Tag Archives: Power

Everything that’s wrong with personal computers

Okayokayokayokayokay. Yes. I owe the fact that you’re reading this to the same personal computers I’m about to abolish. I’m sure there’s a great deal of good coming from them. And I mean PC’s, laptops and smartphones as well. But before we as society have completely disappeared inside our close companions, let’s take a little step back to look at the damaging part of computers and our relationships with them.

They’re flat (even the yoga-ones)
Some days ago, I flew over Paris at night, and for the first time in my life recognized a city by its lights, while flying above it. Then I thought that it seemed as though I was looking at google maps. Then I thought of how much this didn’t look like google maps at all. Very much. Real life is so incredibly more striking than the screen, even if you have to stretch your neck into a cramp to perceive it through a tiny airplane window. Suddenly seeing the Champs-Élysées with my own eyes reminded me of that.

They demystify
In real life, miracles are something you cherish, something exceptional, something that feeds the life inside you, something you breathe. Building a friendship for example. Computers give us access to an endless flow of cute cats, beautiful women, great inventions and unlikely basketball points. But they’re not special! You will never see someone on the street or even in a theatre dance as well as you saw them on youtube, or hear a better song. So we keep watching, turning the exceptional into the norm, and making the normal unattractive. Seemingly unattractive.

They hypnotize
Yes. I’m fairly sure that there’s actual hypnotization going on when we face a screen. Why else is it hard to stand up and walk away? Computers, with all their imagery, sounds and repetition hook us stronger than Coca Cola ever did. What’s more, I believe that working with several tabs or windows at once, actually fragments our minds. It creates the feeling of having a pile of tasks to attend to. That causes stress. Anxiety. It scatters your attention. As if you’re talking to a hundred people at once. O, wait, you are.

They make mistakes (and you get the blame)
Some say machines don’t make mistakes. Well, sloppy programs sure do (not that I can write them better). In the past months, I have spent at least a week on phone and e-mail to correct wrong transactions, fix technical issues and create new categories for my particular case. If more and more of our data get registered and uploaded, that means that more and more of them get mixed up in some administrative system, which bounces it on to the next. And as the gear wheels of those machines keep turning, they suck our identities in untill we’re completely stuck. And of course we’re not the ones to benefit from that, we just have to fix it. More than anything, it’s a problem for elderly people, who are already in deep water when it comes to the digital status quo.

They disempower
To give an example: some say social media give people the chance to bypass the traditional media which are controlled, edited and censored by an elite. It has been true for places where censorship was high. For a bigger part, however, social media follow the already established entities, who know perfectly well what to say and how to build their capital of followers. Indeed, the algorithms of social media have the weak feed the strong. A new capitalism of attention. The big ones casting shadows over the small who hope to be heard, but are silenced by the noise of their soulmates. Thus, they waste time in virtual life.

 

Ha! Writing this makes me sound old. Yet I always had my reservations (and attractions) to computers. It is clearer to me again, now, how important it is to take time off the screen. Watch the brightness of the sun. Smell the smog on the streets. Hurt my head on a low ceiling I didn’t know before. And luckily, that actually works. Joy cannot be injected through the eyes. It arrives when you are in motion, rushes through your veins when your heart pumps wildly. Spring is coming.

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A rich man´s pastime

‘Crack!’ The sound of the breaking tooth resounds in my skull. It doesn’t hurt because of the anaesthesia, but I do feel exactly what she’s doing. The sensation of the wisdom tooth removal reminds me of a dream I once had, in which all my teeth scattered in my mouth.

As I recently earned a bit of money and thought it would be wise to invest it in something useful, I got myself a dentist. My previous visit was over 5 years ago. My new dentist is a very attractive blonde woman in her thirties with big bright blue eyes. I have the luck to stare into those while she is digging into my mouth. It’s unfortunate that visiting her costs about a hundred euros per half hour.

I do not particularly like dentists. Next to the fact that they perform the best earning profession in the Netherlands, it is their job to judge your mouth without knowing you, and to present you a highly expensive improvement plan, which you basically have to agree with, because they are the experts, and what do you know about the teeth you have lived with your entire life? Besides, they confront you with the fact that you’re getting older and start falling apart. And if you haven’t really been able to afford a dentist for a while, your teeth are not your strongest pride. I only had a small bleeding under my wisdom tooth and some plaque, but that lady who was otherwise quite sympathtic managed to make me feel bad about myself within the twenty minutes I had (even if I had no cavities, or serious issues). Then she expeced me to pay two months’ rent for a cleaning progam she prescribed. Very confusing.

Are dentists a vital human need, or a luxury? Nowadays, if we see a person who lacks teeth, we consider this person dirty. Judging people by their teeth has become normal. The truth probably is that this person cannot afford going to the dentist. Perhaps it’s not always the case, but without a regular cleanup by a professional, it seems that our teeth would fall out when we are a few decades old. Old people in third world countries seldom have all of their teeth, just like elderly people who live on the streets in cities. A natural part of life, it seems. Then again, animals who lose their teeth usually simply die. End of story. That’s not what we want.

Okay, so let’s assume teeth are not a luxury issue, but a basic human need. Then why are dentists so incredibly well paid? Why is it so hard for some people to afford it? And why do we frown upon those who didn’t manage to keep up? We are taking this one for granted. Is that also what is going to happen with plastic chirurgy? Nowadays, you are allowed to have wrinkles, hanging boobs or a bold head. Will those slowly turn into signs of self-neglect? Will they represent the poor, uncivilized layers of society? I suppose it will probably take a number of decades before the masses truly tip on this one, but high society is well on its way with rebuilding their bodies in to those of adolescents. After all, being young sells better than being old, does it not?

It appears that dreaming of losing your teeth, your fangs, has something to do with the fear of losing power. Vitality. The fear of getting old. The dream was long ago, but the memory is right here. Indeed, I’m bolding, indeed my skin is not as supple as it was, and yes, my teeth are not as white as they used to be. I guess physical growth is over, it’ll be maintenance from now on. And apparently I’m not the only one who cultivates such lingering anxieties.

After half an hour, when I’m allowed to remove the cloth from my mouth, I taste something familiar. Walking through the Jordaan, it takes a while before I realise what I know it from. It’s the same taste I got after losing my baby teeth as a kid. This was perhaps the last time I savoured it.

The dice

A cubic controller of fate. With slightly rounded edges, sometimes, to avoid pits in the wooden table at times when your little brother or sister controls it better than you.

Some like it better when it rolls, others when it is put, and yet others enjoy the dice most when they move it around in their hands.

It is the dice’s destiny to decide on destiny. That’s what it was designed for. It that’s the power we give it when we start to roll. To some it’s a game, to others dead serious. Yet what does it matter to the dice?

Does it look out of those eyes upon the face of his beholder? Does it see him six times or less, and know what it brought upon him? And if it does, does it watch in innocence, or does it feel its own strength? Does it cheer inside or regret the way it rolled out? Would it do it differently next time?

One moment, the dice embodies all possible options. The next, it unfolds a single one. As if you woke up from a dream. But you didn’t. You just rolled a dice.

Slippery Ice

The war is on.
They have taken Brussels.

Isn´t that a thrilling opening of a text on a contemporary issue? I think so.

I remember screaming “No War in my Name!” on a massive march of the Luxembourg city schools towards the American embassy, back in 2003. The Bush government had just played the Saddam Houssain card, after ‘Al Qaeda’ and ‘weapons of mass destruction’ had failed to convince the European leaders to join the war on terrorism. I had to pass by the nurse to get a throat pastil the next day. And it worked: France and Luxembourg didn’t join. England did. Houssain was, after all, a badass motherfucker, and he had to be burned out of his hole.

After my first long hitchhiking trip in summer 2004, I was waiting for my train back home in the Gare du Nord in Paris. France had by then let itself be persuaded to join the fights in Afghanistan. The speakers called upon the owner of an abandoned backpack, ordaining to come and pick it up. It repeated the call after a minute. Two minutes more and a special police unit entered the station. They cleared the area with red-white ribbon, and blew up the backpack. I laughed out loud. Earlier that month a driver had told me that some tourists had lost their passports in such an explosion. Precautionary measures after an earlier attack somewhere around.

It’s 2015 now. Europe is still bombing North Africa, and a small group of marginalized Arabs is still giving their lives to end it. Meanwhile, some say that Europe cracks by the thirst for power of old rivals, new members and the descendents of the ancient philosophers of our civilization. Refugees couldn’t cause the closing of the borders, but now, a handful of delinquents can. As if someone wanted this to happen.

I think fear is an excuse. Something people hold up in order to justify their thrill. The events in Paris and their out-of-proportion political response have kept the continent occupied for over a week. Code four in Brussels is the first news topic of all European newspapers. Second, third and fourth remain info on the victims, witness reports and head hunts… We can follow the latest events on live blogs and join the discussion on whether we should keep having fun or start taking terrorism seriously.

The constant becalming of our desires has numbed us. We have been able to buy off our troubles, put a stamp on them, and send them to countries all over the world. Our lives have become boring, so we seek excitement. We click and scroll, compelled by sensation that both hides as well as reveals a bloody debt of Western society at large. It is not about the victims, it never was, we are merely consuming the latest adventure, following the same brainless urge these terrorists feebly attempted to wake us from. Meanwhile, our leaders, perhaps driven by a similar thrills, temporarily pass through a number of police state measures, silently acquainting the mass with a new, safe societal equilibrium. It never hurt to show some strength.

We have lived a youth where war on our grounds seemed impossible. I’m starting to doubt it now. Not because of some angry Arabs, but because of the eagerness with which my people seem to see it happen. Or maybe that´s my thrill. I wish I could still say this war wasn´t in my name.

Education

People sometimes use the word education when in fact they mean brainwashing. I’m quite sure that most people who do that are not aware of the fact that they do so because they have been brainwashed themselves.

An example: “We should put more funding in education of African countries so that they can build a democracy from the bottom up”. Great idea, but how would this look in practice? Money would go to certain organizations, monitored by their funders according to Western standards. They would employ people to build education programs, benchmarked along Western thought, then train people to teach the deep truths that stand at the base our beautiful democracy, powered solely by light and guided by the highest ethics. Then, at the end, of course, they are checked for optimal performance.

Such structures provided by nation states are often seen as education. Mandatory programs, packages of concepts, knowledge that is transferred and tested, ranking the students into their overseeable life paths, may lift society to a different standard, but they are only a limited part, a controllable bit, of a collective learning process that could also be tuned to enlivening, respect and curiosity-driven exploration of whatever it is that the human mind is eager to find out. I would say real education starts at the point where teacher and student receive the space and the freedom to show each other their views on reality in all its colours.

Transmission of knowledge is important, but we should honour the pathway through which this occurs. That pathway would in my view be called mutual trust. The possibility that another might see something out there which you don’t, not because he or she is more or less capable or suitable to see it, but merely because that other stands on a different position. Exams and profiles undermine such trust.

To translate this back to the omnipotent West, perhaps indeed, there was a time when our long fought for ideals made sense and empowered society at large. But these ideals are starting to take the form of dogmas, heritage we should protect and keep in place with tighter rules and regulations. Our knowledge is growing old, expiring, starting to fail us and begging for fresh inputs from the same societies we have kept in the enlightened dark for centuries.

And yet more importantly, I think we should all allow our inner wise guys to sometimes shut up and listen to the voice of the weak and silent for a change. The fact that we still understand education in a top-down way, taking all these quality checks for granted, shows us a whole lot about our status quos. If only we could see that in the mirror…

On Reincarnation

People usually assume that I believe in reincarnation. I don’t. I believe reincarnation is a hopeful thought that propagates itself through the noosphere, fuelled by the fear of disappearance of whatever people believe to be themselves.

Reincarnation presumes incarnation and excarnation of an individual spirit in a body. To me, there’s no sharp separation between the two. That is not to say that I don’t believe in ghosts, past life memories, visions of the future or out-of-body experiences, but I interpret them differently. My outlook on space, time and life differ, I believe, from the status quo of, let’s call it Western Reincarnation Theory. I think it’s an interesting topic, so I’ll try to explain my point of view here, starting with some examples.

Let’s start with ghosts, they’re one of the trickiest subjects. Haunted houses, dead people walking or even just the feeling that something heavy is trying to tell you something, but you can’t quite catch what it is. Some perceive it, others don’t. To me, ghosts are a charge, released by a living person during their lifetime. It can be mental, emotional or spiritual, so let’s just call it a psychosomatic charge. Imagine Lonely Jack, who constantly sits in his living room, complaining to himself about the woman he never had, the job he missed and the choices he never made. I believe this guy can leave a footprint on his living room for as long as he’s alive. Then, once he’s dead, new inhabitants could still perceive this footprint as a ghost.

Would that footprint be self-conscious? One might ask. My answer would be: only to the extent to which the complaining is self-conscious, which is not that much at all. I don’t believe that the charge is Lonely Jack himself, I’d say it’s what he’s left behind. Then again, I do believe it is possible to send extracts of awareness into, for example, the furniture we possess, and make it look back at you. Or at another, when you’re not around. We can charge our surroundings with thoughts the way our surroundings can charge us with thoughts. Thus, some parts of us can live on. If others interact with those they empower them, and the bits of us empower those who interact.

Another typical proof for reincarnation and the separation between body and soul is the memory of past lives. The reasoning: since I experienced being in the past, apparently “I” have lived past lives. I value the occurrence of such experiences, but they don’t necessarily point to reincarnation. I see them as bridges between eras. Between lives if you will. Like meeting someone in the tram, but different. Sometimes, psychosomatic charges find their way through “wormholes” in such a strength that they invoke the “I” sensation upon the perceiver. To me, they really are just messages from the past with relevance for the listener of today. Think about it this way: you were a different person as a kid, but the aspect of “I” hasn’t changed. Ask the oldest person you know about this, and he or she will tell you there’s no difference between being old and being young. Nevertheless, all molecules have alternated time after time, lessons have been learned and forgotten, and the body has evolved and worn out. Throughout a single lifetime, we are many different people, but we don’t perceive it that way. Then why is it so hard to believe that temporarily being a different person would feel differently than being yourself?

The topic of future visions is similar. I believe that the general consensus there is that they are impossible, yet if they occur, they pass through the spirit world , mediated by beings who reside there because they have reincarnated many times. I believe the moment or vision that is foreseen is simply very psychosomatically charged, and therefore radiates back in time. Perhaps the meaning gives the charge, and the need for meaning on the other side the attraction. Metaphysical pressure differences, so to speak.

Out of body experiences? To me they are instants of high psychosomatic charge in the body, where the mind bridges space in the same way as it could bridge time. The fact that the people see and hear things in this different space, I believe, is a way for the mind to accommodate itself when away from the body. But I still think the phenomenon is powered by the life force inside the body of the one who perceives it as “him or herself being out of his or her body”.

So, if not in life after death, what do I believe in? I believe that there’s only one core soul, which is hidden deep inside all of us. Time, space and basically all rules an limits we take for granted are expressions of that soul. I think it created them all for fun. So are our bodies. Without our bodies, we would just be that one soul, undivided and forever, free from the illusions of existence we’ve created all around us. We are borrowing our bodies, our spirits and our minds from this big shared illusion, and when we die we give what we borrowed back.

Don’t ask me how that would feel by the way, I wouldn’t know.

‘Pop!’

There’s a jar on the Sunday morning breakfast table. What’s inside, we do not know, but it must be some kind of jam. I’d like to put some of it on my bread. I seize the jar and get my fingers around the lid. I try to twist it once, but it doesn’t move. My girlfriend asks me to give her the pot, so she can show me how to open it. I don’t. One of our guests also makes a move on it, while I make more attempts with the kitchen towel. The tension rises as I buy some time by explaining them how ridiculously they behave. I would probably do the same.

What makes jars so fascinating that everyone wants to open them? Why do people feel the need to grab it out of another’s hands when they not instantly succeed? Where does this unlikely increased helpfulness come from?

The first thing that comes to my mind is proving yourself. By smoothly opening a jar you can show your strength, or, if you use one of the myriad jar-opening-tricks, your wit. Then again, do we really believe that there are grown up people out there who are incapable of opening a jar? Or is it collective youth trauma? Perhaps we were all so eager to open jars when our hands were smaller than the lid, that the desire has grown out of our control?

An important factor here may be that any jar can only truly be opened once. Opening it makes you the one and only breakfast table overlord. The satisfaction there is comparable to being the first to tread virgin snow, calling upon our animal desire to irreversibly devour beauty.

The opening also causes an irreversible obligation. Not only can we eat, we have to. We have a limited amount of time until its content goes bad. A deliberate reducion of our reserves. Quite a big choice for a jar opener to make, is it not? It showcases the abundance of resources in our domain: what a wealthy collective we are to be able to open a jar.

Finally, there is another kind of satisfaction you can experience there. The jar was stuck and now it’s not. Only the opener will know the secret of how tight it was. ‘Pop!’. It feels funny. And the point in between stuck and released reminds you hands of some inner stuckness, equally looking to be released. There is a sense of infinity there: once the lid turns, it could keep turning forever. You feel a void. The void of your own unhalted force which just opened the jar. As if a little piece of yourself gets launched into freedom.

It turns out that opening a little jar, in our world, can be quite a big thing. Aid should be offered quickly and with stress, else its holder may succeed. Perhaps my friends were not so ridiculous after all.

Psychoindustry

On february 13th, a group of students decided to occupy the Bungehuis. That building was just sold by the University of Amsterdam, who no longer wished to use it for education of arts and languages. Students did not agree with a debate night, they wanted commitments by the board. At the time the building was still being used by the UvA, and many people, including the press thought the occupation went too far. But the Faculty of Humanities supported them.

After several attempts to talk to the occupants, the municipality of Amsterdam ordered the riot police to evict the occupants at dawn of the 24th. They were taken to jail, where they were held for some days.

That afternoon, a different group of students hit the streets for a protest march against the eviction. 300 of them went towards the Maagdenhuis, the board office, and occupied that instead. They were visited by the Mayor, but did not leave. They presented their demands the nex morning: resignation of the board and democratization of the decision-making.

In the years after the crisis, there have been enormous government cuts on university subsidies. Students are no longer funded, research budgets have reduced and teachers no longer have time to attend the enormous amounts of students, a problem that has worsened throughout the years. Instead of being places for dialogue and reciprocal teaching, Universities are turning into psychoindustries where minds are bred and force-fed information without being able to digest it in a social or ethical context. This is what the students protest, and they are finding support.

The students are still there. Over 400 teachers and employees have already signed their loss of confidence in the board. There have been protests on similar topics all over the country. More are scheduled. Nationwide newspapers acknowledge the issue. Just now, as I write this the UvA has offered a plan to increase democratization, and pressurize the government.

It is no isolated movement, but it’s part of a global trend. It’s not just the universities that are being industrialized, it’s all of us, and all nature that surrounds us. We are letting it happen, and it’s going too far. It is for that reason that this simple impulse has triggered something so much bigger. The movement has not stopped, and will not until we liberate our psyches. Let this be a motivation for all of us.

The mental chains are cracking and with our effort they will break.

Cheaper Sneakers

What does president Obama have in common with The Flight of the Conchords? I’ll spare you the impossible puzzling: you already read the answer. ‘Cheaper sneakers’. Check Obama’s Vox interview at 29 minutes 45, and our New Zealanders’ song at 1 minute 30. Now, before you go wild on the far-fetchedness of suggesting a liaison between these two fragments: I’m not trying to convince you that Obama is a fan, nor am I revealing that Bret and Jemaine are the true rulers of the planet.

Imagine you could label the soundbite ‘cheaper sneakers’ and trace it wherever it is spoken or heard, written or read and repeated or not. You would be able to see it move between videos, to people, to texts and vice versa.  You’d see it reproduce in brains and come out of new minds all the time, rippling ever onwards through society, back and forth between the digital world and the other one. Now and then it would probably even appear out of nowhere. I imagine that if you could follow it, you would see it travel through the noosphere in much the same way as bacteria or viruses travel through the biological world. If you could track down ‘cheaper sneakers’ and study it’s behaviour wherever it goes, you would probably call the fragment alive.

Why has this co-occurence triggered me? Why ‘cheaper sneakers’? Why not ‘the dance floor’ or ‘I have a dream job’? What makes this one so special? Well, whether it happens quickly or in slow motion, the song of The Flight of the Conchords perpetually bounces around in my head. The instant Barack mentioned the sneakers, it surfaced to my awareness. It sounds catchy, doesn’t it? Cheaper… sneakers… . It’s got groove. But most of the power of this catchy combination of words comes from what it symbolizes. A field of tension between the rich and the poor. It is the product of hard, unfair work done in Bangladesh, that’s comforting our feet. A spiritual friction. I knew I would write this article the instant I heard him mention it.

‘Cheaper sneakers’ is a dimension of thoughts encapsulated in an appealing sound and an image. The fact that Obama used it in this Vox interview indicates its enormous political power. Mark my words: you will hear it more often in the context of the equalizing economy. It is turning into a discursive weapon that can be used to silence political opponents.

Now: are politicians using these words or are the words using the politicians? If politicians depend on the composition of strong soundbites for their power, how much in control are they, really, of the course of mankind? What is that force inside these words that pushes them into our brains? If the words big people herd live double lives, how much influence do these people truly have?

Being able to measure the movements of soundbites through the digital and analogous worlds would, I don’t doubt it, provide us humans with a spectacularly humbling view upon ourselves. And who knows, with the increasing registration of absolutely everything, perhaps one day we will do such measurements. I think it would be fun to see.

Gutwrench

When I make up words for emotions, I look them up to see if they exist already. This one did. Not only is it slang for – apologies for the upcoming graphic in your head – large penis, it also has the meaning of emotional scattering, anxiety and despair, sometimes caused by uncomfortable images. Do take a moment to enjoy this inconvenient homonym for our brothers with whale-sized willies, then let’s move on to the emotion I’d like to discuss, shall we?

I considered deathsqueeze and lossgrip, but gutwrench works better for me, because I don’t think the the word should encompass it’s cause. It’s as if somewhere central below my navel, around the exglow area, an invisible hand grabs my intestines and suddenly wrenches them like a wet towel. It comes together with pulsating pulls at my adam’s apple and uncontrolled crying. Surrounding belly muscles contract as well. It draws my full attention to that inner spot, much like a 220 volt electric shock, if you ever had that.

Some clear triggers for this sensation are the death or the long-term departure of a person close to me, and the breakup of a relationship. In fact, looking closer, the trigger is usually a very specific, self-centered memory, such as that persons expression of appreciation for me, or the image of me staying behind on my own. I believe gutwrench has a lot to do with a turn of attention from something shared to something individual. I oversee the beauty of what is lost, wishing to be able to express that to the person, but I can’t, because he or she is gone. The hole that person left behind is painful and at the same time there’s new freedom. That realisation feels good for me, but it is a type of betrayal too. Everything is intensely happy, yet intensely sad.

Because this experience squeezes my being so tightly, the relaxation afterwards is very deep. As if some weight has truly disappeared, I see the world under a different light: more laid back than usual. I’m open for new things, ready and obliged to dive into new experiences, into new beings. Even though I went through gutwrench, I’m still here, and that knowledge has primordial power.

The word gutwrench existed as something negative. I understand it as a manifestation of a bond. How about you?