Sympathy for the devil

Geschreven door Erwin A.W. Maas

When I was a boy

Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I was a child, 7 years old, watching television with my family. Once in a while, in between two programs, there were these short intervals about the starving little children in (the oil-rich) country of Biafra: babies, so dried out that they were crying without tears while flies crawled their lips and their eyes. Mothers trying to squeeze some drops of milk out of their breasts and these poor little ones trying to get some of it (mostly in vain). And as young as I was, I could hardly believe it was happening in the same world that I was living in, me: sitting in front of the television with a bowl of nibb-it and a glass of chocolat milk. And when I went to bed in my clean pyjamas, with the fresh odor of toothpaste still in my mouth, those images were sticking in my head. And I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t understand why those people had to suffer so much and I felt bad about myself, laying in my warm bed, my stomach filled with food and the soft buzz of my small fishtank-pump on the background. I felt disturbed: ashamed, disappointed and sad. Later-on I learned that 1.5 million children died being 3/4 of the total death toll during the Nigerian civil war. Now, 55 years later, the Biafran people still want independence, several peaceful groups are still trying to establish a Biafran sovereign state, without success until today.

The past shows that we do not learn from the past

In short: in 1960 the UK ended their occupance of Nigeria. The country originally was homeland to different peoples, but when the British withdrew, the borders were drawn incorrectly and the oil-rich territory of Biafra became part of Nigeria, like happened with many other countries that were set free after the colonial era. The inhabitants of Biafra, the Igbo, weren’t happy with this and declared independence from Nigeria in 1967, this caused the civil war. Here are some interesting articles about the situation that still hasn’t been solved:

On Wikipedia

Article from 1987 about the ongoing situation between Biafra and Nigeria:
On the New York Times

Article from 2000, (downplaying the number of casualties) but describing how the UK helped the Nigerian government during the civil war:

Article from 2016, describing how the Igbo still are being opressed and discriminated by the Nigerian government:
On Amnesty International

As I became a teenager, by the age of 13, I had developed a great sense of (in)justice and (in)equality. I saw the difference between classmates, some (like me) wearing the top brands Adidas and Levis, others wearing shoes two sizes too big and carrying their books of which the corners were sticking out of the bags that have also been used by their older brothers and sisters. They were mocked and bullied by some while the majority looked away, including the teachers of the catholic school that I was going to. I, myself had no problems connecting with other children: I had lots of friends but I felt sorry for the ones who were being bullied and I always stood up for them. That caused me to get into a lot of trouble of course: nosebleeds, punishment from teachers, sabotage of my bicycle, stealing my schoolbooks and much more, but that never made me stop protecting these other children and after a couple of years I had more friends than anyone else.

It was in those years that I also started to be interested in politics, mainly because of the discussions at birthdays between my parents, uncles and aunts and my grandparents. I noticed that most of them supported the neo-liberal political party of which I felt had a set of selfish ideas. I have been visiting other children at their homes often and experienced a big difference between their families and my own. My parents both had jobs, were away from home until 18.00 hours or later, we had a nice apartment with plenty of room, lots of toys, nice clothes, a colour-tv, both my parents owned a car, we went to Spain every summer holiday etc. Later-on I found out that my parents had their financial problems too but still: we had all those things that some of my friends did not have; they wore second-hand clothes, they shared their rooms with at least two or three others, their parents had no car, an old black and white tv-set, there was no money to go to a soccer club, no holidays in the south of Europe, only one cheap Christmas present and most of the days no meat at dinner. And seeing this inequality I developed left-wing political opinions and started joining the discussions at home at the age of 13 or so. I asked why a manager should earn 10 times as much as a labourer, I said that the immigrants weren’t the cause of all the troubles but the greedy rich and the right-wing politicians, I objected the disappearance of nature and pointed out the hundreds of millions of starving people in 3rd. world countries, that I felt ashamed of our wealth and that the adults should stop complaining and start thinking about others instead of only themselves. Well: that didn’t make me very popular, I even remember one uncle saying “we have a communist in the family”. But all that never changed the way I felt, it only made me more left-winged and disgusted about selfishness and capitalism, neo-liberalism and racism.

At the age of 17 I met a girl whose father was a communist and we had long conversations until deep at night, we drank lots of beers, played the guitar singing Bob Dylan songs and the Everly brothers and made ourselves hamburgers and sausage sandwiches with lots of mustard. But my parents weren’t so pleased with it all, it even caused me to leave home and started living in a caravan in my girlfriends parents’ backyard at the age of 18. I was earning good money by that time working in shops in the centre of Amsterdam on thursday evenings and saturdays and started mingling with older guys who were frequent visitors of play-inns with gambling machines and who smoked marijuana and did other things that were very unlike the standards that I was brought up with. That lasted for almost a year, I had to redo one year of school because I was hardly there, although my school results were excellent: I didn’t know about that one law that said that you had to be in class for at least 64 hours a year or so, which I hadn’t… But all’s well that ends well: I managed to pass the exams easily and obtained my diplomas. After 16 obligatory months of being a soldier while voting for pacifist-socialists and the communist party I had several jobs and when I was by the age of 22 I found out in the evening when I returned from work, that my girlfriend left the house taking everything with her but the gas-heater and an electricity bill. But within a week, thanks to the help of friends, family and looking through the garbage in the streets in the early morning hours I managed to redecorate my house again with all second hand furniture and other stuff. About two years later I met another woman whom I married and had two boys with. My income was coming from selling goods for the disabled and the poor and later-on for the protection of seals and whales and nature in general. I was honest to the customers about earning money from it while helping several of those organisations and people were happy to buy from me. I kept on doing that until my 34th., I just couldn’t keep a steady job, I wasn’t pleased about being in the ratrace and taking orders from bosses whom I despised because of their luxurious way of living and I always felt that I should put all my efforts into making our world a better place. And that became more and more important to me, because socialism in the Netherlands was declining, neo-liberalism became stronger and stronger, social securities were being stripped and income inequality grew. I had to stop working because about a year after divorcing my wife I got full custody over the boys, their mother couldn’t cope and I was told that my sons were going to need a lot of attention. I was living in a smaller town 65 kilometres from Amsterdam, a nice town with lots of room, fresh air and houses with gardens, very different than the big city where me and my boys used to live. Although my income was at poverty level (I received only 90% of the minimal social security money, because I stopped working voluntarily) and I had to pay off a lot of debts, the three of us were very happy; there was no luxury, no car, no Nikes or Levis but we enjoyed bicycling through the forests, going to the vegetable garden that I rented to save us some money on groceries, going to the lake in summer or just watching television and playing streetfighter II on the super-nintendo with friends from school while I was preparing chips and croquettes for the children. I raised the boys on my own, I had no interest in relationships anymore, lost all faith in politics and found out that “money brings happiness” is just a conspiracy invented 5.000 years ago by kings and rulers to keep the population producing and paying taxes. Our whole society nowadays is built on that conspiracy, mankind gave up its right to roam freely across the globe and to live their lives as they want: life became all about chasing the money, pay rent or mortgage to have a roof above your head and being punished with a minimal income for being lazy if you didn’t have a job, even when there aren’t enough jobs for everyone.

But basically we’re all in the same boat together: we give up the best years of our lives to be able to pay for our basic rights: food, clean water, medical attention and a roof above our heads and if you’re lucky and you do well you can go on holidays two or three weeks a year. And yes, we can say: “well, we need hospitals and roads and apartments etc. to be able to have all this luxury, don’t we?” and I guess that’s true, we don’t want to live in the Middle Ages, yes we like some luxury, a hot shower, watch television and connect with people on social media, but do we really have to give up the best years of our lives for that? Do we really have to work 5 days a week, 8 hours a day for that? And why are there still so many people living in (relative) poverty? Why are there still almost a billion people who don’t even have sufficient food, water, medical attention and even a roof above their heads if our holy economic system works so very well? Why is it that we can drop bombs on little children but not food packages? Why is it that we can send aircraft carriers to third world countries but not cargo ships to feed the poor and provide them with medicines? Why is it that we can’t treat mother earth in a sustainable way and build our own garden of Eden? It’s greed and lust for more and more money that keeps us from giving everybody a good life, food security, income equality and a healthy environment.

Yes: it’s that same 5.000 years old conspiracy that keeps us in our cages, that makes us dependend on the managerial bureaucracy called “system”, “society”, “economy”.

As a child we are not being learned to work together, we are not being learned to grow our own food, to respect mother earth and to help the disabled and the poor. No: we are being tought to compete, to be a better student than somebody else, to have a bigger car than our neighbors and to go on holidays not once but twice a year. We are being tought to be selfish, to be better than others and to blame the unemployed and the immigrants, to express our discomfort on Facebook in the evening and go to work the next morning without mocking and while at work to act like there’s no other place you’d rather be and to say “yes ofcourse” to your superiors. Thát’s what we learn at school and at home in our childhoods and thát’s how we are still being manipulated by looking at advertisements on television and social media. We are not supposed to think and choose for ourselves, we are supposed to adopt the philosophies of industrialists, big-Tech CEO’s and politicians.

But why complain? Because ever since 1945 we have the United Nations and they are here to protect basic human rights, aren’t they? We gave up our colonies and something like WW II would never happen again. No: we all will be living happily ever after…

But: how come that more people are starving today than never before? How come that we had the Vietnam war, that we have nuclear bombs, 400.000 casualties in Syria and how come that between 1967 and 1970 1,5 million children died in Biafra? Where did the covid-crisis come from and climate change? What went wrong? What happened to all these plans and promises?

And again the big guys have all the answers: in 2030 everything will be better and in 2050 when we are with 11 billion people everyone will have plenty of food, water, medical attention, fresh air and a roof above their heads, just trust the plan: Eden is on its way! (Please don’t mention that in the meantime we still send bombs instead of food to Yemen, we keep our covid vaccines to ourselves and watch the same advertisements on television and social media).

I wonder how many people will still be going to die from starvation and warfare in the coming 30 years…

So I suppose I am considered a conspiracy theorist now… Yes: I believe that the ones designing our futures aren’t doing that just to help and to serve, to make the world a better place for everyone. No: I believe that they are trapped in the 5.000 year old “money solves everything”-conspiracy too and just don’t know how to escape other than looking for even more economic growth than ever before. However: I do nót believe in a secret society of extremely rich individuals who want to enslave us, no: I believe that mankind took the wrong path 5.000 years ago with the introduction of money: from that kingdoms arose, borders were drawn and poverty was born, no money: no food. It became possible for rulers to transform surpluses into something that would last for ages instead of rotting away like fruit, milk, meat. From that time on it became possible to produce more and more in order to collect more and more money, to become extremely rich, to pay men to be soldiers and build an army to expand the borders.

And now they are talking about income-equality, about a Universal Basic Income for everybody, so that not one person has to die from starvation anymore, which ofcourse is a good thing. But that’s not all: it would also prevent people from having to emigrate to other countries, which ofcourse sounds like a good thing too, but 5.000 years ago people were free to roam the earth, there were no borders and no questions asked and because of these mass-migrations our species was able to survive and mingle with other cultures. We learned new techniques and new crops were being introduced into our kitchens. We not only eat the same dishes as our parents and grandparents did, but we also eat Chinese, Turkish, Mexican etc. Diversity is a good thing, it’s not something that we should be afraid of. Migration is a basic human right which we should regain instead of sacrifice even more.

Another basic right that we gave up long ago is being able to choose our own lifestyle, we are being pushed into obedience and dependence. We are being tought to work 40 hours a week, to conform to a way of life that we haven’t chosen ourselves but are being dictated to follow and are being manipulated into thinking we live this way out of free will ánd to be greatful for that too. We can’t say “just give me a piece of land and I will build my own house and grow my own food”, no: we have to consume, live in debts, pay taxes for things we disapprove of and we have no other choice than to accept that. We can’t choose otherwise without being punished with no income and being fined for living a lifestyle that’s different from how we are supposed to live.

So: how free are we really?

But there is one big difference between my conspiracy-theorism and the traditional conspiracy-theorists: I am not saying “they want to enslave me, I want more money, I don’t want to conform to their rules anymore”, no: it’s not about me, it’s about the ones who are starving, the ones who have to flee from their homeland, the immigrants of whom we say that they only come to us to steal our luxuries and our wifes and daughters. Unlike the other conspiracy-theorists I am not being as selfish as the ones in power: they would have done exactly the same if théy were the extremely rich, I don’t think they would have said “I have too much money, I will divide my wealth”. And then: am I lying here? Am I bending the truth? Aren’t there any people dying from warfare, starvation and lack of medical attention? Is climate change non-existing? Isn’t there any income-inequality? Are the ones in power really not able to cooperate to feed the hungry tomorrow while they áre able to cooperate in bombing other countries?

No, they’re not fooling me anymore. It’s too late for yet another set of false promises, it’s high time to say to our rulers and the industrialists, the big Tech CEO’s and the politicians: “first próve to us that you cán do what you say you want to, show us that you are réally willing to make our planet a good place to live on for every living soul on earth, because you blew all your chances over and over again in the past, why should we any longer have faith in your big plans, why should we believe that all of a sudden you have seen the light?”.

Now let’s get back to the title of this article: who or what are we to blame? Should we blame the rulers of our world? The system? Immigrants? Whom should we be pointing at? The answer of course lies closer than you might think, it’s not somewhere out there or someone else: it’s yóu yoursélf. Because: aren’t you the one that makes this all possible with your consumerism? Aren’t you the one that clicks likes on Facebook? Yes you áre: so instead of having sympathy for money to buy your happiness, start having sympathy for yourself and free yourself from this managerial bureaucracy that gives you a false and unsustainable sense of happiness, because happiness lives inside of you, not on supermarket shelves. And once you have found this love inside of you, you will see that only a little is way enough and that you have lots to give. Stop chasing happiness through money and start forgetting what you were told, then you will see how destructive the race for money actually is, to yourself, to others and to our beautiful planet.

So we all, including our leaders: we should stop telling and believing fairy tales and long-term plans and start acting NOW! Because of our own greed, selfishness and impotence poor people are dying right at this moment, let’s dó something instead of just tálking about doing something.


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