Olivier Memorial Peace Lecture 2011 by Paul Rogers

An extract from our newsletter;

The first Olivier Memorial Peace Lecture

 Friday 7 October was the date of the first Olivier Memorial Peace Lecture, an annual event established in memory of our Friends Alfred and Mary Olivier; their son, David Olivier, was welcomed by the Chair. Professor Paul Rogers, an internationally recognised specialist in matters of peace and conflict resolution, and an old friend of our Clerk, addressed an audience of some fifty Friends and others in Oscars at the Ludlow Assembly Rooms. His subject: ‘Peace – what can I do about it?’

Professor Rogers holds a chair at the Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, and – although, as he said, he is neither a Quaker nor even a theist – he began by paying tribute to the Quaker initiative in setting up that department, and the work of the Quaker Peace Studies Trust which funded and supports it.

His talk moved from world-wide perspectives down to personal levels of action. He pointed out that despite on-going current conflicts, the world is a more peaceful place than ten years ago. However, the global economy is not delivering economic justice: one fifth of the world’s population is getting richer, four fifths poorer; 85% of household wealth is owned by 10%. Better education and communications are making the underprivileged majority increasingly aware of their marginalisation, so that we can expect a ‘revolution of frustrated expectations’ over the next twenty years. The situation will be made worse by environmental constraints such as resource depletion, or climate change: the latter will vary considerably – while global warming may average 3o, Amazonia may experience 12o. And official attitudes to these issues are dominated by a mind-set he called ‘Liddism’, which instead of pushing effective solutions to root causes seeks to maintain the status quo by addressing symptoms and keeping the lid on things, in the narrow interests of national security. The military forces of the big nations are being adapted to conflict methods which raise the drawbridge and close the national castle gates: but 9/11 showed the futility of this. And Professor Rogers roundly rejected the concept of ‘war on terror’ – this Liddism dignified the hi-jackers as adversaries rather than treating them correctly as simple transnational criminals.

The effective solutions to these big problems have been well known since 1945: fair trade, debt relief, development assistance including gender balance, and radical steps to achieve low-carbon economies. But how can we achieve these goals and changes? The first step is awareness of the issues, of their danger and their connectedness.  Secondly, collective action – individuals by themselves can do relatively little, but many together can achieve a lot, especially if tasks are divided up and energy is concentrated on a single focus. Public campaigning can pre-empt crises and help prevent change becoming violent, by setting out alternatives before the crisis hits. We can all do these things. And to the sceptics Professor Rogers proclaimed an optimism that the world’s problems can be turned around – this is a significant time to be alive, change must, but also can, come about; and his grandchildren, to whom he is very attached, do have the chance of a good life into the twenty-second century.

The second half of the evening turned into an extended question-and-answer session, with the speaker engaging seriously and at length with issues raised from the floor: population and consumption, longevity and consumerism, nuclear and alternative energy, capitalism and alternative systems (the free-market economy is fundamentally flawed), American neo-conservatism, the centrality and the difficulties of the Israel-Palestine conflict, social and economic equality, and evidence for his optimism – here the small British political parties give some grounds for hope, and nations such as Germany and Scotland are providing leadership …

Altogether an outstanding speaker, superbly well informed and with a captivatingly unassuming manner; an absorbing and energising evening; and a wonderful start to the Olivier Lecture series.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Roger B.