JUST A THOUGHT
April 2013 -December 2013
All kinds of news and wishes
December has always been the month for me when I prefer to look for a positive angle to everything.
I suppose it has to do with the goodwill-tradition associated with
December month and Christmas in Western (and Christian) world.
This spirit will be reflected in December’s Just a Thought,
although not all bad or sad news can be avoided.
The good news
We have some reasons to feel satisfied with this year, at least with certain developments
in recent months.
I’m thinking about the negotiations between
world leaders and the Syrian Government during the last couple of months.
thinking of the recent agreements between Iran and world leaders concerning the nuclear programme of Iran.
must be seen as positive developments.
I’m thinking of the
Chinese government’s decision to abolish the much hated re-education through labour-camps.
The Chine government has also promosed to reduce the number of crimes which are subject to death
Finally, it relaxes the one-child policy, which must be
a relief to many parents in China.
These are good news from the point of view of human rights.
I suspected already in April that the new President Xi Jinping is more liberal than his predecessors (see
Just a Thought in April, which was about new world leaders).
The sad news
annual tropical storms are becoming more and more extreme.
People in Philippines
and in nearby countries were hit by the worst typhoon in history, and thousands of people lost their lives.
It will take years for the people of Philippines to clear and re-build the regions which were completely damaged
or wiped out by the typhoon.
Tropical storms and typhoons are nothing unusual in that
part of the world, and they are more likely to develop between June and November than during other months.
it was the extreme speed of the wind, the magnitude of the storm and the damage it did that was different from the usual typhoons.
It is difficult to avoid making the connection between climate change
and the increase in extreme weather conditions.
During the recent decade
we have seen extreme Typhoons, extreme Tsunamis in Asia, extreme hurricanes in America, and extreme floods in Australia and
Some regions, mainly in Africa, are suffering of increased drought
and increased water shortage meaning that farming has become impossible in many regions.
During the last century the world’s average surface temperature has increased by 0.6 degrees Celsius.
The energy consumption of our industries which provide us with goods,
and our individual consumption of energy have increased the global emissions of so called greenhouse gases, such as carbon
dioxide and methane.
Greenhouse gases are necessary to keep our planet warm
enough for any form of life to exist on it.
However, during the last
century we have produced more greenhouse gases, more heat around the earth than ever before, which has led to an increase
in the global temperature.
As a result, polar ice sheets are melting and sea levels rising.
Christmas wishes to save energy
put on our Christmas wish list the need to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we produce.
If we wish to offer long term help to people in Philippines we should try to reduce the emission of greenhouse
gases, since they contribute to climate change and to the increase in extreme weather conditions.
We can express our Christmas wishes to our Governments and demand that they and our industries do their best
to invest in green(er) energy and green(er) production methods.
can check how each of us could change our own energy consumption habits.
idea is to save energy, and to use it rationally.
Most of us are already
familiar with the general conception of recycling and saving energy, consisting of suggestions like leaving the car at home
and travelling by bus or by train instead.
At home better insulation
reduces the need to heat the home. Better insulation means that the household saves money and less greenhouse
gases are generated.
Therefore, all efforts to insulate old houses and building energy-efficient new homes should
However, we don’t use energy merely to heating and
Household appliances consume energy, too. In most households
worldwide there is now a fridge and a cooker (or at least a hob).
Western world most households also have some or all of the following appliances in their kitchen: a freezer or a freezer box,
washing machine, dish washer, microwave oven, a food processor, and an espresso or other type of coffee machine.
In other rooms we usually have our televisions, computers, video players, play
stations, and vacuum cleaners.
Tablets, iPads, iPhones, and mobile phones seem to be
All these appliances consume energy and generate heat
when in use.
And to produce each of them consumes a lot of energy.
the amount of heat generated by every household!
We are already so used
to our technological products, that we cannot imagine a life without them.
it would be ridiculous to stop using them. Instead, we should use them rationally.
can save energy by keeping the lights on only in the room where we are, for example.
can save energy by ending our bad habit of leaving our TV, computer, and other electronic products on stand-by when not watching
or using them.
We can save energy by not using the washing machine to
wash a single pair of socks.
What about mobile/cell
Did you know that there are
approximately 3.5 billion mobile/cell phones in use on our planet?
you know that people seem to use the same mobile phone less than two years?
you know that the reason why people buy a new mobile phone seldom is that the old one was broken or not working.
Producing mobile/cell phones consumes energy. Among the materials used to produce
mobile phones are also toxic metals.
You need to charge your mobile
By using mobile phones you are using energy and generating
green house gases.
Most material in mobile phones can be recycled and re-used.
They should not end in landfill.
It has been claimed that recycling just a million mobile/cell
phones reduces greenhouse gas emissions to the extent that it corresponds to taking 33 cars off the road for a year.
We all remember what happened in Bangladesh some 7 months ago.
Hundreds of textile workers were killed when the factory building, called Rana Plaza, collapsed.
However, accidents related to risky buildings do not only occur in developing countries.
There was a surprising catastrophe in Latvia a couple of weeks ago, when the roof of a relatively newly built supermarket
collapsed during shopping hours.
Over 50 persons were killed and several remain missing
in this (potentially) preventable accident.
This accident may have
been caused by a failure to follow building regulations.
of Latvia simply called it a murder.
The Prime Minister Dombrovski took the responsibility and resigned.
We should keep the potential of this kind of accidents in mind when the Governments
plan to relax building regulations.
representing opposing values
attacked the unfettered capitalism in a speech he gave for a week ago, and demanded that we should not support an economy
He also said that politicians should guarantee all members
of public dignified work, education, and health care.
I’m sure Ignatius Loyola, who created the Society of Jesus, would have been proud of
I’m sure that Martin Luther, who tried to
reform the Christian Church from within, but was forced to establish his own Protestant Churches, would also have been proud
(Read more about Pope Francis on Just a Thought in April 2013)
Johnson, the Mayor of London, suggested that ‘greed is good for economy’ in a speech for a week ago.
We may try to interpret ‘what Boris really said’, but choosing to
use the word ‘greed’ showed ignorance or bad judgment from the side of Boris Johnson.
Greed is everywhere and it is not limited to making money or to the accumulation of money.
Money-mindedness might have been a better word, since that’s what corporate leaders need to be.
industrial capitalists were money-minded and they didn’t care about much else than making more money.
However, they invested the profits back into their industries and created new employment opportunities.
Their main concern was not to assure themselves great salaries and even larger
bonuses but their main concern was to create new industries.
on the other hand, does not have any other goals that being greedy.
only contribution greedy people make to the world is misery.
More greed may
be what neo-conservatives prefer, but greed is not good for economy!
The good news to all especially in Britain is that (woollen) jumpers are fashionable this winter.
There are plenty of jumpers on offer, with pictures of reindeers, elves, snowflakes,
or whatever you like!
That’s exactly what we needed to hear when
shivering in our chilly homes wearing jumpers...
During the last week of December we are given a couple of extra free days in
most European countries.
Whatever your religion or non-religion is, I hope you all will enjoy them.
ASPASIA EUROPEAN WISHES YOU ALL
A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Our parallel worlds
November will hopefully become the month when we all can relax- at least for a short while.
There have been some developments indicating that we might have some reason for optimism.
Several European countries are showing tiny signs of economic growth, and there is a (very) small reduction
in unemployment rates.
Many world leaders in East and West have fortunately realized
or remembered that resolving conflicts does not necessarily involve military action but can be done by gathering all involved
around a (round?) table for negotiations.
Therefore, we should try
to ‘cling’ to the feeling of optimism, since optimism is what we need if we wish to improve the quality of our
lives and our world.
We should dedicate some time to reflect upon our values
and to visualise the kind of world we would like to see in the future.
of us have been so busy with our daily struggles that we nearly lost our ability to reflect upon and visualise a future.
Changes on the surface
The early years of the 21th century seem to be characterized by everything
Most of the fast developments concern advances in information
technology, and how this technology has been applied.
We are informed
of new technological products and computer gadgets every year, making our 5 year old technological products suddenly ‘too
The way we receive information has changed. Access to
information, especially superficial information, is very easy today.
we learn immediately if there is a natural catastrophe in any part of the world.
learn immediately if there is a new armed conflict between two countries in another part of the world.
We learn immediately if a celebrity has been involved in a scandal.
have also learned that national/international security services are now hacking our phones, mobile phones, and e-mails.
Our two parallel worlds
As I said earlier most of the changes are directly or indirectly
related to new technology, especially information technology.
Yet all these
changes wouldn’t have taken place without a slower development within (information) technology taking place
during the earlier centuries, mainly during the 20th century.
is as if we’ve been living in two, parallel worlds at the same time.
one of these worlds everything moves fast. New products replace old ones fast, and changes take place fast.
These changes are not necessarily predictable or asked for by us, but they are often perceivable to us through
the media and technological products.
In the other world all questions
and developments demand reflections and the progress takes place within numerous separate fields simultaneously.
It takes decades before any visible results of these activities are available
to most of us.
It is this second world we seem to have ignored collectively.
And many of us have no time to reflect upon the activities that take place within it.
It is the world of science, the world of slow progress, the world of (secret) defence, the world of idealists,
inventors, and innovations.
Let us consider for a while how we got our computers,
internet, mobile phones and televisions.
Why did all these developments happen?
happened because human beings wanted to figure out how to facilitate the calculation of large quantities of data, and thereby
save time and money.
They happened because human beings wanted to figure out how to communicate across oceans,
how to transmit messages, sound, talk, and moving images to other people.
first patent for an electromechanical television system was registered by a German student Paul Gottlieb Nipkow already in
And the first instantaneous transmission of images took place in Paris, 1909.
Numerous persons in numerous countries; in the UK, USA, Soviet Union, Japan, France, Germany wanted to develop
a functioning television.
If television is understood as the live transmission of
moving images with continuous tonal variations, the person behind the idea and the first demonstration of a television in
1926 was the Scottish inventor John Logie Baird.
The second phase of the
developments concerned broadcasting.
During the 1930s attempts to broadcast were made already in tens of countries,
such as the UK, USA, France, Mexico, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union, and Germany.
the second of November 1936 the BBC began transmitting the world’s first public television service. Happy anniversary!
The third phase of the development of the television was the introduction
of colour televisions.
Basically, colour broadcasting demands the use of three
monochrome images, consisting of the mixture of the colours of red, blue, and green.
first colour TVs were available in 1953 in the USA, and the first colour broadcasting in 1954.
However, they were expenses and most broadcasting remained black-and-white until the mid 1960s.
In the late 1960s people started to purchase colour television sets in large scale.
Since then we have seen televisions in all shapes and sizes. The first television sets looked very different
from our modern televisions.
The development has been towards smaller and smaller ‘boxes’
and towards larger and larger screens.
The oldest attempts to transmit sound were acoustic devices,
such as tin can ‘telephones’.
They continued to fascinate
children long after the telephone had been invented (I made one in my childhood! What about you?).
The first speaking telegraph, generally known as the telephone, has many potential fathers.
There were people in Britain, USA, France, Russia, and in many countries developing the idea of a telephone.
However, Alexander Graham Bell has the honour of being the first
inventor to patent a telephone in 1876.
The idea of telephone
exchange systems came from a Hungarian engineer Tivadar Puskas (in 1876), who was working for Thomas Edison.
By using telephone exchanges and switchboards telephones became practical tools for communication for public
service organisations, businesses and private households.
and their functions, and outer shape went through numerous changes since the time of the first telephones.
example, memories and answering machines were added to them
From telephone to mobile phone
history of mobile phones can be traced back to the time of two-way radios, used by the police, for example.
The first cell phone or mobile phone was demontrated by Motorola in 1973.
Previously, phone calls were made from the same, particular locations, and they were received in a particular
Mobile phones made it possible to communicate with other
people at a distance from different locations, while walking, travelling by bus, car, by train.
Soon there were several large mobile phone companies developing their own mobile phone models and applications.
Mobile phones could also be used to send text messages, and later on to access
the internet, to take pictures, and so on.
Nearly a century separates
the first patented telephone from the introduction of the first mobile phone.
in science and technology made it possible for those who were innovative enough to apply existing knowledge to develop mobile
Behind the idea of computers was the need to find a method to calculate
large amounts of data faster than it could be done manually.
The first developments
were calculation machines, and methods to store information.
In late 1880s the American Herman Hollerith invented
data storage method that could be read by machines.
He used punched
cards for storage of information, and a tabulator to process the punched cards.
calculation machines, punched cards and the tabulator became the foundation for modern information processing and modern information
In a paper published in 1936 Alan Turing defined a universal
computer that executes a program stored on tape.
To complete the idea of
a practically functioning computer, John von Neumann defined the structure for a computer that uses the same memory for both
stored program and data.
This is the basic structure on which most computers are based today.
The German Konrad Zuse constructed a machine called Z3 in 1941, which became the first functioning program-controlled,
During the Second World War, those who developed methods
to encrypt the military communication of the enemy, contributed to the development of computers.
In Britain, there was also secretly developed computer called Colossus.
ENIAC, built in the USA was the first general-purpose computer.
Small Scale Experimental Machine, called Baby, was the first stored-program computer, built at the Manchester Victoria University
in 1948 by F. C. Williams, T. Kilburn, and G. Tootill.
Most of the
computer developmental work took place within universities (and Defence Departments) during the first decades.
The further development of computers involved new technical, technological, and science knowledge, and new
inventions based on this knowledge.
The initial vacuum tubes in
computer design were replaced by energy-saving transistors, which were invented in 1947.
next step was the developement of the integrated circuit, the microchip, which led to the invention of microprocessor.
Later on, microchips were followed by introducing fibre optics to
These inventions were applied also to television,
and other technological products.
The first microcomputers were introduced during the 1970s,
with the Intel 4004 being the first single chip microprocessor (1971).
microcomputers were smaller than the old computers and widened the application fields of computers.
Since they were small they were practical to be used at offices and at home.
The first computers were introduced over 30 years earlier than the first microcomputers were introduced.
Universities were leading the development during the first decades of computers.
Private corporations continued the development and often established
their own Research & Development Departments.
continued to play an important role by providing these corporations with well-educated and qualified professionals to do the
research and developmental work.
Computers became also the standard tools for work at universities.
For example, most social scientists became familiar with the Statistical
package for Social Sciences-software (SPSS).
Networks, the internet, and the world wide web
next step was to find out how data could be communicated from one computer to another. This was solved by the idea of computer
Computer networks led to the idea of the internet, which
allowed communication between networks in different locations (first used in 1974).
Sending and receiving electronic
mail became the most commonly used service through the internet.
‘worldwide web’ is a global medium which users can read and write through their computers which are connected
to the internet.
In 1980, Tim Berners-Lee who worked for the European Organization
for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, developed ENQUIRE, which used hypertext to connect each page with every other
page in ENQUIRE.
He then proposed the idea of a large (worldwide) hypertext
database with typed links.
It took time before his idea was appreciated.
He found a collaborator in Robert Cailliau.
By 1990 Berners-Lee had
all the components he needed for a world wide web; HyperText Protocol, Hyper Text Markup language, the web browser, and the
first HTTP server software and web server.
The web became a publicly
accessible service on the internet in 1991.
Thus, it took some 10
years for the idea of Berners-Lee to evolve and for him to find organizations who were interested in applying it.
The early adopters and further developers of the world wide web and were universities,
but soon the idea reached other users, such as businesses and ordinary consumers.
Today we are familiar with numerous applications of the use of the internet and the world wide web; e-commerce,
social media, viewing TV, You Tube video links, Wikipedia, etc.
Internet Society was established in 1992 to assure that the open development, use and evolution of the internet were for the
benefit of all people throughout the world.
In 1993 CERN had agreed that anyone could use the web royalty-free,
and Berners-Lee made his web available to all without asking for patent or royalties.
idealism of the early developers of the internet and the world wide web should not be ignored and forgotten when we consider
the future of the internet.
And now they all
The first mobile phone
with internet connectivity was Nokia 9000 Communicator, launched in Finland in 1996.
DoCO MO in Japan launched the first mobile internet service in 1999.
new versions of mobile phones, the i Phones and Smart Phones have nearly made the ordinary mobile phones redundant.
They have also made the mobile phone companies and people who worked for these
The introduction of the first telephone took place approximately
70 years earlier than the introduction of the first computer.
introduction of the first telephone took place nearly a century earlier than the introduction of the first mobile phone.
The first television was introduced 70 years earlier than the first mobile phone with internet connection.
The introduction of the first microcomputer took place approaximately at the
same time as the first mobile phone was introduced (in 1970s).
The introduction of the world wide web took place
6 years earlier than the introduction of the first mobile phone with internet connection.
the new smart and other phones, specific devices such as tablets combine television, videos, internet, text messages, sound,
talk into a confusing ‘mess’.
What do we do with tech products today?
we can watch TV through the internet. We can also make phone calls and take pictures through it.
We can use a mobile phone to talk or to send text messages to a person at a distance while walking or while
sitting in a bus.
We can take pictures with our mobile phones, access our
e-mails, and send these pictures to our friends in a couple of seconds.
can watch TV online, send e-mails to other parts of the world. We can search for information on the web at any time.
We can download and upload pictures, music, and web links, and let our close and superficial friends
see them on our social media pages.
Not only private individuals
but also organizations and businesses have gained from the developments within information technology.
How do organizations use technological innovation?
Organizations began making use of the computer memory by storing
large amounts of information in a small space.
Computers replaced typewriters.
Computers use software
for accounting, editing, designing, modelling, and for statistical analysis of data.
internet makes it possible for organizations to easily and fast send both staff messages (e-mails), data, interviews, and
images to another location.
The mobile phones (and all the later developments) have
become useful tools for many entrepreneurs and occupational groups, whose work demands mobility (technicians, estate agents,
plumbers, military, and so on).
Instead of having specific office hours for telephone
contacts, they can be reached at any time wherever they are.
The potential drawbacks
earlier changes especially involving computers meant that numerous work duties could be made much faster than before.
Some occupational groups were made completely redundant, and many groups saw
their employment opportunities reduced remarkably.
most occupational groups had to learn to use the new computers and the new computer software (continuously).
This was not always easy, since computers changed also many related activities, which made people confused.
The new systems often demanded collaboration from employee groups
who previously were used to carrying out their duties without collaboration.
the other hand, new occupational groups emerged, such as computer programmers, web designers, web masters, editors, software
developers, and so on (not to mention chat room moderators!).
The future of arts, newspapers, writers
can download music online often without paying a penny.
We can read
stories and gossip online without paying for the information, provided that we have paid our monthly fees to our internet
I’ve learned that real musicians are not anymore
earning enough money to be musicians, because people don’t buy music in the extent they did some decades ago.
When music is available to be downloaded for free, there is no need for people
to pay for it.
Do we wish to get rid of musicians as an ‘occupational
group’ and be happy with musicians whose musician-careers last a week or so?
newspapers have to compete with online information, and most of them offer news and other information on their websites.
We readers merely have to put up with an ever increasing amount of adverts wherever
we go online.
Without those adverts newspapers/news media couldn’t survive.
Do we wish to keep professional journalism alive or is it enough to read on social media what our friends
or celebrities have been up to?
Do we still like to see people earning a living as writers,
Or is it enough to read about the sex-life of our neighbours
or what celebrities ate for breakfast?
like to stress all these developments do not indicate that people have stopped being willing to read.
Aspasia European’s own visitor statistics (latest in October 2013 http://www.aspasiaeuropean.com/id15.html) showed that many visitors spent up to 30 minutes on the site and visited
several pages during a single session.
In other words, they were
interested in reading (or potentially downloading and reading it later) the contents of the different pages.
The problem is that people are not anymore willing to pay for the information they can have access to through
At the same time they are willing to pay for mobile phones
and smart phones, for access to the internet (internet service providers), and for all new computer gadgets.
(Go on; buy something from Aspasia European’s E-SHOP!)
we wish the university students of today to reach their examinations so fast that they don’t have time to read the literature
they are intended to read, but instead are (nearly) encouraged to copy available knowledge-based information online (and signing
it as their own)?
We can also ask what the future of cameras is, and what the future of photo shops is, of bookshops,
of department stores, etc.
I’m afraid I don’t have a simple solution
What about changing the way we earn a living all together?
Why not have resident-incomes (citizen-income is too narrow a definition
today when people constantly move from one country to another)?
could be working 20 hours per month and then do whatever they please during the rest of the time.
Without doubt, many would prefer to work more hours. That’s fine. They could get salaries for the extra
Businesses would do well, since the resident-income was paid by the
state, and the businesses only paid for the extra work people do.
could still continue to access music and reading free of charge since the writers and artist would receive resident-income
for their work.
And what about the hacking of our phones and e-mails?
I think the secret services and national security organization should
develop an international agreement concerning an etiquette they all promised to follow.
should not through away our free and global access to world wide web and the internet, only because some secret services don’t
know what etiquette they should be following!
What is your vision of the future?
Since I don't have any educational qualifications in engineering or technology, I have used Wikipedia, the free online
encyclopedia as a source of information.
I thank Wikipedia and the numerous authors who contributed to the following
The history of television, the history of telephone, the historyof computers, the history of the internet,
the history of the world wide web, the first colour television, the first mobile phone.
Other sources: My own memory
The changing nature of work, 1995 (ed. Ann Howard), Jossey-Bass publishers.
Continue reading OR go to the top of page
It’s show time!
you ever considered the world as a big TV follow-up?
been having that feeling during the last couple of weeks.
been surprising u-turns and other surprising developments to the ongoing dramas of the world.
It may well be that there are no more surprising developments than there used to be, but our frequent access
to new information through the media and the internet, creates such an impression.
frequent access to new information gives us only a faint idea of what is happening, never a background analysis.
Through the media, internet we also get a mixture of information consisting of news, gossip, TV drama, and much more.
Spooks, West Wing, and Dallas
Last month the international community considered the possibility
of getting involved in a military action against the Syrian government.
the Russians persuaded the Syrian President Bashar al Assad to participate in negotiations concerning the use and inspection
of the chemical weapons.
As you surely remember the Syrian government was accused of using against its revolting
To the surprise of many, the Syrian President accepted
But did the idea really come from the Russians? I can reveal that the plan to initiate negotiations
with the Syrian President initially came from some minister in Nordic countries who introduced the idea to the Russians.
This was hardly ever mentioned in the media outside the Nordic countries.
Thus, political life in real world sometimes is like the world in Spooks, an
action-packed follow-up about a team of MI5 agents, who frequently had to change their plans because some other action was
taking place behind the scenes.
As in Spooks, real world countries create temporary alliances
with other countries to initiate new solutions.
In the USA the Obama administration
is trying to reach an agreement with Republicans on the budget without giving up the new but already approved universal health
It sounds like an episode of the West Wing.
I sincerely hope that the rebellious Republicans who do not represent the majority of the Republicans put
the interests of their country ahead of their personal vested interests or their general dislike of the universal health care.
They could learn from Berlusconi, the Italian answer to JR in Dallas.
Berlusconi gave up his blackmailing tactics and promised to support
the Italian Prime Minister on a no-confidence-vote, which he himself had initiated.
in Kenya and in other parts of Africa, jihadist groups keep on reminding people of their existence by killing tens of people
in shopping centres, as they did in Nairobi.
They count on getting
the media attention by picking a shopping centre as a target. There are always plenty of visitors in shopping centres.
The jihadists count that it is easy for the media to report on an attack that
take place in such a place.
People who watch the reporting in TV will identify themselves
with the victims, since the shopping centre looks just like any shopping centre in Europe or in the USA.
Is this reality TV? When is it time for us to vote some people in and some out?
The Mill and Montalbano
The host of the next football World Cup is Qatar, which
is in many ratings the richest country in the world.
There are over a
million foreign construction workers in Qatar and many of them are building houses for the World Cup.
Tens of workers have died recently, and most of the migrant workers live and work in conditions that are condemned
by the International Labour Organization.
They often work 15 hours
daily in extreme heat without access to water, without health care or health insurance, and sometimes they don’t get
paid at all.
The migrant workers cannot escape since at arrival the
firms collect their passports and ID cards.
To me this sounds like
the Mill, a British TV drama about the life of the factory workers and owners in the early days of industrialism.
The African migrants, who died when their boat caught fire, capsized, and sank
outside Lampedusa, Italy, remind us that although Europe is still suffering of recession, there are people who hope to come
to Europe to have a better life.
The Sicilian detective drama Montalbano often solves crimes
involving killed illegal migrants.
Yet, there are real life events that are difficult to
put in a TV follow-up context.
The killing of an anti-racist rapper in Greece (very likely)
by a member of the fascist organization Golden Dawn is one of them.
attack of a far-right newspaper on the Labour Leader Ed Miliband by attempting to damage his father’s reputation
is so offensive and distasteful that only a TV follow-up of very poor quality would show something similar.
Attention span – deep thinking
Teachers already complain that the attention span of the students
is getting shorter.
They say that students have difficulties in concentrating in tasks that take a bit longer
for this is said to be the use of all the new technological products and the internet.
it true? Most activities on smart phones and mobile phones and on the internet demand that our brain concentrates on short-term
We click, type www-addresses, click, and click.
Such activities do not demand any deeper thinking. Therefore, some have claimed that our ability to deeper thinking is reducing.
However, there is also some evidence that people who use the internet
to read articles (longer than 100 words) tend to read the complete article instead of stopping midway.
Thus, internet and the available information online as such do not prevent us from thinking deep.
My main concern is not online activities as such or the risk of over-stimulating
My concern is the fact that every time we go online, check
our e-mails, messages on social media, we do not only see the messages we are looking for, but we are exposed to tens of pieces
of information before we reach our target, our e-mail box.
There are adverts,
facts, news, new and old gossip about celebrities, TV dramas...
You might argue
that it doesn’t matter, since you don’t have to read them. That is true.
Even if you don’t read all the available information, you might
still store in your memory some of it.How can we store information
in our memory without reading that information?
We do not only register and store in memory information
we consciously focus on, but we also store in information we have perceived subliminally.
By subliminal, I don't mean hidden messages within (exposed to us for 1/5 of a second) the messages we consciously
I mean the subliminal observation of the information in adverts and gossip which are visible to us while
we are on our way to our e-mail box or social media site.
Have you noticed
how Google, Yahoo, and everyone else place adverts, gossip, and news side by side?
you consciously focus on the news on a website, you will also see some gossip. Thus, you may think you only read the news, but
your brain also registered some of the gossip.
Often these kinds of information
sites try to imitate real media by offering something for everyone, including advice on health, diet, exercise, and so on.
Unfortunately, those who write the articles do not have any special
knowledge of the topics they write about.
The search engine and
other online masters do not invest in presenting real knowledge-based information.
waste time on reading superficial health care articles which at worst give misleading or incorrect information.
Perhaps those who provide us with this kind of information should consider accepting some form of social responsibility.
A solution might be to direct people to websites belonging to health authorities, for example.
All the information we noticed intentionally and unintentionally is categorised
and ‘mixed up’ in our brains (often while we sleep!).
it may happen that we see a real life political event as an episode of a TV follow-up.
I think this is a topic that needs to be researched and
investigated more deeply. Think about it this October!
How can we preserve our ability to deep thinking?
How can we preserve
our ability to look for and reflect upon information before making judgments and acting.
We cannot do
it if our main task becomes to 'vote' on social media for or against some issue without (access to or using available)
How can we preserve our ability to distinguish between (online) information that could be
defined as 'news', 'facts', and (online) information that could be defined as 'gossip' or fiction?
And I thought it was finally time to move on
I had been looking forward to September, since September usually
feels like a new beginning or a new chapter to me.
But this time
it feels more like reliving or watching old news.
We are going round in circles
recent developments in Syria, potential military intervention, and concerns about how civil liberties may collide with national
security sound very familiar.
We seem to be dragging along the outcomes and consequences
of wrong choices made some years ago.
The Arab Spring has not turned
into the triumph of democracy we all had dared to hope.
Aspasia European wrote about the Arab Spring in Just a
Thought in February 2011 and March 2012(see, Old JaT-page).
Syria is in
deep trouble, and none of the other countries involved in the Arab Spring are doing better. Not even Egypt,
the poster boy of the Arab Spring, is doing well.
The reasons for the Arab
Spring to happen and the further developments of it have both cultural-historical as well local and international political,
economic, and corporative backgrounds.
That’s why it is sometimes
difficult for a Westerner (and why not also for local people) to make sense out of the developments.
When we don’t have any in-depth knowledge of a situation we tend to polarise between ‘good and
evil’, between the ‘good guys and bad guys’.
if we judge The President Bashar al Assad as the villain of Syria, we tend to assume and expect the opposition to consist
If we judge the ex-President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim
Brotherhood as the villains who ruined the Arab Spring in Egypt (and in Libya), we tend to expect the protesting opposition
who demanded the President to resign, to stand for everything good.
comparing some groups or events in any of the Arab countries with (historical) groups or events in our own country may give
us understanding the complexities of the situation.
A good example
of this was given by Revd Giles Fraser in his column ‘Loose Canon’ in the Guardian newspaper on 31/08/2013.
He thought that there were similarities between the Muslim Brotherhood and the
religious Levellers, who pressed Oliver Cromwell to establish a democratic state with universal male suffrage.
feared this radical, religious group, and many of them were hanged or shot.
Levellers, and the Muslim Brotherhood, are against an out-of-touch king, both are religious puritans, and powered by grassroots
activism, and both are unsound on women, wrote Fraser.
Give peace a chance
Now that it
seems evident that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, we are once again faced with the question of a potential military
involvement in the region.
Chemical weapons were used in both First and Second World
Wars, and the USA used napalm in Vietnam.
Many countries have signed
the Chemical Weapons Convention, and agreed to destroy their chemical weapons stockpile.
some countries, such as Egypt and Syria, have not signed it yet.
we have enough ‘intelligence’ to judge who has been using chemical weapons?
an attack on Syria is planned, what kind of an attack is suitable or possible? Whose permission do countries need to get involved
in the conflict?
Doesn’t that sound depressingly familiar?
I wasn’t at all surprised when the British Parliament decided to say no
to the Prime Minister’s suggestion of potential military involvement in the conflict.
The reasoning of the Prime Minister sounded too similar to the reasoning of PM Tony Blair some tens yours
What worries me, though, is the fact that hardly anyone is trying
to or suggesting that we should try to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Syria.
Have we all lost our faith in peaceful solutions?
only world leader, who has suggested that dialogue and negotiation provide the right means to finding a solution in the Syrian
conflict, is Pope Francis.
During the last decades the language of international
conflict resolution has become more aggressive and military interventions have received more attention and support than any
To some extent this has to do with the weakened role of
the United Nations.
Over the decades the UN’s reputation as inefficient and corrupt has diminished its importance
in the international arena.
There are, of course, numerous reasons for recent developments,
but I would like to add one that is seldom discussed: namely the expanded use of marketing language.
The language of peaceful solutions is soft and avoids expressing anything as non-negotiable standpoints.
The language of marketing is rational or aggressive, and it aims to convince
us of the superiority of a single solution.
We have seen the marketing
language take over ‘old-fashioned’ political language, the language used in social and health care, and in education
and academic discourse.
In health and social care of today everything is measured
in terms of performance.
Compassion, dedication, and empathy towards patients and
clients have been left to speeches.
They are seldom entered in
the economic calculations of the performance.
Yet, it would be possible
to add them to the equation in form of measures of time and money.
refers to the amount of time a person is supposed to spend with patients. Money refers to the amount of money that is reserved
to employ health care professionals.
But, of course, adding them
to the equation would mean that more money was spent on health and social care.
The problem is that every
specific type of language is better adjusted to certain values, leading to the neglect of other values.
It also directs us towards discussing certain aspects of topics and to ignoring other aspects of them.
In peace negotiations the aim is to reach a meeting of minds.
marketing language the aim is to win, and to impose our own values on the other people.
and empathy might not be useful in peace negotiations, but insightfulness is.
must be ready to admit that perhaps we have not listened properly to the opponent.
other words, concerning the Syrian conflict, perhaps it would be wise to include the President Bashar al Assad in the negotiations,
Peace negotiations should, of course, be initiated by the international community, by the UN.
How much control over our lives do we
When the Guardian newspaper published secret documents
and information they received from Mr Snowden, we learned that millions of innocent citizens and organizations are potentially
monitored by national intelligence agencies.
It means that our e-mails,
our phone calls, internet searches, and text messages can be intercepted, collected, and analysed by intelligence agencies.
Why is all this done? It is done just in case some of us showed to be terrorists
or dangerous to national security.
Most of us weren’t surprised. It is as if we assumed
that the monitoring that started after 9/11 had become a permanent feature of the activities of the intelligence agencies.
I must say that the whole plan doesn’t sound very cost-effective. At best
one of every million e-mails monitored consists of some relevant information.
on we learned that an associate to the Guardian had been detained for nine hours at the airport by the police.
They had confiscated his computer, claiming that it consisted of information relevant for national security.
They also claimed that it was urgent to get access to them.
had already shared information from the leaked documents with American news organisations and the government knew it.
Thus, the urgent need to destroy the material in the possession of the Guardian
newspaper was exaggerated.
In the USA the first amendment of the constitution guarantees
that the state cannot restrain the press. Journalists cannot be prosecuted for doing their job.
In other words, if the US government can tolerate that a newspaper has access to sensitive material, why shouldn’t
we expect the same from the British government?
Today we know that in
addition to the intelligence agencies monitoring us, our shopping habits, and our internet habits are monitored by banks,
by social media organizations, by advertisers, and our movements are monitored by surveillance cameras.
We are truly living in a Big Brother society, and we hardly react.
Why should we be bothered by all this?
My fear is that since we know our e-mails and messages are potentially monitored, we may consciously
begin to censor the thoughts and opinions we express in e-mails, text messages, and in social media.
As an outcome of this, we may also begin to censor the thoughts we allow us to ‘think’.
This will happen subconsciously, and thus without conscious awareness.
When that happens no one needs to worry about the conflict between national security
and civil liberties anymore!
Hopefully, this potential future scenario will never happen.
Let’s be thankful that we have such brave newspapers as the
Guardian daring to publish challenging information.
We may not be brave enough to become whistleblowers, but we can at least support the Guardian
by buying the newspaper now and then.
And now, could we, please,
There is Political Party Conference season coming up in the UK. There are soon national elections in
Continue reading or go to the top of page
is for everyone
August is the month when many are having a break from their usual routines.
People are having holidays near home or far away from home.
Did you know that those who stay at home during
their holidays are least likely to feel relaxed and refreshed after the holidays?
Those who travel abroad or far
away from home (or away from familiar circumstances) are most likely to feel relaxed and refreshed after the holidays.
I hope eveyone can get a holiday they need; be it a holiday full of fun and entertainment, a holiday full of
sunshine and beaches, a holiday full of calm and peace of mind.
I wish you will read Just a Thought in June and July 2013, and reflect upon how
you yourself tend to react when under pressure.
It is easy to say that being one-sided, subjective, or prejudiced is
a problem for people who lack self-control.
At the same time we tend to have a high opinion
of our own ability to control our actions and thoughts.
If someone is sad and moody, we say 'cheer up',
and expect it to help.
If someone is desperate, having money worries or health problems, we say 'pull
yourself together' and expect him or her to sort out the problems.
Yet, we are fooling ourselves.
We may sincerely believe that we have pushed aside our personal worries when dealing with duties at work.
can, at best, carry out repetitive, routine duties at work. However, we may make mistakes even when dealing with
And, further, if our work duties demand problem solving, seeking information outside the
immediate problem field, our mental resources have been reduced by the problems and worries that have preoccupied
It is important that decision-makers understand that people who work under stress and pressure may make
It doesn't matter whether you are a construction site worker, a nurse, a secretary, a civil servant,
a political leader or a leader of a corporation.
Worries and stress of any kind will have an impact
on you and your ability
We are all humans and we have human limitations.
Now, go and have your holidays and enjoy the summer!
Night is the Mother of Day,
Chaos lives next
to God, PART 2
Last month we established that Europe is in a confusing state socially
Europeans face uncertain times, and the outcome of any efforts to get economy growing and
unemployment down is hard to predict.
We also established
that human beings have peculiar ways of reacting in threatening or confusing circumstances.
Everything that is debated today in Europe
on the political arena, in the media and their online comment-pages, as well as in social media, reflects human
reactions. We have began to think of Europe as consisting of two separate regions; South and North.
This article is mainly about the psychology of human reactions applied to today's
The ingroups and outgroups of Europe
aspect of human reactions refers to our need to identify with specific groups and with the values we ascribe to
Characteristic for such group thinking is that it automatically creates also an 'outgroup'
for those who are excluded from our 'ingroup'.
The ingroup vs. outgroup-division is evident
in the following groups created in European minds during the recent years:
Northern Europe of today, South is often seen and thought of as poor, lazy, and corrupt.
In the Southern
Europe of today, North is often seen and thought of as wealthy and gaining from the current misery of the South.
Within individual countries division has been created between those who are in
employment and those who are out of work.
The values attached to the employed and unemployed people create
a division between ‘hard working people’ and ‘benefit cheaters’.
Division has been created also between honest tax payers and dishonest tax avoiders.
has been created between 'us' and migrants practically in every European country.
Migrants are accused
of taking 'our' jobs, and at the same time (somewhat irrationally) of living on benefits.
Such divisions reflect only to certain extent ‘numerical facts’.
For example, it is true that Southern European countries are currently
in a worse economic and social condition than Northern European countries.
It is also true that corruption
is more widespread in many Southern European countries than in Northern European countries.
It is true that some wealthy individuals and large corporations have been avoiding paying taxes or acted in
a tax evasive manner.
It is true that some poorer individuals have falsely claimed
disability or housing benefits.
However, dividing people
into ingroups and outgroups is not about numerical facts.
The divisions are based on beliefs and convictions indicating
that some people have lower moral standards than other people.
to such quasi-moral statements is also that they have quite incorrectly been attached to groups, whose members have
something else in common than dubious morals.
and disabled people have been grouped together to form the group of ‘benefit cheaters’, although only a small
fraction of all benefit claimants have committed benefit fraud.
and corporate leaders have been grouped together to form the group of ‘tax avoiders’, although a relatively small
number of leaders have done so.
Southern Europeans are assumed to be corrupt and lazy, although the majority
of them protest against corruption among their leaders, and struggle to find work.
Northern Europeans are assumed
to be wealthy, although an average Northerner is not wealthy at all. They certainly don't gain from the
miseries of the South.
In recent political-ideological debates, the supporters of austerity policy and
the supporters of economic growth-policy, have tried to gain support for their argument by using social ingroup vs. outgroup
values to back their claims.
Why do we create
It is easy to forget that human beings are social beings.
This applies even to those who regard themselves as individualists.
need to be a part of something, be it a social group, occupational group, political group, cultural subgroup, neighbourhood
group, all-European group, or any other group.
Henri Tajfel’s studies
in social identity (1982) showed that people tended to be attached to and feel loyalty to ‘their’ groups, even
if the groups were created only for temporary purposes and consisted of randomly selected members.
probably comes closest to an 'explanation' for why so many (young) people took part in the completely
irrational riots in London and in other parts of Britain in the summer of 2011.
tend to divide people into those who belong to ‘our group’, and those who belong to an out-group.
We may identify ourselves with a nation, a social group, an occupational group, or any other group, and ascribe
positive characteristics to our group.
We tend to assume that persons
belonging to our group are more similar to us than they really are.
others may also ascribe us a group identity against our wishes.
We are not happy with a group membership, if the
image of this group in society is mainly negative, such as the 'benefit cheaters'.
Divisions may be created for various reasons.
As mentioned earlier, the group defined as 'the outgroup' must be linked to some negative behaviour.
There should also be some 'real' facts in the background to give some credibility to our perception
of the group.
For example, when the government in Britain decided to
carry out austerity policy in order to reduce public debt, it had to get people behind the policy.
so by appealing to values which could be shared by targeted people.
to welfare had to be supported especially by those who were not benefit claimants.
Therefore, the myth of widespread cheating among benefit claimants was established.
The claim was that hard working families shouldn't be expected to fund benefit cheaters.
Among the population, being part of the ingroup consisting of ‘hard
working families’ was naturally desirable.
Being part of the outgroup consisting of ‘benefit cheaters’
was not desirable.
Yet, our need to identify ourselves with specific groups, does not reveal
how we select our groups and values.
In other word, we have to understand why certain
values and groups are more desirable to us than other values and groups.
The British government needed to appeal to values that were shared
by Britons in order to gain the support of the majority of people. It was particularly appreciated
by the Puritans and other Protestants some centuries ago.
Being hard working has traditionally been a
positive value in Britain for a long time.
Idleness and being out of work were regarded as sins
by many Protestant faith communities.
Only those who were ill or 'simple' were regarded as poor who deserved
Thus, a division was created between deserving and undeserving poor (Furnham, 1990, see also Protestant
Ethic-page at Aspasia European).
Protestantism was established already in the 16th century, and the original meaning
of protestant ethic was forgotten a long time ago.
in our secular world people don’t associate these values with faith communities of the past, but regard them as their
Being out of work is not anymore regarded as a sin in any religious meaning, but it has become a sin towards society.
If we look at the history of the countries which have been supporting austerity policy, we
find that most of them have a Protestant past.
I would say that the 'hard working protestant'
became the archetype of Western Capitalism.
If we use this archetype as a starting point, it is not so surprising
that Northern Europeans became convinced that the economically suffering Southern Europeans possessed the (opposite to
hard working people) characteristics of being lazy and corrupt.
The counter-position of the South is equally
interesting. Those who demanded austerity measures to be applied to Southern European countries were defined as Troika.
Troika represented a distant outgroup with power. It consisted of the European Commission, the European
Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.
The claim was that the Troika and Northern Europe aimed to gain
from the little people of the Southern Europe.
Angela Merkel particularly became the symbol of the evil intentions
of the Troika and the North.
The archetype emerging here could be any female image in Greek
Pandora, for example, was the woman who opened a jar and released all the evil of humanity. Only
hope was left inside the jar...
Individuals in large numbers may share the same collective values,
but it is unlikely that everyone in society agrees upon the same values without having some reservations.
Unfortunately, it is not unusual for people to feel that there is social pressure to share certain opinions.
Some individuals may have a natural disposition towards rejecting group pressure, but most of us will feel it.
Theodor Adorno (1950) was interested in finding out how some people became fascists or racists. His studies influenced
Social Psychology over several decades.
Adorno applied a psychoanalytical approach to study authoritarianism
and what characterized an authoritarian personality.
His conclusion was that persons with rather rigid
and formal upbringing tended to idealize their parents, and later on other authorites.
Characteristic to such
personality was that parents and other authority figures were seen as nearly perfect beings who should be obeyed.
Since all criticism or hostile feelings
towards authority fugures were repressed, feelings of anger and hostility were projected onto other persons and groups.
Thefore, authoritarian personalities developed prejudiced attitudes towards outsiders, towards those who did
not 'fit in'.
More recent studies have established that people may become racists and facists without
an authoritarian personality. They also suggested that authoritarian personality may be a product of specific historic episodes.
However, I would say that our current mental climate encourages as much the developent of authoritarian personalities
as the 1920es and 1930es did.
Another researcher who was interested in our trust in
authorities, was Stanley Milgram.
Milgram in his classical studies in obedience to authority
(1974) was interested in knowing how far people were willing to go under social pressure.
these studies, the participants were given the task of making another person learn something.
Whenever the learner made an error, the participants were instructed to administer him an electric shock.
Every new mistake led to an increase in the voltage.
The learner didn't, of course, receive any electric shocks, but was only pretending to receive them.
The learner’s reactions became more and more dramatic, with agonized screams
after 225 volts, and at the highest level he became silent, as if unconscious or dead.
the participants hesitated to administer the electric shocks, they were told that the experiment required that they continued.
Many participants obeyed the research leader, the authority figure,
and continued to the highest voltage level.
that when we feel pressured by an authority figure (in this case a scientist at a prestigious University), we may
act in a manner that we otherwise would regard as unethical.
Yet, there are always people who do not obey authorities
or conform to social pressure.
Perry London (1970) studied what characterized persons who had resisted social
pressure to conform in Germany during the Second World War.
He interviewed persons who had risked their own lives
to save Jews.
He found that these persons shared certain features:
they were high risk-takers,
they strongly identified with one of their parents who expressed strong moral standpoints, and
did not identify particularly with the mainstream German society of the time.
We often talk about conformists and non-conformist, but such a
division is too general to tell anything about conformity, stated Maria Jahoda (1959).
She suggested that
there may be different reasons for a person to conform to social pressure.
To begin with, a person may conform
to the group, if the values and beliefs of the group correspond to the values and beliefs of the person.
there will be no discrepancy or conflict between internalized values and external behaviour.
A person may conform
to a group, because he or she has no strong beliefs about the topic, and it is in the interest of the person to do so.
A person may conform to social pressure and obey, although he or she may internally reject the group's values.
Thus, there is a conflict between internalized values and external behaviour.
A person may conform
because he or she has no strong convictions about the topic, and at the same time will not become committed
to the shared values.
There are plenty of other definitions of conformists and non-conformists, but the main point
to remember is that there are different reasons and different consequences of conformity.
Today we have numerous
examples of non-conformity in form of whistle-blowers.
They appear both in local workplaces and in the international
Perhaps the difficult task for us is to judge when we should and should not conform to social
When is conformity harmful to us and to society?
Are we able to identify when our world
has changed so much that an indifferent attitude towards conformity becomes comparable to a crime?
These are difficult
questions, and they demand a separate topic.
Psychological research says very little about change.
The only change
that has been established in research is the one stating that receiving correct and convincing information may make us change
When it comes to conflicting groups and nations, I personally believe that true change does
not consist of one side winning the argument.
The change takes place in the minds of both sides. In the best
case the change is a synthesis.
C. G. Jung (1990) used a somewhat similar model to describe how a dynamic change
took place in the mind of an individual, between a conscious attitude and its counter-position in the unconscious (not
yet a conscious attitude).
You can read more about this and Jung's theory on Inner Life-page at Aspasia
Today we can say that European leaders are trying to solve the conflicts between 'North and South'.
Many of those, who proposed austerity, admit today that economic growth does not come automatically, but
need to be invested in.
Indeed, some go as far as stating that too much austerity prevents economic growth.
Those Southerners who used to one-sidedly accuse Troika and Northern Europe for plotting against South, are beginning
to admit that their own corrupt administrations need to be reformed.
We can see now that Chaos truly lives
next to God.
Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. J. And Sanford, R. N. (1950). The authoritarian personality.
New York: Harper and Row.
Furnham, A. (1990). The Protestant Work Ethic. The Psychology
of Work-Related Beliefs and Behaviours. London: Whurr Publishers.
M. (1959). Conformity and independence. Human Relations, 12, 99-120.
C. G. (1991). The structure and dynamics of the psyche (2nd edition). CW of C. G. Jung, (Vol. 8). London: Routledge
& Kegan Paul.
London, P. (1970). The rescuers: Motivational hypothesis
about Christians who saved Jews from the Nazis. In J. Maccauley and L. Berkowitz (eds.) Altruism and helping behaviour. New
York: Academic Press.
Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority. New York:
Harper and Row
Tajfel, H. Social identity and intergroup relations. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Continue reading or go to the top of the page
Night is the Mother of Day,
Chaos lives next to God.
Changing image of Europe
on this planet is becoming more and more confusing. It is becoming unbearably confusing, especially, for us Europeans.
There are people in other parts of the world who already have become used
to living in chaotic and unpredictable circumstances for long periods of time due to poverty and armed conflicts, but not
in Europe, except for the last couple of years.
In Western European countries there
are three, four generations, who have not personally experienced war on their own soil.
Most Western European countries have been socially and economically relatively steady and secure for decades.
People became so used to economic growth that it was assumed that economic growth
would continue endlessly.
However, during the last 5 years, especially, we have
been forced to reconsider our belief in endless economic growth.
have seen a fall in economic activities, a fall in household incomes, and a fall in employment rates.
Unemployment in the EU
the Eurostat (EU statistics) over 26 million men and women were unemployed in the EU-27 in April 2013.
This corresponds to 11 percent of the work force in the EU-27 and 12.2 percent in the Euro area (in 2000 the
rate was 9 % in the EU-27).
In the USA unemployment rate was 7.5 percent in April
In 2013 the lowest unemployment rate was in Austria (4.9%), and highest
in Greece (27%), Spain (26.8%), and Portugal (17.8).
rates are particularly high among young people.
In April 2013 around 5.6 million young persons (under 25) were
unemployed in the EU-27.
It corresponds to 23.5% of young persons in the EU-27.
The worst situation for young people is in Greece and Spain, where
youth unemployment is over 50 percent.
Austerity-no economic growth
During the last years we have been told that we have been living beyond our means,
and on borrowed money.
Austerity became the new ‘mantra’. Unfortunately, austerity has not led to
Many would add that austerity prevents economic growth during recession.
We have seen a rise in social and economic inequality, a rise in social unrest, and in poverty.
In the middle of all this, we have also become aware of the reckless behaviour
of (many) investment bankers, and dishonest behaviour of (many) politicians.
the weather conditions have become more unpredictable thanks to climate change.
Storms, floods, and cold and heat
waves seem to attack Europe more frequently now.
As a response to the confusing
times we have seen a rise in the support of protest parties and far-right political parties in national and local elections
(and in the EP elections).
Today any social scientist or historian could
say ‘I told you so’
During the 20th
century and early years of 21th century thousands of books and articles have been written about the consequences of poverty,
corruption, and social and economic inequality on the human mind and reasoning.
creates social tension in societies and between individual members of families.
is also related to ill-health, both physical and mental ill-health.
is related to ill-health, hopelessness, and social isolation.
obvious positive contribution of work and employment is, of course, having an income.
However, work and employment offer other advantages as well. They give everyday life structure and meaning.
A workplace means being part of a group and society. Work means doing
something for a shared purpose.
You can easily find historical, sociological, social psychological, and some depth
psychological support for the above mentioned claims.
A recent Debating Europe/ Gallup Survey among young
people in Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the UK indicated that today's young people are short of positive
They do not expect to find work they will enjoy doing. They do not expect to have as secure
job or pension, or to have as many opportunities, as their parents' generation had.
The European youth expressed
negative views on most of the questions asked in the survey.
Hearing about global events vs. experiencing local events
Hitherto I haven’t mentioned events on the global scene. That was done on purpose.
We know that the economic recession is nearly global. We know that the banking crisis is nearly global.
We know that unemployment rates are high also in other parts of the world.
We know that everywhere in the world there are dishonest politicians.
We know all that because we have heard newsreaders mention them, we have read
about such events in the newspapers and online.
But we haven’t experienced
them personally or in our own surroundings.
What has happened during
the last years in Europe, in our own communities, is something we can ‘see and feel’ personally.
We have experienced prices going up and (real) incomes coming down.
have experienced shops and other businesses closing in our neighbourhood.
have experienced employment and social security being dismantled.
have experienced and witnessed services getting worse or being cut down.
every day we have witnessed the persistent presence or potentially changing nature of some crisis; the Euro-zone crisis, economic
crisis, debts crisis.
All this has reduced our ability to think straight, to
see the big picture.
How do we humans react?
We have some peculiar ways of reacting to
confusing events and developments.
I'm thinking of all people; well-educated and uneducated people, 'ordinary'
and powerful people in decision-making positions, such as politicians.
When people cannot trust their politicians, when they witness how bankers act only in self-interest and ignore
the interests of ordinary customers, they turn against the elites.
circumstances, it is difficult to predict any future outcomes to current problems.
In current confusing circumstances, it is difficult to
comprehend the complex relationships between numerous visible and hidden factors.
we instinctively try to create order out of chaos. Unfortunately, complex
problems do not have simple solutions.
We create a false order,
or a false cause and consequence relationship between some visible but secondary factors because it seems less frightening
than admitting that we have to continue to live in uncertainty.
When the financial
resources are scarce, the future looks bleak and hopeless, and no jobs are ‘safe’, people turn to leaders who
When we fear rather than look forward to the future, we tend to look for some individuals or
groups to blame for our misfortunes or the misfortunes of our country.
Next month there will be more about the way we react in confusing times.
How does psychology help us understand current Europe and Europeans?
PS. 'Night is the Mother of Day, Chaos lives next to God' is from a poem
(Friend in desolution moment) by Erik Johan Stagnelius (1793-1823). They are also the titles of 2 playes (Night is the Mother
of Day, and Chaos lives next to God) by Lars Noren.
Continue reading or return to the top of page
May Day is for demonstrations and celebrations
is and used to be the month that begins with May Day demonstrations and celebrations.
This year May Day demonstrations were held all over the world.
poor working conditions
There were demonstrations
against austerity measures, and especially against youth unemployment in many European countries.
There were demonstrations in many Asian countries for better wages and working conditions.
In Dhaka, Bangladesh there were demonstrations against poor working conditions, and anger was directed towards
the owners of the building that collapsed recently.
called Rana Plaza, housed several clothing factories. More than 400 people were killed when the building collapsed.
This terrible event was noticed in the media mainly because
many of the factories in the collapsed building produce clothes to European retailers.
The history of May Day demonstrations
May Day demonstrations did not begin in the 21th century, but much earlier.
The Haymarket Affair
all started when a group of people were gathered at Haymarket Square in Chicago during a general strike for eight-hour working
day in May 4th 1886.
As the police was trying
to disperse the assembly, someone threw a dynamite bomb at the police. A policeman died immediately and several were wounded
The police opened fire at the gathering and plenty
of people were killed and wounded.
It is not known how many were killed or wounded since people were too afraid
to seek help.
In the following trial seven of the eight defendants
were sentenced to death by hanging and one to 15 years in prison.
It remained unknown who threw the
bomb. None of the defendants did it.
Day for eight-hour working day
It is generally
believed that the Haymarket affair gave rise to workers’ May Day demonstrations.
In the Second Socialist International’s meeting in Paris in 1889, a proposal was made for an international
demonstration on the anniversary of the Haymarket affair.
1891 May Day demonstration was formally recognized as an annual event in the second congress of the Second Socialist International.
The early May Day demonstrations were mainly for eight-hour
working day and for universal peace.
However, we should keep in mind that the eight-hour working day was for a
six-day working week!
In many countries labour movement sought to make
May Day a public holiday, which it also became in numerous countries.
did not become a holiday, for example, in the UK. Instead, demonstrations are held on the first Monday of May, which is a
We need actions
for the future
To judge from the
demonstration, especially in many Asian countries, the demonstrations of the 21th century are still about decent wages and
decent working conditions.
Poor wages and unacceptable and unsafe working conditions
are characteristic to many Asian countries which provide us Europeans and other Westerners with inexpensive clothing.
In Europe the situation is not much better.
shortage of ‘real’ full-time employment have forced many people to take on short-term, low-pay jobs, with no or
minimal social security.
Characteristic to such temporary work is also that
it is often done in poor working conditions.
politicians, private persons, and businesses wish to get rid of limiting regulations related to working life.
However, there are also politicians, employers, and private individuals who see the value and importance
of work related regulations.
Thus, today there is no similar division line between
‘owners and workers’ as there used to be.
It means that we cannot rely on obvious signs or signs reminding
us of old 'wrongs' for what we regard as unacceptable.
We have to rely on our own senses and on our own
In Europe we have to consider carefully whether
we approve or disapprove of seemingly innocent propositions to free employers of health and safety regulations, or to free
them of paying minimum wages to workers.
Accidents at work cost more for businesses than is usually believed (see,
We have to consider carefully whether we approve
or disapprove of propositions to free builders from many building regulations.
May Day celebrations
many countries May Day is also a general day to have fun and to celebrate the coming Summer.
In pagan times May Day was the day to celebrate the first day of Summer, to celebrate Flora, and to dance
around the maypole.
When Europe became Christianized, the pagan celebrations
lost their religious meaning, and instead they became ordinary secular days of celebration.
I don’t see any contradiction in participating in (or appreciating) May Day demonstrations for better
working conditions and for better world, and then having fun by participating in the celebrations of the first day
HAPPY MAY EVERYONE!
Information stored in my memory for a very long time ago
New leaders, old problems
Our world is not in a better shape than it used to be.
Western economies are struggling, Cyprus being the latest country becoming nearly bankrupt.
There is not much positive to comment on the ‘Arab Spring’. Extremist groups are trying to use
the confusion and uncertainty to gain power by violent means.
So, what can
we do? We can try look to every possible situation where we see a glimpse of hope.
have witnessed many changes in world leadership during the last months. Of course, everyone is a bit curious of what kind
of changes the new leaders might introduce.
Some of us even dare to
hope for some positive changes.
We turn to leaders, preferably charismatic leaders, during times of confusion.
We hope that ‘someone’ would come and sort things out.
Unfortunately, the charisma
can be superficial, as we have seen in many elections in Europe recently.
Let’s have a look
at some of the recent new leaders.
of China got a new President recently, Xi Jinping in March 2013.
Roman Catholic Church elected a new Pope, Pope Francis, also in March 2013.
The new President of the People’s Republic of China
Xi Jinping was born in 1953 and he is an experienced politician.
China is a great power these days, and we should keep an eye on the new leader.
has called for a renewed campaign against corruption, continued market economic reforms, and also an open approach to governance.
Such ambitions are most welcome. I sincerely hope that he also reflects
upon the question of what kind of an environment he wishes the next generation of Chinese to inherit.
As if these challenges weren’t enough, new external challenges have been created by the leader of North
Korea, Kim Jong-un.
Kim Jong-un was born in 1983 and, thus, is a very young
leader. Unfortunately, he is also a very inexperienced leader.
of being both young and inexperienced makes him a dangerous leader.
Jong-un is trying to win the support of his military leaders and the entire population by using big words about being in war
with South Korea, and by expressing plans to test nuclear weapons.
best chances to calm him down has the new President of China, Xi Jinping.
The rest of the world wishes him good
luck. We don't need a new Cold War.
Pope of the Catholic world
The new Pope
comes from Argentina, and he is the first Pope from America. He is also the first Jesuit Pope.
The Society of Jesus was established by Ignatius Loyola during the 16th century as support to the
Pope, and to defend the Catholic Church against Protestant reformers.
sure most Jesuits are pleased to see at last one of their own as a pope.
Mario Bergoglio decided to use the name of Francis as his Pope name after St Francis of Assisi.
No, he is not an Austerity-Pope
Since St Francis dedicated his life to poverty, some people have tried to launch him as the Austerity-Pope
is true that he prefers a modest lifestyle, and he cares for the poor particularly, but that does not make him an austerity-Pope.
St Francis of Assisi dedicated his life to poverty, but I assure you, he was
not born in poverty.
His father was a prosperous merchant, and he lived the life of a wealthy young man.
Thus, he did not need to ‘get on his bike to look for work’ as the
British Government likes to define the ‘deserving poor’.
Francis had a vision which made him wish to leave worldly activities.
a pilgrimage he joined the poor who were begging outside the Churches.
He was so moved by this experience that
he decided to live in poverty. He established the Franciscan Order.
the Pope Francis nor St Francis divided the poor into deserving and undeserving poor as is so usual nowadays.
Most faith communities avoid judging poor people. Instead, they try to help them.
Pope Francis is also said to have good relationships with other faith communities, and he is particularly
good at building bridges between people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and faith.
well he manages to deal with the corruption within the Roman Catholic Church and with the scandals related to priests and
their misuse of trust when working with children, remain question marks.
wish the Pope success in all the challenges he has to face.
Margaret Thatcher (1925 -2013)Margaret
Thatcher was one of Britain’s most famous Prime Ministers. She died in April 2013 at the age of 87.
became the leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and led Conservatives to an election win in 1979.
also led the party to two more election victories in 1983 and 1987.
Her government represented economic liberalism.
According to her economic liberalism the role of state should be reduced and the markets freed of most regulations.
The responsibility was put on individuals instead of putting it on state.
made huge cuts to public spending, and unemployment reached its highest level since the 1930s following her economic reforms.
The introduction of the Community Charge (called Poll Tax by many) is by many seen as an important reason for
There were growing internal conflicts within the Conservative Party, and she resigned in 1990.
When she became Prime Minister, Britain was in recession, and the old industries declining.
Thus, people were looking for a strong leader.
Without doubt, she was a strong,
uncompromising leader, and with very strong views.
Her convictions were so strong that she couldn’t change
her mind about anything.
The sense of humour often addressed to her, was not truly hers, but mainly
came from the pens of her speech writers.
Now that Margaret Thatcher is dead, she
seems to divide the nation as much as she did when she was Prime Minister.
There have been plenty of tributes paid to her in the media, but plenty of demonstrations
have been held as well. Leaders need good advisers
As I wrote earlier, we look for strong charismatic leaders, when times are harsh and confusing.
what we tend to overlook is the fact that no leader can be great on his or her own.
A leader needs good and knowledgeable
advisers, good co-workers, loyal supporters, good speech writers, and spin doctors.
needs to listen to fellow leaders and people in general.
However, this is not the same
as saying that a leader must always follow the opinions of a majority.
the majority holds an opinion that is very superficial and ill-informed.
In such a case, a true leader must show
that he or she is not wavering in front of ill-informed opinions.
We can only hope
that all new world leaders have good advisers and co-workers.
To the top of page
The very first JUST A THOUGHT
was published in MAY 2010
Read old Just a Thought articles between 2010 and March 2013 on
To Old Just a Thought-page
THREE YEARS OF ASPASIA EUROPEAN
feels very adult now compared with the first months.
The first year wasn't very easy for many reasons.
There was no clear vision of how the website should look, and what kind of knowledge-based information was going to
However, the first Just a Thought in May 2010 (you will find it in the Old Just a Thought-page)
represented a kind of a 'mission stamement' for Aspasia European.
In the first Just a Thought
readers found what Aspasia European regarded as important topics to discuss, and what kinds of values and principles
were relavant to Aspasia European.
Those thoughts inspired the creation of several other pages with specific
topics during the following months and years.
Such pages were the Mobility-page, Acculturation-page, Entrepreneurs-page,
and Boring Facts-page.
Over the years several other pages have beend added to the website.