Category Archives: Features

Art, Alcohol and Depression


WE ALL KNOW about the somber, yet weirdly attractive, myth associated with art, and artists. The scene is all set. Behind a simple desk, deep into the night, is an open collared, boozy, melancholic painter or novelist, driven slightly out of his mind, in order to produce a luminous piece of art. It’s very tempting to be teleological about it. The idea is ancient. Early Greeks called it entheos when a slight insobriety was sought to provoke inspiration. Though there is some truth in the concept of entheos, the romanticization of the lifestyles of Hemingway or Van Gogh, seems to either avoid or answer cheaply, the question of depression.

Why are some surprised, and even disappointed, when told that Mozart’s mental condition was probably genetic and not induced by musical virtuoso? Well, when applied universally and not only to Mozart, the disappointment arises from two corollary realizations. First, that there is no maddening truth hidden in art. Secondly, it means the abolition of the pornographic wish that someone ought to find that trueness and, preferably, to be maddened by it. By the way, don’t be astonished to find out that this type of cynicism is present wherever there is a mystical or esoteric fantasy. Its not quite the human sacrifice of our ancestors, but the same old wish to see it happen is still there, especially if one could have a disclosure of the occult in return.

In the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide, a sense of confusion gripped those who knew the flamboyant, energetic, almost uncontrollable persona of the comedian. That he had such an appreciation of humour and playfulness, yet so tormented with bottomless depression. Sometimes, the hardest thing to spot is that which is staring you right in the face. I realized this half wondering about the contradiction myself and came to remember Richard Pryor and Chris Farley (who became so lonely in his last days that he paid a prostitute to hang out with him. When they began arguing about money, the lady left, with Farley right behind her, begging her to stay. That’s when he collapsed. His final words were “don’t leave me”) and many other troubled comedians. Jason Pargin wrote a brilliant article about the tragedy of humour. In a lethargic, almost aggressive manner, he reflected on how the comical often served as a masquerade for a much darker core: a ruined childhood, a mental disorder. Remember also how much of humour is self-irony. So the trauma starts living off you. Your skin colour if you’re black, your obesity if you’re fat, your foreignness, your mental instability. Pargin put it bluntly, even hauntingly, when he wrote that this was the clown feeding on the human being, and not only that, it was feeding on all the traumas and insecurities of that very being.

I saw the distinction here as well. Sylvia Plath and Mozart could all be very depressive. They articulated this in their craft. Of course, in comedy that would be a complete non-sequitur. When Mozart had an occasional go at humour in his signed letters, it was scatological. And even so, what about the lazy suggestion that humour keeps us sane? The suggestion is lazy, becomes it means nothing, though it sounds like something. Humour is the confirmation of our insanity. Try to picture the vastness of the universe, its chaos, its meaninglessness, its random disposition, its self destruction, and imagine somewhere in all this, certain ingredients of the universe has met to produce conscious mammals, who now sit round a bonfire on a hostile planet, all looking at each other bewildered, finding no other reaction to this absurdity than mere laughter. It seems disarming, though it’s perfectly insane.

The brilliant Ned Vizzini, who committed suicide, wrote about how life was being like a “reverse nightmare” and that it sometimes felt as if he was, not waking up from, but waking into a nightmare. This is painfully revealing. The utter graveness of those words hinted at a chronic twist to his suffering. Nothing is quite like the sight of an expressive mind also being incurably desolate. The most useful literature on depression or bipolar is not in psychiatry or psychology, but happens to be of Sylvia Plath, or Virginia Woolf, or Stephen Fry. Even then, such a compliment can only be pitiful at best. And so, when you need catharsis, art is apathetic. It doesn’t heal you, and even, throuh self-exploration, deepens your wounds. Its a mirror of the self. Perhaps only vaguely, or partly, but always there is a small hint of exposure. Being still magnetized to such fate might at first seem masochistic, but it is true that the manic sometimes can only think through colour, or movement, or note or prose. The true tragedy presents itself when this arousal turns into depression and one can no more see anything but through the lenses of self-pity.

And so people are right to point out that there is a triumvirate here between creativity, intoxication and mental illness, though the circle of cause and effect is much less romantic and more practical than imagined. Those who do have a mental disorder, or a proneness in that direction, are proportionally more allured by art. The implication here is of course more than disturbing. Just as much as the silly clown or the open-collared drunkard feeds of its victim, so does our culture, the viewers, the readers, the onlookers. You and me.

Written by Hanad Ali
Picture Credit: Symphony of Love

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Class Warfare in literature: the best of…

THE TENSIONS THAT result from the friction between socioeconomic disparities and status have derived not only in social conflicts, but have also built the narratives of some amazing works of literary fiction (and of other- partly fictitious but not as amazing- more complex narratives. We’re looking at you, Marx and Bakunin).

What follows is a list of literary works in which the narrative is fuelled by class warfare, and like many other lists on the Internet, it is whimsical, arbitrary, not based on empirics and potentially incomplete.

 

1. The Help6923212711_72b11d8797_b

 To some, the book by Kathryn Stockett wasn’t necessarily interesting until its star-studded adaptation hit the big screen, starring Emma Stone and Academy Award winner Octavia Spenser. The book dives, in ways that come across as somewhat comedic, into the racial conflict of the sixties between the southern upper classes and their African-American help. It is narrated in the first person using three different voices: that of Skeeter, the recent college graduate and aspiring writer; Aibileen, a housemaid and nanny; and Minny, Aibileen’s friend, who has no qualms in speaking her mind about her employers- which results in many job terminations.

emma-stone-birthday-november-6-2012-the-help-weheartit

 

Though it might be tempting to peg the conflicts in The Help as racial conflicts, they are, in reality, class conflicts: the relationship between the help and the helped are all but friendly, but through Skeeter’s eyes the audience is able to explore a paradigm shift among the young, that specially underlines the importance of allies in the fight for civil rights.

 

 

5802511972_8bab6fcbf0_b2. Les Miserables

This classic by Victor Hugo comes across as an obvious choice for a list like this, since the narrative is pretty much fuelled by how class divisions condition choices for all of the main characters, having their destinies determined by the class they belonged to. Jean Val Jean becomes a bridge over the socioeconomic abyss, since when he’s finally able to get back on his feet, he uses his newfound wealth to help those who remain at the bottom. Using Val Jean’s conversion as an example, Victor Hugo sends an important message about the roles that individual choice and personal responsibility play in breaching gaps in inequality.

 

6531185857_e288e36831_b3. A Little Princess

The story of the upper-class girl that loses everything upon her father’s death and is destined to a life of serfdom to pay off her family’s debt, describes in a tear-jerking manner the suffering of the poor and highlights how much belonging to one socioeconomic class or another is determined by chance and not choices. The author, Frances Hodgson Burnett, uses the protagonist to teach a lesson on character: taking the high road should not depend on the information that appears on someone’s bank statements: it is a choice. In the way the different characters move the narrative forward, such as the wealthy neighbour, the unpleasant boarding school headmistress, the fantastic Becky or the awful baker, Hodgson also shows that no class holds a monopoly over either generous or repulsive actions.

 

3319626950_d86eab3f78_b4. The Outsiders

It is highly possible that the main reason this book made it into this list is how it is impossible to not be in awe at the fact that S.E. Hinton wrote it when she was barely 16 years old. Wrote from the point of view of the protagonist, Ponyboy, a lower-class orphan, this novel is the story of friendship marked by class conflict between lowly gang members (or greasers) and the upper-class jocks living on the other side of town. The best line in the novel Hinton borrows from the classic American poet Robert Frost, when Ponyboy reflects on how the best things in life are ephemeral: “nothing gold can stay”.

The everyday conflict between classes becomes dramatic when an innocent fight ends accidentally with a dead body: a gang member kills one of the rich kids, trying to defend himself. The final conflict makes Ponyboy reflect on deeper themes, such as suffering and death, which have no regard for social class. This realization leads to an unlikely friendship with Sherri Valance, an iconic upper-class beauty, and to realize that at the end of the day, their differences are far fewer than their similarities. To top off this masterpiece, the 1983 cinematic adaptation is chockfull of familiar faces, back when they weren’t as familiar or ubiquitous as they are today. How many can you recognize?

Written by Cristina Lopez G,  a professional eye-roller disguised as a lawyer and policy-wonk who writes. She co-edits Wondrus, an Internet depository for cultural and scientific curiosities and fun facts for Spanish speakers. Article and picture credits taken and translated from Wondrus,

image credits: US embassy Canada, Rick Payette, mgstanton, junibears

Science is blurring the lines between life and death


SCIENCE HAS CONTRIBUTED greatly to our understanding of life and death, but the technologies it has enabled have also urged us to revise the boundaries we set between them. This has happened more than once, as Steven Kotler, journalist and director of the Flow Genome Project, points out when he writes that “Death has always been a sort of moving target”. This is all the more true given recent developments.

The definition of death offered in the first edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica in 1768 was the following: ““the separation of soul and body; in which sense it stands opposed to life, which consists in the union thereof”. This very ethereal definition was as precise as the times allowed, but it proved to be quite vague. Medically, life was originally defined as the ceasing of the vital breath by which life itself was understood. But some key questions remained unanswered: When did the vital breath abandon the human body? How do we know for sure?

Anatomy and biology allowed us to understand the circulatory system. With William Harvey’s groundbreaking work regarding the functioning of the heart, life was then redefined as a lack of pulse. Still now, paramedics on the field take a person’s pulse to see if life is still present in, say, the victim of an accident or someone that has been injured.

But neuroscience caught up and proved that though a body may still be “operational”, there is a possibility for cerebral death to occur. This gained immense legal importance, as brain-damaged but otherwise healthy individuals were in a “sweet spot”, optimal for organ donation. This specific problem gathered a committee in Harvard University in 1968 that set to define “irreversible coma” – the main condition to establish the end of a person’s life. They chose the criterion of cessation of brain function, and this soon became the accepted standard to demarcate the end of a person’s life. Though this has still been defined unequally in different jurisdictions, it held for a few decades and only recently, did it begin to receive external pressure for revision.

In 2002, researchers in the hospital of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor announced that they had found a way to remove all of the blood of an animal – a pig – and replace it with a cold saline solution, effectively inducing hypothermia and slowing down brain activity. In other words, they effectively placed the pig in animated suspension. Most recently, a team of surgeons in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, used the same technique in patients which suffered a cardiac arrest after a traumatic episode, such as taking a bullet shot, and that we’re unresponsive to more traditional procedures. The researchers reduced the patients’ temperature to 10 Celsius, gaining a two-hour window to repair the trauma.

This is revolutionary. It’s the first human case where, even if for two hours, the dreams of legions of technologists and Sci-Fi writers alike become feasible.  Indeed, it is a feat that will push societies to redefine death – but by now we should have gotten used to it.

This article was originally published in Spanish, on culture and technology site Wondrus. 

Written and translated by Luis Eduardo Barrueto. Luis is a geek with a fascination for stories about art, science and the bridges between them. He founded Wondrus based on the quixotic belief that journalism can provide a space for those meaningful connections. 

Photo Credit: twm1340

 

ROOM 101: LIFE AFTER UNI

UGL_UIUC

Student life is almost at an end, and Laura Burridge sure isn’t happy about it…

The term that isn’t really a term, more of a black abyss of exam and essay related hell, is here already and the end of the academic year is nigh. During this time of despair, dreams of festivals, summer travel plans or just excitement to go home may be in the air for some of you. But for me, and a big shout out to those other final years suffering out there, this means only one thing. University, and student life as we know it, is over forever.

Let me take you on a little journey through time. For me, it seems like only yesterday I was cruising down the M4 for the first time, my face squished to a crack in the window in a desperate attempt to breathe after insisting that I bring everything I have ever owned in the entirety of my life to my new home. Fresh-faced and armed with a tin of Celebrations to bribe my Durdham Hall flatmates to like me (it worked), I had arrived.

First year went by in a vodka-fuelled blur of Bunker Mondays… and Wednesdays… and the odd Friday, with a sprinkling of crippling hangovers, a dash of daytime TV and a spoonful of awkward new friends. I lived in a world where naps occurred more frequently than lectures. Where the most stressful life choice was whether to live in Clifton or Redland the following year. Where 40% was the new A*. This world, my friends, was good.

“This world, my friends, was good”

As your fortnightly bearer of bad news (why stop now?), you need to know that the rumours are true. Third year is the worst year of your life. Everyone will tell you and no-one will quite grasp just how factual this is until their time comes. The debilitating fear that you will leave Uni thousands of pounds in debt, significantly more overweight than you started and with only a Desmond to your name is with you always. I’m unwillingly cheating on the relationship I once had with Lounge with the cruel mistress that is the ASS. I speak to my dissertation supervisor more than my flatmates and, more regular than the 16 (we called it the U6 in my day), there is a breakdown on the hour, every hour.

Yet, as I start to apply for real people jobs, a cruel realisation dawns upon me. This is not the worst year of my life. It’s the last of the best. Real life is a place where downing a Jagerbomb in under 30 seconds isn’t a valid achievement for the CV. In real life an example of working successfully in a team wasn’t that time I wing-manned my friend with that hot guy and good communication skills definitely aren’t how well you can drunk text. Which is a shame really as I have honed all these strengths to near enough perfection.

Non-student life sees the end of many things, namely happiness of any kind. Say goodbye to your student loan, being paid to literally do nothing, while student discounts are also a thing of the past. Midweek drinking becomes socially frowned upon, as is my much loved daily routine of This Morning, followed by a nap, lunch, followed by a nap, waking up for Jeremy Kyle before a couple of Real Housewives episodes come on and fatigue takes over me once again. I’m having to swap my vast array of onesies for restrictive office wear and come to terms with the fact 3 month summers off are no longer a thing. Just as I’m acquiring that unique Sainsbury’s Basics Table Wine taste, it is being cruelly ripped away from me. As you find yourself homeless, moving back in with your family is an unfortunate necessity and my parents have even mentioned ME paying THEM for this horrific ordeal. Rent, they called it. As if.

“Non-student life sees the end of many things, namely happiness of any kind”

So please, as you start to stress about upcoming exams or commence those all-nighters in the library, hating your course and questioning your life, take a step back; there is a very good reason why people say being a student are the best days of your life. I haven’t even started real life yet but I’m already 97% sure it is not for me. Not to fear though guys, I’ve done what any rational, real world adult would do in this scenario. Undertaken an extensive and exhaustive check over the UCAS website for my next degree. Travel and Tourism at Brighton? Say hello to your new fresher.

This article has been curated with the permission of Epigram who are the origin of this work. Laura Burridge is the original author and can be found on the Epigram website: http://www.epigram.org.uk/living/item/2649-room-101-life-after-uni

Picture credits: UGL_UIUC,

Intoxication — What’s your poison?

Photo: Lee Morley

Photo: Lee Morley

MY FRIENDS DON’T do drugs. That much I know. I’ve always wondered who does all the coke on toilet seats and sinks, that makes investigations reveal that coke is sprinkled all over my beloved Copenhagen nightlife. No one ever offers me any drugs, and I’m not even sure who to go to, if I wanted to snort, swallow or inject something, to spice up my night.

So you can imagine how surprised I was, when I hosted a party a couple of months ago, which turned out to be a coke-fiends paradise. My roomies and I threw a big party, and yeah some people crashed — they always do right? — But we thought we had the situation under control. Next morning, when we were cleaning up, we heard a knock on our door. Our up-stairs neighbor, a friendly looking middle-aged woman greeted us with a smile. In a calm voice, she assured us, that she didn’t mind our parties, and she didn’t mind the loud music — but that they were a bit annoyed by having to hear people snorting coke in the staircase all night. Also, the space in front of their door was covered in little bloodstains and empty coke bags.

We cleaned up the blood, threw out the bags, and sat down to talk about the whole mess. Yeah, maybe it was actually a little weird that everyone disappeared all the time. And as a matter of fact, I did notice that some of the guys kept going to the bathroom together. And wait – didn’t that guy have a bit of a nosebleed at one point?

It’s there. It’s definitely there. And after that party, I’ve become oddly aware of it. Girls with huge pupils, claiming to be extra drunk, dancing less consciously than usual. Guys rubbing their lips and grinding their teeth a little. And it turns out that these days, you can even buy the drugs online, and have them sent to your door. The Global Drug Survey 2014 shows an increase in people who buy drugs online. It also showed that the most common purchases are Cannabis and MDMA.

My mom raised me to be afraid of drugs. Quite frankly they terrify me.  So I try to stick to alcohol. I happily take a swimming pool full of liquor and then dive in it – as Kendrick Lamar would say. But maybe I’m being uptight. It seems that drugs are here to stay. Should I change my perception of drugs and people who use them, or does the world around me have to change? It’s hard to find a young Dane today, who doesn’t support the proposals to legalize Marihuana in Denmark. But then I think of my high-school sweetheart, who is schizophrenic today because of a cannabis-induced psychosis. Or how it took my brother an extra year to finish high-school because he smoked weed instead of doing algebra.

This week Pandeia Culture takes a look at intoxication. We provide an interview with a young law student in Australia, who loves to “pop” MDMA. We also look at the surprisingly extensive problems with heroin abuse in Oslo, and finally we look at violence as a form of intoxication in Columbia. It seems that everyone is on something these days. What’s your poison?

 

Have a read and feel free to comment below the articles.

 

Anja Pil Christoffersen

 

 

“On good MDMA you feel euphoric and care free. The night just goes upwards.”

Pandeia talks to 22-year old Max, who has done MDMA since he was 17. Photo: James Jin (Flickr)

Pandeia talks to 22-year old Max, who has done MDMA since he was 17. Photo: James Jin (Flickr)

THE FIRST TIME Max tried MDMA he was 17. He was in an empty house, with a bunch of other teenagers and a bag containing around 50 MDMA pills. This was their recipe for fun and when the pills started kicking in they all started dancing around in a pitch-black room with strobe light flashing to the pumping sound of electronic music. Max was living in the moment, forgetting all about his worries, commitments and exams. Later they would sit and chat, smoke cigarettes, listen to music, relax, feeling warm, happy, with butterflies in his stomach.

The now 22 year-old Max belongs to the upper middle class in Brisbane. He takes drugs on weekends after big exams and when he goes to electronic music festivals. According to Max there is a drug culture among his age group.

“Obviously I like to do marijuana. I like to take MDMA or ecstasy on special occasions, if I’m having a big night out or if I go to a festival. At festivals in Australia, drugs are definitely a big thing. A lot of people do drugs there.”

Partying with Emma

MDMA — also known as ‘Emma’, ‘Mandy’ or ‘Molly’ — is a synthetic drug that has the ability to induce euphoria, a sense of intimacy with others, diminished anxiety and sometimes has minor hallucinogenic effects. The main effect is due to the drug’s blockage of serotonin re-uptake in the brain. This causes the brain to be over-whelmed with serotonin  a hormone, which simply makes you happy and euphoric. The drug is illegal in most countries, with some limited exceptions for therapeutic use. It typically comes in crystal form as capsules or pills.

“One pill – two if we’re feeling daring”

On a typical “drug” night, Max and his friends will pre-drink and then take some pills and capsules before they head to Brisbane’s going-out-area Fortitude Valley.

“We’ll take one pill – two if we’re feeling daring and then we’ll go to the valley. On good MDMA you feel euphoric and care free. The night just goes upwards. I get happy, jumpy and chatty, which I like way better than when I’m drunk – then I feel down, tired and droopy.

Max’s reasons for doing drugs, might be surprising to some. Doing drugs is a cheaper solution for him, and it lets him save the memories of the night out.

“I find it’s cheaper to do drugs than to drink. If I go a bar and buy drinks all night, the places I go cost 10 AUD for a drink (around 6.8 euros) – and I have a better time on a pill.”

“Also, I don’t like getting ridiculously drunk to the point where I don’t remember things. With drugs, I can wake up and remember everything. And when it comes down to it, memories are all you really have from a big night out. If you can’t even remember it, then why even bother doing it in the first place.”

A change in the typical drug user

As the Global Drug Survey and the National Drug Survey suggests, it is not the stereotypical junkie on the street that is the most typical drug user in Australia. As the Brisbane Times wrote in an article last year, there has been a demographic change in drug-users in Queensland and in Australia in general. It means that the drug dealers rely mostly on wealthy, functional and educated individuals who use drugs for amusement, stress relief or a good time.

This corresponds to the picture Max paints of the people he does drugs with.

“The general drug culture among my age group is mixed. A lot of people don’t do drugs and even though they’re not openly against it, they disapprove of it. And then there is the other part of the University students who like to party a bit more. I don’t think the majority does drugs, but it’s definitely a big group.

“Within my group of friends it’s completely socially acceptable. At least if you have your stuff together and just do it to have a good time”

Personal photo from a party Max attended

Personal photo from a party Max attended

The day after

Max tries not to think too much about side-effects and possible long term damage from his use of drugs.

“I did a bit of online research. I’ve never really worried too much about that stuff. If I can wake up the next day and feel okay, then that’s how I can justify it to myself. You can get a bit down the next day, but personally I don’t really get any side-effects.”

Since MDMA is usually produced illegally, users cannot always be sure of the content in the pills or crystals, and how clean it is. It might be mixed with other synthetic drugs such as ‘speed’ or meth that has different and often unwanted effects. However Max also tries not to worry about the uncertainty of what is in the pills.

“Obviously you never really know what you are taking, but for me the risk of something being really harmful is minuscule. When people get hospitalised or die from drug use, it’s often widely reported and a huge deal. But when you look at the statistics its not a huge risk at all – I’m taking a bigger risk driving my car”

“I’ve never really had any issues with addiction or anything and I wouldn’t say that MDMA is an addictive drug.”

Getting caught

Max gets his drugs through a friend’s brother. This way he mitigates the risk of getting caught by not dealing with drug dealers first hand.

“When I’m out, I don’t worry about getting caught. The bouncers don’t care. Bouncers know that there’s going to be a lot of people on drugs. So as long as you are careful and safe about it they won’t search you.

Online drug sales have, as in Europe, become a way to get your hands on drugs. Max explains that it’s much harder to get drugs in Australia, due to it being an isolated island.

“I’ve never ordered any online but I do know people who’ve ordered from Silk Road — which is now shut down — some who have had success with it, and some who never got what they ordered.”

Queensland’s battle against drugs

According to Max, Australia is quite conservative when it comes to drug-legislation, in comparison to Europe, and the legislation in Queensland reveals that the state is trying hard to fight drugs.

New designer drugs, often legally sold online because their content is new or unknown, are a problem Queensland tries to solve through legislation. In 2013 Queensland altered the Drug Misuse Act that makes it illegal to be in possession of any drug that is ‘dangerous’ – and has a similar pharmacological effect to an illegal and ‘dangerous’ drug.

The state is also trying to make life miserable for the biker gangs as they’re controlling a major part of the drug market by passing controversial anti-bikie laws. Among other things it means that bikers can be searched at all times if there is a suspicion that they belong to a gang.

While much seems to be done on a legislative level, its trickle down effect is yet to be seen amongst young people. It seems for Max, there’s no real reason to stop and until that point comes he’s happy to keep choosing drugs over booze on his nights out.

What do you think? Is MDMA a problem in youth culture? Should more be done to stop its availability? Or is the issue a moral panic in the making?

By Ida Nordland

Why is violence becoming the new drug in Colombia?

Daniela Guzmán Martínez argues that Columbia has a history of violence intoxication. Photo: Diana Diaz (Flickr)

Daniela Guzmán Martínez argues that Colombia has a history of violence intoxication. Photo: Diana Diaz (Flickr)

THE CULPRITS IN the armed conflict in Colombia have left more than 6 million victims behind them. The country has to keep on fighting for the eradication of the cultural intoxication that is staining its contemporary history.

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

Hannah Arendt

The word intoxication has been widely recognised in all cultures as the abuse of any substance that alters the normal state of the body and the normal development of a person. Campaigns worldwide have been promoted in order to fight this phenomenon, to prevent people from falling into it and to inform about the consequences from it. These campaigns have also raised awareness about the fact that continuous substance intoxication can turn into the deadly path of drug addiction or alcoholism. However it can be considered that reducing the definition of intoxication to the use of drugs or alcohol might be too simplistic, as there might be a third type that has a longer healing process and probably causes more fatalities than any other around the world.

Violence: The new addiction

Cultural intoxication can be understood as the consumption of negative cultural signals causing an adverse reaction of euphoria, also know as dysphoria, in which a state of mind is dominated by feelings of indifference towards the surrounding world and where the body, the nervous system and mind are affected. In this particular case the injustice, impunity, terror and violence have turned into the new addictive substances. The outcome is unfortunately not just addicts or patients in rehab centers but the most cruel and brutal victimisers ever known.

For more than six decades Colombia has been oppressed by ceaseless conflicts between the government and the armed rebel groups. According to the State Unit of Victims this bloody war has left the unimaginable total of 6,431,981 reported victims from 1984 to the date. All of them targets of one or several of the harmful war strategies of these groups, which include among others: forced displacement, massacres, selective assassinations, explosive mines, kidnapping, bomb attacks, sexual abuse, threats, confinement, child recruitment and enforced disappearance.

But who is behind these atrocities?

As mentioned before, there is a relatively high number of armed groups proliferating terror campaigns in all the national territory. However the paramilitary groups, known as Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia or AUC, and their organised crime organizations have won the dishonourable recognition of the cruellest victimisers in the country. These subversives are without a doubt addicts to war and irreparably intoxicated by the violence that for years has tainted the history of the country, leaving behind millions of victims with wounds that do not heal.

Unfortunately, and contrary to other types of intoxications, this one does not have a rehab plan or even a feasible healing process. Javier Osuna, Colombian professor and journalist specialising in Conflict and Paramilitary Groups, indicates that the case of Colombia shows a reality where the society is the one intoxicated and so an integral repair process must be done to stop the continuous implementation of these violent strategies.

His argument is valid when recognising that cultural intoxication is a human condition that has been able to permeate all levels of the Colombian society. Although the normal citizen has fought unstintingly to recover the national mind from these recurrent and disastrous episodes, the media, and the ineffectiveness of the government in terms of justice and the lack of success in ending this nerve-frazzling armed conflict have encouraged these criminal predators to continue consuming the drug of violence.

Seeking justice – an enemy in the rehab process

The continuous bombardment of news about atrocities carried out by paramilitary leaders, has blinded the civil population in terms of comprehending the real magnitude of their crimes and has caused the collective amnesia of their existence. According to the investigative website Verdadabierta.com the actions of only these men have left 6,686 registered victims, six massacres and nearly 70,000 people internally displaced in Sucre, their area of influence.

However the justice system in Colombia has opened the window for what many people refer as impunity, which undoubtedly has a negative impact in the recovery of a society intoxicated by an unstoppable war. In 2010, Alias “Juancho Dique” and “Rodrigo Cadena” where sentenced to eight years in prison, the maximum term for imprisonment for the paramilitary covered by the Law of Peace and Justice installed in 2005. This means that in less than four years the people responsible of unimaginable violence will be freed.

Although the discussion regarding this legal initiative is endless, there must be a wake up call to the society in general. There is an immense need for the Colombian society to step aside from the bystander role it has had in the past decade and take action in order to help the healing process from this unconscious intoxication it has lived with. As mentioned before, we need to copy the strategies incorporated worldwide to fight substance abuse and alcoholism because we cannot afford the return of these addicts to violence without having prepared and informed the population about the harms this recurrent consumption can bring for the future generations.

By Daniela Guzmán Martínez