The Future Of Fun and Risk

In a risk-avoiding society, what will be the future of plain fun? Is there still a place for unchallenged fun when one of its important conditions -risks- are sought to be eliminated? 

Fun might be quite an oblique term that’s hard to generalize. But derived from personal experience, I still make an attempt on doing so. Fun can only, is my guess, thrive in a state of being rather carefree, which lies close to being careless. It’s a disposition of boundlessness, wherein one can let go of the regulations and boundaries that characterize its opposite: predictability. It is also, perhaps, a gap or a break away from repetitive routine. Creating such a break from, predictable routine life generally involves at least some sort of risk; the risk to let go -for a comprehensible period of time- of some of the responsibilities that are the conditions for that predictability. 

But here’s the conflict: technocracies endeavour safety and predictability. Improved conditions in modern societies increasingly reduce the extent to which we are familiar with the risk of the unexpected, including the risks that are inherent to life itself, such as death, misfortune, illness, agony, heartbreak and misery, which can strike at any given moment. 

Despite all the good intentions, the sense of safety has alienated the modern individual from the gritty but core aspects of life. In contrast, modern developments enable us only to avoid, or better said, to postpone the risks of life, rather than exterminate them. Yet, for understandable reasons, the current notion seems to sustain that societies actually can exterminate risks and optimize safety. And along with our separation from risks, our perception of fun is changing. The type of fun that is allowed to persevere is calculated, controlled and virtually riskless. 

‘Calculated fun’, might, in the nearby future fully replace the old-fashioned ‘Boundless fun’. Whereas the last-mentioned may represent spontaneity, adventures and the irregular violation of the law, ‘calculated fun’ is a surrogate duplication that happens in a safe and controlled setting. It offers a simulation of the thrills and experiences we used to experience in old times.

Escape Room

An escape room could be an example of such a surrogate form; a paid activity in which one experiences the thrill of an escape, but is devoid of the risks that are involved in a real manhunt.  ‘Boundless fun’ might involve perpetrating a restricted area with a group of friends, followed by being chased by some guards, and of course, the risk of getting caught. Climbing on a roof to get the best view, is another example of a risky, and therefore, worthy venture. ‘Boundless fun’ has higher risks but higher rewards and better stories afterwards. 

The war against risks has a peculiar outcome; having reduced or postponed so many risks seems to make us only less resilient against disturbances or threats to safety. It has caused fewer risks, threats or disturbances to be needed for more severe distress on an individual and collective level. In other words, we’re not used to unexpected, uncontrolled events anymore, hence the need to enhance the levels of control. So when deviations do occur, what follows is an even greater attempt to control these events.

Heading towards a risk-free society?

Ideally, risks (or dangers) are entirely erased from the face of the earth. Our distance to unpredictability causes the modern world to exist in an ever-accumulating sense of control, more and more unable to handle discordance. And technology is a great helping hand when it comes to surveillance and control. Naturally, it is the question of whether improved technology was responsible for multiplied forms of control or vice versa.

Illustrative for the influence of technology is how we have surrendered to numbers (or data), and how we almost beg them to dictate our lives in a compulsive way. Catching data in statistical analyses have helped mankind predicting certain trends in societies, or explaining certain patterns, thereby fueling the assumption that what is analyzed can also be controlled, simply by twisting a knob here and there. Albeit for corporate, political or scientific purposes, the insatiable hunger for data demonstrates the extent to which the technocratic system tries to annihilate everything that disrupts it.

In a society of surrogate risks and controlled fun, expanding control and diminishing space for unpredictability, how will humanity face new disturbing events? It will probably seek to control what it can control: itself and its adherents. It will also allow itself fewer space to be reckless, careless and carefree. It is unforgiving and there can be no trial and error; mistakes are taken seriously. As a consequence, individual lives may start to feel suffocating, with excessively violent behaviour as an inevitable outlet. 

This paradox can be well illustrated by means of recent misbehaviour in football stadiums after months of being restrained by lockdowns and other limitations. To a similar extent, intensifying control is nourishing conspiracy movements who see it as a mere confirmation of their prophecies. Thus, the current technocratic mechanism can be an explaining factor when it comes to radicalization in certain groups, but more strikingly: as a mechanism that is becoming its own worst enemy.  

© Stefan Hoekstra /The Social Writer, 2021. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Crisis Morality: A Short Essay

A kind of tiredness that cannot be resolved by sleep. 

How long can humanity still hold on? The crisis has lasted for around one year now. Personally speaking, psychological resources are nearing a rapid dissolution. Fierce headaches, nightmares and fatigue are besieging my wellbeing. But the worst of all is the plain indifference that’s been holding me in a tight grip over the last month or so. My future self may not believe so, but this enormous, world-scale catastrophe, is gradually becoming the most boring, uninteresting and routine part of my life. 

Conditional Hope

Hope does not console when it is conditional, when it instantly needs to concede a wish for change. Hungry for hope, society sways from press conference to press conference, frozen in an utmost boring and predictable regime: numbers rise, more measures, numbers drop, less measures. If virology isn’t your thing, these times are anything but intriguing. Every month or so, the expected measures are conveyed to ‘the nation’ in a patronizing manner through an equally tedious press conference by a dispiriting prime-minister who lacks vision and imagination. 

As always, the nagging cliche ‘Only together we’ll get control over corona’, laughs at you from the pamphlets of the press conference room. But the ungratified hope has made this unrealistically militant phrase sound ironic by now; like an army general who still believes in victory, not knowing that he’d lost all his troops. Perhaps they need to come up with a new one and add some nuance. ‘Only together we’ll maybe, with luck, get control over corona’, might represent reality better. 

After having seen 835483 of suchlike press conferences – I try to avoid it at all cost- they can merely, with difficulty, squeeze out a cynical grin on my face, while sighing lethargy. Newsreaders on the other hand, tell about the tiniest crisis developments. They do so in an unsuitable uplifting tone of voice; British variant, mutation of the British variant, mutation of the mutation of the British variant and so on. 3rd, 4th, or 50th wave. It cannot engage me any more.

The Lower Compartments

Yet it helps to apply some sort of philosophy to this brain-melting crisis. For there is only one reason that people swallow this way of living -which can hardly be called living. It’s simply because they can still bear with it. Our psychological bunkers are damaged, but haven’t been destroyed just yet. Meanwhile, signs of erosion are slowly presenting themselves. And erosion usually starts at the bottom. At the lowest layer of our society to be exact. As always in human history, it’s the poor who suffer first; One hundred years later, we’re still aboard the Titanic, categorized by the sizes of our wallets.

The noble idea is that society strives to protect the vulnerable ones. We must pauze our lives in favor of the most vulnerable. But ‘vulnerable’, here, is in the physical sense: It implies the elderly, the sick and the weak. But the economically vulnerable ones on the other hand, crammed in small flats with entire families, remain unnoticed. They are locked in the lower compartments of the 2021 Corona Titanic.

But when they suffocate and try to break out, they are arrested, put in jail, publicly condemned and shamed for their behaviour. A more interesting question; not if but when, will the ‘higher economic classes’ try to break free and flee the sinking ship. And will the retaliations be similarly severe?  In another metaphor: when will the bunker’s higher parts start to erode? It’s only a matter of time. 

Temporality Morality

In addition to the previous note, I’d like to emphasize the frailty of normative structures by which we measure good and evil. Recent riots as an answer to the curfew demand a closer examination of crisis morality. For morally condemning an act according to man made ethics will always be faulty to some extent. One cannot have moral judgements about past (or future) events, based on today’s morality, without harming the truth. Those who fully supported the corona measures last year, but have reconsidered their opinion today, are not hypocrite or contradictory, or ignorant to the threat.

Liquid Virtue

They have simply shifted their principles alongside dynamic crisis developments. Norms and values are superfluous and deserve a healthy dose of scepticism. The rioters who’ve set the Netherlands in fury and flame after the dubious implementation of a curfew are condemned today, but might be understood tomorrow.

We mustn’t forget that we rely on a changeable set of fleeting, fluid normative structures, invented by imperfect species (humans). Morality has no ties with any natural order. Virtues are not infinite or universal, not even international. This sort of easy shifting might seem both terrifying and liberating; We claim to disregard violence in itself, label young protesters as ‘criminals’, but make an exception for police violence. Football hooligans on the other hand, who ‘helped the police’, become heroes. 

A Choice

Another example; an authoritarian regime might sound unthinkable in the Netherlands. Yet we live deliberately under such a regime right now.Every few weeks, the cabinet might decide regulations that affect our lives more and more severely, and of which the subsequent political debate is purely theatrical. For indeed, all regulations are implemented out of ‘inevitable (technocratic) necessity’. Discussion, the foundation of democracy, seems therefore obsolete. The political arena is surpassed. We live in an empty shell of what once could be called ‘democracy’. And we are (still) alright with it. 

But it’s only the government’s promise of temporality which allows people to acquaint themselves with this more and more restricted life. Normative shifting goes almost unnoticed, perhaps in a way that the so-called decent people will be protesting themselves when time and psychological exhaustion will grant them the possibility. Will they, then, be condemned by their past selves? It is good to remember that all of it is a choice, be it political or social. The reaction to the virus remains an intentional human choice. 

© Stefan Hoekstra & Marina Pribylskaia/The Social Writer, 2021. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Photo Credit: John Webster

Corona Diary #9

Stay safe, stay (physically) healthy. Written on 09-01-2021.

The above-mentioned cliche still loudly reverberates from last year. A particular kind of health is meant here, since societies have fixated most of their efforts on harboring physical health, but have undervalued mental wellbeing. As mental health is declining rapidly, we’re facing a very crude choice: mental health versus physical health. 

We’ve entered a rather curious phase under the corona reign. Its last breath is at hand, if we must believe optimistic virologists. But in contrast to the cheerfulness about ongoing vaccinations, a swift end to the pandemic may be found downright unimaginable; at the doorstep of our long awaited liberation, corona bashes upon us at the peak of her power. 

Record breaking infection rates have unlocked another series of relentless lockdowns and curfews, that ought to strip life from all its pleasure and distraction, hence ensuring minimal social contact. 

Parks are possibly the best places to observe whether citizens indeed comply with these relentless measures or not. And an afternoon stroll through an Amsterdam park reveals to me more than a thousand statistics; they do not. Visitors clutter together in large flocks despite a bitter windchill and the threat of being infected. Moreover, inhabitants seem to embrace a rather bohemian lifestyle; they’re dancing in the eye of the corona storm, and take the risks for granted. 

United in their hunger for sociability, crowds crack open bottles of beer or inhale the intoxicating fumes from a joint, stand in long queues towards Glühwein stalls and laugh their sorrows away with strangers. Spontaneous and carefree scenes, smiles on many faces, uplifted chatter. The behavior doesn’t arise from denial or stupidity; it is, especially in this phase, an inevitable necessity. After one year of being bombarded by inescapable corona news, hooking our attention into every tiny development, these can only be conscious, well weighed decisions. A heartbreaking dilemma between one’s own mental health or the physical health of another.  

During the first wave, the task seemed feasible, the strong must protect the weak, simply by staying indoors and avoiding contact. Yet, growing disobedience proves indeed that after a year of neglected social needs, the mental capacity to fulfill our duty is evaporating. The source of psychological resilience, of human closeness, has been exhausted at last. Mental illness is lurking, and has become equally threatening as its physical counterpart. 

Contrary to Camus’ description of The Plague, in which Oran is slowly dying from unknown and superior enmity, we are in a crisis that obviously feeds itself on social interaction. To retain good mental condition, togetherness is a key component, especially amidst fearful times. Mental vitality is an often underestimated, nonetheless unmissable precondition in order to win any physical battle. Tragically, it is this subtle individual nuance, untouched by statistics, that has perished at this crucial point. At the moment we need it the most. 

Cover art: Pierre Auguste-Renoir, Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette, 1876. Public Domain. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2021. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Corona Diary #8

The waterbed-effect, Written on 21-12-2020

Lately I’ve been searching for a comfortable bed that would suit my new apartment. It wasn’t easy. There’s a vast multitude of beds and mattresses, ranging from simple wooden frames to fairy tale princess beds that would only fit if you’d own a castle. During the hunt for a bed, I began to notice the absence of something reasonably common in my childhood, and considered an item of sheer luxury: the waterbed. 

This wobbly bag filled with water promised its customers the most comfortable and healthy night’s rest one could imagine.  Being a kid, its curious workings had always intrigued me. In shops, I would jump onto it, observing the flow of water shifting towards the other side, from where an imaginary person would be launched into the sky; the water needs to go somewhere.

Why am I talking about waterbeds? Well, a high speed train of thought made me connect it to the current management of the corona crisis, somehow. A second lockdown has been implemented for a week now. It’s more rigorous than the previous one in April, which still allowed some sort of human gatherings. 

Now, all public places have shut down for five weeks, except life supply shops. The maximum group size is two people. Christmas is cancelled, new year’s eve paralyzed. Yet, as research (my empiric personal observation) shows, the second lockdown doesn’t generate the effect as did the first one, despite being the strictest lockdown since the crisis began. There’s no spine chilling silence that dominates the streets, like in April. People go out and about. 

Undoubtedly, many of us are complacent and follow the rules obediently. But the willingness has notably decreased with this second lockdown. Like the distribution of water in a bag, people seem to disperse wherever the government puts the pressure. The water doesn’t disappear, it relocates elsewhere. After the closure of nearly everything, the remaining leisure is illegal partying, coffee for takeaway or obsessive grocery shopping. And that’s how people omit the rules and concentrate elsewhere.

Spending money, shopping and eating out are the collective coping techniques of our capitalist society. They have become the means by which our stressed mind relieves its pressure; that’s the circle of our economy. Still, politicians were staggered, even outraged that a record-breaking amount of people ignored the rules for a bargain hunt on Black Friday, or about crowds attending the IKEA for obsolete items and swedish meatballs. The water needs to go somewhere. 

But what if the pressure gets too big and the water cannot go anywhere? As a kid, I often wondered what it might look like when the waterbed would rip apart because of excessive weight. I imagined how it would explode. It was a most harrowing idea, knowing that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night, drifting in your bedroom surrounded by floating IKEA miscellaneous.

Warned by such ominous depictions, my choice fell upon a pocket foam mattress. And I would recommend Dutch policy-makers to change to a more resilient foam mattress too, instead of relying on a market based, consumer oriented waterbed. It’ll enhance their good night’s rest!

Photo credit: Ameen Fahmy

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Corona Diary #7

We went on vacation, but the virus didn’t. Written on 22-07-2020.

There is no reason to wrap up this diary just yet. Corona seems to be returning. Better said: it had never left us. A Dutch publicist stated sharply that ‘we went on vacation, but corona didn’t’. Numbers of infections are on the rise once again. Virologists are apprehensive for a second wave. But I’m afraid that we are still riding on the the first wave. Did we cheer to soon?

I have to reckon that I was impatient too and went on a brief train getaway to Czechia, where the virus seemed non-existent. Meanwhile, my fellow countrymen are sunbathing in France and Croatia. Some of us take it a step further and are endangering themselves and others, as they deliberately squeeze themselves into packed airplanes heading to Greece and Spain. This striking turnaround in mindset denudes our fleeting values. Touristic ventures by airplane were thought utterly irresponsible just one month ago, until ‘experts’ praised the plane’s ventilation systems and deemed air-travel entirely safe. And of course, we nod our heads agreeably. But for only a few weeks, Corona didn’t dominate the headlines, and here we are. 

Humanities and technocracy don’t run smoothly together, that much is certain. In the heydays of Corona, the health ministry was releasing death-reports on a daily basis, which were then conveyed to the masses by news channels. As cases dropped, the frequency of these reports downshifted along with it, eventually dropping towards a meagre one time a week. From an epidemio-technocratic perspective, this might have seemed logical. Less cases, less attention. But from a social psychological angle, that means walking a very slippery slope. For it should be clear that the contemporary mind is directed by whatever appears (and disappears) on the powerful outlets of mass media (individually customized by algorithms). 

Our Dutch vacation exodus also reveals how we put our blind trust in the government’s choices and advice. Which is erroneous, since even the best informed governments are running behind the facts. Technocratic decision-making is reactionary at most. It doesn’t envisage an ideal or anticipates on future events. It is perpetually in need for the outcomes of earlier research, and perpetually too late to act wisely in the moment. Understandably, the government doesn’t quite know how to anticipate, for the virus is still a big mystery. What isn’t a mystery though, is that certain sectors of economy are losing money.

Likewise, it proved tempting for politicians to act based on what they know, rather than on what they don’t. We know the economy is suffering. Yet we don’t know how dangerous and recurrent the coronavirus actually is. So what do we do? We let economy run free again, because we ‘know’ the sorrows of economy. Yielding to the pressure, the Dutch government had given in to compelling demands to reopen bars, cafes and even prostitution. Economically constrained countries such as India and Brazil never even had the luxury to disobey economy’s impatience. Nonetheless, even the financially backed-up Netherlands have ultimately succumbed to the hasty consumer market.

Unfortunately, also the Dutch reopening of economy was not a philosophically wise -free spirited, independent- decision, it was simply kneeling before the unrelenting power we have attributed to our consumer economy. Virus or not, we need to start running on the money treadmill once again. The future will tell where this will lead to. But the passivity of citizens and the loss of common sense, merged with the unwise hastiness of governments are worrisome predictors. 

Header image: Sujeet Potla

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Love Is Not Tourism

This writing is about me and my Russian girlfriend Marina, but tells the story of many other international loved ones who don’t feel heard. Marina and I are two out of many overlooked victims of crude decisions, made by governments in their obsessive endeavour to control corona. And while many Europeans are already continuing life, partying and enjoying their vacations throughout Europe, our crisis is far from over. 

Through the granular pixel rate of video calling, I see how teardrops are making their way down her rounded cheeks. I want to hug her tightly. I want to wipe away her tears. But I can’t. There is a wall in between us. A feeling of apathy and unsettlement unfolds within me. We look at each other in silence. How can I make her feel reassured? Will I tell her everything will end up fine, and would she still believe me? And even so, would I still believe myself?

Just now, it is announced that the travel ban for non-EU citizens will be extended. Again. Our binational relationship isn’t eligible for exemption. We would need to possess official proof of cohabitation. But it is exactly because of a similar rigidity that we impossibly had the chance to obtain any suchlike proof, not even to speak of having legalized documents. 

The goodbye fell on a drowsy valentines day, at the airport of Eindhoven. By now, that’s about five months ago. For the occasion, I gave her a stuffed animal (a small, smiling seastar). To stay hopeful, I told myself that we would see each other again in a month or so. 

That didn’t happen. This farewell would become the last physical memory of Marina until now. The last touch of her smooth skin, the last embrace by her soothing warmth. 

Ever since, not a day goes by without thinking of it. How she hesitatingly walked towards the departure hall, while holding the orange seastar I had given her. How there was an overall ominous ambience in the airport. How I was barely able to catch a last glimpse of her innocent smile, before the all too familiar doors would shut. Before I would become flooded with sadness once again. The heartfelt kind of sadness, of which all airports are the mourning witnesses. It’s the suffering of international love. 

In the following months, our fearful prophecy would turn into reality. A merciless coronavirus struck the world. The ever-rushing mankind was halted at once. Countries crawled back into their shells, to secure their own wellbeing. Inhabitants were repatriated to be with family in these uncertain times. And Marina? She’s separated from me by cold bureaucratic rules. 

In a panic reflex, the once so praised globalization was suddenly revoked; The economically interwoven world which can be held accountable for a deadly virus, inequality and many other forms of misery. But this is also an intercultural world which has brought many people together. All sorts of people, ethnically and culturally different, but united by that one thing which makes humans human: love. 

And I hope that our governments can generate the love to set ajar their doors. For Marina and I, and thousands of other loved ones which were cruelly separated when all doors were closed with a loud slam. It might even be a modest step towards a more loving world, wherein people aren’t divided into groups, based on their ethnicity, skin color or passport.  

Photo credit: Chad Madden & Kristina Tripkovic (header).

Corona Diary #6

Whistleblower

Written On 18-06-2020, as part of my self-isolation diary.

Corona can be seen as the most successful whistleblower in recent history. A physical disease which denudes social diseases. In the wake of its rampage, it pointed out the staggering worldwide inequality and lack of access to medical care. 

In the US, corona had already addressed its weak social safety, for it’s mostly the financially vulnerable who have died there. Corona has also pointed out how spoiled we (me too) have become, indulging ourselves into limitless air travel, polluting the world. But in this particular case, corona has touched upon one of the most counternatural, outdated, hypocrite and hopefully one day condemned industries: meat processing. 

It is interesting to observe how corona sweeps across the European Union. Doing so, it cuts open all the incorporated flaws which haven’t been addressed but should have. Systematically, it removes the plaster from the normally hidden wounds of our union: the more dystopian aspects we don’t like to see, for they might destabilize the collective conscience and our way of depicting our beloved EU. 

Corona’s most recent discovery is the hidden world of massive slaughterhouses in Germany and The Netherlands. One outbreak after another has revealed that the majority of employees have been infected by the coronavirus. Its employees are predominantly recruited in Eastern Europe, such as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.

Dodgy job agencies aim to recruit people so poor that they don’t have a choice, other than to do the dirty jobs we don’t want to do in the west. They’re then housed in derelict dorms and are driven in buses towards the meat factory each morning. And after a tiresome day of tearing away pork intestines, these modern slaves are driven back to their barracks, which on themselves look like a pigsty.

On the news yesterday, was an enormous plant, located in Rheda, Germany. It has some 7000(!) employees, who have the honorable task to kill and process about 20.000 pigs on a good day. On its roof stands an large billboard depicting a cheerful cow and pig. I think pigs are not smiling once they know the horrors inside the building. 

The gritty abattoir, which is owned by a billionaire, even has its own football club and a stadium! The irony would be even comical, but this matter is serious. As said, most of the employees are underpaid, overworked labour-migrants from the less wealthy regions of the EU, who now also have to suffer from corona. And I thought it was the European Union’s fundamental endeavour to increase equality. Not to exploit inequality, in favour of the already wealthy! European governments are struggling to excuse themselves for slavery in the past, while modern slavery is still alive and kicking.

So irony wants that here you have a factory full of pigs who weren’t supposed to be bred and killed in the first place, processed by workers who weren’t supposed to work there, to ‘produce’ meat of which 20% will be thrown away as a consequence of revenue calculations. (Throwing away packages of meat is ultimately cheaper than giving it discount tags.) 

Perhaps they’d disagree at first, but I guess that ultimately, corona will be a true blessing for the modern slaves working there, and for the pigs, who are definitely not smiling like the banner wants to make us believe.

In the places now affected by outbreaks, it is often not the outbreak which is the most alarming. It’s not the corona infections itself that engage me into the actual news coverages.

No, it’s becoming aware of the ongoing activities which makes it poignant: the incomprehensible facts that leak to the outside world, as an unforeseen consequence of the corona discovery. For instance, that apparently, there is still a large fur industry in the Netherlands. That also, 5,6 Million pigs are slaughtered each year in our small country. 15,500 a day. We must be damn hungry. 

Photo credit: KOBU Agency Portugal

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Corona Diary #5

How is the Netherlands handling the crisis?

Written over multiple days in June as part of my self-isolation diary.

03-06-2020 Bike Hell: My laziness tells me to write this note tomorrow, but my discipline tells me to write it today. It seems that this time, my discipline is the winner. The heat of yesterday has backed off a little. Also, corona drifts away quickly from people’s minds, including mine. But to be reminded of it, one has only to visit the city centre or public transport. In my hometown, bicycles have been forbidden, and loose standing bikes are removed and relocated to a faraway depot (you could call it: bike hell).

Today, during a stroll around the city, I’ve seen whole bunches of them being lifted onto a truck and taken away. New, old, rusty, expensive. All types were confiscated, even children’s bikes. And people who drove unconsciously into this sudden no-biking zone, got barked at by diligent stewards and were directed elsewhere. The rules that allow the municipality to do so, have been installed in order to prevent many people from merging too much, hence preventing corona spread.

Nonetheless, I don’t think they took into account that people have been riding their bikes for over a hundred year through these streets. So a paradigm change won’t occur within three days either. Anyway, the removal of bikes and sending away of drivers seems to be a cumbersome, ineffective activity which I don’t think will last very long.

In public transport, people are obliged to wear facial masks. It is a saddening sight, because the human countenance which makes people human, is hidden. Our daily dose of smiles from strangers has been reduced drastically since the introduction of masks, and will possibly lead to an unhealthy deficiency in unspoken outings of kindness. And since the smartphone revolution already, suchlike gentle acts of mutual recognition had been become meagre. A worrying development. 

04-06-2020 Vacation:  Corona seems miles away, and the Dutch are shifting their worries from a deadly virus, to forging holiday plans. France and Spain have announced to reopen their borders in Juli for tourists by car, so that the exhausted Dutch families can once again enjoy their well-deserved traffic jams on smoggy highways and annual family camping dramas. 

14-06-2020 Washing hands: Corona measures are increasing but my understanding of them (or willingness to do so), is decreasing. As part of our ‘intelligent lockdown’ strategy, a large survey amongst 64.000 fellow dutchies was conducted to map their compliance with corona rules. It unveiled that keeping distance is getting harder, but washing hands is still feasible. There is a serious error (perhaps on purpose?) in this research: washing hands is not a corona measure. It is the very basis of personal hygiene. But the respondents still confirmed obediently that this is something corona-related. 

So I confirm herewith the internationally claimed assertion that Dutch people have the dirtiest hands. It is culture specific, and I as a dutchman, can acknowledge this: the gross of Dutch people doesn’t wash hands after having used the restroom. The country’s overall cleanliness and absence of deadly diseases might give an explanation. It’s amazing. Here, it is so clean that we even dare to shake the unwashed hands which just wiped an ass. It is quirky, but when abroad, I have always washed my hands obsessively. But when back in my home-country I started skipping it once again. Finally I unlearned it, after my girlfriend Marina shared with me her disgust about this stubborn, culturally inclined habit. I came to even like it, for washing hands is maintaining your body and therefore a small act of self-respect.  

14-06-2020 Priorities: A school example of hypocrisy. Is family less important than vacation? Dutch travel organizations cannot wait to send their customers to the all-inclusive hotels they’d initially booked. Since today, vacations within europe are possible again, after Spain and Italy (which we first didn’t want to help financially) reopened borders for tourism. Now, after we had to fear a severe lung-disease for so long, the second worry is whether we can go on holiday or not, whether we can drink unlimited cocktails at the pool while being served by underpaid labourers, whether we can stuff ourselves again with fast-food, alongside a beachfront crammed with concrete hotels. 

The government understands this impatience of travel organizations and holiday-goers very well, and promises full safety when they travel in aircraft to their destination. The crammed, profit oriented, polluting flying barrels which we call airplanes are not only more liable to an outbreak amongst passengers, they are also the worldwide delivery service for corona. For a great deal, air travel was responsible for the fast corona spread, a couple of months ago, and now, suddenly, they will be fully functioning again. And not for loved ones or family to finally reunite. No, for vacation. 

Even more poignant is that I need to show an impossible amount of proof of relationship to be able to get my loved one here. Me and Marina are excruciatingly separated because we don’t have the paperwork, while Dutch vacationers will be criss crossing throughout europe with all the risks involved, for this one vital activity: leisure. Or should I say, for economy?

I hope that one day, our government will have understanding for people like us, too. We don’t want leisure, we only want each others proximity, for I consider us family. Is family less important than vacation? According to our government, yes. Is paperwork more important than the risk of an outbreak? According to the government, yes.

Photo Credit: Kayla on Unsplash

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Corona Diary #4

Written on 17-05-2020 as part of my self isolation journal.

Good globalization.

It’s 11:38 PM now, as I’m squeezing my eyes and brain to write a worthy note, pleasantly accompanied by warm candle light. Scrolling back to the beginning, I notice that it’s the diary’s one month anniversary today. That went fast. It also means that the first serious measures regarding the coronavirus were implemented some two months ago. My state of mind could be best described as an overall numbness.

Some two months ago, the globalization which can be held accountable for the outbreak, had ended. Every country has returned into their safe shell. But what they don’t realize, is that this was also the globalization which allowed me to meet the love of my life. And it was also the globalization which brought many people of different cultures, religions and ethnicities together, decreasing xenophobia and prejudice, and increasing intercultural enrichment. 

It is most uncertain how long this thing is going to last and which effects it is going to have on my reunion with my girlfriend, Marina. She’s currently stuck in Russia. The usual blockades between us usually feel like two locked iron doors: the door of distance and the door of visa misery. Now, with corona regulations, a third one is added. But this is an impenetrable metal door, twice thicker than the others. And whereas the other doors can be opened with matching keys, this third one doesn’t even seem to have a lock that can be opened. 

For international love, the coronavirus is just another nightmare on top of the ones already present. International love on itself is not recognized in this bureaucratic world. In such a world, a relationship only exists when officially documented on paper, either by marriage or registration. Genuine love is not a requirement.

I suppose we are one out of many hidden victims, suffering under the reckless and unwieldy decisions by the authorities. Making an appeal to a team of epidemiologists and virologists to manage the outbreak, means also that the main focus will be to wipe out the virus and epidemic. 

And everything needs to yield for that one obsessive endeavour: beating the virus. I cannot blame the epidemiologists as much as our politicians: it is simply not their job to take people’s hearts into account. But it is nevertheless disturbing how only the bigger image is considered to be something meaningful: the statistics on the screens, the flattening of the curve, the protection of the nation and economy. 

Not the agonizing separation of loved ones. Not that entire families are torn apart. The extent to which something is meaningful, is not universal or measurable. It is subjective. Take a butterfly extracting nectar from a dandelion for example, why would this be a less meaningful act than a million dollar business deal in an enormous office? Collecting nectar is equally (or even more) meaningful to the butterfly, as the deal is to the businessmen. I suppose that this is pure ethics. But I see it rarely discussed. 

Photo credit: Maxim Sislo

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Corona Diary #3

Written on 14-05-2020 as part of my self isolation journal.

Get busy living, or get busy dying.

I never thought this famous quote from The Shawshank Redemption would become so relevant to society. But it did.

Reminders of the pandemic are becoming rather scarce throughout the streets. The city is bustling, albeit under an odd, somewhat made atmosphere. It is the expected point where measures and the corona regulations are becoming blurry. It is hard to follow sometimes. Is it still advised to stay home most of the time? Can I go out with three family members but not with three friends? 

From a social psychological angle, the future seems quite worrisome in this sense, especially when corona has ultimately disappeared from people’s minds sooner than the threat of corona itself. In other words, the understanding for strict regulations will probably fade before the actual virus does.

Then, after a few months, there will be less compliance than is required to keep the virus away. And when the government will make an attempt on getting economy fully running again, enforcing stringent corona precautions might cause misunderstanding and frustration, and eventually violence, for instance in public transport. Not to speak of a potential, striking return of the coronavirus.

The attention-span of many is not extensive enough, I’m afraid, to keep honoring the rules as they did until recently. In Wisconsin for example, judges have already rescinded corona regulations as protests and public unrest were growing. And partly, I understand this impatience: people have the natural desire to live. This, I think, is not simply a matter collectivity versus individuality, it is a perilous area of tension and most of all a conflicting question: What’s the use of saving other lives, if therefore we need to give up living ourselves? 

Underneath it lies a more existential question; what do we consider life, and what do we consider death? I suppose people have an importunate desire to prevent leading a life devoid of living, for that would mean they’d be dead before they are dead. I think this poignant contradiction will be the biggest challenge in the times to come.

Photo credit: Anastasiia Chepinska

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.