When exactly did I become “old”?

When exactly did I become “old”?

Contrary to popular belief you’re not as old as you feel…

How often have I heard that sentence: “you’re only as old as you feel…” Bullcrap! You’re as old as you’re perceived, that is the sad truth. While it is true that the way we perceive our own age changes imperceptively, we do age before our inner eye. A blessing I guess. Who’d want to be a toddler all life? I also believe that our own view of our age, and how we are perceived by others, are interacting. People who “behave” old are perceived as being older. Our looks also have an impact on how we’re perceived: people who look after themselves, dress smartly and youthful are perceived as younger as those who do not. So far so easy.

Age is but a number, my ass!

However, sometimes we are judged merely by our date of birth. A long time ago (over a decade in fact), Swedish telco giant Ericsson offered everyone older than 1968 a severance package. They were considered “too old” to contribute positively to the company’s future. And oftentimes, it’s said that people above the age of fifty are too old to be considered for a job. And too expensive, I guess. So let’s dispense with this notion that we control our aging, because we don’t, not fully anyway. Yes, there are things we can do, but at some point, you realize that you’re no longer young, but old. How exactly does that happen and is it a bad thing?

Always too young, suddenly too old. How did that happen?

I was the youngest to ever apply and train to be a civil protection ‘soldier’ at the age of sixteen. I was the youngest candidate ever (at the time) to run for public office in my hometown. All my life I did things that people my age had not done before, always fighting this perception that I was too young. I remember the feeling, the frustration of not being taken seriously, that somehow my views were not worth as much due to the date on my birth certificate.

Years pass and suddenly things feel different. Suddenly I’m too old for e.g. politics. I’m too old to hold a job. My views are considered outdated and old, and I’m bombarded with a gazillion memes making that point: if you remember what a VHS tape or a cassette is, you’re practically three feet under. Why thank you.

So what changed?

I’m not denying my age. I’m not denying that some days, getting out of bed is a painful exercise. Yet at the same time, my body is in better shape than it has been since 1985. I look at my face and I see the changes, but compared to people ten, fifteen years my junior I still look pretty good. I feel great.

And part of that greatness is due to the changes in my head. Albert Einstein once said: “the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know!” I second that motion entirely, and I wish people my age had been able to tell me, when I was young, why they dismissed my views. First of all, I don’t dismiss the views of the young. Ever. Because I remember how frustrating it was back when I wasn’t taken seriously. I would never do that to anyone else. It’s so disrespectful. But I also know things today that I didn’t know back then. Life experience, more factual knowledge (I/we know so much more than we knew in the eighties), and I think I’ve become a ‘tad’ more patient. I’m not as pushy, impatient than I was in my twenties.

Unfortunately, when I was a child and until I was about thirty-ish, even afterward, the older generations simply didn’t take us seriously. Whatever the younger generations had to bring to the table wasn’t worth considering. Often times we weren’t even listened to. Exceptions existed of course, but they were exactly that, exceptions. Strangely, those are people I still admire to this day.

Experience, wisdom (?) is a blessing

Back then, people didn’t explain why they didn’t value our views, or why they believed/knew differently. At least nothing beyond a “you’re too young to understand…” and yeah, that is not helpful, as we were well aware of how old we were. I try very hard not to make that same mistake when I meet younger people. Their view of the world is shaped by their perception, their unique untainted view of youth. That is an important view. Age affords me knowledge of how slow change can be, how important compromise is, how reality works. Youth provides insights into the desperate need for change, and the desperation that “waiting” will always lead to lost opportunities, to loss. Period.

While I enjoy knowing so much more than a younger counterpart, I also find it important to impart to them the reasons why I know this, not to just disregard their views. I find particularly discussions about our planet, the environment and changes to our climate interesting. We currently have an interesting debate in our city, about a new train tunnel to connect and circumvent our terminus station. There is a lot of opposition against the tunnel. Some just don’t believe in public transport, some (in certain suburbs) don’t see the need, as they are nowhere near a railway. However, I’ve noted in recent months that some of the opposition is age-related, with older people opposing the project because “the city would be a mess for years”. I even had one person argue “I won’t be around to use it…”

If I’m old, this person is practically ancient. How sad is it that we begin to look at say five years of chaos in a city and disregard the decades and decades of a better future this will provide for us? That makes me sad.

Have things changed? Or is it a generational rather than an age thing?

When I see my generation (born in the fifties and sixties) argue against progress, because it takes too long or isn’t immediately visible, I wonder: are younger generations more apt at seeing the bigger picture than we are? Are we so obsessed with quarterly results, “me me me” and instant gratification that we can’t view beyond the tip of our noses? Is it my generation that’s off track rather than us just getting older?

I honestly don’t know. I am very happy with the place where I am at, mentally, even physically. To be able to reflect, to have the experience I have, having seen what I have, done what I have, affords me great luxury in terms of analyzing the world. Grant you, I wish I had more working collagen in my skin to keep it from sagging, but hey, there’s a price for everything… But it worries me to see that so many in my generation have lost that precious gift of seeing the bigger picture, the grand scheme of things. Short term gains more important than long-term future. Need I mention #Brexit as a prime example of this, both in the arguments leading up to that disastrous vote and in politicians’ actions in the two years since.

What is your take? Let’s discuss… Meanwhile, I have to go back and finish a book. Have a great week.

Hans

#Migration is threatening the very fabric of our societies. It shouldn’t. #humanrights #refugees #politics

#Migration is threatening the very fabric of our societies. It shouldn’t. #humanrights #refugees #politics

Migration is a symptom, not the root cause. We should focus on that instead

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” From “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

I often think of these two lines from the famous poem, engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty in the harbor of New York City. The statue represents, to me, everything that is good about humanity, and Ms. Lazarus perfectly captured the essence of the welcome to New York, Ellis Island and the promise of America, the promise of the Land of the Free, the Land of the Brave, the American Dream.

Why do people migrate?

Nothing symbolizes the promise of America like the Statue of Liberty, as she stands proudly in the harbor of New York. Yet never before has this promise been as threatened as it is now.

I’ve asked myself that question more often than not in these past weeks, months and years, ever since we Europeans saw the biggest refugee crisis since probably World War II at our shores, as the Syrian War escalated and millions left the country, fleeing to Europe. These days, we reap the crops from the seeds that were sown in 2015: every election, in every European country, is all about migration.

In the U.S., where–for now–the Statue of Liberty still shines her lamp at night, a man got elected into the White House on the back of a promise to end migration, the very core of America’s success, to build a formidable, “beautiful” wall along America’s southern borders. And we’ve seen the pictures and reports from the Texan border, where parents are separated from their children. Children which are kept in cages, kids as young as two to four years of age.

This makes me wonder. Migration? Why on earth would we migrate? I don’t have all the answers, of course, but humanity has always been migrating. If we hadn’t, we’d still be living on the edge of rainforest and savannah in Africa, and who knows, maybe Earth had been a more peaceful place.

But migration seems to be part of human DNA, this insatiable curiosity for discovery, learning new things, exploring new realms. It’s led to humanity populating every last corner of our planet, including places I personally wouldn’t want to live in, including the Arctics, the desserts of South Africa, the Amazon jungle or Australia’s red center. But for the people who migrated there from Africa eons ago, it’s home.

Most humans aren’t migrating voluntarily…

But curiosity isn’t the only reason why we migrate, or else farming wouldn’t have become a trade. We’d all still be hunters and gatherers. And we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place. When our ancestors reached the shores of Alaska, Australia, the Pacific Islands, the Andes, the Amazon basin, Scandinavia etc. they settled down. They developed distinct cultures based on what the land provided, and from those early ancestors, beautiful cultures evolved: Inkas, Mayas, Inuit, Sami, Aboriginal, Samoan etc. Too many to count them all.

So we do we see migration today? Shouldn’t it all be bliss then? Well, apart from those among us who have that migratory gene, some of us humans are forced to migrate for two other reasons: 1) threats to our lives and 2) inability to survive on the land/provide for ourselves. While the distinction may seem semantic, or intellectual, from a legal point of view, it is an important one: the former entitles you to the status of a refugee under United Nation conventions, the latter does not.

In the (filthy) rich west, we seem to have forgotten what it is like not to have that daily meal on the table, we seem to have forgotten what it means to risk life for speaking our minds, praying to the wrong gods, looking suspicious or loving the wrong person. We seem to have forgotten what it is like to be persecuted, hunted, just for who we are. But it’s all coming back to us now.

Empathy is the key to understanding migration

To understand migration, we need to understand the root causes. I may never know why Mr. Trump’s granddaddy left Bavaria for a life in America. Maybe he harbored thoughts that may have become a threat to his life or maybe he merely wished for a better life for himself and his family in America. He wouldn’t be the only one, because let’s not forget: all Americans today, par first nation members, are immigrants, and the vast majority came to America, not because of persecution, but to seek a better life, i.e. 2) above, that which is not protected by those important UN laws.

When you see central American refugees at the Mexico-US border today, they are there for the same two reasons. They didn’t leave because they wanted to, but because they saw no other reason, either because they were persecuted for being a minority or because they couldn’t provide for their families. So they pack their meager belongings and head north to the promised land, just as every white person in America once did. Now think about it: “how would you react if you were in the same situation?” In the case of my American friends, why did your ancestors leave your home countries?

Fight the root cause instead

Sadly, rather than fighting the causes that make people leave their countries, we fight the refugees. The U.S. treatment of children at its borders is inhumane, but I guess it’s easier than tackling the corrupt regimes in Central America. And the EU does nothing to stop the war in Syria, which is the main reason why people flee the country. Admittedly, the situation there is very complex and Europe has little leverage over a war fought between essentially Russia and the U.S., but maybe it was time we presented Trump with the bill for what the refugees cost us next time he reminds us of our debts to NATO?

The other big wave of immigration is from Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa. Both regions suffer greatly from corrupt regimes, and both are –at their roots–due to Western imperialism. Be it French or English colonies, it’s not surprising that many people in those regions look to Europe, France, and the UK for delivery from governments unwilling to provide for its people. Just today I was reached by the news that ethnic cleansing is rampant in Kamerun, a country historically linked to both the UK and France, with a French and an English speaking part. They’re now at each other’s throats. But the EU does nothing.

Why it’s easier to fix North Korea than say Iran

Fixing the root cause of migration isn’t easy. I’m not naïve. It’s also the reason why Trump chooses to meet with Kim and not Ayatollah Khamenei, even though a meeting with the latter would be more promising. Iran is, for all intents and purposes an open country, a country with rule of law, a democracy even, to a degree. North Korea isn’t. Kim is a ruler in the image of the best in Europe: Charlemagne, Louis XIV, or Henry XVIII. He need never ask his people for permission to do anything. Khamenei was brought to power thanks to a revolution by the people, to end the oppression of a ruler who was held in power by, at least partially, the U.S. The fact that many Persians abhor the U.S. is found right there. Iran is a proud country, with a history dating back thousands of years and having faced the west again and again ever since Alexander the Great. Lots of reasons not to trust us. But as swiftly as Khamenei and his ayatollahs came to power, as swiftly they could be removed again if they lost the support of the Iranian people. A sign of the openness perhaps, but not all Iranians dislike their government…

Whereas in North Korea, the situation is different. The people hardly have any information, the country is completely isolated, and the memories of American troops moving through the country north toward the Chinese border in 1952 are still alive among the elder. They genuinely fear America, from first-hand contacts (and decades of propaganda since.) But if that one propaganda channel suddenly changes its tune? If the leader suddenly smiles with Trump and shakes hands? Needless to say, reality is complex, in both cases, but there are reasons why people act the way they do.

To build trust in North Korea takes one person: Kim Jong-Un. In Iran, Trump would have to convince an entire people. That takes time. In Guatemala for instance, it would take years of working to strengthen the economy, fight corruption on every level of government, empower first nation initiatives etc. to stem the flow of refugees from that country. Makes for lousy tweets, boring Instagram updates, few likes on Facebook. Hence of little interest to the new generation of politicians like Trump, Orban, Söder, Farage, Kazcynsky et al.

Nobody wants migration unless want to themselves, or have to…

This is my personal story of “migration”. Luckily it was only a nightmare, but I promise you, waking from it was a great relief. Free for you to read and contemplate.

I am an immigrant myself. I left my birth country of Switzerland for primarily political reasons. I moved to Sweden because it was more open to people like myself, more open to the idea of Europe. I got to stay not because they sympathized with me, but because I met a Swede. Humans like me have always been around, we’ve never really seen borders as anything but hurdles to overcome. But for most of us, my family and relatives included, migration is not on the menu. We are close to our homeland, our own town or village. We rarely travel beyond county lines, and even when we take that charter vacation once a year we come home, applaud a safe landing and exclaim “borta bra, hemma bäst!” (Swedish proverb: good to be gone, better to come home)

Unless war comes, or a famine, and we suddenly find ourselves fleeing for our lives. Not primarily for our own sakes, but that of our partners, our parents, and our children. So think about it, what would you do? Would you flee if you hoped to be able to provide for your family elsewhere? I would. As an author, I am privileged to host a healthy dose of imagination in my brain. It once ran amok after the Russian invasion of the Crimea and the (still) looming threat of further aggression in the West. My story “Nightmare” is the result. You can read it for free, right here, or read it along with several other short stories here.

Why are we arguing over this?

The arrival of large groups of people, numbers likely to grow exponentially once our oceans rise significantly due to global warming, is–no doubt–a threat to Western societies, our way of life, our wealth, beyond the threat from home-grown extremists. Suddenly, we must make tough choices of paying for that extra opera performance or paying for beds for refugees. A new playground for our kids or a classroom for the new arrivals. Some politicians, always looking for short-term optimization of media coverage and thus an uptick in approval rates or votes will do whatever it takes to vilify migrants. Us against them is an easy sell, certainly easier than justifying investing in Africa or Central America, closing borders seem so much more effective and media savvy than behind the doors pressure on an African dictator or two. We built the EU to stop that, to tear down borders, allow for free migration of our people, only we forgot that Europe is no island. We’re not alone. And many members bring a dark past along, former colonies eying our riches, people seeing opportunities for themselves and their families. We really cannot blame them for that. We would do the same. Many of us have already done that, or have ancestors who did, ten, one hundred, one thousand years ago. The best way to stop migration is to remove the need for it. If people can safely and peacefully provide for their families in their own countries, 99.99% won’t want to leave. The handful that still comes will continue to enrich all our cultures.

Finally…

As always, if you like my blog or my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great day and don’t be shy: your experiences and comments are valuable and most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

#NobelPrize in Literature and the recent crisis in the Swedish Academy #amwriting #amreading #ASMSG

#NobelPrize in Literature and the recent crisis in the Swedish Academy #amwriting #amreading #ASMSG

The Nobel Prize is the world’s biggest and most important prize. Or must I say ‘was’?

Most people know the Nobel Prize. If you’re a scientist, it’s something to aspire to. Who wouldn’t want to be mentioned along with the likes of Marie Curie or Albert Einstein? Thought so. There are five plus one prizes: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology & Medicine, Peace, and Literature. The sixth prize, the Economics Prize, isn’t originally mentioned in Nobel’s will but was instituted by the Swedish Federal Reserve in 1968 to honor the memory of Alfred Nobel.

You never satisfy everyone…

There is always criticism against the prizes, and who they are awarded to. From a generic criticism that the prizes come far too late in a researcher’s life (which is not what Nobel had in mind), to specific criticism of particular winners. In recent years, it was particularly the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize committee which has been criticized for their choices. Many voices mentioned the political dimension of the prize and how the Norwegian committee has been tainted by local infighting among Norwegian politicians. Here in the Nordics, we read a lot about that, but from what I gather, most people abroad don’t seem to be bothered.

The Literature Prize, however… It is debated far outside the immediate circles and the winners are questioned pretty much every year. Why not him? Why not this country/language/culture? Why no woman? Why not Bob Dylan? Well actually, that one was answered in 2015 and raised even more questions… Now picture this on top of the ongoing discussions about the winners themselves:

Sex, wine & a “jolly good fellow”

This isn’t the first time the Swedish Academy is in the news. In 1989, when the Academy refused to criticize Iran for the fatwah against Salman Rushdie, three members “quit”, which until this week was not legally possible. Their chairs remained empty. One has since died, but Kerstin Ekman‘s chair #15 is still unoccupied, after all these decades. This week, the King changes the rules (which is also subject of some debate in Sweden) and now allows members to leave the Academy or – if they haven’t been there for two years or more – to be tossed out.

The current crisis isn’t necessarily homemade, although it’s been made worse by the members of the Academy. In the wake of the #MeToo debate, eighteen (!) women retold Sweden’s largest newspaper their stories of how they’d been sexually abused and even raped by the husband of one of the Academy members. The wife is a very well respected poet. Her husband, however, has had a reputation in artist’s circles for decades as being a pig, a real chauvinist (or “Savoir Vivre” as one of his friends and Academy members puts it). So it wasn’t a long shot for the journalist to seek out these women. There are countless more than the eighteen who finally told their stories and broke the news. Just this week, it was reported that even our own Crown Princess had been assaulted. He put his hands on Her Royal Highness’s ass, all the while the King was apparently seeing it happen. They escorted him out, but nothing happened beyond that, which is in a way women’s story of #MeToo until last year…

The secretary of the Academy, Sara Danius, began an investigation and asked a law firm to look into the allegations. There were also rumors that he’d shared the names of previous winners with outsiders (apparently all spouses always know the winner beforehand, which isn’t really a surprise.) There were also allegations of economical winning and bias, which are currently being investigated by the authorities.

The Academy falls apart

Within the Academy, how to deal with all this created a huge rift and as the scandal blew up, three male members left. Since then, the secretary and an additional member have left the ranks, leaving it a sad bunch of ten people rather than the usual eighteen. And among them are only two women. The average age is high, some of the members are in their eighties. The oldest will be ninety-four in a month’s time. Some of them suffer from dementia or are extremely senile.

The infighting is extremely public these days, and the members have been very public, despite their credo of “what happens in the Academy stays in the Academy!” Which is detrimental to their many tasks. They’re a rich organization, with tons of real estate and they hand out many prizes every year. The Swedish Academy is also responsible for charting the Swedish Language, and the Swedish Vocabulary, charting hundreds of thousands of Swedish words and how they were/are used in our language. As a linguist, and having worked near this project as a student, I can’t express how important that work is (it’s no coincidence that Casper, one of my protagonists, is a professor in data linguistics at the University of Gothenburg, where much of the practical work was done.)

What about the Nobel Prize?

Apparently, there are only five names left for consideration for this year’s prize which is announced early in October. However, the Academy announced this morning that they will not hand out a prize this year, after consultation with the Nobel Foundation, who is overall responsible for the prize and the prize money (roughly one million USD.) Instead, they will hand out two prizes next year.

Here’s my question as an author: who would’ve wanted a prize this year? Any female winner would be accused of being the token #MeToo winner, rather than a worthy literary genius. A man would be seen as “typical” for such a backward organization where rapists are considered “having a good reputation” and whatever literary qualities a winner would bring to the table, they’d be questioned, as most writers have left the Academy. Those who are left are linguists, priests, and philosophers. And they’re only TEN. And they’re old. Not to mention the fact that what some of them have said in public in recent weeks would have any decent author run the other way, rather than accepting a prize from them.

Would you want the Nobel Prize this year?

I think this is the question at the core of it all, and while it’s a sad day for literature, this was a good decision. Personally, I’d have scratched the prize for this year altogether, rather than handing it out next year, because the 2018 Prize will always be tainted. Among scholars of literature, the Nobel Prize isn’t “equal”, some are regarded as ‘secondary years’, even in Sweden. The fact that one of the very first prizes was awarded to Selma Lagerlöf was impressive, although it did little to help the prize abroad. But she was an amazing writer and a woman. The fact that she was later voted into the Academy also decreased the value of her prize. The worst ones? Probably the awards in 1974 when the Academy rewarded two of its own, again! But there are definitely others, just read the linked Wikipedia article. You can’t really compete in art, so… Even the modern approach to award the Nobel Prize to Bob Dylan backfired in 2016, as Dylan didn’t give a flying fuck about the award and didn’t come to Stockholm to meet the King. He finally accepted the Prize money by giving the mandatory lecture at the last minute. But it was an embarrassing moment for the Academy.

So would you want one? From a splinter Academy who thinks that rapists have a “good reputation”, a “sense for Savoir Vivre” and “lots to teach our young”?

Is there hope for the future?

This is really the big question. Will things quiet down? Abroad most likely. Here in Sweden? We’ll see. Eight members must either be re-engaged or replaced. This will need to happen before the end of the year. There’s a lot of protocol around this and new members are only admitted once a year, in early December in what is a bit of a ceremony. So finding eight new members, or to get the six who recently jumped ship to re-engage? Given all the bad things that have been said, I doubt that. Plus there’s always the chance that mother nature swoops in and weeds out some of the older members… 94, 91… This isn’t the Supreme Court of the United States, where the justices are mostly figureheads with hundreds of staffers doing the real work. The Academy is a small organization, and the members pull a lot of the weight. Just saying…

I think the Academy has done what they had to, under the Damoclean sword of losing the privilege to award the Nobel Prize altogether. The real work starts now, and given the ten remaining members, I for one remain skeptical. I just don’t see any progress in most of the ten “remainers”. But who knows? This article was just about the Nobel Prize, not the Academy itself. I could write a lot more, but I won’t bore you with that. Not today.

Finally

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

 

Korean peninsula: when reality “interferes” with your writing #amwriting #ASMSG #Korea #amreading

Korean peninsula: when reality “interferes” with your writing #amwriting #ASMSG #Korea #amreading

How do you deal with reality, when it trumps your fiction? When it threatens to make it obsolete?

Three weeks left to the release of my next book. Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is a story where Korea plays a major role, not just the Koreans depicted in the plot. When I first began to write about Martin, an octogenarian in America, you realize quickly that people in his age were very likely to have been conscripted, or “drafted” as we normally say. Given his age, the Korean War was also a given, not that all drafted young Americans would’ve ended up there, but Martin did, and the story took its course. Mind you, at the time I began to write the book, Korea was in the news almost daily. And not in a good way.

Trump v Kim

One was called “dotard”, the other was insulted with regards to the size of their “buttons”, and for a while, it seemed as if the fragile seize-fire at the 38th parallel was seriously threatened. North Korea’s testing of ballistic missiles even had some of my friends in California afraid for their personal safety. I remembered the eighties and our fear for Russian missiles raining over Europe. War, a world war even, seemed suddenly possible. Having visited Korea in the past, I was afraid for my friends in Seoul, who live less than fifty miles from the border and who can be reached by conventional artillery fire from the north, let alone nuclear weapons. I later learned what Kim’s grandfather did to Seoul during the first days of the Korean War, and it scared me.

My trip to Korea

When I began to write the story about Martin, it was not meant to be a novel. I quickly realized that there was more to the story and let it take its course. I also realized that my knowledge about Korea wasn’t good enough, that I needed to know more. When I set foot in Seoul in Mid-January, things were quickly changing on the ground. All of a sudden, North Korea seemed to be interested in detente with its southern neighbor, and as I watched the Olympic torch being carried through the streets of Seoul, we learned of North Korean delegations coming to PyongChang to attend the impending games, and eventually, even Kim’s sister showed up, and Mike Pence was glad his wife never left his side…

Kim Jong-Un surprises the world

A historic meeting? Only time will tell. IMAGE CREDITS: KOREA SUMMIT PRESS POOL/GETTY IMAGES.

A historic meeting? Only time will tell. IMAGE CREDITS: KOREA SUMMIT PRESS POOL/GETTY IMAGES.

As I was watching the images on my TV screen last week, of the quickly arranged summit between the two leaders of Korea, of Kim crossing the border (last time a leader from the north “visited” the south was Kim’s grandfather, when he rolled into Seoul after more or less having flattened the city in four days) at Panmunjom, I had tears in my eyes. Yeah, I’m a softie. I watched on as the two men shook hands, all smiles, how Kim – unscripted apparently – invited President Moon to take a step back across the border into the north, have pictures taken before they anew crossed the border to the south for their meetings.

At the end of the day, the two leaders had agreed on a range of topics, including negotiations to finally put an official rubber stamp to the war, which officially was never ended at the ceasefire in 1953.

How this affects my novel…

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm - Cover

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm – Cover

I finished writing my book in February, which says a bit about just how fast things are developing on the Korean peninsula. Because when I wrote the book, the Olympic Games had ended, and the symbolic visit of Kim’s sister had been a success. But the thirty-head cheerleader group had drawn more chuckles and head-shakes due to their weird behavior, than being perceived as a serious step toward detente. The story ends in early April, just a few weeks ago, and I don’t mention any of this in the book. And just last week, we worked through the edits and sent the book into proofreading.

Now I’m wondering if I need to rewrite it. Not a lot, but do I need to mention the detente? It may not need more than a sentence or two, but on the other hand, we’ve seen this political tango in Korea before, two steps forward, two steps back. But Kim Jong-Un is a different person. Raised and schooled in Switzerland (his Korean accent raising eyebrows in Seoul), he is the first dictator in the family, only the third leader of North Korea, to be “protected” by a functioning nuclear deterrent. He’s young, he’s healthy, and he knows about the west in terms of how much better our lives are compared to what his citizens have to live with. Who knows, he might even miss walking the streets of Berne…

It’s the uncertainty of it all that is the biggest dilemma…

Not knowing what the future holds is making this so difficult. Not that we ever know what the future holds, but here in Europe, we can at least assume that the next years will be similar to the ones we have behind us. Development, not revolution. In Korea though, right now? I honestly don’t know. I’m always a skeptic, but even I have to be honest and admit that Kim’s moves have me surprised. Is he serious or what is he up to? Motivation in the south is different. The official stance of all politicians in the south is unification, just as it was in West Germany before 1990. That the population in the South, particularly the young, see things differently, is a different thing. They see just how big a sacrifice from the South would be needed to bring the North up to par. I’ve written about this before.

So what do I do? What if I write the detente into the novel only to have reality suffer another setback? As a writer, I want my books not just to mirror my time, I’d like for my stories to be “timeless”, not primarily for commercial reasons, but because timeless stories are more relevant. It’s why we still read Shakespeare. His stories, the conflicts he describes are truly timeless.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know what to do. I’m still thinking, talking to my publisher. If you have any recommendations, thoughts, please let me know. We have about a week or ten days to come up with a solution to this conundrum.

Finally

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

Cultural superiority and why it is such a dangerous concept #amwriting #ASMSG #amreading

Cultural superiority and why it is such a dangerous concept #amwriting #ASMSG #amreading

Cultural superiority: good intentions often pave the way to hell

First of all, what do I mean with “cultural superiority”. It’s this idea that “my” culture is somehow better than someone else’s. It’s similar to the term ethnocentricity but differs from it in that you actually DO know about other cultures and still think your own is superior. Let me exemplify the difference: ethnocentricity is e.g. studying psychology at a western university and not seeing the name of a single researcher from China or Asia, not reading a single book about the history of psychology on different continents. Cultural superiority is when you think that the way your culture handles certain aspects of life, e.g. the number of vacation days, is better than that of another country. Both may have common roots in preconceptions, racism even.

As a writer, I often come across cultural superiority in the books that I read, and in my own writing, I have to be careful not to judge other cultures based on my own views, but to be balanced in my views. That isn’t always easy. Allow me to exemplify with a couple of examples with regards to my coming novel Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm which plays out in the United States and South Korea.

Eating cats and dogs

Last night I read an article that the United States Congress wants to officially make it illegal to eat cats and dogs. So far so good. I’m sure felines and canines across the U.S. will all sigh in relief. Congress is finally taking action on something. However, the legislation has a catch, not just because it’s not really needed. It’s not about making sure that poor Americans who’ve been denied food stamps won’t turn to their pets instead. No. It is a signal to South Korea and other countries, where the consumption of cats and dogs is still a thing. This becomes a thing for a few months before and after every major event in Korea, before the world moves on again. And with Korea currently being in every news cycle, it’s not likely to go away any time soon. But seriously, if you think about it, why is eating a dog different from eating a chicken? Or a calf? A lamb? Or a piglet?

Imagine the uproar in America if Muslim countries and Israel suddenly decided to chastise the U.S. for its consumption of bacon and ham? Or if India, where the cow is considered sacred, began to pressure the U.S. to outlaw hamburgers? Surely, 1.4 billion Indians outweigh the views of 400 million Americans?

Equality and marriage laws…

As a gay man, I’m all for equality, and I will voice my views wherever I can, including this globally (except Russia when Putin’s angry with me) available blog. And yes, I’d love for every human being to be able to get married in every country on Earth, not just nineteen or twenty. Wouldn’t it also be great if countries who do not allow single-sex marriages to accept such unions entered in other countries (as the EU demands of its member states), the way we accept unions from other countries which may greatly differ from what we allow here? But no such luck.

Most Western countries will accept marriages between children if the was legally married in their home country, and we’ll also not consider wives two to four “single” if they were legally wed in a Muslim country, as difficult as it may be to stomach for us. There have been calls to stop such unions, but I’m afraid it would only make it more difficult for us to work with those countries to accept our views of the world. Cultural superiority goes both ways.

Criminalizing behavior elsewhere

Last week, Swedish lawmakers decided not to pursue a proposed legislation that would’ve made buying sex illegal even abroad, at least for Swedes and residents here. Norway is currently the only country with such a law on the books. In Sweden, it’s been illegal to buy sex for many years, while it’s perfectly okay to sell it (in an effort not to stigmatize sex workers.) The reason for the abandonment was simple: fear of retribution.

Imagine if countries suddenly felt they could prosecute their citizens and residents for actions in other countries. It would be a serious breach of a state’s sovereignty. Please note that we are only talking about democracies here. Non-democratic regimes have no respect for the rule of law anyway… The country that has most such “elsewhere” laws on the book is the United States, with their taxation laws at the forefront. As a Swiss living in Sweden, I don’t pay Swiss taxes here. Americans in Sweden, however, get to pay twice, forcing many to give up their citizenship because they can’t afford it.

But it goes beyond financial means. What if Ireland (where e.g. abortion is still illegal) were to punish women for getting one in the U.K., or in Sweden? Or what if an LGBT person from Russia were to be thrown in jail for going to a gay club in New York while on vacation? Borderline case, since Russia isn’t a democracy, but still. You get my point.

The risks of cultural superiority

The biggest risk is of course that it can backfire, as the example with the meat shows. But more than that, it also shows a lack of in-depth knowledge, of why some cultures do things differently. Why is child labor still a “thing” in South Asia? Hardly because parents think it’s a “good” idea… Severe poverty along with different definitions of child- and adulthood are more likely the real reasons behind this phenomenon. And when you look at the bigger picture you’ll also be able to do something about it in a way that doesn’t make it worse or aggravates people. Child labor is a great example of how our western views make things worse for millions and millions of people. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think children should work either. They should go to school. But we’re doing it all wrong today, simply cutting off suppliers who use child labor.

In my coming novel, I ran the risk of being guilty of cultural superiority as well, and it was an effort to make sure to depict both American and Korean society on equal footing, despite my personal convictions. This also affected the story itself, the plot, and how the book ultimately ends. Not that I can go into any details here (spoiler alert!)

What are your experiences? A problem? How can we address it? Let’s hear it…

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

 

Facebook for authors: still a necessary evil and no alternative in sight

Facebook for authors: still a necessary evil and no alternative in sight

Facebook turned us into products: there’s not much we can do about it…

I resisted Facebook’s lure, for a long time, but when my husband turned thirty, and most of his uni friends were on Facebook, I caved in to pressure and signed up, mostly to be able to invite them to the party. But I was instantly hooked because I had dozens of people waiting for me. It should’ve been a warning sign: for years, Facebook had been creating a shadow profile for me, with everyone’s search for me added to it. When I finally logged on, all those searches were friend requests waiting for me. All I had to do was accept and my timeline began to populate. I was hooked…

That was then…

That was 2009. Nine years later, my relationship with Facebook has changed. With almost 2,000 connections, my timeline is no longer a reflection of my real friends and their lives. The Facebook algorithm will make sure you only see the people you recently talked to (or liked one of their posts), while the rest slowly fade into oblivion.

Facebook interests

Here are some of the “interests” that Facebook assigned to me. Stick figure? Ink? Come on Facebook… Really?

In the years passed, I’ve always followed Facebook rules, creating business pages for my company, and an author page (rather than a profile) for my author persona. Most of my writing colleagues have author profiles instead. Against the rules, but smart, as pages don’t work anymore unless you have a significant monetary budget. I noted that my final posts on my page were seen only by a handful of the thousand followers. No reason to keep at it. I deleted it, as I had my company page.

 

Facebook doesn’t give a shit about us…

They’ll never admit it, but it’s a fact: Facebook doesn’t care about us. Mr. Zuckerberg said as much when he first launched the site, something along the lines of how “stupid people were to offer us their data for free…” And indeed, we are. A while ago, I began to notice the details of how Facebook’s many algorithms serve me advertising. Sometimes you’d click on something and suddenly you’ll be served ads for weeks. I travel a lot, and for weeks after searching for a flight, I’d be served flight ads from all kinds of sites and airlines. Odd, after you book. But I guess even algorithms are limited in their intelligence.

I began to look at the “interests” Facebook thinks I have, and as of today, I’ve deleted 549 interests. Mind you, they’re still all there! But at least I see a lot less advertising. I’ll keep at it! But it takes a lot of work. And the algorithm isn’t as smart as you might think. Just a few days ago I got two new “interests” about “Ted”, one for the organization that does the talks and one for the movie. They claim I “liked” different things, but I know for a fact that I never clicked on the movie because I never even heard about it.

As an author…

Living in Sweden, writing in English, Facebook is pretty much the only tool I have at my disposal to reach my audience. Sure, I have this blog, but we’ve all seen a reduction in blog readership in recent years. There’s YouTube, but that requires so much work for so few viewers. And there’s my newsletter, but we all know how many of us actually read them. I do, the numbers are in the low single digit area, nothing new under the sun here.

Facebook interests

I’ve removed hundreds of so-called “interests” that Facebook assigned to me, but most of those were bogus, to begin with. The Facebook algorithm isn’t as smart as you might think…

Twitter you say? LOL, I say. If anyone else is like me, they’ve long ago stopped looking at their feed. A Twitter user following more than a thousand users has a timeline moving so fast you can never see much of anything. It’s only through searches you can find stuff. I do it once every blue moon. Twitter has long ago lost its appeal to me. Pinterest? I never really got that, and like Facebook, the algorithm is weird. All I ever got to see were naked men, and yeah, I’m not buying. Instagram? Another Facebook spider… But it’s my favorite one, my personal indulgence. I get to watch beautiful nature pictures, and I upload (mostly) nature pictures myself. I don’t use it professionally, with very few exceptions. Who’d follow me if I only uploaded book-related images? Natasha’s covers are amazing, but yeah. It gets old very quickly.

Facebook is still the main tool

For now (and the foreseeable future), Facebook seems to be it. I don’t see any alternative. I post publicly what pertains to my writing, and in various degrees of privacy what is personal or private. There have always been posts that aren’t meant for the public eye, but sadly, Zuckerberg’s creation sees it all, reads it all, apparently even posts we write and never post, messages we type and delete without sending away. It’s disgusting. But legally? Watertight, I’m sure. And we all signed off on it when we quickly accepted the small print when we signed up. Who reads that stuff, ever? I don’t. Because you don’t have a choice. Want to use XYZ you have to sign off on their terms. You can’t say, “hey, I’ll take this, but not this…” It’s all or nothing.

Personally, I’d be happy to pay for Facebook, to get better features and to get rid of the Kraken that constantly monitors my every movement. But I also know that I can’t trust Facebook. I’m convinced that even if I paid, they’d still monitor me, so why should I pay? In the end, it’s a matter of trust, faith to a degree, and while I do have faith in some of the companies I work with, I cannot trust a company whose business model is based on data mining. I don’t trust Google, I don’t trust Facebook.

So what can I do? What could you do?

Not that much. I have limited the data I have on Facebook, sadly they already have it. Removing e.g. your political interests now is too little, too late. They’ve already stored what you once posted. And to limit visibility to yourself? LOL Remember, they even read what you don’t post… My basic assumption for all things Internet is this:

only post what doesn’t shy away from the light of day!

Facebook algorithm

Further proof that Facebook’s algorithm is stupid. I was in Switzerland, yes, but that was several days ago, for two hours… It’s a blunt tool, for better or worse. As an advertiser, I’d think twice to use the more detailed info for my ads. As a former Facebook advertiser, I also know that they don’t work as well as Facebook claims.

If you don’t want someone to read it, don’t post it. In the end, whether it’s Facebook or a nemesis of yours, doesn’t matter. This policy has served me well, although I’ve made mistakes of my own. Apart from that, I have removed all likes of pages on Facebook (and won’t like any new pages.) I have removed all my advertising preferences and will keep doing that. I’ve limited the number of groups I’m a member of to the ones I really want to be a member of, none of them public. I don’t like as much anymore, most certainly not clickbait posts (from various humor pages that people share). I don’t do tests (and will unfriend people who do and thus risk sharing my data with other Krakens.) I’ve also begun to hide most of the news posts that appear on my newsfeed.

Not so much because it’s about data mining, but because it’s so toxic. Mind you, that’s an entire post of its own… I’ve also uninstalled Messenger from my phone. Three Facebook apps are enough: Instagram, FB & WhatsApp, the latter I only use because of my dad and sister.

What do you do? How have you reacted to the recent Facebook news?

In a way, the friends of mine who are offline are avenged, but at what price? Social hermits? We all need to be smarter about how we use social media. We need to fight back and be smart about what we share, throw the Kraken off-track. What do you do? Have you resigned? Given up or are you employing active tactics of resistance? Let’s hear it! All tips are welcome.

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans