Continuing the ideas from my previous post, I've been perusing through the works of Sartre, Camus, and Kierkegaard.
The corona crisis has really made my thoughts churn in the preceding months, and I think that these three above-mentioned have given me some clarity as to why we are so rigidly trying to avoid death as much as possible. Some of you may leave now with the idea, of course you would try to avoid death at all costs. Yet, never in history has there been a global lockdown in response to a pandemic. Hence, I find it a discussion worth starting.
In the spring, the Dutch news always published the number of daily deaths, infections, and hospitalisations due to covid19, as if to remind us that this was serious business, and more importantly, that we had a responsibility to avoid more deaths, infections, and hospitalisations. It was Erwin Kompanje, a clinical ethicist, who first stated openly in an interview, that our perception of life and death was no longer realistic. In my own words; our cramped attempt at yet again evading natural life processes is no longer realistic.
In an article in the Groene Amsterdammer, Basje Boer stated about the film industry (Hollywood) that "it makes us believe that we have a right to have prosperity and happy endings." "It causes us to be hopeful when despair would be more appropriate."
We have the most people on the planet than ever before in history, and it is only logical that a balance will be found (soon), because our capacity has been reached (for a while now).
Kierkegaard, a proponent of Christian existentialism, is surprisingly the philosopher that brought me closer to understanding our current mindset than any other. The Sickness of Death brought me to understand that religion brings the promise of continuation after death, thereby releasing man from the fear of death. The loss of religion has thereby created a large portion of the population that has no other option than to fear death, due to the knowledge of the finality of the act. As a non-theist (not an atheist), it has always been difficult for me to understand the blind faith in God, but now that my eyes have been opened to the role of death, the comfort of the protection from fear, I finally understand the creation of religion. I can also understand that societies deeply rooted in religious practices are much more at ease in the face of death than atheist societies (if those exist).
Does of loss of faith explain the extreme reactions of world governments to avoid corona deaths at all costs?
If so, the next step for atheism is to accept death, even to welcome death. As Kierkegaard states "the inability to die is what is to be feared." "Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced."
This week, the last of 2020, is a week of reflection and creativity. A week of solitude, swimming, and development. One of the themes that has been simmering in my mind since the beginning of corona crisis is our seemingly increasing inability to deal with death.
When my mother died when I was sixteen, she was 55 years old, yet she looked 99. She was bedridden and had been hospitalised for years. There was nothing left inside. She was just a shell with working lungs and a tired heart. The official cause of death was dehydration. The real cause of her death was a broken heart, a broken mind, and the crushing loneliness that goes hand in hand with separation. It's an extremely long story that I won't go into here. My father stated that he was thinking about suing the hospital for negligence. I still think back on this moment with disbelief. What was the point of keeping this shell of a human being living? Why on earth would you sue the hospital for the case of dehydration? She had died years before her actual death. She stated it in her letters. "Van binnen ben ik dood, nu het omhulsel nog." My choral work, Mille Regrets, goes more in depth about how I feel about her death.
My grandmother, Joan Bruineman, was an extremely active and strong woman. Being left with four children after her incompetent husband left, she was the embodiment of "when the going gets tough, the tough get going." I visited her during her last months of life. She had turned into a very frail little bird of a woman, transparent, and strapped to a chair so that she wouldn't fall and break a bone. She pleaded weakly to be freed from her imprisonment. I could see the shadow of that strong woman in her eyes, hating her condition.
In the preceding century, and especially the last decade, technological advancement has enabled us to put death increasingly farther at bay. Especially the development of vaccines has virtually eliminated sicknesses that would otherwise have kept the population at non-exponential levels of growth. Cancer treatments and genetic testing for cancer is so far advanced that a cancer diagnosis is no longer a certain death warrant. We are able to live longer, healthier lives. The question arises, are we now able to lead more fulfilling, happier, more meaningful lives? Does the prolongation of life bring the being into question more happiness, or are we feeding our ethical egos with our own search for meaning in life?
Looking at and working with the texts of the Lübecker Totentanz, I am personally searching for my own understanding of what death is, and what death means to life. So far I have come: death is absolutely necessary for life. The day that nothing died would be a terrible day for life. To live is to inevitably move closer to death. Welcoming this moment, or, dying well, shall we say, might be a better aim than prolonging life until it becomes agonising.
A question for the philosophers out there: What happens in the following situations? Economically, socially, demographically?
If a village of 10 people loses 50% of it's population, 5 people die.
A village with 100 people loses 20% of it's population, 80 people survive.
A city with 100,000 people loses 5% of it's population, 5000 people die.
A country with 350,000 people loses 1% of it's population, 346,500 people survive
Another country with 350,000 people, but 3x the population density of the previous, loses 2% of it's population, 343,000 people survive.
A world population of 475 million is reduced to 350 million, with a loss of 25% population.
A world population of 7,8 billion experiences a pandemic with a .015% death rate, at the same time having a birth rate 2 times the death rate.
The second to last was obviously the Black Death that took place from 1346-1353.
The last is also obviously our current situation. Never before in history have there been so many living people on planet Earth. At the same time, we are crippled, almost I dare say, felled, by the relatively small death rate (and the relatively large hospitalisation rate) of the coronavirus. This is a serious question for philosophers out there. How do we solve this magnitude of problems facing us? Because let's be honest, the coronavirus is a symptom of a much bigger problem. Stepping out of evolutionary processes may be a token of our intelligence and ability to achieve amazing feats of technological advancement, yet at a certain point there will be an enormous price to pay.
I was recently having a conversation with my father about what corona restrictions are doing to our societies. We were disputing the loss of freedoms. My father said that if it's in the benefit of others, wearing a mask should be mandatory and should not be seen as a loss of freedom. I countered that the mask is just a very small part of what everyone has been forced to do. The mask is not important to me, but I can understand how it has become a symbol of resistance to the restrictions imposed by corona. The barbarian in me would have liked to stand on the streets outside of Premier Rutte's tower office during his most recent lockdown speech with a pan and a spoon, screaming out my rage and frustration. The cultured rationalist in me doesn't allow my barbarian side to do that. But, my rationalist understands and sympathises with my barbarian side.
Here are the things that I do not agree with, of which I will go into detail here.
1. The younger generation(s) are suffering severe hindrances in their development. In short, we are sacrificing the generations that will need to function as our leaders in 30 years time in order to protect or "save" a generation that will likely be dead in 10 years time.
2. We are losing social cohesion. Every part of humanity that is actually worth saving is being cut off, while many parts of humanity that are detrimental to our health is thriving. Of course, the big exception is the fact that the environment benefits greatly from our lack of movement. The arts, a vital sector for the mental and social well-being of society, has been almost literally suffocated. Even simple social activities such as family gatherings have been banned or restricted as much as possible.
3. We are not solving the problems of overpopulation, which is the greatest factor in global warming, pollution, and overconsumption, in this way. In fact, we are exacerbating them by increasing poverty (which goes hand in hand with high birth rates). Lockdowns have already caused a baby boom.
4. Our function as human beings has been brought down to consumption. This goes hand in hand with number two above. Because all social cohesion and culture has been reduced to the bare minimum, our collective feeling of self-worth has been eliminated. Depression and anxiety rules as we feel that our worth is only determined by consumption. Our homes has become our prisons.
I was watching a recent youtube video of one of my favourite people on the planet: Eddie Izzard, when he said something that really resonated with me. He wants to "Make Humanity Great Again," and explained that he believes not in a God, thus being NON-theist, but in humanity. Thank's Eddie, finally found the right description for myself. Being a non-theist, I can appreciate and respect the community and social protection that is derived from organised religion, without being part of it. The next step we have a species is truly becoming great again by opening dialogue, especially difficult dialogue such as the one we need to address overpopulation, in order to solve the issues that are endangering our very existence.
Two incidents, an incapable government.
Yesterday, while I was bringing my daughter to her waterpolo practice, there were four people unabashedly setting off fireworks in the parking lot. I have a huge fear of fireworks because of some idiots who threw it at me when I was pregnant. Moving on, this swimming pool is a government owned facility, fireworks are illegal, and my children and I were biking past. All reasons why I was perfectly in the right of asking them not to set off fireworks while we were passing. If you don't know the state of Dutch street culture, you do now. Of course they started yelling at me, insulting me, and threatening me. I tried to ignore them as much as possible, parked my daughter's bike somewhere else, and got her as fast as possible into the building so that I could get on my way.
A police car drove slowly by WITHOUT STOPPING OR DOING ANYTHING. I called the non-emergency number and asked them to clarify, whereupon they told me that it is not their responsibility to address illegal fireworks, but that of the city's. If I wanted to report the problem, I had to fill in an online form. Seriously, in order to get someone to go to the spot (probably 2 days later than the incident), I had to fill in an online form.
Totally incompetent, that is what the Dutch government is. Bunch of sheep mewing after one another, just letting the wolves eat them from within.
Now for the other incident. Feeling snotty and with slight throat pain, I thought that a corona test would be smart. Calling on Monday, I was told that the only location close to my house (Amsterdam Noord) was either closed or unavailable until next week. The man on the phone could not tell me why. I told him to forget it. I decided to wait another day to see if the symptoms disappeared. That is obviously not a good way to act in a pandemic, but I had no appointments to go to and could stay at home so...
Because I heard from colleagues the following day that there were some people infected, I decided that I couldn't turn around it anymore, I had to get tested. I called again, explained my predicament (don't have a car, not willing to bike 1 hour... stupid elitists that think that everybody *should* have car), the lady on the telephone found a spot on Thursday in the Amsterdam Noord location (this was Tuesday). Better than nothing, so I agreed. Get friendly with your couch in the meantime. Wednesday rolled around, and I kept the kids from school just in case, but that evening they would go to their dad, and they were already upset at having to miss school, activities. I decided to just go for the rapid test. It costs 70 euros, but my employer will pay for it, and this effort of waiting for Thursday until Saturday for the results is just ridiculous.
I signed up online, got my appointment within 1 hour, biked there with the kids, and got my result within ten minutes via my email. Negative. I can move on with life.
Now how is it possible that a private company can give me so much better service at a vastly more efficient rate, than the government who is so clumsily lumbering along with this pandemic?
Why is it seemingly impossible to just provide rapid testing to the public? Why is this bureaucratic, expensive mess of a testing system (you have to make an appointment with a real person on the telephone, likewise you get your results from a telephone call from a real person) used if it can clearly be done in a cheaper, faster manner with an online appointment and results system?
Today I'd like to spend some time talking about the older generation. There are several contexts I could delve into, but I'd like to start with the corona crisis.
I'll start this discussion with an incident that occurred quite recently. I woke up with a slightly stuffy nose and a very slight tingle in my throat. Realising that being overly cautious is a benefit to others in this corona-age, I cancelled my appointments for the day (including a rehearsal, thereby losing 150 euros), and decided to stay at home. However, I did still have to bring my children to and from school, and decided to stay as far away from others as possible. As I was waiting on the curb at my children's school for them to get out, an elderly heavy set Surinaams man shuffled by me, passing about 12 inches from my head. I could not retreat to give him space, because I was leaning against a railing. I asked him politely and in a calm voice to keep distance before he passed me. As soon as I had uttered the words, the man began a tirade against me, telling me to fuck off and numerous other rude accusations and words. There was a classroom playing about 6 meters away that could hear the whole verbal explosion.
Now you may think that this may be just a strange incident, but it is not the exception to what I have been observing in the last couple of weeks. Another example: yesterday (I had no cold symptoms) while I was bringing my kitten to the vet for his second vaccination, I waited outside until the exact minute of my appointment so that I would not be unnecessarily crowding the waiting room. And elderly man walked jovially past and asked me if I was waiting. I told him that I had an appointment and was waiting for my time. "Oh but I just need to buy something from the counter." He and his wife walked in and waited in a crowded space with three others, while his mask was under his chin. He spoke to everyone, petted other people's pets, and seemed not to have a care in the world. The assistance likewise did not ask anybody to wait outside or keep distance. After ten more minutes of waiting, I left without the vaccination.
The problem that I have with these two incidents is that the younger generations are suffering and will eventually pay for all of the terrible decisions of the older generations. The youth is confined, not allowed to develop, restricted in every which way. Culture has been granted a death wish. Everything that is worth living for, that brings any sense of joy, (even just seeing family members) has been severely restricted or even completely cut off. And WHY? To protect the weak, to not overload the health system. We say "stank voor dank" in Dutch. Stink for thanks. That's how I feel about the man that told me to go fuck myself. Love your neighbour, love even your enemy. I'm having a hard time with that.
Now who is to blame that we have such a huge percentage of weak and immune compromised population?
I'm currently working on a killer aria from Vivaldi's Griselda entitled Agitata da due venti. While I may not be so great at immensely expanded legato lines, virtuoso florid passages are my forte, so this aria is right up my alley. For many opera lovers, you may be intensely familiar for Cecilia Bartoli's recordings of this aria. She was, at the time, also criticised for her facial expressions whilst singing. Looking back at her performance, I personally do not notice anything out of the ordinary, but perhaps I'm guilty of the same contortions of the face, or I have gotten used to her manner of singing.
My point in bringing this us up is that I have used this aria for my next video creation. I am covering this aria with my own lyrics, and renamed it 2020 was a disaster. I think that I have a pretty complete list of all the major calamities that happened in 2020. Did I forget one after it comes out? Let me know in the comments.
This piece is extremely fun and farcical, and is meant to assuage the pain and not at all to ridicule.
Stay tuned! The youtube premiere is scheduled for December 5th, 2020 at 20:30 Amsterdam time. https://youtu.be/7V3akoC8wnU
My opening statement in the song Endless Promise is the question, “Does Democracy work?” It is a genuine question, formed after a lifetime of unequivocal bafflement about the goings of the world.
Let me start with an anecdote which might show the origins of my bafflement. When I was eight years old, I was already acquainted with the fact that the burning of fossil fuels was extremely detrimental to our habitat, and that driving cars was a method of transportation that needed to be eliminated as soon as possible. I told my dad that when I grew up, I would send a letter to the President so as to address the problem, assuming that he (the President) would fix the situation. This was 1989, and George Bush Senior was the POTUS. My father responded, “You don’t have to wait until you grow up, you can write him now”. That evening my letter was prepared and ready to make its trip to the White House. Here are the (rather blunt) contents of my letter.
Dear President Bush,
I would like everybody to stop driving cars because it wastes gas and that is almost gone. Instead I would like to ride bikes and horses. If we find anybody driving a car then they would go in jail for two years but a police, if it is an emergency, then the police or firetruck could go in a car.
My name is Hebe de Champeaux
(I then proceeded to write my phone number, complete address.)
Looking back, my childish solution to the problem is laughable In its ridiculousness. However thirty years later, there has been no improvement in the situation that I then so astutely observed. In fact, this particular problem has been increased exponentially. I was naive to think, ten years later and reaching the end of my teens, and wearing my “Save the Whales” T-shirt, that eventually the auto industry and the population sustaining it would be forced in the direction of efficiency due to a dwindling supply. How bizarre was it to witness, while Europe had long since embraced smaller “eco” cars, that cars in the United States just kept increasing in size and weight. How frustrating was it to see that in the almost forty years of my existence, virtually nothing had been done to build proper infrastructure so as to wean the American population from their unnecessary and highly toxic oil addiction. Europe, the Middle East, and Asia are hardly better. How depressing it was to see the dwindling supply simply be topped up again by fracking. I guess that it will be no surprise that President Bush’s reply to my letter was a pacifying thank you for your concern accompanied by a picture of him with his wife and dog on the White House lawn.
Your question may arise, yes, but what does this have to do with democracy? Liberal democracy, with its focus on human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and a free market economy, has coincided not only with the enormous expansion of welfare and technological innovation, but also with uninhibited exponential population growth (due to the the previously mentioned) and subsequent ravenous use of resources. While the protection of human rights is an admirable achievement for humanity, I describe the ravenous use of resources as “you (also) have the freedom to be an asshole.” What is missing in worldwide constitutional legislation is the protection of future generations. You may even say that, in the case of the USA, the founding fathers never took into account that there may come a day in which the very existence of the human race would be threatened by its own success.
There is no doubt that we are heading for a full-on collision in the form of the sixth extinction. Those who wave this away as unimportant don’t understand that a great portion, perhaps all of humanity will die prematurely due to the forces (caused by our use of fossil fuels and exponential population grown) causing the sixth extinction. This imminent calamity has continually petrified me. I avoided a career in the sciences because the truth was too painful. Hiding away in the music industry was, for decades, an easier way to shut it out and focus on the positive sides of our achievements.
I cannot however, hide anymore. Liberal democracy, with its unhealthy marriage to the free market economy, is allowing too much “freedom to be an asshole.” It is stealing the future in exchange for the comforts of the present.
The time to lay the foundation for a new democracy, should a portion of us survive the flood, is now. First and foremost is that the continuation of the human race should be the first priority, meaning that sustainable use of Earth’s resources must be managed. Our advancing technology, which has enabled us to evade the natural forces of natural selection and to prolong life, also necessitate a worldwide population plan, based on the capacity of the Earth to feed the population without the use of fossil fuels. And lastly, human rights need to be paired with human responsibilities.
Can we do this? Can we use our immense capacity of the pursuit of knowledge to ensure our sustainable survival?
Mille regrets de vous abandonner
Et d’être éloigné de votre visage amoureuse
J’ai si grand deuil et peine douloureuse
Qu’on me verra vite mourir.
When you breath I die.
I die a little inside.
I wrote this piece in June of 2020, during the end of the first lockdown (corona). Originally, it was intentioned to capture the emotional conflicts of confining the elderly in retirement homes for their own safety. The old French texts are contrasted with the dissonant English ones. The virus announces its arrival like a persistent thorn.
However, I have been delving deeper into my own past, thinking back to a mother who would have now been elderly, had she lived. These texts are particularly relevant to the remorse I feel about my role in her last years, about how she ended. It was my telephone call during my yearly visit, about her seeing and hearing people in the room that weren’t there, that lead to her hospital “imprisonment.” The texts that I use in this video come from a few important moments out of her (unpublished) memoirs. They are a priceless view into a creative and vital, yet tragic mind. How her life ended in lonely tragedy Is a symbol for how I see to what direction humanity is heading. The needs of one usurps the life of another. How can we combat the emptiness of plenty? How can we repair all of the broken relationships that cause such pain and suffering?
Here is the English translation the Dutch texts
Man must follow his fate.
I am dead inside, now just the casing (shell) must follow.
I would rather die amongst my own people on the ground where I was raised.
It is evening in New Orleans and I am playing in Footfalls. Beckett’s Footfalls.
I dying of nerves, but inwardly I know that if the first word is right, it will be ok.
I know that it will be allright. I know what I am doing.
After that it’s just a matter of discipline and reserve.
Contain those emotions until the last syllable.
There are fifteen people in the audience.
I am playing the role of my life, and there are fifteen people in the audience.
Hilarious. To die for.
“Daddy, she keeps falling asleep. She can’t hold her head up anymore.
And she sees people in the room that aren’t there.”
There are many interpretations of Beckett’s work.
I don’t care about them.
I know what this work is about.
Io know every millimeter of this strange mother-daughter relationship, even though it doesn’t even remotely resemble that of mine with my own mother.
Therefore I trust in my intuition and fantasie.
The light goes out. A last wave. It’s going begin.
Slowly and precisely I drag my footsteps. And far, very far away, I hear my first two words.
It is just as if a piece of my body is gone.
The memories of us…
It crushes me.