Time marches on and headline news fade

SUNDAY, 9 APRIL 2017

Fifty years from now only some history teachers, historians and people who are truly interested in the subject will be able to speak for more than 60 seconds about the Second World War. For most people it will simply have been too long ago, and too many things would have happened in this century that would fill people’s heads.

I mean, how many people today can still converse intelligently for more than 30 seconds about the First World War? How many people during the First World War could talk intelligently for as long as a minute about the Napoleonic wars? And remember: the events of the first two decades of the 1800s were front page news in at least major cities at the time they occurred, and hot topics of discussion around dinner tables and in the streets!

The same question can be asked about the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century, or the Protestant Revolution and the religious wars of the sixteenth century. A hundred years after these events, how many people were still able to have a factual discussion about these events?

Fact is, time moves on. Old history makes way for new history. Veterans of the greatest war for a generation or more die one after another until there is no one left who has experienced that war first-hand. And people’s interests change.

History of which you will only be ignorant today if you are uneducated or living in a cave will in many cases be so obscure in several decades’ time that people will look at you funny if you can indeed have a conversation for more than a minute about it – or, depending on the subject and the decade, a monologue.

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House cats are not necessarily insane

FRIDAY, 7 APRIL 2017

Any sharp observer of a domestic cat’s daily existence will get the impression that the animal lives under a delusion. He clearly believes he is the master of the house, and that all the beds, the couch, the carpet in the living room and the kitchen sink are all his personal belongings. He also reckons it is perfectly acceptable for him to pierce the silence at three o’clock in the morning with a spine-chilling lament simply because he is bored and not a single one of his personal slaves has offered to drag his string across the floor for a mock hunt.

People, on the other hand, have this odd belief that it is good to have an honest view of reality. We believe we must acknowledge our shortcomings. We believe we must recognise if we think something is not reasonable or possible. Since that is our view, we act accordingly. We don’t risk doing certain things. We know our place. We don’t like to talk out of turn.

If domestic cats were more similar to many people, they would be in deep trouble. They would have to recognise the fact that they are extremely vulnerable animals between a quarter and one-twenty-fifth the size of most animals around them – namely humans and other animals like dogs. This more honest view of their reality would lead to cats having significantly diminished egos, sitting quietly in a corner lest someone scold them, and waiting patiently until someone is so gracious to put food out for them.

Cats definitely do not see reality as it really is – they see it as it suits them, and they act accordingly.

If anyone ever tries to make them aware of their delusion, the cat will first yawn with bored contempt, and if he thinks you still don’t get the point he will proceed to rip your new bedding to shreds. You can just imagine how the idea takes shape in the cat’s head: “Honest view of reality? Are you insane? What do you think I am – human?”

The scientist Donald Hoffman said evolution does not favour people with a good understanding of objective reality, but rather those who perceive reality in a way that enables them to survive in a most efficient way.

Clearly, this works very well for at least our cats.

One of our cats on his personal couch

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Long tradition of moving around and away

TUESDAY, 21 MARCH 2017

I am part of a long tradition of people who packed up their belongings to seek salvation elsewhere, and in the process, in some cases, changing their names and learning to speak another language.

There was the migration from Europe to Southern Africa in the 1600s and 1700s, a slow drift eastwards from the Cape in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the Great Trek into the interior of South Africa in the 1830s, yet another migration out of Natal back to the interior, my family’s repeated up-and-move 150 years later, and finally my own personal migration to Northeast Asia in the late 1990s.

To add some colour to the thought, a few illustrations:

Europeans arriving at the Cape in the mid to late 1600s
Trekboers – early nineteenth century
Trek over mountains and through rivers
Trek over the plains
A few months after moving – modern ox-wagon in the background (1981)
Migration to Northeast Asia in the late 1990s – Kaohsiung from the air

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Expensive money, precious time, and how you think

TUESDAY, 7 MARCH 2017

I have agreements with people to be present at certain times in certain places to help people with their English studies. Other than that, I keep myself busy with four other activities: language study, other ways to make money, reading, and writing projects.

I can easily spend four to eight hours per day on each of these activities. Because there are only 24 hours in my days as well, I am forced to spend less time on things than I would prefer to, or less time than what I need to achieve certain goals.

FRIDAY, 17 MARCH 2017

I. The woman at my one school messed up, so my work permit can’t be issued in time. That means I will be on mandatory unpaid leave next week. Of course that’s terrible, but I also thought about what I can do in the extra time I will have because of it.

Then I thought: That money I would have earned next week is not free money – I would have paid for it with my time.

Naturally I need to buy a certain amount of money every month. For this purpose I have standing arrangements to spend a certain amount of my time to buy a fixed amount of money.

The thought also occurred to me that I don’t need the money I would have bought next week for something specific. I can, however, think of a few things I can do with the time I now won’t have to spend. Result: No problem.

II. Point I is an example of how you create your own perception, which then affects your reality. Instead of being upset about the money I would not be getting, I now think of the fact that that money would not have been free money, and that I now don’t need to spend any time to buy that money. And seeing that I need time more than I need money, I am happy.

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Perhaps simply not good enough

WEDNESDAY, 1 MARCH 2017

(1)

A professional tennis player retires at the age of 33. He did okay for himself. He could afford the mortgage on a three-bedroom house in an nice middle-class neighbourhood, and he could take care of his family.

He peaked when he was about 27 years old. He played in the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament, and the following week he reached his highest ranking ever: 52.

He had a good coach at school, and his parents spent a lot of money to develop his talent. He was a pretty good tennis player – nobody could deny that. But even at his best he was simply not good enough to break into the top 50.

(2)

A young boy has been taking art classes for three years. The classes aren’t cheap, so one evening the father asks if he could take a look at his son’s drawings. He takes his time, and pensively studies every piece of paper that is laid before him.

Then he puts the pictures down and tells his wife he is going to take a stroll in the garden. Would she like to join him, he asks.

Near the rose bushes the man expresses his shock and asks his wife what the heck is going on. Three years of art classes, and those sketches are the best their son can do?

His wife defends the child. Maybe he just doesn’t have the talent for art, she suggests.

“Okay,” her husband replies, “but couldn’t we have realised that two years ago?”

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