It’s all their fault!, or why the Far-Right is appealing

In 1922, Benito Mussolini and the Partito Nazionale de Fascisti took power in Italy. With the establishment of this, the first Fascist state in Europe, came the domino effect, with Portugal, Germany, Austria, Spain, Croatia, and Slovakia following suit. What this culminated into I don’t have to explain to anyone. However, in recent years, we are seeing a repeat in History, with Nationalist and Fascist parties gaining support across Europe. The United Kingdom, which even at the height of Fascist Power in Europe during the 1930’s, had relatively few Fascist and Nayi symphatizers (The British Union of Fascists, led by Oswald Moseley, had, at it’s height, around 20,000 members). Nowadays, it’s a whole different story.

The United Kingdom now stands poised for another election. In one corner, we have a man who has failed to address anti-semitism in his own party and has refused to apologise for his impotence in addressing this issue. In the other, a man who has repeatedly made derogatory comment about Muslims, has shown an utter disregard for the working class, and whose only item of any value on his agenda seems to be Tax cuts, as he likes to repeatedly say. These are obviously not tax cuts for the ordinary citizen, you understand, but for corporations and wealthy businessmen. I would say that what he is proposing is Raegonomics, but I doubt there is even an expectation for the corporations to re-invest this money in the economy. Also, with Brexit looming, and companies looking elsewhere to gain access to the Single Market, many have already shut their doors, so these tax cuts would have to be ludicrous for them to even consider investing in the UK Economy. And then there’s Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party MP’s have already made way for some more Conservative members, whose smile reminds me of the smile a baby would give if it shit in its diaper and found it incredibly hilarious, sitting in the background, sniggering to himself and just waiting for that fat wad of cash to fall into his lap once Brexit is over with.

One would think that with the track record of the Conservatives of the last 10 years (Cuts of funding to public services, including the NHS, the privatisation of which looms around the corner, austerity measures that have left around 14.3 million people in Poverty, 4.6 million of which are children, the increase in University Tuition fees to £9,000 a year, etc.), and with Corbyn’s agenda including the reversal of all these issues (abolishing tuition fees, increased funding to NHS, no privatisation of the NHS), it seems that it is a clear-cut case who working class citizens, who depend on these social services and suffer the most when they are taken away, hould vote for, right? Well, no, it doesn’t. From what we have seen, the average worker is incredibly adept at voting against their own interests.

At some point in the conversation, the following sentence has always been heard “Well, Johnson and Farage are smart.” Let me be clear about this, once and for all: Johnson and Farage are not smart, they are manipulators. Manipulation is a skill, it is not a sign of intelligence. It is a skill commonly found in Psychopaths, and while I grant that psychopaths usually were very highly educated and very intelligent, it is nevertheless not a good idea to put Ted Bundy in charge of a Nation. That is not to say, however, that I think Farage and Boris are psychopaths, merely that neither of them have the knowledge and education necessary for a politician to lead a Nation into prosperity. As well as being manipulators, they are also opportunists. Farage and Boris have been closely monitoring public opinion and the public mood, and found a disgruntled populace as a result of economic stagnation, austerity, widespread poverty and under-funded public services; all caused by years of Conservative Government policy. However, you cannot put the blame for this on the Govenment and expect them to be accountable for their actions. Where would we be if Governments suddenly became accountable for their actions, if not a free and democratic society? So, who else is to blame for the widespread poverty, the underfunded NHS, and economic stagnation? Well, here comes Farage, and offers an answer: The EU and EU Migrants.

In Biblical times, the bronze-age inhabitants of Judea used to put the sins of the tribe on a goat, and drive it out into the desert, where it would die of hunger and thirst. This practice was called “scapegoating”, and is a practice that is still going on today. We don’t cast our sins on a goat anymore, though, but instead decide other people are responsible for our misfortune. “Of course it’s not my fault or my Government’s fault things are so bad. It all makes sense now. Everything is so bad because of that Spanish Barista, that Dutch accountant, and that German General Manager. It’s the EU, a Dictatorial regime that has taken our autonomy and our freedom. It all makes sense now. Thank you, Nigel” In the weeks before the election, the No.1 topic on the news was Brexit and Johnson’s handling of it, and the (supposedly) impartial BBC has had a tendency since the referendum (and before) to interview the most hardcore Brexiteers. “These Immigrants come over here and take our jobs and our benefits and don’t pay a penny.” That’s exactly right, Gary. That Polish immigrant with 2 PhD’s and a Masters Degree has taken your job, you with 2 GCSE’s and an STD. How dare that fully-qualified Pakistani Trauma Nurse take away your wife Sheryl’s job? Sure, Sheryl is the 3rd Generation of her family on benefits, has wasted most of her adult life in front of the television, who is only qualified enough to roll a joint, and whose only skill is getting pregnant, but she has a right to a job because she was born here, damnit! This same Rhetoric can be found in the 1920’s and 1930’s. In Germany, it was the Jews and the Communists that were responsible for the defeat in the War, it was their fault that the economy was in shambles, and it was them that caused the internal struggles in Germany. In the Soviet Union, it was the fault of Capitalist Conspirators and anti-Soviet saboteurs that were undermining the great Soviet system, the traitors to the revolution are amongt us.

As far back as records go, the ruling classes have always been opposed to the education of the lower ones. Education should only be a privilege afforded to a few. God knows what will happen if the rest of the population is educated. No, it’s better to keep them poor and ignorant because that way, we can legitimise our rule and control over them. Of course, these days, people are more educated and have more access to information than ever before. Unfortunately, we have access to too much information, so now, no one is entirely sure which source to believe. So, it’s a lot easier for people to cherry-pick the information which conforms to their own world view and beliefs, because somewhere out there, there will be a source that will validate your views, whether it’s true or not. This was the whole key to Farage’s discord. By portraying the EU as Totalitarian Regime similar to Stalinism, rather than what it actually is, an Economic entity, Farage justified the anti-Immigration sentiment of the people, blaming the EU for immigration, and so made a connection between the two that then stoked anti-EU sentiment. Farage also knew that once this sentiment was stoked, those who believed it would keep believing it, and would reject any counter-arguments to their position, which is just as well, as Farage’s whole campaign Brexit campaign revolved around the issue of Immigration. No other factors influenced any of his arguments for leaving the EU. A quick Google search would show that according to EU Law, EU migrant have to fulfill a number of criteria before being allowed to settle in a host country:

  • The EU National has to be in possession of a valid Passport or ID card
  • The EU National must be able to prove that they are able to sustain themselves and do not present a burden of the social system of the host country
  • The EU National has to be in possession of comprehensive Health Insurance
  • The EU National must not have a criminal background and/or pose a danger to themselves or others

(EU Directive 2004/38/EC)

Alas, this google search seems to have eluded most hardline Brexiteers, and most of the population at large before the referendum, and was conveniently forgotten by Farage. It is amazing how easy it is to get people to vote against their own interests if you can just take advantage of people’s ignorance and credulity.

This shift towards right-wing politics is a trend that has now happened across Europe, with the rise in support for many extreme right-wing parties such as Vlaams Belang in Belgium, Partij voor de Vrijheid in the Netherlands, Rassemblement National in France, VOX in Spain, Alternative Für Deutschland in Germany, etc. The tactics are the same for all these Parties; Scaremongering, Scapegoating, Misinformation, and taking advantage of people’s ignorance, while the Left has either become impotent and powerless or has shifted more toward the right themselves. However, according to the book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Zuval Noah Harari, published in 2015, another reason for this shift is the fact that, at the time the book was published, “Ordinary Voters are beginning to sense that the democratic system no longer empowers them. The world is changing all around, and they don’t understand how or why. Power is shifting away from them, but they are unsure where it has gone. In Britain voter imagine tht power might have shifted to the EU, so thez vote for Brexit. In the USA voters imagine that ‘the establishment’ monopolises all the power, so they support anti-establishment candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. The sad truth is that nobody knows where all the power has gone. Power will definitelz not shift back to ordinary voters if Britain leaves the EU, or if Trump takes over the White House.” (pg. 437) He hits the nail on the head when he says “Precisely because technology is now moving so fast, and parliaments and dictators alike are overwhelmed by data they cannot process quickly enough, present-daz politicians are thinking on a far smaller scale than their predecessors a century ago….. Government has become mere administration. It manages the country, but it no longer leads it.” (pg. 438) That is a good point; what exactly was the long term plan envisioned by Farage? What exactly is the long-term plan for Boris Johnson if he wins the election on the 12th? What exactly are Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, and Santiago Abascal Conde imagining that their countries would be like in 20 years? What are the long-term plans of any politician, really? Well, according to Homo Deus, none of them have any. Because of the ever-changing world we live in, none of them have any long-term visions or plans. However, the reason we still depend on politicians is because “Many neo-liberal economists and political scientists argue that is is best to leave all the important decisions in the hands of the free market. They thereby give politicians the perfect excuse for inaction and ignorance, which are reinterpreted as profound wisdom. Politicians find it convenient to believe that the reason they don’t understand the world is that they don’t need to undertand it.” (pg. 439) From what we have seen, I’m inclined to agree with him.

Anti-Establishment is rife throughout Europe and the Americas. But voting for people like Trump or Johnson or Le Pen does not get rid of the Establishment; it engrains it even further in society. These are just Businessmen and Women, looking to earn a profit. Why else would you cut taxes for the rich and, at the same time, cut funding to social services, as the Republican and Conservatives have done, if you yourself had nothing to gain from it? At the same time, however, it’s our fault for letting them do this. And why is that? Well, it’s because we are scared. We are scared of personal freedom, responsibility, and consequences. We are afraid of addressing our own ignorance. So we look to our leaders to take care of us, the same way a child would look to their parent. Then, a figure appears who appeals to our inner infant, saying: “The world is a dangerous place, there are enemies everywhere. Your way of life is in danger. This a party doesn’t care about you, this party supports our enemies, you can’t trust anyone. But if you follow me, I make sure you’re taken care of. I will protect you. You will have jobs and bread. All I ask is that you relinquish just a little bit of control and a little bit of freedom for the greater good.” This is the same offer given by demagogues and clerics throughout History. Embrace me and be rewarded, defy me and be punished.

This has been the establishment for centuries. Individuals and Organizations enacting unjustified authority over other Individuals, either through Force, by claiming Divine right or Divinity, by manipulation and broken promises, and we let them, because we were and still are, afraid, and want to be taken care of. We are afraid of taking personal responsibility, of addressing our own ignorance and prejudices, and of being an Individual, with our own Individual Freedom. But there were always those who resisted, those who valued Individual Liberty over everything, who asked questions, who challenged authority, who fought injustice. We were the Socialists and Anarchists, the Revolutionaries and Rebels, the Sceptics and Free-thinkers, the Partisans and the Resistance, the Writers and Poets, the Scientists and Philosophers; we were the anti-establishment, and we can be so again.

 

 

 

Cigarettes and Alcohol: Oh, What a Wonderful Life

 

” “It has been said that alcohol is a good servant and a bad master. Nice try. The plain fact is that it makes other people, and indeed life itself, a good deal less boring.” Christopher Hitchens, Foreword to Everyday Drinking by Kingsley Amis

Imagine a dimly lit bar in Beijing, a group of 15-17 year olds crowded around a table, with their first Tsingtao beer bottle of the night in their hands, and pretending they are cool because they are drinking, in a bar. How rebellious we were! Now imagine your favourite author finding himself in this group, thinking he’s quite cool as well (he’s not) with his beer in his hand, asking for a cigarette from a friend who, up until this point, has been contributing slowly but steadily to the blue fog that will overwhelm the entire bar by the end of the night. He gladly offered me one, I sparked up, took a drag, and immediately started to cough up a pollution-ridden lung. Oh, what amusement that brought to the table! As you would expect, howling and shrieking commenced around the entire table. The night was made. The non-smoking idiot, having coughed up his first lung and now moved onto the second one, has provided the entertainment. Dousing the cigarette, I contemplated the reason as to why people smoked at all, as it tastes hideous and there was nothing enjoyable about it. I thought that was going to be the end of my smoking career. Oh, how naive I was.

A vehement anti-smoker and anti-drinker during my childhood, the age of 17 saw me discard my principles. Having just lost the first love of my life (boo-freakin’-hoo), I had this strange urge to get my first taste of alcohol. Maybe I was trying to drown my sorrows, maybe it was the influence of my friends, I still don’t know. I was writing rap songs and poems about love and heartbreak, for Christs’ sake. God knows what I was thinking. The first sip of alcohol came in the form of a Guinness at an Irish pub in Beijing, the favourite watering hole of the stout, veteran drinkers of England, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and Belgium (well, two of us, anyway), and the not-so veteran and not so-stout drinkers of Canada and the USA. Many a night did I witness the testosterone and Guinness-fueled debauchery of so-called “responsible adults”, howling, laughing, with the occasional fight breaking out, but everyone in good spirits (presumably because of good spirits), with an air of camaraderie between us as we sipped on the Nectar of the Gods. Oh, and you could also watch sports.

As we stepped into this, the Holiest of Holy places that is an Irish pub (franchised in every single country and city in the world), I asked my father if he minded buying me a pint of Black Gold, as in my naivety, a Guinness would be the perfect first beer. My father looked at me, with slight disbelief, as he knew of my fanatical opposition to alcohol, and uttered these words of wisdom: “I buy it, you drink it.” “Ok, Dad” was the answer. Needless to say, the bitterness did not sit well with me, and treated this, a beautifully brewed Guinness right from the tap, as if I was drinking some abhorrent medicine, where every sip was accompanied by a small cringe of disgust. It would be a few years before I touched it again.

As is the case for all of us, our tastes change as we get older, and the more we try, the more likely we are able to find a drink that suits us. For me, that drink became Bourbon. Jim Beam, Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey, Makers Mark, Four Roses, Knob Creek, the brands are endless. The smooth sensation of a a sip of Jim Beam, the slight Vanilla note of Buffalo Trace, or the kick of a Wild Turkey are incomparable to the rather stale feeling I get from Wine or Champagne. Away with those, I say! Offer me Beam any day, and you may just win my heart.

However, despite my love for the sweet Nectar of the Gods, I rarely ever drink. While well known for it’s inspirational qualities on many a writer throughout history (me included), I’ve never needed more inspiration than I already do. Still, it is an incredible friend to have around at parties, as it has the welcome ability to make the incredibly dull more tolerable and interesting. So, for someone like me, with his introverted ass, a bottle of beer or a glass of Jim will always be held closely to my chest.

As for the smoking, I am now in my 7th year of my smoking career. It started at the age of 20, and it involved a 4 month relationship with a much older woman. She only smoked after sex, which meant she was a pack and a half a day type of girl. I didn’t smoke myself at the time, but I might as well have as the blue mist in the bedroom filled my lungs with every breath I took. The relationship came to an end, and after 2 days, while sitting in my little student room, an urge came upon me, one I had never experienced before. I became somewhat anxious, and in an effort to calm me down, put on a movie to distract myself. Alas, my efforts were in vain, as I found myself sprinting to the nearest corner shop, buying a pack of Richmond Menthol Superkings and a lighter, sparking up outside, inhaling deeply, and thinking: “Goddamn, this is the most amazing thing ever.” And so it started, switching my Menthols for Richmond Lights after a while before switching entirely to Amber Leaf Roll-ups and Marlboro Golds (the latter being solely reserved for when I’m in Germany). My efforts to stop smoking came to naught, as after a month, I was again puffing on these little soldiers of Death.

I should probably stop at some point, but realistically, I can’t see that happening anytime soon. If someone took a picture of me right now, this is the scene they would be photographing: me, sat in my couch, with my laptop in front of me, a cigarette smoking in an ashtray, a cup of coffee next to it, and punk music blasting through my headphones. A picture of tranquillity. I am never so comfortable as when I’m writing. I also noticed that me smoking helps me write better, so I wouldn’t be too hopeful on the quitting front. But hey, the good news for the non-smoking crowds is that the taxes on tobacco and cigarettes are ever increasing, so probably the day that a pack of tobacco costs £50, I will be the first on the barricades, leading the revolution, and overthrowing those taking away our rights and freedoms. But I won’t be smoking, so score one for the non-smokers!

 

 

Expendable

Last week I published my first post for over a year. For those of you that have missed me, I apologise for being away for so long. For those of you that haven’t, well, I’m back anyway. A lot of things have happened in the last year that have kept me busy, in both the good and bad sense.

My main reason for not posting has been that I managed to get a job. I’m an administrator in a Credit company for a well known Automotive company. It’s nothing special. In fact, it’s a pretty brain-dead and boring job. A trained monkey could to the job I do. But it pays the bills. However, it’s an inconsistent job. I’m either buried up to my ears in work or I spend half a day bored out of my mind. You would think, though, that since it’s not that mentally straining, I’d be able to keep writing and publishing posts, but unfortunately, that is not the case. It is a mentally exhausting job; taking phone calls, listening to complaints, and dealing with extreme boredom take its toll on me, coupled with the fact that I’m up at 5 am every day and have to deal with other commitments outside of work, my will to write was severely diminished. There were countless times I wanted to write, but after spending a day at work, all I wanted was to shut off my brain and relax (not to mention, I had no inspiration regarding what to write about).

I should probably mention at this point that I hate my job, but I think I probably gave that impression by now. Sure, it pays the bills, and has allowed me to get a mortgage to buy a house, but I am far from happy, and not just because I have been hindered from writing by this job. It’s also because I have been caught up in the corporate and bureaucratic world, a place I never wanted to end up in. For weeks on end, I suffered from suicidal thoughts, preferring to jump in front of a bus or tram in the morning than endure another day of my job. I fell into a depression, I became sick of life. Most mornings I woke up feeling worthless, angry, and ashamed of what I became. I had given up my mental health for a measly wage and toxic environment, so much so that it has forced me to seek the assistance of a counsellor. Looking back, I’m glad I did.

However, working this job for almost 2 years now, I have come to see Corporate Capitalism in all its glory, and have had a long time to think about it, coming to a number of conclusions:

1. The Corporate World is not there to help you, it’s there to make money (obvious, I know, but bear with me). You working for them is not an achievement.  What you have done is not offer your services to them, but allowed them to take full control over you. You have become a wage slave, being paid the bare minimum permissible by Law. If it was up to them, they wouldn’t pay a penny if they could. But alas, those pesky Wage Laws and the decades of Workers fighting for their rights have come between that. Still, it doesn’t bother them too much, because the employers have a much stronger weapon in their Arsenal: Fear. Every day, you go to work, living in fear of losing your job and being replaced. The system is so rigged that every member of the workforce is expendable, no matter how skilled they are, no matter how intelligent, no matter how far up in the company you are, there are always a herd of other people ready to take your place. This becomes apparent soon after you start, and it terrifies you. So what do you do? You show up, sit down, work hard, keep your mouth shut, and maybe, just maybe, you keep your job and get promoted. But even that, in this day and age, isn’t certain. This has led to workers being anxious, afraid, and stressed, which, to no one’s surprise, has led to a rise in Mental Health issues in employees and managers alike, myself included.

2. Most companies will give the impression of openness and equality, where the average worker is no different to the CEO, where everyone has a voice and can express their opinions and criticise whatever they do not agree with. The company I work for is no exception. However, it became apparent to me that this is not the case. Employers do not like employees who ask questions or criticise, let alone think for themselves. Luckily, they do not have to worry too much about this. Like I said, you live every day in fear, and opening you mouth and saying the wrong word may hinder your progression within the company, your reputation, the way people see you. This, of course, can’t happen, so you keep your mouth shut and work. Those spreadsheets won’t do themselves. However, I do not necessarily blame the Corporate environment for this. The words of Noam Chomsky started ringing in my ears, from his speech on Education:

“The Educational System is supposed to train people to be obedient, conformist, not think too much, do what you’re told, stay passive, don’t cause any crises to Democracy, don’t raise any questions.”

I see this behaviour every single day at work. People so obedient, so conformist, so boring, and so passive that they fail to see what is happening to them, how they’re being undervalued and taken advantage of. And those who see it don’t speak up. Of course, this gives the Employer even more enormous power over you. As long as you obey, you will be taken care of. And what better way to install this mindset in the very young, when they are still impressionable and vulnerable. The less trouble they make as Adults, the better. And those that do cause trouble can expect to bear consequences disproportionate to their actions, as one poor soul found out when he sent around a mass email, explaining that he was the head of a newly established Trade Union and offering membership in it. This issue was brought up in a meeting, where the head of the office announced that “it was being taken care of.”

3. In an office setting, every one of your coworkers is a threat and an enemy until proven otherwise. Everyone is in competition with everyone else. Face-to-face, your colleague could be the kindest, sweetest, selfless person you could ever meet, but would not hesitate to plunge a knife in your back as soon as it’s turned if it would further their careers. Make a mistake and the person you thought you could trust will start running to whoever is in charge and kindly inform them that this has occurred, kind of like the tattle-tale of the class running to the teacher because you said a bad word. No, not kind of like that, exactly like that. The amount of boot-licking that occurs in my office has made me physically ill. It’s astounding the lengths people will go to to get in the Boss’ good books. “But that occurs in every office”, I hear you say. That is probably very true. However, I have enough self-respect to abstain from this. My boss is also but a fellow human being, same as I. Respect is earned, which is just a fact of life, and does not come with a promotion or a higher wage. Plus, it goes against my principles; If I have to stroke someone’s ego (and in some instances, their genitals) to further my career rather than on merit alone, then I’m not going to be part of it. I am, however, very lucky when it comes to my co-workers. Their views on the subject mirror mine to a tee, and, just like me, are there out of necessity rather than desire. They have also, like me, a anti-capitalist, socialist and/or anarchistic view on the world, are independent-minded, and see right through the whole charade. Many a times have we toyed with the idea of forming a Trade Union, with one of my colleagues saying it would be her dream to be a Union representative. Unfortunately, 3 people is not enough to form a Union, and, as I said before, the inherent fear of the consequences that could occur if we were to do so. So all we can do now is dream. However, that does not mean we do not put up our own little acts of “civil disobedience”, such as by criticising some of the policies implemented, the conduct of our supervisors and our colleagues, and refusing tasks we deem to be a waste of time and/or nonconstructive. So far, we have not been reprimanded, and while it may seem like way may be pushing our luck, it does say something.

The fact that we have not yet have had any formal warning or reprimand tells a couple of things: one, we haven’t been outrageous enough and not enough of a threat to the system, which is something we should seek to justify; and two, that we are far more powerful than our employers would like us to believe. It was a huge relief for me to know that there are more people out there whose views on the toxic atmosphere created in corporate offices and the manipulating nature of the system mirror those of mine. Unfortunately, there are far too few of us. 3 people aren’t enough to start up a Trade Union. 3 people aren’t enough to challenge the system efficiently. But I would very much like to see how my place of work would be if we all thought like that. All of us demanding better wages and working conditions, all of us demanding fairer systems of promotion, all of us demanding to be treated like humans and not robots. Would the entire company just collapse if we all just walked out? Probably not. As mentioned before, we are expendable and replaceable. But what if our replacements started acting the same way? Well, now you have a problem. If you don’t have workers, you can’t produce or sell your product. There’s no one there to manufacture your product, and no one has any money to buy it. Then you will have to enter into negotiations with the workers and Trade Unions to get them back to work. The only reason our employers have so much power over us is because we let them. We are so afraid of not being able to care for ourselves that we have lost our self-worth, us seeing ourselves as human beings, as individuals with self-respect, dignity, our own hopes and dreams, and that we deserve to be treated as such. Instead, we let ourselves be treated as an expendable product, prostrate and vulnerable, selling ourselves for a modicum of security because of an irrational fear of liberty. I have met people who have managed to break these chains, have recognised their self-worth, that they are better than living in fear and boot-licking to get an advantage in advancing their career, have started their own careers, independent of anyone, and are all the better for it. Like me, they became disillusioned by their careers and the environment they were trying to create it in, and took the risk and started doing what they wanted to do, independent. I’m not saying that this should be emulated by everyone, but by recognising that by not speaking out or taking action against a system that very obviously exerts unjustified control over us, and our willingness to accept this, will only give more and more power to the employer, and may, in the future, lead to worse working conditions and less worker’s rights. That is only, though, if we let it.

I am incredibly glad that I have been able to find the motivation to start writing again. While my distaste for my job and further disillusionment with the corporate world and the society we live in have contributed greatly to my newfound motivation to write, my writing is necessary for mental health and to keep me from sinking into a new depression and disgust of life. More so than ever, I have realised I do not want to write; I need to write. I will, however, not be leaving my job anytime soon. I have bills to pay, a Mortgage, a Wife and a Cat to take care of. Unfortunately, not matter how much I wish it, my writing isn’t paying for it. My amazing wife even offered, when I was at a low point, to work for both of us while I tried to get my career as a Writer going. But I cannot accept this, as neither of our wages alone could support our current lifestyle, and in good conscience, as I’m not someone to take advantage of their spouse like that, even if she was the one to offer it. Nevertheless, I will keep on writing, and will be more consistent with my posts. The aim will be to make one post a week, and hopefully, my readers will enjoy reading them as much as I will enjoy writing them.

 

Christopher Hitchens: A Review

 

Christopher-Hitchens

A Writer, a journalist, a Columnist, a Political Commentator, A Social Critic, an Essayist, a Contrarian, a  Marxist, an Orator, an Activist, a Revolutionary, and a Man of Letters. These are just some of the terms that could be used to describe Christopher Hitchens, who, in my opinion, is one of the most important and influential intellectuals of the 21st century, together with Noam Chomsky. I admire both men and their writing immensely, but Hitchens has always had a little bit more attraction to me, with his eloquent writing, his use of the English language, and the comic relief he brought in some of his writing. On the 15th of December, it will have been 8 years since Hitchens’ death, so I thought I would share with you why I admire Hitchens and what kind of impact his writings have had on my life.

Sadly, I did not know who Christopher was until I arrived at University. By then, he had been dead for about a year or two. During this time, I was on my journey to become an intellectual (which I still am on, by the way), and was becoming more serious about my Atheism. It was by chance that I discovered him in a video in conversation with Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris, The Four Horsemen. I had already discovered Dawkins during High School, and really, when I clicked on the video, it was Dawkins I was really looking forward to hear speak. But as soon as Hitchens started speaking, I was mesmerised. The fluidity with which the words fell out of his mouth, the way he spoke with calm passion about the subject of Atheism, the tone of his voice of a man brimming with knowledge, and the carefree attitude, with a cigarette in his mouth, sipping on a glass of Whisky, in a discussion about a rather serious subject, even in a casual setting, had me completely invested. I watched the entire video in one setting, eyes glued to the screen. As soon as it was done I began my research into Christopher. It was then that I stumbled upon another video. A video where Christopher and Stephen Fry debated with Ann Widdecombe and Archbishop John Onaiyekan on the whether the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world, and again, it was a struggle for me not to click on the video.

It was a glorious thing to watch. In the span of the entire debate, Christopher had taught me a couple of things about History I did not yet know, had taught me how to argue, and, most importantly, had taught me how to think. He even managed to make me laugh a couple of times with his wit, using humor as a tool to disarm the audience and his opponents. My favourite joke of his during this debate occurred during the beginning of his closing statement, in which he states: “Those who ask confessions from other people should be willing to make one themself [sic]; I am obsessed with sex. Ever since i discovered that my God-given male member was gonna give me no peace I decided to give it no rest in return.” There has never been a quote that has ever encapsulated my own relationship with my genitals as perfectly as this one, and I burst out laughing, in tandem to the audience. Oh, how I wish I could have been a part of them.

It wasn’t long after that until I started my collection of Hitchens’ writing, beginning with (surprise, surprise) god Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. To this day, it is still my favourite book by Christopher, one I keep re-reading over and over again. It’s not necessarily the arguments against God and Religion that interest me, but his innate knowledge of History that grab my attention every read-through. There was a wealth of Historical knowledge I was not aware of until I read the book. For example, I wasn’t aware of the Concordat signed by Hitler and the Vatican that gave the Catholic Church control over Education in Germany in exchange for the dissolution of the Catholic Centre Party that gave the Nazi Party a clear run in the Reichstag, the atrocities committed by the Croatian Ustaša in the Balkans, the Religiously-inspired riots and beatings by gangs of thugs and goons organised by the Shiv Sena during the 1990’s, and the use of old religious indoctrination of the Russian people by Stalin during his reign. I had no idea about all these things. Because Hitchens had this ability to make me think, it made me look up all of these events and see if they were true. While I had no reason to necessarily distrust his assertions, I owed it to myself to make sure that the information he provided was as accurate as possible. It was good practice that had helped me a lot through my time at University and beyond.

Pretty soon, it wasn’t just his ridicule and disproval of religion that made me coming back for more, but also his writings on Politics, History, Philosophy, Literature, and Social Issues. It was through Hitchens that I was introduced to such authors as Victor Serge, Martin Amis, Kingsley Amis, Salman Rushdie, and George Orwell, to name but a few. You may very well think: “George Orwell? But “1984” and “Animal Farm” are essential reading in most schools.” Well, he wasn’t at any of the schools I was at, and I never had any interest in reading Orwell until I saw Hitchens talk like a man besotted by Orwell. Consequently, Homage to Catalonia became one of my favourite books to read.

It was Hitchens that also awakened a rather moderate interest in Philosophy in me, and introduced me to the writings of Philosophers such as John Locke, David Hume, Voltaire, Bertrand Russel, Omar Khayyam (not a Philosopher, as such), and John Stuart Mill. The introduction of Omar Khayyam and his Rubaiyat was especially important to me because, even though I’m half-Persian, my knowledge of Persian History is, sadly, severely lacking, and something I’ve been working to rectify ever since. This beautiful poem and the subtle, yet vicious, condemnation it carries of the fanatical Muslim Theocrats that were present in Omar’s day is one I like to re-read every so often, even though my interest in Poetry is precisely nil.

Christopher’s meticulous study of the life of Leon Trotsky, and the arguments he presented on why Trotsky was still relevant and still worth studying made me buy the 3-part Biography written by Isaac Deutscher, and what do you know; Hitchens was right. Trotsky was a very interesting man, and while the studies on Stalin and Lenin and Marx have been done to death, Trotsky is still worth studying, not because he was the Commander of the Red Army during the Russian Civil War, but also his influence on Socialism throughout Europe and indeed the world. It hasn’t been enough to sway me into a Trotskyist, but as a Historian, it’s always nice to study historical and impactful figures.

One of the most profound quotes of Hitchens’ was this: “The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but how it thinks.” The first time I heard him say this (can’t remember where), I had to take a moments pause. It struck a chord with me that suddenly cleared up a great many things for me. While I was growing up, I had become embroiled in many an argument where I had to concede because of the other person’s vigour and righteousness in defending their view. It didn’t matter if I knew I was right on a particular point; the way they spoke with conviction led me to doubt myself and what I knew. But upon hearing this, I realised; they weren’t necessarily right, they just weren’t filled with doubt, which meant their position would not change no matter the counter-arguments presented. Meanwhile, I had always doubted what I knew, and was open to counter-arguments, which meant I was very easily swayed from whichever position I held, and it used to annoy me to no end. But now, I realised there was no reason to doubt what I knew, as long as I was confident that what I knew had been researched and came from reputable sources. It was then that whenever I got into an argument about a specific topic I knew I had extensive knowledge of through reading, writing, and learning about it, I was more confident in sticking to my argument and was less easily swayed by any counter-arguments. Hitchens’ words stuck true, and I still hang onto them to this day.

It seemed that Hitchens had something to say about everything, from the War in Iraq and Literature to Beauty Spas and Blowjobs (“As American as Apple Pie”, Arguably, p.403. One of the funniest articles I have ever read). By writing about a range of non-serious subjects, it portrayed a side of a man who wasn’t always the stoic Marxist, anti-Fascist, and anti-Theist he had portrayed himself to be. He had shown that he was also a man; a man with a need for laughter and love in his life; a man who, when required, would be the first to man the barricades and put in their place those that were a threat to democracy or fee-thinking or the free intelligence, but wasn’t able to stand guard all day and night.

Up until this point it may seem like I have a rather warped and biased view towards Hitchens, fawning over him with glee. However, there were plenty of issues I disagree with, for example, his stance on the Iraq War. There is no doubt that the War in Iraq culminated into a disaster, completely destabilising the region, which gave rise to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, not to mention the years and years of suffering that it brought to the Iraqi people and the Kurds. From the very beginning, it was clear that this war would go on for a while, and that a swift victory was unattainable. Yet Christopher remained an ardent supporter of the War. His position did not even change when it turned out that WMD’s, the sole-justification given by the Bush Administration to go to war, were not found. His most common reply to this question, from what I have seen, was: “Well, that doesn’t mean he (Saddam) wasn’t in the process of procuring them.” It’s an argument that cannot be denied nor confirmed, and, for an intellectual, a weak one. Given Saddam’s track-record, however, it’s not an unreasonable assumption, as he had used Chemical Weapons before on the Iranians and Kurds during the Iran-Iraq War. But in the absence of any strong evidence that Saddam was going to procure more volatile equipment than Mustard gas, we may never know. When it turned out that the Coalition of the Willing went into Iraq with what was a very flawed plan indeed and seemingly no plan on how to achieve order post-overthrow (their biggest mistake being the disbandment of the Iraqi Army), Hitchens’ position wasn’t shaken. He defended the Intervention with fervour in the book “A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq.” Reading it, however, it was quite clear to me that he wasn’t a proponent of the War because he was a warmonger or a profiteer, but his support stemmed from an anti-Saddam and pro-Iraqi/Kurdish stance. He states in the preface: “I began from the viewpoint of one who took the side of the Iraqi and Kurdish opposition to Saddam Hussein, who hoped for their victory, and who had come to believe that the chiefest and gravest mistake of Western and especially American statecraft had been to reconfirm Saddam Hussein in power in 1991.” This is the same position he asserted when it came to the Yugoslav Wars and the NATO intervention; he was anti-Milosevic and pro-Bosnian, and saw it as a moral duty for NATO to intervene in the War and overthrow Milosevic, a Dictator and Fascist Nationalist, which is a position I can agree with. However, the War in Iraq was waged on false pretences, and the consequences of it are still felt until this day. If Christopher was alive today, I’m not entirely sure what his position would be. I’d hope he would realise that the Iraq War was a failure before it began, but that is wishful thinking.

Another view he took that I disagree with was his “defence” of David Irving. For those of you who do not know who he is, David Irving was/is a “Historian” of Nazism and Fascism (he himself a Nazi sympathiser and a former member of the British Union of Fascists) and Holocaust Denier, who was found to have deliberately manipulated and omitted evidence in his books that showed that Hitler ordered the Final Solution and the presence of Gas Chambers in the concentration camps during a libel trial he had brought against Deborah Lipstadt, an American Holocaust Historian (depicted in the movie Denial). In The Strange case of David Irving , Hitchens, while not denying that Irving is a Holocause Denier, a Nazi sympathiser, and a manipulator of History, he argues that Irving should be allowed the express his views. Hitchens says: “I still regard it as ridiculous that Irving’s books are almost impossible to obtain in the homeland of the 1st Amendment.” Well, I’m sorry, Christopher, but serious Academics and Historians do not deliberately manipulate and exclude evidence in their works that do not fit their own views. I agree with him when he gives examples of different Historians whose personal biases and prejudices had influenced their work (Christopher Hill, Edward Gibbon, Sir Arthur Bryant, etc.), adding:” This of course doesn’t license absolute promiscuity” , and citing Eric Hobsbawm (himself a Socialist and one of my favourite historians) as an example of a serious Historian whose work gained the respect of critics because of its “strong sense of objectivity.” I can also agree that, at the time, Irving’s work was very well received and some could argue groundbreaking in his work on the bombing of Dresden (The Destruction of Dresden, 1963),  the mentality of Nazi Generals (The War between the Generals, 1981) and the functioning of the Churchill Government (Churchill’s War, 1983). Because of his biases, he had more to gain by challenging our own biases of the allies during the Second World War. I have to admire Christopher on his own objectivity in the article, and he obviously has no love for the man, as he describes in his encounter with Irving. However, this does not take away from the fact that Irving was a Holocaust denier, who twisted Historical evidence to support his own view, and simply omitted evidence that did not confirm to it, as shown by Richard Evans, himself an expert on Hitler and Nazi Germany, during the trial. As a Historian myself, to me, Irving doesn’t even deserve the title of an Academic, let alone a Historian, and I have a personal contempt towards the man. While Christopher does not exonerate Irving, the argument that Irving should be allowed to express his opinions and have his voice heard is one that is difficult to get to grips with, as I feel that the less attention is given to this man, the better. Obviously, this stems from my own personal bias towards Irving and how he took this profession I love through the mud, but as Hitchens points out towards the end of the article: “….One asks only, as one must ask with all morally serious arguments, that those entering the arena be transparent as regards motive and scrupulous as regards evidence. Irving’s contribution to this very outcome is an amazing instance of the workings of unintended consequence.”

As you may have noticed at this point, I could write for days about Christopher and will still have something to say about him. Unfortunately, this is just an article, not a biography. So I’ll wrap this up and point out the main reason as to why Christopher Hitchens and his works have had an impact on my life, besides his writing and his  intellect, was that he was a man of principle. He defended Salman Rushdie when he was condemned to death by the fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini, he stood in solidarity with the oppressed and downtrodden, wherever they may have been, he criticised and attacked those deemed untouchable, be it Mother Theresa, Bill Clinton, or Henry Kissinger, opposed those who felt they could tell other people how to live and how, and stood as a Bastion to any threats to the values of free-inquiry, free-thinking, Democracy, freedom of speech, Human rights, and freedom to write. With the world being in the state it is in, I sometimes wish that Hitchens was still with us. But alas, it is but a wish. Though he’s dead, it’s through his works that he lives on, and if he can inspire everything mentioned above in me, I can only assume there are more out there who feel the same as me, and who want to carry on his work. It’s through Hitchens I realised not that I want to write, but that I have to write. Yes, he is missed, but as George S. Patton once said: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”

 

Education

 

 

The above video is one that I felt I had to share. I felt I had to because of how eerily it hits so close to home. Having one of the most influential figures of the 20th and 21st Century, not to mention one of my favourite authors and someone who has been very influential in shaping my understanding of politics, democracy, history, anarchism, and linguistics, confirming a suspicion I have had for years is, in some ways, a relief for me. It means I have not been alone in these thoughts, and that I’m not insane. And that suspicion is the following: that educational system is not designed to teach us how to think, but what to think.

The speech given by Noam Chomsky in the video precedes my induction into school. I do apologise as I was not able to find out when or where this speech was made, but given how young Professor Chomsky looks in the video, and the quality of the recording, I would have to say that it was probably sometime in the late 70’s, early to mid-80’s, which is well before I was even born. However, Professor Chomsky addresses an issue present at the time of the recording, namely that the education system was designed to keep us stupid and obedient. If this was an issue back then, it has not gotten better. You could argue that is has gotten worse.

When I saw this video for the first time a few days ago, I was shocked by how much of what was said was eerily familiar to me. It was Professor Chomsky’s opening remarks that grabbed my attention immediately. The remarks were:

“It’s a system of indoctrination of the young…. The educational system is supposed to train people to be obedient, conformist, not think too much, do what you’re told, stay passive, don’t cause any crises of democracy, don’t raise any questions, and so on. That’s basically what the system is about.”

Oh, how the flashbacks came flooding when I heard those words, especially the “not think too much” part. I experienced everything cited above during my time at school, both at the religious institutions and secular ones I attended in the rather long list that has graced my record.

  • Obedience/Do what you’re told: Everything that was taught to us was to be taken at face value. Whatever the teacher said was true. Even if the teacher was wrong, he was still right. Follow the rules and play nice, or else you will be punished (Where have we heard that before?). Daring to even question the authority of teachers was treated as an almost criminal offence, and students doing so were disciplined (something I became intimately familiar with). There were so many times where I felt that my teachers were overstepping boundaries, trying to control me and my fellow students with threats of Eternal Damnation and Hellfire…..Ok, it wasn’t that exactly, but it may as well have been, as they kept threatening us that if we didn’t know what a covalent bond is or how “Balzac and the little Chinese Seamstress” impacted the development of Chinese literature, we would not get into University, and as a result of that, would end up being drug addicts and die poor and lonely (in essence). At times, their efforts at control even followed me home. There were many a times when my teachers would talk to my parents about my constant disinterest in what the teachers had to say and the things they were teaching. It wasn’t that I was particularly disinterested, they were just horrendously boring teachers and had rotten personalities, which is why I didn’t like them or what they were teaching. But I had to be obedient, so my parents were turned to install this into me, with the same fears put into their heads of no University/drug addict/dying poor and alone, something they, like any parent, did not want their son to go through. This, however, did not work, and the only thing this tirade of trying to make me obedient accomplished was me despising my parents, and hating my teachers even more because they made me hate my parents.

 

  • Conformism/Not think too much/Don’t raise any questions: I really wasn’t good at this. In fact, I was amazingly horrible at this. No matter how much I tried, and I did try, for amazingly stupid, even horribly despicable reasons, every natural fibre in my body screamed “Rebellion!” in a volume that could have been heard for miles had it been audible to anyone else but myself. Most of my fellow students seemed to have no problem with this at all. These people could have so easily been my friends, my comrades, my brothers-in-arms, had they not had this annoying trait: They could not think for themselves. As mentioned in a previous post, my inability (and innate refusal) to conform had gotten me into hot water on more than one occasion. The same ideas, the same ways of looking at the world, the same outlook on life, the same ways of thinking about things, it was all indoctrinated into our minds. But I could not take this on board. I had my own views on a variety of topics. I had anarchistic views about government and authority long before I even realised I was an Anarchist. But did I know this? Of course not, because any other views on the status quo were never discussed. Even the word “Anarchism” never came up. I became fascinated by Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky. Not because I was a Socialist, but they captured my interest as historical figures. But were we taught about them? Of course not. In History class I was taught about Communism, but only in the sense that it was synonymous with Stalinism, and that the people to blame for this were Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky. Socialism led to Communism, and Communism led Stalin to kill millions of his own countrymen. Never mind explaining the differences between Socialism, Marxism, Communism, Stalinism, etc… That would mean students would have to think about things, and thinking is bad because that means that annoying questions are asked. How dare we ask questions in an environment supposed to answer them? It’s just easier to keep everyone in line by having them believe the same things, accepting them, and removing the need for questions. This environment, and my innate refusal to conform, left me alienated and with unanswered questions, but with at the same time with a thirst for knowledge that I could not get (and would not be taught) at school and an ability to keep hold of my individuality and thoughts.

 

  •  Don’t cause any crises to democracy: Democracy? What Democracy? School is innately Authoritarian and Totalitarian. How else are you going to indoctrinate obedience and conformism into the students? How else are you going to have students with no individuality,  no capacity for free thinking, who will just do what they are told, without question, by an authority that takes the trust put into them by parents to educate their sons and daughters, and then takes advantage of that trust by shaping them into the obedient robots society wants them to be? Democracy has no place in the school system. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, the freedom of choice, and any other freedom one can imagine is non-existent in a school. The reason for this is, by my observations, that the system of indoctrination not only teaches obedience to an authority that in most cases has no justification for existing and moulds students into an image that keeps them that way, but also teaches them that the Democratic system they live in is without fault and should not be questioned. This is inherently condescending, as Democracy stands for all the values mentioned above, as well as the right to criticise, including criticising Democracy. If one indoctrinates a person into thinking Democracy is flawless and without criticism, that’s not Democracy; that’s Totalitarianism at it’s finest. To stop people criticising the system they live in by indoctrination of course minimises the threat to “Democracy”, but then, it’s not Democracy anymore.

At 1:50 in the video, Professor Chomsky asserts that at the elite Universities, more obedience and conformity is found because the students who were better able to obey and conform in school have a better chance of going into these Universities (he does say that he’s not able to prove this). Now, I did not go to an elite University. I just didn’t have the grades. And I was fine with that. I cannot comment on Professor Chomsky’s line of reasoning here as I have neither the personal experience nor any conclusive data to prove/contest this. However, I can say that my time in University has taught me more in the 6 years I spent there than I did in the 12 years of school I had preceding it. I was allowed to question and ask questions. There were times I was even able to correct my Lecturers on things that they had gotten wrong without repercussions. We even had discussions in our classes. Actual discussions. People with different views debating their points in a classroom and presenting their cases. And we were allowed to do so by our Lecturers. We were even praised by one of our Lecturers for doing so on one occasion. Everyone had a voice, everyone was allowed to express themselves, everyone was allowed to criticise, and everyone allowed themselves to be criticised. It was beautiful. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. And the fact that I had never experienced this before filled me with anger and even more disdain for my school years than I already had. They had taken from me my freedom of speech and freedom of thought, they had tried to make me into something I wasn’t, and they deprived me of the chance to actually learn.

Chomsky, in the closing of the video, makes another fantastic point:

“The Sixties are now described in the literature as if it was a time when students were running around, burning libraries, and, you know, destroying the foundations of civilisation and so on. What was actually going on is they were asking questions. They were raising questions, they were looking into things people hadn’t looked into before, they were not just obedient. And from the point of view of a lot of the faculty that’s equivalent to burning buildings….. This has pressured to turn schools back to the days when you didn’t have to worry about those things like disobedient students asking questions about things that you didn’t tell them to think about.”

The Sixties, as we all know, were turbulent times. The Vietnam War was in full swing, the USSR was desperately crushing any signs of uprising in it’s Satellite states in Eastern Europe, with the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly resulting in the End of the World. China had gone through a 3 year long Great Famine that left millions dead. Former African colonies were in tatters and in states of repression, war, and famine. The Israelis and it’s Arab neighbours were at each other’s throats, and Fascist Dictatorships started running rampant throughout South America. Yet it was also in this time period that, as Professor Chomsky said, students were asking questions. New ideas were being developed. The Civil Rights movement started gaining more and more momentum. Feminism was on the rise. Individual Freedom became an obsession for some. It is then not surprising that many people were afraid of new ideas and questions, and a return to the old days of obedience and the absence of questions was preferable over students asking annoying questions and having any individual thoughts and ideas. Unfortunately, these old days still persist today.

The education system has become nothing more than a place to shape and mould young people into what the establishment wants people to be: obedient and conformist, with no individuality, who ask as little questions about everything they are taught as possible. It is not a place of learning anymore, it’s not a place where children go to learn to become well-rounded human beings, it’s not a place where children are taught how to think, and it’s not a place for them to develop a personality. I dread the day that my future children will have to go to school. I am horrified by the thought that my children will be conditioned to be obedient and conformist. I want them to ask questions, I want them to learn how to think, and I want them to disagree with what they consider to be wrong without repercussions. But I know that this is not something they will not experience in the current school system. So either a miraculous reform will happen in the next few years or it shall fall onto me to teach them this, an idea I’m not against and I feel is the more likely scenario. Of course, if it was in my power, I would have reshaped the school system years ago myself. Unfortunately, I do not have that power. I do, however, have my freedom of speech, a laptop, and a blog. So here it is, mine and Noam Chomsky’s criticism of the Education system. A system that is worth reforming, and should have been by now.

Being an Atheist: The Important Things

Ever since I became an Atheist, I have been asked many questions by the faithful, all the way from my stance on homosexuality and where I get my morality from, all the way to where the evidence is for my non-belief and why I’m angry at God. These are very common questions that every Atheist has heard at least once in their life. They’re nothing new, and they are relatively easy to answer. However, one encounter I have had stands out from the rest. It wasn’t the question that was asked that stands out, not was it the individual who asked it. It was the in-doctrinal, pre-programmed rationale and way of thinking that allowed this person to even ask the question. The question was: “If not God, what can possibly be important to you?”

This person saw God as the most important thing in their life. God, and devotion to him, was the most important thing to this person. God gave their life meaning. When I asked about this person’s parents, their partner, their siblings, and whether they were important, they just answered: “Sure, they’re important, but not as important as God. God watches over them and me, so He deserves the most attention.” I was stunned. I had no answer for this, or rather, I had a whole variety of answers to this, but whatever I said next would have just been white noise. This person had convinced themselves, or rather, had been convinced by others, that nothing in this vale of tears was worth more and deserved more attention than a deity neither he nor I have any idea of that he actually exists. It was harrowing to observe, but it was a conversation I was glad to have.

So what is it that’s important to me? What is it that gives the life of a heretic, a blasphemer, an infidel, a nonbeliever, and a heathen like myself, any meaning at all? Well, whatever it is, it’s definitely God. There’s no space for him. There is too much in the material world worth caring about more than a deity I don’t believe in, the afterlife, or anything else that comes with religion.

I obviously cannot speak for all Atheists and what’s important to all of us in our lives. I can only talk about myself. And what’s important in my life, first and foremost, is love. It’s the love I get from my parents, my brother, and my fiancee, the people that matter most to me in life. We all look for love. Our very mission in life is to love, and be loved, in all it’s forms. Whether it is the love one gets from one’s parents, or the love one has for their significant other, it is the one thing we cannot do without. It’s as essential as oxygen. And while it can cause pain in some instances, it’s a feeling I could not do without.

The truth. That’s also important to me. Why? Because cold, hard truth is the only way to be certain of anything. A beautiful lie is nothing to me, as the truth will always come out in the end. I do not like being misled or lied to, and being lied to in order to protect is, to me, a shameful practice. The truth hurts, yes, but the feeling of realising one has been lied to once discovering the truth is more harmful than the truth itself. Having had more than my share of lies, an appreciation for the truth has become one of the more important things of my life.

Another thing most important to me is the ability to be able to live with myself. This does not mean being a good person and doing good all the time. I’m far from perfect. I have done bad things in the past, and will probably continue to do so. I am, however, also capable of moments of extreme kindness. The key factor for me is to outweigh the bad things with the good ones. Being able to live knowing that I have tried my best to be a good person is something most precious to me, and something I endeavour to do every day. I hope I will leave this world knowing that I did just that, maybe even leaving it a little bit better than when I came into it. And if there is a God, I will happily stand in judgment of him, knowing I have done the best I could.

While not on top of the list of things that I consider important, it is certainly one of the more pleasurable ones in my life: Sex. It has been years now since the day I stopped fighting my primal instincts and just gave in. In the words of Christopher Hitchens: “Ever since I discovered that my God-given male member was going to give me no peace, I decided to give it no rest in return.” And no rest nor mercy was forthcoming. While it has neither enriched nor worsened my life, it’s one of the more important things in my life. It’s fun, it leaves me satisfied, and it keeps me sane.

The other things in life that are most important to me are the little things that make me enjoy life. The books of Christopher Hitchens and Noam Chomsky, learning, writing, driving a car on a nice day, the occasional beer or bourbon, Sabaton’s music, a kiss from my fiancee.

The cold hard truth is that we all die, whether it is tomorrow or 50 years from now. Time is precious, yet always too short. This is why I can’t waste my time with God, religion, superstition, and faith. I can’t waste my time worshipping someone I don’t know exists; I can’t waste my time not thinking for myself; I can’t waste my time being told by priests and ministers and rabies and imams what is moral and what is not; I can’t waste one precious moment of my time not enjoying everything given to me in this world. The material world is so much more interesting than anything I could imagine the afterlife to be. Fortunately for me, the afterlife is not something I believe in, so whatever comes my way now, I will embrace it with open arms, and I will be glad to have experienced it.

The Day I Stopped Caring

It has been a while now since I stopped caring. What did I stop caring about, you may ask? Well, obviously, not everything. I still care about a lot of things, a lot of things are still important to me. My family, my fiancée, writing, reading, the truth, politics, philosophy and history are just a few things I care about, most of which on a daily basis. But I have stopped caring about other things. Things that I used to care so much about mean absolutely nothing to me now.

One of the things I have stopped caring about is making other people happy. I used to be a chronic people-pleaser. I couldn’t do anything without thinking about the fact that someone wouldn’t like it. I did everything everyone else wanted from me. I just wanted to make them content, even when it was to my own detriment. This led to me being taken advantage of. I just couldn’t say no. In a way, the only reason I went to University was because my parents wanted me to. I wanted to join the army. I couldn’t have given a damn about my education at that time. In hindsight, it was probably the best decision, but again, I only went in the first place to please my parents, and not of my own choice. Because of my inability to say no, a lot of people still owe me a lot of money up to this day. One person even owes his life to me, as I had to take care of him and carry him home on a night when he seemed to confuse vodka for water and widely exaggerated his tolerance of alcohol. His “real” friends, the people he hung out with the most, had the most inside jokes with, and had a close friendship with, completely abandoned him and went back to the bar while he lied in an alley next to it, unable to walk, let alone think. So it came down to me taking care of him. With my then-girlfriend, who’s birthday it was that day.  Just so he didn’t die. Again, in hindsight, I should have just left him, as his treatment of me before and after this incident was still abhorrent, playing a large part in the breakdown of my self-esteem, mental faculties, and will to live.

But now I have stopped caring about making everyone happy, because it is an impossible task. It is an impossible task that can, as in my case, lead to a complete shutdown of your mental well-being as the guilt of not being able to please everybody takes hold and slowly breaks one down to a state where they could not care anymore if they are happy, as long as other people are happy. This lesson hit hard, but it was a lesson I had to learn. I obviously still care about making people happy, but I am more selective of who I make happy. I make those happy who reciprocate this, such as my fiancée, my family, and I make those happy who I deem are deserving of that. But my own happiness, in some ways, comes first. If I want to do something or get something that would make me happy but others would not, I don’t care anymore. It’s what makes me happy, and those that do not like it can leave.

Another thing I stopped caring about is criticism. This ties in with my chronic people-pleasing “condition”, but is not exclusive. I used to be amazingly bad at taking criticism. It was not that I felt that they were wrong. It was the opposite, in fact. I felt that they were too right. And I took it too harshly. I was my own worst enemy in this respect. Because of my inability to process criticism, and by taking too many criticisms on board, I did not feel like whatever I did was good enough, or was even worth doing, because there will be criticism of it. But then I got a revelation. Someone, somewhere, will always be criticising me about something, whether it will be about my writing, the books I read, the clothes I wear, the music I listen to, and more. Basically, I will be criticised for who I am and how I live my life. Because of that moment, I started this blog. Because I don’t care that what I write will not appeal to everyone. I don’t care if my writing is criticised and my views are challenged. In fact, I welcome it now. I take my writing seriously, and if what I write doesn’t stand up to scrutiny I would rather someone told me rather than write falsehoods. But I am more selective about what kind of criticism I take seriously. A criticism of a history essay I wrote in University by one of my professors I take more seriously than the criticism of my mother or my fiancée, as way of example. I take more seriously the people that take the time to explain to me why I am wrong, backed up by evidence, than someone just telling me that I’m wrong, without explaining why. Really, the point I’m trying to make is that once someone realises and accepts that there will always be someone there to criticise a certain aspect of oneself or one’s actions or tastes, there is nothing that can stop one from doing what they want.

The last and most significant thing that I stopped caring about is friendship. I have completely stopped caring about having friendships with anyone. Now you may think that this is rather a depressing case as everyone needs friends, everyone needs companionship and people that they can count on. I would agree with this, but having friends has been a detriment to me throughout my life rather than a joy. I have 2 real friends, 2 real comrades, 2 real brothers in arms. I have known them since I was 4 years old, in kindergarten. We have been friends for 21 years now. But in those 21 years we have not enjoyed each other’s company on a regular basis due to me living abroad for most of this time. Out of those years, we have physically maybe spent at most 5 years in each other’s company. We still converse on social media every now and again, but I rarely travel back to Belgium, so we do not see each other much. But even with gaps of 2, 3, or even 4 years in-between us seeing each other, I am always welcomed back with open arms, and we just pick up from where we left last time. These are my only friends today, and the only true friends I have ever had.

In my younger years, of course, I couldn’t just walk around without friends. Like I said, we all need friends. But I had this rather disturbing ability to choose the wrong friends. If I’m honest, I wasn’t spoiled for choice, as the classes I used to be in were quite small, with sometimes only 10-20 people in the entire grade. But I still managed to hang out with the wrong crowd. I was taken advantage of, humiliated, mentally and physically broken down, endured the most horrific rumours spread about me, and they would just call it “banter”. I was expected to stand to attention every time they needed my help, but no such reciprocation was forthcoming. The day I completely broke off contact with this particular group of people was when I was out of school, and I was in Belgium trying to get my driver’s license. I made a post on facebook about how I didn’t pass my theory exam, and was feeling pretty down about it. One person from my “friends” group commented, saying: “It’s ok. Some people just aren’t meant to drive.” For me, that was the last straw. This comment showed me what kind of people they were more than anything else that they did. He could have written anything, such as “It’s ok. No one ever passes the first time. Just try again.” or “The first time is always the hardest. You’ll do better next time.” But no, he went with that. He went with the one comment that showed a complete lack of empathy and made me feel even worse as now I felt that I wasn’t deserving of a license. I blocked him and everyone else who was part of that group, as I realised at that moment that I didn’t need them anymore and was way better off without them.

I didn’t really stop caring about friendships until my second year of university. I moved into a house-share with other students. I had no idea who would be my housemates, so I didn’t know what to expect. I became close friends with one of them. He was a really nice guy, and we hit it off immediately. He had told me that his parents died and that he was alone, which did not make me feel sorry for him, but I did sympathise with him. He became like a brother to me, someone I felt was deserving of friendship. I would have done anything for him, and knew he would do the same for me. I thought that I had finally found true friendship again. But I was wrong. Oh so wrong. Over the summer holidays of that year, he did something so despicable, so disgusting, so immoral, that he is and will forever be my enemy. He faked his own death. Yes, you read that right. He faked his own death. He had another friend call us to tell us he died in a car crash in Bhutan, where he apparently went on humanitarian work, as we were told (by we I mean me, my fiancée, and others who he knew). He made a fake email account of a lawyer’s office that was acting as trustees to his funds and was making funeral arrangements. Then, 10 days later, he magically appears, having magically survived the crash and the wilderness of Bhutan. He must have thought we were complete and utter idiots. We checked the name of the lawyer’s office, it didn’t exist. We called the Bhutan police, they had no records of any car crashes in that week. He expected us to believe that he could survive a car crash and 10 days in the mountains of Bhutan, all without survival gear, food, or anything else one might need. All the evidence pointed to him faking the whole story. Just writing about this makes my blood boil. It goes without saying that I completely broke off any contact I had with him. To this day, he is persona non grata, and I hope for his sake that we will never meet again.

After this episode, I stopped caring about friendships. I don’t want or need friendship anymore. My trust in people is non-existent, with a few exceptions. While every now and again I do go for a pint with former classmates, I don’t particularly consider them friends. I consider them acquaintances. I like talking to them, I like having a pint with them, and I have done favours for them if they really needed it. But because I don’t consider them as friends, I don’t expect anything from them. Obviously, this isn’t a great way to go through life, going without friends, and I have been trying to change my mindset about this; sadly, without success. There will come a day when I will want to have friendships again. But until that day arrives, I will enjoy my solitude rather than jump into a friendship that will be like the others.

This has been one rollercoaster of a post, I realise that. While not caring about criticism or making other people happy has enriched my life, not caring about friendships has been a detriment. However, having toxic friendships has been an even more detriment. I have to find a more stable balance than just considering people acquaintances, but for the moment, I am more or less content in the position I’m in. Overall, I feel, my decisions about what I care about and what I don’t care about have given me some peace. They have made me start blogging. They have made me do things I never thought I would be able to do. They have allowed me to reshape myself into an image I’m more comfortable with. Not caring about things that one cared about deeply before liberates the mind, allows one to prioritise the things most dear to one’s heart, and expel those not worth thinking about. It is only then that one realises what is of worth in one’s life.

What am I reading?

So today I thought I might share with you what kind of literature graces my bookshelf, which will soon have to be replaced for a larger one or break under the weight of my ever growing collection of books. Myself and my fiancee are fervent readers, with an impressive and ever-growing collection of books on a variety of subjects.

However, our tastes differ enormously concerning our choice of literature. My fiancee has a collection of romance and thriller novels, both fiction and non-fiction. She adores the books of Greek author Lena Manta, of whom she has ever book ever written by her, and is always anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new book by her.

My collection of literature is completely non-fiction. I have never liked fiction. I just never found it as gripping as books about politics, philosophy, or history. In English class at school, our reading list consisted entirely, sadly, of works of fiction, such as Blood Wedding, A View from the Bridge, The House of the Spirits, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and Equus, to just name a few. While they were incredibly well-written works and were exciting to read (if mandatory), they never gripped my enough to warrant a second read through. It just wasn’t “real” enough for me.

As probably a lot of you will have guessed already, a large number of the books on my shelf are about, you guessed it, history. While there are some that are there because they were used during my studies, a lot are there just because I wanted to learn more about it. The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution, & Revenge by Paul Preston was bought a year before the subject even came up on my course. As I saw it lying in an English book store in Malaga, Spain, I had to have it. I knew very little about the Spanish Civil War at that point in time, having only briefly heard about it during my time in school, and was a gap in my knowledge that I was looking to fill.

Another history book that I just randomly bought just because of interest was Iran and the First World War: Battleground of the Great Powers by Touraj Atabaki. As some of you may know, I am half-Iranian, and it has always been important to me to know the history of my own heritage first and foremost.

The history books on my shelf  cover a wide range of subjects, including American history (Give me Liberty!: An American History by Eric Foner), Ancient Greece (The Spartans by Paul Cartledge), the Iran-Iraq War (The Twilight War by David Crist), The Torubles in Northern Ireland, (Northern Ireland: A Chronology of the Troubles 1968-1999), and many more.

Of course, history books are not the only books that grace my shelf. My bookshelf also caters to politics, philosophy, anarchism, atheism, and more. Noam Chomsky’s book On Anarchism has a special place on the shelf, along with Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism by Peter Marshall, a brilliantly written book that I cannot recommend enough for anyone who wants to find out more about Anarchism. In fact, I recommend both these books as essential reading for anarchists.

Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth stand in the foreground of the shelf, along with a number of books by my favourite author Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens has been the one to actually inspire me to read and write more, and I have an unsaturated love for his writings that I have read and re-read numerous times. My Hitchens collection currently consists of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice, The Portable Atheist, and his autobiography, Hitch 22. The Portable Atheist has become quite a favourite of mine, as it contains a collection of essays, passages from books, and even a poem on Atheism from other great thinkers and philosophers throughout the ages, including Lucretius, Omar Khayyam, David Hume, Benedict de Spinoza, Emma Goldman, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and many more. With this book, Christopher has essentially put all the required reading for an Atheist in one handy collection and has saved us the trouble of rummaging for them.

You will also find The Art of War by Sun Tzu, Guerilla Warfare by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell on my shelf. These books were bought and read more for their historical significance rather than for genuine interest. Of course I had some sort of interest in them, but it was an academic interest rather than a personal one.

There are two books on my shelf that are of particular interest to me and which I could not recommend enough to anyone who loves reading. These two are Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind and Homo Deus: a Brief History of Tomorrow, both by Yuval Noah Harari. Sapiens analyses and gives a detailed summary of the history of Mankind, starting with how we evolved into Homo Sapiens all the way to what we are today. The book not only deals with our history, but with everything that came with it. It includes an explanation of economics, an analysis of anthropology, the rise of religion as our first attempt at understanding the world we live in, Evolution, Agriculture, and many other topics. If you have ever wondered as to how we are that we are and why the world works the way that it does, then this is the book that will give you these answers. Homo Deus is the second part to Sapiens, in which Harari, using historical evidence, tries to determine where we are going as a species. For those of you looking for something to read, definitely give these a try.

I am currently in the process of reading Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, an author that has also grabbed my attention because of Hitchens. The Spanish Civil War, for which I hold a special interest, attracted a number of foreign volunteers on both sides. George Orwell was no exception. Homage to Catalonia describes his time fighting on the frontlines against the forces of Franco, and is one of the greatest first-hand accounts of that war ever written. Naturally, I had to buy and read it. I also share my birthday with Orwell, so that adds to the interest.

This has been just a glimpse into the kind of literature that interests me and that you can find if you every come to my house. Naturally, the books listed here are not the only ones I own. These are just the ones that interest me the most or the ones for which I have a special place in my heart for. My library will be growing soon, with The End of Faith by Sam Harris, Love, Poverty, and War by Christopher Hitchens, Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy and Who Rules the World? by Noam Chomsky, The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, Ethics by Spinoza, and In Defence of History by Richard Evans on their way to take their spot on my shelf.

 

 

 

Follow the Crowd: High School and Conformity

It has now been 7 years since I graduated High School. As mentioned in some of my previous posts, my High School years were abhorrent, and I am really glad that I’m not there anymore. It is only now, however, after finishing my Master’s Degree, that I am able to rationally and logically think about why those years were so terrible. It wasn’t the endless bullying, it wasn’t my inability to concentrate on subjects I had no interest in, leading to me being despised and put under an enormous amount of pressure by teachers. It wasn’t my low self-esteem, which led to low grades and even more stress, and neither was it the feeling of failing and embarrassing my parents. It was my inability (and unconscious refusal) to conform.

My refusal to conform was, what I have now concluded to be, the source of my aforementioned problems and why I had such a horrible time in high school. I just could not be like everyone else, and believe me, I tried. I tried to be everything other people wanted me to be, to be “normal”, whatever that means. I tried listening to the music that everyone else was listening too, wore what they wanted me to wear, be who they expected me to be. But I just could not do it. I couldn’t be someone who I was not, because deep down, I knew I could not justify it, and even considered it immoral, in a sense, to try and be who other people wanted me to be.

Nevertheless, peer pressure is many a powerful thing. When you manage (unintentionally) to surround yourself with people who’s sole purpose in life is to criticise everything, from the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, to the way you write and the books you read, it’s hard to craft a personality when you stand alone. I now realise that the essential factor of their endless criticisms lay in the fact that I was not them. That was the main point. I was not them, and that fact, for some reason, really bothered them. And me, being the fool that I am, bended over backwards to conform to what and who they wanted me to be.

Worst of all, I failed to realise that there was nothing even remotely special about them. Their personalities were crafted to fit each other’s, with what they were expected to be. They liked the same music, had the same hobbies, wore the same clothes, had the same incredibly childish sense of humour, and brimmed with an arrogance that should not be possible for a human to be able to exhibit. Apart from that, and maybe worst of all, they were just painfully boring. Yet, because they were so arrogant and had successfully conformed, their self-confidence was on peak. They were not struggling internally with the kind of person they were, what they were supposed to be, and had achieved all expectations.

I, on the other hand, was struggling. I did not know exactly who I was or what I was supposed to be. I had not reached expectations, and was unable to from the very beginning. By not feeling like I belonged, and repeatedly failing to actually belong, my self-confidence was non-existent.

Eventually, though, I realised that not conforming to trends is what life should be all about. It’s about building up an actual personality, one crafted to one’s own ideals, not to those expected of them by other people, and certainly not by teachers and other students. unfortunately, though, that realisation did not occur to me until well after I left school. But hey, better late than never.

I realised that the people who built up their own personality, went against the trends of the day, and who were willing to go beyond what was considered “normal”, were the ones that changed history. If everyone just conformed, the world may have never known a George Orwell, Thomas Jefferson, Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Jay Gould, Karl Marx, Stephen Hawking, or Mary Shelley.

School is supposed to be a place where one goes to learn, discover new things, build up their knowledge, and shape themselves. Instead, in every school I came across, the pressure to conform to norms and trends was ever-present, from both teachers and students alike. There was no room to develop a personality. There was no exploring of different views on a variety of subjects. There was no different outlook. Everyone was just taught to fall in line and alienate those who did conform, a trend that is still present in all schools.

The reason that it bothers me so much still, 7 years laters, is that I would never wish upon another human being the same experiences of school as I had to endure. I am still internally kicking myself for being such an idiot, for trying to fit in when I should have been busy working on accepting myself and crafting myself as an individual, free from the influence of people who didn’t have an ounce of individuality between them. But no. Like the stupid teenager I was, I tried to shape myself into something I’m not in order to appease those not worth the oxygen they breathe. I wouldn’t say that I wish I could go back in time to do everything different, because as it stands, everything turned out pretty well for me. But the thought of other people going through the same experience as I did fills me with rage. How dare this happen to others? I can not, in good conscience, lay this part of my life to rest without drawing attention to what is essentially one of the greatest traps that could befall someone. The complete overhaul of one’s personality and indoctrination of a mentality not in line with that person’s thinking is not a laughing matter, and should be addressed. If schools, which is where this all starts, will not make a stand towards it, then it befalls upon me and others like me to make a stand. And I start with this post.

The Old Chestnut: Racism

I have recently had the misfortune to read a few articles from people claiming that because one is born white one is automatically a racist. While I’m not going to post links to these articles as they are intellectually painful to read (a quick google search and you can find another 100 of these addressing the same issues), I do want to address the issue of Racism.

Let me first start off by saying that Racism is not a unique feature only attributed to Caucasians. You will find Racism in all different cultures, in all different races, in all countries around the world. The Chinese hate the Japanese, the Arabs hate the Iranians, the Serbs hate the Croats, the Irish hate the English, etc… Of course, all these rivalries that I have just mentioned have historical sources that I’m not going to get into, but the point is if you go anywhere in the world you will see bigoted people. You will always find people that will generalize an entire peoples based on one negative attribute. That is the entire core of racism. One negative factor of a race/nationality is picked, all the focus is put upon it, and then attributed to all who belong to that race/nationality. That, of course, is ludicrous, but unfortunately, it is ever present.

So who am I to speak on racism? How do I know that Racism is present in every race on Earth? What gives me the right to speak on it? You would be quite right in asking these questions. I am by no means an authority on racism (as if there is such a thing). However, I can speak from experience. Yes, I have experienced racism. I know what it is like. I have experienced racism at the hands of Arabs who had an issue with the fact that I’m half-Iranian. My own fiancee’s father took issue with it, as he hates Iranians with a passion. I have been called a “terrorist”, a “half-breed”, an “illegal immigrant”, and a number of other terms by Caucasians when they found out that side of me, even though I’m half-caucasian as well. I was told by Chinese people that I’m a “bloody foreigner” and that I should just “go home”, and was called a racist by a black woman at a party who failed to realise that I was having a very friendly conversation with a Pakistani, an Italian, and a man from Cameroon. (Note: This was a general statement made to anyone at the party who was not black. Out of 15 people at the party, only 3 were fully Caucasian, all the rest were either ethnic minorities or mixed race, so playing the race card at a party full of different races is not recommended).

Needless to say, I have had my share of bigotry. But do you know what else I have experienced? I have experienced unbelievable kindness from people from all races. I have seen Caucasians standing up to those who spat racist slurs at me, I have had an Arab friend jump in to help when I got into a fist fight, and I have had an African friend support me in times of emotional instability. Such kindness and moral acumen, while rarely seen, still has nothing to do with race.

In a perfect world we would judge individual people by their actions and their actions alone. Sadly, we don’t. We live in an imperfect world, where we still judge entire peoples by the negative actions of a few. It is idiotic that I have had to write this, but I was too shocked to the core when I read these articles. The vitriol, the bigotry, the condemnation, the self-righteousness. It was an intellectual agony to even read them, made worse by the fact that I the irony escaped them. By branding the entire Caucasian race as racist is exactly the same as White Supremacists branding all other races as inferior. It is simply not true.

The fact of the matter is that nobody is born racist. We are all products of the environment in which we were brought up in. Racism and bigotry are not engrained in anyone’s nature, regardless of race. It is indoctrinated into us from a young age by those who wish to spread their ignorant and despicable drivel. But everyone can change, it just takes effort and good influences. And if the “journalists” who wrote these articles really want to draw more attention to the issue of racism, they should do so as a general issue instead of unleashing a tirade of condemnation and hate upon one specific race that they feel are racist.