Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our greatest fear is that we are more powerful than we can imagine.

Posts tagged ‘politics’

The Romans: The surprising similarities underneath conventional knowledge

“What have the Romans ever done for us?”, a typical quote used today to signify Rome’s achievement’s as late antiquity’s great power. Conventionally underlined are stories of grand extravagance, triumphs, aqueducts and other projects. This is just the tip of the ice berg and is something which is not new by any respect to public knowledge. Rome outlines an underlying reality: a philosophy which completely shaped and re-defined motions of state, governance and themes that we understand as important today. Sure, they were understood in different contexts but conceptually they remained vastly similar. This will investigate that claim and show how in some respects, many of what we accomplish today can be related; things pointed out can be seen and things understood can be acknowledged. Let me take you on this journey and welcome you abroad.

Rome itself was an immensely large and prestigious power for its time. With territory stretching from Britain in the north, Africa and Egypt to the South, Syria and Iraq to the East and lower Germany, France, Belgium and the Balkans, to the West (during the time of Trajan), for 600 years it had endured as an empire however it’s customs, laws and philosophies had survived for much longer and thrived culturally. It expanded to the point where it laid the foundations for Western culture and ideals which survived subtly even today. I would argue at any rate, British society is largely the idealised version of Roman society that the Roman aristocrats and philosophers could have only dreamed of. Let me demonstrate this.

When analysing the similarities, it is important to look at law. In many respects Roman law and British common law are very similar, as well as the political institutions that formed during the republic and survived as formal institutions during the Empire (that were inheritingly based on common law). Roman law, like British Common law, is very similar for the simple reason that rather than based on abstract ideas, it venerated and constantly modified itself based on dialogue. In the case of Rome, there would be various political lobbying groups that represented specific strata’s of society, for example the conciliam plebiswould represent the plebeian legal group in Roman society (free born citizens); the Comitia centurata the military and Comitia Tributa was divided amongst the different classes which were separated into plebeians and patricians (aristocratic and wealthy members of Roman society). The leaders of these lobby groups, which were tribes, would be magistrates which would form part of the senate: an advisory body which the magistrates depended on. Though it held no executive power, it dictated pay to the Roman military and allocated where which provinces the consuls (the highest magistrates would rule). These customs of politics were ultimately defined by the confines of the law and these formalised how Roman customs took hold (in other words, the law aimed to determine everyday behaviour and not vice versa) with “justice laying at every man’s door”. The British legal and political system, though different in custom and contexts, holds and similar ethos. Let the origin begin with the word parliament: it derives from the French word parley which means ‘to speak, converse or discuss’. It represented an advisory council which sort to legally and morally guide the English monarch and the term appears in the 12th century. Like Roman law this is also a result of a culmination of previous legal documents, in this case being the Magna Carta (arguably the first basis of British common law) which helped define the confines of British law and ultimately, like its Roman counterpart, formalise customary behaviour. In legal terms (rather than historic), no longer was the king able to simply dictate but had to abide by the culmination of varying land and tax laws.

Similarity also takes hold in the way both Roman and British laws articulated themselves through empirical measurements. Both laws founded themselves on economic aspects because of its simplicity and easily regulatory basic principles. For the Romans, laws such as The Custom Laws of Asia created justification through common goods, land holdings and trade and this is seen in the language it articulates. A similar case can be posed for British Law: when the de facto reasoning for British law is expressed, empirical measures are used as a form of referencing and to ultimately attribute quality to un-qualitative aspects; for example, British law constantly quotes ‘the law the common land’ when talking about holdings and, like Roman law, was used to distinguish different economic and social groups in society. Many would argue that the nature of European civil law is vastly more similar because, like Roman law, it is adaptive and compiles law through discussion. However unlike European law, which sought to mimic its Roman counterpart, British common law provides a basis on tradition which is outlined through historical texts. A good example is the accumulation of laws under the monarchy and, like Roman law, does this on the basis of spiritual tradition which continues to be preserved even today.

Similarity also appears in the basic underlying ethoses of legal perception. Roman law is very understandable because it is very blunt in its interpretation of reality and seeks to attain a real honest distinction. In the first paragraphs, Roman law distinguishes ‘all people as either slaves or free’ and within free there were different classes and within different classes there were certain privileges and condemnations. These became the forefront of determining political and economic positions in society, which any family could achieve over generations; for example, a freeman could become eventually wealthy enough to become a patrician and therefore possibly go into a political role but this came with customary restrictions which could demote his class. However, if successful, and with enough money earned, the political position could be purchased. Augustus (the first Emperor of Rome) used this as a determining factor to get his supporters into the senate by charging the position 900,000 sesterces (a lot of money) and giving a million sesterces to people to buy them. The basis of British law is very similar in the fact it makes itself very blunt and contextual through discussion. It states all people are free and entitled to be accountable under law and therefore have an equal basis however certain economic partners, holdings and land holders are entitled to certain responsibilities, privileges and condemnations if the law isn’t proceeded through. The same effect lies within social groups since, in today’s society, economic and social classes and intrinsically linked (as they were in Ancient Rome), for example a working class profession, such as a builder, scaffolder, roofer etc need certain licensing and contracting which offer different terms and conditions to be met, whereas what is considered middle class professions, such as merchants, businesses, contractors etc, hold different terms and conditions which determine different pay, entitlements and privileges based on profession. This can be an inevitable determining point in the political arena as well with British politician being able to gain political standings based on education, social or economic standing informally (which can by-pass or re-shape the law). A good example is Boris Johnson’s entrance into power based on his education in Eton, Oxford and profession in journalism. It seems there is a social and economic requirement to hold the high vestures of power.

Manipulation and the development of Roman and British law can also display similarities but also how both have branched in different directions. In the case of Roman Law the transition from Republic to Empire and the gradual political nurturing of the Emperor was successful in re-defining political institutions and their legal standing. The legal institutions, such as the conciliam plebis, became obsolete and only existed formally, as did the consuls (whose numbers expanded) and the senate transitioned from a corporate and advisory branch, to an executive branch. In the middle of all of this laid the emperor who did not exist as a legal entity. In legal terms, he was a senator who was given imperium (absolute power and authority over troops) and was delegated a number of titles but whose positions were based on informal customs such as honour. In many ways he was the ceremonial father figure that the Roman Empire depended on and his display of honour was one which leaned upon the honour of other institutions. In British law there was a similar development but it occurred in a different/opposite fashion. As originally stated, parliament was an advisory body to the English monarch but, as the monarch centralised its absolute power during the 16th and 17th centuries, it transitioned into a full executive and sovereign body after the English Civil war. It was then that the King became a figure head which established the empirical authority of British common law. However, unlike the Romans, the King was based on legal proceedings: its honour still stood but that’s all it held. In both cases, both were looked at as figure heads, but in the case of British law, the Monarch ultimately succumbed to the executive branch of law.

A similar transition can be seen with the role of politicians because of the diluted social and political boundaries. In the Roman Empire, a politician would specialise in different social and economic positions as a means of experience and strength; in fact it is arguable there were no boundaries as we understand it today. A potential Roman politician who would want to become a consul in the time of the Republic would have to go through the Cursus Honorum (the courses of office) which would enable them to go through a hierarchy of positions to achieve political advancement; for example a Quaestor (the lowest in the course) served as paymaster to the legion as well as supervised public games; others positions such as Aediles supervised public works and religious property. Eventually, they would advance to praetor where they would hold military authority and be designated to a province which they would need to look after. This position would act as both a military, political and legal figure (as there was a lack of distinction) and it was not surprising that the praetor would look over legal cases, read petitions, command units in the provinces and lead men into battle and tour the provinces. Cicero governed the province of Cilicia and sorted legal cases as well as defended Cappadocia against the Parthians (the successor to the Persian Empire). Pliny the Younger, under the Emperor Trajan, was delegated provincial governorship of Pontus-Bithynia where he was delegated authority to sort of corruption (which would lay the way for Trajan’s Eastern campaigns). These were considered building blocks to govern and were delegated to high wealthy political classes. A similar case is seen in British politics. In political parties, a person can work their way through the hierarchy by excelling in different institutions and skills, though many are successful as a result of their educational and social background. However, unlike Ancient Rome, the roles are reversed. As was formal, different informal skills are now perceived to be informal in the eyes of the British political system (it’s seen as something that contributes, but doesn’t matter as much on a superficial level).

The similarities are also affected in roles of business and, more importantly, business relationships because both Roman and British cases possess a mixture of formal and informal customs and relations. The Roman style of business was inevitably intermixed with its political and social counterpart and enabled mobility between different social groups because it developed a form of creating connections. A patronus (patron) would have a range of connections with lower clines (clients) who would contractingly oblige to support each other based on verbal or written consensus. In return for money or protection from a patron, clients would be guaranteed security and committed favours which would be paid back in kind. It was part of the Roman social system of honour whereby favourable acts were outwardly performed and perceived to be morally upright. In British society the framework still exists and arguably this bears onto social and political relations, the Romans knew these boundaries did not exist and inevitably were part of each other. Today a business quotes its customers as ‘clients’ and it is expected to stretch beyond economic means. In the workplace, though it is expected for the person to work, it is informally expected for them also to develop social relationships with their co-workers in a daily basis which goes beyond the realms of business. After all, it is needed to know the person in order to work comfortably with them, the Roman’s knew of this however it seems much of this is not understood today. With the institutional boundaries that are placed, it seems the opposite has ironically taken effect and the social relations of the Romans have transferred to the formal procedures of business.

What is similar are the issues which enveloped Roman society and continue to do so today. Many of the issues have different boundaries and contexts but still hold the same considerations in principle and also have similar themes:

One of the most important was the idea of the military, especially in the realms of welfare. The Roman Military, as a cohesive land force, is estimated by historians to have numbered roughly 300,000 men protecting an Empire of 60 million and it is no coincidence that this force was under much consideration and acceptance as a major factor in the issues of the time, as it is today. In fact, the only variable difference is funding: the funding and maintenance of the Roman military is estimated to have accumulated half of the Empire’s budget whereas today it is 2.7% (measured in 2013). Of course, there are many different contextual considerations when taken into account: the technological and innovative advances of warfare today has meant less men are required, especially with the innumerable increase in firepower and specialist training/ education. Much of it coincides with the increase of the life expectancy of each soldier as well as the economic paradigm British society has formed through history (we now have the currency to guarantee that expenditure and welfare). During the Roman Empire, the context differed considerably: the economy worked on a measurable basis from agriculture whereby wealth was empirically measured in crops and therefore was the only homogenous source of income; the only other sources of revenues being rents from property and taxes from the provinces. In the spectrum of health, it was acceptable that the mortality rate for legionaries and auxiliaries during peace was high because of the lack of medical innovation or understandings that were available today. This, coinciding with the manufacturing the supplies, requisitions, armour, weapons etc, (and the lack of regularised currency as we obtain today) meant more talents (a form of Roman currency) needed to be invested. As well as difficulty, funding tended to come from the Emperor’s fiscus (treasury) rather than the states which further originated from plunder. Especially with the pestilent standard of living of soldiers, it was probably wages come from the plunder itself. Nevertheless the general theme remained, as it does today, of military welfare. The Roman emperors always made sure to pay their soldiers and ensure that they received full entitlements during retirement such as pensions and land. This concern still permeates within British society today as the standard of equipment and care for serving soldiers comes into consideration.

Public perception of the military also shares various similarities with its Roman counterpart and the prospect of ‘war far away from home’ still beacons within the confines of the public. Since the Roman army was always absent from public perspective during the Empire, people sought the reflection of war through public events, such as the coliseum where re-enactments of land and sea warfare were done for purposes of entertainment. It can be said that today, the public follows a more superficial version to come to grips with the absence of violence. Things such as violence in video games, films and public events such as cage fighting enable people to come to terms with violence by de-sensitising it so to be more aware of it. Much of this is attributed to the media and it is no coincidence a similar principle followed in the eyes of the Romans. Perceptions of events outside or afar from the Empire were advertised through few parties that gave their own perception of the situation (contributing to the glory of Rome).

It is arguable that both today’s and the Roman case attend similar concerns with emphasis on foreign campaigns. Within Ancient Rome, military units were confined near the boarders of the Empire and it was not expected for them to be in urban areas, unless for strategic purposes. In a wider context, this was to reinforce cultural or economic domination of the area (both at times being part of each other). Bordering kingdoms, leagues or tribes would often be client states to Rome in order to reinforce political stability for purposes of trade and the pax romana (Roman peace). The implications of this were so potent that towards the end of the Empire, or the so called ‘barbarian invasions’, many of the tribes sought to become part of the Roman Empire rather than destroy it. Cicero governance of Cilicia had to deal with the king of Cappadocia’s (Central/Southern Turkey) concerns that his family members were conspiring against him as well as protection of the Armenian King. Within today’s world, there lies a similar case as a result of the former colonial ambitions of the 19th century and the problems it has caused. Many of the campaigns waged by British army in places such as Iraq or Afghanistan are done for similar motives of ideology, finance or to simply give to culturally re-define states and these deal with similar political cases (it is arguable client states still exist today) The majority of states in the world, on paper, have been more secularized than ever before and share similar European democratic procedures.

The British social spectrum similarly mirror’s off the Roman one via its class system and perception of class. When Tacitus was invited to a banquet at a colleague’s house, he noted how everything was separated according to class and how he disproved of such customs. The implication of this writing enables us to proceed into the attitude of Roman patricians and plebeians and how fluid the social boundaries were. Like today, different separations were based upon legal customs however de facto a lot of it did not apply. For slaves, once they had escaped, they were hard to find. During the reign of Augustus, it was easy for plebs to copy the rings of the equestrians to get special treatment (though they were made out of iron and not gold). Non-senators often sat in senator’s seats during performances. Since it was hard to distinguish each person’s social status, it was simple for people to simply not live by them and legal distinctions should be seen as something that was for people to fall back upon. The only cases where these mattered were within the wealthy patricians who used their legal distinctions to enforce their social statuses; though it is probably true they mangled with plebeians on a daily basis and did things that went beyond the eyes of law such as sex. Such distinctions are made today. There is a ‘formalised’ class system though it is loosely defined and only bares informal barriers as it did in Rome. Groups of people, such as celebrities and wealthy members of society, use their wealth to display social distinction through events, parties etc. At times these are reinforced or are fluid, based on the individual who wants to be recognised or uses social status for purposes of insecurity, ego etc. At times it doesn’t matter, only in the eyes of people who think it should or feels the obligation to enforce it.

In the social arena, welfare was also one of the consisting political topics in the Empire and the idea of tending to the unfortunate is nothing new (within the economic capability of Rome). Within Rome, the poorest in society were given a bread doll where they would receive a token and that would entitle them to a bread supply, eventually carrying on to Constantinople where citizens received free bread before the Islamic conquest of Egypt. During Trajan, a welfare system for children was set up which consisted of food rationing. Like today, the perception of welfare largely originated out of charity and the majority of welfare was circulated through non-state groups as it had been in Britain before the mid 19th century.

All these points have outlined similar perceptions from today and many of them would have been issues and themes in the Roman world. Indeed many Roman philosophers and politicians, such as Cicero, could have only imagined a society such as ours and how we have carried the burdens which the Romans once experienced and idealized about. Yep, there are many things the Romans did for us and I think the legacy is more potent and influential than ever before.

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Organised crime and the case of drugs

It is no surprise organise crime plays a huge international role in the lives of everyone across the world. I mean everything in the world, from the shoes you wear to the weed you smoke, is based on a range of factors, such as availability, stock labour etc. What this also implies is there is availability of these items and there are the means to acquire them. So in other words, if there’s a shortage of something in the world, people will find a way to get it either way. Watching the news about whether we should legalise drugs or not has inspired me to analyse the workings of organise crime, its intricate details and hopefully that will lead me on to things such as arms and drug trafficking. Hopefully also it will leave you with a wider context and an opinion which is well informed.

So the global market is a world of acquiring things and suiting the needs and wants of people. It means people’s needs change but also the way they acquire them also changes and this is displayed in a number of factors:

It’s important to emphasise that organise crime and black markets, in general, emerge out of a constant theme of prohibition. This is expressed as a common theme through history, whether it’s alcohol or drugs prohibition. This is because people generally want things that give them some sort of satisfaction or suits their needs of leisure, escapism from the hardships of life, hedonism etc. Therefore, they’ll seek them around legislation or the confines of the law. This is a key theme with organise crime: things do not stay within the confines of regulation; they adapt and change. For example, in places where prohibition is huge, the black market thrives. A good example can be Eastern Europe during the cold war because it was the spectrum where drugs were smuggled, and traded, from South-East Asia through to the Middle East, and into Bulgaria etc. The fact little is still acknowledged about this subject is due more to the relativism of our time than the fact it didn’t exist. Due to the isolation, socially and politically, of the Warsaw pact countries, there wasn’t much attention by Western Medias and therefore, coinciding with the ideological conflict the cold war bought, there was a lack of means to prevent drug smuggling from happening. That’s just one of the many cases which represent the relativism and adapting nature of the international spectrum.

It also illustrates the way in which organise crime goes beyond the regulation of national and international law. Generally, after an extent, many of these organised crime syndicates, including businesses, are able to by-pass laws because of the influence and wealth things like the black market brings. It also means this isn’t a clear cut matter. Many of these crime syndicates are able to gain influence, financially and socially, and therefore begin to interlink itself with legal institutions. A very good example can be the fact the drugs trade was used to finance the world banks out of the recession (as has been said by Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN office on drugs and crime). What it suggests is that this isn’t something which is new, in fact it’s long been part of a series of intricate, intertwining, complicated factors which have developed over a long period of time. Of course, with a business worth £352 billion, it’s no surprise that the possibilities created by the ambiguous boundaries are appealing. Generally, it becomes a matter of who holds the most influence and who becomes the influencing factor. It is no coincidence that, for example, art theft is not stigmatised because people do not feel the need to pay attention to something that does not influence themselves in their daily lives. On the other hand, what does that imply for needs in general? Since the purpose of art is to display something that goes beyond the person’s needs.

The intertwining between organised crime and everyday life has its effects. I will be using the example of informal sectors through history to justify this assumption. Through history, there has been a common theme of authorities using informal means to achieve their objectives, when it has often gone outside their jurisdiction of authority (though back then the moral, political and social boundaries were not understood as they are today, and shouldn’t be- it’s called contextual analysis). During the English civil war, pirates were paid for and utilised by the Parliamentarians against the Royalist. In fact, that’s where pirates originate, they were former soldiers who were no longer paid and therefore became bandits or mercenaries.

Another example (my main one I will be using) is the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire was (read a book people!…only joking) the last great Middle Eastern empire with its capital being Constantinople or modern day Istanbul. It claimed itself to be the successor of the Roman Empire in an Islamic form. What is important is that the Empire was huge (look up the size) and therefore logistically, as it expanded further, it was more difficult to sustain itself socially and economically. As a result, through the 17th and 18th centuries, the Empire began to hire bandits, and autonomous warlords, to defend parts of the Empire where their authority was weak. This was by giving them full autonomy, paying them and letting them do whatever they wanted. Now, I can’t begin to explain what I mean by ‘full autonomy’. These bandits would kill, pillage villages, rape etc, and more importantly get levies (taxes) from the population. How does this contribute to organised crime you ask? Firstly it says the boundaries were a lot more blurred and ambigious back then; secondly, it shows the Ottomans would use informal means of keeping control when they’re authority was lessened, unavailable or absent. A very good example is the Balkans, which I will be going onto now:

During the 19th century, nationalism spread to the Balkan region of Europe (south eastern Europe) and once intermixed communities began to separate themselves based on ethnicity and linguistics. A this occurred, nations such as Greece, Serbia etc, began to declare independence. This is where the organised crime bit comes in. These people (such as the greek ‘friendly society’ which consisted of merchants and intellectual) would pay the bandits previously mentioned, to fight for them. A very good example is the Greek freedom fighter kolokotronis. He was Albanian and couldn’t speak Greek; however he fought for Greece (just as he and his father fought for the Ottomans) and became a general in the Greek army afterwards. That’s another theme, through history, these bandits or people, who we categorise as in organised crime now, eventually become integrated into the state they fought for and were given high positions. Kolokotronis was given the position of general because he demanded it and because the Greek government couldn’t pay him. Greece isn’t the only example. The United States used the same tactics against the British, with most of the founding fathers and fighters being previous landowners and generals under the British, for example George Washington fought against the French in the ‘seven years war’. The point is, whenever things have gone out of availability of past legality, the informal sector has been used as an alternative:

Which brings me on very conveniently to the current drugs situations. There’s a huge drug issue in Britain and there’s people I know who do drugs on a daily basis. The drug issue, as has been mentioned, is a matter of wants and needs. If people want it, they’ll find means and ways of getting around legality to get it. Drugs have been tolerated in Britain for the last twenty years and there’s been no display that it’s done the speculative harm people think. Of course, it depends on the drug, but then again, everything that alters the chemical balance in the body is a drug. Anyway, as it depends, the extremes of the drug will display the wants and needs of the people who want it, depending on how re-creation or quick the addiction becomes. That’s why, for example weed is more tolerated than heroine. This is where the question of legality comes in. The whole ‘should drugs be legalised’ is a complicated one and it depends on factors. If there’s a large population which is addicted to heroine, for example, and we go to war and get blockaded, there will be a large number of addicts who get cold turkey, meaning the black market would soar. The other aspect is, with such a high possibility of addiction, the drug would do more harm than good. On the other hand, ecstasy or weed, when taken in moderation, do little harm (in the hands of experienced users). So it’s complex.

Maybe legalising it isn’t as bad as we think. Legalising it means we can regulate it, which means we can regulate what substances go into it, which means drugs could possibly become less harmful if legalised. The potential is that we can create substitutes without the harmful effects of the substances and honestly, would you trust drugs which have been regulated and tested, or ones from a backstreet somewhere by a person you just met (I would go with the former). Legalising drugs would also mean, as the market gets regulated, there would be a hug profit to make (possibly one of the largest profits that you can get). We’ll have to see; meanwhile I hope this has been inquisitive for you and told you things you didn’t know.

Feminism: the significance of the bridge

I think it was a while ago, when I was at a convention, that a conversation striked up about the role that gender plays in society between a liberal feminist and male. Eventually the argument degenerated into the stigma attached to both gender; though it was plainly obvious to myself, and the crowd around me, that there was a greater emphasis on the female side. The female was arguing the role of abuse, women being the victims, globally and its impact within Western society and, of course, there is no arguing against this. Nevertheless the male put forth a very suitable argument, pointing out that, especially within the 1st world countries, the amount of female abuse has actually decreased and, statistically, domestic, social; physical abuse against males had increased dramatically, and also pointed out that the role of female victims is more confined to outside of 1st world countries, mainly Western Europe. What striked me the most was the level of arrogance with the feminist, especially her use of generalising terms and the way in which new statistics were to be denied, and this is no surprise. For the past 200 years (and I emphasise 200 years) women have faced gender conceptualisation, construction, oppression etc and it shouldn’t be a surprise that, as a result, the role of women in society is something that should be focused on, especially with the changing context of gender identity in society today. Though the question of arrogance needs to be addressed, mainly because it has began to influence the way in which women, academically and intellectually, begin to understand the world around them. In a seminar, within my university, concerning Medieval Islamic Empires, for example, we were talking about the role of aristocratic women within the royal houses of the sultans and one of the women argued that the roles could be seen as a means of female emancipation. It was at this point that I had to put forward the point that not only was the concept of female emancipation un-applicable to the time period, but also it could be seen as more of a way of maintaining dominance in a power struggle. It is generalisations like these which not only worries me but illustrates time and again the mis-conceptions of the way society is determining images, especially with gender which is, in turn, the role of people within society portrays. Anyway, let’s begin:

As always, it is a responsibility to give some context, so people can gain an understanding of what I’m talking about. The idea of gender obviously goes back a very long way, it’s first mentions of separation being both in Ancient Greece and Persia, as well as key texts such as the bible. Within Ancient Athens, women were viewed as the social inepts of society, as well as within full privacy, a good example being the back room of the house which was reserved for women in times of invasion. Women were segregated and made to work at home. However in Ancient Sparta, they were bred to be as tough, intuitive and intelligent as the males, as well as to uphold similar moral and social obligations (as well as to be physically fit in order to breed). However these are the exceptions of the time period. It has to be emphasised that, until 200 years ago, there was a lack of an identity within gender, and if there was one, it was completely different to the way we understand it today. Things were relative to different historical contexts and in each period things changed accordingly. A good example can be the fighting arenas which were set up between men and women, to solve domestic disputes, pre-renaissance, and the change, because of classical learning, to a very Athenian type scholarly approach. It is at this point where I should mention that most understanding does originate from both classical learning, and the way in which the Judeo-Christian tradition has moulded and formed the gender identities which we have today. In other religions, such as Islam and Hinduism, the role of genders was non-apparent; hardly any separation was made, only based on reproduction and each being emphasised as key part within the social system (a good example being the emphasis of pleasure in sex compared to Judeo-Christian though which stigmatised it). Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 19th century when gender constructions begin to become more apparent, though they became fully amerced in society at the beginning of the 20th century. It was here that, like recently, a ‘crises in gender’ was created by the media to stimulate a difference between men and women. This is also at the time when gender constructions are stabilised: men being seen as the protectors and providers in society and women as the child bearers and effeminate members of society. What this in turn shows is a reaction to the changing circumstances that caused a gender crises, mainly because of the growth of European Empires in the 19th century, and the way men were being portrayed. It is also important to note that this is a similar period of time when homosexuality is both labelled as such and is stigmatised. Beforehand, again, there was no category of homosexually that existed, only under sodomy. Even in religion like Islam, it stated that sodomy was only valid until 4 people witnessed it, thus showing how fluid the understanding of reality, and human sexuality, was back then. Back before anti-homosexual law was created, human sexuality was something that was seen to be fluid; men would hold shoulders, or hands, when walking in the park and it’s probably not surprising that homosexuals, and bi-sexuals, would have existed; especially in places such as the working class, or peasantry, where moral obligations weren’t emphasised as much. However, after events, such as the Wilde act (the first anti-homosexual law passed against Oscar Wilde) men stopped holding hands and women were seen to be housewives and to stay at home. It can also be seen as a reaction to a small minority of women gaining greater opportunities of employment as well. Most of this can be located to a time where scientific, functionalist, type categories were designed by scholars and impacted society: coinciding with the industrial age.

It was within the time of the 1970’s when feminism began, based on the analysis that women have been systematically oppressed and segregated in a patriarchal society and thus has grown in great numbers ever since; even branching out into different categories. However, as I have found, many women today, who feel it is not theirs to be defined, have began slipping away from feminism, mainly because they feel it is beginning to undermine their identity as a person but also feminism, in itself, generalises reality (and it is also an irony that the opinion lies within non-ideological, intellectualist females).

Now this entire context suggests many things. Most importantly, it suggests that gender is a construction first and foremost. A construction is something which is an artificial identity, than is created within the upbringing of the person, rather than pre-birth. A good example can be the perception that all women are innately caring and considerate. This is something which determines the identity of the person and distinguishes the similarities and differences between people, whether it is social, economic, cultural, ethnic or national etc. It also suggests that these constructions are fairly recent. What does this tell us? That socially and psychologically, human sexuality is very fluid, fragmented and cannot be properly defined, but it also tells us that the process is a generalisation in itself.

As I said before, the conversation about gender, in the convention, shocked me, mainly because here was a feminist, who is suppose to stand up for gender equality, disregarding her colleague’s information (her view being mainly ideologically based). Also the male’s illustrated to me the problems with gender concerning males statistically. Don’t get me wrong, I heavily dislike statistics and I think that showed in the argument because of it’s flaws.

Let me use the example of crime statistics to show my point. You have the role of the person committing the crime and those who report it: so you would have the decision whether the crime is to trivial to be reported (especially between friends and family) and aspects such as the dark figure of crime (the crimes which go largely un-reported due to a lack of gain by reporting it or a fear of reprisal). Then you have the role of the police, who will assess the crime based on significance, and other aspects such as discretion (10% of all criminals are caught due to the way they react to police investigation). Then you have the role of the courts who will statistically judge something based on guilt. As you can see, since in most court cases, 60%, people plead guilty, a plea bargain is given and the severity of the sentenced is reduced. This is then relayed to the role of the government who uses statistics like this to combat crime.

As you can see, this example can show not only how flawed statistics are, but also the way in which they are manipulated or adapted to show, what essentially a snapshot of information is. This can also be applied to the gender case, especially with the information the female used. Yes, globally women are disadvantaged but, if we analyse it in context, it is not succumbed to 1st world countries. Within these the opportunities for women, positions in corporations and businesses, wages etc, have actually been made equal (under examples such as the equal opportunities act) also coinciding with the fact women managers are bosses are statistically more likely to choose other women (especially with cases in courts) due to gender construction. A good example can be my brother who is a maritime solicitor (so a solicitor who specialises in naval and overseas trade). In his experience, he has found that many companies he had worked for, under female managers or entrepreneurs, were more likely to choose female employees. Other cases can be the fact company’s, such as primark, tescos and other retailers, employe an equal opportunity amount in terms of wages and positions of merit. Obviously saying my brother’s testimony doesn’t illustrate much but it also shows the problems concerning males as well. Problems with males can be the fact that the gender construction of males, one of toughness, solidarity and ‘bringing in the bacon’ means many cases of abuse fall within the ‘dark figure of statistics’. This is because many males fail to report cases such as rape and abuse by females, out of embarrassment to other males; the idea that men have to be resilient and tough and the fact their cases will be taken less seriously. Thus a de-validation takes place concerning the balance between male and female abuse. I mean, if you’re to be portrayed as tough and dominant, what easiness is there in reporting violation from a female? The answer is, of course, it’s a lot harder and probably won’t be reported. This is why we must not disregard the prospects of abuse against males and the fact it shows a certain arrogance within gender.

What also concerns me is the role of genders when concerning ’equality’. It seems, in today’s world, equality concern acting the same more than anything else. It seems that, for example in businesses or company’s women need to purposely display dominance as well as, at times, a greater show of force. This can illustrate either a re-admission of justice to be recognised by male peers, or it can show a similar acting to how males act, out of gender expectations. To me, equality doesn’t mean sameness, or the striding to act, or look, the same as the other. It merely implies a similar amount of equal treatment. This consists of the recognition that you are both conscious being and the treatment of respect, dignity, empathy and knowledge that the person shouldn’t be put in a position of harm. As you can see, there is not only a massive gap between the two perceptions, but also that equality entails both sides being on similar levels. So it does mean that both sides have opportunities based on merit, but also reconciliation and forgiveness should come into play because, if we keep a grudge against our peers, whether gender, ethnic etc, how are we ever going to be on a similar level as each other and thus pave the way for better opportunities? Even enemies can treat each other with respect and dignity, so why can we not stop generalising, forgive misgivings and look at the context? We need to accept that we have to move on rather than succumb to generalisations when negative events occur, and by doing that, we can proceed to gaining a better standard of quality for all people. Let me put forth an example, all women are different. For example, when a misogenous male slanders, it depends on context: some women will laugh at what has been said, out of the recognition that maybe it wasn’t serious, some will shrug it off and some will get offended. If so, then why should we succumb to saying all genders would react the same?

All I hope is I hope that people realise that genders are fluid, as are the sexualities of males and females, and also that I do not have to witness a shock as I did at the convention. For if gender’s a construction, why support it as such?

University: Where it was and is now, a review

As many who read this will learn, I get most of my stimulus to review (as well as rant) from facebook; the reason being because it’s an outlook where people think they can write almost anything without the fear of re-procussion from others. Don’t get me wrong, I use to do things like that on facebook and I was probably the epitome of that person: constantly ranting and bitching about various things, VERY long facebook status updates and very long discussions that went nowhere. The problem with these is: firstly they testify to how much time you have on your hands; secondly it tells you what the person could be doing while they’re doing this and finally it advertises yourself outwards with, what should be private information. Essentially, it shows your dedication to facebook and the domineering role it plays in your life. You’re probably asking ‘why does this matter?’; because not only does it illustrate the lifestyle people have chosen but it gives a greater context to the way people deal with situations and how that effects us in today’s society. This point is merely a stepping stone in showing this. I mean with the role of the mass media, instant information and people who are able to articulate their views in a short period of time, it’s no wonder people gain the idea that: not only can they feel they’re contributing to something much greater than themselves, but not need to think that elsewhere isn’t as valid e.g. anything outside the confines of the internet. Now, this perception doesn’t merely lie within the responsibility of the internet, or the mass media, but illustrate time and time again the way cultures, and especially the youth cultures, operate. I’m going to use the example of universities to show how this is made possible and the effect it has on the person, but I’m also going to show how it takes both parties, the students and the increasingly marketed universities, to actually make a difference (and I emphasise BOTH parties).

Now with universities, today’s period of time seems to be displayed as a turning point in the way universities operate and it’s no surprise. The massive un-necessary increases in fees for university; the difficult requirements for getting into university, and the ambiguous information of where the course can take you afterwards e.g. getting a job, have all contributed into turning universities into something they weren’t meant to be in the first place: a place for higher education. Today, it seems that it seems one of the only options to get employment which doesn’t consist of doing an NVQ or actually seeking employment after college or secondary school. No, it seems it’s become a place where in order to get higher positions, you need a degree and I think this is one of the worse beliefs that has ever been betrothed onto university expectations. People seem to gain this idea that in order to gets a high position working in a corporation, business or anywhere else; you need a degree in humanitarian studies or you need to look like you’re doing something with your life, so you can show you’re worth the hassle when you do apply. But (and this is a big but) people take this perception for granted, as if it’s true and, again, this testifies to the way people think society operates, which I’m having difficulty understanding this; mainly because it’s not and because it seems people attempt to take everything at face value.

I think to make this point more detailed, it’s appropriate to underline some context about universities or society. From the 17th century, until the 1980’s, universities were embodied as the epitome of higher education: as something, in order to achieve greater academic experience, you applied to and that would increase your chances of greater positions within learning and the academia; positions such as: philosophy, quantum mechanics, very advanced sciences and mathematics, theology, history, sociology, acting and the performing arts etc. Don’t get me wrong, until the 1960’s, university was mainly reserved for people from comfortable and wealthy backgrounds since they were the people who tended to seek a higher education to better their understanding, or to pursue a much favourable career, nevertheless these people only excelled in academics. People like Charles Darwin and Clive Anderson (people from two different spectrums in terms of career) aimed to do so because they knew it would be something that as worth it in the long term.

However, the latter point, about class, can be disagreed with because universities were something which was seen as a state institution and thus was paid for, and free, by the government. Any accommodation you did have was purely seen as something which needed to be paid for necessarily, as not to provide a financial distraction to the student, whose purpose was to learn advanced subjects. Now, of course, this differs from university to university, however the theme was generally very similar. It has only been since the 1980’s, and the introduction of Thatcherism, that Universities began to change. Thatcherism attempted to privatise what were state institutions in order to market them for a greater amount of income. Now, you can clearly see that being done today, with the fact, currently, a conservative government is in power and now we’ve seen a further marketing and privatisation of universities: coinciding with substantially higher fees (up to ten thousand pounds a year) and increasing competition, between universities, to gain more income. This has further led to a lack of co-operation between universities (in which some have been upheld thanks to things like the Russell group) and stricter tests and expectations for students wishing to get into universities. This has been a major problem because not only are fewer students getting into a university, which means less money, but also universities were never meant to have the purpose of employment in the first place. Back when universities were aimed at for higher education, people use to simply enter their family’s profession or just apply for work (and yes before you say anything, it was much easier). This coincides with the fact we were the remnants of our industrial age and thus we still had a manual labour force who were still being employed for business’ that still operated on British soil.

Now, with all this change over a short period of time, coinciding with a greater commercialisation in society, you might say ‘no wonder we’re so disadvantaged, things are very poor at the moment, especially for the youth of today’. Well, it’s partially right. A key point, which people fail to realise, is the fees are loaned but don’t need to be paid back until students find a job. Thus, it is implausible to state that the student is burdened with debt: especially with the fact the debt is paid off by an extremely small amount per year that is unequivocal compared to other debts e.g. debt with a.p.r, rates , that have to pay on a daily basis. Okay, the fact we have debt for university students in the first place is un-necessary and the fact the student loan company is a private one doesn’t make any sense, but it hardly states that the person is financially doomed. By the time the person is paying student debt off, they would have a job and, most importantly, be paying other debt off, because the debt only works when you’re working. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having to pay my student debt off as soon as I work and, like European countries, I wish my university was free  but I know for a fact I won’t have to pay it back for a long period of time, giving my leeway.

Nevertheless, what does this all tell about universities? It tells me that, due to privatisation, the number of students applying for university have increased rapidly, which has never happened before. What does this mean? That increasingly, universities are being seen as the one of the only windows to opportunity in society for middle class, and upper working class students. Now, given that the middle class are stereotyped as the ‘intellectual, educated class’ in society, it’s only reasonable most would seek a higher education. However, it seems to me, based on experience that many go and aren’t sure what they want to do, especially with the fact university courses have become somewhat ambiguous and give no indication of where the courses will take you in the future. Also courses tend to be very tangible. Studies like ‘cultural and social studies’, ‘humanitarian studies’ and ‘media studies’ seem very trivial and often aren’t properly recognised academic courses because they don’t have a deep academic embedding such as with mathematics, anthropology, history, sociology, theology, philosophy, economics, performing arts, the sciences etc. This implies that many of these courses are simply diversified versions of the main academic courses.

However, as I have mentioned before, it takes two sides of the party to operate and this mainly falls within the responsibility of students. This is where my introduction comes into play because it shows not only the lack of effort of the majority of students, and how university isn’t suited for most of them (that there only there because it’s seen as a window of opportunity) but also how most deal with university on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, university teachers have been stereotyped to be non-caring and I think there is truth in this. However, this doesn’t take validity away from the way students deal with things on a daily basis. Doing my course in history, when I went to seminars, ready to debate about the issues put forth, I came to find no one really wanted to debate anything and many people chose to stay quiet: either out of sensitivity or simply not being bothered and I think this testifies to a wider context; especially with the student mind frame or lifestyle. Obviously, a minority of people want to go to university and learn as well as seek a better understanding of the subject they’re passionate about and most of them aren’t sure what they want to do in the future (like most of us) however they are constantly undermined by people who simply aren’t bothered to learn. As I have found, many students simply can’t be bothered to read the material given or do advanced reading about the subject, which they can display in seminars. Also, it seems many students have this vague belief that there is a shortcut to success, that once they finish university they will be given a job. I think it rings out within all academic subjects.

Students constantly whine and complain about how there life is rubbish; they’re the most undermined people in society and they’ll have no opportunities once they come out of university, but, as I have seen, it’s as if people don’t want to try to be successful in what they do. It’s as if the youth have this belief that there is a shortcut to success and that, if things don’t go the way they want it to, they should give up on the first try. In order to succeed, you have to keep trying (which I know sounds cliché) but also to deal with things and move on. It just shows how pessimistic and how much of whiners we are. Now people reading this may argue “we’re simply following in the footsteps of those before, that we are showing how downgraded and barren society has become” and my answer to that is no you’re not. People before you, in the history that spans universities faced a lack of liberty; more poverty, a less regulated welfare state and, when they did go on strike, they striked about something which was worth striking about e.g. unemployment, the destruction of industry, massive wage cuts, infringements on human rights, (such as in the student protests about the vietnam war or the poll tax riots). All these examples have something in common because they threatened the well being of the people who were striking, because it actually affected their lives in terms of comfortability and the standard, as well as quality, of living. People today live comfortable lives, with parents who often work earn a reasonable amount of income and have many choices of leisures at their disposal. I’ve witnessed people in debt, but proceed to buy something that was completely un-necessary (e.g. a 50 inch wide screen t.v.), which is the basis of a consumerist society: one which thrives of leisure and uses money, which isn’t owned, for things that can’t be afforded. Most people who do live in the most desolate conditions in Britain, most likely don’t go to university; only a small minority of people do. Most either pick up a profession or start work due to their economic state, and before anyone says anything, yes I know the situation has a lot more factors and complications but that, statistically, tends to be the general theme of things. This can also be seen by the fact, since the 19th century the middle class was a lot smaller yet tended to be the class to go to university or enter merchant trading. The same applies to today, it’s only that now the middle class is the dominant class of society compared to 100 years ago.
All these points tell us so much about students, that many who come to university hardly study or put effort into their work; they choose tangible subjects which gives them little prospect for employment in the future, because they aren’t recognised as core subjects, and many of today’s youth often complain and whine about conditions which actually doesn’t affect them as much as they exaggerate. This also coincides with the fact that many people, coinciding with all the complaining, have a higher drop-out and lack of effort rate than ever before. What does this tell you? Yes it tells you that universities are being increasingly commercialised and, as a result, it is making it harder for students to get into university, but it also tells you that once the majority of students get into university they take courses that have no prestige (which is important in the job market) and they fail to put in the effort that they did when they wanted to get into university in the first place.

The same massively applies to employment: instead of making an effort to find work and picking up themselves when they’ve failed, many simply whine about how they’ve failed the first time, coinciding with the fact that many aren’t prepared to do the lowest paid jobs, that no one else wants to do, hence we’re in the situation we’re in now and hence why this country thrives on immigration. Of course those who work, study and put in the effort, defy all I’ve said, by a long shot. In fact, they prove me wrong completely. It’s the people who do otherwise which annoy me and also bring down the learning of the universities as well as the subjects.

My conclusion is this. Yes, hardships have happened because of the government and because of their policies: concerning universities (why cut services when the large private sector goes un-regulated?) but also it concerns the students themselves who tend to complain more about things disproportionate to their experiences and tend to have a lack of will to carry on when hardships do hit; as well as a lack of bother to learn: which can either be limited to disfranchisement with university or will power. There are times to play and then there’s times to work, I only hope people know the difference and that they’ll actually know what to complain about when true hardships really hit; instead of complaining about trivial ones, based on a lack of effort. Don’t take subjects which aren’t academically approved, stick the academic ones which embody all those proxy ones (such as the deep cored ones: History, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, performing arts, music, I.T, mathematics, the sciences, law, art) and most importantly, when things don’t go your way, pick yourself up and dust yourself off and try again. I’m sick and tired of seeing complaints about things that can easily be dealt with: I’m starting to believe its more people not wanting a solution than finding the ones which actually will help.

The Batman shootings in Denver: a review

Back when I use to debate on facebook, to the extent where I gave up hitting my head against a brick wall, I got into an argument concerning The ‘Batman’ shootings, by James Holmes, in Denver. The main basis of this argument is a person had posted a joke about it and, as a result this sparked various heated debates. Many of the people arguing against the status update argued that due to the 10 people dead, including a child and many wounded, we should feel no empathy for the person in question, mainly because of the act which was committed. Eventually the argument accustomed to between myself, and everyone else, and it was weird to see that, out of this argument, no one was willing to accept a wider context, or take it into account, when analysing the shootings. Of course, this hasn’t been the first shootings that have happened in America. There have been countless accounts of disenfranchised, or socially inept, students gunning down other students in high schools, or of students committing suicide for bullying, persecution of beliefs, sexual orientation etc or people who have generally had psychological conditions. However, what strikes me the most is the way the killings are dealt with and it seems immediately a person or organisation, whether the media, the parents or witnesses, will give an accusation towards the opposite party; without so much as a realisation at what is occurring in the process: out of ignorance or experience of the moment. Of course, it is hard to hold any thought process whatsoever when you have been a gun victim of the person, or you are the parent, or you are an outraged republican at the moral fabric of the example. However this does not mean we cannot put aside our individual perceptions and analyse the state of affairs which exists at the time, something I will be analysing in this blog.

Now what does the killings reflect in the Batman shootings? That there was a university student who, armed with the proper equipment and weapons, had entered a cinema, and, using gas canisters, disorientated an audience before opening fire on them (though some of this is questioned, based on the witnesses testimonies or conditions, though I will not into detail about this, neither will I be a conspirator). What this shows is not only did the person know what he was doing but obviously the person had a constant amount of time and preparation in order to ready himself, to commit the operation. It seems absurd to think how a university student can be skilled in firing a weapon with military efficiency; however the point is that if this was prepared, it would have covered a process which would have taken a very long period of time. James Holmes, in court, confirmed responsibility for the acts he did. But if it is true he did so, many of the skills, equipment and planning would have indeed needed much time. We are talking about weapon training and maintaining; the making of very high level military grade explosives, an expert skill in marksmanship, skills in laying traps in a domestic environments and finally the skill of concealing a weapon in a public area. Though these sound relatively easy, based on testimonies of people from the army that I know, they aren’t. These require constant profession training and refining of skill. So what does this tell you? It tells you that this case, and similar cases, has consisted of a long term context, something which is expressed by long term factors. In many of these cases, people don’t just decide to shoot a school or a cinema, it occurs within a certain period of time to which the person has gained a certain understanding of the world around him; relative to his state of affairs. This signifies a long psychological process in which the person has developed which can be social, domestic or internal: in other words the causes for such can be what have been mentioned.

A huge testimony to this can be seen by the role of the media and the so called ‘media or social crises’ which takes place, whereby an event recorded by the media is disproportionally exaggerated and results in both generalising and an agenda which is set forth by the public, and the police. Most of the time this is both un-necessary and does more harm than good. Why does it matter? because not only does it contribute to people developing certain perceptions of the acts taking place, but it begins to deal with short term solutions rather than long term problems which, if solved, would result in less short term problems, such as the shootings. It also matters because it illustrates the role of the media in greater detail. In the media, especially within the news, constant testimony has been given by psychiatrists, such as Dr Park Dietz, that reporting the crime, within the mass media, merely reduces the crime to something of a drama and results in the mass murder, or suicide victim being publicised; something which should be stride to be prevented. The reason is because it propagates more mass murders and suicides by advertising them: displaying sirens; showing the picture of the person or victim; constantly making it 24/7 news coverage; making the body count the lead story; making the person an ‘anti-hero’ and mass advertising the act rather than making it relative to the location, and community, where it has taken place; as well as portraying it as exciting. These various aspects are very important. Most killings and suicides conducted, in most cases, are an indicator of attention as they signal either a cry for attention or help which, in this context, is performed dramatically through external means e.g. so every can see it being done. This not only provides the stimulus and motivation for other people, in similar cases, to commit similar acts but also means that if these events are massly advertised, they provide a means of creating an outlook that will be witnessed by various people.

As can be seen, this is a much larger part of a greater social context. Now to just point the finger and blame someone or something is foolhardy: as I’ve said before it only results in un-productive results. Nevertheless there’s nothing wrong with analysing the situation and then forming an opinion about how the situation is dealt with, or who is entirely responsible. My opinion would be this: that the results of this is the product of both a long history of how society has organised and structured itself (industrial and post industrial, mainly within the Western hemisphere of the world e.g. The united states, Britain, France, Germany, Japan etc) and the way that has resulted in an entirely different conception in the way things are dealt with, or excluded. A very good example that comes to mind is the Batman shootings. The thing which comes to mind is the fact it was, possibly, an advertisement of the person and that the person had various psychological and long term problems: as most suicide victims or high school actors of shootings have demonstrated. Okay, let me simplify my point: these acts are the result in which society has been shaped and formed which results in certain patterns, or generalisations, of consequences.

A very good example can be the start of industrialisation. Economics dictates that within the industrial period, the cohesion of the countryside and the increase in urbanisation meant more people from rural environments migrated to cities. This signals a complete change in lifestyle, patterns, moral and social boundaries etc. It also signals the means in which the person expresses themselves or the locations where the person can express themselves. For example, increasing urbanisation results in a greater population, closer and more cramped living conditions, a lack of relation to the people around you etc, which can further lead to depression, anxiety a sense of laziness or worthlessness etc. As a result, society has needed to develop institutions to deal with these problems: stretching from taverns and pubs, to counselling and group therapy sessions. As is observed, these do not take a solid shape or form but merely illustrate that people start to act in a certain way, and society counters these with places and institutions to deal with these problems (if they are problems). However, though these various things have sprung up, they depend of many factors e.g. trust, finance, content etc. As a result, though some institutions may help, if they don’t get enough finance, or aren’t seen as to be taken for granted by the population, they decrease in their overall awareness. This provides a perfect commentary on the Denver shootings. Questions which can be asked are why weren’t measure taken to prevent events like these from happening? Why was it that the person came to the situation where they perceived the shootings to be appropriate? Why weren’t the problems addressed in an earlier stage to prevent acts like this from happening? With questions like these, all I can really emphasise is social welfare which implies either: there is a lack of care and consideration for the people, or for people in general, which leads to acts like these, or there is a lack of funding to support the people who do. In my opinion, I think it’s a bit of both, depending on how you analyse. However, with the economic and social state of America, coinciding with gender and ethnic constructions; narrow traditions and simple minded views of human welfare, and a lack of funding and empathy for social welfare; it’s no wonder events like these happen as a means of displaying a reality or condition.

My main point is that if you were to provide a solution to problems like this, you have to analyse the wider context of why events like these happen. It also means that a solution isn’t simple. My solution would be a better financing, and funding, of social welfare as well as a re-conceptualisation of events such as these, as well as the education of this from a younger age. This would result in the changing of perception, which would result in the changing of certain lifestyle and thus it would prevent more of these events occurring. However, that’s just my opinion.