Sunday, October 26, 2014

Maardam

We all have dark secrets. I, for one, have many. In the early 2000s, I lived in a mid-size Swedish town with too much time to read second-rate novels at night. Naturally, I stumbled upon Håkan Nesser and over an autumn I finished all his crime stories about the retired Chief Inspector Van Veeteren. These stories, set in the fictional city of Maardam which is an eclectic mix of the Netherlands, Poland, Germany and Scandinavia, had a certain resonance with my own post-adolescent existence of transcendental daydreaming and Mitteleuropa nostalgia.

Ten years later the night train Malmö – Berlin is no more, I have lived on four different continents and I never have any time to read novels. But tomorrow morning, I am flying down to the Netherlands for a piece of Maardam and some time with old friends.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Where we travel (and why it matters)

Over the past week I have had the privilege to, among other things, review a book for the journal Environmental Values. The book is called NatureTM Inc. and is a relentless critique of neoliberal conservation strategies. I am not going to say much more about it here but the case studies in the book reminded me of to what extent our perceptions of the world are shaped by where we travel (and likewise, where we chose not to venture).

Looking at my own bookshelf above, I can tell that Africa (with the exception of Morocco and Cairo) is still largely a white spot. So is all of South America. And Russia. I think that the fact that I have not been to these places helps explain a bit of my sometimes naïve worldview, that I generally see social progress, that, even if I would never suggest that the path is going to be straight by any means, I still think that we are moving towards global convergence in terms of living standards and values. But if I err too much towards optimism, the opposite is definitely true for those who only see exploitation, corruption and ecological devastation.

As I, somewhat rhetorically, asked when I was discussant in Sydney some weeks ago, what did you expect? Of course it was going to be difficult for humanity to emerge as a planetary civilization, of course it was going to be difficult to contain, yet make wise use of, our Promethean energies. And of course many people will fail to see the broader picture and jump to the wrong conclusions (such as that humanity should be forced back to some kind of romanticized Arcadia). Yet, I have trust in that most people will ultimately recognize the value of civilization and stand up for democracy, pluralism and an open future. The dynamics of globalization alone are such that once the genie has been let out of the bottle, people may moralize about long haul flights or the shallowness of consumption, yet the next moment plan their own hikes in New Zealand, want their kids to study abroad or set up auto-replies announcing that they are off to a yoga retreat in Bali (in order to get away from materialism). The challenge of course is to make these things universal and not just the privileges of a tiny minority. With social investments, open trade and public innovation, I believe that we already have some of the tools but that we still lack the necessary commitment to politics, we lack the courage to stop running and instead realize that we are the masters of own fate as a species. 

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Friday, October 03, 2014

Sydney

Just as we are about to fly out over the Baltic Sea and begin our descent into Copenhagen, I find a minute to reflect on my week in Australia. As always, Jon and I talked a lot, there was plenty of coffee in the sun and some great vegetarian food. But most of all, coming back to Sydney created a sense of perspective on time itself. I smiled when I saw the bottles of Rolling with their bicycles even as I knew how frustrated I actually was that autumn in Melbourne, how incapable I felt of writing my PhD yet how meaningless it was to give in to self-pity. Total loss, yes, but I was still alive and resorting to cynicism would only make it worse.

Meanwhile, the world went on. Obama became president, I ran 10-15 km every other day and, in the end, I even made some limited progress on my PhD. I got to see New Zealand, the Great Ocean Road and Coogee Beach. How reckless one can be with time when one is not a parent. I remember reading eight hundred pages long novels about alternative universes, writing lengthy blog posts on the financial crisis and spending days just walking around without direction.

Ok, time to land. Apparently, Copenhagen is reporting fog and twelve degrees. Already very far from the Sydney sun.

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