Browsing Category

POLITICAL UTOPIAS – March 2018

Phillip Morris POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

Thankful for Trump

Written by Phillip Morris, Editor in Chief

I am thankful for the election of the 45th President of the United States((Trump’s name is also his brand, so it’s better to not use it if you don’t want to inadvertently support him.)). He is forcing everyone to evaluate what they stand for, and this has led to some honest conversations with people who no longer feel comfortable with their political party. It would be great if everyone across the board took the time to re-examine their core beliefs. I know I only registered as a Democrat to vote for Bernie, and if I had to be categorized I’d be in the Bernie or Bust camp.

A bust is definitely what the US is going through at the moment, but I think that’s better than going along with the status quo. I suspect that had Hillary gotten elected voters would have blindly trusted her and allowed voter turnout to return to being shamefully low. Hillary’s political career shows, for better or worse, that she has been willing to follow the will of the masses. She’s gone from describing black men as “super-predators” to working for the first “black” president. She has transitioned from ardently describing marriage as being between one man and one woman to being a favorite of the LGBT community.

My issue with her and most other politicians is that when the public isn’t up in arms about a particular topic they’ll support the policies that favor their donors, even to the detriment of their constituents and what’s right.

I am not a fan of democracy, but I accept that it’s the best method we have for balancing an efficiently functioning government with a relatively high level of freedom for the average person. That being said, the democratic system has consistently failed to protect significant portions of the population since its inception. Genocide, slavery, concentrations camps, racism, sexism, and pretty much everything else democratic politicians point to as issues in other countries have legally taken place in democratic systems. It’s a constant fight to keep anyone one of those injustices from coming back full force. Nothing 45 has done is really new, because nothing he does is his own idea. Hating immigrants, minorities, the LGBT, or anyone different is standard fare for conservatives. What is new, is having someone so dumb in charge that he doesn’t see the point of subtlety. A traditional politician, like Hillary, would know to hide their, true agenda behind policies that at least seem legitimate at first glance. But a traditional politician is not what we got, so everyone that would like to keep this from happening again should give up their ideological shields and start having honest conversations with each other on what they want for society and how best to achieve it.

My issue with the extreme ideologies I’ve seen develop is that most of the population will never be able to buy into their core beliefs, yet the true believers take their political vision as the absolute truth; making everything else not worth entertaining, even in a no-stakes debate. This is not an approach that can stand against the pressures of having to live in a pluralist society. If freedom of speech and freedom of thought are fundamental rights then you must be willing to at least hear out the opposition. This is not to say that every view is equally valid. Falsehoods, propaganda, and over exaggerations only cloud legitimate streams of information, but if working from the same vetted information someone comes to a different conclusion the proper response should be to figure out why that’s the case.

The reasons why 45 is in office include: racism, classism, sexism, frustration with politicians, Russia, and plain ignorance. Still, these are not really an answer in themselves, no one is born hateful and bigoted, so again we should ask why. I’ve found that 45 made things simple in a world many found was getting too complicated, too fast. For every problem he was able to give an answer any primary schooler could follow, that usually involved pointing the finger. Simplicity and laying the blame at someone else’s feet is very attractive to people too tired for critical thinking, which is inevitable when they’re working 60-hour weeks, between two jobs, and still can’t get ahead. They know it can’t be their fault because they’re working as hard as they can, and it can’t be the system’s fault because that would mean all their efforts up to this point have been wasted. The easier answer to accept is that someone isn’t playing fair, be it Mexico, China, or everyone on welfare besides them.

Despite the results of recent elections, I don’t think the world is going backward. I think people just needed a rude awakening to how things actually work. The biggest revelation being that straight up lying is a totally legal way to run a political campaign; that Cambridge Analytica will still exist after all is said and done will be a testament to this fact. We have gone through this relatively brief period where the truth didn’t matter and I hope we will be better for it. The world hasn’t ended yet, so every election still represents a chance to get things right. What is “right” will always be a subject of debate, but at the very least we should insist that every argument put forward by our potential politicians be based on reasonably objective facts. In such a world traditional conservatives would need to give so much they might as well stay out of the conversation, but the liberals will need to give up some points too.

Society is a construct that we can and should always debate on how to make better, but facts shouldn’t have to compete with pleasant sounding lies. At the end of the day, I don’t care what someone believes as long as they’ve actually thought things through, and have a factual basis. When faced with an undeniable truth the isms and phobias that drive extreme ideologies will fade away, as long as the conversation takes place without patronization. A hero worth looking up to in this regard is the black preacher and activist Wade Watts, who was so steadfast in facing the KKK with humor and love, that the grand duke had to give up his hateful beliefs.

The equivalent of 45 is present in every society, shaming their potential voters won’t keep them from getting elected, honest conversations might.

Contributing Writers POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

PLANNING EVOLUTION? Why we cannot blueprint our progression

Written by Brennan Reichmann

On April 12th, 1961, a human being broke through the atmosphere of planet Earth. That same year a few months prior, following an aviation accident, two nuclear bombs fell on North Carolina, only two loose wires spared the accidental target from utter destruction.

If one takes the time to fully examine and weigh human history, one may notice a correlating trend between human scientific progress, and the exponential growth of potential human devastation. The progress and evolution in medicine, engineering, and the natural sciences has gone hand-in-hand with advancements in weapons technology. We live in a constant state of development. Yet, this also entails the exponential research and expansion of nuclear power as means of harnessed and weaponized energy. Albert Einstein realized the dangers of these developments, “As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable. That is not an attempt to say when it will come, but only that it is sure to come. That was true before the atomic bomb was made. What has changed is the destructiveness of war.”

Humans have been capable of devastation long before we were capable of much else. This was once instinctual and reactive, until we saw the development of the human frontal lobe, from whereupon language and society began to mold. From here, we witnessed violence evolve into a new state, a state of intent. Harm was now more than survival. When we created hammers, we simultaneously and inadvertently created a weapon more ergonomic and capable of damage than simply having a large rock in your hand. We stimulated progress in either direction at once, and this has remained the case for most human advancement up to now. Not necessarily always so acutely or directly, but that factor of coinciding progress remains.

At our core, we are all individually striving for forward progression. That definition is, of course, subjective, but it can be agreed that no human acts with regressive intent, even if the action is consciously calculated to be, say, two steps back. Humanity has never produced results of any kind, without there being a forward driving intention. Progress is hardwired into our fundamental human instincts. Our survival instinct fuels our need to creatively progress. This need for progression is responsible for our evolved state of violence, but also for our evolved state of learning. Human minds are evolving every day, striving to adapt to new and ever-present circumstances. Hence, derived from the very same source, our capabilities grow in both directions – towards progression and destruction.

Photo by Mickey O’Neil

Humanity is racing against itself. As we push ourselves deeper into the space frontier, the technological transcendence of the human body and mind is within our near future, out of the sheer necessity to continue our progression in the solar system. We integrate ourselves into technology more and more every day, propelling human evolution down a twisted, capitalistic, classist, and yet scientifically progressive path of technological advancement. As we dive deeper into virtual reality and artificial intelligence, we get closer to humanity’s full emancipation from biological restraints. A research and development team from Japan recently formulated the algorithm necessary to eventually transfer human consciousness onto a hard drive. This should allow for our consciousness to be ‘turned on and off’ as easily as a computer. The only component they are still lacking is the means of implementing the algorithm. Once completed though, humans would no longer require a biological body. Worries about diseases, famine, and death would become irrelevant, while things like deep space exploration would come within reach. This example illustrates human progress towards not only the preservation of our species, but its advancement and direct evolution.

Simultaneous to this rapid technological development is the development of treacherous weaponry designed for mass destruction. Within the past century, we have gone from harnessing automatic fire via gunpowder, to mass-destruction through radioactive and cyber warfare. There is enough active and armed weaponry on this planet lying in wait to entirely obliterate all human matter in the solar system. Our ability and knowledge on nuclear fission teeter on the same balance as our ability to further our knowledge on how to install consciousness onto a hard drive. Therefore, it is impossible to further expand our knowledge of one, while restraining progress for the other. Our future lies in the hands of progress, both in terms of creation and destruction.

Humanity will see its next stage of life in the near future. Every day, we strive towards certain aspirations and certain dreadful possibilities, and this self-prescribed balance will exact our salvation or downfall. As humanity sees itself progress deeper into a  state of earthly chaos, marked by disease, resource shortage, and overpopulation, we will see a coinciding trend of rapid scientific development. Alongside, we will experience growing tensions due to increased possibilities and means for complete destruction. Where and how we progress is entirely up to us. Living in a universe of unlimited potentials and uncertainties, this applied balance seems almost instinctual for humans – to create order and structure, to carve a beaten road through the universe of unknowns.  

Photo by Tim Mossholder

This attempt to control, to consciously decide on human evolution, is what has placed us in this teetering balance between progress and destruction.  This attempt, though, is a primitive and redundant effort, stemming from our natural instincts to preserve and survive. Outdated and useless, a call to direct action implies, that there is need for decision in order for natural progress to occur. If humanity were to remove the restrictions on progress, we might see our progress freed what we deem necessary for the survival of our species. This is mere speculation, but it can be recognized that our greatest feats of innovation and progress have occurred by ‘accident’. Flight, telecommunication, propulsion – all of these achieved by humans, pursuing goals outside the boundaries of what was deemed necessary for our survival. It is a fallacy to assume that we can decide on that which we don’t know, simply because we have the ability to decide. Rather, it is left to our ability to pursue uncertainty that in turn fuels our progress. In layman’s terms: you cannot know what you don’t know, but you can know that you don’t know. Acknowledging this is the first step towards progress.

To take a decisive position on the path of the unfolding universe would be to limit yourself. There is no way to solidify a response to the unknown natural process that will determine our future, in which we will either evolve or vanish. Any attempt to do so would suggest that one thinks themself wise enough to direct this process. We are not here to make it happen. We are here to see what happens. That alone will guide us down a path of creative and destructive progress.

POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018 Sarah Osei-Bonsu

We Are Humans; Let’s Act Like It

Written by Sarah Osei-Bonsu, Staff Writer

The Jungle is no place for humans. We know this of course, we are the civilized world. Imagine humans living in a jungle of makeshift tents, crossing streets of mud to crude churches and mosques because God might be the only one who’ll listen. Imagine waiting six hours for the chance to shower, and waiting even longer to eat. Voicing your frustration and being beaten down by police. This sounds like an unpleasant fiction – humans have more dignity than that, especially in the European Union.

“We are humans, not animals,” said Karzan, a refugee who lived in the Jungle, right here in the EU, in stark contrast to the human rights Europe preaches.

In October 2016, the Jungle was demolished after being deemed illegal. 7,000 people were forcefully resettled. Now we speak of the Jungle in past tense. A brief lapse in our beloved union which so prides itself on social welfare. Reporting on the Jungle is not popular anymore, the hashtags are no longer trending. The world watched this shameful spectacle unfold and now the world can forget again.

Humans not animals… Europe needed that reminder.

The refugee camp in Calais, France, known as the Jungle, was the horrific climax of Europe’s ‘migrant crisis’, where conditions for refugees were deplorably inhuman. Informal camps have been continuously appearing in the area around Calais since 1999.  The town’s connection to the Channel tunnel, as well as its position as Europe’s informal border with Britain, has made it a popular transit-location for migrants looking to enter the UK. When Europe’s migrant crisis recently came to a head, the Calais camp festered and expanded like never before, becoming ‘the Jungle’. The Jungle received increasing scrutiny due to its lamentable conditions. Unparalleled by any other encampment it became the horrific symbol of the migrant crisis. By May 2016, an estimated 7,000 migrants were living in the Jungle, in brutal conditions, in improvised shelters lacking proper sanitary facilities. As an informal camp, the Jungle enjoyed none of the proper amenities or state assistance mandated for refugee settlements within the EU. Aid was supplied only by NGOs and other private donors and was, therefore, nowhere near enough.

Unable to meet basic human needs, with its crowded conditions and limited medical care, the Jungle took many lives, while those who survived did so in the most hopeless conditions. For the living, the Jungle was a hell. Despite these dismal conditions, the population continued to grow, with migrants increasingly foregoing EU asylum procedures and seeking out the ‘border-town’ with hopes of entering the UK rather than claiming asylum elsewhere in the EU. Numerous attempts were made daily to cross the UK border, often ending fatally. Hoping against hope, the people of the Jungle persisted. Aside from the occasional visits of masked policemen and police dogs the EU did not intervene.

There were outcries across Europe, voices that condemned the Jungle’s existence and the fact that nothing was being done. A dog that barks but doesn’t bite. Alas, nothing was done, for two reasons; because legally nothing had to be done and because the people of Europe refused to forge a way where the law would not.

The EU has one of the world’s most sophisticated human rights systems. It adheres to a collection of human rights charters and conventions, forming a complex legal framework to protect asylum seekers. Wherever they find themselves in the asylum process, their human dignity is to be safeguarded. This guarantee is not extended to the ‘illegals’. Those who forgo the asylum process, who want to exercise their own agency instead of being relegated to asylum centres (which resemble prisons more than refuge), who insist on reuniting with their families instead of being detained by their country of ‘first entry’ (the only country legally required to take responsibility for them).

Precedents exist outside the asylum procedure to unequivocally safeguard all humans  – they are fundamental human rights and should be inviolable in any state. They clearly stipulate that no human should be exposed to degrading treatment. Was France somehow incapable of meeting its duties? French nationals continued to enjoy their rights while the people in the Jungle suffered, meaning that protection was applied hypocritically, and so, as a governing body, the EU should have intervened.

Photo by Anthony Delanoix

In the debate over the Jungle, the popular consensus was that the EU had failed to act, and Europe was duly appalled. Yes, it is important to acknowledge that the law is faulty if it is unable to protect the rights of the vulnerable, and that the EU’s failure to uphold its own laws is one of the main reasons for the tragedy of the Jungle. But instead of being satisfied with criticising the application of the law, it is better to change it. The EU has a democratic system sophisticated enough to correct its own shortcomings. The absence of legally-mandated action does not have to mean the absence of change. If we cannot rely on the law as it stands then something else must be done. We need to go beyond the mere displeasure of knowing injustices exist and demand change collectively.  

I want to propose a break in the trend of political and social idleness. We live in a great time of accessibility, transparency, and freedom of information. Yet, for a lot of us it is a one-way road from informed to disinterested. The Jungle is one unfortunate case of this. In the midst of our interest and shock in the story we forgot, or didn’t realize, that we had the power to impact a change.

Despite its shortcomings, the EU is a democratic body. A willing public can propose and urge legislative changes. The EU recognizes, and values, protests, and petitions. The European Citizens’ Initiative, for instance, stipulates that Europeans can propose new legislation with at least 1 million signatures (only 0.2 percent of the EU population). This is more than just logistics, it means we can exercise direct democracy on an EU level. What it requires, is a driven, well-informed public sphere. We need to insist on knowing what is happening in the world around us, especially in our own political space. I believe, a lot of us are already informed and mentally engaged enough to care.

In the Calais case, it was not enough to know the atrocities going on, but to recognize our own power to change them. To avoid another Jungle we should insist that asylum is expanded to all refugees within EU territory who live in degrading, inhuman situations, even when they forego asylum procedures. We must remove clauses in the asylum regulations which delay refugees receiving the aid they need, leaving them in limbo. Let’s get rid of the ‘first entry principle’ and instead demand that all states claim legal responsibility for refugees within their borders regardless of their ‘legality’. A state that fails to protect the lives of refugees and fails to accommodate their basic needs,  should not be able to excuse its failure on the basis of law. That defeats the purpose of the law – to protect us. Let us not be satisfied with criticising the asylum system that allowed the Jungle to happen, when we have the power to amend the law to better suit our beliefs. By creating and contributing to discourses we care about we become connected and can be active in the change we want. We have the numbers. Now what we need is the action to make change happen.

Unfortunately, we were too late to prevent the Jungle. Europe built a fortress, reluctant to let anyone in. A jungle on the peripheries was a nuisance, nothing more. Instead of addressing the institutional problems it represented, the EU’s solution was to burn it down. Out of sight, out of mind.

The Jungle was an ecosystem breeding hope and despair. Where predators wore uniforms and wielded batons. Where humans were treated like animals as we watched on. The Jungle is not an anomaly. It tested Europe’s human rights system and, unfortunately, Europe failed. We failed too. The Jungle and other examples like it will continue to fall through the legal web if we, the people, don’t take up our role in weaving it. The Jungles will not stop until we demand the EU recognize in practice, without prejudice, that all humans are equal and deserve dignity irrespective of their circumstances and origin. The Jungle deserves redemption. Let us not forget. Let us not fall silent. We must fight for what we believe, for we are humans.

Jurek Wotzel POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

Towards an Ever Closer Union

Written by Jurek Wötzel, Head Writer

Europe needs to get ready for the future. The nation-state has lost all its benefits of scale and needs to be abolished. If we finally took the principle of subsidiarity seriously, we would shift power to Brussels – and the regions.

Why The Nation-State Is Useless

“We want to be an independent, self-governing, normal nation”, lead Brexiteer Nigel Farage said in his speech to the European Parliament after the United Kingdom had voted to leave the Union. He was trapped in an illusion. It seems to me that it is a rather problematic image of independence and self-governance that Mr. Farage had in mind when he arrogantly mocked his fellow MEPs in a rush of revenge. He would have done well to include a concrete outlook on how any European nation-state could truly be independent in the age of a globalized economy.

National leaders around the world find themselves torn between poles. On the one hand, they face the imperatives of global power politics and economic interdependence, on the other hand they are accountable to the needs of their citizens.

The narrative of the race-to-the-bottom is well-known: as countries compete for business investments, governments cut corporate and top-rate taxes. Italy, wanting to attract the wealthy to stimulate investment and consumption, just granted tax breaks on foreign income in exchange for a 100,000 euro flat tax. The Dutch, who together with Ireland and Luxembourg make sure that big corporations practically pay no EU taxes, want to further reduce corporate income taxes and to abolish dividend taxes this year. The worldwide prisoner’s dilemma of tax cooperation spares no one.

When an overwhelming majority voted OXI (NO) in the 2015 Greek referendum on the bailout deal, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras should already have known what was lying ahead. In spite of the immense popular resistance against the conditions of the bailout package displayed in the vote, the government was eventually forced to cut pensions, unemployment benefits and increase the VAT yet again. Minister of Finance Varoufakis was smarter and resigned, foreseeing the inevitable surrender to EU political forces.

One can only speculate why Farage decided to resign just after the Brexit vote. Perhaps in a short moment of epiphany, he grew aware of the massive economic and political struggles that Britain would go through in the years to come.

Brexit has resulted and will result in a range of economic and political hardships for the UK. The pound plummeted directly after the vote and is still far from reaching pre-referendum levels. The Bank of England issued a statement warning that bank resettlements will cost the British about 75,000 jobs, loss of the all-so-important finance sector is hanging over Britain. For a little irony of fate, the 490-million-pound deal for producing the post-EU British passports went to a French-Dutch firm.

This scenario was of no interest to Farage, though. “What the little people did, what the ordinary people did – what the people who’d been oppressed over the last few years who’d seen their living standards go down did – was they rejected the multinationals”, he had announced on that fatal 28th of June. ”They rejected the merchant banks, they rejected big politics and they said actually, we want our country back, we want our fishing waters back, we want our borders back.”

Naturally, these words hit a sensible spot. Upset with their politicians’ inability to make binding decisions even in domestic affairs, citizens across Europe are seeking shelter under the umbrellas of nationalist demagogues. These reactionaries are summoning the demon that is largely the root of the current political stalemate in the first place – the nation-state. However, there is a crucial conclusion to be made from this movement: politicians have been unable to sustain proximity to the electorate. This development has led citizens to realize that the principal-agent relationship of national representative democracy has ceased to work.

Yet, just as the underlying trigger of this is not the EU, neither is the solution a strengthening of the nation-state. European countries aren’t turtles that can simply retreat into their shells and wait till the evil outside goes away. Britain with its less-than-one percent share of the global population is a dwarf on the global political landscape. So are Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands. The dynamics of the global economy cannot be altered by the decision of a single nation.

The Farages, Le Pens and Gaulands of our time provide easy answers to complex questions. It’s time for some complex answers. For a start, let’s acknowledge that the nation is absolutely useless as a counter-balance to the power of global corporations. It has failed in its core business: sustaining a healthy connection between representatives and the electorate. The nation-state is a relict mobilizing its remaining resources in a last awakening.

Photo by Christian Battaglia

The Superstate of Regions

Without claiming that a United States of Europe would be strong enough to enter the ring against big business, it would at least be strong enough to exert serious pressure. In total, the EU has 508 Million inhabitants, and its GDP amounts to 17.1 Trillion Dollars, making it the second-biggest economic power next to the United States.  To put this into perspective, it is useful to look at the actions of the superpower across the Atlantic. While European countries were hesitant, the US imposed a 4.3 Billion Euro fine on Volkswagen in the aftermath of the emission scandal. While European countries were hesitant, the US imposed a 7.2 Billion Dollar fine on Deutsche Bank and a 5.28 Billion Dollar fine on Credit Suisse for their part in the economic crisis.

Admittedly, large states come with great perils, too. One obstacle to popular support for European integration is undoubtedly the undemocratic structure of EU institutions. Moreover, Brussels is in the eyes of many synonymous with lobbyism, technocracy, and general political degeneration. But please, EU-critics, I ask you: do you secede from your country when your representatives in the capital don’t listen to you? The issues of EU institutions exist in national institutions, too, only there we tend to particularise the problem and address it. If there are institutional problems, we tackle the problems, not the institution.

The answer must be reform, not resignation. Give the European Parliament the power of a parliament, let the people elect a European government, make Europe a democracy!

Of course, establishing a United States of Europe must be done right. The complexity and the sheer scale of political decision-making created a feeling of powerlessness that has catalyzed the populist turn. A larger state will have more power, but a reduction in the power of an individual voter may just amplify the angst among the population. Centralisation must, therefore, go hand in hand with regionalization.

Europe needs to be divided into regions, smaller entities than the current Member States. This way, there can be a re-politicisation of regional or even local policy. It would give us a more proximate instance where the effect of our voting behavior can be seen, where we can understand accountability structures, where we can observe where tax money goes. Only some policy areas should be Europeanised: fiscal & monetary policy, foreign policy & defense and aspects of social welfare.

Regionalisation will also make Europe a lot more resilient. In his book “Antifragility – Things that Gain from Disorder” Nassim Nicholas Taleb classified many kinds of structures as fragile, robust, or antifragile. Based on considerations of probability, large structures are inherently bound to be fragile, at risk of complete breakdown in case of disorder. However, dividing Europe into many smaller entities could make it antifragile. It would allow a range of policies to be tried out. If a policy fails, then the whole system would gain from knowing how not to go about tackling a problem. If there is vast disorder, the likelihood that one region will find a successful policy and set an example for the others is higher. Most importantly, the likelihood of fatal mistakes is drastically decreased.

“What happened last Thursday [Brexit Referendum] was a remarkable result – it was a seismic result. Not just for British politics, for European politics, but perhaps even for global politics too”.

Those were Farage’s words. To be honest, I even hope he was right. What he and I disagree on, however, is what Europe should make of this seismic result.

The past two years were both promising and frustrating for the hopeful European. Yet, those who firmly believe in the project of a European unity that ensures peace, freedom, and prosperity ought to take matters into their hands. The current halfhearted muddling-through approach won’t suffice to put up with global and domestic challenges. Let’s get real and move Europe into the future!

Contributing Writers POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

Sex Isn’t Gender and Gender Isn’t Set

Written by Niklas Illenseer

I grew up in the pallid, yet peaceful, German countryside. Like other boys, I joined the soccer team and spent my days playing in the dirt and chasing farm animals. Growing into my enlightening teenage years, I realized that I didn’t fit in as much as I’d thought I did. I loved cooking and baking, asked my grandmas for sewing advice, and had mostly girl friends, but no girlfriends. I joined the soccer team, but also the orchestra. I listened to rock, but also to Shakira. And I was obsessed with horses.

My difference eventually peaked with a relative slandering my parents for raising a ‘faggot’, because they let me paint and play with dolls.

Obviously, there was something intrinsically confusing about my behavior that set people off or made them wonder about me. A few years have passed, and the political landscape has progressed socially in many ways, while has also becoming even more divisive, even more divided. Various campaigns rally to rethink outdated gender structures and inequalities, while a pussy-grabbing misogynist reigns across the sea. Welcome to the gender debate.

Although this topic is ever-so divisive, opinions are strangely uninformed. There seems to be continuing confusion about simple terminology. For many, it’s the very definition of gender that causes bewilderment. I’ve learned that when thinking about biological sex we ask about our bodies; whereas when considering gender, we ask, ‘What defines a man/woman?’ and ‘How does one fit in with such characteristics?’. In highly simplified terms, sex is about what’s between your thighs; gender is about what’s between your ears. While one can potentially measure organs and hormones, one can’t do such a thing with gender. In most societies, your gender is assigned, often falsely, according to sex. If you are born with a vagina, you are a girl, and are told what it means to be one and how to behave like it. You are predestined to be caring and tidy, kind and cute. This false correlation between gender and sex is incredibly influential in our daily lives. We live with these stereotypes and keep educating categories we are not born into but are put into. Put ourselves into.

Photo by Harlie Raethel

The social construct

Two words, overheard and overused. Gender is a cognitive category, a box that helps sort things into different branches to help us understand, but the attributes are no more than commonly held assumptions we try to align with our fallacious binary understanding of sex. Yet however much we talk about social constructs, in the end, men do on average produce more testosterone and have biologically more muscle strength. Taking this as a whole explanatory argument, however, is flawed. Instead, we should treat it as the starting point.

At first glance, biological sex seems objective; gender and society does not play a role. This misleads us to believe that masculine aggression, for example, is a result of inherently higher levels of hormones such as testosterone. What is often neglected in this seemingly simple correlation is the role of our socialized behavior. Only recently has research begun to consider societal and social influences. Whereas hormones do influence our behavior, our behavior also influences our hormones. Challenging, competitive situations activate testosterone; this testosterone, in turn, amplifies such aggressive behavior, generating more testosterone, generating more such behavior – an upward spiral. Interestingly, research further suggests that testosterone alone actually does not induce aggressive behavior, but only “underlying motivations and reaction to environmental conditions. A trigger is needed to activate the aggression. Moreover, testosterone falls when men become fathers or practice extensive childcare. From this, we can see that it is our behavior and particularly gender infused stereotypes that mobilize such hormone mechanisms.

This misleading concept of a gender-sex connection is at the core of why various attributes are almost exclusively assigned to either men or women. We keep perpetuating the belief that each of these characteristics belongs strictly to one gender. While we allow women to show weakness, it counts publicly as improper for men, and while men are naturally dominant leading figures, seeing this trait in women is less easily accepted. In many ways, society is hyper-masculine; we reward aggressive, competitive, and risky behavior more than traditionally feminine tendencies. To endure in society, one must show such characteristics eventually, and this becomes apparent looking at the market. We have to be competitive; we have to behave aggressively (to a certain degree) to succeed. While jobs in child or elderly care, typically held by women, have disproportionately lower salaries. Rewarding ‘masculine’ traits leads us to adjust our behavior accordingly. Men and women alike are pressured to behave correspondingly and perform the respective gender stereotype. Again, yes, men are born with naturally more testosterone, but gender socialization contributes to genetic differences. Although heritable hormone differences are important, they are only part of the explanation. Socialization along lines of gender is often wrongly overlooked, causing a very one-sided account. Our behavior influences our biology, and biology is no destiny.

The important point is: we are not born with either masculinity or femininity, and neither of them can be found in our genetics. This becomes painfully obvious when we look at the varying and dynamic scope of gender-appropriate behavior or characteristics across cultures. As a concept, gender and its norms continuously change with society. For instance, prior to the Second World War, and Eleanor Roosevelt rocking her tender rose dress, pink was the color for men, viewed as both strong and blunt, daring and confident. Blue, by contrast, was the suitable color for girls and women, displaying fragility and softness. If the colors that are associated with personality traits can change, then the attributes that hide behind them can as well. Just as neither blue or pink are intrinsically masculine or feminine, neither are traits such as kindness and aggression, or strength and vulnerability. Once we realize that gender is something we produce and perform, we come to understand that nothing about it is fixed. Gender as a concept is not rooted in genitalia, bodily physiques, or chromosomes. It is human-made and exists primarily in our minds. Taking this thought still further, we realize that we can and should do without such division.

Photo by Anna Sastre

The gender burden

Why should we care – what’s so wrong with it? Clear categories make our life easier, and as people we can’t help putting things in boxes to make sense of them. However, getting rid of this categorical thinking does not take away from anyone, it only gives. To everyone. Often overlooked, particularly by men, is the fact that the eroding of gender norms benefits women and men alike, even when most men have not realized that they suffer from these norms in the first place. Consider that once we loosen our mental grip on gender norms, employers will likely see the benefits of extended parental leave for both women and men. Giving both parents a free decision between family or career, and relaxing the pressure on them to work or stay home. Naturally, as long as we connect women with the ‘softer’ traits that remain unrewarded in our society, women will earn less, and will ultimately be the ones staying at home. It’s a vicious circle. Revoking gender norms lifts that wrong correlation and will be a step towards truly equal pay and equity.

The notion of supposed gender neutrality stems yet another obscured suggestion: gender-neutral means that all our features vanish into a grey blob of indefinability. That is, of course, erroneous. Such a way of thinking of gender and considering the possibility of gender neutrality does not aim to eradicate any identity affiliation one could have with one’s gender. On the contrary, it takes the hurdle and enables us to see ourselves for our qualities more than for how much we fit into a social governance. If we start thinking of us as strong instead of as masculine and consequently strong, and as kind instead of as feminine and consequently kind, we, if anything, simply take yet another impediment away from how we see and value ourselves and others. After all, norms are relational; we see something as masculine only because we know that there is a counterpart. Without femininity, there would be no masculinity. Without such dichotomous thinking, that is so fallaciously connected to the sex division, there would be no separation to begin with.

As demonstrated earlier, almost always it is our predispositions that influence our decisions. A world, that dissolves such gender-related pressures and attributes marks an incredible leap in all forms. This, by no means, is advocating to ignore and blindsight anything attributed to gender and call it gender-neutrality. Instead, we reach this by being aware of what we do, what we say, how we act and react, what we expect and give. This is not only about kids playing with dolls, it is about teenagers subconsciously choosing ‘appropriate’ classes and hobbies in school, about adults choosing ‘appropriate’ jobs, and the way politicians decide legislation. It is incremental to become aware of the fact that this gender debate is not about artificially adding gender to something; it has been there all along, only unquestioned. Much more, it is about reflecting on how we have made gender work until now.

Everyone thinks in categories, even those who retort it. Everyone thinks in defaults. I believe this is not something we can fully eradicate, most definitely not in the short-run. However, acknowledging that we might never reach the goal of default-free thinking should not keep us from trying. Accustoming ourselves to categories, taking them for granted and leaving them unquestioned is not doing us any good. A utopia would be a future that lightens the burden of gender condemnation from the shoulders of women and men alike. In the beginning, I pointed out that there was something intrinsically confusing about my behavior. I was lucky enough to grow up in a supportive home, and with a confidence to counter more than frequent comments. Not everyone has this luxury. Getting rid of the tight-knitted gender web would save everyone from experiencing scrutinization, inequality, and shame for unintentionally swimming against outdated currents.

Contributing Writers POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

Home Sweet Profit

Written by Jessica van Horssen

I grew up in a city near Amsterdam, and when I turned 17 I moved out to the big city. I have always loved the city for its diversity, its open-mindedness, and its cultural heritage. However, over the past 10 years, it has become increasingly difficult for people from lower or lower-middle class backgrounds to find affordable housing.

Something I wondered about along the way is whether or not housing should be seen as a basic human right. We all need the basics to survive, food, water, shelter, and community, yet somehow those basics have been turned into commodities. Something with which to acquire and exercise power over others. It’s absurd that in these modern times, we still have to fight to have our basic needs met, while there is, in fact, plenty for everyone.

According to article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living, a standard which includes food, clothing, and housing, and to the continuous improvement of their living conditions. This implies that governments have a duty to create affordable opportunities for living for their citizens. In actual fact, the ‘financialization’ of housing appears to be a growing phenomenon, to the extent that housing is becoming disconnected from its social function. This contributes to the growing levels of inequality experienced by residents of cities like Amsterdam.  With homelessness rates reaching 49% in cities like LA, it looks like governments are failing to help us.

Data from Statistics Netherlands (CBS) and Kadaster show the biggest price increases for resale properties in 16 years when comparing house prices in January 2018 with the same month in 2017. That puts the Netherlands in third place in Western Europe when it comes to the increase of house prices; in 2017, they rose by 8,2 percent. In that year, only Portugal and Ireland’s house prices increased at high rates, 12,5 and 11,8 percent respectively. Wealthy people, with higher levels of education, are able to find a house much more easily, simply because they are able to afford these skyrocketing prices. While bankers from London find house prices in Amsterdam relatively cheap in comparison, their moving to Amsterdam pushes the prices up still further.

But it’s not only about Amsterdam. Speaking to friends from the States, Canada, and other countries, it is clear that the same problem seems to exist everywhere. And it all comes down to the capitalization of housing. Houses shouldn’t be something to make money off. Housing should be a basic human right!

Article 22 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”

Photo by Brian Sugden

Well, as a single mother and full-time university student I struggled over the past two years to find an affordable house, without any success. Friends ask why I don’t apply for something called a “Priority Case” for social housing, and are surprised to hear that when I did apply I was rejected. Twice. The reason for the rejection was that I already have a place, and if the house I currently live in (which I accepted with the father of my child) is too expensive, I should have never accepted it in the first place.

If you don’t laugh, you cry. I was lucky to have found this place. If I hadn’t, I would now be homeless with a kid. The municipality also said I should go check into the homeless shelter. I asked the woman straight to her face if she had children, and whether she would go check into a homeless shelter if she was in my situation. I was then told by the housing committee that I had no right to ask any personal questions to a person representing the municipality.

It’s outrageous how government institutions treat hard-working young people – sending them off to a homeless shelter rather than actually helping them to realize a better future. A homeless shelter is a great place to raise a kid! It is hard to see how that Article 22 is being put into practice by the government in this story.

But this isn’t just about me. I know other struggling single mothers, mothers who are way worse off than me.  And even two-parent households, and students without dependent children, are faced with difficulties. Barratt Developments found that in Amsterdam 37% of the wages are spent on rent. If housing is defined as a basic human right, it is absurd that nearly 40% of our time and energy goes to being able to afford a roof over our heads.

We have the right to live, or we wouldn’t have been born. We have the right to eat and drink water. And since governments are the institutions tasked with preserving order, defending against external enemies and managing economic conditions, they should provide affordable housing for their people, ensuring that the human rights treaties they signed are executed in a proper manner. If you ask me what’s wrong with politics today, I would say that capitalism has become a disease. Politics is money driven, and people have been taken out of the equation. Let’s not forget that human capital is valuable as well. So if governments are truly serious about managing economic conditions, wanting economies to flourish, they had better start taking people into consideration.

Contributing Writers POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

Interrogating Utopia

Written by Christian Cail

Capitalism is “the astonishing belief that the nastiest motives of the nastiest men somehow or other work for the best results in the best of all possible worlds.” – often attributed to John Maynard Keynes

Utopian thinking, at its best, requires the meeting of both a firm foundation in the material factors of our moment and history – how we reproduce ourselves and how we got to this point – and an imagination unbound by the very conditions under which we currently exist. Utopian thinking is a lost art. Most people know that the end of everything is becoming inevitable. The rise in sea levels, drought, crop failure, etc. will eventually create a mass refugee crisis which will make the Syrian Civil War (sparked by drought) almost cute in comparison. The positivists among us think there is still time and hope that neoliberalism will create a savior; but no savior will come. We cannot expect the greediest among us, through the individual drive of profit, to save humanity. Theodor Adorno once said that ideology is only exposed during violence. Likewise, the structure of our economy, a now globalized totality, will be laid bare when the cracks in its logic – the exceptions – become the cannibalistic whole. We are slouching toward Ouroboros.

There was once a time, within the golden age of Keynesian social-democracy, that the future was an option. Science fiction, modernist architecture, the space race, and the designs of Buckminster Fuller all pointed to a bright future. John Maynard Keynes himself believed that by the 1970s labor would be reduced to near utopian terms through automation. Now, in pop-culture, the future is always dystopian. It brings only barren destruction and inequality whether it be Mad Max, The Hunger Games, Elysium, Children of Men, or even WALL-E. It is in this moment that we should strap utopia to a chair and beat it until it gives us answers. In order to do this, we have to look into history. History itself has been ruined by the sclerotic rot of positivism and technocratic sycophantism, but in the large shifts of the past – between the cracks – one can see a sliver of the future; not the future we have, but one which is still waiting for us.

For a majority of human history, we have lived under some form of communism. This may come as a shock to the reader for we, as a whole, suffer from extreme historical amnesia. Marx dubbed this mode of production “primitive communism”:  a system whereby labor is equally performed and production is universally consumed. Within this historical space there is no private property, aka productive means which are held privately for others to use (to be fiercely distinguished from personal property). Marshall Sahlins’ Stone Age Economics is a good resource for understanding this era of human history. The goal of the modern communist is to look at history from the largest vantage point possible, collect the most liberatory and egalitarian features of each phase, and understand how each can be synthesized today.

Our amnesia has even caused us to forget capitalism’s uniqueness. Capitalism has not always just been there, nor was it lurking in the shadow of every exchange within the feudal mode of production. Capitalism was and is one of many possibilities of human organization. Capitalism is a relatively young phenomenon which originated in England, whereby the desire for increased productivity by landowners forcibly pushed peasants off the land. Whereas formerly the wealthy mercantile drive was of buying low and selling high, the new impulse was of productiveness, increased output, property, and enclosure. This has not changed. The peasants who once made for themselves, paid tax, and owned their tools were now forced into abject poverty in the countryside and often moved into cities where the first factories were sprouting. This was the very beginning of the industrial age. Ellen Meiksins Wood’s The Origin of Capitalism details this moment well. With capitalism came increased colonialism, slavery, and robust defenses thereof. The laws conformed to this new trend, bringing property rights for the wealthy and slavery for the dispossessed. Freedom became the foremost value of the bourgeoisie, but only for the bourgeoisie. Karl Marx outlines this in the first section of The Communist Manifesto.

Photo by Pawel Janiak

Wherever capitalism went, reaction was sure to follow. Not only were there intense peasant revolts in England, there were also proto-communists – aggrieved by the trend of private property and wage slavery. Historian Christopher Hill  writes thusly of the early communist Gerrard Winstanley and the “Diggers” movement:

An important aspect of the battle of ideas (was) the abolition of wage labour…Winstanley wanted to organise a national strike of wage labour so that the rich wouldn’t be able to get their lands cultivated, wouldn’t be able to sell the proceeds and so would be reduced to the level of everybody else. If they chose to turn their land into the common stock they might get some compensation, but this would be a voluntary cession of their land.

Winstanley himself writes in his 1649 tract The True Levellers Standard Advanced: Or, The State of Community Opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men:

In the beginning of Time, the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury, to preserve Beasts, Birds, Fishes, and Man, the lord that was to govern this Creation; for Man had Domination given to him, over the Beasts, Birds, and Fishes; but not one word was spoken in the beginning, that one branch of mankind should rule over another.

The French Revolution also gave way to dissenting proto-communists. The most famous is Gracchus Babeuf who masterminded the “Conspiracy of Equals”, a failed coup in 1796. Babeuf, disgusted by the bourgeois plutocrats, wanted to remake the republic in the people’s image. His programme remains extraordinarily radical and is not unlike Engels’ programme in The Principles of Communism:

Economic decree:

  1. There shall be established a great national common wealth.
  2. It will take ownership of the nation’s unsold goods, the assets of enemies of the revolution, public buildings, commonly-owned goods, almshouses, and assets abandoned by their owners or usurped by those who have used their posts to enrich themselves.
  3. The right of inheritance is abolished. All goods will return to the common wealth.

On work for the common wealth:

  1. Every member must work…
  2. The administration will promote the use of machines and the procedures necessary to reduce the burden of work…
  3. Workers will be deployed by the administration according to their understanding of necessary tasks.

After the industrial revolution proper, wherein peasant universally became proletarian, there was an even greater appearance of socialist ideals in the face of capitalism’s ravages. Robert Owen was a former capitalist who, after taking possession of cotton mills in Scotland, was so horrified by the conditions and lives of his workers that he decided to make a more just society with capitalism. Children were habitually orphaned, women worked to death while pregnant, and the men were abject drunkards. Owen initially cut their hours, increased their wages, and educated their children. Unfortunately, these early Utopian Socialist (as Marx would call them) projects were doomed to eventual failure. Though Marx greatly respected these socialists, he dreamt of something larger. This eventually led to his scientific diagnosis of capital in Das Kapital.

Photo by Jayphen Simpson

Where does this put us? Though the West no longer lives in total wretched misery like the average Victorian wage laborer, the general structure of capitalism is still present. The most horrid conditions capitalism brings have been outsourced to the Global South through centuries of extractionary imperialism and brute force. Neoliberal hegemony is for the subaltern a diseased gifter; and the third world is blessed to win its favor. An economic offer no one can refuse, as to do so brings sanctions, embargoes, and discipline. At any time the skeleton holding up our society could be made bare and those with will become distinct from those without. The Gilded Age only feels over. We still have our Carnegies and Fords, but they are now called Bezos and Musk. This social relation has been palliated, pacified, and smoothed out by false consciousness, gaudy luxury, increasingly decadent entertainment, and all-consuming advertisement – but it remains the same. America is a high budget third-world country and when the destruction is reaped from the crop currently sown, the ideology of the system – its violence and irrationality – will be naked. Class society is still the structure under which our lives are led and the need for a truly democratic and equal global society is not forfeit.

Almost all of us feel cheated, because we are. Even in America, where socialism is perhaps the only worst thing next to atheism, class consciousness is ever-present. The irony is, the bourgeoisie have managed to use the language of class to obfuscate it. Republican leaders talk incessantly about the “elites” and “globalists”, but have tied those terms strictly to the Democratic Party, a party for which this is true. Gore Vidal once said, “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party… and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat.” For the Republican solutions are in further neoliberal privatization: class preservation through working class extraction. American conservative ideology is sadomasochistic: they want freedom and maybe equality, but they listen to their slavemaster’s solutions. Therefore, Wayne LaPierre, executive of the NRA, can gleefully chastise “the elites” and weave them into denunciations of socialists while precisely being the “elites” he criticizes. The latest GOP tax bill, Citizens United, constant privatization – all to benefit whom exactly? False consciousness is the “American Dream”.

Utopian thinking is not a luxury, it is a necessity. With global eco-holocaust threatening the existence of most living creatures on earth, it is our responsibility to think of alternatives past capitalism. We must take heed Winstanley’s ancient words: to be true stewards of our earth – taking care not to poison it for profit – and live absent of the unnecessary hierarchies which place power, wealth, and choice in the hands of those most willing to commit evil. Mark Fisher quotes Slavoj Žižek and Fredric Jameson in Capitalist Realism, “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”. Jameson himself recently published his own answer to utopia in his work An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army. Within it he lays out a programme involving universal conscription into the army, a transformation in class relationship, the subversion of the political as such. It is this sort of imagination we need for a post-capitalist society. Soon, though, we won’t have to merely imagine, and when that moment comes, we should be prepared to fight those who control our world and create the impossible: utopia.

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

Nike Vrettos POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

A New Line of Legality

Written by Nike Vrettos

This article is Part 2 of a series on cocaine in Columbia. Read Part 1 here.

The war on drugs. The war against weed, cocaine, heroin and every other recreational drug. Conservative, white governments have the power to shape our reality, and they have a clear idea of how it should look. And no surprises, mind-altering drugs don’t fit in the picture.

A handful of countries have successfully experimented with decriminalizing drugs for the most part. But I would argue for a more radical solution: legalization. It could save billions of dollars.

Drug cartels are the key problem in the struggle with illicit drugs, and the way to deal with that problem is to pull the rug from under their feet. Decriminalization keeps most of this underground system in place, it alleviates the pressure on drug consumers, but leaves the rest of the drug trade in place. If implemented in a thought out manner, legalization is the way to completely eradicate the horrendous situation of the criminal underworld.

100 billion dollars, roughly the amount at stake, is a lot of money. That’s the annual amount of money invested to fight the war against drugs worldwide. That is more money than annually spent on foreign aid. Furthermore, there are around 1,4 million convictions every year for drug-related crimes in the US, while Saudi Arabia and Iran have increased executions significantly. Those are lives ruined for no greater purpose.

Those billions of dollars are spent sending soldiers overseas, destroying coca harvests, and tearing apart the lives of individuals who are somewhat involved in the sale or production of drugs. The ones being punished in relation to drugs are usually not the ones that pull the strings. People imprisoned for drug offenses are usually convicted for bagatelle delicts, smuggling, or growing coca; individuals who are only one element in a bigger structural problem. Incarcerating those people won’t solve any problems. Mostly people convicted and sentenced to imprisonment aren’t given any chance to turn their lives around.

The bigger players are smart, they find new routes and new ways of setting up production. As it stands, any current attempt to weaken their power is easily overcome. Legalizing and regulating production would hit them where it hurts.

In Colombia for example, legalizing cocaine production would have tremendous advantages from a political and economic perspective. It’s estimated that over 410 metric tons of cocaine were produced there in 2010, which is about twice the weight of a blue whale.  Revenue from the US would top 36 billion dollars. That money could be used for the benefit of the people currently disadvantaged by the drug industry.

During the 2008 financial crisis,profits from criminal organizations were the only liquid assets available to allow some banks to avoid failure […].” The financial system was paralyzed until drug cartels came to the rescue. “A large part of the 352 billion drug dollars—the estimated annual revenues from drug trafficking—was thus absorbed into the legal economic system. Yet no one seemed scandalized by this declaration, which should have truly alarmed any Western government.” So it’s fine to use drug money, as long as it’s for the rich.

Valeria Posada Villada, a Master’s student in Amsterdam who has been studying the impact of drugs in her home country of Colombia, explained the economic opportunities as a circular movement: International legalization could create a source of income for the government, which in turn could be used to fund investments into development, and counteract the need for illegal cartels. Farmers would receive a decent payment for coca production and also be able to grow other crops as the security threat posed by rebel groups would diminish.

Photo by Nike Vrettos

Agonizing violence would decrease, coca farmers would have protection from the blackmail, kidnapping, and murder linked to illegal drug-dealing. As Valeria continued:

“The areas which are currently used to produce cocaine… there is no proper infrastructure. The government has no real influence in those parts of the country. Barely any roads or facilities for farmers to do much else than obey the groups that make them grow coca. Besides most of those farmers simply produce coca to survive. They trade coca leaves for food.”

There are examples of successful drug policies. Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina have legalized the production of coca leaves for traditional uses, and last year the sale of government-produced marijuana started in Uruguay. These moves have resonated positively. Already in Colombia, the constitutional court decided to decriminalize the possession of 1 gram of cocaine and 20 grams of Marijuana for personal use in a recent ruling. To add the cherry on top, people caught with cocaine are offered psychological help by the police. These measures will hopefully serve as a role model for other countries in Latin America and beyond.

This momentum has created space to move forward after the failed prohibition policies imposed by the U.S. “Today, what the United States says has never mattered less,” said Eduardo Blasina, the founder of the Montevideo Cannabis Museum in Uruguay. “We don’t see its president as a reasonable individual whose opinion is worth anything.”

The Colombian government taking over the cocaine industry would have benefits for the rest of the world too. Ever considered what’s in that white line?

You might know that gasoline is used in its production, but what’s less known are the even more toxic substances added by the dealers and producers. Up to 80% of the cocaine on the street will contain other added substances such as Phenacetin, a painkiller banned in the US since 1983 for causing cancer and kidney problems. Then there’s Levamisole, a parasite purge for livestock that reportedly caused the flesh of heavy cocaine users to rot off their bones. An analysis last year of 103 random cocaine samples from around the world, conducted by the Energy Control drug testing service, found that the average concentration was 11%. But it also increases your high!

In Switzerland a report found that “throughout the 8 years the researchers examined, the purity remained stable at around 40%, meaning that less than half of the ‘cocaine’ bought is actually cocaine.

Those concerned about addiction should know that addiction depends on many factors, such as the personal gene code, your environment, etc. In an experiment, rats were either isolated in cells, or placed in a happy rat pack and were given both water and water with cocaine. Alone, rats always chose the drug water. However, in the pack with places to mate and be in a group, they didn’t touch the drug water. People who feel without purpose or are socially isolated are also more likely to end up addicted, whether it’s alcohol or cocaine.

Sluggish reliance on outdated ethical considerations are not going to solve the drug issue, and is disdainful to all the victims that living in hardship. Public discourse is needed to put the legalization on the agenda. We can put a plaster on the wound caused by drugs with haughty condemnation but that won’t cure anything.

Colombia’s decriminalization of the ownership of one gram of cocaine is a break in the clouds. A step towards a world where the cocaine business is not by default a bloody, dehumanizing war but an effective means to development and peace. It is a quagmire, the UN has just recently agreed to continue funding the war on drugs, underlining the unwillingness to accept it is a failure. For me, the world needs legalization included in the public debate.

Chloe Gregg POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

Another Choice

Written by Chloé Gregg, Staff Writer

It’s the middle of January and champagne is flowing across the swampy fields of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, an agricultural commune outside the city of Nantes, France. The government’s project to construct a new airport on the West coast of France has been abandoned, putting an end to over 50 years of heated debate. Environmentalists and local farmers cheer and welcome the announcement as a new victory over the exploitative force of current-day globalization. Amongst them, a group of anarchists who have illegally occupied the land in protest against the airport. The ‘Zadistes’ (activists for the ZAD, Zone to Defend) see this as an opportunity to introduce a new project – a social, environmental and agricultural experiment for people who wish to stay on the Notre-Dame-des-Landes or NDL.

The demand for new forms of communal life is no revolutionary phenomenon. Since the first peace movements of the 1970s swept across Western societies, a growing number of people have involved themselves in a variety of projects seeking to re-build eroded social ties by living in small, close-knit groups.

Some groups have established what is called ‘egalitarian’ or ‘intended’ communities, such as ‘Twin Oaks’ in rural Virginia, USA, where land, labor, and income is shared equally between all members of the community. Working tasks are structured, but in no way imposed. Instead, it is the sense of common responsibility and belonging that encourages members to carry out their duties.

Another expression of collective living that is flourishing today, in response to housing shortages and expensive accomodation; is co-housing. With private rooms and houses arranged around common spaces and facilities, these small networks offer closer ties between neighbors, while maintaining a larger degree of individual agency and privacy. Unlike the former example, its members aren’t pressured to share a common ideology or philosophy.

With the principles of sustainability and cooperation at their core, these alternative communities can take on many forms. They may reject any sign of organizational hierarchy out of due consideration for social equality. They may prefer a semi-autonomous status in order to maintain bonds with the wider economy, e.g. by selling the surplus of their production on local markets to finance agricultural equipment or land rental costs. Whatever their structure they aim to show an example of a functioning and fruitful life outside the current societal paradigm. They can lead us to a shift.  

Despite these trends, most political authorities and media outlets try to downsize these movements by depicting their adherents as ‘marginals’ or ‘rebels’. A defensive response to their centralized governments is being questioned, to a hint that their nation-state architecture is nearing its expiry date. For now, the status quo is protected by their longer history and the pluralistic ignorance of those who still conform to the idea that the current model is the will of the majority. Yet as shown in the case of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, where about 300 people were living on the occupied grounds, a longing for true social reconnection is present across many societal groups. The experience of loneliness is in fact so wide-spread, with 72% of Americans having reported it as occurring at least once a week, that medical doctors and physicians are calling it an “invisible epidemic”. This solitude has exacerbated the feeling of disenchantment within the system. A feeling that echoes across all levels of the social strata.

From freshly-graduated urban university students to third generation farmers, the opportunity to test a lifestyle outside the current neoliberal structure has attracted people from all walks of life. From emotional isolation emerges a desire to re-instigate new links with others. A desire to put an end to all the great evils of unregulated capitalism and prevent them from leading to further individual disillusionment and social alienation.

Photo by Elizabeth Lies

It might be decades-long exposure to capitalist propaganda that has convinced the vast majority of us that the return to a simpler life, with a less wide array of consumer choices, is too difficult to achieve or is simply undesirable. Not even Piketty’s bestselling Capital in the 21st Century managed to move us beyond the social destruction we have created in the pursuit of the current economic model. Whatever the reason for our stubbornness, it is time to think and act differently.

We must fight the system’s resistance to change by setting examples. We must grant the 300 adults and children demanding the right to remain on the Notre-Dame-des-Landes the opportunity to show us the worth of an alternative life. We must let them demonstrate its benefits and encourage them in their innovative attempts to happiness. Through examples, the so-called ‘outsiders’ may be able to convince even the most hardcore Black Friday shoppers that the simpler things in life do leave us feeling happier and complete. Through experience, they stand a chance of convincing us that their minimalist lifestyle is desirable.  

Amongst the residents of the ZAD that celebrated the cancellation of the airport that foggy winter morning, few had imagined they’d be surrounded by such a large crowd of supporters. For many, their presence in Notre-Dame-des-Landes was intended as a mere visit. A brief glimpse at life without the constant soundtrack of YouTube advertisements and the endless queues of mass-distribution supermarkets. Yet quite rapidly, these visits became part of the permanent resettlement within a wind-powered self-sufficient community.

If the facts on youth unemployment, urban crowding, the soaring use of prescription medication and rapid environmental destruction are not enough to weaken your belief in the neoliberal dream, then let the alternative communities show us what we’re missing out on.

There’s a diverse set of sustainable community models out there, so take a look at some examples listed below (maybe you’ll find inspiration towards building your own):

https://ecovillage.org/

http://www.thefec.org/communities/

https://www.towards-sustainability.co.uk/issues/built/suscom.html


Below you can find a gallery of photos from an Emmaus community in Lescar, France, taken by our Head Editor:

Contributing Writers POLITICAL UTOPIAS - March 2018

How Soon is Now: Making Parkland the Last

Written by Allison Hatch

“We are going to be the last mass shooting”.

It is a hopeful but firm announcement that students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School made on CNN last weekend. The shooting at their school on February 14th left 17 dead. Again. Thoughts and Prayers. Mourning. When will there be consequences?

They could not come soon enough. In December, just after the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, a journalist asked Trump’s press secretary Sarah Sanders at the White House press briefing what Trump has done to try to protect Americans against a similar type of massacre. Sanders promptly replied that Trump recognized his number one responsibility is to protect American citizens, but upon considering a regulation that could have been implemented to prevent such shootings, she was “not aware of what that would be.”

I remember the Sandy Hook shooting in great detail, where 20 children between six and seven-years-old and six adults were killed. I can recall the moment I heard about the shooting vividly. It was after school, and I was sitting on my parents’ bed when I received the breaking news alert. Tears streamed down my face thinking about all of the young kids killed, right before the holidays. From 1966 to 2018, there have been 150 mass shootings in the US, with a mass shooting denoting an incident during which four or more people are killed.

Since first moving to Europe, the two questions I’m most frequently asked when people find out that I’m American are: (1) what do you think about Trump? and (2) do you own a gun? it’s hard to properly articulate how frustrating and disheartening the reality of American politics is, particularly while witnessing the government unravel from afar. Really, not everyone likes Trump or owns a gun.

It’s hard to explain to most Europeans how numb you begin to feel towards gun violence. In my hometown of Cincinnati, there were 62 homicides and 426 shootings in 2016, meaning more than one incident of gun violence per day in a city of about 300,000 people. When I was six-years-old, a woman was shot and killed in a drug deal on my street. When I was ten, my elementary school went on lockdown after a man who robbed a nearby bank with a gun ran by the school. At the time, my brother’s class was outside for recess, so his teacher hid them in the corner of the baseball diamond and stood in front as a shield. There have been a handful of nights when my family and I having dinner heard gunfire nearby – we have become accustomed to distinguishing its echoing ring.

Photo by Abigail Keenan

Gun control is a divisive topic in the US, where four in ten households own guns. The typical discourse stems from the infamous right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. Americans claim their fundamental freedom to pursue a life of security and safety by individualistic modes of protection, rather than paternalistic governmental measures. This results in people thinking that only more guns will protect us against the rising amount of gun-related violence. Take Ohio, where rather than reducing gun ownership, new laws expanded the right to carry a concealed weapon in colleges, universities, airport terminals, and perhaps most appallingly, child care centers. Meanwhile, a 2016 report from the Ohio Attorney General found that 46,364 more concealed gun carrying licenses were issued than the year before.

I recognize that I grew up in a liberal bubble, where my family, my friends, and my schools have all been left-leaning, and consequently, typically in favor of tighter gun restrictions. Yet growing up in a state, and even more so, a city, heavily divided on gun control, I wanted to hear a perspective from the other side of the debate. I asked a woman who identifies as very conservative and a supporter of the National Rifle Association what her thoughts were about guns, and Trump’s response after the Las Vegas massacre in November, which left 58 dead. She said that one of the proposed policies for tighter gun control would be “psychological evaluation” of individuals as a means of assessing the mental health of all potential gun owners before they are allowed to purchase any guns. She argued that such evaluation would be subjective, “Would ‘the left’ trust doctors appointed by [the] Trump administration, to determine if they’re mentally stable? I know I wouldn’t have trusted the Obama administration!” While it may seem hard to understand how one’s perception could be so drastically shaped with an “us vs. them” mentality, simply watch this ad from the National Rifle Association; the organization’s attempt to paint a dystopian view of the United States feels eerily similar to Aldous Huxley’s “World State”.

It’s safe to say that any American you speak to will tell you how torn apart the country is at the present moment, and especially given the polarizing nature of the current president. The recent mass shootings have simply added fuel to the fire in perpetuating a leftist push for gun control and a conservative push back. With every new mass shooting, we as a nation continue to become more desensitized. Instead of taking any progressive measures to even remotely alleviate gun violence, millions of Americans turn to what feels like a canned response of praying for the victims and the families. The most recent Florida shooting once again made me feel frustrated, lost, and emotionally depleted, knowing that I too, belong to the “mass shooting generation”. The midterms are this year in the US, and I can only hope that with these elections Americans come together to vote for politicians in favor of tighter gun control.

The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High are not letting Washington get away with lackluster messages of empathy. When Trump tweeted a detestable message blaming the FBI for the shooting by focusing too much on potential Russian collusion, survivors were quick to respond. Students nationwide have taken to the streets in a collective action of solidarity, including my former high school.  It’s a movement which shows no sign of stopping. March For Our Lives, an initiative organized in part by students from Parkland, is taking place on March 24th in Washington, with thousands of people gathering to “demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress” on gun control. Walkouts, sit-ins, and marches will take place across the US on April 20th, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting. On this day, students are planning on walking out of classrooms nationwide and not returning until Congress actually introduces and enacts gun legislation. People have had enough with the government’s inaction. It’s about time our politicians realize that thoughts and prayers are not enough after mass shootings, and it’s about time that our country stops ignoring the gun violence happening on a daily basis in our most vulnerable communities. A gun-free society is not utopian, at stake is not a partisan political ideology: it is the lives of American children.