Random thoughts from April to December 2019


It is almost a full-time job these days to keep abreast of all the issues buzzing in the media if you want to express your opinion every now and then and not sound stupid. There’s nuclear power, human-related global warming, immigration, right to privacy, freedom of speech, gun rights, use of antibiotics on humans and animals, Donald Trump and Brexit, use of chemicals in agriculture, genetic modification, elites against populists, tax policy, gender politics, people who were born with a Y chromosome and developed into adult males who currently identify as women and participate in sports against other people who were born without a Y chromosome and developed into adult females.

Who can keep up?

Strange thing is, you can’t even talk about these topics, or start expressing an opinion without first making sure which of the basic rules that were accepted until recently in dialogue and debate are still applicable. Does scientific research still matter? Does it matter if ideas have been tested according to accepted scientific methodology, have yielded certain results, have been re-tested and yielded similar results? Is there still room for logical reasoning? Can one still say something is true, or not true?

TUESDAY, 14 MAY 2019

Connections between my native South Africa and my adopted homeland of Taiwan

The United East India Company established a re-supply and layover station in the southwesternmost tip of Africa in the mid-seventeenth century. The family trees of millions of South Africans (including my own family) have ultimately grown and branched out from the original Dutch fortress to the rest of Southern Africa.

The very same United East India Company had already established a presence in southern Taiwan, then known as Formosa, in the early seventeenth century.

There’s one big difference between the two places. The Cape of Good Hope was in the middle of nowhere – which is why it was a good place for a refreshment post. Taiwan, on the other hand, was the centre of commercial activity: Tokugawa Japan to the north, Ming China to the west, and Spanish Philippines to the south. Then there were the Portuguese in Macau, and the waters between the places were infested with pirates who in some cases had lucrative relations with the Dutch, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Spaniards, and the Portuguese.

One similarity between the two Dutch fortresses: local people who had to quickly figure out how to deal with the pale faces with their long hair, and their tubes blowing deadly balls. In the Cape it was the Khoikhoi (also called Khoekhoen) – nomadic cattle farmers, and the San – who were hunter-gatherers. In Taiwan, there were about two dozen Austronesian tribes who were mostly hunters, and occasionally traded with Chinese visitors to the island (before the Dutch arrived).

Another difference is what happened to the Dutch. In South Africa they, and other Europeans, formed the foundation of the white population of present-day South Africa. The Dutch language in the form of Afrikaans, as well as European religion and culture are to this day part of the South African nation. In Taiwan, Dutch control of mostly the western coast of the island was challenged by Ming loyalist Chen Cheng-gong a few decades after their arrival. By 1662, the Dutch had finally lost the battle. Nearly all the survivors, except for a few women taken hostage by the new master of Taiwan, left the island. Only a small number of buildings and some stone walls from the era remain standing to this day.


I, like most people, fear bad news. It will deprive me of my happiness, I reckon, undermine my sense of general well-being, even deprive me of my right to happiness (“How can I be happy if …?”).

Three points about this:

1. It is a proven fact that you find more effective solutions to problems, and better prepare yourself for setbacks, if you maintain a good baseline for personal happiness most of the time.

2. Your baseline happiness will take a hit when you hear bad news, but it will eventually recover.

3. In every city, town, and hamlet in the world people get bad news on a daily basis – especially the kind you don’t recover from overnight, such as the death of a loved one. If enough people believed that it would be inappropriate for them to ever experience happiness again, it would have a similar effect on the community as a deadly virus. Within a few short years there would only be a minority of people left who would still be considered entitled to happiness (difficult to say how even that would be possible, given how connected people are to each other these days).


I would have to address the issue at some point that I was attracted to socialism for a period of my life, even after realising in late 2003 that my personal beliefs are more in line with classical liberalism than with Marxism/Communism.

The key thought: For me, a socialist state was a world where you wouldn’t feel like a loser just because you weren’t good at “making money”. And for a long time in my life, I thought of myself as exactly that person.


In my mid-twenties and early thirties … I was always looking for seeds that I could plant, something that could bring me a return. “If I could only get the right seed, I’ll prosper!” I thought. Lots of seed came my way, more than I could ever plant. I spent money on seeds, thinking that the seeds you buy would be of better quality than the seeds you get for free. Then I’d plant the seed, and not much would come up (“what am I doing wrong?”). Or the yield was too meagre, or the plant died.

Was the seed bad? Some of it was, but enough was of high enough quality.

The problem was the soil. I never prepared the soil for the seed.

How should I have prepared the soil – myself and my mindset – for the seed from the beginning, from my early twenties? I should have quit smoking, eaten healthier, gotten enough rest and exercised every day. I should have expanded my skills – another language, business writing, basic psychology, persuasion skills, basic web design, graphic software … not necessarily to make money with it, just to prepare the soil.


Years after you made mistakes or walked down the wrong paths, you’re still stuck with the result – with the scars, and the crippled legs or crooked arms. It’s like Morgan Freeman’s character in the film Shawshank Redemption said to the parole officer after a few decades in prison: “There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that.”

What do you do? You accept responsibility for your actions. You then continue to live as someone better – not as the same person who made specific mistakes or committed transgressions. You do better. You live better. You work hard to be a new person. Every morning when we wake up, each of us has the opportunity to renew ourselves mentally, and to start a physical process that could later be regarded as nothing less than a rebirth.