#112: The Normality of Not Knowing

We are all seemingly stressed by a growing sense of uncertainty, it seems. When will the pandemic end? How will foreign policy shape up – will there be a new stable world order or utter chaos? What will climate change bring? Will we be able to keep our jobs? How can we navigate these increasingly troublesome times? Will we ever be able to retire? What kind of world are we leaving for our children and grandchildren? Everything around us seems to be changing. We are caught in quicksand, and the future is less and less certain. We don’t seem to know anymore how this will all turn out in the end.

These fears and concerns may well ring true for many if not most of us, but they certainly are not the worst fears you could have. As I am writing, I am well aware that the likelihood that you – dear reader – just as myself may not necessarily have to worry about our next meal, or about our housing situation. Otherwise, both of us would have better things to do than to spend time on an internet blog.

It seems, in fact, that such fears as voiced earlier are indeed a sign that we have been privileged enough to ask these questions, and also, that we may have the wrong idea about reality.

If we believe that we can know the future, we are deluding ourselves. Life cannot be planned. You may get your family started, have employment, plan for retirement and for how your kids may be able to live, but then life gets in the way. This has always been true. Nobody plans on losing their jobs or changing employment. Nobody plans to get sick or chronically ill. Nobody assumes their children would get in trouble. Nobody plans to die early. Nobody plans on their houses burning down, their countries being invaded, air plane toilets falling from the sky, etc. We may be able to make plans, but their coming to pass is never guaranteed.

The true illusion within the affluent and free world since probably  around the 1970 has been that we can take charge of our lives. It has always been an illusion. We cannot know the future, we can only try to navigate through time as best we can.

There is peace in that. Not fatalism, but peace. Surely, the world can be a scary place; certainly right now. But we cannot lose hope, and we cannot lose perspective. Plan for the future, but live in the moment. Appreciate what you have. It will be over too soon.

#108: Carefulness Is Not Fear

Some of the criticism – if you can call it that – put forth by those believing that the Coronavirus pandemic would not be so dangerous, that you could certainly go without the vaccine, that you should stop wearing the mask, that you should stop avoiding unnecessary contact – is that those who do follow those scientifically advised procedures would just be “afraid.” “Don’t be afraid”- “Don’t promote fear” – “learn to live with the virus.”

I do want to live, but we can avoid living with a virus we could certainly seriously push back if everybody followed serious scientific advice. Certainly, we will eventually have to learn to “live with” the virus, but not before having done whatever we can to protect everyone.

Also, since when do we shun people who are afraid of something dangerous – and is such a line not preposterous coming from those claiming – against all serious evidence – that the vaccines would be dangerous, masks would be dangerous, and other nonsense?

I agree with people who respect the virus for what it is: a dangerous pathogen that is not done with us yet, and that should be given as little space to evolve into more dangerous variants, and we can use the tools at our disposal safely. This is not fear, it is carefulness. We care about a disease that even in its so-called mild or moderate form can lead to long-term effects that can be debilitating in both adults and some children. We care even about those who don’t realize they should protect themselves.

Sometimes, I hear people saying, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, chuckling, implying that they should not be, and that such a demand would be ludicrous. They certainly don’t know their Bible. It is Cain, after having slain Abel, when asked by God where his brother would be, is responding as such, in a way implying that he – the murderer – would not be his brother’s keeper.

But we should be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. I must be expected to care about not getting sick myself, I can – and should – also be expected to care about others not getting sick, even if they are misguided in their conviction that sees measures fighting the pandemic as allegedly less dangerous than the pandemic themselves.

This is not fear, it is care. With a hint of frustration, which I am certainly aware of. Maybe we can all be frustrated together, albeit about different things…

#105: We May Think We’re Done with the Virus, but the Virus is not Done with Us

It is seductive to think that we can go back to normal anytime soon.

At least within the so-called “Western” World, we have safe and functioning vaccines, masks, abilities to work remotely for many of us, and to distance physically. There should be no debate as to how to proceed, and yet, it is not so.

We knew early on that this would get worse. Sure, some – not all – pathogens seem to get weaker with time, but that is not true for all, and such a description is already overly simplified. Pathogens do not think, they do not decide to survive. They procreate, and wherever we provide them with a fertile ground, they will do so. Given enough selection pressure, those pathogens that can procreate without destroying us will survive only because we let them. Right now, we are giving them ample room to circulate, so no, we will see variants arise that will be progressively more aggressive – because we allow them to do that.

We are all tired. We are all sick of this, even if we haven’t gotten physically sick from it. But we all want this to end.

It’s not up to magical thinking to make it so. Vaccinate, wear masks, distance, isolate – globally. Sorry, no better news here. If this does not end soon, it’s due to those who choose to be careless – and to not care for others. Some people cannot follow this prescription, and those who can need to make sure that they are protected as well. Is that so difficult?

#104: Psychological Long Covid

As far as I know, I have not been infected with the novel Coronavirus. I have been sheltering in place as much as possible, have been distancing myself physically, maintaining a sanitizing regime, wearing masks, getting doubly vaccinated, maintaining safety precautions even now, listening to the advice and latest scientific debate and not just to some statements by politically mandated officials. The virus is real, so are its variants, and vaccines help but are not perfect. It is not over.

Even as I have not been infected – and I would be very surprised if I have given my precautions – I somehow feel as if I had something like “long Covid.” In my case, it cannot probably be medical, it is probably psychological. Lack of inspiration, motivation, difficult sleep, nightmares, and an overall sense of dread have made this a difficult time.

But this is not about me; I don’t like to draw attention to personal matters typically. I’m not trying to whine or complain, but to maybe validate your feelings in case you are experiencing something similar. I am noticing this in others, whether it is necessarily verbalized.

Additionally, I have witnessed friends of mine who have moved into political radicalization, virus relativization or denial, anti-vaccine and conspiracy theories, and an overall anti-democratic, anti-scientific extremist spectrum with affinities to right-wing extremist positions. This is especially troubling, but again, not limited to myself.

This crisis is affecting us on a multitude of levels, and we need to give us all some leeway, some grace, some sense of understanding that this is affecting us psychologically and socially much more than we would care to admit.

These are not easy times, let’s just admit it and be gracious to each other.

#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?

#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.

#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.”