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Article Contributing Writers ROOTS - MAR/APR 2019

Roots and Wings

Written by Alessandro Prest

While starting his article, I was wondering, “What are roots?”

What are the roots for us human beings, for mankind?

The more I try to find an answer, the more entangled the question becomes. Every human has them, yet they are totally different from individual to individual, a somewhat incomparable inter eos.

They are who we are, and why we are so; they are our past, our present and sometimes our future.

Roots describe our origins, the deepest shades of our soul. They are our values, taboos, and aspirations. They penetrate our life when we are young because we need a model to emulate. They are there, mutable in content and immutable in time.

Not Just Ties to Our Past

As adults we craft our roots in our own way, we interpret them, we make them, even more, our own. Nobody really takes them as set in stone, otherwise, the world would never change.

Each person has their own reasoning and we recall our roots in a unique way. We are capable of treasuring their content, taking them with us wherever we go, and applying them to the reality we live in. We see the best in them, then we discover their faults with new situations. The opposite is also true: we see a situation and our roots tell us how it could be improved.

There is a continuous exchange between our roots and the real world.

It’s true they can sometimes be our future, too; for instance, when someone remains glued to their home, their views, and habits. Without judging such conduct, I can affirm that it is a life that mostly reinforces one’s roots and makes them more resilient.

There is a saying back home in Italy: A people without memory is a people without history.”

That is what roots are. Our memories, our history, our culture, our traditions, our beliefs, and those of the social groups we belong to, be a that close family, a nation, a local region or something else. Roots are the quintessence of our Weltanschauung – they are the reasons we see the world as we do.

Photo by Elijah Boisvert

A Necessary Hindrance

I would say roots are needed to shape an identity. Having a model to emulate or some values to achieve makes life much easier.

Our roots, they hold us tight and we hold tightly onto them; they strengthen us. They are our way to confide in our capabilities, our way to build up our knowledge.

Nevertheless, we all have this urge to fly away from them, to soar the sky, to dare something, to fight our fears. That’s our way to try and grow up, to follow our hearts and to start living our own lives.

When we become adults, we transition to a new social group and we step out into the “big world.” It is a very weird sensation (at least for me).

In order to make a place in the world, we must fly away from our nest, which – after all – rests fixed upon roots. The tree remains there, stuck to the ground, a solid reference forever in life.

If you do not know where to go or what to do, you know you can go back to your roots then return rested to the world. Roots are the very first yardstick in the confrontation with our lot life, but they are just and always the starting point.

The Interaction and Exchange of Roots

I have asked myself whether roots can change, and I have come to the conclusion that their mutation is of an addictive nature.

As soon as we step out in the big wide world, we are confronted with people who are different; we will inevitably make a comparison and that comparison will have consequences on our views.

We may find someone else’s habits or conduct weird or illogical, but we may also discover a new and improved way to do something, something we never considered just because we weren’t aware of it. Whenever this alternative is positive, the odds are high that it will become a new habit, a new root.

Roots are added on to, one after another. As long as life is lived it is a learning process. This learning process is sometimes unconscious; we see what is better and what is worse, and we try to achieve the former.

Photo by Matthew Kerslake

Giving Rise to New Shoots

Personally speaking, I must say I interpreted some of my Italian roots differently since I moved to the Netherlands, for good and ill, and I have added some Dutch roots to my luggage.

Roots are important because they can help us improve: we must know where we come from in order to celebrate the achievements of our progress.

Alas, we often forget that.

Article Jonas Guigonnat MICRO CHANGES - JAN/FEB 2019

A Pragmatic War On Drugs

Written by Jonas Guigonnat

To the irritation of most locals, and of Dutch people in general, if you drop the name Amsterdam anywhere in the world, weed and coffeeshops will pop-up almost surely.

For decades Amsterdam has been considered a symbol of tolerance and freedom, mostly in left-winged communities, but as far as the right is concerned, it is a place of dangerous pragmatism. The Dutch media would say, “that’s typical ‘Nederlandse politiek.’”

If You’re Going To Amsterdam…

Amsterdam of the 60s, 70s, and 80s is often considered the city of hippy dreams, lost souls could wander around for ages, sleep everywhere in the city center, take their hits in the bright warmth of a summer day, while greeting tourist with an orgasmic flash. Yes, yes, yes (read in Dutch “ja, ja, ja”), there were a lot of alternative communities in the Netherlands in the 1970s with every recreational “visitor” sleeping in the Vondelpark. Fine.

Those stories of freedom were told over and over again to a whole generation of (then) youngsters, and some of the locals love to keep the myth alive. The reality that Dutch politicians saw in front of them was less romantic.

The heroin epidemic that began at the same time, that we nowadays consider past history, was sowing chaos in the streets. In some areas of the city center of Amsterdam, such as Nieuwmarkt, it wasn’t safe for anyone – not even for the residents. The other problem was the “cost” of those thousands of addicts.

Other places all around the country had to manage the same kind of circumstances. The Netherlands, which was at the time just crawling out of an economic crisis, wasn’t prepared, and politicians weren’t eager to take action.

Mellow Yellow by Michael Delaney

Fuck Authority

The friction between the political sphere and civil society wasn’t only one of economics. In the 1960s some movements that saw themselves as apolitical, were criticizing the dichotomous choice between democracy and communism. Both were equally authoritarian to them.

The Dutch politicians, who first tried to respond with force, were quickly put under pressure as new parties made their appearance, but most vanished in the decades thereafter. The D66 with Hans van Mierlo (created indeed in 1966) was among the few to remain. This “Democrats 66” was created in a period of confrontation, but they used a moderate and “reasonable” tone. Their values were based on liberalism, with an extended place for freedom of choice that included choosing to do drugs.

The motivations behind their wish for a legalization policy, instead of repression, were practically dictated by the dominant ideology. It was to keep the democratic values safe that some drugs needed to be legalized, not because taking drugs was an important issue in and of itself to them.

In 1976, the “Opium-law” (Opiumwet), mostly a repressive tool of 1928, was opened up and extended with a new distinction: hard and soft drugs. Coffeeshops, such as the famous and now closed Mellow Yellow in Amsterdam, were already open in the early 1970s, and because they were exclusively handling what are considered soft drugs they continue to exist durably – a contrast to the old-time speakeasy’s, where all kinds of substances could be purchased and consumed.

Instead of the romantic idea of a typical Dutch “way of life,” the coffeeshop appears to have been a pragmatic solution born out of circumstantial needs. People getting stoned inside designated areas, were less of a burden than junkies in the street. Still, to Dutch politicians, the drug culture was already becoming a shameful particularity, one which they tried at all costs to silence rather than defend in front of the international community.

The Netherlands: Tulips, Cheese & Compromises

Without trying to cover the political system of the Netherlands in its entirety, it is necessary to know a few things.

Since the creation of the Dutch House of representatives in 1848, power has been decentralized in the government. One hundred and seventy-one years later, the Dutch prime minister – ‘minister president’ or ‘premier’ –  consequently doesn’t have the power of other global leaders today, such as May, Macron, or Trump.

VVD, CDA, CU, and D66. Those are the four factions governing the Netherlands for just over a year now sharing ministries, political responsibility, and decisions. Only one of them is the “great architect” behind the Dutch drug policy.

The VVD (liberal right) party of the prime minister Mark Rutte, with 33 seats in the parliament (“second chamber”) ate the once great party of the country, along with the CDA (center/right-winged Christian democrats) with only 19 seats, they are traditionally against a regulated drug policy. For them, prohibition and repression are the best answer to the situation. The CU (center/left-winged Christian democrats) are also against it, but with only 5 seats in the chamber, they represent a small (but not negligible) political force. D66 (center liberal democrats) is thus the single ruling party then and now in favor of regulating drugs.

Parties in the House of representatives, their number of seats and their attitudes toward drugs (the parties mentioned previously are starred):

Party Political orientation(s) Seats Attitude toward drugs policy
VVD* Liberals/right 33 Repression, prohibition
PVV Populists/far right 20 Repression, prohibition
CDA* Christian democrats/centre-right 19 Pragmatic (soft) prohibition
D66* Democrat-liberals/centre 19 Legalization, liberalization
Groen Links Green social democrats 14 Pragmatic liberalization
SP Radical social democrats 14 Pragmatic liberalization
PVDA Social democrats 9 Pragmatic liberalization
CU* Christian democrats/centre-left 5 Pragmatic prohibition
PVDD Radical ecologists, animal activists 5 Pragmatic legalization
50Plus Party for older people 4 Pragmatic prohibition
SGP Orthodox protestants 3 Repression, prohibition
Denk Multicultural social democrats 3 Pragmatic liberalization
FvD Nationalist conservatives 2 Repression, prohibition

* Parties forming the government since 26 October 2017. They have altogether a total of 76 seats.

Is The Netherlands A Friend Or Foe In The War On Drugs?

The 1970s and 80s were surely not the right moments for “western” countries to liberalize their drugs policy. The biggest global players at the time were the US, the European Economic Community (the predecessor of the EU, which the Netherlands was already a member of), and the UN. In 1961 in New York, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was signed, including by the Netherlands, and prohibition became the international standard.

The heroin epidemic, which was raging throughout the west and somewhat more acutely in the US, was creating an atmosphere of panic. After the “war on drugs” was declared by President Nixon in 1971, the Netherlands was at risk of becoming an enemy with its lax policy. Politicians in The Hague were well aware of that but still developed a durable attitude of turning a blind eye to some drugs.

Aside from narco-tourism, this tactic seemed to be successful for a while. Even though many addicts were still on the loose, the “drug areas” were slowly becoming cleaner and safer. Coffeeshops were opening everywhere. Amsterdam was saturated, with a peak of 450 coffeeshops in 1995, pleasing thousands of Belgian, French and German tourists living nearby.

Officially, the rule was always 5 grams of weed per person, but nobody was actually enforcing it. Some coffeeshops were selling large quantities, helping the black market develop in other countries. Fortunately, the Dutch government was also profiting from the situation and using that money to invest in society thanks to all the tax money that came in.

Just kidding, it didn’t and still doesn’t tax the weed industry.

No Money, More Guns

That’s the whole magic of the “we don’t know anything about it” policy chosen by Dutch politicians. They changed the law in 1976 to make their cities safer, spare health care costs and ultimately obstruct the development of drug-related criminality, but refused to make a fully functioning policy out of it. Eventually, the first two objectives were met, however, when it comes to criminality, it is tempting to speak of a total failure. But what does the law say about coffeeshops exactly?

Establishments with a special license are allowed to sell small quantities, up to 5 grams per person, but the production is illegal. They are allowed to have a stash, but only up until a certain amount. Officially, the law forbids all purchasing of weed, which essentially gives coffeeshops free reign to choose their illegal suppliers, as the production isn’t regulated either. The objective is to allow the product to be processed without legally recognizing its existence, making taxes impossible.

The stash still had to be produced, and here shows how naively policy was built. No income taxes and a free pass for criminals.  Illegal activities didn’t disappear but instead became even more organized.

Small dealers, since the end of the 2010s, are almost nonexistent, but organizations – such as different local, Eastern-European and Asian mafia groups – have been well established since the 1980s. Thanks to the Dutch policy those groups are also the ones providing coffeeshops with their stash. Some coffeeshops do keep control over the whole process, becoming important suppliers and blending into the creme of international criminality.

The region in the south of the country, North-Brabant, also plays an important part in this story. Most of the weed production is situated in this agricultural region. Farmers are forced to lease their barns to criminal organizations, family houses are used as warehouses; the whole area became, and still is, an industrial pole for the cannabis industry. In total illegality.

Ivo Opstelten (VVD) former mayor of Rotterdam and Minister of Security and Justice

Please Mr. Opstelten, Lead The Dance

In 2010 the government was composed of the VVD and the CDA, but because they had a minority, they were backed by Geert Wilders’ PVV of (populist, far right). Beside the post of minister-president, the VVD also had important ministries, most fondly the Ministry of Security and Justice.

The Ministry of Security and Justice is not only one of the most important government organs, it is also the place where most of the political decisions on drugs take place. Under its VVD minister Ivo Opstelten, repression had to once again become the main vision on drugs policy.

Opstelten and the VVD tried to introduce the infamous “weed pass,” which was intended as a first step to preventing tourists from buying weed in coffeeshops. The municipalities and coffeeshops refused to introduce the pass, arguing that it would ultimately disturb public order. Together with the courts, the parliament backed the municipalities and asked Opstelten for better guarantees than his own political opinion before voting on anything else related to drugs policy. Independent research institutes had to produce reports on the subject.

Conveniently, the conclusion of those reports confirmed the vision of the minister: further liberalization of the Dutch drug policy would be detrimental to social safety and health. A repressive system was the only solution.

Under newly mandated Opstelten, coffeeshops were closing quicker than they were being built. First in Maastricht and Rozendaal in the south, then everywhere else even in Amsterdam, where the number of coffeeshops went down to less than 200 after 2015.

Falling And Rising In The Drug-Political Realm

Fortunately (or not), things can go wrong in political schemes. A few words will be written about it in the next issue of Pandemic, but still, ask Theresa May.

Opstelten, this warrior of law and order (as he used to present himself) was beaten at his own game, and ultimately forced to step down in 2015. Turns out he was covering up a money laundering deal between the state prosecution and a drug dealer dating back to the mid-90s. In the years that followed, some information leaked about the famous drug policy reports that the minister presented to the parliament. Although every parliamentary report is meant to be independent of any political influence, the minister gifted himself the privilege of deciding on the cannabis reports’ conclusions and hence could influence the whole policy.

In the meantime, the international situation changed too starting in 2012 when two US states legalized weed for recreational use.  Uruguay was the first country to legalize weed for recreational use, while countries like Portugal, Switzerland, Spain, and Germany liberalized their drug policy, pushing even further what the Netherlands had started. As of 2018, Canada has also joined the list.

In North America, cannabis-entrepreneurs are incentivized to commercialize the whole chain; from production to sales. There are also limitations, mostly due to the ambiguity of the federal US policy, which is officially against any kind of weed legalization. But still, in just a matter of 4-5 years, both Canada and the US are far ahead of the Netherlands when it comes to cannabusiness.

Rushing Solves Nothing

We may say that the Dutch take their time. For the impatient ones among us, it would be better to consider the political game in The Hague as one of compromise and, thus, patience. D66, which participated in many coalition governments within which, even with opposition stacked against them, they had some influence in the lawmaking process.

In 2017 one of their parliamentarians, Vera Bergkamp, introduced a legal proposition for an “experiment” with the municipalities, to see how production could be regulated. At the same moment, D66 was participating in the formation of the actual government, which meant that they had the possibility of “winning” on some subjects, and, of course, of losing on others. Bergkamp’s proposition, having been approved by the parliament, left open the question of how the government would implement this.

From the beginning of 2019, some chosen municipalities will let coffeeshops experiment with production. Everything will be organized and monitored from The Hague, but nobody knows what the results will be.

The first problems are already being discussed. For example, how can coffeeshops continue to sell if they have to change from illegal to legal suppliers overnight? And what of the criminals, who is going to take care of them? Who is going to control everything, the state, the municipalities, or independents organizations? Those questions need to be answered adequately. Otherwise, future governments may turn the machine of impractical pragmatism back on again.

Change Grows Slowly

Changes that aren’t wanted, but needed, might have to go slowly, sometimes almost invisibly. Whether it comes to pragmatic or idealistic choice, the Dutch cannabis policy demonstrates how institutions tend to handle issues only when confronted.

First denial and then reaction – mostly quite late. Maybe this is caused by the suddenness of change, a sensation that surprises the lawmaker.

As far as coffeeshops are concerned, time will tell how complex this cultural, social, economic and political transformation really is, and how society will react to the next emergent political reality. For now, let’s enjoy a chalice of delicious hashish on this late winter day.

Allen Caldeira Article MICRO CHANGES - JAN/FEB 2019

Subtle Tensions

Written by Allen Caldeira

You’re walking down a dark city street somewhere in Brazil. The brothels are around this neighborhood, and each person is a potential threat. Your awareness of this causes your body to tense, especially the neck and stomach. You see a man step out of a building up ahead and you instinctively jolt back just a bit. You imagine him stabbing you, threatening you, pushing you into the doorway to take your money.

Then you realize that you are holding tension in your body.

You begin to focus on releasing the tension, and wave hello. He waves back. You talk. It’s good.

This is a real situation (slightly dramatized), described to me by a shaman. He often encountered people he felt might threaten someone else, but connecting to the earth and treating people as humans first helped him immeasurably in these situations. His awareness of his body has helped him to see new ways in which we can look at the body as a system of tension, energy, and potentially compassionate presence.

Photo By Joshua Newton

Shaman Says

Shamans, from the Ineen tradition take their reality to truly be relative. No one paradigm or way of seeing is the “right” one. Still, they maintain certain values, such as “to come from the heart has more power than to come from the gut.” They don’t deny the gut, but they feel that to translate ideas through the heart and hands is more effective than to do so through the solar plexus alone.

Consistently the advice from these shamans is to “ground out energy.” What is this literally? It is paying attention to the feet/trunk* and releasing whatever emotion that would remove you from the moment. This comes with the intention of being fully present.

We encounter various situations in life that make us feel uncomfortable, that make some part of our body tense. In the language of chakras, you get a block in the chakras because of a perceived threat. There becomes a tension and less information can move through the cluster of nerve cells at that point in the body. You have a perception of potential threat there because of preconceived notions, ideas about how things are that are stuck inside your energy centers, directing you towards or away from any particular situation.**

People notice subtle tension inside your body. People notice if you believe they might hurt you or steal from you. People notice more than they are aware they notice.

The recommended practice to deal with tension is to connect to the earth. Imagine you are grounded and at peace even inside of an uncomfortable situation. The shaman was able to have genuine, polite conversations with people who he believed would have robbed someone else. He did this by grounding out his fear and replacing it with compassionate presence.

This Can Go Deeper

We all have various loops – habitual tendencies – inside us that cause tension. Something as simple as seeing a person or hearing water fall in a particular way may cause a feeling of unease. The tensions we carry have become so normalized, so much part of our being, that we would never consider them abnormal. And, tension is fine, the question is more of whether you have control over that tension, if you want that tension or not.

Most of us do not control our tensions – they control us, creating patterns and habituations that occur without end. How do you stop the painful patterns? By grounding through them, being present, and releasing. If we know that it is actually our own interpretation of a situation that directs its outcome, then changing our response to any given situation would lead us out of the negative pattern connected to it.

Photo by Brannon Naito

Be Aware Of Pain, Then Working With It

There are numerous ways to do this, but the underlying mechanism seems to be the relaying of the upper brain, the crown chakra, into the survival system of the brain, from the solar plexus to the root – tailbone, perineum, and feet.^* Translating the above to the below. To do this, one has to be able to free oneself of tension in literally any situation.

In the most general sense there is one method of action and one of cessation. To be active is to clear tension no matter what situation approaches you, and often produces and is produced by a more wild kind of being, much more connected to human tendencies. That is to say that when we become masters of our instinctual responses we can use them to be active in the world in a very direct way, which expresses itself differently for everyone. Cessation is much more what we hear about from various masters, you meditate for an extended period of time in a secluded space to gain mastery over the physical body.

Ultimately, these produce the same result:  your energy body and physical body come into a state of peace with one another.

Let’s Re-orient Back To The Shamans

The practices of the shamans include calling down a celestial, white or blue light which covers their bodies and creates a pure field. They often describe the light as being connected to the highest self, able to provide happiness and peace to a person’s deepest being. It makes energy flow more easily. And to connect that to the root chakra would be to find peace in life.

The tension that occurs in the body is what prevents the energy from traveling through the body freely – tension blocks flow. Tension is doubt, fear, anger, regret, sadness, etc. They aren’t necessarily bad, but they tend to block up energy flows. If you look for health and happiness it’s a good idea to clean them out. Qi gong practitioners have been doing it for centuries.^^

You can have clean energy centers all the time, and this would imply a very visceral experience of reality, one where you are receiving all of the information originating from the surrounding environment and internal environment. If one has the intent to come from the level of the heart, then that compassion will get translated down automatically through the nervous system. If there is dis-ease in the lower centers, the heart will have a harder time getting through in a clean way.

A simple practice to try is to let the white light come down on your body. Some describe it as blue-white or purple-white. I like to use pink. See what color comes to you! Stay under it with your focus until it feels right to finish.

Take note of the difference in body feeling.

Notes :

* Root chakra and all connected body parts – thighs, calves, feet, perineum, tailbone.

** You could say that this is how chakras (or even your energy field) becomes clogged up, something sticks. Why does it stick? Lack of letting go, lack of compassion, lack of asserting yourself, etc. I feel like it has to do with taking care of the physical body at a very deep level, listening to what it needs in terms of recurring constellations or patterns.

^* From experience, it seems that the tailbone, perineum, and feet at the primary points of energy focus. I have noticed huge amounts of electricity being released through the trunks of the legs as I release various fears, and this tends to come with varying levels of ecstasy. But the focus for me has primarily been at the bottoms of the feet and the tailbone/perineum. A friend suggests the big toes are the most direct link from the crown chakra to the root (it’s logical) and another suggests that it’s wise the give the heels just as much focus to maintain ground while moving forward.

^^ Qi gong has not been around for centuries, I refer to ‘Chinese energy workers’ – now typically Qi gong and tai Qi practitioners.

Article Contributing Creators MICRO CHANGES - JAN/FEB 2019

Brexit and The Policy Changes That Define a Nation

Written by Felix Faillace

So, here we are. Time for a big bowl of Brexit. At the time of publishing, Parliament is holding the vote and soon we will have made a long overdue decision on the toxic relationship it has with Brexit. It is a binary decision, a small change, one of staying or leaving, much like deciding to stay at a party for a while longer or catch the last train home. Except that the party is the EU and the last train home doesn’t let immigrants on board.

Where did this all start? Was it Farage, was it Cameron? Our answer lies deep in our glorious British history (God Save the Queen). From the late 17th century until the early 20th century Britain was the most powerful nation in the world, and by the end of the 19th century Britain ruled over 25% of the world’s population and controlled the global economy. Over the centuries, the Empire faded and a grand disparity developed between the memory of Britannia and the UK of today. In the face of modern challenges, we are left with a superiority complex in our national psyche, and the fact that we can now, in our situation, think we would somehow be better off without the EU, is baffling. Often we like to think that we dominated the globe because we are better than foreigners, but really it’s because we were better bankers.

Past Glory, Thanks to Immigrants

In the early 17th century the newly formed Dutch republic was able to fund the finest trade expeditions through the East India Company. They had established innovative economic instruments, such as the first stock market and the ability to issue bonds to the public, thereby delving into national debt. Holland dominated world trade for a number of decades, winning multiple battles against Britain in the process. However, on the 5th of November 1688, there was a crucial turning point in history as Willem Hendrik van Oranje, better known as William of Orange, landed on British shores and instigated “the Glorious Revolution” in which the Dutch noble took consenting control of the budding empire. Into his new domain, van Oranje imported the pioneering financial institutions of Holland and thrust Britain into the driver’s seat of globalisation.


Prince of Orange Landing at Torbay, engraving by William Miller after J M W Turner (Rawlinson 739), published in The Art Journal 1852 (New Series Volume IV). George Virtue, London, 1852

Today, we are once more at a crossroads in British history, and in the same way these noblemen committed treason and replaced their king, brave politicians must now disregard party loyalties and the “democratic” result of the referendum. There will undoubtedly be change; it is simply a case of whether it will be a return to sanity or a nosedive off the edge of Europe and into economic ruin.

By 1698 Britain had a thriving stock market and the state-funded East India Company was beginning to develop monopolies on the trade between Europe and Asia. Britain even had the money to emerge victorious over France, Spain, and Russia in the Seven Years’ War from 1756 to 1763. Both sides were fairly evenly matched but Britain was able to borrow funds, whilst all the French could do was raise taxes. This war was pivotal in European geopolitics, as the bulk of France’s colonial territories were given to Britain. This failure was felt most acutely by the poorest in France, setting the stage for the French revolution 26 years later.

Britain prospered as a result of the war and they had their financiers to thank for this. Yet most people in Britain perceived their prowess as a result of their innate superiority. They were not aware of the benefits of the stock market – all they saw were the headlines screaming “VICTORY”.

As the nation began to take control of world affairs, the toxic idea of god-granted supremacy began to take root in the British consciousness, a place where it has remained for over 250 years. Of course, the majority of the modern British public doesn’t understand that the glorious Empire was primarily a commercial free trade operation, and this is why it created so much wealth. It was first and foremost a single market, with a single currency, free movement of goods, services, capital and people, and with a single legal framework based on Common Law. Sounds an awful lot like the EU doesn’t it?

The Selective Memory of A Nation

Most of Britain’s success comes down to luck. We have been truly blessed by our geography. As an island, this country is far less susceptible to foreign invasions, and access to the sea allowed his or her majesty to literally rule the waves. This military security meant that Britain was able to focus on other endeavours, such as industrial innovation or improving domestic opportunities. The Magna Carta, Bill of Rights and English Common Law fostered political, economic and civil stability, at a time when other countries were finding their footing as nation states.

While in the 19th century the rest of Western Europe was busy unifying (Germany and Italy), fighting off revolutions (France and Spain) or modernizing from a feudal system (Russia), Britain had already secured a strong national identity and functioning parliament for centuries, keeping the Queen or King in check through heavy dependency on taxation. These are among the most easily identifiable reasons as to why Britain came to dominate, especially for a historian, but, throughout history, it was much easier for the average Brit to point to an inherent national and moral superiority.

For example, we have always ranted and raved about how we ended the slave trade. It is true; the British did blockade the West African coast throughout the early 19th century in order to stop merchants from continuing the trade, whilst being amongst the first European nations to abolish slavery entirely. These actions fully enshrined this effort and many Brits now point to these events as indicators of the morality and benevolence of the Empire.

Official medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society (1795)

As you might guess, that wasn’t actually the case. In 1793 Britain engaged in war with France and the battles were fought in India, the Caribbean and the Americas, and Britain needed those native populations to support the war effort. Ending slavery was perceived as a move which would raise the overseas political capital of British rule. Slavery was also becoming less and less profitable as mass industry took over, with the slave populations deemed more costly and difficult to control. Successful revolutions had already occurred in territories such as Haiti. Even the forcible ending of the slave trade by the Royal Navy was mainly due to the fact that Britain did not want Brazilian sugar producers to gain an unfair competitive advantage through the use of slave labour.

Again, it was all about the money.

We must not delude ourselves into thinking that it was some moral epiphany that hit British politicians as they walked into the House of Commons one day and realised that enslavement is abhorrent. British authorities have a long tradition of downplaying “their central role in the transatlantic slave trade, while claiming credit for ending slavery.” They preferred to credit the change of heart to Christian lobbying groups such as the Clapham Sect, thereby making the government appear to be both pious and progressive.   

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, there was a steep increase in immigration from ex-colonies and this has led to a visible flaring of racial tensions when combined with the inferiority complex induced by our diminishing imperial might. The two have arrived on British shores simultaneously and led to a staggeringly ironic victim complex, whereby Brits feel colonized in their own land by immigrants from the old colonies. These migrants serve to help the British economy by taking often low-paying jobs and increasing the multiplier effect, never mind the long overdue justice in allowing them opportunities in Britain after centuries of colonisation.

The British public has not been capable of any level of critical introspection or reconciliation, rather remaining begrudged at our new position in the world, as we seek to regain control of our borders at extreme personal cost. However, this sentiment does not exist independently from other factors. It has been greatly exasperated in recent decades by certain economic policy errors, such as not joining the EEC in 1957 at the precise time when the Empire was dissolving.

“We love immigrants. They make great scapegoats.” Photo by Alisdare Hickson

Future Glory, Thanks to Immigrants

Failure to integrate the working class communities of Britain into our increasingly globalized world, followed by harsh austerity imposed on the nation’s poorest, has left many feeling disillusioned and eager to find a scapegoat upon which to drop their insecurities and anger. Politicians such as Margaret Thatcher have redefined the values of modern Britain and have given a legitimate voice to those disillusioned conservatives who simply wish to return to our imperial pre-eminence. However, going back to the old ways implicitly attacks those who represent the new Britain: the hundreds of thousands of economic migrants.

Nowadays, the glory of Britain can be found in our diversity and multiculturalism, but instead, we blame our problems on the social changes experienced in the wake of decolonisation. Many who voted for Brexit did so out of this sentiment. We wish pointlessly for Britannia, yet miss the crucial point that British power was based entirely on free trade and movement of peoples. What 6 words better describe the EU? Perhaps if we were better educated on the true nature of the Empire and not our innate supremacy, we would not have voted to leave the very organisation which continues its legacy.

Abigail C. Keane Article MICRO CHANGES - JAN/FEB 2019

When Fake News Creeps Up on You

Written by Abigail C. Keane

With the emergence of new media, that is, the Internet and all its glorious new forms of communication, the way individuals obtain and spread information has undergone changes beyond what was imaginable a few decades ago. An especially concerning issue is the way we now receive news – if in the past, it was mostly through well-known credible traditional news sources or somewhat questionable gossip, these days, there are millions of unvetted websites uploading and posting news stories that aren’t always 100% truthful (if at all). However, the real problem lies in the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate what constitutes a credible source and reliable information. It has gotten to the point where even known news sites, such as the BBC, are publishing articles on how to spot fake news.

A Brief History of Journalism

The evolution of modern day journalism essentially hinges of the 1947 Commission on Freedom of the Press, also known as the Hutchins Commission, because that was a key step to forming standardized journalistic practices and principles of ethics. After World War II, it became apparent that the freedom of the press was at risk as it was susceptible to the influence of the government and economic power; influence manifests itself in the form of propaganda or advertising.

The main reason changes needed to be implemented, according to the Commission, was to invigorate the press to act as a watchdog and present relatively unbiased news that could criticize the state or other major stakeholders. This idea, calling the media the Fourth Estate, ultimately aimed to protect democracy by preventing external powers from affecting what gets into the news and what doesn’t, how it is presented, etc. Overall, it was a way to ensure that civil society had a voice and that balanced political discourse could persevere.

The point: let truthfulness and accuracy reign in the media.

Photo by Thomas Charters

Regulation and the New Media

This was all well and good while traditional media worked relatively independently and with the established principles of ethics in mind. For instance, in the UK, the vast majority of publication houses (including the media giant Immediate Media Co) are regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). Thus, if there are accuracy issues, privacy breaches and such, these problems are addressed by IPSO, and media companies are held accountable.

While it may be true that such regulating practices have their limits, the new media landscape, especially social media, seems to lack such regulation altogether. At the moment, regulation is mainly restricted to matters of hate speech and (age) inappropriate content – even then, not all posts get flagged down.

So, what happens to all the fake news being posted online? Well, mostly nothing. It may get shot down by reasonable individuals commenting under such posts, but removing such information from social media has much broader and complicated implications. Ultimately, regulation policies and codes of ethics are lagging behind the rapid changes occurring in the news and media, changes we haven’t really noticed or paid enough attention to until recently.

The Irony of Democracy

Currently, the main debate taking place is: should we censor fake news? While some countries, such as Egypt, address that question head-on by saying “YES,” other states are in chaos, not knowing how to deal with the problem. The reason fake news censorship is considered so dangerous is that it gives the government, or some other regulatory body, the power to decide what constitutes true and false information. Taken to the worst case scenario, that could imply tyrannical control over speech – a big no-no for democracy.

Thus, we are now at a point where many of us want change, but we are afraid of it – and rightly so.

The concerns being brought up by free speech advocates and lobby groups, though often self-serving, are by no means blown out of proportion. The means through which governments would try to protect democracy, that is, through censorship, could fundamentally undermine democracy itself.

Photo by Randy Colas

Power to the People

There seem to be two paths leading forward: let states censor fake news or let fake news run loose. What many don’t realize is that there’s at least one more option – let the people take action.

Social media doesn’t abide by the rules of traditional media and presents challenges that are seemingly impossible to tackle in tandem with democratic values. Maybe social media, in its current form and with all its flaws, holds the key. Instead of relying on some authority to solve the problem, individuals can call out and denounce fake news posts and sources by themselves. For instance, we can report posts that contain false information – an action many are already taking.

What is more important, and necessary, to correctly identify fake news stories is to critically evaluate them and stop believing everything you read on the Internet. Instead of just blindly trusting whatever information is thrown your way and re-posting that shit, take a minute, do some more research – get your facts straight!

Until states and other regulatory bodies figure out how to deal with fake news (if that time will ever come), people can catch up to the rapid media changes of our time and adjust their mentality. It’s time to stop the trend of deceit, if not by reporting fake news, then at least by thinking about what you’re reading.