Island Self

With horizons closing in on us

we will return to village living –

the siren song of solitude will cast its spell from there.

The inner exile may repulse at first

but offers comfort and conceit to those of introvert persuasion. 

:

And, in the end, a virtual world, a world without the Other, will let you be the centre of your self-created universe,

a firmament beholden just to you.

Yet, an accomplished life is surely one where solipsism does not rule,

in which you feel that you are truly just an island in the stream,

in which you understand, with heart and mind, that the bell that tolls does so not just for you!

The Other

When tragedy is big enough

the numbers numb.

A million dead cannot be mourned

– in singularity   –

My God! there were so many.

 

‘It is what it is’ makes no allowance

for reflection or regret;

it adds indignity to ignorance,

and gives the lie to a most basic truth:

that other lives have value – same as yours!

 

Such statement from the one who took a sacred oath

is wrapped in our failure

to pierce the veil of the preposterous;

gains credibility because we see one tear, but not the many.

So our heads, with all their calculation, must tell us that a million deaths are each a tragedy,

and that the anger and demands must capture that which our hearts can never hold – the suffering of multitudes, each Other being one like us.

Star Wars Are Coming to a Theatre Not Near You!

Another piece on the weaponisation of outer space:

Fantasy films often stay fantasy. Not so with the Star War series. For a long time, military men and military-orientated politicians have striven to let reality catch up with imagination. Conflicts on Earth should also play out in space is the thinking.

 It started in earnest with Ronald Reagan and his ultimately aborted Star Defence Initiative, and was revived by President Trump with all his talk of outer space as just another war fighting domain and his subsequent creation of a Space Force as a separate arm of the US armed forces. Recently, Russia entered the game in a most serious fashion when it tested a space-to-space weapon, that is, a weapon placed in space and targeting satellites. These days we hear a lot about the race to Mars, but the emerging arms race in outer space is of far greater import.

 It is, in fact, hard to overstate the significance of Russia’s move. There will be no stopping Trump trying to trump Russia, and China will then follow. Unless something is done, space will soon be brimming with weapons, and ultimately war in outer space will become inevitable. Because war in space will create masses of debris, moving at a speed of up to 18,000 miles an hour, many of the best orbits for human activity will become useless because satellites will be hit by these objects moving at higher than bullet speed. Elon Musk’s upcoming Starlink telecoms constellation providing connectivity across the globe will bleed and we can forget other symbols of human imagination come true, such as the International Space Station. Many satellites helping us to understand the climate of Earth will be threatened. Space activities are also a 400 billion dollars business, and both weaponisation and actual war in outer space will have a highly negative effect.

 It is not that space has been entirely untouched by weapons until now. Anti-satellite weapons fired from Earth or an aircraft exist and have been tested – with much debris created. This is bad enough, but weapons in outer space itself will take conflict to a completely new level.

 Perhaps we should not be concerned if those with weapons ambitions would only mess up outer space for themselves, but outer space is the province of all humankind according to the Outer Space Treaty, and as outer space has no borders any war there will ruin space for all nations. Debris will go everywhere.

It is probably not too late to stop the weaponisation of outer space. But stopping it will require determined opposition from citizens across the world. Civil society must demand from governments that they take forceful steps to avoid an arms race in outer space. At a time with so many other crises this will not be easy. Yet, when it is done citizens will find that many nations have absolutely no short- or long-term interest in the weaponisation of outer space. Only, leaders must be woken from their Sleeping Beauty dreams. This is the challenge! But in the end you want Star Wars in a theatre near you, not star wars far away and real!

Good Heavens, the Heavens Are Under Attack

Recent news reports tell us that Russia has just tested a space-to-space weapon. So, a weapon fired from one space object against another. This is a nightmare scenario for all people cherishing outer space as a place dedicated to peaceful use. But not only that. In fact, it jeopardises the interest of all human beings, because outer space belongs to us all.

 Many discussions have taken place over the years about weapons in outer space, and fantasies like Reagan’s aborted Strategic Defence Initiative were put forward. However, discussions have intensified in the recent past, with bold and silly proclamations by President Trump about outer space as just another war-fighting domain and the creation of a ‘Space Force’ as a separate arm of the US military.

 Until now, actual weapons related to outer space were limited to anti-satellite weapons launched from Earth or from an aircraft but targeting satellites in outer space. This is bad enough – and they were only tested. But space-to space weapons are an enormous escalation. Weapons in outer space itself will ensure that, indeed, outer space becomes a battlefield, with the consequence that the resulting masses of debris will make a number of important orbits useless for telecom and Earth Observation satellites.  When the shooting starts, Elon Musk’s upcoming Starlink telecoms constellation will bleed and we can wave goodbye to the International Space Station or a possible successor.

 Now, you could argue that as long as warring nations only make outer space useless for themselves then it is essentially the normal terrestrial war mode. However, because the destruction of just one satellite creates thousands of pieces of debris moving at up to 18,000 miles an hour, large parts of space will become unavailable to all nations when war in space breaks out. And there will be long-term detriment as well because debris stays in space for many years. All this runs counter to outer space being a province of all humankind as defined by the generally accepted Outer Space Treaty of 1967.  Hence, war in outer space must be avoided. Placing weapons there in best Star Wars fashion will achieve the opposite.

 That the Russian test has opened a fast track to make the province of all humankind an illusion is not only folly but means that transactional cost will go up now. Because space operators will try even more to harden their space hardware to mitigate the consequences of ultimate space warfare. We then enter the ‘screw-without-an-end’ scenario that we know all too well from arms races on Earth. Destructive ability will be sought countered by protective measures, only to trigger new destructive abilities, and so forth.  All the while, those nations with no military ambitions in outer space will suffer and be sucked in.

 It is easy to be cynical and conclude that the world will just take its evil turn, and that there is nothing we can do about it. But such defeatism is not warranted. As citizens we must protest what are in reality attacks on the shared province of humankind and insist that our governments resist the weaponisation of outer space. The lack of popular and political attention to the issue is the greatest ally of those wanting to mess up space.

 When we speak up against the weaponisation of outer space, we will find that there is far more support for keeping outer space as a domain for peaceful use than meets the eye. A large number of nations has absolutely no interest in conflicts in outer space, but they must be woken from their Sleeping Beauty dreams! They must be brought to realise what a mortal threat to their short and long term interests the latest developments portend. That is our task as citizens!

War in the Heavens Poem

On the occasion of the recent Russian test of a space-to-space weapon:

There is a poetry to outer space……

There is a poetry to outer space

that often is forgotten in busy lives,

that’s crowded out by many crises here on Earth,

that is ignored, with cosmos milked for money.

Yet, outer space is first of all a place of wonder,

a place where peace and co-existence rule.

Minerva’s realm is now in danger – with Mars ascending!

The endless void so full of freedom is turning into one where power governs,

where Darwin’s ‘eat or being eaten’ can reign with utter arrogance –

a place of dreams transformed to tragedy.

Where outer space was free of arms till now,

there is a rush towards destruction,

a vain attempt to scare the other.

As always, all will lose when guns hold sway.

To yearn for Eden that we lost is not the time–

to shield the heavens that we’ve got is what we owe posterity!

Tenderness on Life Support

Our times are raw and rough. This is a commonplace, and implies that the period before was less so. This is also true, albeit not in the mushy sense it is often understood. Earlier times were kinder in subtler ways.

First of all there was a cultural recognition particularly in the hippie era that tenderness was a moral imperative, despite the many violent protests. Ronald Reagan chipped away at this perspective with his adoration of wealth and trickle-down economics, yet the personality of Reagan reduced the sharp edge of his philosophy. The Contract with America and neo-cons put kindness as a self-standing goal into question and opened the door for the wholesale introduction of the cold-heartedness of the Trump era. That is perplexing, though, given that the intervening Obama presidency very deliberately (and tragically in vain) championed positivity and embraced kindness even towards political enemies bent on frustrating its policy goals. Just contrast the considerate fashion in which health care reform was introduced by Obama and the immoral and brutal steps taken during the Trump presidency to seek to discontinue it.

That tenderness is on life support today is to a large extent the fault of populism. Populism sees only black-and-white, where tenderness presupposes recognition of nuance, diversity and individuality. The binary truth perception of populism also makes it antithetical to democracy, as we have experienced all too clearly lately.

But inequality, the close relative of populism, also carries significant guilt for the retreat of tenderness. Inequality is premised on a perception that all rewards are accrued by own effort – that they are inherently just deserts. The flipside of this argument is that misfortune is equally just deserts. The self-righteousness involved largely precludes empathy, let alone tenderness. It represents the rough world of Hobbes. And the idea that all is ‘deserved’ is obviously fundamentally flawed. It is impossible to seriously dispute the effect of one’s environment and the lottery of genetics.

The corona crisis has given us object lessons in how tenderness does and does not function. The deliberate culling of segments of the population by governments refusing safety in putative favour of the economy is showing not just a lack of tenderness, but a complete absence of humanity, particularly in societies that can well afford proper lockdowns. What is happening is making social Darwinism look good!

On the personal level, the lockdowns have taught many of us the virtues of tenderness. Living claustrophobically closely in a successful manner requires acknowledgement of The Other and a subtlety of approach that we often sought to avoid when we had the possibility of fleeing to the office, travelling incessantly, and leading a butterfly’s social life. It is hard not to get the impression that President Trump is so emotionally averse to lockdown measures partly because they mean that he cannot entirely escape a closeness he is constitutionally unable to cope with and has spent a lifetime trying to avoid.

All is not lost, though. Corona has highlighted human fragility, and understanding fragility is a first step on the road back to tenderness. Joe Biden, for all his flaws, understands the preciousness and precariousness of human life – and thus is a poster person for tenderness, as was his boss, Barack Obama.

Yet, it is for each of us individually to use this time of multiple crises to pursue new beginnings in our lives and in society. Any meaningful endeavour in this respect must first and foremost get tenderness off life support!

Corona and the Optional Society

                                                                         

Lockdown is a not a new invention. We share history with those who lived through the repeated tragedies of the plague and with the societies that suffered in the invisible hands of the Spanish flu a hundred years ago. What is different today are prosperity, the predictive tools and the much-improved ability to communicate governmental messages and have their restraints respected. As Finland has demonstrated, most of the world had the option to prepare much better for this sort of calamity, but almost all other countries decided against comprehensive prepping despite the stark warnings of SARS, MERS and Ebola. The current tragedy could probably not have been completely avoided, but it would have been contained significantly had we deployed our wealth wisely and exercised our options with more foresight.

 Our upcoming book, ‘Essays on the Optional Society’, takes a close look at how society and individuals will be affected by the plethora of options we have and will gain in the future – options that are put in our lap because of the digital revolution, globalisation, and the rapid growth of wealth we experienced until the corona virus brought it to a halt, but hopefully not to an end.

 A society full of options may appear an unambiguous good, but will, in fact, present dangers as well as opportunity. How we act in the current crisis is an illustration of both qualities.  

 Resilience is what we are looking for now and options are a key element. When one way of living and operating becomes impossible, others will open up. Yet options can be abused, can also lead to new appalling inequality, for instance, and that influences resilience.

 This brings us back to the specifics of corona. The wriggle room that options give makes sure that we do not go hungry during lockdown, because we can quickly modify supply chains (look at the explosion of delivery services). But options are very unequally distributed, and it was heart wrenching to read about the American single mothers on hourly pay that had to go to work even when sick with corona. For them the options picture was: work or let the children starve! All the ‘great leveller’ talk proved empty. As always, the underprivileged become even less privileged when disaster strikes.

 If we decide to build the optional society in a conscious fashion in order to make sure that its benefits will touch everybody, one important task will be to create resilience in such a fashion that a shift in tectonic plates will not automatically sacrifice society’s weakest. Future resilience dictates that everybody’s daily life be moved well away from the breadline – that a safety buffer be there for all.

 The inequality in options exists not only within countries, but very much between countries and regions, as well. Ebola showed that, with proper leadership, rich countries could insulate themselves from a highly contagious virus. There was virtually no spill over. In West Africa however, Ebola was a terrible killer and one reason was that the region did not have the range of options available to rich countries. They did not have an army of doctors and nurses that could be re-deployed, they could not communicate health messages efficiently and effectively, there was no physical and human infrastructure that allowed proper quarantining, let alone a meaningful lockdown, supply chains were not easy to re-arrange. Options were there, but far too few.

 The corona virus is making its way to Africa now and there is a horribly big risk that a continent starved of options will see disaster of an unimaginable scale. The rich world that is monopolising all debate is not addressing this issue at all although the delay function in the spread of the virus is giving time to protect these vulnerable populations. Just as we cannot let the single mother be too close to the abyss, it is a moral imperative not to leave Africa to sink or swim. Our options, and the wealth that options have created, must be deployed now to assist Africans. There is no time to waste!

 The upshot of all this is that the optional society can become a libertarian wet dream with all the attendant inhumanity, or it can become a society of solidarity where options work for all. What we will do for Africa today is the harbinger of the way we will go tomorrow. To choose solidarity or barbarism is the ultimate option facing us!

The Spirit of Dictators Past

Like voodoo ghosts, dictators rise from graves unlocked despite good riddance.

Their magic is, like always, lies and hatred; on bitterness they feed and feast.

The revellers find soul through ecstasy: no more ‘their proper place’, no more the unfair justice of the fairly minded.

The music, dance and trance will go and go as long as night will not betray them, delectable delirium the only destination – the doll of the dictators full of pins.

The spell will break with morning light. The faithful pray that darkness stay forever!

I knew……

Not just about corona:

 

When history will judge the tragedies of our time,

say not, how could I know,

say, as is true, I knew.

The serpent’s egg was there for all to see.

It could be crushed

but envy, greed and hatred made it hatch,

and inner exile made it grow.

We put false prophets on the throne;

they made us handmaids of calamity.

The currents of the past should save us, so we thought,

yet we refused their helping hands with indolence,

and put the fragile ship upon the rocks.

Oh yes, we knew, although of wisdom most deprived!

 

The Visit of the Fourth Horseman

The horseman of the apocalypse, the fourth of that immortal breed, shows off his skill – the others are impressed. What pestilence, what satisfying suffering.

 

Despite his might, this is, not yet, the time for pandemonium; just testing the potential is aim of these, the grimmest riders.

They gallop through deserted streets, across the frightened fields, inspect the brooding forests. The horses’ hooves resound on country roads not safe for any country.

They still resist, says number three, they are not ripe, laments the knight of war, no conquest yet, sighs Antichrist.

I fear that my experiment has made the humans obstinate, says bold Thanatos. How long we have to wait?

No worries, my impatient friend. Complacency and egoism will soon regain their throne – that’s when we strike again. But next time all together!