Dean Richards’ Final Post and What Comes Next

So, here we are. The final post on darichards.com. Next week Monday, everything will be moved over to kyranarcher.com, and some things will definitely be changing. You’ll be able to see those changes in practice quite soon, since I’ll be uploading one post every day in the first (work) week of the new site, but one thing I can already tell you is that there will be less opinion. I won’t say that there isn’t going to be any opinion, but recently I felt like there was too much of topics like Islam and Russia, topics I might not be able to shut up about myself but which might be a lot less interesting for you.

I do still find them important. I wholeheartedly believe that our image of Islam and particularly of Muslims is extremely flawed, and that the “war on terrorism” continues to perpetuate itself, only creating more terrorism as it hopelessly tries to eradicate it. I also still strongly believe that although Russia is full of flaws and that many of its action are completely unjustified, we in the West are often little better, constantly making the same mistakes as Russia does but interpreting them in different ways. I doubt I’ll ever stop believing in the power of looking at issues from the other’s point of view and how much that can help with creating a world without war. When it comes to pacifism, I am probably an extremist. I wholly intend to remain one.

Still, for regular readers, these opinions are no longer new. I have shared them so often and with so little effect that it’s just time for change. Perhaps those opinions have simply grown too solid, changing too little for them to remain interesting.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling. There will be new posts at KyranArcher.com next week Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and of course another one on the following Monday. Next week, we’ll first be heading into East Timor, a small country bordering Indonesia, so I hope to see you then!

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History is Politics and Politics is History

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Soon*, darichards.com will make way for a new website, KyranArcher.com. Some of the reasons for this are summarised at the bottom of this page, but the name isn’t all that’s changing: there will be some adjustments to the content as well. One of these adjustments is that I will be adding a segment on history, picking up some of the more interesting and entertaining sides of what our world has already been through. This post will serve as some much needed background!

So, let’s start with the first part of the title: history is politics. It sounds very basic, and in fact it is, because any introductory course on either history or politics, or anything in between, would probably start with that sentence. We are led to believe by everyone around us that history is based on facts, that there is no such thing as opinion involved in it: why would there, after all, when history is fully based on things that actually happened? But unfortunately it just isn’t so simple.

For one, history is for a large part based on interpretation. This goes especially for ancient history, where things are so vague that historians spend most of their time drawing major conclusions from minimal amounts of data, but it also goes for recent history. The same action can be interpreted in completely different ways depending on the perspective and on the political background of whoever is talking: Hitler’s popularity before World War II, for instance, can be interpreted as a result of the German people’s tendency to hold fascist beliefs, or as a result of poor economic circumstances, both of which have completely different implications.

Moreover, leaving out a small fact can completely alter the image of a certain event. Neglecting to mention that the British Empire had barely any need for slaves in comparison to its former colony the United States makes their international ban on slavery in the 1800s sound a whole lot more noble than perhaps it really was. Context also plays Fall of Nineveha role: perhaps the Babylonians were brutal and bloodthirsty when they sacked Nineveh in 612 BC, but perhaps they were actually rather kind compared to the Assyrians, whose king only a few years earlier had attempted to completely wipe Babylon off the face of the earth by killing its inhabitants and ruining the acres with salt.

The real problem is that these mistakes are an every-day reality, and not one we usually make on purpose. To avoid falling for these, to avoid ignoring or neglecting facts that don’t fit our own worldview, is difficult, and takes constant conscious attention. Even the best of historians are not immune to it, and that is something we should always keep in mind.

The opposite also holds, though: politics is, for a large part, history. When studying politics, you will spend most of your time looking at things that happened in the past, learning from the mistakes that were made back then. Unfortunately, the lessons we learn from this are usually reserved only for academics and students studying history or politics, and not for the actual politicians who could put it to use in practice, but it remains a vital part of politics.

All in all, there are precious few topics that have as much overlap as history and politics do, which teaches one very important lesson: even historical “facts” are not always entirely true, and sometimes it takes a while for us to realise that there’s also another side to the “truth.”

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There’s a new site coming at KyranArcher.com! Why, you ask? Well… Dean Richards was a name I came up with much too little consideration, basically being the first name I came up with after deciding that my unpronounceable, ridiculously long Dutch name REALLY wouldn’t do. Now, I’ve put a bit more thought into it, and although any name change always sounds and feels odd at first, I’m sure Kyran Archer will sound as natural as any other in no time!

As to why I chose this specific name: I just like names with a Y, and Archer was the surname that, to me, fit with it the best. I rejected a good couple of thousand names, so I’m certain that this one will make sense once it becomes more familiar!

Thanks for sticking around, and hopefully I’ll see you at KyranArcher.com soon!

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Russell Brand: Time For Revolution Or Too Good To Be True?

A few days ago, my friend Ben went to the blog’s Facebook page and asked what my thoughts were on Russell Brand: could his views truly improve the world, or is it just too good to be true? It’s a good question, so let’s delve right into it.

First of all, that Brand’s ideas are extremely appealing is no surprise. He is a comedian, after all, so he is able to bring his message in an entertaining and convincing way. On top of that, he is rather extremely far on the left-wing side of the political spectrum, something that inevitably appeals to me and quite a few of my friends. Because of that, as I watch his videos and read his articles, I find myself nodding along, agreeing with basically everything he says. Fox News is ridiculous, politicians are overly privileged, Muslims are marginalised, and we need change, all ideas I can definitely get behind. But that’s exactly the problem.

Russell Brand is a populist. Despite the fact that that puts him in the same category as people such as Adolf Hitler and Marine Le Pen, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to keep in mind. He preaches exactly what people (or at least a certain group of people) want to hear, namely that the Russell Brand Revolutionelites are too powerful and that it’s time for the lower classes and the marginalised to step up and take power. Now who doesn’t want that, except those few elites who are holding us all back? It sounds perfect, and together with the brilliant way in which he brings it and his undeniable charisma, that makes it hard to resist his views, even those as extreme as his calls for revolution.

One thing you might notice, though, is that he keeps going back to the same topics. In particular, consider his ongoing “feud” with Fox News: is it really such a surprise that I, and many others, agree with his views on that topic? Or did he just find a target so easy to destroy from a left-wing mindset that disagreeing is basically impossible? It’s an extremely clever tactic (which, by the way, might not be deliberate), because it very easily convinces the viewer and/or reader that they agree with him. And once you’ve got someone agreeing with you, convincing them of the next point is going to be a lot easier, even if that next point is something a little more doubtful than the validity of opinions on Fox News from a left-wing point of view.

None of this has yet shown that Brand’s views might be too good to be true, though. Instead, it has merely shown that he is a populist, and a good one too, who would be easily capable of convincing us of things that might not be entirely rational. Whether that’s actually what he does is the second question.

Now, like any other person, Brand has plenty of rational arguments backing up his views: otherwise he wouldn’t have believed in them himself. That means that he is certainly not wrong about everything, but I definitely wouldn’t argue that he’s right about everything either. There are some things that, to me, at least, appear incredibly irrational, wrapped brilliantly in a package of populist rhetoric that could fool anyone (including myself, perhaps, had I not been asked to look at it critically).

Most importantly, like any typical populist, Brand does not really offer solutions. He criticises others, but that doesn’t mean that he knows how to do it better. That puts him in a great position, because it’s no secret that democracy isn’t perfect, yet there is no way to prove that any alternative is equally or even more imperfect unless they were put in practice, which they simply aren’t. Particularly his criticism of politicians appears rather one-sided, perhaps even ignorant: he paints a picture of politicians as people looking for power and money, getting rich while the population stays poor. In reality, politicians are human beings too, often inspired by great ideals which are then curbed by the reality of millions of people having completely different demands, restrained further by an awfully limited budget.

That doesn’t take away the fact that the rich and Russell Brandthe elite have a disproportional influence on things. I would be the last person to argue that democracy is perfect, after all. Yet still, to paint the picture he paints, to criticise so easily without real solutions, is just too simple. While many of his views are perfectly acceptable, his call for people not to vote is both mindless and a prime example of ignorant populist rhetoric. In fact, that the rich are much more likely to vote than the poor is not a small factor contributing to the gap he so strongly criticises, and it is exactly the lower classes who will be attracted to his ideas.

Ardent supporters might still argue that his call for revolution is the solution he proposes, but that too seems hardly grounded in reality. He hasn’t provided any steps towards that revolution, and even if he did, there is one fundamental problem which throughout history has proven to be a major issue: democracy can function with minimal involvement by the population; revolutions cannot. Perhaps his revolution, much like Communism, truly could bring more equality and prosperity, but just like Communism, it needs cooperation by everyone, and that’s just not going to happen.

What makes democracy function at least to some extent is that all those people with completely different views, from Fox News to Russell Brand himself, can coexist within it. The system does not collapse despite the fact that hardly anyone upholds the same ideology. Revolution and rule by the masses, on the other hand, requires people to agree. In a perfect world, all 7 billion of us would align and work together to achieve that situation, but the world doesn’t work that way. There will never be unanimous consent about any political system, and that is why democracy still rules our lives: because while a revolution cannot exist with major disagreement, a democracy cannot exist without it.

Neither can people. Disagreement will always remain, and as long as it does, calls for revolution, unfortunately, can do nothing more than harm the advances we are already making. Russell Brand’s views, then, are perhaps too simple to all be true, and the world is far from simple.

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Don’t forget to rate/share/like this post, and if you have any thoughts of your own, please do leave them in the comments! And if you’re new here? Feel free to like the Facebook page for regular updates, or try having a look at the list of most popular posts!

More on related topics by Dean Richards:

Democracy Is Destructive and a Bad Solution

How The Gaza Conflict Shows That Independent Press Doesn’t Exist

The Elections That Can Make Or Break Europe: May 2014

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The War in the Middle East: An End In Sight?

In a week like this, you might expect me to give my insights on Charlie Hebdo and everything surrounding it. But I won’t. I assume that for regular readers it isn’t difficult to guess what my views are, and either way, the topic has been discussed so much that at this stage I have little news to add. This video, and this and this post from the past, should sum it up quite well. Instead, what I would like to talk about this week is a comment from a book called THE NEXT 100 YEARS: A FORECAST FOR THE 21ST CENTURY, by George Friedmann. In this book, he suggests not only that the US will dominate the rest of the century, but also that the war between Jihadists and the West has already reached its final stages. So, could it be that the war by the West in the Middle East is about to end?

There are several ways in which wars can end. My personal favourite is through rational peace talks, either between the parties themselves or possibly with help from organisations such as the United Nations. A second is when one side wins, making peace emerge simply because there is no more war to fight, and a final option is when both sides run out of resources or get tired of the constant warfare.

Judging from the way things are right now, Next 100 Years Goerge Friedmannthe latter is rather unlikely. It is, after all, not a war between two states, but a war between certain individuals and an outside state. Those people who fare war against the West are not going to get bored or “run out of resources”, because in their view, it is a struggle for freedom and justice, and those are not things people tend to give up on so easily. More likely, the West would be the side to run out of resources, causing a retreat and taking away the reasons for terrorist attacks. That, however, seems equally distant, considering the fact that the West has changed its tactic in such a way that the costs have become minimalised, with drones doing the work and thus only worsening the war, as drones don’t always act justly and thus fuel anti-Western sentiments even further.

The same thing goes for the scenario in which the war would end up with a winner. The West cannot possibly win, because they only fuel the popularity of the terrorists whenever they intensify their war efforts. The terrorists are unlikely to win as well, and either way, that is certainly not a scenario which George Friedmann imagined, seeing as he assumed that the 21st century would be the age of the US.

The final option, peace talks, might be more possible. That, however, appears to be just as far away, because at this stage, particularly with IS, there are no efforts made to create peace through talks, and there doesn’t seem to be any point to it anymore either. Organisations like Hamas could be pacified if only they were dealt with as a legitimate political party, but we have long moved on from the point where that would solve all the issues the Middle East faces.

All in all, then, I cannot think of any scenario in which this war is about to come to an end. It would require a Western retreat, as the terrorists can hardly be expected to retreat from their own lands, but that scenario appears more remote than it has ever been before. Of course, politics can be surprising, and I certainly do have hope, but to suggest so easily with little explanation that this war is about to come to an end, seems unlikely to say the least.

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Don’t forget to rate/share/like this post, and if you have any thoughts of your own, please do leave them in the comments! And if you’re new here? Feel free to like the Facebook page for regular updates, or try having a look at the list of most popular posts!

More on related topics by Dean Richards:

Are Islamic Countries Violent, Extremist and Anti-Democratic?

The West: Where You’re Innocent Until Proven Guilty Unless You’re A Muslim

Obama’s Hypocrisy: The CIA Torture Report

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The Problem With Human Rights

Human Rights are everywhere. Thought up about 7 decades ago as a nicely idealistic but non-compulsory way of seeming superior to the horrors of World War II, they have become a term that we just cannot stop talking about, particularly in the West. That might, however, not be entirely as positive as it sounds. After all, human rights were never meant to be used in this way, and that might just make them a less-than-ideal way to improve the world and to achieve those “human rights” we strive for.

Some people might be surprised to see the suggestion that human rights were never meant to develop in this way back in the 1940s, so let’s start with a look back. When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  was adopted by the United Nations, it was not ratified by each individual nation. It was adopted by the General Assembly, and they had no power to make international law. Moreover, the rights defined in the document were often rather vague and open to interpretation, so much so that Universal Declaration of Human Rightseven its leading supporters continued to allow racial segregation (in the case of the US) and had no intention of letting go of their colonial empires (in the case of Europe), despite the obvious contradiction with the agreement.

In practice, not much has changed since then. Countries which have adopted the many subsequent Human Rights agreements continue to ignore them whenever it’s convenient. That goes for countries such as Saudi Arabia, which ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women yet continues to uphold laws that makes discrimination against women no subtle business, but it also goes for countries such as the US, which is just one of 150 countries that still engage in torture (whether legally or in practice), despite this being one of the more basic principles of human rights protection. Human rights, then, are respected only when convenient.

This in itself is not strange. Citizens of many countries have several hundreds of “human rights”, making it incredibly challenging for poor countries to attempt to respect them all. Resources are limited, and since the majority of human rights are violated in practice rather than by actual law, this means that governments have to prioritise some decisions over others. If that means improving health care, education or employment over prosecuting bad police officers who violate human rights, then that might just be something we have to accept.

The problem is that some countries have it easier than others. Partly due to the fact that most agreements over human rights have been dictated by the West, but also for a great part due to wealth and resources, Western countries have to make barely any changes to uphold these human rights agreements. Because of that, a sense of superiority has evolved. Western countries are not only dictating what the rest of the world should do based on its own ideology (liberalisation, democracy, capitalism etc), but it is doing so in an arrogant way, forcing countries to focus on issues they deem important. Even organisations such as Human Rights Watch are very guilty of this, choosing to focus on issues that the Western public (its financial donors) find important while ignoring other “human rights abuses”, and thus taking away the ability for countries to decide for themselves what is the best way to spend their limited resources.

United Nations logoWorse still is that the West has failed to make the few minor changes it should still make to achieve those human rights itself. The US still engages in torture, Guantanamo Bay is still open, innocent civilians are killed by drone strikes on a daily basis, and Europe walks a very fine line between “freedom of expression” and hate speech. Islamic countries, for instance, find freedom of religion a much more important human right than freedom of expression, and while our Western view is different, there is no way of concluding without prejudice that either of those options is superior. We just have different views, but because the West feels superior, it attempts to dictate what other countries should do while shrugging off the criticism.

The problem is that this has a terribly counter-productive effect: non-Western countries recognise the hypocrisy of those Western countries, something we fail to do ourselves due to our bias, and because of that, they react in the opposite direction. They become angry and frustrated, leading some to become only more radical in their traditional views just to avoid succumbing to Western power. This in turn makes the West only more arrogant, and conflict will continue to rise.

Of course, none of this means that the concept of human rights has been useless. It is a great concept, and although it still has much more ideological and populist power than it has actual power in practice, it could be a great tool to improve what we consider “human rights.” The current dialogue, however, is harmful. We need to realise that our conception of human rights is not infallible nor universal, and that other countries are not necessarily inferior just because their human rights record is less ideal. Those countries often know better what is best for them than we do, and even the people of those extremes such as Russia, Saudi Arabia and Uganda would benefit from a less hostile international arena.

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Don’t forget to rate/share/like this post, and if you have any thoughts of your own, please do leave them in the comments! And if you’re new here? Feel free to like the Facebook page for regular updates, or try having a look at the list of most popular posts!

More on related topics by Dean Richards:

Western Tyranny and the Olympics: Stop Harassing Russia over its Human Rights Record

Uruguayan Heroism: The Plight of Refugees and Torture Victims

Are Islamic Countries Violent, Extremist and Anti-Democratic?

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The Value of Pictures

“Stop talking and smile at the camera.” – a very irritated father to his ~8 year old daughter at Schiphol airport.

Airports are always a fun place to be at, so I can never quite stop myself from looking around and observing all those thousands of people walking about, some rushing to catch a plane, others spending hours in the shopping area as if it’s a nice day out. This time, my Schiphol Airporttrip happened to coincide with a blogging day, so when the rather odd quote at the top of this post came about, I couldn’t help turning it into a post. After all, this was no real unusual comment.

When the comment was made, the father had been desperately trying to make a selfie (on one of those sticks you can put your phone on) of himself and his daughter at a large window, with the planes in the background. I happened to be sitting right across from them watching those same planes and failing to keep my attention on my Politics textbook, when the father began to get a little frustrated. At first, he seemed to be enjoying his daughter’s jokes and derp faces, but as the minutes started to pass by, he got angry. They HAD to make that photo.

The eventual end result was the most typical example of a deceptive holiday photo that you’ll ever find: two feigned smiles while in reality all happiness had faded away. In fact, while they started out being quite cheerful and excited about their flight back home, they ended up feeling grumpy in the case of the dad, and at the very least a whole lot less excited in the case of the daughter. But what for? A photo? Is that really worth the trouble?

What makes this so strange is that the picture gives the holiday no added value whatsoever. It certainly won’t be a picture that will forever give good memories of that wonderful holiday in the country of cheese and tulips (and, let’s be honest, weed and prostitutes). Instead, it will serve only as Selfie sticka nice Facebook status update with a short caption explaining how great a time they had, followed by a lot of likes by mostly disinterested Facebook contacts. In short, then, the picture doesn’t serve to enhance the experience, but instead serves only to get some attention. A cute smile might haul in some extra likes, and then everyone will know where they’ve gone.

Most likely, you’ll interpret that conclusion as an accusation, as a judgement on the man’s actions. But I’m not so sure. Wanting to be unique and to be recognised for that uniqueness is one of the most human things you can do, so unless there is something wrong with humanity (a case which, admittedly, can be made), there is no reason to judge the father, However, it is something to think about. What if we did it differently?

That doesn’t mean I think we should return to the time of giant photo collages of every holiday that don’t include any selfies. In essence, that’s the exact same thing, as that collage is always the first thing to be pulled out at family get-togethers when the destination country is brought up, regardless of context. It just misses the like button, but other than that it fits the pattern in every way. Instead, how about a holiday without posed pictures? Or, more extreme, a holiday without any pictures at all. What you might find is that, although you won’t have any physical evidence of your trip, you’ll see a lot more. You’ll remember a lot more. And in the end, who really needs that evidence when the experience itself can be so great?

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Don’t forget to rate/share/like this post, and if you have any thoughts of your own, please do leave them in the comments! And if you’re new here? Feel free to like the Facebook page for regular updates, or try having a look at the list of most popular posts!

More on related topics by Dean Richards:

Why Advertisement Is The Most Important Invention of the Last Two Centuries

The New Lent: A True Way to Improve Yourself

Nine Life Lessons for People Travelling through Wales (or for travelling anywhere… and actually also for people sitting on their couch…)

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Uruguayan Heroism: The Plight of Refugees and Torture Victims

When reading the news, and, for that matter, posts on this blog, you might start to think that awfully little is done to help the people of this world who are in need. That, unfortunately, would probably be true. Still, that doesn’t mean that nobody is taking action or that nobody in the world actually cares about the struggles of these people. There are exceptions out there, and those exceptions need to be underlined, because we are in desperate need of some good examples.

In 2010, José Mujica became President of the South-American country of Uruguay, a rather small nation of 3.5 million that is dwarfed in comparison with its neighbours Brazil and Argentina. From the very beginning, he has been an exceptional character who has drawn much praise from the international community: aside from bringing about Jose Mujicalegalisation of gay marriage and marijuana (the latter in order to combat powerful drug cartels), he is mostly known for being the “poorest President in the world.” Not because Uruguay is such a poor country, mind you, but because he donates 90% of his salary to good causes and refuses to live in his presidential palace, instead sticking to an old farmhouse in the country and driving a very old Volkswagen Beetle. In short, he is the Pope Francis of politics.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that he is popular in his own country or that he is the most perfect President any country could have: his popularity ratings have been dropping, because in the end, people care more about economic results than the lifestyle of their country’s leader. But still, it portrays a message to world leaders all over, and that can only be a good thing.

What inspired this post, however, was one of his more recent decisions: Mujica decided to help some of the Syrian refugees. Doing what no other country has willingly consented to, Mujica invited over 100 Syrian refugees to come and live in his country, where they will be given jobs and education, all of it without any compensation. The argument is simple: Uruguay, just like any other country, needs people to work. Grateful Syrian refugees are perfect for that, because they will be more than willing to work, which means that his decision does not only help these refugees, but that it might even have a positive effect on the economy in the long run.

The five freed ex-Guantanamo detainees (the sixth was still in the hospital)

The five freed ex-Guantanamo detainees (the sixth was still in the hospital)

Better still, a few days ago six Arabic men arrived from Guantanamo Bay: they too had been invited. These six men had been locked up without a trial for 12 years, meaning that in every legal sense they were nothing more than innocent yet still they had to suffer, if not physical, at the very least immense psychological torture. Because no country would have them, though, they were stuck in Guantanamo for a further 5 years after they were “proven innocent” in 2009, with no chance to continue the lives that had been so brutally taken away from them. These six men were taken in by Uruguay, finally giving them and their entire families the chance to start a new life. Where nations priding themselves in their human rights record faltered, the small nation of Uruguay stepped up, showing the world that the time when it was up to Western countries to give the right example has long passed.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s all perfect now. In fact, there are millions of refugees still stuck in the Middle East, many of them living in refugee camps for years, if not decades, making those 120 people flown to Uruguay seem almost insignificant, but that doesn’t take away the importance of the initiative. Mujica has shown that this is possible, and all these 120 lives, each of them as important as our own lives, will be improved beyond comparison. A lot of work still remains to be done, but it is the heroism of people like Mujica that can make a difference. The only question is whether the rest of the world will follow the example.

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Don’t forget to rate/share/like this post, and if you have any thoughts of your own, please do leave them in the comments! And if you’re new here? Feel free to like the Facebook page for regular updates, or try having a look at the list of most popular posts!

More on related topics by Dean Richards:

The West: Where You’re Innocent Until Proven Guilty Unless You’re a Muslim

Obama’s Hypocrisy: The CIA Torture Report

Are Islamic Countries Violent, Extremist and Anti-Democratic?

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