Wednesday, 23 April 2014

EU Hinders Free Trade

A common perception holds sway over the public: being an EU member yields great clout for Britain. However, it is a false myth peddled by the pro-EU camp to paint Eurosceptics as irrational and isolationist. Contrary to Nick Clegg’s claim we must stay in the EU “for the sake of our clout in the world”, non-EU countries like Switzerland outperform Brussels when it comes to making trade deals. A new report by the think-tank Civitas confirms it: despite our membership status, the EU hinders us negotiating free trade around the globe.

Switzerland has free trade agreements with diverse partners like China, Japan, Hong Kong, Canada and Singapore. The EU, on the other hand, does not. The Civitas report states: “It seems that Switzerland, all on its own without any ‘clout’, has free trade agreements with some of the most important players in international trade.”

Why are the Swiss better than Brussels at signing trade deals? This strange discrepancy comes down to the EU’s protectionist attitude. For example, Brussels continually sabotaged free trade negotiations with the US because the French insisted on ringfencing their cultural capital (films and television), grinding talks down to snail’s pace. In addition, Brussels insists on banning US cheese makers from using names like Feta and gorgonzola, because Camembert not made in France must be a cheap imitation unworthy of the name according to EU thinking.

Potential trade deals are constantly undermined by conflicting interests with other EU member states. If we are to act as a powerful force in international trade then it is essential we liberate ourselves from the bureaucracy of the EU and regain national sovereignty. Daniel Hannan has made this point in the past – so long as we are a member of the 28-member bloc we have to sit back while non-EU countries such as Iceland sign free trade agreements with China.
The British public is waking up to this myth. People were unconvinced by Clegg’s claim that Britain is “richer and stronger” by remaining in the EU. The success story of Switzerland shows this is a very misinformed argument. We don’t have to simply admire Switzerland from afar; we can strengthen our freedom by leaving the EU and casting off the Single Market rules that weaken us.

Ambulances for Weary MEPs

Brussels, in its latest Monty Python-esque stunt, wants ambulances to be available for stressed out MEPs. Outside the EU headquarters will be a fully functional, £200,000 ambulance – which will be funded by, you guessed it, the taxpayers! Not only are Brits disconnected and remote from MEPs (a point which even Nick Clegg recently admitted) but now we have to look out for their ‘health and safety’.

Everyone remembers when Nigel Farage questioned EU President Herman Van Rumpey on his authority: “Who are you!?” We should be asking a similar question about these ‘stressed’ MEPs: “Who are you? Why are you stressed? And why should British taxpayers pay to nurse you better?” The farce of the EU must always be brought to light.

So why is an on-site ambulance necessary? Well, according to the EU, the stress of voting poses an extreme health and safety risk. A committee which rules on administration issues claimed: “Long voting times are a serious cause of stress for both members and staff.” If anyone has witnessed the process of voting in the EU, you will know this couldn’t be further from the truth. MEPs vote on legislation by the simple raising of a hand: there’s no debate, no deliberation and no appeals to public opinion. Raising your hand many times a day may tire out your arm (slightly!) but this can hardly be called stressful. The EU really needs to get its priorities straight.

UKIP Deputy Leader, Paul Nuttall, hit the nail on the head: “Voting is hardly working down the mines, now, is it?” British taxpayers will be sponsoring this silly enterprise; taxpayers who themselves probably have far more stressful jobs than these pro-EU MEPs. As Nuttall went on to comment, “If the great mass of pro-EU MEPs are worried that sitting down and waving their arms around once a month might cause them stress-related health difficulties, maybe they should get another job.” We need serious politicians who won’t complain about their job, but who will step up and meet the needs of the British public.

EU Will Force British Taxpayers to Fund Far-Right European Political Parties

If it isn’t bad enough that British taxpayers have to fund useless and wasteful bureaucratic projects set up by the EU, they now have to fund far-right political parties! This may come as a shock to many and so it should.

An article in The Telegraph revealed far-right nationalist parties across Europe will receive £300,000 in essentially forced donations from British taxpayers. It is abhorrent for the EU to use British taxpayers’ money to fund parties without our agreement. The EU wants us to remain both clueless and complicit in funding questionable political campaigns.

This is a shocking use of hard-earned taxpayers’ money. The British public, who would much rather contribute towards our own public services, utilities, schools and healthcare, are now being forced to support political parties they morally disagree with. Political affiliation must always be voluntary in a democracy, but clearly the EU is violating this vital principle.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French Front National and Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, have joined forces to create the European Freedom Alliance. This campaign group consists of many other far-right nationalists, including the Slovak National Party. Le Pen is a highly dubious character herself. Her party has been linked in the past to neo-Nazis and anti-Semitism, and Le Pen has existing links with the British National Party (the BNP), Hungary’s Jobbik and the Greek Golden Dawn.

We do not want to be associated with these extremist parties in any way and we hope that you agree. To speak out against extreme nationalism and force affiliation with its parties, we urge you to pass on this information and write to your MPs. It is about time we restore control on our coffers, and decide where our money goes.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Palm Oil Threatens Ecosystems and Endangered Species

Western consumerism continues to devastate ecosystems and endangered species with its demand for palm oil. Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil which is very attractive to profit-driven businesses and corporations because the tree from which it is derived has a high oil yield. Palm oil is ubiquitous – it’s added to man types of food products and toiletries. Most of America’s consumption of palm oil – 1.2 tonnes of the stuff per year! – comes from these products.

In addition, as part of the EU’s directive on biofuels, palm oil is now also used as a biofuel additive. From 2006 to 2012, Europe’s use of palm oil as a biofuel additive increased by 365%. Overall Europeans have consumed around 5.6 tonnes of palm oil. It is found in 40-50% of household products in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. Is this greedy consumption sustainable? Not in the slightest.

In order to meet this high demand for palm oil, Indonesian and Malaysian forests have to be wiped away in order to make space for an oil-palm monoculture (growing a single plant species over a wide area for consecutive years). Since 1990, the total area of Indonesia covered by palm oil plantations grew 600% to nearly 20 million acres.

Western consumerism is devastating and eradicating the forests of Indonesia. And for the most part, this hunger for palm oil is blind – it is an inessential additive in food (as most additives are). Palm oil is being used by food manufacturers to replace trans fats, in light of the health scares surrounding trans fats; the irony being that palm oil may also be linked to raising ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and therefore increasing the risk of heart disease. But whatever the health risks of palm oil, the ecological effects of its consumption are undeniable and alarming.

Clearing the forests of Indonesia and Malaysia itself accounts for higher levels of pollution and carbon emissions, resulting in, according to some estimates, more carbon pollution per year than all modes of transport in the US combined. That includes every single American car, truck, plane, train and ship. Due to deforestation alone, Indonesia has the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emissions. If these trends continue, there will be no usable forests left, only lifeless wastelands and dingy skies.

Consumption of palm oil also results in a huge loss of biodiversity, which tends to be an unavoidable outcome of agribusiness, with its short-sighted expansion of monocultures. Palm oil is one of the leading causes of rainforest destruction worldwide and all for an additive which is unnecessary at best and harmful at worst. This displays the sheer absurdity and insanity of Western consumerism. The glorification of profit by large corporations and the separation of consumers from the production process means that our most valuable assets (natural resources) can be sacrificed without any sense of loss or grief.

The loss of biodiversity is a loss because, as modern ecology has taught us, diversity contributes to the stability of ecosystems. The rapid or sudden disruption of biodiversity caused by agribusiness has a knock-on effect – including the unintended loss of animal species. There are also human rights violations associated with the palm oil industry, including the displacement of indigenous people through the destruction of their natural habitat, as well as through forced labour, the employment of child labourers, and forcing workers to work in abusive and dangerous conditions.

The destruction of tropical rainforests threatens the existence of many endangered species, especially large mammals found in Malaysia, Borneo (Indonesia) and Sumatra (Indonesia), including: orangutans, tigers, elephants, rhinos, sun bears and tapirs. These species are unable to survive in oil palm plantation areas. Orangutans and elephants eat oil palm seeds and so are considered a pest, and like any pest they are killed.

A common method of deforestation is to set fire to the forest, which is thought to have burnt thousands of orangutans to death, who were too slow to escape the rapidly moving inferno. Around 1,000-5,000 orangutans are killed each year due to the fact that 90% of their natural habitat has been destroyed. Oil palm plantations, with their open spaces and easy-to-navigate road networks, make them a haven for poachers to kill orangutans for their pelts or to be used for entertainment in wildlife tourism parks. While it is difficult to estimate the number of orangutans worldwide, the Bornean orangutan is estimated to number about 41,000 individuals, while the Sumatran orangutan is estimated to number about 7,500 individuals. 100 years ago there could have been 230,000 orangutans worldwide. This rapid loss is not due to natural selection or environmental pressures, but human interference.

How is any consumer supposed to react to this kind of destruction? Given that we are so far removed from it, and that most of what we use and consume contains palm oil, can we really be held accountable for the pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity and extinction of endangered species? I have to personally face this question because as a vegan, I feel committed to avoiding using and consuming products which result in the suffering and death of other animals. Of course, technically palm oil is vegan, since it is not an animal-derived product. And do I really want to add one more ingredient to my list of things to avoid? I am starting to thing I should (and I have been avoiding palm oil so far).

The demand for palm oil ultimately comes down to consumer choices. If consumers avoided products with palm oil, then demand for palm oil will drop. It’s really that simple. Boycotting palm oil (and the companies which use it) is another way to raise awareness about the frenzied deforestation going on in Malaysia and Indonesia. This will help to reduce the consumption of palm oil and hinder environmental destruction. Big corporations and industries are generally amoral – the only way they can be swayed is by consumer choice and satisfaction. Consumers therefore have a responsibility to say no to palm oil, to tell companies about their concerns, or to at least to use and consume products which contain certified sustainable palm oil.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

'Schizophrenic' or 'Shamanic'? It Depends on the Cultural Context

An individual can display certain symptoms, but whether they are an indication of schizophrenia or shamanic abilities depends largely on the cultural context. By cultural context I mean the collective beliefs, values, expectations and responses of the community which shape the mentality and behaviour of the individuals within that community. It may be difficult to accept, but mental illness depends heavily on cultural context, meaning that whether an individual is mentally ill or not depends on whether the community defines that person as mentally ill. There is no objective biological test which will tell you whether you have a mental disorder or not.

If you are born into a country in which the Western medical paradigm is accepted, then a particular set of symptoms - auditory hallucinations, disorganised thought patterns, delusional thinking and paranoia – will be classed as schizophrenia. Moreover, the diagnosis of schizophrenia itself is reinforcing, in that telling someone they have a mental disorder makes it so. It is somewhat a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your doctor, psychiatrist, family, friends and society at large is saying you have a mental disorder, that there is something fundamentally wrong with you, then you are immediately segregated from the rest of society. You exist in the ‘malfunctioning’ group of people, while everyone else is ‘functioning’. It is the segregation that comes with diagnosis, plus the negative connotations of having a ‘disorder’, I believe, that exacerbate an individual’s mental struggle.

But if we look at societies in which this Western medical paradigm doesn’t exist, the same symptoms will not be treated as a mental illness, but as a sign of shamanic abilities. In Stephanie Marohn’s book, The Natural Medicine Guide to Schizophrenia, it is argued that ‘schizophrenic symptoms’ in a shamanic society signal the birth of a healer. Mental disorders are viewed as ‘spiritual emergencies’ or ‘spiritual crises’ which need to be regarded as such in order to support the individual in their transformation into a shaman.

The person going through the crisis is looked at as being gifted, having the ability to visit the ‘spirit realm’ and bring back messages and knowledge that will heal the community’s ills. Malidoma Patrice Some is a West African writer who saw first hand how certain symptoms are treated radically different in shamanic societies (such as that of the Dagara people) compared to Western societies. Some was shocked when he visited a mental institute in the US in the 80s – he saw some patients in straitjackets, some zoned out on medications and others screaming. For the Dagara people, on the other hand, such people would not be confined, segregated and have their symptoms eradicated by all means – rather, such people would be supported, encouraged and nurtured. It is curious, then, that ‘schizophrenic’ patients found in mental institutions in the West might be regarded as powerful healers in shamanic societies.

To put it another way: schizophrenia is the demonization of shamanic abilities, while shamanic abilities are schizophrenic symptoms which have been welcomed and nurtured. Pre-industrial societies seem to have a lack of what we would regard as ‘mental illness’ and this is because such societies do not demonise differences in mentality like Western societies do. For pre-industrial societies, auditory hallucinations and strange thought patterns have a positive function and people with these symptoms are encouraged to view themselves as healers who belong in that society as vital components. The shaman guides the society in its most fundamental decisions through the prophecies, visions, messages and moral teachings derived from altered states of consciousness. In our society, hearing voices is associated with a ‘mental illness’, whereas in traditional societies it means that individual is in touch with other realities, especially the mythic realm.

Joseph Campbell, the famous comparative mythologist, agreed with this general point: what we call schizophrenia is called visionary or mystical in shamanic cultures; something to be valued, not feared or sedated with chemicals. As he remarks in his TV show, The Power of Myth: “The shaman is the person, male or female, who…has an overwhelming psychological experience that turns him totally inward. It’s a kind of schizophrenic crack-up. The whole unconscious opens up, and the shaman falls into it. This shaman experience has been described many, many times. It occurs all the way from Siberia right through the Americas down to Tierra del Fuego.”

These experiences are common to all traditional societies, yet the experience is integrated – both within the individual’s mind and within the society itself – without detriment to the individual’s well-being. This suggests that we in the West have a very ineffective and harmful way of dealing with these strange experiences. Mainstream psychiatry stifles these experiences under the misleading banner of ‘treatment’ out of fear of the unknown (the unconscious mind). We punish people who become intensely introverted - who can access their unconscious mind and the Jungian archetypes within - by incarcerating them in ‘special prisons’ (mental institutions). The ‘patient’ – the very title of which segregates this person symbolically – is robbed of a unique mode of learning. They are forced readjust to cultural norms and are denied access to valuable and powerful experiences.

Terence McKenna has offered some great insight into this topic. As he explains, the labels ‘schizophrenic’ and ‘shamanic’ are heavily determined by the culture one finds oneself in. Our backwards approach to mental illness is the reason mental illness is a major (and growing) problem in the West, despite our best efforts to medicalise and stigmatise perfectly normal symptoms that follow from a philosophical, existential, spiritual or personal crisis. McKenna highlights how we lack a tradition of shamanism in industrialised societies. Those who maintain the status quo are terrified of what they call ‘madness’ because it involves an overturning of value systems and a radically different take on reality.

As McKenna goes on, “A shaman is someone who swims in the same ocean as a schizophrenic, but the shaman has thousands and thousands of years of sanctioned technique and tradition to draw upon.” The demonization of those with ‘schizophrenic symptoms’ in society, as revealed by the fact we treat such people on a par with prisoners by locking them up, makes schizophrenia incurable. Mental institutions are designed (whether intentionally or not) to make you crazy and to keep you crazy. Psychiatrists in the West believe that if an experience is unpleasant, painful or difficult that it must therefore be stopped or numbed with mood-altering drugs. However, shamans are taught to find value from such experiences and to grow from them by confronting them head on. The same applies to psychedelic experiences. A ‘bad trip’, many times, comes from approaching a difficult experience with resistance instead of intention, courage and acceptance.