Thursday, 31 December 2020

One of the outstanding features of this year – and there were a few – was the extent to which people were grouped into ideological tribes, or to which they aligned themselves with specific ideological tribes. More than any year since November 2016, you had to take a stand on the presidency of Donald J. Trump. You had to formulate an opinion about the Black Lives Matter organisation. You had to decide where you stand with the movement calling themselves Antifa in many Western countries. You had to decide if it is okay if protesters burn down buildings, destroy small businesses, and assault individual members of the public in groups against which the individual can offer virtually no resistance. (Previously, you might have thought it easy to condemn this type of behaviour, but 2020 was the year when even close family members and people in your social circle approved of such behaviour with a fist in the air, or a graphic of a fist in the air on social media.) It was furthermore the year you had to decide whether COVID-19 deserved the label of pandemic, or whether it is just another of the occasionally deadly viruses that plague the world every few years. And even if you agree that it is a pandemic, you have to form an opinion on measures that governments worldwide have implemented to combat the virus. What’s more, your own business, your own source of income, may have been threatened, and may have gone under, due to lockdown periods or other measures. Since November, you have also had to take a stand on the US election. Was it free and fair? Did the media in America give both presidential candidates the same treatment? Did they give both candidates an equal chance to state their case? If damning revelations were made about one of the candidates, did the media treat it with reasonable impartiality? Seeing that there were opportunities for corruption in the election – as with surely any large-scale enterprise managed by thousands of people, seeing that there was more than adequate incentive to commit fraud – political office brings many benefits to the victor and their supporters, and seeing that there was not enough time to investigate any serious allegations – the investigation into allegations of Russian involvement in the 2016 election lasted approximately two years, and in the light of improbable statistics, can it be said with certainty that the official winner of the election is the legitimate winner? Then, to round off the opinion bonanza, there was Climate Change and Global Warming, and the World Economic Forum and their Great Reset; there were the ongoing negotiations on Britain’s departure of the European Union; the debate over whether an adult man can simply declare he is a woman and from that moment on claim entitlement to protection and rights intended exclusively for women; the question of whether teenagers and pre-teens can decide on their own what gender they are and if it does not match their genitals, immediately proceed without their parents’ consent with hormone treatment which can have long-term, irreversible consequences; and the growing bias and political agendas of social media – maybe not a problem if they are politically in line with yours, but what happens if you change your mind? The trend that has been going on for a number of years of people losing seats on discussion panels, or being fired or losing contracts because they said or wrote something that is against the accepted currents of thought of the day, also compels one to wonder if there really is still room for free debate. Can you still think what you want and keep your job? Can you still express an opinion in a private conversation about taxation or immigration or religion or climate change and expect it not to cost you your way to earn a living? Can a scientist do experiments with the knowledge that he will still have a job if the results of his experiments are not popular among social and political activists?

Nevertheless … nevertheless … I am grateful. I’m thankful I’m still alive. I am thankful that my two sisters, their children, and my two dear parents also survived the year. And I am grateful for my wife and partner who makes every day better with her love, her companionship, and her support. Then I am grateful for my health, and for a good home in Taiwan. I’m grateful for our two cats. I am grateful for all the eateries in our neighbourhood where we can enjoy tasty and healthy meals. I am grateful for all the opportunities I have to make money. And – I’m thankful for the pleasant cool weather today in Kaohsiung (13ºC), and for the nice cup of hot, black coffee I enjoy as I type these words.

Be good to yourself in 2021. Be good to people who share your life with you, and whose lives you share. Be good to people who are strangers to you right now, but maybe later friends. And be reasonable with people you disagree with, and don’t burn bridges that you will later regret. And if people are not reasonable with you? Keep your conscience clean and your intellectual honesty intact. And make sure you have enough money in the bank – or in your safe, or in your crypto wallet, or in your little bag of gold and silver, and enough sources of income that cannot be cancelled overnight.


Some questions about the coronavirus


Some questions about the Coronavirus, just to make it clear where one stands:

1. What is the origin of the virus? If the origin is not yet clear, despite the value it will hold to know, and despite technological and human resources available, what is the reason for this?

2. How deadly is the virus? Specifically, assuming a reasonably healthy person in their twenties gets the virus, what is the probability that the person will die from the infection? What is the probability if the person is in their forties, or fifties, or sixties, or seventies, or eighties? What is the probability that a healthy child or teenager will die from a coronavirus infection? How deadly is the virus for people in their twenties who already have other health problems (diabetes, heart problems, asthma, obesity, high blood pressure)? And for people with other health problems in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties?

3. How effective are lockdowns in controlling the spread of the virus? How well does it work to close restaurants and other places of entertainment, and to close schools? Has the type of measures the world has seen in 2020 ever been utilised in other pandemics and epidemics? If not, why not? Was the data on which health officials and government leaders based their decisions accurate and complete enough to make such decisions? At the beginning – in February or March – one could understand that there was not enough data available yet, but after more than eight months the picture should be clearer, right?

4. How effective is the wearing of masks by healthy people to combat the spread? Are there any studies that prove that masks make a significant difference between healthy people getting the virus and healthy people not getting the virus? Are there any negative consequences for healthy people if they wear a mask for hours on end – even outside when walking on a beach or in a park?

5. Since lockdown measures were put in place to control the spread of the virus, how many people have died as a result of the measures, and not from the virus itself, for example from cancer and heart problems for which treatment had to be postponed?

6. What is a reasonable projection for the number of people who will die over the next decade as a direct or indirect consequence of poverty caused by measures that have destroyed their businesses or other sources of income?

7. Over the course of 2020, the WHO has made divergent statements on the severity of the virus, on international travel, and on masks. There is also a spectrum of opinions among epidemiologists, medical doctors, and other experts about the virus and the most effective ways to combat it and protect the population. Yet free discussion in the news media and especially on social media is strongly discouraged. Only opinions approved by the WHO and by national governments get the stamp of credibility. Alternative opinions are labelled “Disinformation” or simply banned. Yet it has repeatedly been shown that experts who hold these banned opinions were right, and government leaders and health officials working with governments wrong. Who should the public trust? If free discussion is not allowed, and criticism of approved opinions is punished, how does one arrive at the truth?


Two most important questions:

1. Is SARS-COV-2 the deadliest virus that has hit humanity in the last hundred years? If not, why implement measures that have never been tried on such a large scale, and that even a politician could work out for him- or herself would always have destructive effects on the population, as they are having now?

2. How many people will eventually die as a result of measures intended to save lives?


Thoughts on the way to Costco


I had to go to Costco this afternoon – on my own. As a matter of course I cast my mind back over the last twenty years in Taiwan.

I thought, among other things, what had been important to me all the way back in ’99, 2000 and 2001, namely the freedom to do what I wanted to do. And what I wanted to do was not waste time. In fact, I was deeply aware of the limited lifespans of us humans, or as one character in the 1999 cult classic, Office Space, put it: “Michael, we do not have a lot of time on this earth! We were not meant to spend it this way” (meaning in small cubicles, staring at computer screens.) Spending my time trying to teach primary school children English was literally and figuratively a case of me being on my way somewhere with people blocking the door, or pulling on my clothes, or challenging my authority when I just wanted them to keep quiet and sit still for one minute so I could get done what I needed to do so I could stretch my wings and fly away to the mountains.

One of the things I wanted to do was write. And not for fame or money. Writing was a coping mechanism. I felt better about my daily existence when I filled a few pages in my notebook, or on my computer – usually about my own life, and for no reader other than myself years later. I still write, but now mostly because it makes me happy – even when I write about politics. I always experience a mixture of relaxation (or relief) and euphoria when working on a piece of text.

The other thing I have realised over the last two decades – the golden penny that dropped, as it were, is that there isn’t a golden penny of secret knowledge that must drop before you can make enough money to lead a good life.

Or, if I want to properly confuse myself, there is a golden penny that needs to drop before you can start doing better. You need to discover what your relationship is with money, and you need to confirm your identity as someone who does have the ability to generate income. The fact is that most people from childhood receive poor or incorrect programming about money, and about making money. It sometimes takes half an adult life to identify this programming, and rewrite it line by line in your subconscious.

The key that can unlock the door to a better future is thus not only knowing that your current financial condition is to a large extent the result of the same thing that makes a computer function in a certain way, namely programming, but knowing that it is fully in your power to change this programming, to change your relationship with money, and to transform yourself into someone who is able to live the life you want to live.


Struggle with a contentious question


To summarise what I say in pieces like “A topic I don’t really want to think about” (December 2019): A combination of factors allowed white South Africans to oppress and exploit black south Africans for over a century, despite white South Africans being in the minority, and despite centuries of sometimes successful armed resistance against white expansion into lands considered by black tribes to be in their jurisdiction.

For their exploitation of this combination of factors, white South Africans have to make peace with their consciences – or make peace with their forebears.

Here’s the controversial point: If it is true that adults are to a large extent responsible for how we experience reality, then black South Africans have to make peace with themselves – or with their forefathers and -mothers.


Am I saying that the oppression and exploitation experienced by black South Africans was their own fault? This is a highly contentious question, and I struggle with it.

If it had been impossible for black men and women since, say, 1880, to offer more successful resistance to the frequent attempts by ordinary white people to exploit and oppress them, and to the laws and regulations of a white government, despite the fact that there were seven or eight black adult men and women for every white adult man and woman, then one must conclude that white people are simply smarter than black people, or more powerful than black people, or both. I refuse to accept this. This is the argument of white supremacy.

An alternative explanation is that a majority of black people accepted their fate, and simply hoped for better days. But what does one say to such a person – who just accepts his or her fate and hopes for a better tomorrow? What would you, the reader, say if it were your brother or sister or friend? Would you encourage such an attitude?

I understand if this were people’s attitude. It’s human. It’s normal. Most people do it. But – then you shouldn’t later blame the world, society, or other people who are bigger or stronger than you – or who you consider to be bigger or stronger than you – for your experience of reality! Be honest and admit it: We were just human. We accepted our situation and hoped for better days, while we could have made a bigger difference, much earlier, if we had been more active in our resistance.

And for the record: I am not just talking about armed resistance and violence. There are numerous historical examples of the effectiveness of passive resistance. Especially if you surpass your oppressor in numbers.

* * *

Some people would want to remind me of the virtual omnipotence of the apartheid state, of how brutal the security police could be, and how laws and regulations made it difficult for ordinary black men and women to move forward in life. No reasonable person denies this.

* * *

Seeing that I have gained momentum with topics one shouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole, here’s another: The groups of Afrikaans-speaking farmers and their families who packed their ox-wagons in the 1830s and moved from mostly the Eastern Cape towards the interior of South Africa, were they powerful? Armed black warriors confronted them in various places, attacked them, and in some cases completely wiped them out – old people, men, women, and children. Yet on their own, without any help from other powers, they established lives for themselves in Natal, the Free State, and the old Transvaal. How did they do this almost a hundred years before they could use the military might, infrastructure, and laws and regulations of a modern state?

And now that we’re on the subject, the Battle of Blood River has always been a fascinating topic. As far as I know, no historian doubts the numbers on the day – on the one hand between 400 and 500 adult Voortrekker men, older boys, and servants, and on the other hand, 10,000-15,000 hardy and trained Zulu impi’s. How did it happen that the Voortrekkers achieved such a decisive victory? Was it just the fact that they had muzzleloaders and a small cannon? Suppose thirty men with knives in their hands storm one man with a revolver. The man with the revolver has enough bullets, but he can only shoot six at a time before he must reload! How on earth can he remain standing?

[22/02/21: According to historian Victor Davis Hanson, free citizens, for a variety of reasons, make better soldiers than their enemies on the battlefield who are less free. I reckon the Boers at Blood River were freer than the warriors of the absolute monarch, Zulu king Dingane. Three other factors played a role in the Boer victory: a compact battle formation, a barricade consisting of ox-wagons from behind which the burghers could shoot, and sufficient ammunition that was readily available in the heat of battle. These factors also enabled a British contingent of about 150 troops at Rorke’s Drift in 1879 to fight off thousands of Zulu impis (stone walls from a kraal and bags of meal provided the barricade). When a British army at Isandlwana that was twenty times larger than the group at Rorke’s Drift failed to implement these measures, they were annihilated by the Zulus.]


People who have been exploited or oppressed, or whose ancestors experienced exploitation and oppression in an earlier historical period, must accept that they or their ancestors were to some extent responsible for their own predicament by accepting the situation and not resisting harder. Accepting responsibility is empowering yourself because you recognise you or your ancestors had the power to do something about the situation – even if you or your ancestors failed to push back harder, for a variety of reasons. Stick to a victim narrative, and you do the exact opposite. You remind yourself and your children and their children at every opportunity that you do not have the ability to successfully put up resistance in challenging situations. In the short term, you can make political gain if people are sympathetic, but what is the long-term price you and your children and grandchildren are going to pay for this position?

I think it’s better to say: “We had the power to push back, but we didn’t do it … or we didn’t push back hard enough, or not enough of us did it. They smuggled with our heads; made us think we were too weak to resist. But we had the power and didn’t use it. This is something for which we must take responsibility.”

The day you take responsibility is the day you are no longer a victim – when you stop thinking of yourself as a weakling.


On masks and a flying saucer


My position on masks:

Point one: People who are suffering from a cold or the flu or Covid should wear masks, to avoid getting sicker, and to protect other people from infection.

Point two: There are people who argue that the government should force healthy people (under threat of arrest or fines) to wear masks because some sick people do not wear masks. If everyone has to wear masks, so they argue, there is a greater chance that sick people will wear masks.

Point three: Some people (specifically on Twitter, in Taiwan) are grateful that the government is being strict, forcing people to wear masks. My opinion is that adults are not children – and the government is not their father or mother. Most adults are quite capable of deciding for themselves when it is necessary and reasonable for them to wear masks – and to instruct their children to do the same. A so-called strict government that wants to arrest healthy people or fine them for not wearing masks? Problematic, to say the least.


It’s Monday morning. Everyone receives a notification from the government on their phones. TV news and social media repeat the same message: There’s a giant flying saucer in the sky above the capital. “Don’t bother looking because it’s invisible,” people are told. “But believe us – it’s there!”

Citizens are commanded to leave their homes without delay with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Everyone should flee to the nearest forest or mountainous area and stay there for three to six weeks. The government, so they are assured, will throw food parcels out of planes.

“Come on everyone! Start running! Now!” the message comes again and again.

Would people believe it? Would they just leave everything as it is, grab the kids and maybe the dog and cat and flee to the nearest forest?

A small percentage of the population has such blind faith in their governments that they would immediately run down the street, screaming as they do. There is also a high probability that they would later, in the forest, around a small fire, claim that they have indeed seen the saucer.

Most people would stare at the sky for at least a few minutes, despite the announcement saying the saucer is invisible. A percentage of these people would argue that, although they could see with their own eyes nothing that looked like a craft from outer space, it was after all the government that had made the announcement. And later in the day the government brought in all sorts of people who looked very official and serious, and these people agreed that the saucer was indeed real, and that people who had not yet fled should do so as soon as possible. That’s enough for them, these people would say. “Let’s go!”

A smaller group would be sceptical from the start. These people would be accused of endangering everyone with their defiant and irresponsible attitude. “Whatever’s in the saucer is going to see you, and then we’re all in trouble!” they’ll shout from the edge of the forest. “Stop being so stubborn and think of other people, for once!”

Some of the people who fled on the first day would become restless within a few days or weeks. “Shouldn’t we be seeing the flying saucer by now?” they would start asking each other. People who took a little longer to initially believe the story would ask in hushed tones: “What if the government lied to us? Is there something sneaky going on here? Why did we believe the government if none of us had ever seen the flying saucer?”

My question: At what point would even the group that blindly believed from day one start drifting back to their now neglected homes? And how would the government handle this civil protest?