which I own a first edition issue). It is in the lower panel that we read the giveaway subtitle “the long awaited return of history”.

TERMINVS” - collage on panel

In relation to what I wrote in the post above, I am also launching a new working of the “TERMINVS” collage. It includes the Latin phrase terminus post quod non licit; no going beyond this point. On the left there is an image of confrontation (here and no further). The right hand image speaks of the opposite (here is the starting point). Jerusalem, represented by both the fragmented graffito and the old city panorama taken from the roof of my studio is in the center. The work is of course “not about Jerusalem, but relates to it in it’s many forms” as Arik Kilemnik wrote of my work many years ago. This collage with its call for something beyond tolerance and resolution remains central to much of my new developing work.

“Bang goes the theory” - mezzotint

One of the significant images in “Bang goes the theory” has a dove sitting on the barrel of a gun. Believe it or not, this actually happened. While a television crew were following a squad of soldiers in the Middle East in Adam Curtiss’s documentary Bitter Lakes, a dove did indeed land on the barrel of one of the soldiers guns while lying in the undergrowth on patrol. The look of utter astonishment on the soldiers face on film is a wonder to behold. And it only goes to show that anything is possible.


1. Simon Schama on the destruction of Palmyra. Civilisations, BBC.

2. and 3. James Stavridis, 4-star Admiral and 16th Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, Time Magazine.

4. Gershom Gorenberg, Israeli journalist writing in Haaretz.

Top Image: © Stuart Duffin 2018 "The Paradox of Prophecy" (detail)


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