Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees

The Refugee Convention entered into force on 22 April 1954.

In the above text, we look at the word particularly. We note that it does not mean exclusively. Even if the head of the family (which we should consider an outdated term, but can still understand) has not fulfilled the necessary conditions for admission to a particular country, the Convention “recommends” governments to take the necessary measures.

But what are the “necessary measures” if such measures are perceived to conflict with “national safety interests”. And what precisely means “recommends”? The dictionary states “to push for something”.

Listen, this is no match for Trump, the Artist of the Deal. Why is the verb here not “obligate”?

The United Nations now urges the US to stop separating children from their families at the border. According to a spokesperson, “The use of immigration detention and family separation as a deterrent runs counter to human rights standards and principles.” She asks that Washington adopts non-custodial alternatives that allow children to remain with their families. Fair enough.

The human drama is terrifying and I don’t see no political solution soon. Trump supporters, and indeed Trump himself, are quick to blame Democrats for passing the original laws that led to this catastrophy. I am worried that Trump defenders are reluctant to change their opinion and speak up to their peers, fearing to be ostracized. It is easy to get on the Trump Train, but you can not jump off.

A slippery slope and ‘Gazafication’ of the US – Mexico border looms over the current events. What if people approaching the border would be shot at sight (admittedly an unlikely scenario, despite extremist toads who demand so)? I can already hear the propaganda claims: It is the right of the US to defend itself. Illegal immigrants are criminals. I already see them quoting dubious crime statistics produced by the Cato institute. And I see hordes of American citizens accepting these claims. The ‘fire and fury’ of such violent border protection measures would translate into laudable toughness and a sense of ‘something is finally being done for our safety’, at least in the feeble indoctrinated minds of Trump’s following. Any critique of Trump’s actions will become increasingly harder as it will be dismissed as unpatriotic. This small step tactics has been adopted by other dictators (dixit Fox news) before.

I don’t apologize for the Godwin, if you have perceived one, dear reader.

Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees was originally published on Meandering home


The be-who-thy-be new age bullshit

I watched a well-intended speech today for fifteen year old level A students. The gist was that life happens according to your own internal clock, not according to the timetable imposed on us by society. It’s okay not to be married at 30 or graduating after 25 or getting your first job at 27. Did you know that JK Rowling first got published at the ripe old age of 32 and that Morgan Freeman got his big break at 52? Applause. Just be who you are, follow your dreams and eventually you will succeed.

That is the message. Eventually. No pressure, believe me more than you can believe yourself: you too will eventually make it big. Your story will be a success story. It has to be that way because if you believe hard enough, the universe will conspire to make it happen.

It is precisely this message that puts more pressure on people. Concrete goals such as graduating college at 22 or having 2 kids by age 33 are replaced by you-know-best-yourself goals. This absence of a yardstick to measure your own achievements against can backfire terribly. Insecure people will get more insecure and now they don’t have a way to prove themselves wrong. In the decadent be-who-thy-be philosophy, they cannot be wrong.

Guidance is replaced by slogans that smack of wisdom and the tragedy is that they are irrefutable from the perspective of the be-who-we-tell-you-to-be. The 15 year olds can not be expected to be critical, but from the educators who purvey this type of happy-go-lucky doublespeak peptalk we can demand that they study Kafka and Orwell and make their Good News less intimidating.

We want to educate critical minds not neurotic narcissists. Young people should not be seduced to manufacture only their unique success story in the face of a society that won’t reward them, I think. But do I have a solution? No. The best advice I can offer is to skip this soft of commencement talks whenever possible.

The be-who-thy-be new age bullshit was originally published on Meandering home

Clickbait: A thought about Jordan Peterson

Recently, I fell for the hype and listened to some interviews with the Canadian professor of psychology Jordan Peterson. I don’t find him controversial and his appeal to a healthy debate bypassing the left-right dichotomy sounds healthy. In the videos I watched, he often stressed scientific and statistical rigor, and I like that.

Jordan likes to makes controversial claims and seems to enjoy the relatively sudden fame the Internet has bestowed upon him. His view of religion (in his debate with people like Sam Harris) is informed by a radical relativism (which is to say: it will pop up as absolutist claim further on). Peterson follows Carl Gustav Jung when he talks about archetypes of religion and considers every axiomatic belief system, with or without deities and diets, a religion. Presenting religion as something we cannot live without is the first step in an argumentation that defends any and all religion.

Peterson says he is against any type of ideology (pop! there you have it). His reasons are the laudable core of what we call the Enlightenment, but I wish his art of suspicion (as Paul Ricœur said about Marx, Nietzsche and Freud) doesn’t stop there. We must also ask ourselves if we are completely free of ideology (free of sin… the parallel to Christian ethics is obvious) and when we come to the conclusion that we might be the vehicle of our own implicit ideology, we should adjust our anti-ideology motto.

Peterson could try to make his own ideology explicit. This might be less exciting than his vitriol, but it could introduce a more or less scientific way of thinking into the emerging political middle.

Clickbait: A thought about Jordan Peterson was originally published on Meandering home

Freelance bullshit jobs

I have been fascinated with anthropologist David Graeber’s concept of bullshit jobs for a while. I have written a bullshit job poem and a bullshit job rap. In this video, Graeber mentions an informal poll he conducted on Twitter to classify bullshit jobs. He arrives at five categories:

  1. Flunkies.. the people sitting around doing nothing, often simply to enhance the prestige of their bosses
  2. Goons.. the people who do things that serve no rational need in society, such as telemarketers or indeed the army
  3. Duct tapers.. the people who fix a problem that doesn’t need to exist in the first place
  4. Box tickers.. the people who create illusions around the work, for example by ‘collecting data’ that serves no other purpose than to keep them busy
  5. Task masters.. the middle management supervising the workers where in fact, no supervision is needed

I like this list. From my vantage point as a freelance bullshit jobber, I would like to add a footnote. For Graeber, the bullshit factor is about the how of the job, not the what. More precisely, it is about how a company uses labor to achieve its goal, not about the nature of that goal itself. The category of the goons comes close to a critique of that goal, but it still presupposes some potentially meaningful product of service that the company provides and wishes to force upon consumers.

The happiness factor

I admit it: I’d like to jack up the number of bullshit jobs so it gets a more revolutionary ring to it. What is left out are all the jobs creating the consumerist demand needed to keep the system going, the manipulation of people into enthusiastic consumers who require purchasing goods or services for their satisfaction. This is not about cold call telemarketing to customers who are not interested, but about average consumers. When we look into happiness research, we find that beyond $60k their surplus happiness flattens. This means that beyond that threshold, more material possessions doesn’t make people happier. Hence, it is not a rational need of society to produce an abundance of goods and services when they demonstrably cost more (I am referring to the externalized cost for society and the environment here) than they will benefit.

The freelance factor

Graeber’s analysis is limited to the realm of salaried labor and full time employment. In the world of freelancers, ‘laborers’ intentionally work on bullshit tasks to pay your bills. They are confronted with the fact that perform bullshit jobs ‘just for the money’ every time they respond and ‘apply’ for them on an online job platform.

Online freelancers typically do the work of goons, duct tapers and box tickers, because the other two require physical presence. My bullshit tasks are usually in the goon category (eg. translating manuals that nobody reads about a product that makes nobody happier). But freelancers have the advantage that they can, occasionally, if they are lucky enough to stumble upon it, do meaningful work. For example, I might write some critical essay about our work culture and get paid for it, or do anything that has the net effect of making some people a little happier.

Because freelance bullshit jobbing adds the extra dimension of the explicit confrontation with the bullshit, it can corrupt our will. For the sake of our identity, we might imagine a meaning, simply because it is too painful to deal with the implicit nihilism that bullshit jobbing is on a daily basis.

If we add in the freelance activities by independent contractors who hate what they do and the jobs that can be shown to decrease our overall happiness, I think the amount of bullshit jobs has already crossed a critical threshold. A serious economic crisis in the coming years could turn into a real revolution.

Freelance bullshit jobs was originally published on Meandering home

A birthday wish

One year ago, for my 38th birthday, all I could wish and hope for was the absence of toothache. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get it. ‘If and only if’, my daily mantra became, ‘my mind is not distracted by that pain in the upper jaw, so very close to the brain, I will do great things’. My life pretty much revolved around this and it contitutes a dent in my biography, so to speak.

I have been working on a job that lacks even a shimmer of meaning when measured by my admittedly high standards (now, that sounds a lot more eloquent than ‘I hate my fucking job’ doesn’t it?) to earn the money for half a dozen dentists to drill, fill, crown, and whatever, my mouth. As of yet, that pain isn’t totally gone and for my 39th I wish, again, the absence of irritation and the ability to focus.

This might sound dramatic but it really isn’t so bad. I know of people whose wife died of cancer or, perhaps worse, suicide (read about our remarkable ‘ice man’ Wim Hof and how he overcame his wife’s suicide), people who have aids and tbc yet refuse to be defeated, athletes with hand nor feet and – I’ll be damned if life is a pissing contest of doom and gloom.

For this new year I wish focus. To me personally, that translates into no more nasty nervous distractions like that toothache, so that I can focus on getting focused. I can focus on doing my regular meditation, eating a healthy diet, taking cold showers, doing physical exercise, you name it. These things both seem to require and produce focus, so what I wish for the new year is a way into this catch-22 vortex.

a religion or some other story that pictures the unintelligible as an anthropomorphic and often sadistic power that manufactures ultimate meaning and always perverts one of our noblest feelings, that of humility.

It wil be my fortieth year and I am going to say here that a good way to celebrate such a milestone in a human life is to find a Cause that is ‘bigger than yourself’. By that I don’t mean a religion or some other story that pictures the unintelligible as an anthropomorphic and often sadistic power that manufactures ultimate meaning and always perverts one of our noblest feelings, that of humility. It is no trivial task either: I think that now, 129 years after Nietzsche collapsed on the streets of Torino, the specter of nihilism goes around again, and can poison our fragile idea of a shared goal that can claim ultimate meaningfulness. We may stammer our enlightened formula of the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and still the nihilist will shrug because the existence of humanity is no ultimate goal. Indeed I think we can speak of practical philosophy as a way of countering this nihilism, or to put it more aggressively, to cut off its oxygen supply.

So, what sort of goal could be ‘bigger than myself’? And should it be a whole lot bigger or is it enough when it’s just a little bit bigger? Could it be something like ensuring permanence of human culture on this blue planet (permaculture) or helping this human species and its successors to colonize the rest of our solar system and ultimately escape before the sun gobbles up the earth (elonmuskism)? Or are these ideas too big, so that ‘being a part of it’ is no meaningful concept, like it is not meaningful for an atom to be part of an acorn as much as it is meaningful for the acorn to be part of the oak. Perhaps I should ponder ideas that provide both myself and the greater whatever-it-is-we-are-in-it-all-together with the optimal amount of meaning, where optimal is something like the greatest leverage?

Above, I wrote I wish focus. In the last two paragraphs I lost that focus in an attempt to ‘flow’ writingly to someplace beautiful. To repeat it for a world in which the beast of nihilism has been slain (shouldn’t we slay it every night in our dreams lest we cease to be human?): Focus translates into our better cooperation on the rapidly aggravating problems humanity faces. More serious grown-up work that adresses inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, illiteracy, diseases, religious fanaticism, species extinction, habitat destruction, and here we go again – focusing on one thing that is only meaningfully bigger than yourself is not easy. But I have an entire year.

A birthday wish was originally published on Meandering home