Why Britain should take in more Syrians & the need for long-term strategic planning.

Why we should pledge to take in more Syrians

Firstly, I think that the case for Britain having to take in more Syrian refugees than we have currently pledged to is overwhelming. The UK played no small part in fomenting the Syrian civil war. Britain, along with other Western powers, eagerly funded and trained the radical militant groups opposed to Assad with the hope that they would quickly topple his authoritarian regime, with the idea that then a pro-Western government could be installed to replace him. Unfortunately, like almost all of the West’s foreign policy initiatives in the Middle East, this plan failed spectacularly. Western powers vastly underestimated Assad’s military strength and the militant forces we armed and trained turned out to be quite the opposite of the ‘moderate rebels’ that the Western media glorified, as part of the generic war-propaganda campaign waged to dampen criticism of our involvement.

Although not arming and supporting the opposition to Assad would have likely led to a swift and brutal crushing of the popular dissent against him. This would have averted a catastrophic and bloody civil war, a war which has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, the destruction of Syria as a country and of course to the millions of refugees flooding into the surrounding region and into Europe. And so, given Britain’s significant role in this crisis, it and the other European nations which aided America in its failed regime-replacement attempt should bear the brunt of the refugee influx into Europe.

The inexplicable lack of a long-term strategic plan for Britain.

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Currently there is a huge range in potential peak populations, it is vital the government takes greater control over this issue.

Thinking ahead, one question that desperately needs answering is: what population size can the United Kingdom feasibly sustain in the long run? Within just a few decades, energy supplies and raw resources will begin to diminish rapidly- and climate change will start to seriously threaten global food security. These factors need to be taken into account when thinking about if and how we can control the future population size of the country.

Societal planning currently doesn’t even extend into the immediate future; for example, the government has said it “wants” a million new houses built by 2020. However, it’s unclear where these would be built, how this would be funded or even if we have the infrastructure available to construct all these homes. This is not to mention the extra hospitals, schools and general infrastructure necessary for the new villages and towns.

Additionally, to what extent should we preserve Britain’s countryside? Everyone loves a bucolic ramble through the countryside, but is it ethically justifiable to have natural parks and lush forests when these could be filled with refugee camps or new towns, for example? I personally would argue that a country having beautiful national parks to explore and revere is invaluable- and so their protection should be guaranteed.  However, I’m sure there are plenty of savvy philosophers who would argue otherwise; but unfortunately in the insanely short-term world of capitalist democracies, this discussion is not being had.

This currently non-existent debate about the maximum population that the country should aim for would have important consequences for how we approach the migrant crisis now. If, for example, it was decided that we are already nearing our ‘ideal’ peak population, this would result in us settling a relatively small number of refugees in the next few years- and then stopping this process altogether. On the flip side, perhaps with smart investments in our infrastructure we’d be able to comfortably and sustainably live in a country with vastly more people than we have today. Who knows, who cares? No one, apparently. Let’s just carry on doing what we’ve done for decades; stumble from one crisis to the next.

 

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Star Wars: The money making machine awakens (2.5/5)

*Plot spoilers galore, be warned!*

Ten years since the massively disappointing prequel series, the Star Wars universe has yet again been resurrected- and why wouldn’t they; it’s already the most successful film franchise ever and this bulging cash-cow has plenty more milk left in its galactic sized udders. Currently there are plans to release one star-wars related film annually, for the next six years– with two more ‘proper’ star-wars films left and three spin-offs to come.

The first film in this epic profit-seeking adventure by the loveable media conglomerate, The Walt Disney Company, is Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It is essentially a remake of the first ever Star-Wars movie, A New Hope. The story-line is extraordinarily similar to episode 4; droid with secret-map crashes on grotty desert planet, young-adult who lives on said grotty desert planet discovers important droid and escapes from the empire (re-named ‘The First Order’, because this is like a totally new and original film!), there’s some mild peril, some more mild peril and then there’s an action-packed ending where the Rebels (sorry, ‘The Resistance’) destroy the Empire’s super-weapon, just minutes before it was due to destroy the planet the Rebel’s were on- phew!

But this isn’t just a remake, it’s a remake on steroids and key elements of the original film have been made bigger and flashier. The Death Star has been replaced with the ‘Starkiller Base’- which is a planet converted into a super-weapon & the Emperor has been replaced with some sort of weird hybrid between the Big Friendly Giant and one of the ring-wraiths from Lord of the Rings, when Frodo has his ring on. It’s a bit like Jurassic ‘Product-placement’ World, which was like Jurassic Park, only with a bigger killer dinosaur and a more ‘spectacular’ park (and a much worse film than the original). Apparently, modern cinema audiences have the collective intelligence of a pre-pubescent nerd- and so to entertain them suitably new movies must contain wildly exaggerated villains, monsters and space-ships found in films from a more nuanced era.

Overall, my main issue with the film is that it’s all a bit… dumb. Why did a storm-trooper suddenly switch to becoming normal after getting a little bit of blood on his helmet- aren’t these soldiers brought up to be totally emotionless? How did the posh English girl barely have enough money to eat when she was able to afford a gigantic sand-speeder? How come she had such perfect teeth if she had grown up in grinding poverty? Why was the Millennium Falcon left open and ready-to fly in an area presumably swarming with thieves and bandits? Why did only two Tie fighters chase the Millennium Falcon across the desert, why didn’t they just send like 500 after it? Why was Han-Solo hunting cartoonish giant space-octopi which roll around in balls? Why did they take a droid and two fugitives being hunted by the empire into a packed bar on a random planet? Why did they leave a Rebel fugitive (who has suspected Jedi-powers) in a prison cell guarded by just one Storm Trooper? Isn’t the Death-Star a better super-weapon considering it doesn’t need to drain a whole star to ‘charge-up’? How did Rey manage to fight off a Sith Warrior without ever having touched a light-saber, considering Luke and Annakin Skywalker both had to go extensive training before they were at all competent? The list could go on, but that might be over-stressing the whole ‘it’s pretty dumb’ point.

Instead of making ‘A New Hope re-imagined because we know that’s a formula that works and it will definitely make money’ they should have made an original film, complete with original story-line, original characters and original plot-twists. But unsurprisingly, and unfortunately, they didn’t. They opted to play it safe- in the same way that all Hollywood Blockbusters do these days – and release a very average & ‘fun’ Christmas cash-cow.

Shock-horror! The financial industry doesn’t pay corporation tax!

It should come as absolutely no surprise that in 2014, the biggest banks paid little or no corporation tax in the UK. These institutions are part of a global superstructure of corporate financial supremacy, which holds unprecedented levels of economic and political power. The largest banks and financial firms have no allegiance to any state or respect for law, only to short-term profit and to extremely wealthy shareholders. Avoiding paying taxes is a natural part of their business model. Their net contribution to society -at least in recent years- has been negative; the massive financial crash of 2007-8 caused a severe global economic crash, the effects of which are still tangibly reverberating today.

This crash occurred because of pernicious financial de-regulation over recent decades. For that, we can partly thank the armies of well-funded corporate lobbyists working on behalf of the financial industry, engaged in high-level (and highly paid) corruption in Washington and London. But it goes further than greedy, amoral lobbyists beguiling politicians in fancy restaurants and bars; as a former chief economist of the IMF has argued: the US government has essentially been captured by the financial industry. As he explains in the article, there is a revolving door between Washington and Wall street and the regulatory agencies tasked with policing the industry have been essentially taken over by the very firms they’re supposed to police. The same processes have occurred in the UK, albeit in a slightly less obvious manner.

Since the crash, the financial markets are still as unstable and fragile as ever. The regulatory changes which were necessary to stabilise the financial system after the crash -such as to break up the biggest banks and increasing the currently absurdly low leverage ratios that banks are allowed to operate on- never materialised. As Financial Times economist Martin Wolf explains, the low leverage ratio operated at by the big banks is extremely dangerous; “[it’s] not that terribly difficult to imagine circumstances in which banks would lose more than 3% of the value of their assets… we’ve allowed the core financial institutions on which the entire market economy depends to operate with levels of leverage [that leave the banks] fundamentally fragile”

The next time the financial markets collapse, it will be far worse as the biggest banks and financial firms will be far larger in relation to the rest of the economy than they were before- and they might become too big to save.

 

 

 

 

 

Earth’s terminal illness and the five stages of grief

The Earth is screwed; to fuel the recent capitalist transformation of the planet, humans have binged on fossil fuels and over-exploited the world’s natural resources- and continue to do so at an ever increasing rate. The fossil fuel drinking marathon is having the unfortunate side-effect of causing catastrophic climate change and because of the connection between energy growth and economic growth- this binge will continue until the system collapses. Superficial climate agreements like the Cop21 won’t achieve anything significant as they don’t address the root of the problem: an economic system based on exploiting fossil fuel energy and other raw resources- which would collapse without indefinite exponential growth.

Together, climate change and global environmental issues will likely bring an end to global civilisation– in the same way over-exploitation of the environment has been a key factor in the fall of many previous human civilisations.

In other words: the planet as we know it is dying rapidly, it has a terminal illness due to the cancer of capitalism (which could only be removed through the destabilising and dangerous process of a violent revolution, I would argue). The planetary corpse left will be in a form completely unlike it is today; most likely a radioactive wasteland, courtesy of the coming resource wars over the remaining fossil fuels and water.

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An oil field at sunset

The five stages of grief

While the five stages of grief are usually applied in the context of the death of someone, the concept can be applicable to a situation where an individual contracts a terminal illness. Therefore, I think the five stages can be applied to our very own planet, what fun!

  1. Denial

I think a lot of people are at this early stage. First of all, there are of course a significant proportion of people who deny the science of climate change altogether. But more importantly (and more interestingly), I think there are many who ostensibly acknowledge the science and are generally aware of the grave warnings of climate scientists- but who don’t truly believe that the worst of it will actually happen. There seems to be a widely held faith in human intelligence as a species and a intuitive scepticism of the most severe predictions; “We’ll sort it out in the end” and “But it won’t be that bad, will it?” are commonly held sentiments. Denial of the predictions could be due to the seemingly incomprehensible scenarios that we have to mentally process. Unprecedented droughts and floods, mega-storms, sea-level rise, cataclysmic crop failures, hundreds or perhaps billions displaced… It is extremely difficult to accurately imagine these sorts of terrifying changes at such a large scale, the world you have to picture is just so different and ultimately so terrifying that I think many people just completely switch off when reading about the worst predictions.

  1. Anger

I was at this stage for quite a while. I mean, industrial human activity is destroying the planet at a rapacious rate and essentially, nothing is being done about it. In fact, an alien explorer sitting in its spaceship & observing our planet from afar might understandably come to the conclusion that we’re actively trying to ruin our planet. Globally, subsidies of at least half a trillion dollars are provided to the fossil fuel industry every year, we have already cut down more than half of our rainforests, Earth has lost over half its wildlife in the past 40 years and our economic system is based around indefinite exponential growth, as if something like that could last.

All this can arise a fair amount of justifiable anger; after all none of this was unavoidable. Human decisions to implement an economic system based on endless growth, greed and exploitation ultimately led to the current crisis.

  1. Bargaining

The bargaining stage is characterised by an irrational focus on trying to negotiate with a higher power, e.g. some sort of divine being. For example someone may make promises to god in return for the pain from a terminal illness or a death to recede.

I would say this is probably the least applicable stage to the concept of Earth having a terminal illness. (Or in other words, I admittedly know very little about the religious response to climate change- apart from the fact that Pope Francis has been an extremely powerful and admirable voice raising awareness about the issue and loudly condemning the lack of action). What I would say here however, is that I agree with journalist Chris Hedges in that there is likely to be a rise in ‘crisis cults’ in response to the incipient global calamities, many of which will have a quasi-religious basis.

  1. Depression

There is a great article online which details (albeit largely anecdotal) evidence about apparently widespread depression within the climate-science community. For one, things are already really bad- just look at the phenomenal rate of decline in Arctic sea ice- or the growing evidence that huge amounts of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) are being released from methane clathrates in the Arctic ocean floor.

But more importantly, what is at stake is a habitable planet. The idea of something like that is inherently depressing. What’s the point in anything if everything is pretty much doomed in the long run? As the philosopher Samuel Scheffler details in a brilliant edition of the Radio 4 programme Analysis, a key underlying motivating force in our lives is the belief and knowledge that humanity will continue to exist after we pass away. If that belief disappears, we’re left with a very miserable situation indeed- such as the world depicted in Children of Men, a film based in a dystopian future where all women have mysteriously become infertile.

  1. Acceptance

I think I’ve partially reached this stage. I have certainly lost all sense of optimism about the future- which is sort of acceptance, albeit with a depressive tint. But, on the other hand I recognise that there will hopefully be at least a few decades left of (rapidly weakening) stability in the global North; even with the severe environmental issues that humanity faces, modern civilisation should be able to trundle along for as long as there is an abundance of fossil fuel resources (which there is, at least into the very-near future). And so for the moment, there is nothing stopping me from trying to maximise my own happiness, as I am pretty sure that for most of my life I will be living in a stable-ish and just-about-functioning society. So far, the only major impact on my life choices that the environmental crises have caused is the decision to never to have children, as I think it would be completely immoral to bring a child into a civilisation which is almost sure to collapse within their lifetime. However, I never really wanted kids anyway- so bottoms up, let’s all cheers to the apocalypse!

Corporations, enemies not friends of the planet

If you visit the website of any big Western corporation, there is often a prominent section on ‘corporate social responsibility’, or their ‘sustainability plan’, or ‘Mega-Corp X in the local community’; or a combination of these. Clicking on these links will normally whisk you off to a sleek, eye-catching page that any budding graphic-design student could only dream of. Pictures of smiling kids abound, a panoramic shot of a verdant idyll might be thrown in here or there, a few stock pictures of solar panels might grace the side and a shot of a beaming small-holder farmer is a must for any food-related corporation; the message is clear: whatever the public cares about, so do the big multinational corporations!

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The planet-loving British Petroleum’s attempt at greenwashing

The notion of corporations being a force for good is of course not constrained to parts of their public web pages; advertisements are no longer solely the emotionally manipulative messages that have saturated Western culture for decades, many are now designed to convince the public that corporations aren’t just about selling products and satisfying the private interests which control them, they also want to help solve issues such as the global environmental crisis, social problems such as food poverty, sustainability, the list goes on. These adverts often convey incredibly spurious messages about the advertiser’s corporate principles. A few days ago I had to sit through a nauseating YouTube advert for a certain consumer-goods giant which was indirectly equating its values to those of Ghandi and Martin Luther King.

Although the concept of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ has been in use since the 60s, only recently has it become such a conspicuous part of corporate business plans, in part due to increasing public awareness about global issues already alluded to. There’s good reason for investment into trying to look like they care; in a study by the Reputation Institute, 73% of the consumers surveyed said that they were willing to recommend companies perceived to be delivering on Corporate Social Responsibility. However, barring a few rare exceptions, when you scratch below the surface of Corporate Social Responsibility programmes they all too often turn out to be nothing more than superficial marketing exercises. A major sportswear manufacturer might support a kid’s football charity in a developing country whilst simultaneously exploiting sweatshop labour across South East Asia, for example.

Corporations are just not structurally able to be the pioneers of any sort of environmental or social movement; they are legally compelled to maximise shareholder value and this will always be their bottom line, they are not programmed to provide public goods, or solve public problems. When it comes to issues such as over-consumption, rising inequality or the corruption of democracy, corporations should be seen as part of the problem, not part of the solution. The author Joel Bakan sums it up succinctly: “It is all so powerfully seductive: the idea of the good corporation… but think for just a moment about Walmart and Nike… while trumpeting sustainability both companies continue aggressively to promote the expansion and growth of consumer markets; they’re conveying the message that sustainability is perfectly consistent with spiralling consumerism and rising corporate power.”

The existential threat posed by climate change means that the incipient big-brand hijacking of environmental movements is a particularly insidious development and one that environmentalists across the world should see as a key priority to fight against- although all progressive movements should be cynical about the involvement of corporate power, the environmental movement has particular reason to worry. The only chance we have to avert a global ecological tragedy is to fundamentally change our global economic system away from one of ever-increasing consumption, we must not fall under the illusion that corporations can be the arbiters of this paradigm shift; did you ever hear about the wolf in sheep’s clothing?