Underground blues

I sing of happiness in little things
a daughter who puts lipstick on my face
the smile of a stranger when she sees my hat
the dream of reading a poem to you one day
the quiet jazz music they play in my café
the traces of other minds on my computer screen
the taste of hot coffee from a paper cup
the tranquil fantasy of a world that could have been
the clock’s nostalgic design from another land
and how the minutes kiss the hour hand
the sound of conversations in a foreign tongue
my own longing for candid talk, subdued in a song
that revels forever in all of the above,
and how I wish to succumb to absent-minded love
to sing the underground blues with all my force
to eat the sweet fruit in our garden of metaphors
I hum yesterday’s sadness in tomorrow’s drunken ears
ears that stand on fearless heads, and I dream
of sweet visions, of high words in the skies
I am driving through a tunnel with the voltage in my thighs
happiness is in little things, and that is alright:
At the end of the tunnel, there is no light
but the tunnel, my friends, is electrified

Thank you for the kind birthday wishes!


To all who wished me a happy birthday on our beloved social media, and in particular to those well wishers I couldn’t reply personally: Thank you very much for all your kind words, they inspire me to celebrate my 38th birthday with 365 days of inspiration.

I am determined to keep up my writing in 2017. A lot of it will be shared here, as I garner the temerity to call these words – “Words! they said, mere words! What good are they if the world is ill? Without us, their worth is nil” – my gift to the world.

The upcoming year will be one of political turmoil and unprecedented climatic and environmental hazard, or one in which we finally ‘get it right’ organizing as a species – depending on your perspective, or filter bubble. What we need now is a healthy culture of political debate, in the face of ever more destructive and self-reinforcing events. The era of popular politicians who were able to balance and appeal to majorities (the Obamas, Merkel, and in my little country of birth, Rutte), seems to come to a close.

Anyway, in this bizarre depoliticized era of ours I have to suppress the ‘correctness’ to apologize for bringing up politics in a birthday thank you note, along with the temptation to add a smiley to this very sentence.

Let intelligent, empathetic, constructive, collaborative conversations reign supreme in 2017.

Thank you all!

Could systemic change be catalyzed by effective altruism?

Dear Prof. Peter Singer,

I would like to convey my utmost gratitude for your extraordinary efforts related to the relief of animal cruelty and poverty. I applaud the approach of programs like Give what we can because I think every dollar spent on things like malaria prevention, de-worming, girl’s education or clean drinking water as morally superior to lavish consumption.

You will certainly have heard of the (in my view only) plausible objection to the practice of philanthropy, which is that it diverts our collective attention from much needed systemic change. Apart from allegations that institutions like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation are effective ways to minimize taxation (to which I think the notion that people in the global south need it more than the IRS, is a legitimate response) there are people who claim that philanthropy gives moral justification to the status quo of structural and radical inequality and thus contributes to the inertia and numbs any revolutionary zeal towards overthrowing a system that is geared only towards the production of infinite growth, regardless of the social and environmental cost that by definition cannot be offset by philanthropy.

To avoid misunderstanding, I have donated a modest inheritance myself to charitable causes during a journey to local charities in the global south in 2009, that I undertook after I realized that the PhD-thesis I wrote on our responsibility for future generations was mere theory. I went on to create a website,, connecting the ‘least connected’. This endeavor was miles away from fancy charities with glossy websites and central Manhattan office space. It was also largely ignored because it was not an incorporated, ‘authorized’, official, trickle-down institution. It was (and is – I run it at near-zero marginal cost) just an open source platform for and by the people to enable and encourage sharing of resources, mainly knowledge. This is not to say it is morally superior to the ‘charity-industrial complex’ (it isn’t). The vision behind my project is merely more radical in that it anticipates the necessary systemic change away from the neoliberalist status quo that, I believe, reproduces the very structural inequality it provides band-aid for through well-intended philanthropy.

Of course large-scale philanthropy is infinitely better than the IMF-imposed structural adjustment or the debt bondage of entire countries and the effective appropriation of their resources by the wealthier lender countries. Philanthropy, necessary as it may be during the transition to an economic system that is compatible with our planet, should always have a clear and realistic idea about the systemic change that is needed to render itself, ultimately, unnecessary.

Thus, my question to the effective altruism community is as follows: Could necessary systemic change be catalyzed by effective altruism? Which long term vision for the world is upheld among its advocates and how do they describe the path to get there? Do effective altruists welcome ideas that principally question neoliberal dogma, such as the Commons and peer production movements?

I would welcome a discussion of these issues with people involved with the effective altruism movement, who I hold in high esteem for both the intentions and the consequences of their actions.


bubbles are not seasonal

During the last days of a year that was filled with the perceived horrors of the untimely death of several celebrity actors and popstars, as well as the real horror of the destruction of Aleppo, I want to sit back and reflect.

A word that illustrates our quick march towards unadulterated cynicism that characterized the year 2016 is ‘filter bubble’. In a world of ‘hypernormalisation‘, to use the phrase of Adam Curtis’ recent documentary, people see their own (political) convictions projected and reaffirmed on their screens, because that’s what the algorithms decide. The unbounded desire for such reaffirmation justifies the emerging fake-news industry. The truth, as usual assumed to be some principally attainable substantive, dies first according to the media theorists who study the phenomenon.

So, 2016 was a year in which, entirely according to taste, democratic capitalism irrevocably embarked on a journey to hell, lined by the croaking voices of Farage and Trump; it was the year in which climate change became so terrifyingly obvious (last November, the North Pole was 20 degrees hotter than it should be) that the academic question, according to Noam Chomsky whom I admittedly worship too much, becomes which hell do we reach first.

2016 was a year in which, entirely according to taste, democratic capitalism irrevocably embarked on a journey to hell, lined by the croaking voices of Farage and Trump

Basking in my very own bubble, what can I say that penetrates this bubble? Shouldn’t I restrict myself to the Socratic admonition of the impossibility of real knowledge? Even if I would have expert knowledge and understanding of what is going on in the world, how could I convince anybody that such knowledge is not ultimately dependent on my own bubble and should hence be discarded by those living outside of it?

I’m sure that you have, like me, engaged in many discussions on social media throughout 2016. I have argued about climate change, environmental degradation, the Syrian civil war, the sharing economy, the universal basic income, the European refugee crisis, Brexit, and many other things. When I decide to contribute, I try to be unsure about my own position; I rather ‘try out’ arguments, curious of where they might lead to. It could only give us more truth, if we believe in discursive progress (as we must). Anyway, I have managed to avoid wholesale identification with liberal, conservative or radical ideologies, but sadly in a culture that mistakes critical assessment for hostility, this might have precluded some lasting (online) philosophical friendships.

So, here is my wish for the new year 2017. Calmness of mind and – allow me to weave the metaphor further – the build-up of pressure to destroy filter bubbles and the theoretical frames of mind that keep inflating them. All that a philosopher can wish for on the verge of a new year is the love of wisdom and the leaden knowledge (as poor Plato found out) that we don’t have a recipe for building the right society – that all we can and should do is pop some bubbles.

As for me, I hope to buckle up, ramble on and inspire other minds to the simple joy of the oldest technology that doesn’t pollute the environment: language. I wish my readers the sustained inspiration they need for a gentle descent into the abyss that political and environmental pundits alike so dramatically promise us, or, should the pundits be wrong (they too live in their own bubble, after all) the ability to recognize and utilize the tiniest window of opportunity that humanity might have to get out of this mess.

Happy New Year!

Where's Bob?

I leave the guitar and Bob’s voice to your imagination; singin’ volunteers and suggestions welcome!

Bob, where are you Bob?
Are you staying in bed, did you catch the flu
why is it so hard to get through to you?
do you have the blues, so many writer would
love to walk in your shoes Bob, even Philip Roth
would stop and he would be learning how to siiiiiiiiiiiiiing
’cause you know, the times they are a-changin’

Bob, where are you Bob?
you’re a poet everyone knows you’re the screeching voice of your generation
that saw the blood on the tracks and where we’re going to with our civilization
and your woeful guitar sounds, painted the blues in the face of a sordid nation
we’ve been knockin’ on your door for days now, and tried to call you up on the phone
but you answer was silence, tell us Bob do you really want to be left all alone?

Bob, where are you Bob?
we need you now, you’re a legendary man, you speak the truth through your teeth
your shrieking voice’ echo lives in the ears of everyone and the world lies at your feet
you’re an all American troubadour, a man who lives for the poetry in his bone
sing us song, sing us the ballad, of a thin man, who’s tangled up in blue and all alone
write us howling verses like no other can not even tom waits and leonard cohen
there’s a crackle in everything, that’s how the light gets in and you’ve known
we are your fans bob zimmerman, tell us are you too busy being born to condone
a Nobel prize, or are you too busy dying?

Bob, where are you Bob?
Man up, mister tambourine, look back at the trinkets in your prize vitrine
do you see the Grammy and the Pulitzer catching dust it has never been
a better time Bob, now we all got visions of Johanna, and we all feel forever young
and you know how much love was made, in the mighty echo of your soooooooongs
I hate driving down highway 61 and hearing on the radio that the committee will rescind
what do you say Bob, or is your answer forever blowing in the wiiiiiiind

Bob, where are you Bob?
I see you sitting by the campfire of history, singing about war and the marginalized
you raised your broken voice, and millions of people were moved, to paradise
the world wants to hear your chuckle and see the sparkling in your eyes
when you surpassed so many bitter literates and got your Nobel priiiiiiiize

Pokemon Ghost

hyper-realistic human holograms of virtual citizens. You can only interact with them through your phone.

envy is not a sin

before you got published, you were jealous of someone who did

when you got published, you were jealous of someone who got a second print

when you got a second print, you were jealous of someone who sold 100,000 copies

when you sold 100,000 copies, you were jealous of someone who won the Booker Prize

when you won the Booker Prize, you were jealous of someone who won the Nobel Prize

when you won the Nobel Prize, you farted during your acceptance speech

we hasten not

it is high noon and the bright fruits shine
in the air is a promise of decay

we let the sun pour its old light on us
and bury imagination in warm smiles

we save up for higher seasons, for longer shadows
for deeper promises and gentler declines

slow and infinite are our thoughts, we hasten not
we are like the dream of an old animal who goes to die

that way our freedom is no longer tasteless and we
can press our cold mouths against each other to live

from the words that remain like berries on a charred plant
from the cold shades wherein we wield each other’s power

are you there, my children, ready to celebrate the story as a story
and to fall in love a hundred times


Since it has become part of my daily life I would like to describe once again my thoughts about copbsjobing with bullshit labor. Bullshit jobs, to me, are characterized by a complete lack of meaning. No matter how hard you try, you can’t discern a core of value in a bullshit job, and this is after you have discussed the idea that ‘meaning is subjective anyway’.

They are something else than nasty tasks you don’t like to perform, such as, say, garbage collecting. If you are employed in such a profession, you probably know it has a purpose. The world would be worse off without garbage collectors, a glance at strikes in Napoli will reassure you. The same argument could be made for miners, soldiers, factory workers to the extent that they are able to choose their profession freely.

But not for bullshit jobs. You recognize a bullshit job because the people performing it cannot believe the world is any better off with the existence of the company they are working for. It is not about the inevitable ‘boring’ work that comes with any job (such as a lecturer’s administration). There is nothing that can redeem the boring task. No cleaner world, no rescued children, no advancement of science, no more beautiful world our hearts believe in.

The bullshit job is an illness of capitalism that has become too fast for our culture. It is an occupation that generates profit by leveraging old inefficiencies and habits. The world would be better off when the entire realm, everything they stand for, would disappear overnight.

And still, I do it. I am a bullshit job survivor.

Performing a bullshit job is a mind numbing experience. I cope by relabeling a job session as a music session and listen to music while I type away (bullshit jobs, as a rule, require very little creativity and concentration). Listening to a Mozart sonata while typing away on my keyboard (I believe these keystrokes add up to translations and websites and marketing copy) can actually become a somewhat fulfilling experience. If I’m in the mood, I can identify with the virtuoso at the real keyboard. I am Brendel or Barenboim, while the bullshit job ‘generates’ (that is the core illusion) about one dollar per minute.

It is still devoid of any meaning, but it might be as good as it gets.

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