Alex Kosieniak-Madejski a brand new guest discusses Cuba, Colombia and the socialist states on Mayabrain#10
Get your fix as we take an opinionated look at Chris and Alex’s trip to Cuba with new music from Calle13 feat Julian Assange
Alex Kosieniak-Madejski a brand new guest discusses Cuba, Colombia and the socialist states on Mayabrain#10
Get your fix as we take an opinionated look at Chris and Alex’s trip to Cuba with new music from Calle13 feat Julian Assange
We are in ‘the future’
The last few years, or maybe since the advent of high speed internet, it seems like we have been waiting to see how this thing that we’ve become will develop. How it will change our lives.
By the time I finished drinking a cup of coffee the other week I was convinced that we are already there.
A camera on a phone can display the micro weaves in the fabric that makes a sock, sky scrapping condos outside play host to balcony gardens…tiny eco systems that become a pretty reminder of where we came from.
I saw an article that showed Google had designed a contact lens which could monitor glucose levels. Human optimization has been a reoccurring theme over past years, fad diets and a multiple fresh opinions on what the body should look like and what it should be able to do…
The ancient Greek philosophers had some great points, exercise your mind and body in equal measure and excess in all things Is the undoing of man.
Humanity’s technological ability is literally awe inspiring, the majority of us don’t understand the nuances of the technology or how it really works, but we know it’s there now; a part of us.
So with better medical technology and life ‘enhancing’ research how long until we have devices which monitor our state and help us to optimize it?
How long till you can get a text message telling you your vitamin C levels are low, or you are at risk of dehydration?
How long till we can have our phones tell us the optimum vitamin and mineral combination for sleep, and help us to regulate our lives to operate at the best our biology will allow?
Instead of higher resolution televisions how long until we get hold of something that will help us to become better.
Isolation tanks to help with reflection and meditation are already readily accessible in parts of the United States.
Research into our evolutionary history has shown our genetics are accustomed to a diet of the hunter gatherer, one that humans upheld for 80,000 years opposed to our agricultural diet of the last 10,000…
Ours is a super processed world of high salt and sugar…of foods that don’t rot and drinks that you couldn’t possibly make with naturally found substances.
How many of us eat enough fresh foods and give our brains the opportunity to run off fuel which is designed to give you the best performance day after day.
We are in the future, and yet we are a stubborn arrogant race, determined to believe in our own supremacy, small worlds of ego satisfaction and gluttony.
We don’t need those technologies I mentioned earlier because we have it already, a biological, and organic watch keeper…a body with a brain.
Except we have become so far separated from our own nature, that we cannot read the messages. We likely to pay less attention to the fact we are covered in fat than a text message being received saying ‘Your body is fat.’
Obesity which is well known as a burgeoning ‘epidemic’ is just one example where our hubris refuses to recognize the supremacy of our natural ancestry. Instead of facing up to the truths of our innate selves we sit around waiting for technology to tell us what we already know.
This is true of our physical as well as psychological health. It’s true of the very way in which we live day to day…
The very reason most of us work eight hours a day -our best eight hours – is because in the late 18th century the industrial revolution needed an optimal system for factory output. We have maintained that system without question… If you really think about it, and I mean without just throwing this whole blog out as ramblings, but really think about why you work five days a week and get two off?
Why not three and three? Or some other configuration
If you love your job then you might not even consider this a ‘problem.’ However most people don’t love the work they spend most of their lives doing. Some people might say ‘well people want to work’, they would love the opportunity to work 8 hours a week on a western democracies minimum wage, agreed.
There are an even greater proportion of us that wouldn’t know what to do if we had more time. Because most of us haven’t taken or grasped the opportunity to explore themselves, who they are and what they want.
There is, there must be a balance that we can achieve, where we are thrown around by the tides of social constructs. Where we can liberate ourselves from ego and question the lives we are living without feeling threatened.
“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.” Winston Churchill
What if this ‘figurative tapping’ is for all of us, not just an individual with a personal goal?
The world is changing whether we are prepared for it or not. And I have no doubt that in centuries to come if we haven’t succumbed to more devastating war, our descendants will find a better, fairer, more humane way to balance the world. They will look back and study our society as something of an anomaly which was the result of an unprecedented two hundred year ‘technological progression’… and students will ask their tutors, with all those resources intellectual and physical why didn’t they change things.
So, shortly after New Year 2014, I found myself on a plane headed for Cuba, along with my travel buddy Alex, a fellow Brit working in Colombia. Cuba had always been a place that I’ve been curious about, simply because of the fact that it is a country that has been on pause since the ‘glorious’ 1959 revolution. I’d heard many different opinions on the country, ranging from ‘incredible’ to ‘complete shithole’ and thus I was keen to find out for myself what it was like.
Quick history lesson for those of you readers who don’t know too much about Cuba’s history. The Cuban Revolution took place between December 2, 1956, and January 2, 1959. It became an armed civil war in which the guerrilla forces under Fidel and Raul Castro, fought against the government army to topple the government of Fulgencio Batista, a dictator who had got into power through a military coup in 1952. With its iconic figure of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, the Cuban revolution has been glamourized all over the world, mainly by socialists, lefties and hipsters with their printed ‘Che’ t-shirts and satchels. I was pretty sure they were idiots before, but actually going to Cuba and seeing it first-hand simply confirmed that theory. There is nothing glamorous or idealistic about living under a Communist regime.
Like I said, I was expecting a completely different experience, something as far removed from Colombia as possible, and I wasn’t disappointed. When you step off that plane into La Habana airport you feel like you’ve just travelled 60 years back in time. The airport itself is old and musty. The first thing that I noticed was that it smelt vaguely like an old-school Barber shop back in the UK. I still haven’t figured out why. There were no fancy billboards and flashing advertisments like in the modern Panama City airport we’d been in few hours earlier that day. Instead you get 1950’s décor and a smoking room in the boarding lounge.
As we passed through immigrations, unsure what to expect from the officials, it went surprisingly smoothly. I took the opportunity to ask the official about the laws concerning travellers with Cuban stamps in their passport and the United States. She confirmed what I’d been told by other people, but had been very sceptical of – even British citizens cannot enter the United States if they have a Cuban stamp in their passport.
Now this is almost as ridiculous as the law against Cuban Cigars in the USA. What right does the US government have to prevent citizens of other countries from having a Cuban stamp in their passport? The Cuban cigars issue is a massive inconvenience – we both bought boxes of Cuban Montecristo No.4 cigars. Alex may be okay, but my return flight to the UK in June has a stop in New York. I checked the US law regarding foreign nationals with Cuban cigars in transit through the USA – I wasn’t surprised to find:
‘No. According to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, foreign nationals may not transit the U.S. with goods of Cuban origin. Penalties include forfeiture of the cigars and possible fines.’
US Customs and Border Protection
Securing America’s Borders
Securing America’s Borders? Yeah? Fuck off.
Yes I’m bitter about not being able to take my cigars home with me. C’mon guys, the Cuban Missile Crisis happened over half a century ago, chill the fuck out, no-one cares anymore.
So anyway, because America has retarded laws that prevent not only its own citizens from visiting Cuba, but also cause problems for citizens of other countries, all foreigners in Cuba are given a tiny slip of paper with the entry stamp on instead of on a page of their passports. We were told that if we lost the piece of paper, we would be stuck in Cuba unable to leave. I made extra sure to look after that piece of paper, and yet we nearly got stranded in Cuba anyway. But more on that later…
We made it out the airport to be greeted by a friendly Cuban called Ivan – our taxi driver. He led us across the car park to his taxi – a Russian made car from 1952. This is by no means unusual in Cuba, his car was surrounded by many other cars of similar age.
Until recently, it was impossible to import and sell new cars on the island. In the past month or so, Raul Castro has allowed a law-change permitting Cubans to buy cars made after 1959, but this won’t make much difference. They are selling far out of the price range of all but the richest, and thus most corrupt Cubans. For example – a new Kia Rio hatchback that starts at $13,600 in the United States is now selling for $42,000 in Cuba. A new Peugeot 508 family car, which costs approximately the equivalent of $53,000 back in the UK will cost Cubans around $262,000. The average wage in Cuba is $13-$20US per MONTH. See the problem?
That’s barely enough to live on using the national money, but if Cubans want to eat in nice restaurants, go to bars or clubs, or travel, they need Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) which are worth roughly 1.3 to the Euro. One CUC is worth 24 national pesos. Only rich government officials and diplomats will be able to afford new cars – the rest of the population struggle to buy new clothes, let alone brand new cars.
Oh wait, you say you thought this was a communist society where everyone was equal? Not quite. Everyone is equally poor, apart from the people running the place. Great system, right? As a ‘motivating’ poster with Che Guevara on the wall of the currency exchange office proclaimed: ‘Sin control, no hay socialisimo’. There can be no socialism without control.
However, on the flipside, the government does provide certain necessities. It’s a complicated system but the basics are as follows:
1. A basic rationing system that provides every single citizen with enough food to survive on
2. Heavily subsidized basic living expenses such as cheap to almost free: Housing, electricity, water.
3. Free health care and free education.
This has one fascinating side-effect that took both me and Alex by surprise. Cuba is remarkably safe. As both of us live in Colombia, we have several ‘facts’ ingrained into our psyches that proved difficult to shake off;
– Dark streets are dangerous
- Large groups of people are probably dangerous
- Small groups of people are probably dangerous
- Lone people walking around at night are probably dangerous
– … but a street that ‘looks’ empty is worse.
- Don’t walk around drunk.
- Dark streets are dangerous.
- Unlike the UK and Europe, parks are not nice places. They are dangerous. You avoid walking past parks at night, and NEVER walk through them.
- Asking strangers for directions at night. Just don’t do it.
- If in doubt, take a taxi. Don’t get into unlicensed taxis.
- Did I mention that dark streets are dangerous?
Yet in Cuba, NONE of those rules apply. The electricity grid in the city is clearly badly maintained and there are little to no street lights. EVERY street is dark. Rubbish lies uncollected in the street, the pavement is broken and full of holes, and after 9pm, there are nearly zero cars driving around. The city becomes a ghost town. The entire city of La Habana at night looked like those streets and barrios in Colombia that you just DON’T go to at night, period. For the first few nights we were overly cautious and paranoid, constantly sceptical of the ‘Cuba is so safe’ that we’d been hearing from everyone. But they were right.
We walked blocks and blocks through the city, often getting lost. This is at night too, walking around with beers in hand, talking loudly in English and being unmistakable foreigners. One of the things I always avoided doing with my Brazilian friend Thais was talking in English when we were walking back from bars in Manizales. We simply switched to Spanish, or didn’t talk at all. Had we walked around like that in many places in Colombia, especially Medellin or Bogota, we wouldn’t even have had time to finish the beers before someone jumped us.
It was a very nice change. Both of us enjoyed being able to relax and not be constantly watching our backs at night. The thing we couldn’t figure out though, was exactly why it’s so damn safe there. Since being back in Colombia, I’ve been doing some research into Cuban politics and the exact nature of the government in the country, something that I neglected to do before the trip. Whilst I’m sure there are many other factors involved, it would seem that the biggest reason for the safety is simply that there are no homeless people and street kids. The government provides homeless shelters and state institutions that take care of people without homes, but even that’s only a last resort. Most people live with their families and never have to resort to living on the streets.
However, compared to Colombia, the difference is dramatic. The vast majority of the criminals and robbers in cities in Colombia are homeless people and gangs of kids who’ve spent their entire lives living on the streets. After years of living on the streets, they often end up getting into drugs ranging from sniffing glue to taking basuco, a cheaper, but highly contaminated and dangerous form of cocaine that does not meet quality standards for exportation, so is used on the streets in Colombia. All of this further spurs them onto committing more crimes. Colombia has no such socialist welfare system for those in need –people without jobs, homes or families to care for them are just discarded, ignored and kicked into the gutter to fend for themselves.
In fact, I can give you guys a true example of just how messed up the situation regarding homeless people is here in Colombia. I was told this by a friend, but then checked and got it confirmed afterwards. In Manizales, we’ve just had Ferias, which are an annual festival in which thousands of people come to visit the city and it becomes absolute chaos.
Of course, having lots of homeless people on the streets, even if they’re not thieves, makes the city look bad, and the mayor doesn’t want that. So what do they do? Every year before big events such as Las Ferias, the police go around the city in trucks and literally round up the homeless people they can find, put them in the back of these lorries, then drive to Pereira (another city about 40minutes away) and simply dump all of these homeless people in the other city. Besides from being somewhat inhumane, it’s also completely pointless, because the police in Pereira do exactly the same thing in reverse, and dump their undesirables here in Manizales.
So, I’ll be finishing up discussing Cuba in part 2 of this article, where I’ll talk about the main side effect of the low wages and lack of opportunities in Cuba – rampant prostitution and taxi drivers with law degrees. I’ll also explain how Alex and I very nearly ended up trapped there, being told at the airport that we would lose our flights and couldn’t leave the country…
During the 2012 Olympics there was a large amount of commentary that this event has helped ‘define’ the ‘status’ of a post-modern Britain.
How it was a symbol of where ‘we’ are in the world. What ‘we’ stand for.
This is and was a benign fallacy.
At this point in time there is more information in the world than there ever has been before, there are more humans in the world than there ever has been before.
In the last century the fastest method of transport has evolved at an exponential rate. Before these last hundred years the fastest method of transport was the same as it was since the evolution of homo-erectus…the horse. This is the Chinese year of the horse.
In the last twelve months we have seen the most social uprisings to give 2013 the title of Year of the revolution. Independent journalism and social media coverage of these revolutions have allowed more people to understand these events in more detail than corporate media would have historically allowed.
Globalization and the ability to connect with people at any time through a variety of communication methods, to people at any time-zone, in any country connected to the internet, has, in many people’s opinions raised ‘global consciousness.’ People are less satisfied with the traditional political rhetoric that has been so successful in the past centuries… people are moving past the point of soma and are asking why when we know more in this time than at any other there is such a high level of social and ecological suffering.
The idea that ‘global consciousness’ is recognizing the fallibility of the status quo goes hand in hand with the renewed questioning of consumerist society. Whether we have become so enamored with withdrawing money from a broken system that we have forgotten how to reflect is a hotly debated question.
At the same time that there is more information and knowledge in society than ever before people are working longer and harder. Where is the time to process what we have learned? Where is the time to reflect on the possibilities of human consciousness?
At the same time as this, fast speed internet culture is the biggest threat to tribalisation. The idea that we belong to one tribe, in which we pertain to a set of culturally inherent ideas is a myth. Thousands of years ago meditation on the human condition revealed that there is no ‘self’ this is now ratified by modern science, on a cellular level our body is constantly dying and regrowing, after five to ten years we are biologically a different person to the human given the same name a decade before.
This threat to tribalisation has been recognized, we can see this in the forms of surveillance which everyday are clawing their way to a position of dominance to protect the status quo. Pro-money. Anti-change. Anti-reflection.
Though we are at our most ‘intelligent’ state in history we are also a part of a society which routinely performs acts of war to gain political and financial profit. In this sense we are the same as we always have been since the dawn of the agriculture.
The only identity that a ‘nation’ needs is one that rejects of abstract ideas of identity.
We should not be afraid of our future or to make changes to the way in which we live our lives. We should not be afraid to question traditions. We should not be afraid to question the institutions which have flourished or been prevalent in the past because right now we have a society where our social fabric is new, is fresh and not the same in any way to the societies before.
The assumption that people in positions of power have a better ability to make moral decisions for our new social reality than an average mother, or a factory worker, or a community worker has been shown to be false in the corruption and shadowy relationship government has with the military industrial complexes and financial systems. Most people in positions of power have spent their entire careers clawing and frothing over that seat of power. There is something dark in that realization.
The predator is the one that everybody should be against. Everybody has got assholes in their group, just be anti-asshole and it will all be ok. ROSEANNE BARR
Recently I crossed a local border into Cambodia. A one and a half hour plane journey landed me in Siam Reap the northern city of the kingdom of Cambodia.
What I intended to be a basic tourist pit stop to see the largest religious building in the world became a powerful re-education. Like most of the best journeys we will make as human beings it is peppered with strong and intense memories and a feeling like you have barely scratched the surface of an alternative society and culture.
What I was completely unaware of, was the genocide that took place just over thirty years ago. So thoroughly used to the western education of WWII I admit I was shocked by my own naivety that I hadn’t considered that genocides could have taken place since the Nazi party was in power, and hadn’t really considered that it’s not just historic social nationalism that has been used as a pretense for mass murder.
So focused is the western education system on dealing with Nazism and the world wars, that it seems to exclude modern examples of which perhaps don’t paint the west as the savior of civilized society
“They have had 16 years of support from outside the country. The United Nations continued to recognize the KR as the government of Cambodia right through the ’80s, and nearly all its “humanitarian assistance” went to refugees in Thailand — who were largely under the control of the Khmer Rouge.”
“not to mention the United States bombing of Cambodia that occurred from 1970-1973 which estimates suggest killed an additional 250,000”
Within two hours of landing in the country I had drank a beer with the driver who took me from the airport to the city and was shooting AK47 and M16 machine guns at a military base half an hour outside the city.
This was the first day; I hadn’t been to the genocide museum or the killing fields yet and hadn’t heard about the country’s dark past. I was just a smiling tourist getting a kick out of shooting some rounds off.
What I didn’t think about until the last day was who had held that gun before me, what it had been used for. And although you could argue nothing, you can’t possibly know. The smell of the gunpowder, the powerful kick back and the sheer noise now mingles with the voice of a commentator at the killing fields talking about the process of genocide and military control.
Although the trip was by no means marred by the revelation of this tragic past, I couldn’t help but ponder the statistic that nearly one quarter of the population had been killed by this regime. If you consider what that means…
Stalin so famously said that “one man’s death is a tragedy one million is just a statistic”.
Well this was millions and although Stalin was alluding to the idea that you cannot possibly visualize that amount of death or become desensitized to it at a certain point. If you consider that these millions make the likelihood that your family or friends were killed almost certain this nullifies his sentiment and simply amplifies the tragedy.
Jim, who took me shooting also invited me to stay with his family that night, we were of a similar age and we got on really well. He taught me allot about Cambodia and the history, He became my unofficial guide for much of the rest of my time. Apart from teaching me the dangers of rice whisky, how to fish, pigeon Cambodian communication and how to shoot he became also a good friend, but those stories I will hold onto for other blogs.
On the topic of weapons of violence, the recent protests in Thailand have made it into international news, seeing overzealous reporters appear safely on western media with body armor and combat helmets.
At the site of the siege of government house I walked out at eight o’clock at night to see the aftermath of the day’s events. Walking towards the site got quieter and quieter and I passed roadblock after roadblock which had been forcibly removed so that the protesters could access the cordoned area.
The air seemed thicker as I approached the main mass of the crowd; an unofficial curfew had been broadcast suggesting that people leave the streets by ten that night.
There were huge speakers broadcasting what sounded like a speech on a loop calling people to stand up against the government, yet the message was clear; ‘we are running out of time’.
I was there one minute before I felt my eyes stinging and my throat begin to itch and my nose had a strange burning sensation. Tear Gas.
The police were firing tear gas every fifteen minutes from behind the barricade and it was thick in the air. The protesters had dragged huge buckets of water at various points in the road for people to dunk their faces into if it got too much. Most now wore face masks or plastic bags which covered their heads completely except for a tiny air hole. And this was after the main day’s events.
The nature of political violence is real. It is memorable and terrifying. I even feel some strange cocktail of emotions posting a picture with that gun, and admitting that I went to an active protest site where I had no real political affiliation, an honest sense of embarrassment. But to look with the eyes is sometimes the clearest way.
Even when those eyes are stinging and trying to close.
In the center of Bangkok is a monument dedicated to the abstract idea of Democracy. All roads run from this point as if it was from where the city was birthed.
Over the past month demonstrations, protests and confrontations on large and small scales have taken place all over the city. These are the most recent in a long heritage of political unrest, posturing and conflict over a number of things which won’t be written about by here. The deep set emotions which undoubtedly run in tandem with these issues risk being diluted by an outside observer.
The word democracy sparks great passion in some and apathy in others but what cannot be denied is the way in which the developed world holds democracy as the pinnacle of civilized society. But what happens when a democratically elected government falls out of favor with its citizens or some of its citizens.
It is an important line of thought not just for Thailand but for governments which consist of few parties emphasizing the potential divides in social policy…Republican/Democrat… Labor/Conservative.
A commentator on Obama’s inauguration said something like ‘great, it’s a victory for the Democrats but that means that only half of the country is being represented.’ And it was Obama himself in that speech who went to great lengths to try to unite the country with his passionate (retrospectively desperate) rhetoric.
Without talking about specific political issues in Thailand I can openly say that the peaceful demonstrations are a refreshing reminder that people own democracy not institutions or historical nostalgia.
Many people living here have seen the Western media wrangling with the fact that the anti-government movement is acting against a ‘democratically’ elected administration. It seemed in some reports that the word Democracy held so much weight that the people who were protesting for reform were somehow enemies of democracy.
Much of popular opinion about issues in today’s world is suspended by the fingers of media corporations. And yet the inter-connectivity that we talk so much about on MayaBrain is revealing the shortcomings of some of the shallower reports in the mainstream.
Prolific author Chris Ryan talks about pre-agricultural societies in his book Sex at Dawn, in it he alludes to these societies operating at their optimum potential when their tribe numbers around 200. This it seemed was the best number where everyone knew each other and ‘negative’ actions were successfully ‘shamed’ out of the society. Historians talk about how as societal density increased through the industrial revolution anonymity and lack of transparency encouraged ‘negative’ actions in society.
Right now if you tune into a speech by anyone of the leading world powers there is more likely than not to be a reference to ‘transparency’ in it.
The internet and digital social interaction has proved it can shame actions of individuals, governments and even specific cultural practices. And yet certain superpowers seek more and more control of this medium…
It is refreshing to see people putting feet on the pavement and taking ownership of their perception of democracy.
I sometimes wonder if there is an air of apathy in the west, like people have accepted that these governmental institutions have somehow more information than the layman which makes them more capable of making moral decisions on behalf of their countries- like they can only be questioned up to certain point.
And yet when you see thousands of people in one place calling for one thing, it reminds you that ‘institutions’ were built by humans, institutions can be called to account by the people, any time the people choose.
There are multiple definitions of democracy and hundreds of ways to administer a democracy. It is not a word which should deter reform, it should encourage it.
There is no end-point in societies, there will never be a utopia where we can put our feet up and accept that we made it. Each generation must choose what it wants reforming in the system to which they will contribute, like roses, society is organic, it needs pruning.
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