Monday, April 21, 2014

The value of peace

It is a tradition to erect monuments to commemorate important facts and events that had a big influence on life. In view of the often traumatic impact of war, it’s not surprising that many monuments refer to wars. War memorials are found everywhere. For instance, in France and Belgium each town and village has a monument commemorating the First World War and its dead. After 1945 they have been “updated” for commemorating World War Two and its victims. In my own country, the Netherlands, you find also many war monuments. Most of them refer only to the Second World War, since happily the Dutch succeeded to stay out of the Great War. Nevertheless, also in the Netherlands there are more monuments related to the World War One than most people expect.
Almost all war monuments refer to the past: to what happened, like a battle won or lost, people that died or events that took place. Some want to say “never more”, other ones glorify an act or a fact, again other ones are only there in order to keep a memory alive. However, sometimes it happens that a war memorial doesn’t remember so much the past and the losses suffered but that it pays attention to a better life that we expect: It shows hope. Then often a tree is planted instead of putting there a monument of stone, marble, concrete or whatever kind of dead material. A tree lives and it grows through the years. A tree represents hope and a better future. But alas, there are by far more monuments that look backward to the misery that has ended and to what we have lost than to the future that we have gained. War monuments are found everywhere, while peace monuments are still exceptional. But there is a tendency to a positive change, for nowadays more and more peace poles are erected in many places in the world. Although war monuments outnumber peace monuments out and away, our feelings tell us that peace is better than war. Wasn’t it George Orwell who made it clear to us that war is often put forward as a kind of peace? “War is Peace” is the well-known slogan in his novel 1984, telling us that war is peace in disguise.
In view of this it is to be expected that peace monuments are cherished and better maintained than war monuments, even if it were only for preserving the illusion that peace is the highest ideal in politics. Far from that. And with this three words I do not only mean that war monuments are better maintained than peace monuments, but also that in fact peace is not the highest ideal in politics. For it is a well-known phrase, said by the military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, that war is the continuation of politics with other means, but no one has said until now that peace is the continuation of politics with other means.
I think that all this is symbolized by the peace tree that I photographed lately in the town of Emmen in the north of the Netherlands. Note that this peace tree is the only monument in the Netherlands related to the First World War that can be interpreted as a real peace monument. The other monuments are nothing but war monuments in the sense indicated above. One would think that such a monument would be the pride of the community if not of the country and that it would be well maintained, just as the monuments referring to the Second World War in the Netherlands are, for instance, or as all war monuments in Belgium and France along the Western Front are as well. But nothing is further from the truth. Look at the picture above that shows the peace tree in Emmen. Once the tree was planted in the garden of a hotel where many Belgian fugitives lived during the war. The hotel and garden no longer exist. Now you find there a flat with shops and apartments and the tree blocks the rear entrance of a snack bar. Left and right there are rubbish containers and untidily parked cars. Branches have been cut on request of the residents. It’s a place unworthy of a monument let alone a peace monument. In this way, it symbolizes no longer the reason why it was planted in 1918, namely peace, but how we think about peace today.

More monuments related to WW One on (follow the links for the photos).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Do all things have their seasons?

Is there a season for blooming?

In his essay “All things have their season” Montaigne writes about the Roman statesman Cato the Elder (234-149 BC): “[T]hat in his extreme old age he put himself upon learning the Greek tongue with so greedy an appetite, as if to quench a long thirst, does not seem to me to make much for his honour; it being properly what we call falling into second childhood.” (Essays, Book II, Ch. xxviii). In the next section Montaigne concurs with Eudemonidas who says about the Greek philosopher Xenocrates (396-314 BC), when seeing him very old, “still very intent upon his school lectures: ‘When will this man be wise,’ said he, ‘if he is yet learning?’ ” Montaigne put this on a par with an example of a Roman general who in the midst of a battle went away from his soldiers in order to pray for victory instead of leading his soldiers when most needed. “All things have their seasons, even good ones”, so Montaigne. Although he puts this remark later into perspective and says that there may be reasons that, for instance, an old man starts to study a language, actually one feels that Montaigne thinks that there is something wrong with such behaviour. But is there really a fundamentally right time or period for every human activity, or at least for most? I doubt it. I think that the appropriate time or period for certain activities depends rather on the values and insights of the age and society in which one lives than that it is an objective fact. This is the same as saying that in fact a correct time or period for human activities in general does not exist. What is right to do depends on the requirements of the situation and on individual choices.
Take for example this. Once sport was something done in particular by the male elite, at least in modern society since the middle ages (which didn’t exclude, however, that sport was actually also practised by the non-elite). Besides, it was especially for the younger ages, which was also, of course, a matter of fitness. Gradually more and more sport was accepted for the “lower” classes and for women, especially with the rise of new sports like football. Nevertheless it lasted until the end of the 1960s or even 1970s that it gradually became normal that sport was practised in a serious way by men older than, say, 30 years of age as well. Later it became also generally accepted for women. And only today it has become normal that older people, also older than 60 years of age, can practise sport more than in a leisurely and casual way. Even more, it is promoted for it is good for your health.
It’s only one example and maybe not even the most relevant one, although sport has become important on all levels of society. It illustrates, however, that what is seen as the right time to do something is not invariable. New insights develop and old insights change. Therefore I wonder whether all things really have their seasons. Isn’t it better to see it more practical and isn’t it also better to ask first what is basically against doing things in the “wrong” season? And as everybody knows today: seasons can change, too.

Monday, April 07, 2014

When to write my blog

Since I started writing these blogs, I am in the habit of writing them on Mondays and using the rest of the week for making corrections and looking for a suitable photo or for making one. Until now I succeeded to write a blog every week, unless I had a good reason not to do it. Nevertheless, I wondered whether it is an effective routine, for sometimes it’s quite an effort to produce a text. Now and then I simply fail to have ideas, even though in the end there is always a result.
On the Internet you can find many advices how to improve your creativity. Often they are an “open door” for me (which is a Dutch expression saying that something is obvious). “Define the problem”, I found on a website. Yes, of course, but that’s often just the problem, although it is not bad to call attention to it, for I think that one of the main causes of having a writer’s block is that one simply doesn’t know what to write about. Therefore the question what the problem is and whether it is well defined is always the first thing I ask myself, when I have problems with my creativity.
Also the other tips on the webpage of (see below) are not new to me, but I think that especially this tip is important: Alter your routine regularly. It’s one reason I always read books on different themes. On the other hand, I cannot say that my trips and travels help me much to improve my philosophical creativity, although they do help to improve my photographic creativity, for when away from home I make always my best pictures (see for instance
On a page of Psychology Today (see below), I found a tip that is not really surprising but I had never thought about it: Optimize your peak time. At certain points of the day you are being best in this, at other points in that, so be creative during your most creative hours. How stupid that I hadn’t thought of it before. Although I must admit, that for practical reasons you cannot always do what you want to do at your “best” moments: How would your boss react, if you would take a nap in the afternoon during working hours? Anyway, I wondered what my creative peak time is. The result is a bit surprising for what does the web page say? “Most adults perform their best right as they begin to slump in terms of wakefulness.” So I have to take a nap, or almost, in order to write down my most creative ideas! It’s a bit contradictory, for how to type my ideas, when I fall asleep? But okay, my next question is then: at which time do I fall asleep? The answer is: “At around 2pm, sleepiness tends to peak.” It’s true; it’s also my experience, but it is also my experience that my creativity is at its top about three hours later, when I am fully awake again. But I shall not object for psychologists say it.
Since I pretend that my blogs are critical, or at least that most are, I was also interested in my critical peak. This appears to be at the end of the morning: “If you get paid to think critically, try to get most of your work done in the late morning, right after a warm shower.” So, it’s a bit a problem for me that the best moments to write my blogs have different peak times, not counting the fact that I do my physical workouts always after I have mentally emptied my mind, so at the end of the afternoon or early in the evening, and it’s always after these exercises that I take a warm shower (and become sleepy, indeed).
But as we have just seen: The PowerHomeBiz website advices to change your routine now and then, so why not to give it a try and make a new routine: I’ll go for a bike ride or do another workout in the morning, then I take a warm shower, and after a short lunch I become sleepy and can express my critical creativity. But then I ignore the fact that “the afternoon (12pm-4pm) is prime time for distractions”, as the Psychology Today website says, and this would involve that I would just then have to do my exercises and be creative. Moreover, my body doesn’t like to exercise in the morning, for it’s stiff. The upshot is: Man is a barrel filled with contradictions.