On Hopelessness

“There are no hopeless situations there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.”

– Clare Boothe Luce

On a Nice House

“What is the good of having a nice house without a decent planet to put it on?”

– Henry David Thoreau


Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, almost all symbols of the former German Democratic Republic (DDR in German) have been removed. Regardless of the fact that former inhabitants of the DDR now live in a predominantly free-market economy, many still prefer to purchase household items that remind them of life in the old republic.

This socio-economic and sociocultural phenomenon is known in Germany as Ostalgie; it is a portmanteau that describes nostalgia for East Germany combining the German words Nostalgie meaning ‘nostalgia’ and Ost meaning ‘east’.

‘Now some people are longing for the old hermit’s cell like a childhood treehouse. That’s harmless; West Germans find it horrifying, East Germans find it touching.’ – Christoph Dieckmann (10 December 1993) “Der Schnee von gestern”, Die Zeit

‘The archival practices of collection and display can have a similar, if unintended, implication. Imagine what it must be like for many eastern Germans to walk into a museum and be surrounded by the things in their own living rooms. The effect of such historicizations of the present is uncanny (in the sense of a ‘strangeness of that which is most familiar’ [Ivy 1995:23]); The past is connected to the present by distancing it in space and time. […]

‘Ostalgic’ practices reveal a highly complicated relationship between personal histories, disadvantage, dispossession, the betrayal of promises, and the social worlds of production and consumption. These practices thus not only reflect and constitute important identity transformations in a period of intense social discord, but also reveal the politics, ambiguities, and paradoxes of memory, nostalgia, and resistance, all of which are linked to the paths, diversions, and multiple meanings of East German things.’

– Berdahl, Daphne (1999) ‘(N)Ostalgie’ for the present: Memory, longing, and East German things, Ethnos, 64: 2, 192—211

Bureaucracy and Suicide in the DDR

‘The statistics office on Hans Beimler Street counts everything, knows everything. How many shoes I buy a year: 2,3. How many books I read a year: 3,2. And how many pupils graduate with straight A’s every year: 6347. But there is one thing they don’t count, maybe because even bureaucrats find it painful, and that’s suicides[1]. If you call Beimler Street to ask how many people between the Elbe and the Oder, between the Baltic Sea and the Ore Mountains have been driven to their death by despair, our numbers oracle is silent. But it may just note your name for State Security… Those grey men who ensure safety in our land… and happiness.

In 1977, our country stopped counting suicides[2]. They called them ‘self-murderers’. But it has nothing to do with murder. It knows no bloodlust, no heated passion, it knows only death, the death of all hope. When we stopped counting, only one country in Europe drove more people to their death: Hungary. We came next, the land of Real Existing Socialism.’

– Translated from Wiedemann. M. et al. (Producer), Henckel von Donnersmarck. F. (Director). (2006). Das Leben Der Anderen [Motion Picture]. Germany: Buena Vista International

[1] Freitoden, from the singular Freitod, a euphemistic term meaning ‘suicide’, literally: “free death”.

[2] Selbstmorden, from the singular Selbstmord, a dysphemistic term meaning ‘suicide’, literally: “self murder”.

Self-interests in Politics

Plantagenet: You’re very young. I don’t think you’ve thought about this very much.

Silverbridge: But I have sir, I have developed my own ideas. We’ve got to protect ourselves against those radicals and communists.

Plantagenet: Do your politics begin and end with your own self-interests? You’re advocating self-protection.

Silverbridge: Not only our own protection, sir, but that of our class. The people will look after themselves, but we are so few and they are so many that we will have quite enough to do.

Plantagenet: You would desert a family allegiance of centuries for such childish thinking as that?

Silverbridge: I know I’m a fool sir. Perhaps that’s why I’m a Tory. Well, the radicals are always saying that it must be a fool, so perhaps a fool ought to be a Conservative. I am very sorry if this upsets you father.

Plantagenet: I will not be upset sir, but I thought you had studied the conservative philosophy with some serious thought and consideration, but as it is…

– Lisemore, M. (Producer), David, H. and Wilson, R. (Directors). (1974). The Pallisers [Television Series]. United Kingdom: BBC

The Global Village

Small numbers are easier to comprehend for our feeble brains than enormous ones. Consider, it is easier to comprehend how a society of a few dozen people would look like, than to review a society of billions.

With that in mind, if we pretend humanity consists of 100 individuals living in a single village, how would that village look like? In other words, what kind of world are we living in? Using global data from 2009 and onwards, the following results emerge:

If the world were a village of 100 people,

  • (Age) There are 70 adults and 30 children.
  • (Air) There are 68 people who breathe clean air, the other 32 breathe polluted air.
  • (Computer) There are 7 people who own a computer and 93 who do not.
  • (Education) There is one person with a higher education, the other 99 never studied.
  • (Electricity) There are 76 people with access to electricity, the other 24 do without it.
  • (Energy) There are 20 people who consume 80% of all the energy, the other 80 consume the remaining 20%.
  • (Food) There is one person dying of starvation; 20 are undernourished; 50 do not have a reliable source of food and are hungry most of the time; 30 always have enough to eat; 15 are overweight.
  • (Gender) There are 52 women and 48 men.
  • (HIV) There are 99 people without HIV, one with.
  • (Language) There are 17 people who speak Chinese, 9 who speak English, 8 Hindi, 6 Russian, 6 Spanish and 4 who speak Arabic; the other 50 speak different languages.

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • (Literacy) There are 86 people who are literate and 14 who are illiterate.
  • (Money) There are 6 people who own 59% of all the money; 74 people own 39%; and the remaining 20 people own a mere 2%.
  • (Nationality) There are 61 Asians, 13 Africans, 13 North/South Americans, 12 Europeans and 1 person from Oceania.
  • (Population) There are 2 births a year; one death.
  • (Race) There are 70 people who are not ‘white’, and 30 who are.[1]
  • (Religion) There are 33 Christians, 24 non-believers, 19 Muslims, 13 Hindus, 6 Buddhists and 5 people who believe there are spirits in all natures.
  • (Safety) There are 52 people who can speak and act according to their conscience; the other 48 – due to harassment, imprisonment, torture or death – cannot.
  • (Sexuality) There are 90 heterosexuals and 10 homosexuals.
  • (War) There are 80 people who do not live in fear of death by bombardment, armed attack, landmines, or of rape or kidnappings by armed groups; the other 20 do.
  • (Water) There are 83 people with access to clean water, the other 17 people have no clean water.

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.” – Jane Addams

[1] The authors would like to distance themselves from any racial bias. In doing so, we like to stress that we do not recognise the term ‘race’ as a concept in any way. That is to say, we hold that all people are people: equally beautiful, complex, flawed, fragile and amazing.

We have deliberately published this statistic in a ‘Caucasian-centric’ manner (i.e. There are 70 people who are not ‘white’…) not to emphasise or lend support to some prejudiced preference or point of view, but rather to show that humanity is incredibly diverse – in fact, we suspect that humanity is more diverse than many ‘Caucasian westerners’ realise. And it is our conviction that it is important to be aware of the wonderful intricacies and diversities of our species.

Doing Good for God

‘What about all of the good things people have done in the name of God? It is undeniable that many people of faith make heroic sacrifices to relieve the suffering of other human beings. But is it necessary to believe anything on insufficient evidence in order to behave this way? If compassion were really dependent upon religious dogmatism, how could we explain the work of secular doctors in the most war-ravaged regions of the developing world? Many doctors are moved simply to alleviate human suffering, without any thought of God. While there is no doubt that Christian missionaries are also moved by a desire to alleviate suffering, they come to the task encumbered by a dangerous and divisive mythology. Missionaries in the developing world waste a lot of time and money (not to mention the goodwill of non-Christians) proselytizing to the needy; they spread inaccurate information about contraception and sexually transmitted disease, and they withhold accurate information.

While missionaries do many noble things at great risk to themselves, their dogmatism still spreads ignorance and death. By contrast, volunteers for secular organizations like Doctors Without Borders do not waste any time telling people about the virgin birth of Jesus. Nor do they tell people in sub-Saharan Africa—where nearly four million people die from AIDS every year—that condom use is sinful. Christian missionaries have been known to preach the sinfulness of condom use in villages where no other information about condoms is available. This kind of piety is genocidal.[1] We might also wonder, in passing, which is more moral: helping people purely out of concern for their suffering, or helping them because you think the creator of the universe will reward you for it?’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 12-13

[1] If you can believe it, the Vatican is currently opposed to condom use even to prevent the spread of HIV from one married partner to another. The Pope is rumored to be reconsidering this policy. Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, announced on Vatican radio that his office is now “conducting a very profound scientific, technical and moral study” of this issue (!). Needless to say, if Church doctrine changes as a result of these pious deliberations, it will be a sign, not that faith is wise, but that one of its dogmas has grown untenable.