Redefining ‘Growth’ to Save the World

‘Economic growth’ is a term we hear frequently in political language, generally referring to an increase in a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is a measurement of how much the nation has produced that year, and is often used as a broad term to represent the economy as a whole. The logic of this is basic economics; if the country is producing more, there is job creation, higher consumption of goods and services, and therefore livelihoods are improving. This would be page one of the Capitalist ideology, and is the reason behind many of the technological advances that we enjoy today. 

The Problem

In 2014 however, this definition is flawed. Increasing economic consumption has enslaved us all, an addiction that is bringing us ever closer to environmental destruction. Natural capital is finite, with examples such as diminishing fisheries and forests being far outstripped by human consumption. Greenhouse emissions, scarcity of fossil fuels and the destruction of agricultural land are proving beyond reasonable doubt that natural assets cannot sustain the current levels of economic activity. Insatiable demand for material goods has lead us to the precipice of destruction and we have followed, willingly.

The false dichotomy of economic growth and acceptable livelihoods is destroying the only habitable planet that we have and we cannot sit idly by. The issue here is the expense of green energy and the perceived cost of curbing expansion are concerning for people that believe there is no alternative to the ‘trickle-down economics’myth that has been forced upon us. 

A Greener alternative

Every human being alive has a vested interest in self sufficiency, so why is it so politically underrepresented? The champions of the cause within the UK, The Green Party, advocate policies such as redirecting fracking subsidies to investment in sustainable energies and greater investment in job creation at a local level. Despite this, they accumulated just 1% of the vote in the 2010 election, and a poll in Jan 2014 demonstrated that 41% of voters feel that the economy is their primary concern, whilst just 7% felt that the environment/pollution took precedence. What people fail to recognise is that self sufficiency and prosperity are by no means mutually exclusive. What we have learned to associate with growth is deficient of external factors that attribute to the ‘common good’ of mankind.  

Concerns over the environment can no longer be thought of in abstract terms. Information regarding environmental degradation is widely reported, but often dismissed. It continues on a daily basis, but is not resisted because people are distracted by consumer driven aspiration. We must be recognise what is truly important for the longevity of mankind because by the time these issues are in the face of the masses, it will be far too late.

The Enigma of Manchester United

Having been a lifelong supporter of Manchester United FC and been fortunate enough to be born during the early days of the Ferguson era, you will struggle to find someone that has experienced comparable levels of bitter disappointment and frustration since the end of the reign that was too easily taken for granted. The younger generation of players brought in by Ferguson that instilled such great promise and security of United’s continuing premier league dominance have repeatedly demonstrated their inability to play at the elite level that United are accustomed to. The old guard that brought such consistency and stability to the club have withered and vanished like dead leaves on a tree, with barely an objection to be heard. The ‘chosen one’ Moyes proved an abject failure, despite many feeling (myself included) that he was judged primarily on matters that were out of his control. Ed Woodward’s negotiating incompetence rendering a difficult job impossible for a man with a relative lack of experience of managing such a huge club. Perhaps the factor that was most difficult to come to terms with was the painfully drawn out realisation of the full extent to which Ferguson’s squad was punching above its weight. 

The extent of success at the very beginnings of Van Gaal’s tenure was almost inconceivable for many fans. The confidence and speed with which they passed the ball, the transitional play between the wing backs, midfielders and 9 and 10 roles, and above all, the seemingly reinvigorated defence that appeared calm even in the face of some of the worlds best opposition. It appeared the Van Gaal had cracked the code of the unbalanced squad, and the players had awoken from a years long confusion over which football club they were representing and were finally willing to prove the quality that was lying dormant during the farcical season passed. Fans were quick to believe that the problems that United faced last season were a period of football history that would soon be forgotten.

How premature it was. After just two competitive games and just a single point gained, nightmares of incompetent passing, nervous defending and an general lack of desire have become reality for Manchester United fans. Unfortunate injuries to new players Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw have exposed the fragility of the squad, and the dire lack of pace and attacking intent have highlighted the stark disparity between pre-season competition and the Barclays Premier League. The 3-4-2-1 formation that Van Gaal used so effectively in the World Cup has quickly been written off as lunacy by many fans, and the demand for quality driven so high that Woodward has resorted to paying a hugely inflated price for a player that, despite undoubtedly being one of the best in his position, cannot fill the void that is preventing United from top 4 contention. 

Patience is key. Having been sold this line in every Moyes interview almost without fail, it is a difficult one to swallow. But to judge the finished product on the depleted prototype that has been presented thus far is on equal terms to believing United are genuine title contenders this season. With Di Maria and Rojo coming in, and the expected arrival of (at least one of) De Jong, Blind or Vidal, United fans will have the strengthened squad that they so craved. Van Gaal has asked for three months for the team to gel before they are expected to produce their best performances, but fans must appreciate that Ferguson was one of a kind, and if LVG can restore the win-at-all-costs mindset in three years time, then he will have done a terrific job. 

A Plea for Rationality

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The Problem

The global “War on Drugs” has proven to be one of the most consequential failures of poor governmental policy in the 20th century, and has had no significant impact on the increasing trend of illicit drug supply and consumption. Repressive measures that target producers, dealers and consumers have created devastating black markets that are particularly ruinous to lesser economically developed countries, the most damaging being concentrated on the social cost of drug related violence within Latin America. More apparent however, is the stigmatisation of illicit drugs in developed western societies that has resulted in policy that has little basis of subjectivity, and is justified as protection from existential threats to the health, security and morals of society. Mounting evidence suggests that these threats are vastly overstated, especially when compared to existing legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol, which have become global industry behemoths and are taxed and regulated on a daily basis. The farcical inconsistency of illegality to harm requires a thorough scrutiny; no longer can a matter of such crucial importance be trusted to a policy that has achieved little more than creating an illegal market (recently estimated at exceeding $400bn), wasting immense amounts of global public expenditure on police enforcement and needlessly imprisoning countless individuals for consumption.

The solution

Former head of the Governmental Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Prof. David Nutt, has championed the cause for an evidence based drug policy in the United Kingdom. The renowned and controversial neuroscientist was dismissed from his role as head of the AMCD in 2009 following comparisons made between the relative harms of licit and illicit substances. The publication originated the medical paper The Lancet, in which he criticised the government’s stance on drugs and suggested a policy which worked on the basis of categories of harm, including; factors or physical harm to the individual, likelihood of causing dependence, and the effects of the drug on the families of the abuser and wider society. He asserts that a drug policy based on harm reduction, rather than prevention would result in more effective methods of education and regulation of harmful substances. Furthermore, he contends that there is much to be learned from the success story of the country with the most Liberal stance in the European Union – and it’s not the Dutch.

Since 2001, Portugal has revolutionised the debate on the war on drugs. Having realised that criminalisation was exacerbating the issues that surround drug use they took radical action and stopped prosecuting all users. This works on the very simple principle that to minimise drug use, the underlying factors that influence someone to use drugs must be addressed in a manner that doesn’t demonise the user – “Drug users aren’t criminals, they’re sick” states Joao Goulao, Portuguese national drug coordinator and Head of the General-Directorate for Intervention on Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies, who has become an international icon for drug policy reform. This method involves setting high limits on the legal quantities of drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin, and yet sending those caught with possession to a panel consisting of a social worker, a psychologist and a legal advisor to ensure that they pose no threat to themselves or society. The success of this method has been resounding – a Cato report by Glen Greenwald in 2009 highlights the dramatic decline in drug related pathologies (such as drug related deaths and diseases) when compared to the rest of the European Union and the US, and the predicted boom in usage rates and ‘drug tourism’ to have been non-existent. Greenwald asserts “The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world”. Whilst it may be naïve to assume that the Portuguese model would translate to identical benefits in the United Kingdom, it raises pertinent questions as to why this debate isn’t happening, and why addressing the failure of criminalisation is still considered political suicide.

Why it hasn’t happened

The current issue surrounding drug policy is the stigma and fabrications surrounding illicit substances – largely created by their own criminalised status. The irony lies within the damage caused by a system designed to protect society is self perpetuating, meaning that the inherent social cost of such a deeply rooted black market is cementing the legislation that originally created it. This has contributed to a climate of fear surrounding all illicit drug use, fear which conversely doesn’t apply to tobacco or alcohol, both of which have proven to be far more damaging than various substances that warrant punishment in the eyes of the law. Comparisons can be drawn here to the ‘war on terror’, in which policy is dictated not by the relative dangers of threats, but by public perception and political backlash. This is demonstrably poor policy creation, and should be subjected to the same scrutiny as all departments of government. The circumstances by which Professor Nutt was dismissed, having given his professional opinion on the statistical correlations between the potential dangers of substances, is a damning indictment of a clear disconnect between rational, evidence-based policy and governmental, stigma induced legislation.

-David Nutt, cited in the Guardian, Tuesday 3rd November, 2009.

.Why it may happen

For drug policy reform advocates, however, there is cause for optimism. A gradual global movement occurring that is attempting to move away from the demonised perception of drug abusers and illicit substances. A report published by the Global Commission on Drug Policy in 2011 (commissioned by four former presidents, the ex-US secretary of state and 7th Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan) asserts that the UN must steer nations toward a rational drug policy that correlate with human rights and establish those that struggle with drug abuse as a cause for aid, not punishment. Hopefully, politicians around the world will take note.

 

‘Human sacrifice’

dealth penalty featured image

The recent botching of the lethal injection administered in Oklahoma to the convicted murderer and rapist, Clayton Lockett, has once again catapulted the issue of  capital punishment and its morality to the forefront of debate in the US. Lockett took a full two hours to perish, a fate surely worse than the inhumane methods of hanging and beheading that have long been abandoned. Having felt that we were far past such debate here in the UK, I was surprised to learn through conversation with various people that I regard to be forward thinking were considerably more pro-death penalty than I would have thought. With various senior UKIP members calling for a reintroduction of this detestable method of “justice”, I have felt the need to state why this debate should remain closed. 

The arguments in favour are almost invariably as follows:

‘Do the most severe offenders deserve mercy?’

‘There are people beyond rehabilitation’ 

‘It’s far cheaper and easier to kill someone than to keep them imprisoned for life’

‘It deters others from committing serious crimes’  

Whilst these arguments may seem perfectly rational, there is  a recurring trend of retribution within such reasoning. Whilst revenge is a considerably more seductive notion than rationality to those who have been wronged, an equitable justice system must have a higher precedent then vengeance and vitriol. 

An entirely irreversible judgement in an imperfect system of judgement reveals the illogicality behind pro-capital punishment arguments. It is, of course, impossible to create a judicial system that is above the influence of factors such as ethnicity, sex, class and prestige. Data taken from the US proves this beyond reasonable doubt – a 2007 study published by Yale University demonstrated that an African American is three times more likely to receive the death penalty than a white defendant in cases in which the victim is white, highlighting the extent to which racial factors can effect the jury’s decision. Furthermore, since 1976, there have been a total of 1,386 executions in the US, 14 of which have been the execution of women, contributing just 2% of all death penalty cases. A greatly disproportionate figure, considering women account for 10% of murder arrests annually. This data demonstrates that a black man is around 15 times more likely to be executed for the murder of a white man than a white woman who commits the same crime. This is before you take into consideration the influence of highly professional lawyers, the effect of someone presenting themselves well, and other class and regional factors.

(source- death penalty information centre)

(fig 1, source- death penalty information centre)

Whilst potentially the most persuasive argument, the deterrent effects of capital punishment are also greatly misrepresented. The states in which the penalty is not used have consistently lower rates of homicide (see fig. 1), and a 2008 survey of criminologists revealed that an overwhelming 88% believed it has no deterrent effects. The idea that a person that considers committing a heinous crime would be influenced by the future threat of capital punishment is a fallacy. The rational weighing of opportunity cost is unlikely to penetrate the decision making process of an individual committing such a severe crime.  

The financial benefits of killing prisoners is also widely misunderstood.The trials are inherently more costly, with the irreversibility of the punishment creating a far more expensive and time consuming legal procedure; for example, in Kansas the defense costs of a case in which the death penalty is a possibility costs on average four times as much as a case in which the penalty is not sought. The Death Penalty Information Centre estimates the cost of a trial that includes the potential for execution in Texas to be $2.3 million, around three times the cost of imprisoning an individual in the highest security prison for 40 years. With some simple statistics, the notion of financial merit through execution can be exposed as, in reality, a counter argument to the use of the death penalty.  

Advocating the death penalty demonstrates a distinct lack of faith in the prison system and a disparaging interpretation of human nature. Whilst it is ludicrous to argue the case that every prisoner can be lead to remorse and genuinely see the error of their ways, it is a remarkable piece of closed minded naivety to presume that any human being is immune to the circumstantial trappings of crime.  There are, undoubtedly, flaws within the system of rehabilitation, but surely this creates argument for the adaptation of a more effective system, as opposed to the human sacrifice of individuals deemed unsuitable for society. This manner of thinking isn’t just an ill-thought method of dealing with criminals, it is a interpretation of criminals that rules out forgiveness or repentance and encourages the idea of dismissal as opposed to trying to understand the wider reasons behind crime. This sets a dangerous precedent for the wider population and can be highly toxic to the social cohesion of society.

Lastly, the most damning indictment of those in favour of the death penalty is the potential for false convictions. Over 130 men have been released from death row in the light of new evidence since 1973, a statistic which should make the staunchest death penalty advocate pause for thought. Regardless of your personal convictions on the nature of justice, those on death row are human beings – and a society that treats criminals like animals for slaughter is not a civilised one. The arguments that appeal to your vengeance are not the same arguments that should apply to a comprehensive justice system. The same ideas of subjectivity and rationality must be applied.

‘To take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice.’ – Desmond Tutu

What is Fox News?

“What is Fox news… it’s just a parade of propaganda – isn’t it? It’s just a festival of ignorance.” This inspirational comment comes from left wing comedian Lee Camp, who accepted a Fox news interview purely for the opportunity to lay some truth on the world from a live broadcast (here’s the link). The popularity of this clip shows how much this view resonates with people, and rightly so. The constant distortion of information, smug dismissal of counter-arguments and underhand interviewing tactics result in a monstrous concoction that is a far cry from my personal idea of journalism. This is the mouthpiece of all things crazy in America. Or as Jon Stewart puts it – ‘a biased organisation, relentlessly promoting an ideological agenda under the rubric of being a news organisation’.

The recent video of Sean Hannity shouting over Palestinian-American political analyst Yousef Munayyer whilst aggressively insisting he answer a multitude of loaded questions is not, unfortunately, an isolated incident. The clip, made famous by the viral feud created between Hannity and Russell Brand, is one of countless interviews in which guests with contrary opinions are invited on solely to be shouted down, insulted and discredited to create the illusion of an infallible argument.

Occasionally however, this backfires- and exposes the sheer hostility that Fox employs to ensure that only one view comes across.The example of Jeremy Glick exemplifies this better than any other- who was invited on to the O’Reilly Factor to justify his stance of opposing the war in Afghanistan, a view they found surprising considering his father was killed in the 9/11 attacks. The interview grew to infamy through the documentary ‘outfoxed’, which highlighted the aggression and personal attacks that O’Reilly used to intimidate his guest. Having failed to drown out Glick’s well reasoned view that America’s foreign policy in the Middle East was linked to the attacks, he sunk to the lowest possible level, by telling Glick that ‘your father would be ashamed’ and ‘I hope your mother isn’t watching’. When this also failed, however, O’Reilly was forced to repeatedly scream ‘shut up! shut up!’ in the only remaining method he could fathom to stem the dreaded voice of reason.

The not-so-subtle implication that Munayyer was a sympathiser of terrorists is just another bitter stain on the networks track record of blatant distortion and poor treatment of guests with counter arguments.  This precedent of ‘whoever shouts the loudest is right’ cannot be allowed to continue. It isn’t just a matter of principle, this is a tactic consistently used on cables highest rated news network and is hugely detrimental to rational debate and intellectualism, and has become a mind-blowingly pervasive aspect of US politics.

Don’t believe the bullshit

The daily struggle of sifting through news stories and articles that seem just that little bit too unlikely feels a thankless task, but consider the debunking of fakery as the only means left to steady the perpetual dumbing down of humanity, and it may provide a little more self gratification. The ‘freedom of speech’ defence seems too persuasive to prevent media checks on factual inaccuracies and context manipulation (commonly known as bullshit) – therefore the responsibility remains solely with the reader to differentiate between fact and fiction.The conspiracist in me feels that the issue here lies within the monopolisation of the media, with conglomerates such as Rupert Murdoch (Newscorp) and Disney enlarging from media giants to behemoths in the last two decades. Newscorp, on top of having a name that sounds so stereotypically evil it would work as a cover for the bad guys on a children’s TV show, owns The Sun, The Times, and the Sunday Times in the UK alone, with an far reaching empire on the international stage. Noam Chomsky champions the cause for a more accountable media, and points to the ‘big six’ conglomerates that account for 90% of worldwide media ownership. The role in which the media plays in enforcing a dominant ideology affects more or less every aspect of society, and so much control distributed between so few is a pretty fucking scary concept if you consider how many opinions are interchangeable depending on what the girl on page three is preaching.(If the subject of media control interests you as much as me, ‘Manufacturing consent’ by Noam Chomsky is the book for you.)

When the Sun reports that Eureaucrats in Brussels are trying to stop British barmaids from showing their cleavage, it is far more likely that some completely rational legislation is being wildly misreported – additional protective gear for those working with radioactive material for example (This genuinely happened). Whilst the infamous ‘euromyth’ is far more common within tabloids such as the Sun and the Express, more respectable broadsheets have been found guilty on multiple occasions of defaming the EU with fictitious legislation. This works on the basis that by shamelessly trivialising the British identity (EG “EU try to ban corgis and British bulldogs“) it can entrench a perception of of nonsensical bureaucracy that wants to change the way you life your life.

Spotting the difference between attention seeking and legitimate news is fairly straightforward, but appears to be a relatively rare skill. Just a few easy steps will ensure you don’t become the next sheep that shares Facebook articles about unemployed Muslim families residing in state-funded mansions.

1. If it seems ridiculous, it’s probably aimed at someone less smart than you. Never underestimate the degree to which BS can be published without repercussions.

 Example – “Sold out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK”, grade A fear mongering as the DM capitalise on completely groundless paranoia over the most recent wave of immigration following the two most recent member states of the EU. 

2. Always be super critical when assessing the motive of the writer.  Aside from eye-catching headlines that ensure temptation to investigate, journalists are put under extreme pressure to print in accordance with the papers line -and it is not uncommon for political alignment of media outlets to coincide with corporate or political interests of the ownership.

Example – Every Murdoch owned media outlet worldwide supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, coincidence? no. Disturbing? most definitely. 

3. There are multiple methods of subtle misdirection which are essentially a more acceptable form of lying. Phrases like ‘most experts agree’ and ‘studies show’ really tell us nothing, but apparently legitimise whatever is being printed. Another such misleading tactic is selective information, highlighting certain aspects of a story but leaving out (often highly relevant) details which completely change the readers interpretation.

Example – a fairly comprehensive tale of the British media’s fantastical ability to imbue a relatively mundane news story with the necessary components to engage and enrage gullible readers.  

Always remember that people are more willing to believe something if correlates with their preconception. Media outlets are very aware of this, and have become adept at enforcing inaccurate perceptions that boost sales. This has become so entrenched within British journalism that for many, it is impossible to distinguish between lies and fact. Whilst this clearly can’t be changed overnight, the best we can do is recognise the bullshit, and hope for a time in which people can foster views based on impartial evidence, not popular opinion.

Gove madness on climate change

On April 10th, the Daily Mail published an uncharacteristically interesting article  concerning a report by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), prevalent with misguided paranoia and out of touch observation so deranged that it could easily have been confused with a segment of the O’Reily Factor, if Bill himself was at his best of spewing delusional bullshit to the masses. Think of an environmental advisory agency ran by Sarah Palin… Or Cruella de Vil, perhaps.

Co-founded by former Conservative energy minister and Chancellor Nigel Lawson, the GWPF is a company that promotes itself as providing balance to the global warming debate, through outlets such as the media, MPs, and MEPs. Unfortunately, they have yet to be informed that this debate has been dead and buried for a decade or so, and despite their claim ‘We are in no sense anti-environmental’, inflaming perceptions that climate change is a nightmarish fantasy is a disturbingly dangerous ideal on which to create a thinktank.

The Article itself can be found here, and summarises the report which makes claims that ‘eco-activists’ in the education system are essentially propagating eco-friendly ideals and indoctrinating children into following a green agenda. Arguing that ‘In every case of concern, the slant is on scares, on raising fears, followed by the promotion of detailed guidance on how pupils should live, as well as on what they should think’. This statement alone goes beyond the realms of absurdity, branding climate change awareness as ‘raising fears’ is an attitude in which future generations will look back upon as farcical, and should be recognised as such. The scientific consensus on man-made climate change is now at 97%, and the UN based Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change have recently found that to forestall the worst effects global warming, serious action must be taken in the next 15 years. Clearly such overwhelming evidence demands respect, and yes, fear. More to the point, providing guidance for younger generations on living a lifestyle that will sustain the only habitable planet we possess for the foreseeable future is essential to the livelihood of humanity, not, as GWPF would have you believe, a conspiracy to brainwash your vulnerable children.

The most disturbing aspect of this story is the reaction of our current minister for education. Far from condemning these claims as archaic bullhockey, he has fanned the flames of hysteria, in a very dickheaded, Michael Gove-ish manner. Apparently, the only way he knows how. As the DM article will inform you, a spokesperson for Gove conveyed -‘The Secretary of State read this report with concern.’ Continuing on to clarify – ‘Schools should not teach that a particular political or ideological point of view is right – indeed it is against the law for them to do so’.  Whilst Gove clearly feels that promoting a green lifestyle for children is comparable to instigating a Marxist revolution, I think most level headed citizens would argue that, whilst the Green Party champion the cause in British politics, it cannot seriously be considered a political ideology – in the same way that a PE teacher advising students toward a fit and healthy lifestyle differs from a mustached Austrian distributing blame for the downfall of Germanic society between various minorities.

This article highlights a lingering belief that controlling factors of climate change should not be a political priority, and whilst the Conservatives can dispel Lawson as a previous generation of Tory, Gove’s bizarre decision to acknowledge the report should provide real concern for more forward thinking members of the party. Nonetheless, this article should be taken as a rare piece of journalistic interest from the Daily Mail, and If BBC producers catch wind I can’t help but feel this will provide enough satire to justify the entire third season of ‘the revolution will be televised’.