Aug 052019

I have written elsewhere on this site that we all should do our utmost to form a protective ring around the “Reporters sans frontiers” (RSF) and other journalists who risk their necks to tell us what is going on.

At the same time, I abhor those who kill, maim or otherwise persecute people on the grounds of religion or ethnicity, or to steal land. Those people are indeed terrorists, as the two US mass killers last weekend, and should be captured, indicted on charges of terrorrism and sentenced.

Unfortunately, many nations and states treat non-violent political opposition as terrorism. Though my country does not do that, its servility to USA is awkward (an example of which is here, again from the Intercept, bless them). The US enjoys a warm relationship with a number of repressive regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, and has played a sinister role in Central and Latin America for decades. The country’s president takes action against people of Latin American or Middle Eastern extraction, although mass shootings in USA are mostly committed by right-wing extremists.

So what to do? On the one hand, we want to support law enforcement efforts to monitor electronic devices used by the real terrorists and other criminals who ruin people’s lives. On the other hand, we want to protect those who expose, for instance, serious profit-motivated deception, (cf. the health service in USA). We also want to protect those who are brave enough to voice protests against repressive authorities (cf. demonstrators in Moscow these days).

How can we do both? The answer, as I see it is: We can’t.

Compare another dichotomy: How can western countries maintain current living standards while at the same time taking the steps that are required to avert or deal with climate collapse.

The answer as I see it is: We can’t.

In this latter case, to avoid future implosion of whole states, there will have to be wealth redistribution, as there was in WWI and WWII. Draconian measures will be required. Those with greater wealth (i.e. with more to spare) will have to provide more than those with less, like it or not.

Those with more to spare don’t know that yet, and there will be much time wasted, many political battles, and probably more fascism before the tide turns.

Meanwhile, I put to you that the greatest of the dangers that faces our children and grandchildren is NOT terrorism and NOT crime, but climate collapse; oh, and yes, fascism. Fascism throttles knowledge and prohibits political activism. Fascism is state terrorism compounded by terrorism from armed militias trying to overthrow fascist governments. People fall silent and mind their own businesses, hoping that they and their children will survive the next week. We don’t need that.

What we need is the opposite: We need a boisterous majority that reads up on climate change, holds caucuses to discuss what to do and stridently demands that appropriate preventive measures be taken by our governments NOW. And by the way, we also need a vociferous minority that will have no part in such activism. In short, what we need is knowledge and solidarity, not repression and not electoral circuses.

Oct 222017

There are at least two interesting aspects of Naomi Alderman’s what-if novel The Power. One is that if women, somehow or other, miraculously gain the upper hand and get used to calling the shots, they will be no better, though possibly not much worse, than men are now.

The other is that this novel is generally referred to as a “speculative fiction dystopia”. But, as the author writes in a Guardian article  “Nothing happens to men in the novel – I explain carefully to interviewers – that is not happening to a woman in our world today. So is it dystopian? Well. Only if you’re a man.”

In other words: since it is currently happening to women, we are living in a dystopia.

True, it does not happen to all women, and obviously it does not happen to Stephen Pinker. But it does happen to many more women than we care to think of. Moreover, it happens to children. In fact, it happens to just about everyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If I want a certain tract of land, and you just happen to have been living there since you were born, but I am rich and/or powerful, whereas you are just somebody’s lost cause, you’d better scuttle away as fast as you can.

Lost causes are scattered over the landscape like the innumerable heaps of dead bodies we see on the news. Even if Stephen Pinker appears undeterred in his faith in humanity and progress, the number of displaced persons is the highest ever recorded and rising, according to the UN. Being displaced means, more often than not, living in a squalid desert refugee camp, courtesy of some recalcitrant donor. Mind you: Living there for years. No hope.

Personally, I suspect that Mr Pinker must have been suffering from attacks of temporary insanity when he wrote his feel-good nonsense. His line of thinking has annoyed me immensely over the years and has caused no end of harm, I believe. As a psychologist, he is of course entitled to try to help his clients feel better, but that is no excuse for telling the general public that there is no need to worry. Just sit back, relax, be happy.

Yes, I am very familiar with the statistics of the UNDP, according to which “absolute poverty” has declined dramatically, as has infant mortality. Please note, however, that the UNDP term “absolute poverty” is defined as roughly < 1 USD. I ask you: try to live on 10 USD a day or even 20 USD a day, and see what you think of it.

Back to the bag of lost causes, which Mr Pinker seems to have forgotten: In it, we find most of the population of Yemen, most of the population of Afghanistan, most of the population of Syria, the entire population of Palestine, both Sudans, most of the people still trying to eke out a living in Chad and Mali which are becoming increasingly uninhabitable, … I could go on, of course, interminably. But out of respect for the author of The Power, I wish to specifically mention the countless women in India and elsewhere who are subjected to acid attacks or gang rape.

The thought of such senseless cruelty to defenseless women lights up my very worst visceral instincts and reminds me that if I had power, the kind of power possessed by the women in Naomi Alderman’s novel, I would indeed use and abuse it.

That is what happens when you hand out weapons to a flock of tattered, dejected rebels. They will use and abuse them. Here, there or anywhere, inflamed and outraged by the injustice they and their people have been subjected to, they will suddenly feel, like a rush of adrenalin, like divine intervention, a surge of power in their veins. And they will kill without remorse. As would I, if I were where they are.

But I am not. I am safe and sound, far away from it all. But even people like me or like Stephen Pinker, sometimes cross the line: The leaders of ISIS (now defeated, or so they say) were once wealthy, educated and basically law-abiding men. What hit them was rage against the injustice of it all. With money and financial contacts, they could purchase arms and that, alone, gave them immense power.

In addition to those who abuse power because they have a just, lost cause to pursue, there are a lot of psychopaths, so, Mr Pinker, I see no reason to just relax and be happy.

Jul 252016

And now they are blowing up Germans!

When western kids are frustrated, they tend to go on drugs or destroy themselves some other way. The past couple of weeks’ young killers in Germany seem to be of a different metal.

Having somehow survived the ordeal of getting to Europe, partly by sea, trekking through woods, crossing fences, evading border guards and paranoid police officers lurking at every turn of the road, with little or no money, being told everywhere, “we don’t want you here!” must have been almost like escaping from a Nazi concentration camp, the difference being that there is no “home” waiting for them if they make it through the barbed wire.

No “welcome!”, no celebration of their heroic survival awaits them. They have made the desperate journey only to find that they will be put on a plane back to their starting point, which for most of them is just another concentration camp, at least in practical terms.

Far from condoning their massacres, for which I blame the ISIS, regardless of whether ISIS actually orchestrated the acts, I cannot help understanding the power of their despair. Look at them! They are hardly more than kids. Until war blocked out the sun over Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, to all appearances for ever, these kids watched western TV series about happy families in pretty towns where “poverty” meant not owning the latest four-wheel-drive sedan. No wonder they were sure that with hard work, they would do well here.

How could they possibly understand what we think is obvious: If you have a passport from a Schengen country, fine, you may try your luck here. If not, tough luck, rules are rules, and we all have to follow the rules, don’t we. Next.

I know how much effort it cost us all, last winter, to dismiss thoughts of the thousands and thousands of refugees from the Middle East who had sold and/or left everything and who were shivering under a bush somewhere in the dark outskirts of the Schengen area.

Most of them do not kill! Those who do, still do not kill a fraction of all the people who get killed in traffic accidents. But the situation is indeed serious and tragic for us all.

I would like to add that the number of European victims of terrorism is only a infinitessimal fraction of Middle Eastern victims of terrorism. So if we feel traumatised, how do they feel?