News media has long been known to be a bit of a balancing act. The media shows us things it knows we want to see. It tailors its content to its market guided by years of finding out from its customers “what interests you?”. But the media doesn’t just react to its readers, listeners and viewers. It plays a rather more elusive and pervasive role. The media also tells us what it thinks we we ought to know. As well as giving us what we want, it manages our expectations and tells us what we should want to read about, watch on our televisions and hear on our radios.
From looking at the front page of a newspaper we get a heady and hard to distinguish mix of what we want and what we should want.
Today is the International Day of Peace. A global day of celebration of cooperation, nonviolence, justice and equality. This event doesn’t feature on the top stories of news sites or radio shows. It isn’t a national holiday or the subject of much activity like a religious holiday might be. But all is not lost.
From looking at news sites and newspapers the top stories for planet Earth today are very much about peace.
News of the terrorist murder of Afghanistan’s peace envoy features as the top story. News of Mexico’s ongoing drug war, their state of negative peace is discussed. Stories of a typhoon in Japan threatening the Fukushima Daichii nuclear plant gives the headlines an environmental edge. Hopeful news of another Gaddafi stronghold falling to the Libyan government and their acceptance at the United Nations as the official representatives of the Libyan people are reported. Finally Obama’s peace mission to the middle east concludes global top stories.
Peace is about terrorism. Peace is about drugs and law and order. Peace is about protecting our environment and sustainability. Peace is about humanitarian intervention and global governance. Peace is about diplomacy and interstate conflict. Although there is no mention of this important date in today’s headlines every story leading the news today is fundamentally about peace. Murdoch doesn’t control the news, we do and today the news was about peace. That means that we the consumers of the news are desperate for news about peace. Not only that but the media executives agree with us. They think that we ought to know about peace.
Although no one has mentioned International Peace Day the outlook isn’t bad. Happy Peace Day, keep up the good work.
National laws are a tangible expression of the limits of behaviour that society is willing to tolerate. Anything beyond these limits is prohibited, subject to state sanction and ostracism from society. The same applies across borders to the international arena. International law exists to prohibit acts that are so heinous, so offensive to our collective human consciousness that they cannot be tolerated.
International society has demanded after events that have shocked and frightened us that institutions be set up to punish and seek out those who offend us, those who go beyond the limits that human kind has designated. These limits are more relaxed, less clear or strident than those at a national level. International society has a propensity to agree on very little yet when it does, it does so emphatically. We’ve agreed that it is unacceptable to commit genocide, for example.
Ratko Mladic is an international criminal whose crimes define international law. From ethnic cleansing to deportation and persecution he exists as a caricature of all that our international society deems unacceptable. Furthermore, he continues to offend our collective will by flouting the rules and procedures of the institutions we created to defend and enforce international law. Most notably, his refusal to cooperate with the judges in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
Under no circumstances must we forget he is there standing trial for crimes against humanity. When he murdered Bosniaks in the 90s it wasn’t just a crime against his victims it was a crime against our collective human consciousness. We can’t forget that it is as a result of our international view that genocide is unacceptable that he is there. We are part of this process. As an international society we can’t allow his disrespect for our collective agreement (considering how little we all agree on, this is even more important) to go unnoticed. If he is simply forgotten then he has won, he’s proved that humanity isn’t so offended by his actions after all. If his crimes are translated into opaque legalese few can understand or his trial bogged down by appeals and lack lustre evidence from governments (I am looking at the Serb government when I say that) then what can we expect from our fragile system?
We have to keep talking about international law. We have to keep writing about human rights and about those who have yet to be brought to justice by our system. Our legislators need to keep asking probing questions of our governments, our judges need to keep laying precedent upon precedent in support of our unified revulsion for crimes against humanity.
Teachers need to talk about it with their pupils. You need to talk about it with your friends and family. Bring it up at your workplace and get a debate started. We can’t let people like Mladic win. We’re all part of this and if it’s allowed to fall out of the public eye or interest then those with the power to do more to catch war criminals and bring them to justice will have no pressure to continue and increase their efforts.
Age used to be one of those things you obsessed over as a child. Either you yearned to grow up and envied those slightly older than you or were desperate to remain a child, the darling of affectionate aunts. Songs have been written in favour of being older, or usually being younger. People go to vast lengths and expend vast sums of money on reducing the appearance of age.
I think we can all broadly agree (the first of many fabulous generalisations contained herein) however there is a certain grace period in which your age no longer really matters. I’m talking about between 18 and 30(…ish, forgive me please if this offends you I am just trying to make a point)
Now, why does it matter? I think it’s because age is so closely linked in to expectations, appearance and to your rights.
As for expectations, you acquire responsibilities. Society places a huge burden on you practically overnight on your 18th birthday. Will you get a job? Move out of your parents home? Go to university? Get married? It’s all suddenly expected of you whilst hours before you were allowed to wake up at midday and didn’t have to worry about taxes. These expectations from society are manifested in almost every way. You can’t act a certain way, you can’t hold the same opinions and you can’t even buy the same clothes. Age is ticking away and you’re expected to cling on to it as some sort of foundation from which to live your life. But… it’s just so hypocritical! Think of the storm of condemnation that flows from the media at the sight of an older woman with a younger man, but yet not at an older man with a younger woman, which receives knowing chuckles and worse, slaps on the back. How dare she think that it’s ok to do that? Why? Because society says so. Society is the infallible arbiter of what is appropriate for your age and you will conform.
You appearance is closely linked to this idea. Think of the derision poured onto people like Simon Cowell when he pulls his jeans up too high. Or when a parent dresses their daughter up in something ‘not fit for children’. Who says so? Should clothes come with a health or age warning? “This t-shirt has the potential to cause serious harm to your child” or “Failing to dress your 7 year old in Calvin Klein jeans will traumatise him for life, sincerely – Society” I heard the dreadful phrase used the other day (about a middle aged woman dressed in trendy but not revealing clothes) ‘oh look, it’s mutton dressed as Sienna Miller’… I must admit I burst out laughing, partially because the remark was quick witted but also for it’s searing cruelty. Why on earth can I not put on clothes I like? This idea of what is appropriate extends to all corners, from books to music and further.
As for your rights (if you’re a previous reader you’ll know this is a bit of a hot topic for me) they come and go with age. Well they don’t really leave you with age but your ability, realistically, to have them respected and acknowledged diminishes to almost nil after the age of 65 (once again, a staggering generalisation but it’s just for effect). Your right to dignity is like something slowly sapped from you by the sudden condescending tone that your treatment by society takes on. It’s not just for older people, young people have a complex set of rights that gradually phase in during their first 21 years. A veritable mine field of do’s and don’t’s and definitely don’t do that’s! This process of gradual phasing in of rights is completely arbitrary. Who says that at age 17 you are ready to drive a car? What qualifies you as being ready? Have your leg muscles reached their peak potential for brake-pressing? As for the acquisition of civil and political rights, the voting age at 18 is complete nonsense. What is it about the sudden age change from 17 to 18 that means you are aware of the power of your vote and will choose to use it, and wisely? Should we, heaven forfend (I am deeply, deeply disgusted by this idea), test people for their readiness to exercise this, most sacred and profound, of our rights to expression? Is there a biological switch that gets flipped at the exact moment, 18 years later, that turns on your voting mechanism? Maybe we should introduce a system that means that we are ruled by the decisions of the very intelligent? Paradoxically I would not advocate changing the voting age. Full stop. There is no age by which every member of our society can be expected to understand their vote and use it well. None. There are plenty of 14 year olds who are far more clued up on politics than people in their 50s. Lowering the voting age is a bizarre idea which doesn’t solve any perceivable problem, raising it the same. Either we reconsider every single situation where we use someone’s age to verify their readiness for something, (drinking alcohol, having consensual sex, donating blood) or we leave things as they are. So we are left with a situation where the status quo seems to be the only real answer. We can’t find a fair or better solution, let’s just leave it and see what happens. Which is interesting in itself, doubtless this problem has occurred to decision makers in the past, perhaps they went through exactly the same though process we did too?
And now for a funny cartoon to finish us off, this was not made by me.