The Psychological Driving Force That Makes Social Networks so Successful

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Francois de La Rochefoucauldimage from The Art of Manliness
For a poodle-haired French philosopher born in the elegance of a post-Renaissance Paris, a social network would describe the group of friends that he spends his time with, sipping tea in a lavish French salon while discussing the deepest topics of life. Francois de La Rochefoucauld is a philosopher famed for penning a short book of stinging, pithy maxims, aimed at eliminating the illusions that we have related to our own behaviours, with particular emphasis on our desperate need to impress other people.

The gargantuan, overgrown beasts that we call social networks today might be unthinkable for someone from La Rochefoucauld’s time, but despite being beyond that generation’s reach, the man himself would probably have had a lot to say about them. One his greatest skills was his ability to perceive the underlying motives behind people’s behaviour, much of which is focused on our longing for social approval—a desire that forms the foundation of modern social networks. Without the “like” button, there probably wouldn’t be a Facebook, an Instagram, or a Twitter. There may not even be a Medium. La Rochefoucauld was able to fully appreciate the power of social approval, and the extent to which it drives our behaviour.

The lives that we portray on social media can be vastly different to reality, with only the so-called positive aspects of our experiences shared, in an unconscious attempt to disguise the often banal truth of our day-to-day existences. Like actors on a stage, we slip on a more attractive mask, position ourselves in appealing situations, and carry out impressive performances to trick our audience into believing that our lives are something to be envied. We want to be adored, after all. The problem with such bombastic fakery is that the mask can become to the reality, and who we really are slips from our memory, to be replaced with society’s notion of prestige and success—the existence of an subservient toady.

“We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“In all professions each affects a look and an exterior to appear what he wishes the world to believe that he is. Thus we may say that the whole world is made up of appearances.”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

A disguise is never suitable for long—eventually we’ll yearn for our heart’s true desire. We must go our own way, lest we live the life of someone else. Social networks are poison to individualism, with each member striving to impress their hundreds of friends, and selling a little bit of their soul in the process. Flattery—and the vanity that seeks it—insidiously cuts away at our uniqueness, until there’s nothing left but a shell, with social media “friends” permitted to fill it up with whatever they want.

“If we did not flatter ourselves, the flattery of others could never harm us.”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“Flattery is a kind of bad money, to which our vanity gives us currency”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Much of our social posting—our political rants, jokes, daily gripes, TV recommendations, social commentary, or anything else that we deem to share with the world—can be traced back to our desire for approval, eyes darting to the alluring notification icon whenever it appears, yearning for people to like what we have to say. The scope can even be widened to any interaction that we have with people. As highly social animals, a great deal of our mutterings are made with the intention to impress. How often would you make a comment that you know would agitate your audience, darkening your reputation in the process?

“We speak little if not egged on by vanity”
—La Rochefoucauld

La Rochefoucauld believed that without our own rapacious sense of vanity to spur us on, we’d be a hell of a lot quieter. But as long as there’s admiration to be had, we’ll capture it in whatever way that we can (provided it doesn’t offend anyone important).

These assertions about our good natures may arrive with a painful sting, perhaps a righteous, offended position of denial. Other people may be so insecure as to behave in such sycophantic ways, but me? Pfft. Observe your behaviour more closely, and you may discover that the French philosopher is much more accurate than you’d like to believe.

An overly-contrived person—who we might call a “suck-up” or a “try-hard”—is just someone who fails to impress surreptitiously, like the rest of us. There’s a tendency to dislike these kinds of people, because their pronounced ulterior motive shines a glaring, unflattering light on our own. The traits that we dislike about others are often the traits that we dislike (or flat-out deny) about ourselves. The unfriend button never looked so appealing.

“We have no patience with other people’s vanity because it is offensive to our own”
—La Rochefoucauld

Even the deeds that we deem the most wholesome may crumble under meticulous scrutiny. Why do you really give to charity? To help the unfortunate, or to experience the glowing sense of goodness that accompanies it, and the properly-deserved swathes of likes that attach themselves to the social share? How much of your behaviour is ultimately selfish? This isn’t an advocation to stop giving to charity—the motives behind such acts are inconsequential, because a good deed is being done regardless—but an invitation to be inquisitive about your behaviour.

“We would frequently be ashamed of our good deeds if people saw all of the motives that produced them.”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Overcoming fakery in order to live a more genuine life seemed of paramount importance to La Rochefoucauld. A world in which the judgmental eyes of your fellow Facebook friends are banished beyond redemption is a world in which virtue could thrive for its own sake, without thought of reward—a desire to be good for no other reason than goodness itself. What could be more beautiful than that?

“Virtue would go far if vanity did not keep it company.”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“Perfect valour consists in doing without witnesses that which we would be capable of doing before everyone.”
—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Social networks are an inexhaustible source of fuel for our vanity—a platform that allows us to focus our efforts on getting as much kudos as possible, regardless of its obvious mediocrity, and lack of durability. It doesn’t take much to share a meme on Instagram, but damn, how good do those likes feel? Social networks are an addictive distraction from worthier endeavours—meaningful activities that actually contain the potential to improve our lives, as opposed to having our precious egos soothed with worthless virtual approval.

“Care about people’s approval, and you will always be their prisoner.” – Lao Tzu

Sadly, life is a little more complicated than just doing whatever the hell we want, without consideration of social consequences. Though we may be aching to post a caustic response to our cousin’s imbecilic right-wing social post, self-preservation stays our hand. There’s good logical sense behind our desire to impress—we need other people to survive. Sociality is a delicate balancing act, with soulless flattery on the one side, and courageous individualism on the other. Though it’s possible and infinitely more valuable to sway towards individualism, and live in accordance with our own meaningful values, survival requires us to appear favourably in the eyes of others, or risk wasting away in isolation. The social nature of our species is the reason for our innate vanity, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. Though the razor-sharp vision of La Rochefoucauld may cut through the illusion of our selfish behaviours, it doesn’t deter from that the fact that we need other people to survive, at least in some small degree. These people can be found in the world around us, not just as faces on computer screens, characterised by counterfeit tales of perfectly edited lives.

Social networks are vanity on crack, and the acerbic mind of La Rochefoucauld would probably have condemned them to the dust heap of history, where they undoubtedly belong.

The Therapeutic Power of Psychedelics and MDMA

03-Microdosing-lede.w536.h536.2x.jpgImage from NY Mag

Back in the 50’s, not too long after Albert Hoffman discovered the mind-bending, consciousness-expanding properties of LSD, scientists starting conducting experiments into the therapeutic potential of the drug. It became a popular area of research, and by the mid-60’s had spawned six international conferences, and over 1,000 peer-reviewed clinical papers¹.

Meanwhile, the first sparks of the acid revolution had been lit, spearheaded by passionate acolytes such as Timothy Leary and Ram Dass, who believed that the drug held the key to shifting our global consciousness, to create a more peaceful, loving human species. It’d be tough to find a loftier, more noble objective.

Then it all went to shit. Governments across the world became concerned about the widespread, casual use of such a potent substance, particularly one that caused its users to doubt and criticise the power structures within their society, often calling for a freer, less restricted world. LSD was promptly banned by governments, forcing chief manufacturer Sandoz to halt production in the mid-60s¹. The first era of psychedelic therapy was over.

Thankfully, there’s been a resurgence. Governments are once again becoming receptive to the therapeutic potential of “party” drugs such as acid, psilocybin, and MDMA, whose reputation has been tainted in part by the greedy fear-mongering of the popular press. Scientific studies are becoming increasingly common, some with astounding results. The gold-standard treatment for PTSD is prolonged exposure therapy—MDMA has been found to be twice as successful². Psilocybin—the psychoactive chemical found in magic mushrooms—had an 80% success rate in breaking a smoking habit, compared to 35% for conventional treatments³. It’s also been shown to cure severe depression⁴.

“Perhaps to some extent we have lost sight of the fact that (LSD) can be very, very helpful in our society if used properly.”—Robert Kennedy

Though the hardened conservative will undoubtedly raise his eyebrows in disbelief, the people who have spent their lives taking illegal drugs such as MDMA, LSD, and magic mushrooms may be unsurprised at the results. It’s obvious that these drugs have incredible potential for our psychological health. The pristine empathy and compassion one feels in the midst of an MDMA experience tells you everything you need to know. How could such an emotionally positive experience not have therapeutic potential?

In my late teenage years, I found myself surrounded by friends in the comfortable living room of one of our parents, each of us high on ecstasy. Uninhibited conversation was flowing, and upon reaching the topic of our fathers (Freud’s spirit nestled in the corner, glowing with anticipation), for the first time in his life, one of my friends opened up about his difficult relationship with his dad. He expressed sheer, unalloyed pain at his dad’s early departure from the family, followed by the brutal indifference that he exhibited towards him in the years after. There were floods of tears, but no awkwardness from anybody—just pure compassion and sympathy. Afterwards, he seemed as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, finally able to talk about something that had created anguish for years. It remains the most beautiful moment I’ve ever had with my friends.

“What’s unique about MDMA is that it’s actually stimulating but decreases anxiety…it could help people feel calm and comfortable enough to explore painful things that are hard to talk about.”—Julie Holland

The bonding power of MDMA cannot be understated, even with people who you’re already close to. Everyone tends to emerge from a session with a feeling of heart-warming emotional closeness, and a fiercer sense of loyalty towards this magnificent bunch of people with who we’ve spent the last eight hours. Time spent on MDMA can be flawlessly authentic, offering a state of mind that encourages you to delve into profoundly meaningful topics that you’re usually too wary to approach.

As a shy and cautious teenager, I’d often have trouble interacting with people who weren’t my friends—the gut-wrenching awkwardness was too much to bear, so I wouldn’t bother trying. MDMA helped to bring me out of my shell, and not just for the duration of the high, but extending far into the future. The rush of empathy one feels while on the drug, mixed with the feeling of immaculate love towards people around you, taught me not only to more easily identify the inherent good in other people, but to realise that I was worthy of their company and friendship. It accorded me the courage needed to speak and act without restraint, teaching myself—little-by-little—that I was more than capable of being a funny, interesting person, whose company people were eager to keep. By improving my emotional intelligence, MDMA has undoubtedly helped to shape my personality into something better.

Psychedelics such as LSD and magic mushrooms also have a reputation for changing people profoundly. In Michael Pollan’s incredible book How To Change Your Minda treatise on the beneficial effects of psychedelics—he reveals that many people who take these kinds of drugs describe it as one of “the most meaningful experiences of their lives”. Psychedelics dampen our Default Mode Network, which is suspected to be the creator of our ego. As our sense of self dissipates, we can feel a profound sense of unity with the world around us, and our brains are temporarily permitted to make brand new connections, illustrated beautifully in this diagram from the book.

brain-networks

Image from Discover Magazine

This is why creatives in Silicon Valley are spending their work-days microdosing—it unfetters their naturally restricted brains, allowing them to be more creative than ever before.

“I’m glad mushrooms are against the law, because I took them one time, and you know what happened to me? I laid in a field of green grass for four hours going, ‘My God! I love everything.’ Yeah, now if that isn’t a hazard to our country…how are we gonna justify arms dealing when we realize that we’re all one?”—Bill Hicks

There’s a big difference between the occasional drug-taking experience, and using substances as a coping mechanism for the pain in your life. Highly-addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin are a completely different beast, and should be avoided at all costs. This kind of escapism rarely ends well — it’s usually much better to face your suffering head on, with as much courage as you can muster.

“Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important — creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”—Steve Jobs

When it comes to MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin, it’s no wonder that people are willing to break the law in order to experience them. They can function as a form of self-therapy—a vehicle for fundamentally changing your brain, quicker and more effective than any other method. Since the discovery of LSD back in the 50’s, scientists have suspected its therapeutic benefits, kickstarting a field of research that has shown incredible results. But for the general public, stringent scientific experiments aren’t needed to tell them what they already know: MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin—when used for the right reasons— have the power to improve our lives. This is why millions of everyday people are willing to position themselves on the wrong side of the law. It’s not just about goofing around with your friends—laughing but also terrified at the clouds wiggling and shifting into new shapes—it’s about being equipped with the courage needed to leap over personal boundaries—a shift in consciousness that can teach you how to be a better person, with opportunities to encounter the world from fresher, more fluid perspectives. These drug can equip us with the potential to break out of our tired, restrictive moulds. Scientists have known this for years, as have regular, law-breaking users.

It isn’t a question of whether these drugs have therapeutic benefits, but a question of when our governments will be able to get past their antiquated views and embrace them as valuable weapons in our medical arsenal. Great progress has been made with marijuana. In time, and as more scientific evidence emerges, perhaps the same will happen with MDMA and psychedelics.

 —

Some words of caution
MDMA, LSD and psilocybin are still illegal in many countries, and as such, their production lacks quality control. Drug testing kits are essential to test their purity, and obvious discretion required if you’re willing to take the necessary risks to acquire the drugs themselves. This article is by no means an advocation to do so. It’s also worth noting that these drugs aren’t for everyone, particularly for those with serious mental illnesses.

References

1. Wikipedia, Psychedelic Therapy 
2. Jesse Noakes, Psychedelic renaissance: could MDMA help with PTSD, depression and anxiety?
3. Magic Mushrooms” Can Help Smokers Break the Habit
4. Sarah Boseley, Magic mushrooms lift severe depression in clinical trial

The Unethical Greed of Deliveroo and Uber Eats

freepik_featured_delivery.jpgImage from Korvia

Home-cooked meals can be a troublesome affair. First, a savoury, nutritious meal must be chosen from what seems like an endless selection of dishes. Then a trip to the supermarket is required to locate the various, skillfully-disguised ingredients, a task more challenging than identifying a Bichon Frise in a cotton field. Finally, there’s the messy business of actually cooking the meal, during which everything must be chopped appropriately, timed precisely, and presented somewhat handsomely.

If the troublesome task of cooking is too much for us, we can visit a local restaurant instead, though this requires us to adorn appropriate clothing and the proper facial expressions, when we’d really rather sit in front of the television like blissfully comfortable, rotund slugs, with no nearby humans to offend.

Enter food delivery services Deliveroo and Uber Eats. For the lazy among us, their discovery was one of air-punching jubilance — we suddenly had access to a huge selection of local restaurants, via smartphone apps designed with such skill that not a shred of brainpower is needed to successfully order luscious food, right to your front door. Deliveroo and Uber Eats are a lazy consumer’s dream, and their popularity is unsurprising. They release us from the effort of home cooking and the social obligations of dining out, granting us the convenience of being slothful hermits, comfortable and gratified within the safety of our home.

Deliveroo and Uber Eats are wonderful for the consumer, but not-so-great for restaurants and delivery riders. Beneath their wonderfully-designed facades are business practices that appear to be hell-bent on profit, with negligible ethical considerations. Here’s why.

Restaurants get next to nothing

Uber Eats take a 35% commission on every single order, and Deliveroo an average of 30% (negotiated per restaurant). For many small business owners, that’s their entire gross profit. Each restaurant must calculate whether food delivery services bring enough additional profit to justify the work. Caitlin Crawfurd — owner of Petty Cafe in Melbourne — accused Uber Eats of acting like “feudal overlords,” and decided to remov her restaurant from the directory due to the excessive commission rates, and their insistence upon sharing the cost of order errors — another financial penalty that makes it even harder for small eateries to make profit. Burgers by Josh owner Josh Arthurs made the same decision, declaring that “you’re doing it for free with Uber Eats.” Tax specialist Cameron Keng agrees, who after comparing average gross profit margins with Uber Eats commission rates, concludes that “Uber Eats will eat you into bankruptcy.”

Mr Arthurs has also taken a reputation hit due to Uber Eats, after a customer gave his restaurant a one-star review due to the food being cold on arrival — a factor completely outside of his control.

If food delivery services are so costly, why do restaurants use them? One of the main reasons appears to be free marketing — a way to gain additional exposure in the hope that customers will forego their laziness and decide to visit the eatery in person, though it’s questionable (and difficult to measure) how often this actually happens. What’s worse, Deliveroo and Uber Eats have the potential to turn a profitable, regularly visiting customer into a non-profitable, regular delivery customer.

There’s also the palpable fear of becoming “invisible”. If a restaurant decides to abandon food delivery services, will customers bother to visit now that they have quick access to a hoard of other eateries via the apps? The existence and popularity of the apps is likely to make a restaurant feel forced to continue using them, out of fear that they’ll shrink into oblivion. Uber Eats and Deliveroo has them by the balls, which is why they can continue to charge extortionate commission rates. Maybe if restaurants rallied together and quit, the services would consider charging a fairer percentage?

Delivery riders get next to nothing, and have little power

Delivery riders for Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Foodora staged a protest in Sydney last year, claiming to earn as little as $6 p/hr—less than a third of the Australian minimum wage. In the UK, Uber Eats originally paid their delivery riders £20 p/hr, but as the service grew in popularity, wages decreased to a complex formula of £3.30 per delivery, plus £1 per mile, plus a £5 “trip reward.” Deliveroo engaged in similar tactics, initially paying £7 p/hr, plus £1 a delivery, petrol and customer tips. It shortly moved to a one-off delivery payment of £3.75. Many riders struggle to earn a living in the food delivery gig economy, lacking the protection of a standard minimum wage.

Business author Sangeet Paul Choudary believes that the creation of a well-functioning food delivery market is at odds with empowering workers, and as a result, Uber and Deliveroo are exploiting their workers in order to be successful. The platforms afford little control to their riders, setting wages, shift times, and delivery routes, without the possibility of negotiation. Delivery riders for these services simply cannot work on their own terms. In addition to this, the reputation that they build while working for Uber Eats or Deliveroo cannot be ported over to another job, as they’re technically self-employed. This makes it difficult for workers to shift to employment that is outside of the platform, which is all other employment.

There’s also the question of collective bargaining rights, recently denied by the UK courts for Deliveroo riders, due to their self-employed status. These food delivery services appear to have designed their businesses in such a way as to grant their riders as little power as possible, ensuring that collective action is impossible.

Back in Australia, a recent workers right inquiry confirmed that gig economy workers have lower wages than regular employees, and miss out on a number of other benefits. Until governments consider protective regulation for gig economy employees, food delivery services will continue to exploit their workers.

The restaurant becomes crowded

Former restaurant hostess Darby Hane believes that delivery services make the work day in a restaurant a “living hell,” cluttering up the establishment and diminishing the experience for profitable guests.

“There are more delivery people than there are restaurant patrons waiting for a table, because new guests cannot bypass this cluster at the front door.” — Darby Hane

Entering a restaurant to be faced with a wall of brightly-clad delivery workers, heads bowed staring at their phones, makes for a terrible first impression and could set a potentially negative tone for the evening.

What’s the alternative?

In light of the unethical business practices of Uber Eats and Deliveroo, what should we do instead? The obvious suggestion is getting off our arses and actually going to the restaurant. The food will be fresher, hotter, tastier, and presented nicely, rather than carelessly slung into a plastic container. The restaurant owners will actually make a profit from your visit, so you’ll be helping to support a local business, rather than handing your money over to profiteering food delivery services. You’ll also be paying less, as food pricing on Uber Eats and Deliveroo tends to be higher than the actual restaurant prices. If you’re hell-bent on staying at home, consider visiting the restaurant’s website to determine whether they offer their own delivery service. Even better — endeavour to overcome your laziness and actually cook a meal yourself. It’ll be a hell of a lot cheaper, and you’ll be learning a valuable life-skill in the process.

Though our lethargy will probably defeat us from time to time, if we have any care for the well-being of delivery workers, or the prosperity of culture-boosting local restaurants, we should consider a boycott of Uber Eats and Deliveroo. Their exploitative business practices have been supported by us for long enough.

Australians love illegal drugs, please make them safer

poison-1481596_1280Image by qimono

At some point in our distant evolutionary past, a primate chanced upon a sticky swirl of fermented fruit, and after making the decision to consume it, felt the pleasant effects of a drug for the first time. Much changed over the next few million years, but our collective love for drugs isn’t one of them. Whether it’s the energy-boost from a cup of coffee that releases us from our zombie-like state, the numbing relaxation of a pint of lager that permeates us with ease, or the love-inducing effects of an ecstasy pill whereby we want to hug everybody, many of us adore how drugs make us feel.

Drugs have the ability to make us more productive employees, more likeable people, or seemingly better dancers. They can transform the steady, monotonous thump of a house beat into something wonderfully hypnotising, for which you’ll happily spend five hours dancing to. They can remove the stifling, anxiety-inducing edginess which is ingrained in social interaction, or make a difficult conversation a little easier to handle.

Drugs can also lead you to a sickening addiction that may result in giving alleyway blowjobs, surrounded by scores of needles and scum-filled pools of water. A thunderous techno beat might be the last thing you ever hear if you take too many ecstasy pills. Legal drugs aren’t any better – alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs to withdraw from, creating hallucinations, severe body tremors, and occasionally death. Cigarettes are notoriously tough to quit, and create a cancerous, sticky black tar in the lungs of their smokers.

Drugs can be extremely dangerous when abused, but despite the plethora of information outlining the risks, we take them regardless. This is how much we love them.

Debates are raging in Australia at the moment about the possibility of implementing pill-testing tents at music festivals, offering attendees the chance to discover what their illegal drugs actually contain, and how strong they are. A few months ago, New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian pushed back against the idea, stating the following:

“We do not support a culture that says it is OK to take illegal drugs, and I am worried about the number of people who attend these events who think it is OK to take illegal drugs.” —Gladys Berejiklian

The crux of the problem is this: it doesn’t matter whether the Australian government gives their approval to take illegal drugs, people are going to take them anyway. The fact that there’s a $320 billion dollar black market is proof of this. Until our governments develop some kind of effective mind control, our love of drugs isn’t going to change, and we’ll continue taking them, illegal or not.

Prohibition obviously doesn’t work, it just goes underground and creates a network of crime that governments waste billions battling against. Every single country that has embarked on a war on drugs has failed miserably, not because they lacked the correct strategy, but because people have a strong desire to take drugs. Where there’s a desire, there’s a market.

The government has also tried drug-scare campaigns, which in a comical backfire, have shown to have the complete opposite effect, with people more motivated to take drugs after encountering the campaign. No amount of bodybag or car crash imagery will prevent people from doing what they love. I cannot reiterate this point enough – people will continue to take drugs, regardless of the government’s futile attempts to convince them otherwise. History has proven this point time and time again.

In light of the fact that people are always going to want to take mind-altering, illegal substances, and that convincing them not to take them is a laughable failure, any sane person would surely agree that we should do whatever we can to ensure that their drugs are as safe as possible? Would any politician in their right mind – Gladys Berejiklian included – argue against this point? Can they really continue pushing the astonishingly pathetic, antiquated idea of just say no? People don’t just say no, they just say yes, regardless of the fact that they’re risking death (albeit the tiniest chance) every time that they take them. If you can’t frighten a drug-user with the prospect of their death, you’re not going to frighten them with anything.

Inevitability cannot be fought, so the only sensible solution is to make illegal drugs as safe as possible. Festival drug testing tents have been shown to be an effective way of doing this, simply by giving users more information about their drugs. It’s absolutely astonishing that politicians like Gladys Berejiklian, and NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller, are claiming that it’s a bad thing to know whether your drugs contain a poison that will kill you. This is one of those situations where their arguments are so ridiculous that you half-expect it to be a prank. There’s simply no scenario where life-saving information about your illegal drugs is a bad thing, unless you’re advocating more death, which as bizarre as it sounds, is exactly what people like Gladys Berejiklian and Mick Fuller are doing.

Former police chiefs and politicians (who no are longer concerned about pursuing a career) are calling for decriminalisation. The ambitious NSW premier would never dream of doing this in case she loses voters, but losing drug-users to poisonous pills doesn’t seem to be so much of a problem. The recent spate of drug-related deaths in Australia may not have happened if the victims had access to a service that detected the deadly toxicity in their drugs, or were offered advice from a knowledgable, sympathetic drug-worker.

I don’t believe for a second that Gladys Berejiklian or Mick Fuller actually think that the approval of pill-testing tents will legitimise drug use. They’re just so concerned with damaging their own careers that they’re willing to overlook the mountains of evidence that demonstrates the life-saving capabilities of drug-testing. They can no longer ignore the proof. Unless they want more people to die, it’s time to put aside their selfishness and offer serious legislative support for establishing pill-testing tents at every Australian music festival.

 

The dangerous arrogance of Jordan Peterson

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I must admit, when I first stumbled upon Jordan Peterson, I had a bit of a man-crush. Many of the topics that he so skilfully elucidated rang clear and true for me – his explanations of human social hierarchies, infringement of free speech, the importance of symbolism, etc. Here was a man who had his act together, and I considered him a person who might help me to get my act together.

How wrong I was.

The biggest problem with Peterson is how convincing he is. The confidence of the man is staggering. Like so many others, I was swept away by Peterson’s fearless erudition – he speaks as though his life depends on it – a thrill to watch. And yet, peel away his near-invisible facade, and you’re in danger of finding baseless pseudoscience, delivered with a vehemence that is difficult to resist. As it turns out, Jordan Peterson’s emphatic claims have a tendency to be nought but sound and fury.

The most alarming illustration of Peterson’s charlatanism is from back in August, when he posted a YouTube clip from PragerU, a popular media company that posts quick consumption political videos. The video was a seemingly well-made denial of climate change, fronted by Richard Lindzen – an American physicist. Lindzen opens the video with an attempt to convince us of his credibility – he’s published 200 scientific papers, and has taught for 30 years at MIT, with the impressive title of Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Sciences.

The video was absurdly incorrect, utilising a classic data trick to mislead viewers. It presents a small, 10-year chunk of data from a graph to illustrate that the climate isn’t warming. When the data is presented for its full-range of 42 years, it clearly shows rising temperatures. He then does this a second time, but with carbon dioxide levels.

It turns out that despite Lindzen’s shining credentials, he’s made a career out of climate change denial, and his work has never been taken seriously by fellow scientists. The Global Climate Coalition claimed his work on “The Role of Water Vapor” to be “weak”, after which Lindzen stopped touting it. His examinations of climate feedbacks – processes that amplify or diminish warming – are completely one-sided, lending a laughably unscientific bias to his work.

The real smoking gun though, are the payments made to Lindzen by Peabody Energy – American’s biggest coal mining company – to carry out “research” to spread the insidious idea that man-made climate change doesn’t exist. He’s literally on the payroll of energy companies. The man has zero credibility.

Then there’s the makers of the video – PragerU – a right-wing non-profit who claims to promote “Judeo-Christian values,” but is better known for turning young liberals into young conservatives. Some examples of their videos are Why you should be a nationalist, The inconvenient truth about the Democratic Party, and Was the civil war about slavery? When it comes to climate change, republicans often sit on the denial side of the fence, so it’s no surprise that PragerU are creating videos that perpetuate the idea. The in their title exists to make the company sound like a university – a trusted academic source. In reality, PragerU is just another YouTube propaganda machine, which has amassed over a billion views according to its own marketing director.

Most importantly though is the current scientific consensus on climate change – a whopping 97%. Almost every single scientist that has worked on climate change agrees that it’s a man-made phenomenon, but that doesn’t seem to be enough for Jordan Peterson, whose believes that after “reading a lot” of climate-change literature, his conclusion is superior, and so justifies his spread of PragerU drivel. This is mind-boggling arrogance – Peterson is a clinical psychologist, climate science isn’t his field. It would be like Einstein barging into Peterson’s practice and declaring that his treatment of patients is all wrong, regardless of the fact that Peterson has been treating patients for two decades, and Einstein for no time at all.

Peterson has authored or coauthored over 90 peer-reviewed articles on clinical psychology, social psychology, and personality theory, topics on which he’s undoubtedly well-versed, and for which he has every right to throw his hat into the ring. But when it comes to climate change — one of the most important issues of our time — it is simply not his place to be creating doubt.

Peterson has almost a million followers on Twitter – that’s a million people who, after watching the video, might be erring on the side of climate change denial. His irresponsibility cannot be understated.

While Peterson’s climate change prattlings are his biggest moral failing, his track record for nonsense isn’t slight. He once claimed – in earnest – to have gone 25 days without sleep, a whopping 14 days longer than the documented record. That’s quite a feat.

Regarding religion, Peterson was a strong proponent of God in the years before he burst into the limelight, believing that society will literally unravel without faith in a higher power:

“To say ‘I believe in God’ is equivalent, in some sense, to say ‘my thought is ultimately coherent, but predicated on an axiom (as my thought is also incomplete, so I must take something on faith).’

To say ‘I don’t believe in God’ is therefore to say ‘no axiom outside my thought is necessary’ or ‘the necessary axiom outside my thought is not real.’ The consequence of this statement is that God himself unravels, then the state unravels, then the family unravels, and then the self itself unravels.” – Jordan Peterson

In Peterson’s view, a Godless society is one of nihilistic anarchy in which the rulebook is thrown away, because religion and only religion can add meaning to our lives. I suspect there’s many philosophers who would disagree with him, if they thought it worth their time. Since rising to star-studded fame, Peterson has claimed that he no longer believes in god, but “he’s afraid he exists.” Perhaps he looked a little closer at the demographics of his fans and realised that preaching wouldn’t do him any favours.

Then there’s Peterson’s views on the struggles of women, who according to his extensive expertise, and despite swathes of historical evidence, have been treated fairly over the years:

“The idea that women were oppressed throughout history is an appalling theory.” —Jordan Peterson

Nevermind the fact that women were treated like second-class citizens by being unable to vote; nevermind the fact that stronger, larger males have been bullying women into submission throughout our evolutionary timeline; nevermind the fact that despite being equally skilled, women don’t receive the same wages as men. This is all just nonsense to Peterson, who dismisses it with an arrogant wave of his hand.

Peterson’s straight-faced, unerring conviction is of a man who expects to be taken seriously. How is that possible when he spouts such utter bullshit? As a long-practising psychologist with an obviously high IQ, he has great insight to offer the world, but his hogwash pseudoscience just subverts anything good that he has to say.

As time marches onward, Jordan Peterson is appearing less a scientific intellectual and more a conning prattler. There’s a long history of Prattleson forcefully ejaculating his opinions on topics that he has absolutely no expertise in. He simply doesn’t have the credibility or authority to voice his ideas so haughtily, especially concerning matters related to the survival of our species.

He may be the most dangerous intellectual alive today, and the quicker he returns to the obscure Canadian darkness from which he came, the better for us all.

Failure of the popular media

c546c9af393345dda2f934638e5de1ae_18.jpgPhoto from Al Jazeera

According to the United Nations, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis is currently going on in Yemen, at the southern end of the Arabian peninsula. The civil war that is raging in the country has resulted in 22 million people – three-quarters of the population – in desperate need of humanitarian aid. 18 million of those people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That’s equivalent to every single person in London and New York, suddenly without the prospect of an upcoming meal.

Head north-west a couple of thousand kilometres to war-torn Syria. Here, the number of people in desperation amounts to 13 million, over two-thirds of their population. Almost 6 million people are fleeing the endless bombs, some of which contain illegal, devastating nerve agents, choking their victims to death in the most appalling way imaginable.

Make your way south-west until you reach South Sudan, and you’ll hear news of 2.5 million people being forced to desert their homes, in pursuit of a place where they won’t be mercilessly gunned down by rebel soldiers.

There’s a good chance that you don’t know much about these conflicts. In a bid to chase readership and ratings, the popular media prefers to cover more jovial, loveable stories such as George Clooney being named as the royal baby’s godparent. Apparently, a royal baby is more important than thousands of dead ones in the Middle East. The argument is that the popular media are just giving the people what they want. But are we more interested in entertaining topics because that’s what the media promotes? Or would we be willing to spend time learning about humanitarian disasters, if clearly presented with them? This is not to say that the media should forgo all entertainment and torment us with constant death and misery, but they have to make some kind of effort to cover such critical stories, and to position them at the forefront of their mediums, not in some out-of-focus dark corner where nobody ventures. In addition to this, good, hard-working journalists are required instead of bottom-feeding hacks, in order to capture our attention more effectively.

Our own responsibilities are to actively seek out these kinds of stories, and ignore the mind-numbing fluff that jumps up and down for our attention. Spend some time browsing the world category on your favourite news sites, making sure that the sources themselves are considered credible. The BBC, Guardian and Al Jazeera are three excellent examples. The often-buried issues that you’re pursuing are of paramount importance, and unless we know about them, there’s nothing we can do to help. The cynics among you might be screaming: “but we can’t do anything to help!” But this simply isn’t true – change can only start with us, the people. Just look to Martin Luther King or Gandhi for inspiration.

While Facebook is clearly a vapid, soul-sucking creation, it’s still the most popular social network on the planet, and can be used to illuminate crucial topics which usually find themselves in the nether regions of popular media. You might be surprised at how much interest people take in such stories. We’re not as cold-hearted as you think.

Until the day that our souls are merged with the cloud, we retain the ability to converse with people face-to-face – another effective method for spreading important news. Chat to your friends about it over an alcoholic beverage; get on your high-horse and protest against the awful injustice of it all.

On the topic of protests, if you really wanted to get involved, you could join one. You might even start one, and invite a few local news crews in the hope that they’ll actually cover the event. Just try not to smash anything up, because that isn’t fitting for a polite citizen such as yourself.

Finally, reach into those deep pockets of yours, and offer a portion of the contents to a deserving charity. The UN Refugee Agency is a good candidate.

When you’re casually browsing through your media of choice, remember that the most important news on the planet isn’t going to be easy to find. A little poking and digging is required to discover the good stuff. And while much of what you read will be depressing, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it. In fact, that makes it all the more important to read, because upsetting news usually covers that which requires the most immediate change, and change can only start with us.

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HOW TABLOIDS ARE RUINING YOUR COUNTRY

The greatest trick that tabloids ever pulled, is convincing the world that they exist for a serious reason. Wikipedia defines tabloids as “a style of journalism that emphasises sensational crime stories, gossip columns about celebrities and sports stars, extreme political views from one perspective, junk food news, and astrology.” This is a news source that is sensationalist by its very definition, and as such, should never be viewed as credible. And yet, millions of people read these publications daily, with the notion that the content is fair, accurate, and to be believed without objection.

In the UK, 7 out of 10 of the country’s most popular newspapers are tabloids, with the Sun positioned at the summit, run by the near-dead super-goblin Rupert Murdoch, a man with the ethics of an SS Officer. On the topic of Germany, their Bild tabloid is Europe’s most circulated newspaper, shifting 2.5 million copies daily. America has the popular New York Post, and Australia the Courier Mail, the latter of which has such a bad reputation that you often see car bumper stickers with the words: “Is it true? Or did you read it in the Courier Mail?”

The problem with this kind of shitty popular journalism is that it spreads bad ideas, often about profoundly critical topics. Brexit is one such example. It would take a writer of great genius to condense and explain the complexities of the European Union to a layman, helping them to make an informed decision about which way to vote. This simply isn’t a task for a tabloid journalist, who usually spend their days writing depthless, entertaining drivel. For whatever underlying political reason, the Sun urged their readers to exit the agreement, and given the newspaper’s popularity in Britain, it can be safely assumed that they helped to claim the victory, with consequences yet to be revealed. With extreme examples such as this, tabloid journalism isn’t just harmless fun, it’s downright dangerous.

Tabloids are ultimately businesses, operating within the entertainment industry. They’ll always print whatever shifts the most papers, regardless of whether the idea is harmful, and using whichever method is required to get the story. Journalists at the former News of the World tabloid hacked the voicemail of a murdered schoolgirl, deleting some of the messages and consequently giving her parents false hope of her survival. They also hacked the phones of the relatives of deceased British soldiers, and victims of the 7 July 2005 London bombings. With those kinds of ethics, it’s clear that the only good use for a tabloid is keeping a copy in the bathroom, for wiping your arse with when the toilet paper has run dry.

Tabloid headlines seek to evoke a self-righteous anger in the reader, with entries such as “FURY AT POLICE IN BURKAS”, “MIGRANT CRISIS: SORT IT NOW”, and “GERMANS DECLARE WAR ON OUR £”. The stronger the emotional response, the more likely it is that the person will buy the newspaper to read more, with the stories themselves often brimming with irrational nonsense. The reader is now angry at the “state of the country” and wonders how Britain ever got into such a mess. It is of course, complete and utter bullshit. The truth might be found in other publications, but tabloid readers don’t really want that, they enjoy being outraged because it elevates them to the high-horse that we all so desperately love to climb onto. Who doesn’t love feeling right? Maybe tabloid readers need to find their self-confidence in more constructive ways.

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with entertainment. But when entertainment masquerades as actual informative news, there’s a big problem. Some topics are highly complex, requiring deep and demanding reporting, with a resulting article that is challenging to read. We have a choice between reading entertaining, emotionally-driven tripe, or more difficult, insightful truth. Good ideas are worth our time, and we’re never going to get them from tabloids, whose primary purpose is not to illuminate the world with truth, but to be as rapacious as possible, with little care for the damage that they cause.

I’ll leave you with this website, the existence of which speaks to the nature of the morally-bankrupt media moguls who run the world of tabloid journalism.

https://isrupertmurdochdead.com/

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New Zealand Trip – Part Seven – Te Anau to Christchurch

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We’d decided to check out the east-coast city of Dunedin on the second-to-last day of our trip, as it had some awesome nearby wildlife spots, but once again we were foiled by persistent, chunky raindrops, so we didn’t get to do much at all. The little ambling that we undertook revealed an old-fashioned, almost run-down city, which seemed in desperate need of some love. The most entertaining thing that happened was a seagull fight over an apparently invaluable black bag of rubbish, waged by a gang of normal-sized seagulls, and one gigantic specimen which looked like it spent all of its spare time pumping seagull iron. You can conclude which side won.

IMG_20181108_184506Arnie gull

We left the city the next day, disappointed at our luck. Our final destination was Christchurch, which we arrived at after another lengthy five-hour drive. As it was our final night we decided to dine somewhere a little classier, and I discovered a wondrous bottle of merlot by a winery called Pegasus Bay, a rouge plonk that delighted all of the senses. We had a quick toxic cocktail after dinner, and because we’re lightweights, went to bed early again.

Our flight home wasn’t until the afternoon, and the elusive sun had revealed itself to us again, so we spent our last few hours exploring the city. Christchurch is the biggest city on New Zealand’s south island, and suffered a series of massive earthquakes between 2010 and 2012, causing 1500 buildings to be demolished. The center of town still has large empty swathes of space where the buildings used to stand, lending an eerie, lifeless feel to those areas. Construction noise filled the air wherever you went, in the continued effort to rebuild what was lost.

Despite this, Christchurch is beautiful in its own way – a mixture of older grey stone and red-brick buildings, and modern stylish designs that seemed to fit well within the city. Anachronistic red and black trams circle the central part of the city, carrying smiling photo-happy tourists to the many sights on offer. We wandered past the severely damaged ChristChurch cathedral, which had a charming austerity despite its crippled state.

clone tag: 1645740101791025541ChristChurch Cathedral

An hour was spent in the natural history museum, with a “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” section housing some absolutely stunning photographs.

_97776042_mediaitem97776041.jpgArctic Treasure by Sergey Gorshkov

Our time was finally up, and we Uber’d our way to the airport, ready to return to our daily routines. The flight home featured an enormous teenager seated in front of me, who spent most of the ride shifting and smashing his sizeable bulk into the gudgeoned seat. I turned to Em out of frustration and asked whether he was retarded or something, and like a skit from a comedy sketch, it turned out that he actually was. I felt the briefest pang of guilt before quickly moving on.

It’s difficult to describe the splendour of south New Zealand without swearing, and in fact I spent much of the holiday involuntarily muttering “fuck” under my breath from sheer disbelief at the environments that we found ourselves in. It’s as though every single gorgeous natural landscape that exists has been collected and deposited in a single place, and in a location so remote that it isn’t spoiled by over-tourism. If this country were in Europe, every improbably blue glacial lake might be festooned with mile-high hotels, and circled by four-lane highways. I’m extremely thankful that it isn’t.

Travelling from one spot to the next usually revealed something completely new, and equally as beautiful. The terrific diversity of the country makes it continually fascinating and endlessly surprising. From the distant, swooping mountain valleys of the south, to the sloping, fertile wine valleys of the north, every part of the island had something amazing to offer. We adored the numerous chunky brown birds that effortlessly bounced their way around, just as we loved the mischievous mountain-parrot Keas who stomped across the tops of convenience stores and yelled at tourists for food.

If you’ve yet to visit New Zealand, what are you waiting for? It’s a destination that is sure to leave you amazed.

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed what we shared!

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New Zealand Trip – Part Six – Queenstown to Te Anau

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Gone are the days of our youth when litres of alcohol could be drunk with little consequence. These days, a hangover feels like having your stomach replaced with an over-jealous washing machine, and a head that’s being jabbed by a malicious leprechaun. Despite this, we were going out on the town, and we were going to get properly fucked.

We skipped out of the hotel entrance like a couple of excited children, ready to guzzle all of the booze available to us. We hopped from bar to bar, consuming red wine, golden beer, blackened Guinness and rainbow cocktails, with a good measure of cod and potato half way, for that extra fishy boost. At one bar, while Em was in the bathroom, a fellow drinker assumed that I was alone and was kind enough to ask me to join them, such is the friendly comradeship of Queenstown tourists. In another bar, the niceness was relinquished by a gaggle of petulant silver-haired Americans, who felt it necessary to state in no uncertain terms how terrible the service was in this very casual Irish pub. Personally, I’d rather an honest smile than a fake one.

IMG_20181104_204047Drunk in Queenstown

After a few hours of wayward drinking and plodding, we reached our final destination – a club that promised good underground house music. Unfortunately, the excessive alcohol had broken my weary, aged limbs, and I could only dance for half an hour before whining incessantly about going home. No amount of red bull or thumping kick drums could rejuvenate me. We left and purchased some mightily delicious venison puff-pastry pies, gobbling them with glee as we swayed our way back to the hotel.

The hangover was every bit as disgusting as anticipated, so not much was achieved that day. We caught up with my old pal from Ibiza over dinner, who like everyone else my age except me, has settled down into a family life, complete with adorable smiley toddler.

The next morning we undertook our one and only thrill activity of the trip – the famous Shotover Jet. The driver of our boat was an unbelievably handsome bastard; if I’d have thought it possible to blindfold Em for the duration, I would have. He sped down the Shotover river like a bat out of hell, aiming the gunfire red boat as close as physically possible to the sharp canyon rocks without actually hitting them. He described the boat itself as a giant jetski, which sucks water and then savagely spits it out in order to create massive, fear-inducing amounts of thrust. The result was superb fun.

Our next destination was Te Anau, a town that exists purely for the spectacular nearby Milford Sound – the unofficial eighth wonder of the world, which is essentially a gigantic sea-filled fiord carved out by glaciers. It took a couple of hours to get there, with the blasted rain returning once more to spite us. Te Anau also sat on a beautiful far-reaching lake, and I was beginning to wonder whether that was a requirement for a New Zealand settlement. The town was fairly large and seemed to consist mostly of lodges, hostels and hotels. We stayed in a modest hostel because the prices were high due to the remoteness of the town, forking out $120AUD per night for what was basically a crappy, worn-out room. The shower curtain was the kind that wanted to get up close and personal whenever you turned the water on; it wrapped its slimy fabric around my calf more than a few times. The bed was comfortable, at least.

Our Milford Sound boat trip was the following day, a two-hour coach trip from Te Anau. The driver made a pleasing stop at a hidden lake along the way, which on sunnier days acts as a mirror, reflecting the impeccable surroundings. It was splendid regardless.

clone tag: -4262830837674072178Mirror Lakes – Te Anau to Milford Sound

The closer we got to our destination, the more the rain intensified, and as we descended into the fiord we could see nothing aside from blanket fog. No eighth wonder of the world for you today! Haha!

Thankfully, after the boat departed and bobbed closer to the mammoth mountains, they became much clearer. The colossal rock faces were blackened by the steady rain, which caused tens of individual waterfalls to cascade down them, of differing size and intensity. The tails of some smaller waterfalls were being blown in another direction entirely by the wind, creating a delicate fairy-dust mist that clung to our jackets when we braved the top deck.

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clone tag: -7056128515594891531Milford Sound

As we approached the exit of the fiord, the fog broke in the distance, revealing a delightful water-valley of sloping sierras. Milford Sound was undoubtedly impressive, despite the weather. The captain noted that this was a typical sodden day for them, with the area receiving a jaw-dropping nine metres of rain per year.

clone tag: -3708302892534112610Milford Sound

We returned to our lifeless hostel a few hours later, and prepared ourselves for our final two days in New Zealand.

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New Zealand Trip – Part Five – Queenstown

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Queenstown is the adventure capital of New Zealand – almost every pant-soiling activity created by man can be undertaken there, if that’s your thing. The town centre is littered with adventure shops whose staff openly declare that they’ll take pleasure in throwing you out of a moving plane. Their glossy, hungover eyes inspire little confidence.

The town itself is located on the country’s biggest lake – Wakatipu – and homes around 16,000 people. Many of the town’s residential buildings have made their way up the surrounding mountains, which after the sun falls, bathes them in sparkling light. Atop a few of the tallest mountains are patches of snow leftover from winter, with the ranges being prime ski locations during those colder months. Many of the buildings look like they’ve been lifted directly from a Swiss town, giving the entire place a cozy Alpine feel.

We arrived late morning to a town packed with people. The spell of non-rain that we’d been blessed with was continuing, so we decided to ride the town’s gondola before it was due to turn again the next day. It slowly limped and shuddered its way up the mountain, offering spectacular views from the top.

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Also on top of the mountain was a winding luge track that was included with the gondola ride, which was basically a low sitting go-kart that used gravity instead of petrol. They moved surprisingly fast considering that you weren’t strapped in, adding to the Kiwi’s apparently nonchalant attitude towards health and safety; a refreshing change to the cotton-wool-wrapping societies of certain places. After we finished our run and were watching from above, a young bespectacled Asian gentleman with a penchant for speed hit a rubber barrier and sprang himself out of the cart like a kangaroo on amphetamine, ending up on a different track entirely.

We spent the next couple of hours exploring the town, finding ourselves in the picturesque Queenstown Gardens, which jutted out onto the lake opposite the town centre.

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Like the park in Blenheim, it was adorned with perfectly kept lawns and mirror-like lakes and rivers. Unlike Blenheim, there were lots of people, including an old chap calmly performing a Tai Chi routine in the middle of a public walkway. When we walked back past him later he was being accosted by a rowdy stag party, but was obviously too nice to deftly jab their drunken throats.

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We checked into our hotel and was greeted with a bottle of rose wine to celebrate our arrival, courtesy of an old friend who worked there. That night we went to an awesome place that had the cheapest and probably the tastiest food since we’d been away, called Muskets and Moonshine. In the men’s bathroom was a racing game above the urinal, the car for which could be controlled using your boozy discharge. I crashed multiple times and retired with wet hands.

After a little more wandering about town, we went to bed, ready for another day.

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It was due to rain again the next morning, so we decided to go for a drive to an old gold mining place called Arrowtown, which seemed an odd mixture of a one-street American town you see in the movies, and an English countryside. Every building was dedicated to selling food or souvenir tat to tourists, but it had a certain charm to it regardless. We bought some fudge from what had to be the busiest shop in the southern hemisphere, and quickly left before an accidental pregnancy occurred.

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Once back in Queenstown, we queued for a famous Fergburger for 45 minutes in the rain, only to discover that they were about as tasty as most Australian burgers. The Aussies are patty-spoiled it seems.

The next day we woke to gloriously sunny skies, so we hopped into the Mazda and made our way towards Glenorchy, another tourist town that also straddles Lake Wakatipu, to the north. The road followed the lake the entire way, and as usual, the views were stunning.

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There wasn’t a great deal to do in the town itself, so after a brief amble we drove back to Queenstown, and prepared ourselves for the first rip-roaringly drunken night of the holiday.

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