in a field

I walk in a field
which rolls beyond my gaze
the ripening wheat
soft, abrasive

I wander
always wander
for the stream I had once found
which fenced the field at one end
and could provide
respite from the summer heat

The stream I had found, long ago
a brook
a tree on its distant bank
proffered shade
A bird
a small thing
his song, melodic and sweet
lingered on my ears

I watched him
—stared at him
as he hopped and flittered
around the tree
but always returned
to sing to me

I knew at once
that he was mine
and I was his
songbird and audience,
a willing captive of his melody

But now I’m gone
I wander
always wander
through the field
soft and abrasive
searching for its end
for that stream
the brook
and the tree
for my passerine friend
whose song had entwined my heart
with the ribbons of its melody

But there is none
only the wheat
dancing like billowing silk
soft and abrasive
in the dry summer breeze
I wander
always wander
in a dream

Is it a dream that I remember
or merely hope
or will I never hear his song again
even in a dream

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Elegy for a Universe without Time Travel

I want to go back
back and change things.
I feel as if my life so far has been a waste
as if I have been stumbling towards my goals
when everyone else has already achieved them
years ago.
So I want to go back.
back to a time when I can set in motion
the things that would actually get me
to be what I want to be
what I expect to be
what I should be
what any other reasonable person who was trying to be me would be by now.
But I’m not.
Hindsight is always 20/20
I tell myself
You can only know the consequences of your actions because they’ve happened
I tell myself that changing my past would change who I am
that I wouldn’t really be ‘me’ anymore.
I tell myself that time travel is impossible
paradoxical
that I can’t change my past
no matter how much I want to
But that’s just a ruse
a ruse to hide from my nostalgia
to convince myself to be happy with the present
and to look to the future.
But the future is fuzzy
uncertain
unknowable
The past
I know
it is certain
and it is wrong
it’s not perfect
it is failure
it is a waste
and I want to go back
I want to go back and change things.
My life so far has been a waste
I have been stumbling towards my goals
when everyone else has already achieved them
years ago.

Such drugs

So, the government’s decided that it’s going hush the outcry over legal highs by banning them. I’m not going to suggest that they’re safe, nor am I going to have any sympathy for the retailers flogging it. But what I am going to suggest is that banning was never the right answer, because we’re not asking the right question.

The right question isn’t “should” people do it, nor is the question about how hazardous it is compared to alcohol and other things. The question isn’t any of these things

Over the last while, pick any night at random, and there’s a good chance you could find John Campbell going on about the legal products, showing footage of people lining up to buy them, and telling excited stories about the people using them, talking of addiction, health problems, financial troubles, and other things all caused by so called “synthetic cannabis.” It all seemed very sensationalist.

There is a level of truth to his reporting, but it’s impossible for me to tell, because the entire charade reeked of the same bollocks that accompanies every moral panic.

The one thing I did notice, watching the footage they were showing, it had a strong look that it was people just moralising about other people, in particular, wealthier people looking down on the riffraff they don’t want in their communities. Now, that’s just how it looked to me on the telly, and I’m usually loathe to make such a cheap accusation. But cheap, though it is, methinks there’s more to the ban (and the animal-testing-without-testing-on-animals catch 22 that comes with it) than simply concern for society’s safety. Like most things surrounding people telling other people not to do something, there are bound to be plenty of double standards.

We’re worried that people are using these drugs, and I do agree that people should not be able to access it, but like any drug, we shouldn’t be concerned that people are doing it; we should be asking the question about why people want to do it.

When it comes to addiction, the solution is rarely to just take away the addictive thing. There are a myriad different components to addiction on this sort of scale, the addictive nature and withdrawal effects of the chemical in question being a not insignificant part of it. But there are other contributing factors.

Addiction is complex, and it’s seen (under the more correct term dependence) as a disease. Disease isn’t cured by simply commanding the sick to be well. Likewise, I see use of “synthetic” cannabis as symptomatic of a larger problem, one that isn’t simply going to go away by banning the vice. Psychoactive drugs often offer an escape, be it from reality, or just your emotions. I want to know what the people getting hooked on it are escaping.


 

That all being said, it’s still entirely possible to investigate and mitigate these broader concerns while it is illegal. So, the question turns back to should it be illegal?

The problem with these “legal highs,” is that, thanks to the reality of chemistry, it’s not easy to place a blanket ban on certain molecules without having repercussions. The same chemical might do different things in different contexts. From a legal perspective relevant to this issue, this largely presents itself with manufacturers using slightly different chemicals, and branding them as “herbal,” or “synthetic.” So long as our laws are carefully considered and well reasoned, this largely doesn’t become a problem, but laws like these are often made as knee-jerk reactions to public opinion. And we’re left to do it again when the next slightly different chemical comes on the market.

The real problem with “synthetic cannabis” (I keep putting it in “quotes” because it is neither really synthetic, nor cannabis), isn’t that it’s not simple herbal product, it’s that it’s not what it says on the label. Tests of popular brands in Germany found that the products didn’t contain the ingredients specified on the packaging. Most of them contain cannabinoids, in wildly differing doses.

But, I hear you say, if you don’t think banning them is the answer, aren’t you in favour of them? Well, hypothetical reader who sets up paragraphs nicely, no. Regulation is what I’m calling for. People are going to use narcotics, so we should do our best to make sure they’re safe. Also, keeping things legal, regulation enables us to keep the entire industry transparent, and helps those of us being hurt by it to be identified and receive help.

We shouldn’t have these products, but the solution to the problems they bring isn’t as simple as banning them. Once again, the solution is complex, and we should be prepared for difficult work, not knee-jerk legislation.

Climatic musings

I’ve been thinking. Dangerous, I know, but I did so anyway. The particular topic I’ve been thinking about, in this instance, is climate change. Anthropogenic Global Warming, for those of you who like words. And who amongst us doesn’t like words?

I may come across rather cynical with these thoughts on this particular topic, but when it comes to global warming, I fear there is little else one can be.

First of all, anthropogenic climate change is a thing that is real. It’s not really open to debate. If you want to challenge it, then you have your work cut out for you. And not just with anecdotes about old arctic shipping routes and medieval ice ages, or picking misleadingly processed and irrelevant data from one or two individual weather stations, you’ll have to produce evidence comparable to the absolute mountains of data and very strongly peer reviewed theories that all point to a warming world. If you disagree, come back when you understand what an overwhelming consensus means in the scientific world. The only thing left to debate is whether we’re fucked, or completely fucked.

In a presentation on the Kyoto Protocol I gave a number of years ago, I pointed out that were it not for humans deforesting Europe c. 8000 years B.P., and the flooding of rice paddies in East Asia c. 5000 y B.P., the natural glaciation cycle would have plunged us into the beginnings of a new ice age around 1000 years before Christ was supposed to have walked the Earth. In fact, it was way back then that the planet begun warming. It only reached it’s modern, disasterous acceleration with the industrial revolution. (Fun game: when you burn coal, think about the fact that you’re releasing carbon that hasn’t been in the air for about 330 million years, and was laid down due to the collapse of the rainforests due to catastrophic climate change, which also ushered in mass extinction.)

So, man-made climate change is responsible for keeping us out of an ice age, and the only way to return to the natural cycles is to completely remove humanity’s influence. On the flip side, without the pollution-causing industrial revolution, we wouldn’t be able to feed our vast populations, even if you reduced the voracious diet of the West. In fact, we still don’t produce enough for everyone. One of the problems holding Africa back (aside from the very big ethno-geo-political vestiges of colonialism and continued gouging from not-entirely-ethical multinationals) is the inability to access the kind of industrialised farming we enjoy.

But, a huge portion of carbon emissions come from agriculture. Industrialising the developing world’s farms world pile vast amounts more on top. What can we do? Deny billions of people food?

What about deforestation? Forget North American logging, most of the problem lies in the burning and bulldozing of enormous stretches of rainforest. Mostly to clear land for farming and cities in South and Central America, and also to make up for desertification in Africa. Again, how do we solve this? Deny people food and homes? It’s easy to moralise about these issues from the comfort of the global north; we’re not the ones who have to go hungry.

So, global warming’s inevitable and the only way to avoid it is to not have billions of humans living on the planet? Well, yes, but don’t go planning your genocides yet, we can still mitigate the dangers by reducing our emissions, and make it less catastrophic, if still uncomfortable.

(Speaking of ‘uncomfortable,’ I always come across people who point out that worse things have happened and life on Earth kept on just fine. Yes, it’ll all be quite dandy for life, just another mass extinction event. These people never seem to think about what they’ll be doing when the shit hits the fan. Life as a whole will just adapt and evolve around it, but we may well be a casualty. At the very least, life as we know it could be torn asunder.)

But, (every paragraph seems to either start with “So…” or, “But…” I’m sensing a pattern…) in case I seem too optimistic, I should add that getting people with a very strong vested interest in technology that has the byproduct of carbon emissions to reduce their use not just a little, but a lot, is no easy task. And that’s to say nothing of the global political consensus required to achieve it. And then there’s the task of maintaining it for the rest of humanity’s existence. The (considerably unlikely) flipside is that reducing carbon emissions too much could send us into the now overdue ice age we’ve been putting off.

So, we’re fucked.

The good news is, it’s only mostly.

Gay Marriage — Not just a bauble

the push for marriage equality is compounded by a pernicious claim from the gay community, as well as it’s counter-claim from those in the queer community who aren’t interested in marriage.

The first claim is that gay marriage is “the last human rights battle” to be had. This is patently false. Liberty is a never ending battle, that we must continuously wage. There are still the overwhelming issue of trans rights, as well as a number of rights set forth in the UDHR that many Western governments still don’t recognise, such as the right to move freely around the world, and settle in a new country.

The other claim is that same-sex marriage is not important, that it doesn’t address trans rights, the bullying of queer teens, the ostracism and discrimination we face, our horrifically high rate of suicide, among a myriad other things. There’s the claim that we have the opportunity to work on these things, but instead, we’ve decided to focus on the one with the dress-up and the cake and the ‘traditional’ family structure that failed so many of us.

Well, I think both camps are wrong. Completely wrong, though I can more than appreciate the sentiment of the latter.

Gay marriage is not in any way the “last human rights battle,” on account of the fact that there never will be a “last human rights battle.” Ever. Even if we were to find that we’d realised all rights that should be inalienable and protected, we’d then still have to constantly ensure that they were never wound back.

On the other note, I read somewhere gay marriage described as “trickle down rights,” and that it’s a sellout to conservatism and “traditional values” [air quotes], that the non-white, non-rich, non-gay queers have to get in line and wait their turn.

There are issues that marriage equality don’t address, that’s to be sure, but that’s also not it’s job. Nor will it’s passage automatically lead to these other important issues being solved. But it’s still an important step.

Marriage is an important part of most cultures, or things approximating marriage. While that’s not an argument for it’s superiority, it is not something that we should think we can make go away. Rather, we should see it as something that we can modify and evolve to keep in accordance with social flux.

But there are lots of other important things that we need to also be doing, particularly around trans and racial issues. Marriage doesn’t detract from these, and we shouldn’t let it. There are an enormous amount of people for whom marriage equality is vitally important, both for legal and symbolic reasons. Furthermore, marriage equality represents the queering (albeit slowly) of a straight-held idea, and returning us to an idea of relationships from before religion stuffed them up.

Human sexuality and gender, and the relationships we share, form a rich tapestry, and marriage equality is an important part of revealing the whole of it. It’s not the whole, by a long shot, in the same way that “traditional” isn’t either. But somebody else’s marriage doesn’t destroy your relationships.

If you don’t want to get married, you don’t have to. If you don’t like or believe in marriage, you don’t have to defend it. If you think there are more important battles to fight, you don’t have to wait for marriage to be done first.

The same goes for those who want marriage: There are still other battles to be won, there’s still a long way to go before we can even come close to calling something the “last human rights battle” we face, and you shouldn’t suppress other’s to get what you want.

Marriage Equality isn’t something that gays have steamrolled across all discourse. It’s merely an iron that we’ve managed to strike while public opinion has enabled it to get hot.

On Liberty

I’ve recently finished reading A.C. Grayling’s Liberty in the Age of Terror (Bloomsbury, 2009), which provides a succinct, if repetitive, affront to the destruction of civil liberties seen in the West, and especially Britain, in the name of security following the threats of global terrorism seen in recent times. (Aside: 9/11 — what a way to start a millennium.) From IRA bombings of the 80’s and 90’s to the destruction of the World Trade Centre, to the bombings in London, Madrid and elsewhere, security nets have been cast over much of our lives, trawling through communications, CCTV footage, and many other aspects of our lives with the intention of stopping terrorism. This trawling has suffered a considerable amount of ‘mission creep,’ with police arresting civilians for filming them, for example, in a way that Grayling makes very clear puts him in mind of Orwell’s 1984.

In the book, Grayling puts much of the blame not on the extremists, or the politicians (those in authority are always going to find the liberty of its citizens a nuisance). No, he sees identity politics as the enemy. He finds it divisive, to encourage sectarianism, and it rolls back the Enlightenment principle of individual liberty.

He also finds post-modernism to be a problem.

But I wish to argue that the ideas which emerged in the eighteenth century about individual autonomy and rights, pluralism, a framework of impartial law impartially administered, privacy, freedom of thought and expression, democratic institutions, secularism, and the importance of education and equality of opportunity, are achievements of history that should be permanent because the principles and ideas they embody are universal and right. The post-modern world view, with its scepticism about universal principles, and the opposition of mindsets that also claim universality and permanent truth but for ideas originated in much earlier phases of human history (in blunt truth: among unlettered and ignorant tribesmen), and now maintained in the self-interest of their inheritors, constitute the main obstacles to what the Enlightenment project seeks to realise in the way of liberty and rights for all.

More on this later. When I’m more awake.