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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. 

Summer Journal: Dutch Siesta

I’ve started a summer journal. This is a note from 26-06-2020.

It’s 11:57 PM now. The temperature is about 23 degrees celsius. It has been the warmest day so far this year. And -yes I might sound ungrateful- hopefully the last. As said in earlier notes, this country is underprepared for this type of weather. It doesn’t have a siesta like in Spain. The economy isn’t halted even the slightest bit. Activities aren’t postponed. Life doesn’t slow down. Work intensity isn’t diminished. 

Frankly, the approach in the Netherlands seems to be even counterintuitive: The stronger the heatwave, the more active Dutch people become. Today, streets were sprawling with sweaty folks, hurrying to and fro on their bike with a red face. To the beach. To work. To the terrace. Or to accomplish all these activities within the same day. 

Despite global warming, Dutch people still gratify each warm day as if it were the last. Muggy and uncomfortable days like these are still perceived as seldom and need to be fully exploited. I think it’s a reflex which occurs whenever we see ’thirty degrees’ appearing on the forecast. It’s an old habit, originating from the harsh winters and disappointing summers we used to have in the past.

But those times are now disappearing and slowly being replaced by hot and wet seasons, like in Asia. As with any obsession, not much is left of its origins, but the reflex remained. Foreigners from warmer countries must witness this awkward summer obsession with spanish shame. 

Air Conditioners

A related development is the multiplied purchase of air conditioners. From a growing amount of apartments, I see the unmistakable airco hoses sticking out of the windows. Some inhabitants have even fabricated a wooden construction, from where the hose can eject the warm air. 

Herewith, I’d like to make a modest correlation with the end of mankind. It’s quite a simple circle really: People have made the world warmer by using too much energy, and now they need air conditioners to bear with the heat they created, using more energy, increasing warmth even more, for which more air conditioners are needed. 

Why would this be the end of mankind? Well, because people buy the air conditioners for their own good, and don’t take into account the macro outcome. A large chunk of people cannot transcend their own life-span. Long term effects are therefore not considered, for it won’t be their responsibility anymore after they die; Most of the ecological problems of the world of today, have been created by those who didn’t care about the world of tomorrow.

It’s outright selfish, but unfortunately very natural human behaviour. The end of mankind is near, but if you happen to be an air conditioner salesman, you might be able to hold out a little longer than the rest of us. You might even be the last man standing.

Photo credit: Tim Roosjen

© 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. 

The Night: Kind To Our Sorrows

Sometimes, it may feel as if the universe refuses to cooperate, even just for a bit. It’s typically one of those recurring moments, wherein life refrains from delivering the promises told to us when we were still little.

Influential grown-ups in our childhood supplied within us a certain image of the future. Cheerful stories of success and luck. Words of encouragement and optimism. They wholeheartedly promoted the notion that life is naturally a good thing. And that if we persist in staying positive, we’ll achieve our goals. Once we’ve arrived in adulthood, we could become a pilot, or perhaps a renowned singer, or make a lot of money by inventing something brilliant. 

Metaphorically spoken, it is daytime that represents life as such. The pursuit of our promised achievements takes place on ‘working’ or ‘school’ days, usually squeezed somewhere between 7am and 6pm. Rushy daily activity is the collective practise of chasing all the ambitions and expectations, as internalized in our younger years. These are the hours to claim what life was supposed to owe us: prosperity, growth, success, glory and perhaps even a splendid love relationship. 

But upon having entered maturity ourselves, an unsettling truth is slowly revealed. Namely, that these key figures in childhood have told us -quite understandably- only half the story. Idle expectations bump into unforeseen obstacles and are realized only partly. Youthful high hopes have become a burden instead of a calling, as they cruelly reminisce the unfulfilled potential, even if the eventual compromise between hopes and reality is objectively agreeable: 

Perhaps, the compromise of adulthood shows that we’re better off listening than singing, and we’ve become a part-time counsellor instead of a world-known artist. Or it appeared that we don’t have the required eagle eyes to be a pilot, and needed to compromise with becoming a bus driver instead, which appeared to be quite fulfilling as well. But sometimes, the jolly optimism of daytime can suddenly be a confronting mirror. On those harsh, discordant moments, one might reach out for an unexpected hideaway: The night. 

After darkness has fallen, when everyone is asleep, society stands still. Shops are closed, roads are empty. Without making a single sound, the darkened streets and alleys seem to whisper at you. They seem to divulge a dark secret that was withheld from us by grown-ups in childhood in an attempt to protect us from the bittersweet truth.

The stillness of the night reveals that the universe is neither good nor bad in its nature. Nighttime neither approves, nor disapproves the vulnerable human being we’ve ultimately come to be, because it’s sheer indifferent towards our humble lives. 

This stoic silence of the nighttime is nevertheless more coalescent with our disappointment. Without interrupting, it listens to our sorrows. Hidden under a thick blanket of darkness, the nightly anonymity appears to be a rather soothing medicine against the compelling optimism during all the bustling daily activity. 

For just a brief moment, the nocturnal world offers redemption from the unfulfilled hopes and expectations that can haunt us in the daytime. The nightly quietness is kind and nonjudgmental to our broken dreams, and accepting towards the ultimate compromise we’ve needed to make between reality and dreams. 

Artwork: Night Shadows, Edward Hopper, 1921.

Photo: 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. 

On Racism

Written in my diary on 04-06-2020.

Look at the header picture of this post and let it sink in for a bit.

Now on to the US, which is set in fury and flame, as George Floyd had been violently murdered by discriminant police officers. Perhaps, this cruel and immoral deed had ignited a wildfire that was already smoldering for years on end in America. George was black, the police officer in question was white.

Though the most notable until now, in this complicated and confusing matter, is the enormous extensiveness of social media use. Millions of arguments and counter-arguments are floating around on social platforms. Some say black lives matter. Some say all lives matter. The first might be too one-sided, the second too abstract. Today, I saw a protest sign on my news feed, saying that ‘’Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because you aren’t personally affected by it.’’ 

Although I think that the term stupidity would suit more than privilege, I suppose this message implies that ‘white’ people are privileged. But creating such dichotomies won’t achieve what they intend to do: Inasmuch as we cannot call all black people unprivileged, we cannot call all white people privileged. Privilege is not skin colour determined, just as inferiority is not skin colour determined. There are privileged wealthy black people and poor unprivileged white people, and vice versa.

Discrimination is the mother of racism. Creating disjunctures is discrimination in essence. Racism is a secondary form of discrimination which uses skin colour to make divisions amongst peoples. So calling white people privileged, is a form of racism, too. Remove this dichotomy, and you remove discrimination. Remove the discrimination and you remove racism. Remove the association and you remove separation.

Side-note: Culturism, for example, is another, often overlooked form of unjust discrimination which uses ethnicity to make divisions. It is obviously inextricably connected to economic prejudice: My girlfriend and I are separated only because she is from Russia. Not because she is a bad person. Not because she wants to do harm. But: An immoral person who has the right ethnicity can enter without visa, but a moral person without the right ethnicity needs to move the earth to get a visa, and vice versa. She needs a visa for the Netherlands, people from the US don’t. She needs to prove sufficient funds, Australian people don’t. Remove borders, and you remove separation. Yet, dividing is deeply, stubbornly anchored in our core nature, and it’s nurtured as well: dividing is one of the first things we learn in math class.  

Philosophically speaking, attaching certain labels to something as peripheral as skin colour is always surpassing objective truth. Deeds of violence based upon ephemeral standards cannot coexist with reason, what makes them injust. Martin Luther King has said that we need reason and moral in the battle against prejudice. But they’re not equal. Who reasons, knows that moral is fleeting and subject to constant gradual change. Some mores are more unjust than others, and whether something is just, can only be measured by reason.

Reason hovers above moral. Moral can therefore be even dangerous if it falls into the hands of certain powerful men, as Nietzsche remarked. In fact, I believe that under the current US president, (unconscious) public moral had already deformed immensely after succeeding the last one, especially with those who were neutral before. This is the danger of moral. It is not reliable, and (sub) culture specific: the decisions by those murdering police officers seemed moral in their morality, and is seen as immoral by others. 

Mores is subjective, and can be individually adjusted and therefore justified according to extreme personal convictions, such as racism. But, as Aurelius emphasizes in his meditations, the reason of justice goes beyond that and reveals that discrimination based on skin colour (or other external characteristics) is something rudimental and beast-like, and can therefore not be tolerated in higher, developed cultures.  The highest form of existence is one of union, but it is a long journey towards the dissolution of borders and separation. And the biggest trap is to think we have already arrived.

Lastly. Look again at the header picture of this post. When disjoined from all their associations, we will hopefully once see black and white exactly for what they are: colours

Photo Credit: Daryan Shamkhali

© 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. 

Slow and Hard: An Enrichment

It’s probably one of the most characteristic slogans in contemporary advertisements, smartly used by tech-companies to sell their newest electronics: ‘Quick and easy!’ And the moral it serves is fully embraced by its audience. Devices seem to constantly ‘beat’ their predecessors with another added feature to easify the lives of its customers even more.

Already when you’ve just purchased that brand new smartphone, a newer, faster, and better version is available in stores. Also, you can count on a sneering look when admitting to a computer specialist the prehistoric lifespan of your laptop (which is barely two years).The underlying notion tells that technological progress would make things ‘easier’ and ‘faster’. But this alleged easiness brought along with it the exact opposite; an incredible complexity which increased dependency. So if you allow me, in this writing I would like to promote a more ancient approach; ‘Slow and hard!’ 

Anno 2020, most ordinary households own a five-hundred channel multifunctional 50 inch smart-TV with wifi connection and voice recognition. Limitless smartphone possibilities allow us to order a pizza, make a business call, scroll through the latest news updates while messaging acquaintances in New York and Amsterdam all at the same time. To a varying extent, many of us have become volatile multitaskers. The outdated -and emotionally vulnerable- processors that are our minds, need to run a tremendous array of tasks simultaneously. 

Considering the multitude of options nowadays to supervise all aspects of life, it might feel like a defeat when only one activity is undertaken. Yet, this might just be the key to finding an orderly state in the mad world of social media and technology.

Removing easiness and comfort from life might sound a bit silly at first. Deliberately withdrawing ourselves from modernity’s practical comforts can feel even counterintuitive. Because it would cost valuable time (which we don’t possess), it would require effort and patience (which we don’t have). Altogether, why would people even try to deprive themselves of the very technology they’d initially invented to ease up life?

There’s a good reason to do so. For every new gadget, app or device, with all its advantages, makes its users instantly dependent, and setbacks might lead to fargoing, often shameful behaviour. This helpless dependency reduces painfully the parameters by which we measure contentment throughout a day, because expecting everything to be quick and easy, means it also needs to be always quick and easy. But what if it isn’t? What if modern technology doesn’t keep its promise?

Well, then frustrations flourish; When a smartphone doesn’t work, an entire day is ruined. When Netflix is unavailable, the evening is wasted. When the online food order is late, we’re angry and might shout at the poor delivery guy. 

The slogan Slow and Hard on the other hand, does exactly what is expected of it, and likewise evokes no unpleasant surprises. I’ve therefore listed a few analog items considered to be ancient by now, but which nevertheless might make life a little slower and harder, in a gracious sense.

The items described underneath are terribly slow, very unwieldy and excruciatingly hard when compared to the fluidity of modern gadgets. But precisely therefore, they also stand a little closer to the true, sorrowful and tragic nature of life. No miracles are expected of them. Yet, their variety is rich and its dependency negligible.

Items to make life slower and harder:

Newspaper – Structure and Eye Health 

Days primarily consist of staring at screens. Sometimes even at multiple screens simultaneously, for instance, when looking at the smartphone while watching TV. The impossibility of such activities is well demonstrated when towards the end of the evening, neither the netflix movie was finished, nor is remembered what we were actually doing on the smartphone meanwhile. Yet, the real damage it does, is to our eyes.

Staring straight into bright light almost uninterruptedly for a day, is an unhealthy business for sure. It is unnatural and tiring, and influences the quality of sleep. Looking at multiple screens in a literal sense might, if you manage to even do so, leave you with crossed eyes. The old-school newspaper offers solace to this problem. Finding it waiting for you on your doorstep in the morning might interlude a more orderly and less tiresome day. And despite its old fashioned image, the newspaper still satisfies our insatiable hunger for information, yet in a somewhat healthier way. 

Book – Discipline and Creativity.

Firstly and most importantly; it runs without a battery. No need to cry and yell about specific cables or chargers that are missing. Secondly, one might reinvent an unmissable virtue; inasmuch as starting to read a good –physical– novel is easy, it requires discipline to finish it. In modern multitasking, there are plenty of examples wherein an activity remains unfinished, which can be quite frustrating after having started it enthusiastically.

Discipline is the ability to persistently sustain a single activity in favour of a greater goal. In this case it’s understanding the novel’s plot, with the side effect of escaping our beeping and buzzing devices. Overcoming many pages might enable the ability to extrapolate this forlorn habit (discipline) towards daily life. Also, flipping through the pages of a talented writer can provoke one’s own creativity, hence interesting ideas. 

Postcard – Nostalgia And A Touch of Melancholy.

Slower than its digital counterpart the email, but surely more meaningful, and far less liable to end up in the spam box. It’s a gift to your future self, as written postcards are the physical evidence of having travelled in faraway lands. Furthermore, finding an old postcard awakens memories of different times and reminds us of the gradual change to which life is subject.

Postcards are connected to the people we’ve met in past journeys, or to the difficulties we overcame before sliding it into the mailbox many years ago. Somehow, the safe arrival of a postcard is quite miraculous, as it went through many hands and exotic lands, ultimately onto your doorstep. It requires more effort to send a good old postcard, but without effort, it would be without meaning. 

Vinyl player – Calmness & Care.

The opposite of quick and easy. A classical vinyl player requires delicate care. Letting the needle land softly on the disc is a movement of profound carefulness. Surely no other activity can be undertaken simultaneously. Then, a pleasant feeling of relief arises when after a short rustle, the selected song starts playing.

Dropping the needle carefully and listening closely to the music is not as easy as turning on a Spotify stream, yet this analog device is certainly less complicated, deprived from irritating song suggestions, commercials and incoming messages (it doesn’t even have a screen!)

Chessboard – Insight and Concentration.

A game of chess must be a true nightmare for the average multitasker. As for a tense game can last half an hour, possibly the entire evening, or even more (the longest ever recorded chess game lasted over 20 hours.) Losing concentration because of checking incoming emails or a dodgy match on Tinder might cost you the victory. Doing so, the vast complexity of chess encourages our concentration to fixate exclusively on one specific endeavour of finally being granted to whisper that famous phrase in a mocking manner: check…mate.

Where most smartphones have a swift and intuition-based interface, the strategy which is involved in chess makes an appeal to our insight. Instead of being led by the smartphone’s suggestive interface, the chessboard demands its players to see three or four steps ahead and take all possible risks into account. At the end of a phone scrolling evening, you might feel tired and psychologically unsatisfied. Chess might leave you even more mentally tired, but it is needless to acclaim that it didn’t satisfy the mind’s hunger to be challenged.

Stove – Patience.

Worryingly, cooking at home is falling out of grace rapidly. Instead, streets are swarming with numerous delivery cars, bikes and scooters, racing through red lights to suffice all the online orders. Why cook if you could watch another episode on Netflix, while a delivery restaurant cooks and also brings your dinner? could be the argument.

Cooking is a time slurping activity. Washing dishes included, it might take an hour at least. This way, one might easily overlook its positive sides. It is less costly and generally tastier. But the advantages of cooking aren’t limited to only saving expenses and having tastier (and healthier) food. No, cooking is a true sanctuary, to which you can escape from the digital madness. Mastering different taste combinations, supervising three pots and pans on the stove demands patience and focus. Being distracted by your phone might leave you hungry, as your dinner has burnt to dust.

Additionally, cooking gives the (sub)conscious a well deserved rest after another day of staring at screens. And that enhances the further processing of whichever bothering thoughts are floating in the mind. 

Pencil – Anything.

A true dinosaur amongst the forgotten artifacts. There might be plenty of them dusting away around the house, already unused for years. Strengthened by imagination, this humble, stick-like mixture of wood and graphite allows you to draw or write anything or anyone, and it expresses hidden feelings or thoughts.

Consequently, converting unpolished ideas into smooth passages, catchy drawings or sketches might enable your occupied brain to classify the important things out of the unstructured jungle that is our psyche. Having a sheet of paper as his companion, this little friend here can mean the very departure from which wondrous works of art and literature arrive. But even more wondrous; the imperfect artistic revelations, uncovering your soul’s deepest depths.

© 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. 

Photo credit:

Newspapers in Metro: Peter Lawrence

Men playing chess: Vlad Sargu

Postcards: Anne Nygard

Man cooking: Aaron Thomas

Novel: Kelly Sikkema

Vinyl player: Luana De Marco

Pencil on paper: Lalaine Macababbat

Corona Diary #2

A note taken from my self-isolation diary, written on 05-05-2020.

Don’t shoot the messenger!

I’m typing this piece while gracious lunar light reflects upon the roof tiles outside my room. It is a rare moment of serenity in the middle of the wavy corona ocean. Alarming developments are plenty these days: my trash can was full again, I spilled coffee in the morning and China is taking over the world. It’s using their facial mask monopoly to win diplomatic allies among weaker countries throughout Europe.

Next to that, China is voluntarily donating millions to the world health organization to polish their image. Some economists say that this crisis is reminiscent of the one after the first world war, which I can reckon. Inasmuch as the invasion of corona and its harrowing outcomes (starvation, poverty) initially looked like a complete surprise, it dawns on me that it was all actually very predictable, and a logical result of the unequal distribution of wealth across the globe, interwoven with economic globalisation. 

Bad ethics in general, on which the current economy is running: self-centeredness, greed, pleasure, desire, laziness, consumption, materialism. 

I suppose most of nowadays’ main virtues, if you could call them so, are regarded to as pure sins by the bible and other theological works. Economy needs to rapidly undergo a drastic transformation, and the only ones who care about that, are we, humans. Probably the most significant change would be diminishing the unsettling inequality amongst and between entire populations, caused and maintained by the world’s richer countries and individuals.

My girlfriend told me on the phone that she stumbled upon some daunting statistics. Only today, 30.000 (!) people died of hunger, while some two million others across the globe have obesity. Was this the dream of neoliberalism? Somewhere along the line, it went horribly wrong with humanity, and Corona was only the messenger who delivered us this news.

Humanity became inhumane, and the deepest, most gruesome pits of our guiltiness are slowly becoming visible. I guess this is news we don’t like to hear, and we might turn our heads away. Yet, we all got into it, and it is in our own hands to get out of it. Everybody carries that responsibility. 

Photo credit: Andrea Popa

© 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.