Life is like climbing mountains

Mount Kinabalu. 27 August. I am walking the steep path to the summit. Going there is a must, friends have told me. This is the highest and most beautiful mountain of Borneo, with views over large rainforests and impressive mountain ranges. I put my foot on a thick tree root, and grab a branch to lift myself up. Be careful, do not grab a loosely hanging vine or rotten tree, but catch a stable tree! One step done. Many more steps to follow. I almost slip on the wet limestone, but my other foot quickly steps safely on a dry stone. I make a deep bow to walk under a bamboo stem hanging low over the path.

My foot steps on white flowers; I look up and see intricate orchids above me, attached to a tree, with their roots in the air. Meanwhile, the sequoias -cricket-lookalikes- are making their prrrting and sissing sounds. I recognise the birds from my other jungle walks, although I have no memory of their formal names. Here is the tumble dryer bird: woosh, woosh, woosh-woosh-woosh-woosh. And there is the mobile phone: tring-tring. I even occasionally hear the what-what frog. Squak-squak! Is that the famous multi-coloured hornbill, possibly even one with something that looks like a helmet on its beak? Like all the time I have spent in rainforests the last weeks, I can hear them but cannot see them. My hunt for the hornbill fails again.

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I look through a gap in the dense bushes and trees along the path. At my right, a ravine drops into the depth of a valley packed with trees in all tints of green. Apparently, some individual trees have not received the note about the required height, as they rise their necks and crowns above the surrounding trees. From the distance, clouds are arriving in the valley, mystifying the valley with mist, like laying veils on a bride. This veil quickly becomes a full-face burqa, as within minutes the valley gets covered by clouds. The air starts to feel thick, and the humidity possibly runs up to 100%. My clothes start to get moist, and quickly get drained by drops of rain. Drip-drip-drip. Flush-flush-flush. Thick straight lines of rain wash my clothes and give the path a muddy make-over.

My breathing becomes heavier. My heart pounds in my throat. I have to stop climbing. Deep breath-in, breath-out, relax, let my heart rate normalise. Walk again. Up the steps, climb the stones, go over the tree roots, push myself through the mud closer to the summit. And stop again to regain my breath and my normal heart beat. OK, let’s go slower. No, I still lose my breath. It is as if my lungs do not get enough oxygen. My head starts to feel light, while a pumping headache starts to grow. This is stereotypic altitude sickness. I know it. Although I have never experienced this before in my life, even when I climbed the much higher Himalaya in Nepal.

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The mountain was hard physical work. When I was climbing the muddy path in the torrential rain, I started to question my own motivations. Why am I going up this mountain? Because my friends told me to? That is not a good reason. Because of the nice views and beautiful nature? Yes, I have seen great nature at the bottom of the mountain, and I will possibly see that later today at the summit or tomorrow when I climb down in better weather. But now, I can only see rain and mud, and I hear nothing else than rain rattling on the leaves. Am I enjoying this? Yes. Or no, I suffer. Does this mean that I want to stop and go down? No. I want to continue. Persevere. Isn’t this paradoxical? Yeah, but the hostel in the mountain is not far. Why do I want to go there? Possibly like the motivation of sports people? They put themselves up for a challenge, and find meaning and pride in overcoming the physical challenge. Yes, it seems like that: I know I will enjoy the sense of “I have done this, despite the challenge!” Am I trying to prove myself to others or to myself? No. I am simply enjoying pushing my boundaries. Authentic meaning via physical achievement and building character. The psychologist Dilthey wrote how the physical resistance and challenge of nature can reconnect us with the totality of our self, particularly the parts we have forgotten when we are too stuck in our mind. We cannot deny the immediate reality of physical struggle, and our ways of overcoming this. Fifty years after Dilthey wrote this, the meaning-therapist Frankl described how a possible pathway to living a meaningful life is experiencing pride in overcoming physical challenges.

It makes me feel alive. Thou shalt live intensively (see Tristan Garcia: La vie intense, une obsession moderne).

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That is, the physical challenge also forces me to be in the here-and-now. I cannot think about the life that I have left at the foot of this mountain, and the challenges that I have left home. I can only think about the next step, about the next breath and the next beating of my heart. People seek physical challenge to feel alive and to reconnect with their body, with nature, with life, with the world around us. Out of our head, into the stream of experiencing. Like the client that I ‘cured’ from his chronic depression by suggesting to join a jogging group. And like the bodyguard of a politician whose very inconvenient agoraphobia disappeared when he started to work out at the gym. Or the woman whose chronic negativity temporarily disappeared when she broke her arm. Our bodies are not made to work full-time at a desk, become rooted in a sofa in front of a flat screen, or to exchange the skin of our hand palms for mobile phones at which we stare all day long. Even here on the mountain, too many young people do not look around, but stare at their phones, make pictures or listen to the loud music coming out of their phone. Contradictory, these phon(e)y boys are at the same time engaging in sports and physical challenges, which are some of our few culturally accepted ways to feel embedded again in the here-and-now (although they simultaneously push the here-and-now away with their phones: they want to experience the flow of being-alive but as soon as it comes they push it aside). Everyone can find their own way of reconnecting with themselves via their body. We are physical beings.

What brings you in the here and now? What meanings do you find in nature?

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Nightmares of a dystopian Europhobic future

Facebook, 28 September ·

Unaware of the fright that is about to happen, I am sitting in the bus, leaning half asleep against the window with a steaming cup of coffee in my hand. My daily trip to work. There is the morning silence around me that you can get on the public transport, when your fellow travellers are in a similar state of mental morning daze, obsessively staring at cat-pictures on their Facebook or reading made-up gossips about the pop stars in the morning newspapers, all suggesting that “all is well in the world, nothing to worry about”. If it were only true! We are all still half asleep. A trip as usual.

Until now. The bus suddenly stops, not at a bus stop. I see a van of the riot police with flashing orange lights in front of the bus, blocking the road. Heavily armed police men stand at the exits of the bus, ready with their semi automatic guns. The doors open and an officer enters, shouting “ID’s please”. The men start to check the identity documents of my fellow passengers. A young officer comes to me, and I hand him my ID card. He looks briefly at the card and immediately his eyes shout hostility at me. “What is this?” “My identity card.” “Don’t you have another one?” “No, this is a valid card from the European Union, you can read on the card that all nations should recognise this. The British government has an agreement with the EU.” The police officer looks again at the card and asks his superior to advise. The supervisor quickly shakes his head and tells me: “Do you have any other evidence of your right to stay in the UK?” My eyes are wide open and I raise my shoulders in disbelief. Is this really happening? They can’t do this! A strong anger growing in my stomach. The supervisor speaks again, in a demanding tone: “You are under arrest. We will bring you to a deportation centre where you will be expelled per direct.” I start to stutter: “but… but… I work here, I have a job… I rent a room… All my belongings are here… What about that?” “We have nothing to do with that. You are here illegal and will be expelled. Your belongings will be repossessed and sold by the government; the profits from these sales will pay for the costs of your deportation. You can be lucky that we don’t demand you to pay all costs, as that would be tens and tens of thousands.” ” I want a sollicitor!” ” Under the red terrorism code we don’t need to grant you that. You are illegal here and a threat to the country. This is the will of the people. They don’t want you here.” The young police officer grabs my hand and pulls me out of my chair. My cup of coffee falls on the floor. I start to shout to my fellow passengers: ” Help! Do something! They violate my rights!” But the others are rigidly looking at their phones and newspapers, pretending not to hear and see anything. “You are guilty by letting this happen!” I shout to them, without any positive effects. One man behind me kicks me on my leg. He looks me aggressively in the eyes and sticks his middle finger up to me. He does not look extraordinary, nothing remarkable, not with a big swastika in his forehead or horns growing on his head; he is merely a fellow passenger who had just been sitting silently next to me in the bus. Meanwhile, the young police officer pulls my hands behind my back and locks them in cuffs. He pulls me outside the bus, but he needs to drag me as I resist to walk. He doesn’t care, he just uses all the force he has.

Two days before. I am in my home. A good friend is visiting me. We are having a good time, with some wine and deep conversations. We share our worries about the world but feel supported by each other. Suddenly we hear something outside like drums, accompanied by grumble-chanting male voices. My friend and I look surprised to each other. I walk to the window. I see a group of about fifty men marching through the street, all in black leather with big red swastikas on their back. In their hands, large torches are burning. My stomach is turning around. My muscles tension. A rush of adrenalin flows through my body. I see a police officer in front of my window. Suddenly I am outside and ask the officer what is happening. He turns to me and says : “They are using their democratic rights. You should hide if you don’t want to be in trouble.” Immediately, I run back to my friend inside, whispering: “You must hide!” I know she is Jewish and the nazi’s may come for her. I read panick on her face. I feel not afraid, I feel strong, knowing that I will defend my friend. I will hide her. As I am privileged. The nazi’s won’t come after me. They can’t for instance know I’m gay. So I should be fine. Should I?

I wake up with a scream. My heart is pounding in my throat. I’m grasping my breath. I look around. This is my bed. My cupboard. My painting. My table. My tiny room. I am fine.

Fortunately these were merely nightmares that I have had the last two nights. They are not reality and they won’t become reality soon, I think. However the dreams reveal some of my deepest fears. I am afraid about what is happening in the UK. Neil Faulkner wrote about this in his book “Creeping fascism”: it is creeping, slowly but steadily and the direction of the development is crystal clear. In the 30s people were told that their nightmares would not happen, but these happened.

The worst is the uncertainty. Yes possibly and hopefully, a hard racist Brexit will not happen. But there is a possibility that we will go into the wrong direction. I know I’m not the only European without a British citizenship who feels emotionally affected by the uncertainty. The mental and financial costs of the Brexit vote are already tremendous. Theresa May is making it even harder by not wanting to guarantee our right to stay. We are a bargaining chip, a chip with feelings and our feelings affect the quality and value of the chip. We are even already rolling out of the UK en masse, not because we know that we have no future here, but because we don’t know : we cannot bear the uncertainty, because the only thing we can be certain about is that this uncertainty will last very long. I would like to send a claim to Theresa May for financial compensation for unnecessary and deliberate harm to my mental health. Who wants to pay my solicitors?

The uncertainty that Theresa May has already created directly leads to structural discrimination of EU citizens who have no permanent right to remain. For instance my landlord has asked me to move as she is rebuilding the house (this is my seventh forced unexpected move in four years living in London). All estate agents in my area answer the phone politely but when they ask me to spell my name, they immediately ask where I am from and whether I have the right to remain permanently in the UK. Their response? No, they are not allowed to accept me as I am not British.

The last agent who asked me about my right to live permanently in the UK, I answered in detail: “I have the human right to live anywhere on this planet. Any time. For any duration. As I am a human being. Borders are invented by narrow-minded selfish individuals who are too anxious to share what they see as their righteously deserved property. Nobody can claim that they have more rights to a certain piece of earth than others. Like nobody can claim that others do not have the right to inhale oxygen. It is random fate that I was born to my parents who lived at a random place of the world. We are all indebted to our parents, and not to ourselves that we are born where we are born. We are all victims of random fate. It is historical fate that owns the total planet earth, and not one individual has the right to claim any part of that earth. Nobody has the right to any part of this world, all of us are temporary guests to the host of fate. Too many guests have outstayed their welcome on this planet, and too many people have neither paid anything back nor shown their gratitude to the fact that they have been given the miracle of life at a welcoming place in this immense universe with many uninhabitable planets, at this relatively quiet time in the turbulent history of this planet which has seen many meteorite impacts and volcano explosions. Too many Brexit voters (I assume not all) seem structurally ungrateful. They are not under threat or pressure from a fight for survival in daily life, like in poorer countries. They do not need to run for their lives because of a volcano or earth quake is shattering their dreams. They think that they created the right for this piece of earth, albeit by their mere being born here. They do not realise that it is a miracle that they were granted the possibility of life, here and now. There is no sense of awe. There is no mystery. There is only narrow-mindedness. Or possibly they are grateful and full of awe, but they are afraid for fate. They are afraid that fate could randomly turn against them, like fate has randomly given them the precious gift of being here at this place at this moment in time. By denying the existence of randomness and fate, they do not need to be afraid.
So you ask me whether I have the right to remain here in the UK? Do you dare to claim that you have the right? I am a grateful member of this community, trying to repay earth in any way I can, and fill of awe for the miracle of being-here. This should convince your landlords to accept me, as a fellow guest to this planet.”

No, I did not get a house via this estate agent. And of course I did not use such eloquent words, but my message was clear. Poor agent, he must have been thinking he was speaking with a madman. Possibly he was. Was he? Am I crazy to think that nobody can claim the right to any place on this planet?

Of course we should responsibly use the guest rooms that we are given during our existence, and we may want to be more pragmatic about what we share with whom and when, if that is in the long term benefit to the house and if that shows gratitude to our host. But the full terminology of “our rights” is a disgrace to our host that is random fate, living in the house of planet earth.

Of course fate does not exist as a person or entity. Fate is the expression of a personal experience: I am born at a certain place in a certain time and I will shape my place for a bit for a short period, or I will go to another place which I will temporarily shape; but before me, next to me, and after me there are others, and this experience of the totality is what we call fate. Or some people call this Purpose or God’s Plan. Regardless of the name that individuals have given this experience in history, all philosophies and religions seem to show a sense of gratitude, awe and respect. But with the secularisation and scientification of society, individuals seem to have lost touch with this experience, and even seem to be afraid of this experience.

I am grateful to every moment I am here, wherever that is on earth, in the UK, Borneo, or elsewhere. If fate brings me somewhere else, I will go there with a sense of awe. But I refuse to accept intolerance, discrimination and power games, where that violates the rules of our host, and where that hurts too many other guests. I will not move when people try to force me, while they are not in gratitude and awe for what they have been given. I will fight to see the human faces, wherever and whenever I can. I will fight for every individual’s right to be alive and for their ability to embrace their fate in gratitude and awe.

Why am I sharing this story (and similar personal stories) on Facebook? I am not asking for pity. Neither for praise. I am hoping for a moment of reflection and feeling. This is radical political activism for me: the personal is political, and by showing the personal I hope to show you the politics. By showing you the politics, I hope that you will see your own person and the politics that you are embedded in and that you are co-creating. And I hope to share hope: alternative perspectives are possible. We can change. We can change. When we start to recognise and value what we have been given in life.

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Surviving capitalism

Facebook, 2 October · London ·

Surviving capitalism: ideological reflections on a meaningful economy
The neoliberal system is receiving more and more criticism because it pretends to be neutral, while it actually enables only a small establishment to enforce their meanings on others. Instead, the aim of a meaningful economic system is to enable the largest number of individuals to live a meaningful life, via work consumption and freedom, without enterprises markets or governments structurally manipulating what individuals experience as meaningful.

What would a meaningful economy require? Let me fantasize (we will speak about the feasibility later):
1. Developing a new economic paradigm;
2. Meaning as economic progress: Assessing the economic progress of a country in terms of the number of individuals who are able to live a meaningful life (like Bhutan, but they focus only on happiness which is much more superficial and more prone to commercial and governmental manipulation);
3. Economic focus on meaning: Focusing economic activities on long-term meaning instead of superficial happiness; someone’s sense of meaning is more than success or a manipulatable sense of quick happiness, but it is about their intuition of their long-term motivations and sources of well-being in life;
4. Meaning as development: Acknowledging that individual meaning is the main driver of economic progress and prosperity as individuals do only commit in economic activities because of the meaning that they experience in these activities, and the internal motivation that drives them (‘the baker of Adam Smith’ does not bake bread merely because of economic self-interest for getting rich, but because of the meaning that baking has for him, including being able to feed his family, implying that the meaning of his family is the primary driver of his contribution to the economy; this is ‘meaning as development’ and not merely ‘freedom as development’ as Amartya Senn writes; the Maslowian ‘hierachy of needs’ and Marxist ‘historical materialism’ may need to be inverted, to start with our perceived meaning); a meaningful economy is a productive and resilient economy, resistant to shocks;
5. Meaning manipulation is unethical: Acknowledging that forcing or manipulating others to follow our meanings is unethical, and that by imposing external meanings, individuals will be less innovative and productive;
6. Different meanings: Accepting that different individuals experience different things as meaningful: for example, some individuals experience work and money as important, and others friendships, caring for others and higher goals; equally valuing and rewarding different types of contributions to the economy as meaningful, including care and being-cared-for;
7. Materialised meaning: Acknowledging that perceived meaning is primarily material-embodied, and only theoretically reflected and verbalised when it fails; therefore, we should examine differences in material conditions for realising different meanings by different individuals, and examining which and how material conditions could be realised to enable the largest number of individuals living a meaningful life; that is, enabling individuals to develop their own meaningful paths in career and life, for example via basic income or a developmental bursary from the government (‘micro-credits’ or ‘stakeholder grants’), which may be partially donation and partially a repayment system; research have shown that these activities are more cost-effective than the current benefit systems, increase productivity and self-efficacy as individuals are able to make meaningful life changes;
8. Meaningful education: Continuous re-educating individuals in what they experience as meaningful and how they could achieve that in their professional and social life, and the balance between both; teaching how to find their own meaning despite the influences from others marketing and media; focusing education on professional and life skills to survive the economy, including creative, collaborative, logical and critical thinking; as many individuals have lost their intuition of what is meaningful for them and for society; realising this for example via education and training; acknowledging that individuals at different points in life have different learning needs, and creating a ‘learning society’, based on free life-long education; education and academic research should be value-neutral and not influenced by commercial interests;
9. Meaningful innovation: Stimulating innovation via independent universities, and commercial research and development, for instance via subsidising and partial public ownership of research, inventions and start-ups; minimise bureaucratic hindrances to develop new products or services and start new economic initiatives;
10. Mental health: Rethinking mental health to include pressures from individual’s socio-economic circumstances; invest in meaningful mental health care to support individuals live a meaningful life despite society’s pressures;
11. Work/life balance: Optimising the balance between work and leisure time, so that the largest part of life is dedicated to meaningful activities; for some individuals this could mean working more hours than others if these activities feel meaningful;
12. Right to meaningful work: Enforcing companies to offer the right to meaningful work to employees, and forbidding meaningless work activities, such as specialised repetitive activities in a factory line, and replacing workers with robots for meaningless work; minimising the role of meaning-less activities in the financial sector, for instance decreasing the creation of bubbles and derivates, and focusing financial sector on supporting concrete visible economic activities such as in the construction industry (‘stones for finances’);
13. Non-manipulative marketing: Rethinking the role of marketing and Public Relationships that we allow in society; forbidding and controlling radical manipulation and structural spreading of ‘alternative facts’; minimise monopolies in news and media; creating and controlling public broadcasts which reflect the broad perspectives and lifestyles in the population;
14. Representative government: Minimising governmental interference in how individuals define their meaning and how they live their lives. This implies developing a transparent democracy, with parliamentary proportional representation reflecting the different opinions of different individuals in the population, transparency over governmental policies and negotiations, forbidding politicians to spread ‘alternative facts’, restricting donations and information sharing by lobby groups, reinstating of independent researchers and academics in evaluating governmental policies, and using well-designed representative population surveys as one of multiple sources in policy development.
15. Meaningful work in communities: Stimulating bottom-up economic activities and community building, as most economic activities happen in relatively small communities, and individuals in all times and cultures perceive a strong sense of meaning in communities;
16. Meaning in times of crisis: Interpreting the downward spiral of an economic recession and financial crisis in terms of the perceived meaning by stakeholders; acknowledging the role that public announcements by experts and government have on the meaning and trust that individuals experience in the market; acknowledging the perceived meaning of commercial and governmental investment on the meaning and trust that stakeholders experience in the market;
17. Realism: Acknowledging the economic, financial and societal restraints to a meaningful economy, such as awareness of limited resourced and finances.
18. Phases: There could be several phases in the development of a meaningful economy, starting with identifying for ourselves how we can live a meaningful life within the existing system (‘building meaningful islands of anarchy and energy within the capitalist system’), building alternative communities, public awareness raising activities, and if needed directly opposing the existing system. Different individuals may find different activities meaningful at different moments, as individuals engage in political activism for different reasons (e.g. not everyone wants to protest, etc); the cycle of activism and societal change should acknowledge these personal meanings (see ‘meaningful activism’ on activistwiki.net )

Brief history:
The history of economics sees a slow trend towards meaningful economics. Classical economists focused on our survival, and assessed products and services on the basis of their utility to fulfill the needs of individuals. This has led to an obsession with goals and growth in business, governmental policy and also our personal lives. However, the primary survival needs of individuals have not significantly changed, while economic productivity has exponentially increased during the last centuries. This seems to have been caused by the fact that the focus on needs has been replaced by desires and wants, and enterprises and governments seem to be more and more manipulating what consumers and citizens want, via Public Relationships and marketing: we live in a nudging economy in which we want more and more. Several sociologists and economic theorists go one step further, and claim that we live in an emotion economy, where the value of a product or service is not based on needs or wants, but on the nice experiences that the product or service provides. This has created a ‘happiness industry’, where individuals are continuously told that they should be happy and that buying certain products or services will make them happy. This has created two new classes in society: the manipulators and the manipulated. The manipulators define what we should experience as meaningful, and the manipulated are tricked into following these meanings. This is what economic theorists have called ‘The Establishment’ (Owen Jones), ‘Shock Doctors’ (Naomi Klein) or ‘Economy of good and evil’ (Thomas Sedlacek). There are inherent meanings in our economic system, but the discipline of economics seems to pretend as if these meanings are not there (‘ceterus paribus’), and they ignore to emphasize the error and variation in their economic models which hide the meaning-making by individuals. Economics has in the past focused on functional models, and even psychological-economic models such as developed by Kahneman and Tversky, focus on behavioural activities and manipulation of behaviour. Economics have ignored a positive/existential psychological black box, which consists of the subjective experiences, meanings and motivations of individuals; these are ‘hot experiences’ which we can for instance experience when we are in the flow of doing something meaningful, and these are the opposite of the ‘cold behaviours’ that economic models have looked at. Nassim Taleb has for instance shown how hot meanings contributed to the financial crash of 2008-2009. Economic behaviour can be described by the underlying hot meanings of individuals, and economic models could be improved by adding a meaningful focus (although meaning-focused behaviour seems to act more like chaos theory and complex systems theory than simple linear models). I would go one step further, by not only describing but also prescribing a meaningful focus on economy and politics (of course while acknowledging the limitations of this vision, as multiple meanings will be needed to understand the complexity of economic activities). This is the perspective of “psycho-anarchism” (see my entry on activistwiki.net): giving individuals freedom and capability to live a meaningful and satisfying life, while acknowledging the economic and societal constraints of our society.

Questions
-How do you feel about this reinterpretation of economics?
-How do you feel about meaningful economics as aim?
-How do you feel we may be able to develop meaningful economics?

About this text
This text is copyrighted by myself. This text is developed as part of my long-term project “Surviving capitalism: how to live a meaningful life in a meaningless system”. Anyone interested in brainstorming and contributing: very welcome (just PM me!). Suggestions for publishers welcome! More scientific articles, books and projects will follow soon.

Relevant background reading:
– Sedlacek: Economics of good and evil;
-The real utopias project: Redesigning redistribution;
-Skidelsky & Skidelsky: how much is enough;
-Csikszentrmihaly: Good business;
-Oliver James: Affluenza;
-Benjamin Barber: The infantile consumer;
-Joseph Stiglitz & Bruce Greenwald: Creating a learning society;
-Richard Sennett: the craftsman; neoliberalism;
-Michael Lerner: politics of meaning.
-Erik Olin Wright: Envisioning real utopias;
activistwiki.net

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Art is a gateway to the devine

Facebook, 22 October ·

True art is a gateway to the divine. (conversation with Justin Parker)
True art opens existence (Martin Heidegger, the origins of art).
Heidegger describes how the shoes of Van Gogh open the existence of the worker who has just put off the shoes. The worn out state tells about his poverty, the bit of sand and straw that he has just returned from the field. We start to understand his world, his experience of time and space. This piece of art also opens our existence as we realise how we are able to step into someone else’s shoes and join another world. We can change. We are not determined by our situation. That’s a fundamental lesson about our existence. The term is etymologically derived from ek-sistere, standing out. We stand where we are now, but a piece of us stands outside this place as we can change, we can change shoes, step into someone else’s world and change direction in our life. A true piece of art reminds us of this freedom, it gives that wider perspective on life.

My art starts with a world that wants to be opened. Listen to interviews with passionate artists and you will hear the same: we are sensitive to the call of the world that wants us to open them for ourselves as artist, and for the audience. This transcends traditional philosophies of art which start with the artist who wants to communicate something or the audience who projects their own interpretations in the piece of work.

A true piece of art opens existence where existence was closed before. It is a breach in the world as we knew it before. Where existence is opened in a true piece of art, there is apparently an urgency in the world in which we live. Like Monet’s transition to impressionism may be seen as a response to the closed stylised world view of his Victorian era. Like surrealism expressed the underbelly that would spit out two world wars in the same era.

There are many people filling the space in museums and art galleries, but there are few true artists who open existence. I am always in search of a black hole in my universe, when I am going to museums and galleries. I want to be opened to new worlds and to the possibilities I have in life. Unfortunately too many pieces of art do not open existence and even put extra locks on the gates to the other worlds: they confirm our existing world and our existing ways of making art. Conventialism is worse than making no art at all, as it obstructs people to see more than there is here and now. Conventialism is utterly unethical.

A true piece of art is not a piece, but it is an art movement. Every true piece of art has its own art movement. It moves us into different worlds and wider perspectives. It also motivates us, like the word motivation is etymologically derived from movere, to move. True art motivates us in life. Conventional art though puts us in a standstill, makes us standing and not out-standing.

True art invites us to be artists in life, to be opening existence all the time. Opening my own existence and the existence of others. True artists of life are moving continuously as they are moved by a world bigger than themselves. They move others, and they set the worlds around them in movement. They open existence for others and for themselves, and they sketch future movements of art, of life for others. True art of life is a lifestyle of continuous opening of new worlds, like the phoenix and the ganeesha.

The true art of life is divine, because it opens existence. Do you dare to be an artist of life and taste the divine?

Found on Google from metmuseum.org
images.google.co.uk

The poppy industry

Facebook, 5 November ·

Why I won’t be wearing a poppy
For those who don’t know : in this time of year, people in the UK buy red poppies and wear these on their clothes, and the money goes to charity helping war veterans.

As a psychologist I have treated many soldiers. Several of my friends are veterans. I have seen the extreme impact that wars have on soldiers and their families. And many of them have fought with the intention to defend the freedom of our countries but also to defend the freedom of people they even did not know, as humanitarian help. I know several secret stories of peace negotiations between countries where eg Dutch and British armies made the difference. I think that these contributions to peace, the good intention and their sacrifice needs to be acknowledged and we should support veterans and their families in their psychological recovery from the army. We owe them.

However as we all know, there are also other sides to the military and particularly the politics behind it. And we should address these sides. But we should not confuse our respect for the soldiers’ intentions with asking attention for the larger picture. This is what seems to happen now : the red poppy and the commemorations are too often not only about the good intentions and sacrifice (anymore), but they are implicitly or explicitly misused by some politicians to justify wars and glorify war heroes. Consequently, wearing a red poppy can contribute to a societal and political basis of support which can be used by the government to go into more wars; thus indirectly these red poppy wearers may create what they do not want: more deaths and psychological traumas. I think people should be aware of how the red poppies can be misused, when they wear a red Poppy. This is why some people wear a white poppy, which symbolises both respect and also a call for peace. At the same time I will not judge anyone wearing a red poppy as I don’t know their personal intentions behind wearing a poppy. At most I can say they may be ignorant or denying the societal complexity of the red poppy symbol.

Let’s further examine the symbolic (or possibly even the imaginary) meaning of the red poppy.

First, I focused on the text above on the good intentions of individual soldiers. By respecting good intentions such as defending peace, I step aside from the argument that the army may not have been effective in creating peace in reality. However are all intentions of soldiers good? Can young recruits know what the complexity of armies means in reality? Are they able to make a good decision to give their lives to the army? I think not: the minds of soldiers often gets manipulated. Many young kids as young as 16 years join the army in the UK with other intentions, as the army seems their only reasonable career option, and they know from the Hollywood movies how cool it is to become a military hero. The reality is often the opposite and several army generals have told me how many of these kids are not mentally ready, and their young manipulatable minds get bend forever. The most extreme example is that the manipulation of young minds is deliberately used by the Israeli army whose psychologists use prescription to brainwash young minds and create an anti-Palestinian nation (this is a fact, not an anti-israel opinion as I have inside information of the programme the soldiers go through). Other countries are possibly not much worse. Many young recruits love the physical drills but they can’t cope with the reality of war; psychologists have hard work making them ready for reality. Much research shows how being in the army can warp your personality; individuals can internalise their military training and radicalise in their opinions (eg due to cognitive dissonance reduction). They need our support, but possibly not the red poppy which sometimes seems to create a pro-army culture of heroism which attracts more young people to the army for unrealistic ideas and intentions.

Second, it is common fact that wars are not only fought for good intentions by governments. For instance there was little evidence for the involvement of Afghanistan in 9/11; instead there is very clear evidence for the involvement of Saudi Arabia, United Arabic Emirates and possibly Russia; Al Qaida was more often trained and living in these countries than in Afghanistan. But these countries have not been attacked. Because it would not benefit the West. Because Bill Clinton has his companies in the UAE. Because the USA and UK are the biggest arm dealers to Saudi Arabia and UAE. Because they need their oil. Facts. We all know that the invasion of Iraq was formally justified by the idea that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which he did actually not have. Despite their clear lies, Blair and Bush have not been summoned to The Hague International Tribunal, although their decisions have killed hundreds of thousands. I spoke with some high ranking individuals in the British and Dutch army who told me that there was consensus in the military top that military intervention will not help in Syria. They have send many reports to 10 Downing Street telling how military intervention would further escalate the dire human rights situation in Syria and would increase the threat of terrorism in the West (their reports have shown to be completely correct!). However Cameron ignored these reports and two weeks after he chaired the International Arms Fair in London his government ordered military involvement. It has been estimated that the Syria war has given the weapons industry billions in profit. Partially thanks to Cameron. Unfortunately the poor soldiers had to do as they were told, and they gave their time energy and life for a lost cause. But individuals can’t resign from the army as this would be regarded desertion. Like a friend who was demanded to help in Yemen and he refused to lead drones into the conflict “as this is not our war, and its an unfair war, with Saudi Arabia using heavy arms and British military intelligence against nomadic tribes with few arms or military intelligence”. Or for instance the other friend who trained the Israeli army how to use drones, but the Israeli army subsequently used his skills to attack a school about which they were not sure whether there were innocent children present or not. Thus even though some soldiers may have good intentions, they are embedded in a system which seems inherently mixed with good and many bad intentions, often focusing on making a financial profit and gaining political dominance. The red poppy does not seem to take this complexity into account.

Third, military research shows that wars are some of the least effective means to create a democracy and equality in a country. Changing the mind of one person is already difficult, and thus changing the minds of a full population with a long history is even more difficult. The most effective armies are those who focus on the constructive relationship with the local population such as the Dutch army. A Dutch general told me that a conflict cannot be won by arms but by hearts. Therefore the Dutch army has now sold most of its tanks, while simultaneously posting 900 vacancies for psychologists. Sounds right to me. But the red poppy is primarily worn for those in physical battles, while ignoring the possibly more effective and for certain more humane negotiatiors and psychologists.

Fourth, I wonder when we have a commemoration day for the victims of all wars? When do we start wearing symbols showing the complexity of peace and war? When do the children at school learn all perspectives on wars including the counternarratives? When do we wear poppies for the nurses, the doctors, the psychologists, the teachers, etc? The red poppy culture too often only asks attention for merely one voice while there are many other important voices as well.

In conclusion, I feel that the red poppy is part of a system which deliberately leaves out parts of the full story and which does not solve the problems of wars but further stimulates more wars and more gains for the financially hungry weapons lobby and politicians. Meanwhile I would love to have nuanced conversations about the complexity of this topic, without judging anyone. I don’t judge anyone with the right intention wearing a poppy or joining the army, but I won’t, as I see too much manipulation, too much ineffectiveness and too many unethical intentions.

Let’s create a world in which red poppies will never be needed anymore.

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This post is triggered by the strong appeal of my friend Mark Weaver not to wear a “fucking poppy”. I agree with his YouTube message, but his video may have been a bit too short to explain for instance the complexity which I described in this post.