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. 

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 #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. 

Corona Diary #1

A note taken from my self-isolation diary, written on 27-04-2020.

A Pandemic Of Technology

The elderly in care homes stay connected to their families through video calls, as well as those separated by closed borders, distance or quarantine. Birthdays are celebrated safely with the help of smartphones and tablets. Nearly every matter of such interactive kind takes place digitally and online since Corona had arrived to European shores.

But inasmuch as this accidental pilot of extreme digital usage reveals its advantages, it allows us to observe its disadvantages. And those have appeared to be about equally plentiful. Besides, some of the presumed advantages might be only psychological disadvantages in disguise. 

Video calling for instance, seems to be helping many separated people to stay in touch, which I can acknowledge, having my girlfriend being stuck in another country. But even so, we mustn’t forget that missing and longing are an inevitable part of the human emotional spectrum, and a very important element of valuing and cherishing the ones from whom you’re deprived.

Sometimes it’s good to just sit down, close your eyes and actually feel the poignant pain of missing each other and become more acquiescent with the inevitable separation and loneliness inherent to life itself. You can merely hope or pray that it won’t last forever. And the unexpected intensive use of technology to transcend these emotions has led to showing to me a tragic paradox; that it cannot be transcended by technology, as humans aren’t merely a sum of their parts. Not every part of the human soul is visible and tangible. They cannot be detached, fixed and replaced like a car engine.

It is evident that we live in technocratic times in which it is thought that this tragic condition can be overcome by science. But human complexity is supposed to be placed above technology, and not otherwise. Human complexity is mysterious and incomprehensible while technology is logical and (still) comprehensible. 

I dare to say so, as being a profound user of video technology myself. But it has never taken away the tormenting longing for my girlfriend’s true proximity. Irregularly, video calling even feels like talking through a glass made fence, confronting me only more with the haunting deprivation of what could’ve been. Seeing each other through a screen can –on bad days– feel as if witnessing your loved one locked in a prison cell, unable to be reunited because the last key is missing: The essential key to unlock physical proximity.

And that’s exactly what such technologies –however advanced they are– cannot provide. How can it else be that some people are praising our digital era, and at the same time act contradictory and admit that they long for human warmth and closeness. That yet, they miss their family in spite of all our innovations. 

For true togetherness when not together, I’d rather suggest a deep reconnection with meaningful memories of tenderness, as recalling experienced emotions might be brighter and more vivid than technological gadgets can ever compensate. Relocating formal meetings exclusively to video calling on the other hand, can count on my full support, as you then have control over the volume knob when a tedious colleague starts stringing together a bunch of agonizing cliches again. 

Modern technologies are wonderful tools, but they have proved once again to be exactly that: tools.

Header Image: Anna Fedorova

© 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. 

Teachings Of A Crisis (II)

Quite remarkably, some countries are already forging plans on how to restart their economies as quickly as possible. To get things back to ‘normal’ as soon as they can. Yet, this rather impatient attitude surpasses a very simple question, but one of enormous importance: 

What was all the suffering for?

Dispersed into multiple questions it might look like this: For the sake of what is humanity suffering from so much anguish and despair? And for the sake of what are people dying lonely in their hospital beds, covered under a plastic dome without the possibility to say farewell to their loved ones? 

To find meaning in this dreadful pandemic, there’s no need to suddenly become religious or make an appeal to some other supernatural entity. In fact, turning this misery into something worthwhile is far more comprehensible than that: 

We can show those who gave their lives some class, simply by learning from the teachings of this crisis. 

Naively confident, I dare to hope that the unrelenting lashes of Corona will clear away all the clutter of modern life, exposing us to the things that truly matter; virtues which lie closer to the essence of human nature. That ultimately, gratefulness and discipline will outweigh overconsumption, and patience will transcend greed. 

The sufferers of today should be the martyrs for the world of tomorrow. A kinder world wherein new, more humane endeavours prevail and in which we are gentler towards nature. And more practically, where the importance of healthcare and humanities is acknowledged more broadly. 

If we don’t learn enough from it all and repeat our foregoing mistakes just the same, the only cruel thing we should blame ourselves for, is that it was all for nothing. That all those who have suffered and passed away, have done so in vain. 

To learn from those who are reading this article, I’d like to make an appeal to your thoughtfulness, and invite you to elaborate in the comment section on the following inquiry: 

What can we (humanity) learn from this crisis?

Header image: Varun Tandon

© 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 Art Of Spending Time At Home

Of a sudden, many of us find themselves in an unfamiliar situation. Locked indoors for an undetermined term, at least until further notice by the authorities. Being granted time in such quantities might feel overwhelming and scary at the outset, but it might also awaken some impressive ingenuity of the mind: Imagination. 

For most adults, the capability to imagine might’ve been been absent for years on end. Amidst the relentless turmoil of growing up, requiring fortitude and a practical mindset, it had slowly been stored away into a forgotten section of the mind. Yet, in order to withstand this peculiar situation of self isolation, its helping hand is welcomed wholeheartedly. Imagination is a necessary showcase of creativity. It’s is the unmistakable legacy of the children we, in essence, still are. And it ought not to be mistaken for mere fantasizing, as imagination entangles both fiction and non-fiction.

While sinking away into the sofa, it appears that time can be your truest friend, or your greatest enemy. Hours begin to feel like days. Days begin to feel like weeks. It might be Tuesday or Saturday, a difference it does not make. And the numerous stream of videos and memes of meagre distractive and comical value, sent throughout numerous group chats, leave you sheer indifferent. 

And after a while, the room grows into a suffocating prison cell with stringent guards scanning for trespassers. Feeling-wise, the cozy nest that is our home has undoubtedly transformed into an inescapable penitentiary. Cramped in those shrinking cells, while maintaining a predictable, monotone routine, a disastrous descent into madness is surely not unthinkable. 

To such confinement, you might react somewhat rebellious at first, desperately wanting to escape back into old habits. To transcend the barricades of boredom by deliberately solving difficult puzzles (of which you already know the outcome), playing board games and watching tons of series. But all this well intended effort is merely postponing an inevitable confrontation with yourself.

Even the regular stroll around the block which felt so casual before, now seems like a getaway to die for. This tormenting state seems to get even worse in the weeks ahead, after having read all books on the shelf and watched all the movies available. Then, true boredom sets in, and the hostile walls come closing in once more. But luckily, a mind in distress proves to be rather ingenious. And the only thing required, is a little bit of patience. 

For simultaneously, under all this ostensible suffering, awakens a silent acceptance. An intelligent reduction of expectations. Eventually the mind has no choice, other than to diminish the significance of the outside world, and shift the emphasis towards the inside world. Doing so, this necessary acquiescence with fate evokes a gentle, life saving perspective change.

So, at quite random moments, perhaps while staring out of the window when leaning against the kitchen table, thoughts begin to drift away. They wander off onto a path not often taken since younger years, as they were endlessly repelled by our busy, outward and forward-oriented lives. But now, such hastiness is entirely absent. Distracting resources like Netflix have been exhausted. At last, there is time to be truly together with yourself. Plenty of precious time. Then, while being lost in thoughts, weak shimmerings appear which smoothly grow into more concrete reconstructions of past events. 

They can be of great or minor significance, but linger in our unconscious just the same. Memories that were assumed to be forgotten, are now brighter and more vivid than ever before. Perhaps you’re struck by a memory that was created many years ago. Perhaps it was in the woods while sitting around a campfire with some old friends, but with whom you don’t have contact anymore. You’ve moved on and surrounded yourself by new, more suitable friends. But the memory was never recalled ever since that day in the woods. Now on this odd moment of isolation, it strikes you brighter than ever, and it might leave a small grin on your face while overthinking the absurdity we experience over a lifetime.

When simply staying home, the things that were initially overshadowed by our accelerated lives, are becoming illuminescent and meaningful once again. There are plenty of objects instilled with bittersweet nostalgia, impatiently waiting to be rediscovered: On the desk lies an old, ripped (and badly taken) photograph, vaguely depicting a childhood family barbecue. By now, some of the depicted relatives have passed away at a good age. 

Going around the house, more items catch the eye. Dusting away on the windowsill sits a spiky, exotic looking seashell found on a beach in Indonesia, instantly reminiscing a solo backpacking trip during young adulthood. Some butterflies rise up in your stomach while recalling those bittersweet moments, igniting a painfully pleasant feeling which moves you to joyful tears and a sorrowful smile. Even some wooden chopsticks in the drawer have their origin being traced back by the hunger for imagination. They appear to have been used to clumsily eat sushi during an awkwardly silent dinner date, about seven years ago in a dodgy Japanese restaurant on the edge of the city.

All this is a sign that the mind had started to rearrange the boundaries of its own world, in search for new meaning. Doing so, it reduces the scale of that what we demand from life and reawakens the neglected power of our imagination. Through the spectacles of imagination, the beforehand so hostile bedroom becomes an immense universe without boundaries, allowing you to travel anywhere.

To different planets, hidden worlds, to the future and the past. The hostile prison walls disappear and become viewpoints looking out over a paradisiacal beach, while the ceiling reshapes into a cinema screen on which bittersweet memories can be projected. Memories amplified by imagination: a free of charge streaming service that guarantees small teardrops of joy and sadness, fiction and non-fiction gracefully interwoven into mental journeys. 

Undeniably, we have turned a bit mad under these harsh circumstances after all. But this might be the healthy sort of madness that represents in a very precise manner how life can be ridiculously ambiguous, contradictory, eventful and subject to constant change and unpredictability. Virus or no virus. 

Header image: Brandon Hoogenboom.

© 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.     

Teachings Of A Crisis (I)

Crises like these are not only the times when exclusively the flaws of humanity are demonstrated. It seems to lay bare a wry but consoling feeling of collectivity as well, a feeling which only surfaces amidst disastrous turmoil as seen today. Within just a matter of days, countless charity initiatives have been launched, and many of us are taking care of the weak and the vulnerable. For once, we’re granted the ideal opportunity to not battle each other, but to unite against a collective enemy instead. 

Every difficulty is fruitful soil for further growth, If I may paraphrase Nietzsche’s main philosophical idea. And perhaps, fighting this stubborn virus is humanity’s next challenge to overcome in order to grow into a more mature organism: In order to beat the virus, we need to beat our own selfishness, separateness and materialism, and exchange it for calmness, kindness, patience and understanding. To create tighter bonds, based upon our similarities instead of our differences.  Only then, the next stage of our maturing process will be unlocked.