Living in the Future

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When I was a teenager or even younger, I thought the year 1960 was the future. “1984” was the distant future and the year 2000 was the unimaginable, far away, further away future. All those dates are gone now and are part of the history of mankind.

Now, we have the year 2017! I live in a present which was once a future, I was not able to contemplate at all. The last two numbers of years remind us of what happens one hundred years ago. That was a time just before I was born. When I grew up the First World War was still talked about without a quantifying number. It was the World War! That war and its aftermath were so bad that people did not want a repeat nor did they want any world war that had a number attached higher than one. They got one anyway.

My parents were both born in the year 1900 and were true citizens of the 20th century.  While they were growing up new inventions changed their lives. The telephone, movie films, electric trains, aeroplanes and automobiles, the wireless radio,  all those inventions changed the lives of millions. They lived in the most modern city in the world: Berlin.

When I was born, in an almost new hospital, I could not yet know that a madman was already in the process to destroy this modern civilisation. Only smart people could foresee what was coming and if they were able to, they left the country. So much of modernity was transferred to the USA.

All this is, of course, nothing new. There are constant changes and people who bring those changes about have themselves no idea what consequences their ideas ultimately will have. When Gottlieb Daimler fitted an internal combustion engine to a coach he could not imagine that one day it would lead to an environmental disaster.

In 1941 to 1943,  I walked past a tenant building on my way to school in which a young man, Konrad Zuse was inventing the machine that was to became the dominating appliance of human existence in the 21st century, the computer.

The present is always the precursor of the future. We always live in the present but in comparison to what went on before we would have called today’s present the future at any other time.

In today’s world, there are different struggles going on at the same time. There seems to be a religious struggle going on.  I say, “seems to be”, because actually it is not.  It is a rebellion by people who have enough after beeing controlled and exploited by others for centuries, if not millenniums.  Of course. they are guided by their culture, which includes their religion and tribal traditions.

In our European-centric or Western world, we find four main cultural ingredients combined: Roman, Celtic, Germanic and Slavic. All this with a mighty proportion of Jewish tradition to spice things up. Overlaying all this mixture is the Judaic-Christian religion. This is our framework for our  thoughts and actions.

Even if we are not religious we believe in the enlightenment and a basic morality. Apparently, the majority of our politicians don’t believe in any morality. They have been democratically elected to work for the benefit of the population as a whole. But once elected and when they know the ins and outs of the expense entitlement system they go for it like a pack of hungry wolves. They have no shame at all.

The question arises how good is Democracy if it throws up such a mob of parasites? Last century, especially after WW2, Democracy seemed to be spreading. The two shining examples are Germany and Japan. After they lost the war they took to Democracy like ducks to water.

After 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union true Democracy seems to be on the retreat. New governments are still being elected but after the votes have been counted some of the new governments think they have a licence to curtail the rules of Democracy.

On top of all this, globalisation has led to an increase in the influence of big business over the governments. The voters are reacting now by throwing out the governments that appear corrupt and they elect populist new governments which further erode the democratic way of life. That doesn’t mean the new governments are less corrupt.

The USA have voted themselves an unpredictable president who will probably govern by Twitter. Well, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the other day, the future will begin in a few days. We will see what is new about it.

I say, we have arrived already. We live in a future we did not imagine when we were younger. The climate is changing our planet Earth into an uninhabitable rock. What have we done to our children and all the generation who will follow us?

People all over the world don’t want things to continue as they did up to now and they say so in a recent poll.

They want a strong leader who takes the power back from the big companies and their greedy CEOs.

We are living in a present in which the dark clouds of the future don’t show any silver lining at all.

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Life is (mostly) a Tour de Force

 

 

 

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On a perfect sunny day, life seems to be perfect

Life is a race to the end  and it  is run in stages. Some are easy stages, we later recognise as happy times, and some are torturous stages, the hill sections, when we learn about ourselves  and others.

 

We know actually right from the start that the finishing line is waiting for us. But it is rather nebulous and as long as the sun shines we could not care less. The finishing line is so far out that it doesn’t matter where it is. We are happy to complete the stages. Even the numbers of stages are unknown to us.

Some of us come around a bend in our lives and before we know it, the finishing line is there right in front of us and we have no time to contemplate our  fate. It is all over. It happened to me one cold winter day when I fell off my pushbike and  lost consciousness. I might just as well have  been dead.

I  belong to the ones who went through many stages. We believe, despite knowing otherwise, nothing will happen to us and the universe will make an exception for us.  “Pustekuchen”, we say in German when our expectations aren’t being met. All our assumptions are then blown away. The assumptions were just hot air.

A couple of weeks ago, I went   to see my friendly family doctor with a minor complaint. After a few tests, he looked at me sternly and told me  straight to my face:”You have a tumour.” When  he saw my stunned face he added: ” You know,  a tumour!?!”

Oh, I heard him loud and clear. What he was saying to me, was that he had discovered  something in my body that marked my point of destination – my finishing line had come into view. It is not clear whether I’m on my last stage or the second last one. It depends on so many variables. If I pace myself properly, I might be able to add another stage to my life. If not, the next bend could bring the end.

Of course, my adult children are in denial and tell me,  I’ll be one hundred one day. The stage I’m now in, there is still a flat section before the final climb,  and I am still enjoying the race. The sun is still shining.

 

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A Black Swan is sorting out the eggs it is sitting on.

 

 

I have been a marathon runner and ran many road races over several distances and I have learnt to cope with pain. I don’t now how the pain will be in the end,  but I hope for the best. So far, I am still pain-free (which makes my situation surreal)  but I do expect the medical profession to add to my discomfort. It is all part of the cards I have been dealt for the final stage (or stages).

I will still be blogging,  and from time to time I will report on what is happening to me.

The motto of my blog is:

“It is about life, as I experienced it, how I see it and how I imagine it…”

 

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Is this an exit or an entrance to something new, as the mountain beckons in the distance to be climbed?

 

 

Are we a humane Society?

There is so much strife in the world today. Sixty-five million people are refugees and looking for a better place where they could bring up their children in safety. The refugees often assume the nations of the European Union are shining examples of a “humane” society.

I wonder where they got that idea from? We, in the West, believe that the Western nations have indeed achieved a high level of human existence. We convinced ourselves, that since the end of the 18th Century, and the birth of the Enlightenment, we had turned the corner to a better world populated by enlightened people. We thought we had become more humane.

The educational reforms following the Enlightenment produced a better-educated populace. Research and inventions pushed us progressively towards a capitalist society in which the majority of people were indeed better off in the material sense. But the seeming progress also brought extreme poverty in its wake. Henry George wrote about the reasons behind this development in his Progress and Poverty.

The rise of capitalism brought us two terrible world wars and we still live in the aftermath of those wars. That there is something wrong with Capitalism was recognised by a group of people who were members of the so-called “Frankfurt School“. Capitalism is not interested in a humane society. Its interests lay in making a profit in the shortest of time possible. Never mind the victims of this system. Exploitation does not lend itself to “humane” behaviour. The two world wars and the ideologies espoused by some societies surely put an end to the notion of a humane society.

Seventy-one years after the end of World War II we can see the inhumane behaviour of our fellow men in action all over the world. In the Middle East, every group attacks any other group with a ferocity that reminds us of the Middle Ages.

Nevertheless, people all over the world are still dreaming of a better, peaceful  world in which they  can expect humane behaviour. But we are still waiting for such a humane society.

Can we ever hope to achieve a humane society, where love and kindness rules?

The reality of the present is always against such a hope. The reality of the present demands struggle. And as we struggle we alienate others and therefore create the conditions for future struggles.

We struggle because of our pessimistic view of our future. This view is the result of our fears. Our imagination regarding the future has two sides: a positive one, hope and a negative one, fear. Fear is a more instinctive emotion. Hope is an act of faith and not so easily achieved.

The people with a negative view of the future will build barriers, physical or psychological. For some people, it pays to nourish and spread fear and keep the masses bound to the grindstone of debt and consumption.

A humane society would be a simpler one than the one we have now, that is for sure. Perhaps we would have to throw out the smartphones first. We are addicted to the modern world of gadgets and apps. We are hooked on technology and are not a humane society. While we look at the flickering screen of our smartphone we don’t even notice the person next to us.  A recent power blackout in South Australia, due to a massive storm, started a political discussion along party lines because someone has to be blamed.

We lock up people in detention centres when they flee to our shores because life in their own societies became intolerable,  partly  because of our actions and interferences.

All this shows that our “humane” behaviour is just a thin veneer covering our inhumane capacity for greed and domination of others.

No, we are not a humane society. Not yet by any means.

Back to the Future

“Back to the Future”, everyone knows that title from the film trilogy  by Robert Zemeckis with Micheal J. Fox in the starring role. It is with a rather quiet satisfaction that I can say, I thought of the title already in 1977  before anybody thought of the film.

 

The title came to my mind for a diary I was going to write about my first trip back  from Australia to West-Berlin.

Germany, and with it West-Berlin, had experienced an economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder) and I wanted to see those changes.

 

 

I bought a big, fat copy book. Its title is still  the only written evidence  of that trip. Actually, it is no evidence at all, just a thought bubble.

 

Now, thirty-eight years later, it came to my mind again, as my wife and I, plus a large number of my family are preparing for another trip to that beloved city of my personal history.

 

Berlin has undergone another tremendous change from the time the Wall came down. That event changed the whole world by accelerating globalisation.

 

In the meantime, the youth of the world has discovered Berlin and they are  moving in great numbers  to the city at the river Spree. Berlin is a modern city but not a mega-city per se. It has still a human scale  to it.  It is a far cry from “Metropolis” the famous film by Fritz Lang. It is a much more laid-back, creative city now than was envisaged during the Twenties.

 

For me, the journey back will be my tenth one. I always have to catch up  with what has happened. Only in this way can I keep up with its latest development. So, it is  really a trip to the future as I have not experienced the developing city. I’m playing catch-up with the immediate past. Every time I go there a new future is awaiting me.

 

Last time, four years ago, were there,  we had a good time. This time, we go there with our three surviving children and some grand- and great-grandchildren.

 

Will they notice the unique Berlin sidewalks? Will they see the bullet holes in the masonry of many buildings? Will they fall over the “Stolpersteine (stepping stones)” let into footpaths to remember the Jewish citizens who have been taken to the extermination camps during the black days of Nazi regime?

 

Berlin, like no other city, has shaped the 20th century and we are still living in the aftermath of it. I’m a child of the 20th century and all that happened to that city is ingrained into me.  What I know now  made we wary of politicians. When I see or hear  one,  I smell a rat. The next disaster is just around the corner because of them.

 

When I’m there, I’m fully there and Australia  seems to be a memory only.  This time, it will be summer in all its glory when we get there. Berlin is a green city and most of the streets are tree-lined and the city is surrounded by forests, rivers, and lakes in a landscape shaped by the receding Ice Age twelve thousand years ago.  There will be plenty of opportunities for long walks, outings, river cruises, and to refresh memories.

 

Some of those memories are three-quarters of a century old. Like we, as children, being banned from the main air raid shelter for being too noisy. Grown-ups, who were afraid of the falling bombs,  could not stand the singing and playing of innocent children. Who would have thought then of the year 2016? That would have been the  far-off future, yet  I’m living in that future now.

 

People are being made to feel afraid again; this time by politicians who would like to stay in power. If I could speak to the people of the nineteen-forties, I would tell them of the future and how good everything would be. But for us, the people living now, we have new fears. Fears of others and fears of a future of unimaginable heat and rising sea levels. Our present fears  were not even dreamt of  then.

 

Then we were told, by the politicians of the day, to be afraid of the Bolsheviks and the hordes from the East. Now we are being told to be afraid of asylum seekers, and refugee who come by boats. We are being told that they are illiterate, take our jobs, and they live on welfare. We are being told that the ravages of climate change  are just a load of crap. Climate change does not fit into the electoral cycle.

 

What would  the people, living then,  have thought of a description of the second decade of the 21st century?  Then we lived at the edge of death from the bombs and starvation. Death was a constant companion. Today we ignore the real problems and indulge in imaginary ones.

 

What does the future hold for me? The short-term future looks good, as I’m preparing for my trip to Berlin.  The long-term future is promising me a cool grave and a peaceful eternity. For mankind, as a whole, I can’t predict anything. But, I would like to hear from a time traveller how the future is panning out in seventy-five years from now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Principle of the “Principle”

Yackandandah, Victoria, a township existing on the principle of co-operation

Life in the old gold mining  town of Yackandandah, Victoria,  is continuing  on the principle of co-operation

It is good to have principles,

but to insist on one’s principles,

at all times, is akin to fundamentalism

and should be avoided.

To have principles and act upon them is often seen as a positive attitude. We say often about others, “He is a man of principle and he will not violate his principles.”

For sure, this applies especially of good behaviour and is recognised as a good rule of personal conduct to have.

We complain often enough about the conduct of politicians and journalists and accusing them of not having any principles. Oh, they have their principles, but not the ones we expect them to have.

It is possible, that some people have the principle not to have any, bar the one, not to have any.

So, we are actually talking about “good” principles. We live on this earth and try our best to live in harmony with our fellow human beings. Principles will help but what if “our” principles clash with the principles of the others?

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Aleppo, Syria, a city where the principle is, “I’m right and you are wrong”.

If we insist on our principles and the others insist on theirs,  there could  be trouble in the form of a bad argument or even  conflict. Perhaps there should be another principle that encourages us to talk things over. There must be some overarching principles, like human rights.

 Insisting on principles could be a form of fundamentalism. Perhaps the guiding principle should be the principle of approximation.

Approximation” is a term well-known in science and mathematics but could also be applied to human behaviour.

Face-saving” and compromising could fall under the principle of approximation.

Perhaps, next time you have an argument based on one of your  principles you might consider, that you are seen as a fundamentalist or just plain bloody-minded. 

Nothingness and Eternity

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“Death” is the state of “not being” after we have been alive.

We have no word describing the time before we were born. But in fact, the condition of our non-being is exactly the same.

Therefore, we can say, we have “experienced” the nothingness  already; without being able “to know “.

“Death” will only be our return to nothingness.

Our angst, or fear, of death, results from us recognising the difference of being and not being.

Therefore, our fear of death is the proof of being alive!

 

What then is life?

It is but a break in eternity!

Time exist only for the living.

Being alive is standing on the crest of a wave, but inevitable the wave will fall back and unite with the ocean of eternity!

 

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The survival value of a just Society

In a comment to a recent blog of mine, “The Crime of Poverty” I was asked the question, “…does justice have a survival value?”. I tried to answer it and my answer became rather long. I thought, I could just as well make a post for my  blog out of it. And here is my answer:

An interesting question! I would say there are different answers within a society and among societies.

Within a society, justice is important, as injustice, in the end, leads to revolution (as in France 1789 and the Russian Empire 1917). Those particular societies went under in a bloodbath. The governing elite could have prioritized justice, but the greedy, property owning elite did not want to know. The “let them eat cake” mentality led to their demise.

You can ask yourself, which are so most stable societies? The answer is the Scandinavian countries! They have created societies, through the redistribution of wealth, that are relatively more just than other societies.

The human race lives in densely packed societies today. Justice is an important part of keeping the inner peace. The hunter-gathering societies lived in clans and love among its members was sufficient justice for survival.

The storm clouds in the Western-orientated societies are already gathering. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the property owning class has become bolder and bolder. People are not happy taking note of this development.

Populous movements are springing up in many countries. They might not be the solution, but they are the expression of their frustration with the daily injustice they experience.

I learned today, that there at present 3.5 million unoccupied apartments in Spain. Yet many people have no place of abode. People are being evicted from their flats, as they can’t serve their mortgages. The system has failed them and that is perceived as injustice.

There is no social Darwinism. The Nazis believed in the survival of the fittest. The more just (not perfect) societies won the war. Darwin advocated a biological evolution only. Western societies invented enlightenment to create a better and just society. It is a work in progress and at this stage we witness a struggle of the enlightened people and the Ayan Rands of this world.

There is no guarantee that the former will win because Arthur Schopenhauer said, in a conflict between “Will and Reason” “Will” will win anytime. Still I think a just society has more chances to survive longer.