What is Religion?

Why is this question so important? It is important because it is widely believed that religion is a thing of the past and that people “don’t need” religion. We still use the word “religious” to refer to something that is done with utmost conscientiousness and conscientiousness, but the connection of religion with what is responsible and careful is no longer made. Rather, it is seen as something old-fashioned and antiquated. A vague idea of something higher is retained in certain circles, but its vagueness is valued because it keeps it inaccessible and by no means authoritative.

You hear people complain that “Nothing is sacred anymore!” But what is sacred? What does that mean? It used to mean something worthy of respect or dedication, or perhaps something believed to be holy, and worthy of veneration. But do we actually understand these words anymore? Have they not become hollow? It would be important to find out what is worthy of respect or dedication, because that seems to be missing in public life. Newspapers and other media seem to be full of cynicism towards what some people respect, and figures in entertainment or sport are venerated by some and hated by others.

Someone on Wikipedia wrote: “The history of religion refers to the written record of human religious feelings, thoughts, and ideas.” Another has written: “Religion is usually defined as a sociocultural system of particular behaviours and practices, morals, beliefs, worldviews, texts, sacred places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations that humanity generally associates with supernatural, transcendental, and spiritual elements; however, there is no scientific consensus on what exactly constitutes a religion.” But sociocultural systems of behaviours and practices can be political belief systems, or belief systems around any issue deemed to be important, in which facts are secondary to beliefs.

So, is religion simply what people believe, and as diverse as the number of people on the planet? For surely people are variously influenced, not only by external pressures, but also through individual experience and perception? This will be true most of all of the West, where individuality is held to be extremely important, whereas many other countries have adopted a collectivist attitude, by which the majority, or some institution is authoritative. This may mean that the concept of religion is different, depending on whether one has been brought up in an individualistic or a collectivistic society. What does that say about Westerners attracted to Eastern religions?

This makes it clear that the definition of religion is hard to pin down, which means that we don’t really know what it is, but that it is certain aspects or practices of religion that we generally consider antiquated or old-fashioned when we are critical of religion. I, for example, have always disdained American evangelism and evangelism. As a Brit, I always felt it was an intrusion on my freedom, although I didn’t mind talking about religion and exchanging ideas. I also felt that there was something about Christianity that we did not understand, something that our modern culture could not uncover. Of course, I had a similar feeling when I read Buddhist or Hindu texts, which I felt were long-winded and didn’t get to the point. It was something like feeling that an idea was “on the tip of my tongue,” as we say, but I just couldn’t grasp it.

When I read Iain McGilchrist’s “The Matter with Things” recently, he pointed out that we get excited by facts that we can grasp, that are clear and unambiguous. The problem is that this is only true in a particular setting, and when we try to apply these facts to everyday life, to a broader setting, we struggle to do so. Religion also has this effect, and statements of faith often clash with our everyday experience when applied literally. McGilchrist points out that poetic truth has a similar effect: it speaks loudly and clearly to our emotions, but as soon as we consider the metaphors used rationally, we realize our folly. Obviously, truth has different facets and can be true in one context but make no sense in another.

Perhaps this has been our problem with religion. Certainly, the scientific community has ridiculed the worldview of religious texts, with its reference to spirits and demons, or its cosmology. However, some “physicists have envisioned definite sympathies between science and religion, and sought to creatively deploy them in order to accomplish a diverse set of goals, sacralising science and invoking the themes and rhetoric of religion.”[i] Erwin Schrödinger, father of Quantum Mechanics and a Vedantist wrote in 1925: “This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of this entire existence, but in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear: tat tvam asi, this is you. Or, again, in such words as “I am in the east and the west, I am above and below, I am this entire world.”[ii] This was an autobiographical essay, in which he explained that his discovery of quantum mechanics was an attempt to give form to central ideas of Vedanta which, in this indirect sense, has played a role in the birth of the subject.

As we can see, it isn’t necessarily Christianity, Judaism or Islam that provides religious inspiration, as we in the West often presume, and Swami Prabhavananda (December 26, 1893 – July 4, 1976) an Indian philosopher, monk of the Ramakrishna Order, and religious teacher, wrote a book stating that what Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount is the same teaching a Vedantist follows. The British writer and novelist Aldous Huxley wrote The Perennial Philosophy, a comparative study of mysticism, and attempted to present mysticism as the “Highest Common Factor” of all theologies by assembling passages from the writings of those saints and prophets who have approached a direct spiritual knowledge of the Divine.[iii] Werner Heisenberg, another “father” of quantum physics who won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1932 is quoted as saying, “The first gulp from the glass of natural science will make you an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”[iv]

This obviously has gone against the common view that is widespread today, but it shows that religion isn’t just what many people believe, and that this may be because many adherent religious people take too little time to really investigate what their religion is about. It is also a question whether their Religion actually helps them in their understanding of their lives, or whether it is a distraction that takes their attention off of what is going on around them.

Years ago, I found Jack Kornfield, an American author and teacher in the Vipassana movement in American Theravada Buddhism, as well as having a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, to be a wonderful source of peace in his book, A Path With Heart: The Classic Guide Through The Perils And Promises Of Spiritual Life, in which he spoke about the problems that people have with spirituality and faith.

He writes as a conclusion to his own struggles, “To open deeply, as genuine spiritual life requires, we need tremendous courage and strength, a kind of warrior spirit. But the place of this warrior strength is in the heart. We need energy, commitment, and courage not to run from our life nor to cover it with any philosophy – material or spiritual. We need a warrior’s heart that lets us face our lives directly, our pains and limitations, our joys, and possibilities. This courage allows us to include every aspect of life in our spiritual practice: our bodies, our families, our society, politics, the earth’s ecology, art, education. Only then can spirituality be truly integrated in our lives.”

I felt that this was missing in what I had experienced, and in 2002 I started meditating, which was seen critically from many of my peers, but I learnt what Kornfield says, is “a very basic lesson in meditation: facing our own greed, unworthiness, rage, paranoia, and grandiosity, and the opening of wisdom and fearlessness beyond these forces.” This helped me cope with a number of demons that I seem to have brought with me from childhood and put me back on my feet when my strength and above all, my faith was waning. Without this experience of rebuilding and regeneration in times of great stress, religion has no attraction. However, to get there requires the commitment Kornfield spoke of.

Another aspect of that seems to have been typical for our individualistic and consumerist age, has been the question, what do I get from it? Many were attracted by the promise of exalted states of awakening and enlightenment, and followed gurus to achieve this, only to be disappointed. Some seek the same promises in drugs and substances. Kornfield warned:

Even the most exalted states and the most exceptional spiritual accomplishments are unimportant if we cannot be happy in the most basic and ordinary ways, if we cannot touch one another and the life we have been given with our hearts. In a spiritual life, what matters is simple: We must make certain that our path is connected to our heart.”

This has been, as far as I can make out, what has been missing in religious life for many people, and the scandals that have rocked the church as well as other movements, have driven people away from an aspect of life that seems to me to be integral, leaving many confused and disorientated, seeking distraction and ways to deaden the anxiety or rage that rises in their hearts. The complaint of many medical experts is that many illnesses and mental disorders come from an unbalanced lifestyle, misuse of food and alcohol, lack of purpose, too little exercise, and the influence of advertising on our consumerism. Hardly a good replacement for something as wholesome as Jack Kornfield described.


[i] https://metanexus.net/three-physicists-religion/

[ii] Quoted in https://www.hinduhistory.info/erwin-schrodinger-vedantist-and-father-of-quantum-mechanics/

[iii] Huxley, Aldous (1946). The Perennial Philosophy (1st. ed.). London: Chatto and Windus. p. Dust Jacket.

[iv] https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/64309.Werner_Heisenberg

Modern Utopias and Reality

I get a couple of newsletters that are thought-provoking, including one from Jules Evans, who talked about how the liberal form of government is about to be ended.

https://julesevans.medium.com/the-end-of-liberalism-and-the-rise-of-network-states-748ac3c23ca

He cites a book by Patrick Deenen, political philosopher at the University of Notre Dame, “Why Liberalism Failed,” who says that of the three dominant ideologies of the twentieth century – fascism, communism, and liberalism – only the last remains. He shows that this has led to a curious situation in which the proponents of liberalism tend to forget that it must be an ideology rather than a natural end state of human political evolution. In his book, he shows that liberalism is built on a foundation of contradictions: It extols equal rights while promoting unparalleled material inequality; its legitimacy rests on consent but discourages civic engagement in favour of privatism; and in its pursuit of individual autonomy, it has produced the most far-reaching and comprehensive state system in human history. Deneen quotes Founding Father John Adams: “There never was a democracy that didn’t commit suicide.” This makes me also think of Brexit.

A question that arose in my mind was whether the dominant ideologies of the twentieth century are in fact gone, or whether variations have just appeared, somehow attempting to circumvent the obvious comparisons and avoid the noticeable mistakes of the past, or in some cases, dressing up as something else. Russia seems to be promoting a clear fascist message as a result of the threat they see coming from the West, and China’s communism is hardly recognisable as such, but all the authoritarian structures are still in place. The drama concerning Trump and the Insurrection is still ongoing with uncertain outcomes, and the president that ousted Trump is the least popular of all presidents, according to recent polls. Britain has pushed some very authoritarian laws through parliament recently, and opposition to human and workers rights, and even threats to boycott the European Court of Human Rights, especially chilling after the Russian parliament voted to break with Court in June, reveal a sentiment that many in Europe say is telling for the situation in Britain.

Deneen, who seems to regard America as the leader in Liberalism, “argues that American liberalism has failed in that fewer and fewer people believe in it or trust its institutions, while depression and suicides are on the rise. In his view, liberalism has failed because it has succeeded. It liberated the individual and gave him the opportunity to satisfy every material and sexual desire, every urge for freedom. But Americans have discovered that this does not really satisfy their souls. Liberalism has undermined what every religion teaches: human desire is insatiable and must be restrained. Only by limiting desire and cultivating virtue can one find true satisfaction. What America offers instead is “institutionalized discontent” – that is, capitalism.” It is also my perception that American society provides us with many contradictions, especially publicly portrayed in movies, but still the machine keeps running because no one can imagine otherwise.

It is interesting that Deenen’s book looks at the example of religious communities as prototypes for what might come next.  “He offers the Amish as an alternative by name and explains that they have a custom called Rumspringa (literally “jumping around”), in which teenage Amish can frolic in secular society for two years before deciding whether to return to Amish society and embrace its values. Supposedly, 80% of the Amish choose to return because the Amish religious community is more satisfying than the soulless mall of American liberalism, where covetousness goes unchecked.” Jules Evans is sceptical about the solutions being offered, but notes that it is not so much the overthrow of democracy that is being called for as “just” the overthrow of rampant individualism. Good luck with that! However, as Jules Evans says, it is reminiscent of the monasteries that were built with high walls against the society that was seen as “godless,” and in which people were not safe. Within those institutions much progress was made which was offered to people outside the walls, especially in medicine, agriculture, as well as reading and writing. The unfortunate fact is that they couldn’t prevent the wars and suffering going on around them, only clean up afterwards.

Jules Evans has pointed out in several newsletters that there is much analysis that says Western society is doing away with itself, but few proposed solutions that are not radical in nature. In a demographically aging society, it looks like major changes are unlikely to occur – unless they are forced upon us. My fear is that the war in Ukraine and the climate crisis, to name just two current problems, are not enough exhortations for us to work for and maintain a sustainable society, without which the breakdown of society will be difficult to stop. The dystopias that are so popular in cinema seem like prophecy – like speeding at top speed toward the end of a traffic jam. The problem is, we watch and don’t know what to do.

Balaji Srinivasan’s The Network State: How To Start a New Country is another book he read.

Amazon says about the book:

“Balaji has the highest rate of output per minute of good new ideas of anybody I’ve ever met, and The Network State may be his best.” — Marc Andreessen, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz

“We’ve started new currencies. Now The Network State shows us how to start new cities and new countries.” — Vitalik Buterin, cofounder of Ethereum

“Balaji is a visionary, and one of the most original thinkers of our time. Many have had the experience of hearing him say something, thinking it was crazy, and then a year or two later realizing ‘Balaji was right.’ I think Balaji will be right about The Network State.” — Brian Armstrong, cofounder and CEO of Coinbase

“The future convergence of networks and governments, from one of the most brilliant thinkers alive.” — Naval Ravikant, cofounder of AngelList

When the brand new is unthinkable, we fight over the old. That’s where we are today with governments, with politics, and with much of the physical world. But perhaps we can change that.

This book introduces the concept of the network state: a country you can start from your computer, a state that recruits like a startup, a nation built from the internet rather than disrupted by it.

The fundamental concept behind the network state is to assemble a digital community and organize it to crowdfund physical territory. But that territory is not in one place — it’s spread around the world, fully decentralized, hooked together by the internet for a common cause, much like Google’s offices or Bitcoin’s miners. And because every citizen has opted in, it’s a model for 100% democracy rather than the minimum threshold of consent modeled by 51% democracies.

Of course, there are countless questions that need to be answered to build something of this scope. How does a network state work socially, technically, logistically, legally, physically, financially? How could such a thing even be viable?

I agreed with Jules Evans criticism of the book, especially the fact that many of the problems of our modern society have been enabled by the very people that Balaji foresees as saviours. This seems to me to be the big problem. Those with resources to implement any of the changes suggested are those that have taken the cream off society in the first place, and perhaps to be generous “inadvertently” pushed society to breaking point. The fact that a form of eugenics is also part of the proposed solution, reminiscent of visions of the past, shows that the present populations are abandoned in such plans and those who had previously creamed society are leaving it to fend for itself. This seems to be the issue with any outlandish plans to “save humanity,” whether by terraforming Mars, or looking for inhabitable planets, and avoids a question that has been in my mind for some time: What if we are intrinsically connected with our planet? All the Star Trek generations have ever managed is to project our situation into outer space, but fundamentally avoided the fact that life outside of our bubble may be even beyond our imagination, and hostile to our organism. We overlook the complexity of our biological life and assume somehow that we can adapt positively to new circumstances. Unfortunately, our body tends to adapt negatively to changes in our environment.

When one hears or reads about the plans of these individuals, of course, as Jules Evans says, you have to try to understand them, but one should reserve excitement for reality. That may entail doing less, rather than more, and accepting that it is our overexploitation of our environment that is the problem, and a reduction is the only way in a liveable future. Like I said, I feel that I am witnessing something like cars speeding into the end of a traffic jam, rather than slowing down in time. We hear people projecting their immature thoughts into an uncertain future rather than attempting to understand what we have and how to preserve it. Thereby, we could perhaps valuate whether mankind has already found solutions that we need to rediscover.

What “Boris delivered.”

It was quite an experience for an “Ex-Pat” in Germany, when Britain voted to leave the EU. Many of us here, perhaps a large majority, never believed it would happen. Judging by the turnout to vote, many “Remainers” didn’t either. Of course, because we have lived here longer than 15 years, we didn’t have the vote, and that was a shame, because we live in Europe and experience what advantages the European Union brings, and yes, also the problems that arise when 27 sovereign nations join a political union to advance economic growth in those countries.

I think the reason I was surprised was because I saw how much the EU reinvested in the UK, which was a bigger alignment than the Tories ever did. You only have to look at the arguments for Remain that the Conservatives made before the referendum to see that Britain would lose more than it would gain, despite promises on buses. The Express quotes Ms. Truss tweeting in February 2016, “I support Remain as I believe it is in the UK’s economic interest and means we can focus on important economic and social reforms at home.” Just days before the Brexit vote, Ms. Truss tweeted, “Leave can’t name a single country we’d get a better trade deal with if we left the EU.”[i]

That was the impression many of us had, and Chris Grey wrote a book entitled, “Brexit Unfolded: How no one got what they wanted (and why they were never going to)” in which he laid out the illusions that were being spread about in the attempt to convince the public that it was in their interest to vote against staying in the EU. In fact, Brexit was about big finance and the threat of the EU to weed out the tax-dodgers, who were making billions tax-free. Britain had become a hive of financial services, which are the economic services provided by the finance industry, which encompasses a broad range of businesses that manage money, including credit unions, banks, credit-card companies, insurance companies, accountancy companies, consumer-finance companies, stock brokerages, investment funds, individual asset managers, and some government-sponsored enterprises.[ii]

These were the people who feared the consequences of the EU’s attempt to tax the wealthy. It is apparent from the outcome of Brexit, and the statements consequently made by politicians, that benefits would be long awaited – according to Jacob Rees-Mogg in 2018, it could take 50 years to reap the benefits of Brexit ‘We won’t know the full economic consequences for a very long time,’ he is quoted as saying in the Huffington Post.[iii] It wasn’t about benefits, but avoiding the dangers of taxation on financial services.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s List Of Brexit Benefits Includes A Discount On Fish Fingers. The journalist interviewing the minister replied: “Is that the best you can do?”[iv] But he also says that “The government won’t assess whether Brexit is a success,” and dismissed a report saying quitting the EU has harmed Britain’s economy as “the regurgitation of Project Fear”.[v] This is literally a George Orwell style “Ministry of Truth” type of answer. All we need now takes is a Ministry of Truth, which concerns itself with news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. A Ministry of Peace, which concerns itself with war. A Ministry of Love, which maintains law and order. And a Ministry of Plenty, which would be responsible for economic affairs.

The Guardian, in particular Jonathan Freedland, wrote 7.7.2022 “Dishonesty has been the one constant in [Boris] Johnson’s career – in the end the deceit proved too much to bear.”[vi] The fact that this was too much even for his allies, who by then had lined up to excuse him and lie for him, obscures the fact that the Tories are still making statements that dodge the truth, which may only come out when they are no longer able to cover it up. It is disturbing to see how people are still convinced that Johnson is a victim and not that he brought himself down, as he has always done throughout his career. He has a knack for impromptu off-the-cuff speeches that usually mask his lack of direction on the issues, can be humorous and witty, but is that what we are looking for in a leader? The 21 seasoned and respected Tory politicians who were ousted in September 2019, when they opposed him are desperately needed if the conservative party is ever to regain the respect it had.


[i] https://twitter.com/cards_london/status/1472633822495846404

[ii] Asmundson, Irena (28 March 2012). “Financial Services: Getting the Goods”. Finance and Development. IMF. Retrieved 8 September 2015.

[iii] https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/jacob-rees-mogg-economy-brexit_uk_5b54e3b5e4b0de86f48e3566

[iv] https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/jacob-rees-mogg-on-brexit-benefits-fish-fingers_uk_62b59b68e4b06169caa567e6

[v] https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/rees-mogg-government-brexit-assessment_uk_62b338a5e4b04a61736499c5

[vi] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/jul/07/toxic-spell-broken-boris-johnson-trips-over-own-lies

Journalism and Dignity

Recently I started following a German journalist, Theresa Bäuerlein, on Twitter (@Bojerlanski), who writes about “Meaning and Consumerism” for “Krautreporter.” I also subscribed to her Newsletter. She linked an article from Amanda Ripley in the Washington Post, which expressed the feeling I had had for months: “I’ve been actively avoiding the news for years.” The thing is, Amanda Ripley is a journalist, something which she compares with being a wheat farmer with a gluten allergy. Theresa wrote in her tweets a short appraisal of what Amanda wrote in her article, which is linked below:

“First, people need hope. “Researchers have found that hope is associated with less depression, chronic pain, insomnia and cancer, among other things. Hopelessness, on the other hand, with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Journalists often believe that the best way to avert disaster is to make people aware of the potential for disaster, 24/7. That doesn’t work anymore.

Second, people need to feel that they can do something. “…Even if it’s just something small. That’s how we transform anger into action and frustration into invention. This self-efficacy is essential for a functioning democracy.”

Third, people need dignity. That requires really listening to them, not just reporting on them. Like my colleague @BentFreiwald when he writes about children and young people, or @martingommel about people with mental illness. “There’s a way to deliver news – even very bad news – in a way that makes us better off as a result. A way to trigger anger and action. Empathy alongside dignity. Hope alongside fear,” Ripley writes.” https://twitter.com/Bojerlanski/status/1546857726604615681

I couldn’t find anything that spoke to me more after suffering a breakdown with depression a few years ago, and it made me realize that Western society is making itself sick, and that journalists are supporting this trend while assuming they are doing something important to help. We seem to be on an assembly line that is pulling us down a chute with no control over speed or direction. It’s also the repetitiveness of news coverage, especially on television, but also through endless retweets or shares on social media. Statements go “viral” without verification that they are true. People are pilloried and slandered many times over before anyone points out that it is a misquote. The apology is often overlooked because it is not posted with the same vigour.

We need people to start being journalists, as Amanda Ripley and Theresa Bäuerlein intend to do, but the question is whether the public will honour that commitment, because not only do we need such journalists, but we also need people who are willing to look for and pay for them and their articles. We seem to be a public that, having been fed sensationalism, finds everything boring as soon as it points to reality. Of course, it’s not just journalism that leads us down this path; the entertainment industry also tries to captivate us with increasingly shrill and shocking entertainment, ranging from superheroes to merciless military men wading through piles of corpses and showing a sickening scene of mourning for single heroes who fall along the way. When our entertainment doesn’t reach us emotionally in this way, we tune out, but it’s artificial and simulated, leaving out the real emotions that such tragedies would evoke. But that’s the superficiality and comic mentality trying to captivate their audience week after week. Meaningful stories take longer.

Theresa’s subjects, meaning and consumerism, hit home because journalism and entertainment have largely become consumerism devoid of meaning if we take the best-selling newspapers and the so-called “blockbusters” of entertainment as our benchmark. When the only goal of a headline is to sell a newspaper or get clicks on the Internet, our choices are all about emotionality and no longer about the truth or meaning of an issue. In the wake of this development, we have young people who seem to be just waiting to be emotionalized, often in the form of taking offense at some statement, with artificial outrage in an effort to impress their peers, which they inherited from the previous generation, and which was hyped only to make them “cool.” Social media supports this unnatural outrage, which takes on hysterical proportions and is enabled by people with cell phones who are so fascinated by what they read that they block out the reality around them.

Amanda Ripley writes, “the news crept into every crevice of life. I couldn’t avoid exposure — in my email inbox, on social media, in text messages from friends. I tried to toughen up. I gave myself stern lectures: “This is real life, and real life is depressing! There is a pandemic happening, for God’s sake. Plus: Racism! Also: Climate change! And inflation! Things are depressing. You should be depressed!”

Other people have different subjects that affect them in the same way, causing distress in all areas of life, virtually taking them over as though possessed by some demon that whispers in their ear. However, many feel this transform into paralysis instead of the ability to engage with the issues, and they become dysfunctional, and despair takes over. Amanda heard from so many people that they were going through similar issues and discovered that news-avoidance was increasing vastly.

This felt so much like the breakdown I had, although on the outside for different reasons, it had to do with lack of hope and perspective. If you end up in a situation in which you are (or feel) responsible for a multitude of things you can’t influence, although you are permanently pushed to find solutions (“be innovative” is what my boss said), in which you worry about the consequences of inaction whilst at the same time finding nothing meaningful to do about a situation, the body at some point takes over and switches off in some way. This is what many people go through just by being glued to whatever screens are available.

Amanda Ripley says we need hope, agency, and dignity in our lives. Hope as a reason to get up in the morning, something to believe in and motivate us. Agency as a sense of being able to do something, however small, so that “anger converts into action” (Ripley), and that society is looking for that something that we can do. Dignity is something that takes us out of our feeling of being powerless and irrelevant, and finding validation in what I am. These are not new, I learnt about these needs in my basic training as a nurse, which apply just as much to people with dementia as to you and I. The care we offered to people lacking their cognitive abilities involved validation, gentle guidance and humour, enabling them to have a sense of managing their lives, although they obviously couldn’t. If we can enhance such people in their crisis, surely people with cognitive abilities would also be receptive to something similar.

For me, this whole issue has to do with the lack of context in people’s lives. We have managed to cut lives up into cubicles of attention, in which people go from one cubicle to another without seeing the whole picture. Their focus is too often like a spotlight, rather than a floodlight. This is increased by screentime, glaring at cell-phone screens, instead of engaging with the world around us. It has to do with what Iain McGilchrist calls “left-hemispheric” vision, in which particulars are dominant and not the overall picture. The therapy in many cases involves slowing down, taking our eyes off what has made us sick, and a re-evaluation of what life is, of what nature has to offer, and how we operate in our environment. It is re-assessing the broadness of life and rejecting a narrow-minded view.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/07/08/how-to-fix-news-media/

Boris Johnson – the clowning is over?

It has been an interesting time in politics, albeit disastrous for Britain, and quite disastrous for the conservative party, considering the fact that the majority they had achieved has been whittled down in Polls due to events around the leadership of Boris Johnson. The problems are manifold, and centre on a Prime Minister who brought his most loyal MP’s together to form a government after expelling 21 time-honoured and experienced conservative MPs from the party for disagreeing with him, including Winston Churchill’s grandson. The senior MPs, almost all of whom are former Conservative government ministers, included former chancellors and secretaries of state, had admittedly joined with opposition parties to vote for a plan that could delay the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union and prevent a no-deal Brexit. Nonetheless, it signalled a jolting change of leadership.

But that was in 2019, and now in 2022, something like 47 MPs have expressed their lack of confidence in Boris Johnson by resigning the positions they had, some of them in government, so that on the day after this historical 24 hours, government was no longer able to function. Having already had a vote of confidence shortly before, there are MPs now jostling about trying to make a vote of no confidence possible at short notice. Of course, the whole issue is not doing the reputation of British democracy much good and reminds one of the aspirations of the 45th American President to stay in power after a majority of the American electorate made an extra effort to have him removed from office. As we know, that also didn’t happen without incidents that raised concerns about the state of the American democracy.

Boris Johnson, in his last PMQs before the move by his party to encourage him to leave, tried to brave the surge that was already in the air, having lost his chancellor and minister for health. His smiling face and banter with the opposition was obviously not taken well. Probably the statement, that he “probably” met with a former KGB Agent Alexander Lebedev without officials as Foreign Secretary, that he gave to the select committee was the final straw for many more MPs, who then followed suit and called for his resignation by resigning themselves. It is worth mentioning that their salary for the positions held is paid in arrears. As at the moment, he is reportedly resigning as Party leader, but remaining Prime Minister until a replacement is found, which could take until well into autumn.

The Wikipedia entry on Johnson states:

Johnson is a controversial figure in British politics.[i]/[ii] Supporters have praised him as humorous, witty and entertaining,[iii] with an appeal stretching beyond traditional Conservative voters.[iv]/[v] Conversely his critics have accused him of lying, elitism, cronyism, bigotry, and amorality.[vi]/[vii]/[viii] Johnson’s political positions generally follow one-nation conservatism, and commentators have described his political style as opportunistic, populist, and pragmatic.[ix]/[x]/[xi]/[xii] [Endnotes included]

Boris Johnson, despite his obvious success, has always been a bluffer, if you take the quotes from the Wikipedia entry at face value, and it seems that he has always had a privileged position from which to be so. It has been interesting to follow his incredulous rise from Germany and to observe the reactions of Europeans to his appearances. The connection to Trump was quickly made by European observers, and the clowning, which was often portrayed as some sort of affinity for ordinary people, was seen only as blunt populism, and presumably traditional conservatives also thought it was a “bad show.” The fact that my family addressed him as “Boris” showed that his showmanship had paid off to some extent, and the demonization of Jeremy Corbyn helped him on his way to power.

It was also clear that on international conferences, Johnson stuck out like a sore thumb and didn’t have the recognition he had at home. It reminded some of the presence of Trump at his first international conference, though without the blundering attempt to get to the front of the queue, that showed Trump to be what he is. It seemed to me to show that the attempt of the far right to subdue Europe, and show it its considered place in history, was recognised by European politicians and not appreciated. The calling cards of Trump and Johnson embodied the exceptionalism their countries had always displayed, and Brexit was a glaring example.

The curious thing about Johnson, however, is his position towards the Ukraine, especially considering the connections and the payments that have been revealed made by Russian sources to the conservative party and his connections with the Lebedev family. The delivery of military equipment and weapons for €120 million in January 2022, which were transported on RAF C-17 planes that flew to Ukraine, as well as the sanctions on Russian assets, raised several eyebrows, and his position has been, other than Trump, critical of Russia. Additionally, Wolodymyr Selenskyj wants to belong to the EU, which Johnson has always treated with contempt. This apparent ambiguity suggests that somewhere there may be a skeleton in a closet somewhere.

What happens to privileged people who are shown the door? Well, they often don’t go away, so it will be interesting to see if he manages to make a new appearance at some time.


[i] Davies, Guy (23 July 2019). “Meet Boris Johnson: The UK’s controversial new prime minister” (https://abcnews.go.com/International/meet-boris-johnson-controversial-figure-uksprime-minister/story?id=63861394). ABC News. Retrieved 8 May 2021.

[ii] Blitz, James (23 July 2019). “Why is Boris Johnson such a divisive figure?” (https://www.ft.com/content/bd03b736-ac7d-11e9-8030-530adfa879c2). Financial Times. Archived (https://archive.today/20190724054418/https://www.ft.com/content/bd03b736-ac7d-11e9-8030-530adfa879c2) from the original on 24 July 2019. Retrieved 5 May 2021.

[iii] Gimson 2012, p. 20

[iv] Kirkup, James (7 January 2015). “Boris Johnson goes looking for Conservative friends in the north” (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11329569/Boris-Johnson-goes-looking-for-Conservative-friends-in-the-north.html). The Telegraph. London. Archived (https://ghostarchive.org/archive/20220110/https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11329569/Boris-Johnson-goes-looking-for-Conservative-friends-in-the-north.html) fromthe original on 10 January 2022. Retrieved 5 May 2021

[v] Purnell 2011, p. 327

[vi] Edwards & Isaby 2008, p. 110

[vii] Conn, David; Pegg, David; Evans, Rob; Garside, Juliette; Lawrence, Felicity (15 November 2020). ” ‘Chumocracy’: how Covid revealed the new shape of the Tory establishment” (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/15/chumocracy-covid-revealed-shape-tory-establishment). The Observer. Retrieved 15 November 2020.

[viii] Purnell 2011, p. 365.

[ix] Purnell 2011, p. 121

[x] Staunton, Denis (23 June 2019). “Boris Johnson: The UK’s deeply polarising next prime minister” (https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/uk/boris-johnson-the-uk-s-deeply-polarising-next-prime-minister-1.3933181). The Irish Times. Retrieved 8 May 2021

[xi] Berend, T. Iván (2020). A century of populist demagogues: Eighteen European portraits, 1918–2018. Budapest: Central European University Press. p. 239. ISBN 978-963-386-334-3. JSTOR 10.7829/j.ctv16f6cn2.1 (https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7829/j.ctv16f6cn2.1).

[xii] Letters (13 December 2021). “Boris Johnson’s amorality has been proven beyond doubt | Letters” (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/dec/13/boris-johnsons-amorality-has-been-proven-beyond-doubt). the Guardian. Retrieved 6 July 2022

Inclusion and Vigilance

Inclusion is first a positive term that I grew up believing meant including someone or something, but today it means including everyone or everything. As a sociological term, the concept of inclusion describes a society in which everyone is accepted and can participate on an equal and self-determined basis – regardless of gender, age or background, religious affiliation or education, any disabilities or other individual characteristics. The word became a buzzword when children with disabilities were included in classes of children without disabilities to create social awareness and acceptance of disabilities as something normal without stigma. All minorities or marginalized people have an interest in gaining the same acceptance, and soon it was all kinds of behaviours that claimed the right to be accepted as a social norm, and some of them were not accepted. However, the concept meant the inclusion of certain behaviours that had previously been outlawed, and homosexuality was accepted as a normal sexual preference, and though flamboyant behaviour became common for a time, it dried up after a while. It was clear that any form of sexual abuse with minors and animals was unacceptable, but so was anything that was not mutually consensual, posed a health risk, or in any way violated the rights of others. However, behaviour previously considered “outrageous” was accepted to a certain extent and under certain conditions.

However, social integration means participation, not just presence. One example I experienced was a woman with dementia who completely undressed during a church service, or a man with dementia who urinated in the corner. These are examples of people who no longer know what is going on and cannot behave appropriately. They are also examples of people who are more stigmatized by trying to include them in activities than if they had stayed in their own comfort zone. Participation also requires some identification with the activity, and people who cannot identify with it tend to hide in the corner or make themselves the centre of attention, which runs counter to inclusion. It is also difficult when minorities take over activities in which they are included but which are directed at the majority. A certain amount of modesty enhances social activities, while traditionally pride, arrogance and vanity are the opposite of this and tend to be a hindrance.

What is disturbing is that promoting liberality has always opened the doors for abuse by some small groups of people towards people who are already vulnerable. It seems as though the relaxation of control immediately releases the elements of society to exploit the situation and in that way undermines the belief in a liberal society and gives fuel into the fires of those who fear such a misuse of freedom. This means that any general relaxation of scrutiny paradoxically has to increase scrutiny in certain areas, which can only be resolved by a society that is alert to the dangers. I am increasingly worried that we are lacking this vigilance in current issues.

The loosening of self-identification, for example, has already led to situations in countries such as Canada (as well as others) that call into question the radical nature of the determination behind it. In some cases, traumatized women who had escaped an abusive relationship and fled to a women’s shelter were confronted with self-identifying women openly displaying their male genitalia or verbally assaulting vulnerable women with booming male voices. “Common sense” says that this situation is counterproductive at best and at worst provides abusive men a place to continue abusing women where they should be protected. You don’t have to be an abused woman to know this. Every man who is honest knows men who have been misogynistic or abusive in some way. Of course, it’s not something men openly flaunt, but the so-called “locker rooms” and bars provide enough examples. The respect men show for women is flawed and too often reduced to sexual preference. Often the sexual innuendo is mild and humorous and is seen only as banter between the sexes. But too often the intent of the abuse is clear.

I think that the problem is that the sexual aspect of interaction between people is underplayed and isn’t taken into account. I used to ask people, especially women who said or showed they wanted to appear “sexy” whether they were aware of what they were doing, or of what subliminal signals they were sending. Some said it was only about feeling good and confident. Asked what the measure for that was, they often said it was about being “attractive,” which is admittedly an expectancy that society places on women if they want to be in some way successful – but it is exactly the point. If we are not aware of what we are doing, or we have no idea of what signals we are sending, we end up being surprised or even shocked at the results. Additionally, the acceptance of pornography and its influence on young people, does a lot of damage – one prominent example is Billie Eilish – and the wrong ideas that young men get about sexuality are often the reason for abusive relationships.

We have become a very indulgent society, and recent studies suggest that indulgence leads to negative feelings such as regret, guilt, shame, or embarrassment in consumerism. These negative feelings, in turn, cause a reversal of preferences that now align with long-term goals, leading consumers to wish they had behaved more responsibly (Kivetz and Keinan 2006). But also, complacency, greed, and reluctance are the consequences of abundance. It seems that the increase in overindulgence is because we live in the age of abundance. The parents who raised their children 50 years ago did not have the resources available to parents today, and indulgence affects people’s awareness and ultimately their vigilance with regard to potential harm. We must hope that the widespread indulgence and inclusive atmosphere in society do not later lead to regret, guilt, shame, or embarrassment, when consequences of the lack of vigilance become apparent.

Exploitation

The word doesn’t immediately bring to mind malicious activity, because we all take advantage of what we have, be it competitive advantages or even good weather. However, in a world full of unequal advantages and obvious and seemingly increasing disadvantage for people around the world, exploitation can become something sinister. It doesn’t help when people are lured into circumstances they could have avoided with less naivety, but the fact that the abuse of gullibility has become a money-making industry is something many people are not aware of. There are organizations that operate on the edge of legality, running ideological enterprises and making money at the same time.

This is, of course, related to my blog entry on fragility and an earlier entry on dysphoria in which I described my discomfort while growing up, which also explained my emigration. My case was absolutely harmless compared to what some people, especially young women, go through when they suddenly become aware that nature has assigned them the role of childbearing, with all its particular discomforts and dangers. Not only that, but the obvious misogyny that thrives in the minds of men under the influence of pornography, from pick-up lines to rape, is enough for any girl to shy away from the role she plays in the minds of men. But that’s not all, is it? The inequality that has been part of women’s lives for a long time is still present, albeit in a discrete way that can bring consequences. But anyone who is physically, mentally, or socially vulnerable can be exploited, as shown by several examples of men who underwent life-changing surgery at a young age and regretted it.

It used to be common for boys to be criticized for taking advantage of younger children or girls who couldn’t physically keep up with them, and rightly so, because that was bullying. We probably all noted that in some cases girls and women were also known to bully. It was harassment that went unpunished except for social criticism or a “slap on the wrist” when it was allowed, but as an adult, such harassment should be punished by law. Of course, there are laws, and in most Western countries there is an equality law that deals with anti-discrimination, although it is often difficult to prove one’s case. Often people who have been exploited, harassed, or discriminated against are forced to turn away because their case is not considered presentable.

This is really a matter of social cohesion and having a group that will stand up for you and support you when you are being exploited in some way. But we also see how supportive groups can resemble the Crusaders of the Middle Ages who “practiced” their fighting skills on their way to Jerusalem, killing many unsuspecting people, mostly Jews, along the way. Instead of cohesion, groups have been known to pick their enemies, sometimes previous allies, and sow discord in society to attract “awareness” to their cause. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” goes the proverb, and indeed, the result is often not what may have been originally intended. The tendency to overshoot has been observed many times, with dubious results. At the present a cause that is causing a lot of pain is that of the trans-people, who obviously need less pain in their lives, but women are being targeted in the course of the discussion.

Therefore, the one cause, that seems to continually need representation is that of misogyny, and the suffering of women is widespread, has a long history, and by far outweighs the undisputed suffering of people with gender dysphoria, or those who have undergone transition. Women have been exploited for millennia, if not since the beginning of human existence, and primarily because they have the burden of birth. Until there was contraception and later a law made, under which women gained autonomy over their bodies, no woman was asked whether they wanted to undergo the birthing process, and many have died in the course of history, whilst bearing or giving birth to a child, or in the post-natal stage. The youngest person recorded as giving birth was 5 ½ (Lina Medina, from the Ticrapo District of Peru), after entering “precocious puberty.” The father was never found, but obviously Lina had been exploited by a man, although it should be called rape. There are more reported cases, and there is certainly a high number of unrecorded cases.

This just shows how vulnerable people can be, and the 10 million cases of children in prostitution worldwide give a number to this vulnerability. Thailand and Brazil are considered the countries where it is most prevalent. However, the recent conviction of Ghislaine Maxwell, who reportedly groomed young women for exploitation by friends of Jeffrey Epstein, shows that the dangers are very present in the West as well. A glaring imbalance is that apart from Jeffrey Epstein, who allegedly took his own life, the men involved have not yet been charged and a woman is the first person to take responsibility. Granted, there are famous cases of women aiding and abetting, even for serial killers, but it is a sign of our inability to deal with such cases on an equal footing that Maxwell is the only one who goes to jail.

For this reason, it is understandable that women are angry at the overturning of precedent in the U.S. and applause in other countries, because it is a rollback of a hard-won right. The cases cited by fundamental opponents of abortion, in which abortion is used merely as a means of contraception or as a substitute for an ineffective or improperly used method of contraception, are obviously a problem in the eyes of people who regard life as something sacred. The statistics cited, that 46% of women who have an abortion did not use contraception in the month they became pregnant, and 47% have had at least one previous abortion, seem callous in the eyes of women struggling to have a child. There are many risks associated with abortion. With 75% of respondents reporting that they could not afford to have a child, and 50% of abortions performed to avoid being a single parent, the risk of laypersons using dangerous methods will increase.

Abusive parents, especially fathers, are an additional danger to young girls and wives, and of course the absence of fathers is also a problem. According to the United Nations, an estimated 736 million women worldwide – nearly one in three – have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their lives (30% of women aged 15 and older). Most acts of violence against women are perpetrated by current or former husbands or intimate partners. Unfortunately, many “pro-life” people are also convinced that life circumstances are a result of merit, meaning that poverty and other limiting influences in life are self-inflicted or due to lack of faith, rather than birthplace, parents’ occupation, skin colour, or the area in which one grew up. Even in middle-class areas, academics often give birth to children who are more likely to become academics themselves. So, it’s not uncommon for poorer children to follow in their parents’ footsteps – although many from poorer families do move up in society.

This picture drawn, while not complete, shows several facets of the situation young women face when they enter puberty. That a sceptical outlook is understandable for someone who is already uncomfortable in her life and can lead to a drastic course of action should be obvious. The effects of trends and fads on mindsets, which can even become contagious, are also well known, and regularly exploited. It is also clear that every loophole is misused by the most exploitive people in society, but instead of rebuking them, even the worst are broadly supported because they are perceived as a minority that needs assistance.

So, my thesis is that women are the most exploited people on the planet, and the less they can fend for themselves, the more they are exploited. There are obviously many other groups that endure exploitation when they are most vulnerable, but even then, it is the women that have the biggest burden to carry. I don’t want to exclude men, but I have always been the opinion that a man can fall on his feet more often than a woman can, because his burden is lighter. There is also no doubt in my mind that men are more often the victims in war, but there only exist estimations about the total number of people to have died in the history of war, and they have ranged from 150 million to 1 billion, so it’s hard to say. Some say about 36% of deaths are women.

Men also suffer differently; compared to men, women feel pain in more areas of their body and for longer durations. “There is evidence for hormones, like estrogen and testosterone, affecting a person’s pain experience,” Ed Keogh, a psychologist from the Pain Management Unit at the University of Bath, told LiveScience in a telephone interview. Women report varying pain experiences throughout their menstrual cycle, when estrogen levels vary widely. Moreover, pregnant women – who often have elevated estrogen levels – can tolerate the intense physical pain of childbirth.” However, my wife has to smile when she hears this, because, as she says, “What else are you going to do? It doesn’t make the toleration any better!”

The article (https://www.livescience.com/3898-women-suffer-men.html) goes on to say, ““Testosterone may have a similar protective effect for men,” Keogh said.  But he also thinks that the cultural differences between men and women are important as well. “Social and psychological factors cannot be ignored,” Keogh said. “We have found that women will focus on the emotional response to stress.” In contrast, men typically think only of the sensation itself, which may explain their higher thresholds and tolerances.”

To come to an end, women are biologically at a disadvantage if they are left to their role as childbearers, which has always been exploited. A social stance had been adopted in the West, so that women can be protected better, achieve a higher social standing than in the past and move towards equality in opportunity. Part of this process was the ability to avoid unwanted pregnancies and choose their way through life. It has made women stronger and more selective and left some men wanting on the wayside. It looks as though the people who don’t want this to happen are once again fighting back, and women are targeted for exploitation once more.

Fragile

After a while of abstinence, I wanted to revisit the topic of fragility in my blog. For some people who see themselves as strong and resilient, or at least refuse to be lumped in with the victims of the world, this may seem strange. Being called fragile is sometimes seen as a denigration of our personality, but when we do some soul-searching, it usually becomes clear that we have a chink in our armour, and that’s where we usually spend so much time compensating for it.

Fragile means that something can easily break, or that something is fragile, and of course in this context we consider it a sign of weakness. But our life on this planet is fragile, dependent on a variety of conditions such as fresh air, clean water, durable food, but also stable weather and the absence of natural disasters that have made life so difficult in the past. The planet is an oasis in an unfriendly cosmos; a blue jewel, full of life so diverse that it feels like the lavish abundance is almost wasteful. When I look into my garden and the trees behind it and fall into my spiritual thinking, I wonder about the principle of life on this planet. The trees cast so many seeds, just as we find in all of life’s creation, and some bear fruit while others do not. It is much like the well-known parable of the Sower who indiscriminately sows seed that falls on hard ground, among weeds, some of the seed is eaten by the birds, but some falls on good soil that makes up for the loss. It is a lesson in serenity when we see that not everything is thriving, and we feel that it has been wasted. We have difficulty with such an attitude when we see that life is also like that, and we see people on the street who are in a difficult situation, whose wealth is eaten up by speculators, or who are dragged down by circumstances.

Then we feel that life should be sustainable and not subject to the hardships that many people suffer. In times past, people found comfort in the idea that nothing is wasted, that everything serves a higher purpose, but today many people resist such an idea and protest the futility of existence. Some voices expressing this doubt resonate with a certain frustration, while others are more resigned and stubbornly accept that the search for meaning is futile. The accumulation of wealth seems to satisfy the influential, who follow an ideology of endless growth and profit, subjecting all people to their plans. The images of starving children move lower income people to help financially, sometimes beyond their means, while they withdraw from their neighbours and become speechless in the drudgery of working to make other people rich.

The fragility of man is a well-known fact and the subject of all religions and wisdom traditions. The unity of the human race is proclaimed, united in suffering of many kinds: poverty, hunger, thirst, impairment, oppression and imprisonment; so many people today are depressed, in a state of dysphoria and confusion and the list goes on. Ways to get out of these limitations of well-being are suggested, but few are followed. I think that the metaphors of the past no longer fit our circumstances so well, but there is a sense that the “molech” or “moloch” of the past is identifiable with the “machine” of today that is figuratively eating our children and seducing society into decadence. In this way, our fragility is used against us.

However, I think that the people who refuse to bow to the weight of all this and fight back in their own way are right. Sometimes it is pure emotion, and we beat against the metal and stone of immovable objects, and it is really in vain. Some people drown themselves in some stimulant: Food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, whatever they can find. This is also futile and only highlights our fragility even more when we see the consequences of their behaviour. Some follow a trend or an ideology with an uncertain outcome, as a sign of resistance, looking for a sign of strength. In my opinion, it is better to reach out to others, because in all our fragility, our connectedness helps us to become more resilient. Alone we may not be able to fight the conditions we find ourselves in, but together we can.

We remain fragile, and each individual link is not strong enough on its own, but like chain mail, the combined links can withstand the pressure applied to them. We just have to learn from nature and look at the lavishness of how it spreads its seed, and feel free to be as generous with whatever we can contribute, and even a smile or a helping hand can be a lifebelt at the right moment. I feel obliged by the fact that we are fragile to seek others and unite with them. Perhaps, just perhaps, this mutual benefit was the plan from the beginning. And perhaps we have somehow always kept ourselves from it, and each generation has had to learn its necessity anew. They say that we learn best when we are confronted with a problem, and without such conflicts, we don’t learn. Perhaps that is our problem, and the reason why there are so many conflicts today.

I am convinced that we have come into this world as fragile beings to grow internally and externally and to withdraw into the cosmic consciousness that has given us life. Each of us has had our experiences and learned our lessons, even the most terrible ones, which we will end up sharing in ways we cannot imagine. That would be a meaningful existence.

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one

Drying in the colour of the evening sun

Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away

But something in our minds will always stay

Perhaps this final act was meant

To clinch a lifetime’s argument

That nothing comes from violence, and nothing ever could

For all those born beneath an angry star

Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall

Like tears from a star, like tears from a star

On and on the rain will say

How fragile we are, how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall

Like tears from a star, like tears from a star

On and on the rain will say

How fragile we are, how fragile we are

How fragile we are, how fragile we are

Sting

The News

When you use media, do you choose the news you want to hear or see? Or does the news choose you?

If we were to travel back in time, say 100 years to 1922, your main source would have been a newspaper reporting on international events, such as the miners’ strike in Transvaal, South Africa, or the naval arms limitation pact between the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, France, and Japan. You would have heard about the release of the Dracula film Nosferatu in Germany, or the fact that Mahatma Gandhi was sentenced to six years in prison by a British judge in India for insubordination. In June 1922, you would have heard about Lenin appointing Joseph Stalin as general secretary of the Russian Communist Party, or about the Italian dictator Mussolini planning an uprising against the government. Of course, the news we glean from newspapers today is led by headlines that catch your eye as you walk past the stands, and they did in 1922, but people didn’t have the images and opinions that television and the Internet give us, and they didn’t have the feeling of being nudged and made aware of issues all the time, as they do today.

It is clear that we need information to function as a democracy, which is why the main role of the press in a democratic society is that of a watchdog. In theory, the press enjoys the freedom to observe and comment on the government without fear of reprisal and provides the people in a democracy with truthful accounts of political events. The ability to criticize government policies and give the people a voice on key political issues is the cornerstone of both press freedom and democracy itself. Protecting the independence of the press is essential if democracy is to remain strong. This is probably why people of extreme wealth tend to have an interest in owning newspapers and producing their own news media, which are used to form opinions consistent with the policies they want to promote. It is also why authoritarian governments pressure national agencies to be “fair,” which is an interpretable expression.

Investigative reporting, of course, exists both as a hypothetical category and in practice. While I think it’s undeniable that investigative reporting is, by and large, good quality reporting, it has its own peculiarities. The very name refers to a deeper, more analytical approach to a news story, an issue, a phenomenon, or a person. In a highly simplified way, one could say that “normal” reporting is just a sharing of information, while investigative reporting “digs” beneath the surface. What makes investigative reporting so special is an eternal dilemma: Is the role of a reporter simply to pass information neutrally from the source to the addressee, or should journalism seek to explain, or even “correct” reality based on sound professional, ethical, and moral criteria? The investigative reporting figures I revered a few years ago were, in hindsight, biased. But the problem is that we all are. We cannot speak of ethics or morality without admitting that we are biased toward this or that ideal.

In my exchanges with people around the world, for example, we are concerned about the news we receive about the war in Ukraine. None of my interlocutors doubt that Putin is displaying strange rhetoric, especially considering the catastrophe of the 20th century, which was the bloodiest century in history, and the unprecedented introduction of weapons of mass destruction. We thought empires were dead and cooperation between sovereign states was the way forward, with trade relations providing a unifying element that ensured a sense of interdependence in securing a sustainable future. The problem, I suppose, was that this idea was born out of Western individualistic notions that were deeply critical of collectivist and authoritarian societies. However, the modern idea of a policy of approval over all else, as though opposites do not supply the kind of tension that is conducive to creativity, is not what the west has been about, nor can it be. The question is, how militant will the opposition be?

The news is often a mixture of opinions based on information of varying quality. We have to constantly verify the information we receive and are often unable to comply. In trying to comply, we either lack reliable sources, or we know that the source we have is biased, or we conclude that no one is completely correct and postpone a decision. The less conducive alternative to democracy is to turn away and find another occupation that we enjoy more, or to subscribe to a conspiracy theory based on shaky evidence that has no substance other than being someone’s opinion. So, what do we do in such a situation? Perhaps you could tell me in the comments.

I have the strategy of using various sources and basing my decisions on my own moral compass. It helps to have a partner with whom I can talk about decisions we have to make, with whom I have built a 45-year partnership and who I know like no other person. Family and friends can also contribute, especially penfriends, with whom you have a habit of exchanging views, just as the occasional acquaintance that you come across can provide a different perspective. Therefore, the news is filtered through these conversations, and provide a basis to work on. The fact remains that it still remains preliminary and a tentative approach to what will turn out to be the truth.

I’d be interested in hearing opinions.

Dysphoria

There has been much talk recently about “dysphoria” (from ancient Greek δύσφορος (dúsphoros) “grievous”; from δυσ- (dus-) “bad, difficult” and φέρω (phérō) “to bear”), a state of deep discomfort or dissatisfaction. It is the opposite of euphoria. In a psychiatric context, dysphoria can be accompanied by depression, anxiety, or agitation. I hadn’t thought of myself in this context until I looked into the word, but then I realized that I had suffered from mild dysphoria from an early age although it wasn’t called that, of course. I was what they called an “impressionable child,” and it meant that I was very easily guided by other children or adults, but what they really meant was that I followed ideas, asked a lot of questions, and was impressed by things that were outside my given environment. This may have to do with the fact that at an early age, due to the fact that we as a family lived in Malaysia for several years, I witnessed a lot of things outside of a typically British environment.

My dysphoria seems to have been caused by a discomfort with convention and with expectations associated with conformity, especially when returning to Britain, and a desire to break out of acceptable or fashionable behaviour. I have always felt somewhat volatile in this regard, and the expectations placed on me as the oldest son in a family of boys in a military setting, where I only received a sister when I was into puberty, added to my discomfort. I suppose my family would say that there was no tangible forced expectation on me, but there was always a situational expectation or peer pressure that was seen as something perfectly normal by the people around me. In the few circumstances when I managed to break out and express myself, I experienced people worried that I was becoming uncontrollable or even “effeminate” and I had worries of not belonging in that setting. I always tried, of course, but the discomfort had no way to express itself in most cases.

Today there is so much emphasis on the sexual aspect, but that was not the kind of pressure I felt, although sexuality certainly played a role. Having been approached by pedophiles even before puberty and loathing the masculinity that tried to exploit my weakness, I even disliked my father’s masculinity when it came into play. I later found out that my father also struggled with his role and was much more sensitive than I gave him credit for, but he had adapted to his role early on and saw it as his duty to raise my brothers and me to be “typical” men as he embodied that role. I was attracted to women primarily because they were not men, and as long as they did not play the sexualized mating game, I could relax in their company. However, my first attempts in England to socialize with women largely failed because of this, and even at school I found myself confronted with individual young women who played this game, which I found difficult to deal with. Friends who went out with me were disappointed at my lack of enthusiasm for the “mating game.”

Because of my stature, I always attracted the expectations of others, and it was probably typical of the time of the sexual revolution that everything was seen in this light. The village soccer team I occasionally played on took me to a “men’s night out,” and I felt that the deception, sexualization, and evident complicity of women that took place there made me very suspicious of women for a while. This was exacerbated when porn was sold under the table at the next job, enforcing the impression of a kind of femininity that I found repulsive. I avoided women who were suggestive in that way and struggled with the masculinity that overtook my body, and my changing appearance. Photographs taken for job applications show a shy boy, uncomfortably dressed up in a suit, who struggled to be the man he was expected to be.

Looking back many years later, you can see that it was British society that I seemed to associate with my discomfort, probably because of the conformity I experienced there, which seemed almost traditional, especially after puberty, when I was expected by both men and women to be a typical male. I was already looking for a chance to go abroad, convinced that there was a different approach out there somewhere. The Army seemed like the opportunity I needed, but it proved to be a bastion of displayed masculinity defined by adherence to traditional masculine characteristics that consequently stigmatized and limited the emotions that boys and men might express. Instead, as could be expected, other emotions like anger and aggression were encouraged and rewarded. Many young men cried at night in the barracks during basic training, and although I didn’t, I could see that I wasn’t alone. It was only when I went to Germany as an atypical soldier and left the barracks that I experienced a relaxation of these expectations, which occurred out of sight of my comrades. Until then, I conformed and played a role that didn’t fit too well and survived oddly because of a physical appearance that I wore like a costume, or a disguise, and convinced some gullible people with my performance. Of course, around the soldiers, there was still this game going on, and German girls assumed that I was part of it. It was when I had the chance to talk with them that some of them saw something else. Several still accused me of not being sincere with them, because that was what they had experienced with other soldiers. In the end, I found one girl that saw through appearances, and we married. This brought on a final struggle to break out and finally gave me the peace that has lasted, along with my marriage, 45 years.

The reason I tell this story is because I was fortunate in a way that young people seem not to be today. I went through a phase in which I suffered a mild dysphoria that nonetheless caused me to leave Britain and set up home elsewhere. I also had the opportunity to do so, using the Army as a steppingstone, and a widespread acceptance in Germany of British people, especially if you learn their language. I was not drawn into a discussion about gender identity, despite my discomfort with the sexualised society I was growing up in and attraction to activities that were, according to the opinions of my peers, atypical of my role as a man. At a particular phase in my life, the modern focus on gender may have disastrous, and my example shows that the discomfort of growing up may have sexual undercurrents but may have more to do with the drastic changes that puberty brings, perhaps more in girls than boys. Especially children who grow up in a privileged and protected environment often baulk at the reality they are confronted with when puberty sets in, and some suffer this conflict at an earlier age. Some speak of the shock of the first time of hearing their parents having sex, and their concern for their mothers, who they imagine to be in pain. It is a different world we enter when leaving childhood, something like being banished from Eden, entering the harsh reality of struggle in a judgemental world.

Of course, we are also all individuals with unique experiences, and no-one experiences life in exactly the same way. We also have a varying emphasis in the way we perceive or conceptualise life. Reading Iain McGilchrist’s book, The Trouble With Things, he makes a good case for people who are left- or right-hemisphere dominated having distinctly different outlooks, with left-hemisphere dominated people being particularly lingual, and rationally minded, and perhaps better able to take on the tasks of a society that emphasises these traits, as against right-hemisphere dominated people, who are more integral and “gestalt” orientated, and have an intuited perception of life within a holistic concept. The latter may be fluid in their sexuality during puberty, or even decidedly undecided, and perhaps asexual in some ways. This isn’t necessarily a permanent attribute and I have met people later in life who have clearly taken a decision towards binary identities, although they were not so clear when teenagers. There may also be others, who became same-sex-attracted after time. The point is that young people at puberty, and especially pre-puberty children, are forming and need time to sort things out. Some may need longer, like me, to come to terms with the process they are going through and make all sorts of decisions that don’t appear to be rational. The examples of “Gender Dysphoria” that have been widely spoken of and even been subject to new laws, seem to me to be displaying just this ambiguity, and a whole “industry” seems to be jumping on the opportunity to advise, medicate and even operate on young people who are in this process. In addition, a degree of hysteria has developed, which isn’t uncommon in puberty, but which is driving people to life-changing decisions that seem to me to be too early in life.

I became a nurse at forty, and I said and felt at the time that I didn’t understand why it had taken me so long to get there. I felt at home in a profession where my intuitive abilities combined with caring for people brought out aspects of my personality commonly referred to as feminine. I was congratulated on finding my “feminine side.” Oddly enough, shortly thereafter, I was required to use my masculine qualities when I became a ward-leader, which the ladies who worked with me felt was very necessary. It was the combination of these qualities that enabled me to perform this task and through which I quickly climbed the “ladder.” I was very creative in my enthusiasm and effected many changes that were quickly adopted on other wards and that greatly improved our interactions with other disciplines, especially the general practitioners, internists, neurologists, surgeons, and gynaecologists. The way this achievement was recognized was interesting, as different people attributed different attributes to its success. One said that my success was due to the fact that I was particularly a “woman-understanding” person (Frauenversteher), although I’m sure it was more due to my willingness to communicate with people and develop a vision of what could be.

My point is that even at advanced ages, people’s perceptions of “typical” female or male vary and often depend on circumstances. The advantage I had on the ward turned into a disadvantage in higher management, where empathy and compassion were pushed aside in favour of rational decision making, and I found myself forced to find ways to make a bigger profit rather than improve our services. I found that people expected this to be easier for a man than a woman, while I found that it had nothing to do with the gender of a leader. This shows me that we have many misconceptions about sexuality and gender roles, and yet there have been disturbing cases of abuse of minors and of people in an extremely unstable and ambiguous state, in promotion of an ideological position with regard to gender, and of lack of support for people who have found themselves literally amputated from their biological sex and have no way to reverse the procedures done on them. This again, is clearly in the interest of profit above concern, and companies jump at the opportunity to do harm if they think they can get away with it.

I think that in this atmosphere of predatory entrepreneurs ready to exploit weaknesses and weaken people, and in the highly sexualized society where young people are confronted with the most horrific pornographic images and adults are suspected of being sex offenders, it is easy to develop dysphoria at an age when young people are beginning to realize what adult life will bring. The former ideal of motherhood is sometimes portrayed in ways that frighten young girls today, and responsibility and trustworthiness seem to be such a burden that young people are looking for ways out. I know this because in another world I did something similar.