dinsdag 31 mei 2016


To recall what anti-Semitism and Holocaust may mean for Jews is not easy. Such we could experience once more during the last few weeks after comments by Ken Livingstone (“Hitler was a Zionist”), the fuss around Abou Jahjah and unhappy reactions from Leon de Winter.

Who in my opinion sets a good tone, is the historian Auke Kok. Probably that has to do with the absence of any stereotyping of Jews which he presents in his columns. While in commemoration texts quite often there is a reverent kind of whispering about the victims; and where with Leon de Winter it always turns into good guys versus bad guys – with predictably Jews in the role of first – ; there Kok  just paints real-life people.

Thus he wrote on the occasion of the commemoration of the Amsterdam Februarystrike of 1941 about the fighting culture in poor Jewish neighborhoods in the twenties and thirties. There were Jewish “boxers, weightlifters and wrestlers: street boys who formed gangs in the war. With everything that was hard and sharp they beated on the WA. Because, also when it comes to Jews, not all of them were – or are – sweethearts, really”.

And on the occasion of May 4, Liberation Day, he presented Han Hollander. Hollander was since the thirties a nationally known football commentator, who in 1936 had enthusiastically reported on the Olympic Games in Berlin for the Dutch radio. In return he had received an expression of thanks, signed by the Fuehrer himself , that at Hollander’s home hung on the wall and on the basis of which he imagined to be protected against transport. Until he and his wife were arrested in July 1942 and killed in Sobibor.

Auke Kok reduces victims to the correct human proportions. Jews were and are ni ange ni bête. They are just people with all the habits and bad habits that come with it.

And indeed, also such people simply want to live in a safe country.

Also see Countries without borders

zaterdag 28 mei 2016

Comfortably against the grain

Consultant Ben Tiggelaar is known for his successful training sessions under the name ‘MBA in a Day’. At the same time I know him as the author of provocative management critical columns in NRC. In it he shows himself comfortably against the grain.

Thus,  for example, he criticizes the fashionable emphasis on learning. That easily becomes a policy thing, he says, imposed by supervisors who are not really interested. Of them Tiggelaar says: “Do not misunderstand me, I am in favour of learning and development. But I am against impossible plans that you invent, and I must run”.

And when he reads a passage like this: “Employees in functiongroup 3 must with respect to the competence ‘situational awareness’ be at ‘expert level’”, he knows for sure: he would never again be employed. Tiggelaar actually wants not to have to do with managers any longer.

In reading his columns I sometimes wonder why Tiggelaar presents his training under the aegis of MBA. Indeed, does ‘Master of Business Administration’ not represent all those things he shoots in a refreshingly decisive way? Such as: an overemphasis on control via  budgets, financial planning and HR tools. Or, by extension, a unhealthily strong division between leaders and performers.

Tiggelaar,  I think,  fully agrees with Henry Mintzberg who in Managers, not MBA’s says about MBA’s that “too many of them are trapped in a regime of rational tunnel-thinking, schematic planning and calculating management”. Tiggelaar: “Many managers do more harm than good, they are the worst cause of stress. People do not quit jobs, they quit bosses”.

So why then this MBA advert for his trainings?

It could very well be of course that Tiggelaar puts that in his ads because the predicate MBA - rightly or not - has a strong reputation. I do not believe that the successful completion of the training day produces any title, but mentioning ‘MBA’ may act as bait. Mintzberg confirms that a scientific label, such as an MBA degree, is highly regarded in management circles.

But perhaps Tiggelaar, by the use of the term MBA, intended to for once give it a critical interpretation and to direct the managers’ attention to the absurdity of much  management rhetoric.

Given the brave waywardness of his columns I choose for this last explanation.

woensdag 18 mei 2016

Right he is

Against all cynicism the philosopher Jurriaan Rood emphasizes that our Western society is indeed based on strong principles. In reaction to pessimistic sounds about political and social polarization, he states: “The biggest mistake is to think that we are a groundless, aimless society. Western society has very clear principles – we have grossly neglected them in recent decades, but we should exhibit them with more consciousness and pride: the separation of church and state, the monopoly of the state on violence and tolerance of dissent”.

To this he adds, going against the usual glorification of ‘Judeo-Christian values’: “Note that in these matters it is not the Judeo-Christian culture against Islam or something. Neither in the Christian nor in the Jewish culture tolerance was an important value”.

Right he is. Traditional Christian intolerance toward non-Christians is well known enough and I leave it out of consideration here. Jewish intolerance is perhaps less in the front of the mind, but there’s certainly been. Especially against dissent in the own Jewish circle, such as against Uriel da Costa and Baruch Spinoza.

Nevertheless, with regard to the latter intolerance a side remark is in place. Because if one, within the Jewish tradition, did not put into question the foundations (as did Da Costa and Spinoza), there was a lot room for maneuver. Then you could have a dissenting opinion which was at odds with that of authoritative rabbis and still be  mentioned in the Talmud. Then a sometimes dizzying variety of opinions was allowed, for which you may also use the word ‘tolerance’.

Especially when you compare it with the handling of losers of the internal Christian debates, such as found place at the councils of Nicea and Constantinople. They were just written out of history.

Also see Collectivity and Individual

woensdag 4 mei 2016

Naivety was quite common those days

In the fifties of the last century the World Health Organization used the following definition of health: ‘Health is a state of total physical and mental well-being’.

The word ‘total’ in this definition is significant: apparently the ideal of a complete absence of any defect was held high, and the tendency was towards the formulation of absolute requirements and duties when it comes to the protection of health. If to that the faith is linked that all that is realizable, on the scale of the whole world, then that definition gets a little naive.

But such were the times. The horrors of the Second World War were still fresh in memory, and the ubiquitous reaction was: ‘The world must become a better place’. People started to reconstruct their lives, with a strong faith in science and technology and with an amazing optimism about progress. Thereby the leading elite, and therefore the authors of the declaration, was still largely recruited from the Eurocentric upper classes, who from their privileged position were inclined already to think according to strictly rational Kantian patterns and in terms of an undisturbed course of life.

Nowadays health authorities start from the somewhat more manageable concept of ‘positive health’: ie the ability to adapt. With this in mind, you can still be healthy with a chronic disease.

The aforementioned characteristics of the declaration on health, ie the universality of the definition and the totality of the concomitant protection, are also reflected in the declarations of human rights stemming from the same period. As in the UN Refugee Convention of 1951. It states inter alia that anyone who fears violence and persecution can count on protection in another country. By the word ‘anyone’, according to many current interpreters of that Convention, the drafters indeed meant: everyone on earth. And from the wording of such a universal right might very well speak the same naivety as from the idea of overall health.

Because if it comes to the point, according to the Convention, you are obliged to offer the entire population of a region at war the right to asylum. Even if the rest of the world does not participate. Even if would happen what Henri Beunders describes, that the region in war does not include ‘only’ 20 million Syrians, but also 6 to 7 million Eritreans, and another half a billion Africans if the situation explodes in Egypt, Libya and Nigeria.

The latter is not at all inconceivable, but the Convention does not allow to think about the practical managability of the situation we would then arrive at. The absolute terms of the Convention suggest that it really does not matter whether something is conceivable or inconceivable. That’s the way the Convention argues, with Kant and the fifties at its side.

Personally, I am not so sure about that. Theoretically I am, of course, but I mean in practical terms. Because unmanageable situations tend to create their own kinds of socio-political disasters.

Also see Values as natural phenomena and The whole world - or just a small part?