I Wish They Told Me This Shit In School

Despite being a student of history, philosophy, and international relations, and with almost half a decade of experience in working in international development, I still find myself struggling to understand the world in which we live.

No doubt, this learning process will take an entire lifetime, and even then I will encounter things that seem to make no sense.

With that being said, at the ripe old age of 27, I think I have discovered 31 lessons that have helped to improve my understanding.

Ladies and Gents, I give to you, the world through the eyes of Pad:

1) News is not objective. There is no such thing as unbiased news, all media has a narrative it wishes to promote. We should be told that this is the case, and we should be encouraged to recognise and evaluate it. Seek other news, find alternative narratives, interrogate them too. Both The Telegraph and the Guardian can run the same story, but each has its own agenda.

2) There is no good and bad. The world is incredibly complex and simple black and white narratives are incorrect. The USA is not inherently good or bad, it is a complicated web of people who all have multiple competing interests and motivations, based on these, actions are taken, and some of these may result in good or bad consequences. The devil is in the detail. Embrace complexity.

3) It is possible to oppose one action/group/state, without then also being in support of other groups or states that oppose them. For example, to say that a murderer shouldn’t face the death penalty, does not mean you support the murderer. Or, if you oppose the UK’s relationship with Israel, it does not mean that you support Hamas. The most common trap to fall into these days is that you oppose the military/imperialist actions of the West, but ignore the military/imperialist actions of Russia and/or China.

4) Violence and punishment will only get you so far. Peace, unity, and forgiveness provide the best foundations to grow and flourish. This is why the prison and “justice” system in the UK and the USA is flawed, with Denmark providing a much better model. This is why Israel will have to give up its system of abuse against Palestinians, and it is why the African National Congress gave up their armed struggle against the Apartheid South African state. All wars come to an end. Diplomacy writes the final chapter.

5) Altruism is rare. States, companies, politicians often only act out of self-interest. Slavery did not come to an end because someone suddenly had a change of heart, gay-rights weren’t granted because leaders realised it was inhuman to deny a person the opportunity to marry someone they love, international aid is not given because states hate to see other countries suffer.

6) A state-run, centralised socialist/communist economic system always results in failure. Both Guyana and Vietnam experimented before embracing free market, liberal economics, Cuba is stuck, and the USSR collapsed because it refused to change. Even in politically communist countries (China), the market is liberal. (To be consistent with point 3, this of course does not mean that the liberal, capitalist economic system does not come with a whole host of its own problems).

7) In the modern Western world, priorities appear to have shifted. People seem to care more about their wants than their needs. Happy to get into debt for cars, holidays, and phones, but not for education. Spending money at the weekends on partying, but going back to live with their parents.

8) School and college is not designed to make you think and question. As the name suggests (Education System), it is a system designed solely to prepare you for the jobs market. Shaping children and adolescents to become capable, functioning workers. If the machine is to continue running, it needs its cogs.

9) Fear will paralyse you. There are enough borders, walls, rules, and regulations in this world without you putting up any more mental ones. Don’t box yourself in. Don’t believe that there are set paths that you must follow and that if you stray you will fall over and/or be a failure.

10) Economics, not politics runs the world. Even at a grassroots household level, individuals make choices based on money, not morals. Your energy provider is probably the cheapest, not the most environmentally friendly. You work your job not because it makes a positive difference in the world, but because it pays the bills. This avoidance of the economic issue then allows people to be politically free (you can vote in elections), but economically enslaved (you can’t afford the best education, so won’t get the best jobs).

11) People are creative, passionate, inspirational, and entrepreneurial. They have dreams, desires, and aspirations. They don’t want hand outs, they want a help up. If the necessary foundations are provided for them, they will succeed. Provide them with the opportunity and the environment and they will flourish.

12) The purchase and collection of stuff does not, and will not, make you happy. This is the entire premise of consumerism. “If you’re not happy, buy something.”

13) (linked to point 2) Drugs are not inherently bad. Alcohol is a drug that comes with little stigma in society when people consume it. Caffeine is also a drug. As is nicotine (cigarettes). We each have our drug of choice, it is just that some drugs are deemed acceptable and others aren’t. The war on drugs has been a failure and it will eventually end.

14) You will be the product of the people you spend the most time with. Surround yourself with positive people, inspirational and supportive people.

15) Read. Educate yourself as much as possible. Always. Education does not end the moment you graduate from school and/or college. The you of 24-months ago is not as smart as the you of now. The you of now will not be as smart as the you in 24-months’ time.

16) Be rational. Follow logic, evidence, statistics, not emotion.

17) There is a past to everything. No event or actions occurs in a vacuum. Similarly, people are a product of their environment and their past experiences. History shows you how the pieces fell into place. Make an effort to understand.

18) Technology has the power to both liberate and ensnare you. Only you can decide which one of these it is. (this point is likely to become even more important in the coming years).

19) Be flexible. You do not, and probably never will, know everything there is to know on a topic. Seek other opinions and advice and don’t close yourself down to discussion. Don’t become dogmatic. Hold your views and opinions to scrutiny.

20) There is far more to come. Humans are not the peak and end of evolution. “Democratic” free-market society is not the ultimate and final civilisation. Technology and medicine will always improve.

21) Animals are much smarter and more sophisticated than we are led to believe. Humans are not their superiors, nor their masters.

22) A lot of what we see are shallow projections that don’t represent reality. These are distorted, fictitious representations of an impossible goal. Don’t buy into the lies.

23) Never take something at face value. Whether it is a statistic, a quote, or a photo. Research its origins and check its accuracy. Go directly to the source wherever possible. Don’t trust second-hand statements or blindly follow other people’s interpretations.

24) Racism, sexism, prejudice, and discrimination are all still widespread. Though there have been a number of successes, equality is yet to be achieved. Always check your privilege.

25) Laws do not reflect morality.

26) The environment is of crucial importance. Environmental concerns are not solely for tree-hugging hippies, they are for all of us. Damage to the environment should never simply be an afterthought. Entire civilisations have collapsed because they ignored and abused their environment, climate change may yet lead us to a similar fate.

27) Revolutions are won by those who are most organised, better funded, and have the greatest capacity. Popular revolutions can, and often are, hijacked by better organised groups who hold very different ideals and beliefs in what the future of the country should be.

28) International politics is all about power and strategy. Human rights are secondary. Alliances are formed to preserve the status quo and protect interests. Often, the enemy of my enemy is considered a friend (Stalin and the West in World War Two, Mujaheddin and the West in Afghanistan against the USSR).

29) There is no such thing as Karma. Good things do not happen to good people.

30) For the overwhelming majority of us, nothing is ever given to you. Life provides no hand-outs. You must go out and seek what you desire, and then work to achieve it. (not forgetting that point 24 may make this even more difficult for some people).

31)Democracy is not democratic. Whether that is in the USA, the UK, or at the UN. Nobody cedes power voluntarily, and the system is established in way that the elites find acceptable.

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