The Queen and the Soldier
The Queen has quit, long live the King?
The Queen of the Netherlands has called it quits. After a thirty three year reign she is passing the buck to her son today. She announced her abdication herself about three months ago, which according to some anti monarchists is too short a period to organize any real protest. This may be, but the fact of the matter is that a vast majority of the Dutch population is in favor of the monarchy.
How little time one needs to protest against something was shown by the national outcry over ‘Koningslied’, i.e. ‘King’s Song’, a song written to celebrate the installation of the new king. The song is quite aweful indeed, but the future king can be pleased, it diverted all the attention from the debate about the monarchy to the question whether we really want to sing this tune at his coronation.
The fact that so many people are in favor of the monarchy is a compliment to how Queen Beatrix fulfilled her task. Most people will agree that it is an undemocratic and anachronistic institution, yet they support it all the same. It shows that the monarchy has more to do with emotion than with anything else. It will be a tough job for the new king to follow in his mother’s footsteps.
I am not a monarchist, as you may have guessed, but my social media pilgrimage was never a protest against the monarchy as such. This has confused some people, because they wondered why I should take the queen’s words so seriously and give up my job and home to prove her wrong. Unsurprisingly, my inbox filled with messages stating that I could come back now, because the queen was going to abdicate, but they are missing the point. I am protesting against what she said in her speech, not against her. And I am taking her words seriously, because as the head of state, they have serious implications. Whether I agree that our head of state is a queen, or from now on a king, is irrelevant. Still, the abdication of the queen does give cause to reassess my project. The fire is still burning, but with the spark gone, it is only natural to think about whether it is meaningful to continue in the manner I have chosen.
Whose bread you eat her song you sing
When I started my pilgrimage not everyone had a clear understanding of the full potential of social media in terms of political action and therefore didn’t quite grasp what was at stake in the queen’s speech. But since then the world has witnessed how social media can empower people. The Arab Spring may have cooled down to an uncertain autumn, but it is clear to everyone that social media and the internet are tools to reckon with. This is why they should remain free from state control. This battle is far from over, but I am realistic enough to know that my pilgrimage is a minor statement compared to actual revolutions and political reforms.
Because of these developments the convictions underlying my project have become increasingly important. I believe that the responsibility we feel for our fellow man can only be altered by the amount of responsibility we actually have for each other. With social rights written down in laws and our governments securing them, that responsibility is reduced to a minimum. This may have been done with nothing but good intentions, but it could be argued that what we are witnessing in terms of anti social behavior is an unforeseen side effect. With the state taking care of the weak and needy, our only concern is the well being of our selves.
Political rights and social rights are actually at odds with each other. To secure social rights it is necessary for the state to infringe on our political rights, firstly our property rights, but also the freedom of speech, if the expressed opinion should become a threat to the system. Since political rights find their origin in the need to protect the individual against the state, it is only natural that the state emphasizes the importance of securing our social rights. It will argue with misleading vividness that without the protection of the state, we would find ourselves (back) in a struggle for existence in which the most fit couldn’t care less about the weak.
This is not an argument to abolish social rights all together, but I believe that many of those rights can be obtained and secured by society itself. Being social is in our genes, it simply varies with the circumstances how social we actually behave. It is this belief that enabled me to start walking and trust that I would find help everywhere from anyone, regardless of nationality, race, religion or whatever other category we like to identify people with. This belief has been strengthened by my experiences and more than ever I wish to show people that we needn't be afraid that our whole world will fall apart when government does.
And now, the end is near…
Now to come back to whether the queen’s abdication is a reason to reconsider my project: no it is not. Yes, the queen’s speech was the spark that got me started, but like I said before, the fight between forces that want more control and the freedom that is at stake is far from over. It is very probable that we have only seen the beginning of the financial crisis, and the disappointment, anger and insecurity that can result from economic decline are an immediate threat to our freedom. Political oppression leans heavily upon fear and although this may seem like a very melodramatic statement now, it is only a thin line that separates civility and violence and freedom and oppression. I will be happy to be judged a pessimist or even a clown if my stance helps to keep people alert and aware that what I fear is not what they want.
I still think that my project has value in showing that people are not as selfish as they are said to be. I have found that my experiences help people to look at the world more favorably and it is a joy to share those experiences when I can by giving presentations, talking about them in the media or discussing them with my hosts at the dinner table. Even if people disagree with my political views, my daily experiences are proof that we haven’t lost our ability and willingness to help others all together. It is not me who makes this journey possible, it is the selfless aid of hundreds of people I have met so far. I am simply the messenger, who for once, is the bringer of good news.
My only frustration is that the walking and the talking takes up so much time, that there is hardly time to share my experiences. Opportunities to talk about them always have to come to me, instead of me actively seeking ways to share them. That is something I have reluctantly come to accept, but only because my journey is finite. I may commit myself to setting up similar projects in the future, and right now this journey is still teaching me a lot that can help me with that. Moreover, even though I lack the time to do many things, thinking is not one of them: Twalk With Me 2.0 is slowly taking form in my head…
And so I continue. Only, maybe not to Cairo, and maybe not to Jerusalem, because I am seriously considering changing my final destination. Events in the middle east are more or less forcing me to do so. But that is for my next blog.