Archive for the ‘Uncategorised’ Category

I’m often told how I should be appreciative of my freedoms and liberties, my forefathers supposedly fought for a world where we could live in relative harmony and peaceful coexistence regardless of our thoughts and opinions. And in some respects, I am. I recognise that the privileges I possess aren’t necessarily afforded to a large section of the population. The Banned Books Festival – that was held in many libraries a couple of weeks ago – should be a celebration of that, it was good chance for most us of ‘Millenialls’ to reflect towards a time when freedom of expression was simply just a dream. But what happens, when the cherished values of liberty and tolerance are under siege without you even knowing it? What happens when our freedoms are being stealthily eroded because of “convenience” and luxuries? This is a future that I’m beginning to envisage and I’m not sure whether I should feel scared, helpless or both.

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Are there any recently published novels which could be banned in the near future?

I’ve spoken many times about the lack of freedom of speech and the relationship between liberty, extremist politics and political correctness. But I feel as if this problem is expanding beyond people like Trump and issues like Brexit. This is not just about “having enough of the experts” or “fake news”, its about destroying the creative space that helps to heal divisions and build compromises. Instead, we are entering a digital world, where information is not delivered, but shoved in your face with a ferocity that doesn’t allow the mind to rest, reflect or rationalise. The public’s reactions have always been the supreme force in a political sphere, but it seems that our social institutions are now more concerned with gathering the mood of that nation as opposed to the genuine needs of it. Social media has a large part to play for this, but I feel as if we need to take responsibility as a society for this dangerous path. Difficult questions are often asked of us and we have failed to restrain ourselves from choosing the simple answer.

Interestingly, this pattern is not new. Authors, writers and poets have possessed the same fears as we do now, only 50 years ago. As part of National Libraries Week, I feel it is only fair that we touch upon some of the authors have provoked and inspired us, despite writing in such dangerous conditions.

One novelist – Ray Bradbury, highlighted themes of paranoia and freedom in his book: Fahrenheit 451. It wasn’t perceived as a ground breaking piece of creative writing at the same time, although it has now been revered as an important piece of prophetic fiction. It was not radical in what it proposed, but extreme in the vision that it had outlined. Bradbury created a world where the reading and possession of fictional books were forbidden throughout America. Only technical and statistical books were allowed to be read, and even then there were special restrictions. The book has been coined for envisioning a world where books were banned, but I perceive it as a novel demonstrating the end of ‘humanities’ and the censorship of creative writing itself.

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This novel was published during a tumultuous time for American geopolitics, the Cold War was at its peak and both Soviet and Anglo-American forces were consistently demonstrating their military might, either through the testing of Nuclear Weapons as the US did in Nevada 1953, or when China shelled Taiwan just a year later. A sense of fear and panic had infected the American people and this contributed to a fundamental altering of American society. Because of the paranoia during daily life, American institutions protected themselves against ideologies that were deemed to be sympathetic to the ‘communist cause’ or principles that undermined American solidarity. A common method was for educational bodies to censor material that was classed as harmful, the State of Georgia created its first literature censorship board in early 1953. It proved to be a very active and busy commission – (despite lacking a clear definition of was defined as ‘obscene’) given that it by April 1960, distributors had agreed to pull more than 119 publications from sale to avoid such actions or lawsuits from the commission.

Although it is clear that it must have been very challenging and proactive for Bradbury to publish such a controversial book during this period, what really interested me were the different coping mechanisms that American citizens used to deal with the paranoia and narrowing of american culture. This is most evident during an airing in 1953 of the once popular sitcom I Love Lucy, which garned a viewership of 71%, higher than the 67% of President Eisenhower’s inauguration which was televised the following day. Of course it must remembered this is during an era where there was no Internet, Cable TV, video games or smartphones; to attract such a percentage may have been unprecedented but it wouldn’t be an absolute shock given the limited means for entertainment. However, the fact that it surpassed the inauguration of the higher position in political office is a surprise. Perhaps one could argue that the escapism and distraction that a popular sitcom could offer is seen by many as being more worthy than engaging in political affairs, no matter if the event is actually there to build national solidarity. Bradbury touches upon these new cultural processes – as I will discuss later -, but it is worth mentioning that these cultural changes are not to dissimilar to the way that celebrity culture of the 21st century has replaced the concern and awareness of present day domestic civil affairs.

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How have sitcoms managed to maintain their positions on Prime Time TV?

Most dystopian novels today resort to an Orwellian conception of society, where the government has a firm and rigid control over all institutions and enforces this hold on society through a methodology of fear and punishment. Fahrenheit 451 represents an earlier trend for sci-fi authors to represent a totalitarian system that is enforced by the people themselves as opposed to the government directly. Huxley was a chief architect of this idea, which was expressed in his novel Brave New World (another a banned book). These sort of books conceive of a notion where pleasure can be used as a form of tyranny, especially when human emotions can constrain people to think or act in a particular way.

One particular excerpt highlights this theme when a character (Beatty) explains the reason for the prohibition of books and the purpose this serves for the human spirit.

Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well?read man? Me?

The ‘book’ is conceived as a weapon that only emphasizes the divisive elements of human nature; arguably people are naturally paranoid towards each other as part of the tribal element of ourselves. So although this ‘Race towards the top’, that is so often spoken about today – is considered to be a natural contributor towards societal inequality, Beatty claims this can be reversed if can just remove the objects and resources that encourage the competition between ourselves. Although the character argues that is a progressive measure because it creates a sense of unity and solidarity, it is ultimately regressive because it is creates a nation of people that are ignorant to their true reality. Judgment is an essential part of human evolution and innovation, although it is often used in an unfairly discriminatory fashion, it can protect us from making fundamentally bad decisions either as an individual or as a society. It is the reason why we have elections, why football clubs buy and sell certain players or why listen to different genres of music. These choices help to establish any sense of democracy that exists in the world, but by choosing to ban books or libraries as method of censoring judgment, we simply eliminate our freedom.

Currently, social media and the internet provides us with a dopamine-esque hit to keep us satisfied with our current lives, but in Fahrenheit 451 an important use is made of the Household TV parlour and the influence it plays on keeping the characters occupied and distracted.

Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave. They just might stop us from making the same damn insane mistakes! I don’t hear those idiot bastards in your parlour talking about it.

God, Millie, don’t you see? An hour a day, two hours, with these books, and maybe…”

The telephone rang. Mildred snatched the phone.

“Ann!” She laughed. “Yes, the White Clown’s on tonight!”

Considering how important the ‘sitcom’ was as a staple of American entertainment during Ray Bradbury’s age, its quite radical for him to make such a mockery of the system itself. But the satire does have some interesting comparisons about our culture today. People do have the tendency to seclude themselves on the internet as a sort of bubble to protect themselves from the harsh realities of the world. But increasingly, we are witnessing stagnating levels of literacy in children and their overall intellect because of the dependency on technology to facilitate our mental process;

The converter attachment, which had cost them one hundred dollars, automatically supplied her name whenever the announcer addressed his anonymous audience, leaving a blank where the proper syllables could be filled in.

A special spot? wavex? scrambler also caused his televised image, in the area immediately about his lips, to mouth the vowels and consonants beautifully.

The way in which the Fahrenheit 451’s TV parlour integrates personal identity with entertainment, is eerily reminiscent of how Facebook, Google and other social media companies utilise information to personalise advertisement as well as to push and pull certain political/social material that is deemed inappropriate for particular audiences. The TV Parlour’s advanced grasp of phonetics and linguistics is also prophetic in the way in which technology now operates as a teacher and guide to support children in their comprehension of literacy further reinforcing our reliance on technology.

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An image from the 1966 movie adaptation of Fahrenheit 451 (Depicting the Tv Parlour). Has anything really changed?

The novel also emphasises that the idiocy of society operates so well because it provides an opportunity for citizens to feel as if they are intelligent.

Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non? combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely `brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a
sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy..

Objective information for these citizens is manner of security, the process of problem solving as well as creating innovative solutions is dangerous to these people because it encourages their minds to wander in unknown waters. The methodology of challenging oneself to think critically and to place yourself to think ‘out of the box’ threatens their sense of identity; subjects like philosophy and sociology are greatly concerned with the fluid nature of ethics, principles and values. If these issues are not a concrete element of a persons life it could provide a fleeting nature to their moral code. In some respects this corresponds to a modern day perspective which asserts that liberalism is too open, thus allowing extremist ideas to be tolerated. It’s easy to imagine a world where the fear of liberalism can exacerbate in to a full-scale authoritarian attitude to culture and recreational activities.

The entire novel isn’t just doom and gloom, it does highlight some interesting ways in which we perceive books and the lessons that could be offered for the future. A character in the novel stresses the subtle importance of reading that people could easily

“The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”

This shows that reading a book in and of itself is not the answer to a more intelligent society. It is the patterns, arguments and languages that formulate the beauty of a book. Knowledge can be gained anywhere in any format, but books force people to develop a level of patience to understand the meaning behind the words and the way in which they are organised. To simply believe that novels could themselves could raise the intellect of a nation is to reinforce the myth that facts are essential to the educational upbringing of any child. It reminds me of how people often claim that learning History is only about remembering the dates and times of when important people behaved in important events, but this ignores the “why” of how certain situations arise and the different patterns that could affect the probability of these events occurring. The emphasis on memory in school exams if often used as a criticism of the current UK national curriculum, and it is interesting to see a similar concern voiced in a novel from 70 years ago.

In one section of the novel, a character attempts to get around the prohibition of books by reading a novel and attempting remember all the chapters inside of it, instead of withholding the book permanently in one’s possession. This is not simply about preserving the knowledge within the book but about developing a sense of personal responsibility.

Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.’ Most of us can’t rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that
many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.

As the quote implies, one can not simply rest on an assumption that your information will be given to you in a fair and accurate manner. Bradbury was commenting on his own period, but he inadvertently prophesied a future era where we would also need to be responsible for ourselves. During the 1950s Print Media operated in fast and hectic urbanized environments, nothing much has changed in comparison today’s society. The rush for information has led to journalists and news agencies providing simplistic information that is often vulnerable to manipulation and propaganda, the rise of social media has only increased the likelihood for this to happen. Therefore one must take it upon themselves to research for their own knowledge and understanding and not to simply rely upon other people. Although, people have other responsibilities and it may be difficult to achieve a higher level of understanding that we often expect of ourselves, we should at least make the attempt. If we fail, than perhaps another person could adopt a similar approach but in an improved way, which at least will not leave our actions in vain.

It might be clear now to understand how Bradbury’s novel was deemed radical enough to be banned in some literary educational circles in the United States; it advocates a culture that can think independently and critically. It also protests against the superficial nature of digital entertainment that so often distracts us from the truth. I think it’s also important to touch upon a running theme throughout the book which is the decline of intellectualism and the erosion of academia. It is often said that a key symptom of the totalitarian system is the censure and removal of intellectual discussion and debate, this was witnessed during the Nazi era and the Chinese Revolution of 1949, with the closing of universities, banning of books and the execution of intellectuals. Fahrenheit 451 alludes to a similar sort of action

” The old man admitted to being a retired English professor who had been thrown out upon the world forty years ago when the last liberal arts college shut for lack of students and patronage.”

But what I found particularly interesting was that towards the end of the novel, the government issues a televised program to seize a suspected (but not convicted) criminal.

“Police suggest entire population in the Elm Terrace area do as follows: Everyone in every house in every street open a front or rear door or look from the windows. The fugitive cannot escape if everyone in the next minute looks from his house. Ready! “

It is often said that the first step of a totalitarian state is the use of paramilitary forces or to encourage the public to engage activities that would often be reserved for law enforcement agencies. Despite the claims by many that we live in a fascistic society, the missing elements are those paramilitary forces that wreaked so much havoc in the early twentieth century, however it could be argued we are indeed moving in that direction. There has been resurgence of militant far-right and far-left groups that occasionally clashed during protest marches and demonstrations but dangerously, we have seen them congregate online and harass members on social media for displaying opinions contrary to their own. They operate with a sort of mob mentality by barraging online users with death threats and comments to incite violence. Twitter, Facebook and Google have implemented measures to clamp down on hate speech, but this has only endangered free speech and forced those hate groups to operate unnoticed in darker parts of the web. It is well known, that governments across the world use a divide-and-conquer approach to weaken the unity and solidarity of the people, so it would not be a surprise if the government were to take a lackadaisical approach to these extremist groups in order for them to flourish and cause discontent within society. The quote above from the book might seem like a far-fetched future reality but it captures the way in which a government can mobilize its citizens for unsavory purposes.

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Different era, same mob?

If Libraries week and Banned book Week is to commemorate the material that challenges us, develops us and creates us, then Fahrenheit 451 is a good example of a book that can be provocative yet educational. During one of my recent university seminars, we discussed the Italian Renaissance and it’s impact upon society, it revitalized the cultural world of the Italian city states by discussing and teaching the importance of the classical ideas from the Roman and Greek Era. I feel that if we are to protect the intellectual world of the Anglo-sphere we need not to glorify our past – as the populists often tempt us towards – but to remember, cherish and protect the freedoms we currently possess, as our ancestors did not have the luck or entitlement to operate in such radical circles.

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This is another installment in my poetry series Glitzy (Glitchy) Paradise. My attempt to delve in to science fiction, radical politics and history.

Some stories need to be told.
I’m not saying this has to be an ode…but you need to recognise the path we are on.

We were miles away, deep in to something bleak and unforsaken.

Such strides have been made, objectives surpassed, promises fulfilled.
We must be close now, surely?

I have nothing beautiful to offer.
But, my honesty and truth? It will have to suffice.

When we get there, if we get there.
You’ll understand how worthy this will be.

I’ve made too many sacrifices in the name of my own delusions.

But the world we’re approaching, it will give us our honour, integrity and purpose.

We can reclaim what is owed to us only if we have the courage to seize it.

For opportune moments are only grasped by the righteous.

But wait, hah! I’m getting ahead of myself. Woe betide, we will self-destruct if we follow these traits.

We have belittled ourselves for too long. Believed in a transformation that arises only out of luck and leisure.

But this path that we stride on, relies not on hopeless devotion or desperate pleas.

For when we arrive on that evergreen hill and the gateway beckons us in, we will be released from this world of resentment and recklessness.

From a world that prizes it’s destruction as something pure and organic.

“Here he goes again”, they say, “chasing falsehoods and foolish dreams”.

But I did not squirm my way through the Lancastrian workhouses to tell you this. Nor did I swim through the murky Celtic seas to face your scorn.

For when my journey is finished, we may not have our truth.

An alternative will be offered, with a chance to return to our youth.

We’ve all seen our reflection, but none of us know what we look like.

Could we right our wrongs and restart our failed chapters?

Or will my path end like all the others, in a dark but final rapture.

The Catcher in the Rye & Ginger and Rosa

Ginger and Rosa & Catcher in the Rye

Following on from my previous post on existentialism, I’ve been interested in the concept of paranoia and have been questioning our individual purpose and sense of duty in society. Something which has attracted me in particular is a rising notion of fear amongst our youth, this can manifest in many different ways. It could be a fear of a political leader – or the system that encompasses it – , a more precise sort of fear like a phobia, a wide-ranging fear like depression and anxiety or a fleeting but powerful fear that can be easily triggered by our environment such as the fear of loneliness in our social media age. This is not an exhaustive list of fears that exist but it covers the fears I have either witnessed or encountered at some point during my working, academic and personal life.

I believe that many of these fears have been stimulated by a renowned sense of political duty amongst our youth. This can be interpreted as a sort reawakening of social purpose and responsibility, something which is not unprecedented if we look at rebellious nature of the 60s and 70s but can be relatively startling to “babyboomers”, people in their 40s and 50s or those who are more withdrawn to political protest and debate. It is admirable that important subjects are now on the front-line of policy-making decisions and that controversial topics like the extension of LGBT rights, freedom of speech and immigration are now firmly on the political agenda. These debates may not always be articulated diplomatically or even fairly, but we should appreciate the courage it has taken to bring these difficult topics to the surface. My concern, is that we are possibly burdening our youngsters with such challenging topics about the world, to the point in which they end up questioning their position in society and thus begin to undermine their influence on the world. I imagine this in a scenario where a person encounters a interesting subject, is fascinated by it, attempts to challenge the injustices surrounding the subject, experiences failure in their quest for justice and then begins to feel a sense of eternal frustration at not being able to change the world but still with an ever growing desire to make a positive influence on the world around them. I do not believe that we should isolate our children an teenagers from the harsh realities of the world as I believe that an exposure to political debate helps to develop a sense of individualism and creative thinking – characteristics that are so easily lost in this regimented world. However, I do believe we run the risk of our youth feeling like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, this is especially important with the rapid development of social media and the constant bombardment of sensationalism and fake news. When you consider how social media technologies are designed to echo the sort of news and information that one responds passionately to, its easy to understand how one can be surrounded with negativity and confusion, given the tendency for new agencies to exaggerate and promote stories of division and chaos. This whole process thus generates a sense of paranoia and insecurity, feelings that could be particularly harmful for those who are still dealing with the psychological pressures of adolescence and puberty.

Ginger and Rosa[Film] – Politics, Paranoia and Puberty

The Movie Ginger and Rosa, captures this conflict between personal turmoil and political division very neatly. Although, set before the digital age, it tells a contemporary story set in 1960s London about the psychological effects of the Cold War on children.

The synopsis is as follows

London, 1962. Two teenage girls – GINGER & ROSA – are inseparable. They skip school together, talk about love, religion and politics and dream of lives bigger than their mothers’ domesticity. But the growing threat of nuclear war casts a shadow over their lives. Ginger is drawn to poetry and protest, while Rosa shows Ginger how to smoke cigarettes, kiss boys and pray. Both rebel against their mothers: Rosa’s single mum, Anoushka , and Ginger’s frustrated painter mother, Natalie . Meanwhile, Ginger’s pacifist father, Roland seems a romantic, bohemian figure to the girls. He encourages Ginger’s ‘Ban-the-Bomb’ activism, while Rosa starts to take a very different interest in him. As Ginger’s parents fight and fall apart, Ginger finds emotional sanctuary with a gay couple, both named Mark, and their American friend, the poet Bella . Finally, as the Cuban Missile Crisis escalates – and it seems the world itself may come to an end – the lifelong friendship of the two girls is shattered. Ginger clutches at one hope; if she can help save the world from extinction, perhaps she too will survive this moment of personal devastation.

While it is easy to acknowledge the exceptionalism of Ginger’s story, I feel it reveals some of the common depths to which mental illness can bury itself. Ginger’s devotion to “Ban-The-Bomb” is seen as admirable to many of her adult figures, although as her relationship to her friend Rosa and her parents begin to breakdown, she decides to seeks salvation in political protest and rebellion. Instead of the maternal/paternal protection that should be offered to her, Ginger finds surrogacy in the noble but unstable political mob. It is no wonder that Ginger descends in to a state of anxiety, as she cries out ‘that the world is going to end, but no one seems to care’. Ginger’s paranoia about the world ending is just a subconscious metaphor for the derailment of her own personal life. The political world that Ginger is exposed too, begins as a useful distraction from her problematic private world, but it soon transforms in to a dangerous occupation of Ginger’s mind as she fails not only to rescue what little sense of family she has, but she fails to recognize the lack of influence that the movement of nuclear disarmament is achieving.

How can we stop politicians and ‘politics’ exploiting our youth?

Ginger’s mental breakdown can thus be attributed largely to the hostile environment in which she resides. Although her mental illness is not chronic we can use our 21st century scientific perspectives to recognize that she is suffering from a form of Anxiety. But its important to understand that during the 1960s, the public perceptions around mental illnesses were considerably misunderstood.

Many people considered mental illnesses to be a mainly ‘private’ matter and that it was down to the local community to provide their own sort of treatment (religious groups and the wider Christian infrastructure within each community offered their own methods with varying (and unreliable) degrees of success . This dis-institutionalized system of mental health care in Britain often meant that the public at large were simply not aware of people with mental illness. Diagnosis from medical professionals was a rarity and so recognition and support from the public was all but non-existent. Due to the popular demand for extended human rights in the 1960s, hospitalization of mental health patients was hailed as a progressive moral necessity. But in the 1970s, the stories of ill treatment towards mentally ill patients illustrated the ignorance and incompetence that doctors and medical practitioners had held about the field of mental health. Therefore, the failure of many of the adults in the movie to recognize the deterioration in Ginger’s mental state is somewhat part of a larger societal problem about the perception of mental health.

The Catcher in the Rye[novel] – Emotional Repression & Fighting Societal Oppression

The Catcher in the Rye also displays themes of societal rebelliousness and paranoia but in a much more overt way. The story operates as a coming of age novel, but also acts as a cautionary tale in regards to adolescence and isolation. The summary of the novel is as follows

Holden Caulfield is a seventeen- year-old dropout who has just been kicked out of his fourth school. Navigating his way through the challenges of growing up, Holden dissects the ‘phony’ aspects of society, and the ‘phonies’ themselves: the headmaster whose affability depends on the wealth of the parents, his roommate who scores with girls using sickly-sweet affection.

Set largely during 1950s New York and Pennsylvania, the story is driven from a first person perspective that attempts to portray the protagonist having an adventure but without the journey that often comes with it. Holden does experience something of a spiritual exploration in which he understands the freedom and the strength of his own individual will, but he soon recognizes that ‘phoniness’ around him is too deeply ingrained in the institutions and people that he engages with; including his friends and family and with strangers on the street.

Is Holden’s cynicism evocative of our youth today?

Holden is not an activist in the strictest sense, but he spends much of the novel on a mission to probe and challenge the ‘defective’ norms in society, his struggles and failures do not arise from a fierce institutionalized resistance that Ginger encounters when she marches for ‘Nuclear Disarmament’, but from a repressed trauma during Holden’s childhood. The death of his little brother and his inability to grieve for him makes Holden deeply sympathetic for the weak and vulnerable in society (mainly children) and thus Holden’s desire to question the entrenched values in his world is part of a subconscious (and somewhat existential) attempt to create a better world for the generation that will follow him. Holden’s ‘activism’, whilst direct and purposeful, slowly begins to eat away at his psyche because of his unresolved inner turmoil.

Holden is very much a product of a conservative, prosperous and rising upper middle class in post-war America, but like the 1960s of Ginger and Rosa, Holden suffers from being in a world that does not properly understand what it means to be mentally ill. Towards the end of World War 2, America was overwhelmed with the amount of soldiers with varying degrees of mental health problems, this required a greater deal of investment and legislation towards treatment. The 1946 Mental Health Act was first real law to address mental health But the methods of treatment still contained the ignorance and misunderstanding of previous decades, as lobotomies and electric shock therapies were still considered to be legitimate ways of tackling mental health problems. Nevertheless, Catcher in the Rye makes a poignant statement about the symptoms of suppressed trauma and how ‘teenagehood’ can offer a path of exploration, but exploration with a sense of isolation and alienation can lead to devastating effects for ones own psyche.

What about the youth of today?

Although Catcher in the Rye and Ginger & Rosa are both ‘historical stories’, they are not trapped within their time. They provide a subtle understanding as to how the positive intentions of trying to make the world can often be too much for a young generation that is coupled with their own difficult personal affairs. Political and social activism can often be too much to bear for some people even though their heart may be in the right place. The lack of investment in regards to the mental health of our citizens is deemed as a national crisis and we are often told how roughly one in four of us will suffer from a mental health illness during our lifetime. If we combine these facts with the reality of an energized and politicized youth, it does not bode well for psychological development of the next generation. Social media is often blamed for disturbing the minds of our youngsters, but as the stories of Holden and Ginger demonstrate, Mental illnesses can strike anybody regardless of their ‘connection’ to the outside world. Perhaps we need to acknowledge that it is our responsibility to build an environment which allows for free expression and resistance but offers more protection to the mentally unstable within our youth.

New Poem – Existentialism

Posted: 29th Jun 2018 in Uncategorised

I’ve been delving in to a bit of philosophy lately; mainly through the existentialist works of Dostoevsky. After reading his novel and novella: Crime & Punishment and Notes from the Underground, its interesting how Dostoevsky was able to reflect – with such detail and veracity-  a sense of paranoia, hyper consciousness and an erratic level of self-esteem that was existent amongst some Russians in the 19th century. His theme of the human psyche being a natural flaw of creation is something that resonates very closely with our current crisis regarding mental health and how to treat it. Plus, the way in which he uses the adolescence of his characters to portray psychological development in turmoil reminds me of the current debate about teenagers and social media addiction.

I am no expert of Dostoevsky and his works, but the poem I wrote tries to reflect the contemporary problems that humans have with their social identity and how our notion of goodness is in conflict with our notion of freedom.

 

Can you hear the Jury grumbling as they take their seats?

The Judge cracks open the session with his bulletined order of events.

Like a tombstone of structured emotion, the prosecution states their case with a cackle of arrogance and bitter assumption.

“We are defending “the liberty of love” beckons the defence, but the patronising scoffs of despair and horror are normalised in this world of systematic tabling.

 

But I….feel nice here.

In my pot of soil.

On my patch of mud.

Withdrawn from production line patriotism,

And isolated from the sounds of their rules,

their reasons,

their judgements.

 

This pot gives me plenty of space to run,

I can feel its walls, but I can see freedom in the darkness.

And the silence echoes with a special…

“Thump, Thump”. Order! Order!

This striking sound of ‘justice’ deafens my minds(s).

One fails to recuperate such tranquil thoughts with the murmurs of an enlightened mob above them.

 

I do not infringe upon others movements,

The thought of asserting my morality gives me no amusement.

I have not relinquished my citizenship for a hovel of an existence.

But simply rekindled my sovereignty so that I could have independence.

 

I can hear the defendant interrogated and accused of a love based on guilt.

As if the prosecutor understands.. ,

Oh what castle of lies they have all built!

 

You see, in these worlds, grands delusions reign supreme.

Call whatever Witness to the stand.

They will testify to their own hypocrisy.

Offering perceptions born out of the fog and mist.

 

But in my dwelling, I provide no blurred convictions.

The love I hold, is not hollow but honest.

I am not swayed by unrelenting passions.

No bleakness can consume me,

because I have freed myself from my own harsh reality.

 

However, it seems that sentences must be carried out.

Children must be punished.

And yes, we must learn from our mistakes.

People need to have regrets,

and so we must control our own heartbreaks.

 

Though I live for the eternal, I can not forsake my liberty.

For my truth is powerful because it can shift.

It sustains my wriggle room in a life that constricts.

So when the jury makes their call, I will cackle in my chair.

For the courts can’t influence me, and their verdict is insincere.

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The British national newspapers today speak of Russian officials and members of the EU conspiring to create Brexit for private financial gain. This portrayal of a secret Russian lobby working to undermine our political system has been an ongoing theme for the past couple of years despite recent investigations proving otherwise – the Cambridge Analytica Brexit Scandal revealed a close connection between Cambridge Analytica and the United States Department, not the Kremlin. But recently I have become increasingly convinced, that a separate undermining of democracy is taking place, not necessarily by Brexiteers but by Remainers as well. The Italian political sitution is particularly disturbing for anybody who has respect for the political process in a “civilised” nation.

populism

Can populist governments make their citizens prosperous?

To be brief, following the newly announced right-wing coalition of the Five Star Movement and Lega, the Italian President Sergio Materrella prevented the legitimate appointment of FSM Paolo Savona as the Finance Minister. His reasoning was based on a notion that the political intentions of the new Finance Minister would jeopardise the market relationship between Italy and the Euro, which could lead to severe Italian economic decline. After much public/political pressure, a compromise was reached between the new Italian government and the President, but in my opinion the political ramifications may be devastating. The President’s actions demonstrate that the Italian constitution or perhaps all the constitutions of Europe are dependent on external economic affairs. As the historian and political commentator David Runciman said last week “In Italy, the Markets are sovereign”, if it is the markets sovereignty that is being rejected by the European people then why is the Italian President so willing to prop them up. Furthermore, it should not matter how Eurosceptic the Italian parties may be, they have earned their democratic right to hold office and to follow through their political programme. Much has been made regarding the xenophobic profile of the Lega and the FSM and perhaps the accusations are justified, but this does not mean you can ignore the strong mandate(60% combined vote) that they received in the general elections this year. To uphold the civil liberties of the Italian people, one must also respect the constitutional liberties of the Italian politicians, for representative democracy is only true gateway for progressive politics. We have all witnessed the tyranny of our dictators throughout history, from Stalin’s shady manourevering of political figures to the uprisings and coups that led to the Spanish Civil War; no one wants a return to an era where our political representatives are dismissed because of power and privilige.

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Should the Italian President be impeached for violating the nation’s constitution?

The Act of Brexit was considered to be radical political decision, but the movements by the political parties to suppress Brexit is an undemocratic act with levels of regression that must be considered to be also politically radical. It was announced earlier today, that a Scottish Judge has rejected the call from a cross-party group to examine whether the European Court of Human Right can legally cancel Brexit. As the Judge mentioned, the very idea that a British parliamentary group is appealing to a European body to overrule a British decision is not only troubling for lawmakers, but it begs the question…at what level is democracy exercised? Which probably triggers the other underlying question, why is democracy so isolated within our political system? I was not in favour of Brexit, purely because I supported a movement for a Reformed progressive EU with some British contribution, but I was aware of its shortcomings; particularly its implementation of austerity throughout Europe and its excessively bureaucratic/undemocratic nature. But it now appears as if our own representatives are adhering to the Great European Project with little consideration for what Brexit could mean to this country. I had hoped that Brexit would be an opportunity to reshape our “unwritten” constitution in to something a little more beneficial to the country, perhaps a reformed relationship with the Single Market and Customs Union(that would reshape level and type of immigration we enforce) or perhaps a tweaking to some of the trade regulations for the coastal communities. But I realise this is a utopia that our government never aimed to enforce, instead our ministers are more concerned with ensuring that we are still tied in to the most corrupted parts of the European Union without having a voice in the European Parliament. Brexit (in my opinion) was never going to be an exciting prospect, but it did not have to be the failure it is turning in to. With a government that is more concerned with prosperity for its privileged elite, it is leaving its subjects dejected and without a truly democratic system through which to voice their frustrations.

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When we think of the essential services that the public rely and depend upon such as the health sector, firefighting service, education system police industry and the transport network, they are all perceived to be integral forces that support the safety and welfare of the British people. Regardless of the emergency, whether it is a protest, a national disaster or an act of homicide, all the victims, perpetrators and bystanders involved are entitled to an equal and fair treatment from the emergency services.

However it seems as if we are in the midst of making fundamental changes to one of our essential services. A new privatised police force called MylocalBobby will be rolling out their services across the nation after the “successful” trial period in three London boroughs (Kensington, Mayfair and Belgravia). Customers will simply have to pay roughly £200 per month and this will enable the client to hire a “police officer” who has the ability to make citizen arrests, investigate thefts and other matters of anti-social behaviour. I can understand how some may regard this as credible alternative to the corrupt and bureaucratic state police force, but I can only see this as the marketisation of the police and the encroaching two-tier system between the rich and the poor and their access to police.

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MyLocalBobby – Could this be the future of British Policing?

A privatised police not only challenges the notion about equal access to emergency services, but it also raises questions about the principles regarding equality before the law; a concept that is meant to underpin our British constitution. If our police officers are enforcing the law based on a quality of service that you may or may not be able to pay for, then we will not have “equality before the law” but “wealth before the law”.

I also think that politically and historically these changes can be perceived as regressive step back to a more lawless, uncivilised and unstable period in history. When a public police force was created in 1829 it was under a backdrop of violent riots over political reform and rising crime in a densely populated London. It was initiated under the principle of fairness, equality and apolitical behaviour. The architect of the police – Robert Peel – stated that “The police seek and preserve public favor, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating…friendship to all members of society without regard to their race or social standing“. But this is being overturned by an emerging private police force that is being supported by an idea of exclusivity, as the chair of the police federation has claimed ” “Policing is not a consumer or lifestyle issue. Nor should it be the exclusive domain of the wealthy. When Sir Robert Peel introduced the first full-time, professional and centrally-organised police force in the 1820s, that was not what he had in mind.”

However, with deep financial cuts to the police service and a clear loss of police officers, the resort to a privatised police force is becoming more attractive to the Establishment and the wealthy in society. One must take considerable caution at this growing trend, as history has proven how the lack of an organised public police force can cause chaos. The Peterloo Massacre occurred during a political demonstration in 1819 when the local magistrates ordered the military to arrest a radical orator and to disperse the crowd, but due to the intensity of the moment, the undisciplined nature of those armed forces and the confusion around the situation, 15 civilians were killed and many were injured. This was one of the defining events which motivated Prime Minister Robert Peel to create Metropolitan police force in 1829.

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Peterloo Massacre – Is this something we could witness in the future?

Now, I am not suggesting a diminished police force will result in a standing army willing to hack at anyone who causes disruption, but there are growing reports that local authorities are relying upon a militarised security force instead of standard police officers on patrol. We are told that they are there to prevent terror attacks, but with a growing unstable political climate and a society that is gaining the confidence to openly demonstrate against controversial measures, the potential for dangerous and violent confrontations is growing by the year. Our right to protest and to resist is seen as a fundamental right in British society but without the necessary measures and tools to ensure that demonstrations are carried out peacefully, we are thus denied the protection of a potentially rational police force and offered the unpredictability of a militarised one.

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Is this the path to a new standard of policing in Britain?

The police are designed for the public safety of all citizens and our historic right to protest, but if our government is weakening the the police’s ability to enforce those principles then it runs the risk of leaving us deprived of an essential emergency service.

They often say that a week is a long time in politics and that has certainly been the case for the past week. The government has had to apologize for its role in the Windrush Scandal in which hundreds of immigration documentation relating to migrants from the West Indies and beyond was purposefully deleted and additionally the government has to defend itself over its decision to bomb Syria over its “alleged” use of chemical weapons.

In my opinion, both of these events characterize the way in which the British government betray our historical tradition and the citizens that inhabit it.

I’ve just finished reading, “The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution 1640 -1660” which illuminated the foundations for English influence across the world and explained the fluid nature of British identity. I feel as if this book is especially important and relevant to discuss and review, particularly in an environment when the military and civil prerogative of our government is being questioned and challenged with such frequent ferocity.

The English Atlantic is essentially a study that seeks to challenge our notion of transatlantic culture and the various political and social norms that have evolved over time. The author – Carla Gardina Pestana – links the so called “English Revolution” between Charles I and Parliament to the growth and development of the Americas. She purposefully mirrors the demise of monarchy in Britain to the rise of modernity in America. She eloquently explains – through the use of migrant testimonies and official accounts – how new forms of worship and religion were allowed to prosper throughout the continent, Carla neatly juxtaposes this religious freedom with the rise in restrictive trade barriers. The growth in restrictive trade was part of movement towards a centralised system of governance: enforced by Cromwell’s new republic in Britain. Carla actually goes further than many historians and actually asserts that this process of centralisation was the birth of the global network known as the British Empire. Interestingly but not surprisingly, as the republic grew in solidarity it relied upon illiberal labour sources like slavery and indentured servitude to strengthen the connections to its various colonies. Carla importantly explains that this turn towards centralisation affected its foreign policy, as the British republic sought to eradicate their European competitors (militarily and politically) to ensure they had unfettered access and influence over the regions they dominated.

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This study underlines the importance of the “English Revolution” to the the evolution of the British Empire.

The essential element from The English Atlantic is that it outlines a transatlantic world whose liberty is transformed by the rise of an centralized power, this provides some interesting parallels and precedents for today’s political and social climate.

If we first explore the Ongoing Windrush Scandal there are some interesting comparisons. The Windrush Generation have consistently stated their wish to self-identify as British Citizens. James Green who was born in the West Indies but migrated to the UK in 1958 when he was 15 months says “Sixty years, it’s a long time. I’m an Englishman” and Nick Broderick who also arrived in the Uk as a baby in 1962 “always thought [himself] as being English.” and indeed another member of the windrush generation has spoken in astonishment: “It was a shock because I have always thought I was legal, I was British. I have been here from when I was eight. I didn’t give it another thought.” There appears to be a consistent and accurate theme where these citizens do not perceive themselves as solely West Indian but as British Citizens first and foremost: they could have easily used the term ‘Commonwealth citizens’, but their self-identification as British is an expression of their allegiance and of their informal citizenship to Britain.

Like the Windrush Generation, English migrants to America in the seventeenth century envisioned themselves as British citizens first, however the central authorities in England did not interpret this identity in the same way. Although the Windrush generation arguably faced greater injustice – seeing as the British government are responsible for eroding their British status in the first place – , the seventeenth century migrants to America were also treated as subordinate members of this new British Empire even though they considered themselves to be English. As The English Atlantic notes “Given the unprecedented intrusiveness of the state…it might seem that the colonists who envisioned a more egalitarian Empire based on shared Englishness lost their battle…..“, this was despite the fact that colonists believed that their political and social sovereignty had been inherited upon their English citizenship, one Barbadian colonist often “considered it the liberty and privilege if the free-born English-Men to have an assembly election”. This denial of basic civil rights to seventeenth century colonists has similarities to the Windrush Generation and their inability to access subsidized healthcare and employment opportunities, it also demonstrates a historical trait for the British government to neglect the rights and liberties of their citizens regardless of their ethnic origin. There is also an element of irony in this situation if one considers the fact that when Cromwell created the idea of a Commonwealth in 1653, it was designed with a vision of improving the “wealth” of the “commons” (people) across the Transatlantic Empire, and today we are witnessing citizens who are facing unjustified discrimination and deportation despite being born in a commonwealth nation. Furthermore, I believe this could also undermine the constitutional changes regarding immigration and the European Union. If EU migrants can see a history of injustice relating to the British State’s treatment of citizenship, why should they trust British government to give EU nationals the rights and liberties that they deserve post Brexit?

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In the wake of the missile strikes by America, France and Britain on Syria, there has been lots of debate regarding the legitimacy and the legality of the decision to attack the Syrian state for their alleged use of chemical weapons. Jeremy Corbyn argued for something similar to a ‘War Powers Act’ that could possibly hold future governments to account when they perform a military action that might jeopardize the credibility and safety of the nation, however MP Jacob Rees Mogg responded by stating that any sort of policy to change Parliament’s influence over military affairs will require either an appeal or an amendment of the Armed Forces Act. The act does actually state that the power rests with the Prime Minister to put the armed forces in to combat and it doesn’t actually provide a mechanism for Parliament to intervene in military action. However, Corbyn should take Mogg on this suggestion and encourage the Labour Party to amend the Armed Forces Act as I believe there is historical precedent for Parliament to have a greater say in foreign policy. If we stick with Britain in the seventeenth century, there was was great turning point in 1653, when Parliament declared their sovereignty over the Monarchy when it came to dealing with military and foreign affairs. When Charles I was eventually defeated and executed in the Civil wars, Parliament legislated a new constitution which included one important clause:

When Parliament was sitting, the ordering of armed forces by sea and by land, for the peace and good of the three nations’ must be by the consent of Parliament”

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When Cromwell (Main) defeated the King in 1648, he established Parliamentary sovereignty over Britain. How much power does today’s parliament really have?

Even though Oliver Cromwell was the defacto leader of this new parliamentarian regime, there was an essence of democracy which reflected the importance of wide-ranging consent and approval from the nation’s “representatives”. Unfortunately, this Instrument of Government was eventually repealed when the Monarchy was reinstated in 1660 and the King resumed his position as head of State. However the seventeenth century rhetoric surrounding the armed forces, parliament and domestic affairs is very relevant for the decision making process in present day British politics. In 1654, Cromwell desperately tried to fund his military campaign against the Spanish in the West Indies with parliamentary approval. He failed to get consent based on the weak economic condition of the country, it was stated “whence shall the means of it come? Our nation is overwhelmed with debts”. This has a striking resemblance to the argument that many present day MPs make about our government which seems to find the funds for military campaigns but is simultaneously refusing to invest in to vital public services because of “austerity”.

Labour MP Ed Poole stated

“Notice how everyone wants to know how Labour will fund free buses for under-25s but no one asks Theresa may how we are going to fund bombing Syria”

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Why do we so often prioritize our military affairs over our domestic ones?

This demonstrates that Parliament should have a much more considerable influence not simply on whether it is legitimate to punish a foreign state for their alleged war crimes, but based on whether those resources could be better invested in the British public services that are known to be underfunded and under supported. Parliament has a historic record of challenging sovereign political authority for the benefit of the nation, this was proven in 2013 when Cameron lost a crucial parliamentary vote to send missile strikes on Syrian soil. That result came about because of the suspicion surrounding the rebel forces in Syria and their ambiguous legitimacy to overthrow the Assad government. Currently, we have encountered the same stumbling block as there is apparently lack of official evidence from the OPCW regarding the Chemical Attacks in Douma. It may be time for Parliament to increase its ability to scrutinize the government over the military decisions that they adopt. Obviously the intelligence that the Prime Minster and the cabinet holds is vital to the decision making process but the government must also take in to consideration the mood of the nation and whether engaging in military conflict is in the population’s best interests. And here it must be noted that Parliament – in its entirety – is the only institution that has the capability to represent the population’s best interests.

My new poem as part of my Glitzy(Glitchy) Paradise series.

https://onemanwolfpackdot.wordpress.com/2018/04/08/journey-to-the-infinite/

The Origins of St Patrick’s Day

National holidays have been occurring for centuries, they’re not unusual to the general public but to me they’ve often seemed like a strange phenomenon. The mystery lies often with the connotations that are ignored, forgotten or lost within the distractions of the celebratory glitz and glamour. Take St Patrick’s day for example, the day is often used to commemorate Irish solidarity, heritage and culture; but what I have always wondered, is which elements of Irish heritage are being celebrated? Are we here to remember all the divisive parts of Irish culture as well as its solidarity? St Patrick is supposed to celebrate the achievements of the Christian Priest himself and his life as a missionary to missionary to Ireland as well. This therefore illustrates Ireland’s christian history and withdraws the Irish people from their mythological roots. But this distinction is often ignored during the celebrations, with the fantastical Leprechauns paraded around Christian symbols and buildings like the Irish churches and the cross. One could argue that the introduction of the leprechaun and other fairies from Irish folklore is simply about commemorating the universality and the depth of Irish nationalism, and this is understandable given the divisive nature of the Irish past. But surely this only seeks to detach St Patrick’s day from its true religious origins? If we want to understand and enjoy the entirety of Irish history, then perhaps there is a need to reinvent our demonstration of Irish pride. I have often spoken about the fluid nature of national identity, but when it comes to the commemoration of historical figures we should attempt to be as accurate as possible so that we do not blur legacy of our forefathers.

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Is this really what St Patrick’s day is about?

Brexit Troubles

With St Georges day also approaching, the British national identity maybe on its own path of reinvention. With discussions around the Irish Border heating up, there is a growing talk of a border being formed in the Irish Sea essentially allowing Northern Ireland to retain its access to the single and customs market in conjunction with the Irish Republic. Some Brexiteers and Remainers see this as a path to the eventual break up of United Kingdom which I think would be a radical shake up of our national unity.

The Tory MP and prominent Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, has criticised the warning that creating a Hard Irish border to separate South and Northern Ireland could reignite the Troubles. He claims that simply making that historical link is an encouragement of violence. Whilst I agree that it is premature to believe that Ireland would simply revert back to its violent and chaotic past, I do believe there needs to be some acknowledgement that creating such split on the Irish land has psychological consequences for the Irish people. It reinforces the image of Ireland being in constant civil strife and it could undermines the relatively healthy relationship that both regions of Ireland have shared recently. Many young adults in Southern and Northern Ireland have little to no recollection of the Troubles and influences it has had on Irish development, this has enabled them to live a harmonious live with their Irish neighbours. But history has often demonstrated how quickly peace and cooperation can descend in to division and conflict, thus we should never underestimate mankind’s ability to be regressive and self-destructive.

On the other hand, a border in the Irish Sea could seriously challenge the framework of the United Kingdom, given how attractive Northern Ireland may be to those seeking to maintain their link with the European Union. Furthermore with the growing regional disunity within the United Kingdom – as seen by the EU referendum – the creation of a hard border may persuade other British regions to secede themselves from the central government. Either way, some sort of border needs to be erected in or around the United Kingdom, the economical operations of our nation requires it. Whether this will transform our national identity remains to be seen, but this radical step towards greater independence has raised questions of allegiance and sovereignty, which must be addressed.