The Guardian reports on the rise of racism in Italy.

By Angela Giuffrida
Results of survey come after series of high-profile hate crime incidents across Italy in Rome.

More than half of the Italians surveyed in a recent poll have said that racist acts were either sometimes or always “justifiable”, a finding that comes after a series of high-profile racist and antisemitic incidents across the country.

The polling firm, SWG, questioned a sample of 1,500 people of whom 10% said racist acts were always justified and a further 45% who said racist acts could be acceptable depending on the situation.

The remaining 45% said racist acts of any kind were completely unacceptable.
SWG conducts the same survey once a year and for the first time in a decade the majority of those questioned did not condemn racism outright.

“What this means is that there has been a relaxation in attitudes towards racism – not necessarily that people have become racist, more that they are becoming more accepting of racist acts and do not consider them so scandalous,” said Enzo Risso, scientific director at SWG.

Continue reading @ The Guardian.

Many Italians Justify Racism


Christopher Owens has just read a post-Troubles thriller set in Cork. 


Cork seems the unlikeliest place to set a post-Troubles political thriller.

At first glance, it doesn't have the battle scarred streets of Belfast and Dublin, nor does it have the Deliverence/Cannibal Holocaust style other worldiness of South Armagh and Dundalk. But dig deeper and you'll find the contested history of the area sits uneasily with the modern day Cork city centre.

Think of the allegations surrounding the death of Michael Collins. Think of the claim forwarded by revisionists like Peter Hart that there was a policy of ethnic cleansing of Protestants in the Cork area. The ambiguity makes for uneasy thinking.

And this unease is amply filtered into To Keep a Bird Singing.

Set in austerity ravaged times, Noelie Sullivan discovers his old punk records (once stolen from him) in a charity shop. After taking them home, he finds a statement (hidden in a copy of Live at the Witch Trials by The Fall) that states, quite categorically, that a local man by the name of Jim Dalton was murdered twenty years previously by a senior Garda.

Thus begins a tale of institutional abuse, disappearances and corruption that enthralls the reader until the final page. Starkly written and filled with human, sympathetic characters, To Keep a Bird Singing takes a look at modern Ireland and doesn't like how it has swept horrendous crimes under the carpet.

One of the ways in which author Kevin Doyle keeps the reader coming back is having a flawed lead. Noelie is a likeable character. He is someone who (by his own admission) is always on the verge of achieving, but pulls out at the last minute. Fine when in your twenties, less so when you're nearing fifty. His heart is in the right place and, for all his world weariness, there is a bullheaded naivety to his initial actions. Almost as if he's been waiting all these years to act in such a manner, and it happens to be the worst thing to do.

In the overcluttered world of crime fiction, Doyle proves himself able to produce a gripping, memorable and thought provoking tale.

Looking forward to reading the sequel, A River of Bodies.

Kevin Doyle, 2018, To Keep a Bird Singing. The Blackstaff Press ISBN-13: 978-1780731711

Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.

To Keep A Bird Singing





A Morning Thought @ 533

Paul Ryan, a resident of Louth, with a poem from his collection.

A Nation's Shame


Unveiled by the light
Of a pale faced moon
Our nation’s shame
Exposed in Tuam

* *

Ground prised open
With bible and spade
Eight hundred innocents
Gracelessly laid

* *

Empty stomachs
Cages of bone
A septic tank
Their final home

* *

Crimes of the cloth
Through stained glass panes
Hold hands with the past
‘Neath rural plains.

* *

A state with no alibi
Awaits its fate
For mothers and babies
It’s way too late.

A Nation's Shame

Interview with Azar Majedi.

Introduction:

Protests, strikes, demonstrations and activism are every day events. Why? 

Wars, killings, torture, executions, state and Islamic terrorism are also every day events. Why?

Unemployment, poverty, wage slavery, slavery, peoples’ displacement, immigrants drowning while crossing sees, homelessness, gender inequality, domestic violence, child cruelty and millions of other miseries are also every day events. Or better said realities. Why?

In this issue we are highlighting the situation in Iraq, Chile and Lebanon which touches on the above questions. One thing people of different countries have in common i.e. suppression of their rights and lives which is countered by resistance and protests.

Iraq

1: The recent protests in Iraq have been suppressed by the Iraqi government. Hundreds dead and thousands injured. What instigated these protests?

AM: Unemployment, poverty, extreme inequality, large-scale corruption and destitute; young people have no hope; they see no future. This is the generation that have grown up in war, ruin, and in a society that has practically been dismantled by the brutal attack of the US and the UK in 2003. During the past 16 years Iraqi society has been pushed back a century. The most corrupt sections of the society have risen to power by the state and Islamic terrorism.

Sectarianism has taken over the society and created a constant war and intensified terrorism and corruption. Indeed sectarianism is been targeted by protestors. Slogans demanding an end to a sectarian political structure; and banners stating that they regard themselves as neither Shia, Sunni, Christian, Arab nor Kurd have been held by the protesters. Rightfully, the youth is deeply angry. Their lives and youth have been ruined by a brutal war and there seems no end to it.

Protestors are demanding the overthrow of the political system and the government; They are also demanding the end to the mingling of the Islamic Regime of Iran in their lives and country. Their anger has equally targeted the Iraqi government and the IR. After the 2003 war, IR created a stronghold in Iraq, both in Kurdistan and in the larger society. As a matter of fact Hashd’ ol Shabi IR’s mercenary militia has been very active in suppressing the protests and shooting the protestors.

2: It is clear that the original demands of the people for jobs, housing and protesting against corruption has led to a wider wave of protest against the entirety of the Iraqi government. Are we witnessing an uprising?

AM: Yes, I believe this is an uprising; People have risen to dismantle, to overthrow the regime. This is their main demand. They have refused to give up. Despite brutal suppression and clamp down by the government and IR’s mercenaries which has resulted in many deaths and serious injuries, they are going on. The situation brings to mind Marx’s words: they “have nothing to lose but their chains.”
Observing the political situation and protest movement from afar and language barrier are hindrance to a more precise political analysis; however, referring to communist activists’ observations one can definitely conclude that we are facing an uprising that has taken over most of the country. I’d like to refer to Yanar Muhammad’s interview with Democracy Now for more detailed information and a clearer narration of the events. Yanar is the spokesperson of the Organisation for Women’s Freedom and a leading member of the Communist Alternative.

3: How do you see the balance of power within the Iraqi government and that of the people? How can the people withstand the external influence of the Western governments and that of the Islamic Republic of Iran?

AM: The government has no real popular base, and people are protesting en masse. However, the government is armed with the most deadly weapons and has the support of both poles of terrorism, state and Islamic. In other words, the government is militarily strong but with no political, economic or ideological stronghold. People, on the other hand, enjoy a great deal of solidarity and unity; Now the oil and gas workers of Basra have joined the movement by going on strike; they seem to have managed to create grassroots organisations, at least in Bagdad and perhaps Basra, Najaf and Karbala. These are two important columns of a popular uprising; however, the lack of a revolutionary communist party can prove detrimental. Having said that, we know from theory and our own experience in Iran in 1979, that revolutionary communists grow rapidly in numbers and theoretical and organisational strength during a revolutionary period. This is what we should hope for and try to aid in this dire and exciting time.

Chile

1: Streets of Santiago are full of protestors. More than a million people marched in Santiago on 25 October against inequality. Some of their slogans are “Chile has woken up” and “Better times!” What are they woken up to?

AM: People of Chile like most countries in the world have suffered decades of oppression, poverty, inequality, injustice, imprisonment and torture in the hands of the ruling class and the bourgeoisie. But Chile has a recent history of strong leftist sentiments and activism, the very reason for a CIA organised coup d’état 46 years ago. A bloody period that is alive in the memories of not only the Chilean people but the world. The current state is the same in every aspect except the name as the Pinochet’s military government. It is no coincidence that the minister of internal affairs was a close aid of Pinochet.

Inequality and economic disparity have vastly grown in Chile like the rest of the world. People are basically poor; while a small minority, including the president who is a billionaire, are enjoying grotesque privileges and have witnessed their wealth amass incredibly. In this sense the economic situation in Chile is very similar to the rest of the world. It is the political climate that has led to the recent protest movement. But again we are witnessing mass protest movements in many countries, Iraq, Lebanon, Haiti, Bolivia, Colombia; Brazil is going through a great upheaval; France has been dominated by continuous protests for the past year. In the face of it, what triggered the protest movement was a few cents increase in the price of metro tickets.

This is so intriguing about mass protests or uprisings, one day you wake up and you realise that large number of people have taken to the streets over what seems to be not so significant. This is the dynamism of uprisings, when underneath the social events and relations a political climate is simmering and one day is ready to erupt. It seems that the moment has come in Chile.

2: The protestors have the support of the wider community. Even medical students have left their lecture theatres to help the injured in the streets. Do you think the current protests will develop into a mass struggle supported by the working class?

AM: I believe that they do have the support and sympathy of the working class as the economic situation is really tough and workers’ laws are suppressive; however, if you mean workers’ mass strikes? If the movement continues a little longer, I believe that will happen. It is bound to happen. Interestingly enough, Last week 2 young female MPs who are described as communists have tabled a resolution to reduce the working week hours from 45 to 40. After taking back the metro fare rise and dismissing the whole cabinet by the president, this is the most important piece of reform that has resulted from weeks of protest. This says something about the class and social structure of the protest movement.

3: Does the apology of the president Sebastian Pinera and his promise for higher wages and increase in pensions etc mean anything? Do you think this is a ploy to silence the protestors?

AM: These are the same tactics that any government pressurised by popular protest adopts. We’ve seen it so many times. But as soon as streets are quiet again and people have lost their momentum they reintroduce the same measures. It must be said that it is too little and too late. I don’t think people will stop at these dismal measures. The heavy-handed clamp down by the security forces, especially in the first two weeks, is too characteristic and important to let go. I believe people demand his downfall; we have to wait and see.

Lebanon

1: Anti-government protests have also been ripe in Lebanon during October. It led to the resignation of the prime minister, Saad Hariri. Do you see this as a victory for the people in Lebanon?

AM: It is definitely encouraging, but victory? I don’t think so. He is just a piece in the reactionary and corrupt ruling class. The government has also backed down on the measure that triggered the movement, levying fees on WhatsApp usage; It also promised to halve the salaries of government officials and members of the parliament and give some financial aid to the poor. None of these have quelled the anger, determination and the momentum of the protests; instead they only emboldened the people and strengthened their movement. It seems that the protesters know clearly what they want and are not prepared to give up. From day one they have demanded the end to the sectarian political structure, which has torn the society apart and created a breathing ground for sectarian violence, precarious political climate, economic misery and hardship and corruption.

2: There are reports that more than 200 people have been killed in the recent protests. How do you see the strength of the protest movement to combat such savagery?

AM: This is the case with all the other societies under political upheavals; in this respect Lebanon is not any different; actually Lebanon in comparison with Iraq and Chile has suffered less brutality and violence; So far, we have been witnessing a calmer situation in Lebanon; We have also seen many pictures of one to one fights between the protestors and the security forces.

3: Lebanon has always been a centre for different political movements and factions to play a part in the country’s political situation and suppression of people. How do you see the role of the Hezbollah forces in the recent protests?

AM: As mentioned above, Lebanon has been known for its sectarian political structure for decades. For years ethnic nationalist organisations in the region, e.g. the nationalist Kurdish groups in Iran have used Lebanon as a great example of sectarian division of the country; they have heralded Lebanon as the example of democracy with respect for ethnic tensions. We, Worker-communists have always condemned this structure as reactionary and contrary to egalitarian principles and people’s equal rights or a just solution for national oppression.

Hezbollah is the child of the IR; It is as brutal and reactionary as the IR. For some time it enjoyed a degree of popularity among sections of the population; the main reason being its hostile attitude to the state of Israel. It enjoys vast sum of financial help from the IR and is armed to teeth by it. However, people’s hostility towards Hezbollah and its leader Nassrollah during the protests tells a different story now. Many protestors have set fire to the headquarter of Ammal, a similar religious terrorist organisation; They demanded the abolition of these organisations; Young women have belly danced in front of Hezbollah’s headquarter, a vivid protest at this backward misogynist Islamic army. This is to say: ”go to hell.”

Nassrollah first disagreed with Hariri’s resignation, and then approved of it. He made a quick trip to Iran to get advice from his leaders and after coming back tried to strike a note with the protestors; all in vain; all signs of desperation. People face a great challenge vis a vis such brutes and in regional context. As the fear of civil war has always been invoked in time of political trouble by the ruling class since the seventies. No one says it’s easy. It is a very challenging and difficult time.

Finally:

Can you answer the “whys” of the introduction to this interview? What is the solution?

AM: A worker’s revolution is the real answer to all the problems and demands which led people of many countries to rise and try to take matters in their own hands. I am aware that this answer is no longer fashionable and it might sound like an old cliché to the ears of many. Nevertheless, if we even disregard hard theoretical analyses and facts, we cannot disregard our recent history and experiences. Anything short of a worker revolution which overthrows not only the existing ruling class, but also capitalism; it abolishes the wage-labour and private property and creates a council based government will result in too few reforms which are short-lived. We don’t need to look too long back, a quick look at the world since the sixties; if nothing else it has one important and basic lesson: reforms made by large socio-political movements are easily taken back. Being content with the left of the bourgeoisie will lead to total disillusionment and bitterness. Moreover, it is a known fact now that the era of social-democracy is long gone.

However, preparing for a worker’s revolution calls for great work, determination, theoretical and practical knowledge and a revolutionary outlook. We need to build real revolutionary Worker-communist parties and movement. This is the best time for it. Revolutionary times are ripe for militancy, radicalism and need for revolutionary theory, practice and strategy.

Asar Majedi is a  Member of Hekmatist Party leadership & Chairperson of Organisation for Women’s Liberation

The World Is In Turmoil!





A Morning Thought @ 532

Sean Mallory answers thirteen questions in a Booker's Dozen.

TPQ: What are you currently reading?

SM: I am not actually reading anything at the minute. I had started a book, If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio, but we are part way through a clear out and decorating a couple of rooms and where once the bookshelf stood it has now been removed and sold off and all our books, old and new, are in varying piles throughout the house and to be honest I have no idea where the book is now as the piles keep getting moved around and keep changing in stack size and shape, for some unknown reason!

Also I tend to read more intensively and voraciously during the autumn and winter whereas during the spring / summer I lay off and only would take note of a book to look out for to read later in the year. For instance, this book, Divided: Why we are living in an age of Walls by Tim Marshall has caught my eye and like the other books is in a stack somewhere to be read later in the year.

With the boys playing the hurling and football and the garden to attend to, holidays, the warm evenings, out walking and other things along those lines, I really don’t get much time to read. I know I should but to me spring / summers are for outdoor activities … plenty of time to read in the winter.

I watch very little if any television at all and would be quite particular about which programmes I do watch so in the winter I use that time to sit back and read. As soon as all the work is finished and the boys hurling and football season finishes I’ll hoke out the books and put the feet up and read.

TPQ: Best book you have ever read?

SM: I have never read the same book twice as no book has ever gripped me with the need to do so. I’m of the opinion that once read then leave it as it is. I suppose it depends on how the book affects you. Different topics can conjure up varying reactions.

Quite a few I have enjoyed, some more so than others, but I can’t narrow it down to one in particular. There is just too much diversity to pick just one.

Some books are trapped in time and their relevance or potency as a story is greatly diminished. For instance Dante’s Divine Comedy is one of those books or Dickens and his maudlin musings of Victorian England.

Others stand the test of time and are as relevant today as when they were first published. Such as Orwell’s Animal Farm. Funnily, I have never read 1984.

The most memorable book I have read in the last few years is Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada. Orwell is supposedly to have been heavily influenced by it when he wrote 1984. It is based on the Nazis and their control on all aspects of German society during the war. Particularly their reactions and responses to those who diverge or attempt to hold a difference of opinion. You can actually feel the fear prevalent in German society at that time. And it is amazing how a whole society can simply fall asleep while their civil and democratic rights are stripped away … very relevant to what is happening across the world today. It is a very well written novel and the story is skilfully crafted. His writing reminds me of Dostoevsky.

I was unaware until I read the book that the Nazis guillotined those who were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Always thought that method of dispatch was solely the domain of the French!

TPQ: A must-read before you die?

SM: No such book exists. If it did I would have read it, besides, I can’t ever for the life of me envisage me lying on my death bed, surrounded by family and friends and the last thoughts or words I utter would be, ‘I should have read that book.’ I can just image all those standing around going, ‘What book, what fuck’n book is he talking about?’

TPQ: A preference for fact or fiction?

SM: I can read both although I tend to stay away from autobiographies … they’re too boring. I did read Roy Keane’s autobiography which is perhaps the only one I have. I have read an extensive 3 volume historical account of the life of Trotsky … that took some time to read! I can’t remember who wrote that but I think it was Isaac Deutscher.

These days my fact reading would be more along the lines of books by journalists such as Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn, books by contemporary writers of the technical age such as Ray Kurzweil, or historical books. I have really liked reading Yuval Noah Harari … what a mind! Recently I have read two books on the Battle of Stalingrad – Stalingrad by Antony Beevor and Breakout at Stalingrad by Heinrich Gerlach. One is an historical account and the other is a novel. Both are excellent.

I really enjoyed The Loneliest Boy in the World: The Last Child of the Great Blasket by Gearoid Cheaist O Cathain … that was also a gift to me.

That would be the sum of my fact reading. I refuse to read factual or fictional accounts of anything to do with the Conflict, from any side as they tend to be anything but factual or even accurate and always have this intangible underlying theme of apologising running through them … I generally stay away from any medium about the Conflict … although I did watch Unquiet Graves and did read your tome but that was just me being pleasant!

TPQ: Favourite female author?

SM: Like the book to read before I die … doesn’t exist. I don’t know what it is but I find that the genres I read are not well written by female authors. I’m not being sexist even though it may seem so it’s just I find that they can’t cover the genre as well as a male author … now I loved Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird which was a 21st birthday present and I have read a few others and really like those books and authors too but generally, no I don’t have one.

TPQ: Favourite male author?

SM: Like the female I don’t have one. I don’t think you can have one as that would be time limiting your reading to a specific period in your life. Authors are coming along all the time so to narrow it down to one for me is impossible. I do like Dostoevsky’s style of writing though. His novels give great insight in to Russian society at the time of writing.


A Berlin Book Tower in memory of the Nazi book burning.

TPQ: First book you ever read?

SM: I have no idea. I think it was a book about Worzel Gummidge when I was about 17 ... no. no. seriously, it was about Worzel Gummidge but it was a compulsory read at primary school. First mature book, probably something from Stephen King or Ludlum or Wilbur Smith (remember him!), or some of those popular writers at the time…..

TPQ: Favourite childhood author?

SM: Didn’t have one as I didn’t read books as a child. My sons have stopped reading now that they are teenagers and have interests elsewhere, although the youngest will read a book still but very rarely the other two will have a book in their hand … shame really but I think they will come back to it at some point in their lives.

When I was a young lad we were members of the local library and would frequent it but I can’t honestly recall reading a book that wasn’t compulsory to do so for school.

TPQ: Any book you point blank refuse to read?

SM: As I say anything to do with the Conflict, either fact or fiction. I can’t stand the wishy washy peace process language used or the severe deviation from historical fact / truth that you find in these books and especially the implied lie that everything was rosy in norn iron before the Provos … despise that. Also refuse to read any books by ex-Provos, INLA, IPLO or the multitude of IRA’s, especially since Adams’ surrender … they tend to be even more vomit material than the Unionist drivel. I would never ever contemplate reading anything by Adams, Morrison or any of that clique … are you serious?

I did read Divorcing Jack by Colin Bateman which was appallingly written and dreadful to read. Which is what most of them are. I did like Jammy Dodger by Kevin Smith which I recommended on the Quill. It was very witty and tended to steer clear of the Conflict and I suppose that’s why I enjoyed it.

TPQ: Any author you point blank refuse to read?

SM: I have never read any of the so called classics such as those by Dickens, Shelly, Bronte’s or anything along those lines and point blankly refuse to read the Irish classics. Nothing could induce uncontrollable vomiting as much as having one of those thrown down in front of you and being told you have to read that as it is hailed as one the great classics … in fact I think I have only read what constitutes the Russian classics. I tried Ulysses by Joyce once but then I woke up dead one morning! ngs.

TPQ: Pick a book to give to somebody so that they would more fully understand you.

SM: That’s not easy to narrow down to one book. I think I’m a consortium of books rather than just one…..mmmm…. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist by Robert Tressell ( I think he was Irish. Hope that doesn’t make it a classic!), Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks, Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series, Children of the Dead End by Patrick MacGill, A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, The Kite Flyer by Khaled Hosseini, Life of Pi, by Yann Martel and To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. I will end with Dostoevsky and Crime and Punishment.

Now if you ask me this again next week I could very well produce a different consortium!

TPQ: Last book you gave as a present?

SM: Eleanor Oiliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman - it was part of a Christmas present I gave to ‘She who must be obeyed.’….she always hails my choice!

TPQ: Book you would most like to see turned into a movie?

SM: His Bloody Project by Graeme McCrae Burnett. It tells the historically fictional story of a triple murder committed by a 17 year old crofter in the latter half of the 19th century and is based in Scotland. An excellent read and leaves the reader wondering ‘Did he?’

Maybe this has already been made into a film, I don’t know!

Sean Mallory is a Tyrone republican and TPQ columnist.

Booker's Dozen @ Sean Mallory


Patrick Donohoe writes on the breakdown of social cohesion and solidarity.

I was ready to board a flight from Vancouver in Canada to head home to Ireland after a week in Las Vegas; tired after a 4am rise the last thing I wanted to hear was there would be no operational TVs for the ten-hour flight home. It's a time when even 36,000 feet in the air we are still connected to technology, so like when I recently left for work without my phone you feel a mild form of irritation at being naked of something to keep your mind occupied to pass the time, that all addicts of junk technology feel when without it. In my teen years (1993-1999), I consumed books at a rapid rate, mostly history related and anything relating to the struggle up north. My only distraction in those years was television and we only had one, which my old lad controlled much of the time with an iron grip. So, with a book I packed, with the good intention of reading on holiday, and didn't, I was going to read for ten hours like it was 1999 again.

The book I read Chasing the Scream which was a history of the drug war and making the case that what we think of drugs and addiction is wrong and why the war on drugs was creating a war for drugs that had whipped a carnival of reaction and was causing those involved to become more and more violent to establish and solidify their grip on a lucrative trade. It highlighted the inhumanity of how we treat addicts, mindful the genesis of their addiction was rooted in childhood sexual and physical abuse, and a neglected youth. The title of the book was a reference to the father of the drug war Harry Anslinger's first experience of a drug addict who was screaming in agony in the distance and this stayed with him throughout his life and affected him negatively and saw him embark on a war on drugs that rather than solve a problem that didn’t exist, but made it worse.


It reminded me of the time my father had a severe stroke. He had a six month stay in hospital. The person in the bed beside him in his ward was a great guy. He was always looking out for my old lad and letting us know how he was doing during the night and that. He didn't have to do it, but he did. He had a good soul, I suppose. He was a person who had a history of addiction and his internal organs were in a bad way; not due to the drugs themselves but the contaminants in the drugs that criminals put in them to increase their profits. He thought he was going to have a liver transplant, but everyone else, including us, knew he was going to die, and they had chosen not to tell him. It seemed cruel, everyone else knew but him. He became close to my family and, likely due to his time as an addict, he had no family around him when he was taken to a private room to die, other than my own mother and sister for company. He died in agony, his internal organs failing. His screaming haunted my mother. I thought of that as I was reading Chasing the Scream flying over the Atlantic last year. We’re still chasing the screams of addicts and those in emotional distress.

Inspired by Johann Hari's book, I wrote an article for this website making the case for republicans to take themselves out of the drug war and to campaign for evidence-based law reform pointing at the examples set by Portugal and Switzerland and for us to re-examine how we treat addicts leaving them in the hands of criminal gangs. I touched on the need for a social recovery to tackle addiction in our society, believing the issue was not with the substances involved, but the pain and trauma being felt in society that was causing people to connect with foreign substances to escape their everyday life.  Just as depression which is kinetically linked to addiction, is not a simple matter of a rise in chemical imbalances in the brain, the reasons in their concurrent rise are multifaceted, with the causes all around us. Thankfully, the solutions are also and need to be holistic in our approach to remedying them.

Today, one-in-five Americans are taking at least one drug for psychiatric problems (one in four middle aged women are taking antidepressants); France has one-in-three taking psychotropic drugs of some kind; with Britain being among the highest in Europe also. We take so many antidepressants they are in Western countries' water supply given so many take them and are excreting them that they can't be completely filtered out of our water supply.

We are told now is the greatest time to be alive with so many technological advances and with the advent of the internet and social media, we are the most connected society in human history and, in many ways, they're right; and yet so wrong at the same time. We see depression and anxiety have been on a steady upward trajectory and it's worth noting for the first time in the peacetime history of the United States white male life expectancy has decreased for the last three years in-a-row, largely down to addiction and suicides. Is there just simply a rise in chemically imbalanced brain defects, or - and this is worth noting for those of a left-wing persuasion - is the kind of hyper-capitalist and hyper-individualistic economy and society we've built making us ill and depressed?

In Johann Hari's book on depression, Lost Connections, he tells the story about a wand in the 18th century, that was claimed could heal physical pain. A thick metal rod, that had been patented by a company, which they called "tractor". The company claimed their metal rod, just like how lightning rods draw lightening, the tractor would draw the sickness and pain in your body and propel it out of your body and into the air without it ever touching you. People crippled by rheumatism, people tortured by pain, really did see their pain recede and hopeless cases were walking again free of any pain or impediment. The company who patented the tractor said they couldn't give their secret away as others would copy it and they would lose the money on what was their creation after all. Some doctors baffled by the amazing results did their own tests disguising an old stick as a metal rod and telling patients it was one of the now-famous Perkins wands; with it, they achieved the same results. A man with unbearable pain in his knee began to walk freely shortly after having the 'wand' waved over his body, and a patient with crippling rheumatic pain in his shoulder was able to lift his hands from his knees for the first time in years. There were other doctors who carried similar studies with the same results. What had been going on was the placebo effect - the process of patients given dummy medication and their strong belief in the story that this would make them better can invariably make it so. Just like some American soldiers in WWII who needed to be operated on when they had run out of opiate-based painkillers, had been operated on with a saltwater drip, which they had been told was morphine, so they didn't go into shock. The soldiers reacted just as they had been given morphine. There was no screaming or shouting. It worked just like it was morphine, because the soldiers believed it to be so. The tractor wand, of course, like the saltwater drop, was a fraud.

In the modern day, the placebo effect even plays a significant part in the process of the testing phase for potential drugs to getting it from the lab and ending up in our pharmacies and into the public domain. Any potential drug, such as antidepressants, must go through a rigorous process involving testing on two groups: one is given the real drug and the other is given a sugar pill, or some other placebo. Then the researchers compare the groups' results. You are only allowed sell the drug by the Food and Drugs Agency (FDA) if the real drug performs significantly better than the placebo. That would seem clear cut and fair enough, right? The thing is though there is a third group they left out. That being the third group they would give nothing to; no actual drug, no placebo - nothing. You need that group to test to see the rate that people will get better by themselves, with no chemical or placebo help. When tests were done involving three groups the results showed 25% would get better by themselves; 50% of them got better due to the story they were told about them, the placebo and 25% due to the actual chemicals. So, what of the research done with the two groups, it must show significantly more of an effect than the placebo to make it to market, remember? The problem with that is most of the research done to see if drugs work and can make it to market is done by the big pharmaceutical companies themselves. In secret. Over 40% of these studies never see the light of day. They also only publish the results that would make their drug look good and better than their rivals'. It's the same reason McDonald's would never release their studies that say their food is likely to make you overweight. It's called "publication bias".

The problem for the big pharma companies with a Freedom of Information Act request they must release their full medical research and those analysing the effects of antidepressants using the third group of participants of no drug or placebo, did just that. The results showed, for example, in one research trial, Prozac - possibly the most commonly known antidepressant - was given to 245 patients. They released the results for only twenty-seven of them. They just so happened to be the twenty-seven people the drug seemed to work for. The Hamilton Scale, which is the barometer for measuring how depressed someone is; with it starting at zero, which is someone as happy as can be, all the way to fifty-nine, which is someone ready to jump from a bridge. When scientists looked at the real data from the tests on anti-depressants it was found they do cause an improvement on the Hamilton Scale, but by only 1.8 points. To put it in perspective, a good sleeping pattern puts you up six points. That is three times the chemical effect of anti-depressants. While this was not completely insignificant, it was minimal. What it looked at a glance was the story itself was making them feel better for a time, but the underlying problem would reassert itself in time. The side effects though: weight gains, sexual dysfunction and profuse sweating etc were all very real.

Earlier on in this decade, Gallup conducted a poll worldwide, across 142 countries, and asked millions of people how they felt about their work. We spend most of my week there and we spend more time with our co-workers than we do with any of our family members or partners. Only 13% of those polled said they were engaged in their work, meaning they enjoyed it. 63% of them were not engaged, meaning they sleepwalked through their day and 24% of them were not only unhappy in their job, they actively acted out their unhappiness, which meant twice as many people hated their jobs as loved it. One researcher who studied the results advised the days of the 9-to-5 life are over in modern society. For example, one in three British workers checked their work email, couple that with 80% of employers in Britain seeing it as okay to phone workers outside of working hours. Today the typical worker starts his working day at 8:18am and will leave at 7:19pm. As Johann Hari put it in his book Lost Connections: "so this thing that 87% of us don't enjoy is spreading over more and more of our lives."

What I found in this same book was when it studied who was likely to be stressed in a job; who was more likely to suffer a heart attack; who was likely to be depressed. The common misconception was the boss, the person at the top of the tree who must make the stressful decisions that affect other people. An extensive study of the British civil service it was found those lower down the pay grade and ladder were four times more likely to suffer a heart attack than those at the top of the civil service. It was found those who had more control over their work and had some autonomy to make decisions were less inclined to be stressed and depressed about their work. When they examined their lives outside of work, they found those higher up the grade had better social lives and activities involving friends. Those who worked boring low status jobs had the reverse, they would just want to collapse in front of the television after work. One of the researchers put it simply: "when work is enriching, life is fuller".

While it is said we are the most connected society in history, the opposite could be said. What we are, also, is the loneliest. A survey done a few decades ago asked people in the U.S. how many real friends they had that they could turn to in the event of an emergency. The most common answer was five. The same asked a few years ago gave the most common to be zero. Not the majority, but the most common none-the-less. When Americans asked how many people in their lives, they felt really knew them; again, the most common answer, depressingly, was zero. An experiment to measure how loneliness increased stress levels was conducted for the first time, which involved participants wearing heart rate monitored and when they reached levels enough that would cause the monitors to beep, they had to take note of how lonely or connected you felt. One the second day when their monitor beeped, they had to spit into a test tube and give it to the lab. When you are stressed your heart rate would go up and your saliva becomes flooded with a hormone called cortisol. What the data told them was being lonely caused your cortisol levels to soar and being acutely lonely was as stressful as suffering a physical attack. Other studies done on lonely people comparing them with people with healthy social connections; when exposed to the cold virus it was found the lonely socially isolated people were three times more likely to catch the cold virus than those who were connected into a friends and social structure. When coupled with that, a scientist Lisa Berkman, did a similar comparison over a nine-year period and she discovered that isolated persons were two to three times more likely to die in that period. Cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems were all more fatal when people were alone. Its known stress is a killer; but loneliness?

The collective structure of society has eroded. In the U.S. in the ten years between 1985 to 1994 active participation in community organisations fell by 45%. In Clondalkin, the working-class estate in Dublin, where I grew up in the 1980's and 90's, the street parties and Summer projects are gone. I recently asked someone what had happened here and the simple answer was the people who were parts of residents’ committees moved out of the area, and nobody filled the void. I wonder are areas like Clondalkin a microcosm of the U.S.? It looks like we've turned away from community and turned inward; peoples' sense of belonging to a community is plummeting. The same can be said of our family lives. We eat together less as families; we go on less vacations together and just general activities as a family are all down. The social construct that binds us together, our sense of community and family, is slowly dissolving. We've redefined what human nature is. Our ancestors evolved in the savannas of Africa and survived in tribes. They took down bigger stronger animals on the plains of Africa because they worked collectively and cooperated. They did everything together; looked after their sick and pooled their resources. So human nature is honed towards being part of a tribe, not being alone in the hyper-individualistic capitalistic society we seen today, that is making us ill, mentally and physically.

A study called the Aspiration Index asked people straightforward questions. Do you think it is important to have expensive possessions and polar-opposite questions such as do you think it's important we make the world a better place? Alternatively, they then asked the same people if they were happy or unhappy and if they were suffering from depression or anxiety. The study was conducted on 316 students and the results showed those who answered the questions indicating they would be happier with accumulating stuff and status were far more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. When studies were done on 140 eighteen-year-olds and various other age groups and economic backgrounds the results were the same. Studies done to find the everyday emotions and moods of materialistic people found they were sicker and angrier. It's been found those who have intrinsic motives, those who do things because they genuinely value them, such as someone who plays an instrument because they genuinely love music. Then there are extrinsic values, which are people who do things because they'll get something in return such as likes on social media and status off it. It's worth pointing out, we all have some of these values in us, nobody is totally driven by either or. It was looked at those who has extrinsic values, if they had achieved their goals of getting valuables and status, they had not increased their general happiness one iota. The opposite side of the spectrum fared much better in that if they achieved their intrinsic values were far less likely to be depressed or anxious. When they helped a friend in need; became closer to their kids, did some charitable work because it was the right thing to do or doing anything for other people made them happier in their lives. 

The problem with all of this is our consumer culture. Go to the best schools, get the best grades, get a great paying job, flaunt your earnings by your nice house, car and clothes and that's the key to happiness and being valued by society. There have been twenty-two studies since and all have shown the more materialistic and extrinsically motivated you are the more depressed and anxious you will become, along with the fact you will have shorter relationships and they will have worse quality as people with extrinsic values place a higher emphasis on looks and how much you will impress other people if you're with them. So if something better looking comes along … you know the rest.

Similar studies have been done all over the world, on all continents, with similar results. What they have commonly been referred to as 'junk values' and we have moved more towards them and this has accelerated with the advent of the internet and social media. The commercialisation of our society has a part to play with this new value system taking place. The money spent on advertising has sky-rocketed over the decades and it's known the more teenagers are advertised to the more materialistic they become. In Lost Connections an ad executive puts it that at its heart advertising "is making people feel without their product, you're a loser. Kids are very sensitive to that...." And in a consumer society enough is never enough. There is no end. Capitalism needs consumerism. You're working more and more; your bosses are contacting you more and more outside of working hours. It was put perfectly that we all have intrinsic values as human beings, but it is too easy to distract us from them with our social model of consumerism that we begin to act extrinsically, and our economic model is built to do this that. Its existence depends on it. 

When I wrote previously on addiction it was also through the lenses as a republican, and critiqued them for the simplistic attitude that the problem with addiction is simply the substance. I argued that it was much more nuanced than that and I hope I've done that here with the depression and anxiety epidemic we see today in the Western world. I see, sometimes, the same lazy assertions for this from republicans. I've seen it being blamed on the rise of cocaine use, as without a doubt the day after it usually brings on a depressive state to the user, but so too does alcohol. The 'fear' as it is known is now a scientific fact. It increases the heart rate the following day and causes anxiety with a cycle of irrational thoughts, negative thinking and regret of behaviour while under the influence, but republicans don't target alcohol. Far from it, we use it to fundraise for our various causes knowing well binge-drinking will be the norm at said events. I'm not anti-alcohol and drink it myself, but it's the simplistic notions that disappoint me. The addiction and depression epidemics we see today are symptoms to the wider hyper-capitalistic economies we see today and that is something nearly all republicans can rail against. In 1800’s Britain, there was a gin addiction craze. You read that right, gin. It’s as freely available today as it was then, with more variants and flavours than ever today. But how was gin such an issue you ask? In England at the time, people were being moved from the countryside to the sprawling cities of London and Manchester etc, where they lived mainly in slums with deprivation all around them. This caused multiple problems, such as addiction, with gin being the main protagonist. There were propaganda pieces on the evil drink gin that was capturing their citizens and turning them into slumbering alcoholics. It seems almost funny now to see something like gin, that’s become such a trend in modern society, be once vilified as the cause for mass addiction. We know that to be silly now, and the cause was much more profound than a mere substance. 

I see today our issues involving addiction and depression being much more profound than mere substances and brain chemical defects, as it was in 1800’s Britain. The need to ditch the old tired arguments against evil substances is over and the conversation on a social recovery needs to begin. The studies and information on the causes are there for all to read. It's up to people to promote a new society and economic model that promotes it as the one we have now is making us ill. In the immediate now, maybe read this and reflect on your environment and those around you.

It's a cruel irony that those suffering from depression are treated by being filled with drugs of a legal kind with questionable results and very real side effects that can exacerbate the problem for many. Of course, the addiction and depression epidemic has become an industry for many, most notably big pharma so it's not much of a surprise that a conversation in the chambers of political power on a social recovery to take on addiction and mental illness has not been forthcoming, so like many of the positive changes in Ireland in recent times have come from grassroots bottom-up activist-based campaigns, who, in time, made it politically expedient for those in power to act. The political ideology in Ireland I belong to - republicanism - disappointingly, has not been the positive force it could be in the fight. I see populist slogans on boards telling people ‘Say No to Death Dealers’. It is simplistic nonsense given how multifaceted the causes of the addiction problem are. Saying no to gin in the 1800’s wouldn’t have cleansed England of the causes of their gin addiction, neither will such slogans cut it in Ireland 2019. It’s akin to campaigning for those suffering from depression and centralising the campaign on boards stating “Let’s End Chemical Brain Imbalances’, implying that is the central crux of the problem. Someone must break the mould on these problems, so why not republicans? 

To talk of treating addicts with love and compassion keeping in mind the root cause of addiction is childhood trauma, physical and or sexual abuse, a neglected childhood and broken families, is not going to get anyone any macho points. Neither will talking of social recoveries to tackle the depression and anxiety epidemic. It will involve talking to ordinary people in lay man terms about the system we have around us that forces two parents to work leaving children to develop away from their parents in understaffed creches; a system that leaves so many with a deep sense of lack of control and power in their workplace and a world of zero hour contracts leaving so many living on the breadline and in constant stress with no freedom from economic necessity. We have the emptiest people in power, and they won't submit to positive change until it's made politically expedient for them to do so. But that change isn't just about legislative law kind of change, but about changes on an individual and collective level. We can ignore the pain and screams of those in addiction and emotional, mental distress and continue to address them with nothingness and platitudes.

The New Ireland we hear referenced a lot since Brexit has to be about repairing our ruptured social bonds and building a country where people feel they belong, where their life has meaning and they have a say in their workplace. If we don’t then we’ll continue the be chasing the screams of our most abused and disenfranchised citizens and that will be a New Ireland not worth the paper it’ll be written on.



Patrick Donohoe is a member of the United Ireland Society, Áth Claith. Its aim is to make the economic and social case for Irish unity and a more egalitarian Ireland.

A Drugged & Depressed Society