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Reflecting On Social Media

The current crisis has cleared the road for social media to incise further and deeper into social life. After corona’s final nudge, social media’s unstoppable advancement seems self-evident. Critique, regarding modern technology has shifted rapidly from philosophical to pragmatical. From ‘why do we need it?’ to ‘how do we successfully implement it?’.

Time for the social writer to shift back gears, question the topic in itself and revise some of its sly unintended outcomes. These are earnest effects on the psyche that are difficult to disclose, as the frame of reference became undetectable by the perfunctory yet lyrical reception of another deliberate digital immersion.

The Digital Paradox

It can strike out of the blue. Perhaps during a calm Sunday walk. Or while spending a breezy day by the sea, trying to escape the online world. But promptly it imposes itself. An uneasy restlessness, maybe discontentment. Missed messages, e-mails, news feeds. Perhaps that upcoming zoom meeting. Online matters that disturb the real-life, ending the serenity as they surface from the subconscious; worries that arise out of the archives of our mind, where they continually reside.

The conscious swiftly detects all the information that could be processed. Then there might be panic. Fear, taking over. Digital opportunities lay thereabouts, stored gigantic data centers, but remain ungratified. It’s alluring, even compelling to give in to its temptation, and grab the phone to quench the digital thirstiness, unlocking yet another problem.

For this submission doesn’t upheave the ongoing uneasiness. In contrast. Vice versa, the mechanism seems to work just the same; feelings of guilt appear when reeling through the superfluous news feed, aware that physical (offline) life passes by meanwhile. Offline-life and its digital counterpart seem to balance each other in a mentally destructive status quo. Frankly, none of the two activities can actually be undertaken independently, free from some sort of sorrow in relation to the other.  

One explanation I’d like to pose might have to do with a simple yet striking paradox, which probably originated at the point when online and physical life had grown equally significant. Roughly, this unprecedented historical marker can be pinned at around 2010. It turned out to be a point of no return. 

After this dichotomy had taken place, life was sliced into two. Social technology ceased to be a mere tool to serve ‘real’ life. Its successful campaign was thought unstoppable. To an equal extent, ‘real’ life started to serve social media. And that’s where the paradox commenced. Because these different lives can, however much we like to believe it, impossibly be combined without entering a state of constant discordance. Out of the blue, there were two worlds that contain enormous significance for our identity, well-being and practical comfort. Using social media was not a choice any more. 

Held In A Stranglehold

Under the surface (and sometimes above), the online and physical world are in constant conflict. They are caught in fierce competition for human lifetime, which, unlike life’s environments, hasn’t multiplied. Who spends time online, pays for it with real life time.

Who spends real life time, pays for it with online time. In both cases, time cannot be retrieved. It’s spent and forever gone. And in both cases, one of the two worlds is excluded. This conflict may bring forth a constant state of incongruence, for one brain cannot live in two worlds simultaneously without a sacrifice.

It doesn’t end there. Inasmuch as the human identity may have multiplied, the ancient physique remains singular. Insecure as it is, the human mind is still attempting to resolve the conflict. Some indulge themselves in the digital world by, for example, excessive gaming. Opposers might fully reject technology and choose digital exile.  

But for the masses, ordinary people, the offered solution only seems to worsen the problem. When attentive in one world, the mind is trying to assert what might be happening in the other, and conversely. This contradiction creates the odd disposition in which the brain is actually in none of these worlds. Neither online, nor in real life. Both digital and physical, the lives lived barely become palpable enough to entice a sense of completeness.

The concept of FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out, hits the spot, yet it falls short. The concept should be perceived in a way broader, far-going sense. For it is a constant restless state, not an incidental fear. The missing out is real. 

The Good Sides

Of all possible addictions, social media must be the most widely integrated and accepted one. Every new technology has, in essence, good sides and bad sides. And it is often the good sides that make us forgive its bad sides. Supporters claim that we would never have mentally coped with the corona lockdowns without online communication tools, which sounds plausible on the surface. Yet, these lockdowns and perhaps the entire crisis would not have lasted this long without such technologies.

Without video-calling for instance, society would come to a complete halt, annihilating social, political and economical spheres. Instead, the western society would’ve had no other choice than to acquiesce with corona’s risks, as seen in the economically less fortunate parts of this world. In this sense it is tricky to praise technology -and essentially everything else- as merely positive: it has suppressed our suffering, but it has also prolonged it.

© 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. 

Header photo: Gian Cescon

Modern Conversations, Ancient Philosophy

Conversating for the sake of conversating; chatting with no specific endeavor. For such -seemingly aimless- talks, there’s no room in modern dialogue . In a competitive meritocracy, being well-opinionated is thought inevitable in regard to almost every topic. And certainly, most certainly not to show any doubt in one’s opinion.

Instead, the current approach seeks to defend personal notions till the last shred of blood, with the support of arguments in abundance. To stand your ground, loaded with empirical and statistical frameworks, that serve as ammunition against the views of opposers. Indeed, as being an autonomous and well-educated grown up, it must be exasperating and indignating when proven -slightly- wrong.

The opinionated approach could work well in the political arena, wherein popularity prevails over truth. But when practiced to excavate original thoughts, its rigidity can turn out to be rather compelling. Having an immovable opinion aims not to increase mutual knowledge, but seeks to stick with the subjective view of oneself. In all its pretentious ambition it prefers to convince others, which is as impossible as it sounds. And when others deploy the same strategy, nothing is achieved but an awkward silence. Any valuable or original knowledge suffers a premature death. What could’ve been an intellectual thought exchange between two mature people, might regress into a malicious, infantile dispute.

To prevent catastrophic escalation, both sides may decide on an unsatisfying cease fire. They would ambitiously try to lift the conversation into more superficial areas, before the emotions set in. But after a vicious dueling with words, diplomatic relations may be irreparable. Possibly, one of the offended parties might even storm out of the arena, leaving both misunderstood and hurt, and definitely reluctant for another chat. Well, at least none of the opinionated strongholds had surrendered. 

It all raises one rhetoric question. When in dialogue, one’s opinion is already unchangeable at the outset, what then, is the purpose of the dialogue itself? In such a case, the ‘dialogue’ is in truth nothing more than two deaf speakers promoting their own dogmatic opinion without rebuttal. It appears steadfast like a rock and ironically leaves no room for the core pursuit of both conversationalists: understanding this complex world (and ourselves) a little bit better. 

An Ancient Solution

Thankfully, there’s a gentle alternative. In ancient Greece they were rather good at it: philosophizing. It’s a less aggressive way of exchanging thoughts, demanding patient acceptance. And, if feasible, a warm roman bath.

The relationship between contemporary dialogue and philosophical reasoning has become quite problematic. In these hasty times, where fastness, profit and decisiveness are demanded to stand a chance, serious philosophizing has no place. It would steal too much precious time.

More than before, philosophizing is seen as something superfluous which, at most, could be saved for the tipsy talks in a murky bar. But in what follows, I will set out how this ancient practice can be the saviour of contemporary conversations. 

Foremost, philosophizing is team-work. As Socrates already understood two-thousand years before these ‘advanced’ times, a hard-fought victory doesn’t have to be the prime condition for a talk to be fruitful. In fact, it often proves to be entirely useless to try and convince another. The aim of philosophizing is, in contrast, to merge the thoughts and curiosity of both sides in order to grow wiser together.

Setting doubt and scepticism as a common starting point, the twofold performance of philosophizing aims to declutter complicated matters in a way that’s advantageous for both sides. What makes this additionally interesting is that its accepting approach uncovers and deepens the level of intimacy between two people. In other words: the outside word cannot be understood without exploring the inner world. Ruthless squabbling over an opinion becomes obsolete, as the cooperation makes rigid opinions become inoperative.

It is curious towards the origins of stringent, protective feelings. The gentle and respectful process soothes the emotional need to protect oneself, after which the mind begins questioning its own dead-locked notions. As such, it clears the way towards a deeper understanding of each other and the world.

This way of talking might reveal a whole range of new perspectives, thoughts and insights. And even without a definite outcome, the act of philosophizing itself can be experienced as sincerely pleasant, for the mind is thoroughly instigated by each other’s shared critical yet respectful attitude towards the same inquisition.

The purpose of philosophizing is therefore not to disagree and convince another, or to make a quick decision; the purpose is to set up a shared cause in search for deeper knowledge.

© 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.

De Eigenaardige Huisgenoot.

Een luide schreeuw doet me ontwaken. Even ben ik verward, maar de kalmte keert terug wanneer het de Kaketoe blijkt te zijn, die het hele huis elke ochtend wakker krijst. Niks bijzonders. Ik draai me nog maar eens om. Een kwartier later hoor ik een vertrouwd geschuifel over de trap naar beneden, en gaat gepaard met gesteun en gezucht. Opa is ontwaakt en begint aan zijn ochtendroutine.

Hij is overigens niet mijn opa (die zijn allemaal dood). Hij is wel één opa en ziet er ook zo uit, maar daar zal ik later nog uitgebreid op ingaan. Nadat hij de trap is afgedaald, anticipeer ik op wat er komen gaat: de televisie vliegt aan, gevolgd door het moralistische stemgeluid van Mark Rutte of de wiskundige berekeningen van Jaap (Japie) van Dissel. En de rest van de dag zal het journaal op het programma staan.

Na hier ruim een maand gewoond te hebben, ben ik goed bekend geraakt met de dagelijkse patronen binnenshuis. Plots klinkt er weer een hels kabaal. De kaketoe is aan zijn tweede schreeuwronde begonnen en slaakt onafgebroken tenenkrommende kreten. ‘Jopie, hou eens op’, klinkt er moedeloos uit de gehorige woonkamer, gevolgd door ‘schei toch uit!’. Maar het is voor de kaketoe slechts een sein om -na een korte adempauze- het volume nog eens een tandje hoger te zetten. Het heeft de knalroze, halfkale vogel inmiddels een passende bijnaam opgeleverd: Demoon.

Wanneer de kaketoe eenmaal aanstaat is slapen geen optie meer, en ik begin maar aan mijn eigen voorspelbare ochtendritueel. Het besef is nu gekomen dat ik me in een tamelijk komische situatie bevind. Dat moet vastgelegd worden. Vanaf vandaag ga ik daarom rapporteren hoe het is om opgesloten te zijn met opa, de halfgare kaketoe en andere markante karakters in tijden van corona. 

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. 

Fluid Society Note: The Dutch Housing War

Preface

Since corona and the liquidity of modern life are so intertwined, I found it necessary to start this separate diary which focuses more on the poignant effects of the current society, in which we often feel estranged from the objects and subjects that surround us. An inconceivable society wherein nothing seems to be constant and stable.

It tries to capture an individual view on the instability and uncertainty the technocratic neoliberalist profit tenet has led us to be, after the disintegration of metaphysics and religion, about a hundred years ago. Nietzsche -if I may paraphrase- remarked that the disentanglement of religion and metaphysical philosophy would be highly inadvisable. So where do we stand right now?

Today’s housing situation in the Netherlands might reveal to what extent stability is a plain imaginative delusion, and to what extent do we really need a physical home. Perhaps, using my individual psychological experience proves to demonstrate this phenomenon most precisely. This series of notes called ‘Fluid Society Notes’ will cover such contemporary challenges from an individual perspective.

The Crumbs of Accomodation

The Dutch housing war, as I would like to call it, has intensified once more. Currently we’re fighting for a space to live in Utrecht, which lies even closer to the housing frontline. Groningen could already be marked as one of the worst places for housing in the world, but Utrecht really steals the show.

As we scavenge through the leftover crumbs of Dutch accommodation, we witness the most mutilated, ugly and abhorrent dog shelters one could possibly imagine (and beyond), rented out for downright outrageous sums. We’ve seen apartments which were actually basements without daylight, located literally underneath more costly ones; daylight has become a privilege. Only oxygen is still for free.

In Groningen we begin to witness the destruction the devastating housing war is causing. In its outermost outskirts, many former family houses -initially built for those with a meagre income- have been divided into student houses. Meanwhile, many families in poverty are waiting perpetually for a reasonably priced home. It’s likely to be a result of social housing being sold on the relentless investor market. 

WI-FI Capsules

These odd, charmless student homes can easily be detected, for their only purpose is to serve as WIFI capsules. During corona times, all classes are held online. If Maslow would have lived nowadays, he might’ve placed WiFi at the bottom of his pyramid. Before all else.

But inasmuch as the WiFi in those places may be fast, it certainly doesn’t cheer up the street’s ambiance, nor does it anyhow add a sense of youthfulness to the hood. Rather a worrisome sense of apprehension for the incoming generation, who, by the way, barely show themselves. Their black curtains are closed all day and their premises look unmaintained. 

There is vermin all around and rusty (swap) bikes lay stacked onto each other. Food is ordered online so there is no need for these timid creatures to venture outside and risk encountering real human beings.

Conclusion; very unexpectedly, it turns out that corona, universities and the Dutch housing market are cooperating to fully realize E.M Forster’s dystopian world in his story The Machine Stops, where people live underground, surrounded by everything they could desire, except reality. 

Header image: Margot Polinder

© 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. 

The Romantic Melancholy Of Train Travel

An emotion-provoking piece, devoted to Literary Realism; one of my favourite writing-styles. It was written -rather suitably- aboard a train in Germany on 17-07-2020.

Producing a sine wave sound rising in frequency, electricity passes through the engine and the train sets itself into motion. Its destination lies elsewhere. Puffing and squeaking, the noisy machine fares out of the station. The commotion dies down quickly after, and quietness returns.

A big clock on the platform tells that it’s somewhere around eight in the evening. Peak hours are over and passengers are few. The surrounding valley is encircled by hills, topped with plucks of pine-trees. At this point of dawn, the sun had descended enough in order to send some of its last rays through the periwinkle overcast. 

The station’s diner had closed its shutters hours ago. The entrance has been amalgamated into the only notable terminal, which gives quite a dilapidated impression. Its canary yellow wainscoting had begun to exfoliate seemingly years ago. Nonetheless, bits of former glory still remain. One could easily imagine it being bypassed by whistling steam trains in a faraway past. Yet, a large plastic pamphlet hanging down the facade promises that the area will soon be modernized, whatever that might mean.

All in all, it was an intensive day aboard different carriages, leading through lively towns and vast pastures. Safely behind a large window, innumerable settlements and industrial sites could be seen drifting by. Within the intimacy of the train compartment, there were some shy interactions with fellow passengers, but it was too transitory to still recall their precise countenance. In contrary to this lonesome place, they have disembarked earlier on and might now be having dinner with their family or loved one. 

Travel announcements can be heard from a row of rusty loudspeakers, echoing til far beyond the station’s bounds. Talking in an unknown language, a recurring female voice conveys all sorts of travel information. In the warmth of her voice, there is confidence and reassurance. Those present, listen attentively whenever she has something to say. 

On an adjacent marshalling yard, the blood red eyes of a small suburban train seem to hover above a complex structure of tangling railway tracks. The empty vehicle appears to be standing by for the start of its working hours. When the red signal jumps to green, it will glide onto an allocated railway track to begin loading and unloading human beings.

Meanwhile, and with sheer indifference, a lengthy freight train cuts through the station in full speed. The extensive string of chemical containers which it carries, shapes into a giant, otherworldly snake, of which a roaring locomotive forms the head. Little later, its poisonous tail escapes the station with a fierce blow of wind. Once again there is calmness. The snake’s visit was just a fleeting disturbance in the prevailing tranquility. 

Scattered across the platform, a handful of travellers is awaiting their transport. Partly hidden behind a windshield, sits a young woman with blonde hair who appears to be lost in thoughts. And on appropriate distance, a young man is leaning against an information display. Other, more distant platforms are similarly dotted with vague human silhouettes. 

Every now and then, there seems to be a flash of curious eye contact between the passengers. Dreamy eyes glare across the premises almost uninterruptedly. And sometimes, the lines of sight would coincidentally cross paths and affirm each other’s solitude. One might wonder how many fragile romances have bloomed amidst these charming railroads. 

The curious workings of the universe had arranged this brief encounter between strangers, who might never meet again hereafter. As soon as the incoming train will disperse them into opposite directions, their precarious common ground of solitude will perish.

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).