Like birds under the sky

So we rented a scooter and drove criss-cross over the Island of Phu Quoc, Vietnam. Here’s two pictures where the ever present, extreme environmental destruction and extreme littering is drowned out by the magnificent colours of the land:

While driving two things impressed me, monumentally:

1. On the side of a road I saw a small sized, yet grown cow. Not one of these over-engineered industrial cows from which 10 gallons of milk are drawn every day of their short lives, but a cute little cow. And with her was a calf, a cute litte baby cow half her size. The calf was busy drinking her milk. What a sight! A natural sized cow roaming about under the sky, not in a box, not barb-wired in, with her calf, which was drinking its mother’s milk! This truly touched me.

2. Then later, on the side of the road, I saw children playing, jesting, running about. They were maybe 3 to 8 years old, with strong black hair, barefoot, with no other things on them than simple clothes. I saw children playing with sticks, children riding bicycles, and even some children riding 50ccm motorbikes, all making joyful faces. These children are not locked in, not confined to gated spaces, not under surveillance, neither under supervision. They are roaming about freely under the sky, making up their own games and stories. How amazing is that?! This almost blew my mind, I haven’t seen such a thing in—what seems like—decades.

These children reminded me of my own childhood on the countryside. The stupid school I had to endure was in one town, my family’s home was in the next. My father used to drop me off at school in the mornings. And every day, after the unnaturally long hours were over, the ordeal of sitting still in the government’s indoctrination facility, the time that was stolen from children, families and communities, I had the free choice of walking home. Or riding my bicycle, or taking a bus. Even hitchhiking was an option. I was free to make my own choices and to design my own routes. I would walk and wander and think, let my mind run loose, try different pathways, experience all weather and seasons. The road went alongside the lake, then up the mountain, through the lower part of the forest. I would play with the children from the farm that was on the edge of the forest, explore the forest with its ants and insects, foxes and badgers, trees and dying streams. The only thing that was expected of me was that I be home before dinner.

While we were driving on a scooter over that island in Vietnam, at least for some long minutes, I went into a mode of thoughtfulness. I was thinking of the essays of John Taylor Gatto’s book Dumbing Us Down; about the differences between networks and communities, between institutions and families, and how compulsory schooling took down the world as it was for millions of years. A quote came to mind:

“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values which will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important: how to live and how to die.”

The 6 stages of trauma (an early draft)

I’ve just skipped through an interview with one of the world’s top trauma experts, Dr. Gabor Maté, On How Trauma Fuels Disease, on the Rich Roll Podcast. He makes great points with his thesis of culture vs biology, but like seemingly most everyone else, ignores the elephant in the room. His lack of criticism of compulsory schooling stands out like a sore thumb, given the examples in the interview, and how many times he mentions schools, for example, in his book When The Body Says No… thirty-one times; without notably criticising schools themselves even once.

I’ve left a comment on the video, expecting the comment to be either deleted, ignored, or criticised, something like that. But then I’ve actually gotten a great comment on my comment, by Jayzin C:

“This is a really great point. I went to a great public school and was never bullied, but recently at age 36 I’ve thought about the fact that we all had to physically sit there for 6 hours a day with only a little recess or gym in between. How insane? [..] That must’ve had serious impact on our bodies and minds. I know it has for me.”

I agree. Each day schools granted and denied us basic human rights, when we were children, such as: the access to fundamental needs for toilets, water, privacy, and movement. As kids they tried to make us feel indifferent to constant surveillance, age-segregation, bells and confinement, busy work, studying random, unrelated topics, accepting whoever stood before us as authority, sitting in silence without movement for hours on end, et cetera, et cetera, et cet·er·a.

Homework: make a list of all the things they tried to make you feel indifferent to.

This morning, while working on the table of contents for my blog, I’ve come up with my own thesis on trauma healing. In my first draft Trauma comes and goes in 6 steps:

  1. Hurting – the traumatic event that actually hurts whether we know it or not
  2. Shock – the inability to cope with the immensity of the hurting event
  3. Acceptance – the past can’t be changed, so we accept both, that the event has happened as well as our current state of being
  4. Anger – first step of healing
  5. Rejection – not going there anymore, making sure it will not happen again
  6. Outgrow – find new ways, grow into new habits

Uh, what a nice 6 steps, innit?! Not bad for someone who’s not working for a hospital, who doesn’t have agreement contracts with insurance companies, and who isn’t an international bestseller and trauma expert… innit?

At the doorstep of Kindergarten

My neighbours somehow convinced me to join their 6k morning runs. Three times a week at 5:30am, at the break of dawn. Pretty awesome actually. Especially since I have the luxury of taking naps afterwards.

Jogging in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, figure that. That’s actually possible because of the lockdowns and the New Normal, in terms of air quality. Also, I live in one of the cleaner areas in the city. As most everywhere else, there’s no notable sidewalks or parks here, however traffic in the early mornings is slow enough to use the streets for running.

One of the things you would notice about this area is, that it’s jam packed with hyper-expensive schools and pre-schools. Very fancy daytime detention centers. Facilities in which children are temporarily confined, denied a variety of freedoms and trained to adapt a mindset of obedience, under the authority of the state or state licensed private organisations. In some streets these facilities are built almost back to back, with very prominent roadside advertising billboards in between them. As I limped-by by the tenth or so, I asked myself, “Am I too upset about schools? Do I take my critique too far? Shouldn’t I focus more on my running?”

I recalled Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and her five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. “Now at age 48, shouldn’t I have reached the stage of acceptance already?” I thought.

But then I also recalled the great Alice Miller, I paraphrase into a first-person perspective:

“After having experienced child maltreatment it is not enough to grieve about what happened, as psychoanalists assume. It is indispensable to rebell against the endured cruelty, as well as clearly recognize and reject it. Only this way we become free of the tendency to unconsciously repeat the same pattern. The suppressed rage subsists in our bodies if it was never consciously experienced, nor expressed.”

I was thinking, “True that. I haven’t even started to feel angry. My rage is just in its feebly beginnings. I will write more about what compulsory schooling really is, about its unreformable, psychopathic nature. And how I clearly reject it, as my professional choices are proof of. I will not hold back.”

As I passed by another fan·cy-schman·cy Kindergarten, I suddenly saw it very clearly: Children are experts at studying the feelings, expressions and behaviour of adults, the grown-up’s interactions and daily routines, as the child’s mission is to become a member of society, be a valuable part of their community. All this is taken from children at the doorstep of Kindergarten.

Children are grouped by age. They are put into cells they call classrooms, together with a (quite often stressed-out by the burden of responsibility) woman with a shrill, loud voice. Not only is a whole range of freedoms taken from the children, such as privacy and the right to refuse compliance, but worst of all, they are robbed of context.

Small wonder I felt so alienated in Kindergarten myself, when I was a child. Children are removed from their parents, their parent’s work and life reality, and put in a room with children the same age. There’s nothing of importance to do or learn, no mind to study. And soon enough, in the absence of meaning, the children will stumble into games and quarrels of hierarchy, social class, possession of items, levels of compliance and playing favourites, and so forth, and so forth.

Right there at the doorstep of Kindergarten the processing begins. Even the most well-meaning, hard working educator does not stand a hint of a chance to help it. And if they try, they will burn out quicker than you can say Herbert Freudenberger. Stripping meaning and context from human lives is the very nature of the psychopathic, narcotic compulsory schooling. It’s the system’s design, and it’s perfectly resilient against change or reform.

Snippets of speech

I’ve just watched an interview by Quanta Magazine with Leslie Lamport, the Computer Scientist, titled The Man Who Revolutionized Computer Science With Math [link to Youtube] Youtube kept shoving the video’s thumbnail into my face so I said, “Stop it already ok ok I’ll watch it.” Leslie Lamport said, “Coding is to programming what typing is to writing.” Well, before I spend a whole lot of time paraphrasing let me just copy-paste a snippet of the transcript (spoken in a rather dramatic voice):

1:25
Writing is something that involves
1:26
mental effort. You’re thinking about what
1:28
you’re going to say. The words have some
1:30
importance but in some sense even
1:32
they are secondary to the ideas.
1:35
In the same way programs are built on
1:38
ideas. They have to do something. And what
1:41
they’re supposed to do, I mean it’s like
1:43
what writing is supposed to convey.
1:46
If people are trying to learn
1:48
programming by being taught to code… well,
1:51
they’re being taught writing by being
1:54
taught how to type. And that doesn’t make
1:56
much sense.

So I wonder, “Could something similar be said about movement?” Typing is to writing, what movement is to …? dot dot dot? And… should I place movement into the spot of typing or writing?

Quanta Magazine’s Youtube video is a great viral video, and works really well as such. However, from my point of view, as a writer, my definition of writing would be very different from his, if I gave one. Does writing really involve mental effort? Is a writer really thinking about what he is going to say? Is the purpose of writing really just to convey ideas? For example, when I google for “Writing saved my life,” I get about 1,390,000,000 results. What’s going on here? And how would this compare to movement? What is movement?

Grandmother’s belief in the value of effort

So I was browsing through the largest bookstores here in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, brushing my palms over the books like in the wheat field scene of 300, the movie. Nowadays most shelves seem to be stocked with books on how-to woman, how-to gay, and how-to money. One shelf with various versions of the new definition of history by Harari, and two shelves of Neil Gaiman. As if thousands of people stormed out of their houses to get hold of the collected writings of Neil Gaiman, as soon as the credits rolled on Netflix The Sandman.

Next to the IELTS textbooks I found a stack of The Catcher In The Rye. Nice cover design, close to the original. I picked up one. Good re-read. Depressing though. I downloaded a copy of Catch-22, funny at first. Until I remembered why I don’t watch TV. I started the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Hilarious at first. Watched a couple of interviews with Hunter S. Thompson on Youtube. The late Hunter, the image of long term drug abuse. Didn’t find his book funny anymore. Great insights, hilarious still, but not funny.

A dear reader of my blog recommended, A Prayer for Owen Meany. So far I’ve only read half of chapter 6, The Voice. I didn’t get it at first, but the deeper I got into the chapter the more I understood Grandmother’s belief in the value of effort. Maybe Grandmother would side with Jack White, as he talks about inspiration and effort in the documentary Under Great White Northern Lights [Link to Youtube]. I enjoyed this stark contrast to Rick and Morty, the popular cartoon. Rick is the smartest man in the universe, is very active, does whatever he wants, but abhors effort (“Something Ricked This Way Comes” Season 1, Episode 9).

In Feldenkrais classes we distinguish between work and effort. Moshé Feldenkrais talked and wrote about those two words often. Work in a neutral sense, as the product of force and displacement, of superfluous work, effort, habit and self-image.

In his book Awareness Through Movement he writes, “Persons who normally hold their chests in a position as though air had been expelled by the lungs in an exaggerated fashion, with their chest both flatter than it should be and too flat to serve them efficiently, are likely to indicate its depth as several times larger than it is if asked to do so with their eyes closed. That is, the excessive flatness appears right to them, because any thickening of the chest appears to them a demonstrably exaggerated effort to expand their lungs. Normal expansion feels to them as a deliberately blown up chest would to another person. The way a man holds his shoulders, head, and stomach; his voice and expression; his stability and manner of presenting himself—all are based on his self-image. [..] However, not everybody is capable of identifying himself easily, and one may be greatly helped by the experience of others.”

To understand the difference between work and effort in movement, posture, and self-image, it’s best to look outside of movement, I guess. Into the stories of humankind. And then try to see it in ourselves. In our stories, believes, actions, thinking… and when we break it down even further, we may see it in our movements and posture as well, “and all that stuff.”

I asked Artificial Intelligence to write excerpts

It’s almost 23 o’clock and past bedtime, but I quickly want to get this off my chest. Since a long time I wanted to create a table of contents for my blog, but held back because of the lack of excerpts. I didn’t write any. So tonight I was wondering if there’s some machine who could do that for me. And mother of god, there is.

I stumbled upon the website openai.com which provides access to an Artificial Intelligence. It can do all sorts of things, but it can also read books and write summaries. So I fed it a couple of my blog posts.

I’m still not sure whether I should be amazed, flattered or thoroughly scared. I don’t know how to feel about the current state of Artificial Intelligence. But what I do feel is… that it can write great summaries. And that it somehow seems to understand my writing better than I do myself. These summaries are really helpful for me as feedback, to understand what it is that I am writing.

For example, my recent text, “A taste of freedom – Trauma healing in Somatic Education.” So how it works is this: I use the web-interface for convenience, and there I tell the Artificial Intelligence in plain English what I want, and then it answers me. Here’s how this looks like:

Version 1: I wrote, “Summarize the following text.” And then added my blog post. The result was this:

The text discusses the work of famous trauma-experts Bessel van der Kolk and Peter A. Levine, and how they fail to mention the role of compulsory schooling in causing trauma. The text also discusses the work of psycholinguist Frank Smith, who is not afraid to look at the origins of trauma in compulsory schooling.

Version 2: I wrote, “Write an angry sounding summary of this text.” And then added my blog post. The result was this:

This text is a long-winded diatribe against famous trauma therapists who fail to mention the role of compulsory schooling in causing trauma. The author bemoans the fact that these experts are not brave enough to speak out against the machine.

Version 3: I wrote, “Summarize this text in one word.” And then added my blog post. The result was this:

Healing

I kid you not, this is what the Artificial Intelligence wrote back to me. I’m tempted to change the phrase “The result was this” into “The answer was this.” As if it was a real person answering, someone with a heart and compassion and humour and all that, not a machine.

A state of physical ease and freedom from pain

There’s a boatload of ex·tra·or·di·nar·i·ly expensive international schools around here, where I live. At lunch time or late afternoon, when I sit in a coffee shop, I most always have some teachers around me. They make most of the Western looking faces around here. Overhearing them, usually they talk about holidays, family, travelling and making plans, and jest about the problems at school. I talked to some; really nice and cheerful folk.

Sometimes I think I would have made a good school teacher. On top of that, I heard that schools around here pay really, really well. And I have to admit, I do envy these teachers to some degree. They get plenty of students, great social integration, a huge, worldwide, very diverse network of colleagues, flexible hours and long holidays, a taste of luxury and adventure at the forefront of society. In return they have to sign work contracts and submit themselves to their school’s mandates, ethics, rules and regulations… become part of the schooling system, cogs in the wheel, bricks in the wall, henchmen for the Rockefeller family.

So there you have it: before I become a teacher in the schooling system, hell has to freeze over multiple times until it’s at a bearable temperature. What’s the difference between numbness and comfort? Between turning-a-blind-eye-to and being liberal? Will we humans ever form a society where everyone has the feeling that everything is all right?