Crying at the deathbed of an idea

I don’t know about you, but as far as I am concerned the European Union, in its current form, is a petty, vicious, hypocritical, libertarian and anti-democratic bunch kicking Greece when it’s down!

But, then again, I can no longer be angry, I am sad today. I have read about an hour of tweets including remarks of Tsipras’ mental water boarding, I have seen the stars on the EU flag designed into a swastika and I have agreed with Paul Krugman and thousands of others who have said: it’s a coup. I have also cried about thinking of young Greeks who are given no chance to breathe, no chance to hope, who cry, who curse, who fight, who flee, who enter prostitution, who commit suicide; cried for the old man sitting in front of the bank; cried because they are not seen.

So, rest in peace, then, you, spirit of the Union,

rest in peace, you, outdates ideas of solidarity, democracy, sovereignty and equality,

rest in peace, you, idea of a better future, of a better world to come,

rest in peace, you, idea of a peaceful Europe.

Crying at the deathbed of an idea

Unbearable hierarchies?

On Saturday, the world will commemorate 20 years since the Bosnian Serb army overran the town of Srebrenica and killed an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people.

The UN Security Council voted on a resolution that would recognise the killings as genocide, however, Russia used its veto powers, calling the resolution divisive.

The Srebrenica massacre was one of the darkest episodes in European history, not only because of the massacre itself, but because it came towards the end of a series of brutal wars between nations that peacefully coexisted for decades before Yugoslavia fell apart. No-one is denying that part.

The series of wars, which began in Slovenia and then moved from Croatia to Bosnia and eventually re-erupted in Croatia is anything but simple to understand. The more you study the conflict, the more you are confused. The Russians have a point saying that the resolution singles out Serbs, who, themselves, were victimised, mostly by Croatians at the beginning of and then again in the mid 1990s. The fact that Russians are historically close to Serbians can be taken into account when evaluating their statement, yet, the relationship shouldn’t automatically discredit the substance of it.

Yet, the men of Srebrenica were victims of a genocide.

It is not simple to weigh the benefits of the proposed SC resolution with its disadvantages.

The benefits are clear: victims would get their unequivocal recognition at the highest level (even though the ICTY has found persons guilty of genocide many years ago already). This is an important benefit.

The disadvantages are, however, substantive as well: such a resolution would single out Serbians, the Russians are not making this up. And, considering how selectively we remember history and how badly we understand even contemporary events, it might not take long before Serbians were only perpetrators. While victims claim that SC’s resolution is important for reconciliation, it might also be harmful to it if the Serbs, like so often in the last two decades, feel treated unfairly; reconciliation is, after all, a two-way process.

The villains and the good guys make the world a simpler place, but not necessarily a better one. Russians are not denying the genocide, they might be, for real, refusing to let the entire conflict boil down to a week in July. One of the worst weeks, but nevertheless one weak among hundreds.

A final thought. The war in Yugoslavia was long, heart-breaking and brutal. There were ethnic killings, displacement, rape camps. There was also Srebrenica. I wonder if a SC resolution on Srebrenica only is, twenty years down the line, the way to go. Are the victims of Srebrenica superior victims or more worthy of recognition than women in rape camps? Should we establish a hierarchy, not only between the villains, but between victims as well? Can we, should we, tell victims of continued rape that the crimes perpetrated against them were less terrible?

Why can’t a resolution recognise all the victims of the 1990s war in Yugoslavia; why can’t a Security Council resolution on Bosnia encompass crimes perpetrated against women?

I am not a victim, I don’t belong to either side of the conflict and I understand that I am writing about things which I know very little about. Death, destruction, displacement, genocide. What does anyone of us, who was lucky enough not to have experienced war, know about these?

I am thinking, however, that if some victims feel misunderstood and unheard, others might feel the same way. And if we recognise the former but not the latter, have we done most good for all?

I honestly don’t know. I am conflicted. I fear seeing the absence of a resolution used for denial purposes; I fear seeing a resolution vilifying an entire nation.

I know that fear obstructs vision, but how do I not fear?

Unbearable hierarchies?

My unresolved dilemmas (I): Do we need different ponds?

We all have our own dogmas. One of mine is not to impose my worldview on other people. There’s enough space for two opinions in this world.

Over the course of last month, our office has been discussing Greece a lot. I bet many offices do these days. I concluded that perfectly rational people can disagree on whether the outcome of the referendum last Sunday was a good thing and about what we need to do next.

I’ve seen a video today with the former Belgian Primer Minister and current member of the European Parliament shouting at Tsipras. This is what you have to do! Shrink the public sector, privatise everything. Do it! There was nothing about all the things that the troika messed up, but this is not what this post is about.

This post is about me trying to reconcile my aversion to impose my worldview on other people and my resistance towards having other people’s worldview imposed on me with the fact that we have to exist in the same society. A country cannot be both socialist and libertarian at the same time. Fact.

I remember a book I once read by Ayn Rand. I think she is absolutely nuts, however, in Atlas Shrugged, (spoiler alert), all these people that are good eventually vanish from society that does not operate according to their rules in order to form their own little world with their own little rules somewhere in a picturesque middle-of-nowhere. The idea is intriguing.

In an exchange between two authors, a Palestinian and an Israeli one, the Palestinian asks the Israeli for a story with a happy ending. The Israeli proposes a three-state solution – one for Palestinians, one for Israelis and one for nut jobs on both sides who can get a piece of land and keep killing each other there.

Both stories create worlds in which like-minded people cohabit away from people who think differently.

Most people with political beliefs can’t simply establish and escape to their own utopia. And it would be quite irrational to have large migrations so that people of the same belief could accumulate and live in the same place. A solution would be to let people choose their political orientation and then be governed by that orientation’s executive council or a similar body, which would have floating headquarters in space. Socialists would be governed by one council, capitalists by the other. While I think the solution is (on first thought) quite cool, it clearly lacks in detail and I guess it is not fully feasible.

So, given the practical constraints of like-minded people cohabiting in the same space, how do we prevent groups of socialists constantly being subjugated by libertarians? Or Guy Verhofstadt (who sounds a bit like Žižek, but has none of his brilliant ideas) by, you know, evil Tsipras?

My unresolved dilemmas (I): Do we need different ponds?

F&F: Fabulous and fired

Last month, a new woman (hereinafter New) joined our office. Next month, she will leave. My boss (hereinafter Boss), also a woman, considers that the new woman has performed badly during her test period. Once it expires, New is out.

In informal discussions I realised there is a lot hostility towards New, not only from Boss, but also other female and some male co-workers. Myself, I actually quite like New. I think she is well-articulated and interesting to talk to. New is quite confident and, even though opinions differ, I think she is not doing her job badly. I don’t think she received good mentoring and that her shortcomings, resulting from this very lack of mentoring, are now turned against her.

Also, New is stunningly beautiful.

A while ago I wrote a post about feminists possibly getting it all wrong with forcing women into the out-of-home working environment.

Building on the argument in the last post, I have a feeling that as jobs and opportunities for women were scarce (once feminists told them all to go out there), they were far more competitive than men. Women are, as a rule, still not very collegial, possibly realising that there is not enough space at the top. Men are just confident enough to assume they’ll always make it up there.

The only thing worse than female competition is competition from a beautiful woman. Not only are they succeeding in this out-of-home world, they also dare to be beautiful while they do it. Their beauty might make them more confident in achieving their aims and also persuade male colleagues to let them climb the ladder faster. The men might not mind a beautiful woman among their ranks or think that if she is so beautiful she can’t possibly be also smart enough to be considered real competition when climbing further.

All this, I realise, is a gross over-simplification of many working environments. I myself know women that are not afraid of competing with beautiful women and I know men that actually value merit over looks or humour. I also realise that problems faced by women in the out-of-home working environments are quite real and grave. This post does not dispute any of this.

I think, however, that in this case this simple theory explains very well why Boss will let New go. A male colleague, a wonderful and charming human being, who’s been with us for a while, doesn’t understand it. Neither does my Boss’ colleague who has to (and will, it’s a gentle(wo)men’s agreement) consent to her decision.

Many (not all) female colleagues are happy that New will be gone soon. They support Boss like a team of cheerleaders. The equilibrium that was destroyed by a beautiful, young and ambitious woman, can now return. Once New is gone, we can all tell ourselves that she was not competent or whatever makes us sleep at night, realising that, despite the fact that she would be subordinate to all of us already working there, we’d be jealous.

New is hard-working, interesting and smart, confident and beautiful. And women and Boss hate her guts!

What’s the point I am getting at? I guess there are many, but the most important would be that as women we should, instead of calling other women names, labelling them as arrogant and what not, celebrate the fact that women can be beautiful and stunning and smart and successful and that we, overall, just rock at multitasking fabulousness!

F&F: Fabulous and fired

My Singing Heart (I): Reading on platforms

There was something I saw this weekend that made my heart sing.

I returned from a day-trip and got off the train at around 10 p.m. in order to grab my bike and cycle home. Despite the late hour, quite some people were waiting on the platform as many trains were running late and as there are generally many people on platforms in the summer.

A boy and a girl, rather hippie-looking, with dreadlocks and colourful attire, sat on the floor, a blanket separating their trousers from the concrete. Two pairs of open shoes were neatly aligned on one side of the blanket. They sat about half a meter apart, both with straight backs and crossed legs, one holding a book in her hand, the other looking down to the book laid out in front of him.

For whatever reason I noticed there were both hardbacks.

Not minding the world, they were reading.

My Singing Heart (I): Reading on platforms

What’s Greek for “jump into the unknown” again?

People, as a rule, are risk averse. Accepting change, especially change that is uncertain, requires guts or a situation that is unbearable or both.

It is not clear what will happen now that the Greek people have said no to the latest creditors’ offer.

What is clear is that they have said that they’d take anything over a prolongation of the current situation, which makes old men sit down in front of banks and cry and forces students into prostitution.

They were not bullied by the troika, they are not afraid of the future, because the present is too bleak.

Kudos to them!

What’s Greek for “jump into the unknown” again?

Contemplations on Labour (II): The non-substitutable worker

In An aesthetic critique of the capitalist’s mindset I have quoted a passage about Kant and reached the conclusion that the capitalist’s mindset, only seeing the worker as an instrument but not as a human per se, is, ultimately, ugly. 

Kant distinguished two attitudes: the interested and the disinterested. The interested attitude is what we get when we demote the worker to his or her labour, perceiving him as a means to an end. The disinterested attitude would be seeing the worker as a human.

Reading further in Beauty,* I came across the sentence: “One sign of a disinterested attitude is that it does not regard its objects as one among many possible substitutes.”

One might say: The person that puts the lids on top of pickle glasses is clearly substitutable, anyone can do that. That is, clearly, an interested attitude, which does not see the person, but the person’s ability to put lids on glasses. The person is a means to an end: the end are pickle glasses with lids and the means are people. The means in this case could also be machines. It is this mindset that, when taken to the extreme, allows the corporation to look for the skill, rather than for workers, and that dictates the corporation to get rid off the cost of the worker when the skill is not being utilised (e.g. the worker is sick) or is utilised slowly (e.g. an old worker).

This, as discussed in the Aesthetic critique, is what allows me to call the capitalist’s mindset ugly.

An ‘ideal capitalist mindset’ (for the lack of a better phrase) would recognise that he or she needs the skill to put lids on glasses, but that the skill comes with a worker who is more than his or her skill. In fact, the skill does not come with a worker, a worker has a certain skill. An ideal capitalist mindset would find a balance between using the skill and recognising the human condition of the worker.

A manifestation of such a balance would be a regulated working schedule with enough breaks, including breaks between days and longer breaks between, say, weeks or months; it would be sufficient pay for the worker to be able to decently live with one job; it would be the continuation of pay during breaks and other involuntary absences (e.g. sickness); it would be flexibility that allows the worker to continue his or her education or company-financed trainings; it would be the possibility of genuine progression within the company.

What justifies a disinterested attitude towards the worker (i.e. an attitude that sees a worker with a substitutable skill as non-substitutable)? I have already answered it briefly when I said that it is the fact that she or he is human, however, I’d like to elaborate briefly on it with a few examples.

Workers are men and women with interests in cooking, books, films or traveling. They have partners who need and wish them around and children who are going to school and are considering their futures, step by step, exploring the limits of the possible. If a worker is fired, his or her ability to pursue interests for the soul can be compromised, a relationship can be strained or threatened, violence might be provoked, saving for the child’s med school can be discontinued, his or her future altered to his or her clear disadvantage. No two workers face the same consequences, the same dangers, the same disappointment. No two workers have the same relationship. No two workers’ children have identical interests and possibilities and talents. No two workers are the same.

The problem with this entire reasoning is, of course, that you need to accept my basic premise that a worker is more than the sum of his or her skills that can be productively put at the disposal of the capitalist. That’s a value judgment, clearly, but if one (in this case the capitalist) only considers the worker as an instrument that can be used to achieve a certain aim, he or she thinks and acts as an animal, not as a human.

*Scruton, Roger, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, 2011.

Contemplations on Labour (II): The non-substitutable worker

An aesthetic critique of the capitalist’s mindset


Consider the following paragraph from Beauty:*

“Kant (The Critique of Judgement, 1795) took up the point, building from the idea of disinterest a highly charged aesthetic theory. According to Kant we take an ‘interested’ approach to things or people whenever we use them as means to satisfy one of our interests: for example, when we use a hammer to drive in a nail or a person to carry a message. Animals have only ‘interested’ attitudes: in everything they are driven by their desires, needs and appetites, and treat objects and other animals as instruments to fulfil those things. We, however, make distinction in our thinking and behaviour, between those things that are means to use, and those which are also ends in themselves. Toward some things we take an interest that is not governed by interest but which is, so to speak, entirely devoted to the object.”

The paragraph made me think of a worker who labours endlessly in a factory. A European, an American working three jobs, a Bangladeshi in a sweatshop. We know that many workers work more than forty hours per week. We know that their human rights are being violated to a lesser or greater degree. We know, and this is the crucial part, that most corporations don’t care.

The idea of a corporation is to generate a profit for the owners of that corporation. In that framework, workers are one of the means to generate a profit.

Now, workers are also humans. As humans, they have human needs and desires. They have a desire for safety, love, beauty. People in corporations, in theory, know that. (They, also, have desires such as summers on yachts.)

Self-actualisation, the agency to make his or her own decisions, the expansion of the mind that comes with meaningful interaction with other people, as well as through books, films and meditation, are, I think, aspects of the beauty of the human condition. Laborious factory work is the antipode: corporations see workers as a means for profit and workers see work as a means for livelihood.

Let us return to Kant. He praised humans for their ability to distinguish between those things are that are a means and those than are and ends in themselves. Animals do not have that conscious ability.

When corporations see workers as only a means, ignoring their human condition, they no longer behave like humans, but like animals. Everything is subject to their desires, needs and appetites.

Maybe it is these reasons that explain why, when I argue against exploitation of labour, I sometimes fall short of finding the words. Understanding that the capitalist only sees the human as an instrument and denies what is beautiful in the human condition per se, I think that the word I have been looking for is ugly. The capitalist’s mindset is ugly.

*Scruton, Roger, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, 2011.

An aesthetic critique of the capitalist’s mindset

The Non-Work Revolution (I): The trouble with the (working) week


There are technical as well as substantial issues with the modern standard working set-up and I hope to explore some of them in a new series I will call the Non-Work Revolution.

It is Sunday and it is smoking hot outside. I went out to get fresh bread, but apart from that I am staying home, moving around slowly, reading, drinking water that I am cooling in the freezer.

I am not having an unproductive day. Minus the speed of my physical movements, I’ve been doing things since stumbling into the bathroom some hours ago, however, what’s important is that I have been doing these things at my own speed. My day is a continuum designed around the state of my body and mind.

The first trouble is that the working week, usually Monday to Friday, has nothing to do with a person’s natural continuum. Neither does the week as such. Maybe the drafters of the Bible thought that working for six days and resting for one ensured some quality of life, however, it seems odd that the entire world basically runs on a schedule developed five thousand years ago by a guy named Moses.

It would have been difficult to me to go to the office today and sit there for eight hours, working with a certain pace, leave when the outside air is saturated with the day’s heat that only adds to my exhaustion. It is difficult for many to be forced to get out for five consecutive mornings, being forced to rest on Saturday and Sunday, even when they might prefer to shuffle this schedule a bit, be in the office when less people are there, taking off, instead, Mondays to read some poetry in the largely empty cafés.

The second trouble is that the (working) week creates a false sense of time-division. Your life is not an endless line of seven-day boxes. While the day can be considered a rather natural unit (you sleep, you wake up, you sleep again), there is nothing that speaks for the week to be a unit too (except for the Old Testament and its updates). I often hear people say: I didn’t manage to do X this week, I will do it the next week. That statement gives its author a false security. She or he can somehow rely on this week to provide an excuse, looking favourably at next week, as if weeks had magical powers to make people do things. Without this artificial division the person could only blame the day, but, more likely, if he or she failed to do something for two, three, four consecutive days, she or he would have to face her or his weakness and do something about it.

The weak is short enough to make us feel not-too-devastated if we missed spending more time with our kids, read a book, sign up for yoga. We can do it next week. However, there is no next week! There is only a finite number of days before today and the moment we die and if we give these seven-day slots too much weight, in particular if we use them for our excuses, we’ll miss living our lives – a week at a time.

The Non-Work Revolution (I): The trouble with the (working) week

Born this way so what

I have written a few days ago about how happy I am about the legalisation of gay marriage and how I also wish that a genuine debate around LGBT rights is continued, not for the sake of keeping to feed haters stuff for their ridiculous TV shows, but to convince those non-evil unpersuaded people that God loves gay people too (or whatever their particular beef or concern might be).

A feeling that haunts me is that Born this way will be part of this debate. I don’t believe in the Born this way argument, I actually believe it is quite fundamentally flawed.

As long as two adults enter into a romantic and/or sexual relationship freely and without pressure, it is none of my business why they did it.

Whether it is nature, a gay gene, a choice, a provocation, a way to get back at your parents or curiosity is, in my opinion, completely irrelevant. I or you, we should not have to defend our romantic and sexual choices to anyone (as long as we are ourselves o.k. with them).

Some people claim that being gay is not natural (whatever that means), because gay couples can’t produce babies, new life. They say that the natural urge of any person is to reproduce, hence, being gay could only be a choice. To circumvent that argument, I think, the LGBT community came up with Born this way, saying, it was not our choice, you need to give us rights, because nature condemned us to this state of being. Maybe they even wanted to imply: we’d change if we could.

There is nothing wrong with being gay or choosing to try out or lead a gay lifestyle. One shouldn’t be forced to defend his or her rights on the basis of nature’s uncompromising cruelty which assigns us as sex, gender and sexual orientation, sometimes in a non-mainstream cocktail. (I used some sarcasm there, just in case you missed it.) Being gay is not a sentence, nor is it a disability!

However, Born this way kind of paints the image of a helpless gay person, who needs to be given rights because nature was so strict. A person should be given all rights (including sexual self-determination) because he or she is a person. Full stop. That’s all there is to it.

Very few people question nuns’ or Catholic priests’ celibacy vows. Celibacy vows don’t produce babies either. Neither do all those long- and short- to very-short-term couples who use birth control. And do we make a fuss about it? 

Our society is a choice-enabling society. It should enable choices, not hand out pitying legislation to people who are “condemned” to be gay.

I understand that Born this way had an effect, however, the true victory will be when being gay is o.k. just because it is… not because we have no other choice. I hope that as the debate continues, Born this way will change into something like: Hey you, it’s none of your business who I choose to sleep with. 

Born this way so what