Intimigration; Herd Mentality and the Plight of Refugees

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Facebook; the bastion of modern social interaction. This morning I saw a message pop up in my news feed from a friend from my home town. He was ranting about immigrants in the UK, and how they shouldn’t be here. His post got 30 likes. The likes were from other people in my home town. How had I grown so far away from these people? They were voicing their opinions together like a choir of Sun and Daily Mail headlines, and awash with some outdated ideas of international obligation and expectations. After I thanked my lucky stars I escaped from such a narrow-minded fortress, I had to think. Where exactly did our paths diverge? And really, who’s right here? How can we really know? One of the wonderful things about the UK is you are born in a society where every opinion can be shared. We have that freedom. The world is a richer place for opinions from all corners, and I for one am happy that there are people who disagree with me.

I come from a small town. It has it’s problems, but overall it is a pretty affluent place. There are few people living there who are not white. Is this the reason for such rejection of immigration? I left there a long time ago and have since lived in cities that are much more liberal and open-minded. These cities are full of a fantastic array of cultures, merging into a patchwork of wonderment that enriches the lives of all the citizens. Is it the fear of the unknown that forces these rants from my former friends in small town England? Intimidated by immigration, are they rejecting it from personal experience, from media manipulation or from some primal defensiveness against ‘the other’? I would probably find more of their fears easier to understand if the campaign behind them wasn’t so flawed and, in some instances, racist. I’ve seen a fair amount of EDL posts doing the rounds over social media, with recent posters being people who only a few months ago were condemning UKIP and their anti-immigrant vitriol.

Let’s get something straight though. There is a big difference between a migrant and a refugee. Migrants have made a choice to leave their homeland in search of different opportunities abroad. these people can enrich an economy and make a country a more diverse and fulfilling place to live. These people are under no threat, and are merely trying to better themselves. Refugees, however, are fleeing persecution and danger based on their religion, culture, ideology or beliefs (amongst other reasons) and are desperately seeking assistance. These people are vulnerable and in need of help. How can we leave them all to themselves with no offer of help? Especially, as evidence may show, we may be partly culpable for some of the problems they face?

I’m just one person, with one set of opinions. I’m no more right or wrong than the next person. Yet I find it strange that there can be others who have such contrasting views to mine, when we are presented with exactly the same evidence. That said, I’m sure my ideas about immigration can be brushed off as naive and narrow-minded by people who believe different things to me. While we all call each other wrong, what is getting done to help the people that need it, no matter where they may be?

Nobody likes a scrounger, a dole thief or a lazy sponger. Immigrants are accused of heading to the UK to take dole money away from British citizens. Do people genuinely believe that all the immigrants are arriving to look for an easy life? They may be looking for an easier life, as in, to live in a country not at war, or to have a home that isn’t constantly raided by bandits.

“England!”

If immigration in the UK feels a little out of control recently, that’s because it has reached unprecedented levels since 1997 due to the Labour government’s relaxation of key immigration laws, most notably between 2001-2011. That being said, a lot of this led to foreign workers bringing skills to key industries. It’s no coincidence that we have a lot of immigrants working as nurses. Having the NHS means we need cheaper labour to keep it running.

So how, friends, can you get so angry at immigrants coming here to try and build a better life and build a better country, when Starbucks is here and doesn’t pay it’s share of tax? If you want to hate an immigrant, start there! It’s an American business that is basically gaining an almost monopolous (this wasn’t a real word, but it is now) hold on its industry, and it’s doing it without putting back into the economy it is taking from. Or how about these wars we keep fighting? Is it a Polish nurse’s fault our economy is having a tough time, or is it probably more about a £1 trillion trident defence system?

But I digress. I am getting away from the crux of my point. I’m not here to wholly rally to the aid of immigrants on mass. I’d rather talk about those who have no choice. I wouldn’t get so angry at a Syrian refugee when I knew my country had just bombed the shit out of that country. Some will claim that ‘it’s not our problem to fix these countries and their problems’. Well, that may feel like an easy answer, but if we actively interact with that country’s stability, I would count that as making it our problem to deal with. Again, these are my definitions and not others. Who’s really right? Can anyone ever truly be?

Immigrants are every day people like you and me. Do you know who aren’t? The banks! OK, so I’m being a little hysterical. The banks are run by humans, not lizards or aliens. But, I ask you, do you see more of yourself in a poor immigrant who is trying to work hard for their money and support their family, or in a greedy banker who gambles people’s savings and lives in a separate, meta-world where poverty and war are nothing more than buzzwords on a list of things you don’t need to care about?

Put yourself in their shoes.

We are a spoilt country, one that doesn’t even realise how lucky it is! You popped out of a vagina in the UK and won the lottery in life. You haven’t faced war, destitution, famine; you’ve had Hollyoaks and X-Factor, Cornettos and page 3! Lucky, lucky you! But really, did you do anything to deserve this better life? Are you a better person than any of these immigrants? Is it your wonderful accent? Or your understanding of the complicated intricacies of British social interaction and politeness, or a smattering of knowledge about our mighty history of kings, queens and world war 2? Is it some belief that because your grandparents survived the threat of Fascism, you somehow earned this privilege?

Go ahead and call me one of them. I am a second generation immigrant. My mother is African. She’s South African mind, but her family still left that continent to escape economic hardships, and came to the UK seeking a better future. My granparents were Dutch/Welsh/I have no idea. I don’t really care. I was never one of those kids at school that claimed to be two tenths Arabic, a quarter Irish, a fifth Scottish, a sixteenth Inuit and three quarters English! I am just a white guy who grew up in Southern England. I have a British passport, my own teeth and a degree in a subject nobody should ever accrue £30,000 in debt while attaining. Yet I won the life lottery by popping out of some knickers on the British isles.

“Quick, gimme all your welfare and starbucks, nom nom nom!”

This whole ‘us’ versus ‘them’ thing needs to stop. These are people, just like us. Helping them will not ruin our country. Now is not the time to be selfish. You want more money in the economy? Go on austerity marches, occupy government offices and force the government to change its stance on letting big business get away with murder. Don’t throw stones at other little people and let the government rub its greedy hands together while it watches us in-fight and get nowhere.

I’m also biased because I am currently living as an immigrant in Asia. I work hard for my money, and I contribute to the economy with tax, bringing a needed skill to this country. There is some resentment here of foreign workers, and a feeling that the ‘old ways’ are being eroded by outside influences. I have seen first hand a watered down version of what it must be like for some immigrants in the UK. It’s easier for me because I’m an ‘expat’, so I’m not for a second trying to compare my experience with that of an immigrant fleeing a war zone to look for solace in the UK. I am no refugee. All I’m saying is I understand the feeling of being an outsider, of not being fluent in the local language, and of trying to fit in to a society that is completely different from the one I was raised in.

In this modern world of quick access to information and a global narrative on the problems in the world to do with inequality and the huge difference between the rich and the poor, I am shocked that I still know people who get physically sickened by immigrants coming to the UK for a better life. How can these people still be so ignorant to the reasons why these immigrants come here? The UK has systematically utilised and perpetuated suffering and poverty in various countries around the world for the best part of three centuries. It would be naive and short-sighted to believe that a country like ours could wage wars in these far flung countries and then not expect at least some of the civilians from these states coming to knock on our door for help. When you decimate someone’s homeland, you must, surely, expect them to need your help?

I am not trying to start a discussion. I’m actually sick to death of this whole topic. This was a culmination of listening to so many of the people I call friends ranting about immigrants, and me just wanting to stick my two cents out there. They say you should avoid writing a passion piece. It’s easy to lose perspective, and for your words to be coloured by your own experiences rather than reflecting a semblance of truth. Maybe I’m completely wrong. Maybe I just don’t get it. Though so far, nobody has put anything remotely intelligible forward that has anything near the power to make me think differently. Until someone does, I’ll continue thinking as I do; we are humans, and so are the refugees and immigrants. What would you want for your family if you were the crying father on the Greek beach? What would you do if you were the dead Syrian boys father or mother? If the shoe was on the other foot, I feel we would all be acting the same way. And damn, wouldn’t it just completely suck if we got the same level of compassion as we are giving now.

Before I depart, allow me to finish with a quote:

*** drops mic ***

Useful websites:

MigrationWatch

UK Government Immigration Statistics

The People’s Assembly (Anti-Austerity)

Special thanks to artur84 and khunaspix @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

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What Mario Kart Taught Me About Politics

mk64

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Mario series of games, and all the spin offs that came with it. Originally just a platform game, it developed as a franchise into faux-Tetris (Dr Mario), team play (mario bros 3), multiplayer madness (Mario Party) along with many other variations such as my personal favourite, the racing game (Mario Kart).

As a big fan of the Mario Kart series, for me there has never been an addition to the canon of Mario racing games that has topped the wonderment and sheer ecstasy of Mario Kart 64.

I was nine years old when it was released. It was 1996, and I was already giddy from a summer that gave us a UK based international football competition (Euro ’96). My friend Josh was the first to get an N64, so me and my friends would often spend hours at a time at his house sat in front of the screen, racing and re-racing different cups until we reached a point of Mario burnout. I would go to sleep at night after a day of Kart and dream-race each course, again and again, until I would wake from a nightmare screaming “noooooo, not the blue shell!”

See, Mario Kart unlocked a part of my character I’ve not been able to suppress since; the hungry competitor. Dressing up the opportunity for cunning deceit and foul play in a cuddly, hi-res rainbow of child-like curiosity, it was easy, nay encouraged to destroy and undermine your friend’s ambitions of glory. Hiding behind the cutesy design of the characters and the bright palette of primary colours, you were able to unlock the demons of your inner warrior, your comic book villain, and pretend to yourself that outside of this realm you were still a decent human. The question is, if life gave you the power of lightning, temporary invincibility or the tools to slow a rival, would you really be so decent after all?

These questions stayed with me throughout my teens as I grew into myself, the bass line in a evolving mentality of teenage angst, youthful rebellion and my first forays into the world of politics.

I didn’t play Mario Kart again for about ten years. It was when I was at university that a friend of mine told me about a Japanese N64 he had with Mario Kart. He fed me lines about a secret turbo chip that would make the game work up through the gears as you got better, until eventually you were racing some cheating demon that was near impossible to beat. The speed and frame rate would be super charged, fast even for a machine that by that point was flirting with obsolescence. We would play for hours at a time, revisiting this arena of childhood dreams, but dressed in the cape of adulthood. That familiar demon returned, and I felt genuine rushes of adrenaline and got off my nut on endorphins. This, combined with the late nights we were playing through, left me again able to talk you through each step of each track, knowing each turn and where to drift. I knew the best racing lines, the best place to use different weapons and the best short cuts to take at which times.

Mario Kart had become my accidental craft; the hobby within which I had invested so much time and energy, repeating and repeating actions, that my synapses were firing at incredible rates as they churned through track and fact recall to make me a better competitor.

With all this time and energy spent on such an otherwise pointless exercise, it seems only natural that my adult brain would search for some deeper meaning within the context of this, and so that’s what brings me here today (or, perhaps, its a poorly concealed ploy to try and justify the hours I ‘wasted’ playing through a veritable Groundhog Day of Mario tracks and races).

So, with these deeper meanings in mind, here are some key observations Mario Kart taught me about politics…

I'm hunting wabbits

I’m hunting wabbits

The World Needs Bad Guys

Without bad guys, we wouldn’t have common enemies that highlight how we want our world to be (the opposite of the bad guys, right?)

Sometimes, you need to know how bad it can get before you can realise how good it was, and how good it should be. Things that can be taken for granted will only then be remembered.

Anyone else thinking of how nice it was to be in the UK around 2000-2010? Look, I’m not here to preach about voting Labour, but I do think it’s important to gain some perspective here. 5 years of Tories is enough to make anyone hark for what they had before. Perhaps it would work as some form of new age marriage counselling; like wife swap. You exchange your partner for a few weeks and instead live with Cameron, and pretty soon I am almost certain that anyone would be crying out to return to their significant other!

Let’s get one thing straight here though; exercising your diplomatic right to vote is the most important thing. If the nation of the UK is inherently a conservative country, and therefore that representation spills into government and, vis a vie, come May 8th we have a conservative government then, well, I guess I will applaud that. Ultimately, what the people want en masse is what really matters.

“We just wanna P-A-R-T-Y”

Bigger isn’t always better

Wario and Bowser, the two largest characters in Mario Kart, are frequently seen rushing towards the front three places. They are hard to keep back as they have a good top speed, and they are evil enough that they don’t care about who they step on to get to the top. And yet for all their power, they lack flexibility. They are hard to control as they are big, bulky monsters, and their isolation and villainy makes them targets for everyone.

Conservatives are a big party, but are they better? I can’t help but think that such a large and established institution like the conservatives must be out of touch with the people. Their whole upper crust are members of a political elite I will never exist in, and yet these are the people who are supposed to be looking out for my best interests. Do I feel they are capable of this? I have to be honest and say that, no, I don’t think they are. Do I think there are any political parties that can see past their own agendas and into the heads of the electorate? Wow, not sure even Mario Kart can answer that…

For sure, the one thing we must consider is this: in a world of financial uncertainty and slow economic recovery, do you think the great, lumbering Tory machine has the capacity to adapt quickly, fairly and decisively to bring the country back to a period of stability and recovery? I don’t, and here you can find a rather compelling compilation of evidence by political blogger Benjamin Studebaker as to why. Cameron, like Bowser, is driving this great, lumbering tank forward, but one small blip and we’ll be playing catch up again.

Some races you can't afford to lose

Some races you can’t afford to lose

Good doesn’t always mean ‘good’

I have a friend obsessed with racing as Peach. Her character is a princess, the apple of Mario’s eye. She’s the lady who is always getting herself kidnapped in these awfully patriarchal story-lines that accompany many a Mario game. She stands for being sweet, delicate, feminine, pretty and just generally good. Somehow, my friend has managed to destroy this image for me forever. See, he has used her to mete out some horrendously brutal victories on me and some other friends in various Mario games and this cult of Peach has developed to such an extent, I can only ever see her as a bad guy now. I mean, my friend is the villain, and he relishes that role. But by projecting that on to, arguably, the sweetest character in the Mario universe, he has managed to corrupt the values she represents and create this phenomena; the paradox of Peach.

This makes me think of the countless times I’ve seen people use history to undermine their current political choices. In elections gone by people would say that voting for Labour would definitely lead to a repeat of the Winter of Discontent. It’s so easy for reputations to become skewed. Record numbers of UK people are facing unemployment, poverty, and are earning below the living wage, and I can’t help but think ‘how are we, as normal people, even considering voting for the Conservatives?’ Somehow, the conservatives have been pitched as these financial wizards who hold some potion that can magically cure the economy, but only if they are given another five years to do it. Whoever you vote for, do it because of what they are talking about now measured against what they promised last time around. Don’t worry about the Gladstone v Disraeli days, or um and ah over the finer points of whether Labour is a socialist party or not. If these parties claiming to represent you haven’t given you what you voted for them to give you, it’s time to reconsider your options. I’m looking at you, Cleggy…

“Spin, spin, recession, blah, blah, recovery, spin”

Take motivation where you can get it

You’ve monstered ahead on Frappe Snowland, pulling off some tidy racing lines and propelling yourself into a wonderful lead. Feeling comfortable, you start to ponder the finer things in life when bam, you’ve slipped off and are stuck in the icy water. As you watch yourself being pulled back to the track, you see every other racer zip past you. Finally, your engine revs up and you begin your quest to get back to the front from 8th position… each corner gives you a fresh item to give you a better chance of catching up, and as your rise through the rankings you get more and more reward from the computer as it gives you better and better items to use to get back to the front…

It’s easy to become disenfranchised with politics. We’ve all had those times when it has felt a little too absurd to have to even try and fathom how one party could be different from the other when on a day to day vibe the country feels like it is in perpetual decline. In these times, it is important to remember that even though you may feel like politics doesn’t even represent you, it should! Without day to day, grass roots politics, how can a community survive? If everyone decides to no longer vote, the politicians will be laughing! It’s giving them exactly what they want (if you believe they are really self interested Westminster cronies). The way to fight the power is to force them to listen by voting for the fringe parties that represent you better. There is always something for everyone in politics, you just have to look for it. Take motivation from what you can and run with it. Like Chuck D said:

“Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and when people start getting it confused, that means they need to sit down with some real people.”
Literally

Literally

Not all bonuses are benefits

One of the secret items you can get on Mario is the fake item box. It is a trap, designed to be deployed and trick the less experienced racer into thinking they are heading for a bonus, when in actual fact it is going to explode!

This, I can’t help but think, is somehow related to the banking crisis. When I hear facts and figures being tossed around about average UK workers being financially worse of now than they were five years ago (a trend that is continuing) and that millionaires are now on average around £100,000 a year better off due to tax changes, I can’t help but think that these bonus boxes were dressed up to lead us to the logical conclusion that the country was going to benefit, and yet they have blown up in our face as we, in effect, watch our own money dwindle and magically appear in the pockets of the privileged.

Wealth, by and large, is not a right. But utilising corporate, transnational, and quasi-democratic institutions to manipulate, coerce and strong-arm a nation is, to be honest, the actions of bullies and the weak. Competition drives progress, right? The Conservatives, as the flag bearers for Capitalism, say they encourage this competition as it is what generates money for the economy. Yet those at the top, with influence, power and wealth, seem hell bent on stopping anyone else being able to catch them. Whether it’s true or not, it feels like little of this wealth trickles back to the people who help to create it with their work and by spending their hard earned cash, and so I wonder how much longer it can sustain itself this way…

Revolution will come

Careful… revolution is becoming less and less of a dirty word

Ultimately, it’s all about timing… So Stay Calm

Coming up to the final lap on Wario Stadium, I know that if I hit the lightning item at just the right time, everyone except me will be struck, turn small, and not make the big jump across a massive gorge that sits just before the finish line. If they miss this, they will have to repeat the lap, and I can whizz past to claim first place. This is the ultimate trick of this level, and the computer knows it. Only those who truly deserve the lightning will be granted it, for if you act like this is your plan the computer will not reward you. You need to try to win normally, and if this fails then the computer rewards you.

Abstaining from voting is avoiding responsibility, and that is the worst thing you can do. Any vote is better than no vote. You almost remove yourself from the chance to complain later if you see tax hikes that affect you, as you chose not to try to fight against it. If you research each party thoroughly and decide that nothing works for you, then ok, you have clearly made an educated decision and it must be respected that you took the time to do so. But turning around and saying “they’re all the bloody same” and then doing nothing is not democracy in action, it’s darn lazy and disrespectful to the freedom you have as a citizen of a country with elections. Normal people only gained the rights after much campaigning, so that their voices could be heard in the corridors of power. They wanted the chance to influence things with the men at the top, and imagine their horror now as the country, in desperate need of a revamp, has citizens so disenfranchised, that they can’t even bring themselves to vote for a single party? It’s madness.

If you’re truly stuck, and not sure who you should vote for, here are some links to help.

The Telegraph‘s interactive test matches your choices to questions with the relevant party.

The Independent has their own version too.

Chronicle Live has a brief explanation of each parties key points on the hot topics.

You are the people, and the people are the power. Keep your red shells out, aim for the front, and keep a green shell behind you to protect you from those catching up. In the immortal words of Mario:

“Wahoo, I’m-a gonna win”.

Now let’s go out and vote.

start screen

All Mario images are representations of games and images owned by Nintendo, and not by ItchyQuill.com

Special thanks to Ambro, cooldesign, iosphere, pakorn and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015