dinsdag 29 januari 2013

2013/03 The dialectics of progress

The dialectics of progress.

While life continues, we might well wonder how it does continue. But then again, I agree, we might as well not wonder about it. Why wonder about things we know nothing about? Well, I am afraid history can teach us some lessons here, again.
I had the lucky opportunity to visit the small country of Slovenia again recently, after having visited it many times before. The first time, it was still part of Yugoslavia. Using the term “Yugoslavia” might give many people particular negative associations, but Slovenia is not your typical ex-Yugoslav republic. In fact, Slovenia has already been part of the EU for 10 years and is by now facing the standard EU problems: massive debts, increasing budget cuts and unemployment, useless regulations about food, the “free market,” and a lack of foreign policy, to name a few.

The EU had implemented some guidelines that were never made public. All of a sudden, all of the European countries reached the fabulous idea that budget cuts on the arts might help decrease a nation’s deficit. So in Slovenia, like in Holland, they have ditched the Ministry of Culture. However, Slovenia is in a special situation: While it was still part of Yugoslavia, it was considered one of the most liberal republics. As a result, many free-minded people, people who had reason to fear state repression, went to Slovenia. What’s more, any middle-aged Slovenian will have lived in both the East and the West for half their lives. It gives you a little more insight if you have experienced both perceptions.

Slovenia is currently ruled by a government that has already lost its majority. That government is led by Janez Jansa. Once he was a journalist arrested by the Yugoslav army for revealing state secrets. Jansa was arrested and brought to the military barracks in the center of the town, now known as Meltelkova. Later, during the Yugoslav war in the south, Jansa became Minister of Defense, and not much later after that, he became one of the richest people in the country. He had his glamour wedding, and then, recently, finally, he became prime minister. The way that happened deserves its own extra article, but you might Google around a bit, if you do not want to wait for that. He has been responsible for the heaviest budget cuts the country has ever seen.

Now, Slovenia also raised one of the sharpest contemporary writers of the moment: Slavoj  Zizak. Recently, he published a great article in the Guardian about the level of democracy in the EU. He, like the contemporary Dutch historian/writer Thomas van der Dunk, mentions that it becomes hard to keep asking sacrifices of the public as long as the elite continues to increase their share of the cake. So, in Slovenia, the people finally realized that things cannot go on like this. The system is corrupt, has no self-healing mechanisms anymore, and functions too slowly to respond to current events. Riots took place. Peaceful but persistent. Jansa called them zombies, with the result that the next day the thousands of demonstrators were dressed up like zombies, having the same demands as before: corrupt people must leave office.

What is most remarkable -- and the reason this article is being written -- is that until now, it was very difficult to find any information about these demonstrations in any international news. Because there weren’t any Dutch people involved, the Dutch media does not care very much. If our once-open society of the Netherlands has such a narrow-minded view of the world, in which news is only news if Dutch people are involved, we should not be surprised if we soon know nothing about the world in which we live. We might not even know what to wonder anymore. We have to then only forget history and all our problems will vanish. Welcome to Dutch Globalism and the dialectics of progress.

2013/02 Pursue Alternatives

Pursue alternatives

Some started right away, but as a friend of the Society of Slow Progress, this is the first week of the year I can look forward. What’s up and what’s coming up? The inauguration of Obama will not be as emotional of an event as it was 4 years ago. Lance will lie. It might be the last year of Nelson Mandela. I can assure you these are not the most popular topics in my country, if you ask people what they think about looking forward. Nevertheless, these people keep tickling my mind.
In a world where information is exploding and insecurity becomes the only security, it would be a big victory for today’s propagandists to catch the hope for their personal hopeless vision of the future. I can understand the skeptical position of the American public. Four years ago, they chose Hope. Hope for real change. And changes come slowly. So slow you might wonder if they are changes at all or just adjustments. Adjustments of the same idea: more competition, more ‘free market’, more of the same.
The good thing is that the world will change and patience is a virtue. As Schoppenhauer has written: ‘All restriction makes happy’ and the Americans have to swallow their Qatarization. Whether they are aware of it or not, which makes appreciation of it a bit more difficult. Aside from this, the Aaron Swartz tragedy makes clear that changes must come within reasonable time. Otherwise, other aspects of life monopolize the attention of the current events. Since everything is speeding up, let’s also speed up the things that cannot wait.
Why I write such an intro might be clear. In my little country of Holland, an identity crisis of unknown proportions has been taking place for a decade now. And I have to deal with it because I live here. The call of George, Jr., ‘You Are With Us Or Against Us,’ made us choose ‘to takes the eggs for our money,’ as we say in Holland. It means we have decided what to do and cash in. By doing so, we ignore all the Dutch self-minded possibilities of adding additional elements. With this, all the Dutch ways of being reasonable and adding nuances, which are so necessary in our densely populated country, were overruled. The Dutch people’s need to express themselves became irrelevant and people failed to come out of their small environments. Also, there was this EU development and discussions, while Dutch politicians had no clue what to do. They were thinking about Europe. The biggest EU opponent, Bolkenstein, became commissioner, and they were thinking about more competition, economic growth and more of the same.
There is a theory called the PP reflection, where politics reacts to the public, and at the same time but independently, the public reacts to politics. They cannot meet if they have nothing to say, and they cannot talk to each other because they do not meet. No wonder this leads to collective confusion. But ever since ‘the art of war’ originated (500 B.C.), people have known that no matter what the strength of your opponent is, anything you do will be a disaster, if you do not know yourself. So besides all the bitter taste, to admit you are a hypocrite is progress.
I guess something like this is what Lance Armstrong is going to say later this week. I still don’t like him, I still do not love Obama, although I have no problem being his friend on Facebook, and I already miss the importance Mandela, as if we wait for him to die, so we can start remembering the good things he was speaking about. I support the idea to respect his examples of reconciliation and reconsideration right now.
Before, there were always 3 choices:
1. Agree;
2. Disagree; and
3. Pursue alternatives.

But now we only have one choice: continue!!!

2013/01 Starting Pistol

starting pistol

This first week in 2013 started sad and ended sad, if you ask me. It started with Newyears bombardment with firecrackers (very popular in the Netherlands) spending over 70 million of the contemporary currency and resulting in hundreds of injured people, tens of thousands of complaints and politicians discussing if such a tradition should be banned or not and the millions of options in between. I remember last week they were discussing what would be the appropriate procedures if a stranded whale is found on the Dutch coastline.
Meanwhile the European transformation from technocracy into democracy is completely invisible, covered with radio silence, Syria keeps on exploding, ‘hopefully only Syria and not all the countries over there’, and more and more people live without health insurance or the security of being able to stay in their houses. 
Also, my friend died. Simple pneumonia, wrong timing and attention and never woke up anymore.
Today we have escorted Marc Sponz to another world. For 30 years he was one of those ‘brother-friends’, when friendship does not have to prove anything, because it is. The ceremony took place 145 KM away from Eindhoven, in the place where his parents live. Marc used to hide himself from the outside world and since he got fired about 10 or 15 years ago (he was the only working guy between artists, musicians, scumbags, students, self-employers etc.) he lived outside of the system. Not really a social number, or tax number, or insurance number, or all together at one moment…
Luckily we all together have been able to pull some good spirits from this day. There is a bunch of the old 2B crew, maybe 7-8 of them (like his brother Luk) of which some were born in this region ‘Zeeuws Vlaanderen’. It is a piece of Netherlands you can only reach by water or through Belgium.  So we did not expect so many people at this gathering. But there were 100 maybe 150 of them, maybe even more. His parents were overwhelmed with warmth. And maybe, finally, collectively, we have realized we all individually are responsible for taking care of ourselves and each other.
So, I do not know about you, but if a week starts sad and ends sad and still has an ending like this, I feel good enough to start the rest of the week.
Make your smile trigger you this time.