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Breaking The Taboo

Since my post on legalising cannabis, we have seen a couple of significant developments; Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister of Britain has come out in support of decriminalisation against the coalition governments official line, and the release of the movie below, produced by amongst others, Sam Branson – Richard Branson’s son, and narrated by Morgan Freeman.

The film was released to support the launch of the ‘Breaking The Taboo’ campaign.

Please sign the petition:  http://www.breakingthetaboo.info/

Let’s break the taboo.


Legalise Cannabis

With regards to cannabis use, despite decades of efforts, scientists have been unable to establish a lethal dose, unable to show evidence of physical dependency, unable to correlate regular use with long term health problems and unable to link it to any other serious problems in society – and one might argue we could do with a little more happiness and thoughtfulness in our world.  It’s clear that when it comes to weed or hash, there is an irrational demonization process taking place when compared to the safety of a plethora of other goods freely available to purchase on our supermarket shelves.

Of course harder drugs such as alcohol, cocaine or heroin cause real harm if misused.  It’s worth noting however, that still by far the most effective way to minimise such harm is regulation, education and rehabilitation.  Criminalisation has not and cannot ever work.  Cannabis is just a particularly ridiculous substance to ban because of how innocuous it is – especially when one considers the consequences of prohibition.

Everyone wants to get high.  It seems to be part of the package of being human.  Some people use alcohol, tobacco or caffeine – drugs that are legal.  But many people discover there are other, illegal substances, that work better for them.  The overwhelmingly most common experience people have on these illegal substances is euphoria, and other than a bad head in the morning, they find that the drawbacks are negligible.  This is why they take them again.  If these people were seeing their friend’s drop dead by the truck load or were having a bad time themselves, it’s highly unlikely they would continue to spend their money on such drugs.  This is why scare tactics don’t work.

The law is no deterrent because suppliers know the risk and reward trade off swings massively in their favour.  Compared to something like guns, drugs are small and easy to conceal and transport.  The prize is simply too tempting.  And let’s be clear – it’s the current law that creates this irresistible business opportunity.  As for users, well they go to someone’s house to buy their drugs of choice and then they go back to their own house to take them.  This is quite obviously impossible to police.  There is hardly any risk of being caught as a user.  Millions of people take illegal substances every day for decades on end without even a single brush with the authorities.

Therefore we can confidently say that the only consequences of our current laws are a creation of a black market, wasting police time, wasting tax revenue, preventing a lucrative tax income, criminalising people unnecessarily and further overcrowding of prisons.  Our governments stubborn refusal to admit the war on drugs has been lost, and a continual denial of the facts presented to them by their own experts, also brings untold dangers to people’s health by resulting in a failure to educate, by aiding the proliferation of poisonous concoctions or dangerously strong strains, and by obstructing treatment.  The best way to help people negotiate the road to euphoria without taking an unhappy diversion to misuse or abuse, is to educate them and regulate what’s available.  Billions of us around the world unthinkingly feel the benefit of this every day with drugs like alcohol or paracetamol.

One might also wish to argue, as indeed I do, that every individual has the innate right to be the guardian of their own consciousness.

Cannabis implores us more than any other illegal drug to raise the question – why is it illegal?  The answer lies in our society’s unhealthy obsession with the concept of sin and an antiquated desire to control what people do in the privacy of their own homes.  These twisted definitions of morality undoubtedly have their roots in religion but our right-wing media has kept them alive and well in the 21st century by depicting anyone who smokes a joint as a robber of old ladies handbags, a violent gangster, a societal drop out, unclean, unsuccessful, disease riddled or curled up in a corner half way into a coma.  Back on planet earth we know this is just a conservative fantasy.

I should dispose of the line that detractors cling to as their last bastion of hope – the gateway drug argument.  When it comes to alcohol, everyone can see that the percentage of those that drink who also take heroin is so low as to exonerate booze from blame.  But remarkably, when the conversation switches to cannabis, it is assumed by many, without any evidence, that it will lead to the abuse of other drugs.  Of course no unbiased study has ever supported the gateway drug argument, and it is rejected by any serious expert on the subject of drug use.  In short, the same logic that clears alcohol from blame as a gateway drug also exonerates cannabis.

As I was writing this essay, I read an article in The New York Times warning the Democrat Party in America not to become ‘The Party of Pot’.  They make the following claims; marijuana is addictive and many studies by reputable organisations support this view – and those who say otherwise are lying.  Marijuana lowers IQ by 1 or 2 points in adulthood if you start using it heavily at age 14.  14 year olds who use it heavily perform less well at school.

First notice they use the term ‘addictive’ as opposed to ‘physical dependency’.  This is key.  What they are talking about is psychological addiction.  Doubtless, as with many other things, some people do struggle to discipline themselves where marijuana is concerned.  However, if this kind of ill-discipline was a problem that governments normally considered when legislating, then every candy store and fast food restaurant would have to close down, to say nothing of Facebook or Twitter.

The other two points regarding heavy use by 14 year olds are deliberate and cynical uses of bait and switch.  Clearly it is not being suggested that marijuana ought to be made legal for 14 year olds. But also, when we take a closer look, we can see that the bait is quite unappealing.  The average adult IQ is 100.  No one would notice if someone dropped from 100 to 99.  As for performing badly at school, well here we need to note that the study in question categorised ‘heavy use’ as 20 times a week!  If a 14 year old is using marijuana 20 times a week then they have many more problems than their grades to worry about.  This kind of use must reflect a broken or uncaring family (and school).  The behaviour exhibited as a result of this kind of usage would be so obvious that to fail to spot there might be a problem can only suggest neglect from all the adults in this young person’s life.  Needless to say, almost every young teenager who is neglected in this way tends to perform badly at school, whether marijuana is involved or not.

If we applied the same kind of vigilance to our lives in general as seems to be recommended for drug policy by the anti-legalisation lobby, then we would all be terrified to take one foot out of bed in the morning.  No one in history has ever died directly as a result of using cannabis.  It really will be ok.


Why Horse Racing is Cruel

During the week of the Grand National I listened to countless phone-ins on the radio, where those in favour of horse racing ‘ganged up’ on people who can see that the ‘sport’ is so obviously cruel.  The tone from the racing fans reminded me of many a religious fanatic I’ve seen in online debates over the years. Unashamedly stating untruths as truths, only listening to each other, talking in clichés, answering moral questions by changing the subject, shouting a lot, claiming they must be respected for their views, claiming they are the victims as opposed to the perpetrators (a further insult to the suffering of the animals involved) and citing the belief that the ‘sport’ can only be reliably regulated from within (a familiar enough claim by those who have something to hide).

So let’s get this straight; horse racing is cruel. There is no question about this, no debate to be had and no opposing opinion worth listening to.  This is not irrational, strident anti-equestrianism; it’s just a healthy respect for the facts of the matter.  We don’t have to respect every opinion that is out there.  If someone said that they thought the holocaust didn’t occur few would feel compelled to respect that person’s view.  We should feel exactly the same with regards to torturing animals for entertainment purposes.

We know that horses have a conscious concern for their moment to moment experience of the world. They are motivated to be happy, to be healthy and to reproduce.  Furthermore, their mental well-being is perfectly aligned to the extent to which they are achieving these desires. This is the litmus test for human responsibility.  Horses are intelligent animals that can suffer and so fall squarely within the realm of our moral and ethical concerns.  We have an obligation to do the very best we can for them.

It is impossible to square the above paragraph with the activities that occur within the world of horse racing. Frustratingly, I actually think many people, even some involved in the ‘sport’, know it.  Again we can draw an analogy with those who struggle to give up their faith – they simply have too much to lose.  Financial greed or a lack of moral courage (often both) prevents people from speaking out.

To briefly touch the shores of some of the issues, the problems begin with the breeding process. Such is the money involved, the purity of blood lines of horses are like gold dust. They are subjected to extreme patterns of inbreeding (which often occurs offshore and out of sight) that cause devastating conditions such as bleeding lungs, gastric ulcers, brittle bones and numerous viral diseases. Consequently, only a small percentage of those bred will be healthy enough to have a chance of making the grade – the rest are killed. The cruelty, suffering and loss of life that goes in to getting that one good horse is a catastrophic moral failure. Just imagine being a part of that process.  Deliberately breeding in such a way that is guaranteed to result in most horses being born crippled or disease riddled – and thus disposed of (who knows how).  And what for?  So the most sinister and moronic in our society can enjoy a day at the races.

The horses’ predicament, hardly improves once they reach the stables of their eventual owners.  They are regularly, forcibly run to exhaustion. Some die of exhaustion before they even get to race, some acquire injuries due to over training, and others develop health problems carried over from the breeding process. On race days, we see the horses pushed to their limit under the coercion of a man kicking and whipping them.  Should they fall and injure themselves, which is fairly common and becoming increasingly so, again largely due to the weakening of horses bones related to inbreeding, then the horses are shot because they are no longer of economic worth.  Shockingly, 151 horses a year die on British race tracks.  We should pause to think of what might go on behind the scenes if this is how the horses are treated in public.

If a horse is lucky enough to survive this sick form of Russian roulette, they are rewarded with a lethal injection the moment they are too old to continue racing.

The latter seems to be the only thing that racing fans admit to and openly say is wrong – and it’s easy to see why.  It doesn’t call into question the actual sport itself, legislation will not affect the ability to win races or take bets, and it is a token gesture towards showing some concern for a horse’s well-being to allay the concerns of those whose concerns are easily allayed.  For the rest of us who can see through this false pretence, it only further highlights the lack of character of those involved and no legislative after thought can show otherwise.

The retorts to the above from the world of racing are so hollow that they would barely deserve attention if it wasn’t for the slightly aggravating fact that they seem to be so readily believed by so many. Here are some that I have personally been on the receiving end of:

“The horses love being ridden and jumping over things – it’s what they are built for.”

This is an example of the ‘changing the subject’ technique I spoke of earlier. I’m more than prepared to accept that should the appropriate trust relationship be built, a horse may well enjoy having a rider on its back, having a trot about, perhaps even exerting itself once in a while.  What I require a lot more convincing of however, is that they enjoy being forced to jump ridiculously high fences and being shot should they fail to do so. I think it is highly unlikely they would choose this for themselves. Does it not occur to anyone that the whip is necessary for a reason?  Clearly the horse doesn’t want to be doing what it’s doing to such an extent that kicking them just isn’t enough.

“The owners and trainers love their horses and take amazing care of them.”

This is just a canned line for the non-thinking. It is an example of knowingly lying.  It has no basis in fact and no relation to the meanings of the words ‘love’ and ‘care’ as we commonly understand them. The truth is they love being involved in something that makes them so much money and what they care about is that their horses are healthy enough to earn them their next payday.  They may well love the thrill of riding, but subjectively this is not the same thing as loving the horse.  No one treats anyone they truly love the way horses are treated in the world of horse racing.

“The few unfortunate deaths are blown out of proportion when put into the context of a great and popular sport.”

This is like saying a date with Ted Bundy is great apart from all the killing and stuff.  In any case, 151 deaths per year on race days alone (so not including during training) is not just ‘a few.’  Needless to say, there is no number of deaths that would make it all ok.

The truth is that horse racing will be viewed in the not too distant future in the same manner as everyone currently views bear baiting or dog fighting.  The frustrating part is the period of time that elapses between societies really knowing that something is wrong, and actually legislating against it.  But as with something like the outlawing of the slave trade, once the leap is made it takes almost no time at all for everyone to agree.  This will be the case with horse racing.  There will come a time very soon when we all will wonder how intelligent people who lived in a time of truly remarkable scientific and technological advancement could purvey such cruelty upon these beautiful animals.

What I would like is for the delay in most of us realising it is wrong (again, I think we are largely at this stage) and actually doing something about it, to be as minimal as possible.  For this to happen, everyone has to stop allowing this ‘sport’ a pass in conversation.  When someone mentions it, perhaps as a suggestion for a day out, please explain to them why it is cruel.  We must make supporting this awful activity as socially unacceptable as homophobia or racism.


Introduction

My name is Sam.  I was born in 1977, in the South of England.  I have a BA (Hons) degree in Humanities from the University of Glamorgan.

It’s difficult to pinpoint a precise moment or event when it began, but at some point in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium it became apparent to me that there are a lot of people on this planet with truly bad opinions.  I don’t mean bad opinions on things such as who should be selected for the National football team – I already knew there were plenty of those; I mean bad opinions regarding the nature of our reality that seem to fly in the face of facts.  I realised these bad opinions are not just limited to the man on the street (though that also surprised me) – many of our political leaders hold them as well, and they use these distorted views to make important decisions about what we can and cannot do, about how we educate children, about how our tax money is divided up and about where we wage war.

I had no idea!  I genuinely, perhaps naively thought that, largely speaking, facts won the day in the educated Western world.  I suddenly felt ambushed and overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the task ahead – there are a lot of people I would have to argue with!  I suppose once the domino effect was in place in my mind – that these bad opinions led to bad decisions that wreak havoc upon our world and bring misery to so many of its inhabitants, I began sub-consciously working on this website.

There’s no question in my mind that the most important thing we have to do is shake off the idea that opinions must be respected to the point of remaining unchallenged.  So many people become so stressed and agitated by everyday activities such as talking and thinking when it is in relation to their political or philosophical beliefs that it feels mean to confront them – but these people can also tick ballot boxes or influence others who do so.  There is simply too much at stake now.  Thanks to modern technology (medicine, transport, cyberspace) the world has become such a small place, with so many people being forced to share the same ‘space’.  We have to get ourselves straight on how best to all live together, and ultimately this can only be achieved through conversation.  And nothing is off the table.  If you think about it, it is actually more disrespectful to assume someone is too stupid or too sensitive to be able to have their minds changed – as Johann Hari said, “I respect you too much to respect your ridiculous opinions.”  This should be the blueprint for a change in the rules of engagement.

I want to avoid getting knee deep into specific issues in this introduction, but I do want to provide a couple of examples of the frustrations I have.  Firstly, in America, there is a liberal President – Barack Obama – who claimed to be against gay marriage on the basis of his faith (thankfully he has since reneged on this statement).  Whether you think gay marriage is a good thing or not, it is shocking that not one journalist felt it necessary to point out that the Bible also says people should be killed for working on Sunday’s or that children should be killed for disobeying their parents.  Presumably he doesn’t believe in those godly commands – so why pick out homophobia for special attention?  Of course he was unchallenged because somehow we have all collectively agreed that when someone invokes faith we have to discontinue the dialogue.

Secondly, through my own association with the RSPCA, I was recently guided towards the Animalasia.org website, specifically on the topic of the unconscionable cruelty purveyed upon bears for the acquisition of their bile.  Many in East Asia believe it is the best cure for a headache, amongst other things.  Animal Asia is undoubtedly doing great work for no personal gain, but I was amazed not to find one reference on the whole site regarding the root of the problem.  Nowhere did they say they were trying to re-educate people, in China for example, that ‘traditional’ or ‘alternative’ medicine is only so because it hasn’t passed scientific scrutiny – or in other words, it hasn’t been proven to work.  Once something is proven to work, it just becomes medicine.  However the site is full of references of concern for local sensitivities.  In my view, these are sensitivities we could do without, for all they do is pass the problem on to the next generation by enforcing the debilitating belief that we need to pretend some of the time in our lives.  It also of course fails to encourage humans to seek the advice of qualified doctors if they are sick.  Telling the truth really matters.

Anyone unfortunate enough to have been on my mailing list for the past 5 years or so will know what is coming next.  The following is a paraphrase of something I read in an essay by the philosopher Chapman Cohen.  I use it regularly, but it is just such a wonderful summary of my own position; facts are facts and sooner or later we will have to face them.  It is not only our responsibility to face the facts but it is also in our own best interests to do so.  Those who live their lives in spite of the facts will always eventually come to harm.

This website is intended as a contribution towards reducing that harm.