The first thing that generally strikes smart, young adults about the world is not just how unfair and unapologetically insane it is, but how casually society seems to be responding to this arrangement. They might learn that there is enough food and buildings for everybody, for example, before somebody else tells them, “well, yes, but there’s not enough money to pay for them, so you need to get a job.”
At this point, flabbergasted, a smart, young adult would have to be pretty lacking in creativity if they didn’t next think, “What? Who’s in charge of this madness? These lunatics must be stopped!
Soon after, no doubt, they’ll probably stumble upon some set of clever-sounding ideas about how to make it all instantly better, also known as an ideology. This is a set of opinions which instantly allow an otherwise happy adult to imagine what the world could be instead, and then be immediately, unendingly disappointed by what it is not.
So far, so good. That’s your twenties sorted.
The more they learn more about politics, economics, and history, however, the more a creeping, uncomfortable realisation might start to settle in to the smart, young person’s head. The World— upon closer inspection — reveals itself to be almost infinitely complicated in every direction; complex, intricate and unhelpfully fragmented; famously tricky to unite and worryingly fragile to manage.
The more they learn about, like, you know, The System, man, the more they might become aware of the almost limitless ways it could go wrong. Some evils, uncomfortably, start to seem like necessary evils, and some bastards — much to their personal horror— become their bastards, as those bastards increasingly emerge as the lesser of all available bastards in the great, big possible bastard bag of life.
Essentially, the world they live in — with all its flaws, stupidity and entrenched unfairness — starts to not look so bad, compared to what it could be instead. With every passing book and newspaper, it looks less like some grand machinery could be wrestled from the forces of old and evil then steered into a bright tomorrow if enough people grab the wheel all at once. Instead, it looks more like a flimsy, long-running arts and crafts project, made of match-sticks and bits of old cereal box, with the occasional sequin for glamour, beset on all sides by a legion of limb-waving, sugar-addled toddlers, while a lone kindergarten volunteer or two try desperately to keep them at bay just long enough for the PVA glue to dry.
We call it civilisation.
Their idealism, after a messy enough collision with reality, might then slide into cynicism or apathy (“this world is stupid and broken and terrible and I want nothing to do with it!”) However, there’s something else it could become: a queasy, reluctant, begrudging, unenthusiastic kind of appreciation. For whatever reason, ‘civilisation’ in some clumsy, crappy form is presently ticking along. Slowly but surely, their mild and brewing paranoia that some global mischief is afoot might dissolve into a more sober, sympathetic and ultimately terrifying world-view: that civilisation might be nothing more than flawed, confused, ignorant, boring and ordinary people like them, trying their very best.
Oh god, the horror.
Indeed, probably the only thing more frightening than imagining a tight-knit global conspiracy of powerful elites in charge of everything is the realisation that there isn’t one. There’s no grand plan. There’s no plan. It’s all just people, in offices, sending e-mails, eating paninis, yawning, and no one knows what the hell is going on.
Given this sophisticated, horrible new understanding of their ignorance and impotence, political notions like ‘moderation’ – playing it safe and maintaining ‘the status quo’ – start to look more defensible than gathering all of their mates, covering their face, and charging towards the palace with a bunch of fire extinguishers and cricket bats. No.
Accepting that they probably live in a world where so much more could go wrong than is currently going wrong, it seems increasingly rational to just stick with whichever boring party or dead-eyed candidate is least likely to interrupt their as-yet unbroken, uncompromised access to beer and cheese. Bernie “I want to be Norway” Sanders starts to look infinitely safer than Donald “I want to melt the Middle-East” Trump, but — in the end — they’ll probably sleep easiest once the Americans abandon their giggly fling with Karl Marx and Ayn Rand, and begrudgingly marry Hillary “What would you like me to say?” Clinton. Yes, we all know she’s awful, but — in her defence — at least she’s awful in exactly the way we all know. “The Establishment” is established, after all, because the whole works has not yet fallen apart on their watch.
It’s hardly a strong opinion of support, but — if you’ve ever had a heated argument about politics with a member of a competing ideology — what you might have noticed is that strong opinions are the age-old nemesis of fun.
And so I turn to the U.K. referendum on leaving the E.U., which has inspired a surprising amount of very strong opinions. Indeed, there’s been so many outbursts of passionate conviction recently on the island, you’d think the issue involved tea.
For the less fanatical voter, however, it has been almost perfectly confusing. Even for those who normally have an ideology-donkey to pull their opinion cart, this referendum has failed to summon the usual clear decision. Membership of the E.U., it seems, is amongst those rare issues that can unite (and divide) the Right and Left equally. It is both a grand, bureaucratic tool of economic redistribution, and a market-unifying lever for greater freedom of goods and services. It is like a big, unwieldy socialist interfering thing, clumsily lubricating the market cogs of capitalism. Only with an issue so big and weird could the British political scene divide as it has, with Jeremy Corbyn, David Cameron and Nick Clegg on one side, and George Galloway, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage on the other. It’s like the usual chess-board has been blasted with a power-hose and re-assembled by someone with a head injury.
How, then, should one make a pragmatic decision of this nature? Through which lens — house prices, immigration, GDP, industries, wages, prices, ideals — should we even squint at the binary choice on offer?
Well, luckily for us, one answer that both sides can agree on is fear. Both sides have accused the other of scare-mongering, and both sides have defended themselves from the claim. Britain should be afraid of Leaving the E.U., we are told, because of reasons A, B, and C, and yet we must also hold in mind the terrifying dangers of X, Y, and Z, which litter the horizons of Remaining.
So, if “Project Fear” is the most reliable way to chase the jittery and risk-averse to the voting booth, here are the three most terrifying reasons why I think Remaining seems less terrifying:
TERRIFYING REAL SUPER-FEAR #1 — NUCLEAR WAR!
We need peace between the world’s nations, because we’ve now become so good at making explosions, that the de-escalation of explosion-inspiring conflict is now essential. If the world — in a similar configuration as it is now — could stumble into the second world war, with the tinnitus of the trenches still ringing in its ears, I see only flimsy reasons to trust that we wouldn’t or couldn’t do it again, despite knowing in the abstract what it would likely mean. We are a world of institutional hierarchies — in other words, increasingly few egos, making increasingly big, unpleasant decisions. Combined with arrogance, stubbornness, ignorance, and irrationality — qualities a hundred thousand years older than the 50 megaton nuclear warhead — this is a frankly silly landscape for an “us and them” form of politics to play out in. With the totally unprecedented and modern impossibility of surviving another war (i.e. a third “world” one, which our current configuration of alliances could easily force upon us, from just the stubborn human escalation of one small squabble), the surest way to species-level safety, it seems to me, is to become so inter-dependant and inter-linked that it becomes practically impossible to trigger the traps set at our borders, by intentionally and methodically de-bordering the world as much as is feasibly possible. To aim, in other words — for a Great, Big United States of the European Union of Everyone ©.
TERRIFYING REAL SUPER-FEAR #2 — CLIMATE CHANGE!
Sorry if you’d already figured this out, but we need environmental health for no lesser reasons than existing. We’re hamsters, in the cage of Earth, and our owner is dead. If you think this situation is going to keep being fine indefinitely, you’ve never had a hamster. We probably don’t need to fear the total destruction of the human race just yet (some of us will find some way to survive, probably, because we’re nifty), but we really do have to worry on much, much nearer timescales about the frequency of extreme weather events and sea level rise, which threaten to create instability and mass human displacement like the world has never known. The ‘migrant crisis’ was a mere conga line, compared to what seems to be coming. Uninterrupted, this will be The Century of Refugees, going in any and all directions. 80% of the world’s population live on the coast, and the water’s edge also hosts an unhelpful amount of the world’s nuclear power plants, reliant as they are on a constant supply of wetness to cool their reactors. Ugh. Serious conversation on these topics suggests — well, let’s not depress ourselves — but, let’s just say, some stuff needs to be done, ok? So, answer yourself this: how is some stuff most likely to get done? By individual people, or by slowly growing grass-roots movements of idealists, or by massive, massive, pre-established institutions?
TERRIFYING REAL SUPER-FEAR #3 — GLOBAL INSTABILITY!
As boring and unromantically moderate as it sounds, we need civilisational stability to do everything else that’s good for us in the long-term: a serious enough shock to our increasingly interconnected global economy or political systems — a depression, a collapse in the dollar, runaway inflation — could affect everything else of significance that we’re quietly doing in the plodding, uncelebrated world outside of the rolling news headlines. Look at this list of notable people who endorse Leave and Remain, and see where the world’s scientists, academics, doctors, Nobel laureates, and inventors have thrown their weight. This is important. All of the cool and useful stuff that could just make the future maybe good and fine again, like medicine discovery and space programs and electric cars and vertical farms and lab-grown meat and renewable energy infrastructure, must all grow out of the soil of our present-day, fragile, political and industrial context, where the work of the world can Start or Stop, based on the erratic swing-o-meter of The Economy. Faced with the extent of what we don’t know about what we don’t know, how safe is it to touch the house of cards? We don’t know, obviously. So, please leave scientists and their money alone.
In relation to the U.K. referendum on E.U. membership, to me it all means this: no matter how good the arguments for Leaving are (and I think there are some good ones, mixed in with some silly, dangerous and confused ones), the arguments to Remain would still be better: it is easier to tackle global problems, the closer we go in the direction of global governance. The E.U. is a step in this direction; Brexit is a step away. We make war less probable and less possible, the less borders we have to war over. The E.U. is a step in this direction, Brexit is a step away.
As for the U.S. Presidential election, Mr Donald would be an entire tango backwards. He denies climate change, yet blunders ever forwards in the race to lead the planet, having paid no political price for believing himself smarter than scientists. Through the right ideological lens, Mr Donald could be everything that his most loyal supporters think he is — smart, strong, business-savvy, anti-establishment, straight-talking, patriotic, idealistic, incorruptible, great — and it would still be madness to let elect him, based on this one opinion alone. Ignore what he says about Mexicans, Muslims, Women, Walls, everything — Mr Donald must be hammered on this question, and this question only: what would you do, sat in earth’s most powerful seat, in earth’s most urgent time, to save it? His answer, whether he understands it or not, is fuck you, we’re going down with this ship.
This “save ourselves” bullshit of nation states is fast becoming fatally irrational. What we think of as ‘self-interest’, i.e. Britain’s self-interest (Think Brexit, UKIP), or the USA’s self-interest (Think Mr Donald), is near-sighted confusion. Our problems are bigger than national. On time-scales longer than an election or a presidency, it’s sado-masochistic, self-sabotaging, suicidal delusion, or — in Trump-speak— “not amazing.”
When we run out of antibiotics, we all run out together, and viruses will not stop at check-points, fences and walls. A nuclear winter would roll across all of our skies, and, when the swollen sea rises, it will not know who owns the cities that it swallows from the coast. A world of nuclear weapons and tense border-based disputes is insane. A world of climate-poisoning and countrified, competitive GDP-racing is lunacy. It is one planet; one eco-system; one species that lives in one food chain under its one sky.
House prices, immigration, GDP, industries, wages, prices, ideals … these issues seem important to individuals and communities. But when you zoom out to the level of civilizational stability, environmental health and existential safeguards, which are the context for them, they start to seem as problematic as an itch on your ankle, one moment after you’ve noticed your parachute wont open.
Increasingly global governance will, of course, be difficult, presumably in all the ways that E.U. membership and NAFTA membership is difficult — but who or what is offering a sensible alternative? There is not the time to design it. The I.M.F., W.T.O., W.H.O., U.N., World Bank, and all of the intra-national bodies from your favourite conspiracy theories are flawed and scary, yes, but they also hold a lot more hope of acting in the global, species-level interest than their smaller, older, and more locally self-interested equivalents. A bodge-job of a One World Government still sounds much more promising, after all, than the two hundred bloody Belgiums we’re currently working with.
Think, too, of the benefits, whatever your ideology: It’s ironic on a global scale to have taxes and tax havens. Justice’s limits are jurisdictions. Welfare and socialist programs struggle because of the migration incentives involved. Free trade, on the other hand, is hindered by tariffs, customs, and sanctions. Arguably, humanity’s biggest achievements so far, from the International Space Station, whizzing over our heads every 90 minutes, to the Large Hadron Collider, recreating the Big Bang beneath our feet, were pulled out of cross-border collaboration, contributed to by countries whose extracurricular activities include bickering, and generally being silly to and at each other.
Imagine all the money spent on the Space Race in the 20th Century, then imagine it had not been in two bank accounts, but one. For one cool, hippy idea of what a really good new long-term goal might look like, imagine all of the world’s money that it currently spends on militaries — from the moon, all you’d see is humanity’s great expense protecting itself from itself — and contemplate the directions that money could be diverted, if we could overcome the institutional expressions of our tribal monkey nonsense. A decent Mars trip, for example: we could ‘back up’ our civilisation, our culture, and the light of human consciousness, so everything we’ve done from Algebra to Wikipedia is no longer prone to evaporation from one unfriendly space rock or some fatal form of home-grown nuisance.
It is going to be uncomfortable and problematic and sticky and hard and exhausting, but we may have to do it anyway. Just as we know it is unpleasant, but rational, to suffer the boring, repetitious cruelties of diet/exercise now for a greater chance of future health, so I think that civilisation too should be viewed through this lens. Instead of imagining politics to be a massive game of Whack-a-Mole, where we manically try and hammer each and every new PROBLEM as it pops up, to be instantly replaced by a set of new and different ones, we could imagine governance in terms of what problems we could and should perhaps endure, given how much cooler it would be to join the universe’s aliens, rather than its dinosaurs.
If we could magically swap something— 10% of global GDP, or Australia, for example — for a new antibiotic, or the removal of 50 parts per million of carbon from the atmosphere, it would be worth it (sorry, Australia), because if we could just solve the problem of keeping the earth cool enough and not all dying in some Dark Age puddle of a super-plague, we might buy ourselves a hundred thousand lovely years to slowly solve the rest.
If all these risks sound exaggerated to you, here’s the question: are you definitely right, or is there any chance you could be unknowingly enjoying the usual fuzzy-sighted tunnel-vision of a person living inside a civilisation that is presently ticking along? History, after all, is nothing but a vast and ugly catalogue of counter-warnings against our native intuition that we live in safe and stable times; any study of what has already happened, indeed, reveals only an enthusiastic habit of great swathes of humanity to leap enthusiastically into whatever brand of dumb mess their place in history has offered them that afternoon.
We can not retreat from joining the world — we are in it, in every important and relevant respect, whether we like it or not. Nationalism is a childish symptom that we have not yet learned to see ourselves as we are: not a collection of distinctive groups and tribes, which look out in all directions upon a wide flat world, and mark lines upon the earth where our ideas of us and them begin, but a quiet outburst of surprisingly clever animals, invisibly peppering the skin of a little pearly marble, in a gossamer-thin shell of air, floating in a vast and inky sea of blackness, with only ourselves to rely upon to wrestle a future from the daft inertia of the past.
How to be a Modern, Media-Savvy Politician
Being a politician probably used to be a bit of fun. You had money, power, responsibility, and respect.
Now though, it seems more likely that the newspapers hate you for being rich, half of your job is just apologising on TV for everything being broken before you arrived, and any teenager doing Media Studies can cancel out your entire reputation and legacy in the public imagination overnight with a cruelly observed blog that lists every photo of you where you look a bit like a butternut squash.
However, if you still think it could still be the career for you, here’s some tips to help you navigate the well-laid minefield of the modern media.
1. Be confident!
This is not The King’s Sp-Sp-Sp-Speech any more. You can’t really go around stuttering like a dictaphone dropped in a toilet, otherwise some entrepreneurial internet anonymoid will paste you all over YouTube as a dubstep remix.
The Electorate can smell weakness from a mile away, so if you want their Votes, Taxes and Livelihoods in your hands, you must act at all times like you’ve just kicked an angry wolf’s face off before you enter every room, and are quite ready to do it again.
2. No more bloody silliness
The internet is now the permanent historical record of your entire public existence. Unfortunately for you, though, it is not your past work as a Cluster Manager for Regional Fitness in Swindon or your wonderful new policy ideas that will ‘go viral.’ You’re not going to rank highly in our Search Engine Optimised world for your sub-committee consultation’s suggestion to redraft the bill proposal amendment to the 1884 Everybody Falling Asleep Immediately What Are You Even Talking About Act.
If, however, you stumble over a blind dog and knock an old lady into a novelty over-sized pie, guess who is going to the make the Internet o’clock news? That’s right. You, you big clumsy.
Every time you misspeak, or trip up a step, or push a door that says pull, or fall out of a car on to a roadside kebab, basically every single person in the country is going to YouTube their Twitters all over each other’s Facebooks, and those zeros-and-ones of gaff-data are going to be permanently stored on servers all over the Earth, and probably also in space, forever.
Indeed, you can only make about two or three embarrassing blunders before you are completely unelectable. That is until you reach 400 of them, of course, at which point you become eligible to run for the Mayor of London.
3. Strike a Vague
If you go around telling everyone and their electorally-registered mothers that you’re going to build ten schools, that’s generally what they are going to expect, isn’t it? Silly rookie. What you need is a bit of wiggle-room. Instead of offering to build ten schools or something else unhelpfully specific, it’s smarter these days to offer ‘improved education,’ without specifying a single definition, parameter, number, direction, concept, axis, flavour, or list of stages that could be measured relative to anything in the observable universe relative to a budget or space-time.
When people ask for results, then, nobody can really complain when you wheel out some boy called Bob with bits of chicken on his face who can now spell his name with less mistakes than last week.
4. Confidently Handle an Egging
Today, democracy is no longer a hundred men who meet once a week to discuss poor people while they chase a fox on inherited land.
Instead, its a big country-wide party where anyone is allowed in as long as they’re tall enough and haven’t yet murdered someone. Unfortunately for you, this means a lot more people are now involved in governance, who are less experienced with debate/consensus, and a lot more experienced with noise/throwing.
Luckily, dealing with projectiles is a skill now taught at all good Politician Schools, at a range of expertise levels:
The Beginner, a.k.a. Silvio Berlusconi ‘Model Church’ Method:
The Intermediate, a.k.a. John Prescott ‘Egg’ Method:
The Advanced, a.k.a. George Bush ‘Shoe’ Method:
4. Get the joke
You’ve been invited on to some light-hearted morning chat show to be interviewed by a dead-eyed rent-a-couple, who want to talk to you about your kids, your holiday, your breakfast ritual, and your CD collection. What a great opportunity to score some voters! It’ll be like playing a game of tennis with a child in a wheelchair. “So, Mr Prime Minister, we have to know,” says the woman one, “do you think that Kate was right to wear that dress at that event?” Hm. What do most people think? Say that now. SMASH! ANOTHER ACE!
But… wait… what’s this now?!
In a sudden, unexpected twist of skewer-point journalism, the white-haired man one puts on that YouTube video of you stuttering, which some 12-year-old internet japester with autism has turned into a dubstep remix.
… It’s a trap!
They play the video on a television in front of you while a little thumbnail of your reaction is broadcast to the nation. The show’s producer is loving it. It’s light-hearted. It’s whimsical. It’s a complete fucking nightmare.
You have to laugh, though. HAHAHA.
WHOOMP WHOOMP BWOOOOAR, goes the dubstep. STUT-STUT-STUTTER, goes your dumb mouth, all over the internet, forever.
You have to laugh, though. HAHA HA HA. THAT’S VERY FUNNY, ISN’T IT.
HA HA. Ha. ha.
YES, AREN’T WE ALL HAVING A NICE TIME.
5. Like [THING] also
Once upon a time, it may have been acceptable to be so utterly boring and bookish that people trusted you to deal with laws, trade and taxes exactly because you seemed duller than them. It was even regarded as vaguely in the nation’s interests to avoid electing the ‘common man,’ you know, in favour of the kind of uncommon man who wouldn’t get immediately distracted by a novelty sandwich fight, unlike the rest of us.
Now, though, people want to know their politicians much more intimately, and judge them not on boring, arbitrary abilities like, ‘how well do you understand the economic concept of the Division of Labour?’ or ‘can you do the job?’ No, now electability is based on your answers to more sympathetic or relatable questions like, ‘who do you want to win series 49 of Big Brother?’ and, ‘what do you prefer? Sausages or The Arctic Monkeys?’
In other words, are you one of us?
You’re not, of course, which is why 90% of your life’s trajectory has been to rule the chumps. To prevent them figuring this out, though, don’t forget to mention that you like burgers, West Ham Aston Villa, the environment, and Insomnia by Faithless.
6. Get Advice
Also known as Spin Doctors, or Communications Directors, or Media Strategy Managers, or Opinion Fact Rearrangement Consultants, it doesn’t really matter what you call them, as long as you have someone who is so deeply networked with producers, editors and journalists that they can trade access to you for not ruining you. If a camera or microphone is ever within a meter range of your opinions, this media-savvy individual should be fifty centimetres closer, ready to whisper the sweet populist nothings in your ear, hand-hold you through the no-man’s-land of the media war, and be prepared to spring to your defence should some unflappable, underpaid nurse suddenly desire your attention, like a bodyguard leaping in front of a bullet made of proletarian rage.
Behind the scenes, this individual should spew so much rubbish from their mouths, at all times, in all journalistic directions, that every time they formulate a sentence they break the Kyoto Protocol.
7. Don’t Piss Off Beautiful Actors
Obviously, politics is about compromise. There are direct winners, direct losers, and the majority of people who don’t know who’s playing because the election doesn’t take place directly between their face and the television.
The formula for getting continually re-elected, then, is simple: the group of ‘winners’ must be numerically greater than the group of ‘losers.’ Simple. Generally, the winners are going to vote for you, the losers are not, and everybody else will choose by asking George Clooney.
Very popular people are your friends, and you agree with all of them.
8. You’re outraged, just outraged
You might avoid your taxes, you might use those tax savings to kill horses for fun, and you might insist that your favourite one-liner comedian Jimmy Carr comes around to your house to enjoy some frugal tasty horse meat burgers. We all have hobbies. However, if you then find out The Sun newspaper is suddenly, completely outraged that Jimmy Carr ate tax-free horse-meat, you better be damn well suddenly, completely, publicly outraged too.
HOW COULD HE?! THE MONSTER!
9. Go Handsome or Go Home
The days of looking like some haunted old coodge loitering around the buffet of a binman’s funeral are long over. It’s the age of the colour television, and the eyes of the masses demand more.
Indeed, it’s democratically safest to be a half normal, half bland cocktail of ‘the everyman.’ Almost young, almost trim, and almost, almost relatable to ‘the everyman,’ except that everything you know about the working class seems suspiciously like it was assimilated through hiring them to clean your windows. In terms of facial personality, you should look exactly like the kind of person who would be impossible to pick out of a police line-up, unless all of the other suspects had the kind of faces you could make documentaries about.
With boring, podge-head in place, you must then master ‘Blair hands.’
This is where you spend your entire speech looking like a forgettable market stall owner who is presently indecisive about where exactly to display his favourite invisible melon.
10. Be squeaky-clean
While it’s not like some minor drug hypocrisies will stop you getting a post like the President of the United States, political life will always be a little smoother if you can pretend you are a good, honest person.
Get your spouse to behave in public, hide your most smashed and impulsive relatives somewhere safe with a sneaky pay-check, avoid pool parties, low-priced prostitutes, poor people, and, if at all possible, try to mechanically scare big, wide smiles on to your children’s little faces whenever there is a camera within a mile of your house.
“Oh, yes, Little Timmy loves The Arctic Monkeys,” you’ll say.
“Not as much as Sausages, though, eh Timmy? HAHAHA. Eh? Eh?
HA HA Ha
… haaaa that’s our Timmy, alright. He’s not damaged.”
Blomp and Whizzo the Wonder Kid
There are two versions of you.
One of them is you, now, the one who’ll go to bed tonight and set an early alarm for tomorrow in a sleepy blur of good intentions. Let’s call this version of you Blomp.
The other version of one is the potential you, later, the one who will wake up in all the magic possibilities of tomorrow, next week, or somewhere down your timeline in a golden future not yet written. He is the absolute best version of you; the one who can be spotted on job applications, first dates, and at high school reunions. He exists almost entirely as glimmering and untapped potential in some deluded hangover of today. Let’s call this version of you Whizzo the Wonder Kid.
You know these two characters well.
Whizzo the Wonder Kid is the guitar-playing vegetarian who goes running three times a week; Blomp, meanwhile, has bidded on a guitar on eBay, and learnt the A-chord. Well, he’s going to learn it. Soon. Just after a pre-jog nap, or a bath, or a bath-nap, or a sit down, or a pre-bath sit down nap. Actually, maybe he’ll go jogging tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow. Jogging and vegetables. Today is more like the kind of day where one should really stay in, and eat a whole cooked chicken on a stick. Fine.
While Whizzo the Wonder Kid speaks fluent Spanish, Blomp has only so far bought the language tapes, listened to half of Basic Foundation Bits To Annoy Trilingual Waiters Part One, and fallen asleep with the earphones down his pants.
Whizzo the Wonder Kid calls his mother more, replies to e-mails immediately, and asks out pretty girls on the Metro whenever, because, well, why not? Blomp, however, presses ‘Mark Unread’ on any message he can, literally, and any girl he can, metaphorically, and will continue to do so until he’s had one more coffee, or one more beer — Whizzo the Wonder Kid will sort it out anyway when the caffeine or the courage kicks in.
But here’s an idea worth considering: Whizzo the Wonder Kid is sometimes just a story in our heads, and that story, however exciting it becomes when we splash it with colour to impress people, does not have any real effect on the rest of the universe because of a simple but relatively ignored little truth:
We are only what we do.
We are, and might only ever be, Blomp, whatever shape that is today.
Blomp, Blomp, Blomp. That’s us. And maybe that’s ok.
Every time you turn off your alarm and sleep another hour, you are a person who turns of their alarm and sleeps another hour. It isn’t a bad thing, or a problem, or a habit that needs to be fixed, but it is as simple as that. Excuses are fine, but they will always be irrelevant to the results recorded in everyone’s shared reality.
“But it’s only because it was raining.”
“But it’s just because I went to bed late last night.”
“But it’s only because I plan to get up earlier tomorrow.”
OK. Great. Fine. You slept in; no biggie, but that is the only fact objective fact of the situation – now you gotta work with it. You are not the person who lives in your head, you are the things that you do. Did you turn off the alarm? OK. Did you spend two hours browsing nonsense cat websites rather than practising Spanish? OK. Did you have a kebab rather than a salad? Hey. That’s cool. I’m not your Aunt Sally, judging you because you didn’t shave before the funeral. But what are you telling yourself?
That you can get up earlier, practice Spanish more, and cut down on kebabs?
In your head, are you slightly more like Whizzo the Wonder Kid?
Where this attitude can become dangerous, I think, is when we start telling people about all the things we are going to do, when we’re not actually doing them. It is much quicker and easier, after all, to enjoy the ‘I could do that’ narrative, than the sometimes more real, objective one: ‘I have talked about doing that for a very, very long time, and told people I could do that, while never, ever doing that.’
Whizzo the Wonder Kid sometimes picks the juicy, quick rewards of congratulation for the things Blomp hasn’t done yet. He is a lazy short-cut to a quick fix of ego-boosting, and that makes him addictive. Blomp is a balloon, bloated from unearned prestige, and Whizzo the Wonder Kid is the air that escapes his rubber-slappy lips every time he creates the expectations that make it tougher for Blomp to ever do those things in the first place.
When we tell people about the impressive things we are going to do, it’s a form of self-marketing. And when it comes to ourselves, just like with any other product, our advertising can be true, or it can be false – and that might not affect people making their first purchase of our product with a quick, flashy trick, but it will affect every ‘sale’ after.
To quote ex-President George W(isdom) Bush:
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me two times… err… um… we’re not going to get fooled again.
Indeed. For many years, I believed I could do all kinds of wonderful, incredible things IF I WANTED TO. In the silliest version of my future, I’ve written novels, plays, movies, whole albums of music on instruments I can’t even play, ran marathons, climbed mountains, swam channels, invented things, lived on boats, on islands, on cattle ranches, in large cities, small villages, up mountains, beside lakes, with a hundred different girls, and with none at all.
I used to tell myself this kind of deluded mantra: with just the right time, or money, or motivation, or incentive, or blood caffeine level, or whatever flavour of excuse tasted best that day, I could do ALL OF THE THINGS… just… not… right… now. Tomorrow looks good, though. Yes. Tomorrow will definitely be different than today was.
Except tomorrow never comes.
People do not pay, hire, befriend, or date our potential. If they did, we’d all be hot property. My Whizzo the Wonder Kid, indeed, has done more things than it is possible to do in one human lifetime, and that was starting to become a problem.
I may be ambitious, but I’m also –more realistically– a lazy sort of a sausage.
I found it incredibly helpful to realise something quite obvious: that I can’t do all of the incredibly ambitious things really. Even if my potential was somehow infinite, my time and resources are definitely not. My grandest ambitions may be somewhat honest (I really do want to have done them, after all), but I will never do most of them, because the time they take will always be in competition with a hundred other unpredictable demands and desires for my time and my internet-ruined ADHD levels of attention.
All of the most difficult, hardwork-chisselled things I’ve done in the most outrageous Whizzo the Wonder Kid version of ‘my future’, for example, are made spectacularly unlikely by my excessive and greedy fondness for lazy mornings, impractical friendships, unearned holidays, outrageous baths, accidental naps, vigorous booze sampling, and near-constant levels of incredible faffing.
In other words, the smug novel-writing, vegetarian, exercising, ultimate bilingual rock star thing-doer is a version of me that gets up earlier, works harder, writes more, gets distracted less, procrastinates less, concentrates on just one thing rather than a dappy fan of too many things, and reaps all of the rewards of that focussed streamlined future lifestyle.
In summary, then, he is the opposite of me. An entirely nonsense dream personality that doesn’t take into account every year of evidence previously provided that I am not that person. It’s a version of me I can believe is coming tomorrow, but only if I can keep religiously ignoring the fact that he was supposed to arrive yesterday.
It can be the ultimate procrastination in terms of improving yourself, because the map isn’t useful until you know where you are starting the journey.
I’m lazy sometimes, I get distracted, I makes excuses, I nap, I procrastinate, I fail. I’m not very good at quite a lot of things, but I do practice, I do try a little, and I do try to try more – and that’s how I get better. That is who I am, and I’m much happier knowing there is no imaginary gearbox is my head that I can one day magically shift up a gear.
Blomp is who I am, and he’s fine as he is. How about you?YAY?
The Optimist’s Guide to… EmbarrassmentLike a lot of people who browse the internet too much, I sometimes fall prey to a weird belief that I’m not stupid. This delusion is then further reinforced by hanging around with other people who think that they’re not stupid either. The more I browse the internet too much, and the more I hang out with other people who browse the internet too much, the greater the delusion becomes that I am not a complete moron. This would then cause me problems when I did something stupid, because I somehow felt it was not representative. It was a blip on the graph. Uncharacteristic. The result, of course, was embarrassment, but not just the usual, ordinary embarrassment of an idiot who has come to terms with his idiocy. No, it was the crippling, face-palm, all day, head-shaking, eyes-closed, toe-cringing, wardrobe-hiding, laying silently in hot water, making aaaaaaaahhhhhhh noises kind. Less like a little brief pang of ‘oh, dear, what a silly bean I am,’ and more like an ancient dynasty of lingering samurai shame. Years after the worst-offending incidents, indeed, I could be happily strolling along, thinking about life’s nice little things, and some crippling embarrassment from years ago would suddenly strike again. Here, for example, is a particularly persistent one that often tries to wander, uninvited, back into my life.
The IncidentBack when I was studying Media Nonsense at the University of Bad Decisions, I had to complete two weeks of work experience for my degree. Not wanting to really experience any work, however, I asked my cousin if I could visit him at the Post Production Studio where he did real things for TV people in exchange for currency. In the mornings, I would be a glorified runner, making tea and coffee for other TV people who did real things in exchange for currency, and the afternoons I would spend time with a different department each day. One day, I was in the Sound Room, then the Editing Suite, then the Room with Lots of Buttons that I completely understood. It was a lot of fun, and whilst I bounced between the different departments, I followed the progress of a TV show called The Complainers as various people applied their skills to it. I asked the sound people if it was any good. They told me it was shit. Then I met the editing people, and they also told me it was shit. Then I met the button-pushing people, and they told me it was shit too. It was with my conclusion about The Complainers pre-decided with religious conviction, then, that I walked into a room the next day to bring two guys some coffee. One was busy editing, and the other stopped to chat to me. He was an incredibly nice man. Perhaps the nicest man I’d met all week, even. He was friendly. Grounded. Sincere. He was giving off that ‘hey man, I get it, we’ve all been a runner, I respect you as a person and an artist, you’ll get there, we’re all in this together, comrade, nothing’s going to stop us now, viva la resistance’ kind of vibe, which was refreshing in a building where 95% of its inhabitants ordered coffee with a button. Hell, he even asked me about my writing ambitions, ignoring that my job was mainly the relocation of warm liquids. In short, he was Jesus and we were going to be best friends forever. Then it happened. Not so much a brain fart, but a rectum-shattering tornado of bowl-collapsing mind wind. I looked at the monitor behind him and saw that the editor was working on The Complainers too. If common sense hadn’t been on a coffee break too, this was probably the point it would have kicked in. “Oh, you’re working on The Complainers?’ I said conversationally, keen to bask in the camaraderie of a shared grievance. “I’ve heard it’s really, really shit.” His face switched instantly from a warm smile to a blank stare. The editor spun slowly and silently around on his wheely-chair, then stopped. “I hope not,” the nice man said in an empty voice, “it’s… my show.” There was a long, awkward silence – it lasted about a day, and was comparable in its silence to the endless nothingness of death. It was during this large, quiet gap that I should have apologised, of course. Maybe I could have even attempted a snappy bad joke about it. Just kidding! I knew you were the director all along! Dave sent me to say that, HAHAHA. OH DAVE. Indeed, I’ve since thought about the hundred things I could have said in attempt to bounce that situation back to something like normalcy, and my final conclusion is that FUCKING ANYTHING would have been better than what I actually did, which was stare at him, make a weird, high-pitched giggle noise, stare more, then pivot like a weird kebab, and walk slowly out of the room in sudden, bizarre silence. It was catastrophic, the way wars are. That memory still hurts me. It’s burned into my brain forever.
The AftermathTo recap, then: I was bizarrely and suddenly rude to an incredibly polite man, by accident, by trying to suddenly and bizarrely impress him, on purpose, with an opinion that wasn’t even mine. It was weird, horrible nonsense. Time, meanwhile, continued to insist on being a forwards-only thing, offering no possibility to change what had just happened. While I couldn’t change it, however, I realised that I could change how I thought about it. My solution was something I now call the ‘Etch-a-Sketch Method of Retrospection.’ I stopped thinking about my life as an aging canvas where all of its embarrassing details were permanently painted on to its past, but one long string of temporary sketches. Indeed, perhaps only five minutes had passed between me walking through that door into an ordinary situation, then walking out of it again in that baffling context of wide-eyed dread. I mean, it was weird, certainly, but it wouldn’t have ramifications that would topple civilisations. Rather than potentially carry around that new heavy baggage of shame for the lifespan of small mammals, or letting the memory haunt me with a significance that others reserved for car crashes, I realised what a temporary, fleeting thing it was. A particularly regrettable drawing on that day’s Etch-a-Sketch. The nice man would Complain about me, avoid me in the building, and later feature me in a small anecdote to his spouse (“honey, there was a fucking weirdo today”). Quickly, though, he would forget about that tiny strange character in his day called me, then get on with his actual life of being a very nice man who may or may not make shit TV shows. Who knows. Meanwhile, I could sigh, give the Etch-a-Sketch a shake, then carry dumbly on. YAY?
“What colour is that?” and other stupid questions you can ask the colour-blind
If you’ve never heard the sentence, “really? What colour is that then?” then there is a very good chance that you aren’t colour-blind.
Congratulations, you happy-eyed champion of life. Meanwhile, if you have heard that question at least seven times since breakfast, then the chances are you’re another hue-confused human like me.
That question, as bonkers as it usually is, follows me everywhere I go. I still haven’t worked it out.
It’s part allegation, part inquiry, part test, part trap.
I can either get the answer wrong, which does not explain anything, or I can get it right, which does not explain anything, except in a more annoying way. Sometimes the latter even leads to the accusation, “you’re not colour-blind!” as if I had lied for the sole purpose of engineering such a rivetting exchange.
I have even been asked what colour I think the sky is. Sometimes I’ll laugh, and explain that after over two decades of interacting with things like songs, poems, and humans, I’m confident enough to have a cheeky guess in public. If I’m not feeling that whimsical, I’ll just say, ‘buuuurr green,’ and hit myself in the face with something I call ‘the pocket brick of despair.’
Whichever answer I give, though, everybody involved learns as much about colour-blindness as if they’d decided to investigate the condition by rubbing their ears on the outside wall of a zoo.
Partly it is because colour-blindness is a misleading name for the condition. Apart from monochromatic colour-blindness, which is a very rare condition that causes people to only see badgers, penguins, pianos, and chess, and actual blindness, which is what gives Stevie Wonder his heightened sense of singing, most people who are colour-blind can, in fact, see colour. They just get a bit confused between what they perceive as ‘similar’ ones.
Mine – like the vast majority of colour-blind people – are predominantly green and red. Basically, the human eye has three kinds of cone, and each one picks up lightwaves on different parts of the colour spectrum. One of my types, however, betrays me when I buy bananas. They are swines amongst cones.
This may not have always been the case, however. Colour-blindness is estimated to be present in as many as 5-10% of males (women just carry the gene for us mostly.) This is prevalent enough, apparently, for biologists to believe that colour-blindness might have had some evolutionary advantageous by-product which allowed the trait, and therefore us, to survive hundreds of thousands of years of Darwinian natural selection and Twister tournament humiliation.
Scientists’ best bet, so far, is that colour-blind people are better at seeing through camouflage, especially in low-light conditions, so it might have been useful to have a couple of us in your tribe if dinner was something you aspired to eat rather than be.
Personally, though, I think we might have just survived because it’s a bit of fun for everyone else to have a few of us around, like ginger people or creationists.
My friends used to cackle like freaks, for example, when I did something colour-wacky like hit the wrong ball in a game of snooker, or get on the wrong underground line in a foreign city, or try and dress myself without girlfriend intervention. I once went to a red versus green Laser Quest game, and had to be on my own team like some muddled gump on a day out, shooting at and getting shot at by everyone. Another time, I had a ten minute conversation at a metro station with a man in ripped clothing that told me he was on his way home from a costume party. “What did you go as?” I asked him. “The Hulk,” he replied, confused. He was entirely green (apparently), and staring at me a bit like I’d lost my carer.
Colour in the past
However, us silly colour-blind folk weren’t always just an adorable bunch of goofs that you wouldn’t trust to cook a sausage. No, we used to be quite a menacing bunch of chancers — that is until frightened people with working eyes came along and stopped us. Just ask Anderson or Larson, the engineers who crashed their train into another one in 1875’s Sweden because they couldn’t figure out between them what the colour signals were to prevent them from doing exactly that.
Immediately after they colour-blinded themselves to death, Professor Holmgren got involved, like he always bloody did, and developed the first ever tests to stop people exactly like us crashing more particularly big metal things into other particularly big metal things with our fundamentally broken faces. His basic tests persisted until 1917 when a sneaky opthamologist called Shinobu Ishihara came along and started hiding numbers inside lots of dots. You know the ones…
The list of jobs that Ishihara suddenly stopped colour-blind people going anywhere near is now commonly extended to piloting, pharmacology, fire-fighting, police work, paint-mixing, and, oddly enough, driving in Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey. If that makes you wonder how colour-blind people drive in countries that aren’t Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey, then you’ve probably just stumbled upon the second most common question us apple-baffled get:
“How can you drive, then?”
Well, that’s easy. If there is somebody in front of me at a traffic light, I follow them. If there’s nobody there, I guess what colour the light is. It might sound dangerous at first, but let me assure you that colour-blind traffic-guessing still causes less accidents than drink driving, texting, and spontaneous attacks of made-up things like Sudden Handface Disease.
Ho ho ho, enough lies.
The real reason, again, is that the pigment perfect population have bubble-wrapped the roads for us. The red, amber and green in traffic lights, which would normally be our crash-spastic downfall, contain special tinges of blue and orange just for us, and the lights themselves normally live inside a reflective rectangular ‘sighting board,’ so we can differentiate between them even at a distance by their position: top, middle, and bottom. Also, we still guess a bit, but only because we have grown erratic and unhinged from our puzzled nonsense lives.
After explaining that I don’t drive based on shapes and luck, that I don’t see the world like a time travel WWII documentary, and that I know the sky is blue because not everybody in the whole of human history managed to keep it a secret from me, the last question I normally get is the good one.
“What do you see, then?”
It’s interesting because I can’t answer it. Luckily, neither can anybody else. Not even dead gravity genius Isaac Newton, even though he was the first to figure out that white light contains the whole spectrum of colours. He also poked a big needle into his eye socket and wiggled it around, incidentally, presumably to answer some other question that nobody asked about eyes, colour, or sanity.
By the way, I don’t just mean ‘nobody can answer it’ in some acid-tripping hypothetical way, like, “whoah, dude, what if your blue is, like, my red, man?” — or in a ratio reversal way — as in, I’m only “colour-blind” because there’s less of me, and more of you, and if the percentages were simply reversed, “normal”-sighted people would be the weird ones getting laughed out of vegetable aisles, the freaks.
The real reason is more profound, even. It turns out that colour lives a lot more in our brains than we might expect, and is a lot more related to the language we use than the hardware in our looking balls. Indeed, recent experiments have shown that the number of colour-sensitive cones in the human eye can differ by as much as forty times between people, yet most of them can still play Trivial Pursuit together without looking like some sad human in need of extra, boring attention.
But what does it all mean? Well, rather than colour being an actual objective thing, like a hedgehog with small lumps of cheese on it being pushed around a party on a roller-skate, what seems more likely is that we all perceive colour based on the language we’ve collectively internalised to coordinate with each other, a little bit like how women in close proximity synchronize their periods, except not.
If you took a trip to Namibia, for example, you might start having fun, difficult, silly conversations with the Himba people, who have about half the words for colour-identifying as you do. While us T-shirt wearers have eleven words for colour, the Himba tribe have four or five. While we’re getting all fancy with our decadent Western imperialist dark blues, dark greens, dark browns, dark purples, dark reds and blacks, for example, the Himba tribe have already said zuzu and milked a lovely goat. They also have vapa, which is white and some shades of yellow, buru, some shades of green and blue; and dambu for other greens, reds and browns.
When the Himba were shown eleven green squares and a blue one by some science guys, for example, it was very difficult for them to find the odd one out because they didn’t have separate words for them like we do. However, when shown twelve more greens, including one slightly different one, they could identify it easily, and much, much faster than Westerners could (if they could at all.)
Incidentally, I saw it immediately, too, because I’m not ‘camouflage-blind’ — a new phrase I would like you to start adopting to refer to yourself in the likely event that you aren’t colour-blind, or ‘cone-ally challenged’ as my proud people prefer to be labelled.
If you’re still not quite ready to slap that debilitating brand on your fully functioning head, though, then you might like to be pointed to the tiny minority of women who, through a trick of their genetics (they are the only gender with two X chromosomes, which carry the necessary data), have a fourth type of cone. While the usual three culprits pick up about a hundred hues each, and can therefore be combined to recognise about a million colours for us, the tetrachromats’ fourth one pushes their potential range up to one hundred million variants.
If that’s not astounding enough to base the end of an already bitter-sounding article on, there’s also a species of crustacean called the mantis shrimp, which has sixteen types of cone, and can therefore perceive eleven or twelve primary colours compared to humanity’s dreadful spectrum of three: red, blue, and yellow.
And what exactly would the world look like for these magic women and special prawns?
I don’t know obviously. Why don’t you go and ask them ten thousand times?
Image sources: [Fuck the Colourblind]YAY?
Life: the ultimate near-death experience
According to numbers and science and stuff, 100% of us are going to die. That’s a lot.
Yet despite this important, common event being one that we will all share regardless of race, sex and bank balance, the fact of our mortality is the one that we collectively seem the most poorly adjusted to. It’s the topic that we try to think and talk about the least to avoid unpleasantness, and yet the one that has caused the most problems for our species since we became the only animals clever and arrogant and silly enough to start worrying about it. Indeed, Professor Numbers from the University of Guessing says that 90% of the people on the planet are still so afraid of dying that they spend their entire lives pretending that they won’t, and choose instead to believe that they’re going to come back immediately as a butterfly or live forever in a big cake in the sky.
The reason that these childish fantasies have persisted through thousands of years of science, philosophy and logic, is, of course, that we still don’t know what happens when we die. More specifically – because we do know what happens when other people die (they become suddenly, infinitely boring, then later smell funny and melt) – we do not know how to reconcile our weird, subjective experience of reality (our consciousness, or ‘soul’ if you want) with the idea of an objective universe without us in it to experience it. Sentences like that aside, we literally can’t imagine not existing. We’re very used to it, and we’ve never experienced the opposite. It’s impossible for us to think about what it’s like to not think.
Yet we know that one day we are going to die, we know that every living second brings it closer, and we know there is absolutely no conceivable way to cheat it.
It is no wonder, then, that the lack of any right answer to a question that fully changes everything terrifies us more than the thought of being locked in a room with Mel Gibson and some gin. And it is no further wonder that the impossibility of disproving any claim about death is what protects religions’ attempts to have a cheeky guess, and why so many people so desperately want to believe those guesses, regardless of how little they seem to map coherently onto reality or explain anything satisfactorily.
However, just because we cannot be Right does not mean that we cannot be Less Wrong, and luckily we don’t even have to die to realise that some of humanity’s biggest, or at least latest, theories aren’t entirely convincing. Take the Judeo-Christian idea of Heaven, for example, which looks absolutely lovely in the brochures, but makes about as much rational sense in the real world as trying to give a surprise reflexology massage to a sleeping alligator.
Indeed, we can forget entirely that Hell sounds exactly like the kind of place humans would invent to scare their kids into eating their peas. Or that separating people in to ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is a moral system about as complex as Kanye West’s level of self-awareness. Or that concepts like pleasure are entirely impossible without equal and opposite kicks-in-the-balls to compare them to. Finally, we can notice that the whole idea on offer to us – when dissected – is a bizarre tangle of contradictions, impossibilities and paradoxes.
The idea of the Christian afterlife (and no other major religion is much different) is that a Being who exists separate to everything in our universe in an unknowable dimension outside of space and time, who has existed forever, don’t ask, apparently not evolving, created you, specifically, and your appendix, in a different dimension inside of space and time that he controls, with a master plan, and free will to choose for yourself, obviously, don’t ask, because he loves you, ignore those fossils, but judges you, because he knows everything, Jesus, and can change everything, praying, then judges the sum worth of your obedience, forgiving you, sort of, on a simplistic binary scale of human behaviour from the separate and unknowable dimension, angels, to choose whether you should once again rejoin, somehow, that separate dimension outside of space and time, without sin, to exist as yourself, again, but forever, not evolving, don’t ask, or go to a third dimension, separate to all other dimensions outside of space and time, but hotter, which is for naughty children and quite often gays.
It’s all about as lovely-sounding and unlikely as the sky raining books on an open-air Justin Beiber concert. Still, I hear you ask, why would you want to strip this comforting illusion from someone, you smug, awful swine?
There is a common opinion, I think, that because atheism or science or mushrooms or yoga do not provide any consoling alternatives to the Afterlife that this freedom-from-facts is supposed to make good and rational people tolerate religious beliefs, no matter how bonkers they seem when you bullet-point them on a badger, as long as they do something, anything, to help people cope with the potentially agonising dilemma of impending Death. And it’s very hard to argue against the idea of giving a little comfort to someone who is frightened or grieving without looking like the kind of prick who would kick down a sandcastle, for almost the exact same reasons that it is easier to continue certain other simple lies rather than confront a difficult truth. But there is, I think, an extremely urgent, important and humane reason to challenge these beliefs.
Children believe in Santa Claus because a lot of us adults tell them that he is real. In one way, it’s an abuse of our supposed moral and intellectual authority. Children ask us questions about how the world works because they’re truth-seeking, pooey little curiosity-machines, and then we tell them about flying, bullied reindeer, magic slave elves who prefer rich kids, and obese jolly men who disobey property rights and work for Coca-Cola. Of course, this is generally regarded as an OK lie to tell, because it’s a pretty weak tangle of fibs that falls apart on the first tug of the tinsel. Children should work it out fairly young as long as you don’t drop them too much, and adults should admit to their collective deceit quickly unless they want to seem daft and confusing to a nine year old.
The child cries for an afternoon, Mum apologises through the door, Dad has a brandy, Granddad falls down a manhole, and everyone carries on as normal with just some minor trust issues that therapy can always iron out later.
However, imagine for one christmassy minute that a child starts to wonder if Santa Claus is real, and asks their parents, who insist that he is real, but who eventually get angry, upset, or end the conversation if it persists. Imagine if the same child kept asking other figures of moral authority – teachers, priests, politicians – and they all maintained that Santa Claus is real, got upset or angry or offended when the child kept asking, then also refused to continue talking about it. The two options for the child are obvious; he would either continue to believe in Santa Claus because it is too weird and painful to imagine that all of the sources of moral authority in his life would repeatedly lie to his face about their lack of knowledge, or he would be ostracised from the collective fiction by the Truth’s inevitable ability to expose liars, frauds, dicks, and sneaky, pretend present-givers.
This is, of course, atheism’s relationship with religion in far too much of the world.
Some people find it extremely difficult to hear because religious beliefs are almost universally protected, pandered to and pussy-footed around, but there is a reason that we’re afraid of death, and afraid to talk about it.
It is because religion cannot prevent our fear of death; it can only create, prolong and protect it.
It gives us the flimsy promise of an afterlife in exchange for our blind, unquestioning trust. It dangles the incentive of eternity in front of us, a reward for our earthly loyalty, and then tells us to close our eyes and wait for it. It performs a crafty but unconvincing magic trick, on children mostly, that simply defines mortality out of existence. Disregarding how much people really trust their faith, and I suspect the truth of that is masked often by the real, psychological harm inflicted on young minds by lying and emotional blackmail, religious beliefs are so profoundly damaging because they arrogantly divert us from perhaps the most important question of all:
What if we’re temporary?
There is absolutely no reason to believe there is an afterlife, at all, and the people most likely to find that hard, sad or scary are the people who have always had their fingers in their ears, deluded themselves into passivity, and naively extended their existential expectations to the borders of infinite.
These people aren’t stupid. They’re not fools. Their irrational beliefs aren’t the product of an intellectual shortcoming of any kind. The reality is far sadder. They are the victims of a subtle but lasting dogma. They were told what to think by all those who claimed to care most about them in the world, people whose good intentions were only perhaps matched by their inadvertently disastrous results. To question certain beliefs, unfortunately, is to question the authority and moral good of the people who believe them, and there are strong emotional and social stigmas in place that make that difficult. Religious people are often the first to ‘take offence’ if someone asks them why they believe a ghost talks to them or how fish can become wine or whatever, and this is normally because its embarrassing to hold beliefs that can’t be explained beyond the word ‘faith’. By telling you that you can’t talk about an idea without a person being simultaneously insulted, they’re saying that you are choosing to break the social contract of basic politeness by bringing it up at all. This makes you the dick (even if you’re doing something not dick-ish, like defending gay marriage or women’s rights). It’s all very clever.
You can see the dogma in action, I think, in the way some people live their lives – especially when it looks like they’re not living them at all, but just trying to get through them as quickly as possible and without dropping too many jars in the supermarket. The worst offenders follow The Rules, whatever they’re told they are by anyone with a haircut, place their happiness inexplicably in collecting things, carbon-copy the lives of their parents, look increasingly like someone with a bag of charity shop clothes and a cruel sense of humour has mismanaged a walrus, and grow old and fat and slow in a house never more than 80 footsteps in any direction from the bit of land some vagina or other plonked them on to.
Death is a really important thing to adjust to, and not to hide from as we are so actively encouraged, because it should be the biggest driving factor of how we choose to live our lives, decide what we want, and manage our health and happiness. You are going to die, so is everyone you know, that inevitably is governed by no rules or regulations about how, why, where or when, and as you get older with those around you, it will become an increasingly regular part of your life, and, as looming, indifferent and ever-nearer a certainty as the next Fifty Shades of Twilight mass-paper-tragedy.
Think about how quickly it felt that you got to where you are now, and then imagine, if you can, how quickly the second chunk ahead of you will go. There is no time to waste, really, and you will never be younger than you are now. There is no afterlife for you in any form that is like you are now — this is it, right here, right now, and it shouldn’t take the clichéd near-death experience to trigger some productive, excited urgency deep in your bones. Life is the near-death experience.
If the thought of death still scares you, part of the problem might be that a society in the grasp of collective fictions and cultural narratives has failed to adequately carve out the space for you to adjust to it healthily. If it feels like a kick in the head now, at least you know it’s a kick in the head when you’re napping on the train track. It might be painful, but it’s the radiotherapy that will cure the cancers of fear and doubt.
We should think about death, a lot maybe, and we should talk about it, and we should carry it’s presence around as a proud and constant millstone on our necks – not because it is depressing or frightening, but because it is what reminds us that we are alive now, and that we won’t be for long, or forever. It should inspire us, motivate us, help us forgive, forget, and remind us not to worry about what we can’t change, or scream at us to repair our priorities from the bizarre and crazed arrangement that society now encourages.
And once you’ve killed the delusions of religion and refused the corrupt pledges of an afterlife, there are a lot less reasons to be afraid of death. Maybe even none. There will be no final judgement on your character, no hierarchy in which you will be assigned a place forever, no eternity to anguish over your mortal mistakes, and, healthiest of all, no lasting reasons to despair over the deaths of others.
Amy Winehouse, as we all found out by text message, recently and accidentally boozed herself dead, with the final coroner’s report concluding that she died of ‘misadventure,’ arguably the most fun-sounding of all the possible causes. The whole episode was pasted in the news as a tragedy, and it was of course, but for us, I think, not her. She was watching telly and listening to music, steadily glugging her way through several bottles of vodka, slipping numbly and unknowingly into her Last Sleep – and, perhaps for someone who seemed to fit so uneasily in this world, release. She started with nothing and ended with nothing. It is us who suffer, grieve, weep and wonder in her wake, or wait for a sombre, slapped-together collection of B-sides at Christmas, while she, simply, does not exist any more. Her deathday was shared by hundreds of thousands of others on our planet, as ours will be, yet the fact that we cry most for those we know best should be the biggest clue to the personal fear at the heart of our grieving.
We have lost something, the Dead have not. Funerals are not for them.
Because when we die, we are not there.
When your time comes, it is not you who will die — it is the universe that will end. Your lens upon the universe will close, and it won’t be there any more.
There is nothing to be frightened of, because you wont be there to be frightened of it.
Death is not a call to Futility and Depression. It can be nothing, I’m sure, but one loud and desperate, pleading Call to Arms. To adventure, experiment and investigate, to dare and dance and drink, to race and run and fight and fall over, and get back up, crash around, and do it all again every day your body lets you; to trade pleasure with pain however you can, and to grow and change and fix yourself; to laugh at Fear and Doubt when they whisper their more pathetic noises in your ear, to cram as much love and laughter in to your life, and as many good others as you can find, as you can, while you can — to live as one big shiny, screaming Fuck You to whatever indifferent forces dropped us here without a map or purpose, and an even bigger one to whatever now keeps us from living how we want.
Death shouldn’t be the handbrake that leaves us rusting in some garage of our own invention, but a red and seductive pedal clamped to the end of our legs, that wont release us until the cliff edge is behind us, the canyon’s fall in front, and all we can think as that Last Wind rushes through our hair is what a great, mad ride it was when we really, really wanted it to be.
Culture: Weird versus DifferentPeople are a fascinating bunch of animals because the more of them you meet, the more you become convinced they’re all basically the same, give or take the odd genital or language, but the more you also become aware of how much they believe they’re not. There seems to be no end to the clever systems they use to divide themselves, or limits to the creative ways that they can split their oven-rising humanity pie into smaller and slimmer slices. It’s easy to waggle disappointed fingers at religions, nationalities, cultures, and political beliefs, of course, but they’re just the crust of the overly pie-based metaphor, and not the real filling of how people pretend to be different to each other. The common consensus, essentially, is that there are two kinds of people. I don’t mean men and women, obviously, who would all be the same anyway if you actually managed to keep them away from each other for long enough, and I definitely don’t mean children and adults, who are only different in height, hairiness and how much they’re pretending to like each other. No, the two kinds of human are normal people, who are easily identifiable as the people most like you, and weird people, who are, obviously, all completely silly. It’s a simple system, and the nicest part about it is you can start dividing people up straight away without having to obtain any of that pesky information stuff. A normal person in America, anyway, does not need to learn where Montenegro is to decide that they’re never going there, which direction a Muslim is praying if he’s not blocking the drive, or what an anarchist’s political beliefs are as long as they are far enough away from the living room that they can’t stamp on the cat or steal all the nice bowls. Weird people are easy to find because they believe, look like, and get up to all kinds of bonkers. Some of them dance around on one too many axis, some live in bizarre places that are definitely far too something to live in, others do peculiar and unnecessary sex stuff involving the bum, and some have strange hobbies that make as much sense as stapling your shopping list to the middle of your back and going to a disco with lots of tinned soup in your hat. Weird people’s eccentricities can be as vast and varied as they are obviously outlandish, but the point is they’re not normal. Normal people, on the other hand, are even easier to find because they’re the people like you. Nice, normal, lovely you. You know how normal you are? Well, they’re like that too. They’re a much smaller group of people, admittedly, but they are a lot more obvious because they are nearer and, well, they’re not so bloody weird. In fact, the key trick to finding these normal people, if you ever lose them, is to listen out for which group of people is calling a different group of people ‘weird.’ Give them a bit of cheese, and you’re in. That’s the current system, anyway, and people seem to like it because it maximises the amount of time they can spend sitting down, inflating themselves with wine, and hating people they will never, ever meet unless they accidentally leave The Pub for thousands of miles in the opposite direction of their television. On a personal level, it’s simple, easy and familiar, and it takes all that looky-thinky-choosey nonsense out of decisions about who to like and dislike. On an institutional level, it works well for democratic governments because once politicians have figured out which group has the most members, or which people are most like the other people and least like the people not like the other people, they know exactly who to promise a future lovely biscuit to whilst they pepper-spray everyone else in their actual faces. And it also works well for companies and advertisers too, because they can keep selling people stuff that keeps them normal, like all the other normal people, and that business is safe in the future because they can even change what ‘normal’ is once-a-year by adding an extra gigabyte of Angry Birds to your bra, or insisting that Vicious Slut Red is the New Denim, and Bland Old Monogamous Red is for frigid trolls in wicker sandals who still think it’s 1991. In fact, it works at almost every level of society, from countries to classes, from regions to religions, and from friendships to families. As long as the little folks know who the normal people are, they know who they are working with, and who they are working against. It’s perfect. Well, almost perfect. To be honest, it does still have one single teeny-tiny pesky Sarkozy-sized glitch that prevents the whole thing from running quite as smoothly as it could. While you might think it would be as simple as Shakira for people to split themselves into the two groups provided, the problem is thateverybody thinks they are normal. The Hindus and the hipsters, the punks and the priests, the socialists and the scouts, the chavs and the Chinese, the goths and the gays, the Eskimos and the emos, the drivers and the druggies, even the fucking Australians. Basically, because everyone decided to jump aboard the Good Ship Normal, it meant that all the people who weren’t like them, which ended up being most of them, were automatically left floating somewhere in the big wide Sea of Weird, but all those same ‘weird’ people thought they were normal too, and that the other ‘normal’ people were the weird ones. Bloody humans, nothing’s ever simple is it? Either way, what could have been a beautiful and efficient engine has struggled on for years, like Eddie Murphy’s integrity or a car full of crisps, spluttering occasionally with the same small, common and continual inefficiencies. Hatred, discrimination, lynching, wars, etc. You know, minor niggles.
There is a very simple upgrade available, though, and that’s incredibly lucky because clearly the human race can’t do anything more complicated than carry an egg without murdering the Jews.Firstly, to ease the transition, we can stick with the ‘normal’ category if we want – that part of the plan was working out alright anyway until we all piled on it like Dan Brown at a shit sentence buffet – but we have to change the second word from weird to different. That’s all. Weird to different. The problem before was that everyone was certain they were normal, because they were surrounded by other people who were like them, and because nobody ever introduced ‘different’ as a comfortable alternative, that meant they thought everyone who wasn’t like them was weird, even though they were normal too, just in a different way. It forced people, especially their awful fucking leaders, to invent all these incredible groups that only ever existed in their minds, arranged on concepts as diverse as music tastes, wealth, colour, piercings, philosophy, politics, hairstyle, diet, outfits, traditions, magic beliefs, accents, absorbency, puddingness, pigeonability, whatever. We forgot quickly that we were one thing, except in a few different shapes and colours. And it meant a lot of problems because there was no room for anything that wasn’t normal, but that was equally true for both sides, so conflicts were as inevitable as the intestinal collapse you’d suffer if you had to drink a pint of liquid éclair every time Alan Sugar was unnecessarily pleased with himself. Every day, everywhere, everyone gets up in the morning with roughly all of the same objectives- food, safety, shelter, love, health, happiness, avoiding wasps and Mormons – yet somehow manage to get in each other’s way at almost every available opportunity like too many pricks in too small a pickle jar. Humans cause each other almost constant unnecessary trouble and suffering for the simple reason that they don’t understand each other, and they don’t try to. The new system will gradually put an end to all that, and it’s incredibly easy to introduce. It’s slow but it’s simple. It just involves one person at a time realising that the word ‘weird’ has always meant ‘different,’ and that ‘weird’ only ever existed because we were so convinced that we were normal. We created all the sides and teams and classes ever, like a silly, magic spider conjuring more legs so it could kick itself in extra ways, and that is why it shouldn’t sound like naive idealism to say that we can get rid of them all again, if we want, with just a simple and consistent shift in our thinking; with one big, little realisation. Nobody is weird and nobody is normal. We are all just different. OK. Good. Fine. Now can someone please tell Lady Gaga before she breaks her neck trying to wear an entire town as a hat?
Image Sources: [Crossing]YAY?
Page 32 (War, Coffee, and Nationalist Ham)
Back in January, on the morning of the 17th to be precise, I was hung-over and on my way home from some stupid night in London where I had almost certainly treated my primary bodily organs with all the care of someone who didn’t plan to continue using them. With the morning’s rush-hour commuters heading decidedly in the opposite direction of fun, I slumped down on the train and picked up a discarded copy of the Metro, a free city newspaper primarily published so people have something to point their bleak work-haunted faces at instead of each other.
I browsed lazily to find out what the Daily Mail media conglomerate believed me and every other literate Londoner needed to know about the planet’s adventures since the morning before.
‘We have 28 rats – and we love ’em,’ reads the first headline over the page, underneath a photo of an unsmiling couple with a dozen pet rodents crawling on them, an oddity you’d probably notice quickly if it wasn’t for the massive and quite frankly hypnotic bogie suspended so proudly in her nostril.
After I eventually managed to pull my eyes away from the lady’s baffling inattention to things inside her face that she probably didn’t want published, I meandered through a few more pages.
Headline highlights included:
‘Pickles admits ‘gentle’ battle,’ a small story about a Tory politician called Eric Pickles who did something or other that nobody cares about because he is called Eric Pickles and look exactly like this:
‘Kelly sex op shock,’ page 7, where ‘it has emerged,’ apparently, that Kelly Osborne’s former fiancé cheated on her with a transsexual, although it might as well have been an exhaust pipe or a rolled-up receipt or a damp cabbage going by his obviously crippled sense of judgement;
‘A whiff of Neverland puts the eau in Jacko,’ a title so baffling it makes the attached article on page 25 about an illegal immigrant selling perfume made from a deceased man’s flowers look absolutely fucking sensible; and, finally,
‘British Bruce Lee makes it in China,’ where Ross McGuinness, who is clearly a genius for convincing at least one person in the world he’s a journalist, begins his piece on page 29 with, ‘IF THE British had made a version of Enter the Dragon, it might have turned out a little like this,’ before going on to explain how the actual events that he’s waffling about –a man from Brighton judging martial arts students aged seven to seventy performing solo routines—are so far unlike that film that he might as well have begun his article with ‘IF BRUCE Lee’s spirit possessed a cracker…’ then waffled on about some blissful, alternative reality where people called Ross McGuiness aren’t allowed within 10 metres of a keyboard.
Finally, I reached Page 32, the first half of a double-page spread that affected me enough at the time to save the entire newspaper, place it in a drawer in my desk, and ignore it until some elusive, future time when I would locate it again and write what I might have written then if I didn’t have so much flat booze sloshing around my guts.
Where page 32 was different from the rest of the newspaper, it seemed to me, was that it contained a small piece of text in the bottom-left corner, squashed beneath a massive advert for a credit card and two articles glorifying British soldiers for their past ‘bravery,’ that was actual news, here in fun-ending full:
21 civilians die in string of attacks A TOTAL of 21 civilians were killed in two roadside bombings and an airstrike in Afghanistan at the weekend. Nine of the dead, including a child, were hit by a bomb yesterday as they drove to a wedding in Pul-e-Khumri in northern Baghlan province. Another six – half of them children – died the previous day in a Nato-led airstrike on two houses in mountainous eastern Kunar; local officials said. The raid killed ‘numerous’ insurgents identified as an imminent threat to ground forces, claimed the Nato’s International Security Assistance Force. Six civilians were killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand Province.
It was amongst the smallest pieces in the paper, yet it seemed to me to contain the most tragic of events. Why was it not a big story? Why was it not the biggest story? They were on their way to a wedding. Are we so desensitised to war and violence that this just wasn’t deemed interesting enough? Are we so far away from the consequences of our militaries that we just don’t care? Are we just so beaten down by the relentless stream of similar stories that we are too numb and passive to react? I don’t know.
What is perhaps more enlightening than the apparent insignificance of the death of 21 civilians — including the three children killed by the entirely unaccountable Nato military force – though, is the context of the article within the Paper.
The top article, ‘Mechanic’s war heroics told on film 70 years on,’ tells the story of Wally Harris, a veteran of the Second World War, who shot and killed up to 15 German soldiers in an action the Paper and the filmmakers describe as ‘heroic,’ but which he himself describes as “terrifying” and “daft.”
Further down the page, but no difference in its baseline patriotic tone, is a second article, ‘Ex-soldier puts his MC on eBay,’ a story about the former infantryman Alan Owens who was awarded the Military Cross medal for his “bravery and selfless commitment” in Afghanistan, then auctioned his small piece of literally useless metal on eBay with a cheeky starting price of £25,000.
The connection between these two men, though their actions were separated by 70 blooming baby-booming years, is that they are both British and, therefore, the good guys.
As we digest the information that 21 civilians – real people, like us – were blown to pieces by the same eternal good guys in a region thousands of miles away from the governments that sanctioned their deaths, we are equally expected to regard other soldiers who blindly followed orders as the inherently bravest and most heroic of our citizens.
We don’t need to learn much new to realise it, either, just un-learn some of the silly whizz that we might have never scrutinised. And, if you’ll bear with me for a minute, I promise after to explain how this entire massive rant was the product of me drinking too much coffee, then getting annoyed at a packet of ham.
Humanity is a species whose work you’re probably familiar with. Lightbulbs, picnics, hinges, et cetera. There’s close to 7,000,000,000 of them at the moment, all alike except for culture and how they do their hair, and they’ve been divided crudely but apparently convincingly into about 250 major clubs that I refer to, perhaps far too aware of my own ironic tone, as ‘countries.’ Anthems, wars, netball teams – you’ve seen them.
However, these ‘countries,’ through the unattended practice of having political leaders, hierarchical institutions and governments, could also be described as sharing a creepy amount of overlap with the phrase tax farms. They require things like walls, fences, borders, militaries, passports and ID cards to envelope an effectively non-consensual group of similar-ish people — ‘citizens’ we’ll call them — within their borders from whom they can forcibly extract a product: in this case, money. Borders aren’t so much gatehouses to keep ‘them’ out, whoever those pesky problem people are, but more like the pen that keeps ‘us’ in.
Each club, or ‘country,’ has its own leader, or small groups of leaders, who, after attacking, tricking or convincing their ‘citizens,’ are protected in this role by the very guns and bombs and armies that they sometimes use to wrestle resources from each other, which they have done throughout history, and still try to do as today, which is completely obvious to any one who is not otherwise living inside a discarded, road-side fridge. Meanwhile, these violent, greedy and silly acts of war are committed at the direct expense of soldiers, and funded by the very tax-payers that they claim to represent the interests of. Tax-payers, incidentally, that if asked, would presumably insist on preferring better roads, teachers, nurses and water cannons for spraying fires and young people, than a trail of dead, brown people somewhere bloody foreign.
The ‘them and us’ has never been ‘our’ people and people from different countries, no matter how much we have always been actively encouraged in to that mode of thinking (The French! The Nazis! The Communists! The Immigrants! The Terrorists!)
The idea that there is an ‘us’ at all is perhaps the biggest and most constant lie told in all of politics.
Farms and Farmers
It is also not hard to see what a farmer could want to take from another farmer, and inherent in that shit, nursery-level sentence is the basic truth behind most wars since the beginning of these formalised cults we call countries. It’s probably more accurate to say that the ‘them and us’ has more commonly been the people of the world and those who rule them; those owned, brainwashed and forced to kill each other, or fund it with stolen chunks of their pay-checks, and the people who are in control of that system. You cannot have violence abroad without first having violence at home. You cannot point guns at foreign citizens without first pointing them at yours.
If all this is making me sound like a hippy-lefty-liberal-something-conspiracy-sensationalist-bloggy-twat-sort-of-a-man, here’s a deservedly famous and grimly illuminating quote from one of modern history’s particularly bastardiest bastards Hermann Göring, the Nazi general who had one of the safer jobs in the long and unpleasant series of events we call World War II.
Just before he picked up prizes in both the War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity categories of the Nuremburg Awards Ceremony, and before he killed himself with smuggled cyanide the night before his death sentence (obviously), Göring immortalised his hopefully untrumpable bastardishness in a prison-cell interview:
Why, of course, the people don’t want war […] Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
Little has changed in this fundamental dynamic. There is something important to untangle here in the idea of British soldiers fighting Iraqi or Taliban soldiers, for example. Thousands upon thousands of men weren’t sitting around either side of a continent, twiddling their trigger-finger-thumbs, and getting increasingly hateful towards another group of people that they’d never met or thought about before.
No. It is the British (Replace As Appropriate) government fighting its ‘enemies,’ and ‘our troops’ are merely the currency of exchange used to achieve whatever desirable political ends are being sought. This could be any of the usual candidates, depending on where you lie on the continuum of idealism/cynicism: Regime change, oil, contracts, strategic military footholds, revenge, whatever. It doesn’t really matter when we – the common people, the poor slobs on our farms – will buy any old twonk about terrorists hating our freedom, non-interventionists being ‘terrorist-sympathisers,’ or Weapons of Mass Destruction (remember them?) being pointed directly at our local pub.
We might be a bit naive to believe that governments ultimately care the most about soldiers’ individual lives. Soldiers are not individual people to these warmongering arseholes — they’re pawns in a real-life game of chess. They’re dispensable. Statistics – a regiment (1000?), a division (5000?), a brigade (10,000?). And the saddest thing to me is that soldiers will keep being used as tools and meat weapons because we keep pushing them into harm’s way with our dreadful, hysterical fucking nonsense.
Help for Heroes! Support our boys! Respect the troops!
Hell, if you’ve stayed with me through all that heavily-caffeinated ranting, you deserve to know that the reason I remembered to write this thing at all today was that I went to the fridge to make a sandwich, and saw written on a packet of ham, ‘SUPPORT OUR UK FORCES PURCHASE THIS HAM.’ Incidentally, this pork product that was purchased for its primary function of being ham, rather than its minor contribution to a pervasive culture in our society of glorifying those who might be the most heinously misused by it.
Slices of deceased pig, quite simply, should not be encouraging you to support soldiers, whatever ‘team’ they are on. In fact, I’d prefer my ham to have very few political opinions at all.
So next time you see an article in a newspaper and it pulls out one particular dead soldier’s name (and, inevitably, neglects to mention the many, non-allied civilians who died that same day), praises him or her as a hero, no questions asked, and then tells you they were brave for dying to protect you and your freedom — remember also the sadder flip-side of this event.
They did not die to “protect you.” They died because they were paid to, as they were ordered into that known danger. Their glory, their fame, their front-page obituary, is completely tragic, temporary and fleeting; yet no more-or-less than tomorrow’s fish-and-chip paper in some Greater Plan. It’s a nudge in your ribs to keep you believing what you should.
To keep supporting soldiers.
To keep supporting war.
To keep supporting ham.
That soldier’s extinguished life, the lives they probably took as well, and the grieving relatives either side of the gun they were paid and ordered to carry –all that loss and suffering– will be hard, perhaps impossible, to measure in gains to your freedom or safety, but easier to measure in the career trajectories and bank accounts of the military-industrial complex, oil companies, politicians, lobbyists, contractors, mercenaries, capitalists, industrialists and pork peddlers – nobody who can legitimately claim to care about them or you, unless it aligns with their own motives first.
When you religiously glorify soldiers, praise them, worship them, or martyr them, you become a small, unwilling part of the social machine that sends them to war — one hand amongst many that pushes them towards danger and death.
The whole myth falls apart when we attempt the difficult task of trying to value every human life equally. When you realise that EVERY SOLDIER on EVERY SIDE does WHAT THEY ARE TOLD and BELIEVES THEY ARE RIGHT, suddenly it doesn’t seem so fun to keep sorting them in to lines, pointing them at each other, and whispering into their ears what the other lot said about their mothers and a courgette.
When a war is ‘won’, and you won’t see much of that any time soon, what has really won is the idea that war can solve problems. That complex, intricate matters like drug trafficking or border disputes or religious fanaticism can be solved by splitting into teams and slinging a stubborn amount of violence, expensive weaponry, cash and ignorant rage at each other.
Yes, kids, adults solve problems by trying to explode them; adults solve problems by shredding up each other’s internal organs with terrifying metal projectiles.
The cause of war
In fact, the preliminary, prerequisite cause of most wars is statism – the existence of states and nations – and the division of people into these old, ever-shifting, imaginary-bordered clubs by their owners. If you defend the state as a noble solution to social issues like education and road-building and healthcare, it’s unfortunate that you must also carry around the baggage of state on state conflict. You find yourself wearing the millstone of the millions of deaths caused directly by their very existence; 40 million people in the First World War, over 60 million in Part Two, millions and millions more before, in-between and after due to the clashing ideologies and intentions of all those in power with the means to mobilise the world’s poor against each other with violence and financial incentives. Add to this history’s conquests, genocides, revolutions, civil wars, terrorism, government-caused ghettos and famines, and it suddenly becomes very difficult to make the case that states and their agents are definitely the best possible conceivable way humans can come up with to protect you.
Historically, the encouraged mentality of blind patiotism –and that’s a lot of what a state really is — a firmly-rooted and heavily-propagandised idea in our collective consciousness — has almost always been the biggest threat to your life and your livelihood that exists. Indeed, as you are forced to pay your taxes (with the threat of punishments), governments can auction your future earnings in the form of debt, you’re threatened with imprisonment if you break a myriad of rules you have almost no control over, as the state has a practical monopoly on the use of violence, can theoretically draft you into the military whenever it wants, uses propaganda to achieve its political ends, and will always, always protect its existence over yours, it’s difficult to argue that ‘your country’ is anything but the absolute enemy of your freedom. While it might protect you from other countries, it might not protect you from itself.
That’s why blind patriotism is so consistently encouraged by those in power.
A very lucrative myth would crumble without it. There’s no conspiracy here either – it’s just a clumsily set-up world that we live in. It’s a flimsy, patched-up bodge job which we’ve all inherited from bloodthirsty monarchs, dogma-ridden institutions, warmongering factions, superstitious know-nothings, and ignorant, echoing relics of the Dark Ages.
We’re actively taught and encouraged to worship ‘our’ soldiers, to believe that simply by being a soldier, regardless of any individual characteristics (like, oh I don’t know, your personality) makes one good and brave and heroic. We are further encouraged to maintain the long-established nonsense of past murdered men having “died for our freedom,” like they had any choice in the matter (by which I mean, a better choice than “Go to War or go to Prison: which would you prefer today, sir?”), rather than the enforced protection or expansion of borders and tax-bases, in opposition to the other entities protecting or expanding theirs.
To criticise this herd mentality, to remark on this zealous, foolish ‘national’ limit to our empathy, or to even open a discussion to the idea that soldiers aren’t automatically amazing and brilliant and admirable – some of them are definitely just massive dicks – is to be accused of being unpatriotic, treacherous, unappreciative or ridiculous. It is the most powerful and perverse of social stigmas that those who care the most can so easily be accused of caring the least.
That is, perhaps, how four murdered children end up as a small note in a little grey box on page 32.Further Reading:
Countries – A Problem Earth Doesn’t Need (Hencewise.com)
U.S. Soldier Ethan McCord talks about his time in Iraq. A hard-to-watch but important video. Informative and tragic.
The Evolution of an Atheist
I was an atheist from a fairly early age.
Like perhaps the majority of the Western World’s greatest sperm, I was born. As such, my geographic location just north of London meant my dance with the divine began in an old, cold building with a white man in a dress putting his wet finger on my confused baby head.
He splashed me a bit, read something from the best-selling book of all time, and a lot of older people I would later become aware of smiled cooperatively while pretending not to care that they could have been three or four Bloody Marys happier somewhere else.
At that moment, even though my cognitive function was not yet developed enough to avoid shitting myself all day, I apparently earned the rite of passage into one of the world’s more diluted forms of the Christian Church. If you think it was exploitative that I had no apparent free will when entering such an important spiritual contract, don’t worry. I can honestly tell you, at the time, I didn’t give two milky tits about it.
In fact, Christianity worked out great for years.
This God character, despite being all-knowing and all-powerful, generally seemed to keep His nose out as I thundered around nursery school, falling over and bonking girls on the head with a big rubber hammer. He didn’t stop me making faces at the teachers, or peeing on the toilet seat, or putting my dinner in my hair. I liked Him, and it seemed pretty obvious that He liked me too. He let me get away with loads of naughty stuff; sort of like a cool, hip dad that let’s you drink some beer if you promise not to tell your mother.
Indeed, there was one time when all of the adults went out and I was misguidedly trusted to look after a dog. On that occassion, God even let me take a decorative Shaolin sword off the wall and try and slice an apple in half with it, just like in all those movies I wasn’t supposed to be watching and getting ideas from. To my naive surprise, the apple didn’t splice in two, cleanly separate, and slide apart like I had expected. It fucking exploded. I spent hours frantically cleaning up an incredible amount of apple matter from the walls, floor, ceiling, furniture, sword, and dog.
There was almost definitely a commandment about not doing that kind of thing, I was sure of it, but it still didn’t seem to matter — I got away with it again.
Me and God, we were mates.
Not far from this time, then, did it seem entirely silly to the increasingly thinky thing inside my head that the World might just revolve around me. Boring adults were always telling me it didn’t, of course, especially whenever I did something obviously clever like eat all the jelly… but how could they prove it? I certainly couldn’t. For all I knew, adults left the room and suddenly disappeared. On the other hand, I knew that I existed because I could smell myself. Plus, when I went to bed, the whole world went away just because I wasn’t awake to look at it. Then it magically came back again exactly as I finished sleeping. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Then I got thinking about that definitely real, true story that I was told about Jesus. The world revolved around me, so I must have been told that story for a reason. I was told he was due back any minute now, apparently, but nobody knew exactly when.
Well, I was the only person that I knew definitely existed, and I also seemed to me like a pretty nice kid, especially when you ignored all those times when other people thought I wasn’t…. well, you know, couldn’t I be Jesus?
With all those songs they made us sing about being God’s children in primary school, no wonder the idea occasionally fluttered on the nose-picking periphery of my subconscious for a while.
I was a good lad. When I was punished, I remember, it was always unfair. Whenever I did something wrong, it was never my fault. Whenever I was bad, it was only an accident. There was certainly no way in Heaven that I deserved to go to Hell. Burning, flaming, awful, unbearable torment and torture for all eternity just because I found swearing hilarious in school, pushed a wardrobe down some stairs, crashed a golf cart, threw fruit at cars, lied about kicking a mirror while practising karate, and occasionally stole a chocolate bar? Yeah, right, I thought as I planned out my dream mansion in the clouds, complete with Sega Megadrive game library, Pop Tarts at every meal, and my beloved Right Said Fred tape on endless repeat.
It was around this time, though, that God stopped doing Himself any favours.
On one hand, He kept making me taller. This I liked, especially for the immediate benefit of being able to reach more stuff that I shouldn’t. On the other hand, however, he was giving me a bigger head. There was literally more brain in there, and it was using all the extra space it had annexed from the outside world to do more thinking. By the age I was falling out of trees with frightening regularity, I started to understand that not everyone in the world believed the exact same things about God, life and death as I did.
On other parts of the planet, apparently, people didn’t think that Jesus was the virgin-born son of God who could save your eternal soul if you loved him telepathically, or that all animals exist because two of each species got on a boat with a 600-year-old farmer and survived a genocidal flood sent to cleanse the blood of humanity, or that evil exists in the soul of all people because a woman made of dust and rib talked to a snake then ate a forbidden fruit from a magic tree. No, these other people believed in all kinds of nonsense.
By my fingers-and-toes counting estimations, there were at least thousands of people on the planet, and the majority of them, it turned out, followed entirely different religions to the one I did.
There were ones that sat down a lot, some who wore bed-sheets or hats, others who didn’t like women very much, some that pointed in a specific direction every day, ones that wouldn’t eat burgers, and another lot that knocked on your door to smile at you.
At first I thought I was pretty lucky to get the right God, but then my increasingly pesky head started to think that it actually seemed a bit strange that most of the world’s population were going straight to Hell just because they weren’t born in the right country, continent, or hemisphere.
How could so many people believe such different things and still believe they were definitely right?
It started to seem to me that there were more gods than Pokemon, and they couldn’t all be in the sky, surely, otherwise there would be no room for the birds and the aeroplanes and Superman and Santa? I was young, but I was starting to figure out something that some of these taller humans seemingly hadn’t.
Either nobody was right, or my friend God, the ultra laid-back babysitter dude who once let my young cousins and I entertain ourselves by throwing live crabs into traffic, was not really giving everybody a fair chance. To create a world and universe just for People, then send the majority of them to Hell just because they weren’t born in the right place to read His autobiography seemed a bit devious to me, especially when it was Him who chose to create them in the first place. It was sort of like hiring a teacher, stealing all their clothes, and spraying them with lighter fluid, then hysterically blaming them for being a dangerous, flammable pervert that ruined the school carpet.
So, like any kind of smartarse kid (who only just figured out He wasn’t Jesus) would do, I started getting a little brave with the Almighty. Testing him. I called him an idiot at first. Then a sky idiot. Then a pretend, useless flipping cloud-twat.
I opened my eyes. No lightning… no boils…
So I swore at him, ‘God, you dicky dick… you tossy dicky tosspot.’ No floods… no plagues...
… No consequences.
It was then, somewhere between the age of seven and whenever I figured out how to swear properly, that I realised the World was the same colourful, silly, chaotic, fun, strange, dumb and indifferent place whether He was there watching it or not, and, quite obviously it seemed, He wasn’t.
Before I even knew the word, I’d become a simple kind of atheist.
Despite this, there were still times as a child that I would get scared, and my faith in my lack of faith would suddenly seem less certain; perhaps on stormy nights, with coloured, cartoon covers bundled to my chest, or when the looming anxiety of getting caught for something particularly bad would creep under all defenses and grip me like a vice; when I felt entirely powerless to prevent the unfolding of some frothing, plotting future, I would still pray.
“Please, God, help me… please… I promise if you help me not get caught I will believe in you again… please… I promise, God, just help me.”
I knew it wouldn’t change anything, I think, but if I did get what I wanted there was still one last thought I couldn’t help but direct towards that expansive sky with no one in it.
“Haha, tricked you again.”YAY?
Aliens: I’m so sorry, Brian Cox
The gigantic smiling head that orbits our planet belongs to a man called Brian Cox. He’s a particle physicist, university professor, mother arousal specialist, and television presenter who makes decent science programs about space for the BBC.
He seems like a nice, cheerful sort of a chap — certainly the kind of person that you would rather hire a boat with for an hour than purposefully misdirect towards a sniper battle in a landfill.
So, in a pub last week, if I had been the Supreme Leader of Planet Earth instead of just mildly alcohol poisoned, he was the person I would have chosen as my ideal ambassador for humanity in the eventuality of aliens ever landing here.
I think I owe Brian Cox an apology.
One in a sillion bananillion gorillian
‘Aliens’ almost certainly exist. If you don’t think they do, it might be that you have just momentarily forgotten how big the Universe really is. Have a little click around this for a cheeky refresher – and remember that this is just the tiny, tiny bit of our galaxy that we can see and take photos of – or just look at this 75mb gif I’ve made your computer download…
Each one of those dots is a star like ours, and a source of energy to the planets caught in its gravity, just like ours. Each is a hub in space for all of the same elements we’re made of, and each is governed by the same physical laws that arranged those elements into something like us.
There is estimated to be between 200 and 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, our galaxy, and at least hundreds of billions of galaxies in just our bit of the Universe. Not that these numbers mean anything beyond stonkingly flipping massive by this point, especially considering that this pesky Universe of ours hasn’t proved itself to be anything but infinite just yet. Basically, we might as well say there is a sillion bananillion gorillion stars and planets for the amount it helps our tiny monkey minds to comprehend the situation.
The point is: it’s incredibly improbable that we are special.
However, the reasons that aliens almost certainly exist are also the exact same reasons why we will probably never meet them.
Furthermore, they are also the exact same reasons why we never want to.
Our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is about 4 light-years away, or 24,000,000,000,000 miles from us. To barely put that in some form of perspective, the interstellar probe Voyager was launched 33 years ago, and has only just begun to breach the edge of our solar system 10 billion miles away. It will be another forty-thousand years before it reaches even the very nearest planetary system to us.
Me, you, Earth, the solar system, and even Brian Cox’s massive floating head are all effectively lost in this cosmic quarantine. Considering that our Milky galaxy alone is 100,000 light-years from end to end, even the 100 light-years that our radio broadcasts have travelled so far seems as about as significant as a widowed ant’s anniversary plans.
The space that we’re hiding in is just so empty and massive that the statistical improbability of advanced alien civilisations finding us is so great that you could assume the word astronomical was invented for occasions just like this sentence.
Of course, this is all based on the slightly smug assumption they would want to find us at all.
There are more stars just like ours than there are grains of sand in all of the deserts in the world. So, if life exists here and in at least one other place (where the aliens come from), then it’s logical to assume it exists everywhere.
Suddenly, we’re not the special, magical wonderstuff that invented trousers and bread; we are insignificant, common, generic.
Like every commodity in existence, life is worth less when it is in abundance. We treat pandas kindly because they are rare, but we’ll happily plough a minivan through a parade if we think there’s the slightest chance we might kill an extra wasp. Aliens, if they do somehow find us — and that’s generally the kind of thing they like to do — would probably have found so many other planets and life-forms that they would regard us with roughly the same level of enthusiasm we’d devote to Paris Hilton’s opinions on anything more complicated than a sausage.
The chances are that they won’t fawn over how impressive we are, or invite us to join some intergalactic ride-sharing space union, or begin imparting their advanced scientific knowledge to us.
No, they’ll probably stop for a photo, giggle at an aeroplane, and move on.
The other common thread running through many science fiction stories and UFO conspiracies is that we, humanity, want to meet aliens because they’ll probably be somehow like us, humanity.
Even NASA, which you’d assume must contain at least a few people you could trust to hold a hot coffee without dipping their ears in it, seems to subscribe to this idea. When they launched Voyager, they placed on-board an especially commissioned golden long-play record complete with a map of our solar system and an audio track of uncharacteristically peaceful messages from our planet — a planet, I remind you, that has been at war almost non-stop since it was clever enough to invent nations, gods, sharp stuff and things that go bang.
And right there could be our problem.
It’s exactly because they might be like us that we don’t want to meet them. To reach Earth, extraterrestrial life would need technology whereby they could travel trillions of miles in their life-spans. The human race, meanwhile, are still executing each other with lumps of metal to get the best price on a finite, black liquid we have to burn to get to the shops.
I mean, seriously, have you met us?
Think about how well humans historically have treated life-forms they see as inferior to themselves.
Ask the Native Americans how being friendly to visitors turned out for them.
Ask an African a few centuries ago how excited he was to see a boat.
Ask the dolphins and penguins in the zoo how they came to the peculiar decision to move to a fish-tank in North London.
Humans don’t discover anything and think ‘oh, look at this thing doing absolutely fine without us.’
No, we bomb it, dig it, skin it, mine it, catch it, poke it, spill it, lose it, break it, burn it, and sell it. We plant a flag for the press conference, move in the bulldozers, and then set up a gift shop selling postcards of what it used to look like.
So while “Hello. Let there be peace everywhere,” might sound like a confident message to sling deep into the cosmic dark with a trail of breadcrumbs home, perhaps we’re more like the lamb that’s rolled itself in buttered herbs and is lolloping happily towards a man holding a pita bread, a shotgun and a barbeque.
These bloody aliens apparently possess wizardry that allows them to bound across time and space just for a laugh, and I was going to send Brian Cox to go and shake their hands/claws/tentacles like we’re equals? No, no, no, I’ve changed my mind. I’m so sorry, Brian.
At the very first sign of a spaceship landing, please take my lovely, smiley Brian Cox, put him in a helicopter with a pencil, and get him up a mountain somewhere to think up new ideas for super guns.
If I could choose again, I would vote for someone with at least one finger up their nose, a face that could divert traffic, and a name like Wally Fumblebricks.
Better still, send a pig in a cardigan and hope they don’t figure out we’ve got 20,000 nukes.
You – a guide to your weird, incredible cosmic existence
Right now, you’re strapped to a bit of dust called Earth by an unexplained force called gravity in an incomprehensibly large absence of matter called space, orbiting at extraordinary speeds around a massive ball of plasma called the Sun in a period of relative cosmological calm, and at a convenient distance and temperature that support a weird little magic mindfuck called life.
Yet this cheeky little phenomenon, while often lovely and interesting, has been confusing our tiny little brains ever since it invented them for us. There are concepts so baffling to us that when we try to imagine them, our minds almost literally recoil in defence like there’s an inbuilt shut-off valve to protect us from the full horror or wonder of understanding them.
Like everything. You know, all this, hydrogen, magnets, cushions, where exactly did it all come from? How does anything, let alone everything, come from nothing? If before something there wasn’t something, then, you know… what?
And infinity. How can space and time not have boundaries? How can anything go on forever? If infinity does not have a start or an end, and it doesn’t, apparently, then, you know… what?
Then there’s life itself. Is it just here or absolutely everywhere? How did it start and what happens when it ends? If we are ‘alive’ but we are just made up of loads of stuff that is not ‘alive,’ then, you know… WHAT?
You get my point.
Take you, for example, the sitting, reading trophy of four billion years of evolution. You’re interesting. At one point you were the youngest person on Earth, remember? You’re amongst the most complex creatures to have ever lived on this planet, maybe anywhere in the cosmos, and you exist now at the end of an unbroken chain of successful reproduction, adaptation and genetic transfer that stretches all the way back through time to the very first interactions of boring, inanimate molecules that sparked the beginnings of life. Or to put it a cooler way, none of your ancestors were barren or sterile or failed at getting laid, even before they had genitals, and even before they had to have sex with themselves to get things done. If you don’t have any children, you’ll finally be ending a continuous pattern of humping and DNA transfer that’s been going on since your ancestors were about five-thousandths of a millimetre in length. If you think that puts pressure on you to try and get some sperm or other into a warm place with good career prospects, then consider the alternative: if you don’t reproduce, you’re at the end of that chain; the zenith; the apex; the pinnacle of a single billions-of-years old evolutionary strand. Every single event and atomic encounter since the beginning of time led exactly to you. Here. Now.
This very instant, my special little sausage, you are floating somehow, somewhere in a part of the liquid phenomenon of Time we call the Present, both the oldest you have ever been, and the youngest you will ever be again.
Despite this, everything you see and hear and experience happened in the past, even though you, now, again, comma, have never been in it. The sunlight that warms your mayonnaise at a picnic is seven minutes old, a bullet could already be in your pelvis by the time you’ve heard a gunshot, and this sentence will take entire nanoseconds to reach the middle of your brainbox, even longer if you’re reading it underwater or reflected off the highly polished skin of a dolphin. The ‘present,’ ultimately, is a figment of your imagination, a deceptive trick of the senses, a concept that we claim to live in but are more realistically ever chasing after like a fat kid, bumbling and wheezing half way up a staircase, trying to figure out what just happened, what’s going on, and, oh for bum’s sake, now fucking what?
Meanwhile, the whole time we’re ignorantly faffing around in socks and jobs, we’ve also got no idea if we’re even in control of ourselves, our thoughts or our actions — not that it matters who wrote the movie, as long as you’re enjoying it– and we’re inconveniently hurtling without brakes towards a cliff edge of uncertainty.
It’s not like you could be expected to figure out these brain-bungling conundrums, though, being as ill-equipped for philosophical computing as you are. After all, you’re just a sort of colourful, thinking soup in a human-shaped bag; a pulpy, watery mass made of blobby, smelly things and meat that is constantly renewing, refreshing and replacing itself. The thing you eat today will be part of the brain tomorrow that recognises what that thing is, so no wonder it’s asking a lot to figure out if it has Free Will or not. That quite unintelligent looking sandwich in your flabby lap, for instance, could tomorrow be doing complicated maths, or solving an intricate moral dilemma involving a duck, or even remembering your first kiss. And when it does remember that first kiss, incidentally, it will trick you again into believing that you were there.
Except you weren’t.
Not a single atom in your body now was there then. Every bit of you has since been replaced many times over. Whatever ‘you’ are, therefore, is not what you’re made of, but is somehow, and not-simply, contained in the gooey, temporary arrangement of what you’ve eaten. To put it more delicately, you have a hole that runs through your body, practically uninterrupted from your mouth to your arse, and its job is to disrupt the flow of matter from one place to another in the Universe and momentarily assemble it in to a recipe called You. You’re a glorified food tube; a squishy-squashy tunnel that supports your head; an egg-type structure that contains your brain; a grey, shaved hedgehog thing that worries and gets addicted to cigarettes. You, or your idea of whatever you are, is just electrical signals bouncing around somewhere inside a spongy slab of meat with a structure that is constantly changing, adapting, and making new connections between its neurones… it will be literally, physically different after you read this sentence. And this one as well, strangely enough, even though this one doesn’t have a sensible potato spaceship.
In fact, your body, the only thing you can ever really claim to own (though it’s more like a loan from some elusive magic bank that can snatch it back at the slightest tickle of a pickle), came from something you or your mother once consumed, its signature now deep in your bones. More than that, everything you are came from the Earth and will one day go back to it.
And more than that, everything you are is currently at the furthest point it has ever journeyed from the very beginnings of the Universe and its origins in the nuclear furnaces of emerging stars. The atoms that make up your left eyelashes come from different stars than the ones in your right, and their brother and sister particles are scattered all across the cosmos up to god knows what outside the blinking bonanza of your face. You’re made of the same basic building blocks of matter –matter which is almost entirely space, incidentally– as everyone and everything that there is. While I’m sure you can do something bafflingly impressive like hop to music, you are just hydrogen that was left alone with nothing to do for long enough that it got smug and started thinking about itself. Before you knew it, that same hydrogen was you, reading slightly jarring one-line paragraphs on the Internet.
We are all one thing.
While that might sound like the kind of pretentious, wanky nonsense you’d avoid all day from any fucker in a tie-dye wigwam that grows their own lentils, it is still literally, weirdly, and unarguably true. We’re all related in every single conceivable way possible, and the level of separation between us exists only in our minds. Stretching out from your family, you are related to every other human, every other animal, every other life-form on this planet, and subsequently the very Universe itself as everything ‘living’ is made up of stuff that is called ‘nonliving.’ A tree is natural. A wave is natural. And you too are an expression of natural laws.
Boring, simple life happened, somehow, in the new hot soup of Earth, then life beget life, beget life, beget life, like a continuous Olympic torch of biology, burning inevitably through the ages towards you because it was never quite put out by the comets or diseases or volcanoes or wars that tried.
(While this might sound initially miraculous, of course it isn’t. It’s just that we sometimes think about time from the past-forwards, and not now-backwards: in other words, if it hadn’t happened exactly the way that it did happen, we wouldn’t be here to look back at it and think that it sounds miraculous. It’s the Goldilocks Principle in action: the universe is not “just right,” so the Tree of Life could be here; The Tree of Life is here, so the universe must be “just right”…)
Biologically, chemically, and physically you are, like every other lump of life that is mucking about here, part of the same single eternal organism – a complex, self-regulating, planet-clinging life system (sometimes referred to as ‘Gaia‘). Just as the innumerable bacteria in your stomach and microbes on your skin are part of the wider ecosystem of your body, so your body is part of the wider ecosystem around it. While you could certainly get the impression that you’re some kind of unique, special individual, especially when someone compliments you on that wacky cutlery you bought from Ikea, more realistically you are a tiny, dispensable constituent of something entirely bigger: a walking, wobbling nutrient and gas conversion bit in a massive, alive and complex engine called Earth.
Indeed, with enough scale, the entire sprawling presence of humanity and life on the surface of our planet wouldn’t look unlike mould on a floating, blue Orange – or Bluorange, if you will – in space. As our species multiplies at exponential speeds in every available direction, spreads into every liveable nook and planetary cranny, and rapidly converts everything green and available into more smoke, dust and grey matter than you’d find in Margaret Thatcher’s horrible bones, it’s probably far safer to assume we’re more likely a fleeting, arrogant space virus than some amazing fallen race cast in the image of a divine creator.
If you don’t like the idea that the average, hilariously self-important human is no more individual than a single spore of something growing on an unattended armpit, or if you’re not quite ready to be the boring guest in the garden explaining how “we are all, like, interconnected, man,” then you might still enjoy the more digestible, placebo fact that the average human is a 28-year old Chinese man. Isn’t that fun? If this average fact doesn’t get a polite, interested nod from the dullard opposite you who actually thought it was fine to bring hummus to a barbeque, then you could try the more cryptic, esoteric observation that the average human, perhaps, is a dead one. A hundred billion of our human ancestors, it is speculated, have been and gone, along with 99.99% of all the species to have ever existed on Earth that slept quietly into extinction. (Which, on a side note, is why it’s so irritating when someone tries a bit too hard to save a panda.)
And you too, of course, will die.
While your birth may have been an almost unfathomably unlikely statistical improbability, your impending death is an absolute certainty. Indeed, one day this year is the looming pre-anniversary of your death. The same day every year, of course, until your timeline is intersected by a particularly sharp object or a heart attack. You probably won’t enjoy it, either, but hey, it will be quick and you won’t remember it. You literally won’t know you’ve stopped living, incidentally, so unless you’re the kind of person who soils their bedclothes every night before you go to sleep, it is nothing to be afraid of. Really. It’s not you that will ‘die,’ after all, it’s the world that will end. ‘Reality,’ the dream-like story that your brain assembles for you from a million strange electrical signals and sensory ingredients, will fade to end credits and be over.
The Story of You will be finished.
Then what, though, you might ask?
Well, while we don’t have the right answers to probably the wrong questions we’ve been asking for millennia, we do know exactly what happens when you die. Just like all the matter and energy that comprises you was something else before, so it will be something else again. Matter and energy can’t be destroyed, only transferred, so you’ll just begin the next phase of your fluctuant cloud-like existence. Maybe you’ll be buried or burnt, or wedged into a gap to support a table.
Maybe your body will gradually break down into its constituent parts and go straight back to work as a mushroom, or an ant, or a bit of stick. Maybe you’ll be eaten by something large and toothy in the morning, sunbathe as shit in the afternoon, then help some nice grass begin its happy little poo-born life in the evening.
You will die, and everything you are, and have ever been, will just become something else.
It’s the ciiiiiiiiircle of Lion King, etc.
However, while it might sound a little more bleak to you because you are not a talking fictional cartoon lion (probably) it could also be argued that you’re already dead, basically. You weren’t alive for billions and billions of years before you were born and you won’t be alive for billions and billions of years after you die, so life, really, is just a temporary phase – perhaps even an illusion or simulation, if some theoretical physicists are right – in between. You’re a passing, interesting arrangement of matter in a massive, shifting equation of energy; a confused, momentary mist of material and purpose in an infinite environment without one. Your human life is less than a blink in the cosmic time span, but you didn’t experience the beginning of it, and you wont experience the end of it, so subjectively it will be infinite.
You don’t need an afterlife. To your brain, the meatball architect of whatever you experience, you have always been here, and you always will be.
Regardless, assuming we don’t invent immortality milkshakes this week, in about one hundred and twenty years not a single person alive today will remain. The Earth will have an entirely new set of humans, which at the very least means none of them will be Donald Fucking Trump, and it’ll be like a big global party where you don’t know any one, nobody knows you, you’re not invited, no one’s invited, you’re dead, and there’s no booze.
Our generation’s names, only, will be peppered thinly in memoirs and memories; most of us forgotten, some of us footnotes, and a spare few celebrated by history if we’re on the lucky side that writes it. Most of us will not be remembered a generation after we die… all of us will not be remembered eventually. The legacy of world-changing Genghis Khan of Mongolia and company policy-changing Sally the Human Resources Manager of NatWest’s Swindon Branch will taper towards the same equilibrium as every other life form to exist now or ever, here or anywhere.
On top of that, nearly seven billion people walk the Earth today with the Internet and a buffet of past gods, religions and philosophies to nibble at, and we’ve still not got a whiff of a clue what-how-why-when-or-who did the shit, even though our noses are moving nearer and nearer to the fart every day.
Everyone that says they do know what happens when you die should be avoided like a shoe full of egg, obviously, and we should also be careful believing ourselves too often. Most of the things we think we know about anything, after all, were learned through billions of other people like us, processed and filtered through the collective mind of humanity and history, whittled down to an expressible language-limited essence, twisted to self-interest and delivered to us in a manageable chunk; something we plucked quickly from a conveyor-belt as it glided past us towards incorrectness or irrelevance.
In short, we know almost nothing about anything, and we’re probably the smartest stuff going on for at least 24 trillion miles in every direction. Furthermore, we’ll probably never understand the fundamental paradoxes of life, death, space, time, or reality… especially on our current, misguided oil-guns-and-money species trajectory. Our existence is meaningless in an objective sense, but only because what we conventionally understand about “meaning” is meaningless.
However, from this apparent crisis in significance and purpose and moral abandon, emerges a fun and therapeutic opportunity: You can do anything you want. You can create your own meaning. You don’t have to follow other people’s rules, or directions, or social structures. You don’t have to do what you’re told, or feel guilty about the opposite. You can make up your own rules, your own meaning, your own purpose. Best of all, you can’t go wrong unless you go wrong by yourself. Nothing matters unless it matters to you.
On a warm and starry night you can look up at the sky with no roof between your wonderful human head and the astonishing scope of the infinite beyond it, part of both the nothing and everything you perceive, and choose to do with the tiny, little life that you’ve been gifted whatever you think is right.
You should probably choose wisely.
The 5 Most Common Myths about Cannabis
Cannabis has almost certainly been illegal for your entire life and that’s quite a long time for a certain impression to form on you, I think you’d agree.
If you are brought up with certain rules, those rules still hold today, and you buy into this idea that you’re part of a society where the Law reflects the will of the people, you might be prone to accept that they’re probably the status quo for some amazingly complex and thoroughly superb reasons. Reasons you may not have had time to investigate, perhaps, on the assumption that there must be really clever and noble people out there, with big graphs and nice pens and special rooms for this kind of thing, and they’ve checked with everyone, and definitely made the right decisions for you and the interests of society. Weed is a drug, and drugs are bad.
But what if they’re wrong?
No. If they were wrong about that, what else could they be wrong about? If Santa wasn’t real, then what about God or ghosts or soul mates or unlimited broadband? I mean, have you actually ever seen a terrorist? How different could toothpastes really be? Where do countries end? Are you special? Are paragraphs really paragraphs when they’re just a list of questions? What was that noise?
See, now you’ve frightened yourself. It’s easy to see why we might go along with lies to ourselves and each other if there could be real reasons to be afraid of the truth. It is, after all, an easier life to follow the majority and not question what you’re told. However, here’s the conundrum: people are often wrong and, for some curious reason, seem to get collectively more wrong the more of them you put together. Throw politicians and bad journalists in to the mix and before you know it, everybody is so wrong about everything that when somebody comes along who’s actually right about something, people stare at them like they’re a bizarre poo fetishist who’s asked to borrow their grandmother.
So it is with cannabis, I believe, and what follows are perhaps the five most common myths likely to splatter loudly on the windshield of your face when you try to have a rational debate about it with the kind of dullard who will one day be wandering around your neighbourhood with a lot of carrier bags and a face like a slapped ham.
1. Cannabis is dangerous/bad for you.
Originally I was going to bang endlessly on – like every righteous, boring stoner you’ve ever met in the wrong corner of a bad party – about how cannabis doesn’t affect your memory, its many medicinal purposes, its legitimate uses in reducing anxiety, easing pain, increasing appetite, the false-proven claims that it damages your brain, the false-proven claims that it causes cancer, the original ‘evidence’ of its harms involving the suffocation of monkeys (we’ll get to that), the endless propaganda that was smeared all over our naive little minds, the inability to overdose, how it doesn’t affect your memory, the many harmless ways it can be taken without smoking, the entire absence of a single attributable death in its thousands-of-years-plus history, the rank hypocrisy in the staggering contrast of the millions-of-people-a-year megakillacide caused by tobacco and alcohol, and how it doesn’t affect your memory. Then I thought it’s so much simpler than all that.
What right does anyone, especially the tiny minority of people that make up a government, have to tell you what you can and can’t do with your own body?
We, quite simply, don’t accept this anywhere else.
You can cross roads at night, motorcycle, get tattoos, pierce any and all the flappiest bits of yourself, live near volcanoes, sky dive, fill yourself with steroids, be reckless with cutlery, bleach your hair, lose weight, gain weight, touch the genitals of any other adult that will let you, own dangerous animals, live on a boat, climb trees, base jump, cable-tie staplers to your thighs, be a builder, or just sit in a caravan until the end of your days, never exercising and eating endless biscuits until you burst in a spectacular explosion of gore and dry cake.
There’s no end of ‘bad for us’ activities that we are allowed to undertake without the bubble-wrap brigade of government sticking their noses in. Even if cannabis was incredibly bad for you, what would make it different from any other legal trade-off between risk and reward? We didn’t ask for legislation to protect ourselves from ourselves. We didn’t ask that rules be doled out with moral authority by the kind of corrupt, joyless egos who couldn’t figure out what ‘fun’ is without a diagram and an expenses scandal.
We all make choices between short-term benefits and long-term costs all the time, and, inevitably, sometimes we do make the wrong decisions.
But they should be our decisions to make.
2. Cannabis is addictive.
Cannabis is not, if at all, very chemically addictive. In fact, all of the recent studies that have measured the harms and addictiveness of various substances have put it at the bottom of the spectrum – well below tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, underwear, jogging, and compliments.
People don’t crave more after they try it, there are no physical withdrawal symptoms after even heavy use, and no permanent changes seem to occur in a healthy brain that could cause dependence.
Indeed, addiction seems to be a bit more complicated than a switch in people’s heads that can be suddenly triggered by a chemical, contrary to the message of almost every anti-drug campaign ever, from the murder-raping, one-puff psychopaths portrayed in 1936 film Reefer Madness to the 1980s all-singing, slogan-on-a-pencil-case, celebrity prick-a-thon Just Say No.
The problem is a lot more deeply rooted in pre-existing mental disorders, personality traits, and predispositions of the brain’s limbic system than in ‘wrong’ choices, uncontrollable consequences, and naughty bloody children not bloody doing what they are bloody well told.
The simple truth is that, if you aren’t predisposed to compulsive behaviour, then there isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t be able to enjoy cannabis, or almost anything, in healthy moderation. And for people who are predisposed to addiction –some estimates place the figure at around 10 to 15% of the population– they have the capacity to get addicted to all kinds of vices, from gambling to coffee to violence. And if you gave me the choice of a day with someone who would risk their own kneecaps guessing that a ball might end up more times in one place than another, some jittery bore who’s talking too much, someone that’s sizing up my head for the point their fist will bounce off the easiest, and a cannabis ‘addict’, I know who I would choose.
But ignoring how much fun it would be to actually buy five addicts and pit them against each other for their fix in a twisted Big Brother-style experiment, it’s easy to see how mainstream society gets so quickly confused between people who are addicted and people who enjoy something regularly when the thing in question is something they personally don’t understand, use, or approve of.
Maybe you know countless people who have tried and enjoyed weed, then started smoking more of it. Well, isn’t that just the obvious thing that happens with things that you like? You wouldn’t call someone addicted to The X Factor if they watched a few episodes of it, liked it, and then ended up ‘abusing’ it every night from then until the Big Crunch. If you like something, it doesn’t negatively affect your life, and you want to do it again, are you addicted? Of course not, otherwise you’d have to say I was addicted to breakfast, washing, and weed. (Ha!) Indeed, whether you are addicted to something or not seems to be a diagnosis you can only apply to yourself. For most people, they would define themselves as having a problem at the point when they realise their habit is negatively affecting their life but cannot stop regardless, when they feel like the next ‘fix’ is no longer a choice they have the will to influence, or the point when they suddenly become aware that they’re standing on a church roof, naked and swearing, with binoculars and a mouthful of pastry, wearing two policemen for shoes and staring at neighbouring chimneys with manic, hallucinogenic lust.
And that happens half as much as you’d think.
3. Cannabis makes you stupid/lazy.
The stereotype that pot makes you lazy is as old, absurd and as soon to be full of holes as Colonel Gaddafi’s face. That’s not to say that lazy people aren’t going to smoke it and get worse, of course, but that using cannabis isn’t going to have any backwards motivational effects on who you are or your life goals. Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate this is to name-drop a few high profile and incredibly successful, out-of-the-closet cannabis smokers.
So if you think that smoking weed precludes you from success, you could talk to ‘Sir’ Richard Branson, balloon-commuting rich man and owner of anything you can slap the slightly giggly word Virgin on. He smokes weed with his kids, petitions for it to be legalised, and is standing ready with price stickers for when it inevitably is. Or Ted Turner, hat-wearing multi-billionaire, the biggest landowner in America, inventor of the unending worryfest that is the 24-hour news cycle, and Time’s 1991 Man of the Year. Or Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York; Al Gore, the Nobel Prize-winning former Vice U.S. President; or Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California and Terminator.
Or if you think that the problem with smoking weed is that it stops you from being motivated, you could also talk to swimming, walking pants-commercial Michael Phelps, the most successful Olympic athlete of all time; a young man with enough gold around his neck to buy a mid-sized Fijian island, who founded his own charity, but was still dropped by his munchies-funded sponsor Kelloggs after one photo of him surfaced with a bong. Now one Google Image Search of him with the word ‘pot’ brings up so many hundreds of pictures linked to shitty, sneery ‘journalism’ that you’d be forgiven for thinking his crime was close on the spectrum of evil to pissing on a blind child while strangling a rare owl.
You could even talk to the last three Presidents of the United States, all of whom openly –and rather hypocritically, you might think– admitted to smoking cannabis… although Clinton exclaimed with his famously muddled brand of honesty, “I didn’t like it, and I didn’t inhale.” Well, it would be easy to see roughly where you’d gone wrong there, Bill, if you were telling the truth. You wouldn’t enjoy your first game of football either if you sat outside the stadium thinking about your shoelaces. As for the next President, skipping any coke-taking, drink-driving intelligence gaps in between, Obama replied to the same question: “I inhaled frequently. That was the point.”
In short, it is only if you are lazy already that your lack of motivation could lead you to heavy cannabis use, the same way it could lead you to over-indulgence in video gaming, excessive masturbation, shopping binges, dependence on fast food, or other unproductive hobbies like painting your body green, gluing toy animals to yourself and pretending you’re a farm.
Weed can’t make you lazy, it can only capitalise on your pre-existing laziness.
As for it making you stupid, it would probably be a shorter task to list the creative people who haven’t used it. There are cannabis smokers who are, and always have been, at the very highest peaks of every major artistic craft in the world, from writing, art and film-making to acting, stand-up and, of course, music; People so renowned and respected you only need to list their surnames to generate an Argument from Authority: Shakespeare, Picasso, Wilde, Sagan, Speilberg, Lucas, Stone, Tarantino, Fonda, Clooney, Nicholson, Pitt, Kipling, Kerouac, Thompson, King, Dylan, Marley, Lennon, McCartney, Cash, Jagger, Jackson, Hendrix, Cobain, Dogg, Gaga. Indeed, Bill Hicks probably summarised it best: “If you don’t think drugs have done good things for us, then take all of your records, tapes and CDs– and fucking burn them.”
Basically, all that ‘dope’ stuff, that’s a bubbling pint of cow bile too.
But this… but that…
But what? Even if it was true that smoking weed did make someone stupid… so? One more moron for the pile. Let’s face it, people in general aren’t really behind the idea that our collective intelligence should be the most noble driving force in society – how else could you explain the existence of both nuclear warheads and Justin Beiber concerts? Or the fact that in America almost every politician is allowed to use the internet and yet Sarah Palin has absolutely no idea where places are? Humans still bite our tongues, sleep-dribble, and forget what we came in to the room for. English-speaking people still quote parts of the Bible as definitive instructions, blissfully unaware that it’s been translated over 30 times and is originally from a language that we’re still missing massive chunks of. Twilight is the fastest selling book of all time; Big Momma’s House 3 grossed over $30 million in its first week; and people happily insist on continuing to point cameras at Bear Grylls while he runs around the woods acting like a child who’s had too much marmalade and not enough attention.
I guess my point is that if we live in a world where ‘democracy’ and homeopathy can apparently co-exist without any level of irony, how worried can we seriously be about more ‘dopey’ people?
4. Cannabis must be illegal for a reason.
The history of cannabis prohibition is just less than one Elvis moon-lizard away from being a full-blown conspiracy. The roots of the plant’s current illegality are dug deep in racism, fear, greed, lies and stupidity. It’s a story that has a whole lot more to do with money than morality, a history skewed towards the false narratives of the industries and individuals who profited from its criminalization, and a saga littered with widespread deception, rampant sensationalism, the constant dismissal of scientific opinion, and more lunatic quotes than you’d find on the walls of an insane asylum if the warden lost a big box of crayons.
It all starts with hemp — the durable, versatile fibre that can be cultivated from the cannabis plant and used for paper, chemicals, textiles, biodegradable plastics, fuel, everything, and food. It boasts being amongst the fastest growing known biomasses, requires no herbicides, few pesticides, can be grown almost anywhere, and is incredibly environmentally friendly. Indeed, it was so useful that the first laws regarding hemp in Virginia were ordering farmers to grow it. For many, it was the plant’s other wonder product.
For others, though, it was a very dangerous rival. To the bullies in the playground, hemp was the handsome, sensitive boy at school, the only one comfortable enough to join Drama and play netball, and the one who was now being orbited by nice girls all day long, while they instead stood around, grunting and hitting each other, and looking about as attractive to girls as pork scratchings in uniform. It would be too difficult to compete fairly, of course, so this large and varied gang of thugs, including the Egyptian cotton industry, nylon-inventing petrochemical giant DuPont, and timber-newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, gathered behind the bullshit bike shed of my metaphor, smoked a carton of bummed cigarettes, and hatched the recurring master plan of every bully for centuries:
Lie, cheat, and call them names.
Luckily for the Baddies of this particular story, this all coincided with the mass exodus of cannabis-smoking Mexicans into America and the rise of weed-and-good-times-friendly black jazz music in the South. So, what better way to ban a fashionable new ‘drug’ than by scapegoating it for society’s problems, demonising its effects, and then giving a sinister nudge in the direction of all those brown people?
Thus ‘marihuana,’ itself a racialist term coined to connect the plant with certain undesirable ethnicities (while distancing it from white-friendly hemp), was widely and publicly smeared with the help of Hearst’s newspaper empire to gain support for its prohibition. It worked incredibly well.
Indeed, to get a sense of the source of the most heinous myths surrounding cannabis, and the height of the plateau from which they have had to erode over time, we have to spend a bit of time with wind-up one-man moron Harry J. Anslinger, the Commissioner of the US Bureau of Narcotics between 1930 and 1962 and ‘The Father of the War on Drugs.’ He explained to us, presumably with the help of a sock puppet and a self-invented contraption he called The Big Audience Silly Hammer, that marijuana “produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death,” “makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,” “leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing,” and “is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind.”
“You smoke a joint and you’re likely to kill your brother,” he went on.
… But that was year’s ago!
… People didn’t know as much about it back then!
… People in positions of power don’t say stuff like that any more, you might say.
Well, you’re right. Except you’re not.
For instance: Ronald Reagan, the actor, said in the ‘70s, “permanent brain damage is one of the inevitable results of the use of marijuana.” He knew this, apparently, because some friendly scientists pumped 63 joints worth of cannabis smoke into strapped-down monkeys for five minutes, once a day, every day, for 90 days, then were giddy with themselves for finding out afterwards that the monkeys were more brain damaged than a man who sprinkles batteries on his salad. Hooray! (Oh, it later turned out to be from suffocation, incidentally.)
Or ten years later in the ‘80s, when the White House’s Drug Czar Carlton Turner said, all on his own, that “marijuana leads to homosexuality … and therefore to AIDS.”
Or one more slow decade onwards, when kind-natured, loveable Chief of Los Angeles police Daryl Gates remarked in the ‘90s, with all the tact of a clumsy racist at your wedding, that “casual drug users should be taken out and shot.”
Nearer to home though, and that period that I’m still not sure if we’re calling the Noughties (are we?), this truly baffling Daily Mail article struggles its way through a thousand theatrical words on the flimsy premise that the risk of schizophrenia might go up in 3% of people, perhaps, that are already prone to psychotic disorders, maybe. The author unashamedly goes on to end her vague-as-trousers argument with the unsettling photographs of three murderers and the details of their horrific acts, before making a causal link between cannabis and their crimes with all the authority of an ice cream man standing on a beanbag shouting at a yoghurt.
Mental, isn’t it? But that’s alright because it’s not like millions of people read it every day, or like it has the second biggest readership of any British newspaper, squeezed as it isn’t between The Sun and The Mirror, two papers you couldn’t rub together to produce a fact.
When you understand that these millions of people, who have never knowingly been within twenty metres of their own opinions, are the popular masses that politicians must pander to, you can see why it is a lot less of a risk to maintain a popular, wrong policy than it is to reverse it. Yet it’s not like you can blame these people for their views, any more than you could blame a melon for having the words ‘Fuck All Eskimoes’ carved on it. Sure it’s offensive, ill-informed, racist and wrong, but it’s not like the melon formulated that opinion itself. Of course not, it’s a fruit. And if you believed without question what you were told about drugs from your parents, your school, your church, the media or a cartoon character called Terry the T-Total Tortoise, you might just be the same as that misused melon.
To further contextualise the madness, just think about the many millions of voters who, on one hand, continually insist on believing in a divine, good and all-knowing sky man who created everything on Earth, yet on the other continue to ban His creations like He’s some silly toddler who hasn’t quite managed to crayon inside the lines. How’s this for a sensible sentence? People you’ve never met spend your taxes tracking down and destroying a wild plant because they don’t think you should have it. God, could there be anything more unnatural than banning nature?
Yet we do, and it’s the ill-informed opinions and general ignorance towards the issue of legalization that means politicians won’t do anything about it until they absolutely have to. Your liberty is only as real, after all, as it’s allowed to be.
In the meantime, the dark reality is that – while society mostly suffers – some powerful forces make a lot of money from criminalization. Those who still profit from its continued restriction range from the massive pharmaceutical industry, which would lose both its monopoly on cannabis as medicine and revenue from the wide range of drugs it would replace, to the alcohol and tobacco industries, who would both prefer you to keep pointing your angry, waggling finger anywhere but at them while you fill your gob with their wayward little goods. These private industries can and do sponsor (‘buy’) political candidates, fund anti-drug commercials, hire expensive lobbyists to penis-prod governments, and even finance their own ‘scientific’ studies.
These soulless researchers –also available to deny global warming for Oil money, by the way– usually publish any slight trend of potential concern as FACT and then jizz over themselves and each other with the kind of righteous self-importance of a prick in a parade. It doesn’t even matter that their findings are normally disproved by lunchtime because, by that point, politicians and the mainstream media have already seduced you to the ground, put their knee on your head, and pissed them through your ears.
Meanwhile, the police, the military and the privatised prison industries can all keep dipping their hands deep into the tax pot in the name of ‘fighting drugs,’ whatever that doesn’t mean in real life, and nobody can even numb the pain of the bill by smoking a joint without being on the same side of the law as those who are a bit murdery.
If you’d like to further elaborate on that slightly paranoid-sounding theory, then you might also like to smoke that joint anyway and ponder the rather interesting idea that cannabis seems to alter the way a lot of people think, and maybe in ways which seem vaguely antagonistic to the intentions and motivations of those ‘in power.’
The main active chemical in cannabis, THC, works mainly by mimicking the actions of certain chemical neurotransmitters in your brain that prevent the release of inhibitory messages between neurons; sciencey flaptrap aside, it means your thought processes are less inhibited. Smokers report that weed makes them interested in things, more insightful, and helps them connect information into thoughts and trends from a new perspective. It can help them appreciate life and art, empathise with people, and nurture contentment, all while really wanting a cake. And maybe this is just a bad and gaudy generalisation on my part, but it’s something I’ve certainly found to be true: weed smokers seem to be more friendly, peaceful, appreciative and tolerant people. In a way, precisely more like the kind of people that the most rigid, conventional, uptight, productive, greedy or aggressive people in society would judge and brand ‘stoners’ or ‘potheads,’ attack as hippies, wasters, losers, spongers, and associate with ‘unsavoury’ counterculture lifestyles. Well, here’s the goofy, tin-foil hat sounding bit: if you have a system that perpetuates through competition and conflict, where money gravitates like it’s magnetised from the poor to the rich, where greed is rewarded and harder workers can be taxed more, where money buys power but charity is unprofitable, where war is deemed necessary and soldiers deemed noble, questioning either is unpatriotic, and you’re at the top of that system with a monopoly on deciding what other people can and can’t do, well, maybe legalising cannabis just isn’t in your interests.
And maybe that’s just always been the case. Maybe the lies, laws and legislation have always had less to do with protecting us and more to do with baking a big fat money pie that we can’t have a slice of.
But, hey, that’s just, like, you know, my opinion, man.
5. Cannabis is a gateway drug.
The logic behind this persistent bit of guff is that cannabis should be illegal because it inevitably leads people to trying harder drugs, you know, the same way that trying a nice chocolate biscuit could lead someone to trying a slightly nicer double chocolate biscuit.
Or a drive-by.
So, firstly, while it is important to clarify that there is nothing in the physical or chemical make-up of any form of cannabis that creates the psychological effect of desiring other drugs, that is not to say that there isn’t any valid point hidden in this propaganda. There definitely is. The problem with this myth, however, is that it confuses correlation with causation.
Put simply, just because someone does X then Y, does not therefore mean that X causes Y. Weed is often, for simple and logical reasons, the easiest illegal drug to get hold of. It doesn’t have to begin its journey in the rainforests of Columbia, or leave Afghanistan in a condom up an arse, or be synthesised from toxic chemicals by some amateur chemist called Darren who owns a bathtub, a modem and a stick. It can be grown in a warehouse or a shed, or in your loft, or your kitchen, or in your pocket, or on a slow-moving tortoise. It is, quite literally, a weed. If you’re the kind of person who is inclined to take illegal, conscience-altering substances, it stands to reason that cannabis is likely the first one you would try… because it’s cheap, it’s safe, it’s easy, and it’s there. (Apart from alcohol or coffee, of course, which proponents of the gateway-theory seem to always mysteriously forget.) To say that everything you do after weed is therefore caused by it, though, makes about as much sense as rubbing jam on your nipples and jumping off a bridge with a spoon for a parachute.
Hell, if you’re going to be that silly, you might as well say that people having children is a gateway to people dying, so maybe we just should ban being born then eventually nobody would die any more. But you wouldn’t say that, would you? People who say that kind of thing don’t get invited back to the house. No, they get given names like Bonkers John, end up on registers, and eventually make friends with the spiders in their garden.
However, this is where it really gets fucked up. If you’re one of the people who support the criminalization of cannabis because you believe that it is a ‘gateway drug,’ then you are a huge part of the problem that you’re invoking. As we’ve seen, the lies, intentional misinformation and propaganda surrounding weed are as crazy and widespread as they are easy to disprove. Well, here’s the thing; If you keep lying to kids, however unintentionally, the smarter ones that can’t be scared into doing what they’re told “just because” are going to very quickly realise that you’re wrong. They will figure out that you are ill-informed, or ignorant, or stupid.
They’ll grow up, and after any minor initial hesitance that has been scared into them, they will bow to peer pressure, or listen to their friends, or simply be overcome by curiosity listening to their musical heroes, and they’ll try cannabis.
They won’t become violent or stupid. They won’t get addicted. They won’t hurt anyone. And they might even enjoy it.
Then maybe they’ll wonder what else the same people were wrong about.
There’s your ‘gateway’, silly.
The War on Drugs is, and has always been, a catastrophic failure — just like the prohibition of alcohol before it. In its seventy plus years, it hasn’t succeeded at all in keeping drugs out of society; hell, it hasn’t even succeeded in keeping them out of schools or prisons, where reports often suggest that every criminal and small idiot is smacked off their tits. In the meantime, states have wasted billions of dollars all over the world and imprisoned extraordinary numbers of non-violent citizens, all the while creating and nurturing the enormous criminal black market for illegal drugs — an untaxed ‘industry’ with a global revenue estimated to be just behind arms and oil.
The kind of money that people are given no choice but to inject into this sleazy network of veins beneath society makes criminals’ rich, gang warfare inevitable, and murder a competitive necessity. It means teenagers can buy drugs younger, cheaper and easier than they can buy booze, and there’s nothing stopping dealers from selling them anything. It’s inevitable commerce, outside the shadows of regulation and taxation. Worst of all, the “bad guys” are winning, because for all the decades that the drug war has been extended and expanded with easy tax money, it has not reduced the amount of drug users, or even prevented that number from growing to the highest it’s ever been. And therein lays the problem:
You can’t fight a ‘war against drugs.’ You can only fight a war against people.
So as drug cartels in places like Mexico and Columbia become powerful enough to destabilise entire countries, and tax-guzzling policing agencies like the DEA grow in futile response to the size of increasingly unchecked, poorly restrained armies, we are all in the crossfire of a war where we created both sides. While the weapons industry swells happily to arm everyone involved, we’re all victims regardless of how we ever felt about drugs in the first place because even if the ‘war’ is not against us personally, we’re still paying for it with real money and the safety of society.
It’s got to change.
The only way it is going to change, however, is if we change and, like any revolution against the established ways of old and evil, it requires truth, integrity and a dash of courage.
You change things by sticking up for what you believe. You change things by telling the truth, whether you think you’re directly affected by these crazy laws or not. You change things by talking to people and not letting them bully you into outdated and unfounded opinions. If you smoke weed (or take any drug, for that matter), it’s because you don’t think it is the bad thing you’ve always been told. And you’re right, probably. Yet every time you hide it, or lie about it, or deny it, to almost any one (excluding bosses and police officers), for any reason, at any time, you’re enforcing the false, bullshit narratives of whomever you’re pandering to. If you’re not ashamed to do it, then you shouldn’t be ashamed to admit it. You’re preventing change, protecting ignorance, and showing a cowardly lack of consistency between your actions and your beliefs. As much fun as you might be having in there, it’s time to come out of the cannabis closet.
It’s time to change.