Anyone who has privately rented, or knows someone who has, will be familiar with the issues associated with landlords. We are also now nearly all familiar with the issues faced by women in society on a daily basis, bought to the world's attention by the #MeToo campaign.
Here I want to highlight how the issues women face, such as those discussed in the #MeToo campaign, can come to a critical juncture when female tenants are renting from male landlords. Whilst this is written in the context and experience of a young female student, I know that these issues extend well beyond female students tenants, and I would it expect this to be experienced by nearly all females tenants at some stage, particularly if they have rented from more than one male landlord, regardless of their status or circumstance.
To support the claims made below, it is pertinent to reference that in April 2017 many media sources uncovered that that landlords have been offering rent to 'hard up' tenants in exchange for sexual favours, when they could neither not afford their rent or the proposed level or rent (and so they were propositioned with an alternative situation - often to desperate individuals), or when the landlord found this to be a way to have sexual relations with a tenant they were attracted to in exchange for money.
Whilst it was suggested that this could be happening on a large scale, and is a wide-spread behaviour, with only the tip of the iceberg being exposed by these media articles, I would like to argue that many forms of exploitation are experienced within the female tenant/male landlord dynamic, and this article attempts to demonstrate the more subtle behaviours which can have an equally devastating effect on a female tenants' perception of the home she works as hard, studies as hard for, or cares about as much, as her fellow male tenants who may not be subject to these behaviours on this scale, and how this linked to the wider issues experienced by women as highlighted by the #MeToo campaign.
This article is not to suggest that all male landlords exhibit these behaviours, and I know many who would deplore them. It is simply to say that this power relation can, has, and does cause extensive issues for female tenants and it is those issues that will be discussed, and need to be explored further.
Unnecessary and/or surprise visits
Legally, landlords are subject to giving 24 hours notice to their tenants before a visit. However, some landlords understand that although this seems a 'black and white' area, it is grey, and can be exploited. For example, they may manipulate such questions as: What is an 'emergency'? What is 'notice'? How is the notice given? Who is it given to?
To give an example of this, the landlord may suggest that because you opened the door to them when they knocked, you 'invited' them in. Therefore no 24 hours notice is necessary. Despite the fact that there are few individuals who will leave the person who is responsible for their housing outside, and many doors you do not have windows to see who is on the other side, and so you do not know who you are opening the door to if they do not announce themselves.
They may also say that in a house of 2-6 occupants, by simply giving one of the tenants notice, they have given notice. Therefore, if the one tenant who is aware of the visit is unable to communicate this visit with the rest of the tenants, 1-5 of the tenants will be unaware of the visit only to find the landlord in the property, or in their room. Without the tenant present, it is unknown what is being looked at, touched or explored within the tenant's room. With a male landlord and female tenant, this issue is heightened.
It is important to note than in a HMO (House of Multiple Occupancy), which covers most student lettings, they are often made up of people who do not know each other and may live completely independent lives. Therefore, by exploiting that tenants may not know one another or communicate with one another (this is not always just due to a lack of relationship but sometimes completely conflicting schedules - it is very possible to almost never come into contact with your fellow tenants, even when you live together), that the landlord knows, essentially, by only informing one of the tenants, he is making an unannounced, illegal visit for the others tenants, but then will claim that because that one tenant has opened the door to them, they've been 'invited' in, and again, notice does not have to be given beyond that.
By using this technique they are able to defer responsibility for the notice and as such tenants may never know when and if their landlord is coming to or is in their property. This is particularly troubling with female tenants who have a male landlord because often they may leaving the shower, or as they feel comfortable within their own home, wearing less clothing than they would be happy to be wearing in front of their landlord but it is often too late to change or hide yourself.
For instance, I know of a young female student who had not yet turned 20, who was self-tanning in our hallway. She was wearing no more than a g-string when the landlord walked by into the garden unexpectedly. As there was no blinds installed in the kitchen, she was completely exposed through the hallway as this is where the mirror was. No one else had access, or could see into the garden, but the other tenants who she was comfortable seeing her in this way. But this unexpected, surprise visit meant that she was left almost naked in her hallway, completely exposed to an elder male. This was not the only time that surprise visits were made with 3 other young females in the house, regularly in small pyjamas or their underwear. Therefore, whilst it may be a mistake and the landlord may not have had any misplaced intentions, it is easy to see how surprise, frequent visits can cause difficulties when a female tenant is renting from a male landlord. And how these 'accidents' can easily be described as 'accidents' despite them occurring over and over again. This can leave female tenants unable to relax in their home on a daily basis due to the unexpected nature of these visits, and the frequency with which they happen.
The issues mentioned above also apply to 'emergency' situations as well, which often end up to not be emergencies and the observation or maintenance of the 'emergency problem' is simply to gain access to the house, only for it to be minimal and insufficient to warrant actual investigation or entry to the property. But in these circumstances the female tenant cannot refuse the male landlord entry to check or maintain the source of the supposed issue, particularly if they feel their safety may be at risk, or they have little understanding of gas, electric, plumbing or technical issues and do not understand that the landlord has simply described a false issue to gain entry with the intention to outstay their welcome beyond what is necessary for the 'problem' at hand. This can lead to landlords being in the property with their tenants for very long periods of time - even from morning to evening.
Men with issues with women - The power complex and intimidation techniques
Just as a pedophile may seek employment in a school, so too may men who have issues with women seek to put themselves in positions where they cannot be rejected, and the females in their care/association feel obligated towards them, as discussed above. Some male landlords may select their profession and female housemates to rent their properties/rooms largely in order to converse with females in an environment where they could not usually gain that level of attention, and in a power dynamic in which the tenant feels an obvious obligation to engage with them given their relation.
Behaviours such as : the male landlord constantly reminding the tenant that they love tea and leaving teabags in the house so that the tenant feels obliged to make them a drink when they visit, can occur. Whilst appearing harmless in nature, if this is something which is happening frequently, particularly during unannounced visits with no other 'real' purpose to be in the property, with multiple female tenants who may be home at any such time for these visits, and perhaps in multiple households of this kind, then this is a way of gaining access to many women, often, in a way in which they could not usually gain. It is also a dynamic in which the women feel under pressure, uncomfortable and without many rights or freedoms, which the landlord may understand and manipulate to continue, or escalate, their behaviour.
They may even claim the tea bags are a gesture of goodwill for which the females should be grateful often confusing the tenant, which is a manipulative technique very difficult to distinguish from genuinely friendly behaviour when witnessed by outsiders, and so leaves the tenant in a position where this predatory behaviour is going unnoticed, or is perceivably unstoppable.
To encourage compliance amongst the female tenants the male landlord may also drop in anecdotes about how many tenants they have taken to court, how often they've won those court cases, and to what expense the case came to the tenant, as a reminder of their position and power, to intimidate the female tenants.
They may also display their legal knowledge, or what is presumed as legal knowledge, about their contracts or housing laws/right, in order to confuse, manipulate or trick the female tenant (who is likely to have less knowledge on these subjects than the landlord) into believing that their behaviour is legal and unquestionable, making the female tenant much less likely to question the legality of their behaviour now they feel this aforementioned uncomfortable dynamic has formed. It is easy to see how this can be taken to extremes and become out of control, leaving the female tenant in a situation where she has an unwelcome visitor who announces themselves in their house without forewarning, regularly, and who is now staying for long periods of time, who they feel they cannot question, or if they did, they would face severe repercussions.
It is important to note that with Short Let contracts, the tenant has very little rights and any issues brought to the landlord may result in either the suggestion of eviction to curb any further questioning of their behaviour, or actual eviction of the tenant to stop them from raising their issue with the other tenants, and gaining a case against the landlord. In this situation, with their hands tied, it is unlikely that many female tenants are going to bring these issues to the landlord, knowing they may losing their housing.
Women - unsafe outside the home, and now inside it too
Unless you are a female it can often be difficult to understand what kind of psychological toll this type of situation can manifest, particularly on your well-being and self-esteem. Even if this is not being processed consciously, but is instead internalised subconsciously, affecting the tenants behaviour in ways unknown. Such as being sensitive to the door knocking, or not wishing to leave their bedrooms unlocked or to be constantly vigilant about their clothing or if it is a suitable time to take a shower. This is compounded upon further issues raised by the #MeToo campaign. The campaign highlighted that women already find it difficult to relax in many of the public spaces they vacate, in the clothing they would like to wear, on public transport, in their workplace, and now, as demonstrated, in their home. This demonstrates why the issue of female tenants with male landlords is an important one, and there is a need for reform to prevent this predatory behaviour. The home is the one place we should all - or the one place that we all hope to - feel safe and for many women, this is not the case.
"It's your job to speak out" - Victim Blaming and its contradictions
What is important to remember with this issue is that many of the individuals know that their housing is fundamental to their livelihood. Not everyone has a back-up should they lose their room/flat/house and it takes huge financial and practical resources to rehouse yourself in a rush. Your job may depend on your location and ability to travel quickly on little notice, or your studies may demand your complete attention just before your exams and you cannot afford to lose a month trying to find alternative accommodation. To lose your housing at any time is traumatic, and more damaging for some than others. Housing is such a fundamental issue that it has the power to change the course of someone's life, and is therefore taken extremely seriously by the tenant, and should be by wider society.
The critical nature of housing can have a profound effect on the ability of a tenant who already feels threatened, intimidated and in a position of having very little power, to speak out about their situation. This is very advantageous to landlords who have manipulated the tenant into this position, and for some, thrive on this power dynamic in particular. Therefore, finding individuals with the resources and strength to question these landlords is very few.
Adding to this, human beings are extremely practical and can live and survive in all kinds of difficult situations. Often when faced with a circumstances in which we are uncomfortable, we ask ourselves what we're willing to endure, or ignore. This is pertinent to the issue of female tenants with male landlords as they often experience the uncomfortable interpersonal relations of their tenancy on a daily basis within society, and so they may see them as 'normal' or 'endurable', when they are predatory in nature and should not exist.
It is also important to note than when a female tenant does not take action, this is because it is their not their responsibility to enforce basic standards of behaviour amongst the entire male landlord population, but as always should come from the male landlord themselves. It is not for the victim to be blamed for somehow not having the power to regulate another male individual, but to criticise and penalise the male individual believing it is their right to disrupt the lives of individuals life in this way, in the first instance.
Although it may be suggested that any type of predatory or unwelcome behaviour is subjective to the individual experiencing it or committing it, and those individuals may misinterpret behaviour or may make false accusations and claims against another individual - or that tenants themselves cause many different housing issues which cause huge difficulties for landlords - this is not an excuse to let standards slip or an argument against supporting tighter regulations to support potential victims. Rules exist to prevent such situations (such as giving 24 hours notice), and if strictly upheld, would prevent much of the behaviour noted above.
It is also that any regulations which empower landlords in situations where they may be being manipulated or exploited are equally welcome. But this is a separate issue and should be handled as such. Neither it is a suggestion that men should or would be punished for their sex, which is not their choice.
Not only should government ensure that regulations are tightly upheld, but now that more properties are rented than owned in the UK, there should be education in schools, colleges, universities and workplaces as to the rights of the individual, both landlord and tenant.
Whilst many will claim it is a small percentage of male landlords who commit such behaviour towards their female tenants, this is a situation - just as the #MeToo situation highlighted by the very definition and nature of its name and inception - in which upon hearing it from another female tenant, will say 'Me Too'. It is a situation known to arise again and again, and issues such as this are faced by women all over the world. If we are now raising our awareness of women's issues with campaigns such #MeToo, and the widespread sexual harassment faced by women in society following the Weinstein scandal, then we have to be aware of the issues women face in all facets of the lives, including housing. I believe the area of female tenants and male landlords to be one which needs to receive more attention and investigation, to protect women against those who make their home feel anything but, home.
I thought everyone could control their dreams. It took twenty-four years for me to find out it's quite rare. I only found out it was because people greeted me with complete disbelief when I discussed it (I had told them in a blasé way, as again, I thought everyone could - namely because my siblings can so it was frequently discussed in my childhood and since then I had taken it as a given), and because I had not researched it, ever. And then by chance, a few days after I'd had such an encounter of disbelief from a friend, and I was becoming increasingly distressed that I had no evidence to support my claim, 'The Conversation' posted a piece on Twitter.
They described it as a phenomenon that could perhaps help us to better understand consciousness as, maybe, it's a higher form of it (being both asleep and awake, and aware that you're doing both), and when it came to testing lucid dreamers, they showed increased gamma wave activity.
But what I've found interesting is the episode of lucid dreaming I've just had, in the last hour. Now that I know it is a fairly rare phenomenon, and that this episode was very distinct, I wanted to write it down, because it is of interest to me. And perhaps to those interested in sleep, cognition, memory, or consciousness generally. It's a completely truthful account with my own analysis. The latter obviously carrying subjective interpretation. I voice dictated all the details as soon as I awoke, as they fade quickly. So it's the most accurate account I could give.
Saturday 26th March 2016 - between 3.30pm - 6pm
It's Saturday in the Easter holidays, I had a migraine and little energy so I decided to have a nap as I was already laying in bed reading.
This episode of lucid dreaming was so clear, and so different it feels quite distinct from my past experiences. A typical scenario is where I am already dreaming, and then slip into some level of consciousness of the fact that I'm dreaming. And then the idea of wishing to 'take part', or be in control of the dream comes into focus. It's as if the concept of 'me' comes into focus where my nose is (between my eyes, as I'm 'seeing' in the dream with them). As though you take control of a virtual game which uses the perspective of the eyes to navigate the imaginary world. And now I'm in control of that person.
I then mess around with plot lines (there's definite future-orientated thinking as you know there would be implications to your changes and that you'd have to change some of those to achieve the desired goal e.g. to remove yourself from a situation in a certain way in a nightmare to avoid a disaster, or to make surely those events simply didn't happen at all.
For example, in the past, in this kind of state, I was standing on beach when I saw that the tide was retracting. Instantaneously I had the memory of the 2004 tsunami and that I'd learnt in a school geography class that this is a indicator of a tsunami wave forming out at sea. For my own safety, if I was to ever see that, I'd told myself I would tell people to evacuate the beach and run for higher ground. And so that's what I did in the dream, drawing on the accumulation of those memories in quick succession - they orientated my behaviour in the dream. Unfortunately, the person I love and my family had been around me on the beach in the dream. Knowing I couldn't direct their behaviour, only my own, in the lucid state, and therefore potentially couldn't save them I did the only thing I could think of to save them - I changed the dream so that they were all on an airplane (the only place the water couldn't get them). Again this all happens incredibly quickly - the speed of cognition becomes extremely apparent in these states. Sometimes there's no 'filling' detail, but just a quick succession of images. As though you're flicking through a book of images at varying speeds, with varying continuity and very quickly getting up to speed on the new context to decide what to do next. Despite ensuring the entire beach fled, I only managed to barely save myself because of the time it'd taken to think to put my loved ones on the airplane. The wave had still been coming this whole time. So there's some time linearity. But again, strangely, that appears to be a choice. I could have chosen to put the wave back further to where it would have been if no time had passed. But I knew I was going to escape, 'just', so I allowed the dream to play on.
Today, however, instead of being in such a state, I was quite simply in no-mans land. I wasn't already dreaming and had become aware of myself - I was in a vacuous state where there was nothing but me, and my brain, and the fact that I was conscious of being asleep. So, as I knew I had time to kill before I awoke, I started to think of things I could dream about. Something exciting, something scary maybe. But instead, as I was thinking about these choices, I became aware of the 'The Conversation' piece, and that the participants who had been studied had used pre-agreed upon, coded eye movements to signal to researchers that they were in a lucid state, and the researchers would be able to recognise that and begin their investigations into their brain waves, and activity. So I began moving my left eye, to the right, twice in quick succession and I did this a number of times (3 or 4). Then I became aware that I wasn't being recorded so I asked myself why was I bothering?
This shows that physiologically I have some control, although I would limit it to my eyes - suggesting it's already in a wave of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep? It also shows that I knew when and where I was sleeping to call off my efforts. I knew I was not in a lab or in an MRI machine. And in what condition I had fallen asleep in (not being researched, at home, comfortable). Which, perhaps, is my consciousness drawing upon the last memory I'd had before I'd fallen asleep (where I was, etc.). However, there's nothing to suggest I couldn't have been moved in this period between falling asleep and now. So how did I know? All I can say is that I knew, and I knew no one else was in my bedroom with me (feeling of a presence, or sound/movement), or that I was under investigation. Which I find fascinating. It's as if I was so 'conscious' I was just laying on my bed, daydreaming and not asleep at all.
There's also a huge sense of freedom in this state, not only in mental exploration but in the sense that you feel you can think of many, many things (sometimes even 'whatever' you want), but also I don't feel 'disabled' by sleep, or 'paralysed' as you do when you're dreaming normally (as I also do). But I feel as though I could move my limbs, walk around - I feel conscious.
Another interesting thing was the emotions I was feeling. They were more childlike, even though I had access to my faculties (memory, forward planning - prefrontal cortex functions), they felt more about 'base pleasures'. I'd asked myself for a dream that was 'exciting', 'frightful', 'entertaining'. When I became aware I wasn't being researched I became like a 'spoilt brat' (because I wanted it to be recorded), and my subsequent dream that I chose to have turned into one of 'fear' and 'excitement'. Perhaps the limbic system, amygdala and hippocampus - white matter/mid-brain - are playing a larger part here (memory, emotion (fight/flight), physiological response (which I'll mention later)). These are also areas of the brain close to the thalamus which has been strongly linked to consciousness ('brain stem' > 'mid brain' > 'thalamus').
Once this period of realising I wasn't being researched was over I decided to have a dream because I wasn't going to be waking up yet and you can't just sit there twiddling your thumbs. At this juncture something interesting happened which I can't decide upon. Either my Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) became active (my airway becomes obstructed and my oxygen decreases triggering tachycardia (fast heart rate) and a 'fight or flight' type response to wake me up as the brain becomes aware of the diminishing oxygen), or I simply was continuing to look for emotional stimulation. Because as soon as my dream started, and I gained the context of the situation, it turned into a disaster situation - but one that was both fun and exciting. Basically, my friend is currently on holiday and I decided that the reality was that she'd asked me to flat-sit for the week. But the flat looked distinctly like a apartment I'd stayed in recently, in Norway via AirBnB. So here I'd filled the gaps of what her flat looked like, because it wasn't reality that she'd asked me to do this and I've never been her flat before. So it unravels that I'm not supposed to be in the flat at all! I'm in her house, using her belonging and there's baked beans on the stove, her bed is messy and I've got the TV on loud. Her neighbours could hear me, she could be back any minute, or her parents could be to check on the flat. Panic mode. I start frantically clearing up and all around appear signs (which I think I was placing there to encourage me to hurry up) that she would be back TODAY, from her holiday), and it seems to take a really long time.
After clearing up the flat and realising I was going to escape 'just in time' (as I always make sure I do - it's about the buzz, not actually wanting to get caught) I decided that I'd had enough and I wanted to wake up now. So almost as if I was violently, mentally shaking myself, I pushed myself into full consciousness. I wanted it to all be over, like when you're lucid dreaming in a nightmare, so I made it so. Whether I'm fully in control of this or I just understand that my sleep apnoea is going to be waking me up soon, is up for debate.
What was obvious to me when I awoke was that I'd had an adrenaline rush. An unmistakeable feeling of being 'wired'. This could be that the body had responded to the perceived imaginary threat in the normal physiological way, or that I had been having an episode of my airway becoming obstructed which would trigger the same feeling. However, in the past, with the latter, I wake up feeling not 'elated' by my experience but concerned. This was a happy rush, not a 'danger-your-vital-source-of-oxygen-is-in-decline' rush. Nor was I tachycardic.
What I'm particularly interested in is that there is a clear level of almost 'complete' consciousness when I was 'choosing' what dream to have, completely aware of being in this vacuous state; the emotional aspect of feeling more 'child-like' when choosing what I'd like to experience in the dream or when I became upset that I was not being studied; that I had a physiological response to what I knew I was doing to myself (it appears amazing to me that I could be unconscious (asleep), but aware of that (conscious), making my own situation (conscious), aware that I'm doing that (aware that I'm awake in my sleep (very conscious); but unconscious enough that my brain has just 'gone along' with the physiological response of becoming excited/scared during the dream, when it should know it didn't need to have any response at all because its all imaginary and it knows it's dreaming? Although paralysed during sleep, this is a testament to those who have night terrors and the feelings we experience during nightmares - our bodies are feeling strong emotions as though we're conscious. So if someone tells you they've had a nightmare maybe they do need your sympathy because how would you feel emotionally if in real life someone chased you with an axe? They might be feeling a little of that physiologically upon waking, and almost certainly whilst they were asleep. I also find it interesting how much of my memory I have access to and how 'in control' I was in this instance. I felt completely conscious, but fully conscious of the fact that I was unconscious. It's a strange, but wonderful feeling.
'The Conversation' piece: http://theconversation.com/the-ability-to-control-dreams-may-help-us-unravel-the-mystery-of-consciousness-52394
The greatest gift my illness has given to me is serenity.
The chance to find it, and recognise when I need it; the value of it and to learn that it's all you need.
And ever since then it's as if physiologically and mentally (spiritually for some) my body has a mechanism to remind me of when I've lost it, so I can get it back. That's why I consider myself the luckiest person on earth, no matter the symptoms or the struggle. Because I have peace. The peace of knowing that tomorrow could be my last day, and that I'm truly okay with that.
It makes every day worth living more than they ever were before.
For many of us with chronic illnesses which are severely debilitating, to the point we cannot manage the simplest day-to-day tasks, you come to a point where you realise that having no quality of life if the same as being dead. Except that when you're dead you're not in pain. To come to terms with this (the idea that you may never have a 'life' again) you face the death of the 'self' - death of goals and dreams - you see the demise of your relationships, friendships, and everything you once understood about yourself falls away. What's left is the most basic form of yourself - the relationship you have with you. There is nothing else when you lay in bed for the seventh month in a row staring at the same four walls. Nothing.
Then comes the depression. For almost all of us with chronic conditions they will be characterised by depression as a symptom, let alone the depression that comes with the illnesses' challenges. Double depression. Enter the advanced symptom: 'suicidal ideation'. As they call it. It's the bottomless pit of hell that some people remark as 'sadness' because they've never been there. In my case I also had a healthy dose of diagnosed PTSD to go along with it. Nothing in the world was harder than keeping myself alive (not giving in to the pain/fatigue by not eating/drinking, as opposed to physically taking my own life). But I was lucky that I always knew it was the illness wrecking havoc. Many do not and we see suicides in our support groups often. I finally understand why we say 'Rest In Peace'. They had had enough, and I wish them an eternity without feeling pain ever again.
Then there are then innumerable additional challenges of being chronically unwell, which although universal, vary for individuals. Mainly chronically ill people suffer with the classic misunderstanding from others all the way through to a complete a lack of empathy from even loved ones, to downright denial that our illness exists at all - again, even from loved ones. No one would laugh in the face of a cancer patient having chemotherapy or an amputee facing the loss of another limb, but if you have five chronic conditions, simultaneously, for some people your life is up for debate. Their opinion of your health is how ill you are. Their say goes. They can tell you you're not disabled enough for a parking permit. That you're well enough to go to work. Somehow, those who have never experienced a day of your pain are those who know exactly how much you can manage.
The loneliness of the realisation that some people who should love you, or have said they love you, actually don't, is one of the hardest lessons, if not the hardest, to learn. We assume everyone will care about the loss of our life. But it really is true that you 'come in to this world alone and you leave it that way'. Love is not guaranteed. And so you'll learn to appreciate it when you really have it. And you will love like you've never loved before.
But I didn't want to write about the challenges. Whilst I've always wanted to write/blog about my journey through illness I could never bring myself to. So, just as Prince wrote 'Nothing Compares To You' for smoking, and Elton John wrote to cocaine - this is a love letter. Not a goodbye, not acceptance, not acknowledgement - a love letter. Because all that I've listed above has bought me to this point. A point where I can absorb illness into me, to my new 'self', and fall into a place of complete and eternal gratitude.
So, thank you. Without you I would continue to be blinkered, unaware, unsympathetic to what one in four people in the world are struggling with. You have made me unapologetic and resilient. But most of all you've taught me my own self worth, and no one will be able to take that away from me - something people search for their whole lives and look for in relationships, jobs, hobbies. I have it regardless of what I gain or lose in life. I do not walk around crippled with self-doubt, anxiety or wondering 'who I am' or 'what I'm doing with my life'. You gave me the time and space to consider that. In a way that's giving me another chance at life - the chance to do it properly this time. To not waste time.
So, after climbing the mountain and seeing nothing but grey rockface in front of me, feeling the air getting thin with the altitude and finding it hard to breathe, and not being able to lift my limbs above my head from the pain knowing I have to, you finally said to me one simple thing: 'Sink or swim'. I've reached the top now and I've seen the view.
It's a view that was worth every moment of pain and bead of sweat.
Thank you for everything.
Learn From History's Genius' And Take A Daily Walk: Breaking The Stress-Boasting, Sedentary And Under-Oxygenated Academic Lifestyle in 2016
The idea that academic's should be chained to their desk to be productive, and therefore successful, is not only deeply unhealthy, but also deeply untrue. Nothing curbs productivity and creativity like stagnant, unstimulating surroundings. Stanford University have the evidence to prove it. If that isn't motivating enough: history's genius' have very few common behavioural traits but many do have one thing in common: they all took a daily walk. Nietzsche (2hr walk before lunch, up to 4 hours after), Tchaikovsky (2 hour walk minimum and attributed his success to this walk so much he was deeply superstitious about returning even a minute earlier), Beethoven, James Joyce, Walter Benjamin, Darwin and Dickens, Jobs, and Zuckerberg. Nietzsche even went so far as to say: “It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.” (Twilight of the Idols (1889))
In this day and age, it's even more critical. At home, at our desks, we are surrounded by distractions - social media, YouTube, and we stare into the abyss of our Word document hoping whatever it is, will write itself. We believe we're more dedicated because we will spend seven days a week sitting, reading and writing if given the opportunity. We declare the hours as productive because we got that 1,000 words done today. But how many hours did we waste trying to motivate ourselves to finish them? What sugar and caffeinated rubbish did we ingest to feed it? What 'productivity' apps have we downloaded? And, what do we have to tell ourselves just to try and get ourselves in a position where we might even be ready to be productive?
The effects of being inactive on the body are serious. Serious because it affects the heart. Serious because it affects your work. Whatever one of those you find more concerning, use as your motivation. If you're inactive and particularly if you're sitting, your blood pools in your calf muscles forcing the heart to work harder to get blood around, and that over time makes your heart sluggish, the blood flow ineffective. The long-term effects are obviously dangerous to your health, but in the short-term, when you do not have ample and fluid blood supply, your brain does not get the oxygen it needs. This affects your ability to think, and your mood. Those academics who refrain from getting adequate movement into their daily routine are doing exactly the opposite of what is needed for them to be successful, and ultimately, happy.
To take this further, most people will agree that solitary confinement is a form of torture. The effects upon the imprisoned individual's brain is catastrophic after only a short period of time and often results in the types of behaviour distressed, captive animals display, all because of a lack of psychological stimulus. Yet, many academics will try to free themselves of stimulus as far as humanly possible in an attempt to yield deep, innovative thought. It is counterintuitive and counterproductive.
In academia, you often hear people say that to better understand something we can define it by what it is not, or its opposite If you are unsure if your lifestyle is unhealthy, or if you feel your current routine is perfectly adequate, test it's opposite to prove that theory. Take a morning or afternoon walk without simply just reading or writing at your desk, and see if you emerge with any deeper thoughts or understanding, or to see if you emerge happier and more refreshed. We like to experiment after all, and it's just one day. Better still, you haven't got to buy a new bike or pretend you enjoy jogging and kale. It will take only one brisk walk, for around 20 minutes, through somewhere pleasant with sights and sounds to stimulate your brain in areas which become inactive when simply sitting. You'll also breathe 'fresh' air, be away from central heating to get your body to use its own thermostat and you'll have given yourself a free pampering session in the oxygen chamber. You heart and brain will thank you for it, I promise.
If curious or unconvinced, try reading these (whilst tying your trainer laces, of course):
Slavoj Žižek, Yanis Varoufakis & Julian Assange @ the 'Europe is Kaput!' event in London -- what was said
On Monday 16th November 2015, Yanis Varoufakis, Slavoj Žižek and Srećko Horvat (mediator) walked onto the stage at The Southbank Centre in London for a discussion entitled: 'Europe is Kaput!'. Thirty minutes in and they announced a surprise guest speaker whom would be streamed in through live video feed for the rest of the debate - Julian Assange. What is detailed below is the topics which were discussed and individual comments in response. Largely there was consensus between the speakers, with Slavoj acting as devils advocate. As the discussion lasted three hours this is a summary of those points which were most clear, concise and of interest, for those who may wish to read them.
It should be noted that given the nature of such discussions, and the speakers (i.e. Žižek), there was some discontinuity in topic discussion throughout the evening. Therefore, comments are not listed chronologically but thematically for ease of reading.
The closing remark of the evening came from Slavoj and seemed fitting to separate, here:
"You end capitalism, you end ISIS"
(emphasising their interconnectedness as opposed to a method)
Paris, ISIS, Europe and the refugee crisis
Žižek: What is clear is that those who will be the biggest victims of the Paris attacks are those already involved in the humanitarian crisis - refugees. Particularly those already fleeing ISIS in Syria, only to be victims of the groups actions a second time. But what should not be ignored is that there is incredible levels of violence in the world at present, with many people losing their lives on the same day as those in Paris, which go unnoticed and un-noted in Western media. Further, this rhetoric of 'solidarity' with the Parisians, and that these attacks are on 'all of us' does not appear to extend out further than the West - such attacks have been the reality of the people of Syria, daily, for five years. On global violence: in Africa a woman is raped every four minutes and a woman killed by her sexual partner every eight hours. He argued that such violence, including that of Paris, appears as though it occurs in another reality - through a TV screen. He criticised the: "But refugees are just like us" rhetoric by the left and others, because what are the implication(s) if we find they're not just like us? Does that then mean they should drown? There should be another basis for helping, and it should not need justification such as this. On the 'symbolism' of nation states using the French flag on buildings, bridges: where is the flag for those lost in Baghdad, Africa, Belarus, etc., each day?
Varoufakis: We should respond in such a way as to take a minutes silence, and light up our buildings, but it should include responses and respect for the violence in other parts of the world so we cannot ignore it, so we must internalise it, and it is in our consciousness.
Žižek: We must realise, and stop speaking as though, there is a cultural divide, but recognise that Paris, ISIS, the Holocaust, Palestine, etc. is all part of the same struggle. We must also recognise that exposure to suffering does not make you more sensitive to it (spoke of Holocaust victims taking part in Palestine) and therefore needs reactions from us all and not just those involved.
Varoufakis: Borders are always justified and legitimised for the same reason: in the interest of security, yet they breed the exact opposite. Borders only increase tension, the profits to be made from smuggling, and cast a constant denial onto those who are divided from each other. The problem with the European Union is that it is failing to behave at the level of European Union, at its zero level. There is no such thing as European Foreign Policy and the Union is so fragmented that it cannot act effectively/at all. The Union suffers from a 'democratic deficit'. It is analytically fallacious to speak of 'The Greeks' or 'The Germans' as opinions are so varied. Identity and nationalism are completely different. Therefore, the language of EU leaders, representatives and civilians of 'Germans, Greeks' etc. is unhelpful and adds to fragmentation.
Žižek: Of course we should intervene, we created the situation. But there is a dark side to this 'economic neocolonialism' rhetoric. Not only are ISIS tied into profits from oil, which has global economic interests (China, USA etc.) but aspects of our culture such as 'feminism', completely exclude e.g. Muslim feminists, and other cultures' inputs. Adding to this, we also refer to other conflicts as 'ethnic issues', stating "'Well, of course we're involved, it's our fault". This arrogance presumes cultures and nation states cannot configure their own atrocities and act as autonomous agents. He referred to African friends who had remarked (paraphrase), 'At least let us think for ourselves'. Along the lines of this overbearing occupation from the West - Iraq was once home to many Christians who had senior positions in governments, and there was tolerance. Following the war they have all but left the country. There were also many females occupying senior government positions. It is a question of: how, when, and to what extent should we intervene?
Žižek, cont.: We must also remember that Saudi Arabia is one of the most corrupt countries, involved directly, intrinsically and fundamentally immersed in global financial markets as one of the richest states - with around a 10% ownership of US bonds, etc. - and whilst Conservatives touch on this issue it is not dealt with: that Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, are doing nothing.
The European Union
Varoufakis: Issues surrounding the European Union include:
1) A lack of transparency - having sat in on meetings he is positive their behaviour would alter if such meetings were televised. Citizens have a right to understand what decisions are being made on their part, and leaders know this. This would not require law or policy changes, simply the opening of doors. Let them tell us why this is not possible. There is no easier way to democratise.
2) It is part of the design of Europe to be dysfunctional, an intrinsic quality. This must be addressed. For example: The European Central Bank's policies lead to, for him, an inevitable crisis.
3) Nation states are brought into being through the need for conflict resolution e.g. Magna Carta - conflict between merchants and the King, Capitalism - vested interests of companies and the labour force. The role of the nation state is to be a steward, to regulate. It became more important to societies because of this evolutionary, developed, capability and its efficiency at performing such a role. The EU is different to this, as a cartel for industry and trade. The head of the cartel is in Brussels but it is not a government and therefore does fulfil such a purpose. It is administrative. Therefore tension between what we wish it to be, it professes to be, and it can function to be, exists. This also needs to be addressed if it is to function, and not completely destabilise and collapse leading to a 1930s style of living.
4) You cannot 'exit' Europe, and discussions need to recognise this. It is like the lyrics from The Eagle's 'Hotel California': You can check out, but you can never leave. Ultimately, as a farmer in France you will be governed by their price stability mechanisms, their agricultural reforms and standards enforcement.
5) The dissatisfaction with the Union due to its destabilising effects could be countered with such measured as: cheques for food given out to citizens by the EU, which are not real money but exchange for food so that families do not go hungry. This is akin to the US's 'food stamps' situation whereby the level of those who live below the poverty line would increase to 26% of its citizens from 14-15% without them. It would encourage unity and satisfaction amongst those who live within it.
6) Brussels is not a government and should behave as a constitutional assembly. There should also be a body of elected citizens whom oversee and shadow activities who take the interests of the public to Brussels in how they wish it to operate and behave.e
7) The UK should be a part of these reforms as opposed to retreating into the figment of their imaginary global economy which exists without the EU - it doesn't, it won't and David Cameron must be a part of discussions.
8) The problem of the EU's fragmentation if the choice is to either retreat back to the level of the nation state or democratise and continue in this direction, this is fundamentally inconsistent with the technological advances that have been made over the last twenty years e.g. the Internet and social media. There is greater connectivity between people across borders.
Žižek: Even if you held televised meetings they would have secret meetings the next day
Varoufakis: Yes, but you will always struggle to control the powers that be, but you must still take steps
Wikileaks, Syria, ISIS, the US, capitalism, global geo-politics,
technology and Silicon Valley's unchallenged ideological assault
Assange: Wikileaks has discovered documents going as far back as 2006 which detail the US's plans to overthrow the Syrian government, to increase 'paranoia' and 'frighten' (words used in documents), cause the Assad regime to overreact, and to prevent foreign investment and cooperation. In 2010 Syria requested assistance to stop terrorists entering from Iraq. Assange stated that Libya was 'Hillary's war', and that Generals had written in documents that she pushed 'over and above' what was necessary. He then displayed footage of the moment Hilary Clinton was told of Gaddafi's sodomy and subsequent murder. The video showered her throwing her head back laughing, cackling, with a large satisfied grin. The reporter who she was with during an interview repeatedly asked, "Was that to do with your visit recently?" which prompted further laughter.
Assange, cont: There is a spiritual dimension to this issue that we have to consider - there is something in Hilary, and in her reaction, that personality, that has an 85% chance of entering, and embedding itself in, the White House after the election. That is something to think about: how a Western head of state reacts to another head of state being other thrown and killed in such a manner, and that person becoming the most powerful individual on earth.
- Rather than look for stability, France has also roused community fear by requesting everyone run to their local hospital to donate blood; there is talk of 'borders', 'crackdowns' and the British have already highlighted surveillance. This plays directly into ISIS's crackdown of the 'grey zone' between devout muslims and those Muslims embedded in Western ways, with increased Islamophobia and disunification in multicultural states.
- There is no ideological alternative being proposed: Isis vs. the West. What can occupy the middle ground? There needs to be a new European left movement. A type of 'Christianity', a preaching of love and unification.
Varoufakis: The paradox of the last 20 years has been that we have increased our communication, its frequency, participants and methods to do so. And there was the opportunity to produce a clear picture of the world. But instead, the content of that information, and what we actually know, is decreasing. It is dynamite to the foundation of the EU and adds to its 'democratic deficit'. Wikileaks is a bridge. It is, what Julian called, 'Scientific Journalism'. It provides information that does not rely on secondary and tertiary information, or is sources from those with vested, corporate, interests. It is the antithesis of the growing 4th hand knowledge in which people return to the source of those who misinformed them in the first place. Its triumph is that it is using that very same technology (e-mail, etc.) which allows for covert communication to disrupt this process.
Varoufakis: It is not that capitalism is flawed because it breeds inequality, it is flawed because it is extremely wasteful between human and material resources and their capacities. Issues such as rising inequality are by-products to this wastefulness that underpins it. It will also other throw itself through the technologies it creates. Apple, for instance, are bringing back their first stores to the US from China, not because they will fill them with American employees but because they will be the first to be robotised.
Assange: When you speak to senior figures in Silicon Valley such as Google's Chairman they have frightening worldviews. There is a real 'poverty' there, in that respect. There is a 'High-tech liberalism' ideology, which you can see references to in Google's book mentioning a 'new digital age', with Washington already going to Silicon Valley for information and solutions. They, as corporations have great experience in managing sheer scale, and with competency. They even have influence in some local governments. When you go to India and China and ask young people about their futures they say they want to work for Facebook, or if they're radical, start their own Facebook. Beyond this, Silicon Valley also 'rebrands' when it's abroad. For instance, to be "Doing it the Chinese/Indian way", but there's no choice, there's no 'China/India' involved - it's just a rebranding of Silicon Valley's ideology. And there's no growing competition.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement:
Q: To Assange following revelation of Wikileaks documents concerning TTIP: How dangerous is it?
Assange: It's the biggest venture for global, economic and legal unity outside of the EU. It incorporates countries which when summed are responsible for the handling of two-thirds of the worlds GDP, encompasses 1.6 billion people and excludes chiefly non-Western countries (Russia, South Africa, China etc. - Author note: Whom have their own arrangements, for instance, the BRICS Central Bank consisting of: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). They will have monopoly power over, for instance, the pricing of goods (Author note: as the EU has price stability mechanisms. As is the role of all Central Banks to use monetary policy to achieve price stability and inflation targets]) and the regulation of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Hilary Clinton has referred to it as an "economic NATO". Assange spoke of this alignment to be purposefully pulling apart some of the unity already made in continental Europe with the European Union (in industry and trade terms) as to, economically, seek incorporation in case there would be further ties made to Asia, leaving the US behind.
Varoufakis: It is not about free-trade, it is about specifying who has the right to an idea. Who has the capacity to tell a certain company, "You can charge this amount". These are the people making daily decisions about our future without us knowing about it: what pesticides can be used, what genome will be disregarded in a plant species, etc.
Politics, knowledge, nation state borders,
the Internet/social media and 'left' and 'right' wing
Assange: What we thought would happen with the advent of a global source of information (i.e. the Internet) also created the opposite: intellectual, global, homogenisation of ideas also became "the Scottish becoming more Scottish", and "the Right becoming more Right". Those who wanted to connect came to connect even more. So we've also seen the deepening of divides, and identification with distinctions between us, as we have the increase of homogeneity.
Žižek: But why didn't the Left become more Left?
Varoufakis: Bernie Sander's success existing in the USA is not futile. 10% of the vote is a success.
Žižek: Yes, he found contact with people whom typically it would be impossible to reach. It is not that the Left should try to 'overthrow' but rather strategically point towards, and have, debates which need to be had. In every situation, such as Paris, isolate one modest point and begin from there.
Q from audience member: Doesn't democratising the EU create a greater sense of difference and separation from the world?
Varoufakis: Yes, we must think larger, global. I do not think in terms of borders. We're not limited to the size of the EU.
Video recording of the evening:
Credit: Southbank Centre
On November 4th, Michael Gove gave a speech at The Howard League for Penal Reform's Annual General Meeting (AGM). Before his arrival, during the members-only meeting, the panel noted that the most stark difference between Gove and his predecessor, Chris Grayling, was that he was willing to engage with the NPO at all. He treated them with courtesy, and respect. His first actions in office have been to scrap: the Ban on Books to prisoners, the building of a children's 'mega-jail', and Grayling's 'Justice Solutions International' (JSL) project which hoped to sell the UK's 'expertise' in prisons, probation, payment by results, tagging, offender management, and even privatization, to countries such as Saudi Arabia for millions (£5.9m in the Saudi case).
As first steps go, they were long, bold, strides. And whilst I am as excited about, and supportive of, Gove's new direction - and understand the significance of his U-turn - as much as anyone else, as I sat no more than six feet away during the speech the Chief Executive of The Howard League, Frances Crook later said she was "blown away" by, and whilst the media that surrounds Gove is nothing short of evocative, I still felt primarily cautious and circumspect, for the following reasons:
1. His 'framing' of crime - His start point
Fundamentally there are social and individual causes of crime, and Gove recognised this in the beginning of his speech. With a caveat. He spoke of the 'poverty of love' and 'affection' in prisoner's childhood homes, the role of parenting and the 'importance of social work' (words the Chair of the Howard League Sue Wade remarked she had never heard from a Justice Secretary in all her time with the League). He spoke of those 'excluded' and 'disconnected' from institutions such as education. Therefore seemingly recognising that social inequality and exclusion yield members of society whom may resort to other methods of obtaining income etc.
However, it is in the other half of Gove's language, and where he sees these social issues as stemming from, that we see a neoconservative framing of crime develop. For he also said that there is an 'impulsivity in adults' which stems from 'poor parenting', a lack of respect for 'deferred gratification'. That individuals are not 'rounded' or 'successful' when they partake in crime, that they are 'letting down' their communities, and that most, but not all, are 'rational actors'. They suffer from a type of 'moral poverty'. Therefore, crime is a result of individual behaviour, and not through fault of the state or capitalism. His plans for rehabilitation in prisons also recognise that this profile primarily fits working class, young males, with fragmented backgrounds in education and employment. Ignoring this position's issues for now, remember this point later.
2. The privatization of rehabilitation
Gove said that he wishes to emphasize and focus upon ‘rehabilitation’, which exists amongst the 'other roles' of prison such as to 'incapacitate' and 'deter'. He said that 'prison works' (a significant statement in itself) when there is: education, when individuals are able to 'make a contribution', when there is work 'to find self-discipline', and when individuals are able to build some of their first positive relationships with these concepts.
But his plans for rehabilitation through work and education were overtly declared to be tied to levels of privatisation. What many would consider to be oil and water. Particularly given the laughable, and devastating effect his predecessor’s privatization has had. Gove also mentioned the need for new technologies in prison, such as body-worn cameras for staff, to reduce existing levels of staff-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-staff violence.
When you analyse these concepts holistically you see a strong economic rationale, particularly giving the group of prisoners he is primarily focusing on. One of the key economic indicators the UK is struggling with currently is productivity. There are over 80,000 prisoners in the UK whom are not economically active, legally. By creating the demand for privatised rehabilitation you invite the supply of the industry that will underpin it. How does the government gain from this? It gains a work-force it did not have before, two-fold - whilst in, and when out of prison - and the development and strengthening of an industry (privatised prison education, work/labor). A lack of industry and manufacturing are currently core to the UK's financial insecurity.
Outsourcing to private firms is economically sound because those businesses will later contribute to the economy through their own spending and investment (pillars of any economy), and in this instance have a constant, guaranteed supply of consumers (prisoners). Such outsourcing through technology is already well known to the criminal justice system, e.g. electronic tagging. However, it was noted in 2013 that £70m could be saved if such technology was not outsourced to private firms and handed directly to police and probation officers. However, when privatising 'rehabilitation', combine those loses to private firms with the issues surrounding payment-by-results - that is, the 'results' aspect. Who will enforce that prisoners are not simply given 'busy-work' to gain certificates, so as to ensure the firm are able to receive their stipend from the government for putting 'x' number of prisoners through programmes? As two former American prisoners outline in this video.
3. Out with the old
Gove also stated that he wished to close down old, 'squalid' Victorian prisons in exchange for newly built institutions which were 'fit for purpose'. Surely, if we are using the economic argument - as those prisons are said to be cost-ineffective (heating; overcrowding) - it would be more appropriate to follow the research and review short sentences, so those prisons could be closed down for good by a massive reduction in the prison population? Gove said that first he needed to see 'a lot' more, and detailed, evidence that short sentences are ineffective. I am not sure how much more he needs. There are also still 4,612 prisoners whom remain in prison following the abolition of their IPP sentences (Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection) in 2012. Their release would mean an immediate loss of 5% in the prison population (based on 4,612 IPP prisoners of 85,000) and savings of £119 million.
By building new prisons you only naturalise their role in society, and there would need to be motivation to do so. Would they be privately operated or under the ownership of HMPS? If ran privately it appears a great headline for the government on the money made by selling the valuable land the old prisons vacated, and to not take on economic responsibility for new ones You will also encounter issues with plans to build new prisons whilst over one million people use food banks. Further populism will only be counter-productive to his efforts to encourage rehabilitation, and for us to 'find the treasure' in every prisoner's heart, as he remarked in an earlier speech.
4. Sentencing - did I hear him wrong?
When asked about the sheer size of our prison population he said he hoped it would 'fall over time' but also made the very clear statement that he would not intervene in the courts sentencing decisions. Two questions later he made a comment about the sentencing framework being somewhat ineffective. I found the latter to be more of a throwaway comment than the former which he stood firm on. His recognition and admittance of court sentencing being imperfect, however, is remarkable enough in and of itself.
5. Cause to celebrate?
I believe there is cause to celebrate, because Michael Gove is not Chris Grayling. He also does not shy away from the well-known and obvious issues surrounding prison reform. He will give a thirty-minute speech scarcely using the word 'prisoner', 'offender', or 'criminal', and in place will use 'person' and 'individual'. However: when he remarked that he believes the word "crisis" is being used too often, and he wouldn't use that word himself, to describe the state of our courts, prisons and probation service - given their current conditions with the: highest imprisonment rate in Europe, rat infestations, the death of staff, increasing suicides, violence, corruption, drug-use and the wastage of public money in privatization schemes (whom have claimed from the government payment for the tagging of offenders who are no longer alive, and have been paid £1.1 million to operate a prison which is no longer open) - I ask: what word would he use?
If we are not in crisis now, where is the motivation to act quickly and effectively? Aspects such as Grayling's changes to the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) regime, for instance, need to be revised immediately. Particularly the spending of twenty-three hours in cells by prisoners because of the impact this has on violence and mental health issues (which need no exasperation). The cuts to staff levels and subsequent increase in working hours for remaining staff has impacted overall (mental) health, leading to a huge increase in sick days being taken leaving prisons chronically understaffed. Whilst Gove has made a U-turn on large-scale projects, and is saying all the right things, if he is truly committed to changing prisons in the UK, he must first adopt changes which establish the prisoner's, and staff's, safety and well-being so that any form of pronounced rehabilitation can begin.
To finalise this argument: if there is a real revolutionary zeal in Gove you would expect him to be concerned with tackling the more concrete pathways known to lead to prison, and the barriers people face upon re-entry: drug and alcohol misuse, mental health issues, children in care, housing, homelessness, and of course a lack of educational attainment and employment. This extends into the remit of probation whom deal with offenders post-release, of which we heard no mention. And whilst Gove has expressed an interest in social-care for early intervention, I wonder how he will navigate the fact that his government has directly deepened such issues?
I am wondering if Gove will 'return morality' to our criminal justice system, or if right now, this morality is largely aesthetic. For instance: in the case of body-worn cameras. It would be simpler, and cheaper, to decrease time spent incarcerated during the day to encourage less violence. Prisoners are already well adept at committing violence in hidden environments. And with the current prisoner to staff ratio, and prisoners able to simply attack from behind, it is not difficult to imagine how this is an expensive, and untried, solution.
There should, of course, be rehabilitation in prison, but I am sceptical of privatised rehabilitation when there are not wider changes being made to the prison environment - chiefly, to depopulate it. I am also sceptical because of the apparent economic parallels such privatisation has with the wider fiscal decisions being made by this government, and the economic motivations Gove's predecessor had at the heart of all his decisions.
We will discover more about Michael Gove's intentions on the November 25th following the spending review. However, for now, such scepticism noted above is just that - scepticism. If Gove is to deliver on all that he has outlined, he will be a fantastic replacement to Grayling. In the present, I just hope he sees the immediacy with which some issues need to be addressed.
Just hours after this post went live, was this article published.
https://twitter.com/RFord4 - Richard Ford's tweet
http://www.aei.org/events/can-prison-help-convicts-a-conversation-with-two-former-inmates-turned-prison-reformers/ - video
The mere fact that the government is using a phased roll-out is indicative of the instability everyone is sure will ensue following the 'removal' of tobacco from prison. I use removal in inverted commas because all staff who smoke will still have to be on site when smoking, and therefore those whom are known to contribute to the inflow of contraband will still legally, and without question, be able to bring in their tobacco. So, tobacco will not be eliminated from the prison grounds. It will just be that the prisoners are excluded from partaking, overtly. The removal of their own tobacco will simply lead to other sources being utilised. Prisons are an environment where limitations breed solutions. Other habits, and other drug habits, which may give them the same relief, will be acquired. As Ben Gunn notes it is likely to increase the use of heroin as it is an available alternative. This is not an isolated statement. The introduction of drug testing saw an increase in heroin use as marijuana stays in the system for up to 30 days whereas heroin only lasts 24 hours. Therefore, one habit was traded for another to avoid detection. Heroin does seem the more likely option, although I know many prisoners, who like many of us who have smoked in the past, have simply picked up a bad habit and will be happy for the opportunity to give up.
But, that's a minority. And 'gang psychology' is not to be underestimated here. All prisoners are still under the new Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme following Grayling's inception in 2010. Many will still be bitter about those changes and will want to rebel against yet another privilege being lost. It is easy to be 'written up' and to lose your enhanced status on the IEP scheme meaning that maintaining any form of privilege in prison isn't easy. I've watched prisoners beg not to be written up for very small slights of behaviour, and cry when finding out they've lost another visitation. It was almost impossible to console them. Their anger 'against the system' ever increasing. When prison already sets up for failures in behaviour, which it then punishes further, which incites further misbehaviour, the removal of tobacco is begging for further disruption and violence that HM Prison Service cannot currently afford.
Grayling's method of exclusion continues
However, the government have gone one step further. Since 2010 it has attacked: the right to vote (The European Court of Human Rights has found the UK to be in breach of human rights by banning some inmates from voting during elections), the right to read more than a few books and receive support from your family (Grayling's unsuccessful ban on books) and now the right to smoke: one of only two recreational, legal drugs which most of the 'outisde' population in the UK partake in. Whilst alcohol is banned in prison that is because of its ability to incite violence. Smoking does not have such an effect on a person's behaviour. Withdrawal symptoms, for the first few weeks, however, will make this much more likely. Particularly when people use smoking as a way to have five minutes to themselves, and to take a break from what's going on around them, possibly reducing violent interactions. All of these changes and attacks on basic personal freedoms make the government's stance very clear. And, the prisoners know what the message is too: you're excluded from society.
In a time of some optimism surrounding Michael Gove's appointment and his call for 'reform' in the prison service, which he recognises to be failing, such a statement is not as benign as it first appears. Whilst punishment is supposed to create this difference between offenders and non-offenders, and create a hierarchy of privilege and rights, when viewed in the wider context it can be seen to be reflective of the government's stance towards prison policy. That is to be 'saying one thing, and doing another'.
Such exclusions will not support offender reform as Michael Gove claims he wants to achieve. It will increase anti-government attitudes, alienate an entire population further, and in all likelihood, dismantle many established forms of stability the prisoners have created for themselves. It can therefore be seen that this is not simply an isolated attack on prisoner's privileges due to a wider health initiative, but is part of a wider dismantlement of their rights, and an approach to increase their exclusion. Exclusion which is known to be counter-productive to any efforts of reform or rehabilitation.
Added to this, a governor who has experienced a successful smoking ban in his prison said the following:
"We haven't had any problems and I think that's to do with the way the prison was operating. We had very good order and control, we had very good staff-prisoner relationships and the environment was right to introduce the ban. There are some prisons where you wouldn't do this, you know, where there wasn't work, there wasn't enough employment for people, there wasn't education courses."- David Matthews, Les Nicholls governor, Guernsey.
With such a lack of work, employment, education and an increase in drugs, violence and instability, it could not be said to be a less sensible time than now to introduce further disruption to HM's prisons.
Ben Gunn's blog: http://prisonerben.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/prison-smoking-ban_5.html?spref=tw - read for further information on disruption to the prison economy which uses tobacco, etc.
David Cameron has announced that the UK will contribute £25m towards the completion of a 'super'-prison in Jamaica, accounting for around 40% of the total budget. It is hoped that by building the 1,500 occupancy prison the ongoing friction relating to Jamaican prisoners serving their sentences in UK prisons will be eased. Currently around 600 Jamaican nationals are serving sentences in UK jails, many for offences relating to drugs and violence. However, due to the poor conditions in Jamaican jails, the UK has been unable to deport the offenders through fear of committing human rights abuses itself. Therefore investment in the prison will allow the UK to ease this stalemate as once it is complete, deportation of Jamaican inmates from UK prisons can begin.
However, whilst appearing a simple solution, it creates a chain reaction of inconsistencies and impracticalities:
Whose rule of law?
Firstly, it is unclear if the Jamaican offenders will serve part, or all, of their sentence in the Jamaican facility. If it is their entire sentence, then it has not yet been detailed as who will have responsibility for offender's trials and sentencing. The boundaries between nation-states and their rule of law will become blurred. Particularly when sentencing for particular crimes are very distinct. This will in turn affect victims whom may feel they should be tried in accordance with the laws of the country the crime was committed, which may help empower them during the trial. If the UK is to arrest, try and sentence the individual then how will that translate once those offenders are on Jamaican soil, or in the event of a parole review? How will their UK based solicitors offer assistance with their cases, particularly if they are unable to see or speak to the individual? Will their case transfer to a Jamaican firm who are unfamiliar with the case or the rule of law for the country the crime was committed in? Will the deportation apply to all Jamaican citizens who commit crime, or are sentenced, in the UK? Will their be distinctions made on visiting, visa, asylum or residential status? Once released from prison will the offender ever be able to return to the UK?
As the UK will invest 40% of the budget, and if they are to try and sentence the individuals, do they have any say in their treatment following deportation? If not, this leads to the next issue.
The ethical loophole
If the UK is unable to intervene in the treatment of the Jamaican individuals following deportation it has only committed to avoiding human rights violations temporarily. If the UK has no say in the management, daily operations, conditions, treatment from guards/other inmates, rehabilitation or resettlement whilst the men are incarcerated then their commitment to protect them is false. For not only have they knowingly sentenced them to such conditions, as was the original issue, but they have now paid directly into the pockets of those whom will enforce those conditions. Will the UK's 40% investment include contractual conditions which the Jamaican government will have to enforce?
If so, consequentially, will the UK have deported its rule of law abroad? A rule which will only relate to 600 men out of the 1,500 in the same facility. Will there be special wings, guards and conditions for those men?
Whilst this all seems impractical in a day-to-day sense, it also begs the question philosophically regarding borders and the inherent individuality of national-state operations. If this project were to become commonplace in the UK whereby all foreign nationals were deported, and were kept distinct in their treatment and conditions to avoid such human rights abuses (as was trying to be avoided here), would we see small individual UK prisons set up across the globe? It would be extremely difficult to imagine a situation whereby those human rights abuses could be avoided by doing anything else.
Repaying society 1: Who to pay?
It also begs the question of which society the offender has a debt to repay. If the victim is displaced across the globe from their offender it will render opportunities for restorative justice almost impossible, therefore denying the victim an opportunity for closure and the ability to voice their opinion surrounding their punishment. It will also make it impossible for community sentences to be carried out during the latter stages of a sentence. For drug offences, for instance, there are heavy consequences on the surrounding areas which those drug offences take place. Offenders will not have a chance to rebuild, or indeed engage with at all, those areas and people they affected.
Repaying society 2: Prisoners as economic assets
The project is part of David Cameron's announcement to utilise £300m of aid-funding across the Caribbean in a regional infrastructure fund for development in roads, ports and bridges in collaboration with the Caribbean Development Bank. Fiscal policy, which includes such investment and infrastructure programmes, is here being used to include the development of a prison. This could be seen as an example of the prison-industrial complex where prison cells are filled in exchange for economic growth. Prisons are known to contribute widely to their communities with jobs to not only build the prison, but to manage and work within it on a daily basis for decades to come. By deporting up to the 600 inmates currently serving in jails in the UK, in a 1,500 capacity prison, the UK would be contributing 40% of the men to fill the cells. If there were a staff-to-prisoner ratio of a) 1:2.9 (1 guard to 2.9 prisoners - as was the level in the UK in 2000) or b)1:4.8 (UK level in 2013) then that's an additional a) 207 guards or b) 125 guards. Which for one of the slowest growing developing countries in the world with an annual GDP increase of just 1%, and with an unemployment rate of 13.2% (2015) as opposed to the UK's 5.6% (2015), it is not difficult to see that this would make a difference. Particularly when that is only accounting for the added prisoners arriving from the UK.
The (im)migrant debate
It is also difficult to view such a decision by David Cameron to be outside of the current debate surrounding (im)migrants and the stance each party is taking on such matters. The deportation of foreign national offenders appears 'tough on outsiders', and after the recent pressure on the Conservative governments to increase the number of migrants accepted into the UK following the humanitarian crisis in Syria and elsewhere, it would appears to voters to balance out the party's defeat.
From an academic point of view it would also make the ability to collect, manage and file prison statistics appropriately very difficult if the other governments do not collect their data as throughly. It would also allow the possibility for the government to change the definition of what it means to belong to the UK's prison population, leaving many individuals not included, giving falsely low figures which may be attribute to policies which are actually ineffective.
Durham Constabulary have announced that in April 2015 they will be launching a scalped-up version of a project the West Midlands have already piloted, with a success rate of 75%. Known as the 'Turning Point Plan' by the West Midlands Police, the project sees those whom commit low-level offences (low-level assault, fraud, shoplifting and theft) removed from the typical channel of the criminal justice system (arrest, an appearance at a magistrates court, conviction and a criminal record when found guilty) into a new system.
The 'Turning Point' comes when the police interpose at the point of arrest and allow for the offender to agree to a voluntary plan which sees a contract drawn establishing the offenders compliance to no longer offender, to engage and repay the community, and to engage with those issues which may have surrounded their offending (mental health issues, substance misuse, relationship issues, homelessness and domestic abuse).
Constructed in conjunction with the University of Cambridge this is a very interesting project. Namely because of the crisis of mass imprisonment in the UK (suicide, overcrowding, 24hrs locked behind cell doors, staff shortages etc) where the problem of overcrowding manifests because England and Wales' prison population primarily consists of those whom have committed such low level offences, serving short sentences (3-6 months). These low-level offenders have further contributed to England and Wales' mass imprisonment as a cascade of low-level offences have become imprisonable for the first time, in recent years under the current Coalition government.
If this initiative can avoid adding low-level offenders to a prison service which is is not fit to handle them, and prevents those problems associated with such offenders carrying a criminal conviction (reduced job opportunities which effects offenders becoming reinstated in the economy, impacting resettlement and thus aiding high recidivism (re-offfending) rates (which adds to the prison population as recirculation of short sentence offenders increases on top of existing population, and new offenders in the system); issues of labelling, criminalisation and demonisation of low-level offences etc) we may finally be making progress with low-level offenders.
Short prison sentences have often been noted as a) the plug, which if released, would relieve a huge amount of pressure from within the prison service in England and Wales, and b) a key ingredient when considering how to reform prison, and justice, policy as low-level offenders become part of a cycle of offending, criminal conviction, reoffending, further incarceration (costing time, money and effort on behalf of the police, prison probation service, as well as tax-payers and our communities) which ultimately removes (primarily) young, men from their communities (family, friends, children - and the support they may gain from them), from the labor maker and thus the economy.
However, as much as such solutions are urgently needed and very welcome I am reminded of the problems associated with the ASBO, and its subsequent derivative forms under the current Coalition government. An essay critically examining the Anti-Social Behaviour Agenda, which highlights these issues in more detail, can be seen here: https://www.academia.edu/10018942/The_Anti-Social_Behaviour_Agenda_in_England_and_Wales_a_critical_examination_in_relation_to_youth_custody_detention_and_policy.
This is because when the first two features of such an agreement to prevent further criminal offences are 1) the agreement not to commit a further offence, coupled with: 2) to work in conjunction with services which will aim to address the issues surrounding your offending (mental health issues, homelessness, substance misuse) you are saying the following:
"Whilst we recognise your diminished ability to make appropriate personal choices due to personal circumstances, we wish you to make personal choices about your personal circumstances to reduce your offending".
It is circular. Circular policies result in breaches of those policies, as did ASBO's with a 68% breach rate for children and 52.7% for adults. Breaches result in arrest, court and a criminal conviction: back to where the policy began. The only way to ensure that such a policy is effective is to ensure that all the services which surround it are fully operational and the programmes are effective. Where all individual needs are taken into consideration so that those whom may wish to alter their personal circumstances but need help, information and constant support to do so, can.
What we know is that currently many council-run operations are understaffed and underfunded. Many programmes (e.g. drug addiction) are ineffective and all the way through to probation there are substantial difficulties due to privatisation and cuts. This means ineffectual care and guidance for those whom may wish to change their personal circumstances to reduce their offending.
This policy could prove a substantial beginning for addressing the problem of low-level offending and beneficial for all involved. But it is irresponsible to assume that its implementation alone will finally address a problem which cripples the criminal justice system in England and Wales.
Original article in the Northern Echo: http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/11681660.Offenders_given_chance_to_escape_conviction_as_part_of_Durham_Constabulary_s__groundbreaking__scheme_Checkpoint/?ref=twtrec
When we say, "You do not need money to be happy" we are saying two things:
1) Money, in a capitalist society, is not necessary for happiness although it may be sufficient
2) We are making a general statement about the human condition whereby monetary success and material accumulation are not preordained as naturally human endeavors, and thereby are not necessary or sufficient to human happiness
Both claims are matters of ontology. The first appeals to the ontology of those within capitalist societies whom may see consumerism as part of their lived experience and phenomenology through internalisation of capitalist ideals. The second makes 'higher' claims as to the ontology of the human race, our condition and archetypal existence.
For many in capitalist societies there is an experience of ontology within ontology. Whereby lived-experience is both simultaneously and contrarily infused with notions of existential well-being and existential angst. Individuals within a capitalist society make have both experiences of: a) "I wish for monetary success" and 2) "I wish to be free from the need for monetary success and to adhere to the normative trajectory of society wherein my success is ascribed not only by material gain, but what it symbolises about both my 'self' and my willingness to conform".
This latter argument presupposes that capitalism is not a natural state of the human condition nor an inherent part of societal 'evolution'.
For those whom experience this ontology within ontology where there is equal wish to express both 1) and 2) there is one ontology that is lived and the another that is imagined. They co-exist in spatial-temporal proximity and yet one denounces the other of a 'natural' quality to life whilst the other has no external comparison and thus is inherently unable to ascribe itself any 'natural' quality at all.
If we were to imagine 'happiness' to be a emergent quality such as the 'wetness' of water or 'consciousness' in the brain, it would require substrates which constitute and enable the possibility of emergence. For example, 'wetness' requires the existence of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom joined by covalent bonds (H20), in a further state -- liquid, i.e. water and not ice or vapor.
If there were such qualities which may result in the emergence of happiness, perhaps they would be: security, love, stimulus, growth (personal - and opportunities for), fulfillment of wants/needs/desires and success in those opportunities we choose to pursue. Importantly there are no variables here which may inhibit the effect of these properties and accepts obsession, compulsion, environmental imbalances (e.g. too much or too little stimulus) as all are subjective for the emergence of happiness. For example, one individual may need constant stimulus and another very little.
Seven boxes to represent the seven properties (love, security etc) mentioned above. If over the life course (four different stages of the life course represented by the four different configurations) these properties were to change e.g. there were no opportunities for growth or the person felt unloved it may show red. This may change in ten years time whereby those properties become green but other qualities (e.g. stimulus) has fallen away.
Each scenario may depict how variance in our happiness may lead to overall unhappiness (when a majority fall away) or when it may emerge in the spatial-temporal moment (e.g. the bottom configuration when a majority are green). To account for individual differences you may simply adjust that each property has a subjective need to be fulfilled, to varying degrees. Whereby 'love' may become green for one individual in a new relationship but another in consideration of the strength of their family ties. Each individual may prioritize the seven properties differently, and importantly, each may turn green for them, when that property is fulfilled to their individual needs.
It may also be assumed the changes in the configuration are constant and are subject to extreme flux in space and time. For example, during an individual's favourite band performance or after taking drugs. The effect of outside influences are accepted, and recognised, as part of perceptual, lived experience and also variations in the life course as to the importance of one property over another, over time. As is accepted: individual autonomy, and control of thoughts and decisions.
Capitalism and 'success'
It could be argued that capitalism is often incapable of providing many of those seven properties in a stable manner, whilst also placing pressure on the acquisition of those properties to achieve just one of them: success. Thus, those experiences of love, opportunity and safety become funneled into one property: 'success'. Perhaps inflating a property that within many individuals may have been much more understated, thus de-regulating individuals into a state of constant inability to fulfill their own personal, subjective happiness without 'success' as it becomes the marker of all other properties. It is also not recognised that each individual is capable of achieving differing levels of success.
For example: the internet is flooded with images within social-media of what it means to be 'happy'. To 'consume' these trainers, to 'be in love' with another person (and what that love should look like) and how your attitude towards education should be to 'fit in'. All tell us how to proceed in our society if we wish to appear successful. Telling us to just 'be happy' as individuals whilst being simultaneously being told exactly what we need to do to look happy to others, in what medium to present it (and who to), and to what degree. This inherently inhibits individual differences which may result in subjective, individual happiness. Again, used here as an example of 'success' as negating and regulating all other properties of happiness. As inspired by capitalist, economic 'success' as infusing other areas of social-life with an overbearing notion of the capability, and need, to be 'successful' overall, in whatever aspect of social life we enter into.
The images below are taken from the website 'tumblr', a very common social-media site particularly amongst younger people. It's cliché images are 'light', 'airy', and colourful in pastel blues, pinks, purple and oranges with 'motivational' quotes projected. All quotes appear to take a tone of 'reform your lifestyle to pre-capitalism and simplicity' where we go back to the 'good old days' of simply wants, needs and pleasures. Whilst the only way to be sure you've presented to other people that you've achieved such simplicity, and happiness, is to post it online via your smart-phone thus undermining the notion of happiness as sufficient without material consumption. As would be the 'simpler lifes' prerogative and thus undermining the original message.
Today I had my first official lecture in Forensic Psychology, on the subject of 'gangs'. The lecturer said we'd be exploring a lot of sociological and criminological theory as "they are the ones who've done a majority of the research". Alarm Bell 1.
Firstly we moved through "What is a gang?" and the problems of establishing anything beyond a 'working' definition. Immediately I was struck by the responses of the psychology students when asked to attempt a definition themselves. With Sociology and Criminology as my 'primary' discipline all that I knew about 'gangs', institutional racism, the New Labour government's 'avalanche of policy' in the 1990s, disproportionate 'stop and search' of ethnic minorities, the War on Drugs, the media, distrust of police, political motivations for punitive policy, etc all ran through my mind. My own definition, to try and avoid these issues, was: "A collection of people who share similar ideas, ideals and goals exercised in spatial and temporal proximity". As ambiguous as I could possibly be. But, critically, incorporating those who are seen as, much less pejoratively, to just operate in 'groups'. For instance, football supporters and those who function within relatively covert monolithic institutions such a employees of financial institutions, and perhaps even politicians.
However, the answers given were: "criminal groups", "violent offenders" and people whose lives were centred around violence which was "part of their identity". Alarm Bell 2.
Those emotive, reactionary examples, I think, make the cause for Alarm Bell 1 (disproportionate research being in sociology and criminology compared with forensic psychology) and 2 (a collection of relatively 'unimaginative' answers made by psychology students) very much related.
The relation between them being that, of course, those psychology students have not learnt what I have and vice-versa. Additionally they may not be interested in this topic as much as they are, say, cognition or memory.
Therefore there becomes a critical part of the education process (and the transmission of knowledge via any channel from books to documentaries) and that is: to ensure that the information is up-to-date but yet ensures readers have a broad, somewhat chronologically organised history, and that it can be conceptualised within a framework.
However, my fears were alleviated when the lecturer began to talk through the main sociological and criminological theory which was applicable to this topic.
Alarm Bell 3.
A lot of the theory was correct but had been generalised so much that it began to overlap where it was distinct. The theories unexplored and therefore vague. The lecturer can not be blamed for that. If his/her research is in forensic psychology then (s)he can be no more excused for being uninterested in sociological/criminological explanations than his/her sociological/criminological research counterpart.
But, this, I believe is where the problem exasperates itself because a lecturer cannot correct a lack of interdisciplinary reading/research/understanding if their lecture is fundamentally characterised by that. What is the solution? One big 'Social Science' degree? Would that be a problem? Why do we have these specialisations?
And here is my question: what purpose does it serve to isolate disciplines, which only through combined efforts can ever realistically create theories and research which are representative of the social beings their attempting to encapsulate?
Today, however, I did find what I was hoping for by taking a related topic seen through another discipline's lens:
The concept of 'entitativity' (where you see one group as sharing such similar characteristics that you see its members as 'all the same') was introduced, which I found fascinating. I had never heard this term before, I saw research to support it (quantitative) and felt as though I finally had a word to encapsulate a concept I'd been aware of for years.
This is exactly the type of thing I expected and hoped to experience on the module. But, still, this is indicative of the inherent problem explored above. That (s)he has rich knowledge within his/her own field but, as shown by the sociological/criminological slides, has vague knowledge outside of it which led to the psychology students leaving with more concrete knowledge of their own field despite the lecturer's first comments as to whom had conducted a majority of the investigations into 'gangs'.
I believe therefore that it is critically important that we all become more open, and interested, in the other social science disciplines to ensure that we do not create ten theories by ten disciplines for one single phenomenon when interdisciplinary communication could yield more complex, but interesting and representative, theories.
Because when I encounter a fellow social sciences student in a pub, or even at postgraduate level, and we are already intrinsically distinct in our understanding of a subject (such as 'gangs) which both of our fields have contributed to, there is a missed opportunity for further understanding, but also on part of the academic research we may produce later on. This separation in our education only serves to entrench itself later when we come to teach and thus the cycle will continue.
Social Media and National Borders: An Emerging Contradiction?
NB: This post is not about Kanye West.
Spurred by the recent events in Gaza and the constant stream of social media in relation to the events - and others around the world - it appears that social media is in someway responsible for the first premise of this argument: it's made the world a smaller place. It's made it smaller by bringing events from thousand of miles away, in all direction, as close to us (in terms of information) as the name of our neighbours dog. Which leads to the second premise: it's brought this information closer than the name of our neighbours dog. I would have to build a relationship with my neighbours, or actively seek their dogs name to gain this information. Whereas my phone, and therefore my news apps, travel with me everywhere and are nothing more than a touch of a button. No relationship. No permission.
The result of this is that the world is not only smaller, in terms of information, but that I can feel closer to an event in China than my neighbour. Therefore, whilst social media has reduced the distance between myself and information in China it has increased the likelihood that I am more distant from information closer to home unless it immediately affects my own life. Whilst all of this information allows me to feel more of an active participant in events of the world, I equally feel less of a participant in the events of the world that surround me directly. Choosing to read your BBC news app at the dinner table whilst your family speak of their day may be one example.
Social media has also, in the case of Gaza, brought about a consensus that has been felt by millions of people all over the world, causing them to march in protest. The consensus that what is happening in Gaza is not okay. And so, for many, solidarity has been bred through the contactless information sharing of an event which is emotive by a source which is read and not perceived. As opposed to the solidarity felt by those on a train platform witnessing a man being beaten, which relies on sensory information and shared experienced in close proximity. Although no different to radio broadcasts in WWII, perhaps, this type of engagement has become an everyday event. This somewhat global consensus symbolises discontent on a global scale of that which is undemocratic. Emerging, for me, in particular, with the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011.
However, we have also experienced (particularly in the West) unprecedented favour of far-right politics which is critical of all that is 'sharing'. Critical of all that is in favour of an emergent 'beyond our nation' solidarity in the interest of one fixed end for all. Except the solidarity in consensus that we agree to not have one. Indicative of a shared cross-borders consensus itself. We are all agreed to live in a way which states that we do not agree to live in the same way.
So whilst it appears that social media may have assembled a future in which it appears to be possible - and sometimes inevitable - that the world will come to share a single view of actions such as bombing children for their occupation of a piece of land as wrong, we are equally agreeable that certain places should be inhabited by certain people whom belong to a certain place. As demonstrated by the anti-immigration policies of those far-right parties. So we do have a shared single view: that we agree that our land is our land whilst action taken against the removal of persons from that land by fatal force or authority is not always acceptable, moral or justified.
In conclusion, whilst establishing closer proximity as though far reaching countries are our neighbours, we are actively undermining the relations with 'our neighbours' by creating stronger barriers between us. Whilst this suggests we are simply interested in the longevity and prosperity of ourselves, and our nation, we continue to practice both interest in the global events and the lives of others, whilst separating ourselves physically, contemporaneously. What is our space has become our space, whilst we share our collective views of the world without borders in cyber-space. From economics, to democracy or what we feel to be a basic sense of morality.
This overall contradiction is reinforced by its very means. Whereby the more we share the more we are attempting to separate, therefore undermining this separation the more we seek new ways to share and connect. How this will come to rest is not only interesting but appears as though it will be naturally contentious as the contradiction stretches itself to its limits.
It could even be said that this is not a contradiction at all, but an instinctive response to the uncertainty of the world we inhabit. In the same way that if you were to live in a cave and you stepped outside to learn more about the world and felt troubled by the dangers of it, you would likely retreat back inside for protection. But, that example doesn't include a live Twitter feed of: '@OutsideTheCave'. Or perhaps that's just good sense so you can put the stone door back blocking your ventilation when it's only absolutely necessary, when you know a threat is imminent. However, there appears to be more than the human preoccupation for self-preservation at work when we step outside the cave to scream "STOP".
Perhaps it comes down to nothing more than the distinction between those who want to protect the cave, and those who see a resolution of the conflict outside the cave as an opportunity for everyone to go back outside. But, even those governments whom claim nationalism will triumph 'threats' continue to trade. We continue to connect. We cannot return to the cave as though we don't know what we now do. And so, the friction arises again: protect ourselves, alienate ourselves from our neighbours but equally, and proportionately, seek ways to bypass those borders we're reinforcing, simultaneously.
Comments Re: Possible Interest Rate Increase
The services sector of our economy, which accounts for more than three-quarters of our economy as a whole, has shown growth in Q3 sparking the Guardian to suggest "that one or more policymakers at the Bank of England will vote for a rise in the interest rates in Thursday's meeting", and interest rates may rise as soon as February.
Writing for the London Evening Standard on March 12th, following the Select Committee, my opinion of the Bank and its relationship with the interest rate was anything but glowing. This is because the Banks ‘guidance’ appears to be somewhat nonexistent. This was demonstrated by the implementation of 18 fresh indicators (March, 2014) within the forward guidance policy. Indicators which would now dictate a rise in the interest rate. Previously the indicator had been unemployment falling to 7%. However, when it reached 7.1% in January the Bank incorporated those 18 indicators to further delay the rise. This told us three things:
1) Either the Bank underestimated how unbalanced the economy was, where unemployment falling had little relation to other facets of the economy such as productivity 2) The Bank was perhaps somewhat hopeful unemployment would stay above 7% long enough that these facets would balance themselves, and where unemployment falling was the final marker of a more settled and established economy, perhaps even a recovering one 3) The Bank was mistaken for believing the unemployment rate would have such a marked relational quality at all. My guess would be a combination of 1 and 2.
However, despite concerns over the handling of the low interest rate and the unremarkable forward guidance policy it appears concerning that the rates could rise as early as February. Here's why:
1) Wages: Whilst an increase in the growth of the services sector of our economy in Q3 is positive it is one of many signs of growth that is being hailed as a marker of a recovering and strengthening economy, when traditional understanding of what a ‘strong’ or ‘recovered’ economy is, have not been met. For example in terms of real wage growth. Which is related to point 2.
2) Mortgages: If wages are low then a higher interest rate affects people's ability to pay their mortgage as the monthly payments increase.
3) Borrowing: Where we fall shorts of wages, the UK has a remarkable history of finding money where it doesn’t exist either by borrowing or through credit. Where payday loans have only, in my opinion, replaced the credit boom of the 1980s and provided an outlet for easy access to money at a monumental cost to the borrower. Their existence and use is neither indicative of an economy with strength, or a sign of our own strength, and our ability to pay our outgoings.
4) Lending: Whilst there is need to borrow from banks at this time an increase in the interest rate will affect the ability of banks to lend cheaply, ultimately affecting the ability of first-time buyers, small businesses and the banks themselves to access funds. Ultimately affecting all facets of the economy.
However, it is extremely important to recognise that a low interest rate can be very unhealthy for an economy. Therefore making the choice between either keeping them low or raising them, perhaps somewhat prematurely, was never going to be easy. If the rates are risen in February it means that we are not out of the park by any means.
Jon Snow and Gaza -
Is it Up To Us?
In the same tone as my previous blog on Marius the giraffe I am wondering why it is that when the world is faced with Syria, Libya, Ukraine, Russia and Gaza - and when journalist, Jon Snow, is pleading for us to stand where governments are failing - is the world's moral compass behaving eratically. The events in Gaza are more troubling and representative of a larger problem than that of Marius the giraffe. People are dying, parts of world are protesting and yet, somehow, it appears that those in charge are standing by and allowing Israel to continue. So, Jon Snow says it's down to us. And I am inclined to agree with him. But, there's a problem. I see dedicated people protesting around the world and I see outrage. However, I know for one that not a single less politically active friend of mine (whom, as a group, to some degree represent an influential proportion of the population) have mentioned Gaza on social media outlets such as Facebook or Twitter. And I know why.
It is because they do not understand the situation enough to have an opinion. Unlike with Gaza, the case of Marius - which perhaps maybe I left out of my analysis - required a certain degree of instinct which allowed anyone, and everyone, to have an opinion. Did we feel it was right or wrong? Easy. But, the Palestine - Israel conflict is different. Unless you're familiar with the particulars of geopolitics, religion and how they have been compressed together to forge this dispute then it's hard to say who should be doing what, who shouldn't and what should happen next. I for one have no idea how to resolve this issue, I just want it end. I'm inclined to believe my less politically active friends would say the same thing. Most of us when faced with the question "Is killing children wrong or right?" would say wrong. Easy then. And perhaps that is what Jon Snow is appealing to, but I can't see my friends suddenly lining the streets of London. So, as with Marius I went through the reasons why they may or may not. Is it because of the children that we'd be encouraged to protest? Is it because the attacks are targeting innocent civilians? etc. But, I was sat thinking about Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan instead.
We sacrifice a certain amount of our civil liberties in return for protection from, and by, the State. Or so Hobbes' theorized. I am inclined to agree and I do believe that many of us feel that the State is a source of protection in certain situations (e.g. war), but that the State also has a duty to us. Where in return for that which we abide (law, tax etc.) they represent and control situations on our behalf. However, currently this is not the situation we are faced with. And so, maybe Jon Snow is right and if we are to be realistic then it is our job. However, I wonder if many of us find it difficult to take that step forward because perhaps we feel fundamentally it isn't our job. Perhaps we feel this way because it isn't part of the agreement we have with the State where they analyse and control such situations for us. Situations by admission we do not always understand nor are in a position to adequately deal with.
Personally I believe part of the agreement with the State also incurs that we stay informed, or take an interest in our own affairs and others as an inherent part of the relationship. Because you don't sign a deal to trade your apple for a pear, leave the table and hope your pear is still there when you need it. But suggesting that the entire nation should be comprehensive in this matter enough to know what they'd be protesting against, and have an informed opinion about which side they support, is unrealistic. Not only because at this stage it would take a public broadcast overrunning every television in the country explaining the crisis, but also because logically, we are not all equipped with the power and influence to make the real decisions. We can protest, write letters, use social media etc. and I'm not suggesting those aren't powerful tools but they're not the tools. The ball is not ultimately in our court even if we force action.
It's not that we should do nothing. Quite the opposite. But, I also don't believe our leader's voices should be silent in a situation which requires their voice, if not just through moral disposition, but job description.
Full video here:
Jon Snow's Twitter: https://twitter.com/jonsnowC4
Marius the giraffe and the morality of a nation: “Well, there was no need for that”
When I found myself reading at 2:30am about a fourteen year old girl who was gang-raped on the 10th of February, the day of this post, I felt sad and sorry for her but not sad and sorry enough. So, I said to myself “No, Alainah, think about it". Thirty seconds later when I had fully begun to contemplate what this meant for the girl, I was no longer sad but horrified. It’s easy to be. Isn’t it? After reflecting on this strange gap between a lack of emotional response, recognising I should of had one and then having one, my first thought was “Well, I do this all day”. I read news articles online and through my phone app’s quite literally whenever I can. When I am ill, which is quite often, I can be in front of the news for a week. It was very early in the morning, I was browsing through my news apps in the same manner I had done thirty times that day and maybe I was just tired and morally ‘foggy’ through desensitisation? Perhaps. But, if Michael Jackson’s death or the death of Marius the giraffe in Copenhagen’s zoo had just been announced I probably would have felt the opposite of tired or morally disengaged. Most likely, I would have sat up in bed and starred into my screen trying to pull the words into my brain as quickly and sharply as I could. But, this is not what happened in the case of the young girl. Which, quite honestly, now that I type this formally, is incredibly sad.
So, not tired or foggy, really, but perhaps desensitized? But why would I be desensitized to something as horrific as gang rape but not the death of an animal in a zoo which, quite frankly, is shocking in its own way, but isn't in the grand scheme of animal captivity nor the circle of life? My mother’s horse was cut into meat for the local zoo when he died, so I’ve heard of it before and the inbred giraffe may have suffered a similar fate in the wild, again, all of which I’ve heard before. Please note, I am in no way condoning the behaviour of Copenhagen Zoo, at all, but I want to ask why to most of us – including myself - felt that what happened to Marius was so abhorrent? The story is currently trending on Twitter (3pm GMT) with petitions flying and objections being screamed IN CAPITALS from one pole of Twitter and Facebook to another. Many of my friends who are not politically active or avid newsreaders were equally dismayed and began sharing the story through Facebook condemning the poor giraffe’s death almost as soon as it happened. There must be something ‘special’ about this piece of news to capture the imagination of a majority of the general public who have begun online petitions and continue to fuel social-media uproar.
So, what's made Marius special?
In fact, what makes him more important than the young girl who was gang-raped? A news article which is neither trending on Twitter or Facebook (3pm GMT) nor have I seen the news article re-tweeted, quoted or spoke of on my Twitter timeline once today. Perhaps the world is outraged and I am yet to see it. Perhaps it is not. I am not arguing which is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but I am trying to understand why Marius has taken precedent over not just the young girl but atrocities in Syria, the bloody revolt in the Ukraine and Bosnia who has just begun following suit, to name but a few important news stories. And this is it:
Firstly, perhaps it was that Marius’ death was a low number. He was just a single, happy, healthy, innocent giraffe who did not deserve to die and it is easier to identify with the death of one than, say, the plight of 160,000 people in a Syrian refugee camp. Perhaps when numbers grow larger we feel more disconnected from the plight of the individual, like ourselves, and therefore feel disempowered. Because, really, how could I make any difference to a war-torn country? However, this argument seems is troublesome because when it came to 9/11 in New York, the 7/7 bombings in London or the Holocaust we have found it incredibly easy to identify with the death of hundreds, thousands and millions. If it is not a matter of scale then conceivably it is something else.
Perhaps it was because Marius’ death was in front of children, the emblem of innocence. The giraffe too was innocent. It is an innocent animal that, actually, to most people is quite a joyful, funny looking thing that you cannot imagine being associated with death and the severing of limbs in front of an audience. These two ideas are not easily associated and therefore shocking. But, I would also argue that the only difference between a giraffe being stunned and then hacked for meat and the same happening to a cow is that I want to eat the latter. Although, of course, I wouldn’t wish this to be done in front of children. But, mainly the arguments I have seen have been for the giraffe itself and then there has been ‘extra’ outrage when people discover it was performed in front of children. Therefore, it must be something about the animal itself and if we go back to the argument of the cow, I am sure the lion wants to eat the giraffe. It is not a regular occurrence in the wild maybe, but a lion is a lion and I am pretty sure this is the equivalent, to the lion, of Tesco putting horsemeat into our microwaveable lasagna. A bit different to what we’re used to, but ultimately we’d probably eat it. So, what makes a giraffe anymore innocent than a cow or a lamb so much so that its death becomes both unnecessary and outrageous? Is the giraffe more innocent because I do not wish to eat it? Why does my choice of meat dictate the sanctity of an animal? When I hear people coming from back from America or Australia they’re always delighted to tell me they’ve tried buffalo, kangaroo or crocodile. So, maybe it wasn’t that someone was going to eat Marius at the end of his ordeal, or primarily that it was done in front of children and therefore it was something else.
Maybe it was just that Marius was innocent. However, again, I do not see how he was anymore innocent than the thousands of animals killed for us to eat, the young girl who was gang raped, the people of Syria or anyone else who has fallen victim to serious and violent crime. And although in the case of Syria, say, there has been a huge amount of debate and outrage at the situation I have not seen the same response as with Marius the giraffe. Again, what is so different about Marius? Feasibly it could be that the death of Marius was shocking because I for one have never heard of a giraffe being killed in a zoo before. In more ways than one the entire story was ‘fresh’. There was nothing boring or mundane about it, as news goes. But, does that mean if zoos begin massacring giraffes in the hundreds suddenly Marius becomes less important? I’m not sure he does. If we hear of giraffes being slaughtered on a regular basis do we stop caring about the life of Marius so much? I’m not sure we should. But, perhaps that’s exactly what happens when we hear of the same news story over and over again. I fear that this is the explanation for why I sat looking at my phone at 2:30am this morning and had to remind myself, in my sleepy haze, that the words ‘gang-rape’ and ‘fourteen year old girl’ are triggers for moral outrage too. Maybe, ‘160,000 refugees’ should make my blood boil. Perhaps such things should be trending on Twitter all day every day until we’re satisfied the situation has been resolved in a way that is both appropriate and acceptable to us, as will most likely occur in the case of Marius in some form.
Upon writing this post my father came home and we spoke about the case of Marius. He said he had been listening to the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2 where they were also discussing the death of the giraffe. He recalled the director of the zoo being involved in the discussion and had commented that basically, what's the problem? Zoos use an animal’s meat to feed other animals and that’s life. Others phoned in to say it was socially unacceptable and that all Marius’ death indicates is that we too often ‘play God’ and do not care about anything anymore. A journalist based in Denmark also remarked that in the twenty odd years he had been writing articles that none had taken off in the way that Marius’ had.
If the viewers are right and we don’t care about anything anymore, then the consequences are three fold. 1) Either we have a beautiful sense of irony given the death of a giraffe has shifted our focus away from the death of thousands in Syria (for example, again) where the internet has not exploded in any such fashion 2) It contradictory to say so because the plight of this animal is the admission of a public who cares. 3) Marius is the beginning of a change in the social moral tide. We shall see. Maybe it's just because we just think, "Oh, come on. There was no need for that!” But I'm not sure there's need for any of the atrocities that occur around the world. So, again, I ask with the upmost compassion, what is so special about Marius?
Another blog post on Marius and the research this giraffe will contribute to.
A friend has also recommended this video - Adam Curtis' 'Oh Dearism' (below)
Curtis has also recently published an article in the New Statesman entitled "We don't read newspapers because journalism is so boring" - http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/02/adam-curtis-interview