The Future Of Fun and Risk

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Room

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

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

Heading towards a risk-free society?

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

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

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

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

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

Crisis Morality: A Short Essay

A kind of tiredness that cannot be resolved by sleep. 

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

Conditional Hope

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

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

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

The Lower Compartments

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

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

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

Temporality Morality

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

Liquid Virtue

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

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

A Choice

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

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

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

Photo Credit: John Webster

Corona Diary #8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Ameen Fahmy

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

Corona Diary #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. 

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.

Reciprocity

Mother Earth as we know her, might appear so solid and inconceivable, and able to withstand anything, that people (including myself) think she can manage it all alone and tend to forget about a sacred agreement.

In the very beginning, when our helpless souls were at her mercy, she had welcomed us with open arms. Deliberately, she shared with mankind all the beauty and potential she has to offer, under only one condition. Reciprocity. A silent compromise or pact of mutual effort: In her, we found a home. Conversely, she expects us to safeguard her health. To treat her with respect and dignity. And above all to clean up the mess after ourselves.

Because whenever we become too troublesome and don’t honour the pact, she has no alternative other than to show us the doorway. And if she becomes ill, she’ll be forced to rid herself of the alleged virus. 

She has left it in our hands to treat her with gentle care and to preserve her wellbeing, and help her through good and bad. In return, she helps us having a hideaway from the lethal heat of the sun and the bitter coldness of space. 

We are the guardians of our own responsibility to not let her fall out of harmony so that we don’t fall out of grace. Whatever happens to Earth, it’s always our task to be one-hundred percent certain that at least we are not accountable for any of the distress or sickness she might experience. 

But lately, something unsettling began to unfold. A stubborn fever took hold of Mother Earth. She’s been sneezing and coughing for years on end. Over time, her temperature has risen towards far above average and she suffers from temperament swings. 

Surely this small flu will be tackled. In over 450 billion years she has survived many of them. After the cause is detected by her defence mechanisms, the high temperature and sneezing streaks will eventually make it unbearable for the mysterious virus to still live on. And then, during a harsh time of transpiring heavily, she will sweat it all out. Consequently, Earth is recovered and the virus exterminated. 

Does Earth have reasons to suspect us to be this virus?

Time will tell. 

© 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.