Saturday, December 02, 2006

The State of Malcontent V

The anti-authoritive streak of the Dutch is exemplified by a now deceased but still enormously popular author of children's books, Annie M.G. Schmidt. Her protagonists are usually naughty children of the type that doesn't react particularly well to discipline, but is good hearted to the core. The Dutch, anarchist as they are, identify with Annie's heroes through all the seasons of their lives. Now that anything goes and all is permissible I fail to see how being naughty can still be fun! But it's an attitude. One that approves of some things and is against some other, be they in themselves positive or negative. On the pro side we find freedom, progressiveness (not to be confused with progress or progression), tolerance, underdogs of any description, teachers in pullovers, individuality, commonality, the lower middle classes (the bourgeoisie excluded), platitudes, dillitants, kids permitted in the streets till all hours, prostitutes (honest women), the police, vulgarized versions of great works, mediocrity under the guise of averages. On the anti side we find authority, conservatism, boarding school, nuns, rules, etiquette, neck-ties, fatherhood and perception of God as The Father, brussels sprouts, The Truth, uniforms, well-behaved children (gravely suspicious), well-dressed children (the pits!), Popes, foreign situations (American, Belgian, Italian, etc. "toestanden", situations descriptive of whatever disagreeableness We Would Never Do!), the aristocracy, organised religion, accomplishments requiring study, practice and discipline, the armed forces, to excel ... I could go on forever - but you get the picture.

It is therefore deeply ironic that Holland is one of the most regulated countries in the world, in which everything is managed, from the official spelling rules (which change on average every seven years when they are considered out-dated and no longer reflect the P.C.-ness of the day) to the landscaping of towns and countryside alike. And to conform is basic rule number one for everyone across the board, from crown prince to cannabis grower.

The above makes on the whole a pleasant enough picture if you like that sort of thing, but all isn't well in paradise. Since the assassination of Pim Fortuyn it has become the rage for all and sundry to have an uneducated opinion and express it uninhibited by civility in any way, shape or form. Acidity levels are reaching over NAP (New Amsterdam Water Level). Who wants to take the temperature could check out any forum webpage of any media outlet; the tone is simply crushing and the content is even worse. In one such discussion a mother who has just lost a child, was told to shut it, she and her self-pity! That kind of thing. Worst of all, all other participants think it's quite a normal thing to do.

There's other trouble too in the form of relativism, of which the Dutch are dedicated followers. This means that any point of view is freely interchangeable with another. So should you by a delicate rational process have come to a certain conclusion that happens to go against the current of popular opinion, such is at best frowned upon, but at worst simply not tolerated. Because by the same token you could just as well have said something less contentious. You did that quite deliberately so no measure is considered out of bound to express displeasure and that includes the anonymous, lethal kind. Antagonizing Muslims is increasingly hazardous, as that is looked upon as putting society as a whole at risk of bombs and throat-cutting exercises of the kind that killed the film director Theo van Gogh.

The afore mentioned situation is in the end far more hazardous, as there are politicians and intellectuals who no longer dare speak their minds. Those who do are day and night accompanied by an army of security personnel to ensure their safety. Ayaan Hirsi Ali has spend time in protective custody and Geert Wilders has lived on air force bases for weeks on end. And so it happened that we are at risk of dictatorship, no more nor less!
This is a society in deep trouble. Not least because - as an odd-sounding domestic proverb says "one gets used to everything, even hanging" and that's exactly where the danger lies, the anomaly gets to be the norm.


Een volk dat voor tirannen zwicht
zal meer dan lijf en goed verliezen,
dan dooft het licht. *
H.M. van Randwijk (1909-1966)

* Free translation:
"A nation that bows before tyrants
loses more than just life and wealth,
the light will cease".

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