Tag Archives: Framing

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 follow up 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 my point of view. 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 into 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?


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 of you getting 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 and vaccinating.


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.

If you’ve read stories on the recent stock market flumps, you have probably read the hypothesis that local outbreaks could interrupt a supply chain, thus temporarily halting 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 will 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 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.

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.

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.

Return to the core

At the end of the 4th year of my blog, this is my 200th post. Had I kept the weekly posting up for the past months, I’d have had an average of a post per week. I’m just short of that now, but that’s fine.

When I started this blog, early 2012, I intended to write a pathway into my own subconscious. Digging into darkness and light, expressing it by doing. I also intended to experiment with writing, get myself into the flow. Try out some styles, do interviews, poems, ramblings, short stories and testimonies of my adventures in life.

As I wrote about love, hate, social injustice and the limitations of the mind, as I condemned superficiality and took part in it, the desire to be recognized grew. I could see viewer and follower statistics. I discovered tricks that increased my readership and secretly hoped that one day, independent blogging might become my livelihood. But tricks result in temporary pulses, and Sailing on Dreams did not gradually expand in the way I hoped it would. This became a struggle, I put an effort in making the content more interesting, but discovered that joining trends had more effect. The amount of people who read my blog seemed unrelated to the quality of my articles as I perceived it, but far more linked to the effort I put in attraction. That was, possibly still is, the strongest disillusion I have had as a blogger.

Assuming that good work promotes itself, I started to wonder if my work was good enough. Is the blog’s title too pretentious? Does it miss the match with what I actually write about? Does it work against my words? Do I create the impression of being ungrounded? Is the work itself ungrounded? Not developed enough? Are the topics boring? Am I using bad English? Have I milked myself too far? Am I wrong?

Meanwhile, the lack of real breakthrough in my career and some concerning geopolitical developments grew onto me as a darkening cloud. Some of the stories became darker, too. And who wants to read sad, negative recountings? I usually don’t. But yes, I did get positive feedback from dear friends, and even from strangers. Also a single quite painfully negative one from a friend. Still, it seems as if some people were touched by some of my work. And I did realise that it were never the numbers that mattered, but the motion when touching each others’ souls.

I stopped using that word. Soul. What does it mean, after all? Its smurf-intensity is gi-normous. And it turned into cliché. Trying to be original, I have learned to despise repetition. But repetition gives structure. Stability. Accountability. And the sound of the word soul is good. It comes from deep. It hits breath-bottom.

Perhaps I forgot to find the magic in my words. Judged their enchantment as something self-centred, narcissistic. Perhaps I saw through my own marketing, and lost the capacity to convince myself.  The capacity to surrender to the dreams I sail. In attracting the invisible you, I sometimes forgot about  me.

As I did before in this time of year, now, for my 200th post, I find it time to return to the original intention of this blog. To recalibrate. I still think that in its spark, this blog has the right aim. Some of the series I wrote, such as the words for emotions, tuned into that well. The desire for readership fundamentally does not match that intention, and yet I could not ignore it. The expansion of the original intention towards ‘persociety’, as an attempt to dive into our collective subconscious was also good, as it possibly made the texts more relevant. But the fact that the collective subconscious of the modern west hides some very dark aspects is clearly not popular. I can imagine that exploring it that way, even if playfully, could feel like an accusation of the innocent public. But if that’s where I want to go, then that’s where I will be. Digging tunnels, in the cavities of the internet, sharing happily with those few souls I meet down here.

Thirty years ahead in life, 200 posts on my blog. On the threshold of 2016. You can divide that number by two for five times. Where this year will lead I don’t know. For what it’s worth, it will not stop me from rambling.

Under fire

De Snijtafel has taken on the verdict on Zwarte Piets image in Amsterdam. What? Okay, let me explain this…

Kasper Jansen and Michiel Lieuwma have recently emerged as a YouTube hit called De Snijtafel (The Cutting Table). They take fragments of tv programs and verbally cut them into pieces by pointing at their errors and stupidities. If a song text says: “I love you not because you give me your hand, but your fingers that point towards me”, you will see them speak about an unknown number of fingers hovering in the air in front of you. Lately, they have also criticized several popular TV programs, sometimes painfully revealing how they manipulate us into main stream thought patterns. Some episodes are very interesting to watch if you get the language.

Their latest video touches on the theme of Zwarte Piet. That story in a nutshell: Dutch kids believe in Sinterklaas. That’s a tall bisshop with a red dress and a white beard who navigates from Spain every year with his steamboat and deals out presents with help of his clowns who look like black slaves without chains who are called Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). One year ago, if you would have asked a dutch person why black pete is black, the answer would have been: “Because he goes through the chimney to deliver the presents in children’s shoes.” Don’t ask.

There has long been hidden frustration about this tradition, but it has also been celebrated as an innocent, joyfull event. Recently, UN discrimination specialist Verena Shepherd has declared this tradion racist, meaning it will probably change.  The jurisdiction set in motion here are means to induce the changes. It seems puppet play to me, but I don’t know the details.

In their video, Kasper and Michiel analyse the verdict of a case against the municipality of Amsterdam. The city has given authorisation for the public celebration of the Sinterklaas event in 2014. The verdict now calls that a racist act. Without necessarily disagreeing, Kasper and Michiel expose that in the verdict itself, black people are framed as opposers of the white people’s tradition. They note that while the court claims to counter stigmatizing cultural expressions, they in fact are guilty of it themselves. With that, it loses yet another bit of its credibility.

It seems to be a trend. In the past year, politicians as well as other influential dutch personalities have publically expressed critique on the dutch court. Don’t get me wrong, I think it will remain an established entity, but its reputation is becoming flawed. It seems that authority is trusted less than before.

Will this lead to consessions of the juridical system? Will its members become increasingly carefull? Will there be a democratization of law in general? Or will the gap between juridical positions and their trustworthiness increase? If so, what follows? Interesting times indeed.

“Judge not, that you be not judged”

For the past ten years I have wondered: why do religious and spiritual groups unanimously condemn the act of judgement? What is so fundamentally bad about it that we all tell ourselves and each other to stop? And if it really is so bad, why do we keep doing it? What is judgment in the first place?

In a recent bright moment I understood that judgment is bad at the point where our thoughts create reality. For example: if I believe that homeless people are losers, I will subconsciously express this while talking to them. With my tone and behaviour, I will impose the thought of their inferiority upon them. At the same time, my surroundings will see how I behave towards homeless people and whether they want it or not, be influenced by it. This way, people collectively turn their back on the homeless, and such a person will find reason to believe in their nature as an outsider. The surroundings don’t see their role in it, because they stopped paying attention. Consequently, the very word homeless and all its connotations act as a mental net, limiting the possibilities of those it has caught.

Politicians and activists use judgement as a discursive tool for control. They justify this behaviour by calling it “framing”. Even if the act often affects minorities in the same way as man-to-man judgement does, it is seldom frowned upon, let alone condemned or punished. It is sometimes even used as a way to take away power of those who stand out, meaning it can restore the power balance somewhat. Yet even then, it probably does damage to people who don’t necessarily deserve it. Think for example of the ingenious declaration “bankers are wankers”. As if all bankers are men.

This question becomes more interesting at the point where you genuinely ask what is true about a certain judgement. Some bankers, for example, have played a vital role in the way their guild are currently perceived, and some homeless people may indeed have called their situation upon themselves. But others didn’t. Curious beings as we are, we don’t necessarily need to judge ourselves for trying to make sense of the cosmic blob of information that surrounds us, but we should remain aware of our weakness.

Somewhere on the way between our sensorial perceptions and our mental interpretations of them, our desire to be in touch with our surroundings turns into an attempt to dominate it. We place ourselves on the sideline  of the same existence we so deeply want to belong to. I think that what religions want to say is not that judging is something to avoid; that idea is confusing. What I think is meant is that we should spend time in making an effort to distinguish our illusions from reality. Otherwise they might invade it.

Hiding the truth

Ever unspoken? To unspeak is to magically change the meaning of an action or event by framing it differently. Steven Poole applied this word to politics, but it reaches far, far further. It’s a subtle act, quite vulgar if used it for crowd manipulation.

Why do we speak about job creation and not about job destruction? Someone seems to want credit there. Which of the two is real? Another one: if you copy a file but someone else doesn’t like that, it’s called piracy. Why not multiplication? If anything, this last word is closer to the truth. In this case it is unfortunate for the inventor of the word that Johnny Depp has made the pirate into a hero. Last example: safety. Probably the top argument to rob another from his freedom. It implies a threat. Short comment on that: who implies a threat, creates a threat.

Once detected, cases are easily popped. Unspeaking effectively, however, means choosing your words with such care that it is not easily discovered. An effective choice of words acts like blinders to our vision. It directs your attention, avoiding your mind from going anywhere else than where it was planned to go by somebody who thought it through before you.

So, once again, do you unspeak? Ever told someone that he has to earn money (instead of doing something he doesn’t want to)? Ever advised someone to be considerate of a third person’s feelings (instead of telling the truth)? Ever told someone to go on a holiday (instead of heaving himself checked at a mental hospital)?  I suppose we all unspeak on some level. Perhaps we are trying to avoid anger.

A more interesting question here is perhaps: why do we accept it? Why do we keep ourselves in the dark? Are we really sheep?