Dystopian – Or reality?

A few days ago, I wrote this dystopian piece of fiction: “Checkpoint Hellweg #17“. It is based on the question “What would happen if even more lethal mutations of the Covid-19 virus would develop and spread like a wildfire?”. One could argue that we don’t need even more disturbing negative stories, but I wrote it against the background that, all too often, only those see how the virus is rampaging through our societies who have a direct personal experience. Like I said, nurses for example.

We cope with a huge amount of conspiracy theories, distortion of reality by anti-vaxxers, and more, mixed with a may be growing body of people who are just fed up, who crave normality, who express their feelings of being upset by confinements coming from lockdown measures, mixed also with people who rightfully express concern about protecting human and citizen’s rights. We have the full spectrum of people mindfully expressing their opinion, unfortunately at the same time being abused by people with malicious intent to establish a narrative of police states controlling their citizens.

We need to remind ourselves that we only see what we want to see. So, here a few disturbing pictures about what we sometimes don’t like to see. The reality is disturbing, cruel, and dystopian, compared with what we experienced 16 months ago.

BBC published pictures today. They are NOT for the faint of hearts. They describe today’s reality in New Delhi, India. “India coronavirus: Round-the-clock mass cremations“. This is what happens if you have spikes like the above graph, taken from the COVID-19 dashboard of the Johns Hopkins University, today. Whether you, according to the cultural context of your society, do public mass cremations, or you are using refrigerator vans, it doesn’t matter. This virus is lethal beyond anything that rips through our societies on a seasonal level.

I have a friend who lives and works in Karachi, Pakistan. Already being under a yearlong lockdown, this friend tried to get vaccinated in Dubai, with no success. This friend is now considering to take a long journey to the U.S., to get the jab at home. This friend is frightened to death about neighboring India, and the already catastrophic situation in Pakistan.

Still, like I, and many of us who do international work, we are privileged, and we remain grateful, on a daily basis. Because we are surrounded by billions of people with no escape route. The many of us who stay “local” and live in privileged countries of the West, I would like to join those who remind us about how lucky we are. And we should take no pride from it, or wrong feeling of being superior:


I am the first one to admit how much the situation sucks, seemingly without end. I am the first one to admit how my entire life has been affected, whether my ability to see my loved ones, taking care of helping my children, or my mental state, which more often than not can be nicely described as “challenging”.

But I am also joining all those who call for reason, and responsible action. We will get through this. If we stay in it together. Only then. On a local, national, regional, and global level.

We need to share what we have. The pandemic is just like the proverbial gasoline poured over an already burning fire called “Global Warming”, which is so much an understatement term of the year.

Checkpoint Hellweg #17

INTRO: I am not thinking I am a good fiction author. So, this being my first piece of fiction may even be my last one… Or not, I don’t know. But I wrote this little story after I had begun to think about what would happen if way more lethal strains of the Covid-19 virus would occur. I tried to keep the story local, simple, and without a cautionary tale or any intent to make a statement. I just felt that, currently, and in case we are successful in protecting ourselves and our economies, we may increasingly remember these times depending on what we personally experienced. And many, especially amongst those who deny the existence of the virus, or who refuse vaccination, or who decry the current erosion of principles of data-protection, individual rights, and proportionality of measures, or who make a case against over-regulation by the State, they may not have witnessed what others have. Nurses traumatized by what they see in hospitals. Or people living in areas which are heavily infected. There is incredibly much suffering going on already right now. But still, people may be able to close their eyes, or to bury their heads in the sand, like the proverbial ostrich.

This little story is an overstatement. In keeping it local, I also managed not to think about the gargantuan complexity of what would happen to the world and economical order. What would it mean for peace and security? I don’t know anything else than that these news would constitute a string of nightmares.

So I thought about what it would mean in a local context, not too far in the future. In keeping it simple, I hope I have also not made too many mistakes in anticipating it. There is so much in this. May be it is tons of material for other fiction stories. Who knows. But I would want to use this story in supporting that we stay vigilant, and that we do this, voluntarily, right now. Too much is at stake.



Albert is waiting in a long queue of cars, slowly moving forward to Checkpoint “Hellweg #17”. On his way home he had to exit highway A44 at Dortmund Airport, approaching the Eastern outskirts of the city of Dortmund. Leaving the fenced highway with its camera systems and drones behind, he routinely checks all preparations keeping him out of trouble before reaching the floodlighted checkpoint area. Close to midnight, the bright illumination of the exit area ahead is announced by warning signs: “You are entering the city of Dortmund. Check entry requirements NOW. Non-compliance may constitute a criminal offense.” The drill has become his second skin. Ticking off boxes on his Covid-App: The car’s air-filter set on rapid-desinfection, done. Heavy duty face-mask, done. Electronic immigration file sent, done. Virus-test-results uploaded, done. His app requests permission to deduct the checkpoint fee from his bank account. Done.

Pre-check. The Covid-app on his phone sending a flickering signal, Albert acknowledges. The screen lighting up with the face of a checkpoint-officer. “Face” being an overstatement. Some eyes behind a heavy-duty mask with autonomous air supply, the mask carrying the insignia of the local Police. “Please state the reason of entry”, the officer’s voice is blaring from the cell-phone. Albert responds “I am returning home from work with permission.” Routinely he responds with a “negative” to questions whether he has been in contact with any person after entering the highway. Yes, he had one stop-over at a rest area after entering the highway. No, he is alone in his car.

Slowly moving forward, Albert remembers how easy it was to use these traffic arteries, just a few years ago. A44 – A1 – A2 eastbound, a few hours to Berlin. A little further, Poland. Spending the evening in Duesseldorf, enjoying a walk at the Rhine? Just a few highways, a bit more than 60 minutes, having a beer at the shores of the river. Westbound, passing through the connected cities of the “Ruhr Area”, heading to Aachen, crossing a border with just a few signs, he would be in The Netherlands, or Belgium. Northbound heading towards Hamburg, no problem. Beyond, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, all open territory for travel. Southbound, endless connections to Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France. None of this was possible any longer. In 2023, the highways now were a fortified main part of the Federal transportation system without which no economic connection and delivery of supplies and goods was possible. Individual travel had been reduced to the bare minimum, and most of that required work permissions. The highways themselves had become one gigantic electronic surveillance system.

So were the railways, and so was the development in air traffic. Individual traffic was almost impossible, except for work related or any official reason, with permission, surveillance, and a lot of fees. Economics stayed regional, international, global. Life was local, except for the Internet. It was organized around the local medical capacity to deal with emergency pandemic cases.

When the pandemic ripped through societies for the second year in 2021, infection cases in countries such as Brazil and India went through the roof and the situation turned into gigantic breeding spaces for new mutations of the Covid-19 virus. Vaccination efforts were part of a protracted whack-a-mole game dealing with ever more infection waves. When the first indications popped up mid 2022 that there might be new strains of highly infectuous variants with a much higher lethality rate than seen ever before, against which current vaccines did not protect, it was already too late. These new strains showed up everywhere, and the casualties exploded as fast as the panic and the speculation about how lethal the new forms were. Noone could tell for sure, but conservative data would indicate more than 10 % fatality, perhaps even more. No age groups were exempt. The medical system collapsed first, and in a horrific way.

It was pure survival of the fittest. People like Albert did not even pay attention to violence, wars, and the suffering of people in countries far away. People went into survival mode within a few days when they realised that neighbors and family around them got sick, were hospitalised, and were dying in troves. Albert would never forget the sight of cooling containers in front of hospitals even in small towns for the dead. They were still there. When this happened in New York in spring 2020, he did not notice. Now he had to.

The emergency measures amounted to a lockdown against which all previous versions felt like holidays. Existential fear gripped everyone. Policing the lockdown, and containing the aggressive forms of self-protection, greed, and panic leading to violence amongst neighbors, and against the more wealthy, chaos and ransacking shops for supplies, it overwhelmed security agencies within days and weeks. A national emergency led to the deployment of the military in support of the police.

Albert reached the checkpoint. Checking the data contained in his iPhone app was a contactless procedure including a test for data-integrity. Meanwhile the officer at the checkpoint did his verification work by asking “Please state the reason for your travel.” Dutifully, Albert explained his work as an IT-specialist coming back from a week-long stint in an Amazon warehouse. The IT-system there had been subjected to a malware attack and he had to contain, to protect data integrity, and to investigate the attack vectors. In this rapidly changing economy, warehouses were on their way to replace anything resembling shopping malls or shops, whether in Inner Cities or in small neighborhoods. So, their protection had primacy.

Leaving the floodlights behind, Albert embarks on a journey on smaller roads. He had left the highway system early because of congestions ahead, which forces him to pass several neighborhoods and the Inner City of Dortmund before reaching his neighborhood in the north-easterns stretches of Dortmund. Passing areas with empty shopping malls, local neighborhoods, and a decrepit Inner City, his journey takes him through three more local police checkpoints before reaching home.

When the new mutations hit, one of the first casualties was the free system of travel, known as “Schengen System”, which had led to the abolishment of border checkpoints in the core of the European Union. State borders were re-erected within days, and by 2023 they had become fortified permanent control points. Likewise, Germany’s green border was subject to heavy and still progressing fortification. Once there was a border fence separating East and West of Germany from North to South. The system fell during the re-unification in 1989. Now, Germany, like it’s neighbors, built fences all over. All economic strength focused on mobilising resources for transformation, and in this first phase, the Federal State secured highways, railway tracks, and airports. Private traffic was subject to lockdowns.

Within months, the pandemic forced the big cities in Germany to take unprecedented steps: Cities shut down their borders in order to prevent traffic, and the virus, to pass through. Slowly, Germany reached a modern form of a medieval system of fortified cities. Counties followed suit. Main roads were now riddled with checkpoints, and small roads were cut off with fences or other forms of disruption. Yet, the casualties rose and rose.

Home. Two months into the catastrophic development, his two brothers had been killed by the virus within a matter of three weeks. In hindsight, Albert still had no idea why he had survived this. Their parents had died both in 2021 already, but now, his two brothers had left two families behind. Two widows, five children. For them, the situation quickly turned into a survival nightmare. In order to avoid seeing them homeless, all of them, Albert, Ines with her two kids, and Anna with three kids had banded together. By sheer luck they had found a house to rent which was large enough to provide eight persons with a cramped space for living, educating and raising children, and home office work. Together, they formed a group of traumatized people supporting each other in their survival, and protecting themselves and their children. From a virus, and from an increasingly dangerous world outside their home.

Another casualty was data protection. Buerocracy could not catch up. Lockdown rules had to be policed and required enormous resources already in public spaces. But policing the privacy of homes proved impossible, and people in their private spaces were responsible for what amounted to a chaotic accumulation of micro-spreader events. Shortly thereafter, many realised that they needed self-protection inside their homes. From the virus ripping through their microcosm. From intruders robbing them of supplies which they had stached. From homeless people begging and scouting out the property. From invisible enemies, and non-existing enemies made up from pure fear. Countries like China had an advantage in developing electronic systems ensuring compliance within the privacy of homes. Surveillance systems and apps with no data-protection thresholds spread like wildfire into societies like Germany, almost with the same speed like the virus had done.

Approaching home, Albert triggered “Arrival Home” on his iPhone app. It notified all family members, and it notfied the local police station. All family members acknowledged with a “Trust” button, the iPhone app ensuring verification checks about Albert’s identity, and conformity with virus protection measures. Each family member acknowledged his medical clearance, in return Albert acknowledged the medical clearance of all members of the household. The police station got all necessary notifications. Ines and Anna, as privileged adult family members, also received notification about each and any human contact Albert had during his travel. Recently, Ines teenage daughter Viola had run through a tantrum when she requested to get the same information from Albert like adults do. As so often, the little houselhold survived a nervous breakdown. Finally, the apps confirmed that all members had been compliant with social distancing rules in their respective areas of operation. This triggered the house alarm system to notify Albert he was clear for return.

Albert decided to fuel up the car before arrival. Entering the cashier area of the fuel station, his iPhone sounded alarm: Two persons were in the shop, he was strongly advised to pay electronically and not to enter the shop area. Albert confirmed, so to avoid any revocation of his permission to proceed home.


Home. The alarm clock beeping louder and louder. Albert waking up. The clock says “25 April 2021, 06:00h.” Albert gets up, sitting down, immediately jotting down what he remembers from this nightmare. A shower, a coffee, a Sunday morning walk through the forest nearby. Robert-Koch-Institute 7-days-incidence still high, but currently stable. “Another day”, Albert is thinking, deciding to begin his Sunday morning with gratitude.

Futuretelling

The New York Times editorial board recently wrote about the latest report published by the collective of American intelligence agencies: “Global Trends 2040”. Since a while, such a report is being issued every four years, at the beginning of the term of a new U.S. administration. It aims to assess and to anticipate where the world will be headed over the next two decades. Released April 15, 2021 by the National Intelligence Council, quoting from the OpEd, the report “finds that the pandemic has proved to be “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II,” with medical, political and security implications that will reverberate for years. That’s not sturm und drang. It’s the prologue to a far darker picture of what lies ahead.”

The report can be downloaded here, and it is a very interesting read. As the authors themselves make clear, “scenarios are not intended to be predictions but to widen the aperture as to the possibilities, exploring various combinations of how the structural forces, emerging dynamics, and key uncertainties could play out“. Noone can foretell, at least until now, the future by analysing the key dynamics of the past and the current situation. But even without the five scenarios which the report is drawing up, already the five general themes identified by the report are a valuable narrative and assessment themselves, not least because the report synthesizes intelligence methodology and information with a wide range of global consultations outside the intelligence community, inter alia including societal stakeholders and civil society.

148 pages can not be summarized correctly here. Neither I want to do this. Rather, I would like to create interest in reading it oneself, by reflecting a little bit, including through own thoughts, on the themes of the report.

Five themes are identified: (1) Global Challenges, (2) Fragmentation, (3) Disequilibrium, (4) Contestation, and (5) Adaption.


Global challenges include climate change, disease, financial crises, and technology disruptions. The report states that they are likely to manifest more frequently and intensely in almost every region and country. Their impact on states and societies will create stress, or even catastrophic shock. The report assesses the current pandemic as “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political, and security implications that will ripple for years to come.

This assessment resonates a lot with what some, or increasingly many, of us begin to realize: The pandemic was not a temporary event which would cripple us for a few months until summer 2020. It is ongoing, and I belong to those who feel that it will not be gone for a longer period of time, despite all containment efforts, including lockdowns, and vaccinations. Moreover, I feel we might be in a transitory phase where “defiance meets acceptance”, where things have become a norm which we would not have believed to witness a few years ago. Last weekend, I walked over an empty promenade along the shores of the river Rhine. Provisional signs regulated that, between Friday 1 pm and Sunday 7 pm, as well as between 10am and 7pm on public holidays, this strip could only be used wearing a facemask. Boy, those who got self-righteous when seeing people without facemasks, how many of them would have raised their eyebrows when seeing Asian tourists wearing facemasks on airports, just a few years ago?

This example of weird and perhaps over-regulating buerocracy just being used as a picture for my feeling that we transition into a new normal, where the fabric of societies is becoming altered beyond a temporary timeline. The depth of any analysis needs to go deeper, but some of those changes which appear to be there to stay, they become slowly visible.

It is also true that over the past year or so, the pandemic discussion with all its horrific extremes, including through simply denying it, playing it down, glossing it over, inciting polarisation and anger, it all deflected from the big threat underneath: The threat through climate change. Nothing made this less urgent, we just stopped paying attention.

Fragmentation flows from these global challenges almost logically. Whilst each of these challenges is transnational, even global, the report also pays attention to a new “smallness”, as I would coin it. Psychologically even understandable: Overwhelming threats will lead to a reflex raising the shield, or “turtling up”. In my view, such a defensive reflex will also be increasingly accompanied by selfishness. Every self-protection is a selfish but necessary act, simply because it is about protecting myself. However, with many things perceived as being at threat, including medical and economic well-being, this may lead to an unwillingness to share, outside a limited and accepted circle. But we may also see that such a fragmentation, somehow, works, because it may not affect global trade or global communication. The Internet grew during the pandemic, and so did the transportation of goods. There are winners in the economy, Amazon being just one of those, and most visible for us when we pick up our jeans, underwear, or groceries on our own doorsteps.

Disequilibrium is the third theme of the report, flowing again from the previous, fragmentation. It may be less visible for many, especially during selfish times, but it carries enormous destructive potential. The report focusses on its effects in a widening gap between what societies, communities, and individuals expect from governance and services, and what they can deliver. Thus, the report addresses the credibility challenges which became apparent already before the crisis. Legitimacy of democratic governance, and credibility of elected officials in such a system, this is not something new since the beginning of last year. Neither is the profound inability of systems of international order providing peace, security, and other important issues enshrined in the sixteen Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. The pandemic may just have been the rocket fuel which incensed the already existing slow-burning wildfire. Like I said in my previous blog entry: Feels like a perfect storm.

Contestation is the fourth theme. We see it already. Wealthy societies pump their reserves into handling the crisis, and into the race of getting out on the other side in the best position for competing, on economical and power levels. But the report also identifies disruptive potential of contestation inside societies. In my view, these will just increase the intent of societies and states to stay competitive. In this regard then, wealthy societies will stand a much better chance. Poor societies will be left to their own devices of internal contestation. Conflict, violence, exodus, displacement, migration will have an effect on those more developed societies which, given all the above, might even lock themselves down even more. Lockdowns keeping others out. For me an interesting question: How will tourism develop? The more we can pay, the more likely we will spend our holidays in protected resorts? May be in wealthy societies we will see the “One Percenters” enjoy themselves in even more luxurious seclusion, those who always have been local and rural might not feel a difference at all, and the forces tearing things apart will be felt by the many in between?

Adaption being the final theme, I have the most diffiulties to identify with the anticipation, because it is so difficult to see where adaption will lead us to, locally, regionally, and globally. Of course, we will adapt. We already have begun. However:


My blog is about peace, security, trauma, and reconciliation. Somehow, all my entries here revolve around this set of topics. So, whilst I encourage to also read the scenarios in depth which form large parts of the main body of the report, I wanted to offer some thoughts just related to this introductory part of the report itself. Thoughts related to my focus.

The challenges for values, such as human and individual rights, democracy, the rule of law, they have only been growing over the past many years. The Covid-19-pandemic is pouring gasoline on this fire, and some of the developments become more visible for more people. The influencing factors which may lead to even more erosion during a time of new adaption, they are captured well in the five themes raised in the report. Not necessarily expressis verbis, but one can see it. Much will also receive more detail in the main body of the report, but in these introductory sections, these challenges are incorporated in a larger context, but are not made standing out for those who may only read executive summaries.

But taken together, global challenges, fragmentation, disequilibrium and contestation do pose significant risks to how we help an international system in its adaption and, at the same time, transfer as much of these values into it, these values which have meant so much for many of us for many decades. In a competitive world driven by economic and power contest on the one hand and more fragmentation on the other hand, maintaining these values is one of the big challenges. We can only maintain values “at home” if we also contribute to their promotion abroad. With a different phrase, Kemal Atatuerk said the same, or the European Union in their strategy documents from 2003. It stays true, however, and even more so today. Otherwise, gaps will be filled by others, and ultimately the usefulness of these values will also be questioned in any disequilibrium at home. Selfishness will lead to greed if others are more successful, with or without values like the above. Ultimately, forces which contest these values will grow.

So, in preparing for a new world order, it continues to be absolutely vital for us “at home”, wherever that is, and whatever it means, if we continue to share.

That is where we need visionary leaders, willing to take risks by maintaining that we need to share, even if the storm of anger from those who feel disenfranchised blows straight into their faces. We will see much more erosion, we have not reached rock-bottom yet.

Manipulation feeding off from emotional pain – A perfect storm

I am waking up after a sufficiently long sleep. I had felt exhaustion yesterday evening and fell asleep early. Keeping my eyes closed, and ignoring my cat making it clear he wants me to get up, to feed him, and to let him out of the campervan for his morning patrol, I am focusing for a few minutes on dreaming up positive pictures of this new day.

I am getting up, making my first coffee, feeding my cat, and not the other way round. Looking at the blue sky presiding over a cold April morning, I am not seeing the beauty of the lake, but struggle with what is going on in my head. I try to turn around the worry and the burden which is created by thinking about very simple things I have to do. Very simple things have become stressful when thinking about that I have to do them. I always knew this feeling, but it has become a prevalent stressor one year into the pandemic. Which gets me into the past, mourning everything my head is telling me that I have lost it. Worrying about the upcoming little things in my future again, I am loosing, once more, my ability to enjoy the present. Enjoying solitude, or suffering from loneliness? I have the choice, and more often than not, I fail to manage moving on a more enjoyable path for the day. Or I manage at the beginning, and fail all of a sudden throughout the day due to a small event, or just when daylight is waning.

I am attempting to disrupt my morning routine, which usually includes reading global news first. I have learned that reading these, mostly bad, news first thing over a coffee just fuels my being upset, being worried, feeling helpless and angry.

Instead, I am focusing on a voicemail which I received from a friend. My friend apologises for not having reacted earlier on previous mails from me. She explains the crippling inertia and depression which she is running through in this pandemic situation. I know her from before. She used to be so vibrant. Everything she describes about her struggle for today and the next days, I can perfectly relate to. I experience the same.

I could go on with stories of so many of my friends and family struggling with the same experience. With the ordeal of my ex-wife who single-parents our children 6.500 km from me, in a country equally affected by never-ending shutdowns, almost erratic closing of schools, and strict lockdown rules. I could describe in detail our worries about the depressive effects which the lockdown has on our teenage children, and our worrying about it, and how we wonderfully cooperate in coping with it. I could write about my single-parenting friend with three young children here in Berlin. I guess I would just describe individual stories which we all experience in countless variations right now.

We feel trapped, we feel helpless. We feel angry, and we suffer from our energy being sucked out of our lifes. We feel despair, because everything feels like a burden, simple tasks become more and more difficult. We daydream, we need rest after some work way earlier than we used to. A mental task, some office work, the need for a break comes after an hour, or sometimes after a few minutes. My friend in Berlin got help from a wonderful friend for a few days, taking care of her children. The time she had on her own, it felt like heaven. When the kids came back, the positive energy of this break lasted a few hours, only. Do people without small children really appreciate the effects of a protracted absence of Kitas, kindergardens, and schools being open?

I am attempting to describe the effects of depression, however, there are way more qualified writers than I am. But what I see is both an endemic increase of depression and, at the same time, a drastic increase of numbers of people who do not even realise that what they suffer from is a sustained series of depression attacks. This collective increase is a consequence of the protracted measures which we have imposed on ourselves in order to stay healthy and safe during a pandemic hitting us on an unprecendented scale.

But here is what I know about depression: At its core, it is a deep-seated and profound form of emotional pain. I also know that, like other unpleasant emotions, this pain easily separates itself from the triggering events and develops a life of its own, if experienced for too long. The trigger may vanish at some point, but the negative emotion stays. This is how anxieties develop, or phobias. Enough triggering events, and they are meant to stay even after the situation has long disappeared. It is the same with depression attacks. Because the point I want to make in this blog is a very different one, I stay away from explaining the neurophysiological reasons for this.

So, firstly, I state that increasing numbers of people in our societies are currently suffering from lasting emotional pain. Which creates a strong longing to make it disappear. May be through painkillers of various types, including meds, including drugs, including alcohol. But whether we sedate, or not, the pain stays, and it is a very deep pain. What happens if I have a headache and it doesn’t vanish after taking Ibuprofene? I feel helpless, I feel angry, I may double down on the painkiller, but I also try to understand why I have this pain. If the Doctor can not explain the pain, and make it go away, I may begin to distrust the Doctor.


We are facing anger, helplessness, feelings of being trapped, profound absence of a past which appears to be gone, on a societal scale. There is no discussion these days which I have which will not focus on Covid, or at least at some point invariably touch the issue. More often than not, this leads to an angry ramble.

We feel trapped because we are. Not only the unending cold weather is keeping us in our houses. We are strongly advised to stay in. We are advised to do home office. We face the protracted shutdown of any place where we used to mingle, whether the coffee shop, whether the shopping mall, whether any recreational place. We are living in areas where we face curfews, or we are being prevented from going to places just for touristic or any other recreational reasons. When I compare Berlin with Belgrade, just as an example, life is very different in Berlin. Much more shut down, like in other places in Europe. And yet, even in more permissive places, we all feel the effects of being prevented from engaging in what our brains need: Human contact, not over Zoom, but real contact.

We all know this, I am just stating it here to make my argument. We all feel that we began fighting this pandemic by hoping, and being told, that this will be over soon. But until now, it never was getting anywhere close to being over. I remember times last November when we faced yet another lockdown, hoping to re-open in January. And we did not, or only temporarily and in a very limited manner, re-open. We face a seemingless never-ending oscillation between hope and despair.

I suspect this is an issue seriously re-wiring our brains, to an extent unknown to many of us. Like, will I ever feel comfortable again when people come close to me in a crowded situation, whether on the bus, or in a crowded pedestrians zone? I crave proximity, and I fear it at the same time. I fear being surrounded by an invisible enemy. Again, I am making this argument for a purpose, not digging into the emerging scientific findings about how it affects us in all our societies. I have, for example, written on the impact of the pandemic and how we handle it, on domestic violence and on violence against women. What I want to express here is that fear, and anger, and helplessness, and the wish to make this going away, they have taken a deep root.

So, if there is an invisible enemy which I can not fight, I will feel threatened by anything happening close to me, getting me out of my comfort zone. My neighbor can make me angry, a tourist can, a foreigner can. Here is a strong vector fueling nationalism, through the fear created by anything alien to me.


At the same time, in our attempts to find a way through this, I feel from my conversations with a great many friends that we are establishing a narrative which justifies our own subtle non-compliance. Like many, I feel the temptation to not comply, in the security of my own private space. Where, as I said, the protracted cold weather plays a role because we are forced to stay in our houses. Where we all try to find ways to balance physical health with mental health. Mental health requires contact to other human beings. As we begin to rationalize this, I suspect that we may begin to move away from super-spreader-events to a mass of hidden mini-spreader-events.

My friend in the U.S. said, a few months ago, that in a situation where there is a choice only to either prioritize physical health or mental health, this friend will choose mental health, simply for survival purposes, thus meaning meeting people. We all want that. The conundrum sits with that it is not only about our own mental health, but about the physical health of other people, at the same time. If I prioritize my own health, I have to mitigate the many connections to vulnerable people which connect the people who I meet, with others. Mini-spreader-events carry the same viral potential, therefore, as super-spreader-events do, but they stay invisible. We have no guidance on how to mitigate, nor tool to assist, we are sitting with our own devices having to navigate through this huge responsibility. We are being told not to meet with more than a limited number of people in the “safety” of our homes, but how do we do this? The number of friends of mine who recently mention that they are going on a date, or, let me suspect, several dates, who knows the numbers? What about the absolute necessity of teenagers to hug each other?


So far, my argument expresses my suspicion that, the longer the fight against the pandemic lasts, the more we are being driven into “underground defiance”. If that is true, then the virus is being spread despite all public containment attempts. In a totalitarian regime, this may lead to even intruding into private space for controlling compliance. In democratic societies, it may simply lead to that all measures remain ineffective.

Here, the vaccination dilemma comes into play: The longer the vaccination campaign is being slowed down by insufficient supplies, resistance, doubts, administrative problems, and else, the longer the virus will thrive and prosper, unseen, at a too large scale. And the longer this happens, the more likely new mutations, and our inability to catch up with updated vaccines. We seem to be at a critical juncture of a whack-a-mole game, where we may get exhausted at an unknown point in the future.

If then, like today, some countries appear to be more successful with vaccination campaigns than others, and if, like we can see, these countries begin to release restrictions, the emotional impact on those who still live under lockdowns, will add exponentially to anger and helplessness. They will feel greed, and the wish to keep things for themselves, too. Another vector leading into nationalism.


Finally, in order to present my argument, a last story, from yesterday:

Another friend consulted me, by attaching a video to his mail. A video spreading through social media, one of uncounted similar types floating around. A well-dressed very attractive female presenter, propped up against a professional studio background, exhaling all visible criteria aiming at making her appearance credible and professional, spread a gargantuan conspiracy theory. That the virus does not exist. That the vaccines are evil. That all this is proven. That it is all about a global cabale of people subjugating their populations. The usual allegations, in this case against Bill Gates, were part of the blend.

The professionalism made me sick and angry. Because the flawless design of this presentation requires a deeper intellectual effort in order to pierce through the fog of manipulative rhethoric. Which is something which many people will not invest into. It took me two efforts in order to find a way demonstrating to my friend why these are incredibly well-crafted lies.

My friend almost apologised, because I had begun to ramble myself. He explained that this video was sent to his aunt who is hospitalised. He told me that in his circle of friends he hears entirely confusing advice about vaccinations, including hearing from a medical doctor in his circle that one should avoid the vaccination at all costs. He just told me another story about how deeply confused all of us are. In asking me he was trying to find guidance within a field which left him scared.

So it depends on who is giving you advise in such a situation. And I believe that more often than not the advise being given is half-baked, or uninformed, or even coming from people with a desire to manipulate.

This morning, I read a German news article about the German intelligence organisations watching extreme right-wing political movements and also noting new forms of extremism coming up. New forms of extremism connected to protests against Corona-measures. The key sentence in this news piece: The intent of some in this movement, and in right-wing political parties, to sow doubt in the confidence into the free democratic order which forms the value-base of our constitution.

That is my argument: That the helplessness, anger, fear, and facing the protracted, seemingly never-ending, nature of the crisis, is being used for increasing the base of those who just doubt the value-base which we have nurtured for more than seventy years. Automatically, by increasing the base of people willing to listen to the pied piper (Der Rattenfaenger von Hameln, for my German friends), one increases the number of people willing to vote for the pied piper.

For me, this sounds like a perfect storm.

To Serve and To Protect

Yesterday my friend shared a story from the Washington Post with me. Under the headline “Kentucky Senate votes to criminalize insulting police in way that could cause ‘violent response’“, the digital edition of the newspaper reported on March 12 on a bill which passed the State Senate.

I quote from the article:

The bill, passed two days before the anniversary of the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, would make it a misdemeanor to taunt or challenge an officer with words or gestures “that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person.” Conviction would be punishable by up to 90 days in jail and fines of up to $250.

State Sen. Danny Carroll (R), who sponsored the bill, said it would enable officers to arrest someone inflaming them before the encounter turns violent. The provision is meant to apply to comments that are “obviously designed to elicit a response from the officer — something to push them to making a mistake, pushing them to violence,” he said, although courts would have the final say in interpreting the rule.

“You don’t have a right to accost a police officer,” Carroll said.”


Apart from the mindblowing detail of the bill itself (I looked up the link above), think about it: In Kentucky it will constitute a crime if I use words or gestures towards a police officer which, in the interpretation of this or another officer, could be deemed provocative, to the extent that my words or gesture may lead to a “tendency for a violent response” by that police offficer.

As my friend wrote: “It implies cops have no self-control and are inherently violent. If I was a cop, I would be livid.”

It turns any people-centered policing understanding upside down. Don’t touch that cop. Don’t even look into his or her face. Keep your head down. Keep your hands down. Respond politely with “Yes Sir”. Do what you’re told, it is the law. Anything else may lead to that the copmachine is turning violent. Or that the cop now can arrest you beforehand, in order to avoid becoming violent.

This is escalative “enforcement of the law”-attitude at its worst. It leads to that “enforcement” is nothing else than exerting control. No need for consensus, no need for explanation, no need for communication. Why communicate, why listen, why explain? It is enough to arrest anybody standing in the way of law enforcement officers.

Don’t call this policing, please. You may call it controlling. Policing is based on consent, and applying force is the last resort.

Schulfunk – Waffenschmugglern auf der Spur – Tracking weapons traffickers

Schulfunk – An almost forgotten German expression from my childhood: Starting as a radio broadcasting service 70 years ago, meant to contribute to re-educating post-war Germany, Schulfunk developed into effective knowledge transfer, supplementing school education. Contemporary follow-on programs still exist, but the ancient label “Schulfunk” may get forgotten at some point. Today, it is about public broadcasters serving on their obligation to contribute to fact-based educational programs.

In a more sarcastic sense, I labeled any True Crime movie, or fictional reporting about crime, and movies about detectives solving crime cases, “Schulfunk”. Starting my professional career as a detective police officer myself, I was never too much interested in spending my evenings watching True Crime stories, or detective fiction. I found these stories too much detached from reality. Believe it or not, I preferred, and prefer until today, Science Fiction and Fantasy movies. Everyone has a weirdo side, right?

So, starting off a little bit on the funny side this morning, the screenshot below is about a piece of investigative journalism which was broadcasted by the German news channel “ZDF” March 24, 2021. Until March 24, 2023, you can watch this piece using the following link: https://www.zdf.de/dokumentation/zdfzoom/zdfzoom-waffenschmugglern-auf-der-spur-100.html

It pretty much is about my current line of work. It is in German language, but my small complaint sits with another issue, not the language.

Part of why I sarcastically labeled crime stories “Schulfunk”, distancing myself a little bit, has to do with the drama which appears to be a necessary part of broadcasting. Whether TV, movies on the big screen, or Youtube, nothing goes without music, and nothing goes without some sensational takes with which the subject matter at hand is presented in a way causing interest on the side of people looking for something to watch.

I get it, it is part of the human nature. I used it myself, when I was designing media campaigns for my colleagues and friends in Bosnia & Herzegovina during my time as Head of the European Union Police Mission. Just on a personal note, I find the dramatic music in this piece about weapons trafficking from the Western Balkans a little bit too heavy for my personal taste.

But after getting that out the way, I just wanted to reference this piece of journalism in my blog. And I wanted to do this without too much commenting, explaining, or describing my part in the work of my government, together with colleagues from France, and the European Union, in supporting the implementation of a strategic initiative which the six jurisdictions of the Western Balkans have agreed upon themselves. (We talk about jurisdictions, instead of States, in order to include Kosovo under the United Nations Resolution 1244 within a politically sensitive context).


If you want to understand what the Roadmap for a sustainable solution to the illegal possession, misuse and trafficking of SALW and their ammunition in the Western Balkans by 2024, is about, I would invite you to begin with browsing the website of SEESAC (https://www.seesac.org). SEESAC is the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons. It holds an instrumental role in supporting the implementation of this Roadmap, which was jointly developed by the Western Balkans Authorities, under the auspices of Germany and France, in coordination with the European Union, and with SEESAC’s technical assistance.

The Roadmap is the most comprehensive arms control exercise in the region, covering all key aspects from securing the stockpiles of weapons and ammunition to mainstreaming gender in SALW control and countering firearms trafficking. It represents a firm commitment to addressing the threats posed by the misuse and illicit possession of weapons in the Western Balkans and Europe at large and is a result of strong cooperation on SALW control in the region which SEESAC has fostered since 2002.


I especially like the final stretches of the reportage. After some good investigative work attempting to make connections between trafficking of weapons, ammunition and explosives through crime and organised criminal groups on the one side and some disturbing indications about some of these weapons and explosives ending up increasingly in the hands of right-wing extremists in Germany, the documentary ends with explaining the Roadmap which I referenced above. Bojana Balon, the Head of SEESAC, is being interviewed. And some impressive pictures deal with what we prefer to do with these weapons: Seizing them, and destroying them.

So, in the best tradition of the gun with the knot in its barrel which you find on the compound of United Nations Headquarters, here a few pictures. No need to reference any copyright, I took all these pictures myself.

Never stop reminding

Every now and then I browse through the folder with draft blog articles. At times, I am just jotting down a link about something that caught my attention when I was reading it. On other occasions, a thought crosses my mind and I am writing it down. And at some point, something materializes from it as a real piece of writing. It is a creative process and the direction into which my writing takes me is not a straigthforward path.


The title of this blog entry came first, and I archived links on stories which did upset me at the time of reading a few weeks ago:

https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/asien/afghanistan-gefaengnisse-folter-101.html: A heartbreaking article published by German news provider “Tagesschau” on torture in Afghan prisons.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-56021205: BBC reporting about the first phone call between U.S. President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping, in which Joe Biden is raising the issue of human rights abuses in China, including the detention of more than a million Uighurs in what China calls “re-education programs”.

There are so many more. Looking into each and every corner of the World, serious concerns can be brought up here in a list of articles which would be long, longer, never ending. Nobody is able to keep track, neither being able to notice them all, nor being able to speak out on them all. But does it mean to give up?

Thoughts about this made me chosing the title “Never stop reminding”, not least because part of the strategy of human rights abusers, of autocrats, dictatorial governments, corporate enterprises confronted with criticism, or any individual accused of abusive behavioir is to sit it out, to wait, to see the story disappear.

Like individual conscience requires to constantly register what is wrong, or right, or justified, the same is true on a societal level. And just leaving it to others, or to media, or watchdogs, it amounts to becoming complicit, first through looking away, then through inaction.


After I wrote the second blog entry on violence against women, “An upsetting update – Violence against Women“, a friend sent me an article from the German newspaper “TAZ”: “Die Feigheit der Maenner” or “The Cowardice of Men”. The OpEd by Waltraud Schwab states that men who are integer and sensible to gender issues, but remain silent, become complicit with perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.

Inaction can take many forms, like, looking away or pretending to not being aware. Inaction of this type can happen whilst the same individual will take a decisive position against sexual violence and abuse in meetings. I have witnessed it often: Managers coming back from meeting their superiors, passing the message about gender equality policy down the chain of command, and then, in the hallways, you will hear them talking under their breath. And others, who notice this schizophrenic attitude, remaining silent. Or, as the TAZ notes: Becoming complicit.


Of course it is not easy to speak up. It may be uncomfortable. It may create alienation. It may lead to being labeled self-righteous, dogmatic, fundamentalist, zealous, or naively idealistic. It is not easy to find the right balance in this. Once an individual is labeled this way, ostracising him or her serves the silent majority, and the perpetrators. But, what is the result of remaining silent? Pretty much the same outcome, in terms of serving those who abuse.

So, as always, it is a matter of balance. Yet, the healthiness of a society can also be measured by whether, and to which extent, this society keeps a living register of things considered to be wrong, unethical, fundamentally harmful for individuals and communities, or outright criminal. Such a living register is comprised of formal elements like public institutions of governance, or institutions which should be constitutionally protected in their independence, such as media, and the set of registers also requires maximum involvement of civil society.

But nothing of that can take away the responsibility of an individual to be actively part of it.


Does it make sense? Or is it just self-righteous rambling? Well, that is very much depending on the attitude with which the above is being judged. And at the end, I rather like to be looked at as rambling than being looked at as someone who contributes to the silence of the lambs.


Therefore, here two more news from today:

https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/eu-sanktionen-117.html: The European Union is imposing sanctions on China because of human rights violations related to the Uighurs.

And a masterpiece of investigative journalism uncovering the hydra of organized crime circumventing sanctions against North Korea, supplying the Dictator’s regime with oil.


Enjoy your Monday! My next article will be more focused again. Except, if it will not: https://zdfheute-stories-scroll.zdf.de/corona_psyche/index.html is a brilliant piece in German, about how the ongoing pandemic-lockdown has neurophysiological impact on the brain, including fatigue, inability to remember, or to focus.

An upsetting update – Violence against Women

Three days ago I published a post “Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture“. In it, I expressed my worries about an ongoing erosion of achievements including in the domain of protecting women, children, or any gender and sexual identification. I did refer to profound calls from the World Health Organisation, and I put male supremacy and misogyny into a larger context in which I also quoted two German publications. Within our current global resurging of nationalist and fascist tendencies I spoke about the connection between “manhood” and nationalist archetypes of “heroism” on the one side and the restoration of a “national gender order” on the other side, meaning men first, women second, and labeling anything else as deviant, weak, or sick.

That was three days ago.

Yesterday, I woke up to BBC News and then, later to news from Balkan Insight on Turkey’s decision to withdraw from the Anti-Violence Treaty, or so-called “Istanbul Convention” of the Council of Europe, to which Turkey had become a signatory ten years ago. BBC published an article “Domestic violence: Turkey pulls out of Istanbul convention“. Turkey pulled out of an international accord designed to protect women, seeking to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence.

It appears the Turkish President gave in to Turkish conservatives arguing that “its principles of gender equality and non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation undermine family values and promote homosexuality.”


There you go. I was as stunned as many in the World. This time, in difference to the “manhood”-aspects of male misogyny in a right-wing-nationalist context, the argument was offered by conservatives in Turkey which clearly also point into the religious/cultural dimension of misogyny and shameful attitude making women second class citizens, at best.

But what completely got under my skin was that a country is withdrawing from a convention protecting women, seeking to prevent, prosecute and eliminate domestic violence, with the argument that the spirit of that convention undermines family values and promotes homosexuality.

The argument implies that protecting women against violence goes against family values.

I am speechless.

Others were not. I was at least happy enough to see, when reading Balkan Insight, that protesters took the street in Istanbul. I can only hope they are being joined by many. Of course, with all necessary pandemic-related precautions. But the first demonstration on that matter here in Belgrade, or in Berlin: Count me in.

Like in my previous article, my concern goes beyond the already horrible reality on the plight of women and other vulnerable groups. My concern relates to the erosion of values that I have expressed in many blog articles. It appears to be a process in slow motion, which makes it difficult to see. And after the change towards a new U.S. President just in January this year, people might even believe that we are back on track restoring the old values which we believe in.

Which will remain to be seen. It may be the case for the next two years, or after the next mid-term-elections, for a full four-year-speriod, and I do pray for that the return to a cultivated political discourse promotion values including human rights, democracy, and a rule of law, will last. But nobody can say whether this will be the case, or the reocurrence of the old political culture will just have been an interlude.

I see erosion, and this being an example for erosion in the neighborhood of the European Union. Some people wrote me yesterday and indicated that with this, any discussion about an integration of Turkey into the EU should be closed for the moment. But I would want to make the point that the erosion of values is also happening INSIDE the European Union. Of course, people will look at countries such as Hungary, or Poland.

That is why I do point towards countries within the core of the EU, such as Germany or France. Let us not be hypocritical and let us not fly blind through wishful thinking and denial. The seeds of erosion are everywhere at this moment.

We are not safe from these developments, whereever we live. But whereever we live, we can continue to contribute to a humble display of the values which we believe in. I fear that, as always, antagonisation will just ride us deeper into that mud, will get us closer to a very slippery slope. Once we have reached that, the erosion of things will speed up.

We have it in our own hands, for the sake of our children.

“Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture”

“Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture, causing harm to millions of women and their families, and this has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. But unlike Covid-19, violence against women cannot be stopped with a vaccine.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director general, quoted on BBC News, March 09 2021.

Here are the key facts, as issued by the World Health Organisation, to be found on the WHO website:


  • Violence against women – particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence – is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights.
  • Estimates published by WHO indicate that globally about 1 in 3 (30%) of women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (27%) of women aged 15-49 years who have been in a relationship report that they have been subjected to some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner.
  • Violence can negatively affect women’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and may increase the risk of acquiring HIV in some settings.
  • Violence against women is preventable. The health sector has an important role to play to provide comprehensive health care to women subjected to violence, and as an entry point for referring women to other support services they may need.

Sometimes I am beginning a blog entry with a soft opening. This time I thought the statement should speak for itself, first. I am repeating it: “Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture.” This is a global statement, and it is deeply worrying. If the arrow of time is being added, then the full dimension is disclosed: “Violence against women is, and always was, endemic in every country and culture.”

Of course, there will be those who will say: “But we have made some progress, or may be even significant progress, haven’t we? After all, we are not the same people like, say, in the stone age”, they will say. And I would respond that I am not sure that such an argument is carrying any significant value. I suspect that it will be a tough exercise attempting to qualify, with hard facts, whether there is some sort of lasting cultural improvement. How do you apply measurements to constantly moving targets? Or, may be, we would not find significant improvement at all: May be we don’t use axes and headbangers made from mammoth bones any more, but our means of violence, abuse, and subjugation have become more subtle, but by no means less severe. But I would especially say that any such argument distracts from the worrying fact which is carried in the central sentence of this blog entry, which I repeat for the third time now: “Violence against women is endemic in every country and culture.”

Since a few years I feel there are visible tendencies of male supremacy fighting back against achievements making sure that all gender and gender related identification have equal rights, and chances, and that there shall be no male domination of any form, including, of course, male violence. Sometimes these backlashes were subtle, sometimes hidden under seemingly rational arguments. I remember reading about male resistance against increasing gender balance in ranks and files in Silicon Valley companies, a few years ago. I also saw how the rude and radicalised cultural and political discussions under President Nr 45 in the United States led to bluntly open visibility of male arrogance. I would also say that this male arrogance is a main driver behind cultural supremacy (yes, globally there is not only something like white supremacy), and phenomena like these thrive in times when nationalism and fascism begin to seek opportunities to dominate a political and cultural discourse, again. For me, there are visible connections.

Like with many other topics, development of extreme ends on a scale is depending on what shifts are being registered in the so-called mainstream part of that spectrum: The more mainstream misogyny, the more likely not only structural, but also emotional abuse and physical repression and violence. So the cultural and societal shifts which are nagging and biting and chipping away at achievements that we managed over the past many decades, on values of humanity, human rights, principles such as democracy and the rule of law, these profound shifts in mainstream society, they naturally affect the extremes. There are paths from shameless misogyny towards brutal violence. These are the same paths which lead from systematic replacement of truth with lies to violence.

The German newspaper “Der Tagesspiegel” recently published an opinion piece from Armin Lehmann: “Wie wir heldenhafter werden koennen“. A brilliant piece on right-wing nationalism and re-ocurring fascism in Germany, and the connection between “manlihood” or “manhood” and nationalist archetypes of “heroism” on the one side and the restoration of “natural gender order”, meaning men first, women second, and labeling anything else as deviant, weak, or sick. Did we not think these times were long gone? We are back, full circle. And since political parties such as the German AfD find more and more support, and do actively infiltrate society by hiding those attitudes which still may lead to a powerful outcry, we shall not be surprised about the consequences on the extreme ends of any societal spectrum. But at the extreme ends and in the middle portions, male supremacy is a leading reason for the changes which we experience. Since the referenced article above is in German, here a very profound analysis in English, a long piece from the German magazine Der Spiegel: “The Dark World of Extremist Misogyny”. Introducing into their analysis, the authors state: “Hatred against women is fostered online, but increasingly often, it erupts into real-world violence. The problem extends all the way into German parliament. Some experts describe it as a new form of terrorism.”

And then there is Covid-19. I recently wrote about the context between the pandemic and mounting evidence of violence against vulnerable groups, such as women and children.

So, what can I say? Simply the same as I do since many years: As long as we may have the discussion about gender rights, equality, gender mainstreaming, zero-tolerance against violence, the glass-ceilings preventing women from having the same chances and paychecks as men, it does not mean that we can slow down. Rather, we need to double down. Because, like in the case of other values, currently things are rolling back.

Wanting and Liking

As I said in my blog entry on the depressive effects of the countermeasures fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, I have enough energy during the morning. So I finish this article which sat in my draft folder whilst I am freshly energized, and before running out of steam…

Every now and then some articles on the science of addiction hit the public realm. They attempt to make a very complex phenomenon understandable to the general public. But the underlying neurophysiological and biochemical aspects of cognitive science, they are not that easy to be appreciated. Because they challenge a fundamental way of how we perceive the unity of our “self”: What we perceive as “one thing”, “me” feeling emotions, “me” thinking, “me” deciding, “me” acting, “me” believing that I am in control of deciding. In reality this “me” is based on contributions from distinct sub-systems within our brain. This “me” appears to be a composite, and most of the time the “thinking part” of my brain wants to tell me a story about that this thinking part is the “real me”, everything else in my brain being an accessory to it. The evolutional achievement which appears to set humans apart from other living beings, the part of our brains being able to compute logic in dizzying complexity, it constantly attempts to tell me a story about that this is the seat of the “me”. This -scientifically wrong- understanding may also contribute to why we label behavior that contradicts a given intent to follow a norm as a moral failure, as weakness, setting apart those who “fail” from those who “succeed”.

Until cognitive science is proving it wrong. Which is the case. Still then, in common belief we like to think about that we are “in control”. Whilst the psychology of advertisement has already understood since many decades and in ever growing depth how people can be made believing that a buying decision, or a voting decision, or a choice about anything in life, can be influenced in ways invisible to the “rational” self. Individuals believing they are subjects in control of a decision not being aware that they have become objects of most subtle manipulation. Nowhere it is more obvious for me than within the science of understanding addiction.

To say that cognitive decisions, the ability to decide to do something, or the ability to decide to abstain from something, are not a consequence of an independent supreme mind that is attached to a physical structure called the brain, it challenges notions of how we may have been educated, and how we would like to see ourselves. It can challenge concepts of accountability, of ethical and moral behavior, it runs counter a common attitude to, for example, labeling an addict as a “weak” person. Somebody who is morally questionable. Somebody who has failed on basic requirements which are considered to be common individual and social skills.

In my law education at the beginning of my career, I learned about the three aspects being fundamental for having committed a crime: (1) I need to do something that is objectively considered a criminal act; (2) In order to establish a crime, there must be an absence of a cause of justification, like self-defence can justify harming another person who is attacking me; (3) For establishing individual accountability, I must be culpable, meaning that my physical capacity allows me to see that I am committing a crime and that I have no justification. A deeply insane person might not be able to have this mental facility. But those face being locked up as a danger to the public, if they commit severe crimes without being culpable.

My education included that, for example, I am usually considered to have the capacity to refrain from an act that I want to do. Like that, even if I use my car after having intoxitated myself through alcohol to an extent that I can not even remember what I did the following day, I still am considered culpable and can be convicted for DUI.

I find this not so easy. Take a person who has experienced that self-abusive behavior became compulsive, and then over time that person became addicted to this behavior. This person struggles with never-ending despair after doing what he or she did not want to do, all over again. Yet, this person also lives in the delusion that he or she is able “to fix it”. Only to discover, after the next drinking binge; the next shot of heroin; the next relapse into gambling; the next round of self-harming sexual behavior; the next over-eating binge, or bulimic action; the next time of cutting oneself with razors; or a myriad of other acts that initiate a kick of dopamine in the brain, that all intention to stop it failed. Over and over again.

Look at this BBC-article from December 12, 2020: “The science of addiction: Do you always like the things you want?“. David Edmonds has a go on explaining the role of a substance called dopamine. Dopamine is a so-called neuro-transmitter acting in the brain. In every brain, at least I’d say in brains of mammals. Its function and its effects are not entirely understood, neuroscience is cutting edge science and we are learning more by the day. Classically one of its effects led to giving dopamine the name “happiness hormone”. That is a simplification which is challenged with the findings as described in the article. There are many other effects and a considerable number of identified brain functions in which dopamine play an important role, and I am not a neuroscientist, I won’t venture into that. However:

The BBC article explains findings which challenge the notion that we always like what we want. This is not true, according to modern neuroscience. The sub-systems of the brain regulating a desire, or an irresistible want are distinct from those parts of the brain which are responsible for what we like. An early experiment quoted in the article refers to a person who, in 1970, was subjected to a specific electrostimulation by his psychiatrist. Amongst other issues this patient struggled with addiction. When he received electric stimulation of the pleasure-center in his brain, he felt a very strong arousal and he would act compulsively on it over and over again. But when he was asked whether he liked what he was doing, the answer was a decisive no.

Same with lab-rats. Rats will rapidly learn that an object in their cage gives them an electroshock. They will stay far away. Unless you do the same stimulation of their pleasure-center in the brain. Then they will touch the object over and over, despite the electric shock. It is possible to interpret their facial expressions: Experimenters can tell whether lab-rats like something, or not. And like the human patient in the experiment in the 1970’s, they don’t like the unpleasant experience of being electrocuted. Yet, they continue to do it.

The article goes on to modern neuroscience and efforts to understand the effect of dopamine. What now seems to be established is the mainstream knowledge that “wanting” and “liking” are attributable to different sub-systems of the cognitive system. Dopamine is only affecting the “wanting”, and not the “liking”. As the article says: “Dopamine increases temptation”.

These biochemical and neurophysiological functions of a brain exist since millions of years. I would not know about when they emerged, but they were in existence before humans walked the earth, otherwise rats and other mammals would not have them. They serve clear functions which made sense in an environment when primates were our ancestors. They made sense when Neanderthals walked the Earth, and they continue to be existentially necessary in our contemporary environment. They exist since long before the frontal lobe of our human brain began to develop, long before we gained what we would name our self-awareness, our thinking mind, our sophisticated way of communicating, of forming bonds between tribes, and they continue to exist and to fundamentally drive us whilst we have set up a world of highly organized complex societies. The neurophysiological setting of an agnostic and a believer in any religion is identical. You can be tied in the strongest ethically or moral ways to behavior that you like, and that is socially accepted, but if your dopamine-regulation systems runs amok, you will be tortured by an urge to do things that you do not like, and which are labeled morally harmful, or forbidden.

Substance abuse is one thing. Then there is behavioral self-abuse. If the compulsion sits with a neurotransmitter, or several, running out of balance, the urge to stimulate pleasure is also strongest where behavior is rewarded with huge kicks. From sexual behavior to gambling, from over-eating to bulimic, behavioral disorder is often more powerful than substances, and leaves you entirely powerless.

Another question is why the hormonal and neurological systems in the brain can loose their state of delicate balance. Why something becomes compulsive, until the damage to the neurophysiological setting has become permanent. There seem to be many reasons for it, including genetic predisposition, but one main driver is trauma, and early childhood-trauma sits front and center. Read my blog entries on trauma. They are tagged.

We find it so counterintuitive that our actions depend on the delicate balance of complex sub-systems in our brain. We feel like “one” entity. We do not feel the fact that our awareness, our cognitive setup, is a complex interaction between a large number of parts. Put a person who is heavily suffering from addiction into a MRI-scanner and you will see that parts of the brain which usually communicate, don’t. Those areas remain literally black whilst other parts of the brain are being displayed in vivid colors. And once that individual manages to abstain from this substance or behavioral self-abuse for, on average, ninety days, you will find that those parts of the brain which were silent do work, and communicate, again.

I have grown up with the notion that, whatever humans do, they are accountable for it. Only in case of severe causes affecting culpability, a human action can establish unaccountability. The subsequent mainstream thinking is: Those who can not control themselves, they are weak, or morally questionable beings, or both.

Of course, law, criminal law, and criminal procedural law gradually catch up with modern science. As is the case for penal management, at least to some degree, and at least in the country I live in. But when it comes to drug policies, to criminalisation of substance abuse, to law enforcement and prosecution of behavior which an individual has no control over, we are still a far-cry away from a full-fledged understanding of that we can not address a public health issue with criminal law. This debate is happening, though. At the same time, this debate is subject to the winds of change which come from the never-ending dispute between conservative or liberal politics, for example. Some say “Lock them up”. Others say “Help them, they are sick and suffering”.

What do I want to say? We need education about science. We can not govern ourselves the best way possible, if we base our beliefs on wrong predicaments. Of course we can govern ourselves without that. The result is societal control, and locking away those who “fail”. And sometimes, science might be in the way of just exerting control. So, even here, the question as to which extent we allow ourselves to put governance under the guidance of science (like with the Covid-pandemic) is based on whether we apply values to our governance, or use values as a pretext for control.

Concluding this:

Dopamine showers can be the result of many actions, as I have shown. However, one interesting fact remains: Dopamine showers in the brain can be the result of allowing myself to be angry. Many of us have experienced the results of a constant flow of angry news, of angry tweets, of angry antagonizing shares on social media. Many of us have experienced how the constant stream of anger flowing from news was making us continuing to engage with these angry posts. There are those who know how to manipulate us into this vicious cycle. Who feed the beast of anger. Who antagonize exactly because it makes people continue to follow these news. There are those who do it for reasons of manipulating people into a world of false beliefs. And there are those who benefit from it because creating followerships allows for placing advertisements into these highly emotionalised feeds. As I said, psychology of advertising knows exactly how to create compulsive and addictive patterns.

With the events surrounding the insurgency at the U.S. Capitol, January 06, something changed. Reaching a tipping point, things boiled over. And some of these raging feeds were cut off by social media. Then, January 20, a new U.S. administration reverted to a culture of educated discussion. In discussions with many friends, inside and outside of the U.S., we observe that the absence of this rage element in the realm of communication on social media appears to feel like a “cold turkey”. Strangely enough, we miss the rage, we feel a void.

Exactly. Because of dopamine. To be continued.