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.

Y.A.C.D. – Yet Another Covid Day

07:04 AM: Getting up, preparing the first coffee, focusing on mindful awareness as my go-to-tool helping my mind from immediately entering the worry cycle.

07:25 AM: My first defeat on the resolve drinking less coffee. Attempting to slow down my eternal morning routine: Sipping coffee, browsing through the daily reprieve of online news.

08:17 AM: Planning my morning, I am thinking of getting myself a haircut today before having a shower. Since 13 months now I am cutting my hair myself.


The above is what I wrote yesterday morning. Then, no more writing happened. We all experience this fatigue. Waking up, I begin my day with a small exercise in mindfulness, focusing on things I am grateful for. I manage to gain some energy for a few hours, get myself into some productivity in my home office, needing a few meditation breaks in order to replenish my motivational energy. At around lunchtime, I feel that the morning has passed way too quick, and following through with my plan to do an exercise ends up as a struggle: Sometimes I succeed getting myself on my bike, sometimes I am just able to make myself going for a walk in the nearby park. When I come back, I feel tired. A nap either allows me to get a little more energy for working away again, way less than I had hoped for. Sometimes I get lost in reading news. Sometimes I get lost in some small IT projects that I like to dabble with. And around 4pm, my mind and body anticipate the upcoming winter darkness, fatigue is joined by exhaustion, melancholy, winter depression. Way too early I loose focus, and the wish to go to bed early, well known by many during the winter period, it becomes stronger. So I engage in communication via Zoom, WhatsApp, or iMessage with loved ones, try to stay away from worrying thoughts, sometimes successfully, more often not. Around 8pm the sadness anomaly disappears and is replaced by normal evening fatigue. Usually I fall asleep soundly, sometimes too late after a Netflix or Youtube binge, and the next day I hit the “Repeat-Button”.


Then there are those events which make me feel helpless and upset. Like, that getting a PCR-test was an exercise in surviving the Balkan version of an administrative nightmare stressing me out. That I did not get the PCR-test back in time (my bad, I banked on faster test results). That I had to reschedule my flight to Berlin by one week, needing a second PCR-test. Each test here is more expensive than the entire flight for myself and my cat! Now I have to pay twice, upon arrival in Berlin I am obliged to self-quarantine, after five days I can shorten the isolation period by half if, guess what, I present another negative PCR-test. Then I will be able to expose myself to the harsh lockdown scenario in Germany. When I plan to travel back here to the Balkans, guess what, I will have to do another PCR-test. Today I am reading on the German discussion how to soften some restrictions, as infection figures and infection deaths continue to decline: Some are discussing that a visit to a hairdresser may require to present a negative PCR-test, no older than 48 hours. Oh man, I will continue to cut my own hair for yet another year. Have I told the story how the administrative systems in some Federal States in Germany allowed sex workers to take up their jobs again during the relief period after the first lockdown in summer 2020? Clients had to sign in upon entering the premises, disinfect their hands dutifully, wear a surgical facemask at all times, and then engage in getting the rest of the body fully touching another persons body as part of the transaction. When I read it, I reckoned that wearing a facemask may even be helpful in setting up some positive emotional tension between the people engaging with each other.

There will be many stories how we handle the crisis that will sound funny and weird long after.

These are personal observations dealing with a helplessness which is hitting everyone, and many people suffer much harder from it than I do. They can’t travel. They can’t get their kids to kita or school. They can’t get household help. They have to work from home, with their kids around, and relationship stress often adds to anxiety. Fear of unemployment or business failure comes on top of it. We all know it: Since one year we pile anger on helplessness and throw copious amounts of fear on top. Silently or loudly we want to rage, or we do. I wrote about domestic violence in another blog entry. And my favorite prayer, the serenity prayer, becomes a staple for those who try to stay sane: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change…

We are called upon exercising extraordinary serenity, to an extent unheard of for many of us. Many of us have no skills for that. Whenever we fail, the result is depression and emotional pain. Since it is lasting so long now, I am sure the depression and pain has already begun to decouple from the triggering events and situations: Depression may become the new normal, staying with us for a long time even after we may have successfully passed through this crisis.

Of special note for me, as a parent in a long-distance family situation: I see my teenage children struggling with deprivation from contacts to their peers when they need this most: At a time when they begin to unfold their wings, when parents can become a nuisance and time with peers provides opportunity to find the own identity, the pandemic deprives teenagers from needs of being in close contact with others. And when I see them having the opportunity to meet, whether in Serbia, in Germany, or in Canada, I see them doing what they need most: Touching and hugging, flirting and kissing, holding hands, sitting on each others laps. If we prevent them from this, long enough, I fear we create significant damage. I’m not saying we should not uphold restrictions making life safe for all of us, as good as we can. I’m not saying I have an alternative solution. I am saying that we are globally locked into a most challenging discourse about what we can do to mitigate the consequences of our preventative actions.

Others have, unfortunately, plenty of wisdom on offer: Those, for example, who engage in conspiracy theories and deny facts, existence of threats, establishing fake narratives of threats including some which I had barely heard of a few years ago, and which now have become mainstream for millions. Such as, that the Democrats in the U.S.A. are cannibals and secret members of networks exploiting children for sexual abuse. Mindblowingly extreme, and just one example for a full set of speculative and maliciously manipulative narratives. Conspiracy theories have been thriving since mankind exists, but the extent to which they have taken roots lately is, in my view, unheard of. Millions and millions of people increasingly believe in a version of how to explain the world that has nothing to do with reality at all. And they all vote.


It is common experience that extreme developments always exist on a soil which is allowing them to grow. And often, the real threat sits with the abnormities and shifts in polarization that characterise the so-called “more normal”, or the less extreme. Or, to put it into the opposite statement: Where there is growing extremism, there also is a growing shift in mainstream opinions, beliefs, and attitudes. The extreme ends of opinions and viewpoints can not exist in isolation, mainstream and extremism are interdependent. The more we are able to maintain an educated and moderate mainstream discourse, and the more we are able to motivate our fellow human beings to participate in it, the less we see extremism, in quantity and quality. And, again, turning the sentence into its opposite: The more we fail in maintaining a culture of a civil discourse, the more we fail to live our human values, and see our public representatives getting away with obvious selfishness, carelessness, and bullying, the more the mainstream system enters into an existential crisis. And it is this disillusion of many, festering under the skin of “normalcy” within the mainstream, which allows extreme views to grow, and which allows extremism and populism. First it happens in the dark, then it steps out into bright visibility. Soon enough, we hear again the perennial question: “How could this happen?”

This becomes especially relevant during the current yearlong and global Covid-pandemic.


I am following this train of thoughts which can give the impression of a personal rambling, simply because I am looking for a writing style which reflects my being personally affected on deepest levels. There is simply no way to have a discourse about what happens to us these days without acknowledging that we are all driven by deep-seated anxiety, fear, the feeling of helplessness, and anger. No discussion on what we are experiencing and what we can do can stay on a truly dispassionate academic level. Those who try will be disconnected.

But what I also believe is that we have to be as precise in this discourse as we can possibly be. I will end this with an example, but before that I want to make one point:

The Covid-19-pandemic is often compared with the last global pandemic of our times, the Spanish Flu. Which happened in the 1920’s. It is safe to say that those times were very different. Unlike then, the Covid-19-pandemic is happening in the age of globalisation. Of course, the Spanish Flu impacted globally. But the means of interconnection and transportation were very different 100 years ago. And so were the means of global policy connection and communication: News and discussions required time for communication and collaboration. Because everything was less connected, collaboration was more local than global. Networks have become instantaneous these days. Global economic systems are interconnected unlike ever before during mankind’s history. News travel in seconds, decisions require to be taken in much shorter periods of time, since they impact on all others in a global context.

So, here is my point:


Mainly, our systems of governance are based on the concept of Nation States. Over time, some supranational systems of governance have emerged and Nation States have delegated various instruments into regional, or in the case of the United Nations, global hands. Yet, Nation States are the powerhouses of policy, delegation of action was arduous, and always precarious when it comes to internal and external security matters. At times, I have witnessed a corporate will to increase the role of supranational organisations, such as the European Union, and at other times, I have seen, like now, a trend back to nationalism.

Yet, no Nation State of today is able to exist without the deep and instantaneous global interdependency that is the result of irreversible globalisation. So, when Covid-19 struck, Nation States had to make most rapid decisions, because their neighbors did. In a race to look left and right, policymakers struggled to come up with responses that made at least some sense within their own jurisdictions, taking into account that nobody can make isolated decisions. We all know about the struggle to base these policy decisions on hard scientific facts.

What I observe is that we had no time for long discussions. We had to do things. So, for example, in Germany, we did things unheard of in the history of post-war Germany: We imposed restrictions on basic human and citizen’s rights to an extent locking down an entire country, in no time at all. We shut down the economy, and we made people stay at home, even limiting, by regulation, whether and how many contacts outside of their respective core family these citizens were allowed to have. We let old people die in hospitals without allowing relatives to visit them. All that not only in Germany, but globally.

However, the justification with which we do this, it requires, at least in States and societies observing a rule of law, that the restrictions are based on lawful decisions. It is my impression that the velocity and the scale on which we had to do this did not allow the instruments of the rule of law to follow at the same speed. So we acknowledged that we may face times when the courts of justice will finally catch up with administrative and legal decisions being made, judging whether these were lawful, or whether laws were compliant with the basic rules of the respective constitution which all of our modern Nation States have.

Nothing of that has been relevant in the perception of the majority of citizens. What we all have seen and perceived was that, with a snap, our freedom was seriously curbed, many would say that their freeedom was taken away. Whether we live in Germany, or anywhere else, we have seen that the same happened, sometimes more, and sometimes less harsh, everywhere. We have seen governments and administrations limiting our freedom within days, only to reopen, and then, when the pandemic hit again, close down again, within days. We all have felt that we are at the mercy of “our politicians”, as the simplified language would go.

A few days ago, I watched a livestream discussion between a representative of the German Ethics Commission and a journalist. The representative of the Ethics Commission explained why they believe we need to continue upholding a lockdown whilst initial decline in new cases can be registered. And twice, the journalist asked: “When will we be given our individual human rights back?” He meant the constitutional and universal human right of liberty and freedom to move. Truly, the journalist asked this question with best intentions.

Yet, the question is fundamentally wrong: Within the German constitutional system, individual human and citizens rights are inalienable, they are explicitly meant to be defense rights against the State. They can not be taken away in their entirety. They can be restricted, as long as their core substance continues to exist, which includes that restrictions are temporary, and that any restriction must be based on a common law that is subject to scrutiny by parliamentarian and judicial mechanisms. Administrative by-laws and normative decisions affecting constitutional rights without authorizing laws are unlawful.

And this is just Germany. Other States have different constitutional setups. But in contemporary understanding of the Western World, all these different setups preserve values which are believed to be universal, such as through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and all these national setups do follow an understanding of a rule of law.

Covid-19, however, requires global preventative countermeasures with serious impact on human rights being implemented irrespective whether the local political system of governance follows democratic values, or is based on, say, the rule of authoritarians, or systems exerting governance without accepting human rights and the rule of law in the same understanding as we believe in. And globally, citizens see that, notwithstanding how their governance is set up, their liberties are massively taken away.

This allows for the impression that we all are subject to decisions by rulers. I’d like to think that in a democratic system those who exercise authority do this because the electorate has delegated the duty of decisionmaking for the common welfare and good to elected representatives. Thus, we need to be precise, because global countermeasures against the Covid-19 pandemic affect the credibility of all systems of governance. We may be in a situation where different systems of governance begin to compete demonstrating that some are more fit to react in crises like these than others. This can add to the credibility crisis of democracy as a system of governance.

Ending on a positive note, with the Biden Administration in the U.S. engaging in cooperative values that had been abandoned for four years, we may have a chance to rebuild strength and credibility in systems of democratic governance based upon human rights and the rule of law. It comes with a huge task: We must be able to continue and become better in explaining why restrictive measures are necessary. We must hold ourselves accountable to a precise discourse, one in which we have zero-tolerance for an erosion of an understanding that all human rights are equal and that there is no individual human right which may be more important than another one. The right to liberty and freedom is equal to any other right, and we must carefully balance any restriction of it.

The Pandemic and its Impact on Domestic Abuse and Violence

This -slightly longer- article focuses on gender-related aspects of domestic violence. After some introductory comments, I will present a view on the general scope of an endemic problem. I will also look into the specific context of the role of weapons, especially firearms, in that context, and the significantly higher victimisation of women including through the use of firearms. After that, I will discuss the alarming rise of domestic violence which we observe as a consequence of various measures undertaken to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. I will advocate the protection of the most vulnerable first. In this, I will focus especially on women and children.

As an introduction:

I began this blog entry based on discussions with friends on the consequences of the pandemic for women through heightened levels of aggression, abuse, and violence. So I wanted to write about the impact of the restrictions and lockdowns on domestic abuse and violence experienced by women. Though this still is a major thread in my writing here, after some research and thinking my reflections on the topic of domestic abuse during the pandemic became broader.

Physical and emotional abuse including violence are a disturbing reality in intimate relationships and families. I will reference data published by the NCADV and other information a few paragraphs below, but for starters: Already before the pandemic, in the United States, 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner. At least once in their life, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. And according to statistical data just taken from the United States, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men has been raped during their lifetime. 1 in 10 women suffer from rape within what they would consider their own zone of safety and comfort: Within an intimate relationship. I don’t have to look for other data sources but can state due to heuristical and professional experience that the situation, for example in countries in Europe, will not reflect a significantly less disturbing picture. Exact numbers might vary, but we are not talking about a fringe problem. We are talking about a huge challenge.

However, there is an emerging body of data indicating that phenomena of domestic abuse and violence are on the increase throughout the pandemic. As the pandemic lasts, lockdowns are protracted and are getting more and more rigid throughout this winter. It is all but certain that the problem will continue to grow, perhaps exponentially, the longer and more severe these restrictions are. As the fight against the pandemic is now reaching a full year of implementation, and will continue, there is no reasonable doubt that these developments will have a medium and long term negative impact.

Why should this make all of us concerned? Like every parent I want to see my children experiencing only safe friendships, happy relationships, and I want to see them becoming capable of raising happy children of their own. The thought of witnessing a beloved child being on the receiving or giving end of an abusive relationship is a horror scenario for every loving and caring parent. It is only natural to push this thought aside, hoping that this may be something that my children, our children, won’t have to go through. Parents may engage in wishful thinking, and some denial, hoping that this may not happen to own daughters and sons, but may just be some distant risk, a risk more for other societies, other communities, may be for less privileged people, or just plain and simple for others. The reality is starkly different: Your daughter has a high chance to experience violence in sexual relationships, your son may be significantly at risk becoming a perpetrator, and to a lesser extent, a victim. Both your daughter and your son may experience helplessness and mutual abuse in toxic relationships. Both will experience the stress of raising children, many will experience single-parenting, and they will likely experience the crushing defeat when, despite best intentions, they yell at their own children, or slap them, or worse. It has happened to most of us in various shades of grey, let us be honest. We have been on the receiving side, and we have been on the giving side. And this prediction, based on time-tested statistical data, is one main reason why to focus not only on women, but equally pressing on the suffering of children experiencing violence and abuse in domestic environments, and their social neighborhood: Every statistical data will confirm that those who have been victimised in their childhood are way more likely to repeat this abuse, or to subject themselves to abuse, by way of what psychology calls re-enactment, once they have grown out of age. In addition, their proneness to alcohol, substance, and behavioral abuse leading to addiction is exponentially higher. What we do to our children, our children will carry this into their parenting and into their intimate relationships, and into their coping strategies.

That is why we need to be concerned about the widespread phenomenon of domestic violence and abuse. And that is why it’s increase throughout the pandemic is so much a concern for all of us.

So, on Covid-19: Statistical data and personal experience in a vast network of friends make it clear to me that this already existing problem is amplified by how we try to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus. We need to talk about how to protect the vulnerable, and how to capacitate people so that they are able to withstand the frustration, fear, and anger, instead of leashing out against the vulnerable. Of course, we need a sound combination of prevention together with deterring measures, we need education as much as vigilance in detecting abuse. We need zero-tolerance. But all of that starts with numbers, and with understanding the problem, and then the challenge.

As a consequence, an already serious problem is becoming even more dangerous, and especially so for vulnerable groups including women and children. This matters to all of us, because it can happen to ourselves, and to our loved ones. This is not a scenario one can stay distanced from. Like I, many readers will be able to reference situations within their own social circle where violence happened. We need to find solutions, and we need to collectively engage now. Shaming and fingerpointing is no option, people who we deeply care about may find themselves being victims, or perpetrators, tomorrow.

Some more detail on the general problem of domestic violence and violence in sexual and intimate relationships:

Throughout my international work violence against vulnerable community members and against women and children has been a constant experience I am faced with in literally every heart-numbing aspect. Of course this is especially visible in situations of conflict and war. I have written several times about the fundamental impact of trauma that victims of such horrible violence have to experience.

Letting war and conflict aside for a moment, domestic violence against vulnerable individuals, often women and children, is a tragic daily mass-occurence within all societies. It affects the fabric of families and communities and is often not allowed to be visible, because of taboo, denial, and shame. It is challenging to see in all its aspects for external observers because of this built-in hide-and-deny-mechanism. It requires active communication to see it. International humanitarian workers see it, of course. Social workers see it, directly or indirectly, of course. You have to be “within” to be able to see.

My national policing work before I entered into international work was riddled with experiences of this domestic violence against women and children, and violence against members of the LGBTQ-community. My understanding of the primary reasons for why it can be challenging to detect such abuse roots in this time. It also transcends into my international experiences, because this mechanism of how domestic violence is being kept away from visibility as much as perpetrators and victims can manage (and neighbors looking the other way), it appears to be pretty universal. It is the same in all societies I have been in.

When I talk about violence in domestic contexts, I do not mean physical violence only. As horrible as forms of physical violence are, they are a sub-set. There are forms of emotional abuse and violence which equal the severity of impact and consequences and in some cases create even more pain, suffering, and long-term damage. Victims of violence can also be men, and perpetrators can be women, even children. Statistical data exists aplenty. Here are a few reference points for a more general narrative: A Deutsche Welle article, and one in The Guardian. For an initial mapping of the scope of the problem, I will refer as an example to statistical data published by “The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)“, a U.S. NGO. Some excerpts:

“1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. This includes a range of behaviors (e.g. slapping, shoving, pushing) and in some cases might not be considered “domestic violence.”

1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner.” “1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner. Data is unavailable on male victims.“1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

“The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. … 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon.”

“1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime.”

So, before focusing on aspects of violence during the Covid-19 pandemic, I needed to set the record straight by at least indicating that women and children form a majority of victims, but that violence against men, carried out by their female or male partners, is not the rare expection, but albeit smaller, a considerable case group.

On the role of weapons in cases of domestic violence:

For the United States, NCADV states that “The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. … 19 % of domestic violence involves a weapon.” This points directly towards the area of support by the German Federal Foreign Office assisting other countries in reducing the illicit impact of small arms and light weapons and effectively controlling the legal aspects around them. This support policy of the German government is very broad in its strategic motivations, it includes, for example, reducing stock and illicit possession of leftover weapons from war and conflict, support to harmonization of law, policy, enforcement and criminal justice aspects, curbing the illicit flow and criminal use of weapons by organised crime and terror inside and outside the European Union, and more. However, in this holistic undertaking the German government places strong emphasis on all gender related aspects. Germany has founded the “Gender Equality Network for Small Arms Control GENSAC” as a global initiative. On this website you find the following description: “The Gender Equality Network for Small Arms Control (GENSAC) aims to make Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) control more gender responsive and amplify international, regional, national and local best practices of those who have been doing “arms control behind the curtain”, including representatives from civil society organizations, women’s groups, conflict prevention and development communities.”

Like the scope of the problem of domestic violence and the significant over-representation of women becoming victims is huge, so is the role of firearms and other weapons in it. At the same time, practioners like myself stress that women are under-represented when it comes to policy-making in areas where they are much more affected by a problem than male members of a society. We want this to change, and it includes the dangerous role that weapons play in cases of domestic violence. I invite you to look into the very comprehensive material which has been made available by one main partner of the German government in my current line of work, the “South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC)“. On their very comprehensive website, gender in Security Sector Reform features high, and you will find various publications and research on domestic violence and the over-representation of female society members in the group of victims. The gemstones of gender related analysis which can be acccessed in SEESAC’s publication library are numerous. Scratching the surface, here some select fast facts, this time valid for South-East Europe (SEE):

97.2% of all legally owned firearms in SEE are owned by men. Men committed 98.4% of firearm-related criminal offenses in South-East Europe, 98.5% of all firearm-related incidents and 98% of all firearm- related homicides. Men account for 83.8% of victims of firearm-related homicide compared to 16.2% of women.

Most telling is SEESAC’s Fast Fact – collection on the misuse of firearms in domestic violence in South East Europe: Homicide committed by a family member is the most common form of femicide in SEE. 61% of all killed women were killed by a family member, compared to 12.4% of all killed men. 38.6% of all killed women and 1.2% of all killed men were killed by an intimate partner. 43.5% of all women killed by an intimate partner in SEE were killed with firearms. 68.9% of women killed with firearms were killed in their homes, apartments or yards. 37.4% of reported domestic violence incidents which involved firearms had a lethal outcome.

Interim conclusion: Because of it’s short-, medium, and long-term damaging consequences including for future generations, domestic violence must be considered a zero-tolerance-topic, and the highest investment into how to prevent and to tackle consequences must focus on violence against women and children.

On emerging data related to the Covid-19 pandemic:

November 25, 2020, German news media reported warnings issued by the United Nations and the European Union: Lockdowns in Europe cause a worrying increase of registered cases of domestic violence against women and girls. December 19, 2020, the magazine “The Economist” focused on this increase with the headline “Covid-19 threatens girls’ gigantic global gains“. December 21, 2020, “The Wall Street Journal”, in its article “Covid-19 Is Pushing Women Out of Work. Just Look at Italy.” focused on structural abuse harming gender equality. December 26, 2020, German news media reported about warnings issued by the German victims protection organisation “Der Weisse Ring”, a highly renowned NGO. According to their own data, approximately 10 % more victims of domestic violence called their helpline during the first ten months of 2020. December 28, 2020, German new media reported a warning issued by EUROPOL. According to EUROPOL, cases of sexual abuse of children during the pandemic are strongly on the rise and perpetrators of pedophile behavior do not only increasingly look for child pornography in the Internet, but also attempt to increasingly contact children for purposes of abusing them. And concluding a list of disturbing data reference points, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development OECD, a global organisation, issued a report “Women at the core of the fight against COVID-19 crisis“, starting with the sentence “The COVID-19 pandemic is harming health, social and economic well-being worldwide, with women at the centre.”

Enough references. There is a ton more. However, whenever I make a statement, I try to provide evidence. Evidence still matters, truth still matters. And the truth is: An already existing worrying phenomenon with implications for all of us and for our children is becoming worse, the longer the pandemic lasts. In my prediction, this is not a linear deterioration, but will resemble exponential developments.

If I wanted to come up with a list of comprehensive action points, I think I would fail. And perhaps, nobody would continue reading this already long article.

However, a few points based on what I say at various points in my writing:

  • Domestic violence is a wide-spread phenomenon with very damaging short-, medium, and long-term, including generational, harming consequences.
  • With children being victims through witnessing this violence, or being subjected to it, long-term damage to their entire lifes is likely. For reference, I refer to my blog articles on trauma.
  • Prevention and deterrence has to focus on the most vulnerable groups first, and that includes especially women and children. Every prevented case of violence contributes to less domestic violence in future generations.
  • Women are under-represented when it comes to discussing, and implementing policy that affects, globally, their own well-being, economic, and security interests. This has to change.
  • The more relaxed the weapons policy of a country, the more likely is that women and children disproportionately suffer from severe forms of abuse, and violence, including through homicide and femicide. We have to continue to outlaw “male behavior” that equals masculinity with possessing and displaying weapons. Personally, I do encourage parents to even consider limiting the existence of toy-weapons in their households. Whilst I have professionally operated a large variety of small arms as a police officer, my children have not seen us parents encouraging, or condoning, the use of toy weapons.
  • Counter-measures curbing the spread of infections during the Covid-19 pandemic increase anger, frustration, fear, and aggression. At the same time the opportunities to “vent” these emotions in a healthy way have become unavailable. We have to increase a policy-discussion about this, and we have to do this now, instead of hoping that vaccinations may bring us to the end of the crisis quickly. We are, still, witnessing the darkest chapters of the pandemic, and this is not changing anytime soon enough.

Reassurance or Concern?

This morning I’m waking up in my campervan (the best means of coping with the Covid-19-pandemic in isolation) in a quiet street in Berlin, wrapping my mind around the last things to do before heading back to Serbia by the end of this week. With my first morning coffee I am fueling up on caffeine, reading the news. Again, an article in the New York Times stands out: “Trump’s Call Leaves Allies Fearful for American Democracy”.

The hopefully outgoing incumbent of the Office of The President of The United States is still able to reach new levels of reckless destructive and manipulative action. It should not surprise anyone after four years, but raise the alarm bells on what may still be waiting for us: We should have learned by now that the mindset of this person does simply not know the notion of stopping to escalate until he has won. That is why I say “hopefully outgoing”. I will wait for January 20 events unfolding, and there is no doubt on my mind that notwithstanding whether he leaves the White House voluntarily or not, he will continue to assert he is the rightful President of the United States. We will hear this for the next four years.

The current cycle of news revolves around a long phone call which he had placed to the Secretary of State of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, last Saturday. You can read the full transcript of the leaked content of this call here. On behalf of many articles, I am quoting 5NBCDFW: “President Donald Trump pressured Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state’s presidential election, repeatedly citing disproven claims of fraud and raising the prospect of a “criminal offense” if officials did not change the vote count, according to a recording of the conversation.

The phone call caused national and international uproar, and this is what the New York Times article is about. But between the phone call and this uproar, another thing happened: Ashton Carter, Dick Cheney, William Cohen, Mark Esper, Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel, James Mattis, Leon Panetta, William Perry and Donald Rumsfeld are the 10 living former U.S. secretaries of defense. January 03, 2021, they jointly published an OpEd in the Washington Post. In this OpEd, all ten, including two who have served under Donald Trump, warn: Involving the military in election disputes would cross into dangerous territory.”

Wow.

Have ten distinguished officials, highly decorated Generals, career diplomats and politicians, gone lunatic? Have ten former Secretaries of Defence, responsible for the undoubtedly most powerful military force of this world, both Democrats and Republicans, lost their minds? When I wrote to my former partner the other day that Hell’s Gates are still open, she agreed but said “Don’t become morbid”. Of course I try not to. Have ten highly trained people with access to the most privileged secrets of the Western Hemisphere become morbid and did they collectively loose their marbles? Of course not, this question is purely rhetorical.

Let me quote the man himself, Donald Trump, during an electoral rally yesterday, January 04, in the U.S. State of Georgia. Both he and President-elect Joe Biden had come to Georgia supporting the run-off elections deciding between Democratic and Republican contestants for the U.S. Senate. Trump used his rally appearance mostly for airing his own grievances. And he said: “They’re not going to take this White House. We’re going to fight like hell, I’ll tell you right now.” During the past four years, he always made no secret about what he was about to do.

Whatever happens January 20, I join those who fear the long-term damage that is applied to democratic principles, and the rule of law. 74 million Republican voters are being made to believe that a rightful win was robbed from them. With literally no piece of evidence, and with numerous cases thrown out of courts in the U.S. because of that fundamental lack of evidence, with numerous re-counts and audits, the current President and his supporters still amplify a message that this all is not true, that there allegedly is overwhelming evidence for a massive attack of sinister Democratic forces against the rightful will of the people. 74 million good American minds kept in captivity.

This is where Jean-Marie Guehenno, the President of the International Crisis Group ICG comes in. Guehenno is a distinguished former United Nations Undersecretary of the Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO, now known as Department for Peace Operations DPO). I adore him, and I know his trustworthiness on a deep professional and personal level: He was my highest boss during two tours of duty with the United Nations between 2000 and 2004. He interviewed me for the job as UN Police Commissioner in the UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK. I personally introduced him and his boss, the late former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, into policing developments in the northern parts of Kosovo. And I briefed him about the situation in Kosovo a few days before those terrible days in March 2004. Later, I would see him again in my capacity as an official of the European Union, and I would not forget his legacy when I came back to the U.N. as the UN Police Adviser, between 2013 and 2017.

So, Jean-Marie is one towering giant in the realm of peace&security who I place personal trust into. In the NYT article which I read this morning, Guehenno is quoted with a sentence on his Twitter-account (@JGuehenno) “Should we be reassured on U.S. democracy when 10 former defense secretaries warn against use of the military to dispute election results, or terrified that they believe taking a public stance has become necessary?”

Exactly.

Social Media Manipulation – An Example

So, here is a little story: STRATCOM is the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence. Recently, they re-ran a test of “the ability of social media companies to identify and remove manipulation”. The result is published, the report can be viewed and downloaded here. It is titled “Social Media Manipulation 2020”.

What did they do, in a nutshell? The researchers used thirty-nine authentic posts on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Tic Toc. As far as I see from related news, for this they cooperated with two U.S. politicians, one a Republican, the other one a Democrat. The German news about it can be found on the German tech-news-site HEISE. Using these thirty-nine posts on social media, STRATCOM bought fake engagement on these posts from three specialised Russian service providers. Providers like these offer manipulated engagement with existing posts, for example. I guess they also offer much more, but this is just an example in which authentic posts of legitimate and appropriate information content were used, since this is NATO. The researchers paid the ridiculously small amount of 300 Euro to these Russian providers.

What did they get in return? 1150 comments, 9690 likes, 323202 views, and 3726 shares! Meaning plain and simple: I can create content on social media, with good, questionable or malicious intentions, and instead of hoping that I will attract many comments, likes, and views on my own, I can buy fake ones. Comments, likes and views increase the “digital weight” of the post. The more of this “digital value”, the more likely other people will look on these pieces of information or disinformation, and the more likely also these posts will be ranked higher by Internet search engines, such as Google. Finally, I can also buy distribution, through shares, of these artificially boosted posts. The more “oomph” I have in getting these informations pieces out into the right target groups, the more I increase chances of further distribution. And I pay very little money for it.

So, let me use a hypothetical example, but one which is commonly being used for manipulation purposes: I create a story with specific target groups in mind. Examples are countless. Like fake news stories which were designed for target groups of color in the U.S. in 2016. They were designed to raise doubt within these groups that a contender, in that case the democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, would be really interested in matters of grave concern for those communities of color. The unauthentic or fake pieces of news were designed to reduce the willingness of people in these target groups to participate in the elections. Many of us, I guess and hope, know about this form of manipulation. It also happened 2020, and it is fair to say that both domestic actors and foreign forces all over the world use this tactic in order to influence the outcome of an electoral process. It happens everywhere, it is commonplace. And it is manipulation at least, and more often violating law in many jurisdictions. But what it chiefly does: It contributes to burning credibility of truth to ashes. It leads to so much confusion about which information I can trust, and which not, that people may give up, or they just decide to only believe what their “friends” say.

By the way, coming to think of it: When sites like FaceBook (I don’t remember who came up with it first) began to abuse the term “friend” for the process of clicking a button asking somebody to “be my friend” and the invited party just accepting this request, I had a revolting feeling in my stomach. It lasts until today and is one of the reasons why I only engage minimally on social media. The notion of reducing the term “friend” to a digital connection with no real deeper meaning feels like the strike of an evil genius to me. It leads to the craving of having as many friends as possible, it is part of the addictive design of social media sites. It hollows out any real understanding of what friendship means. Terms like “friend” and “follower” are almost equal in their meaning. I need these digital friends for status and validation. Having friends has become an online currency. It is like a material possession, not an internal value which gives me the comfort of a deeper emotional, intellectual and spiritual connection to another person in whose well-being I take an interest. It adds to real-world-isolation because it strips the notion of having friends from what the term means in real social life. May be that is for a deeper reflection in another blog article. But ultimately, this manipulation can be used in order to get people into a network of “friends” for purposes of influencing them, depriving them from other sources of information, making them pawns in a game they do not understand, but crave to be part of. Emotions like the wish to belong mix with emotions such as fear, and anger, fake information is being used as a narrative giving them a feeling of meaning.

Back to the STRATCOM report: The first remarkable fact in the results of this research for me was the price for this form of manipulation. 300 Euro is so cheap that this service can be used as a mass tool, whenever this suits own devious interests. 

Secondly, this is a shadowy grey and a criminal market. The methodology can be used by State actors with sophisticated technology and staff at hand. Or money, just hiding traces and buying a service from some groups like the above. Likewise, non-State actors can use it for political purposes, for ideological purposes, for religious purposes, or as a marketing tool. Which is a hint towards how wide the scope of potential manipulation is. The targets are you and I, and we may, very often, not ever know that we were manipulated. So, this is a profound ethical issue with consequences for whether, and how, we want to regulate it, how we want to deal with it.

Thirdly, STRATCOM re-ran the test because they did it before. They did that because the industry promised they would get better at identifying manipulation like this, better at identifying fake, or robot, accounts. Better at curbing influence. The conclusions of the report state that “platforms continue to vary in their ability to counter manipulation of their services”. Read the details, I’m not going to rank services here myself. But there are platforms where manipulation requires a small effort and where costs are one thenth of what is to be invested on other platforms.

Fourthly, the report makes it clear that these actors are not a few, they are an industry. One chapter is titled “The Social Media Manipulation Industry”. With market rules which survived efforts to fight this industry. Quoting the report: “Social media manipulation remains widely available, cheap, and efficient, and continues to be used by antagonists and spoilers seeking to influence elections, polarise public opinion, sidetrack legitimate political discussions, and manipulate commercial interests online.” 

Fifthly, the report states that this industry prospered during 2020. I finish with quoting the three core insights which the researchers came up with:

  1. “The scale of the industry is immense. The infrastructure for developing and maintaining social media manipulation software, generating ficticious accounts, and providing mobile proxies is vast. We have identified hundreds of providers. Several have many employees and generate significant revenues. It is clear that the problem of inauthentic activity is extensive and growing.
  2. During the past year the manipulation industry had become increasingly global and interconnected. A European service provider will likely depend on Russian manipulation software and infrastructure providers who, in turn, will use contractors from Asia for much of the manual labour required. Social media is now a global industry with global implications.
  3. The openness of this industry is striking. Rather than lurking a shadowy underworld, it is an easily accessible marketplace that most web users can reach with little effort through any search engine. In fact, manipulation service providers still advertise openly on major social media platforms and search engines.” 

What do do? Of course, we have a regulation debate. Part of the findings relate to that social media promised earlier to root out this phenomenon, but that they have not become good at it. To me it feels like the contrary, may be because of unwillingness, sloppiness, or the sheer size of the problem. Or any combination of these three. However, regulation always leads to an escalation, or attempts to evade, if the business model generates revenue. Which it clearly does.

My take is to focus on education. I am not a young nerd. I am a nerd in my early sixties. This world rapidly changes, and often I don’t like the course. But disengagement is, I feel, not an option. It is about giving people the knowledge and skills to make their own informed decisions. That is a core principle of open societies based on democratic rules. Truth matters, so we need to know about how truth is demolished in the digital invisible world of the Internet. We need to be able to learn, staying curious about learning, engaging in meaningful discussions, empower people to better identify manipulation when it occurs, giving them the skillset needed for quality decisions for their own lives.

When I talk to my youngest children about how much of their personal information is sucked from their smartphones, iPads, and computers without their knowledge, I am often presented with a sense of “why bother, I don’t feel it, I don’t feel harmed, or hurting”. May be we need to find ways how to reinforce the understanding as to which extent the digital and the real world are interconnected. People seem to discriminate between these two worlds. 

Education is more relevant than regulation. Which motivated me writing this article. Hope you enjoyed reading it.

2020 – Closing Thoughts – Looking Ahead

I don’t recall any other year comparable to 2020. If I go back in my memory, at the time of events even years like 1989 appear to have felt less intense with regards to the global revolutionary impact. But that’s just me comparing on a very subjective level. In any case, the changes, the tectonic shifts that we have witnessed in 2020 are beyond anything that we might have imagined. And there is one experience from events such as those unfolding in 1989 which will be true for 2000, too: In many ways I only understood the local, regional, and global consequences of the end of the Cold War only gradually, throughout many subsequent years. Like when I analysed the development of peacekeeping since its beginning in 1946. You can read about it here. When I analysed facts and figures related to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, a new dimension of my understanding of how deeply 1989 had influenced global development opened up. I’m not saying I wasn’t aware of it before. Neither that analysing aspects of peacekeeping completed my understanding of what happened in 1989. It just opened my eyes about the complexity of the impact of that year. Studying it as comprehensive as possible takes a lifetime of historians, sociologists, political analysists, and so on. And on Peacekeeping, 2020 had a huge impact, whilst the entire topic itself literally went on the backburner of public perception. As always, when things get us out of our comfort zone into fear, we tend to neglect, or forget, those who really suffer.

On a similar impact level like 1989, I also do not forget 2001, with its September 11th. The same tectonic shifting is true here.

And it will be true for 2020. Yet, we feel the impact in ways very much different to those events 36 years ago, and may be also compared to 19 years ago, except those who suffered from the terror attack directly in New York City. 2020, the foundations of what we have become used to, they are shattered in their core on a global level. The measures implemented to fight the pandemic, the lockdowns, the social distancing, the constant news about ups and downs in the fight, hope, despair, the experience of depression and helplessness, it creates one huge yarnball of fear in our stomachs all over the world. The dimension of change in private lives, economics, and societies, they are endless. I guess “Home Office” is the topic which comes to most minds in high-tech countries. But that is just for starters.

Of course, the pandemic and its impact does not stand on its own. The crisis of democracy which we see continuing to unfold in menacing ways, it adds to confusion, polarization, and fear. But still, this is just the surface of the entire development. The crisis response that we could witness with all its faults and all its successes cannot be looked at in isolation. The pandemic has an impact on everything else which is ongoing. Which at times gives space to discussions such as: Would we have done the same under different circumstances, when it comes to fighting Covid-19? And this is tricky, because I do not want to contribute to any speculation that the crisis response has been used as a pretext for something that has been motivated differently, perhaps mischieveously. This is a pathway quickly leading into the most horrible type of discourse where people begin to de-legitimize any crisis response and also attempt to minimize the threat that is stemming from this global pandemic. A taxi-driver in Belgrade who brought me to the airport told me: “Covid is a machination of the pharma-industry. It has been created as a myth in order to sell vaccines. Wait for it, in April Covid is gone.” The insanity of this simple circular logic is almost ridiculous, but how do regular people feel when historians, sociologists, politicians, epidemiologists, and all else, struggle with giving an answer on something which is only beginning to be understood, whilst the explosive and utterly pervasive impact of it affects the lives of billions of people in life-threatening ways? How to mentally deal with explaining circumstances when you are loosing your job because an economy is melting down? Add the conspiracy-theorists, the fearmongers, the deniers, the liars, whatever. It just increases the desire of many people to find an explanation and to re-direct their fear.

A surgical analysis of what happened as the crisis unfolded will require years. As history is not an exact science, the conclusions will be expressed in untold and diverse, certainly at times contradicting assessments. We will see heated discussions for decades to come.

But what is it what we can see right now? It is very clear that the Covid pandemic did not happen as an isolated crisis but it did unfold at a time when other tectonic tensions were there, or materializing, at the same time. The development has become so interdependent that effects of various crises had a chaotic and hardly predictable impact on other crises. It is all a huge, a gigantic mess. Which reinforces fear. Nobody understands. The wish to blame someone, or something, it is a consequence of rage and fear towards something invisible. People feeling the pain from depression and helplessnes, they want to “smash”, but what?

Some other crises unfolding before and throughout 2020 that have not gone away, and which require more attention than we may have been able to give to them, are:

The Covid pandemic has not just made global warming going away. It has superseded any discussion about it, and it has helped radical deniers of global warming to get away with chopping off previous achievements on environmental protection.

The crisis of legitimacy of the Western system of peace and security, which is in existence since more than 75 years, it has been building up for quite some time, was becoming scarily visible and menacing from 2016 onwards, and further unfolded during the same time when we were hit by the pandemic. Even more: The requirements necessary fighting a pandemic, and even the assessment of the dangers stemming from Covid-19, that all was taken hostage in ways still numbing my mind. The casualties of instrumentalising a pandemic for political fights, including ripping down institutions, they are real. At the time of this writing the United States is going through an unprecendetend challenge of the electoral system, with protagonists of this attack entirely neglecting the pandemic. I don’t want to speculate about numbers, but saying that many thousands, or tens of thousands of people could have been rescued, it is a given. Who will hold those accountable who have, with a clear and insane mind, done that, whilst they swore an oath to protect their citizens, rather than themselves, their riches, their families, and servile friends?

The global economic competition like between China and the United States, or Europe, was in existence before the pandemic. Economic consequences of the pandemic are affecting individual citizens, households, communities, societies. How do we cooperate in a world with limited resources, in which 2020 witnessed an impact which could be partially mitigated in rich countries, but not at all in poor countries? What does the pandemic mean in terms of fueling selfishness of economy? How did the economies send shockwaves into governing the pandemic, and how did the pandemic influence global competition? What will we see in 2021 and beyond? In essence, all these questions create uncertainty and fear. Which create selfishness.

The migration crisis was there, and has not gone away. Not only because of the global warming, or previoulsy existing instability and war. The shockwaves of the pandemic do add. Attempts to curb illegal migration, efforts to influence migration by means of supporting capacity development and economic and security perspectives for populations in threatened regions or on entire continents, it was there before. But how will this play out as we move on through the pandemic and it’s consequences? Will we continue with helping, or have we become used to locking down things, because we are experiencing this even by ourselves. Will this be used for building visible or invisible walls?

Autocratic governments controlling the population were in existence before and it did not stop because of the Covid pandemic. How will selfishness, fueled by the fearmongers of nationalism and xenophobia, influence policy on jointness, with some nations perhaps continuing to be willing to share, and others not? Will we be able to find strength for an new attempt to act collectively, instead of dividing and putting “My Country First”? Which, by the way, is a perfect example for lying straight into the faces of people, because in reality all these actors mean “Me First”.

I sometimes feel like the pandemic was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Obviously the Covid pandemic created interdependent effects in other major lines of global or regional political and societal development. Tectonic shifts happen only after a long building up of tension between tectonic plates which is mostly not seen and measurable only by using sophisticated technology. But the event triggering the cascade of effects that we feel in a gigantic earthquake, it can be comparatively small. A rupture in a small area can stand on its own when there is no build-up of larger tension. But beware: The tension may be there. In that case, hell is breaking loose once the weakest part of the chain is breaking and the chain reaction of events is unfolding in explosive succession. That is also how I look at the pandemic. It set off something way larger, and perhaps way more catastrophic.

Amongst many effects that came as a consequence of Covid-crisis-management I am also looking at two:

(1) The reoccurrence of borders in the European Union and the erosion of something that could be considered a core achievement inside the European Union, meaning the so-called Schengen Space. Millions of travellers in Europe have witnessed something that was always part of contingency planning in case of crisis management: The temporary re-instating of border control inside the Schengen Area. I believe it was never anticipated to happen on the scale as it did in spring 2020. When finally road travel under severe restrictions was possible again, I traveled devoid highways from South-East-Europe to Germany, with border control and temporary police checkpoints becoming semi-permanent. We all remember the eerily absence of the noise of aircrafts. For people like me, travel is the only way connecting me with my friends and family all over the world. Others felt it during holidays, some behaved, others didn’t. But once we got through the first lockdown and had to handle the first wave of anger about the possibility of new lockdowns springing up again, we also got used to it. So, with this Christmas bringing new lockdown measures, what will be the future of an interconnected world where the border-free Schengen Zone once was a hallmark achievement of the European Union? I am not sure the situation will go back to something called a “status quo ante“, the status like it was before. People who are critical to the vast arranging of border checks are already using an argument that the crisis has been used to erode achievements long held in the EU, and taking rights away, in order to control more. These opinions are inevitable, and may be at this moment is is hard to tell who is right and who is wrong. But it will require a sustained effort of political representatives, civil society, and all of us ourselves, to participate in this discourse. The silence of the lambs always has led to catastrophes, and more recently we saw this in well-established democracies who considered themselves to be the bedrock of the modern Western world.

(2) Connected to it is the velocity with which Covid crisis response mechanisms also severely affected individual rights of freedom of movement or freedom of expression of opinion and freedom to demonstrate. Even more, we are facing a holiday season where States regulate how many people from different households can meet inside their homes. I would, frankly, never had imagined that I am facing a situation where my brothers and I have to think about how to organise Christmas, because if the three of us including a few children and partners meet, we will exceed the permissible number of people gathering in one large house. These restrictions are new and subject to learning and regulation by legislators, but also by the courts. We have seen courts already doing what they have to do: Correcting measures of the executive, where excessive. Because we don’t have blueprints. We make mistakes, having the best intentions, but we make many. So it is a normal procedure that courts will contribute to acceptable application of law. At the same time, law is evolving as well. And like in the first example, the steering democratic discourse will require a sustained effort of political representatives, civil society, and all of us, ourselves. A discourse ensuring that the rule of law prevails.

Taken together, for me the two case-studies are examples for potential regression. Signature achievements being taken away, hopefully only temporarily. But it happens during a time where the Covid-pandemic, as I mapped out, does not stand on its own. It happens during a time of newly incensed nationalism, conservatism, renewed right-wing extremism, fascism on the rise, autocratic attacks on democracy and the rule of law intensifying. It comes at a time of effects that go beyond re-emergence of borders, and infringements on human rights which require rigid scrutiny. Motivations mingle: We see governments (like mine) attempting to act as responsible as possible with temporary restrictions. We see tendencies of xenophobia, attacks on minority rights, erosion of inalienable human and individual rights, and efforts to reverse hard-fought achievements in domains such as the right of women, or the rigths to which the LGBTQ-community is entitled. It is a wild mix of “retro” banding together, and I am certainly not saying they are motivated by the crisis coming with the pandemic, but all these developments fuel each other, and not to the best of humankind.

I can not help but feeling afraid. Whilst I fully appreciate the necessity to infringe on basic rights under extraordinary circumstances of threats, I also fear that we may have opened pandora’s box. The other day I had a coffee with a friend over a long (and socially-distanced) walk in the park. We were reflecting on the fatigue which we all sometimes feel. Like, “What difference do we make with our work and our passion?”. We both agreed that much of this fatigue comes from the depression which holds many people in their grip after now almost one full and grueling year of how individual life has been affected.

I have no other answer than that we need to continue. Human perception is always attracted by everything scary and negative. My experience is that, at the same time, we can also see, and focus on, how the best human attitudes have been shaped: Kindness, respect, nurturing relationships with different means, intensifying communication with loved ones, taking care the best way possible for lonely people. I’m not rambling at the end, I am just arguing that there is a need to focus on positive developments. Not only because it protects our mental health. More importantly because it truly makes a difference without which we would become silent lambs in the face of fear, anger, rage, and fearmongering. These four lead to isolation. There is no need for being isolated, or feeling so. I have had more contacts with friends and loved ones than I ever had before. Much of it, of course, with modern means of communication. But it has, very clearly, grounded me in a circle of people who I support, and who support me.

Merry Christmas!

Die Wahrheit bis zur Unkenntlichkeit verzerrt – Truth Distorted Beyond Recognition – On Gaslighting

Mary Trump, estranged niece of Donald Trump, daugther of Donald Trump’s late older brother Fred Trump jr, published a book this summer. One of these tell-alls, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man”. Mary Trump is a practicing psychologist. In this world where truth is what I tell you, and lies are what the others say, you will probably find references to her credibility widely represented in one side of the media, and scathing attacks on her personal and professional credibility on the other side of the aisle. In a widely published interview she was recently saying that she thinks her uncle genuinely believes he won the election and that he’s the only person she knows ‘who can gaslight himself’. The Internet is chock full with references to her statement, in all languages. So, look it up also for yourself.

One person and his sycophants are gaslighting half of the population of the United States. Why does this matter over here in Europe? Because it has not only a real impact here as well, it is also happening here on its own, and interconnected with what is happening on that other continent. The gaslighting is not limited to an individual victim, not to a community, a society, a political party, a State, or the continent of North America. The systematic imprisonment of individuals into a fake reality which is being established by the gaslighter, it happens all over the world. It has become viral, people being gaslighted who further spread the manipulative messages, mixing with people who may realize what is happening and who hook up to the viral development because it resonates with how they think and feel and how they want to influence things for their own motives. This is not a linear thing which can be traced back to one person, so to speak, at the top. There is no mastermind. There are people who are good at it, and certainly this includes Mary Trump’s uncle. But it happens so widely because there seem to be many conditions being met which allow for the relentless attack on truth and values that we have believed in for decades. Again, Anne Applebaum’s book which I quoted from in a previous entry provides many regional examples, whether from Poland, Hungary, The United Kingdom, or Spain. And my country, Germany, is a breeding space for the same thing as well. Unfortunately, again. History appears to repeat itself.

Gaslighting requires control over the victim and where the victim gets his or her information from. Ideally total control. I will explain in a second, after having said something on the Internet, related to the aspect of “control”: In principle, the Internet knows no geographical border. It has been designed to withstand control. It’s roots are deeply anarchic, allowing for the freedom to exchange anything that can be transmitted through it’s cables and wireless connections. That is why autocratic systems undertake every effort under the sun to control the Internet, including attempting to establish regional versions, or fighting encryption tooth and nail. Whether it is in China, or elsewhere. Shutting down the Internet, in times of a crisis with unrest, it sounds innocent. But it is always a matter of the motive behind: Why does one exert control? Because of a danger for, say individual lifes or the general public? Or because of the danger for an autocrat, his family, and the oligarchy on which’s back he can thrive? Think Belarus, just for example.

Control over what people see, hear, or are meant to believe, you can exert that control by means of physical, or technological deprivation. You do it by making sure that your victim does not communicate with anyone outside the realms of your control: The messaging includes that the other side is your enemy, and you don’t talk to your enemy. One of the oldest tricks under the sleeves of autocrats, dictators, but also terrorists. Gaslighting adds a most perfidious layer: It will lead to that people do not trust other sources of information any longer. They may have a nagging feeling in the back of their minds that something is not adding up. But since they don’t know a way out, they give in. Once you give in, you need to make yourself believing that you are not a victim. So you rationalize why you’re allowing yourself being part of the group you have been coerced into. The “Stockholm Syndrome” is based on the same mechanism.

Like the car dealer has sold the most expensive car to you and you make yourself believe that this was solely a calculation which you came up with yourself, you don’t need to take away access to news channels such as CNN or the NY Times anymore. The victim of gaslighting won’t trust them and won’t use them. Recently, Fox News began to experience this downfall, too.

So, what is “gaslighting”? Gaslighting is an expression being used for a form of psychological abuse and violence. Victims of gaslighting are being purposefully disoriented, manipulated and ripped off their self-confidence. Gaslighting means to gradually take away any ability to trust reality as it is. In individual psychology, gaslighting includes means to deform and eradicate any form of self-esteem of the victim. Here, for once, a German definition of it. The term “gaslighting” gradually appears to become a mainstream expression, including in other languages.

Unfortunately, gaslighting is a common and widely spread form of psychological and emotional abuse. I will use examples for explaining what it means. At the core of why I am writing this blog entry also sits my belief that Mary Trump is wrong by exclusively attributing the ability to gaslight oneself to her uncle. I believe that this is a common phenomenon. In case of need, I make myself believe my own lies, until I have reached the point where I have created a genuine alternate reality, and memory. The current incumbent of the Office of the President of the United States is anything but special in this, except that he may have become really very good at it.

Why is it useful to say that one can become victim of own gaslighting? Like so often, things are not black and white only. Gaslighters are as much perpetrators as they are victims. And the act of gaslighting happens on a scale that can include single-instances, perhaps beginning with negligent, thoughtless, selfish behavior. It can become a self-reinforcing habit, since one has embarked on a path leading to more of the same, and then ultimately to breakdown and severe damage. On its exteme end, gaslighting is pervasive, endemic, and monstrous in acts and damage. Monstrous gaslighters are sociopaths on the extreme side of the spectrum. Their behavior is deeply anti-social, anti-human, and often criminal in nature.

The sibling of gaslighting is denial. Which is, in terms of brain development through hundreds of thousands of years of humankind, a very ancient capability of our brains that allowed for survival. Like, in the stone-age. Denial is a mechanism which shields the brain from overwhelming events and situations posing a threat to physical survival and mental and emotional sanity. It is meant to be a temporary fix. But like many other human capabilities, it requires a balance of threatening events and peaceful times, and when this balance is absent, things get out of control, permanently. Neurophysiologically out of control. Denial alters the way how we perceive, and relate to, reality. And in that, the gaslighter is no better equipped than his or her victim.

The underlying motivation both for denial and gaslighting is fear. Strong fear. More often than not this fear may not even be acknowledged by the gaslighter him- or herself. It is about loosing control. Cold blooded sociopaths can do that without losing the knowledge about that they are creating a fake reality in which they imprison the victim. But most of us are not carrying such extreme sociopathic traits that would allow us to do that.

Like everything else above, sociopathy is a form of human behavior that happens on a scale. There are extreme ends of the scale but to some extent or the other sociopathic traits are common parts of the individual psychology of many people. But even if I say that there are sociopaths who are displaying extreme forms of this disorder, it does not mean that these people do not feel emotions. Severe forms of sociopathic conditions become a disorder entailing to be progressively unable feeling emotions of other people. Note: I say “of”, not “for”. But sociopaths are not machines. Whilst they struggle with understanding and acknowledging emotions of others, they do feel their own emotions. The combination of not feeling what others feel gives space for disproportionate and intensified feelings for oneself, and this is especially true for fear. It is creating extreme forms of selfishness and self-centeredness.

Let me bring the parts of the picture alive with a personal case study. Like I said, the world is not black and white, things can be on the less extreme end, or they can be serious, or, if allowed to, they can develop from less severe to monstrous.

When I was nine years old, I went through a really difficult time at school. It was part of an overall development, I grew up with a raging father using physical punishment as a form of education. Because he had grown up under the same circumstances. Likewise, when he was not able to control his own rage, verbal, emotional and physical violence were something he had no control of. He had experienced the same with his father. As always, it hurt himself when it happened, but the result would not be an apology, but fierce denial. So I grew up with the distorted view that everything which happened to me was my own fault. Since this is not a blog entry for full personal disclosure, I will leave it with that, stressing that I love my father and that I reconciled, many decades later.

However, at the age of nine my difficult times at school fueled my low self-confidence. I had no friends. And getting bad grades wasn’t something that helped me building self-confidence. Rather, it established profound, existential fear. Fear from punishment at home. This fear grew so strong that I would not reveal the bad grade I once got. I simply could not. But the bad grade is in your exam book. And sure enough, the next test would be as bad as the previous one. What to do? Telling? No way. Soldiering on in denial that one day the story would break. But fear grew to panic levels. At one point I found myself physically removing pages from my exam book, just in case my parents would want to see and control it. I went to greatest length in this manipulation, again, with fear in my stomach going through the roof. There were two occasions when I ran away from home. I hated the days, escaped into my bed at night. It was horrible.

Then my teacher lost her patience. She gave me a note to be delivered to my parents, requesting a talk. And she asked me to bring this note back to her, signed by my father or mother. This was the worst development ever, but I was not capable to give up. What did I do? During a long afternoon session, I created a birthday card for my mother. In an insane story I had come up with, this birthday card for some reasons had to include a signature. But where the signature on this card was meant to show up, I cut a hole into that card. Underneath, the note from school. And finally, I used a blank paper as a third level, again with a hole where my mother was supposed to sign the card. I designed it in a way that the decorative elements of the fake birthday card were visible through the cover paper. And I went down to my mother, explaining in full panic mode that I was preparing something as a surprise for which I needed her signature, and that I could not tell her why. My mother was stunned, but she was also seeing me being upset, crying and begging. Whilst she had all reasons to suspect that something was wrong, I made her doubting herself, and trusting me. I gaslighted her. She finally signed.

Well, that signature was so small that my teacher immediately suspected a fake. Subsequently, my cover broke and armageddon came down on me. But why am I exposing myself here? Because this was the first, perhaps mild, form of gaslighting I did. And I never forgot it. I would refer to it for decades to come. But it would not prevent me from doing the same thing again, almost fourty-five years later, when the fear level in relation to my life breaking apart was reaching the same gigantic proportions.

People can grow apart for many reasons, but one chief reason is dishonesty. The bond between a mother and her child may forgive, but marriages and any relationship less likely do so. Dishonesty to oneself and to others is the chief reason for relationships breaking up. I believe the same is true for communities, societies, and States. If there is no honesty in communicating with each other, the catastrophe is inevitable. It may take a long time, but like with me at the age of nine, being a child, this is true because I believe it is a universal truth. And until this catastrophy happens, denial and also gaslighting are common features of an underlying condition of fear. Fear of losing control in a situation which increasingly is slipping out of one’s hands.

In my personal case, this happened roughly fourty-five years after the events of my childhood. I am so NOT proud of it. I’m sparing details, but it had to do with how my marriage had developed into a meaningless hull. Over those many years leading to the final stages, denial led me to believe that the reasons for this deterioration were not sitting with my own behavior. Rather, I victimised myself with an inner narrative with which I made myself believe I was the victim of sad circumstances, and that I deserve some relief. And means of relief, including alcohol, were just sedatives of which I needed more and more. This came with secrecy. I was dishonest to myself and my loved ones. Which wasn’t going unnoticed on the side of my loved ones. In a close relationship it is virtually impossible to entirely hide things, even with the best tricks possible.

But what happens in this case on the side of the partner? He or she will develop a feeling that something is not right. Controlling the other person may not be an option, including because it just doesn’t feel right. So, denial is kicking in on both sides in a relationship. But some things do not add up, and when this happens, gaslighting is coming into play.

I sometimes have the feeling that you want to make me believing that I have wrong perceptions.” Whenever my then wife would say this, after there was enough despair on her side to speak her truth, there was a little corner in myself mumbling that she is right. But overwhelmingly I was making myself and her believing that this wasn’t the case, that I did not establish a fake reality, that it was her who saw things in a distorted way. And again, though I learned a lot about the neurophysiology behind, I am NOT proud of it. I try not to be ashamed either. I just try to be honest, and hold myself accountable, and to do amends.

It was only after we broke up and my ex-wife had gone through enough recovery from her own pain, anger, grief, and also understanding of how the dance of two persons was based on wrong belief systems on both sides that she was able to repeat the above statement towards me with not too much own pain. And it was only because I went through my own recovery with intense work on myself that I was able to see, and to acknowledge, my own behavior. But it took years. When our relationship hit rock-bottom, and I hit rock-bottom, I found myself in so much pain and fear that I literally saw myself repeating my behavior that I had as a nine-year-old: I systematically trained the use of a lie in order to make myself believe the fake reality, so that I could use the narrative without blushing, stuttering, and with a heartbeat beyond 180 bpm.

Because my world broke into pieces, I had the chance to see it. If I would have succceeded in my fear-driven control, I would have progressively believed my own lies. It would have driven my then-wife into insanity. People who discover that they have been subjected to severe forms of gaslighting have a really hard time regaining mental sanity and the ability to trust other people. My ex-wife and I are friends today. Not only parents, good parents, but good friends. It is the gift of my lifetime. On my part, this is the consequence of a rigid decision to always remain honest to myself and others. And after many years of practicing this, my ex-wife saw enough reason to trust me, and to love me for my commitment, to myself, and to the people in my life who I love, and who love me.

Of course, this is only a personal case-study. It is not meant to establish an academic argument on gaslighting. It is meant to underpin why I believe that truth matters. Gaslighting is destroying truth, and the ability to trust. It leads to personal self-destruction, demolition of relationships, even criminal behavior. It leads to incredible suffering and pain. When it happens on a societal scale, it leads to societies running rock-bottom. And yes, like in personal cases, recovery of trust is possible on the level of communities and societies as well. But is doesn’t come as a Christmas present. It requires hard work. Better now than after the breaking-up. Because one way or the other, more often than not breaking up comes with violence. In my personal case, I am so grateful for the peaceful transition into healing and trust, and then love and friendship, through all the endless pain and discomfort. Thus, I believe, we can do it in larger contexts, too.

It requires profound honesty. Zero-tolerance to lies. Avoidance of anger, resentment, and rage. The ability to listen, rather than talking. Humility. Willingness to admit mistakes immediately. And the willingness to forgive. Oneself and others.