The shifting baseline of our planet’s stability

This summer I had the pleasure of visiting the East Coast of the United States for the first time in my life. I had heard that it is not nearly as scenic as the West Coast but it was only when I looked at it from the plane that I understood why, just like I understood why Americans consider themselves as a great nation. It was quite difficult for me to spot a green patch of land; the color grey was dominant in hundreds of kilometers (or should I say miles?) of freeways with thousands and thousands of cars contributing to the traffic. It was all a proof of how much we have transformed the environment to our initial benefit. Right now, however, the time has come for us to pay the price for all the resources we have taken and we’re constantly being reminded of it.

When I used to think about protecting the environment I would think about recycling. Bikes instead of cars. Energy-saving domestic appliances and lightbulbs. Staying away from plastic bags and holding on to the reusable ones. These are the basic things that help protect the environment and my generation has been taught to do that from the very beginning of our education. We know about freon and CO2 emission, about greenhouse effect and ozone depletion. But there are also other aspects of the environmental damage we’re causing that we are way less aware of.

A few years ago media covered the “bee crisis” that, as a matter of fact, we created. Nutrition of bees is dependent on flowers – carbohydrates are obtained from nectar, protein comes from pollen. We’ve slowly transformed colorful meadows into flowerless landscapes, therefore limiting bees’ possibilities of obtaining proper nutrients. Increased application of pesticides causes the toxin to move up the plant into pollen and nectar, putting the insects in danger of obtaining a lethal dose of the chemicals or at least significantly weakening their immune system. Pollination is necessary to maintain stable crop productions and therefore stable food prices – but it is only possible while maintaining stable bee populations.

Another issue that is far from common knowledge is the problem of red tides. The term is interchangeable with a harmful algal bloom (HAB), which occurs when colonies of algae grow out of control, causing harmful effects on marine life as well as humans. As a result, fish is killed and shellfish is dangerous to consume. Although most of the algal blooms are beneficial, as they are eaten by marine organisms and therefore provide energy to the food chain, there are blooms that simply kill. Apart from releasing toxins, when large masses of such algae die and decompose, they use up oxygen, causing its percentage in water to be so low that the organisms around suffocate or are forced to leave the area. Algae become so numerous that they cause discoloration of coastal waters. Factors that are most likely to contribute to the formation of the phenomenon indicate that they are mostly results of human activity. High nutrient content (phosphorus, carbon, nitrogen) coming from lawns and farmlands flows down the river to the oceans “and build up at a rate that ‘overfeeds’ the algae that exist normally in the environment.” (NOAA). HABs are also linked to high temperatures and furthermore, low salinity which is also a result of melting glaciers. I first learned about red tides in the States, as living in Europe on the regular basis I have never seen such phenomenon. Red tides occur frequently in 3 places: on the Atlantic coastline from New England to Canada, on the Pacific from Mexico to Alaska and finally along the coasts of Australia and eastern Asia. Authorities in these regions may decide to shut down fisheries in order to prevent food poisoning. Moreover, HABs are noted every summer along Florida’s Gulf Coast. The typical period of blooming used to be from July to October. Along with the intensification of effects of global warming, the time in which conditions for blooming are favorable is expanding.

One more issue connected with marine life receives significantly less attention than its size would suggest.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of rubbish that ends up in large bodies of water. Also known as Pacific trash vortex, it actually consists of two garbage patches: the Western Garbage Patch near Japan, and Eastern Garbage Patch situated between Hawaii and California. The two are connected by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. The gyre, created by motion of 4 separate currents, covers the area of 20million square km. This “island” cannot be detected using satellite imagery because a large percentage of the debris is made up by microplastics – tiny fragments of plastic. “About 80% of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia. Trash from the coast of North America takes about six years to reach the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, while trash from Japan and other Asian countries takes about a year,” reported National Geographic. Humans use significant amounts of plastic because it’s convenient and it’s everywhere – its costs of productions are lower than other, biodegradable materials. But it doesn’t disappear; instead it travels thousands of miles away from its origin to finally finish its journey in large bodies of water. At this point it constitutes a serious threat to marine life. Sea turtles take plastic bags for jellies, their regular food. Marine mammals, including seals, get entangled in fishing nets and often drown, without the possibility of getting out. Besides directly affecting fish and marine mammals, plastic patches also block access to sunlight for algae and plankton, which are the fundamental organisms in marine food web. This may have a dangerous effect on populations of marine life.

People have found ways of dealing with results of anthropogenic change in the environment. In places where bee populations are on the verge of disappearing, people are hired to pollinate flowers manually. More and more buildings are “enriched” in bee hives on their rooftops – this is especially common for hotels, but in essence any person can take the same initiative at their own house with some help from professional firms. But there are also issues we try hard not to pay attention to. Because of the relatively long distance of the plastic patches from essentially any country, no nation wants to take responsibility of at least attempting to clean it – and nothing is heard about a possible agreement on the topic. We double the amount of Nitrogen and Phosphorus flowing in the world just by using fertilizers, which contribute to the contamination of waters and loss of biodiversity, as well as already mentioned red tides. Agriculture produces commodities, which are essential for people to survive. But the way it produces them is far from sustainable. Expanding farmland leading to burning of tropical forests, releasing of methane by cows and rice and use of water on agricultural production and processing accounts for 30% of emitted greenhouse gases, making agriculture the largest emitter than any other human activity, including transportation and electricity.

The baseline continues to shift – what used to be a sign of threat to the planet Earth in the 1950s now becomes a plan for sustainable future. We’ve experienced a great acceleration of land degradation, biodiversity loss and content of CO2 in the atmosphere. A planet is supposed to be a self-regulating system. But ecosystems once damaged are very likely to function in a way that will prevent out social and economic growth, just like we have inhibited its biological development. Every citizen of developed countries can make choices that stand up for better future. We don’t have to wait for governments to take action in our name.

The world is unfair!

In my geography class, we’ve noticed that the subject is probably the most depressing one of all the curricula IB offers. You learn how many children die because of starvation every day, about the difference between the calorie intake of the developed world and sub-Saharan Africa. We study Nairobi and the fact that 60% of its population lives in slums, with little access to clean water and electricity. I’ve heard people say that the world is unfair, such things shouldn’t happen. I always found it weird that people would say such things, how can the world be unfair if there is nobody deciding that this and that amount of children should die today?

Let’s imagine that a coconut falls down from a tree and hits you, it’s not that bad, right? It hurt you a little, but that is not something that you get mad about, it’s just a coconut, it hurts, but what can you do? Now let’s imagine a totally different situation in which a guy named Tom loves watching people at the gym, where he works, in the locker rooms. He installs cameras in every bathroom and shows pictures he takes to his friends, who also enjoy it, and then deletes them. People who are victims of Tom’s strange and illegal hobby do not feel harmed, they have no idea what had been done to them. They go on living their regular wonderful or miserable lives. Now, let’s compare this situation to the unfortunate coconut, in the first situation you did feel that some harm was done to you, but you know it just happened that the coconut was about to fall (if you don’t have ninjas trying to kill you at least) when you were passing by, this was unintentional of the world or the coconut, but you were harmed. In the second situation, people were not harmed, their privacy was breached, but they had no way to feel it and will probably never know, but we can all agree that something wrong was done, Tom is a criminal- what he does is illegal. This shows that there is a distinction between harm and wrong-doing, one does not necessarily cause the other, harm may be caused by something we consider good (a visit at the dentist is harmful if you ask a child), or by something neutral or unintentional like the coconut mentioned before. So, when something happens to us, we have to think whether it was caused by any wrong-doing, if it was not, then we do not have any means to call the world unfair, it had not done anything to harm us, it had made no mistake which could have led to our unfortunate coconut accident.

Second, we should consider the deterministic point of view on free will. Determinism says that everything happens not for a reason, but is caused by something which had happened before it. It states that there is no free will, no choice, because we are influenced by external and internal factors, which eliminate any other possibilities. Let’s take me as an example, I am writing a text for the IB Journal not because I want to, but because I am an IB student, I have to do CAS, I had been recruited by a teacher two years ago to take care of the Journal and I continue to do so. Also, I am writing this article, because I am fed up with people saying the world is not fair, I am interested in philosophy and so on. I did not have a choice not to write this article, it just had to happen, I was determined by all my internal and external factors to do what I am doing right now. In this view calling the world unfair is pretty useless, the world had no choice in making something happen, every little thing was caused by another event of the past, like a row of dominos falling down, everything has its root somewhere else. In the coconut case it is quite obvious, the coconut tree grew there, because a coconut got there somehow, the environment was good and this made the tree grow other coconuts. When the coconut was finally big enough it was too heavy and it fell. You were passing by because your mum broke a leg and called you, you were in a hurry and did not notice the tree, the coconut detached from the tree because wind blew and then it happened. In this scenario, everything fits into the deterministic theory and there is nobody to blame for what happened. The world is not unfair, because all that happened was caused by something else,

You probably don’t want to agree with this theory, you do have free will, of course you do. You CHOSE to like this post on Facebook this morning and you CHOSE your CAS activities (even if made to do so). Many people had similar objections to the deterministic theory of free will and from their arguments a new theory was made- compatibilism. Here, it is stated that our choices are free unless an external factor deprives us of the choice and forces us to do something independent of us. Imagine you are picking ice-cream and taking a long time to decide, the people waiting in the queue behind you get annoyed and your friend picks it for you to make it quicker, the friend was an external factor, which deprived you of choice. Moreover, the friend was an agent, somebody who causes something. When we apply this to the world in general, we encounter some difficulty. First of all, we need to find an agent, somebody or something who decided that most of the people with AIDS live in Africa. You can ask how can I ask that. Well, if somebody says that the world is unfair, he or she implies that there had to be a decision made to disfavour some people and by this it is unfair. So who is this unfair agent? The government? Which government? Or rather the society? Why? Because they do not send all the money they have to other people? Or maybe God? But which one? From what I know, the Christian God gave people free will and famines do not come down from heaven. So for me, there is nobody who directly decided that there should be a famine in Somalia in 2011, it was a result of many factors such as lack of rainfall, economic and political instability as well as lack of self-reliance. So, if there is no agent, we cannot accuse him or her of doing anything unfair, of favouring one group over another.

To conclude, I believe that we should not call the world unfair, there are good and bad things which happen with wrong-doing and there is wrong-doing without harm. There are consequences without particular agents. Taking all this into consideration, I think calling the world unfair is simply looking for somebody to blame, without really finding anybody.

At a disconnected dinner

There is one thing that makes me angry and at the same time discourages me from meeting with my friends ever again- seeing their face glued to the screen of their phone when I am talking to them or trying to hold a conversation not based on ‘look what he’s posted, the heck?’. Sometimes I think that I am one of the last few young people who see not paying attention to somebody when you two have met to hang out as straight-forward rude. It’s like saying to the other person that maybe you did arrange this meeting, but they just wanted to send a snap to their friends showing them that they do have a life and sitting with their phone is not the only thing they do. But in fact, it is. You see, I do not consider sitting together with phones in front of our faces occasionally showing something interesting to the other person on a Friday night as a real life. It cannot be called fun, nor creative, nor productive, nor even provocative (and I do love that). In a sense, I do agree that social media has made as unsocial, disconnected from the real world by occupying our time with nonsense content such as baby pictures, food pictures or selfies in the mirror. Let me clarify, because I do not want anybody to talk me as one of those who oppose everything including globalisation, technology, Chinese food and whatsoever. I see social media as a tool, it can be used to communicate with friends, you can send a picture from vacation to your mum, you can call your best friend on Skype when you finally get into this dream university of yours, however, when you start spending hours daily on their Facebook wall looking through selfies in bathroom mirrors of this one guy you met on a party of your friend and haven’t met for two years this tool becomes a waste of time. I think that the usage of social media should be criticised and not the social media as a whole, because there are many people you really appreciate they fast communication they receive thanks to it without wasting hours staring at cat pictures.

Using social media as a way to do nothing is the first argument against it and many people take this tool for procrastination to the extreme by texting while being on a family dinner or out with friends. How many times have you seen this?

phone addict

I bet many times, you might even be guilty of something similar yourself. I think I don’t need to ask what’s the point of meeting your friends if all of you are going to be mentally in totally different places. You see, when people who are physically in two different parts of the world are together mentally because of the internet, it’s a miracle of technology, but when people who are physically together are mentally in two different parts of the world because of the internet, it’s just stupid.

Sherry Turkle, a woman who gave a Ted Talk two times, said that there is a thought that some people nowadays follow- ‘I share, therefore I am’. When you think about it, it’s right to some extent. For some people quitting social media would be the same as getting rid of a part of their identity, when you post to Facebook you always post how happy you are (at least if you’re not the person who likes to make it heard that somebody had broken up with them by posting a playlist of Adelle) and you create this image that you are somehow successful, and there are all these successful people around you, having babies, passing their driver license exam, having the best dog ever and so on. The profiles we have on social media are not a reflection of us, they are reflections of what we want to be. Imagine taking a picture, you take a couple of them, but then you need to pick the one you like the most, the other shots just didn’t come out the best- in one you have this weird smile, in the other a person was walking by and ruined everything. You deleting those pictures and your friends on Facebook see only this one picture that you wanted them to see, this is not you, it’s a part that you would like others to see. Of course in real life it is similar, we don’t tell people about every mistake we have made recently when we meet them, we don’t complain all the time about the one pimple we have, but in real life the ability to edit, to mute, to delete is non-existent. We cannot take back what we have already said, we cannot edit this one not-so-clear statement we made in class that we now partly regret. This is only available on social media, where you can edit and delete a post, you can spell-prove a message, there is more control over what you write, what you post, how people perceive you and eventually who you are.

I believe that this control is what makes people so happy about social media- for the first time people are able to have some control over what people remember about them, what the talk about them. The control comes in handy when you are at a meeting and don’t want to listen to all of it, you only listen to the pieces you want, the information that lies in your interest. If you are not interested you just turn off and message a friend, read the new, browse cat pictures, stalk your ex on Instagram. But this control makes us unlearn being alone or being with others for a longer time, holding up a conversation. When was the last time you were just lying on your bed thinking about something? I hope it was not that long time ago, it would make me happy. I know many people who cannot do that, who simply reach out for their phone every time they are alone or the conversation is not interesting anymore. The internet (not only social media at this point) is driving some people apart not only from their friends, but also from themselves. They say that only a stupid person can be bored, I think that this is untrue now, we are bombarded all the time with information, from 7AM till 11PM we are surrounded with news and content, which makes our thinking shallower and shallower, quite the same happens to our relations. We are becoming disconnected not because of social media, but because of the way we use it and the time we spend looking for new content, for something to amuse ourselves with. This way we no longer look for amusement in ourselves, our friends and family, doing so would require more effort- it would require thinking.

By spending less time on social media, by using the Internet as a tool rather than the sole source of our entertainment we could start once again connecting with other people, this table of women could be a place where conversation takes place with sound rather than fingers. I don’t believe that the Internet or social media are wrong in any way, but we should at least pay some attention and show some respect to the person who is talking to us on this meeting we ourselves arranges and turn off the device with access to unlimited cat pictures for a while.

4000-year-old chicken vs Kim Kardashian’s lips: the spectrum of ‘natural’

We see the word almost every day on different products, there are disputes in courts over its abuse, but it is something positive for us. The word ‘natural’ is present all around yet nobody has given a good definition or really described the word in such a way that courts could use a clear definition when a company is sued over a product which contains corn syrup and is called ‘natural’.

We are not talking about science here, there it is quite easy; for a scientist everything that is tangible and testable in the real world is natural, it doesn’t matter if it’s an aeroplane or a banana, it can be man-made or not. A ghost would be considered something supernatural, it is not testable or tangible and does not lie in the world as we know it, thus it is not natural according to science. However, the word in science holds a different meaning from the one in the public life, because in the public life it is not really known what the word means. Everybody has a general idea about what could be natural, but it is something that cannot be truly defined, it is as if you knew a general meaning of a word, but would not be able to tell what it is in specific words until you look it up in the dictionary. The problem is that in the case of ‘natural’ there is no agreement on what the entry in the dictionary should say.

Being ‘natural’ means being good, we imagine that it is something healthy, the way it should be. This applies as much to chocolate bars and to death. Imagine a doctor telling you that your grandpa who is in a comma is not going to recover and you should consider the ‘do not resuscitate’ order. I guess the question would start a dilemma for you, the D.N.R. option seems a bit too much, it means putting an end to your grandpa’s life. Now think about a doctor telling you that your grandpa will not recover and it would be better to let him have a natural death, would it be different? I think that for many people this question put under the name of natural death would make them realise medicine is against nature, it is something that we invented to fight the way things used to be and letting the grandpa die would not be killing him, but letting the natural thing occur. So, the word certainly has a positive sound, a promise that it will be just the way it was before humans intervened.

Here lies another thing about ‘natural’ and how people perceive it, if you asked a person about a natural product, they would probably think about all the ingredients being not prepared artificially by humans. This is understandable, drinks such as Redbull are not likely to be considered natural by anybody. Thus, it could mean that something natural had never been influenced by humans, that it contains ingredients only easily found in a forest or any other place. But this definition, if we can call it one, is slippery- fire is not easily found in nature and no animal is using it the way we do, so is something like bread natural? Can corn be natural? Have you seen pictures of corn before humans started cultivating it?

Here it is before and after humans. So I guess that there is not a lot left in the world which we consume and could still call natural. (By the way, even avocados are not naturals, animals which used to eat them have gone extinct long ago and we are the only ones sustaining the species). But even if we take some things which have not been altered by us (have good time looking for such), by assuming that everything humans have touched is bad we not only offend ourselves, but also state something untrue. But humans seem to need a term for things which have not been contaminated by humanity, something, which can be taken as the natural order or the last drop of the wild environment to be displayed in museums and admired by everybody like the last tree in a huge jungle of a big city.

Moreover, the word ‘natural’ has some ethos in it when used in discussion. Using it as an argument to preserve something is better than using ‘traditional’ or ‘normal’, because these words are contaminated by the human mind. Tradition is something that changes over time, some things are added and other erased from tradition and this makes it unstable. Whilst ‘normal’ doesn’t really have any ethos to it, because what is considered normal differs from person to person. This makes ‘natural’ the perfect argument for people, it has some authority and is also an umbrella term under which everything one desires can be put. However, this is also something that makes the term disputable, let’s say two people are quarrelling over monogamy and polygamy, one uses the word ‘natural’ in the context of human kind which ‘has always lived this way and it is the natural way for us’, but the other person rejects the idea saying that ‘you can find apes living with different partners and also you can find humans cheating on their spouses, so actually it is not natural, you can find examples of polygamy in nature’. And here lies the thing about being natural- it is what you believe it is and as wide as it is, you can take it from any angle and say that your point of view is what ‘natural’ really is and be totally correct.

Although in the discussion about polygamy there is a lot of natures to follow, there seems to be an obvious question to whether something is natural or not. It is not a yes or no question, rather just a spectrum. If you compare chicken to chicken nuggets, it is quite obvious that chicken would lie closer to the ‘natural’ label than the nuggets, but being fed with growth hormones and God knows what else, it is hard not to admit that the thing is between Kim Kardashian’s lips and the chickens from 4000 years ago. So, the answer could be that it’s just a spectrum and the next time you see something ‘natural’ just make sure it is closer to the 4000-year-old chicken.

The immoral side of democracy

As a society we think that democracy is a value to be protected and passed on to later generations, but is it really moral as a way to decide in every aspect of our lives?

The first thing is, every society would like to call itself a democracy nowadays and even if a country has a monarch who actively rules, they will say that the throne is listening to the people and works towards the progress of their country as a whole. Even such countries as North Korea name themselves democratic (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) because it is a word which is easily connotated with a healthy society. When democracy is said to be in poor state it is considered a serious accusation and threat thus, there are so many institutions protecting, or trying to do so, democracy such as Wikileaks (by advocating for transparency so that the people know who they are voting for), United Nations and other multinational organisations, but also national ones which check whether the process of voting is not susceptible to fraud. This all shows that democracy is deeply rooted in our hearts as a positive idea, a perfect one even.

However important it is to us, we cannot really say that it is the perfect tool for decision-making, we have seen many times that separate bodies such as presidents and governments need to be established not only to take care of the paper work, but also to take decisions quickly when the situation demands it. But these are not the biggest flaws of the system. Democracy has been set up to decide on the matters important for the society, but at the core of the system lies the freedom of the individual to live his or her life. We do not call North Korea a democracy because this right to freedom (as well as their right to vote of course) is taken away from the people who live there. So considering this, is it really moral for the majority of people in a society (or the government elected by them) to decide on the life of an individual? And to what extent can we really go with democracy for it to be moral?

The first thing that comes in my mind is the freedom of speech- is it possible for the majority to decide whether something someone says should be punished or not? Should so called hate speech be punishable or is it immoral to limit somebody’s ability to speak up by restricting what he or she wants to say by possible persecution? If freedom is a part or a characteristic of a democracy, and here it is considered as such, then anything anyone says should be considered their freedom of speech and everyone ought to let it be. Here there is an argument that one’s freedom ends when the other’s starts, nevertheless, saying that homosexuality is wrong does not really limit the freedom of a homosexual person. Of course, extreme opinions such as ‘Jews should be burnt’ do impede the freedom of others or at least advocate for it, therefore are in a way limitation of others’ freedom or even existence. Even given that we do consider saying that, for example, ‘homosexuality is wrong’ and we make it punishable to offend people in any way or hurt them with words, it would be hard to limit the scope of interpretation of such a law and this could limit the freedom of speech to a great extent. Considering all this, it seems that it is hard to assess whether one’s words cross the line ‘where the other’s freedom starts’ or not, but this discussion does not lie along the topic of immorality of democracy. It helped in showing the difficulty of defining what freedom really is and this is needed to talk about the immoral nature of democracy.

In the case of offending somebody with words occurs the dilemma whether a society has the right to restrict an individual even if their actions did not really limit other people (as would happen in murder for example). Usually democracies decide about the social and economic life of the country, but many times what is considered the social life is easily crossed with the life of an individual. In Daesh, women are required to cover their faces and even though this region cannot be said to have a democratic rule it perfectly shows how a society may try to limit an individual. By using this example, it is easy to evoke emotions which, I believe, are necessary to understand the point of view I am presenting. Many will agree that what Daesh is doing to women for not covering their faces is immoral and should be treated as taking their right to decide about their life. However, this happens in Europe as well. It could be asked, and this question is the basis of the immorality of democracy, what right does Daesh have to say that these women cannot show their faces when and where they desire to do so? In fact, what right does anybody have to forbid a person to be with another person, to travel, to have a different opinion or to live in a forest?

For religious people this question is easy to answer- God is the ultimate judge and creator and thus, should be considered the authority who limits one’s life. However, what if a person does not believe in God and does what he or she wants to do? A religious person might then try to judge or influence the atheist on the basis of their religion, however, what right then does the religious person have if the other does not recognise God as the ultimate authority? Then the belief in the Creator becomes a personal opinion (or belief as one wishes), but an opinion may not be enough to say that one has a right to decide about others’ lives. One cannot say that they have the right to kill anybody who likes green because his opinion is such that green-loving people should die.

On the other hand, if we consider taxes put on people to support the healthcare system, education and the army of a country, then it becomes hard to talk about the moral side of democracy. The argument is that if the majority decides that there should be a tax of, let’s say, 15% on the earnings of every person and there are people who do not want to give up this part of their earned money, the decision of the majority would force a change on the individual lives and thus be immoral. However, it was mentioned before that democracy was set for the majority to decide about the public life and when we consider a job, it is no longer the private life of a person. A contract between the employee and the employer is on the basis of the law in force in a given country and this sphere falls rather into the public life than the private life. Therefore, a tax of 15% is not certainly immoral, because it concerns issues of the economy, which is in the scope of democracy to decide.

In the case mentioned here the issue of the law in force surfaced, this is also a part of the public life, but the reason it is again discussed is that it will serve as a summary of the ideas given throughout. We must remember that the government and the law it constitutes as well as the money it owns and anything it recognises is in the public sphere, therefor it is in the power of the majority to decide about. Marriage is a good discriminator in this situation, for it will give an idea about what is meant by all this discussion. Marriage is constituted and recognised by the government, it is an institution regulated and kept by it, therefore it lies in the public sphere, which means that the majority of people has the right to decide about its terms and character. However, a personal relationship between two people does not need recognition of the government, it is solely up to the people participating in it to regulate it and thus, should not be decided upon by the majority of people or the government. If the majority tries to influence the relationship by regulating it, then it becomes immoral, because it requires the majority to consider they have the authority to limit others’ private lives.

Overall, democracy is both an important value and tool in governing the public life of our society, however, when used to a greater extent than it should be, it can become immoral by impeding the personal freedom of an individual, which is not a part of the public life in which the majority has the right to vote.

“We are the 99%”

Almost 5 years ago it was all over social media, mentioned in thousands of hashtags, covered on the news and talked about between the governments. Its participants were setting up villages in front of state buildings and nearly every time had to face the police. As the citizens of the United States approach the big date of elections, the society reevaluates what matters and goes back to the roots. The “Occupy” movement is back on track.

The Occupy movement is an international version of the originated in New York City Occupy Wall Street. OWS saw its beginning on September 17, 2011 in Wall Street, the financial district of the city. The slightly anarchistic name already gives a hint that the movement functioned in a series of protests, more specifically demonstrations against social and economic inequalities recorded globally. Like any other public event in the era of Facebook, Occupy greatly depended on social media to spread the word, coordinate live streams of demonstrations and even conduct conferences of participants from over 70 locations. The art also found its place in this public chaos. In fact, the imagery were recognized as relevant enough to be placed in National Museum of American History and New York Historical Society.

Source: The Atlantic

Like Black Lives Matter, the movement drew attention of thousands of people. The grand majority of them are often representatives of Millenials, who were attracted by OWS by its lack of leaders or strict set of demands – it simply gave them the means to make a change. Lack of leaders paradoxically meant that in fact everyone could be the leader – there was an open process of proposing ideas, that were submitted via particular questionnaires and then considered until consensus was reached. The protesters dissatisfied with current system pin-pointed uneven development, debt forgiveness, unemployment of college graduates, not high enough minimum wages and  as well as corporations valuing profits more than human resources or the environment. The message was loud and clear: We are the 99% that refuses to pay for mistakes of greed and corruption of the 1% of the US population holding 30 to 40% of the capital as well as political power. 

In spite of the fact that the movement is primarly known for its Wall Street version and connotations, its impact was felt by the entire world. On October 15, 2011, demonstrations were held in almost a 1000 cities in 82 countries, including the majotiry of European countries (also Poland with a protest in Warsaw), Israel, South Africa, Egypt, Canada, Mexico, Hong Kong, Japan, Philippines, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Nicaragua and Brazil. The numbers estimated almost a 1000 arrests, mostly for disobeying police orders, and almost 500 injuries. Hundreds of thousands of people around the globe identified with the slogan “United for #GlobalChange.”

The biggest demonstration of the entire movement held in Madrid, attended by half a million activists. Source:

Although Bernie Sanders in his 2015/16 political campaign often used the idea of the 1%, OWS doesn’t identify with any party – because  the society they strive to create is free and independent of corruption and hypocrisy of the shadows of political life. The unspecified list of demands led to common understanding and working towards a vision. There was no hierarchy of the social, economic or political issues that needed mending and nobody was trying to persuade one another that their point of view was more important. The problem continued to be the system, so OWS created its own. The fundamental unit of the movement were working groups that presented their proposals to the General Assmebly, that could have been joined by anyone. The participants of the assmebly had to possibility to comment on the suggestions by standing in the queue of speakers, which, also, could have been joined by basically anybody. The queue was rather one of the few places were order was kept and white men put on the bottom of the foodchain – people from marginalized groups such as women and minorities had the right to speak before others.

Even though for a certain period of time Occupy captivated as much attention as Black Lives Matter, it died a quick and quite death. “One of the things that I think we tested—that we found out not to be true—is this idea that you can basically build the ideal society, the ideal microcosm, that you don’t need to become the ones in power,” explained Micah White, the main initiator of the Occupy movement in an interview for Straight. Public activism, although seemingly powerful, has been already welcomed to the cannon of police interventions. Governments learned how to handle the citizens without giving in to the demands.

2016 could potentially mark a new beginning for Occupy Wall Street. According to the Washington Post, the activists now plan to combine efforts of teachers, communication workers and all those who wish to be involved in the history making and then head for Wall Street to reform the way in which it functions – all that under the name Take On Wallstreet. What could be classified as an inspiration for Micah is a Spanish social movement Podemos (“We can”), now a political party swinging elections. The people in power are the people who used to be on the other side of the barricade – and this is why they see what the society needs.



My classmates are whole-heartedly committed to nation-wide demonstrations that support Polish democracy. I used to be similarly engaged but like many people, I get discouraged when I see that my voice is unheard and the field for dialogue is not open. Occupy’s previous failure gives food for thought. Those who govern the country often own it and not even hudreads of thousands of people protesting on the streets can create the subjectively utopian society. Even when initially protests and manifestations of public outrage and dissatisfaction prove to be ineffective, it’s better to take a stand rather than be left with no control or influence at all. Because as history shows, there’s a lesson in every action underatken- we will either succeed or realize that other measures need to be taken to change the world into a better place.

The excuse of a cultural difference

I have been staying in Beijing for whole 3 months now, not telling the whole story about my stay here I will just cut it short to this- I am here as a model on a contract for three months and all I want is to come back to Europe. My stay here has been longer than I would ever want it to be, because it turned something fascinating into a nightmare, let me explain why. When I came here everything was fascinating, interesting, disgusting and outraging at the same time- animals here are treated as garbage, people as well, there is no hygiene, but there is a lot of censorship, people don’t care about others, but Beijing is a huge city. In the beginning all of it was still intriguing to look at, their way of living and behaving, however with time there was less and less for me to see and I started looking critically at the things the Chinese do, I started wondering- to what extent can the term ‘cultural differences’ excuse every single action of these people?

Let’s consider what a ‘cultural difference’ is, the very name means that it is a comparison of some sort between two cultures, by which one can notice some similarities and differences, all this is straightforward. But usually, as far as I know, it is referred to when people want to justify other nationalities, when something seems silly or even immoral. To repent criticism of such ‘controversial’ behaviour some say ‘it is only a cultural difference, you need to accept it’. But it cannot be that everything can be swept away with this argument, can it?

One of the biggest differences between China and Poland I can think of is the way they show numbers on their fingers, what in European cultures could be considered 8 by showing three fingers of one hand and five of the other seems to rarely understood even in Beijing by people who do not speak English. In China ‘eight’ is shown by stretching the thumb and the pointing finger of one hand into two opposite directions so that they are in one line, this gesture shows 2 fingers and in Europe would be considered to show the number two. When a roommate of mine went to Carrefour and was asked by the cashier how many plastic bags he wanted he got eight of them, only because he showed ‘two’ the way the Chinese show ‘eight’. It is a strange and funny cultural difference, it obviously has some roots somewhere back during the development of the Chinese and the European cultures, there is no point in demanding any change or criticising it, it’s just the way it is. This case is quite easy, however there are some things which are not as easily justifiable.

Back in Europe a person who sneezes or coughs without covering their mouth is usually thought of as inconsiderate, because of the pathogens they could convey to others, or rude, however in China I could count on my fingers all the times when someone did cover their mouth when sneezing both in public places and in private. To make it clear- people who do not look poor or troubled also do this, it is not only an observation of homeless people (I haven’t seen a lot of them in Beijing). Because of noticing this, I started thinking whether it is a cultural difference, and moreover whether it can be justified. The way people show numbers doesn’t really affect people, pathogens do, that is why, in my belief, it would be strange not to criticise the Chinese for caring so little about hygiene. Not covering one’s mouth is only the beginning of the issue, many people in Shanghai, Beijing and Yantai (three cities I’ve been to) do not wash their hands after going to the toilet, eat things which have fallen on the table of a fast food restaurant and many more, thus I should call this cultural difference by its name- lack of hygiene.

The question is whether such lack of hygiene can be justified only because it is a cultural difference? Any doctor would agree that an absolutely unhygienic environment is especially dangerous in such big settlements as Beijing, diseases can spread easily in such places, affecting more people than in rural areas. So should the criticism of it be simply dismissed or seen as a kind of improvement of the culture? Maybe the lack of hygiene is not even a cultural difference, but a way in which the society has yet to improve? When we look at the history of Europe there is a shift between the hygiene around the continent nowadays and back in the middle ages when a lot of people died because people did not know of the existence of pathogens. Thus, it could be argued that the Chinese simply know about the bacteria and viruses, but are not yet enough aware of the importance of hygiene. This would mean that the lack of hygiene present in this society is not really a cultural difference, but underdevelopment in a way. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Chinese are somehow less worthy, only that in this matter their society still has place for development. But this leads to a conclusion that not every difference between two cultures is a cultural difference, this would mean that there are both developmental and cultural differences to tell between a given set of cultures. The first would be the kind resulting from a different level of development, such as lack of hygiene (to difference extents, of course, the Chinese don’t cover their mouths when sneezing around others and food, while many nations in Africa are still not wildly aware about STDs), while the second resulting from real cultures and not stages of development.

The problem is that it can be tricky to differentiate these differences, Beijing is considered a developed city, thus people do not think of this lack of hygiene as underdevelopment. Some have already told me that it is a cultural difference, so I have to tolerate it, but as we can see it is not as simple and this particular behaviour, considering all that has been pointed at, seems to be more of an underdeveloped behaviour.

All this considered the argument that ‘it is solely a cultural difference’ does seem to work for real cultural differences such as showing numbers with fingers, eating with chopsticks or forks and knives. In these cases one refers to cases of behaviours developed with a given society, this behaviour will not likely change with further development of the society, for it is set and applicable throughout time. However, lack of hygiene cannot be regarded as a cultural difference, humanity has seen changes in this matter with its development, so it is not as set as real cultural differences, thus in this case, as in many others, the term ‘cultural difference’ cannot justify a behaviour.