Tag Archives: environment

Cyrus Rohani & Behrooz Sabet (eds.), Winds of Change: The Challenge of Modernity in the Middle East and North Africa. (London: Saqi Books, 2019)

From a Western point of view, one of the key challenges facing us is, how the Islamic MENA region can find peace, modernize and contribute positively to human life on Earth. The Arab spring brought hope for positive changes:

“The Arab spring has awakened the world to the legitimate aspirations of Muslims worldwide to democracy – inspired by western values yet infused by Islamic ideals,” writes Dr. Christopher Buck, an independent scholar and attorney from the USA, in one of his essays in Winds of Change (p. 87). Unfortunately, such legitimate aspirations have not yet been met, and the MENA region is as war-torn as ever.

Wind of Change contains 15 essays written by 11 intellectuals with the perspective that Islam’s spiritual ethic and sense of justice has something valuable to offer to the world, as it did during the “Islamic worlds flourishing sociocultural era” (750-1250) (p.8). This period is referred to as the Golden Age.

The editors, management consultant, MBA, Cyrus Rohani and Dr. Behrooz Sabet believe that changes are under way in the Middle East. Rohani writes that dictatorships relegate people “to the level of animals” which “defies the purpose of their creation” (p. 45). At the same time “our planet is suffering owing to our betrayal of the trust bestowed on us as a gift from our Creator” (p. 48). He envisions the “establishment of a planetary civilization based on organic unity of mankind” (p. 49).

Six narratives deal with timely issues such as environmental challenges, press freedom, gender inequality, interfaith dialogue, education and the Arab spring, while the others apply more historical / philosophical perspectives. The latter strive for a common ground on which the Middle East and the West can meet and work together in solving global problems. Generally, the essays are written with a deep appreciation for Islam, a critical view on traditional Middle Eastern leaders, and a taken-for-granted view on the West. The book suggests that there is a need for spirituality, materialism and science to be integrated to create a global society with human dignity, happiness and appreciation of differences.

An interesting example of the search for common ground is Dr. Ian Kluge’s discussion of reason in Islamic and Western philosophy. Kluge, who on websites are presented as Canadian Baha’i scholar, writes:

The re-appropriation of rationalism is the major goal of numerous Muslim thinkers wishing to revive the fortunes of the Islamic world in face of modern challenges. However, they want to find the basis for such changes in Islam itself without having to depend on ideas imported from, among other things, the European Enlightenment.” (p. 155)

Islam has the concept of ijtihad that, according to one Islamic tradition, implies “free debate on matters to everyone” (p. 145). Kluge quotes the Qur’an for saying: “Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use reason” (p. 146), and he compares the spirit of this text to Immanuel Kant’s answer to the question about enlightenment (p. 150).

Throughout history, Muslims have disagreed on who should be allowed to practice independent spiritual reasoning and search for truth. Some believe that “ijtihad may only be practiced by mujtahids,” while others do not agree with this limitation (p. 151). In Islam there is for example a long tradition for reasoning stemming from the Muʿtazali theology of the eight century, modernized by Jamal-al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897) and Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905). Originally the philosophers drew on different sources of inspiration, including Greek philosophy such as Aristotle’s logic of deductive reasoning. However, in the 12th century, the limitations of philosophy were exposed in the book The incoherence of Philosophers (p. 161), and the value of ordinary people’s reasoning was questioned by people in power.

Kluge argues that acceptance of individual reasoning and discussions can revitalize Muslim societies. As for international cooperation, he suggests that the “considerable common ground between Kantian understanding of ‘enlightenment’ and what we find primarily in the Qur’an, and secondly, what is offered by Mu’tazalism” (p. 163) can create a shared understanding that will benefit both the MENA region and the West. However, when Muslims use reasoning, they do not necessarily consider Western scientific methods superior, because they do not share the materialistic worldview. When scientists study the material world, their results say obviously little about important spiritual issues.

Buck is the author of three analyses related to norms, ethics and law. One is about good governance, one about the possible development of a shared moral compass for Sunnis and Shi’is, and the third about testing the value of Sharia laws. In each case, the methodology is the same. Buck interprets key Islamic texts and discusses Islamic practices. For example, he interprets basic principles for good governance from a letter written by the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, Caliph Ali, who is respected by both Sunnis and Shi’is. This respect is important because his idea is to create a set of shared Islamic guidelines for good governance. He interprets the spirit of each paragraph in the letter and relate it to present-day situations.

In the two other essays the key text is the Qur’an. In one of these essays, he asks: “does Islamic law mirror Islamic ethics”? (p. 169). A Pew Research Center survey cited in his article found that most Muslims in many countries approve of executing apostates. Buck writes: “There is a clear contradiction between the sharia law of apostacy and Islamic claims to ‘freedom of religion” and to a “well-known Qur’anic verse: ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion” (p. 176). Buck then discusses this difference and Islamic scholars’ writings about it.

Many of the essays in this volume can best be considered sincere and informed opinion pieces. Not all of them follow a strict academic form. But they bring fresh ideas and perspectives to important debates.

Hans Chr. Garmann Johnsen, Stina Torjesen & Richard Ennals (eds.), Higher Education in a Sustainable Society. A Case for Mutual Competence Building (Dordrecht: Springer, 2015)

What is a sustainable society, and how can higher education help us to develop toward it? This is the question guiding the authors in this book the underlying aim of which is to explore the concept of sustainability as a much wider concept than usually referred to in terms of environamental threats. The focus is on various disciplines in higher education, and more precisely on studies pursued within the University of Agder in Norway. The approach of the book reaches though far beyond the Norwegian context and makes it relevant to every higher education institution.

The book is divided into six parts. Part I has three chapters on sustainability in “Humanistic and Cultural Perspectives”; Part II has two chapters on “Sustainability in Life Science”; Part III contains three chapters on “Sustainability in Technology and Planning Studies”; Part IV includes three chapters on “Sustainability and the Teaching of Management and Business Development”; Part V discusses in three chapters on “The Sustainable University”; and Part VI concludes with one chapter on “The Challenge of Mutual Competence Building”. I will not go into each chapter, rather I try to summarise here my learnings from the book and identify its relevance to the readers.

The content – the disciplines – is clearly not what one would relate at first instance to sustainability but Chapter 1, which is written by the editors, is very helpful to understand how the authors and the editors approach the theme of the book. This chapter provoked my interest for the whole book (and especially for my field, educational studies and teacher education) and for those who are new to this topic this chapter is vital and should not be skipped. In this chapter, the editors make it clear that they do not see sustainability as a fixed position or a well-defined concept, but rather as a framework for discussion and an opportunity to rethink our ideas about the role of universities, our disciplines and the world we live in.

A common discussion in all chapters is the issue of responsibility across disciplines, both towards particular professions but also to the wider society. In Part II, in a discussion on nursing, it is pointed out, for example, that the International Code of Ethics for Nurses states: “The nurse also shares responsibility to sustain and protect the natural environment from depletion, pollution, degradation and destruction” (p.69, cited from the International Council of Nurses). Sustainability according to environmental issues is thus seen to be an important part of the nursing profession. Should it be similar in other professions? In this chapter, it is also discussed how sustainability is a matter regarding enough or a shortage of health care workers in each country or area and the same discussion is on teacher education in Part I. Here the focus is related to sustainability and globalization and is a highly relevant discussion in rural and remote areas. In the chapter 6, on “Sustainable Diets”, the reader is confronted with the hard fact that our diets are no longer sustainable. Everything about our diets seems to have gone out of control: the usage of fossil energy for the production, of energy to produce artificial fertilisers, the transport of food, not to mention the pollution of soil, air and water. The chapter also draws our attention not only to the healthiness of our food, that has so far been the emphasis in the official guidelines to people, but also how sustainable our food is, e.g. in terms of location, transport and food categories. New generations are forced to find solutions to this problem caused be earlier generations. To me, this is one of the main contributions of this book. Universities, with their broad and diverse fields of knowledge and societal impacts, are in an ideal position to lead necessary action and changes in the world as regards moving toward a more sustainable world. It can be hard for some disciplines and professions to involve sustainability into their activity and professional cultures, if it has not been there before. This could be the case for technology and engineering, as discussed in Part III (chapter 7). The authors point out that this should not be the case, as technology and society are fundamentally interdependent and the planet really needs a change. Instead of focusing on one right answer as is normally the case in engineering, students should be taught how to be active and reflective in their learning, and learn to include several perspectives in their search for answers. This could mean that one right answer is perhaps and very likely not the point.  Actually, this is more than less the conclusion in most of the chapters, i.e. that students need to be introduced and challenged to finding a good balance between different theoretical concepts, and knowledge about how to apply them in practice (chapter 8).

I do not have actual negative comments on this book, perhaps because I found it very intriguing in many ways, both as an academic and personally. The only thing that I would like to mention is that it would have been useful to have a short summary at the end of each Part, similar to the prologue before each Part. I liked nonetheless the final section in chapter 9 (9.4.2, “The Educational Role of the University for Sustainable Planning”). There are some chapters that include too much literature on background information, which is of course important to relate the discipline to the core issue of sustainability, but they could easily have been shortened without undermining the content. If people do not want to read the whole book, but only look at certain disciplines, it is useful to read chapter 16.1.1 in any case. Entitled “Short Review of the Book”, each Part is summarised therein. Also, I would recommend to read chapter 16.3, “What is Mutual Competence Building?”. In that chapter, the editors draw together the recurring themes across the five Parts.

The prerequisite for a society to become sustainable depends on our attitudes toward the changes that need to become real and the willingness to react to a challenging situation. Here, Universities and other educational institutions have a role in educating critical individuals that can lead and influence future citizens, their actions and work. This book is a useful tool for all disciplines, academic departments and Universities to take action and communicate with individuals and the society on how to build our mutual future in a sustainable way. I encourage my workplace – the University of Akureyri – to do so.

Weaving a Journey: 19th-Century Iceland in an Italian Female Narrative

In his essay The Traveller’s Mind (La mente del viaggiatore, it.ed.) Eric J. Leed analyzes the western cultural model, which requires man to be mobile and woman to be static, in a consolidated mirroring of sexual identities (Leed 1992: 328); nonetheless, in the last part of his book the author considers that, in recent times, women moved “no longer constrained by those images of the mobile male and sedentary female” typical of the past (ibid: 335), and wishes for a greater interest in their travelogues.

Studies on female hodoeporics (Monga 1996: 6) are widespread nowadays, especially thanks to women scholars; however, the panorama of Italian women travelogue writers who “embarked with determination on a spatial and mental adventure traditionally denied to their sex” (Frediani et Al. 2012: 8) is still under investigation[1].

  1. Women’s travel writing: forgotten accounts

As a nation, Italy has a relatively recent history: it was unified only in 1861, after the turmoil of the Risorgimento. At the end of the century, aspiring to increase its position on the international scene, the new-born country was starting its colonial expansion; consequently, readers were developing a taste for adventure in exotic countries. An important representative of such narrative was Emilio Salgari (Verona, 1862 – Turin, 1911) who, even without an extensive travelling, built a remarkable repertoire by reworking the historical and geographical sources he found in libraries; his work is still well known and his books have involved, thrilled and educated not only his contemporaries, but many generations of Italians.

The literary production of Maria Savi Lopez (Naples, 1846? – 1940) met a different course and was almost completely forgotten. As an ante litteram ethnologist and a folklorist she mainly focused on the legends and traditions of the western Alps, albeit writing some travel books set in Northern Europe; her fascination for this area was affected both by her Romantic interest in folklore and history, and by her Positivist philosophical approach.

Nei Paesi del Nord (In Northern Countries, 1893) is a fictionalized account that deals with a journey to Iceland, a country very little known to Italians at the time: as evidence, in 1824 the renowned Romantic poet and philosopher Giacomo Leopardi had chosen an Icelander to represent the vain escape of man from Nature. In his Dialogo della natura e di un islandese (Dialogue of Nature and an Icelander) the protagonist embodies the author’s philosophy of cosmic pessimism: “[…] who likes or benefits from this very unhappy life of the Universe, preserved with damage and death of all the things that compose it?” (Leopardi 2003: 624).

  1. An unknown author…

Few biographical information exist about Savi Lopez, so it is not possible to say whether she actually visited Northern Europe or was, like Emilio Salgari, a voyageuse en fauteuil. I follow the considerations of historian Giovanni Levi, one of the pioneers in the field of microhistory who, in his essay about contemporary Greece I tempi della storia (The Times of History), reports an obvious, albeit far from trivial, observation: “The rich leave more documents than the poor, men than women, adults than children, and – evidently – the literate of the illiterate” (Levi, 2009: 43-44), thus underscoring how cultured people have more consistent means to be remembered and see their personal events set in history, while culturally disadvantaged categories are more easily forgotten. As a consequence, Levi argues for the need to go beyond the merely documentary level, and affirms that history is not only the result of a thorough analysis of documents, the conservation of which, albeit deceptively rich and sufficient, is often distorted and incomplete (ibid.: 45). According to him, “the historian’s use of brain and imagination is in fact proportionally inverse to the amount of traces available, the less we have, the more we must strive to understand, to interpret the fragments, to reconstruct. Scarce documentation warns us: documents are useful, but history must look at them with suspicion, always attentive to what left no trace, but nevertheless had relevance” (ibidem).

I have therefore tried to investigate Savi Lopez’s life, following the few existing traces, using both her works and the rare documents available, while interpreting, as Levi affirms, what left no trace in spite of its relevance.

Indeed, the biographical events of the author contrast with the hypothesis of a journey to Iceland: as a girl, Savi Lopez was forced to follow her father, who fled Bourbon political persecutions, from Naples to Turin; here she studied (privately, as no higher education was available for women at her time) and developed a strong interest in the folklore of Western Alps. Her marriage lasted only a few years: she soon became a widow with an eight-year-old son to look after. Back to Naples (then part of the reign of Italy) she earned her living as a teacher, as well as a reporter and a writer; as it was a habit among women writers at the time, her literary production was mainly addressed to the young generations and her aim was mainly educational. Albeit she cannot be considered a scholar, all her life she was a well-known expert in the field of Italian traditions and continued to collaborate with outstanding academics: among them, Angelo de Gubernatis, Professor of Sanskrit in Florence, and Giuseppe Pitré, the founder of Italian folklore. Last, but not least, she was on friendly terms with important Italian writers, such as Giosuè Carducci and Antonio Fogazzaro,

  1. … a traveller or a voyageuse en fauteuil ?

At Savi Lopez’s times reaching Iceland was neither easy nor customary[2]: communication took place by sea, usually to and from Scotland and Denmark, and concerned mostly trade and fishing; besides, scientific interest was more oriented to the surrounding ocean (notably, the “North-West passage” that might connect northern Europe and America) than to the forlorn island in the far north. Nonetheless several scholars, interested in its weird landscapes and geological nature, had reached it; among them, the Swedish scientist Uno von Troil, who in 1772 embarked to observe the active Hekla volcano and the famous Geyser, which soon gave its name to all other geysers worldwide[3]; and Sir George Steuart Mackenzie, more interested in Icelandic history, who tried to explain “the causes that so spectacularly changed the character of this ‘distinct and peculiar race of people’, from a nation producing the great medieval saga literature to the apathetic and feeble people he found in 1810” (Agnarsdóttir, 2010: 235). Among these early travellers, only one woman: Ida Pfeiffer, an Austrian self-taught scholar who visited Iceland in 1845 for a few months. Pfeiffer explored both the geological and the botanical field, and in 1846, once back in Vienna, published Nordlandfahrt: Eine Reise nach Skandinavien und Island im Jahre 1845 (A visit to Iceland and the Scandinavian North in 1845).

Even if Savi Lopez can be situated among the few Italian women travel writers of her time, it is quite unimaginable that this middle-class woman, a mother and a teacher, could afford expensive trips abroad or long absences from Italy. Last, but not least, her book was first published in 1893, when Iceland was not yet known as an international tourist destination – the first cruise from Hamburg took place in 1905[4].

Savi Lopez was always very scrupulous in verifying her sources, as her works about Alpine folklore prove; therefore, she may have read the books of the first visitors, especially Pfeiffer’s report, with its sound scientific accuracy and wide amount of details. Besides, most of her information were certainly sourced from the encyclopaedias of the time, that contain the legends, historical topics and scientific information she reports: among these, the Manual of Natural History of Blumenbach, translated into Italian in 1826, and the Annals universal statistics, published in Milan in 1832, as for scientific information; the Literary and Artistic Scientific Museum published in Turin in 1846, dealing with sagas and folklore; the Universal ancient and modern biography (Venice, 1828), that reported legendary characters; Danish Greenland – Its People and Its Products, written by Dr. Hinrich Rink in 1877, regarding the Inuit people. Last, but not least, the well-known review “L’illustrazione italiana” (Italian Illustration) had published some impressive photos of the Hekla volcano 1878 eruption.

  1. The characters: interweaving relationships

Savi Lopez gives voice to her characters, a heterogeneous group composed of few men, a woman, and three young teenagers, to develop the narrative discourse. The comfortable living room of an English castle (an exotic setting in the eyes of 19th century Italian readers) frames the opening of the book. Here, the readers meet the protagonists: Lord Holland, the owner of the mansion and the organizer of this journey, eagerly waiting for the arrival of the steamer Vittoria that, after a brief stop in Denmark, will sail to Iceland. On board, besides Captain Fowl (the Lord’s trustworthy old friend), will sail his two teenage children, Rolf and Amy; Sir James, another good friend of the Lord’s, and his young daughter Silvia; eventually, miss Margaret, Amy’s governess.

All these characters are mostly masks, perfectly recognizable to the readers, reliable in their narratives, credible in their statements, without psychological implications: once outlined, they act as intermediaries, lending the readers their concrete, sensory perception and driving their cognitive re-elaboration. Therefore, in the reassuring context of the steamer, in company of these conventional characters, the narrative can concentrate on the unknown exotic destination.

The protagonists are sketched in different ways; female figures respect the gender(ed) stereotypes of the time: the two young girls, (the first English, the second of an Italian mother), are physically contrasting and, while young Amy is “beautiful and blonde, like her brother, who could be thirteen” (Savi Lopez 1920:2), Silvia, Amy’s friend, is “beautiful and dark […] taller and stronger […] seeing her, one would say she was born in some distant southern land”(ibid.:4); though her Italian origin (already obvious in her aspect) is revealed later, her sturdy aspect implicitly contrasts to a certain weakness and fragility in Amy, and Silvia assumes a reassuring role to her younger friend. The third female figure, the governess Miss Margaret, is “tall and dry, with pale blond hair, long teeth, very pale blue eyes with no expression”(ibid.:8): she represents the typical English spinster, an unattractive figure, but certainly suitable for her role and dutifully attached to young Amy.

On the contrary, male characters are never depicted, so encouraging the readers to build their own images, based either on the characters’ own statements, or on the qualities and skills they show during the journey.

The Captain is introduced by Lord Holland: “An old sea dog […] accustomed to guiding his ship with great skill in the midst of dangers”(ibid.:10); an emotional Lord recommends his children to him: “[…] you are boarding the joy, the glory, the hope of my old home”(ibid.:13), he says before the steamer sets off.

Sir James, Silvia’s father, is characterized by his knowledge, and the assertive tone of his own words.

Young Rolfe, Amy’s brother, proves to be a curious boy, eager to challenge unknown experiences. As for the Swedish scientist Franz, welcomed on board after his shipwreck, the author merely informs that both he and his son are provided with dry clothes by Sir James and Rolfe.

The characters show their diverse relationships according to the canons of the time: men are characterized by frank, cordial comradeship, and mutual esteem; all the children show deference, respect, and unconditional trust towards the adults[5]. The two girls’ interest is a continuous stimulus to men’s explanations; sensitivity is almost exclusively entrusted to them, as well as irrational fears and homesickness; Rolfe often shows his impatience and curiosity, but also some general knowledge; all the children are thoroughly aware of the importance of their journey and do their best to make the most of it, composing their herbaria with Icelandic species during their trips inland. Eventually the governess, the only adult woman in this microcosm – literally embarked on an adventure that she would have gladly avoided – decently bears all her female anxieties and stands apart, silently aware of her subordinate role both by gender and by social status; she seldom shares her limited knowledge with the group.

The narrative content undergoes a fixed division: the Captain, an experienced traveller, describes competently the environment, and reports some of his sailing memories, as well as stories learned from other seamen; moreover, his thorough knowledge of Northern folklore and traditions allows him to narrate Scandinavian legends. Sir James, instead, is meant to deepen some cultural and artistic aspects, in few cases supported by Miss Margaret. Dr. Franz is mostly entrusted with the geological description of Iceland. Eventually, Rolfe sometimes acts as a sort of cultural mediator, turning this wide range of information into a simplified language for the two girls, indirectly facilitating also non-specialist readers at home.

While the ship’s crew is completely ignored and the Icelandic guides remain anonymous, few subsidiary characters confirm the reliability of the narrative: the first one is the Scottish girl in Bornholm, who survived her family after a sinking and was adopted by a generous Swedish family; her moving story involve both the travellers and the readers, who partake in her tragic destiny. An Icelandic shepherd hosts the group during their trip to the mountains and witnesses his love for his home country, where he chose to settle back after living abroad. Eventually, the Akureyri host tells the visitors about superstitions and myths still widespread in Iceland.

  1. An educational itinerary

The educational aim of this expedition is made clear by Lord Holland’s words to his children: “You know well that since last year I wanted to take you on a suitable educational journey”(ibid.:2); the destination he chose is “that island that appears abandoned by God”(ibid.:7), as Sir James defines it.

The narrative follows the itinerary, leading the readers through an unknown path, rich in cultural destinations as well as weird natural events, constantly interwoven, as it is shown in the following summary.

Sailing from the English Channel across the North Sea and along the dunes of the Jutland peninsula, an amazing experience is immediately offered the party: a typical Nordic sunset, characterized by a “bizarre feast of light, a fantastic dance of colours“(ibid.:22) that leaves the travellers “an unforgettable impression”(ibidem).

The day after, in a general excitement, the steamer reaches Copenhagen: “soon everyone arrived in the beautiful city, that is rightly called ‘cheerful’ by its inhabitants”(ibid.:41).  This visit lasts only one day, then the tourists visit Roskilde, the ancient capital, by train; once back on board, a bad turn in the weather keeps the steamer offshore before resuming its journey to Bornholm; this unexpected stopover gives the Captain the opportunity to tell several shipwrecks that occurred in that area, as well as episodes of the historical conflicts between Sweden and Denmark.

In Bornholm the group meets a Scottish girl, adopted by a local family after a shipwreck, an outstanding example of solidarity among the poor offered to the readers. Then, after reversing the course, the Vittoria heads out to the open sea and, on their way to the Faroe Islands, passengers experience the vision of mirages. A new, remarkable sight awaits them around the archipelago: icebergs appear, both fascinating and threatening at the same time.

The Captain gives some information about these islands and their inhabitants, then the group visits Tórshavn; here the narrative highlights the bleak landscape and the persistent bad smell of fish, dried along the streets.

The monotonous sailing in the open ocean is enlivened with the narration of legends, until the ship faces a storm, and everyone has to stay below deck; at night the survivors of a Norwegian vessel, shipwrecked on its way back from Iceland, are rescued; among them, the Swedish scientist Franz Nikold with his young son.

During the last part of the sailing to Iceland the Captain tells some anecdotes about Greenland and the Greenlanders, called in the book “Eskimos”; later, it is the Swedish scientist’s turn to narrate his terrible shipwreck, while sharing his sincere enthusiasm for the “island of fire and ice”(ibid.:151).

When the travellers finally arrive on sight of the coast and Sir James describes its characteristics his daughter Silvia shows her excitement, while Miss Margaret is disappointed because of the grey, monotonous landscape. After the puffins on the Vestmannaeyjar the image of Reykjavík appears: just a small city, almost devoid of any cultural interest, warns the Captain.

Once landed, the group reaches an emporium, where they meet some natives; on the main square, they notice Thorvaldsen’s monument, while in the streets they can see the typical Icelandic horses. The tour ends with a visit to the Cathedral and the Parliament, the only outstanding buildings in the city.

The excursions into nature are more interesting: at the “hot water springs”(ibid.:196) the party observes women cooking and washing clothes in the open air. A horseback ride takes the group to

Þingvellir, where the first Parliament in history had met since 930. During this excursion, the absolute lack of inns forces the travellers to share a shepherd’s shelter: quite surprisingly, the man had travelled abroad to several European countries, but he eventually preferred to return and live in his homeland. He is happy to answer their questions about the winter on the island and tell them about the Hekla volcano.

The following day the group visit the geysers: here they meet some Icelanders that, already used to welcoming the few English tourists, gather to sell such “souvenirs” like typical wood and bone handicrafts, as well as hats and woollen gloves.

The Captain has to juggle icebergs on the way to the last destination, Akureyri; the town is pretty, with small houses and flowers on the windowsills, but unfortunately the stench of fish hanging to dry spoils the air everywhere. An invitation to lunch allows the visitors to meet a local family and hear the description of the long, gloomy Arctic night from the very voice of the natives. Here, in this extreme northern spot, the group can observe the midnight sun and witness the killing of a white bear, which had just attacked some men.

On their way back seals and whales are often spotted from the deck of the ship. Back in Reykjavík, passengers are pleasantly surprised to find Lord Holland, who decided to join them despite his health problems. All together they joyfully return to England, and the narration ends with Silvia’s meaningful comment: albeit satisfied with the experience, she remembers her Italian homeland, “more beautiful, more cheerful than any northern country!”(ibid.:230).

  1. A tightly woven narrative fabric

Savi Lopez’s narrative relies on a wealth of information combined into different threads, according to a precise hierarchical order, and mostly reported by her characters.

Weaving a widely different range of information in a tight plot, alternating legends and historical topics, interposing scientific elements to memories, comparing events and actual experiences she creates a narrative fabric, varied and compact at the same time, where her educational and documentary purposes remain hidden in the foreground of an adventurous journey.

The author means to characterize the Icelandic environment as exhaustively as possible: above all she ranges from folk stories about trolls and giants to the Sagas about real or imagined ancestors, often containing supernatural elements; then, she deals with historical events, as well as accounts about the island’s social organization and politics, with regards to its contacts with the rest of Europe; she also sources information from mythology, thus explaining the origins of both natural phenomena and religious habits. The author is also accurate in describing the natural environment, the geological structure, and the climate of this exotic island. Whenever it is possible, she lets her travellers observe and filter the topics through their actual experience.

To emphasize the sense of extraneity with the destination – an exotic place totally new to her Italian readers, reached only after a long, dangerous, and demanding sailing – the author widens the gap between the text and her readers choosing a castle on the English coast as the starting point to this adventure; this gap is furtherly reinforced by the protagonists, who are not Italians but English travellers.

As a balance to this estrangement, Savi Lopez provides a reassuring and familiar microcosm: the steamship Vittoria, where the group always returns after their excursions, a steady scene where the narrative develops through their conversations.

The somewhat heterogeneous distribution of the chapters clearly shows a hierarchical order of the content: Iceland occupies five chapters, and five more ones, set on board the steamer during navigation, explain a vast range of cultural phenomena: from sagas to popular legends, to the Arctic physical and geological phenomena. The remaining four chapters break this interwoven structure, offering a descriptive frame: the first sets the narrative scene, another one describes the Faroe Islands, and two are dedicated to Denmark and Copenhagen.

The author assumes a heterodiegetic and omniscient role to provide information, often quoting “our travellers” as spokespersons, creating a complicity among the three parties in her work: herself, the characters, and her readers[6]. These travellers often share her omniscient role, talking about a variety of topics (from legends to history, from botany to the physical phenomena of the Arctic); in this realistic environment her audience of non-specialist readers is encouraged to identify and feel involved, both emotionally and rationally.

  1. Thread 1: Folklore and legends

Savi Lopez’s first narrative thread covers her main interests: myths and popular legends, mixed to historical subjects, are developed since the very start of the journey and all along the navigation. This subject is mainly let to the Captain and Sir James, who often take turns in the dialogues: while sailing towards Denmark the first hints at “the old times”(ibid.:59) when “on Christmas Day King Klinte-Konge [received] many gifts at the Stevnsklint reef, where he was believed to be living”(ibidem) near the coasts of Denmark. Gifts to the temple of Odin were also brought in the village of Lejre. Sir James follows, describing the Valhalla and the privileges of glorious dead warriors.

While the steamer heads to Iceland, among the mists of the North Sea, the Captain narrates the legend of Great Father Ocean’s palace, destroyed by Christopher Columbus when “he crossed the old borders of the world”(ibid.:118), thus eliminating ancient beliefs; however, some old stories survive, like the ones about legendary female figures living almost everywhere in marine waters: the Mediterranean Sirens are known as Mary Morgan in the English Channel and in Brittany, and are called Mermaids in the Baltic Sea, in the North Sea and in the Atlantic Ocean. He also reports the story of Perlina, King of North Sea’s daughter, that he had heard from other sailors: she used to live on the mainland for some years as the guest of a couple of sovereigns until, returning to the beach, yielded to the call of her fellow creatures and, taken by nostalgia, she swam back into the abyss.

During their stay in Reykjavík the group returns to the steamer every night and here the conversations sit between legend and history: the Captain maintains Sagas act as a system that preserves culture, both oral and written, providing “many memories of these nations”(ibid.:173). Saga herself was in fact personified: “In the ancient epic songs of the old Edda it was said that goddess Saga was sitting night and day next to god Odin, the inventor of poetry and, like him, she used to drink from a golden cup, drawing water in the great river that represented history; therefore, we understand that, according to the concept of the peoples of the North, poetry and tales must find their position in history”(ibid.:174).

The narrative proceeds with Sir James developing the topic introduced by the Captain: he describes first the figure of the skalds, the Icelandic singers, then the old and the new Edda, with its cosmogony based on the Giants, the first inhabitants of the world, still alive in the Icelanders’ imagination; of which the legend of the Stone Woman, a huge stone located between Breiðafjörður bay and Faxaflói Bay, stands as an appropriate example.

Few guides and a shepherd during the trip inland witness popular beliefs; the shepherd describes the fickle and evil trolls and witches, including the fearsome hundred-headed Gryla. These good and bad spirits still play important roles in the natives’ difficult daily life.

Superstitions about the weird characters who populate the island are confirmed by the Akureyri’s host: during the long and boring winter nights people tell how “the giants of the cold season, also called Trolls, according to popular beliefs jealously guard immense riches; they command a whole people of miserable castaways who, according to our rough neighbours in Greenland, have their noses cut off; they own herds of whales, seals, polar bears; and when they sit on enormous icebergs, wearing a shimmering mantle of ice upon their shoulders and a crown of diamonds on their long white hair, there is no king of the earth who can equal them in grandeur and majesty”(ibid.:225).

  1. Thread 2: Tales of kings and pirates

The three teenagers traveling north represent the ideal audience for some historical episodes of the countries visited; here, more than focusing on accuracy, the narrative concentrates on the characters’ relational and emotional aspects.

While sailing towards Denmark the Captain talks about wars between the Danes and the Swedes; the story of the city of Viborg and the adventures of King Erik are instead entrusted to the voice of Miss Margaret. During the excursion to Roskilde, the ancient capital of Denmark, Sir James illustrates some historical events: first the victory of Valdemar in Estonia and his return from that land, laden with riches; then, the Danes’ fights against pirates, and their freeing of Christian slaves. Sir James also tells about Queen Margaret, a sort of ante-litteram feminist, who defeated and humiliated her cousin Albert of Mecklenburg. He had advised her to sew, instead of competing with men for power; in response, the queen defeated him and “commanded him to be brought before her in feminine clothes, wearing a madman cap, with a tail long 19 arms […] because he had said that he would wear the crown only when Margaret would have been his prisoner »(ibid.:57).

The visit to Bornholm in search of a “Nordic Museum of antiquities”(ibid.:66) unfortunately shows just a ” dunghill of ancient peoples”(ibidem), a rather chaotic heap of weapons, tools, and ornaments in stone and bronze, says the Captain. Once ashore, the party observes the runes and Sir James provides explanations about menhirs, or dolmens, like the English stonefenge[7].It is again the Captain to tell the story of Egill, the pirate who resided on the island in King Canute’s times: this king was undoubtedly “the greatest king in the North”(ibid.:70), as he “conquered England”(ibidem).

On the way back along the Jutland, the Captain reports the story of Vejle, first seat of King Gorm the Elder, and later of Christian II; Sir James follows, to deepen the character of Gorm the Great. Eventually it is the governess, Miss Margaret, who describes a female figure: Queen Thyra, wife of Gorm the Great, who was committed to spreading Christianity. Then the Captain describes Ahrus, the most important city of Jutland, and tells the story of Gustav Väsa’s imprisonment on the island of Kallö. A new story told by the Captain deals again with a pirate, Palnatoke, enemy of King Harald Blatand, son of Queen Thyra.

In Cronborg fortress’s basements, built in 1585 to resist the Swedes, legend has that Ogier the Dane, knight of Charlemagne, lays still asleep; this fortification resisted 1659 siege by Charles X of Sweden and also this story is told by two voices, Sir James’s and the Captain’s.

Finally, young Rolfe is entrusted with the narration of a recent historical event: the 1801 battle between Horatio Nelson and the Danes, that the Admiral had defined as the bloodiest of all his 105 battles.

Whereas Denmark occupies a great deal of the historic narrative, history of Iceland is very essential. The trip to Þingvellir allows Sir James to illustrate the organization of the old Parliament, showing the stone seats, the Logberg, or rock of the law, where laws and judgments were released; and eventually the “blood stone”(ibid.:183), where convicted were executed. Sir James asks his small audience to try and visualize a session of the Almannagjá: “tall warriors”(ibidem) protected the priests and judges, while people could watch them from a high platform. In this place, on June 4th, 1000, the chieftain Snorri, returning from Europe, delivered his famous speech that converted Icelanders to Christianity, “a great change as regards habits and religion, that took place without strife and bloodshed on the island”(ibid.:184). Eventually, Sir James traces a brief history of the Althing, from its abolition during the Danish rule to its restoration in 1843, ending with Iceland’s autonomy in 1874.

Also the Swedish scientist Franz participates in the historical narrative: he starts describing the early Norwegian settlements in Greenland in 868, and their sailing from Iceland to Greenland, where they remained until 983. Afterwards, the journeys were mainly directed southwards to Europe, and only a small number of people remained in Iceland, subdued by Hakon of Norway in 1264, until the island was finally ceded to Denmark in 1830.

Eventually, Sir James explains the scarcity of monuments and community buildings in Reykjavík: for a long time the Icelanders had preferred to hold their Parliament in the open.

  1. Thread 3: science, nature, religion

Sailing unknown waters can only but stimulate curiosity among the passengers (and presumably, among the readers too) about the marine environment; the Captain, the only expert in this field, describes the sandy coast of Jutland, focusing on the phenomenon of moving dunes, extremely dangerous to sail since any storm changes their morphology.

Further on, between the Faroe Islands and Iceland, the passengers experience mirages, which the children had only read of as typical phenomena of desert areas. It is again the Captain who explains why navigation becomes more difficult near the Poles: the approach to the magnetic pole disturbs the compass needle and makes it less sensitive. In front of Reykjavík harbour he also provides a technical note about a dredger, “stealing the deepest secrets from the sea”(ibid.:163).

Icelandic geological nature is described by Dr. Franz, the Swedish expert just rescued on the steamer. Instead, the author herself tells of the most surprising natural events that await the party around Akureyri: the dangerous icebergs and the amazing midnight sun.

Eventually, it is again her voce to provide few features of northern economy: fish processing takes on a crucial importance both in the Faroe Islands and the city of Akureyri, while Bornholm is famous for its granite and agricultural products. Savi Lopez also highlights the spread of Catholicism, which contributed to decrease false beliefs and superstitions; conversely, albeit Lutheranism was the most widespread creed in the author’s times, she omits any hint to it.

  1. Thread 4: Italy

The presence of Silvia, Sir James’s young daughter, keeps the image of Italy alive with her frequent observations and comparisons all over the narrative; her observations provide the readers a reassuring sense of superiority. Since the beginning “the laughing villages and crowded hotels”(ibid.:9) of Piedmontese valleys, where “flowers are gathered in bundles”(ibid.:10) are contrasted with the “poor land of Iceland”(ibidem). Any image described by Silvia is invariably in favour of her distant homeland: Aosta Valley castles are more interesting than the Danish ones; Pompeii is richer in archaeological finds than Bornholm; Icelandic volcanoes are less fascinating than the Vesuvius; the beauty of the Gulf of Naples and the Apennines win over the desolation of the Icelandic landscape.

Besides, while she declares her equal love for both her parents’ countries, Italy and Great Britain, it is the first that prevails in her discourse: ” [Italy] acquired so much glory on the sea […] introduced us to the New World, and is now preparing to be respected and powerful more than ever”(ibid.:5): Silvia’s observations allude to the greatness of the Medieval Maritime Republics (Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi in Italy, and Ragusa on the Croatian coast) that ruled the Mediterranean; to the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, and eventually to the leading role of the new state, the so-called Third Italy[8] in the contemporary international arena.

Italian recent history is also alive in Silvia’s words: she grows furious at the mere mention of Horatio Nelson, who caused the death of Neapolitan Admiral Caracciolo; only Sir James’s assertion – that the “reliable Italian battleships”(ibid.:6) would be able to keep any foreign threat away from the peninsula – reassures her.

Last, but not least, Italian artistic primacy is reaffirmed by miss Margaret, who describes Thorvaldsen’s educational journey and his cultural debt to the peninsula.

  1. A thread apart: Greenland and the Inuit

Greenland stands apart from the steamer’s route; however, its folklore, history, nature, and culture are strictly interwoven into a one-night narrative thread that reports the scarce, stereotyped and not always accurate notions of the author’s times.

Greenland appears as a land of uncertain borders, where the pagan, ignorant and semi-nomadic people live, says the Captain. This gloomy environmental situation leads them to be extremely superstitious and to believe in mysterious presences; they spend a nomadic life in tents in summer, while in winter they stay in common residences “divided into as many parts as the families who live in the house”(ibid.:138); their clothes consist of “some rather tight trousers, and a jacket with a tight hood around the neck, with such small openings where one can only pass one’s hands and head through”(ibidem). Only their talent allows them to survive in that hostile nature: they invented ice fishing, and manage to assemble very protecting clothes and extremely robust boots.

A question of Miss Margaret’s allows Sir James to illustrate some historical details: contacts between Greenland and Iceland remained regular for several centuries, but around 1450 “no one cared about Greenland anymore”(ibid.:139). However, the few residents seemed to have no memory of that first colonization: in fact in 1585, when John Davis landed with his crews, the inhabitants considered them as supernatural beings, showing the same reaction as the South American Indians in front of the Spanish Conquistadores.

According to the Captain, Greenlanders maintain ‘primitive’ beliefs: despite their Christianization, superstitions remain alive, and magical powers are bestowed to the Ingersuits[9], both benign and evil spirits similar to human beings, that live in elegant residences. The Captain adds that local legends are preserved intact by a strict oral tradition: the narrator can “vary […] the expression given to words and gestures; but he is not even allowed to change a syllable, because everyone knows them and, as soon as they hear the slightest variant, they warn the narrator of his mistake”(ibid.:140). The Captain ends with the moving story of Iliarsorkik[10], “less boring than many others”(ibidem): the boy, a little orphan rejected by the village, has to show his courage facing and defeating a bear to be accepted in the community.

Overall, the Captain justifies the natives’ frame of mind: in fact “theirs is a country where earth, sky, and sea have such an aspect that almost force those who see them to imagine foreboding events”(ibid.:145). In addition, sometimes they hear “certain very loud cries, [that] one cannot know whether they come from the atmosphere or from the sea”(ibidem), considered “bad omens”(ibidem); from the mountains “a deafening noise, as if struck by a lightning […]”(ibidem) echoes, while “blocks of ice scattered over the endless plains sometimes have the appearance of monstrous animals, of gigantic people”(ibidem); moreover, sometimes bears land on icebergs and attack the poor Greenlanders. Finally, in addition to real dangers, the natives imagine the existence of Kajarjaks[11], a kind of gigantic spirits causing violent storms. While this narration arouses amazement and fear in the two girls, it seems to stimulate young Rolfe’s (and possibly some readers’) sense of adventure – leading him to imagine wild adventures in the Arctic area.

  1. Conclusions

Such a fluid narrative situation creates a “suspension of disbelief”, as S.T.Coleridge defined it  in his  Biographia  Literaria, that encourages the readers to identify with the travellers of a weird journey, feel a wealth of new emotions and learn a huge amount of information about Iceland, a neglected area of the world.

Conversely, the rigidly defined structure guides and supports their imagination, both during their explorations and in the reassuring setting of the steamer, ending their adventure back home. Consequently, the readers achieve a complete and exhaustive, albeit not always accurate, image of Iceland.

The characters mirror the readers: young people give voice to curiosity, enthusiasm, in some cases even fear and hesitation in front of the unknown; adults represent reliability, culture and experience, while the only female figure, fragile “by nature”, does not hide her apprehensions and reveals her own sensitivity. Eventually, the author arranges a complex intersection of characters and themes, offering her readers a unique opportunity to get acquainted with Iceland while remaining comfortably seated in their armchairs.


N.B. All translations into English are by the author.



AGNARSDÓTTIR, Anna, “In Search of “A Distinct and Peculiar Race of People”: the Mackenzie Expedition to Iceland, 1810”, in 1700-tal Nordic Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 10:11; DOI:10.7557/4.2619

COLERIDGE, Samuel  Taylor (1817). Biographia  Literaria, https://web.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/biographia.html

CUTINELLI, Francesco (1890). “Maria Savi Lopez e l’ultimo suo libro”, in Rassegna pugliese di scienze, lettere e arti”, Volume VII, n.18-19, pp.285-286.

FREDIANI, Federica (2007). Uscire. Reggio Emilia: Diabasis.

FREDIANI, Federica; RICORDA, Ricciarda; ROSSI, Luisa (2012) Spazi segni, parole. Milano:Franco Angeli.

LAWSON LUCAS, Ann (2017) Emilio Salgari. Una mitologia moderna tra letteratura, politica, società. Vol. 1: Fine secolo. 1883-1915. Le verità di una vita letteraria. Firenze: Olschki.

LEED, Eric J. (1992). La mente del viaggiatore. Bologna: il Mulino.

LEOPARDI, Giacomo (2003) “Dialogo della Natura e di in islandese”, in Armellini, G.- Colombo, A. (edit), La letteratura italiana, vol.B, p.624. Bologna: Zanichelli.

LEVI, Giovanni (2009). “I tempi della storia” in Historical Review / La Revue Historique, Institut de Recherches Néohelléniques, vol. VI pp.41–52.

MASOERO, Marisa (1985). Introduzione In: Maria Savi Lopez. Leggende delle Alpi. Ivrea: Pheljna, p. XI.

MASOERO, Marisa (1993). “Maria Savi Lopez. Un racconto, alcuni versi e saggi” In: Marco Cerruti (a cura di), Il «genio muliebre». Percorsi di donne intellettuali fra Settecento e Novecento in Piemonte. Antologia. p. 91-135. Alessandria: Edizioni dell’Orso.

MONGA, Luigi (1996). “Travel And Travel Writing”, in Annali d’Italianistica L’Odeporica/Hodoeporics: On Travel Literature, Volume 14. pp. 6-54.

PERUGI, Rosella (2019). Altrove. Viaggiatrici italiane nell’Europa del nord. Doctoral thesis, UTU: Turku.

PFEIFFER, Ida (1853) Visit to Iceland and the Scandinavian North. London: Ingram, Coke &Co..

ROSSI, Luisa (2005) L’altra mappa, Diabasis, 2005; R.Perugi, Altrove, Doctoral Thesis, Turku University, 2019.

SAVI LOPEZ, Maria (1893). Nei paesi del Nord: Danimarca ed Islanda. Torino: G. B. Paravia. (this  article  refers  to  1920  edition)

SAVI LOPEZ, Maria (2002). Nani e Folletti. Palermo: Sellerio.

SAVI LOPEZ, Maria (2008). Leggende del mare . Palermo: Sellerio.

SAVI LOPEZ, Maria (2014). Leggende delle Alpi Ivrea: Il Punto-Piemonte.

SAVI LOPEZ, Maria (2016). La donna italiana del XIV secol., Liber-liber: e-book

SAVI LOPEZ, Maria (2018) Tramonto regale. Liber-liber: e-book

STEUART MACKENZIE, Sir George (1811) Travels in the Island of Iceland: During the Summer of the Year MDCCCX. London: Thomas Allan ed., https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=4xwCAAAAYAAJ&pg=GBS.PA72&hl=it

VON TROIL, Uno (1780). Letters on Iceland: containing observations on the civil, literary, … history; antiquities, … customs, … &c. &c. made, during a voyage undertaken in the year 1772, by Joseph Banks, … Written by Uno von Troil, … To which are added, the letters of Dr. Ihre and Dr. Bach to the author, … Also Professor Bergman’s curious observations ….London: Robson,  http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupname?key=Troil%2C%20Uno%20von%2C%201746-1803



[1] Among others: L.Rossi, L’altra mappa, Diabasis, 2005; F.Frediani, Uscire, Diabasis, 2007; F. Frediani, R. Ricorda, L. Rossi, Spazi segni, parole, Franco Angeli 2012; R.Perugi, Altrove, Doctoral Thesis, Turku University, 2019.

[2] Ida Pfeiffer writes that she had to wait several weeks in Denmark, before she could find a cargo ship for Iceland (Pfeiffer 1856:20).

[3] U. von Troil, 1780: Letters on Iceland […] the definition is given in letter XXI, p.247-“hver”.

[4] Another Italian traveller, Giulia Kapp Salvini, took part in this cruise and left a travelogue: Le capitali del Nord (Hoepli, Milan 1907).

[5] An example can clarify this statement: before leaving, both Amy and Rolfe are worried to leave their father alone, but express their apprehension in very different ways: while the boy, staring into his father’s eyes, offers directly to give up the trip, Amy instead looks for a physical contact sitting at the bottom of her father’s chair, in a subordinate position, and silently expressing the same purpose by stroking his hand.

[6] The sentence –“our travellers”- and the possessive “our” will be repeated several times (pp. 13, 31, 42, 180, 181 …), to consolidate the relationship between readers and protagonists.

[7] The Author compares the site of Stonehenge, well known to her English travellers, to explain the value of these Danish remains; the letter f instead of h may be a misprint.

[8] It was Giosuè Carducci, one of the outstanding poets of the time and Nobel Prize in 1906, to appoint as “Third” the recently unified Italy, resulting from the struggles of Risorgimento, to mean it as a leading power, heir to the greatness of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.

[9] The author uses the English spelling to report the names of these, as well as the following, spirits.

[10] See above, n.9.

[11] See above, n.9.

Demonizing 2020: A Calendar Year Becomes an Effigy Doll

This is not a scholarly article. It is rather a set of my observations and opinions sparked by the massive scorning, cursing and trolling of the year 2020, which can now be encountered abundantly all over the internet, other media, and in private conversations. This article does draw upon general knowledge of ethics, philosophy, sociology, psychology and history but, nevertheless, it remains within the scope of my personal and highly limited worldview. The idea of the article is to show why such treatment of a calendar year is highly erroneous and immoral, and how it mirrors a general imbalance in human scale of values.


The Setup or The Importance of Every Stone

Firstly, what is a calendar year? I have never asked myself that question until now, simply because the answer seemed trivial to the point where the question itself loses any purpose. The year is comprised of the 365 days between the midnights of January 1 and December 31. The two dates are marked as the moment that human beings typically prefer to celebrate with fireworks, travelling, partying and excessive eating and drinking. More specifically, a year is a mental construct, which is confirmed, measured and distributed by mechanical devices we have developed in order to control the temporal aspect of our experience of being. A second is an idea, so is a year – finally, that makes our division of time a construct forced upon nature. Surely, the temporal placement of the end of the year does follow the pattern of the four seasons – it is comfortably imagined as the first act of winter, the time when people of the past had to slow down, take a rest, and, following nature’s pattern, prepare for a new start. However, do not forget that this correspondence between the end of the year and nature is valid only for the moderate climate belt, more precisely, for most of Europe, and it only reveals the Eurocentric nature of our past rather than any solid connection that the 365 days long period could have with global climatic reality on Earth. Finally, different cultures used, and still use, different calendars to mark the end of the year at different times.

The other important fact which anchors the year into the natural order comes from further observations of the Earth’s surface – it comes from the movement of our planet through the dimension we named the Universe. In these 365 days, as many ancient astrologists noted centuries ago, our planet makes a full circle around the Sun. It is realistic to understand this as an ultimate proof that the one-year period as a mental construction is indeed intrinsically rooted in natural laws, however, in my opinion, there is yet another issue we have to consider. That issue is human binary thinking; a shared mind setup which forces us to divide everything into units that, according to us, can be subdivided into smaller building blocks which always include one beginning, a duration, and one ending. In that sense, humans maybe could have agreed a long time ago that ‘a year’ is half of the Earth’s trip around the Sun, or perhaps two rounds. In the first case, the year today would be 4042, in the latter 1011. Although this would follow some rules of binary logic, it would break the principal one: ‘completion’. One year must be one full turn with a distinctive beginning and ending. It is interesting, just as a short aside, that humans, although they are intrinsically a binary-thinking species, fervently reject the idea of two basic endings in their logical constellation, the ending of their lives, and the ending if the Universe. To bypass their anxiety about dying, they constructed beliefs that later developed into spiritualties and religions, and the theories for avoiding the discomfort caused by the lack of knowledge about the Universe developed into scientific postulates of the Universe being ‘infinite’.

If the entire Universe is based on strict binary logic, which I find hard to believe, then it surely has an ending (maybe it is exactly the shift from binary into a different logical system that marks this ending), or better said, a spatial border where it turns into a slightly or significantly different system. Of course, you can persist in calling that other system ‘the Universe’ as well, but keep in mind that Columbus called the Caribbean Islands ‘India’. What is a non-binary thinking? I do not want to go into this, as it would take too much time and detach me from my main theme, but one thing is for sure: in a non-binary logical system, time would be something entirely different. We almost surely would not need ‘a year’, or any other such measurement at all. To conclude, my opinion is that the idea, based on binary logic, that one voyage of the Earth around the Sun forms a one ‘year’ period, although based on a natural cycle, is still is largely a human mental construct imposed on nature.

Now, imagine there was a specific ‘year’ long period that was perceived by humans as so misfortunate that it became evil itself, a time so globally detested, even by those with serious educational backgrounds, that it became the year that ‘everyone wants to forget’, a symbol of ‘cruel and unjust nature’ taking it out on our poor species. This is, of course, ‘the cursed’ year 2020, the year that destroyed our small human dreams with viruses, bad weather, earthquakes, difficult economic conditions and depression. The Internet and the media these days are burning with mournful and vindictive messages, such as: ‘2020-Go Away!’ or ‘2021, save us from the beast!’ The year 2020 itself was transformed into a global effigy, and everyone around the world is invited to cast a stone at it. In my opinion, this belies a deep problem in the human perception of reality, an intrinsic systematic error, much more dangerous than, for example, flat Earth theories, which are based almost solely on ignorance. The year 2020 is being publicly burned as an effigy at a global carnival celebrating the most frightening limits of human perception. This human behaviour also shows that we, as a species with a set of cultural practices, have not made significant progress from tribal origins based on fear and ideas of safety rooted in collectivism. This also inevitably makes us a naïve species, and, although an easily lovable one, rather sad, and fated in the sense of Greek tragedy. But much more importantly, this attitude towards a calendar year shows our darkest side: an utter lack of morality and any sense of responsibility, issues I will touch upon individually in the next passages. For now, as a quick and perhaps displaced observation, I will just note that our civilization viewed from the Universe might look like a dangerous skin disease on the planet’s surface.

Human beings have managed to shoot a few members of their species out into the surrounding Universe and safely return some of them to Earth. There are two comments that I would like to offer here, even at the risk of the first comment sounding arrogant and ignorant. Launching anything from the surface of anything, and getting it back down, is a matter of sheer physics. It takes a large number of competent scientists to calculate the physics of every part of the voyage, including all variables and possible scenarios. This is, indeed, a complex and time-consuming process that takes a lot of knowledge, dedication, courage, preparation and even creativity. Trips into the Universe are arguably the peak of our technological development. However, these trips are based solely on mathematical calculations – almost endless sequences of numbers, exact results and approximations as well. Numbers. It is my personal opinion that calculating an orbit and then constructing the device that can execute that orbit is certainly an amazing accomplishment but philosophically as trivial as scoring a point during a basketball game. Not to mention the fact that for such space endeavours we use fossil fuels and create tons of terrestrial and atmospheric waste. Human beings continue to destroy the planet in the course of the production of these fuels and the technical components required for space travel (all of which cost billions, while every second on Earth an infant life is taken by starvation). That such advanced knowledge and the rockets that are its expression are seriously employed for the planned evacuation of their species once they have entirely ruined the Earth only shows that homo sapiens has fallen into an abyss of immorality and lunacy.

Here comes my next comment on our amazing technological development: Every square millimeter of untouched nature on Earth is more important than anything humans have ever achieved. Every stone matters, and, if the stone has to be moved or destroyed, it has to be done in accordance with the laws of nature that preserve global balance, the balance we and everything around us depend on. In other words, although a human being or an animal can move or even break the stone, although the water, sunlight and temperature will inevitably damage the stone over time, that stone has its own rights. Let us call them the legal rights of every stone. This law is natural law. The first central tenet of the law is, what I call, the ‘temporality of balance’. We all know by now that everything around us changes, for example, mountains descend due to erosion, new islands are born from lava, lakes get sucked into ground after earthquakes, the sea level constantly changes, continental masses are slowly moving, the climate is in constant shift, entire rain forests turn to desert, various species disappear and new ones emerge. All these changes happen at a pace strictly determined by the logical laws of nature. This pace is typically slow, in the sense that it gives time for species to adjust (‘slow’ in that sense, because in every other sense ‘slow’ is too ethereal to define). Of course, there is plenty of evidence that some global changes in nature were abrupt and that they have caused mass extinction of numerous species. However, even these abrupt changes were always the result of natural causes and exercised upon and with natural materials, in other words, nature only rapidly rearranged itself. There was no, for example, plastic involved, let alone depleted uranium. In that sense, abrupt global changes in nature, although very rare, were themselves natural in essence and in their result. However, the majority of changes on Earth, and in the known Universe, are perfectly adjusted to the need of ‘slow and gradual’ evolution and survival. That pace of temporality of balance was never constant. We now know that most changes in nature at some point accelerate exponentially. That is usually the case in the later or final phases of every change. Even that final acceleration of pace does not put ecosystems in jeopardy; on the contrary, it opens space for natural new beginnings.

It is interesting to note that all living beings, not just humans, to an extent interfere with the temporality of balance. It seems that the simpler life forms are employed to control the stability of the pace of changes, and that is their contribution to this balance. More complex life forms can sometimes display a behaviour that can be described as egoist and borderline destructive. For example, an elephant is able to destroy and kill a tree just to get a decent scratch on its back. On a funnier note, they say the most potent natural source of carbon-dioxide on the surface of the earth is in the intestines of cows, and that, if all the cows in the world would simultaneously empty their carbon-dioxide stashes, the atmosphere would be in serious trouble. The fact is that cows will never do that. And a herd of elephants destroying trees for pleasure will never lead to the extinction of forests.

Let us imagine that both elephants and cows display a human-like intelligence. Elephants would mark their own parts of forests and motivate other elephants (who are excluded from forest ownership) to scratch their backs on their trees. For that service, they would ask for money. In the advanced phase of greed, elephants would motivate their friends to not only scratch when they really need a scratch but every time they want to amuse themselves. That would lead to the destruction of forests, and elephants would have to find new forests for exploitation. Eventually, that would lead to the extinction of all forests, and elephants would be left in scorching sun, some of them penniless, some of them rich, but none of them able to get a decent scratch, nor food, for that matter.

Considering cows as well displayed aspects of human intelligence, it would be enough for one of them to announce that releasing carbon dioxide anally is a spectacle that elephants would gladly pay to hear – and all of the cows would start greedily releasing gases. Some of them would start overeating to produce more gas and thereby generate more profit. Then, some of the cows would start producing plastic balloons for ‘take away gas’. Elephants would buy these balloons, laugh at the sound of the gas released from them, and eventually throw the used plastic balloons on the ground. The resulting overexploited and barren pastures could not renew themselves due to the high level of carbon dioxide in the air. Both cows and elephants would become extinct. The only thing left would be reeking winds carrying non-degradable plastic waste. We have to understand that either elephants or cows would eventually become extinct or evolve into a new species over time. The time determined by the temporality of balance, and typically spanning millions of years. But with human intelligence, cows and elephants would, I suppose, become extinct much more quickly.

This illustrates our biggest crime against nature – we as a species have irreversibly accelerated the pace of the temporality balance. This is now a different type of balance – one that will not spare us any possible consequences. How did we speed up the pace of change? Quite simply, by moving the stone. Crushing it to powder. Painting it with chemical color. By exploding it, or sealing it into concrete. By radiating it. By not realizing that the millennia-old lines carved in the stone were just as much a work of art as any of, for example, Dali’s paintings. By thinking that there is any deity above that stone. The disrespect for one stone led to the destruction of the entire planet.

We often hear that the theories of global climate change are a hoax. That the changes were happening anyway, and that humans had very little or nothing to do with accelerating them. That the planet has let us down, and we will simply atom bomb Mars to create atmosphere and move there. In my opinion, even without climate change, but with the current intensity of human activity, the planet would soon become too toxic to live on anyway. But climate change is here as a logical consequence of our toxic behaviour, and it will shorten our time to develop immunity to our own toxins, making our extinction (or, at least, that of most of us) quite evident. Unfortunately, with us and because of us, even the innocent species like elephants and cows will disappear. Furthermore, those who talk about human innocence in breaking the first tenet of natural law are typically either the rich and powerful or the ignorant. Both need to believe in human innocence simply because the first group offers scratching, and the second group needs it. All this for a handful of dollars.

Let us now return to human space expeditions. Imagine if Nature personified were to appear at the launch site of a space rocket and order humans to make the launch three times faster. All the scientific calculations would be in vain because the balance of human calculations would be disrupted. Humans would be left only with an unrealistic hope that the space voyage would take the same course even with altered physics. This is what we have done to nature’s temporal balance.

My final remark on the temporality of balance is the sad fact that human beings cannot restore its natural pace by further interventions, even ‘positive’ ones. In this unforgiving circle of logic, every human action, even those with good intentions, cause further changes, which trigger new chain reactions. It is a bit like the plot of the Back to Future movies. Whatever we do with unnatural materials, especially on a large scale, seems to bring just as much damage as benefit. And for good reason: We do everything in an unnatural way and with unnatural materials because we are a species entirely detached from nature. In that respect, it would be perhaps the best for humans to entirely suspend activities and ‘development’ for a century or more. Just remember how much nature has gained in a few months of human quarantine due to the Covid-19 virus. Of course, the notion of people giving up their plastic dreams is almost a utopia in itself. Extinction appears to be the correct ending.

The second basic tenet of natural law is the justifiability of actions. By actions, I mean all the activities that alter our environment. That covers everything from starting a fire, plucking a flower, hunting and fishing, to demolishing mountains for stone quarries and murdering rivers with dams. It is clear that almost all the actions by animals in nature are entirely justifiable. And those rare actions by animals that cannot be justified are never massive, serial, organized, globally or statistically significant. On the other hand, humans have to learn that nature is not something God-given to them to exploit, alter and ruin. That one stone – that is the god, and parts of untouched nature are our last true shrines. We are here to benefit from the land and protect it, rather than to overexploit and subdue it.

I have noticed a repulsive process in my homeland that is related to tourism – ecologically one of the most detrimental branches of the economy, which I will illustrate in a hypothetical example. Imagine a small fishing village in relative isolation, connected to other, larger settlements by a narrow road. The village consists of ten old stone houses. Villagers fish mostly for their own needs, they create very little waste, they are relatively poor but have everything needed for survival. They are also relatively healthy, and a few villagers are older than 100 years of age. Around the village are barren stony hills carved by the natural elements for millennia. On the slopes of these karst hills are small herds of sheep. Where the hill slopes meet the sea, the power of water has carved sandy beaches of indescribable beauty.

At one point, the villagers realize that people in other settlements earn more and more from tourism. They try to lure tourists to their village but in the beginning it is hard. Only the adventurous tourists visit, and they leave with stories of untouched nature and hidden virgin beaches that only a few outsiders have had the chance to enjoy. The word spreads, and more tourists wish to visit the village. Investors recognize the chance for easy money. They offer villagers impressive amounts of cash (at least to the villagers) for barren plots of land close to the sea, which were for centuries considered basically worthless. Some villagers become incredibly rich. They immediately rebuild their old houses and add apartments and rooms for tourists (these additional rooms, floors and objects typically lacking any aesthetic value). The investors level the beaches and surrounding terrain and cover it with concrete. This is to make the tourists’ approach to the sea easier. They devastate large portions of natural land to create endless parking spaces. They carve into the slopes of the hill to build hotels and restaurants, with sewers (as was the practice through the most of the twentieth century) running directly onto the beaches. Now new private concrete apartments are built, each with its own concrete approach to the sea. The village suddenly consists of forty edifices, most of them weekend and summer houses, and hotels. The road to the village is widened. The village is now packed with people during the summer. They produce an enormous quantity of garbage that the investors do not care about, and the villagers do not know (or do not want to know) how to dispose of. The approach to the virgin beach is paved. The plot of land between the road and the beach is privately owned, and the owner now decides to level the natural wild wooded area, to create a large concrete-covered parking lot that will make him millions.  He also adds kiosks selling drinks and souvenirs. The beach becomes a large swimming pool for an army of tourists. Fast forward a decade or two, the village now is a small town that stretches all the way to the virgin beach. All natural soil is carved up for the foundations of new houses, all natural surfaces are levelled and either covered in concrete or turned into small gardens that remind humans of their triumph over nature. The sea along the littoral belt is devastated – there is basically no life in the sea except for black and brown algae. The beaches and adjacent surfaces are covered with waste, especially plastic, and soaked with gasoline and other chemicals. The landscape that was being created for millennia is devastated under the pretence of justifiable development and the legitimate human need for profit. Although promised a better and longer life, the villagers are living under stress, with only a few of them reaching the age of 80. It is the year of the pandemics and the tourist facilities are empty. Investors and villagers are on the verge of bankruptcy. They are anxiously sitting in their poisoned town, cursing the year 2020.

Needless to say, this attitude towards nature is not justifiable. This is terror. If the villagers kept their stones and cliffs and beaches in the original, natural state, they could have made the same profit on each and every one of them. This is so because the tourists, although perhaps less numerous, would pay more to see untouched nature, and they too would treat it with more respect (and of course, the villagers also would have had the option of not entirely giving up their traditional way of life in the first place). Instead, the villagers have sold their land out, they have devastated it and, instead of acting as hosts, they acted rather as pimps. Human beings have to finally understand that levelling a piece of ancient wooded land in order to make a parking space is not justifiable. That covering the cliffs on the beach with concrete to make easier approaches the sea is not justifiable. That implanting concrete pillars into the cliffs so that the tourists could anchor their yachts a few meters from sandy beaches is not justifiable. Or that turning small wooded areas into posh mini-gardens is not justifiable. The stone is the most important, it should not be altered but we should rather adjust to it. Now imagine another thing. Human beings enter the museum to admire Michelangelo’s David. But, alas, there are problems. Firstly, David is naked, and that disturbs some of the humans. So they cut off the monument’s genitalia. Furthermore, the sculpture is too large to fit in a mobile phone photograph. So they cut it into two pieces to allow accessibility. Now the problem is David’s left arm is raised, and he is looking downwards toward his left side – so if you want to get a clear shot of his face, the hand is basically on the way. So they cut his left hand into pieces. White marble is so passé, so they paint it some more vivid colour, for example, an oily yellow. Next to the severed torso of David, they open a wooden kiosk where they sell pieces and chunks of David’s left hand to tourists.

And this is exactly what we are doing to the nature on which we depend. If you would so much as spit on the statue of David, you would finish in jail. Hence, it should not be difficult to accept that killing a natural stone is not justifiable.

The third basic tenet of natural law is that all materials should be natural and chemically unchanged. When our ancestors burned stones and extracted metals from them, this was already a significant intervention into the natural order. However, this cannot be compared with the damage created by chemically altered substances such as plastic or radioactive materials. There are two basic problems with chemically altered materials: They do not decompose quickly enough, and they typically disintegrate into smaller particles which have the same chemical features as the bigger chunks of material they originated from, hence nanoplastic pollution and radioactive winds.

Naturally, nothing could have prevented humans from creating such things as plastic and radioactive materials. Our civilisation largely depends on them. But what we could have done, as highly intelligent creatures that have walked on the Moon, was to use these materials more cleverly, and to store and recycle these materials in the most effective manner possible. It all comes down to this: We should have made sure that the contact between the natural materials and the plastic and radioactive materials was kept to the minimum possible level.

And what have we done? Let us return to the devastated ex-fishing village. Nanoplastic is in the soil and in the water. From there it enters the air. This plastic comes from the tons of plastic bags that we exorbitantly give out in shops, it comes from the over-packaging of our goods, it comes from a plethora of mostly useless and trivial plastic products that we so full heartedly purchase and that quickly finish in our waste, and now these microscopic poison bugs are everywhere. Furthermore, the villagers, when they were busy levelling wooded areas, filled the holes in the ground with debris left after construction work. This landfill is full of plastics, and now it is releasing poison under the layers of decaying concrete. Finally, (and please do understand that this is only an innocent example) there was a NATO bombardment taking place a few countries away, and the military airplanes extensively used the air corridor stretching just over the village. At some point, the airplanes had to get rid of unexploded projectiles, so they ditched them into the sea (and, mind you, this is totally legal according to the international law) just a few miles away from the virgin beach. The sea splashing the shores of the village is now two times more radioactive then a few years ago. As the shells of the projectiles continue to decompose, the radioactivity in the region will rise accordingly.

To wrap up this section (hopefully not in plastic), I will use a visual example to describe the importance of every stone and the effect of even the tiniest interventions into our environment. Imagine one-meter square of a barren, desert land (Figure 1). The land is seemingly lifeless and arranged entirely by the seemingly random rules of natural physics. The wind is blowing from the upper right corner toward the lower left corner. There are only five bigger rocks on the land, and one struggling desert flower sheltered behind the rock number four. The flower gives bloom every year in March. The land has been unchanged for at least the last 200 years. Every March, a group of scientists come to the observation point in the lower left corner.









What the scientist observe is the following:

  1. Stones have moved another 0.8 millimeters toward the lower left corner, as compared to the previous year.
  2. It was a statistically more arid year, so the flower bloomed a week later than the previous year, nevertheless, the sweet scent of its flowers could easily be felt in the wind.
  3. The winds were of usually observed intensity and direction.
  4. Traces of bugs were noticed in the sand; they seem to be distributed in circular paths around the stones, which is telling of the insects’ behaviour.
  5. At this pace of change, this land will remain practically unchanged for at least one more century.

Now, what happened is that some irresponsible humans arrived soon after this observation. What they saw was just a useless and lifeless plot of land. They rearranged the stones by rolling them around. They also took two stones away as memorabilia. What happened next is a mass extinction of the insects and worms living on the land. The flower dried out. The scientists returned next March and they found the plot in the condition shown by Figure 2.









The scientist observed the following:

  1. Unfortunately, the stones were moved and taken away and this led to the land being more exposed to the wind.
  2. Exposure to the wind caused the surface erosion to double, at least; this led to the land being more unstable and arid.
  3. Changes in the land lead to the extinction of insects; numerous exoskeletons of dead insects were noticed; surviving insects must have moved to different plot of land that offers more shadow.
  4. The flower had a deep and well branched root, so, when deprived of the protection of the large stone, the flower succumbed entirely and dried off; miraculously, the root has sprouted another smaller flowering stem in the protection of a new stone.
  5. Although the winds are now stronger, the scent of the flower cannot be felt anymore at the observation point due to flower’s new location.

To some, Figure 1 and Figure 2 might seem exactly the same. Who cares about a few stones being rolled over a piece of barren land? However, this illustration shows how even the smallest intervention in our environment always causes significant changes. Every stone on Earth really matters. Even the smallest changes cause micro-tragedies and triumphs, let alone the massive alterations of environment that human beings have been practicing ever since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The most important lesson for humans to learn from this example is that, unless it is a matter of life and death, they have no right to roll even one stone in the most insignificant of deserts.

Maybe you are wondering how this highly intelligent species, which has sent people into the Universe, never realized this painfully obvious interconnection of our environment to everything in it. I believe there were a lot of people who had not realized this basic natural law in time. On the other hand, there were people who were aware of what was happening from day one. Those belonging to the middle class chose to ignore the situation in order not to fall out of their comfort zone. The elite remained silent in order to protect their wealth.

In that respect, there is Figure 3 showing that same one-meter square plot of desert land in 2020. The land is now entirely covered with tarmac (the plot is a part of a parking lot in front of a fast food restaurant situated in the desert). On the tarmac, there are oil stains. The wind brought a used Covid-19 mask that got stuck on the oily surface of the tarmac (the restaurant is closed due to the pandemic).


The Stunning Immorality of 2020 Escapism

The year 2020 was statistically the hottest ever measured. Consequently, the year was marked by extreme weather. We have lived through floods, violent storms, devastating tornados, wild bushfires, and constant earthquakes, just to mention a few examples. This year has seen the biggest retreat of glaciers. According to scientists, there is comparatively little ice left on the planet’s poles. The melting permafrost has caused landslides and craters to collapse in muddy soil. Volcanoes have awakened.

We lost several animal species this year. On the other hand, an enormous quantity of rock was crushed into sand and used for concrete. Thousands of kilometers of pipeline were added to the oil distribution network. While China continues to rapidly devastate its land in order to industrialize its countryside, the four largest and most powerful countries in the world are led by extreme populist maniacs or/and reckless nationalists (I refer to the US, Brazil, Russia and India). The country that has taken on the role of global policeman, the US, has proved to be a society with a very questionable talent for democracy. I have no doubt that, if Stalin could see the state of American society as it is today, he would experience multiple orgasms. Needless to say that America under the current installed president carried on with its dirty wars and incredibly unjust political engineering all over the world. The Brazilian dictator, on the other hand, devastated a large portion of the Amazon rainforest. Russia is led by a person we know more about than our own grandparents – he has been with us that long. He is a dangerous little man, who, astonishingly enough, is sometimes seen as the voice of reason compared to his American counterpart. And India is in a new mode –  extreme nationalist full speed ahead. It is, I guess, a matter of luck that I do not need to add the UK and their current leader to this list (and that surely would be an exhausting task) because the UK, and probably soon just the Kingdom of England and those who decide to stay, will become less geo-strategically important than, for example, the Falkland Islands.

In short, although the number and extent of catastrophes does not stand out when compared to many other years in the past, 2020 is a perfect introduction to a story of total ecological collapse. Furthermore, it is the year when the Earth, and especially people from western cultures, was left without the moral and military guidance of the usual superpower figureheads. Regardless of the fact that all the ecological problems that escalated in 2020 were the result of everything that our species has been doing since the 1850s, and regardless of the fact that the previous ‘moral’ guidance of the established superpowers was deeply corrupted and tremendously unjust, I do acknowledge that the year 2020 was quite a shock even for the most pessimistic among us. And I do believe that every next year will pose more and more obstacles for the human species. It is a fairly logical presumption in a world where the word of Chomsky is worth much less than the word of Musk. Whose car is still orbiting the Earth.

Two Objections

Of course, what we will remember 2020 for are not these lurking demons of doom but rather the Covid-19 virus, the clumsy little bugger that stole our dreams and privatized a whole year, maybe even a longer period. With what right and how dare it? In this short and condensed set of observations, I will not give the virus too much time or too much credit, even though it has claimed about 1,835,000 human lives at this writing. I will rather focus only on how humans have decided to blame everything on the calendar year 2020. In the following passages I will consider two principal objections to this massive demonization of 2020 on the internet and in the media, these two objections being number one, the loss of any realistic perspective, and number two, the transfer of responsibility.

The first principal objection, the loss of any realistic perspective, can be observed in the following set of facts: 1. Everything that has happened in 2020 is the result of happenings in previous years. 2. The pandemic situation was something about which scientists had warned us a long time ago. 3. The Western societies revealed how truly spoiled and weak their members are once expelled from their comfort zones. 4. The Covid-19 situation exposed how utterly insensitive Western societies are to the suffering of those outside their cultural circle.

As for the first fact, it seems that humans see 2020 as a period entirely isolated from the rest of history. Perhaps this comes from an ecstatic fear that leads to an urge to wrap 2020 in plastic and just keep silent about it – that I cannot confirm. But it is hard to understand that even educated people believe that 2020 was a ‘year went wrong’ rather than a logical continuation of everything that went on before. And it is even more difficult to understand that they believe that 2021 will bring ‘salvation’. In that respect, those posting on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., refer to those who lived to see the end of 2020 as ‘survivors’. In their highly delusional manner, they continue to congratulate the survivors for surviving the evil year that decided to crash us all. And, of course, they wish 2020 to die in pain on December 31, midnight, local time. In the forty-two turbulent years I have spent on Earth, I do not think I have ever witnessed such mass hysteria before, even during the war.

The second fact, that we were forewarned, reveals a very interesting feature of human nature: Knowing is not enough for believing, on the contrary, not knowing is often more than enough to believe just about anything. Pandemics are something that followed the human race from the very beginning. Just mentioning the twentieth century and the Spanish flu is enough to illustrate this peculiar relationship between human beings and expansions of deadly viruses. I guess the second half of the twentieth century provided humans with a feeling of false security, which lead to a widespread opinion that ‘this could not happen to us’, despite all the warnings. However, something similar has happened every so often – there were several outbursts of viruses related to the Covid-virus family that caused epidemics in some Asian countries.  But that was far from Europe, far from Northern America. Who cared? On TV we watched Asians wearing facemasks and we considered that to be farfetched, weird and nerdish. We still did not believe that this could, and sooner or later would happen to us all. And then there were American catastrophe films dealing with the theme of deadly viruses wiping out our civilization. I guess these films strengthened the idea of global pandemics being a matter of science fiction and undemanding entertainment. And then, in 2020 we are in the midst of it, the whole of humanity in the same boat, in the times of pandemics. After waves of incredible false news, misinterpretations and conspiracy theories both from laymen and, unfortunately, some people of science, humanity is closed off and quarantined. After that, a relatively peaceful summer period followed, and then, with lower temperatures, the virus is back. This is when, starting in October, I first noticed posts on social media which claimed that ‘we cannot wait for this year to finish’ or ‘hold on friends, just a few months left and we are saved’. What would follow were replies of people wishing each other patience and strength ‘to carry on until the end of the nightmare’. Sometimes, more humorous replies would appear, one of such is: ‘2020 the movie, directed by Quentin Tarantino, written by Stephen King, original soundtrack by Yoko Ono.’ All these posts show that the highly probable occurrence of pandemics caught people in 2020 globally unprepared and extremely vulnerable. And that surely is not so much a problem of the calendar year, but rather a problem related to the incompleteness of human perception.

While explaining the third fact, about the global reaction to the pandemics, I have to note that an entirely new genre of lamentation and self-pity was invented in 2020, especially in highly developed and industrialized societies, and that is the Covid-19 lament, of course. Suddenly, people in Western societies felt stripped of their rights and freedoms. They felt isolated, dehumanized, and their work and communication depersonalized. Every description of their existential situation was abundant with words starting with ‘de’. Global destinies derailed. And what happened indeed was that these people were asked to stay at home and avoid social contact so that the Covid-19 virus could be put under control and eventually destroyed. But the fact that Westerners now had to live in isolation for some time suddenly overshadowed, for example, millions of starving children in Yemen. Overnight, drinking coffee with a friend become more meaningful than the fact that there are still hundreds of thousands of refugees on the EU borders freezing in muddy tent camps. This global sentiment was mirrored in social media as well. Memes appeared on Facebook such as: ‘I wish that in 2021 your home, your workplace, and your bar are in three different places.’ Other more ‘spiritualized’ posts appeared, such as: ‘If 2020 taught me anything, then it is the importance of humanity sticking together.’ I cannot help asking myself ‘Then why did 1998 not teach people that illegal invasions of independent countries led to death and destruction, and very little freedom and democracy?’ Or, more importantly, ‘Do human beings really need a pandemic to conclude that they have to stick together?’ All this shows a very ugly aspect of the developed societies: Their members display double standards and two-faced, pathetic emotional ego trips when pushed out of their comfort zones. By posting memes trashing or ‘deeply analyzing’ 2020, they simply restore their self-importance, their comfort, and their feeling of supremacy. And indeed, true are the final verses of T. S. Elliot’s The Hollow Men: ‘This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper.’ We heard a lot of whimpering at the end of 2020, and I suppose the end of our civilization will look equally superficial and detached from reality.

The fourth fact, the capacity for denial, is somehow related to the third one. I will open with one hypothetical or, if you will, poetic question: How can a few months of Covid-19 related quarantine and twelve (to be expected sixteen) months of the Covid-19 situation ever compare to life in the Gaza Strip since 1949? And now in Gaza they have the same degree of isolation, the threat of war, and Covid-19. How can the quarantined world compare to the decades-old situation of (self) isolated Amazon tribes, which are being destroyed, slaughtered, and deported while their forests are being simultaneously cut down and put on the international neo-liberal market? How does the fact that we are not able to drink coffee in our favourite café bars compare to nearly a decade of slaughters in Syria and Yemen? It is important to note that those conflicts were largely fuelled by outside forces – the so called ‘free world’, under the banners of pseudo-democracy, and, their confronting counterparts, the outspoken villains, all of them actually proud of their historical function. It is also interesting to note that the moral, ethical and aesthetic differences between the two opposing outside forces are no greater than the difference between the negative and positive ends of a triple A battery. Were they not entertained enough in Afghanistan, a traditional and once proud society first raped and betrayed by the UK, then irreversibly radicalized by the Soviet excursion and with covert American ‘support’, and then openly massacred by the US? Has Afghanistan not lived in fear and stress for more than a hundred years now? They are talking about, for example, the long-term consequences of the Covid-19 virus on our nervous system. Do we really have any use for gray matter at all if we, as a species, are not able to conclude that the children born terribly deformed today in Vietnam due to the American’s use of Agent Orange more than 45 years ago display more tragic long term consequences in comparison with any aspect of Covid-19 disease? And what about the millions of workers, very often children and minors, quarantined for decades in gloomy industrial (often underground) facilities all around the world, not just Asia, who are paid peanuts in order to produce our precious plastic gadgets? What about the millions of people (self) isolated because of their cast, physical appearance, sexual orientation? Should we promise them a better 2021?

I am always disappointed when this 2020 whimpering finds its way even into the most unexpected of places – highly established cultural circles and institutions. One such example is a text displayed on the building of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) which reads: ‘Please believe these days will pass’, and that instantly went viral. I admit that my reading of this message probably is a bit too narrow. Still, it is my deep belief that such an institution, with such social impact, could have used its influence much more effectively by displaying a radically different message. The message could be, I suppose, the following: ‘Human beings, if you want the bad days to finish, please, stop destroying the planet you live on’. Maybe this is not emotionally and socially engaged enough for the wide masses. But what an opportunity – missed.

The second principal objection to the massive demonization of the year 2020 on the internet and in the media is the immoral transfer of responsibility. If you look closely at the history of human kind, you will see that two feelings existing between humans seem to be essential and constant: fear and guilt. Guilt, of course, being fear’s extremely creative child. Numerous analyses were written about this aspect of the human psyche, and from the point of view of many branches of science. What I am interested in examining in this short overview is the complex system of mechanisms that enable humans to avoid guilt and transfer their objective responsibility onto others, onto deities, natural and supernatural phenomena, and even onto inanimate objects. This complex system of mechanisms (in an extremely and dangerously simplified explanation here but let us take a swing at it anyway) gave birth (just to note the two most prominent examples) to religious beliefs, which outsourced ‘the unbearable human ideal’ to supernatural and nonhuman or semi-human deities, and also to the idea of human societies being organized into units called ‘nation states’, which outsourced the objective responsibility of individuals onto various types of rulers, state institutions and institutionalized pressure groups. This is the reason why even today, in the twenty-first century, we have groups of serious humans with serious university diplomas, followed by serious media, having serious debates on themes such as: ‘Should we allow vaccines produced from aborted embryos?’ and ‘should we have social or authoritarian states?’. These questions in themselves are utterly erroneous. Firstly, the sacred texts of most religions, especially monotheistic ones, claim that land was given to humans to own it, exploit it, and inherit it. Using the Matrix matrix, I will ask you: ‘What if I told you that this is wrong and the source of most of the evils that befall the human species?’ Land is not here for us, we are here for the land (and certainly not as Kennedy intended in his famous speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, which only confirms the second type of transfer of responsibility exemplified above). Land, that is, nature, is the only true deity. And we are a part of it. In such a society, which would live in a sort of Ubuntu with nature and other creatures, would we have aborted babies at all?  My guess is that we surely would not have L’Oreal and Vichy night-care beauty creams. On the other hand, we would have developed science, there is no proof that science and ethical progress stand in confrontation with the philosophy of Ubuntu, au contraire, what I am writing about here is a self-sustainable society, and not a neo-primitive one. If we asked the right questions, our vaccines would be different, their production, development financing and distribution would be radically different, and, finally our diseases would be different and appearing in different historical periods as compared to the ones that we have now.

Secondly, the question of what kind of state we should live in is in itself useless unless another question is thoroughly answered first: Why do we need national/political states at all? In my deep belief, the essential message of every state to its subjects is the following: ‘People, you are incapable of organizing your lives without the monitoring of a higher authority. Hence, you have to give us, the state and its representatives, the power to entirely organize your lives. However, the organization is costly, and you are obliged to finance the state on your own.’ Is this the ultimate ideal for humans? What about societies organized in cooperative interest groups divided by natural phenomena, such as mountain ranges, large rivers, seas, etc. (rather than by ‘national/linguistic/religious borders’), groups distributed in a way that makes their existence on a certain plot of land sustainable over time, and, finally, groups that are at any given moment able to help other groups that might be encountering existential problems?

Pure utopia, most scientists and layman would say. On the other hand, they are offering you either free market economies and abusive societies which will go on exploiting the planet until they irreversibly destroy the last square meter of it, or societies that are a bit ‘less free’ but equally aggressive to the nature. Instead of a ‘naïve utopia’ they offer you destruction, lies, arrogance and, consequently, extinction.

My firm opinion is that humans will never realize that a radically different type of society is not at all a utopia (or does the fact that such societies are currently beyond human shared consciousness actually confirm them as utopias?). They will never start asking the right structural questions. Even those for whom my words make sense, and they are numerous (after all, what I am writing here is no novelty – philosophers have considered the reality of the so-called intuitive societies ever since ancient times) will ignore their own knowledge because of greed and short term personal gain. My prediction for civilization, which the reader might perceive as overly religious (or Biblical, at least), is that it will be abruptly recycled, almost surely in a year starting with number 2 (to remain loyal to a Baba Vanga style binary logic-based prediction).

Instead of respect, love and care for nature, humans will press on with their transfer of responsibility. Covid-19 spread, especially in industrialized areas – blame it on 2020. Half of humanity in quarantine – blame it on 2020. 1,835,000 deaths – blame it on 2020. Ice melting – blame it on 2020. Melted ice temporarily cooling the oceans – blame it on 2020. Ocean levels rising – blame it on 2020. Oceans and continents heating exponentially after most of the ice has been lost – blame it on 2020. A global climate change – blame it on 2020. Activated tectonic plates – blame it on 2020. Destroyed and disappearing biospheres – blame it on 2020. The rise of viruses – blame it on 2020. The consequent collapse of economies – blame it on 2020.

We, humans, had nothing to do with it. We were merely victims of a very, very evil calendar year. I will not continue with my subsequent thoughts because I am now unable to sustain seriousness and be polite (on that note, apologies for the Baba Vanga remark).

Everything I wrote so far is to prove that human beings, as a species that builds its perception of morality on a set of lies and half-truths, have entirely lost their compass in 2020, and began to behave like insulted children. By posting vindictive content about a calendar year, humans have disclosed a very alarming and sad truth about their intrinsic nature, a deep immorality and an utter lack of objective thinking. Humans globally have fashioned an effigy out of a calendar year, a doll they are about to burn at the main venue of their vanity fair, hence releasing an unknown amount of dangerous polluting gases into the atmosphere. And then we will go en masse to see our psychotherapists. I simply must say this: God, what a repulsive species!

What still shocks me is the incredible fact that even people who are aware of the ecological problems humans have created still decided to take it out on 2020 and join the viral public lynch. I really hope they felt better after doing that, and that their lives and the prospects of survival look much better now in the first week of 2021. Finally, I can only agree with one of the more pathetic viral memes stating that ‘in 2020 we at least have not met Godzilla.’ Indeed, I do not think that anyone spotted Godzilla.


 In Conclusion: Have a Great 2021!

Do not worry. Let us continue with deceiving ourselves. New year – new start – new me!  The year 2021 will be the year of revelation and salvation. The time when we will triumphantly look back on the evil 2020 with scorn and disgust. The year when we will still post online memes and jokes insulting 2020, only this time – we will be in control again.

On the other hand, if this approach does not work out, humans, we will be in a great trouble. Just remember another viral meme, the one showing three tsunami waves, the smallest one being Covid-19, the larger one being the collapse of the global economy, and absolutely the largest one being climate change. To put it simply, humans will probably die out soon, or at least most of us. But even in the worst scenario, maybe everything is not lost. Recently I read an article about scientists on three continents agreeing that some primates have entered an early stone age of their own. This news was also published on BBC Earth in 2015 (just a note – how evil was 2015?), claiming that some chimpanzees and other primate species had indeed entered a stone age, and that there was evidence of 4,300 year-old stone tools used by chimpanzees. My suggestion is that humans start preparing an exhaustive library (printed on durable paper or, perhaps stone or golden plates) about their own civilization, and in a code that chimpanzees will be able to understand after a long period of time (perhaps a cast of chimpanzee nobility should be raised now, to be trained in the language used for instruction on human civilization). That way, chimpanzees will see where humans erred, and what went wrong. That should empower them to avoid committing the same mistakes. The first sentence in that exhaustive library should be: ‘Respect every stone!’ The second sentence should be: ‘2020 was a very evil year!’ Maybe chimpanzees will be more successful bearers of the human existential burden. Or maybe they will totally misinterpret our messages and go extinct.

I just wish that we could understand the year 2020 as our strict teacher, rather than our enemy.

Edward H. Huijbens, Developing Earthly Attachments in the Anthropocene (London: Routledge, 2021)

Letting the proverbial genie out of the bottle is bad. Killing the genie after it has leaped out of the bottle is even worse. Now, and perhaps forever, the bottle is going to be empty. Our culture, to a significant extent, is a thoroughly disenchanted one. Apart from a passé and largely passing minority, notions of sacredness and divinity have mostly disappeared from the leading conceptual horizon. As Nietzsche famously asserted, God is dead—and it was us who killed Him. Academia, for one, cultivates a veritable graveyard of past ‘irrationalities’ and serves as an imposing bastion of practical atheism, especially in the Nordic countries, where the intellectuals’ secular outlook is part and parcel of the broader conventional wisdom. On Sundays, people no longer go to church. Instead, they go to the shopping mall.

Yet, hence joining a growing chorus of perplexed educated wanderers (e.g., Arne Næss, Lauren Greyson, Brendan Myers), Huijbens’ latest book reveals a thinking and feeling man who, faced with the depths and the vastness of the life-destruction brought forth by the ongoing human-made climate crisis, rediscovers a genuine sense of desecration and with it, hidden spiritual urges and half-grasped religious insights. His picture of the current state of the world is, in point of fact, worthy of the Apocalypse:

[W]e are all caught up in the climate crisis together and through globalised capitalism a veritable race to the bottom is unfolding where the rich simply float on top of the vortex funnelling the rest to a future of climatic ruin with no safeguard in the Enlightenment promises of technological fixes, public provisions of welfare or other promises of the Modern era. (119)

His picture of the correct relationship between humankind and Earth is, for its part, worthy of some time-honoured indigenous tradition, or of a younger New-Age creed:

“[A] non-social and more-than-human entity is making itself felt and heard: our planet Earth.” (152)


“In our continual conativity with nature through the solutions we propose, we support nature’s immanence. Adding deep time and the Earth itself as immanent to us, life on Earth becomes truly humbling.” (153)


“Being kind to earth is for me not about reversing progress and that which has been gained by the human technological acumen. We need to judiciously build on the past, but at the same time make space for an expanded repertoire of reason, science and humanism, and moreover the Earth itself.” (159)

As Huijbens himself admits:

“[O]ur current imagination and vocabulary betrays us. Therefore we need to reinvent the shamans of old, killed by the Moderns.” (110)

Most of the book comprises a vast array of loose reflections about insightful theoretical influences and inspiring personal anecdotes (or “vignettes”) explaining, at least in part, how Huijbens has come to think about the Anthropocene and the future of our suffering planet in ways that rub rather cruelly against the received categories of contemporary science, his own field of geography included. As Huijbens notes:

“The language of science and technology tends to obfuscate th[e human] connection [to Earth], or shroud it in darkness through the violence of abstraction and compartmentalisation of the challenges to be addressed.” (111)

Thus, Chapters 1 and 3 list and discuss a plethora of learned suggestions (e.g., Latour, Olsson, Deleuze, Žižek and Eco) that can make us think of the human condition in the natural as well as cultural world that we inhabit, both individually and collectively, as a matter of “fluid being” or, paying due homage to some trendy ‘-isms’ of our day, “post-humanism” (9 et passim) and fancy new forms of “empiricism” (21 et passim). As Huijbens writes:

“[W]e are very much creatures of the making of the strictures imposed upon us by a long history of decisions and things settled and seemingly fixed. Revealing their inherent fluidity does indeed provide ‘wiggle room’ and places emphasis on the moments of encounters, the abysmal lines where one becomes other or something else through our practices of naming and pointing and being believed in doing so.” (31)

Icelandic echoes of this fluid conception of being constitute the bulk of the materials gathered in Chapter 2 and, to a lesser extent, Chapter 4, both of which emphasise how geology itself is indeed very mobile in Huijbens’ country of birth, and how substantial human progress can be obtained without devastating the planet, e.g., by harvesting clean energy sources and by promoting “slow tourism” (104).

The fundamental challenge to the positive Icelandic experiences, and to life on Earth in general, is identified and debated in Chapter 4. The challenge being, perhaps unsurprisingly, the neoliberal institutions that pervade our world, both in tangible terms (e.g., the copious amounts of advertised junk around which orbits much of the world’s economy) and in intangible terms (e.g., the acquisitive and emulative mentalities cultivated by our cultures and exacerbated since the times of mass consumerism).

Chapter 5 adds to the mix the positive experiences coming from another European country, where Huijbens is currently active as an academic: the Netherlands. With its long and complex history of transformation and protection of the land, this nation shows how destructive peat-mining turned into a bucolic bliss of sorts, protected by technologically innovative windmills “to propel pumps that would drain water” and avoid flooding (124), and now inspiring clean-energy transformations that, like the ever-present bicycles, are significant examples of a frequently sensible approach to the environment, both materially (e.g., as means of transport that do not require fossil fuels) and immaterially (e.g., as cultural symbols of successful political campaigns for a greener way of life).

Chapter 6 concludes the book by attacking once more the aforementioned fundamental challenge to life on Earth:

“Roughly framed ‘neoliberal discourses’ have been adept at naturalising environmental degradation as a collective responsibility that demands individual, privatised responses mostly to be attained through consumptive choices. According to dogmatic market logic it is up to me to seek out the ‘earth-friendly’ chocolate and if enough of us do, it will earn its place at the supermarket checkout.” (142)

Much more is needed, as a matter of fact, according to Huijbens, who reviews and assesses a number of proposed solutions to the ongoing climate crisis. In particular, Huijbens expresses his genuine doubts about “green ideas” that do not aim at “reducing our consumption or any kind of slowing down or reduced demands.” (145) Au contraire, he advises “a further and deeper reorientation of our valuing and mindsets, rather than a simple redistribution of wealth and social egalitarianism.” (152)

Like a river of lava, or a glacial flood, Huijbens’ prose is far-reaching, unstoppable, and “meandering” (78). The logical structure and argumentative progression hereby reconstructed are certainly present in the book, but they require a fair amount of careful reading and patient ingenuity in order to be grasped. The book is, if anything, a very personal and uncommonly free-flowing account of how a secular Nordic geographer may come to realise that we need to show “responsibility, kindness and care” (162) towards Mother Earth, yet without possessing theological (e.g., siblinghood in God-the-Parent) and/or philosophical categories (e.g., life-value onto-axiology) that allow for the conceptualisation and clarification of the sacred and/or spiritual domain, to which Huijbens’ concerns truly belong.

Without categories of this ilk, it is unlikely that Huijbens may ever ground successfully powerful universal normative and axiological claims such as the following: “at our current juncture we can well afford to prioritise the wellbeing of others. How well we can do that will indicate to what extent we can be true to the Earth itself.” (158) Perhaps, this book is a first step in a much longer and much more complex journey.

Outline of Fading Empire


It is strange.


No-one knows how to present a worldview; where to start, what to say, where to stop.


The Big Book of Worldviews is a collection of failures. In each section the writing slips away.


They say that when writing slips away it leaves the process stranded on the surface of the sentences like ghosts.


When I open the book I find bookmarks and food wrappers, grocery receipts and other bits of paper, elements of the transactional frames that oriented previous readings.


Sometimes I use them to block out words. Other times I arrange them across the floor into a path: I imagine my carpet a swamp and jump across it; one, two, three.


But I do not go anywhere.  


There is nowhere to go.


I never lose myself in The Big Book of Worldviews. I’m always of aware of hanging in the air looking at worlds as if I am not in one. The longer I stay there the less I exist.






























There was a time we would find cars stopped in the road. Each was sealed up tight.


People gathered to look at the occupants suspended inside, their hair and clothing drifting about like seaweed.


I would say: The crisis poured through the radio and drowned them. Someone else would say: There is no crisis.


And we would go back to silent looking.


Sometimes there were one or two; others an entire neighborhood.


We never knew what happened.


After a while, we got used to it.






























When people finally rose up, they swapped foreground and background. The security apparatus took control.  They put the former leadership on trial.  They defined enemies and disappeared them.


They appointed a nice man to represent them. The nice man came on television and told the people that he loved them.


The people wanted to believe him. 


The people were wrung out.  


The people wanted normal. 

The revolution disappeared into archives, works of art that migrated to galleries and film festivals, reference points for popular songs and a fashion of being photographed in the same clothes and poses as before. 

Everything is as it had been. No-one has what they wanted. Every overlap of realities is thrust and parry. Everyone watches everyone and waits for a mistake.















The Leader






The Leader sits in a chair. The Leader looks out a window.



That morning The Leader had been summoned to a meeting with the military high command.   He was surprised to see them in dress uniforms.

One said:   Those powers you granted yourself?  We don’t think so.

You can’t talk to me like that.  I am commander-in-chief.

Another: No you aren’t.


Later, the speech he gives will be the same speech as every other: democracy; enemies; emergency.


The crowd will be an orchestration based on the latest demographic information. Camera men and technicians will have compared angles and breadth of field against the event design. The way the crowd fills the screen will say: You, the nation, are watching: they, the others, are on the streets.


While the lighting designers make their final adjustments The Leader will rehearse the choreography of expansiveness and determination above an empty square.


A cue card will sit on the podium: Wait for the applause. Stand back. Let it sink in. 














Another night, the Leader watched himself on television.


Maintaining balance requires the temporary suspension of the pretenses of democracy until we can fashion an adequate framework for their return.


We are caught in Amorphousness.


Events hurtle forward.


We cannot act. We cannot fail to act.


As he watched the footage, the Event Choreographer gave him notes.





Now the Leader sits in a chair. None of this was supposed to happen





The Leader’s mind drifts.


Every afternoon, he passed by where she lived and every afternoon she was there. They looked at each other through windows.  


He wanted to stop and speak with her. But she made his mind go blank.


Rounding the corner he would imagine an alternate possibility.


I am here with nothing to say.  


That would not be good: at least not at first.


He kept walking.



















The nation watches TV. It says everything is grand but in ways that show something has changed.


Legitimacy is a machine that spins: its motion is easy to maintain but difficult to restart.




The Leader is indecisive in a shifting situation. The deep state does not care what the direction is, only that there is one. The military tries to remain invisible. But it is waiting.


The perimeters of power are complexes of metal barriers and riot police.




Beyond them, when the people inhale they become one: when they exhale they scatter again. The hive mind that links them is buzzing. What will happen if we do not lose?


It is hard to imagine beyond what exists so what exists becomes the horizon.




Once magical workers created revolution in factories and each top-down party claimed to understand that better than anyone else. But no-one believed them.


There is always something you cannot see and something you make up to replace it.













The Leader






The head of the Leader is between her legs when the news begins.


He hears his name and constitution then he hesitates: she pushes his head closer and sighs.


There is an announcement of a referendum her movements intensify clips edited from his speeches she lifts herself from the sofa.


He no longer controls his image.


O how he tries to not think about that.


She pulls his head up by the hair like John the Baptist.


Seriously?  she says, pushing him back.


It’s important he says as she is standing up.


Wait for sports as she is walking away.











Much later, the Leader lay in bed watching Conestogas and other characters from dime store novels move through a series of Los Angeles canyons and justifications of genocide and thinks: Those people played the game correctly.


















Then a team killed the referent. The war should be over.  The corpse was moved in hurried secrecy to an air base and flown from there to the capital. The order originated somewhere as if bureaucracy itself was acting on its own. 


When it arrives a group of high military officials enters the hum of the cooling system and neon buzz. They gather around a table in the center of the white cube and looked at the puffy bruised face poking out from the top of a strange green plastic bag.  


The refrigerated interior feels like the end of an era. 


Finally, one of the officials speaks.   There was a time when the head of the enemy on the end of a pike would be paraded through the capital in triumph.  


We have already had too much trouble due to breakdowns in packaging.  


This will not play well on TV. 


Gentlemen, we have reached a pass where achieving an objective is a mistake. A good objective must always race just ahead of us.  This situation can only be seen as an operational failure.   Our activities exceeded their ambit and have put us in an awkward position.



Later as a television story unfolds of surveillance technology and weapon systems, the strange green bag follows a ship’s anchor down and down through the depths of the ocean.  The order had originated somewhere as if bureaucracy itself was acting on its own.



























This was our paradox: no course of action could be determined by a rule because any course of action can be made out to accord with the rule.  The answer was: if any action can be made out to accord with the rule, then it can also be made out to conflict with it.  And so there would be neither accord nor conflict here.


It can be seen that there is a misunderstanding here from the mere fact that in the course of our argument we give one interpretation after another; as if each one contented us at least for  moment until we thought of yet another standing behind it.  What this shows is that there is a way of grasping a rule which is not an interpretation, but which is exhibited in what we call “obeying a rule” and “going against it” in actual cases.


Hence there is an inclination to say: every action according to the rule is an interpretation.  But we ought to restrict the term “interpretation” to the substitution of one expression of the rule for another.



















The Splice














Sometimes the film breaks and the actors and actresses find themselves in the projection booth or wandering the hallway by the popcorn machine.


I herd them back toward the booth and tell them that if they stay put, I can get them back to their plotlines.


I admit that I may look at an actress and think that I would be just as open to physical expressions of gratitude as the next guy…but they look so bewildered and vulnerable.


Even I have limits.  


I make the splice and rethread the film. As the projector starts up again, I look away because getting absorbed in a loop is an intimacy not easily shared with a stranger.



































The television broadcasts game shows for their rules given in advance, commercials because you do not burn down the store if you do not like a dress, programs about the Leader for how it makes him sad to see his children unhappy and brief reports of clashes and casualties.




Beyond TV the streets go pop pop pop.


Paramilitaries move through neighborhoods.


Everywhere the teetering is palpable.


The Leader feels weightless as a balloon.



































Do not look be fooled by shiny young things.


Do not be taken in by their promises.


They are dreamers. 


They do not know.


The Leader loves you.





















Drone Operator












When I put on the goggles I become a god who watches over people in distant places. I get to know them through their patterns. I feel close. I do not want them to disappoint. My vengeance is implacable when they do.


On the way home I stop at the supermarket. The cashier asks me how my day has been. I do not know what to say. This morning I killed some people. So I smile.


I am quite apart.


When I need to get away I drive up into the mountains to the series of names that mark the edge of the world. Every time I stop I see snipers. They wave at me. I wonder who they are and where they come from.


I dream in infra-red.






























In my dreams I sense my extension.


I am subject and object, predator and prey. 


I am a meteor that shatters bodies and buildings.

I am the hell from war movies.


I am superimposed layers of time.


I am an infrared space of blood and spatter.


I am an anglerfish in an oscilloscope among maps of waveforms.


I am body parts that reassemble and dance.


I hear them howling into storms of noise.


I hang in the air and look at the world as if I am not in it.


The longer I stay the less I exist.





















I see everything there is flickering infrared.


I see the incantations of time.


I see the capital flows and voices that bounce between the satellites.


I see the mass dream, the spaces in which it is open and where it is policed.


I see city streets and moving cars, geographies of fracture and pain.


I see the transient gardens that teargas makes as it drifts through the air.


I see the neighborhood I am from flickering infrared.





















Drone Operator





I watch barometric pressures form into aerial equations.


I adjust the tin foil on the rabbit ears.

Through intermittent squalls I monitor the arrangements of share prices.





Everything is lining up.





The electricity cuts out so I go walking.


The ground beneath my feet is peeling skin.


I stop by Asbestos Mountain to watch the wind, filigreed & black.




The sound of every passing tanker is a swirl of devils.


I pull my scarf around my face.





When Christmas lights repeat my house I go inside.


I pour a shot of whiskey and turn on the TV.


There is nothing on except game shows and war.























The Leader loves you from a billboard over a locomotive of cylinders, rods and diamonds with open metal spinning flower wheels that shudders a plane of smoke and indeterminacy through a network of electrical cables, cracking towers and tongues of fire. The Leader’s love is dense with tags. Here I am.




































The Leader’s actions inadvertently revealed that power is held by the state: appointees control continuity; change is superficial.


That was not what the people wanted. It brought them onto the streets.


Now the perimeter of power is in the shifting battles among the barriers and tear gas.


The police break unauthorized cameras and observers.


The Nation watches official footage stream from their TVs.


Both People and Nation make themselves within circulations of images. Each image moves through a climate that aligns it with premises. The world is made from derived conclusions. The city intertwines them into accidental arrangements. 


Everywhere is the sense that something is slipping away. Everywhere is an image that circulates through particular spaces. Everywhere is ineffable. 



































Everyday life is walked across a net.  The ground on which the net was laid is dissolving. Everyone continues their routines. The net pulls around them.  They struggle to get out but their thinking is circular. No-one has a plan.



























Journal of Failed Institutions

English Abstracts







An analysis of the implosion of traditional (Marxian) revolutionary theory by the withdrawal of consent in the context of overlapping top-down repetition based media environments. A description of how this rendered largely invisible the crumbling Marxist Imaginary. How this enabled such indications as did surface to be contained in the language of loss of faith. The implosion, which had multiple centers and which was spread over a considerable duration, crystallized at certain moments as something that had already happened.  There follows a brief consideration of the implications of a collapse of a sense of horizons that lay beyond the immediate.  The question is posed of beginning again.  The author has no sense of who he is talking to.  The considerations are vague.




This critical piece outlines the problem of analytic writing in a situation of ideological paralysis.  The position of the reader as one hanging outside the world affected by paralysis, reading sentences that assimilate it back into a meta-register that is not affected is discussed, along with the problem of how that register assimilates everything back into a version the same.  The more vexing question of how to proceed in the face of the above is outlined. But awareness of the contradiction between that project and the stated problem of analysis progressively undermines the writing and grinds the paper to a halt. 




A second piece by the same author takes up the problems of writing in a situation of ideological paralysis using less self-undermining premises.  The earlier position regarding analysis is retained as a structuring assumption. The project then moves through a series of spaces shot through with interference.  The results are indeterminate as to genre.  The argument, if there is one, amounts to: this is a mapping of paralysis. But a map is subject to interpretation, and the work of interpretation recapitulates the problem of analysis.  Perhaps the rejection of analysis is self-blinding. No good alternatives present themselves. The paper breaks off.


























In the beginning claims they made were ethical. We will bring the greatest good. We will bring prosperity. We will make you safe. These claims cannot be falsified. They are a tone of voice that invites you to survey a landscape of wreckage and see it as other than it is.
























Event Choreographer



Q. How do you see your role as event choreographer?


For a major political event, the multitude that fills the screen is a composition based on the latest demographic information. The Nation sees itself watching. The Leader is a television Charlemagne.


In the control booth I conduct a symphony of video feeds and sound. My crew is most responsive. My movements, made continuous and unbroken, become the movement that links the many to the one to their destiny.


Of course, the importance of event design cannot be overstated: the set design and positioning of cameras, the hiring of the caterers and the small amounts of tranquilizers that we give spectators so they feel content during the expositions, don’t fidget about or show impatience, while allowing them to still get excited at the appropriate moments.


So we are meticulous in our preparations. Then we improvise.


It’s all about rhythmic continuity.  We do not impose it. We couldn’t if we wanted to. We find it. We bathe in it. The rhythm comes from the cycling of electricity and the pulses that move liquids through pipelines. These regularities are knit into the cadences of peoples’ speech.


People—communities—nations—-are figures spread out in time. These figures are rooted shared rhythms.


We merely condense and heighten them.

We do not exercise power. Power exercised is power made fragile.


We organize the dance of consent. 



Q. What do you think of the current unrest?



I do not watch events.



Q. Would you care to clarify?



We are not concerned with details.   We do not provide messages. We leave that to the private sector.

We encourage the multiplicity of positions. We encourage debate. At times that debate spills into the streets. This does not perturb.  



We do not want to dominate. Domination is inefficient. We simply maintain boundaries.  










































Rumor of Arbitrary Disappearances




He was moving among the exploding snakes of tear gas when they came.


He was pushed into the back of a car.


A rag was stuffed over his face.


When he awoke was blindfolded.


He could feel handcuffs and leg irons.


When they stood him up, they removed the blindfold.


Someone said: The decision taken here will be immediately carried out.


Now he has been walked to a gathering by a fire.


Standing on a beach watching shadows huddle around a table, he imagines himself feeling his way along the end of this dreamtime until he finds a seam and climbs through it to the space occupied by the story with respect to itself and becomes one with the narrator who sees without himself being seen.


He looks toward the edge of a black plastic sea.


A call will arrive: they will say “Keep an eye on him” and drive away in their cars. In the confusion he will use the key George Washington gave him to unlock the irons and slip away, running until he hits the edge of continuity like a bird hitting mirrored glass.


He stands flanked by two men with another behind him.


One of the people by the table turns and addresses him.


You have been chosen by lot.


It does not matter who you are.  


He watches the mouth of the Other move.


He can no longer speak their language.


Tranquility courses through him.  


Perhaps he has already escaped.


He cannot move his arms or legs.


He looks up into a night full of waver.





















































Everywhere you look you see Bartleby blocking traffic, Bartleby obstructing trade, Bartleby violating the prerogatives of private property, Bartleby inconveniencing with his I would prefer not to, Bartleby who does not want anything except to embarrass the regime.


























The State of Emergency Show




The set design and reddish-brown lighting gives the theater the feel of a tavern scene from a Pieter Breughel painting.


The actors sit around a table, drinking and playing cards.

Soon an actor stands and moves to the foreground. He says:


The State of Emergency Show started long ago and there is no end in sight.


We have reached the end of one cycle. Here another begins.



As you can see, we sit around a table playing a game of cards. Who speaks and what they say is determined by the game.


We are a map of the world. We restate what everyone knows using an ontology particular to ourselves.


Security representations exclude security: we map security back in.


The military writes itself into the landscape: we erase the landscapes around them.


We are a state of exception: we are coterminous with everyday life.



Feel free to come and stay as long as you like. Or go do other things and return.


We will still be here.


If you feel inclined to come up on stage, we will deal you in.


That is how we grow and change.



There are rumors that we drink heavily throughout our performance.


I assure you those rumors are greatly overstated.



The actor smiles and holds up a tankard in a toast.




The actor sits at the table.


The card game continues.



Soon another stands, obviously drunk. The other wears a general’s hat. He says:



We are the nervous system of the nation-state.


Our activity is the container within which social being unfolds.


We are the present that monitors the present.


Because the enemy is probabilistic we hold up algorithmic mirrors.


We wait for the enemy to appear.

We are continuous war.





































Elsewhere is a low-rise facility in which the new invisible proletariat moves metal tubes through work stations, cutting them to spec and bending them a few degrees to the left. Elsewhere is a resort where she lay on a chaise lounge watching walls of water move like solids until the surface tensions fracture and the wave collapses into a clap, each followed by another message to decipher as you reach for your mojito and look the length of her legs, your lingering on an arrangement of moles accompanied by a clap of collapse and she turns to look at you from behind sunglasses that erase her eyes and replace them with holes.


Elsewhere is the containers that arrive for famine relief filled with left plastic stiletto heeled shoes and millions of razor blades because you know how easy it is to break a heel in a drought and a gentleman needs to shave. 

Elsewhere is an arrangement of people wearing business suits who sit in lotus position along a low-tide line, eyes closed, jackets and ties adrift in the rising water, waiting for something to occur to them.

















The Leader

















Before The Leader was The Leader, he looked and looked for something until he forgot what that something might have been.


But he continued to search for this thing that he had forgotten and emptied himself out in the doing. He made himself a function. Now situations define him. He becomes what you want to see.


But I feel The Leader dissolving. Consent will not be orchestrated.   There was a referendum and no-one voted.   Such stubbornness and ingratitude after all I’ve done.

























We look for what is hidden in plain sight like those drone operators who find themselves in front of the infrared exoskeletons of the world they are from searching for the points where a bureaucratic reality intersects with the enemy’s horizontal surfaces.


There are no secrets. 


Consider the national security state.  We know that it is sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. We could map its extension, but the map would be endless. We could say what it costs, but the tally would be infinite. So there is no interest in knowing.


Concealment is needless expenditure.






The state allocates funds for our use, so we make the geography of institutions.


We gather data from e-book readers and cell phones to construct maps of the ways ideas move around.  


At first we said: We know who reads what and where. We have abstracted figures and made them actionable. If X performs the movements that associate him or her with an idea dangerous to the state, X becomes a target.


But Ideological Forensics declared that an outmoded approach.






Now I maintain the database on my own: I chart the dances of activation and forgetting, sedimentation and variation and watch the world being made and remade there.























The presidential palace is a network of barriers, a grove of antennae, a backdrop for broadcasts, a bristle of weapons systems, a knot of transmissions, a skein of referrals.


The presidential palace is simultaneous press conferences, gatherings of courtiers, images that were to be sent to mobile editing rooms replaced with the pre-packaged interactions provided by the helpful persons of the Press Office a real time saver, they say, we know how busy you are with all that breaking information and the doorways you must stand near in case the Important walks through.


The central square is jammed with people in the swelter and traffic and dust and the messages that transform it from one kind of space to another, from circulation to liberation, continuity to refusal by a reversal of polarities.


She is drawn to the swirling energies. A radiant moth she relays slogans. She moves discussion to discussion. She takes it all in. She works her way to the front lines of confrontation with the police. She looks around for informants. She thinks: Half of these people work for the FBI.

















Detail View















Like all of us he finds himself in an environment of video feeds, tracking signals and monitored written communications all packaged as benign concern. It’s for your own good. You’ll never go missing.


He is shaped by economic conditions and adaptation toward the elimination of what is unnecessary. The restriction of his movements is accompanied by increasing pressure.  


Late at night over a bottle of bourbon he plays a game of Russian roulette.   When he loses, no electronic devices will signal: no-one will be notified; no search parties sent out. He will become details spattered about a room, invisible as the corporate persons who hide among the tax havens.




















The Secret Lives of Generals




Accompanied by a wave of silence and another of flashbulbs, The Leader enters the press conference.


The prepared statement he reads is the same as every other: democracy; enemies; emergency.


The networks had preceded the event with grainy photographs by swimming pools and chains of compromising text messages.


The reporters want to know about the secret lives of generals.


The Leader talks about strides forward how we are all in this together.


But the secret lives of generals will not go away.


He adheres to the strategic line of not dignifying with a direct response


Inwardly, The Leader is pleased.


The press conference is being carried live.








What offended were not the indiscretions but their banality.


Risking everything should be beyond vanilla sex and protestations of undying love with interns who treat their situation like a Cotillion.


The Generals should be more something: more imaginative; more intelligent; more ruthless; more amoral.


That would justify the arrangements.


But The Generals did the same thing The Leader would have done.


It ran against his sense of hierarchy.











The Leader in a series of business suits steps down from a series of helicopters. 



The Leader is a lifestyle. 


He is in demand. 


The Leader is the guest of honor at parties. 


He is the center of attention. 


The Leader makes friends and influences people. 


He elicits the yes yes response.


The Leader reads Machiavelli on the weekend.


He drives a little red corvette.


The Leader is modest about his accomplishments. 


He struggles with golf.



The Leader is different because he loves you. 


The Leader loves you because he is you. 


















The Empire talks of freedom but relies on debt peonage to force open markets for agricultural overproduction.  So freedom means freedom from necessity for shareholders in the corporations that benefit from this arrangement.  The Empire is built on weapons sales. When a war breaks out involving those weapons, The Empire dispatches negotiators most attentive to detail and process to broker a slow end to hostilities. These negotiators act as if they know nothing of how the weapons systems used by the combatants came to be in that place.The Empire is a maze of bounded rationalities within which well-intentioned people carry out well-intentioned policies to the exclusion of feedback loops that would connect them to outcomes.  The Empire is spaces made of mirrors.The Empire devotes most of its resources to the elimination of The Enemy.  The Enemy is the consequence of the Empire’s actions.  The Enemy will never be eliminated. The Empire is a war on itself.


The Empire does not record its deterioration.  It leaves that to the servants who archive things. 















Interior Ministry Note:


This tract was found on the streets in front of the Presidential Palace.

We have it on reasonable authority that it was written by one of our people.


Outline of Fading Empire



















In the waning days the old stories do not hold.   In the waning days language becomes thin and ghostly. In the waning days none of this registers. In the waning days people cling to routines.


In the waning days, trapped inside obsolete maps that distinguish up from down and figure from ground people see the world as given in advance as what is slipping away.