Category Archives: Ramblings on society

The clash of the fears

On March 11th 2020, Dr. Tedros Adahom Ghebreyesus, chairman of the WHO declared in his already historical speech that the outbreak of Sars-CoV-2 fits the definition of a pandemic. He also stated that this virus can be controlled and called upon governments to ‘take urgent and aggressive action’. Now, as the weeks unfold, we are starting to wonder if our ability to control this virus is a gift or a curse.

Photo by Nandhu Kumar

 

I am reading the book Factfulness by Hans Rosling. In chapter 4, The Fear Instinct, he discusses 3 primordial fears, as they have evolved along with us: the fear of physical harm, the fear of captivity and the fear of contamination. Many of our every day fears, rational or irrational, can be brought down to one or a combination of these three. Fear for snakes and spiders, for example, is in fact a fear for the invisible threat of the poison that comes out of them, meaning it is a fear of contamination. Fear for being stuck in the same office for the rest of your life, would then be a type of fear for captivity. And fear for being hit by a bus or drowning are fears for physical harm.

Rosling mentions these fears because they catalyze our interest for certain news stories. He illustrates it with terrorism, which intentionally combines the fear for physical harm and the fear of captivity for the purpose of drawing an endless amount of attention to or away from a certain issue. It works. Stories on terrorism often go viral. When reading chapter 4, of course, I immediately thought about what a nice shit show cocktail of these 3 primordial fears we have found ourselves in with this coronavirus.

Fear being a “fight or flight” type of motion, Rosling explains, decreases our ability to reason. We are quicker to choose a certain side in the discussion and take less time to carefully weigh the facts. In this crisis, I’ve felt that. We all have, because it’s a natural response. But that makes it all the more important to be aware of these fears. Society is being launched into a pressure cooker of crazy situations and out-of-the-box decision making. We are all trying to figure out which way to go in our own private lives and together as a society. For those who can grant ourselves some time to step back and think, it may be a good idea to look for our own fears and ask ourselves how they are pushing us to conclusions. If only for our peace of mind.

Which is why I am going to go through a number of fears I have encountered in my own life throughout the weeks, in the order in which they occur to me. I’ll give my quick personal assessment on how I perceive these fears, but I’m not implying that it’s complete. I’m guided in my assessments by big newspapers such as NYtimes and European equivalents, numerous scientific and anecdotal podcasts, the information by the WHO and national statistics of the individual countries, recent research published by universities and of course the quabbles between all kinds of camps on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube.

The stack of fears
I’ll start with the fear for the vaccine, or worse, compulsory vaccination. My mum brought it up about a month ago, and I see it come up here and there online. She told me that before I was born, a wrong vaccine caused her to feel illish for about half a year. At the moment, I’m involved in a Facebook discussion about it with some good friends, who are pointing out some examples in the past where vaccines didn’t work. Another very good friend has helped eradicate the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak with a novel vaccine in West Africa. I am very glad he did that. The fear for the vaccine itself clearly relates to the fear of contamination and physical harm. The compulsory part adds the element of a fear for captivity. Loss of autonomy over the own body. I also have a light version of that fear, though I do trust 21st century testing procedures are good enough to make them safe enough. Particularly in the unlikely scenario in which it is made mandatory, at least in my region in the world. I am not particularly fearful for a mandatory vaccine, but I would of course scrutinize its side effects.

Second: fear that there will never be a vaccine, or worse that this virus eludes immunity. Since I’m sure this virus is real, dangerous and far from over, this is one which scares me more. It illustrates the clusterfuck of fears going against each other in my case. It’s connected to the fear of captivity and physical harm, since having no vaccine or immunity would potentially mean being stuck in this situation for longer and having a bigger risk of catching and spreading the virus. As flawless vaccines are hard to acquire, it sounds unlikely to me that there will soon be one that could be used on a global scale. Which would mean more lockdown. Scary foresight.

That brings us to the fear for catching the virus itself. This too, is a clear case of fear of contamination and physical harm. The big, unknown and invisible and scary virus is out there and it is coming to get us. For young and healthy people like me, catching the virus is probably not much more scary than being bitten by a snake. But for older people and people with suboptimal health, men specifically, the fear seems justified. I’m not really afraid, but the thought does itch the scary-center in my brain. I do regularly have minor lung problems.

And how about the fear of being imprisoned in our own houses? It’s almost not possible to think of a clearer case of the fear of captivity. Some countries, such as China and the Southern European ones have taken the order to stay home very far. It’s not strange people there are frightened about being locked away. Particularly if they haven’t experienced this virus for themselves or don’t know anyone who has almost died from it. Here in the North, things have been better. Whenever it becomes too much, I am free to go for a long walk or bike ride. Or meet a friend outside and have a drink. It’s a way to mitigate that fear, perhaps. But also just a way to move and breathe some spring.

Next one: fear of passing the virus to another. Since my last post in early March, I think this fear has become much better felt and acted upon. I’m happy with that. The connection to one of the primordial fears is not very clear to me, and so far I haven’t seen many stories of this. Perhaps it relates to the fear of captivity, because it implies a loss of control over the consequences of your own actions. You don’t want to infect others, but do it anyway.

Another very real fear that is emerging: the fear of losing our livelihood. In a locked down capitalist society, not being able to work poses a real threat of losing the freedoms you acquired earlier. Your house, your luxury. Losing everything would lead, in part, to losing your autonomy, so this one quite clearly translates to the fear of captivity. If this lockdown lasts for very long, I too might lose my home. Many others would go before me, though, and for that reason I think it’s not likely to happen to me. I imagine others are more afraid of this, and rightly so.

Related and stronger: fear of starvation. It doesn’t come near me, here in the Netherlands, but it’s very real for people in poorer countries. For those who are on the edge of this, any action coming from this fear, even if blind, is of course legitimized. The UN is working hard to mitigate this, but that will unlikely be enough.

Or how about the fear of the unknown? The scale and size of the measures to control this pandemic are unprecedented. We don’t know what our next year, two years, three years will look like. We never did, of course, but this time feels different. I think this one also originates from the fear for captivity. Not only because we are inside all the time, but also because we have reduced control over our own lives. To embrace the unknown is one of the hardest things for people who have everything, but we’re all forced to do that now. It’s truly crazy to imagine how much could change. This tempts us to already make a choice for ourselves on knowing how things will play out. But whatever we imagine the future will be, we’re likely wrong. I am actively refraining from trying knowing anything except that I’m pretty sure we’ll still be dealing with this in some form for a long time.

I was glad to see quite some of the politicians political leaders admitting that they don’t know what will happen either. This included Putin, Merkel and the lesser known Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte. They refrain from making predictions on how this will evolve in the coming months. They all show a certain insecurity about the facts out of fear of getting it wrong. The risk here, though, is that they shift the power and the blame of decision to epidemiologists, which isn’t always the best approach either. With the constant stream of information, I’m also regularly afraid of being wrong, but luckily I don’t have this great responsibility of decision-making. Is being wrong a type of incarceration of the mind? I don’t know. This one doesn’t very clearly fit one of the boxes of media-friendly fears, I guess.

On the other end of the spectrum, the fear of appearing weak, more clearly relates to the fear of captivity. Because if you’re weak, you can be controlled. According to some leaders, at least. Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro, and Orban are shining examples. Well okay, I can’t speak for them, and in hindsight not for the guys I mentioned in the previous paragraph either. If I look into myself, the moments where I want to appear powerful are when I want to get my will to become reality. Anyway, I’m not so afraid of this, in the context of this virus I think.

Personally, I have more fear for societal or economic disruption or collapse. Did you see the oil price drop to negative territory? Insane. It is an intricate fear these days, because such a disruption could come in many forms. It could come with a sudden wave of sick people overloading the hospitals, but also from economic or social unrest due to an overly locked down consumer lifestyle. From the popping of the debt bubbles. It could come with the emergence of a new kind of apartheid, where immune people can freely move while the vulnerable have to keep locking themselves up. Or when a scary order seizes control. Such disruption could lead to situations of captivity and physical harm. I do think this fear is rooted in those two fears, among others, and therefore very media-friendly. The big question is the order of magnitude in which things may go wrong and how they might get fixed.

Then, of course, there is the fear of a sudden implementation of intelligence infrastructure such as 5G. All around the world, people are now burning down 4G towers because they believe the emergence of 5G is bad news. A clear link with the fear of contamination and also with the fear of captivity. The fear comes with the hypothesis that 5G is meant to control us somehow, for example by making us sick. While I kind of share the fear for the emerging intelligence infrastructure, I find it hard to relate to this virus. We were already well on our way with installing 5G before this mayhem started. People want their self-driving cars.

Related, and also very much linked to the fear of captivity, is the broader fear of being controlled by the government, the media or by the corporate world. The lockdown itself is quite scary. It weakens us all in our way. And under these circumstances, the removal of a video from Youtube or Facebook, due to “community guidelines” looks extra suspicious. Or the implementation of surveillance apps. Some people believe thight response is a test to see if governments and corporations can further control the population. Living in Western-Europe, in one of the countries ranked highest on the global press freedom index, where everything is up for debate and every fart of the prime minister is under scrutiny, I’m personally not too worried by this. If this was the case, they would not have removed the circuses. But I do see the threat of the emergence of dictators exacerbate, which is scary, particularly for people living in the areas where they tighten their rule.

In the early phases of this thing, Asian people were looked upon with disgust throughout the world. Later, the same happened to Italians in Europe, New Yorkers in the US and now, foreigers are seen as scary in Asia. Well, at least we have something in common. Indirectly, that’s a fear for the virus itself, of course, so a fear for contamination, but journalists like to elevate this to xenophobia, which I think comes closer to a fear of captivity. I have felt this fear in the early stages when I saw some Asian people with masks, I must admit.

Let me end this series on that fear for masks. Personally, I find people with masks on the street a little scary. Not when I think about it, of course, but the sight. Wearing them myself, not so much, but it’s certainly not my hobby. Masks are introduced as a mandatory thing in many countries, but not here, so I don’t wear one at this time. Perhaps I will if I become aware of a local outbreak in my neighbourhood. This fear definitely has an aspect of loss of control and captivity. Particularly if the mask is mandatory. An ominous sign of a dark presence in the streets.

Taming the coronamonster
By declaring that we are able to control this virus, the WHO has laid an unprecedented burden on each one of us, and on our leaders in particular. Whoever is in power now, is obliged to make the effort to solve this problem.

For the first time in history, we are putting all our global human effort in getting a grasp over an elusive beast of this scale. There is something majestic about that ambition, but at the same time, it has something utterly naïve. What does success mean here? Will we ever get there? And what does failure look like? The fact that we’re taking up this collossal task says something about who we as a human race think we are. And who we are becoming. What that is, no-one knows.

What we do know now, is that we can no longer go back. This virus isn’t simply a force of nature anymore. We have made it into a nuisance that we are failing to get rid of. When people die, that is our fault. When people live, we can praise ourselves. No more God or Allah to rely upon. We have called upon ourselves the burden to look for the middle way between life and death on a global scale.

That in itself is a frightening thought. It combines, at least in part, many of the fears I mentioned above, makin the coronavirus into the ultimate subject for media and social media to publish about. I’m not surprised to see a lot of different, opposing views clash online and off. And since fear is a strong motivator, I would also not be surprised to see eruptions of civil unrest, resistance and disobedience appear in the months to come. I just hope people will cut each other some slack when looking each others fears in the eye. Because I don’t think demonizing each other is the way to go.

However it looks to you, we all agree that the fears are real. Yet while some may see in it a call to arms, I’m trusting that things will turn out well. I’ve seen structures crack open that I’d never expect to some years ago. Something to talk about in my next blog, perhaps. Who knows when that will be. And while there is a lot to doubt, question and meditate upon, there’s one thing I’m certain about. We live in interesting times. And I’m grateful to be in the priviledged position to witness it from a distance.

The coronavirus is not about you

Watching the emergence of the coronavirus unfold, I’m baffled by the degree of individualist thinking we as a western society are throwing at this issue. I’m saying that as an ecologist, aware of how all things are connected. Journalists and politicians repeatedly ask the wrong questions. “What can I do to stay safe?” should be “What should I do to keep society safe?” And “What should we all do keep the place running as smoothly as possible? The short answer: minimize spreading the virus and buffer the impacts.

Understandably, everyone’s first response to the news of the virus is: “Does this threaten me?”. Normal response, so far so good. But an important immediate question which many people are missing is: does this threaten our society? And while the answer the the first question is: “Probably not”, the answer to the second is “Certainly!” That’s why I want to shortly explain this thing from a graduated ecologists’ point of view. And yes, I have thoroughly studied this thing, and I’m aware there are uncertainties. I’m also not going to answer all basic questions. Just give a commentary on what I’m hearing and reading.

A quick first illustration of my issue: coughing in your elbow. I have not seen a single outlet which hasn’t called this a measure to protect yourself. “What can you do to protect yourself?” And then somewhere between point #3 and point #5 “Cough in your elbow.” You don’t cough in your elbow to protect yourself if you already have the virus! You do it to protect others. A single person you infect today, could infect thousands down the line. It’s remarkable that media, including the WHO campaign are ambiguous about this. Are they playing on fear for survival? Who are they thinking to fool, then? In which framework are they placing this campaign? That of you and yourself.

 

Herd immunity

I’m hearing people compare COVID19 to a common flu because of the effect it may have on their individual health (a flu is something different than a cold, by the way). When it comes to these problems, ecologists, and epidemologists, don’t think in terms of individuals, but in terms of communities and populations. Whenever a new virus gets introduced, none of the members in the population have ever built antibodies for it before. I’m still hearing leeks say something like: “O, okay. So if I contract this coronavirus, my immune system will have to save me, just like with a normal flu. Well, I’m not getting a flu vaccine now, so I’ll probably be fine.” Where these people go wrong, apart from forgetting their own memory T-cells, is where they ignore the protection they get from the immune systems of their neighbours, colleagues and family members.

Here’s how that works. Any new virus infection you get is a race against the clock between the virus, multiplying, and your immune system, multiplying virus-specific T-cells to neutralize it. Usually, you never notice this race, because your immune system wins hands down. If not, you get sick and may even develop a fever which then helps break down the virus, causing your immune system to win the race anyway.

Now, once you had a certain strain of virus, your immune system has memory cells which remember it. The next time you contract it, these cells will be able to take faster action, so the chances of the virus winning the battle will be even smaller. And since you were not the only one to get this virus – how else would you have got it? – more people around you now have a similar level of immunity. Sure, the virus will mutate, but not enough to make it look like a completely new virus. Hence, people around you will act as a barrier between you and the virus, and you will act as a barrier for them. So even if your immune system is weaker, because you’re under some stress, aren’t sleeping well or because you got old by now, chances you get sick are low.

This insight provides an end goal in case we can’t stop this virus with quarantines: global herd immunity to Sars-cov-2. By the time 60 to 80 % of a certain group is immune, it becomes harder and harder for a virus to procreate in that community. If that scenario becomes true, and that’s what it looks like, we should try to reach this state with as little trouble as possible. In practice, this means finding a healthy balance between giving people an antivirus, waiting for people to build up their own immunity against it.

 

Dosage matters

If you would get a single particle of the virus in your body, it would start multiplying from that point onwards. A few days later, you may have 10.000 particles (I have no idea how high actual numbers would be), but your immune system is already working hard to get it under control. You may never even notice you had it, and perhaps not even passed it on, yet you are now better protected against it.

If instead, everyone around you is sick, and they’re all coughing in your face, you might immediately get 10.000 virus particles in your body, giving the virus a head start. That means that the more people in your surroundings have this virus, the more likely it is for you to get severe symptoms. So, here again, it’s not just about you and your great immune system. Circumstances decide fates in this story. Think about the healthy Chinese doctor Li Wenliang who discovered weird symptoms, treated tons of patients, then died of COVID19 himself. You not coughing in someone’s face a single time, even if that person already is infected, may make a difference. We’re not talking yes and no, we’re talking about clouds of possibilities. And what we want to do, is keep those clouds as far from each other as we can.

 

How about the system?

But not only is the problem a collective one, the potential solution is as well. One common question I’m hearing asked in media, is: “Should I stock up?” I’ve heard otherwise completely reliable experts say it is not necessary or even harmful to do this, because you’re removing food from people who really need it. First of all, this answer unwillingly admits that shortages may arise. But what this statement ignores, is our collective capability and responsibility to buffer the impact of an outbreak in a certain community. Again this expert reveals an egocentric approach to this problem. Let me explain.

If you’ve read stories on the recent stock market flumps, you have probably read the hypothesis that local outbreaks could bother a supply chain, thus temporarily interrupting the arrival of goods. For example, if a big truck company in your area has to go on lockdown, a different company has to compensate the supply. The drivers may have to work harder, get under more stress and thus be more susceptible for illnesses. At that point, it would be great if we as a collective society would be able to do a step back and reduce our pressure on the system. If 10.000 people keep two weeks’ worth of supplies in their basements, that allows these truck drivers to supply 10.000 households worth less of food for two weeks. The system has extra time to adapt.

So instead of hoarding food in a panic and disrupt the system the moment the virus hits your neighbourhood, you could consider buying a little extra every time you shop, untill you have a few weeks’ worth of supplies. That way, we collectively build a buffer for the potential impact once the virus hits our community. This will also reduce our shop going frequencies, thus reducing the risk of contracting, or worse, spreading COVID19.

Once the virus hits your community, any pressure you put on the system will indeed potentially come at the cost of the weak and the elderly. But you can still do something now to reduce that effect. And once it’s here, you can help your neighbours, of course.

 

It’s a state of mind

Here’s something to think about: if you’re a healthy individual, one egoistic thing to do right now, would be to go catch the virus somewhere, then self-quarantine. Here’s why: in the unlikely case where you do get severe symptoms, hospitals will still have plenty of space for you. They will treat you with the best possible care you can imagine. You will come out of the hospital with an immune system that now recognizes the virus and will have the summer of your life, nakedly running through the empty streets and catching cheap last-minute flights to go to hotels with ‘corona’ in their name.

But if you’re a little more, say, altruistic, you’ll do everything you reasonably can to slow down the rate at which this virus spreads. This way, herd immunity has the chance to build slowly and the shock on the system is reduced, saving lives and reducing long-term health impacts of this virus. Every meeting you skype, every cough you intercept and every time you wash your hands could save hundreds of lives down the line.

My call is basically this: think about this virus not in individual terms, it does not think about you in that way either. Think about the collective. There’s no need to be afraid, but there is plenty of reason to prepare. It may not be you, who is most at risk, but you do play a vital role in the way this story will unfold. We have to solve this together. If that is by washing your hands and avoiding meeting people, then so be it. You truly have a chance to make a difference here. And though you’ll never know the exact impact of your individual actions, the global community will.

My opinions

I thought it’d be a good idea to just list my opinions here. It has several advantages. First, having not written on my blog for a while, and to avoid I write a post about everything, I just stick to my opinions. Second, it helps me create an overview of where I stand in the current geopolitical landscape. Third, by posting my opinions here, I save myself the time of having to pass by all social media, forums and other online outlets and spread them there. Fourth, this also spares me the need for engaging in discussions. Whenever I disagree with someone or someone asks me for my opinion, I’ll just pass them the link to this page. Might even create an app for it. Neat. Arranged. Like a cupboard for the pieces of my person which aren’t generally in use.

The list won’t stick to facts, nor will it exclude them. And I am not saying that these opinions are fixed. Okay, here goes, in no particular order:

  • A fact may also be an opinion. That doesn’t make it less fact. It does make it less opinion.
  • Oranges are fantastic fruits.
  • Writing these down isn’t as easy as it sounds.
  • Social media aren’t social, nor are they antisocial.
  • Dualistic thinking, such as in mind-body, us-them, men-women, yin-yang, good-evil, light-dark, rich-poor, black-white, fact-fiction, is neither productive, nor based on reality. This thinking might not even be fundamental to who we are as a species. In fact, it’s closer to a prison of our minds.
  • Logical reasoning is usefull, but used badly and overrated. Combined with our dualist bias, it almost always leads to wrong conclusions.
  • Time is not linear, nor is it circular. It goes in all directions at once.
  • Nobody likes work, but people like money. That’s why people are paid to work.
  • Societies in the West have a twisted relationship to sex and death, hiding both events in real life, but glorifying them on stage.
  • The fact that we keep old, sick people alive for as long as possible, sometimes against their own will, can be explained by the fact that nobody wants to carry the responsibility of letting someone die. When it becomes the collective burden, however, for example in the case of climate change, social neglect, war, or inequality, we are a lot more willing to accept our role in it. This is a hypocrite stance supported by legislation.
  • Trump and his family are guilty of tax evasion, and it’s a miracle he made it this far. It’s a matter of time before we find some of them in jail.
  • #MeToo hasn’t changed society much (yet).
  • Trade wars and blocking roads for political reasons are bad for the economy, but good for the environment as long as they don’t lead to armed skirmishes or wars.
  • There are no easy fixes. Not for climate change, not for the financial system, not for other problems. All change needs time and massive dedication.
  • At this point, nuclear energy is probably necessary to avoid out-of-control CO2 exhaustion.
  • Greta Thunberg is both gifted and cursed. The question whether her parents should have protected her from herself remains a dilemma to me. Time will not tell, as this was a risk taken at a time when the outcome was unknown. The same applies to all child stars, by the way.
  • It’s concerning that the most populous social movements today are generally not in favour of the environment, but rather in favour of regional freedoms (Hong Kong, UK, Cataluña, Wallonia, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru) or outright against environmental measures (Gilets Jaunes, Farmers’ protests, Trumpists, Bolsonarenho’s), while it’s the businesses that are taking steps, albeit small ones, to improve the climate situation.
  • It’s to be called fishy at least, that 4 champions of the fight against AIDS in Africa combined with local empowerment, all very influential, have died in 3 separate plane crashes.
  • All matter is conscious.
  • Combining coffee with very spicy food is always a good idea.
  • The global legislative system is under pressure, but it will not fail. Humanity is still quite reasonable. But the very powerful will always be able to slither out of it.
  • On the one hand it’s tragic that we have to kill to eat, but on the other it’s quite strange that I find that tragic. This may well point to a human misinterpretation of reality.
  • Facebook and other powerful enterprises should start building schools and hospitals where people go for free.
  • The financial crisis of 2008 has not been solved. But the fact that much of the work force is retiring, is an even larger problem.
  • All hope is not lost, but we need to brace for times less easy than the past 6 decades. The West, at least.
  • Sometimes, giving up is a great thing. Surrender is tied to freedom.
  • Ajax deserves to win the Champions League next year.
  • While the emergence of theme-focussed action groups such as third wave feminism, gay rights and black lives matter is a great thing, they will be not be very effective if they don’t work together. They need to keep looking at the bigger picture.
  • Tension in your underbelly can be seen as stress, but it can also be a source of creativity or sexual expression. Holding it consciously for a while, doesn’t hurt.
  • For a while should be written as such.
  • Mr. Robot deserves far bigger viewership. It is challenging Breaking Bad in quality. Breaking Bad remains the best series of all time.
  • Most people are quite okay.
  • The Dutch news really isn’t that bad either.
  • Democracy is functioning, though it could be improved.
  • Disregarding opinions by classifying them as “bigot”, “racist”, “mysogenic”, “neo-liberalist”, “offensive” or the like, is a form of violence. The method should be treated conservatively. It is prone to be labelled as fascist and rightly so, particularly if done by ruling institutions such as universities and news media. Open debate is always better.
  • The fact that protests are at a high recently, while the the stock markets are at an all time high as well, is not a good foreboding.
  • Humans are more resilient than they think. We have become overly sensitive to many things, such as strange opinions or critique, disappointment, germs, foods, irregularities in looks, irregularities in thought, broken clothes and suboptimal working conditions. I suspect this is because we are not exposing ourselves o these enough. Of course, that has benefits.
  • Most drugs are fine. It’s the repression of them that causes the problems. But I don’t believe these occur in bad faith, such as fear for the freedom of the people. I think it is a genuine act of protection. But most people don’t need such care by the state.
  • Marriage and love are two different things. One does not depend on the other.
  • Many basic ways to make sense of life are mutually exclusive. Most people hold several of such visions at once, but few are aware of it. For example: many people believe that they have somehow chosen their own existence, and also believe in logic to explain the world around them. Strictly seen, both can’t be true. Another example: atheïsts who believe that there is nothing after death because there’s only matter, fail to see that they apparently ascribe consciousness to matter, and that matter will not disappear after their death.
  • It might all hinge on the point between existence and non-existence. How sharp is that cut-off? Is the point itself transient? Could evolution have happened in a second? What I mean is, if time is omnidirectional, which I think it is, then it could have, it has, and it hasn’t. The question is irrelevant. But in that world, we have merely imagined death, birth, endings and beginnings, to alleviate the burden of eternity, perhaps. Or to create it. Because I can’t solve this problem with logic, I can only conclude I don’t know how this works, fully aware that that statement opens up a new realm of non-existence, being that which isn’t known. And what exists between the known and the unknown? Opinions.
  • Pepper is overrated.
  • Relativity is much more interesting than the absolute. They are no opposites of each other, because the concept of opposites is absolute, which excludes the relative. The same applies to order and chaos. The understanding of such concepts as opposing, shows the banality of the human mind. That is not to say that I don’t keep finding myself seeing them that same way.
  • Relativity exists through perception. Opinions are our purpose in life.
  • If our minds were devouring beasts in the sea of knowledge, then our opinions would be the phase of digestion of our food, the relative into our excrements, the absolute. Yet we don’t back off from the absolute the way we back off from our shit.
  • I find it pretentious of myself that I’m now lifting the simple act of writing down some opinions to a level of absolute meaning. If the opinion stated above would be mine in the absolute way, I would instantly stop giving opinions. Actually, no. Because giving opinions would be my destiny.
  • While I have not yet given all my opinions by far, I think it’s better if I stop now, because I am caught in a loop.
  • Making videos is a lot of fun.
  • So is writing.
  • Despite the greatness of 2019 with regard to film, Climax and They shall not grow old, are still the two best ones I have seen this year.
  • European Schools are good schools. I think it would generally benefit societies if there was more multilinguality around.
  • Hurricanes are mighty interesting. The way they move. Their power. It’s sad that they’re so destructive, but without that, they’d hardly be more interesting than an emptying sink with some ink in the water.
  • Val Dieu Tripel is the best beer. But alternating it with other beers improves it.
  • Midgets are inherently funny. That doesn’t apply to all midgets, of course, but to most.
  • There is no greater medium than sound to touch the soul. Perhaps sound even creates the soul, that I don’t know.
  • It’s strange that in Slovak, and probably in other Slavic languages as well, double negations act as single negations.
  • Zuzana is the sweetest chick in the world.
  • The dynamic between arts and power is troubled. It probably makes sense to look for the undiscovered, instead of looking for art in power houses. Even if most of what you’ll find will not be very meaningful to you.
  • Now that we are all racists, the term racism has lost its weight, so we need a new word.
  • Toilet paper should always be piled as high as possible.
  • Dirty dishes shouldn’t be piled up in the sink.
  • Ironing is mostly unnecessary.
  • Remote controls are very handy.
  • All forests should be protected.
  • There is poetry hidden in everything.

To gun

A few days ago I was around a table – even if it was rectangular – with two architects who work on nature inclusive urban design. It was a first meeting in a set. We’re writing a small guide together. While discussing the reasons why one, being a human being, would include nature in one’s urban design, we came up with 3 main streams of reason. I will order them the way I will for the sake of this essay. Not randomly, but also not in a way that puts one above the other. For now.

The anthropocentre. Nature benefits us humans in endless ways. To recite them now would be an insult. ‘Who’d be insulted?’ You might ask. A quick answer would be: those who are tired of measurebators. Me, for one. I guess that breaks with the ‘for now’ bit of a paragraph ago. Do feel free to apply your own logic to that one.

Custodianship. This stream is less common, because it implies responsibility. And who likes responsibility? Not you, not me, and certainly not the guys and gals who direct us. In this case, custodianship assumes that humans, one way or the other, have got themselves in the place where they can care about nature. We know how to destroy it, so why would we not inherently be capable of rehabilitating it? As long as it’s still there. I don’t think there’s a reason why we wouldn’t. Which doesn’t mean I think that human minds would be able to create earth with all today’s beauty from scratch. Let that be clear. But this responsibilty could, in theory, be something we were born with. Something our nature demands us to take up. Unfortunate as it sounds.

And then comes stream number 3. Even less common, I think: gunnen. Emmanuel Levinas. He made a big point about the unknown other. I’m not sure if he said we all have an unknown other inside us, and in fact I think that’s a good idea which needs to be elaborated upon, but he did raise the question ‘what happens if an unknown makes a call upon you?‘ A jew could ask you if he or she could stay in your place while some crazy guys are comming to kill him, for example. Would you answer, even if you knew that person is vastly different from yourself? If that soul is unknown to you? Will you allow yourself to provide the person what he or she needs? And if your own life would be at stake?

Ha! I used the word soul again. Tears come to my eyes. It’s a word that, in order to be used unequivocally, requires a laid back state of mind or at least a state of faith. But as I use this word again today, I have to admit I redefined it to myself. Before, I insisted that the soul was that part of our being that unites all beings. God, basically. As of now, I have shifted my definition back to a more common one, closer to the individual. A personal soul. You have your own soul. Why not? And to explain why I shifted back: the concept of soul I believe to be closer to the truth is too omnipresent for conversation, and that’s not what having a conversation is about, I discovered. I appeared atheist. In this case I used the word to imply that the unknown other has some innate value, transcending even the concept of value.

To gun. No, gunnen. It’s a Dutch verb.

Around a different table, with some friends, one day after the first, we discovered that there is no proper translation for that word in any of the languages we know. That puts ‘gun‘ in my new list of favourite Dutch words, together with ‘oer‘. To clarify: that list now consists of 2 words. And I do think this time the table had some roundish shape. It was quite low, in fact, and not very prominent. But it invoked something between us.

So let me explain the word to you, knowing I’ll fail.

Consider the expression to give someone the benefit of the doubt. In Dutch you’d translate that as iemand het voordeel van de twijfel gunnen.

All other words in that sentence translate fairly literally. The difference between giving and gunnen, is that giving comes from a position of wealth, and gunnen from no position at all. To give someone something, you first need to have something. Even if little. To gun something, you don’t need to have anything. You just wish that someone has something. You don’t put yourself above the other. In the most fundamental way, it’s the opposite of being jealous.

If that makes you wonder: ‘hey! what’s wrong with the word wish?’ Well, nothing is wrong with it, but its meaning is subtly different. And that’s not that easy to explain. Wishing is, or can be, more active. After a half an hour try-out with our French friend, she concluded it was rather abstract. But it’s not.

Gunnen (to gun, pronounced with the traditional, throat-rasping Dutch g) is a state of being from which you wish something good to someone or something. Not necessarily because that person deserves it, but just because you do. What’s more, the thing you gun to something can be very defined, but it doesn’t need to be. Yet it’s always positive. Sure, you could use the word sarcastically, but what it refers to can technically only be positive. Improving someone’s situation.

There may of course be reasons why you would gun something to someone, for example because you like the person, but the word gunnen doesn’t imply reasons. In that sence, it stretches into the realm of Levinas’, unknown other.

Gunnen as a verb is seamlessly applied to the other. Not because of the other per se. You can gun any being whatever they wish for, without knowing who that person is or what it is that person wishes for. A bit like ‘I’d wish a stranger anything’, but more casually. You can gun nature life. There is no reason why anyone wouldn’t. If nature doesn’t end up with life in this context, that’s just because we encountered ourselves in the pickle of taking it from it. Not because we don’t gun it it.

That was a thought in our talk around the table a few days ago. And it suddenly felt so important.

Once every year, one should skip a night

There are so many titles I wanted to start this with.

But this is the one. And it’s true. It also makes this article as much diary like as  a story can get. One every while, we should all skip a night. Stay awake. Do something. It doesn’t matter what.

When I was biking back this evening, I had a different idea for this text. To write about the rat and the squirrel. Because he was right. Or at least he raised a good question. Tarantino. Why do people hate rats, and not squirrels?

He wasn’t. It’s because rats come far closer to people. But the symbolism is not to be underestimated. Squirrels are cute. With their redness and their shyness.

But even then, and this is where I wanted to start: they’re assholes as much as rats. In their way. And wasps. Stingy little 6-foots. Don’t even properly coagulate. The suckers. Rats do, but I wasn’t talking about them anymore. Oh. Did I mention I’m writing as an activity to help raise myself above the night? To do so you have to imagine yourself above the stars, I think. I don’t, but I enjoy the thought experiment.

I wasn’t meant that way. Nothing was meant the way it turned out, I think. But still it happened. And whoever survived has do deal with the consequences. So that’s what we do. Because, let’s admit it, you and I survived. We’re here. And we’re lucky. Our times are majestic.

Nonetheless, I think we should try to look beyond that. We can’t, I know. But we can try. So let’s. Because we can try. A person should try. Even if hopelessly.

Think of the list of things you’d like to forget. Forget them. If you can’t, then skip a night. Haha. No. I can’t give this order, because I wouldn’t follow it.

I do still kind of consider it a reasonable one. Maybe we should all build forgetting into our skillset. Even if skillset is a demonic word. It’s a word. Hey, let’s dedemonicize it. Besides, I don’t think I would be able to perceive how things turned out.

Yes. I don’t believe in demons. No.

The beauty of words is that you can apparently draw with them. I didn’t know. That’s why I recommend to skip a night. Not to write, or to find out about words. But to discover something new. It’s beautiful.

Meaning is important to me. As volatile.

No way I can bring it into words. Or images. Or even into sleight of mind. No way. But I can’t keep combatting it either. Wait. I can. That’s not what I want to say.

There’s liberation in the decision to stay up. There truly is. The horizon becomes an aspect of your butt. Everything changes. Do it, if you can.

It’s an obligation too, of course, because, let’s face it, I’d rather go to sleep, but that one, I at least imposed to myself.

Ha. Maybe that’s what I need to break with. The idea that I can impose things on myself. It’s very paradoxical if you think about it. And if I said paradoxical, I did so to seem interesting. I meant ridiculous.

Yet it’s not you who’s thinking about it, it’s me. I’m merely keeping myself awake, and you’re a witness.

I do think that if you tire yourself far enough, and this is why I advocate this behaviour, you release something new. It could be through sports, or some other thing. My mom walks 160 km in 4 days once year. My dad leads a lifestyle of unconditional relaxing. I think they do it too. And I also think we all forget what we discovered straight away, so yes?

Which reminds me of a dream I had many times. There was a hallway. That’s about as much as I remember, except that it was oriented from the left to the right and back. I believe those are important details.

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Sleep is an easy choice. Very tempting too. But one must try to keep oneself awake. With all one’s effort.

It’s easier to answer the question what it means to be awake, than to pose it.

Here. This is what I’ll do. Go to sleep.

Haha.   ?

No.

I’m not sure if it would undermine the post.

Then again. I’m also not sure of anything else. So, it was my pleasure, and good night.

May humanity cherish the certainty of sleep.

It’s godlike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a man, I am involved

The organic campaign #metoo has taken many shapes and spheres as it moved from Weinsteins cases of rape to denouncing and confessing to sexual harassment and intimidation in general. The movement has become so multifaceted that it has become hard to fathom and even harder to criticize. But there’s one thing it seems to agree on: society should no longer tolerate men’s behaviours. We men have to change. In the past week, I have felt threatened by the tone of some of the exclamations that have passed my screens. I’ve been confused about whether and how I should look at female people on the street. I’m concerned about the polarizing effect this discussion seems to have. And especially about the slippery slope of equalizing lust-inspired acts to rape.

First a step back
Okay let’s go back to the positive side of #metoo. Many women have resisted the urge to declare their experience of rape to the police. The ruling power structures, as well as their own beliefs and other individual reasons have withheld them from claiming their rights. Society has discouraged them to do so. This week, through a somewhat anonymous outlet, they can air some of the remnant frustration and, more importantly, display the omnipresence of the problem to those man enough to look into the gaping wound. It’s indeed important that people feel the confidence to act against such violence. And that people don’t perform it, or let it happen around them.

Let’s not forget the elephant in the room
Looking at our actions, we are collectively largely ignoring climate change and associated manmade ecological collapse. If society breaks into chaos because of these, women as well as men will experience a state of existence that offers less space for safety. And more for rape. These impacts cannot be stressed enough, and have to be mentioned also in this context. We are trying to move to a better world, so we all have to deal with climate change. And keep building society together.

Tension
At some point, men started answering #metoo with #Ihave and #Iwill. Confessions. Online promises. Sometimes quite mundane in my view, sometimes clear disclosures of criminal acts. Audacious, but not a proper substitute for turning yourself in. Then, people saying ‘men’ should not make this discussion about themselves. This was about women who were raped. Here’s where I went: “What? Why are we not allowed to be part of the conversation?”

A point followed, I guess, where we have to do our best and look through social media and their slaves from journalism to see what is really happening. But what is really happening? Is this a new wave of feminism? Where does it want to head to? Not being raped? Good, but how? Is this a new kind of anti-terrorist movement that wants to accuse a large group of innocent people for the acts of some very guilty ones?

The status quo
For me personally, there’s nothing I think I should admit. Sure, I’ve played the game. I’ve looked, I’ve touched, I’ve joked around. But I haven’t threatened, raped or harassed anyone in a way that clearly bothered them. I also check, sometimes, if everyone is still comfortable with the group dynamics. And yes, I have noticed ambiguity among women and wished they would be more expressive about it.

Yet let’s not forget that sexual or semi-sexual acts occur in the context of personal relationships. They should always be seen that way. I don’t think it serves a purpose to reframe acts of the past and deny this relationship. And if I may speak for other men as well: to us, the status quo here in the Netherlands is quite allright. Not the street harrasments, those are wrong, but the general atmosphere at work, on the street and at parties. If you look at history, we have reached quite a good spot. Not perfect, but quite good.

It creeps in on you
One of the best stories I read these days was in Dutch by Bregje Hofstede of De Correspondent. She explained how being grabbed under her skirt has made her live more reluctantly. It reminded me of the time I was blindfolded in the back of a taxi in Peru. Not that time itself. I think I managed to keep myself toghether quite well there. No. Afterwards. Looking behind my shoulder all the time. Not going through parks on my own by night. Heigtened vigilance. A reduction of the extent of your world, Bregje called it. I tell myself that it’s wisdom. Knowledge by experience. Knowing the danger. She sees it as men taking her freedom from her. She feels afraid, now, when men look at her intensely.

Even if I fully understand the feeling she descibes, and I acknowledge such events occur more often to her than to me, something inside me turns bitter when I hear these views. We are now in an era that is safer then ever. More luxurious than ever. There are disagreements on how to approach the other gender, but aren’t those what makes life interesting? What makes love interesting? The act of exploring each others boundaries.

Power struggles
Women are now teaching men that we cannot know what it’s like to be a women. True. And women cannot know what it’s like to be a man either. It is us who generally have to play the leading role when breaking the physical barrier. Not always, but most of the time. And, yes, we make mistakes with that, but if we don’t try, we don’t get laid. Or married. Not all people have the same level of perception when it comes to body language, nor are all people equally expressive when it comes to things they do or do not want. Not everyone is equally sensitive. So yes, mistakes occur, but that does not make the intent bad. I think framing or perceiving it that way is harmful.

But we men have an excellent grasp of what fear can be. All of us, men and women, are contributing, daily, to the accumulation of dark acts that is happening all over the place. Being forced to do things we do not necessarily agree with is a society-wide phenomenon. Whether it is out of insecurities, strategic career choices, or because we are being pushed pysically or emotionally, this concerns us all. Where #metoo becomes more vicious, is where it denies our common ground. And it shouldn’t. Men don’t need to take these wild accusations.

Can we move forward?
The way this hashtag unfolds does not help the conversation; I think we’re rather arriving in a deadlock. Not the idea of the hashtag, that’s good, but the way people are treating it. As if there needs to be retaliation. As if we should move towards a world where men and women avoid touching each other altogether. No. Let’s move towards a place where we see the sexual tension for what it really is. A role we play. Just like everything else. A role we need not get too caught up in. And yes, respect each other, like most women and most men have always done. Something that can be joyful. Let’s see this as a call, yes, to better education for everyone where that failed. But let’s also cherish the freedoms we have acquired. We are in this together. And we are not in a time and a place where we can use more division.

So let’s all keep talking.

Donald Duck rants and raves

For about two years, Friday night was the night where I’d write a post for this blog. I didn’t care too much about the quality at the time, – a little of course – what mattered was the process. Building. Moving forward. Adding words to my repertoire. In time, writers realise that it works in a similar way as fossilisation. You add layer upon layer, and somewhere in the depths, let’s call it subconscious, a pressure starts growing. A forgotten shape, a feeling, does not decompose down there. It gets solid. And one day some part of us will have the courage to break through it all, knowing that there is something waiting. Something demonstrable. Perhaps that wasn’t exactly how I saw it at the time, but I do now. Time gradually moved me forward.

What better moment to honour this freedom I apparently experienced, than on a Friday night? I’m listening to Stromae on KEXP at the same time. And what better subject to add to this meaningless pile of information than our dear friend and buddy, President Donald Trump? May I start this with the question: ‘for how long will people keep reciting the list of American presidents?’ And, you know what? Let me end it there as well. Or, instead, at a recommendation to listen to the New York Times’ Daily of today. If you’re into the media discussion, that is. They’re far better at wording all that than I am. And I’ll spare you Larsen C as well.

Which leaves me in a void. A similar freedom I used to envision myself to have. A blank canvas. The unthreaded snow I’ve seen recently, here in Amsterdam and in Vienna.

It’s scary in the void. It reminds me of a time when I was a kid. Several times. When I was ill, I’d see this infinite space of living links. In black and white. The worst was that I was one of them. And so was everybody else, regardless of their pretending. Their beliefs. It was terrifyingly real. So real that whatever my parents told me, I was six the first time, has never been as convincing. So real that I still believe in it.

Why is it that whenever we have the sense of being free, we are faced with our worst fears? Why do we keep carving our blank canvasses with vileness? For lack of a better word. Is the reason what they say it is? What who says? So many have spoken, so many have carved us as they have themselves. So few have been free, who taught the rules.

Someone once taught me that Friday night is no better than any other night. I don’t know if I can believe that.