Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Imperealism, Ideolligy and the State (Part 2) - Manufacturing Consent

As I explained in my last blog post, the UK government has retained an imperialist mind-set, which may partly explain our insistence on intervening in the Middle East. I also briefly pointed out that a recent poll, showed that nearly half of the UK population have positive attitudes towards the British Empire. Understandably, such mind-sets have been regarded as unacceptable by many people on the left. However, if we are to change this it is important to remember why such mind-sets exit and in what ways our education systems seek to promote these ideas. Importantly, I cannot reiterate enough that this is not a conspiracy theory, but simply that certain attitudes and ideologies exist within the heart of our statist system, and that these ideas must be dismantled.

The ‘white man’s burden’
The general view surrounding pro imperialist attitudes is the idea that we were delivering opportunity and safety to cultures deemed to be savage. It is a view which tends to view imperialists such as Cecil Rhodes, who significantly limited African voting rights and laid out the foundation of the apartheid system, as great entrepreneurs.  As a result these ideas have been used as the backbone to current ideas about race and immigration. To a less significant extent it has even influenced the ideology of far right groups such as the BNP and UKIP.

This may explain why the ruling classes so subtly attempt to influence peoples understanding of history, and why it is often framed as cold scientific fact. In 2014, a review in the Economist of Edward Baptists book on slavery and capitalism, accused Baptist of being biased against white people, due to the fact that Baptist largely used black testimony. This is highly revealing about how our culture see Black testimony as less reliable than that of white people. Historian Jenni Cobb rightfully backed this idea up by pointing out that you can still go to plantations in America which tend to divide ideas about slavery into categories of the ‘Cruel’ or ‘righteous’  slave owner. It seems that the only solution to this would be to get slavery sceptic’s, to check facts before they finally admit they are wrong.

Of course, there are reasons these preconceptions exist. Due to the large scale ghettoization of black people that occurred as a result of policy after the Second World War, white people have been very unwilling to listen to the concerns of black people about things such as policing, and take what they say on board. Despite this, twice many white Americans as black Americans think that black people are treated fairly. Furthermore, studies have found that 75 per cent, of white Americans have no black American friends. Surely if black people were given the same opportunities as whites, people would not persist with the imperialist, us vs. them mentality that is so pervasive in western society.  

Gove’s rancid education legacy

In being possibly the worst education minister we have ever had in recent memory, during his time in the role Michael Gove implemented a number of changes seemingly aimed at restoring the Prussian model of education on which our schools were built. After starting one to many arguments with teachers, resulting in large strikes, David Cameron reluctantly removed him from his role as education secretary, only to compensate Gove with the job of looking after our justice system, upon the Tory’s re - election. However, in looking at how education promotes the imperialist mind-set, it is worth looking at Gove’s legacy.

During his time as education sectary Gove attempted to implement a new school curriculum which supposedly aimed to ‘celebrate the distinguished role of Britain in the history of the world’ and portray Britain as a ‘beacon of liberty’. These comments attracted criticism from leading academics who accused Gove of pocking aspects of the past pleasing to him, and warning about the dangers of nationalist based teaching. They have got a good point to make, how Michael Gove can just blatantly cherry-pick aspects of history to represent Britain as a nation that have always upheld liberty is absurd. Part of education, comes with learning to criticise and critically examine vents that happen around us, and mindlessly slapping new rules on schooling will not stop that.

Media Influence

Despite the fact that Gove’s education reforms are ideologically motivated, much more important in explaining imperialist mind-sets such as the ones shown by the yougov poll, is the Medias influence on our everyday lives. Through popular forms of media such as television and newspapers, conventional narratives about Britain’s past are constantly repeated. The right wing press constantly pay homage to what they see as our great empire, while book stores promote history books by leading male conservative writers.

Much of our media is owned and influenced by large multinational companies. One of Britain’s largest publisher’s penguin, is owned by the Pearson Company. The same company that own the edexcel exam board. Furthermore the same company also owned the financial times and the economist. Although the days of press barons, infiltrating the press and ordering journalists to support Hitler may be behind us, there is no denying that large companies still do have large influence over not only the press but publishing, schools and television. This further shows the influence of imperialist mind-sets in our lives.

Conclusion

So what are the alternatives to ideologically motivated education and media reforms? Well, as pointed out earlier there are historians who seek to expose the darker aspects of media and empire, it is important that through alternative media and education that these historians get the recognition that they deserve. Furthermore, it is equally important to democratise all education establishments, giving students the right to decide not only what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. As I have said before, the ideas and values of imperialism are out of date and incompatible with the ideas of democracy, and if we are to truly bring an end to corruption we must get rid of the ideology that underlines it.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Imperialism, Ideology and The State (Part 1) - British Foreign Policy in The Middle East

When considering how a nation sees itself it is always useful to look at a government’s attitude towards foreign policy and where it sees itself in the world. In the case of the UK, the government’s view of Britain as a powerful nation seem to be having an effect.  As recent poll showed that over 40% of the British Public have positive attitudes towards the British Empire. Since 1997, when Britain reluctantly handed over Hong Kong Britain has had no formal colonies. Despite this, Interventionist attitudes remain embedded at the heart of our government. Specifically, our policy in the Middle East should illustrate to the world how the British government see itself. While I do not wish to spend to long lamenting the failures to address this, this is a point the British left repeatedly fail to acknowledge, and in doing so simply keep the debate focused on issues such as civilian deaths and radicalisation. While these are clearly important issues that we must take into account when considering our foreign policy, focusing on the issues alone fails to account for the deeper ideological base at the heart of them. It seems if we are to truly challenge the conservative’s foreign policy, we should challenge their outdated ideology on interventionism in the Middle East.

 

Britain’s view on Syrian Intervention

 
As the war against ISIS rages on, cities such as Homs are being turned into a wasteland, acts of which the UK is not entirely blame free. During the highly controversial debate on extending British military intervention against ISIS into Syria, former conservative leader and important figure in the Party William Hague, made the statement, if the population and government cannot live peacefully in Syria and Iraq then Britain should have the right to ‘partition those countries’ on their behalf. Furthermore, as if to further highlight how our government see the UK, David Cameron has condemned Russia’s involvement in Syria on the grounds that it could radicalise the Syrian population. The logical conclusion to be drawn from this is that the Prime Minister does not see what Britain does in the same way as what Russia does. If these comment had been made by less influential Member of Parliament, they might be dismissed as a throwaway comment. However, Given Hague’s and Cameron’s positions of influence the comments should be treated as part of the imperialist ideological framework of the current government in the United Kingdom.
 
Whether the government realises it or not, the ulterior motives at the heart of the conservative policy in the Middle East are not about helping people, but reinforcing Britain’s dominance in the world.  How it is acceptable for rich, white conservative men to stand up in parliament and proclaim that the UK government, can know what is best for a culture, largely alien to that of his own, completely flies of empty conservative rhetoric about being self-reliant and democratic. If the conservative party care about the values that they claim to represent, then they should reject notions of taking away the right of Iraqi civilians to determine their own lives. It is not nor could it ever be Britain’s right to determine the future of Syria or Iraq.
It is also worth pointing out here that this view also plays into the neoliberal ideology, prevalent in the UK since Thatcher that individual gain takes precedence over what might be good for other cultures, and that some people have the authority to asset a status of economic hierarchy above others.

Hillary Benn’s Spanish civil war speech

Turning our intention to the other side of the house of crooks, during the Syrian intervention debate, one speech that garnered cheers on both sides of the debate is Hillary Benn’s so called ‘anti-fascist’ speech. Hillary Benn, being the son of the late Tony Benn is a respected politician, and as a result of his speech has already been suggested as a future leader of the labour party, should the red conservative barites manage to get their way of impeaching Jeremy Corbyn. On the other side of the debate, it has also been suggested by Alex Salmond, that Benn’s speech pours shame on the strict anti-war principles that his farther stood for. During the speech Hillary Benn made the following statement
‘Socialists and trade unionists and others joined the International Brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco. It’s why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It is why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice. And my view, Mr. Speaker, is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria. And that is why I ask my colleagues to vote for this motion tonight.”
I have picked this quote not just because of its popularity, but because it again says a lot about our government’s attitude to its past. Embedded within this quote is a view of Britain as a country that always stands up to oppressive regimes ways wherever they may occur. However, view of history is so extremely oversimplified and detached from reality, that it itself must be questioned.
Firstly, any fighting against Franco’s Fascist that occurred during the Spanish Civil war did not happen on part of the British state but volunteers of which renowned anti-fascist, and critic of the British state George Orwell was one.  Rather, in 1936, when the Spanish civil war, the UK, Germany, France and Italy signed a pact promising that they would not intervene in any way. While at first look this may seem like an understandable agreement for restraining the fascists, when Hitler and Mussolini broke the agreement, and intervened on Franco’s side, the UK pressured France to keep up the nonintervention pact, essentially starving the Spanish republic of resources. As well as this also fueling Franco’s disgusting war machine was British and American companies such as Texaco and Shell. While you may think that Churchill who succeeded Chamberlin may have condemned Franco and his actions, Churchill in 1936 had written that Spain should ‘resume its place among the great powers of the world’ rather than ‘sink into the squalor of a communist state’. The UK did anything but stand up to fascism in this circumstance.
This is not to say, that the communist government is Spain, before Franco, did not have its own part to play in the Spanish Republic losing the war, by suppressing anarchist and socialist opposition to Franco. However, this does not justify Hilary Benn’s conflation of Britain standing up to Hitler and Mussolini. If anything, if Benn’s statement is to bear any weight at all then he should acknowledge that Labour has does nothing to show their support for British people joining the Kurds to fight against ISIS, nor have they yet apologized for the Iraq war. Ironically, while I am by no means trying to label Benn a fascist, Benn’s statement sounds like a lot more like a statement made by a nationalist rather than a brigade, as many actions carried out by fascists are as we know, actions that bear little consequence whatsoever, other than to create further conflict or to expand their sphere of influence.

A brief History of UK policy in the Middle East

It is highly ironic for  to suggest that it is a sensible option for us to partition Syria and Iraq on their behalf, or that we must use airstrikes as some sort of British duty to stand up to fascism, when the current borders in the Middle East are themselves products of encroachments on the country’s sovereignty.
The current borders of Iraq and Syria were created due to Sykes - Picot agreement in 1916, which served the function of dividing the Ottoman Empire into areas of British and French influence. Comparing this agreement to the views held by our own government it is not too hard to see similarities, both are examples of rich and powerful nations scrutinizing a particular region, and deciding that they have the right to bear influence over it. At first glance, it may seem like a sensible option to redraw the map, accounting for the mistakes we made the first time around, and acknowledging the threat posed by dictators and terrorist groups. However, for Britain to take responsibility for this, paying no consideration to the people whom it would actually impact would be a violation of not only sovereignty but democracy.

Conclusion

I am by no means saying here that every politician is a crusader for imperialism, nor am I saying that we ought not to look for peaceful solutions to defeat ISIS, but simply that the imperialist mindset still exists at the heart of our foreign policy, and that to achieve a fair foreign policy we must get rid of this mindset. To do this it is the duty of anarchists and socialists, to challenge not only the effects of our foreign policy but the mindsets that might be behind it. However, guns and drones are not the only weapon the state can mobilize against us, the poll that shows support for the British Empire is enough to how that, the mass media and education play a large enough role in our lives to mislead us and manufacture consent. This will be the issue dealt with in part two.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Phycoactive Substances bill and The Failed War on Drugs.

The UK parliament has just made the utterly ridiculous and backwards decision to ban psychoactive substances  The substances, such as mephedrone, supposedly serve to replicate the effects of illegal drugs. When their use led to some deaths last year, the media decided to whip the issue into a frenzy, calling on our government ban those drugs, which came about as a result of a ban on drugs. Throughout the debate on the issue MPs showed just how ill-informed they are on the issue by purposefully misinterpreting medical evidence. At one point a conservative MP admitting that he uses poppers, shed a bit of light on the issue, before descending back into the usual War on Drugs hysteria.  The prohibition on legal high’s that were previously being sold online and in ‘head shops’ will begin in April, evidently allowing people that buy them to work out which dangerous drug dealer to get them from and doing more to worsen the drug problem.

This Bill won’t work

If there is one thing we should have learned from the history banning things people enjoy is that it never stops them doing it. After all, all the banning of alcohol did in 1920s America was to hand the alcohol trade over to gangsters and criminals. It similarly, has not worked with heroin today. The people that now sell illegal drugs have little to no reason to make sure their drugs are somewhat safe for use. Surely, the very existence of a debate surrounding cannabis replicating drugs, shows the futility of our current drug laws. From a conservative standpoint, the argument against this is that society needs its red lines so that people will know how to behave. However, while it is true that a certain amount of moderation and regulation is necessary in most things, this bill has obviously excluded very harmful drugs such a nicotine, and everyone’s favourite recreational drug: alcohol.

What our backward drug laws show, if anything, is that the laws stance on drugs, all comes down to how popular and how legitimised certain drugs have become through the both the mainstream media and the general public. This was briefly discussed during the MPs debate in the House of Commons when some MPs described the benefits of certain recreational drugs such as Poppers, a drug which activists have campaigned against the banning of, on the basis that is largely non harmful. Despite this, the parliament did not seem interested in these details and instead ended up passing the blanket legislation of ‘ban everything that makes you high’.

Perhaps the best argument of the debate was made by Paul Flynn. He argued that when a similar ban was enacted in Ireland, contrary to its supposed aim, the number of teenagers using the substances went up from 16 – 22 per cent. Flynn told a new scientist Journalist, that MPs had been chosen not for their knowledge but for their allegiance to the party whip, arguing that ‘the future will condemn them – as had been predicted, the bill passed.

This UK governments historic Drug Policy

The legal high prohibition bill is not the first time that the UK government has passed an utterly ridiculous, nonsensical drug law. In fact, the misuse of drugs act divides the different Kinds of Drugs into three categories, this has been emended many times since it was first introduced in 1971.

Despite this, the classification of drugs is completely arbitrary. One of the drugs in class A (supposedly the most dangerous category) is MDMA, despite tit being a largely safe drug, that can be used to treat mental health conditions such as Post Traumatic Health Disorder. The only reason MDMA is classed as a dangerous drug, is because it is often sold in lethal doses, on the unregulated black market. As if this was not ludicrous enough some of the drugs in the class C category (supposedly the least dangerous) such as Crack and Ketamine, have highly destructive effects. All this shows is how underqualified our politicians are to deal with these issues and how ignorant they are towards decisions that affect ordinary people’s lives.

So why do we have these drug laws that are quite clearly nonsense? Well, in 2005, a report published by the House of Commons science committee, claimed that the laws were ‘based on historical assumption, not scientific evidence’, being critical of the drug classification system. As a result of this, a study was undertaken by head of the advisory council for the misuse of drugs, with the aim of developing a more rational drug classification criteria. What the study found is that drugs like Crack cocaine and street heroin were particularly harmful, drugs such as alcohol and nicotine were in the middle, while drugs such as MDMA and LSD were found to be largely safe. Unsurprisingly, The New Labour government that were in power at the time, could not handle this unacceptable level of logic and analysis, branding the findings as an attempt to create confusion, and attempting to sack the scientist who carried out the study. How is it possible to have any coherent policy on drugs, when both labour and conservative politicians stick to the rigid, outdated principle of ‘ban everything that makes you high’?

Legalisation has worked before

As most people now know, the Netherlands have got a liberal drug policy, which aims to prevent drug use and reduce Harm to users. While some people will turn their nose up at this and say that you can’thave a safe Drug Policy while they are still legal, since the law was introduced, the number of dangerous drugs in Dutch society has fallen. This has led to other European countries such as Portugal, who have already decriminalised the possession of small amounts of drugs. This was done with the reasoning that people use drugs for a variety of different reasons including for medical reasons. This policy has had an amazing effect, reducing the amount of Drug related deaths and Crime.

Despite this, perhaps the country that the UK should follow the example of is Argentina, when they ruled that the state should not prosecute civilians for personal consumption. None of the countries mentioned here are being treated badly by anyone else than the British press. Even America who have historically pushed ideollically driven prohibition, in order to maintain a docile prison population, have now got 17 states with liberal drug laws. Surely, in the face of clear evidence that Drug liberalisation works governments should look at the facts, and seriously asses their standpoint on the issue.

The Case for ending the war on Drugs

Not only is the war on drugs immoral in that it essentially hands the drug trade over to crooks and gangs, but this aspect of it makes it extremely hard to analyse from a financial point of view. Despite this, if one thing is for certain drug liberalisation could have many positive effects attached to it.

One of the main problems with prohibition is crime rates. Not only are black market drugs dangerous, but it charges extortionate prices for drugs. This means, that drug users have to resort to crimes such as robbing simply to pay for their addiction. Furthermore the drug market is clearly often exploited by organised crime gangs and terrorist groups purely in order to make money. Legalising drugs would cut of any revenue to such groups. Keeping Drug Related Criminals In Jail, And Building New Prison Places For Them Costs Hundreds Upon Thousands Of Pounds Per Year. Surely, legalising drugs could allow for a renewed focus on treatment, which has also been proven to reduce crime.

In addition to reducing crime rates, liberalisation could have a seriously positive effect on the economy. It is common sense to suggest that the vast majority of drug users would turn to buying drugs from a regulated market, even if they had to pay a little tax on their purchases. This would mean that the money collected from the tax could pay for education and rehabilitation programmes in order to help people out of drug use altogether. This would also mean the creation of new Jobs in sectors such as education and drug research, further fuelling the economy. It seems, the reason our government ha e enacted a ban everything that makes you high policy, is because liberalisation would be yet another thorn in the side of their austerity agenda.Perhaps the most important issue surrounding prohibition is public health and safety. The demand for cannabis has resulted in the creation of thousands of dangerous cannbis factories. houses near these factories are prone to house fires. Surely it would be far more reasonable to have a regulated drug production trade. Not only this, but the fact that drugs are often supplied in stupid and unsafe quantities means that hundreds of drug users die unnecessarily each year. If you are particularly ignorant and immune to evidence and thinking, you might think that the people bought it upon themselves, but by this logic why invest In any sort of health and safety whatsoever? It is a fact of life that sometimes people get stuck in stupid situations that are a danger to them. These people need help not contempt

Conclusion

If the phycoactive substances bill is anything to go by, drug liberalisation will not be enforced anytime soon. As such it is up to the public, to raise awareness about the dangers of prohibitionism. Of course, MPs will simply dissmiss us as mindless hippies. However,who is being unreasonable when a black market drug trade, with no regulations whatsoever is allowed to exist in the modern world. It seems at times that our drug laws only exist in order to prop up an outdated legal system. We can only hope that evidence and common sense eventually triumphs, because we care about people.