Thoughts after the Austrian election result

A generation from now, maybe two, we will look back and see the 2010s as the beginning of mainstream politics’ death.

Mainstream politics is dying. And it isn’t going to be a slow, drawn out death, a gradually-developing tumour that corrupts the base of establishment politics and brings it down cell by cell over decades or centuries. It will be a quick death. In fact, it may well be a car crash.

Across the Western world, voters are beginning to reject the establishment and the mainstream politics it has for so long endorsed. Whether we look at Austria, Spain, France, or even the bastion of status quo mainstream politics that is the USA, people are turning away from the same old same old that has dominated the West since the end of WWII.

And it is precisely that timeframe which should make us worried.

Whilst the rejection of establishment politics is beneficial to those further to both the left and right than the mainstream, it seems to me as if the far right is doing more than the left to capture the minds of the – to use a surprisingly establishment piece of political jargon – “disenfranchised”. We need look no further than UKIP’s rapid rise in this country for proof of this.

Unfortunately, the current far right tactic of scaremongering and demonising is, for many, a lot easier to swallow and a lot more inspiring than the left’s idealistic promises and progressive policies. And it’s not hard to see why.

By scapegoating and demonising, promising crackdowns and offering dreams of the good old days when [insert country] was about being [insert nationality], and everybody shared [insert nationality] values, the right has conjured an associative nostalgia based on the basic notion that [insert country] was and would again be better off on its own, without any foreign influences or anyone from the outside or any namby-pampy loony-lefty utopianism.

I mean, come on, you remember those values, right?. Man, I love those values. Those were good times, weren’t they? With the values and the nationality and the pride we all had. Back then, in the Good Old Days, we didn’t have any foreigners invading Our land and nobody told Us how to run Our country. Don’t you miss those days?

Currently, the left’s alternative isn’t quite as catchy or as easily palatable. Suggesting radical new change taking us further away from the current establishment instead of harking back to the establishment we used to have is a bit more difficult to get on board with for many. While the right proposes going back to what we know and what we’ve done before, the left proposes a bold new frontier, a leap into the relative unknown. And convincing people to make that leap isn’t exactly easy, especially when they’ve been used to standing still for so long.

And yet, while people are perhaps not quite leaping yet, they are certainly starting to take a run at the chasm that has opened up before them. Nowhere is this more evident than the USA, where, despite the headlines of Trump’s bigotry, there have been monumental gains for Sanders. If the left can make such gains in a country where socialism is still something of a dirty word, then surely it is not long before the rest of the West embraces it. To what extent it does so remains to be seen. The right may be winning the race at the minute, but there’s plenty of time for the left to catch up.

There is no question, in my mind, that radical change is coming. What is yet to be decided is exactly what form this change will take. The battle for this change will probably be bloody and it will definitely be hard-fought. But if enough is done to promote a politics of new hope instead of one of fear, then we can raise a phoenix from the ashes of mainstream politics.

 

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Some thoughts on drug safety for Impact

Newcastle University has made kits for testing the safety of illegal drugs available to students for just £3.

The kits allow students to check the purity of drugs, with chemical reactions turning the kits different colours depending on the substances. The move is hoped to improve drug safety as part of a new Test Your Drugs, Not Yourself initiative. The university also scrapped its no tolerance policy on drug possession in accommodation last year. The kits are being sold in association with the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) organisation.

This strikes me as an incredibly sensible policy.

Humans have virtually always taken drugs, in one form or another, and we will almost certainly continue to do so until we die out. Despite the best efforts of western governments, drug use is still high – in fact, it’s rising. It is claimed that the War against Drugs, started by President Nixon in 1971, was motivated by a desire to criminalise blacks and hippies. Whether or not this is the case, the initiative is far outdated, having succeeded in little other than demonising, imprisoning and endangering drug users.

Of people aged 16-24, approximately 37.7% have taken illicit drugs. I am not ashamed to say that I am one of those people.

The criminalising tactics of current drug policy did not deter me from taking drugs, and they did not deter the millions of other people in this country alone who have done the same. Surely, as a nation, we have a responsibility to ensure that these people are safe. These kits certainly increase safety.

Despite advice from the World Health Organisation and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, as well as evidence from Portugal suggesting that reform of drug laws (including decriminalisation and attempts to reduce stigma towards addiction and drug use) is beneficial to all, the debate on drugs in this country is moving painfully slowly in comparison to a number of other countries such as Portugal, Switzerland, and even the USA.

When it has been repeatedly found that the majority of drugs are less harmful than alcohol, the most dangerous aspect of taking illegal drugs is largely not related to the drugs themselves – it is related to the impurities that exist within them. In a world where users can test for these impurities with kits instead of their bodies, drug use becomes a lot safer. Drug related hospitalisations and deaths, which have also recently risen, instead plummet.

Criminalisation and harsher penalties have done nothing to deter users, and the only sensible action is to allow users to take drugs more safely. These kits are certainly a step in the right direction, and something that I would urge other universities and local councils to look at.

Disappointingly, despite positive moves from police forces such as Durham’s, Nottingham’s newly re-elected Police and Crime Commissioner told me that he is “[n]ot in favour” of decriminalisation.

However, I struggle to see a downside to it – it would greatly reduce the £3bn a year currently spent on tackling illegal drugs, it reduces stigma towards people addicted to drugs who need and are often afraid to seek help, it increases safety for drug users leading to fewer deaths, and there is even evidence to suggest it reduces the amount of drug use in society.

Holly Mae Robinson, president of SSDP Newcastle, told ChronicleLive that the campaign was “about health and well-being” at its core. “We are not promoting drug use. It’s trying to avoid the harm of people that are going to use them. People are always going to use drugs and we just want to make it safer.”

I couldn’t agree more. Decriminalisation is a progressive, sensible, evidence-based and logical policy.

Drug use is no longer about politics. It is about saving lives. And the longer we wait to make changes, the more people we are letting down.

My thoughts on tattoos for Student Review

Tattoos – what’s all the fuss about?

In recent years, an increasing amount of people – especially young people – seem to be getting tattoos. Although tattoos aren’t exactly a new craze, they’ve certainly expanded their reach recently, and there are now multiple types available to fit whatever preference people may have.

And with this increased popularity has come the inevitable backlash that comes with any trend or fashion. “They make me uncomfortable,” say some. “They’re just ugly,” whine others. “Why would you do that to your body?” they gossip, disparagingly.

But really, who cares?

I mean, who cares if another person wants to change their body like that? Not me – it’s their body, not mine. Does it affect anybody else in any meaningful way? No. No it doesn’t. Instead of complaining about how “unprofessional” or “distasteful” tattoos supposedly are, we should be trying to change people’s attitudes towards them, so that they are not seen in such a way. Tattoos can be, and are, for many people, an effective and unique way of expressing themselves, or commemorating an important event in their life, or rebelling against uniformity, or just something pretty to look at and make their body more interesting, or-. The list could go on.

So what if that person has an unusual pattern up their arm? So what if that person has a colourful piece of art on their neck? Does it make them a worse person? Does it make them a less capable employee, or a more threatening presence to be around? Of course not. In fact, if you think having a tattoo makes someone a lesser person, then you yourself are the more dangerous presence: judging someone based on the tattoos they have is just the same, and indeed just as disgusting, as judging them on any other aspect of how they look.

I would hope that in today’s society we wouldn’t give people funny looks on the street because they were wearing a pair of atypical earrings, and we wouldn’t look down on someone for wearing an item of religious clothing. So why do so many people feel like they can do such things to people who have tattoos? It is not OK to do so, and if you do then, quite frankly, you should stop being so judgemental and learn to accept the fact that people look different to you, that they might like to express themselves in different ways to you, and that their character cannot be judged by how they look.

I haven’t got any tattoos myself, and I doubt I ever will – I prefer to express my feelings through other media. But I can at least accept the fact that for a growing number of people, they are the preferred mode of self-expression and a vital way in which many people choose to edit their appearance. And who cares if they’ll “look stupid” when we’re all old and wrinkly? So will that haircut you had when you were 13, and those clothes you wore back in the noughties. But nobody’s going to condemn or stigmatise you for those, so why would we do the same with tattoos?

My thoughts on love at first sight for Student Review

Love at first sight? No thanks

Whether you believe in it or not, surely we’ll both be able to agree that “Love at first sight” is a disgusting concept.

The idea that, with just one look, one fleeting glimpse of another person, you can “know” that you are “in love” with them, is at the very least shallow and prejudiced. And yet, it’s an idea that is idealised and romanticised by millions of individuals and hundreds of films, books, and TV shows.

Now obviously the idea of love at first sight is an objective one and so I couldn’t possibly say with full certainty that it doesn’t exist, but personally I’d like to think it doesn’t.

The idea of love is a complex one, to begin with. It’s not really quantifiable, and it’s constantly portrayed as being specific to the individual – one of those things where “you just know” if you’re feeling it or not. And this very notion contributes somewhat to my sceptics: can we even really say that love is a real thing? It’s certainly not tangible, and there’s no set definition or set of symptoms (despite what some magazines may try and tell you).

Now, the same can be said of most emotions – can any of us, for example, really quantify sadness? Indeed, most of us would define it differently, and we’d list different symptoms of it, or different ways in which it could arise. But the idea of love is different. It’s been apotheosised to a ridiculous point, and, as a society, we’ve undoubtedly fallen in love with the idea of falling in love.

From a young age, we’re bombarded with the social constructions of love – that it’s supposedly significant and important. Naturally, we can’t feel love at this age, so we have others’ ideals of it thrust upon us; before we even get to experience it ourselves, we have romanticised ideas of it in our heads – it’s our be all and end all, our Holy Grail, our ultimate life goal. We’re told that if we don’t have someone to fall in love with then our life is a waste, a vast expanse of sadness and a whole load of loneliness. We’re told to pity those who don’t have someone to love.

And this has led to the ludicrous idea of love at first sight.

People are so desperate and so anxious to fall in love, that they create it within themselves. They feel so much pressure to find that one person, that “Mr or Mrs. Right”, that they fool themselves into thinking that they’ve managed to find it in just an instant – isn’t that special! Isn’t that just magnificent and romantic and heartwarming and-. No. No, it’s not. It’s disgusting and disturbing and a whole crock of sh**e. Sorry to burst that bubble, but it is.

Instead of holding up the idea of love at first sight as a beautiful and tender one, we should be rejecting it as a farcical and judgemental one. There’s simply nothing romantic about it all. I mean, you wouldn’t say that you loved a film after watching the trailer. You wouldn’t profess your love for a book after checking out its front cover. So why would you confess your love for someone after just a momentary glance?

My take on the Ferguson events from a while ago

White Police Officer Shoots Unarmed Black Teenager; Becomes Millionaire

Chances are you’re aware that Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot dead by white police officer Darren Wilson in the US town of Ferguson, Missouri in August last year. However, chances are, you’re not as angry about it as you should be.

Well, get angry. Eye witnesses generally report that Brown had his hands raised at the time of the shooting, and it has been confirmed that Brown was shot seven or eight times by Wilson, who fired a total of twelve shots in the overall altercation, which took place over a time period of under 90 seconds.

In other words, a police officer with a gun, a car, and backup on the way attacks an unarmed civilian. Then attacks him again. Pretty much all because said civilian wouldn’t move from the road to the pavement. You angry yet?

Brown was alleged to have stolen a box of cigars from a local shop, after which police were alerted of his suspected theft. However, footage released recently now appears to show that Brown actually paid for the cigars, granting even less credence to the initial behaviour of Wilson. And if you ask me, even if Brown had stolen some cigars, that doesn’t exactly warrant the shooting of someone. And I know I haven’t waded through all the evidence or heard all the accounts (in fact I barely feel qualified to write this piece, given the plethora of information and views on this case), but why not try, maybe, asking the person to calm down, or waiting for your backup to arrive, or, if you really need to, getting out of your car and attempting to handcuff the suspect.

Indeed, stealing a box of cigars hardly seems a crime that one should pay the ultimate price for, in any case – try something more like $48. And given the fact that the US is the only developed country in the Western world where it’s deemed acceptable to kill someone for committing a crime at all, it seems a little blasé of a police officer to contribute to such an unmistakable, unequivocal atrocity as robbing a young black teenager of his life.

Furthermore, even in the US, there are many cases of far worse criminals being taken in alive. Take Jeffrey Dahmer, for instance, a white serial killer who murdered 17 people, beheading many of them, and eating the body parts of others. He fought to resist arrest, but was not harmed, and was taken in alive. Rightfully so. Or take Gary Ridgeway, another white American serial killer, who admitted to murdering at least 71 victims over more than 16 years: again, taken in alive and sentenced accordingly. Rightfully so. Not exactly stealing a box of cigars.

Unfortunately, there are myriad other cases that show racial bias against minorities.

Trayvon Martin, for example, was another black teenager, shot dead by George Zimmerman, who was eventually acquitted of manslaughter, let alone murder.

Zimmerman first alerted the police to Martin’s presence in the area due to “suspicious behaviour”, with Zimmerman citing that Martin was “just walking around”. Ooh, suspicious. Despite the fact that Martin lived in the area.

Police told Zimmerman not to pursue Martin, but the black teenager was eventually shot from a distance of 70 yards away, after supposedly having a violent encounter with Zimmerman. Zimmerman was found not guilty due to the existence of self-defence and “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida, despite Martin being unarmed, 70 yards away, and initially entirely justified in his actions and position.

Or take the case of Eric Garner, another black man, this time killed by the use of a banned chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo.

Garner was wrestled to the floor by several officers despite backing away from them while asking the officers not to touch him, and being unarmed – video of the footage can be seen online.

Garner was alleged to have been illegally selling cigarettes, an accusation he refuted, telling police officers to “leave him alone” and stop “harassing” him. However, he was tackled to the floor, and Pantaleo’s headlock was eventually said to have been the cause of his death, with Pantaleo also holding Garner’s head to the pavement, despite four other officers also assisting in the arrest of the man and Garner telling officers “I can’t breathe” no less than nine – yes, nine – times.

A grand jury has since decided not to indict Pantaleo. Amazingly. Although I suppose these things should no longer amaze us, really, so dire has the situation become.

Or how about Tamir Rice, the 12 year old black boy shot twice in two seconds at a range of less than ten feet by police officer Timothy Loehmann for having a toy gun on his person in a local park, despite not pointing the toy at Loehmann, and being in a state which legally allows people to have firearms on their person in public. Loehmann had a history of poor firearm use, and had been identified as an emotionally unstable officer.

The examples are plentiful. At time of writing, since the murder of Michael Brown, there hasn’t been a single week in the USA when a police officer hasn’t killed a black person, and a recent reported estimated that security officers kill one black person every 28 hours in America. The most recent of these monstrosities involved “Africa”, a homeless man murdered by the LAPD. His execution can be seen on YouTube. This bullshit is widespread.

Stereotyping is bad enough on any level, but when it results in deaths, it is unacceptable. Especially when those deaths come from the police themselves. No ifs, no buts. Unacceptable.

Indeed, several eye witnesses in the Ferguson case state that Wilson started an altercation between himself and Brown through the window of his police car, reaching for Brown and grabbing his neck, and that Wilson pursued Brown even while he was trying to flee the scene, shooting at him and ultimately killing him. Justifiable? Never.

Never.

Never should someone employed to uphold the law and its justice flaunt it so fantastically. When police officers start committing crime – and getting away with it – it is time to realise that something is wrong in society. It is not even worth me describing the wrongdoings of Wilson or the issues with the whole shooting here: there are too many to know where to begin. It is suffice to say, though, that Wilson was both extremely incompetent and racially motivated in his actions. Not exactly qualities we like to see anywhere in society, let alone in the police, who are supposed to help protect society and keep it free from wrongs or prejudices or unfairness.

Whether police should even be armed is another debate entirely, but it certainly would have prevented several recent murders in the US.

Now, you might think that this is a problem confined to the US, and that police brutality doesn’t occur on this scale in good old Blighty, where our coppers are all right, hard-working people who do their best with a difficult job. And some of them are. But you still might like to think again on that one.

There have been multiple cases of police officers murdering civilians in the UK, perhaps most notably the case of Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian man who was misidentified as a terrorist and subsequently shot once in the shoulder and seven times in the head.

But, arguably, the crimes themselves aren’t even the worst part, especially in the case of the Ferguson shooting.

Worse has been the reaction to the event. Take unfair curfews, oppression and aggression towards protesters, victim blaming reports, corrupt trials and incorrect information being given to juries. And, worst of all, take the treatment of Darren Wilson.

Instead of being arrested or held in custody or put in jail, Wilson was given leave from his job. Paid leave. Allowing him to earn money provided by the state for shooting an unarmed teenager. I’ll repeat that. Darren Wilson shot a man, was then given “administrative leave” from his position due to these circumstances, and was subsequently paid by the taxpayer for this. Because he was a police officer. Angry yet?

Since then, Wilson has racked up an even larger pile of cash. Support groups for Wilson (yes, these exist) have raised in excess of half a million dollars for the poor, poor, blameless officer. And Wilson has since given interviews to American television channels – he’s almost a celebrity! Undoubtedly he’ll have received huge fees for his interviews, likely firmly camped in six-figures, with the fee for his ABC interview allegedly totalling $500 000. Wilson may thus even be a millionaire.

Wilson has since resigned from the police force. He will probably never have to work another day in his life. Because he shot an unarmed teenager. Wilson says his resignation is due to threats that his police department has received, and that he is “not willing to let someone else get hurt because of me.” Ironic doesn’t even begin to cover that, does it? I won’t bother asking if you’re angry yet.

And what can we do about it, I hear you ask? Well, protesting, petitions and political pressure are certainly a start. But if we really want to get rid of police brutality or racially motivated attacks or corrupt investigations or any of the rest of it, we need something akin to a revolution.

Monoamorous Relationships – a piece for Impact

Are monoamorous relationships natural?

Well, who cares? No, really. Why should we care any more what is deemed to be “natural” in humans? In the majority of cases, those things are no longer relevant in contemporary society, given how far humans have progressed from their “natural” state. For example, it’s “natural” for us to squat when we go to the toilet, but virtually nobody does that any more. In contrast, there’s nothing natural about using your mobile phone. So who cares if monoamorous relationships are natural? If you want one, that’s great. If you don’t want one, try and find someone who is accepting of that to be in a relationship with. But don’t use nature as an excuse for your actions.

“True” Fans – my Room 101 for Impact magazine

Recently, a lot of people seem to have developed a sense of elitism around their interests. It’s as if they’re part of some mystical, un-written but all-known competition to be the “truest” fan of whatever they happen to be interested in.

You know what I’m talking about: oh, so you like this band that I also like? Name all their members.

Fan of a TV show? That’s cool, but do you know the name of the executive producer’s second spouse and which episode they had a cameo role as the main character’s fleeting love interest turned international spy in? Thought not. I do.

Love Starry Night by Van Gogh? Well you’re not allowed to – unless you know which particular starry night he painted it on, and which stars are in the painting, and the name of at least 28 more Van Gogh paintings. Sorry, I don’t make the rules of the competition, that’s just how it is. Guess you’re not a true fan of his. Like me.

Well sorry, but you’re allowed to like something without knowing anything about it, or its background, or its creator…

Love Smells Like Teen Spirit but never listened to another Nirvana song? That’s totally fine. Who cares. Your liking of that song is made no less legitimate by the fact that you aren’t familiar with their back catalogue.

If you do happen to know loads about an artist or author or whatever it happens to be, then great! That’s cool. I’m happy for you to tell me more about it; enlighten me and educate me and interest me. But don’t make me feel inferior just because I have slightly different tastes to you.

And this type of thing seems to be especially prevalent amongst people who like “high” or “obscure” or “under-appreciated” areas.

So what if you’ve read all of Chaucer and can analyse the aspects of realism and relativism in The Canterbury Tales? My favourite book’s Winnie the Pooh but I’m still a fan of great literature.

So what if you’ve read the book? I’ve only seen the film. And guess what, I thought it was great in its own right.

It’s great that you’ve read Chaucer or you’ve listened to all their albums or you’ve considered the meaning of the art. Nice one, I’m pleased for you, I hope it was a great experience. But maybe I just want to appreciate it because it looks nice, or maybe I read five pages and hated it. Don’t try to tell me you’re better than me because of your particular interest.

I bet I could wipe the floor with you in a quiz on The Lion King. And even though it’s your favourite film, I’m not gunna look down on you because you didn’t know that Rafiki means friend in Swahili. That’s cool because it’s my favourite film too. Don’t you just love Timone and Pumba? Oh yeah, me too. And the part where they- so funny!