Today’s image has been taken in an Underground station that I pass through every time I travel to Vienna. It’s always well after midnight and I regularly arrive half a minute after the train left. That always gives me about ten minutes, and normally I use the time to make an image. You’ve seen a few, this is just a little wider and more curly 🙂
I already mentioned that Lisbon is not easy to navigate for wheelchair users, that not even all of the underground stations are free of barriers, but then there are some that must be scary to anyone who suffers from vertigo.
The descent from Chiado into the station Baixa-Chiado is such a place. A stairway down, then a chain of four steep escalators, followed by one final stairway. A long way to fall if you fall 🙂
Do you know what happened to Germany? Why they suddenly open their borders for Syrian refugees? I have no idea.
Fact is, while Austria is touched by its own generosity (which means welcoming refugees, giving them some food and medical care and then happily waving them goodbye when they pass on to Germany), Germany really, really invests big time.
The estimates for this year are for a total of 800.000 refugees. That’s much. Very much, and politically it is a risky proposition for any government. A conservative government like Angela Merkel’s may have it easier, but even she may have a price to pay.
But then, is it all that much?
Don’t get me wrong, I totally admire what Germany does, but let’s just get the figures straight: 800.000 is 1% of the current population of Germany. One hundred people (OK, babies included) have to care for one refugee.
Think of it: there is one person who needs three meals a day. They are cheap meals, let’s say they average 5 Euro each. Once a month you pay one such meal. Does it hurt?
Of course housing is the biggest cost factor. Let’s say that a cheap, government-provided accomodation costs 300 Euros a month. Now we are at 8 Euros a month. Add your percent of minimum clothing and we are at the price of two packs of cigarettes, the equivalent of a pizza or less than one visit of “The Hunger Games 17”.
I still admire what Germany does and it’s the right thing to do. I just want to make clear that this is no titanic task that only mighty Germany can do. Everybody can, and I think Austria can easily do it as well. After all, during the Bosnian crisis we had our 1% of refugees – and we came out of it as a rich country.
We talked about refugees lately and I ultimately blamed Capitalism, or better, the system we’re entangled with, a system that happens to be capitalist in nature. Of course history tells us, that we’d not necessarily be better off with a communist system, or better, a system that claims communism.
It’s not that I don’t lean to the left and it’s not that I don’t suggest that its thinkers are less tainted by obvious self-interest, but somehow there is a deep problem with human nature.
Look into the bible. Matthew 5, the “Sermon on the Mount”. It’s one of the most important texts of Christianity and it is holy to billions who’d never even think about “turning the other cheek”. Jesus is unmistakable, but we have a problem even seeing the problem.
Cognitive dissonance seems to be wired into our genes. Egoism is what made us survive, but egoism is also what can be our ultimate downfall.
Recently I’ve bought a book by some Lewis Dartnell. It’s called “The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch“. It is a collection of recipies for how to purify water, how to resart agriculture, how to refine materials, generate power, doing chemistry, etc. It is pretty much a joke that I have it as an eBook, but if it’s really good, I may buy a few paper copies and store them in strategic places 🙂
The problem is, we have entered a phase in our development as a species, where we know an awe-inspiring number of facts about the world, but in reality we as members of that species hardly know anything at all.
I am a computer programmer and I have learned solving problems, creating abstrations, bringing order into chaos. I attended a technical high school and I have learned to take transistors, resistors, capacitors, diodes and other basic parts, put them together and create an amplifier or an oscillator or a simple radio or even a computer. And then, having learned all that does not mean being able to faultlessly reproduce it. But, for the sake of the argument, let’s pretend I could.
Probably I could even create power. I’d need iron and copper wires though. Standing in front of a mountain and being told to dig out the ore and turn it into metal, a ferrite core or a thread of copper wire, I would fail miserably. Those things that I can do, other people would have no chance doing, but ultimately, in case of total breakdown, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’d need to do, without other people providing the materials, the energy, the food to sustain me, the medical support to keep me healthy.
We are egoists, but our civilization is based on vast knowledge that can’t be comprehended by single persons any more. In order to function, our civilization needs cooperation, and it also needs permanent access to its collected knowledge. If nobody can keep everything we know in a single mind, then knowledge gets lost if it is not stored in an accessible way for all future.
Think of the typical post-apocalypse scenario. Would we be able to kickstart civilization and get back to where we were in short time? Would we have to re-learn everything from scratch, taking millennia? Or would we simply perish, having lost both our tools and the ability to re-make them?
It all depends upon access to knowledge. And here we are back to egoism.
A lot of things are wrong with the patent system, but maybe the most damaging is, that patents are granted without making sure that the general public gets a benefit. Patents are not granted for concrete processes, they are granted for descriptions so abstract, that even specialists in the field have trouble to understand them. Patents are intended to be unreadable and as vague as possible. This maximizes profit for the holder and it protects from easy copying. Unfortunately once a company goes out of business, it may well take its processual knowledge with it.
Remember Polaroid? You can buy a used camera, but the film is unavailable. It has been reengineered, but the result is not the same as the original.
Wanna build a Saturn V rocket? Bad luck, even NASA has lost records of how to do so.
And now imagine a catastrophe a few decades after we have made the transition from paper books to eBooks. No electricity? Bad luck again, you won’t have access to any knowledge at all.
Our civilization is already fragile and it can only get worse.
As to the patent system, I even have an idea. Let’s grant patents, but let’s also require that working implementations in plain and readable description are archived by government agencies. These agencies would guarantee secrecy of trade secrets, but they would also guarantee the option to access in case we need it. As an additional benefit, these agencies would also be able to use unified and durable long-term archiving methods.
Furthermore, I would require complete exposure of all such knowledge after a grace period long enough to turn an invention into considerable wealth.
A system like that would not stiffle inventions and it would allow for making a more than decent living off one’s creativity. It would just reign in the excesses and it would also help survival of the species.
When you spend nine hours a week on trains, you better begin liking railway stations. While yesterday’s image was taken in Vienna, this one is from Villach.
The sticker on the escalator spells “Sauber”, meaning “clean”. Kind of a hopeful declaration, but maybe it even works. At least the railway station is clean indeed 🙂
This is “Sector 7”, a car-styled café in one of Vienna’s big shopping centers, and “Seven” by James is our Song of the Day. Hear it on YouTube.
A solid 35% of my visitors are from the US. That’s pretty much and maybe I risk alienating most of my remaining readership, but, you know, I think we’ve gotta talk about something that I don’t understand.
Here is how Americans thought about torture in 2008 and this is how they think about it today. And today I read that George Ellard, inspector general of the National Security Agency, the man who should be most worried about what he learned through the Snowden leaks, finds that everything is perfectly legal.
Yeah, sure, just as legal as everything Hitler did. Persecution of the Jews? Perfectly legal. They even had a law for it!
Everything becomes legal when the criminals make the laws. So, apart from the obvious idiocy of believing in the effectiveness of torture when it has been shown countless times that it is not, I mean, even if it were effective (which it is NOT! NOT!!!), there must be a line that cannot be crossed. If not, well, everything is possible. Do you believe there is any reason to hope, that effectively legalizing torture will not lead to the use of torture on US citizens? You? Your children? Sooner or later? Would be the first time in history if not, but hey, you’re free to believe what you want, it’s only civilization that goes down the drain.
If you think of it, what else is civilization, than a set of lines that cannot be crossed? Each line part of a fence that keeps us safe and allows us to plan for our own future and the future of our children?
Isn’t this strange? You can’t rely on laws and constitutions. There is really no way to craft laws that make sure you don’t end up with a totalitarian state drowning in barbarism. You need something to root your society in, something absolute, something people … well, it’s hard for my atheist self to say that … believe in. A society needs a shared ideal.
I often say that I grew up with the conviction that things can only get better as time goes by, and I often say that I am losing my illusions the older I get.
I think that in the 1960/70s we had a kind of shared ideal that I grew up with and that society shed like a snake sheds its hide. When I was a child, I was told that all people are equal and that if not, it is a problem that’s got to be solved. I was told that we have responsible and hard-working leaders, and at least of a few of them I think they were and did. We knew corruption but it was the exception and it was frowned upon. Or maybe that’s all only an illusion, but I am pretty sure about how people thought about it. People did not approve of behaviour that is the norm now.
During the last 35 years happended what I call the Conservative Backlash. Reagan, Thatcher, Kohl and John Paul II were the crusaders and the downfall of institutionalized so-called communism finally discredited all kinds of socialist ideas. As weird as it is, the intellectual left just let this happen, as if the Eastern regimes had had anything to do with communism or socialism at all. And capitalism became a religion instead.
The problem is only, capitalism is not a viable source of shared ideals. It is the anti-thesis of sharing, and as such, it not even provides ideals. The financial crisis and how our capitalist societies avoided learning any lessons of it, they should make abundantly clear that unguarded capitalism is not capable of anything but uncontrolled growth – at the cost of everything else. Strongly reminds me of cancer, if you ask me.
But, am I not only unsatisfied with an ideal that is not my ideal? Is conservativism not an ideal? Did we not just return from the reckless experiments of the 1960s to a more considerate way of thinking about the world?
At least that’s certainly what we should have been led to think. Only it is not true. Today’s conservativism conserves nothing. Conservatives are at the bleeding edge when it comes to destroying our environment at ever increasing speed. Conservatives are always the first to get rid of our cultural tradition, of our hard earned knowledge. Science? Who needs it when there’s always propaganda to draw upon? About the only thing that conservativism successfully conserves is inequality.
Actually, even the idea of a shared ideal is socialist at its roots. And so is civilization. Civilization is a form of organization of a people, shared behind a shared ideal. It unifies the disparate, and by doing so, it creates equality from inequality. Denying equality means denying civilization. And if you do so, you end up with torture and violent barbarism.
The Song of the Day is “From The Bottom Up” by Dayna Kurtz. Hear it on YouTube.
When I arrive in Vienna, I first change to a local railway train and later to the Underground. At that time, after midnight, the interval of the Underground is ten minutes and the coordination between railway and Underground is absolutely perfect. I always and unfailingly just miss the Underground 🙂
Well, on the other hand, I love it how empty the stations are at that time, and ten minutes are always enough to find some fresh view.
The Song of the Day is “In The Still Of The Night” by The Four Tops. Hear it on YouTube.