Blog Posts

µ#4: We Need Animals

Looking into the eyes of a loving cat is the essence of bliss. Animals know what life is all about, and we need to cherish them. Without them around us, we are impoverished. We need to occasionally look into the eyes of someone that is not human, be it a dog, a bird, a cat, whatever. I prefer cats, but whatever helps!

#103: The Story About the Lone Renegate Scientist Showing That Everyone Else Is Wrong

The resistance to the pandemic abatement has revealed the strength of a very popular narrative: The story of the lone hero, in this case, the lone renegate scientist who knows something that nobody else knows, that shows that everyone else is wrong, and that there is a different reality waiting to be discovered underneath what you still think is real.

There are several of these types out there. Some claim the pandemic would not be dangerous at all, that there all kinds of Coronaviruses, and this one would not be more dangerous. Others claim that somehow magically, the virus would become less dangerous over time (sure, evolution may point to such a possible pathway, but it is not guaranteed – or have AIDS, the Plague, Measles, Ebola, or Smallpox have become cuddly harmless pets in the meantime? I don’t think so…). Again others claim that the vaccines would be uniquely dangerous, and that everyone else – the pharmaceutical industry, politics, journalists, the vaccinated, are all in on the conspiracy.

Only the lone, renegate scientist can help us here?

This is called romanticism. In today’s newly romantic era, the romantic hero is typically a comic book character, or somewhere on a spaceship far, far in either the past or future.

Romantic narration – not unrelated to psychotic narration (Flor and Kneis 2007) is a category of fiction, not reality. Let us not mix methodologies!

How does reality work, how does science work?

Be careful of arrogant geniuses that tell you that what they are saying would stand against the orthodoxy of established opinion. If anyone even claims this, they know nothing about science, about the scientific method and process. They must not be taken seriously, for they know not what they are doing.

Science is collaborative, it is always conducted within an established methodology and community. That’s why scientific or academic writing is so hard! You need to have evidence, you need to tie you work into  the long line of researchers before you, you need to open yourself up to ruthless (let me repeat: ruthless!) criticism, so that once your ideas pass muster, everyone can accept your contributions as legitimate.

The romantic hero cries into the wilderness like a mental patient.

The scientific researcher willingly endures science bootcamp for all his academic life with rewards few and far between, and academic versions of drill and persistent criticism making all of us, hopefully, better.

If you read something by someone saying “What you are hearing from me stands at odds with the entire scientific/medical/political establishment,…” – simply stop reading. It will not be worth listening to. Ever.

#102: Brexit Means Brexit

Somebody should remind the current Prime Minister of the still United Kingdom of a wise sage once proclaiming loudly, as an answer to all questions about what Brexit means, that “Brexit Means Brexit.” I believe that person was a certain Boris Johnson.

That person was part of a movement that kept denigrating every single expert that advised them on the consequences for the UK as regards trade, relations with the EU, and, most importantly, the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Predictably, the chickens are coming home to roost now. Or rather, they may be stuck in complex supply lines hampered by increased bureaucracy due to Brexit. Clearly, there needs to be a border between the United Kingdom and the European Union. That border lies in Ireland, a result of British colonization of the island and the regained independence of part of the island. The remaining part that is still part of the British Crown is one of the four nations of the United Kingdom, which conveniently is separated by sea from the island of Great Britain. The only way to avoid a land border on Ireland would be to erect it between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, as agreed by said Boris Johnson.

Pacta Sunt Servanda – treaties are to be followed, as the old saying goes. Political tricksterdom can only go so far without consequences. Is the expectation that the EU will violate their own rules? If the UK was still in the EU, they could shape policy; now, it is 27 to 1. Is the expectation that Ireland should not follow EU rules but be aligned with the UK? If anyone seriously considered this (and some seem to do so), this would be legitimately seen as an act of neo-colonialism.

Clearly, anti-Irish attitudes were the main driver behind Brexit ignorance. Surely, Irish interests were seen as less important to the snubbish political establishment in Westminster and Whitehall. That goes for both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland: Neither matter, seemingly, enough for the UK to have been taken into consideration when even thinking about Brexit.

Similarly, the European Union is being underestimated. Granted, the EU may seem dysfunctional at times. All these quarreling nations could not possibly really want to work together; look at the problems between the EU and Poland and Hungary right now. But is Poland going to leave the EU and become Belarus 2.0 under Putin’s guidance? Certainly not. Is Hungary going to align with Russia or China? Both countries have issues with the EU becoming too dominant in domestic policy (rightly or wrongly; in my opinion, wrongly, but what do I know), but they know they are better off in a dissident position within the EU rather than a subservient one to anti-democratic big powers.

The UK left the EU because, frankly, they never were fully in. All other big powers in Europe have been sufficiently humbled by the angel of history to have realized that their future lies within a united Europe, come what may. History teaches what very well would come if Europeans started to be disunited again. Have no illusions about it. To wish for the EU to fail is folly, nothing else.

Brexit was and continues to be a folly. It is a failure of the political establishment in the UK, without any doubt. Now they need to realize what they have said before: Brexit indeed means Brexit, the people, apparently, don’t matter.

µ#2: Why the Posturing as if Pandemic was Over?

Why do people feel the need to posture as if the pandemic was over? What’s with the “no masks” pretension, with excluding and mocking people who still want to be careful? What’s with the denial of science? We know this is an evolving situation, that the vaccines don’t protect fully, that may still allow you to spread Covid – should we not protect all those who still need protection?

µ#1: Fleeting Micro-Thoughts

There is not always time to write a full post, but sometimes, I feel the need to just throw something out. I’ll have a new category of micro blog posts (marked with “µ”, the greek letter mu for “micro”) which are less thought out, nothing fancy, but urgent enough, in my (more or less) humble opinion, to be put out there. Given that I don’t use Twitter, they’ll be collected here.

#101: The Mask Does not just Protect You but Others as Well

If you are vaccinated against Covid-19, you may be safer now from serious illness and death, with the caveat that virus mutations may still bring some uncertainty. Many vaccines seem mostly safe and effective, and adverse reactions are statistically not relevant, as far as we know now.

But for many, vaccination does not seem to be an option. There can be a variety of reasons, and even though it would be desirable that eventually, everyone gets vaccinated, it simply won’t happen. We cannot demand it of everyone, apparently, and we cannot – and should not – mark people with signs that they are vaccinated or not.

This means, even if you are (probably) safe, others around you may not be.

What has been true about mask wearing from the beginning is that they do not just protect you yourself, but others around you also. That means until there is herd immunity, the scientific thing to do, the kind thing to do, is to keep wearing the mask everywhere where distance cannot be maintained, and where we cannot be certain that everyone around us is vaccinated.

Thus if you see me out in public in the near future, I will still be wearing a mask, whether formally required or not. It’s not just about me. It’s about others as well.

#100: Poem: One Moment in Time


ONE MOMENT IN TIME
(一期一会)


Corvallis, May 29th, 2021 – P#752

what we are
it is
what it is

there is nothing here
and everything

we are not meant to last
and yet we want to

this
is foolish desire

for meaning
lies in the fleeting,
not in permanence

in the end
in the beginning
we are
and we’ll be

there has to be an end
in order for a beginning to matter

one moment in time
is all we ever have
in this cruel and beautiful life

each moment
unique
and not to be wasted

一期一会

philjohn.com/poems


一期一会 – ichi-go ichi-e: one moment, one meeting: an idea from Zen Buddhism in which every single moment counts. It can translate as “One moment, one meeting”.

#99: Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism

Zionism is the understanding that Israel is the historical home of the Jewish people. This is not a belief, this is not ideology, it is the truth. Just because there are also non-Jewish people living in the area does not change the fact. Jews are indigenous to the area, and have every right to have established a state therein after the occupation by the Ottoman and British empires ended.

The foundation of Israel was legitimized by the United Nations. The so-called occupation of Palestinian territory is the reaction to decades of partially Nazi-inspired antisemitic campaigns, terrorism, and outright war against the Jewish state, and against the very idea of a Jewish state.

At the same time, Hamas is unequivocally clear that their aim is the elimination of what they call the “Zionist entity.” There is no desire for peace till Israel and its Israeli inhabitants are eradicated. Hamas says it in their charter, it says it through their actions. Jewish lives, according to Hamas and other Palestinian terror organizations, do not matter.

But it is even worse. To Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and their allies, Palestinian lives do not matter either. Gaza is not occupied. It is well-funded. Hamas has used the funding to support their mission of destruction of Israel. Gaza could be a rich and functioning society, but it is Hamas who is holding it back. Hamas – and Fatah – are actively sabotaging democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to a peaceful and prosperous existence for their own citizens. They are not interested in democracy or in human rights. They say so, and they act accordingly.

The only friend of Palestinian people is Israel. It has a functioning democracy, and Jews and non-Jews alike can live in peace and are equal citizens. This is not what is happening wherever the enemies of Israel are in power.

The Zionist vision is not an exclusive vision. It is the vision of a peaceful and democratic homeland not just for Jews but also for Arabs, Christians and others. To be antizionist means to be antidemocratic, to be a-historical and to sell out to terrorists and the enemies of democracy.

There used to be a time when it was perfectly well understood on the political left that Zionism means just that. Israel was, rightfully so, seen as the shining example to the region that liberal democracy was possible after centuries of autocratic government. That a people that have been demonized and persecuted throughout all of history deserve to have a home. It was also understood that the biggest critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians actually are Israelis themselves.

Peace cannot come if the antisemitic, antidemocratic and pro-violence narrative of Hamas and others gets to win the day.

If the political left starts sounding like their alleged National Socialist enemies, then there will be hell to pay. Without a supportive left that does not even for a second support the continued existence of Israel, there cannot be any legitimate criticism of settlement policies either. Without a supportive left, it will be the conservatives and the proponents of the security state who will rule the day.

I have said it before, but it needs to keep saying: If you want to support a Palestinian cause for sovereignty, you need to support Israel. If you want to support liberal democracy, you need to support the democratic forces in Palestine and Israel, and not the warmongers.

The left needs to wake up from its delusion that Anti-Zionism somehow is different from Anti-Semitism. It isn’t. Such a confusion of epic proportions destroyed the ambitions of the Labor Party in Britain, and it will destroy the ambitions of the Democrats in the United States as well. Nothing good can come of siding with an aggressor, and the aggressor is Hamas and its supporters. What is best for Israel is also best for Palestine. It is time that this is understood again amongst those claiming to support truth, justice and liberalism.

#98: The Populist Attack on Democracy During the Pandemic

When the pandemic hit the world, it unleashed more than just a deadly virus. It has put us all in a crucible. Nature has been testing our ability to be political animals, forcing our societies and our politics to make impossible decisions. Who shall we protect? Am I my fellow citizen’s keeper? How much economic and social pain can we tolerate while defending us against a virus? If this spiky microorganism could speak, it might very well want to quote Shelley’s Ozymandias and say “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.”

Desperation is political dynamite. It has the ability to creep into every crevice of society, poison minds and souls, and even to tear everything asunder. There is a reason politics seems at a loss sometimes. We are still racing through the night, the outlines of the path becoming clearer only to threaten to be obscured again. We have been playing this deadly game for over a year now, and it is not over till it is over.

The only guidance system we have is science. It is an imperfect system, but it is the only one that works. Its imperfection lies in the availability of data which influences the analysis of the problem and the creation of solutions. Science yields tentative answers, which eventually may form a theory, but everything is always under revision depending on new facts. This is a politician’s nightmare, and it is not intuitive for how human beings think. There is a reason that the systematic pursuit of science is an invention in itself that took millennia to take hold. Yet the fight against superstition and anti-science is never won, and it has become more difficult during the pandemic.

Science works in the collective mode, not in the heroic narrative of the lone voice in the wilderness. For there to be a situation in which established scientific view is so solidly mistaken, during a global emergency, is peculiar. As Carl Sagan has frequently said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The scientific consensus, based on the available data, is clear: the pandemic is real, the threat is real, and the approved vaccines work safely. The extraordinary position here is not the denier perspective, but the scientific consensus.

Yet it is the heroic mode, the tale of the hero fighting against the forces of darkness, that appears most seductive to human beings. There seem to be only a small number of medical, legal or scientific experts (typically in fields other than virology or epidemiology) that disagree with the established view about these matters. They have taken on the mantle of the hero that can fight against the medical crisis by denying its existence and by pointing to a wholly different threat.

We all have seen that our personal relationships have been put under tremendous stress. One of my closest friends has become a Covid denier. They have always been more interested in esotericism, astrology and popular psychology than in science or academic thinking. Their children and they themselves suffered from the lockdown, and this suffering led them down the path laid out to them by the algorithm of popular social media platforms.

There is an element of real pain here that is exploited by these platforms. People indeed feel crushed both by the pandemic and the measures taken to curb it. We are irrational beings much more than we would care to admit. Fear of the virus may lead to denying its existence. Lack of understanding of science may lead people to be suspicious of experts changing their minds when facts change. overall. Both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson were famous for dismissing experts and won elections on this very bias. We can all see politicians being frequently helpless in the face of the pandemic. People need someone to tell them that it will all be ok. If desperate enough, people will turn to false prophets. History is full of such stories, and it should teach us humility. Our system has indeed failed all those who now are moving to turn away from it, it has failed them in matters of education, civic engagement, and the recognition of everyone’s individual dignity. We are figuratively throwing people to the wolves, and down the rabbit hole.

The rabbit hole is electronic nowadays, and it is powerful. The alternative world view unfolding to the initiated speaks of a pandemic planned in a global cooperation of politicians, scientists, entrepreneurs and the typical cast of allegedly diabolical characters. The sinister purpose remains unclear but overall follows the well-worn paths of typical antisemitic conspiracy lore. The more you enter this world, the more you are inundated by it, and the more you connect to the similarly initiated few that are the only ones able to see the light and to prepare for a post-“plandemic” future. The pandemic, of course, does not exist as the established media want us to believe, but instead there is talk that a “Great Reset” is on the way to allegedly subjugate all of humanity.

At first I was confused about this. What could possibly be the motivation behind the denial of the existence or threat level of the pandemic, or the safety of the vaccines?

The answer is emerging more and more. The Coronavirus Pandemic is used by populists to attack democracy itself.

We see some of this happening currently in the United States. With the Republican party and the conservative movement in disarray, there are some voices echoing conspiratorial notes. Outside the United States, the picture becomes more clear. In Germany, for instance, a new alliance between discontented voters who would formerly identify with the established parties either of the left, center or the right, now are coalescing into the New Right. Leading players of the so-called “Querdenker” movement (“critical” or “lateral” thinkers) ally themselves with sovereign citizens, with esoterically or anthroposophically influenced groups, with old and new authoritarians.

Their demands are clear: sweep away the old system, which includes all politicians, all established media, all scientists and all academics and all their supporters. Establish a new, allegedly truly democratic movement and govern through the direct will of the people determined by the assumed wisdom of crowds. Trust the natural healing powers of the human body, and let nature run its course. Reject “globalists” – a smear word created to distort the legitimate critique of neoliberal globalization and turn it into an antisemitically tinged libel of the United Nations, free-traders and multinationalists – and bring back the nation state. Seek alliance with Russia, as Putin has taken his country down that path already.

This sounds very familiar. It has a name, only its clothes are slightly recycled. If we let it fester, if we do not find clear answers, the national socialist movement is already growing, hiding behind – as it used to – a romantic fixation with nature, with esotericism, with anti-science and populist authoritarianism claiming to be democratic.

Like Shelley’s Ozymandias, the Coronavirus will eventually be defeated, managed, return to memory, with the possibility of return. The political virus that we deemed to have overcome is still lingering. As Berthold Brecht has said, “the womb is fertile still from whence this crawled.”