Archive for the ‘ Informal Essays and Articles ’ Category

Highlights from 2015 in Marijuana Science

2015 was a big year for marijuana, socially and politically, with massive progress made towards ending the unjust incarceration of its users. However, it was also a big year in terms of scientific research. Here are my pick of the top marijuana-related scientific papers of the year.

Mokrysz C, Gage S, Landy R, Munafo M, Roiser J, Curran H. 2015. “Neuropsychological and educational outcomes related to adolescent cannabis use, a prospective cohort study” Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 24(2): S695

What they found: teens who heavily used marijuana exhibited an IQ decline, but it was attributable to confounding factors. Once enough factors are controlled for, marijuana use is not associated with IQ decline.

Why this matters: teenagers already undergoing an IQ decline are more likely than those not to become dependent on marijuana, leading to a spurious association between marijuana and IQ decline in poorly controlled studies. This study demonstrates that marijuana does not cause a cognitive decline, alleviating concern about its use among adolescents.

White H, Bechtold J, Loeber R, Pardini D. 2015. “Divergent marijuana trajectories among men: socioeconomic, relationship, and life satisfaction outcomes in the mid-30s” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 156: 62-69

Bechtold J, Simpson T, White H, Pardini D. 2015. “Chronic adolescent marijuana use as a risk factor for physical and mental health problems in young adult men” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 29(3): 552-563

What they found: once confounding factors are controlled for, marijuana use by adolescents is not associated with health problems or poor socio-economic outcomes in adulthood

Why this matters: prohibitionists, as well as advocates of legalise-and-regulate models, continue to assume that we need to keep marijuana away from adolescents to protect them from harm, but these studies show that marijuana use alone is not associated with harm beyond the influence of confounding factors. The associations between early marijuana use, pathology, and poor outcomes are spurious, and marijuana is not the problem — rather, adolescents with certain problems are more likely to use marijuana, and to be at risk for additional factors. The persisting fears are unfounded, and we do not need to concern ourselves with restricting access by age.

Alshaarawy O, Anthony J. 2015. “Cannabis smoking and serum C-reactive protein: a quantile regressions approach based on NHANES 2005-2010” Drug Alcohol Depend 147: 203-207

What they found: marijuana smoking is associated with lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation.

Why this matters: marijuana’s anti-inflammatory effects have been known for millennia, but remain poorly understood by many researchers and the public. This is not the first study showing reduced CRP in marijuana users, but the more the better. Most of the disorders which people believe marijuana to alleviate, or suspect it of causing, are mediated by inflammation. Claims that marijuana protects against disease, or exacerbates it, rest in large part upon its effects on inflammation. If it cannot be shown that marijuana causes inflammation, then the biological plausibility of it causing harm would be impugned.

Chiurchiù V, Leuti A, Maccarrone M. 2015. “Cannabinoid signaling and neuroinflammatory diseases: a melting pot for the regulation of brain immune responses” Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology 10(2): 268-280

What they found: marijuana has profound immunoregulatory and anti-inflammatory properties which may ameliorate or protect against numerous inflammation-related disorders.

Why this matters: well, we already knew this, but one more review is always nice. Neuroinflammation is incredibly important in nearly all modern disease, and marijuana’s ability to attenuate it without causing immunosuppression would seem to validate its status as a “wonder drug.” Those who wish to attribute disease to marijuana use will have to show how and in what circumstances marijuana can increase inflammation; skeptics can instead take the position that it is not surprising to find evidence of inflammation in people who depend on anti-inflammatories, and therefore rest assured that marijuana is not causing the disorders with which its heavy use is correlated.

Giacoppo S, Galuppo M, Pollastro F, Grassi G, Bramanti P, Mazzon E. 2015. “A new formulation of cannabidiol in cream shows therapeutic effects in a mouse model of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis” Daru 23: 48

What they found: topical CBD reduced inflammation and even resulted in remyelination of spinal neurons in mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis

Why this matters: another study showing profound immunoregulatory and anti-inflammatory effects from a constituent of marijuana. Here it was found that topical application of a cream containing 1% CBD was sufficient to reverse inflammation-mediated paralysis and to heal damaged spinal neurons. This shows that smoking, vaping and eating are not the only effective routes of administration for combating neuroinflammation. That topical application of cannabinoids can improve skin conditions such as psoriasis and acne was previously shown, but remyelination of a demyelinated spinal cord is a very impressive finding.

Arain M, Khan M, Craig L, Nakanishi S. 2015. “Cannabinoid agonist rescues learning and memory after a traumatic brain injury” Ann Clin Transl Neurol 2(3): 289-294

What they found: administering a CB1 agonist to rats following head injury reduced the extent of brain damage

Why this matters: THC is a CB1 agonist, and is believed to protect against brain injury. This study supports that position.

Bonnet A, Marchalant Y. 2015. “Potential therapeutic contributions of the endocannabinoid system towards aging and Alzheimer’s Disease” Aging Dis 6(5): 400-405

What they found: the endocannabinoid system is a promising target for protecting against the neuroinflammation which contributes to disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease

Why this matters: marijuana stimulates the endocannabinoid system, and is believed to protect against Alzheimer’s Disease. This paper reviews some of the mechanisms involved.

Tao Y, Tang J, Chen Q, Guo J, Li L, Yang L, Feng H, Zhu G, Chen Z. 2015. “Cannabinoid CB2 receptor stimulation attenuates brain edema and neurological deficits in a germinal matrix hemorrhage rat model” Brain Res 1602:127-35

What they found: CB2 activation protected against brain edema, and improved morphological and neurofunctional outcomes following germinal matrix hemorrhage, one of the most common and devastating cerebrovascular events that affect premature infants. Microglial activation and TNF-α release were found to be reduced.

Why this matters: yet more evidence of neuroprotective effects of cannabinoid receptor stimulation in yet another serious condition, specifically implicating the anti-inflammatory effects of CB2 activation.

England T, Hind W, Rasid N, O’Sullivan S. 2015. “Cannabinoids in experimental stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis” J Cereb Blood Flow Metab 35(3): 348-58

What they found: reviewing 144 experiments, cannabinoids, including both THC and CBD, significantly and consistently reduced infarct size resulting from stroke in rats.

Why this matters: the relation between marijuana use and stroke remains controversial. The cases have been made both that marijuana may prevent some strokes, and that it may be a risk factor for one or more kinds of stroke. While this review cannot address the questions of incidence or prevalence, it suggests that the use of marijuana may reduce severity among users who experience a stroke (whether or not they would have had one anyway). Future studies into incidence, prevalence and severity of stroke in human marijuana users are necessary.

Blázquez C, Chiarlone A, Bellocchio L, Resel E, Pruunsild P, Garcia-Rincon D, Sentner M, Timmusk T, Lutz B, Galve-Roperh I, Guzman M. 2015. “The CB1 cannabinoid receptor signals striatal neuroprotection via a PI3K-Akt/mTORC1/BDNF pathway” Cell Death Differ 22(1): 1618-1629

What they found: the AKT pathway is involved in cannabinoid neuroprotection in the striatum

Why this matters: numerous mechanisms mediating cannabinoid neuroprotection were already established, such as reduction in microglial activation, inhibition of excitotoxic cytokine release by astrocytes, recruitment of regulatory t-cells, etc. This research adds activation of the AKT pathway to that list, improving our understanding of how the neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids actually take place at a cellular level. Activation of AKT also seems to clarify the relationship between marijuana use and dopamine signalling, because dopamine receptors also activate AKT. This may indicate that some of marijuana’s effects are dopamine-like without mediation by dopamine itself.

Bossong M, Mehta M, van Berckel B, Howes O, Kahn R, Stokes P. 2015. “Further human evidence for striatal dopamine release induced by administration of ∆9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): selectivity to limbic striatum” Psychopharmacology (Berl) 232(15):2723-9

What they found: increase in dopamine signalling following THC administration is very limited, and insufficient to explain the association of early onset marijuana use with schizophrenia.

Why this matters: researchers have been claiming for decades with no good human evidence that marijuana works “like other drugs of abuse” by stimulating dopamine release, leading to dependency. This narrative is not only terribly reductive, but false. While there is a small increase in striatal dopamine release following THC administration, it is an order of magnitude less than that associated with other drugs, and is far from the most important of marijuana’s effects. Hopefully now we can lay to rest the canard of THC having its effects by stimulating dopamine. Given that alterations to dopamine signalling are considered the “final common pathway” in psychosis, this is of particular relevance to schizophrenia research: the mechanism once believed to explain the association cannot explain it. Confounding by factors such as childhood trauma increasingly seem to be the more likely explanation for the association.

Cortes-Briones J, Cahill J, Skosnik P, Mathalon D, Williams A, Sewell R, Roach B, Ford J, Ranganathan M, D’Souza D. 2015. “The psychosis-like effects of Δ(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol are associated with increased cortical noise in healthy humans” Biol Psychiatry 78(11): 805-13

What they found: THC increased neural noise, and this effect was strongly related to its psychosis-like effects.

Why this matters: chaotic neural signalling can lead to strange sensations and experiences. It remains controversial whether using marijuana increases the risk of psychosis. This study suggests that psychosis-like effects of THC are due to an increase in neural noise, most likely due to transient reduction in the activity of GABAergic interneurons, which implies that the pathways implicated in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia, which have not been clearly shown to be exacerbated by marijuana use, are not necessary to produce the effect. This would suggest that THC’s effects might be mistaken for, but neither cause nor exacerbate, schizophrenia-related pathology.

Power B, Dragovic M, Badcock J, Morgan V, Castle D, Jablensky A, Stefanis N. 2015. “No additive effect of cannabis on cognition in schizophrenia” Schizophr Res 168(1-2): 245-51

What they found: cannabis use or dependence among schizophrenics does not worsen their cognitive function. The association between marijuana use and cognitive function is confounded by other factors and does not survive careful control.

Why this matters: there is concern that marijuana use can cause cognitive impairment, or exacerbate cognitive impairment in those with pre-existing problems such as schizophrenia. This study shows that this is not likely to be the case, which should alleviate concern about the use of marijuana by those with or at risk for schizophrenia.

Carey C, Agrawal A, Zhang B, Conley E, Degenhardt L, Heath A, Li D, Lynskey M, Martin N, Montgomery G, Wang T, Bierut L, Hariri A, Nelson E, Bogdan R. 2015. “Monoacylglycerol lipase (MGLL) polymorphism rs604300 interacts with childhood adversity to predict cannabis dependence symptoms and amygdala habituation: evidence from an endocannabinoid system-level analysis” J Abnorm Psychol 124(4): 860-77

What they found: people who were sexually abused were much more likely to subsequently become dependent on marijuana if they had two copies of a common version of the gene for an enzyme (MGLL, aka MAGL) involved in the synthesis of 2-AG, the most potent endocannabinoid.

Why this matters: the relationship between childhood trauma and marijuana dependence is well established. Trauma disorders are also known to be associated with impairment of the endocannabinoid system, and that marijuana use can partially compensate for this by stimulating that system is a reasonable explanation for the association. This study supports this position, by showing that it is not all sexual abuse survivors who are liable to become dependent on marijuana, but those whose endocannabinoid system is genetically vulnerable to impairment if they are exposed to severe stress (for example from sexual abuse). Interestingly, those vulnerable appear to be those with the more common version of the gene in question, which runs contrary to the assumption that risk is related to “bad genes” or restricted to a small minority of the population.

Chakraborty A, Anstice N, Jacobs R, LaGasse L, Lester B, Wouldes T, Thompson B. 2015. “Prenatal exposure to recreational drugs affects global motion perception in preschool children” Nature: Scientific Reports 5: 16921

What they found: children who were exposed to marijuana prior to birth had superior global motion perception to children not so exposed.

Why this matters: the effects of marijuana on early neurodevelopment remain controversial. The mainstream assumption is that marijuana use will impair or interfere with neurodevelopment and thus should be avoided during pregnancy, and that marijuana should be kept away from children. This study challenges that assumption, by showing an improvement in an area also shown to be damaged by alcohol. This is also one more piece of evidence showing that marijuana use may protect against alcohol-related brain damage.

Rivera P, Blanco E, Bindila L, Alen F, Vargas A, Rubio L, Pavon F, Serrano A, Lutz B, Rodriguez de Fonseca F, Suarez J. 2015. “Pharmacological activation of CB2 receptors counteracts the deleterious effect of ethanol on cell proliferation in the main neurogenic zones of the adult rat brain.” Front Cell Neurosci 9: 379

What they found: CB2 receptor activation protected against brain damage from giving alcohol to rats.

Why this matters: one more study suggesting that use of marijuana (which activates CB2 receptors) can protect against the adverse effects of alcohol.

Sabia J, Swigert J, Young T. 2015. “The effect of medical marijuana laws on body weight” Health Economics DOI: 10.1002/hec.3267

What they found: enforcement of medical marijuana laws is associated with a 2% to 6% decline in the prevalence of obesity, suggesting that the availability of medical marijuana saves from $58 to $115 per year per person in obesity-related medical costs alone.

Why this matters: obesity is a major contributor to poor health, and a several percent reduction in the overall rate of obesity is a very significant effect. This provides compelling support for the argument that increasing marijuana availability constitutes a legitimate and pressing public health objective. The authors cite increased mobility due to medicinal effects, and reduced consumption of alcohol due to people switching from alcohol to marijuana, to explain the effect. Unfortunately, they did not consider the regulatory, metabolic or anti-inflammatory effects, but future studies can be expected to follow this up.

Cluny N, Keenan C, Reimer R, Le Foll B, Sharkey K. 2015. “Prevention of diet-induced obesity effects on body weight and gut microbiota in mice treated chronically with Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol” PLoS One  DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144270

What they found: THC protected mice against developing diet-induced-obesity, and protected against obesity-related changes to the gut microbiota, without altering whole gut transit

Why this matters: it has been known for some time that marijuana users have lower than expected rates of obesity. This study provides additional evidence that THC can counteract the effects of high-risk diets and protect against obesity, and suggests that it is not only increased mobility and reduced alcohol consumption which explain the effect. Even with an equally fattening diet, and without any increase in physical activity, obesity was still prevented, because of THC’s effects on metabolism, inflammation and the gut microbiota.

Lutz B, Marsicano G, Maldonado R, Hillard C. 2015. “The endocannabinoid system in guarding against fear, anxiety and stress” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 16: 705-718

Morena M, Patel S, Bains J, Hill M. 2015. “Neurobiological interactions between stress and the endocannabinoid system” Neuropsychopharmacology  doi:10.1038/npp.2015.166

What they found: the endocannabinoid system regulates response to stress and fear-evoking stimuli, which is essential for long term viability, homeostasis and stress resilience.

Why this matters: dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system is observed in conditions such as PTSD and depression which are associated with marijuana use. Marijuana use is believed to assist in the regulation of this system and can therefore protect against or alleviate certain types of pathology. Reviews such as these are very useful for understanding exactly how this takes place, what cellular systems, proteins and enzymes are involved, etc.

Lynch M, Ware M. 2015. “Cannabinoids for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain: an updated systematic review of randomized controlled trials” J Neuroimmune Pharmacol 10(2): 293-301

Ware M, Tongtong W, Shapiro S, Collet J-P. 2015. “Cannabis for the management of pain: assessment of safety study (COMPASS)” The Journal of Pain 16(12): 1233-1242

What they found: cannabinoids are safe, modestly effective analgesics in the management of chronic pain.

Why this matters: mild-moderate adverse effects, such as dizziness, were noted, but were not severe, and were generally well tolerated. This supports the use of marijuana in pain management.

Roulette C, Kazanji M, Breurec S, Hagen E. 2015. “High prevalence of cannabis use among Aka foragers of the Congo Basin and its possible relationship to helminthiasis” American Journal of Human Biology DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.22740

What they found: use of marijuana by foragers in the Congo was negatively associated with parasitic infection.

Why this matters: because of marijuana’s anti-inflammatory effects, it has been speculated that it could produce vulnerability to infections, such as by parasites. This study suggests that the opposite is the case, with marijuana possibly providing protection against the parasite (helminths) studied.

Pagliaccio D, Barch D, Bogdan R, Wood P, Lynskey M, Heath A, Agrawal A. 2015. “Shared predisposition in the association between cannabis use and subcortical brain structure” JAMA Psychiatry 72(1): 994-1001

What they found: marijuana use was associated with smaller amygdala volume, but this is not caused by marijuana but relates to underlying genetic associations. Siblings of marijuana users who did not use marijuana themselves have similar amygdalae to their marijuana using siblings.

Why this matters: changes in the amygdala have been suspected of being related to marijuana use, but the evidence has been inconsistent. This study demonstrates that the association is only correlative, and is not causally related to marijuana use.

Weiland B, Thayer R, Depue B, Sabbineni A, Bryan A, Hutchison K. 2015. “Daily marijuana use is not associated with brain morphometric results in adolescents or adults” Neurobiology of Disease 35(4): 1505-1512

What they found: marijuana use is not associated with previously suspected brain changes, such as in the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, hippocampus, and cerebellum, once confounding variables are controlled for.

Why this matters: they were specifically replicating Jodi Gilman’s “worst paper of 2014” which violated various principles of statistical analysis to show that recreational marijuana use was associated with (very small) morphometric changes in the amygdala, which it is not. Her paper was fraudulent, and that was already obvious (her data did not support her conclusions, and even her conclusions did not justify her press release), but the attempted replication and unambiguous rejection of her findings is nonetheless appreciated. Unfortunately, Gilman’s fraudulent results continue to be repeated by prohibitionists as proof that marijuana is harmful. Fortunately, more scientists than ever are objecting to this disreputable conduct, and it is very simple now to contrast this paper’s findings with her findings to judge for oneself.

Those highlights out of the way, the anti-highlight of the year remains the recent bit of scientific infamy I’ve already discussed from King’s College London’s faculty of Psychosis Studies, which had the press claiming that smoking skunk “wrecks your brain,” because of a 2% difference in one brain region between people who prefer bud and people who prefer hash in a badly controlled study. Their data, taken without the ridiculous fear-mongering, shows a marked absence of harm. Small differences associated with preferences are to be expected, whether it’s a preference for green as opposed to black olives, or for green as opposed to black marijuana products. If what they were claiming were true, that high potency strains “wreck brains,” there would be much more than this tiny non-effect to show for it. Unfortunately, King’s College does not deserve its prestigious reputation, and has allowed for blatant dishonesty in the service of justifying mass incarceration.

All in all, this year in marijuana science increasingly clarified what was already apparent, which is that the various harms we were concerned that marijuana might be causing are not, in fact, caused by marijuana use, but most of them involve inflammation, with which marijuana can help.

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King’s College London Causes Psychosis (with anti-marijuana propaganda)

Psychosis is a state of aberrant salience in which faulty perceptions (hallucinations) and faulty beliefs (delusions) combine to produce problematic behaviour. Many researchers around the world are studying this phenomena to try to alleviate it, but at least one faculty is pretending to study it in order to engineer a panic about a plant which psychotic patients often find to be extremely useful, but which it is politically expedient to blame. Psychosis Studies at King’s College London has released numerous studies which betray fundamental failures of understanding regarding the condition in their faculty’s title, especially the role of negative symptoms in psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. It is hard to be sympathetic towards these failures, when their interpretations combine wilful use of stigmatising language, misdirection and exaggeration to try to disprove the fact that their patients sometimes use tobacco and marijuana because they find them to be helpful, and to “prove” on the contrary that these plants are the cause of the harms in question, using studies incapable of showing causation. In this article I will review just three such studies, although their other material is riddled with the same problems.

Let’s start with a study in which they contradicted themselves in their own abstract, displaying a shocking lack of willingness to listen to their patients or honestly consider their reasons for use:

Kolliakou A, Castle D, Sallis H, Joseph C, O’Conner J, Wiffen B, Gayer-Anderson C, McQueen G, Taylor H, Bonaccorso S, Gaughran F, Smith S, Greenwood K, Murray R, Di Forti M, Atakan Z, Ismail K. 2015. “Reasons for cannabis use in first-episode psychosis: Does strength of endorsement change over 12 months?” European Psychiatry 30(1): 152-159

To excerpt from the abstract: “At each time-point, patients endorsed ‘enhancement’ followed by ‘coping with unpleasant affect’ and ‘social motive’ more highly for their cannabis use than any other reason… Little support for the self-medication or alleviation of dysphoria models was found. Rather, patients rated ‘enhancement’ most highly for their cannabis use”

Positive psychotic symptoms do not occur in a vacuum, but are associated with negative symptoms, which generally precede by years the onset of first episode psychosis. Negative symptoms consist of absences, such as cognitive impairment, anhedonia or lack of motivation. These are primary sources of suffering for people with psychotic disorders, and arguably constitute “the core of the disorder,” at least if that disorder is schizophrenia. Relief from negative symptoms — enhancement, coping with unpleasant affect, etc — is therefore extremely important, and it’s ridiculous to say that patients’ endorsements for enhancement do not support self-medication. What they found was that their patients find cannabis to alleviate the core symptoms of their condition; what they reported was that self-medication can be rejected, on the basis of which we are to conclude that the relative increase in use among prodromal schizophrenics is proof that marijuana use causes schizophrenia, a hypothesis for which there is a mountain of countervailing evidence they do not consider.

Now let’s look at their work which compares users who prefer relatively stimulating, high THC marijuana over relatively relaxing formulations such as hash:

Di Forti M, Marconi A, Carra E, Fraietta S, Trotta A, Bonomo M, Bianconi F, Gardner-Sood P, O’Conner J, Russo M, Stilo S, Marques T, Mondelli V, Dazzan P, Pariante C, David A, Gaughran F, Atakan Z, Iyegbe C, Powell J, Morgan C, Lynskey M, Murray R. 2015. “Proportion of patients in south London with first-episode psychosis attributable to use of high potency cannabis: a case control study” S2215-0366(14)00117-5

Although their sample showed no association between cannabis use and psychosis, they dichotomised the cannabis users into “skunk using” and “hash using” groups — using the term “skunk” to refer to relatively more stimulating bud (not to a specific strain), apparently only because that’s easier to stigmatise, since “skunk” sounds worse than, say, “girl scout cookies” — and showed that the rate of psychosis was somewhat higher in the “skunk using” group. As above, they reject self medication on the basis that THC does not alleviate positive symptoms of psychosis, while ignoring that it DOES alleviate NEGATIVE symptoms of psychotic disorders. They say: “That people who already have prodromal symptoms would choose a type of cannabis that is high in THC and has little cannabidiol (such as skunk), which might exacerbate their symptoms, rather than a cannabidiol-containing type (such as hash), would seem counterintuitive” — this is only counterintuitive if you completely ignore negative symptoms, and the fact that THC alleviates them. This would be more forgiveable if they hadn’t also published studies in which they had interviewed schizophrenics who TOLD them why they use it. Just to break it down really simply: people suffering from negative symptoms enjoy and value THC because it is stimulating, not because it is relaxing. You can’t in good faith reject “self medication” while ignoring self-medication for the symptoms that are actually the greatest source of suffering in the patients’ lives and only focusing on other symptoms for which, it’s true, THC is not effective, and can even exacerbate (while some people with psychotic symptoms value marijuana, others stay away from it; it makes it worse for some and helps for others). It’s not “counterintuitive” that people in a prodromal period  — those for whom positive symptoms are not yet overwhelming — prefer stimulating cannabis over relaxing cannabis. I would accuse Psychosis Studies at King’s College London of incompetence, but their use of the stigmatising term “skunk,” combined with this flagrant disregard for the well being of their patients has eroded all my sympathy for them, and so instead I’ll just call them corrupt, shameful propagandists actively hurting the public by manipulating data to create undue concern. At that, they are not incompetent, but apparently quite adept.

and now the new study that came out this week:

Rigucci S, Marques T, Di Forti M, Taylor H, Dell’Acqua F, Mondelli V, Bonaccorso S, Simmons A, David A, Girardi P, Pariante C, Murray R, Dazzan P. 2015. “Effect of high-potency cannabis on corpus callosum microstructurePsychological Medicine Published online November 27 2015

As in the above study, they dichotomised users with a preference for stimulating cannabis from users with a preference for relaxing cannabis, and looked for evidence of differences in brain structure between the groups, finding a very small difference in the corpus callosum. That is, users with a preference for stimulating cannabis have 2% thinner corpus callosa than users with a preference for relaxing cannabis. The difference is too small to realistically consider as damage, and the study cannot show causation, but it’s assumed that any difference at all must be proof of harm, and so causation is assumed. The title even says “effect of high-potency cannabis on corpus callosum microstructure,” despite no evidence that this was an “effect of high-potency cannabis,” as opposed to an effect of a slightly thinner corpus callosum making users more likely to prefer relatively stimulating forms of cannabis, or some form of confounding (for example, they did not control for childhood trauma, which is known both to damage the corpus callosum and to greatly increase the rate of marijuana dependence among its survivors).

They conclude:
“Since high-potency preparations are now replacing traditional herbal drugs in many European countries, raising awareness about the risks of high-potency cannabis is crucial.”

Setting aside the fact that cannabis IS a traditional herbal drug, listed in every pharmacopoeia ever written (excluding those pressured to exclude it during the war on drugs), claiming their finding as a “risk of high potency cannabis” is indefensible. There is no scientific justification for their position. Prematurely claiming harm simply because you found — in a small, badly controlled study –that a small difference in one area correlates with one preference as opposed to another will only raise alarm, and make people who are not at risk think they are at risk, or even to create risk where it wasn’t previously by promoting nocebo effects, and inevitably iatrogenic harm.

I conclude:
The faculty of Psychosis Studies at King’s College London is encouraging harmful delusions, to the detriment of everybody. Since we are at a moment of redefining laws governing access to this plant, raising awareness about the actual reasons why people use it, and its actual effects, is crucial. Ignorant and inflammatory anti-marijuana propaganda of this ilk should no longer be tolerated. If psychosis researchers don’t understand what negative symptoms are or why the stimulating effects of THC might be relevant to them, they should have no business writing about the “effects of high potency cannabis” while displaying a name so prestigious as King’s College. If King’s College would like to retain its prestigious status, and not be associated with this sort of indefensible nonsense, this faculty should be defunded immediately.

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Studies showing corpus callosum damage in childhood trauma survivors:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12460690
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15465292
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16730374/
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3229094/
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18296031

Studies showing that marijuana alleviates negative symptoms:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15374573
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12111342
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1543037
http://schizophreniabulletin.oxfordjournals.org/content/16/1/69.full.pdf
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23624489
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15354183

Can we please stop assuming that marijuana is harmful to young people?

This is a controversial topic, and it’s important that we look at the evidence, and not simply rest on our assumptions or politics. We do not want young people to use anything which is likely to harm them or interfere in their development; we also do not want to prevent young people from accessing anything which could protect them from harm or improve their quality of life. But which is marijuana? Is it good for the health, bad for the health, or both? Does the answer to that question depend on the age of the user?

Is there any proof that marijuana is bad for the health of its users?

Short answer: No.

Many types of pathology have been suspected of being caused by marijuana use or overuse, but so far none of them have stood up to empirical investigation. This is not for lack of trying.  Three examples:

Throat/Lungs:
It’s intuitively obvious that habitual smoke inhalation would damage the throat and lungs, and habitual tobacco smoking certainly does. But after decades of research, it has become obvious that any damage from marijuana itself is clinically insignificant. Long term heavy users have actually been found on average to have greater lung capacities than non-users. They also exhale marginally more slowly, and since bronchitis is diagnosed by measuring the ratio between lung capacity and rate of exhalation, they are slightly more likely to meet the technical criteria for bronchitis, but this effect is driven primarily by *increased lung capacity* and it is dishonest to claim as proof of harm. Throat irritation and a cough however are real side effects, though rarely severe enough to be clinically significant. Avoiding this irritation is the main advantage of switching to vaporisers instead of smoking, but, for many smokers, the irritation remains an acceptable side effect, and evidence of long term harm is lacking. (1,2)

Diabetes:
The munchies are not a myth (although not everyone gets them, and marijuana actually reduces appetite in a minority of users); on average, marijuana users eat ~50% more calories than non-users, sometimes gorging on “junk” foods. This would increase risk for Type II diabetes, were it not for marijuana’s anti-inflammatory and regulatory effects, which appear to protect the pancreas from damage. Several large epidemiological studies have now reported that there is no association, or a negative association, between marijuana use and diabetes. Marijuana users are evidently able to eat more food than non-users with less harm to the pancreas. (3,4,5)

Brain Damage:
Heavy use of marijuana often makes people feel foggy in the head, can slow reaction time, and moderately impairs some memory functions, so it seems reasonable to infer that this is related to damage. What people often do not realise, however, is that brain damage — whether triggered by a head injury, a virus, a seizure or emotional abuse — is mediated by excitotoxicity, which is when neurons are excited to the point that they fry themselves out. Marijuana reduces brain activity through multiple convergent mechanisms, and dramatically increases the activity of the system the brain uses to protect against excito-toxicity (the endocannabinoid system). This protects against brain damage, and there are many studies to prove it, and no studies which demonstrate brain damage from any level of marijuana use at any age: the brains of even very heavy long term users are no worse off than those of non-users. Marijuana users are even more likely to survive head injuries sustained in car accidents. The reason people are concerned about marijuana’s brain effects is precisely because it reduces activity, but it’s too MUCH activity which causes brain damage, not too little. In other words, not only is there no empirical evidence that marijuana causes brain damage in humans, it is also not biologically plausible that it would. (6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13)

It’s important to stress that the burden of proof is on the positive position, which is the claim that marijuana is causing harm. Absence of evidence should mean absence of concern — public policy should not be founded on the assumption that marijuana is causing harms which are both empirically and theoretically unsupported, despite decades of extensive research funded by organisations such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse. If it was harmful, wouldn’t they have proven it by now?

Is there a critical window of vulnerability in which young people are at risk if they use marijuana?

Short answer: No.

Despite the well documented absence of harm from marijuana use, the possibility has been suggested — and frequently repeated, not only by prohibitionists but also as a concession by marijuana advocates wishing to appear moderate — that teenagers might be experiencing harm from using even if adults are not. Increased concern about effects (of anything) on children makes sense, because anything which could interfere in ongoing neurodevelopment will have a ripple effect, and earlier exposure could have more negative effects than later exposure. This is certainly true of trauma: traumatic experiences in early childhood lead to more diverse symptoms and worse outcomes than traumas later in life. Unlike trauma, however, use of marijuana at an early age is not associated with cognitive impairment or poor health outcomes at a later age once other factors are controlled for. Trauma is, however, strongly associated with early onset of marijuana use, and especially with marijuana dependence, and so studies which examine people who became dependent on marijuana at an early age sometimes find evidence of trauma-related pathology when these people are compared with healthy controls. That is presented as evidence that marijuana is causing harm, even though the harms in question are not found in the majority of early-onset users, or even in the majority of heavy users, but only the most dependent early-onset users, and only in studies which did not control for trauma. Once childhood trauma is taken into consideration (unfortunately, it is usually ignored), the association between early marijuana use and harm evaporates. (14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22)

Obviously, the health of young people is very important, and we should not be overly hasty to dismiss possible risks. But there is no proof of any kind of harm at any age from any level of marijuana use, and it is dishonest to insist that there is. Thus there is no empirically sound public health argument for restricting marijuana availability or preventing young people from using it. Anybody who wishes to disagree would do well to perform a review of the literature with the confound of trauma in mind. If you would like more detail, citations, and in depth discussion of each of the harms spuriously associated with early-onset marijuana dependence (brain damage, depression, schizophrenia and IQ decline), contact me and I will furnish you with all you need. There is much to say, but for this article I’m trying to keep things brief: the bottom line is that nobody has ever clearly shown that teenagers who use marijuana are any worse off on average than if they had not used it.

Does marijuana help with stress and trauma-related pathology?

Short answer: Yes.

That marijuana has anti-inflammatory properties and can assist in stress relief is widely known. However, the relevance of these facts to the question of pathology has not been properly considered by most writers on the subject. Childhood trauma is strongly associated with all of the harms spuriously associated with marijuana use, and these harms are driven by neuro-inflammation, which marijuana use reduces. It’s helpful to understand the system marijuana works upon, the endocannabinoid system, which is a system the brain uses to protect itself from inflammation and excitotoxicity. Chronic stress however can cause this system to fail, producing an endocannabinoid deficiency which allows damage to proliferate. Marijuana’s main effect is boosting the activity of this system, which can compensate for or reverse the loss of feedback inhibition associated with chronic stress and trauma. This is why so many people with traumatic childhoods are dependent on marijuana: it helps. The critical question, then, is whether excessive marijuana use can cause the endocannabinoid system to downregulate, leading to a loss of this protection, but, even though this is often claimed by organisations such as NIDA, their own data shows it not to be the case. Marijuana use does not suppress the endocannabinoid system, it enhances it, and this make it extremely useful in inflammatory conditions, such as those related to trauma and chronic stress. (23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30)

Childhood trauma explains the modestly elevated pathology observed in cannabis-dependent adolescents. It explains why they begin using it, why they sometimes become dependent on it, why they have brain damage which sometimes turns up in badly designed studies trying to look for marijuana effects without controlling for trauma, and an examination of the mechanisms involved reveals no biologically plausibility that marijuana is worsening any of these conditions.

So can we please stop saying that it harms children when there’s no evidence of that, and when there’s much clearer evidence that it’s helping?

And can we please not design legislation which makes preventing young people from accessing it a goal in and of itself?

It’s high time we actually focused on improving outcomes for people at risk, and stopped blaming their problems on the things they find helpful.

Short Bibliography (click for full bibliography, with or without excerpts/annotations)

(1) Tashkin DP. 2013. “Effects of Marijuana Smoking on the Lung” Annals of the American Thoracic Society 10(3):239-247

(2) Kempker J, Honig E, Martin G. 2014. “Effects of marijuana exposure on expiratory airflow: a study of adults who participated in the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Study” Ann Am Thorac Soc [epub ahead of print]

(3) Rajavashisth TB, Shaheen M, Norris KC, Pan D, Sinha SK, Ortega J, Friedman TC. 2012. “Decreased prevalance of diabetes in marijuana users: cross-sectional data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III” BMJ Open 2:e000494

(4) Le Strat Y, Le Foll B. 2011. “Obesity and Cannabis Use: Results from 2 Representative National Surveys” American Journal of Epidemiology doi: 10.1093/aje/kwr200

(5) Rodondi N, Pletcher MJ, Liu K, Hulley SB, Sidney S. 2006. “Marijuana use, diet, body mass index and cardiovascular risk factors (from the CARDIA study)” American Journal of Cardiology 15;98(4): 478-84

(6) Weiland B, Thayer R, Depue B, Sabbineni A, Bryan A, Hutchison K. 2015. “Daily marijuana use is not associated with brain morphometric results in adolescents or adults” Neurobiology of Disease 35(4): 1505-1512

(7) Fagan S, Campbell V. 2013. “The influence of cannabinoids on generic traits of neurodegeneration.” British Journal of Pharmacology 2014: 171; 1347-1360

(8) Sánchez-Blázquez P, Rodríguez-Muñoz M, Vicente-Sánchez A, Garzón J. 2013. “Cannabinoid receptors couple to NMDA receptors to reduce the production of NO and the mobilization of zinc induced by glutamate” Antioxid Redux Signal 19(15): 1766-1782

(9) Nguyen B, Kim D, Bricker S, Bongard F, Neville A, Putnam B, Smith J, Plurad D. 2014. “Effect of marijuana use on outcomes in traumatic brain injury” Am Surg 80(10): 979-83

(10) Katona I, Freund T. 2008. “Endocannabinoid signaling as a synaptic circuit breaker in neurological disease” Nat Med 14(9): 923-30

(11) Tzilos G, Cintron C, Wood J, Simpson N, Young A, Pope H Jr, Yurgelun-Todd D. 2005. “Lack of hippocampal volume change in long-term heavy cannabis users” Am J Addict 14(1):64-72

(12) Block R, O’Leary D, Ehrhardt J, Augustinack J, Ghoneim M, Arndt S, Hall J. 2000. “Effects of frequent marijuana use on brain tissue and composition” Neuroreport 11(3): 491-6

(13) DeLisi L, Bertisch H, Szulc K, Majcher M, Brown K, Bappal A, Ardekani B. 2006. “A preliminary DTI study showing no brain structural change associated with adolescent cannabis use.” Harm Reduct J 3: 17

(14) Cornelius J, Kirisci L, Reynolds M, Clark D, Hayes J, Tarter R. 2009. “PTSD contributes to teen and young adult cannabis use disorders” Addictive Behaviors 35(2):91-94

(15) Butters J. 2002. “Family stressors and adolescent cannabis use: a pathway to problem use” J Adolesc 25(6): 645-54

(16) Hyman S, Sinha R. 2009. “Stress-Related Factors in Cannabis Use and Misuse: Implications for Prevention and Treatment” J Subst Abuse Treat 36(4): 400-413

(17) Barnes G, Barnes M, Patton D. 2005. “Prevalence and predictors of “heavy” marijuana use in a Canadian youth sample” Subst Use Misuse 40(12): 1849-63

(18) Murphy J, Houston J, Shevlin M, Adamson G. 2013. “Childhood sexual trauma, cannabis use and psychosis: statistically controlling for pre-trauma psychosis and psychopathology” Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 48:853-861

(19) Dube SR, Felitti VJ, Dong M, Chapman DP, Giles WH, Anda RF. 2003. “Childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction and the risk of illicit drug use: the adverse childhood experiences study.” Pediatrics 111(3):564-72

(20) Gupta M. 2013. “Review of somatic symptoms in post-traumatic stress disorder” Int Rev Psychiatry 25(1): 86-99

(21) D’Andrea W, Ford J, Stolbach B, Spinazzola J, van der Kolk B. 2012. “Understanding Interpersonal Trauma in Children: Why We Need a Developmentally Appropriate Trauma Diagnosis” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 82(2): 187-200

(22) Kaffman A. 2009. “The Silent Epidemic of Neurodevelopmental Injuries” Biol Psychiatry 66(7): 624-626

(23) Alshaarawy O, Anthony J. 2015. “Cannabis smoking and serum C-reactive protein: a quantile regressions approach based on NHANES 2005-2010” Drug Alcohol Depend 147: 203-207

(24) Gaffal E, Cron M, Glodde N, Tuting T. 2013. “Anti-inflammatory activity of topical THC in DNFB-mediated mouse allergic contact dermatitis independent of CB1 and CB2 receptors” Allergy68(8): 994-1000

(25) Cabral G, Raborn E, Griffin L, Dennis J, Marciano-Cabral F. 2008. “CB2 receptors in the brain: role in central immune function” Br J Pharmacol 153(2): 240-251

(26) Greer G, Grob C, Halberstadt A. 2014 “PTSD symptom reports of patients evaluated for the New Mexico medical cannabis program” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 46(1): 73-77

(27) Neumeister A, Normandin M. 2013. “Elevated Brain Cannabinoid CB1 Receptor Availability in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Positron Emission Tomography Study” Molecular Psychiatry 18(9): 1034-1040

(28) Passie T, Emrich H, Karst M, Brandt S, Halpern J. 2012. “Mitigation of post-traumatic stress symptoms by Cannabis resin: a review of the clinical and neurobiological evidence” Drug Test Anal 4(7-8):649-59

(29) Rossi S, de Chiara V, Musella A, Kusayanagi H, Mataluni G, Bernardi G, Usiello A, Centonze D. 2008. “Chronic psychoemotional stress impairs cannabinoid-receptor-mediated control of GABA transmission in the striatum” J Neurosci 28(29): 7284-92

(30) McPartland J, Guy G, Di Marzo V. 2014. “Care and feeding of the endocannabinoid system: a systematic review of potential clinical interventions that upregulate the endocannabinoid system” PLOS ONE 9(3) e89566

Post-script
I acknowledge that marijuana is not useful in every situation, that some people react badly to it and should not use it, and that young people should be educated about appropriate and inappropriate dosage strategies, and not simply encouraged to use all day every day. However, I insist that our focus should be on preventing trauma and alleviating its effects, not on denying access to a plant which many trauma survivors, of any age, find to be incredibly helpful. If future study reveals conclusive evidence of harm, I will gladly revise my position accordingly, but the more evidence emerges, the less plausible that seems. If it was harmful, there would be proof by now. Don’t pretend that this is totally uncharted territory — thousands of studies have been performed, and yet the claims of harm remain unsupported. It’s time we stopped assuming and insisting that marijuana has health effects which it demonstrably does not have.

Rob Ford is not an Addict; Rob Ford is a Monster

Insightfully missing the point in a recent article titled “Rob Ford: a dubious grasp on recovery fundamentals,” Jim Coyle of the Toronto Star examined our illustrious mayor’s behaviour and statements on his return from rehab, and found them to be inconsistent with the narrative of an addict in recovery.

Says Coyle: “About his experience in rehab, the mayor recited only bromides and generics. This was unusual. Virtually all rehab grads have moments of clarity, small epiphanies, those times when they get it. These are usually heart-scalding. And hardly a rehab grad speech is made without a man or woman telling of an instance deeply meaningful to them. Ford has had nothing of the kind to say. Likewise, he had almost nothing specific to say about the behavioural changes that will be necessary to live sober — the mundane nuts and bolts in which rehabs specialize. … The most screaming silence of all, of course, was his failure to specifically mention his children or wife — who, if they are like most every other family to have walked this path, will have suffered most from his addiction. Most every parent who goes into rehab has a searing moment when they realize just how much pain they’ve caused loved ones. It causes our greatest grief. It inspires our greatest determination to get well and get it right. Most every parent coming out of rehab dedicates themselves, above all, to being better fathers or mothers.”

Long story short, Rob Ford’s recovering addict performance was unconvincing. Coyle seems to think that Ford is addicted, but not recovered. I suspect, however, that it goes deeper than that: Rob Ford, though a problem drinker, was never truly addicted in the first place. The defining feature of addiction is akrasia: using against one’s better judgement. Wanting to stop, but being unable to stop. It is not the same as merely having a drug/alcohol problem, as drugs and alcohol can cause serious problems even in the absence of an addiction, and, indeed, one can be addicted without having suffered any dramatic harm (and most users of every popular drug are not addicted and will never be seriously harmed by their use). Rob Ford was not constantly drunk, but was prone to binges, and in his excess frequently got himself into trouble. The claim that he has an addiction, as far as I can tell, was never substantiated, but was taken for granted since the news first came out about the crack video. There was, at that time, some debate about whether the allegations about using crack were correct. There was, however, no debate about what crack use signifies.

Did someone said crackIn the white middle/upper class imagination, crack has long provided a convenient transfer point by which the responsibility for racial inequities could be shifted from white society (racism) to black people themselves, via the proxy of a drug. Crack thus inherited the legacies of slavery and systematic discrimination. Faithful to these roots, its criminal prosecution has brought terrible violence against already severely marginalised people. In the United States, prior to the Obama administration, crack cocaine was punishable 100 times as severely as powdered cocaine (under Obama, that ratio was lessened to 18 to 1), even though crack and powder cocaine are literally the same drug, different only in means of ingestion (and therefore in rate of absorption). Powdered cocaine, however, is associated with rich whites, and crack cocaine is associated with poor blacks. As those incarcerated in the United States are required to work, often under threat of increased sentences or even solitary confinement, disproportionate prosecution of the War on Drugs against young black males has ensured a steady supply of slave labour for American manufacturing. To justify these practices, crack has been repeatedly vilified, its harms conflated with those of endemic poverty and malnutrition. Discrimination is covered up by medicalisation, turning a moral problem into personal problem, poverty into criminality and then into disease. Rob Ford, however, is not black, nor is his family poor. To the gentrifiers who dominate this city, for a white mayor to be a crack user was incomprehensible — it didn’t match the script for either mayors or crack users. Much of the ensuing scandal revolved around race, with Ford casting himself as white saviour while simultaneously uttering bigoted comments, repeatedly accused of racism but also of having inappropriately appeared in photographs with people whose appearance marks them as outsiders to be avoided. He got high with people from whom he was supposed to be hiding, and it blew everyone’s minds.

Should we have been so surprised? While “a whopping 85 percent of those sentenced for crack cocaine offenses were black … the majority of users of the drug were white.” (Hart, 2014) Most of what most of us think we know about crack is completely untrue. For example, there never was a crack baby epidemic. It’s not that crack is totally safe; there can be significant health effects from regular crack smoking, but they’ve been vastly overstated in drug war propaganda, and so the public has a very distorted image of its effects and users. One of the lies we’ve been told is that crack is instantaneously addictive: try it once and you’ll become mindless, incapable of making rational choices, forever consumed by the hunger for crack. To see if this were actually the case, psychologist Carl Hart performed an experiment in which crack users were given the choice of crack now, or a monetary reward some hours later. If the mindless-crackhead model were accurate, no amount of money would have been enough to outweigh the option of getting high right now — but, in the experiment, $20 was a sufficient reward for every single crack user to delay gratification. If only $5 was offered, sometimes they’d choose the crack, provided there was enough of it. This makes it clear that crack users can rationally consider their options and refrain from using if there’s a better option available. Moreover, most people who use crack do not become addicted to it, and even if they end up struggling with addiction, they can still weigh options and choose appropriately. Addiction is a conflict of values, where the good parts about getting high, though outweighed by the bad parts, are still serving an important function which cannot be so easily released, and this conflict can expand and take over entire lives, or even entire communities. Rob Ford, however, is not even addicted — or, at least, there’s no evidence that he is. We simply found out that he’s used crack and immediately assumed he must be addicted, because we’ve been lied to for decades in the hopes that the slavery of black people might thrive uncontested.

I don't always smoke crack

Rob Ford’s behaviour has been problematic, to say the least. His comments and actions have been homophobic, racist, abusive and reckless, and his drinking has surely played a central role in that. There is much about him many of us we would like very much to sweep under the rug, and the narrative of addiction provides a convenient way of doing exactly that. By calling him an “addict,” we strip his actions of authenticity. If he was addicted, that means he was going against his own will, and so the struggling human can be separated from its body’s actions. This also functions collectively: by marking certain behaviours as “those of an addict,” we can place them outside of our collective self-concept (we’re not like that; he’s just sick). The realities that a great many people actually want to have an ignorant bigot for mayor, and that someone with power might actually like to get high (and not be conflicted and contrite about it), are harder to swallow than the old story that sometimes people go down bad paths in their lives and do awful things in spite of themselves. “Addiction” is, among other things, a script we can assume he’s following if we want to ignore what he actually is. And what is he?

A monster is a creature which exists across categories, which cannot be accounted for under the dominant system of thought, and which therefore threatens destabilisation, provoking a reaction of fear and hatred. It comes from the Latin verb for “to remind”: monsters demonstrate. In colloquial English, it also means an unredeemable villain, one guilty of cruelty and identified with the grotesque. A monster is the unthinkable and inescapable. For an addict to have made errors only to find a path to recovery and redemption would put everything in its proper place and reaffirm the social order — the gentrification of Rob Ford, defusing his potency. The definitional requirement of addiction, however, is simply absent: political manoeuvring aside, there was never any indication that Rob Ford actually wanted to stop but found himself unable to; I posit that he never wanted to stop at all: he simply likes getting drunk and high. Thus, he is a monster, haphazardly crossing the lines of race and class, revelling unreflexively in the violation of every Torontonian taboo.

frankeinford

Does he seem like he’s recovering? To quote again from Jim Coyle, “There was nothing of the vitality and enthusiasm that most rehab grads have on release, the gratitude for a new lease on life, the eagerness to get on with showcasing the new and improved us. He seemed like someone who had just lost his best friend. … he seemed still to be grieving.” We must now consider the possibility that Rob Ford was able to sustain his exuberance and civic engagement in the face of constant and vicious attacks not in spite of but because of his substance use. What seemed like a politically expedient move — admitting to a non-existent addiction so as to follow a simple narrative and regain public trust — has now failed. His recovery was a lie, and he has been made weaker by the effort. It may be that without the stimulating secret to his powers he will simply fade away. More likely, however, is that we have not yet born witness to the great and terrible fruition of his monstrosity, and he will soon return to shock us all once more. I can only hope that he will not do so in a way that is materially damaging to this fair city, and that he will not regain power in the upcoming election. Vote Sketchy.

If the purpose of a monster is to show unrealised possibilities for greater understanding hidden in the cracks between categories, what promises lie hidden within the ample flesh of our notorious mayor? The (well founded) accusations of racism on his part, combined with condemnation expressed towards him for associating with poor black people, perhaps, hold the key. By indulging wilfully in what we wrongly assumed was reserved for the underclass, he has crossed a boundary, forcibly inserting black poverty and drug use into the branding of a “post racial” city in the throes of gentrification. Here, as elsewhere, race continues to inform practices of marginalisation.  We have supported policies of genocide against First Nations, and we have allowed the descendants of slavery to be enslaved once again under completely false pretences, blamed for the problems endemic in their communities, problems which stem from structural forces which meanwhile buoy the status of middle and upper class white Americans and Canadians such as Rob Ford. Perhaps, instead of constantly falling over ourselves to express disingenuous sympathy for Rob Ford’s “condition,” we should work to change the systemic factors responsible for establishing the narrative by which we have misjudged his conduct. Addressing endemic poverty among marginalised populations is a daunting problem and will not be simple, nor will it happen without resistance, yet it is necessary. Allow me therefore to close with two concrete suggestions for how to move forward:

1) Abolish the prison system, and pay reparations to those who’ve borne its abuses.

2) Design and implement a mincome-type system to eliminate poverty.

Before the drunk god fought Darius against Kay and Zach against Zach

before the drunk god

Late Wednesday night, I received an invitation from one Zach Ruiter, a controversial activist (accused of misrepresenting, manipulating and betraying indigenous communities he worked with).

Hereafter: Activist Zach

The event he invited me to was being organised by one Zach Paikin, a controversial young Liberal (accused of participation in rape culture — publicly apologised for — and unexamined privilege)

Hereafter: Liberal Zach

Name of host organisation: The Rosedale Club.

Time/Date: 8 PM, Thursday April 18th

Dress code: suit and tie mandatory for men

Party format: scotch, cigars and political conversation.

Topic: aboriginal issues

Honoured speaker: National Post columnist Jonathan Kay.

Activist Zach’s beef:

The twistedness of having a scotch drinking, tie wearing party to allow rich white people to talk about issues that affect communities where alcoholism is a major problem and in which poverty often precludes suit and tie ownership, without even inviting a speaker from those same communities to represent themselves.

Activist Zach’s solution:

Bring an angry Native hip hop artist to call out the whole Rosedale Club for racism and privilege, and invite a bunch of other activists to tag along for a bit of fun.

Mandatory

The Rosedale Club.

Who were they? Well, I didn’t know about them in particular, but Rosedale I know quite well. Single wealthiest neighbourhood in Canada. Old money. Average personal income for the neighbourhood? Well over $200,000. Average household income? More like $440,000. Liberal Zach’s father’s income for 2012? $307,539.

I grew up around these people. From the ages of 5 to 13 I lived in Moore Park, and often hung out with my friend Tupac a ten minute walk away in Rosedale. I played cello in the Mooredale String Orchestra. Rosedale… my neighbours growing up, and my current employers (I’ve done landscaping at four residences there many times). And you’re telling me there’s a party where I can go dress up, drink their scotch and smoke their cigars? And Activist Zach is going to come make a scene? And his nemesis, Liberal Zach, is a graduate student in the Munk School of Global Affairs, the very organisation I rejected my degree to protest?

Relevant personal backstory:

On April 8th I’d returned to Canada from Guatemala. While there, I acquired from a Mayan shopkeeper the wooden mask of a stern, powerfully bearded man, only realising some hours later that it both closely resembles me (at an older age), and is an idol of a local deity: Maximon, affiliated with Judas Iscariot. Mayan god of tobacco, alcoholism, marital infidelity and revenge, among other things.

The constricted man, powerful to free himself: Tobacco Simon

MaximonIdol

… and the Rosedale Club is having a tobacco and alcohol party to talk about aboriginal issues? For which some activists want revenge? And I’ve been invited to come troll as part of the entourage of a guest speaker? And a suggested $10 donation covers unlimited cigars and scotch? 

Well now! By Judas, Maximon and I had a party to go to!

Costume:

My most colourful pants (ropas tipicas de Solola).

A jagged metal necklace cut from the G20 security fence.

A piece of a buffalo tooth shattered on the same.

Black shirt.

Suit jacket.

My father’s tie.

My old Riff Raff shoes from my Rocky Horror years.

Senegalese mahogany cane.

Twisted red hat with black and white Guatemalan band, freshly washed and retwisted

I was stoked. The hilarity was simply unavoidable. With this mix of players, ANYTHING that could happen would end up being completely absurd. Oh the lulz… my last post online before leaving: “time to shenan again”

My father’s comment to me after hearing my plan and seeing my costume: “I love your life!”

Mask1

Disclaimer:

I did not take any notes, have not conducted subsequent interviews, did not use a recording device, and I was drinking and smoking. The details below cannot be more accurate than my no doubt exemplary memory.

The Players Gather

I rode the subway from Coxwell to Spadina, during which time I said “buenes noches!” (a Spanish nighttime greeting) to about 8 people and had actual conversations with two. Got off, rounded the corner, saw the activists waiting for more people at the intersection and ducked into a coffee shop for a caffeinating kickstart. I bought and quickly drank a cappuccino and then met up with a very confused group being greeted at once by both my foolishness and by a very enthusiastic, well groomed young man in a suit and tie, telling us we were early but we should come to his place anyway and get started because it’s his place and why not? Most of us were wearing ties, so he thanked us profusely for coming in costume (?). We walked a block north and came across what appeared to be… a bunch of young nerds in suits?

Let’s pause for a second to look at a couple of the brilliantly incisive posters Activist Zach had prepared so as to raise the discourse and get us thinking in the kind of nuanced, open minded way that could help these clearly very powerful people to reexamine the situation in the world and work toward doing things in a better way that could benefit everyone instead of just taking everything for themselves.

Privilege

Hm, yes. Yes I do. Though in fairness, two of the men pictured don’t identify as white but as Middle Eastern, which apparently isn’t white anymore/again? They could certainly pass as white, regardless of how they identify. Anyway, having met with and smiled next to powerful men seemed to be one of the worst sins Activist Zach could think to pin on Liberal Zach ahead of time, aside from all the sheer lulziness of the party itself. Content be damned; Activist Zach was indignant that suit wearing men are even allowed to talk to each other in their own homes. Surely they must be stopped. Social drinkers must never be allowed to talk about Aboriginal issues! Scandal!

Racist

Such compelling evidence! Subtle and well argued to be sure! Well armed with such brutally compelling and in depth commentary, Activist Zach and his friends arrived to confront Liberal Zach and his bunch of broke university students in their 20s having a powerful-person dress up party, throat-deep in satire and irony from its very conception. lol. What’d we expect? Actual honest to Jarvis Rosedale old money types? What we got was a bunch of middle and upper middle class Liberal party insiders having a good, old-fashioned “Bait the Conservatives” party, who had to their amazement managed to also bait a bunch of radicals this time as well. They hadn’t even planned to have an event about aboriginal issues at all… they’d merely planned to drink scotch and argue about politics with some Conservative guests. But when one of those guests announced that he wanted to talk about aboriginal issues, the activists declared them to be evil racists for not immediately cancelling the scotch. The online argument escalated, and what quickly emerged was a fiasco beyond anything the Rosedale Clubbers could have anticipated.

Why is it “The Rosedale Club”?

The name, “The Rosedale Club,” was meant to be ironic. The Rosedale Golf Club used to have signs saying “no dogs or jews,” and all the founding members of The Rosedale Club are Jewish. Calling it “The” Rosedale Club made it even better, making it sound somehow official, and synergising perfectly with the suits, ties and cigars. None of their three meetings so far have even been in Rosedale; the two men who’ve been hosting live in the Annex and the Beaches.  In the words of another guest, on looking in the bedroom, “nothing screams ruling elite like Star Wars bedsheets.” Probably the fact that the event was in a rental house in the Annex, not in Rosedale at all, should have been a tip off (it was not the house of Liberal Zach — whose family is indeed quite rich — but of one of the other Rosedale Clubbers, an indebted recent graduate with a useless and overpriced degree from the University of Toronto. A couple of years ago I lived in a similar house one block away; beautiful Victorian architecture notwithstanding, my rent was $600/month). Like making suits and ties mandatory, calling it The Rosedale Club succeeded in tricking us all into thinking the founders must be old money, and therefore that they should be paid attention to. And Activist Zach played right into it.

I didn’t take a thorough survey, but one man attending works as a pilot. Another works in construction. Another is a consultant who says he generally refuses to take Conservative clients. Most were graduate students studying a variety of subjects which in some way connect with politics. Liberal Zach was the only one from the Munk School, as far as I could gather. I was even reunited with a friend who I fondly remembered from a radio panel discussion we did together back when I rejected my degree (Yves Guillaume A. Messy, on the right in the following picture). I’d expected former neighbours… what I got were *current* neighbours: my peers.

Yves

This, of course, did not lessen the hilarity at ALL. It just meant that the hosts were in on the joke; they knew full well how ridiculous the whole thing was. They knew why I was laughing. They knew I was there to troll, and they were emphatically in favour of me doing so. They were trolling too! And they’d somehow gotten all these people with totally different perspectives and knowledge sets to the same party, to drink, smoke and talk respectfully and intelligently about the things we disagree on. Straight up Toronto stylz. All for a suggested donation of $10!

On money: they ended up with enough donations for a $23 profit on the night, and decided to donate the proceeds to a local aboriginal group, laughing about it as a joke PR move. “All [insubstantial] profits donated to…”; a perfect parody of the tokenistic philanthropy of the powerful people we were there to mock, who might poison the water and compensate for it by building a park for tourists. Nobody but the LCBO and tobacconist were paid; not the speakers, nor the organisers, nor our lovely assortment of photographers and writers.

How they managed to bait both Conservatives and Radicals at the same time:

It was the suit and tie dress code that did it. Stroke of party planning genius. By adorning themselves in status symbols (scotch, cigars, suits, ties), a group of Liberals were able to look rich enough that everyone treated them as if they were important. As if they weren’t just a bunch of underutilized young people, overeducated, in debt and disenfranchised by the very same mass alienation system that’s looming over the rest of us: neoliberal capitalism, which, in the words of Vandana Shiva, “makes Indians of us all.” A system which, it should be kept in mind, simultaneously rewards Toronto — and therefore everyone present, not just the whites — for having some citizens willing to profit massively by poisoning the groundwater and murdering the indigenous who object in countries like Guatemala and Papua New Guinea. Indigenous folk lose their land, we get fancy hospital equipment. Turns out, even if you’re a broke 20-something with no career prospects, if you can at least *look* like you might hold office or own a mining company, people take you seriously. A cigar and a suit can be all it takes. Symbols are powerful. Because of the ties, the Conservatives felt comfortable showing up. Because of the suits, the activists had something extra to be indignant about and therefore more reason to come. Suddenly we had Liberal party insiders, Radical hip hop artists and influential Conservatives all in the same space, drinking, smoking and talking. Recipe for an Epic Win.

Oh, the other thing about encouraging the men to wear suits and ties? Makes for some dashing photos.

Derek, Cameron, Darius

(from left to right: activist Derek Soberal, guest speaker Cameron Monkman, aka Young Jibwe, and Darius Mirshahi, aka Testament of “Test Their Logik”)

How it All Went Down

Liberal Zach had initially arranged for two powerful Conservatives to show up, speak and debate with the attending Liberals. The two speakers were to be former Progressive Conservative Premier of Ontario Ernie Eves, and National Post columnist Jonathan Kay. Then, Eves, perhaps sensing shenanigans, cancelled — leaving open a spot for Activist Zach to arrange for Cameron Munkman, aka hip hop artist Young Jibwe, to speak instead. Instead of listening to a former Tory Premier say what he thinks about aboriginal issues, we got an angry Native hip hop artist. Activist Zach’s idea was that he’d call the club out on racism and rip them a new one over it. Because we still didn’t have quite enough controversy, the Facebook wall for the event got so nasty that several people complained about feeling threatened until, as damage control, the event was made private, and some of the discussion deleted. Evidently, Cameron had never actually clicked “attending,” so this meant he could no longer see the event page. He assumed he’d been banned, and arrived ready for a fistfight, wondering whether the event might even have been cancelled altogether.

Showdown2

With Activist Zach manning the camera, Cameron confronted Liberal Zach, demanding an apology, only to be met by a bunch of conciliatory men in suits insisting that it was all a misunderstanding, and saying how they’re thrilled to have him and excited to hear what he has to say. One even professed to being a fan of his hip hop and podcasts. Cameron commented that finding a suit and tie to wear to a Rosedale party would be the last thing on his mind when he’s dealing with poverty and trying to help his people, and Liberal Zach responded that as a speaker Cameron can wear whatever he wants, and the dress code was just for fun anyway; it was never meant to be enforced. Meanwhile I stand in the background laughing at the whole situation, sporting my artifacts of freedom and control, displaying an idol of a Mayan god of vengeance in my right hand.

Mask4

The hilarity hit an early climax when Activist Zach engaged Liberal Zach directly. The whole interview, from my perspective, was completely absurd. Insipid questions, insipid answers. Highlight: Liberal Zach believes there’s no such thing as white privilege (and argues he’s not white but Jewish), falling back on how the Charter of Rights and Freedoms makes everything equal. Because, yeah, look how equal everyone is today, right? (btw, that’s the new drinking game: every time a Liberal mentions the Charter in the leadup to the next election, take a drink)

I wish I had images or a transcript of that interview to share, but I must wait for Activist Zach to edit and release his take on the event before I get to laugh at it again. Suffice it to say that neither Zach could have possibly played his part any better. The perfect face for The Rosedale Club, career politician to the bone, confronted by his antithesis, the career activist. And they even spell their names the same way! I defy anyone to ever perform more convincingly as an overprivileged career Liberal, or as a narrow-minded and self-righteous activist. Hats off to them both on their stellar pageantry.

Meanwhile, uncomprehended but somehow liked by both sides, Maximon and I stood in the background, cackling. But did he really just deny the existence of white privilege? This man, whose father made $307,539 last year, whose name can get Ernie Eves and John Tory to speak for free in front of his student group just by asking, thinks that his background has nothing at all to do with his power? I guess, to be fair, he is a student at the Munk School, so he probably never received a decent education. The worst that too much money can buy.

Mask2

Nearby, several activists congregated awkwardly at the side of the road, refusing to engage with any of the various friendly people present (behind me in above picture; note the crossed arms. I’m blocking the view of more people). They waited until people started to go inside for the beginning of the actual party (not just this road-side side-show), and then started throwing eggs at the house. Keeping it classy as always, Toronto.

Cameron, profoundly embarrassed, apologised repeatedly for the disrespectful conduct of his “comrades,” by this point talking about how earlier he’d wanted to come here to fight someone but now he was happy to be here and impressed with how friendly and welcoming everyone was. Everyone seemed pretty much in agreement that egging the house was uncalled for, possibly with the exception of Activist Zach who wanted more “direct action,” disappointed that I’d opted to stand back and laugh my ass off rather than disrupt the event. Personally, I was unconvinced on a theatric level. If you’re going to troll, at least do it in a lulzy manner. Eggs while nobody is watching? Please. I can, and will, do better.

I took Maximon over to the selection of scotch, poured myself a nice large glass and gave a little to him before drinking from it myself. I placed his idol next to the “IDLE NO MORE” sign (pun intentional), directly behind where the speakers would speak. I lit a cigar and gave him some smoke. And then I left him there, to observe and background whatever would be said, while I drank, smoked and talked politics with a bunch of Liberals. 

Maximon mask

I told them about how I’d rejected my degree. I told them about Peter Munk and the Munk School of Global Affairs, the human rights violations and the corruption at the university. I was expecting conflict on this, but Liberal Zach said he hates the Munk School too (for different reasons than mine) and no longer wishes to be affiliated with them. He will still finish his degree, but will say he got his degree from the University of Toronto without specifying the Munk School. I guess resentful complicity is better than enthusiastic complicity? Maybe? Meh. We’re all still complicit merely by living in this city.

The event is called to order. Cameron gave an emotional speech in which he expressed both the gratitude and disgust he felt toward the others present, while making clear his rough background, the awful conditions some FN people are living with, and the absolute necessity for Canadian society to respect Native land claims. We all applauded him at several points.

Cameron

Then it was Jonathan Kay’s turn to speak (see image below). His talk focused on how people on reservations are currently at an economic disadvantage due to not being allowed to own their own homes, therefore having nothing to use as collateral against a loan, therefore unable to GET a loan, and therefore are in a worse position economically, whether for starting a business, building a “nest egg” for retirement. Their entire ability to participate in neoliberal capitalism hamstrung by the capitalist’s worst enemy: communal ownership. The solution, he believes, is integration into capitalism: give Native individuals the same right to own their own house as everyone else has. Then they can mortage it. Because I guess the real Indian problem is that they don’t currently owe enough to the banks, and if we could only do away with their collective land ownership, everything would be better. You know, like how things have improved all the other times we’ve taken land away from FN groups for all sorts of noble reasons which situated “us” with the education, suits and answers as separate from “them” who “we” need to come in and help. Because nothing is quite so helpful as having bankers take control of your land while getting a PR bump for doing things “in the Native community’s best interest.”

Speech

Darius immediately, well, tested this logic. He called Kay out for advocating policies which would over time lead to the loss of land for the communities concerned, and therefore the extinguishment of sovereignty, effectively destroying some First Nations altogether. The two went back and forth, both coming across as intelligent, widely knowledgeable and eloquent. Quite the contrast to the farcical Zach-off witnessed earlier, these two men, Darius and Kay, both had things of substance to say! Their essential difference was that Kay believes individual suffering should trump identity preservation, while Darius believes that it’s essential to protect FN control of their ancestral lands, and won’t sacrifice that just so a few more Natives can afford to retire in Florida, or whatever it is Kay thinks they should be doing with their home equity. More questions, more debate. Great discussion. Good mix of perspectives and opinions. Respect and openness all around. Some of us were pretty weird about the idea that neoliberal capitalism, a system currently in a state of crisis, is an appropriate solution to ANY problems, let alone endemic poverty in marginalised communities. But, hey, that’s what you get for inviting a Conservative over for scotch and arguments.

Cigar

Kay argued well that letting the banks own more Native land would help some people currently alive to lead better lives, but Darius countered that it’s more important to play the long game, to think in terms of seven generations from now; under Kay’s solution, he pointed out, the land would almost certainly belong to the banks within just two or three generations, rendering this neoliberal excuse for a “solution” completely unacceptable. This “solution” reiterates the long standing desire of some white Canadians to “solve the Indian problem” by forcibly removing any separation between Natives and the rest of society. Total assimilation. Perfect choice for an honoured guest! It was like 1899 all over again.

Next time let’s honour Darius instead.

Group photo time!

Racists

Aren’t we all so pretty in our suits and ties? Here I am practising my stern face. Grrr. Notice the copy of Watchmen on the bookshelf, and R2-D2 on the bedsheets in the background.

Shmoozing and boozing time! Great conversations with a number of insightful people. The fourth man from the left above taught me about the history of Somaliland, a small country which seceded from Somalia with a 97% vote in a referendum years ago, but which is still not recognised internationally. The woman in the centre and a couple others of us had a conversation about how we can work to prevent rape, focusing on teaching the values of consent, respect and physical autonomy. I also explained to several men what privilege is and why, yes, as white men living in Toronto we most certainly *are* at an advantage and should acknowledge that.

I for one love my privilege. It lets me get away with things, so I can shenan all I want and still traipse across borders without ever really getting hassled (well, so far). This is of course not exclusively because I’m white, but because of my class background, of which race is certainly an important part. My family might not have had the same money as our Moore Park and Rosedale neighbours, but we had the same ethnicity, so we fit right in. And I still do. I can treat residents of the wealthiest neighbourhood in Canada like my peers. I could be a Rosedale Club member unironically if I really wanted to. Of course my race is part of that, even though, yes, upper class black people have things way better than lower class whites. Race is an important factor, while class is most of the story.

Good conversations, good scotch, good party. One of the men described me as one of the most rational people he’d ever talked to. The few women present (there were five at first and only two later in the evening) seemed to have a great time, made great points and were listened to and included in the conversation (it says a lot about contemporary gender relations that I need to *specify* that the women participated and were listened to, doesn’t it?). Racial mix, pretty diverse… gender not so much. Notice that the dress code only applied to the men, the drink was a traditional “man’s drink,” we had a mandatory phallic symbols to wear around our necks, and secondary optional ones to suck on in our mouths.

Shmoozing

Wait, why is Liberal Zach ordering everyone to get/stay inside? Are you serious? Cameron is outside potentially fighting someone and the Liberals are scared?

Complex situation. Lots of intense emotions. Lots of people freaking out or feeling threatened. Here’s the consensus the shaking suited men inside seemed to have arrived at: Cameron, fresh off a recent family tragedy, received a call from his fiancee (or girlfriend?). She said something that upset him, and he almost took it out on his interlocutor, the young dorky host who’d been feeling like they’d really been seeing eye to eye and was profoundly disappointed that they didn’t get to talk more. A man named Ehssan tried to separate them, pushing Cameron. Cameron raised a fist. Everyone lost their shit. Liberals fled inside, activists gathered on the porch to try to calm Cameron down, drunk and upset for dozens of different reasons all at once. Darius, Activist Zach and Cameron remained huddled there for what felt like a long time while inside, visibly shaken drunk men in ties speculated about how they might be able to get people to safety, as if the now-crying Young Jibwe was going to chase us all down and kill us. Now, I felt bad for Cameron, and I could sympathise with the men who were shocked at even this mere hint of violence. Living in a neighbourhood like the Annex in downtown Toronto, you don’t often get threatened physically, so it’s understandable that they were rattled. Mostly, though, I thought the whole situation was hilarious. Completely unplanned, and through his own personal suffering (it was his lover, not even a guest, who’d really set him off), Cameron had actually succeeded in taking what was already a ridiculous evening to a whole new level, and succeeded in injecting into the bougie Liberal privilege bubble a taste of the pain and danger that he and his community deal with every day. Now it was not just words: now they were feeling it. I could not have scripted it better. It was energising, uncomfortable, illuminating and totally unforgettable.

I’m told that after he left, he was beaten by the Toronto Police near Kennedy Station. The well spoken Native man, the hip hop artist, Young Jibwe, fresh from drinking scotch and debating politics with a bunch of young Liberals, apologising for getting their house egged and then almost punching someone out before leaving and getting his shit kicked in by the cops.

What a night.

Thank you, Cameron, for your sacrifices.

Back at the party, more of the same as before. Good, in depth, respectful political discussions between people with differing viewpoints but lots of knowledge, patience to hear each other out, cigars and scotch all around. We even smoked a little Chocolate Thai before leaving — nobody objected in the slightest to the recreational burning of hemp flowers, although most of the group didn’t partake. I packed up the Mayan idol, left and rode the subway with two other revellers, continuing to talk about politics as we went. I walked one of them to his home in the Beaches and we agreed to meet for Ethiopian food or beer some time soon.

I wandered around the Beaches for a time, thinking thoughts, getting high, practising martial arts with my cane and making my way gradually back to Coxwell & Danforth, where a man in a sandwich shop said he was going to rape me and implied he already had another victim. I opted for getting the fuck away and calling the cops, although afterwards I considered whether the better thing to do might have been to simply brandish my weapon and confront him directly. I just don’t know.

As always, these things are complicated.

********************************************************************************

As a postscript, I’d like to refer you to an article written about the same party by someone who wasn’t there who figures it was all about white suprematism.

http://hughgoldring.blogspot.ca/2013/04/the-genteel-face-of-white-supremacy.html

and,  here’s a more informed piece also about the Rosedale Club, discussing privilege and race:

http://pleaserevise.tumblr.com/post/45227168765/being-the-white-guy-in-the-picture

Activist Zach’s no doubt stellar and utterly unbiased video is still forthcoming.

Cameron says he’s fine, just a little sore. And he said he liked this article when I sent him a recent draft. Woo!

In the matter of Darius against Kay, they both made good arguments, but I’m going to pick Darius as winner because, frankly, what Kay is advocating is an awful idea, and Darius demonstrated that quite effectively.

In the matter of Zach against Zach, they were both insipid, but I’m going to pick the Liberal as the winner, because, unlike the fanaticism of Activist Zach, Liberal Zach actually seemed open to and interested in listening and debating with people he currently disagrees with. Also, he was in on the lulz in a more meaningful way. He needs some serious educating, and needs to step outside of his privilege bubble, but he’s young. He doesn’t need to become Dalton McGuinty. Even if they look the same.

(none of the photos in this article were taken by me. Most were taken by Activist Zach, who was courteous enough to share them despite our disagreements. The rest were internet scavenged)

How Gays Marrying “Threatens” the Institution of Marriage

It has been often claimed, and the claim often ridiculed, that gays marrying threatens the institution of marriage. Proponents of marriage equality seem mystified by this: how could a marriage between two people constitute an attack on somebody else’s marriage? The usual interpretation is that the claim is merely repeated uncritically by bigots seeking to rationalise their bigotry, and this may often be the case. Gay marriage does, however, threaten the concept of marriage which some of its opponents hold, not because of the particular unions between any particular homosexuals, but rather because it represents and reinforces a change that has already taken place. By marrying, gays make it apparent what straight people are already doing, but which many traditionalists never approved of, seek to reject, and have until recently been able to mostly successfully ignore.

Gay couple

Many epistemic shifts have occurred in recent history, radically changing the way in which we conceive of society and relate to one another. Marriage we have come to view as the ratification of a love bond (“I love you, let’s get married!”), instead of as a contractual agreement geared toward the production of families. However it is conceived of, a particular marriage may or may not involve romantic love, and may or may not lead to the production of a “family,” and this remains true no matter what gender(s) the participants usually find sexually attractive: the transition has been in the perceived purpose of marriage. This transition has already taken place, but incompletely: one married couple I know chose each other largely arbitrarily, believing that marriage ought not to be predicated on a prior love relationship which is likely to change over time: a shaky foundation to be sure, absolute and eternal as it may feel. Indeed, many Christians (and others) were never part of the (mostly big city) culture in which the shift largely took place, or else have chosen to resist it. These are people who would balk at the notion that a couple would divorce because they don’t love each other anymore. The way we date and have sex (for pleasure!?) is shocking to them… but they don’t have to see it, and can go on mostly pretending it isn’t happening, that their way is the official, proper way.

Of course, once we began to see marriage as the recognition of love between two people, gay marriage became a logical necessity. If marriage is about love, then anyone who loves should be able to marry (unless lack of consent or other factors should intervene). But by legally recognising same sex unions, we entrench in law what was previously subtle: just as gay marriage follows naturally from the transition, so recognition of the transition follows naturally from legal gay marriage. No longer does the movement toward romantic love as the basis of marriage merely inhere in the practices and beliefs of some or even most couples; now it’s official, and part of the same legal framework that purports to grant legitimacy also to the marriages of the traditionalists. It has become obvious: the majority of contemporary marriages, hetero or otherwise, are radically removed from the “traditional” conception of marriage. This revelation has devastating consequences for the symbol systems of those who still hold to a different tradition, and until now thought that the legal system was an extension of their values. It is not. They do not control our ideas, or our definitions, or our behaviours. And they never really did, but now they can’t even pretend anymore.

Ignorance-is-Bliss

This is almost the same reason why some parents are uncomfortable with their children’s friends dating someone of the same sex. So long as their child is dating someone of the opposite sex, they can play a “don’t ask, don’t tell” game where they secretly know they’re having sex, and that they probably won’t marry, but the possibility remains that they might be working toward the production of a new reproductive marital unit. With a gay couple that isn’t seen as a possibility, so the same strategy of wilful ignorance no longer applies, and the fact that they’re really in it for something other than reproduction is revealed not just for the gay couple, but for all couples within the cultural group, some of whom may jump to the defence of the gay couple, proving what their parents feared. Thus, the gay couples are threatening, not because they’re different, but because they’re the same as the rest of us.

Why I Must Refuse My Degree (short version)

I, Michael Vipperman, intend to renounce the degree I am being offered from the University of Toronto on June 14, 2012, in protest over the ongoing commodification and bureaucratization of education at this University, best exemplified by the increasingly intimate relationship between the University and such venemous institutions as Barrick Gold and the World Bank.

Education is an ongoing process, not a product which can be sold or received. However, the degree I am being offered represents an expensive end goal, accessible only to an elite few, not on the basis of whatever academic merit we may possess, but on our access to wealth and on our willingness to play by the rules of bureaucracy. It is a symbol of the priorities and values of this University, which in recent years has increasingly sacrificed quality on the altar of efficiency, constricting the freedoms both of students and of faculty. Meanwhile, funding priorities have emphasised generating wealth for industry over providing a quality education. This is the norm whenever such commodification takes place. One simply needs to observe the classroom sizes on this campus, where now even some tutorials are held in Convocation Hall, to be convinced of the extent of the damage done to the educational experience.

I stand in solidarity with the courageous students of Québec, who have been mounting fierce resistance against such political/economic warfare. They are clearly cognizant of where this road leads. Knowing that it is possible for us to do better, I would like to call upon my peers, in Canada and globally, to oppose the neoliberal hegemony that continues to deny what is rightfully ours: barrier-free education.

By rejecting my degree I mean no personal offence to either my peers nor the faculty at the University. I have fond feelings and the highest of respect for many who remain at this institution, and hold no ill will towards those who do not refuse their degree. However, I cannot stay true to my personal values and at the same time accept a degree from an institution which also honours and supports Barrick Gold and the World Bank. The values of this university are clear, and they are not mine. As graduating students, whether this is our first, second or third degree, we are all getting burned.

Thank you.

https://michaelvipperman.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/rejectioncover.pdf
https://michaelvipperman.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/rejectioninside.pdf

Late in 2009, Peter Munk, chairman and founder of the world’s largest gold mining company (Barrick Gold), made a “donation” of $35 million — to be paid out over an extended period (until 2017), provided he continues to approve of how it is spent — to support the expansion of the Munk School of Global Affairs, a semi-autonomous department of the University studying areas in which Munk has a clear conict of interest. That agreement, made without consultation with the Governing Council, requires that the government and the University each provide an additional $25 million toward the Munk School, while other programs are being closed, undergraduate tuition is skyrocketing and research funding for graduate students is being cut. Part of the Munk School is a non-academic right wing think-tank. This is nothing short of a corporate takeover of the university.

Some human rights and environmental violations by Munk’s company:

– Cyanide, mercury and other heavy metals contamination in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and elsewhere, leading to numerous deaths from poisoning
– the burning of at least 130 houses, beating and gang raping of residents in Papua New Guinea by mine security staff to quell protests about their water’s contamination
– the massacre of unarmed villagers in Tanzania