Sunday, April 13

How to be normal - a guide to earning people's approval

1. If you're single, look for a relationship, and profess to people that you do have a deep longing for a soul mate. Without one, you will always be incomplete.

2. Engage in a monogamous, preferably heterosexual relationship. Don't have a LAT relationship, or if you do, at least miss him all the time.

3. Be jealous and possessive. These are perfectly justified, and indeed positive attitudes in a relationship.

4. Want children. Two or three. If you don't feel the urge yet, profess the belief that you definitely will soon. You're not a real woman if you don't want kids.

5. If you live together with your partner, don't share your home with any housemates. Being okay with living with people that are not a) your partner or b) your kids, is for students only.

6. Don't be satisfied with the home you have. You want a more expensive, bigger home, even if you already have too much space to hoard stuff in, and even if you're sure the sky-high mortgage will give you severe financial anxiety for the next 30 years. It's worth it.

7. Have a TV in the living room, and preferably one in the bedroom as well. This really is one of the most important things on this list. It's okay if you're too busy to ever turn it on, or if you prefer to watch films on your laptop...  having no TV is just too weird.

9. If you have no dishwasher; want one, constantly.

10. Use furniture that is actually made for the purpose. E.g., a real bed, not a futon. A real table, not an up-turned crate. You don't want people to think you're a creative soul. Or poor.

11. If you have kids, buy them rooms and rooms full of toys, preferably made from cheap, garishly-colored plastic. Choose these toys such that each toy invites to be played with in only one way - don't leave anything to the imagination. Shop for girl's toys in the girl toy section of your local toy store (think pink!), and shop for boys in the boy's section. Anything else is child abuse.

10. Don't use fruits, fresh or dried, as treats for your kids. Fruits are not treats. Your kids are not rabbits. Don't force your healthy lifestyle on those innocents.

11. Try to work on your career as much as possible and raise kids at the same time. Really, one is not more important than the other (although a career can't be as easily outsourced...)

12. Be someone who "eats less meat than most do" (meaning, not every single day of the week). Being a flexitarian is pushing it.

13. Shop 'consciously' as long as a) it's not more expensive, b) it doesn't cost you more time, and c) your peers don't think caring about things is lame. Really, as long as you avoid any information about where your stuff comes from, you won't know, and therefore, you're technically not responsible.

14. Make a full time job a top priority. It really doesn't matter what you do, whether you like it, or what effect it has on other people. And you don't just want to have a job, but a career, where you can 'grow' and 'develop your professional skills' (i.e. earn more money next year).

15. Buy a car as soon as you can afford it and tell everyone public transport sucks. In comparing the two transport methods, don't count the two hours you and your car spent stuck in traffic every day.

16. Don't have ideals. Ideals are scary.

17. Have an opinion about current affairs, but make them strong, shallow, unsupported by any rational argumentation, and focused on the bad effects the issue will have on your own personal life. Where groups of people are concerned, the most important thing is to categorize and stereotype.

18. Refute claims based on years of scientific research, in-depth experience or logical argumentation by simply saying you know better. If people refute your baseless claims, say that what they're saying is just an opinion. Especially when they're really citing years of scientific research, in-depth experience or logical argumentation. When using this approach in an online discussion, be sure to use enough pejoratives.

19. When people ask you how you are, answer in a two-word affirmative. Adding an example of something trivial but vaguely meaningful you did yesterday is optional but always a good idea. You wouldn't want to ruin a good friend's day by actually telling them how you feel, would you?

20. If someone expresses an interest in what you're doing these days, tell them if you have a full-time job yet, and if you're moving up in it - because that's really all they mean to ask.

21. Talk to people about what you did in the previous week (a good topic is the new stuff you've bought) and whether you have holiday plans yet. After that, turn to gossip, TV-shows and soccer. If you have to talk about the real things that are on your mind, your most heart-felt passions and interests... keep it under 2 minutes. You don't want to force someone to pretend that they care any longer than that - it's rude.

22. Pretend to remember people's birthdays. It doesn't matter if you're just congratulating someone you haven't seen in three years because Facebook told you so, it's the right thing to do. Nothing shows how much you care like knowing at which day of the year they continued life ex-utero.

23. Have respectable hobbies and interests, suited to a grown-up. Don't read fantasy or sci-fi after the age of 15. And for Pete's sake, don't put on a costume. For any reason whatsoever.

24. Follow the fashion appropriate for your socio-economic class, but in a semi-nonchalant manner. Don't be the first to try out new things you've seen in magazines. Rather, play it safe and copy your friends.

25. Spend a lot of money on a gym membership so you can run and ride a bike indoors. It's classier and conveys more status than doing the same thing outdoors, for free.

26. Pets are for serving your own wants and needs, however trifling. Only buy young, cute-looking pets. Don't keep a pet when it turns out you need to spend more time than you thought training them or adjusting them to a new situation. Shelters are great places for getting rid of your pets and so many people will want your pet that surely she won't be killed due to a chronic lack of space. So don't feel bad about that. And certainly don't keep defective pets. It's better to tell yourself euthanizing is more humane, than having your dog running around perfectly happy and mobile in a dog-wheelchair that will actually require you to spend some money on the well-being of a creature you've professed to love and care for (the thought alone...).

27. When you're visiting someone and your host asks you what you'd like to drink, never ask for just water. No matter how sociable, talkative and fun you'll present yourself to be in the next 3 hours, it will never be enough to prove that you actually are good company. Also, show your host you're eating at least some of the snacks. It's impossible to be a sociable person without eating the snacks.

28. Judge someones abilities (and how much respect you should give them) primarily by their outward appearance. Everybody knows that when you want someone to do a job that mainly involves them using their brains, it's better to discriminate based on suits vs. dreadlocks, than on what actually comes out of that person's mouth when they open it.

29. Order from the menu.

30. Don't knit weird hats and wear them.

Thursday, January 17


In mijn kleine bruine stamkroegje in Naarden mag vanaf heden niet meer gerookt worden. Tot voor kort mocht het wel - niet van de wet, wel van de waard - maar alleen in het gedeelte bovenaan de trap. Als je in het benedengedeelte zat, merkte je nauwelijks iets van de rook. Een anonieme klager voelde zich echter toch in zijn of haar rechten beperkt, en contacteerde de Rookpolitie. Gezien de waard liever niet failliet gaat aan de steeds hoger wordende boetes, zijn rokers vanaf nu aangewezen op het 'rookhok', dat noodgedwongen 1-persoons is vanwege het ruimtegebrek. Ik vrees dat ook de waard zelf zich meermaals per avond in deze telefooncelachtige constructie zal moeten hijsen, wat ongetwijfeld een erg tragikomische scene oplevert. Met de nadruk op tragisch.

Persoonlijk heb ik noch van roken, nog van niet-roken last. Maar ik begin wel een beetje last te krijgen van de prioriteiten die in dit kleine landje gesteld worden. Begrijp me goed, als mensen anderen willens en wetens schade berokkenen, of blootstellen aan het risico daarop, dan vind ik dat moreel fout. En dat mag hard afgestraft worden. Maar alleen, als die anderen ongewenst risico lopen. In een ziekenhuis of op een schoolplein, daar rook je niet. De mensen die daar komen hebben een dringende reden om daar aanwezig te zijn, en meestal weinig alternatief. Maar een kroeg bezoeken, dat doe je uit eigen vrije wil. En er is genoeg keuze en concurrentie om ervoor te zorgen dat als er een markt is voor kroegen waar roken niet toegestaan is, die kroegen er zijn. Vraag en aanbod. En anders trek je thuis een wijntje open, ook leuk.

Als er iets is dat mensen ongewenst schade berokkent in kroegen, dan is het alcohol, niet tabak. Buiten een kroeg heb je geen last van rokers, maar soms wel van overmatige drinkers. En de schade wordt ook een stuk abrupter toegebracht; met de vuist of met de bumper. Geen verhoogd risico op longkanker, wél je gebroken schedel op een stoeprand.

Natuurlijk zijn dit uitzonderingen - als je tenminste naar de juiste kroegen gaat, en daar is mijn stamkroegje er zeker een van. Alcohol is niet verboden, het is je eigen verantwoordelijkheid totdat je laat zien dat je niet met die verantwoordelijkheid kunt omgaan. Als we alcoholgebruik op deze manier reguleren, dan zeker ook tabaksgebruik.

Saturday, December 8

Wat maakt het verschil?

Een buitengewoon groot aantal (al dan niet zelfbenoemde) chimpanzee-experts lijkt een mening te hebben over de vraag of chimps nu zoveel overeenkomsten met ons vertonen, of juist zo verschillend van ons zijn. Laatst stond er zelfs een betoog in de krant waarin de schrijver waarschuwde dat het toch een gevaarlijke tendens was, dat biologen de overeenkomsten tussen chimp en mens zo vaak benadrukten. Juist in deze tijd moeten wij mensen ons speciaal kunnen voelen, om zo onze obstakels te kunnen overwinnen!

Wat mij vooral opvalt is dat het veelal lijkt alsof men met elkaar in discussie is, terwijl men in werkelijkheid volledig langs elkaar heen praat. Het is als het vergelijken van een gele cirkel met een geel vierkant. "De overeenkomsten zijn groot", zegt expert 1, "de kleur is exact hetzelfde ongemeleerde lichtgeel." Waarop expert 2 zich geroepen voelt in te brengen "dat er juist significante verschillen tussen de twee vormen bestaan, zoals dat het vierkant maar liefst vier hoeken heeft terwijl we aan de cirkel tot dusver geen enkele hoek hebben kunnen ontdekken." Van argument en tegenargument is geen enkele sprake.

Als we mens en chimp vergelijken, wat zijn dan de relevante verschillen en overeenkomsten? Dat hangt natuurlijk volledig van de vraagstelling af. Maar juist aan die vraagstelling gaat men vaak voorbij. Filosofen die zich bezighouden met dierethiek besteden wel veel aandacht aan het zoeken van de juiste vraagstelling. Peter Singer beargumenteert dat bij ethische vraagstukken de vraag moet zijn, of het onderwerp kan lijden. In hoeverre het onderwerp op zijn achterpoten loopt of piano kan leren spelen, dat is volgens hem in dit geval irrelevant. Hij volgt daarin de invloedrijke Britse denker Jeremy Bentham, die in 1789 al schreef: "The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?" Als we vanuit dit oogpunt mens en chimpanzee vergelijken, zien we veel overeenkomsten: beide kunnen lijden. Andere filosofen menen dat de vraag moet zijn, welke wezens een zekere inherente waarde hebben, waardoor zij niet alleen maar als 'means to an end' gebruikt mogen worden. Hoe het ook zij, er wordt uitgebreid aandacht aan de vraagstelling besteed.

Het belang van het weten wat de vraag is, wordt briljant geïllustreerd in het science-fiction boek 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' van Douglas Adams. Een ras pandimensionale wezens zoekt naar de zin van het leven, het antwoord op de ultieme vraag, en programmeren een supercomputer om dit uit te rekenen. Na 7,5 miljoen jaar spuugt deze Het Antwoord uit: '42'. Waarop de galactische filosofen zich beseffen dat ze niet zo goed weten wat de De Vraag nu precies inhoudt, en zonder deze kennis Het Antwoord niet begrijpen.

Voor gedragsbiologen, neurologen, of psychologen kan de vraagstelling natuurlijk geheel anders zijn als voor ethici. Maar het moge duidelijk zijn dat je alleen over het juiste antwoord kan discussiëren als beide kanten dezelfde vraag stellen.

Saturday, February 16


Growing up, I always considered the accusation of naivety to be one of the worst insults, but now I am having second thoughts. Perhaps life without a little naivety isn't really lived. If we would always follow logic, how could we experience all those things that take a leap of faith? Life is full of risks, and to take them we need hope - which is nothing but believing in a long shot.

Living is believing, trusting people, taking chances, surrendering to love, chasing dreams. In life, we'd better all be fools.

Monday, December 17

When you're out of sight

Under this national rain cloud
I'm getting soaked to the skin
Trying to find my umbrella
But I don't know where to begin

And it's simply irrational weather
Can't even hear myself think
Constantly bailing out water
But still feel like I'm gonna sink

'Cause I'm under the weather
Just like the world
And I need somebody to hold
When I turn out the light
You're out of sight
Although I know that I'm not alone
Feels like home

- "Under the Weather", KT Tunstall

This song reminds me of those days that are tough without a reason. Days during which I feel a little sad, a bit insecure, somewhat 'under the weather' - emotionally speaking. I take it we all have days like that. Personally I've noticed this feeling is often accompanied by a rather desperate need of acknowledgement and attention. I know there are plenty of people who are there for me, but I'd just like a little proof - right at that very moment.

But when I'm feeling down it's hard to chase off the sense of loneliness. Nobody starts a conversation with me. I look at my phone but I can't make it ring. People's replies seem short-spoken somehow. Are they starting to dislike me? Have they noticed how I need their kindness and care, how pathetic I really am? I can't help but to think it.

"Hey, d'you still like me a bit?"

Of course the last thing you should do is beg for it. But an itch demands a scratch. "Why wouldn't I?", he asks. As casually as possible I reply I'm just checking. The concise judgement; "Well, I still like you."

Right. Let me explain, men and other rational creatures, what the secret message behind the phrase "Just checking" is in this particular situation. It means, I need you to tell me that you miss me, that you wish I was in love with you, that I'm important to you, that you want to cuddle me, and that I have no reason whatsoever to doubt that you will always be there for me. Something heartwarming. It has all been said before, but I need to hear it now.

Friends, suitors, drinking buddy with your flattering text messages in the middle of your drunken night... will you be merciful and give me a kind word today?

Friday, November 23


Sometimes when you look back on a situation, you realize it wasn't all you thought it was. A beautiful girl walked into your life. You fell in love. Or did you? Maybe it was only a childish infatuation, or maybe just a brief moment of vanity. - Henry Bromell

The butterflies of infatuation can be deceiving little rascals. I am tempted to believe it is the only way I've known them so far. If love is blind, having a crush on someone is losing your senses completely - making me feel very much impressed about someone who's really not that wonderful at all, but actually rather plain, or worse. And I can only see it afterwards, at which point I thank the heavens above for being completely unable to seduce men at the snap of my fingers.

I dislike being unsettled in such a way. To me, this thing we call 'falling in love' (for lack of a better expression) is meaningless and silly, consumes all my attention, and always seems to be heading for disappointment. At one point I just had enough. Well, it wasn't the first time I realized that, but suddenly something odd happened. It stopped.

I have to admit that being in control of my butterflies is great in many respects. But it also gives rise to a somewhat peculiar situation; feeling deep affection for someone but not being 'in love'. Everything is like it's supposed to be, but the feeling is different. Not less than what it should be, just different. Why don't I just fall in love, you ask. And I wish I could be completely deluded, as blind as a bat again.

Wednesday, November 21

Nothing beats losing

Often it's hard to fully realize what you have until you lose it. As long as life is going smoothly you're never forced to stop and think about it, but when life gets tough you remember how easy it used to be. I try to realize how lucky I am, though, to appreciate the good things that come across my path. But nothing beats losing.

Something good was there for the taking, but I was not quite sure if I wanted it. So I doubted, and postponed making a decision. But right after the very moment I did decide to go for the gold, it all started to fall apart. I did decide, didn't I, or is that just what it seems like in retrospective? At times I only want something when I am about to lose the possibility of gaining it, as I see the last bit of light peeping through the closing door.What is beyond my reach attracts me more; the pattern repeats itself.

Life can be unyielding. You struggle with it, you try to bend it your way, but it just won't. As if everything is conspiring against you. Some believe that when you really want something, life will help you get it. At the moment it feels like the opposite is true.

I can't have it, so I want it back. Maybe that doesn't classify as real desire.

Saturday, November 10

An open book

A few days ago I met a man who knew all kinds of things about me. We had never talked before, but simply by interpreting my body language he was able to pinpoint my key character traits. I knew myself quite well, he said. If I tried my best I could really get somewhere. Then he pointed to some boys and a young woman near by and told me what the differences were between myself and those people. "You are happier than most people here in this pub," he said, "why is that?"

The whole conversation was quite remarkable, and it would have been creepy if I wouldn't have felt like I'd known him for ages. This man wasn't some obscure oddball. In fact, he was a rather imposing big black man who'd been a high-up in some company, before quiting his job eight months ago to become a stay-at-home dad. "Reading" people had been very important in his former function, he explained. I was amazed all the same.

Perhaps we are less mysterious to the outside world than we tend to think; we communicate subconsciously by sending out all sorts of non-verbal signals. But few of us are able to pick up these signs in such an effective manner.

Saturday, November 3

The evolution of consciousness

Usually, though not always, complex things develop out of simple things. Some branches of life developed a nervous system, then a brain, and at some point some brains were complex enough to develop the notion of an inner world. They were able to process more information than necessary for their survival. The increased chance of survival would have been the cause for their increased brain capacity. To be able to answer the question “How do I get my next meal?” in the best way possible is very useful in surviving. And surviving means that the genes responsible for those superb problem-solving skills have a chance to be passed on to the next generation.

But being able to ask yourself “Who am I?” and “What is this consciousness thing anyway?” does not increase your chance of survival. Seen from the perspective of evolution, this form of reflective thought is an utterly useless byproduct of the complex brain. Yet we cannot help but to seek answers to our questions. To solve problems is in our genes, it has always been rewarded. In need of answers, we developed our philosophies, religions, and indeed science. I am not trying to say that these, and many other products of the human mind - tradition, art, modern society - are meaningless or redundant. They are unique and valuable. What we tend to forget is that worth is a subjective, human notion.

Evolution is just simple logic; the organisms best fit for survival and reproduction pass on the genes that made them that way. There is nothing valuable about natural selection, no good or bad results, no direction. Just logic. Therefore, I will not assert that finding your next meal is more important than finding the answer to the question of what consciousness is all about. Just that the success rate is higher.

Friday, November 2

Buddha and Dylan

According to an important Buddhist scripure, the Dhammapada, on one occasion the Buddha spoke: "Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think."

Twenty-five hundred years later, in a 2005 interview on US newsmagazine 60 Minutes, Bob Dylan said: "The picture you have in your mind of what you're about, will come true."

In many ways, people from different countries, cultures, and times think very much alike.