Freedom

Freedom is such a burdened concept. I guess that’s why it needed such a ginormous statue.

The word means all kinds of things to all sorts of people. It is something individuals construct their lives around and nations promise to their people.

Everybody can agree that captivity is the opposite of freedom. However, poverty could also be seen is an antonym of freedom, as well as servitude and suppression.

In theory, freedom is something we would want everybody to have all the time, everywhere. Sadly, with our species, universal freedom has proven to be an impossibility.

The tragedy is that, when put into practice, complete and total freedom tends to translate into individuals stepping on (and over) the boundaries of others. I teased my brain about this dilemma before, but it is something that continues to puzzle and sadden me about our species.

The chapter in history embodied by POTUS-45 has also demonstrated that freedom in the hands of sociopaths and narcissists is harmful for the collective.

Freedom of religion

Every modern day western society has some mention of freedom of religion in their constitution. With it, people have basically institutionalized the principle of “agreeing to disagree”.

The rule of thumb has mostly been “When in Rome, do as the Romans”. Do not demand pork or lobster in a Jewish household, do not order beef in a Hindu establishment and expect no meat when visiting a Buddhist. As a woman; cover up some what when entering a Catholic church, cover up some more when entering a mosque. Pretty straightforward stuff.

Aside from the five major religions we count today, modern day society has made room for surprising new ideologies like Wicca, Scientology and the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. All these things have to be taken seriously in equal amounts because of the structures we have created to protect freedom of religion.

But the 21st century has been an uphill battle in this regard, with radicalism chipping away at the foundations of tolerant ideas. The terrorist attacks on the USA in 2001 were a breaking point that have continued to divide us up to this day.

Because what do you do when you are not only expected to “do like the Romans” when in Rome but also when you’re hanging out in your own house in Paris, New York or London?

Is it fair to be expected to respect the values of a religion that is not your own? How do you react if it doesn’t even matter what you do, but your mere existence is considered an insult? And what do you do when the price you are being asked to pay for disrespect is death?

How do you deal with the contradiction of protecting values like “live and let live” if doing so might mean the end of them?

I feel empathy is a key concept in all of this, but at this point I still only have more questions, and no answers…

Freedom of Speech

This modern era has given certain words meanings, beyond their literal definitions. Or perhaps it is not a symptom of the 21st century, but just the way language evolves… I’m thinking of how referring to someone as “politically correct” has become an insult.

On the other end of that is the way we use “freedom of speech” as a way to justify bullying or rude behavior.

After the horrific series of terrorist attacks in France of the last few weeks, I heard my dad asking the TV: “Why would you use freedom of speech to insult others, particularly if you know how sensitive they are about it?”.

I wrote something in a blogpost almost 6 years ago, after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo as a soul search of my own, investigating how much leeway should be given to satire, if it knowingly insults specific groups of people. So much has happened since then. In regards to the question my dad asked, seemingly rhetorically, my perspective has hardened.

From my point of view, humor has always been a useful tool to take painful truths out of the realm of taboo. Even back in medieval times we enjoyed the company of fools and jesters to challenge our thinking. The veil of clownish clothing and silly behavior protected them from persecution, in the same way that today TV presenters like Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah (and Arjen Lubach, in my own country) can justify all sorts of statements with the magic words “Relax. It’s satire”.

Given the fact that pioneering comedians (and cartoon shows like South Park) tread on new grounds, they should be allowed to experiment with controversial thoughts and send some gasps through a crowd. Some of those gasps will come from people who feel their values have been disrespected or misunderstood.

What satire does is shine a torch on aspects of our being that have been kept in the dark, either by design or not. The goal is not to insult, but to reveal uneasiness. Sure, it might be embarrassing. Some comedians may take it a bit far, pushing beyond mere ridicule and into the realm of bullying.

But still, I don’t think we should give it up.

If we want to save freedom of speech, we have to continue to make room for each other’s opinions. We need dialogue for that. If there’s an elephant in the room getting in the way of a conversation, no better way to help it move on than to mock someone else’s big buttock first.

Also, from experience I can say that it actually helps your self esteem to learn how to take (or make) a joke about your lesser features. Self-mockery is an excellent tool to help you become more comfortable in your own skin. I truly recommend it.

Freedom to summarize

As this blog has been a long time in the making, I have collected quite a lot of random ideas and unfinished thoughts. The leftover scribbles might get their own blogpost one day, but for the sake of readability I will not elaborate further on them in this one.

Because I do feel it is all relevant somehow, I will just include my ramblings as food-for-thought bulletpoints below.

More on Freedom of Speech

  • When does freedom of speech become hate speech?
  • Should words be punishable by law?
  • Does the expression revolving around “Sticks and Stones” stop applying after elementary school?
  • Has snowflakism broken freedom of speech or are we saying more assholey things to each other?

Freedom of Opinion

  • A modern misuse of freedom is the way groups and individuals are applying it to set science aside as “just another opinion”.
  • There is a contradiction in people using freedom as a justification for gun ownership.

Complicated socio-political screwballing

  • What does freedom mean on a macro level?
  • Do European countries have any right to tell Brazil what to do with the Amazon rainforest (and is that a limitation to its freedom)?
  • Can it be considered “aid” if it is also an encroachment of an other nation’s sovereignty?

Non-freedom / Incarceration

  • Taking away somebody’s freedom is a universal form of punishment.
  • How and why is that?
  • What does the expropriation of freedom do and mean to an individual?
  • And what does it do to the person responsible for this captivity?
  • Is incarceration enough or should a stay in jail be unpleasant in other ways as well (meaning we shouldn’t provide prisoners with TV, games, good beds, etc)?

Like I said, freedom is such a burdened concept.

Also, I think too much.


This dedication to Freedom is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month. Alphabet so far:

A very cathartic weekend to you

By Marco De Angelis
By Marco De Angelis : Terror’s curtain of death spreads

How do you react to terror? A great part of me wants to give them as little attention as possible. They do not deserve my tears. I will not admit I am afraid. I will not let hate bleed into my heart, even though its poison is all around me. On the other hand I do not want to become indifferent. I want to feel and see and know it all, even though it is  so very tempting to close my eyes and (try to) forget.

The thing that keeps poking Mr Cynic awake in my mind every few minutes is the “pray for Paris”-campagne so many are supporting online. I appreciate its intention, but all the while I think: What good will THAT do??

By Marco di Angelis : The difficult path of tolerance.
By Marco di Angelis : The difficult path of tolerance.

Why pray? Religion is partly what got us into this mess! What do you think god is going to do about it anyway? He stood by while it happened and now you ask him to… to what? To heal the wounds? To give us the strength to carry on? You don’t need someone to GIVE you strength, you already have it. What you need is a kick up the ass! Or a hug… yes, maybe a hug is better…

And while we’re at it, why are you only praying for Paris? Shit is hitting the fan all over the place. If you think prayer is the solution, pray for Beirut too! Pray for the airplane victims in Egypt, pray for Baghdad, pray for Thailand. Hell, I don’t even know half of the places this stuff is going on…

So don’t fold your hands and trust some almighty cloud dweller to fix this mess. It’s up to you and me. Don’t let your thoughts be led by fear or hate. Do you feel any negativity towards your hijab wearing neighbor? Check yourself: what is this feeling based on; have you every actually spoken with her? Give it a try! Or just throw a smile in there. It won’t fix the world, but it might steer us away from this self fulfilling prophecy. It’s a small and easy gesture and I assure you it will do more good than your bedside prayer.

Also, let’s stop calling that group of hateful cutthroats “Islamic State”. They do not deserve to be acknowledged by this name. They are neither worthy muslims nor do they have or deserve an actual state. They are the Daesh. If there were a way to acknowledge them less, I would.

I don’t feel like predicting the future right now or finding any justification for last night. I clearly have no solutions for this either. So yes, this blog may have been a pretty futile undertaking all together and I apologize if you feel it was a waste of your time. I guess this is what they call catharsis.

Righteousness with a vengeance

Newschannel Euronews has an item they show in between programs called “no comment“. It always shows images of some event but with no commentary. No translation. No explanation. Just images. For a couple of minutes you get to decide what is going on and if you think that’s OK or not. I always thought it was kind of cool. Perhaps it’s the closest you can get to objective journalism.

If the internet taught me anything though, it is that there is no such thing as “the truth”, nor is anybody ever completely impartial. The fact that the camera is pointing this way and not that can change the whole story. I try to be conscious of this fact when I read / watch any narrative.

This morning however, the internet gave me a shocker when I encountered the image seen below, among the likes of one of my FB friends. It really took me a while to process what I was seeing and reading and my initial reaction was anger. I asked the person who had liked the image (and he’s a family member, for crying out loud!) if he really believed this to be true. I asked him this, with the intention of deleting him from my account and from my life if he declared to my (cyber)face that he stood behind this statement.

FB Jews

I felt offended. Personally. I felt the legacy of my grandparents was being spat on and I couldn’t believe people were giving such a message a thumbs up. I felt it was unfair to hold me accountable for something that happened long before I was born. I felt it was wrong to put the Nazi horrors in the same sentence with what is happening in Palestine as if these things are somehow related. I hated the fact that I was being asked to disagree with Germans killing jews but to condone jews killing muslims (or vice versa for that matter).

Now that I’ve calmed down a bit I am trying to see if I can find the nuance in there somewhere, but I’m finding it quite difficult. All I can come up with is that I do understand that everyone has the right to defend themselves. My inner Ghandi however keeps popping out and poking at me with his walking stick and repeating his famous quote like a mantra:

eye_for_eye_500

UPDATE: Nuance found! I also decided to change the title of this blog and share a bit of the discussion I had on FB with the people that posted the controversial image.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, actually, and I still feel that the way this South African jewish organization formulated their message was way too strong., -and I can’t believe I am actually going to admit it,- BUT, I do understand where they were coming from now.

In their very elaborate response to my angry, slightly defensive rant, they asked me to bare two things in mind:

1. The Allies were fighting the German/Italian/Japanese Axis not because of what Hitler was doing to the Jews but because they were invading other countries.
2. The incredibly brave individuals who put their lives on the line to save Jews during the Holocaust were a minuscule minority.

I can’t deny any of this. It’s painful and it’s true.

The thing is, that I actually do believe that the world stood by and watched atrocities happen for way too long. Individuals breathed a sigh of relief as the horrors passed by their front doors (in other words, they were not jewish) and politicians dared not speak up and risk turning up on the losing end.

The world was stunned, like a deer in headlights. There was no protocol for this. No precedents or lessons learnt from previous occurrences that we could fall back on. We were slow to act. There must have been denial and heaps of mixed messages, making it so difficult to take a strong stand for the masses.

So yes, that surviving jews held grudges for the world’s passiveness: I get it… We didn’t step up until the Nazis started making life difficult for the rest of us, the non-jews. That’s offensive and no apology or compensation will ever mend those wounds.

But I don’t see us giving the Tutsi’s in Rwanda a free pass, nor have I heard them ask for one (or have they…? not even sure about that one, as the world cared even less about what happened to them than the jews’ ordeal and I haven’t really heard of them since)…

Another thing that has been bugging me is how this statement is not about the world not allowing jews to stand up for themselves. This whole image, without mentioning it ONCE, is actually about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I always struggle with political correctness here. Can you use Jew as a synonym for Israeli? I can imagine there are many jews that would disagree. Or non jews, for that matter. As a matter of fact, I know quite a few muslims that have no issues with jews or their faith, but do whole heartedly dislike Israelis. And then there are those referred to as zionists, who are the one’s that believe in and actually persue “the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland

So in that sense, the first sentence in the image above refers to jews, but the second one refers to Israeli’s and more specifically, the zionists who are trying to establish their so called homeland on somebody else’s homeland.

So my conclusion is, I get it, but I still don’t think it’s OK at all…. but feel free to disagree!

Museum to make the world awesomer

Today was the official opening of the Engelandvaarders museum in an old bunker, once part of the Nazi’s Atlantic wall.  Our jolly king did not let the weather bring his spirits down and had no trouble putting himself second to give the amazing volunteers and veterans that made this museum possible a moment to shine.

Eng vaarders museum Willem opening

All though I might need some more time to come up with a decent blog on this topic, I did want to post this today, also in response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Generation XYZ.”

You see, this new museum in Noordwijk is both a tribute to those who gathered up all their courage and decided to risk their lives to make freedom possible for themselves and the rest of their countrymen and -women during WWII as it is a reminder to younger generations that every single person can play a role, take a stand and make a change!

As German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

And as far as I’m concerned it’s not any deity that you are accuontable to, it’s all of us. It’s society. The world. Mankind. Give it whatever name you want. Show you know right from wrong, by speaking up against injustice or malice. You’ll see you’re not alone. Be inspired and inspire others. We can do better than this.

Quoting Kid President: What will you create that will make the world awesome?

Ignorant inspiration

The other day I read a blog by Chelsea Fagan in Time about the unintentional hurtfulness that is sometimes caused by the inspirational quotes on traveling, freedom and making life choices. We all know them. I’ve probably liked and shared these images on Facebook on several occasions.

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After reading Chelsea’s blog and thinking on it a bit, I totally get how these quotes that are meant to be encouraging and empowering are really hypocritical, elitist and insulting.

The point that Chelsea makes is that we westerners have become very much obsessed with “being happy” and “following our dreams” and not letting our lives to be dictated by material desire, career ambitions or what society (or our parents) expect of us. We are oh so mindful.

What we forget when we proclaim our freedom in that way, is that we implicitly label people who do not travel somewhere new every year as boring conformists, uninspired souls or cowards. In all honesty I still believe there are people being held back in pursuing their dreams by the dogmas they have adopted or been implanted with. I have seen people living with regrets and unfulfilled dreams because they are convinced “it is not meant to be” and this is often not true.

However…… I do realize now that being able to drop all your responsibilities and “just go” is an enormous luxury that not everybody can permit themselves to have. I have grown up knowing (albeit mostly sub-consciously) that if I were ever to get into serious trouble (financially or otherwise) someone would be there to help me. It has never been necessary, luckily, which isn’t even really my merit either. I have the great advantage of having been born in a wealthy European country and having a matching passport to go with it. Finding work has never really been an issue (all though I may have thought so at some point).

I can permit myself to take chances and be adventurous because failure is also an acceptable outcome. I know this is not the case for many people. Failure could mean falling (deeper) into poverty, or as Chelsea describes:

Encouraging that person to “not worry about money,” or to “drop everything and follow their dreams,” demonstrates only a profound misunderstanding about what “worrying” actually means. What the condescending traveler means by “not worrying” is “not making it a priority, or giving it too much weight in your life,” because on some level they imagine you are choosing an extra dollar over an all-important Experience. But the “worrying” that is actually going on is the knowledge that you have no choice but to make money your priority, because if you don’t earn it — or decide to spend thousands of it on a trip to Southeast Asia to find yourself — you could easily be out on the streets. Implying that this is in any way a one-or-the-other choice for millions of Americans is as naive as it is degrading.

Another conclusion that I have come to is that travelling is not some sort of holy ingredient to find ultimate happiness or fulfillment. Quotes like the ones seen above imply that people that do not travel are “only reading one page” of the book of life and are condemning themselves to live nothing but the lethal routine of life. I realize now that there are many people that are simply content with their life as it is, and they don’t just say this because they don’t have the nerve to book that flight. Travelling would not make them happier.

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There are people whose world is big enough as it is and do not wish to expand it. Dealing with the surroundings they are familiar with is challenging enough. The idea of going out to explore new areas does not sound like an adventure but a nerve wracking experience. There are people that like their food prepared thew same way every day and have no urge at all to taste that odd looking fruit (let alone that insect).

Now it seems as if I am saying that everyone that does not travel has some sort of anxiety disorder, which isn’t my point. My point is that there are people that love to travel and people that don’t and they are both completely justified. Some enrich their lives with new smells and tastes. They learn new languages and meet people from different cultures. They come back with tons of pictures, dozens of new FB friends and a brutal tan. Good for them. Others enrich their lives with the comfort of a true home, with family and a loyal pack of friends. They learn to perfect their favorite meal and find pleasure in everyday life. How about the enjoyment of having sound roots and knowing where you stand in the bigger picture? How wonderful is it to build a place for yourself that gives comfort and happiness?

Some people don’t need to leave to be able to appreciate the joy of being home. 

The terms and conditions of freedom

Freedom LoesjeToday is the fifth of May, which means that it is Liberation Day in the Netherlands, as explained in my previous blog. So, you can imagine that this is one of those days that we Dutchies show off our more patriotic side. Many of my Facebook friends post pictures of typically flat landscapes with windmills here and there and the occasional Dutch flag.

One of today’s posts really got me thinking though, and that’s the one you see on the left here…

I shared it on my own wall, only to come to the conclusion that I have no clue what the terms and conditions of freedom really are.

On the one side, I want to say that someone is totally free only when there are no rules, no terms and no conditions. To be able to walk, to run, to jump, to dance, to sing and do whatever you feel like doing at that particular time. Is that what being free is? But then again, I would kind of be bothered by some people taking advantage of their unconditional freedom, me thinks.

The absence of an oppressive force, is that freedom? And then the rest just boils down to being tolerant and well behaved to one another?

To be able to speak your mind. That’s pretty important, no? But then again, looking back at my Charlie Hebdo ponderings, perhaps there should be some limit to that one too…

So I guess being free isn’t really that easy and I guess only love can be truly unconditional (all though in all honesty, is it ever really 😉 )…

Anyone care to help me out on this one?

Remembering and celebrating 70 years of freedom

It will be exactly seventy years ago this week that the second world war officially ended in the Netherlands.

The 4th of May is Herdenkingsdag, or Remembrance Day. On this day we all do a conscious effort to commemorate the cruel history of war, to realize once again what men are capable of when exposed to hateful doctrines and to honor the people who did not survive. Poems, speeches and solemn music help us get in a contemplative mood that suits this day of mourning.

At 8PM, we are all silent for 2 minutes. Cars stop by the side of the road, all TV and radio channels adjust their programming, cities go quiet, children study the faces of their parents and try to understand the sudden change of atmosphere… And then the national anthem is played, smiles reappear and life slowly picks up again.

I always wonder what other people think about in these two minutes. There are no real rules about this (luckily!) all though I always ask people around me what they will focus on during the moments of silence. You can steer your thoughts in all directions during those quiet moments but I’m quite sure most of us try to keep our thoughts relevant. That is to say, we think about the second world war; about the destruction of Rotterdam, about the underground resistance, about the concentration camps and the millions that died. But we also think about more recent wars and conflicts where military force was used and soldiers met their deaths, – our soldiers, their soldiers, guerrillas, civilians.

A few years ago there was some controversy because the annual poem that was chosen to be read aloud  (always written by a child) was dedicated to the boy’s grandfather, who had joined the SS and was therefore, as we call it in the Netherlands “fout”, which translates to “wrong”. The poem was about making choices and how these choices can echo on in future generations. The poem is a sort of reminder that in times of war things can get confused and one must not judge too quickly.

This caused so much upheaval that in the end, the Committee decided to pull the poem out of the program. The wounds are still too fresh to forgive. There is no room to grieve for the men that stood on the wrong side of the line, at least not on this day. I do understand this sentiment even though I think it is valuable to stay open for the fact that there is always another side to the story.

The sad realization is that in the end it makes no difference. No battles are prevented or stopped by the strength of our quiet thoughts and next year we will do it again and we will have more death to think about…

…but to not end on this somber note I will also tell you about the 5th of May, which is Bevrijdingsdag or Liberation Day. On this day we celebrate our freedom by dancing in the streets, as the people must have done in 1945 when the Nazi occupation was officially over.

bevrijdingsdag bevrijdingsfestivalbevr festival

What will you do on the 5th of May?