Dead Soldiers Can’t Vote

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Dead people cannot vote.  Dead soldiers or not.  They cease to have the ability to either express an opinion, let alone put a tick in a box.  That’s pretty much an unfortunate consequence of no longer being – you can’t do anything of much.

Unlike North Korea, we don’t live in a necrocracy.  Even they only allow their first ruler to continue to be their country’s official leader from the grave.  But they don’t let dead people vote.  (Although, having said that, they don’t let too much voting be done by anyone – dead or alive.)

I don’t band around pictures of my grand-fathers (both of whom fought in WWII), nor my grandmothers (both of whom worked in military departments at the time).  I don’t think it would be right.  I cannot speak for people who have no voice.  I have no idea how they would vote or what they would think.  I have a pretty good idea some of the time, but to use them to support my own point of view would be completely unacceptable.

I’d like to think my grandparents fought for peace, to conquer nationalism and to bring countries and peoples closer together.  But the reality is that, what I remember of them, they expressed pretty racist and nationalistic views at times.   My maternal grandfather, who assisted in liberating France and Belgium, gave me my first golly-wog, used to call any black animals he didn’t know the names of ‘N****r’ and frequently complained about “foreign muck”, such as (and I am entirely serious) melted cheese on pizza.  My paternal grandfather, who fought as a Captain in the Far East, died before I was born, so I have no idea.  My maternal grandmother, a God-fearing Baptist, looked disapprovingly (but forced a smile) when first introduced to my brother’s Japanese girlfriend.  Thankfully she died before I had relationships with a Polish, then a Jamaican-British, then another Jamaica-British and now a Dutch-Tunisian girl.  If she hadn’t already died, I think the fifth heart attack would probably have done it. My paternal grandmother passed when I was 4 years old.  My memories of her are positive, but I hardly had reason to discuss matters of race and politics with her during that period of my life, so I can only guess what her stances might have been.  Seeing as she sponsored a child in a children’s village in Kenya and took frequent visits to different countries in Europe and Asia, I would say that she, of them all, was pretty open-minded and tolerant.  But even that I cannot be sure of.

Perhaps more reasonably and entirely honestly, my Great Uncle, who had been imprisoned by the Japanese for two years in the Far East, took a slightly different approach.  Alongside furnishing my brother with books about Japanese atrocities during World War Two to perhaps dissuade him from his love affair with that country, he did admit to not holding a grudge with the young generation of Japansese.  However, he defiantly claimed that, if he were to ever meet a Japanese person of his own age, he “would kick them”.  Whether that event ever occurred and there is an elderly Japanese man walking around with a bruise on his shin, I know not.  My Great Uncle has since passed.

In my maternal grandparents’ defence, they did indeed harbour some love and admiration for their European neighbours.  My mother’s love of French (which I believe is the root of my love of languages too) stemmed from an exchange she went on to Brittany at the age of 14.  My grandparents were obviously comfortable enough to welcome and provide hospitality to a French teen (who we maintained a life-long friendship with until she sadly passed too) during the early sixties.  They also enjoyed, and lamented, one of their few trips abroad to Belgium and the Netherlands to revisit the areas my Grandfather had help liberate in 1944.  My Grandfather also presented me with my first ever English-French dictionary, the one that he carried with him in his pocket when he landed on the French shore one day after D-Day.  I’m not sure how much he used it then, but he obviously thought there wasn’t much call for it whiling away his final years in Leigh-On-Sea.

So, I have no idea what my grandparents would say about their motives for participating in World War Two, their opinions on Brexit or how they might view the current state of British politics.  At no point did they give me power of attorney to act on behalf of their conscience, either while alive or dead.

For the same reasons we don’t permit skeletons from the Middle Ages to enter poll booths, using what we think might be the views of dead relatives is both wrong and, in fact, disrespectful to them.  They never consented to being used as political pawns in YOUR arguments and I certainly wouldn’t want any future grandchild of mine to think he knew me and my views to the extent that he would use them in order to prop up his own.  Be confident enough of your own stance, do your research, spend time considering all sides, don’t use dead people in military regalia to add strength to what is often a weak or unfounded argument.

Were I to bring back ancestors from the 1200s, we might find their views and opinions pretty abhorrent and radically different from our own.  Of course, their lives existed in the context of their time and the views they expressed (if indeed they were allowed to) were a reflection of the lives they lived in the period they did.  They were not, and are not, a representation of the many possible whims, tastes and preferences of the generations they had yet to spawn.

So, do us a break, give your passed relatives a bit of respect and, for goodness sake, fight your own battles, don’t try to let the dead do it for you.

Are porn workers the last pawns of the morality police?

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Yesterday, I was contacted by a friend who had once produced a porn series.  He had appeared on camera as himself, in full clothing, to interview the actors, but never performed.  He last did this several years ago.  Since then, he had been offered work for a large, well-known international TV network to present a new series about wrestling.  This offer was then rescinded, citing his work in porn.  This, by the way, being the same TV network that has, for several years, aired several reality TV series that frequently show young Geordies and New Jerseyites getting drunk, shouting expletives, insults, and having sex, and another re-uniting former couples on tropical beaches in an effort to see if they will get back together or be tempted by one of the other contestants – with plenty of booze and sex, of course.  Not to mention the glaring irony that they are happy to air shows about people punching, slapping and kicking each other (acting or not) in the name of entertainment, but deem consenting adults having sex on screen for other legal consenting adults to enjoy as morality unacceptable.  Never have the words ‘bankrupt’ and ‘morally’ been better suited.

In 2014, I was contacted by an employee of the then named Foster Carers’ Association (FCA) to help raise awareness of ‘Fostering Fortnight’, after he discovered that I had been a foster carer to a former student of mine.  Fostering is something I passionately support and strongly believe that more of us should offer our homes to young people who desperately need loving and caring environments.  The employee, who himself had spent years in care, asked if I had ever considered fostering again.  Of course, I stated, that I would love to, but believed that the nature of my work would prevent me from being permitted to do so.  His response was refreshing:  that the most important thing is being able to offer time, attention and a loving & caring home.  That anything else was immaterial to these basic priorities and that I should, at least, give it a go and see how it went.  So, I did.

Not only did my actions, as a result of my complete honesty during the telephone application about the work that I did, result in me being completely blanked and ignored by the FCA, it also led to the employee, who recommended me, being sacked for having, according to them, allowed a porn performer to be associated with the organisation for simply helping to promote ‘Fostering Fortnight’.  At the time, the FCA was proudly posting about former football manager, Mark Wright (no, not the TOWIE one) as its patron.   A man who had been dismissed from no less than two football clubs for alleged racist abuse allegations and found guilty of harassing his ex-wife, is not only allowed to be a foster carer to numerous young people, but is proudly banded around as the poster kid for one of the country’s largest fostering agencies.   There’s that pair again! – ‘Bankrupt’ and ‘morally’.

Only in the last few months did I learn that this former employee who had been dismissed as a result of my well-intentioned efforts to raise awareness about fostering and to possibly, once again, become a carer myself, won an unfair dismissal case against the FCA.  There is some justice in this world.

While the compensation awarded might not bankrupt the FCA financially, any effort by them to cast a judgement on what is deemed morally questionable is entirely corrupt when they permit alleged racists and wife-abusers to be associated with their brand.  That racism and domestic abuse are ‘on brand’ for a fostering agency but the fact that someone may work, or have worked, in a legal entertainment industry for adults, makes them entirely incapable of being a decent and responsible carer to young people – no matter how desperate they might be for homes.  That their image is far more important than the need to find loving carers and safe homes – how ‘moral’ is that?

Of course, there is also my own case of dismissal.  Sacked, as I was, in 2010, from Beal High School in London for having ‘brought the profession into disrepute’.  A year later, I challenged it in front of the General Teaching Council and won the right to remain on the teaching register and return to the profession.  But who, in reality, in this current moral climate, would hire me?

The sad fact is that, as we all know, no school would probably wish to take that risk.  Not because I am not a good teacher.  Not because I do not have the necessary skills and qualifications.  Simply because they know that there are some who would not approve and it would not fit in with the image they are trying to promote.  Or, as they prefer to state, it would bring the ‘profession into disrepute’.

Time and time again, both in the UK and USA, we are seeing examples of individuals being dismissed for other work and activities they have been involved in either in their past or in their time outside of their main job.  Again and again the term ‘bringing the profession into disrepute’ is touted as the motive for their removal.  And the rest of us in the society just roll over and accept it.  Just like we used to when gays were sacked from the military or teaching or a multitude of other professions in the past.

The fact that a job in pornography is singled-out as a justifiable reason to sack someone is a gross hypocrisy.  While, at the same time I was being dismissed for having worked in porn, other colleagues at the school were permitted, in their free time, to be a kickboxer, work in pubs (pedalling the most ‘dangerous drug’ in society, as deemed by the Parliamentary Independent Scientific Committee), worship in mosques, preach in catholic churches (promoting the non-use of contraception and, at the time, the sin of homosexuality – despite being gay himself!), smoke in the (tax-payer) provided smoking room (until it was legally removed in 2007), to over indulge in fatty foods to the point of carrying dangerously excessive body weight – nearly all of which has PROVEN negative effects on individuals and society (the most important being death – can’t really think of anything much worse than that).  And yet, pornography, the legal production of entertainment involving consensual sex between adults, is deemed to be the only activity which is worthy of a sacking.  No PROVEN negative effects – and certainly no hypothetical link to physical deterioration or death or the promotion of violence or death (such as the likes of the Old Testament or Qu’ran).

Why do we permit this hypocrisy to continue?  Why do the winds blow so strongly in this direction against the moral barometer when the evidence simply isn’t there and the rationale is so contradictory?

Even if there is a logical argument to continue this discrimination of porn actors and workers in the general labour market, what is the legal basis for those in positions of authority to do so?  Is there any?

In an article by Simon Jones for Ariadne Associates on 24th February 2015 entitled “Straw and Rifkind show the problem of managing staff with “second jobs” ” on whether employees can hold second jobs, Jones highlighted three main areas of consideration:

Firstly, you can’t impose a blanket ban on individuals doing work when they aren’t working for you. Individuals have a right to spend their time outside work in whatever way they wish, which includes earning money. However, you do have a right to ensure that they are not doing anything which could damage your business –so you can legitimately prevent them from working for a competitor, or other organisation which might want access to your commercial information (a supplier or customer for example). As with all these things, should matters be challenged by the employee, you’d need to show that there was some clear impact on your business.

There is no mention of the notion of ‘bringing an organisation/industry in disrepute’.  For this to be argued, it would have to be proven, which it is impossible to do.  The concept is, of course, wholly subjective.  What one deems to be capable of causing ‘disrepute’ is driven by the whims and fancies of individuals, dictated by their own sense of morality and which way they believe the barometer of cultural ‘norms’ and acceptability is being blown on that day.  This is usually down to perception, backed by zero evidence and frequently changes over time.  The perception is also often wrong.  In the case of porn actors, poll after poll conducted by newspapers in the UK and abroad overwhelmingly show that the public do not believe that working in a porn is a reason that individuals should be dismissed from employment – including several polls specifically on the teaching profession.  While newspaper polls may not be scientific or particularly reliable, they are considerably more so than an individual, or collection of individuals, in one organisation simply deeming it to be so based merely on their own sense of perception.

In previous decades, individuals were sacked from their employment, or not hired in the first place, because of their homosexuality.  Up until recent years, homosexuality was deemed as an immoral and unacceptable ‘lifestyle choice’ by significant numbers of people in society, including those in power or positions of influence in organisations and places of employment.   I specifically remember that in in the mid-nineties, being homosexual was a bar to entering the diplomatic service, as it was an area of employment I was curious in pursuing.  Teachers at that time were still subject to the controversial ‘Clause 28’ which aimed to prevent the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in British schools, which led most in the profession to steer well clear of even mentioning the topic to young people and caused most gay and lesbian teaching staff to lie and hide the truth about their sexuality from students and staff alike.

While gay and lesbian teachers do still suffer, usually in silence, within the profession, fearing how they might be treated, particularly by the young people, if they were to ‘out’ themselves, it would be unthinkable that an openly gay or lesbian person would not be hired or were to be sacked for being so.  If it happened, here would be an uproar.  Homosexuality is widely tolerated and accepted (and often celebrated) within large sways of British and western society, particularly amongst the metropolitan elite who run, and influence, large sectors of government, political offices and the media.  Fortunately for the LGBTIQA community, although much still needs to be done, the barometer is now pointing in the right direction so that any discrimination thrown their way is rightfully treated as a serious matter to be challenged and prevented by huge sways of of those in our liberal, democratic society.

However much work still needs to be done to improve the lives and treatment of those within the the LGBTIQA community, it is light years ahead of those people who choose to LEGALLY enter pornography as a performer or producer, or in many other capacities.  Let me stress that fact:  pornography is LEGAL.  Everyone who works within it is working withing a LEGAL profession.  Like many other professions, there are guidelines and rules, and while some of these in the UK are controversial and considered draconian by some with the porn industry, it does not change the fact that pornography itself is completely LEGAL – to produce, perform in and purchase.

We are all entitled, on a personal basis, to make moral judgements about individuals and the choices they make about their careers and how they choose to make money.  Across our society, there are strong opinions about those involved in the meat trade, factory farming, the betting industry, the alcohol and tobacco industries, the fast food industry, hunting, those who make large sums of money kicking a leather football backwards and forwards, boxing, wrestling, the modelling and fashion industries, defence and arms production, space development agencies, nuclear power, religious education and the religious industry (yes, its an industry), TV evangelists, producers of horror films, action movies, reality TV, the banking industry, the diamond trade, psychics, astrologers, homeopaths, reiki healers and a whole array of ‘alternative’ therapies, anti-contraception catholic charities, high street money lenders, comedians…  to name just a few.  But how many individuals involved in these industries would be dismissed because their employer found out that they had worked, or had a second job in, any of these?  I dare say not many, if any.

For a multitude of reasons, often illogical, society currently deems all those listed industries above as ‘acceptable’, despite being controversial and despite, in some cases, having proven negative effects on our society – both here in the western world and in developing countries.  The effects of pornography, oft debated and hypothesised, both negative and positive, are neither proven nor disproven.  Despite this, those who work in pornography carry with them a stigma and prejudice that usually goes unchallenged and continues to be deemed acceptable across the board to the extent that employers and other providers can legitimately discriminate against such people, despite any evidence to back it up.  Based merely on perception and a subjective and emotive sense of morality.

 

You can also prevent an employee from doing other work if it would stop them from working for you. So if someone wants to do an evening job starting at 6 but isn’t due to finish their shift with you till 7, then you can of course also prevent them from doing this.

Of course.  Seems like common sense.

 

The third key area is Health and Safety, particularly (and ironically given how much some employers seem to hate them) via the Working Time Regulations. These lay down the rules about the maximum 48 hour working week, rest breaks and time between shifts. If a member of staff works 35 hours a week for you (9 to 5 Mon-Fri say) and then wants to do 20 hours a week in a bar (say a four hour shift Wednesday/Thursday/Friday/Saturday/Sunday) you could try to prevent them from doing so on the grounds that they are working 55 hour weeks possibly without sufficient rest between shifts. Again, if you can show a clear safety risk (they operate machinery for example) it’s easier to do this.

Again, pretty common sensical and appropriate.  But, again, this is across the board and non-prescriptive or discriminatory about what kind of LEGAL work it is.  Rightfully so.

This is exactly how it should be.  Rules concerning other and previous employment should be across the board and not discriminatory based on the nature of the work.  If it is legal employment then all employment all is valid and any discrimination based on perception or a moral judgement should not be permitted under any grounds.

Of course, in the hiring process, people are employed based on the skills and abilities they possess.  If someone who has worked in porn lacks those skills, then that should be the reason they are not hired in the first place.  Not hiring someone because they have done porn, despite the fact it is legal employment and despite the fact they possess the skills, should be deemed entirely unacceptable rationale and reasoning.

In an ideal world, those of us who have worked in the pornographic industry should proudly state it on our CVs.  Most of us carry no shame for our pasts or, in some cases, our presents.  But we have lives to live, bills to pay and families to feed.  We are more than aware of the discrimination that we continue to face.  For the same reason that gay people in the past, and in many cases still, do not reveal the truth of their sexualities (not that it is ever relevant when it comes to employment), porn workers are made to hide their careers from the moral police who still deem it acceptable to single out, victimise and rip from their employment simply because they don’t like it.

Its time for us all, especially those who work, or have worked in porn, to stand up against this perception, to challenge those who dismiss porn and sex workers, to change our attitudes to sex, sex work and pornography.

More importantly, all of us who have ever benefited from the products of pornography must also take a stand.  Pornography is a billion-dollar industry.  Millions of us consume it.  In the vast majority of cases, we use it for the reason it is intended – to entertain.  It can help us as individuals to understand ourselves, our sexualities and bring sexual relief.  It can help our relationships.  All of us who have used porn and benefited from it should stand up for the people who put their lives and reputations on the line to help produce it – the sons, the daughters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, cousins and grand-children, all human beings with feelings, emotions and ambitions who help produce an under-rated, but over-used, form of entertainment for millions, if not billions, to enjoy.  We must do our bit to change the tide, liberalise our societies and their attitudes to sex generally and the sex industry.  The more we can unsaddle those of us who work in the sex industry with the burden of life-long stigmatism and prejudice, the more we can all be more open about our sexualities and the more we can help all of us to rid society as a whole of the guilt that continues to plague all of us when we dare to veer from the narrow road of deemed accepted sexual normality.

 

Sources:

https://ariadne-associates.co.uk/2015/02/24/straw-and-rifkind-show-the-problem-of-managing-staff-with-second-jobs/

 

Letter from Limburg #8: My Solution To Combatting Extremism

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Dear Blighty,

I’d like to introduce you to a man from Limburg:  Geert Wilders.  He’s become quite a name recently.  Not only here in the Netherlands, but also around the world.

Just in case you weren’t aware, the Dutch just had an election on Wednesday.  It was generally thought, in the world press, that Geert would ride the same wave of populism that enabled Brexit to occur and Trump to triumph by gaining the largest number of votes.  But they were wrong.  Geert and his Party for Freedom came in second place, behind the governing party of Mark Rutte and not far ahead of the liberal D66 and the left-wing GreenLeft party.  The populist wave that the likes of Nigel Farage predicted, leading to the collapse of the EU, did not occur in the Netherlands.  Of course, it remains to be seen what will happen in France and Germany.

Geert Wilders’ politics are generally accepted as being on the far-right.  With his anti-EU stance and a closed-borders approach, its easy to accept this description.  His main party platform has always been focused on, what he calls, the ‘islamisation’ of Dutch culture.  Its not a new concern and its one that has previously cost a politician, Pim Fortuyn, his life.  Geert too is now under constant security 24 hours a day.

The fears about the impact of islamic extremism are shared across the board.  But Geert takes it one step further.  He makes the argument that Islam itself, not just its extremists, is an incompatible ideology with the Dutch values of freedom, democracy and tolerance.  His response is to call in measures like banning the Qu’ran, getting rid of mosques, muslim schools and stopping immigration from muslim countries.

Opponents decry these measures.  The Netherlands has long been a country known for its liberalism and tolerance.  How then, opponents argue, can you curtail freedoms and be intolerant to a certain group of people just because you dislike what they might say and believe?  Aren’t you, as a result, compromising the very values of liberalism and tolerance that the Dutch hold dear?

Now, I may make myself even more unpopular here, but I do not disagree with Geert’s analysis.  I think the values that guide Islam and huge chunks of its teachings are entirely against the principles that we hold dear.  Where I disagree is with his conclusion about how to deal with it.

Just as Chuka Immuna stated in your parliament this week, Blighty, I am not a fan of the use of the word ‘tolerant’.  I’d like to think that we do more than just tolerate most groups of people in western, liberal democracies.  That we celebrate, embrace and encourage diversity and difference and the fact we are able to live together and enjoy the things we do share in common.  However, I think it is naive to believe that, at times, there aren’t groups of people that, at best, we must ‘tolerate’.

Where Geert and I disagree in our position is that, while I recognise that Islam poses a threat to western society, I don’t think we should stop pointing the finger there.  Geert claims the Netherlands is based on Christian, Judeo and Humanist values.  I believe only one of those to be true.  I think that all religion poses a threat to the humanist and secular principles that western, liberal democracies generally base their belief systems.

Geert rejects this argument, making the point that, had he criticised Christianity or Judaism, he wouldn’t require 24 hour security, need to wear a bullet-proof vest at public appearances, be under fatwah by some in the Muslim faith and receive continual death threats.  This may be true and it may be accurate to say that the Islam of today is a far more vicious, violent and brutal religion that its abrahamic colleagues.  But you don’t need to rewind the clock back too far to see the ugly side of Christianity and Judaism and the misery that they wrought upon millions throughout the centuries.  Islam may be playing catch-up, but they’re all pretty sick philosophies, if you ask me.

Christianity and Judaism have been playing PR in a desperate attempt to lighten their tone, lessen the importance of the many death and violence obsessed passages of their holy scriptures, and, in some denominations at least, to seem more appealing to an enlightened masses and even segments of the community it flat-out states it despises and wishes death upon. The Old Testament and Torah are vile, vitriolic pages of the worst order – encouraging pedophilia, genocide, murder of homosexuals and enslavement, to quote just a few of its wonderful teachings.  Of course, Christians will write-off over half of its biblical contents because, they claim, Jesus came and preached ‘love thy neighbour and forgiveness’.  Not that the New Testament isn’t without its own degree of barbarity and questionable principles, not to mention the fact that God must be rather short-sighted if he had to send his ‘only son’ to confess that many of his previous teachings were in fact lies!

Islam is indeed medieval in development.  But so are most of the societies in which it originates and dominates.  Count ourselves lucky to have reached an elightened era that values humanity not BECAUSE of religion, but despite it, and let us not forget the millions of victims it took along the way.

Yes, the philosophy and teachings that guide Islam are incompatible with today’s western culture.  But so is Christianity and Judaism.  In fact, religion itself is incompatible with the predominantly  progressive secular and humanist society we are creating in much of The West.

We cannot ban the Qu’ran or close borders to people who happen to have been born into the Islamic faith.  That fundamentally goes against the values that we in the West hold dear.  It also further pits Islam against the West and against other religions, when we should be recognising that the belief in supernatural entities and in divinically-attributed doctrinal systems that dictate how we should live our lives should be consigned to the cess pit of human progress.  But not banned.

The only way that extremism can be truly combatted is by a culture of dis-crediting and de-legitimising religion.

Let’s ‘tolerate’ religion.  Let’s do just that.  But no more.  Let’s not encourage it or give it a greater voice or allow it more clout.  Religion should be a private thing.  No more.   End all religious education, remove religion from ALL workplaces, cease allowing religious leaders from being part of the legislative process, giving them tax cuts, allowing charitable status, we need to stop consulting with them on matters relating to social policy, giving them air time on our TVs and radios, or column space in our media, simply because they are religious leaders – if they must, then their belief in mythical, unproven, unfounded ghouls, ghosts and spirits should banish them to the back-page bile as pedalled by other such fraudsters who call themselves ‘psychics’ and astrologers.

Rather than assisting Christianity particularly in its widespread PR campaign to make itself more appealing to the public by accentuating the more palatable aspects of its preachings and dictates and glossing over or ignoring the vile, heinous, vicious, hateful and blood-thirsty verses, we need to call it out for the nonsense that it is.  By all means, allow people to believe what they want in their private lives, but we must stop promoting religious belief as an equally valid and relevant philosophy to a humanist, secular, rational, science-based society.

By encouraging, often promoting, religion, as we too often do in the West, we enable a breeding ground for extremism to occur.  It is very difficult, hypocritical in fact, to state that one person’s interpretation of scripture is incorrect but another’s is not, simply because it fits in better with your model of how society should be.  The fact is, most extremists or fundamentalists are being far truer to the letter of their religion than the ‘pick and mixers’ who now reject large chunks of their sacred texts simply because it doesn’t fit in with the liberal, largely humanist, values that we now hold dear.  But that doesn’t make either more true or more valid.  As far as I am concerned, they are both a complete load of bull-shit.  But if you accept and celebrate one, you must, through extrapolation of the bizarre logic of faith and belief, tolerate the other.

Geert Wilders’ campaign failed, but it did expose cracks in how far Dutch tolerance is prepared to be pushed.  While I admire his campaign to be honest about the place of Islam in our society, when too many politicians seem too scared or unwilling to do so, I would wish that he, and others, could extend that honesty to the impact, and offence, of all elements of religion, to our liberal sensitivities.

As a society that is not officially secular, Blighty, I hope you’re able to take a few of my concerns on board.

Best of luck with tackling your extremists!

Benedict x

Letter from Limburg #7: I’m racist too.

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Dear Blighty,

We live in very sensitive times.  We have seen a rise in nationalist and populist movements in the USA, the UK, here in the Netherlands and in other European countries too.

It is usually in times of strife or depression, be that economically or societally, that electorates put their support behind nationalist movements.  They are driven by discontentment with the status quo and feel a need to blame someone or something else.

Too often the recipient of this blame is the ‘other’, the ‘threat’ to their national identity.  Minority groups, immigrants, homosexuals, and those others who are different to the majority are usually first in line to be blamed for the ills of that society.

The reality that too few are keen to admit is that people who support nationalist movements are almost always, as part of their belief, driven by a degree of racism.  It is their inability to move from the cave-man-like tribalist that believes that their group, whatever that group may be, is the best, simply by virtue of the very simplistic fact that this is what they happen to have been born into.  Every other group is, based on this juvenile logic, therefore a threat and, simply because it is not their group, not as good.  Its a very crude and basic view of the world in which we live.  Which is perhaps part of the appeal.  Its basic.  Its simple.  Simple minds and all that.

The truth is that I’m racist too.

Racism = the FEAR or HATE of another race.

OK, I’ve never expressed a hate of anyone because of their race, but I do sometimes fear.

There are most certainly times in my head when I have the audacity to express, albeit silently to myself, stereotypes and prejudices.  Sometimes I walk past a group of black youth and feel slightly scared or threatened.  I get scared when a bearded Muslim man steps on a train with rucksack.  I can also be sexist too, tutting to myself when waiting, excessively, for a female driver to parallel park correctly.  For whatever reason these fears and prejudices exist, probably fed to me entirely through media depictions that have solidified such stereotypes rather than any real innate sense of tribalism I might possess.

Hell, in my head, I’ve murdered, beaten those I disliked, laughed at funerals, loud farted in the middle of school assemblies, screamed expletives during a vicar’s sermon…  I also distinctly remember being very curious to know what the reaction would be if I kicked my grandmother when she greeted me at her door.   Our heads can be dark, sinister places at times.

But here’s the difference:  I am able to rationalise, more importantly, DISMISS the thoughts in my head as being wrong and inappropriate and, actually, because I am an intelligent, thoughtful and considered individual, know that, even though these thoughts crossed my mind, I don’t actually agree with them.

The difference between me (and most other considered, rational, intelligent beings) and most people who choose to support nationalist movements, is that we can assimilate and sift through the information in our heads so that it doesn’t cause us to make bad decisions or do wrong things in our actual, real, physical lives.

While the idiot in my head might get slightly frustrated that I couldn’t fully understand the Polish shop keeper when he served me, I don’t let that idiot control my sense of what is right and wrong by hating all Polish people/Europeans/immigrants, wishing they weren’t in the country, voting for LEAVE in the EU referendum or supporting a nationalist movement like UKIP.

We all have demons and idiots running around inside our brains.  You can listen to them, sometimes you can even have a joke with them, but don’t let the idiot inside your head become the idiot in your mouth and body.

You can be a better person than the idiot we all possess.

And so can you, Blighty.  But sadly, you possess a few too many.

Good luck with that,

Benedict x

Letter from Limburg #6: I hope you fail

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Dear Blighty,

I’ve got to come clean with you.

In the early stages of the post-referendum days, I wished you well.  I disagreed with your decision, thought it spelt bad luck for your future, but hoped you could make the best of it.  I no longer feel that way.  I want you to fail.

For the same reason I don’t like to reward bad behaviour.  A child who refuses to share with his friends around him.  I would want that child to be punished, to suffer, certainly not to gain from a behaviour I consider immoral and backward.

For the same reason I make a conscious effort not to visit certain countries thereby supporting their economies, which have policies, principles and politics with which I fundamentally oppose.  Of course, one will never 100% agree with the policies of any one government in any one country at any one time.  But there are some policies that I am uncompromising on – the use of capital punishment, the free right to gun ownership, the illegality of homosexuality, the unequal treatment of women.  As a result, I don’t travel as a tourist, on my own dime, to the USA, I will not visit Thailand, and I refuse to venture to any non-secular muslim state.  I want these countries to suffer as a result of their, what I believe to be, immoral, hateful, discriminatory and vicious policies.  

For the same reason, we, as a liberal western ‘tolerant’ democracy, imposed embargoes against South Africa.  Its policy of apartheid was so abhorrent in our minds that we decided to employ punitive measures to inflict harm to its economy, people and their way of life.  This continued until the desired affect was reached and apartheid was abolished.

I disagree fundamentally with the nationalist agenda of Brexit.  It is, in my opinion, morally abhorrent to move from a position of close co-operation with your nearest neighbours to one of isolation or, as is the agenda of the hard-line Brexiteers, to attempt to appease the bigger boys further away on the globe, or re-ignite a long-dead notion of Empire 2.0.  Not to begin to mention the environmental impact of greater trade with further flung countries than our European counterparts, piecemeal integration with those closest to you is not only desirable from an economic stand-point, it is the right thing to do socially and in an effort to secure peace in our regions.  The EU is by far the best example of cross-border co-operation and integration, but other countries in other continents have been working towards similar unions too, because they know it is advantageous and right for the long-term economic prosperities and securities of their lands.

The British government under Teresa May’s leadership is going full-steam ahead with a hard-Brexit agenda, thereby adding fuel to the far-right nationalism of the small-minded bigots who supported the ‘Leave’ campaign in the first place.  We have witnessed a significant increase in racist attacks across the UK and the continual on-going brandishing of anyone who questions the basis of Brexit, its legitmacy, who dares to raise concerns about the way in which the government is going about it, as a ‘traitor’, as ‘un-patriotic’ and ‘un-democratic’, lacking respect for the ‘will of the people’.  This climate persists while May continues to pursue a Brexit at any cost.

That is not a society or regime I support.  That is not a mentality I wish to see prosper and thrive.  Nationalism is never the right route.  Nationalism only ever seeks to divide, build barriers and create an ‘us and them’ mentality driven largely by paranoia and a delusion of grandeur.  It was this psyche that fed into the rise, often democratically, of nationalist regimes in the 20th century, in Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece – all of which the EU has helped put an end to.

In 1973, the UK took several steps forward in working towards a more unified and prosperous continent.  In 2016, it took several strides back.

I wouldn’t wish starvation and deprivation upon you, Blighty, like I wouldn’t starve my misbehaving child, but we must all be responsible for our own actions.  On 23rd June 2016, the British electorate had a choice.  It had ample opportunity to learn, to become informed (not fed lies by the media), to weigh the options.  The majority of those who voted decided to allow their prejudices, their ignorance, their hatred and delusion to cut off their noses despite their faces.  Live with that choice and the consequence.

I hope you suffer.  I really do.  I hope you become a bit less wealthy.  I hope you feel it.  You deserve to.  It upsets me that those people, like my parents, with the fore-sight, intelligence and nous to take a few moments to obtain un-biased information about that which they were charged to vote on, may also suffer along the way, but that is the damage caused by you, the ‘Leave’ voter and not me.

I have voted with my feet.  I have not left because you are a sinking ship, I left because you are not a country which I wish to support, believe in or care to help thrive.  I tried, for over 15 years.  Believe me, I tried, but you failed me and you have failed many others.  I hope some of them too will take the brave step to jump ship and put their talents and skills into good use in societies that want them, believe in them and offer them the opportunities they deserve.  Because you no longer do.

Blighty, you were once my home.  But, almost as if I was returning to a decrepit old cottage that was once my place of residence, your heyday has been and gone and you’re no longer able to support the sort of life and existence many of your residents deserve.

One day, maybe, you’ll realise what you had.  But it’ll probably be too late.

Yours (in passport only),

Benedict x

Letter from Limburg #5: Happy as the Dutch

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Dear Blighty,

You may remember that, in my last letter to you, we examined the strange phenomenon of reducing prisoner numbers in the Netherlands and attempted to explore possible explanations as to why that might be.   In this letter, I promised to expand upon that and suggest reasons as to why the Dutch are, comparatively, such law-abiding folk.

Developing on that idea, I’d like to state that I may have given the impression to you, in past letters, that I dislike the USA and, possibly, that I dislike you too.  The fact is, on my two trips to the USA, I loved it.  I think the USA is a fascinating and amazing country.  On a personal level, I dislike some of its politics.  It also has a lot of angry people.  Angry and unhappy people.  It must also be said, in all honesty, so does the UK.  The combination of angry and unhappy people is not a successful recipe for a harmonious society.

People who are happy with the society they live in, tend to have more respect and less motive to want to break its rules.  So, Blighty, I’d like to examine the reasons why, you particularly, are a far less than happy country and what lessons could be learned from other places (specifically here in Limburg and the Netherlands) to make you a far brighter and content place.

As it turns out, Blighty, you are officially a far less happy place than even the USA.  According to the 2016 World Happiness Report, published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, you are ranked 23rd, exactly ten places behind the USA (and you’re down from last year).

You are, in fact, a more miserable place than such poorer countries as Mexico, Brazil and Costa Rica and countries which suffer bitterly cold winters like Iceland, Canada, Norway and Sweden.  Funnily enough, it generally seems that the colder the country, the happier its population tends to be.  As Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Canada take the first six places in that order.  Then comes the Netherlands in seventh.

Of course, how the report defines ‘happiness’ may not be how either you or I would.  For example, there’s no mention of access to affordable good chocolate, ability to watch marathons of ‘Family Guy’ on TV or how sexy a population each country has.   Happiness is such a debatable and subjective concept.  For the purposes of the report, they take into account a combination of factors, including GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and trust (of officials).  This seems a rather narrow set of criteria on which to base a nation’s level of happiness, so I will be referring to this report in relatively loose terms.  But it is surely true to say, on balance, that happy people are generally wealthy (in relative terms), supported when the going gets tough (i.e. social security), healthy, free to be who they want to be and live their lives how they choose, living in a giving and generous community, lead by people they can trust.  Access to decent chocolate, ‘Family Guy’ and sexy people is probably more of a luxury for people who are already pretty content with their lot in life.

So, for some reason, Bighty, yet again, you score lower than the Netherlands.  Why are you a less happy place than one of the flattest places on the planet?  My hypothesis is that its because you’re a pretty angry place.

Angry people do bad things.  Happy people, on the whole, don’t.  And you don’t have to be rich, not to be angry.  There are many poor people who ooze happiness.  But, again, its all relative.

I made the rather bold claim in my last letter to you, Blighty, that I don’t need to look at any statistics to know that the Netherlands is a far safer place than you are.  One only needs to visit here to get that sense.  Of course, it is possible that Dutch crime rates are astronomically high, but the authorities are so very efficient at concealing any evidence from the naked eye.  However, the statistics do not support this.  The Netherlands is a relatively safe place.

After around a dozen visits to the Netherlands, some for extended periods, I am always astounded by several things.  Mostly by things that I don’t see.  More specifically, things that I don’t see that I would often see in the UK.  Now, I’m not saying things that I don’t see never happen in the Netherlands, I’m just stating that I have either never, or hardly ever, witnessed them.  Such as:

  • I have never seen a fight in a bar.  Or in a town centre.  Or anywhere, for that matter.
  • I have been to many town centres in the Netherlands and never noticed any police presence, not even on Friday or Saturday nights.  Of course, I have randomly seen police driving around the country, but never specifically placed in a town centre or outside a club or bar, anticipating the likely on-set of trouble such as is frequently seen in you, Blighty.
  • I have never seen groups of rowdy drunk young men or women EXCEPT on two occasions – during carnival time in Limburg and on visits to Amsterdam (the rowdy young people have almost always turned out to be British or Irish).
  • I have seen limited amounts of graffiti on trains and on the sides of motorways.  But that is all I have seen.
  • I have never seen a road accident.  They must happen.  I know they do.  I have seen Dutch news!  I have just never seen one or evidence of one having taken place first hand.
  • I have never felt threatened by gangs of anti-social young people.  Of course, I have seen young people and groups of young people, but never felt threatened or seen them behave in ways that could be deemed to be threatening or anti-social.  I have seen and heard some individual boys, on the way home from school, use disrespectful language to taunt their female classmates, but that is all.
  • I have never seen a homeless person or encountered a beggar.  I am told, by Dutch people, that there are homeless people living in the forests.  Not that I ever been on any forages into the Dutch woodland, but I have still seen no evidence in any of the many locations that I have visited.  And on the other occasions I ask Dutch people where their homeless population is, they say they are in homes and shelters.  Which pretty much makes my point.

Now, the Netherlands has problems, of course it does.  Every country has problems.  My girlfriend is a social worker and has worked on the front-line helping individuals to deal with these problems.  Her last job was in a women’s refuge, so knows only too well the violence and abuse that many of these women suffer at the hand’s of their partners and families.  There are also gangs in the Netherlands.  Limburg, in particular, has on-going issues with Hell’s Angels-type biker gangs.  But, again, it is all relative.  It has problems but they are far fewer and far less evident than they are in you, Blighty.

So, why might this be?  Why might Dutch people be less angry and less inclined to be anti-social and break the rules?  Is it their DNA?  Are they naturally a happier and more law-abiding bunch?  Have they been drilled and brain-washed in a North Korean-like fashion?  Or are they all Philips manufactured cyborgs or implanted with chips in their brains making them comply?

Here are a few explanations I put forward to you:

FEWER LAWS TO BE BROKEN.  Firstly, there is perhaps an obvious factor that may account for some of this: the simple fact that there are fewer laws to break.  That things that are illegal in many other countries, are not illegal here in the Netherlands.  Such as prostitution and smoking cannabis.  Some may even argue that the acts themselves contribute to the Dutch level of happiness.   Or at least they’re too busy shagging or getting high to be committing crimes.  Others, of course, may claim they cause more problems.  I’ll let the stats do the talking.

SEX.  In terms of sex (seeing as it is an on-going, but relevant, theme in my life), the Dutch maintain a far more open attitude to discussing it with their peers and families alike and to the notion of selling and enjoying it in all its many manifestations.  Here in Limburg, people are a bit more conservative, being the mainly Catholic region of the country.  But even here, there are sex clubs and shops advertised quite openly.  In the larger cities and vicinities, swinger’s clubs and organisations abound.  Sex is certainly not something hidden away and shunned.  On the whole, most Dutch feel they can pretty much be themselves here and not be judged badly for it, including on a sexual level.

ALCOHOL.  Dutch people, like most western Europeans, except the British and Irish, have a healthy relationship with alcohol.  The culture of ‘alcopops’ does not really exist here and you will rarely hear groups of young Dutch people expressly say “I want to get really drunk tonight”.  It happens, of course.  But, on the whole, the Dutch drink to enjoy drinking, not with the expressed purpose of getting completely shit-faced.  As a result, A&E departments up and down the Netherlands are generally not clogged up with record numbers of injured (from self-induced accidents or brawls) young people tanked up with dangerous levels of alcohol.  The Dutch private health care and insurance-based system may account partly for an individual taking greater responsibility for their health and use of the system.  But even in societies with free-at-the-point-of-use health systems, such as Sweden and Denmark, the same is generally true.  The culture of getting rat-arsed as quickly as possible to the point of being embarrassingly inebriated is, in Europe at least, generally limited to the British Isles or to any location on the continent frequented by large numbers of young British tourists.

VIOLENCE.  Accompanied with the drinking culture in you, Blighty, is very often a nasty, violent streak.  While so many young Brits go out with the intention of getting blotto, a smaller group, but still present across the land, of, predominantly males, go out looking for a fight, or are more than eager to get into one should they be presented with the opportunity.  God forbid that somebody should happen to look at them, or their partner, in the ‘wrong’ way.  Now, I don’t happen to believe that I am particularly attracted to these sorts of people, that any of my friends fit into this category or that I hang out in establishments particularly known for this sort of activity – except for the fact I ever hung out in any bar or club in the United Kingdom.  All I know is, that during my 35 years of living in the British Isles, I have seen frequent bar brawls and street fights.  I specifically remember driving out of Reading town centre one night, confronted with numerous police riot vans, the scene looked like a war zone.  A local told me that that its like that every Saturday night.  The truth is, and if you’re British you know it only too well, that in every provincial shit hole, however big or small, up and down the UK, the scene is replicated over and over and over again.  In contrast, during my many visits to the Netherlands, I spend many nights in town centres and at clubs and bars as a result of the work I often do over here.  I have not once seen a fight.  Again, I am not saying they don’t occur, I have absolutely no doubt that they do.  But I have never seen one.

OBESITY.  If British hospitals aren’t filled every weekend with the sorry and pathetic results of alcohol-binging or drug-fuelled antics or with the battered and bruised corpses of yet another victim of the rather nasty viscous side of British youth culture, the rest of the week they are battling the on-going, and growing, issue of obesity within your population, Blighty.  We’ve addressed this issue just a few letters ago.  But its worth repeating in the context of happy and safe environments.  Healthy people tend to be happier people, for many reasons.  While there are those in the ‘fat community’ who proudly claim to embrace their size and be happy with who, and what, they are, the fact remains that living a healthy lifestyle improves your mental well-being and outlook, your physical confidence and self-esteem, your sex life and relationship and its been linked to greater economic success too.  Unhealthy people, although driven by multiple factors, tend to suffer from higher levels of depression than their healthier counterparts, or, that is to say, the fact they are unhealthy makes them more depressed.  This can lead to a downward scale of depression and self-loathing which can manifest itself in other anti-social activities.  On this front, we have already examined the fact that the Dutch are a far healthier bunch than the British and the possible reasons as to why this might be.

HOUSING.  This may seem an odd one, but the housing we live in and our environment actually have massive impacts on our sense of self, self-worth and our place in our community.

The first thing I noticed, when visiting the Netherlands, was the size of the windows.  Many homes have very large front room windows.  This is a rather uniquely Dutch architectural character.  The moment you drive into Belgium or Germany, you just don’t see it any more and I certainly very, very rarely see anything like it in the UK.  I have spoken to numerous Dutch people and asked why their windows are so big and most respondents are unsure.  Although, one claimed it was a government conspiracy to be able spy upon its inhabitants.  While I do believe that the Dutch put an enormous amount of thought into the design of many things, I tend not to believe, in this case, it has a motive linked to spying or invasion of individual liberty.  Firstly, it lets more light in.  Light makes people feel more positive.  One also feels more connected to the community around them, an inter-connection, if you like, between their home and the outdoors.  In terms of security, while some may see it as a concern because it shows off their possessions more clearly, others will highlight how any intruder in their home can be more easily identified and witnessed due to the size of the window.  Again, if larger windows were a massive security risk, this would be reflected in the crime rate, which its not.  Too often, I have driven past homes in the UK (particularly new builds) with pokey little windows and wondered how anyone could tolerate such lack of natural light.  As if the UK isn’t dark and dingy enough much of the time, maximising on the daylight that we do get shouldn’t be an architectural impossibility, even for the lowest quality housing.  Sadly, this is one example of British short-sightedness of cutting corners and saving costs, but in the long-term having detrimental effects on mental health, social behaviour and criminal activity.

My second lasting impression from the Netherlands, re-enforced every single time I am here, is how tidy a country it is.  That every house looks like a show home.  I can even drive into an area of predominantly social housing (what you call ‘council housing’) and notice no difference.  I won’t see any graffiti there, I have never smelt the aroma of kippers in the air, seen boarded up windows, burnt out homes, used shopping trolleys, old bicycles or tyres festering away in over-grown front lawns, been threatened by gangs of anti-social youth smoking or drinking by the bus stop.  Social homes are as well maintained, or so it seems to me, as private ones.  Dutch people take pride in their homes, whether they own them or not.  Now, it is true that a popular TV show in recent years in the Netherlands, called ‘De Tokkies’, chronicled the activities of, what can best be described as, one of the chavviest families around – chain-smoking, shop-lifting, social home residents with foul mouths and fat arses that they would spend much of their time on.  The sad thing is that, in the UK, such people would not be an exception, but the rule, for so many communities up and down the land.  So, while such people do indeed exist in the Netherlands, I haven’t seen them and I see no evidence or major differentiation of attitudes of those in more affluent, compared to poorer, neighbourhoods.  These differences may be starker in larger cities such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam and while my experience is largely limited to smaller towns in Limburg, my experience of having lived in many towns of similar size in the UK is that there are always stark contrasts and clear evidence of deprivation, crime and anti-social conduct in areas of predominantly social housing.  This comparison is worth noting, Blighty.

Most Dutch people do not live in massive homes.  Many live in terraced housing like so many of your residents, Blighty.  But there is often far more thought put into the design, proportions and use of light (big windows) in these houses than in those of so many local authorities in the UK.  So much of you, Blighty, is still dominated by huge ugly sways of 1960s blocks of flats and poorly-considered council housing and even, sometimes, pokey private new builds too.  Until recently, that has been largely true for most architecture in the UK, with grim, concrete office blocks and shopping malls slotted in between poorly maintained decaying older buildings.  This is improving now.  But the Netherlands has been at the forefront of design, in many spheres, for decades.  It really does feel that every building has a purpose here and has been carefully considered as to how it will best function for the role it has been created to serve, as well fit into the environment or make a bold statement.  In the UK, not so.  As long as it has four walls and a few tiny windows, its sufficient.  The UK, the land of sufficient.  For now.  But not for the long-term.

Community building is so important in maintaining a sense of pride and belonging for those who inhabit it.  Structures and buildings form a large portion of the communities we reside in.  I must be honest and say that I thought the town I grew up in was an ugly shit-hole.  So, I treated it as such.  At least, I made no real effort to make it a better place.  I saw no real future there.  Why would somebody invest their time and effort in a place they see no future or feel gives very little back to them?  Towns and cities are, of course, living, breathing entities that are both served by, and for, those people who live there.  There needs to be give and take on both sides.  Its only recently that you have you begun to realise this, Blighty.  Sadly, for some, its a little too late.

ROADS.  The Dutch have some of the safest roads in the world.  The quality is pretty astounding.  Having driven here on numerous occasions, I have never seen a pot-hole.  I will be so bold as to say they are the smoothest roads I have ever had the pleasure to drive on.  Crossing from the Netherlands to Belgium, you notice the difference instantly.  Not only that, but the Netherlands uses, yet again, very well thought-out road planning techniques to ensure drivers pay far closer attention to the road and reduce their speed.  This is particularly noticeable when off the motorway and in residential areas, where roads are purposefully narrowed and made to share with cycle paths.  You must also remember that, over here, cyclists own the roads.  Hitting a cyclist will cost you dearly!  You must always stay very aware on Dutch roads.  As a result, road accidents are far fewer because all drivers are employing the same level of heightened awareness in order to avoid these obstacles.  Generally, people who are dead or badly injured from road accidents, tend not to be very happy people.  And it certainly means fewer people are breaking the rules on the Netherlands’ roads.  Sure, I have seen speeders and been over-taken by people I would love to have given the ‘wanker’ symbol to, but that is the worst I have witnessed.  And if that is the worst, it leaves me pretty happy to be a motorist on the Netherlands’ roads.

Its worth noting, while discussing roads, that the Netherlands does have the highest rate of bicycle accidents in Europe.  But it also has the highest rate of bicycle use in the whole of the continent too.  So, there’s your explanation for that one.

HATE OF THE OTHER.  It is certainly true to say that the Netherlands has rich people and it has poor people and, like any society, there is envy, greed and hatred associated with such divisions.  And while the Netherlands also shares in common the fact that it has a monarch as its Head of State, there is far less of a noticeable divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ than is evident the UK.  There is a vaguely carved out notion of a class system, particularly in the richer parts in the provinces of Holland, but the lines are far more brutally clear and enforced in the UK.  Even the Dutch royal family has a more mainstream presence and sense of ‘normality’ about it than the British royals.  This long-time entrenched system of upper and lower classes, rich and poor, haves and have nots, continues to breed a deeply held notion of resentment and hatred which is far more prevalent in the UK than it is in the Netherlands.  If there is a hatred of those who rule you, there is far less likelihood that those subjected to that rule will respect the rules imposed upon them.

The ‘other’ also extends beyond the borders.  The UK, as an island, as a former colonial power, has arrogantly imposed its own rule and influence beyond its boundaries to societies in every continent of the globe.  But the moment it feels ‘encroached’ upon by any others, it traditionally attempts to flex it muscles and attempts to expel such foreign elements or recoils in fear.  Even when those influences come from its nearest neighbours.  The UK has always been very suspicious of ‘Johnny foreigner’, mainland Europeans included.  Of course, centuries of war and conflict leaves any country suspicious of the motives and influences of any other, but the Netherlands (which was also a colonial power), due to its geographic location, has had to learn to live with and, sometimes even love, its neighbours – even if one of those neighbours is Germany.  As previously mentioned, many Dutch, particularly in Limburg, live in the Netherlands but work in Belgium, shop in Germany, take a day trip to Paris or Luxembourg, fill up their car in Belgium, use a hospital in Germany and so on.  Sometimes even their next-door-neighbour is literally on another side of a border.  The Dutch are so used to mingling with foreigners (without even taking immigrants into account) and crossing borders, be they physical, linguistic and cultural, that the idea of co-operating with, working for, or even becoming a friend of, someone in another country near to them, is simply part of many Dutch people’s day-to-day existence.

When it comes to immigration, of course, there is tension and there are right-wing movements and political parties capitalising on this.  But at least Dutch people have an understanding of the daily interaction with people from, and in, neighbouring countries that island countries such as you, Blighty, will find much harder to appreciate and understand.   Assessing how this impacts on criminality (or the lower level of it), I would argue that a society that is content with its place in the world, and feels it has a real stake in, and understanding of, the wider world around it, beyond its own borders, makes for a happier place to be, as opposed to one that lives in continual fear, suspicion and lack of insight of the ‘other’, even when that other is from just down the road (or, in your case, across the water).   Of course, this is hard to measure, as Belgium and Germany rank far lower in the Happiness Report than the Netherlands, but those countries do not adhere to some of the other factors I have highlighted here.

So, there you have it.  Some of the reasons I believe that the Netherlands is a happier and safer place than you, Blighty.  Its possible that all of this comes down to DNA, although I think that’s highly unlikely.  Even if it were true, there are still many elements from the Dutch experience you can take lessons from.  The biggest being that it really helps to think about the long-term impact rather than the short-term reward.

Of course, nowhere is perfect and no society on the face of the planet will ever escape the evils that plague humanity.  I know people in the Netherlands who have been victim of a mugging and of having their home broken into.  But, as I continue to stress, it is all relative.  Eradication is a utopian goal, not a realistic one.  Reduction is the aim.  While there are countries, like the Netherlands, that do things better than you do based on results, Blighty, there’s the opportunity to take stock and learn in a hope you might be able to improve.

Best of luck, Blighty!

Until next time,

Benedict x

Letter from Limburg #4: Importing Criminals

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Dear Blighty,

I remember driving home late one night back in 2014, after having performed at a Dreamboys show, from Hull to Northamptonshire.  Listening to the World Service, as I often did at such hours, I was surprised by a headline that claimed that the Netherlands was experiencing a decline in prisoner numbers to the extent that they were now closing prisons.

Ah!, I thought, this will be a useful bit of information to quote in the debate I was to attend the following day in London of the Liberty League Forum around the subject of pornography and it being a victimless crime.

You see, Blighty, the Netherlands is a highly sexualised society in so many ways.  At least, that is to say, the Netherlands is very open about sex.  Its on display.  Prostitution is legal and prostitutes are openly displayed behind glass in the streets of Amsterdam’s red light district.  Swingers’ and Sex Clubs are all over the country and openly advertised.  Sex shops aren’t boarded up and hidden away in the same way they are in you, Blighty.  And kids can actually talk to their parents and teachers quite openly about sex.  There is no shame when it comes to sex in the Netherlands.  There’s a lot of sex, but a lot less crime.  (Not that there’s actually any natural link between the two.)  Maybe because so much about sex in the Netherlands, isn’t criminal.

Actually, I’m going to retract a previous statement.  I don’t entirely believe that the Netherlands is any more sexualised a society than many others.  Blighty, you are very sexualised too.  You just both deal with it in very different ways and adopt markedly different attitudes.

This is also true in so many other things.

Only ten years ago, the Netherlands had one of the highest incarceration rates in Europe, it now has one of the lowest.  Its re-offending rate for those serving short sentences of two years or less is just one-fifth of that of the UK’s.

In the last few years, the Netherlands has closed 19 of its prisons and more are set to shut down in the not too distant future.  Some have been converted into reception centres for asylum seekers, one here in Roermond, Limburg is even a luxury hotel.

Since 2005, prison numbers have dropped 43%.  In fact, the domestic prison population is in such a decline that the Netherlands has even begun importing prisoners from Belgium and Norway.  Norgerhaven prison is now headed by a Norwegian governor, housing 234 Norwegian prisoners but staffed by Dutch prison guards.

So, why is the Dutch prison population in such decline and what, with your over-crowded prisons bursting at the seams, if anything, can you learn from this example, Blighty?

It may seem a rather crass and overly simple comparison, but the USA bangs up more of its citizens than anywhere else on the planet.  It hands out long sentences and cages it citizens in some of the most decrepit and rancid conditions of any western society.  Not to mention that many of these institutions are highly dangerous, mentally tortuous and lacking much real focus on rehabilitation.  Of course, it also has the death penalty in many states.

Despite all this, the USA is one of the most violent societies in the world, with some of the highest crime and re-offending rates.

It is quite clear, that when it comes to reducing crime, reoffending rates and successfully rehabilitating offenders, that the American ‘correctional’ system is not working.  Of course, there are many aspects that come into play, least of all guns.  But Americans are obsessed with retribution.  Anything else comes secondary to this.  Which results in a criminal justice system that doesn’t help criminals to pursue a life away from crime and, more importantly, does not make society any safer.  In fact, it probably makes it more dangerous.

Tough on crime does not always mean you have to be tough on criminals.  At least, not in the American sense of ‘tough’. The “bang ’em up and throw away the key” mentality.  It also means you don’t have to be ‘easy’ on criminals either.  Yes, criminals should be punished, but the more important goal is ensuring that we are creating a safer society.  Hardline retribution does not do that.  The way we judge if a criminal justice system is working is whether or not society it is a safe place to live (based on low and reducing crime and re-offending rates).  To put it simply:  the US correctional system is fucked.

Now, let’s return to this side of the Atlantic and examine how the Dutch handle things quite differently, resulting in far more favourable and beneficial results for all – offenders and society.

To summarise simply, the Dutch criminal justice system focuses on the offender and maintaining them as productive members of society.  Some, particularly the victims, may feel this priority misplaced, but this attitude is short-sighted.  Ensuring a convicted criminal population is assimilated back into a civilian life as easily and rapidly as possible is the best way to ensuring a safer and more harmonious society in the long-term.

Firstly, Dutch judges frequently use alternative forms of punishment other than prison, such as community service, fines and tagging.  Not only is this less stigmatising (and potentially harmful) than prison, it also enables offenders to stay in their jobs and with their families.  Its the least disruptive option for them, for their families and for society.  In terms of community service. they can also acquire new skills while making a contribution to society.

Secondly, for those offenders who do arrive at a Dutch prison, a strong focus is placed on the individual and their needs to help them, ultimately, return into society as a functioning individual.  Drug addictions are treated, those with aggressive tendencies attend anger management courses and prisoners who have financial problems are provided with debt counselling.

Thirdly, prison are often (not always), nicer environments than many other prisons in western societies, with green open areas built in to help reduce stress and anxiety amongst inmates and staff alike, more time is given to Dutch prisoners for exercise in designated areas and they are often afforded greater freedom and autonomy to move around the premises unaccompanied to places like the library and canteen.  As it so happens, only a few countries, such as Norway, allow their prisoners greater freedom.

I am a strong believer that a society should be judged on the way it treats those it least desires.  Bearing in mind we all have the potential to make mistakes and do things we regret, and also mistakenly put innocent people behind bars.  Prison should be a punishment, yes, but it should also be working to help those who have veered down the wrong path back onto the right one.

Of course,  none of this satisfies the “eye for a eye”, “throw away the key”, “hang ’em and flog ’em” retributionalist who seeks short-term revenge over long-term societal harmony.  But it is still prison.  As a Dutch prisoner, your freedom is still taken away from you and severely limited.  Jails are still not pleasant places to live.  They may be comparatively better than in other country, but I still wouldn’t want to spend any time in one.  Dutch prisons still face problems, such as the drug use and violence.  And the Netherlands still has more crime than is acceptable.  But, as in so many cases when it comes to this country, it is all far lower than in most other countries western society.

There are, naturally, those within Dutch politics and population at large who are critical of the current government’s prison strategy.  They decry the fact sentences are too low and claim low prison populations are a result of police station closures, lower conviction rates and lack of funding in policing meaning stretched resources and their inability to arrest all those that they should.

Whether this is true or not, even if it is, the Netherlands is still a far safer society than any other I know or have had experience of.  They must be doing something right and their criminal justice and prison system must be playing a role in this.

The fact is that, before even knowing that the Netherlands has relatively low crime rates, if you just visit here and spend time here, it is clear and obvious.  In my next letter, I’d like to consider some of the reasons, beyond the Dutch criminal justice system itself, as to why the Dutch are seemingly such a law-abiding people, particularly in comparison to many of your own, Blighty.

Until then, I wish you a safe and crime-free time.  Make sure you lock your door!

Benedict x

Letter from Limburg #2: Notion of Nation

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Gelukkig Nieuwjaar, Blighty!

Welcome to 2017!  You survived 2016 and all the challenges it threw at you, I’m sure 2017 will be a breeze of fresh air in comparison.

I’m not sure how you spent New Year’s Eve, but I do hope you had an enjoyable and safe time.  Whether counting down the bongs of Big Ben in the comfort of your front room or braving the winter breezes with the crowds down by the River Thames.

I was invited to spend Oudjaardag (Old Year’s Day), bringing in Nieuwjaardag (New Year’s Day) with friends at a party in their renovated farmhouse in a village near Maastricht, dancing the night away with the mildly merry (albeit entirely well-behaved and in-control of their facets) villagers from the neighbouring houses.

The Dutch love to drink.  They also love to dance.  But they don’t seem to need an awful lot of the former to participate in the latter.  Alcohol, particularly beer, is, very much, part of the Dutch culture – names like Grolsch, Heineken and Amstel are synonymous with summers by the canals and proudly displayed outside bars across the Netherlands.  Although, on this night, the locals seemed to favour a Belgian brand, Jupiler.  Mind you, with the border only a few kilometres away, and the Wallonian village of Jupiler just a few kilometres beyond that, its easy to understand why the lines around here are often blurred, or simply ignored.

This is Limburg.  The southernmost province of the Netherlands.  It is a tiny slither of land running from just below Eindhoven to just beyond the cities of Maastricht and Heerlen in the south.  At its narrowest, near the town of Susteren, there are only around 6km separating the bordering countries of Belgium and Germany.  Within a 20 minute drive from Heerlen you are in the German city of Aachen.  Within a 20 minute drive from Maastricht you are in the capital of french-speaking Belgium, Lieges.  Nowhere are the benefits of European Union membership more regularly taken advantage of than right here. Many residents of Limburg live here but shop in Germany, fill up their cars in Belgium, use hospitals in both and even work in one or the other.  There is no border control.  You drive from Belgium to the Netherlands to Germany as easily as you drive from Kent to West Sussex to Surrey.  A sign and an imaginary line is all that separates them.

Signs and imaginary lines.

So much a feature of European history ever since, well, I imagine human beings decided to invent such concepts as ‘territory’, ‘possessions’ and ‘nations’.  Nations are simply constructs of someone’s imagination, if not, eventually, all of ours.

I know you find this difficult to get your head around, Blighty.  For you, everything seems clear.  You seem to know exactly what you are and where you stand.  Your borders are defined by centuries of sea erosion which has created a natural coastline beyond which live the ‘others’ and within which live your own.  The sea creates a clear boundary between you and your neighbours.  You are, by and large, a detached land, not a semi, like Ireland, or a mid-terrace, like the Netherlands or Belgium.  Even though 8,000 years ago you were connected by land across what is now the North Sea from East Anglia to the Netherlands. But that is long gone and so, too often, is any sense of attachment you once had to the rest of the continent.

Of course, your situation does get a little more complicated on the other side of the Irish Sea and also when one begins to consider the nations within your kingdom that comprise the union.  There is not exactly a consensus from within these as to what does and does not comprise the limits of their identity against that of your overpowering British nation creation project.

There is a mentality among many of your inhabitants (at least within England) that the UK is an almost divinely-given physical entity on the face of the planet.  The rigid borders of your naturally defined steep-cliffed coastline are too often replicated in the closed-minds of many of your inhabitants.  Your border may have traditionally once been your greatest asset  and defence against your enemies of the past, but it too often aids in the creation and growth of ignorance and ‘enemies’ against tolerance & progression from within your own.

Many within you may speak with great certainty about what Britain is, where it is and what it means to be British as if it is a given, set in stone, unchanged from time immemorial.  Of course, any competent student of history (which, I must confess, I was not the greatest), will recognise the shortcomings of this mentality.

In Limburg, you don’t need to be a student of history to see the banality and superficiality attached to the notion of nation and nationality on a daily basis.  Don’t get me wrong, the people of Limburg are, by and large, proud to be Limburgers.  They’ll wave their little flag and speak with great fondness about their dialect and the many differences between them and the rest of the Netherlands.  But there is no call for separation, there is no independence movement here.  Equally, they are happy to be Dutch, but many speak of the fact that it would be no different if they were Belgian.  The fact is, that over the last millennium, they have been many things – Spanish, French, German and now Dutch.

Today, Limburgers are as influenced by the music and media of the Netherlands as much as they are from the United States and, indeed, yourself.  With one flick of a button they can go from watching ‘Ik Hou Van Holland’ to ‘Eastenders’.  From ‘Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden’ to ‘Geordie Shore’.  Limburgers receive Dutch, Belgian (Flemish and French) and German TV channels as standard, and most also receive BBC1, BBC2 and BBC World too.  On top of that, most Dutch TV networks broadcast large amounts of english-language programming and, as opposed to what they do in France, Germany and Spain, none of it is ever dubbed (except for children’s programming).   All of this, without even mentioning the internet.

Limburgers love Limburg, but most of them don’t let the fact they happily live here define them and allow it to be a reason to dislike those who are not from here.  There are, of course, racists and right-wing movements and political parties.  Geert Wilders leads his party, the Party for Freedom,  with an anti-EU and anti-immigrant, particuarly anti-islam, manifesto, feeding particularly on recent fears related to the refugee crisis stemming largely from the war in Syria.  He was recently found guilty of inciting discrimination targeted mainly at the Netherlands’ large Moroccan population.  However, while there is often a racial element to Wilders rhetoric, much of it is focused on the attack and threat on the Dutch and liberal way of life, particularly by the Islamic religion, and does not spend much time attempting to create a blood and ethno-racial link to dutch identity, which many traditional extreme right parties of the past have attempted to do, most recently your very own British National Party.

There are, undoubtedly, racists in the Netherlands, but, at the very least, they spend very little time hating their closest neighbours and wanting to draw-up a metaphoric drawbridge against them.  Not only might that be seen as a regressive sign of anti-neighbourliness, it would be foolish in the extreme.

If you thought the EU made no sense, come to Limburg and see it in action.  While many Dutch still lament the loss of the Gilder and decry the associated elevation of costs in the immediate days after the introduction of the Euro, most Limburgers would not return to the days of exchange rates and commission fees.   Many Dutch still fear the ease of accessibility into the country by terrorists because of free borders, but the ability to travel hassle-free into a neighbouring country for work or a grocery shop or, as in some cases, to visit a neighbour or friend, isn’t a freedom they want to abandon any time soon or in the future.

Freedom and progress through co-operation, often with old enemies, can carry risks and costs, but the ability to overcome the traditional limits and boundaries erected through the concoction of nations and nationalisms is one of Europe’s greatest accomplishments in recent decades.  To succumb to the triviality of a nationalist agenda, carries even greater risks and costs, at least in the minds, and first-hand experiences, of those who have been victims of it many times over.

2017 will certainly be an interesting year as we continue to find out what your appointed leaders will decide to do with the result of last year’s referendum result and what direction they wish to take you in.  We await the result of elections in France and, in March, here in the Netherlands too.  Will the forces of the right and nationalism prove stronger and reawakened in light of global trends in you and over in the USA?  Or will the people of mainland Europe reject the right-wing agenda and continue to focus on a future of unity and togetherness?

We shall see.

Whatever happens, Blighty, I wish you every success in 2017.

Until next time!

Benedict x

 

Letter from Limburg #1: Prettige Kerstdagen

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Dear Blighty,

Merry Xmas to you!

This is now the second Xmas* Day I have spent away from your shores.  Just over a year ago, I decided to vacate the country of my birth, with my Dutch girlfriend and three Romanian dogs, for an unknown future on the mainland of Europe.    Then we were headed to the Andalucian province of Almeria, in the south-east of Spain.  Today, I write to you from the southern-most province of the Netherlands:  Limburg.

We still currently reside in the Iberian peninsula, but frequent the Netherlands, visiting family and friends of my partner and sometimes for work.  This time, we are here for an extended visit of a month over the Xmas and New Year period.

I must confess that I long for my Mother’s cooked Turkey roast Xmas lunch, preceded by a prawn cocktail starter, served in frosted green glass bowls and ending with the obligatory Christmas Pudding.  For the second year running, neither a brussel sprout nor a pig in a blanket will pass my lips, not to mention running the exciting risk of swallowing a two penny piece in amongst the dried fruit and brandy butter.  Instead, I will have to settle again for what the Dutch call ‘gourmet’ – cooking your own tiny portions of meat on a mini stove in the middle of the dining table.  (Which may, in part, explain the Netherlands’ low level of obesity.)

While I lament the Garrett Family Xmas tradition (I even miss the inevitable pre-lunch argument between the parents and my post-lunch refusal to listen to an old German woman preach at me about how amazing her year has been and what I should do to be a better Brit), I must confess, Blighty, that I do not miss you.

I feel a lot has taken place since I left you.  I certainly never departed as a great patriot, but I had a sense of place and the comforting notion of ‘home’ in you.  Now, after certain events over the last year, I feel I no longer know you and, perhaps more sadly, am ashamed of what you have become and are becoming.

Here I sit, just under 260 miles from your nearest point.  In just 3 hours drive and a 2 hour ferry ride I could be back on you.  In another 3 hours, I could be back home with my beloved family, pouring gravy over my roast potatoes and placing a purple paper crown over my head.

The Netherlands is indeed one of your nearest neighbours.  Culturally, we share a lot in common: the Dutch, at least, watch many of your TV shows (un-dubbed) and listen to a lot of your music.  Linguistically too, Dutch has remarkable similarities to English (despite your inability, laziness and lack of desire to even begin to comprehend a language that is not your own), both are germanic based and most Dutch people (even the elderly) speak your language exceedingly well, often better than many of your people!  Your people drive similar cars (albeit on the other side of the road), eat similar food (both are famously bland and often fried) and look remarkably similar too (although the Dutch can sometimes be a bit blonder, more fashionable and a few inches taller).  You’re both monarchies and ex-colonial European nations, with strong maritime histories and significant immigrant populations from your caribbean islands and former Asian possessions.  Physically too, although you’re a bit more hilly, you have areas like East Anglia that are remarkably flat too, and your climates are almost identical.  As two different countries go, you both share an awful lot in common.

Why then, oh Blighty, does the Netherlands frequently out-do you on so many things?

Having been a speaker at many debates at universities and on TV & radio, usually around questions related to sex, sexuality and the sex industry, I have often referred to the Netherlands as a ‘success story’ in certain matters (youth STI rates, teen pregnancies, attitudes to prostitution and public policy related to it, openness about sex and communication with parents).

Now, don’t get me wrong, Blighty, I know the Netherlands is no utopia.  Talk to any Dutch person and they could rant for hours about the many problems of their country and the dilemmas it faces.  Of course, nowhere is perfect, everywhere has problems.  But it is all relative.

The fascinating thing about Europe (often its curse) is that it is a continent made of many diverse little nations.  All sharing a land mass, sometimes sharing a language and similar cultures, but that also do things quite differently – whether it be intentionally by government-led policies and bodies, or unintentionally through patterns of behaviour and simple demography.  As a result, we get varied outcomes and successes that can be compared and contrasted and placed into neatly designed league tables put together by beloved statisticians and experts.

So often, Blighty, the pattern follows that the Netherlands is either at, or near, the top of these tables and you are placed several rungs down or significantly lower.  As a perpetually curious person (yes, I was one of those ‘but why???’ kids), the question we must all ask is: ‘why?’.  As a Brit, with 34 years of first-hand experience of living in you, I specifically relate these questions to you, Blighty.  Why does one country continually perform better than you?  What is it about that society that is so markedly different to yours?  What could you learn from that country?

Now that I have spent a significant amount of time in the Netherlands and with Dutch people, I have increased first-hand knowledge of what life is really like here on a day-to-day basis, how the system operates, what the people who live here think of it, their complaints about it, the issues that affect them and their mentality and way of thinking over a whole range of issues.  I’ve also spent time examining the reality behind the figures and whether the league tables reflect the reality of life in this land.

I find it hilarious, that a country that frequently performs amongst the worst in western Europe in so many categories, has recently chosen to stick a big middle finger up to most of the rest of the continent and say “we can do it better on our own”.  Bearing in mind you don’t yet, I don’t personally think you ever can, but that is another gripe of mine.  Fortunately, although others might wish it, although you might be leaving the EU at some point over the next few years, you cannot be kicked out into the middle of the Atlantic and will still, geographically, be part of Europe.  Sometimes its good not to assume you ‘know it all’ and that ‘British is best’ because, sadly, it too often is not.  We work best when we look around and learn and co-operate with others, particularly our nearest and dearest.  OK, so you may not look at them as your ‘dearest’ and you many not be up for a whole lot of ‘co-operating’, but you can at least learn a little from your nearest when they have a proven track record which is better than yours in many areas.

So, Blighty, I write you these letters from Limburg out of a concern and a desire to help you to learn and, possibly, improve.  Do with the information as you wish, but if you don’t, at least, listen and learn, you can’t begin to decide whether you wish to make a change.

I must be honest with you, Blighty, I don’t love you and I don’t miss you.  I may no longer live in you and, as it currently stands, ever have any desire to reside in you again, but you have been a significant part of my life, my education and up-bringing and continue to be the place that most of my loved ones choose, or happen, to reside.  If only for them, please, at least, take the time to read my letters.  If you wish to write back, I would very much like to hear from you.

Until next time!

Benedict

 

*The linguistic snobs amongst you will criticise my perceived laziness at the use of ‘Xmas’ and not ‘CHRISTmas’.  As an atheist, I wish to make it clear that any personal recognition of this day (which nowadays, as today, usually incorporates nothing), is simply as a secularist holiday and the associated non-religious elements attached to it.  It is also recognition of the fact, prior to being hi-jacked by the Christians and their mythical tale of magical children of higher spirits, it was a pagan festival that retains to this day several elements of that ritual.

Welcome to the world of Stupid, Selfish White Folks

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As an optimistic young student of Politics, I strongly believed in the concept of democracy.  That, however the people vote, a majority should be respected, irrespective of the direction in which it happens to sway.  Despite knowing, even back then, that the most destructive leader our planet has ever witnessed was democratically elected, I rather naively believed in the good of humanity and that we, as a society, had progressed and were progressive.

Of course, the world of 2016 is different to that of 1933.  In some ways.

Technologically, we are obviously more advanced, more interconnected as a globe, more culturally aware of other societies and (or so I thought) more ‘tolerant’ of our differences.

I had thought, and hoped, we had reached a stage in our development where we had begun to turn the tide of long-held insular notions of nationalism and, recognising that we have more that binds us together than marks us apart, strive towards a new era of integration and co-operation.

The truth is:  we were.

However, so often in this era, change has to come either from above or from notable individuals prepared to put themselves  on the line to take a lead.  Evolution, not revolution, has, for most western democracies, become the standard process for change. In bygone days, disgruntled citizens would take to the streets, armed and ready to fight, now we predominantly settle for a more ‘civilised’, if frustrating, system of democracy and regular elections.  But a cross in a box every five years, in what can seem an overly convoluted, complicated and, (even though we claim to be democratic), unrepresentative political system, fails to put the same fire and drive into the masses, unlike the riots, protests and revolutions of the past.

For many, politics is boring.  Its dull.  It seems irrelevant and fails to represent the truth of so many peoples lives.  It feels like you need to be an academic to understand how the system works, to make sense of the political vocabulary and it still appears, despite reform,  like an elitest club of the rich and successful who are usually in it just  for themselves.

Many of us do to take an interest in the machinations of the political system, attempting to keep abreast of  current affairs and maintaining a modicum of knowledge around political issues and the functions of our various levels of governance.  But there are many disgruntled amongst the voting population who, although registered electorate, feel disenfranchised from a system that swept them along and they’ve yet to catch up.

While you can change the nature of those who lead a society, you cannot, overnight, change the nature of a society.  You cannot expect the huge sway of the population that are (I use these terms with no sense of degradation) un- or under-educated, elderly and poor, to be swept along with the waves of change, however progressive and optimistic the rest of us may believe them to be.

We must take responsibility for this.  For an educational system and government that has let so many down: that fails to prepare and enthuse our young pre-enfranchised youth, to take life-long responsible, active and INFORMED roles in their society; that fails STILL to produce enquiring and questioning minds with a thirst for logic, information and a recognition in the validity of sources; that inadequately continues to fail to challenge notions of entitlement, nationalism and racial superiority among many of the dominant culture – at times even encourages it without consciously being aware of it; that still continues to live off and celebrate the golden age of ’empire’, of anglo-saxon might, superiority and territorial entitlement, without fully recognising its role and responsibilities in failing (not to mention enslaving and butchering) millions of citizens of the developing world in its genocidal land-grab and the repercussions in the psyche of many of its citizens still alive today.

Democracy makes no recognition of your political knowledge and literacy.  You need no qualification.  As a graduate of Politics, I have the same right to vote as someone with zero knowledge or fed entirely by the tabloids.    Your reasons for voting can be based on carefully calculated and considered rationale, or simply based on gut, or, for that matter, just because you like someone’s name on the day.  Rightly (or wrongly) democracy is universal.  We all have the same say.  But we must all live with the result of the majority no matter how we voted and no matter the reasons, rationale or resume of those who voted for it.

Democracy is, purely and simply, the will of the majority.  Some may call it ‘mob rule’. Others may identify it as the best system we have, despite its flaws.

As already identified, democracy works best when we have an electorate who are informed, educated and enthused.  When we lack the knowledge and expertise, we must turn to those who are more qualified and experienced than ourselves to share theirs.  We should listen, assess and evaluate based on the evidence presented to us by them and others.  Dismiss them at your peril.

I know that there are many things that I lack the knowledge on.  Or am ignorant over.  Or, put another way, I am pretty ‘stupid’ when it comes to things like cars, football and quantum physics.

There: I said it. I am stupid.

Or, at least, I can be when it comes to things I have no, or little, knowledge over.  I know what I don’t know.  I am fully aware that I am ignorant and stupid over many things, therefore I rely on the knowledge and experience of others:  i.e. experts.

If I want my car fixed, I go to a mechanic.  I wouldn’t hire a mechanic to represent me in court.  And I wouldn’t trust a lawyer to perform colonic irrigation on me (as much as they know about spouting shit).  And I certainly wouldn’t, after having consulted several car mechanics on fixing my car, tell them all to f*** off and attempt to fix it myself.  That would be STUPID.

It appears now that we live in a world where having an education and bothering to learn is deemed pointless and actually counts against you.  Its become the case that everything we were taught by our parents (if you had decent ones, that is) or learnt in school, is meaningless.  That the values of merit, of tolerance, of co-operation, of optimism are no longer part of the national, and international (anglophone, at least), psyche.

Experts are laughed at.  What the hell do experts know???!!!  I’ll trust my gut, my instinct, my inexperience and ignorance to come to an important decision.

Stupid, selfish, disgruntled white (predominantly, by far) folk across the anglophone world are now speaking.  They don’t care to hear about the values of co-operation, of tolerance and of diversity.  They’re even prepared to bloodey-mindedly vote a certain way EVEN if it might spell economic downturn for their society.  Why?  Because co-operation, tolerance and diversity have done f*** all for them – or, at least, that’s what they believe.  Because their vitriol and hate for others and their own sense of lack and entitlement trumps any degree of moral responsibility to their neighbours, their environment and their world.  They don’t give a shit about co-operating with others, tolerating different people and living in a diverse society.  All they care about is themselves.  “What about me???!!!”, they’re screaming.  “Why should I care about the brown people or those foreign people or them gay people???… What about me???!!!” At least they’re being honest.  Selfish, but honest.

I don’t blame them.  I’m not even saying they are entirely wrong.  But we have created a system that is failing these people and feeding into their anxieties, insecurities and, at times, causing more problems than it solves.

I am a socialist.  Welfare should be there for those who need it, not abused by those who are capable of contributing in some way to society.  Benefits are not an entitlement, they are a last resort for those struggling to get out of a rut or falling on hard times.

We have created a spoilt, selfish and lazy group of proudly stupid people who too often shirk any degree of self-responsibility for their own situation, continually playing the victim, blaming others for their circumstances, believing they have a right to social assistance for their existence, their addictions, their luxuries and the off-spring they choose to bring into this world.

Again, I don’t blame them.  While we have a system that breeds and encourages them, I can’t blame them.  I certainly do not hate them.  I dislike their choices and behaviours.  I would wish they would take another path, but I understand, to some degree, why they live the way they live.

Equally, I dislike the choices and behaviours of the wealthy too.  They can all be selfish.  We all can.  Selfishness is a very human trait.  There is nothing new in the concept that the electorate is driven by selfish reasons (who ever votes for tax increases?).  But part of being human (as opposed to animal) in the 21st century was, or so I thought, our ability to temper the reality of our selfish behaviour with our ability to see the bigger picture; to have some care for the world beyond our own front door too.

We must live with the consequences of the society we create.  Sadly, we have created an increasingly ugly one.

In some ways, its not the selfishness that surprises or irks me.  Selfishness is very much an integral part of being human and in the motives of the electorate.  Disabled people voting for a party promising to increase disability benefits could be identified as being equally as selfish.  Of course.  Financial gain, or any other gain for that matter, is a perfectly acceptable form of selfishness.  What defines recent electoral activity, has been the degree to which that selfish has not be driven by a desire for personal gain, as much as it has been driven by a hatred for others, driven predominantly by stupid, white folk.

Not to say that other right-wing, nationalist and hate-fuelled political movements and parties do not exist in other western democracies, they certainly do.  Until now, however, their successes have been limited to largely local politics.  It remains to be seen if this wave of hate and stupid, white anger will spread across the various linguistic societies of the west.

All in all, it is, in my opinion at least, a regrettably marked step back in the progress of western democracy.  My optimistic side hopes it is just a blip, merely a temporary deviation from a more enlightened and enlightening future.  The cynic in me fears that I may, once again, be kidding myself.