This week I asked a friend what she thought of the riots in Rotterdam. She said she had “negative feelings” from following news and that she had shut herself off from it. She prefers to walk around in nature, close to her spacious, detached house. “Lien, we just need a stubborn politician,” she concluded the conversation.
Actually, my girlfriend has been calling this for about fifteen years. She has a great job, is economically independent and now and then organizes tip-top house parties. The conversations at those parties are mainly about chasing the ‘good feeling’. ‘Standing in your power’ and ‘banishing negativity’ are also recurring themes in the conversations I have there. During corona, the parties continued as usual. “If you believe in yourself, you will not get sick,” the partygoers reported to each other in the app group.
When I got home after such a party – I’ve missed it for the past few years – I always got the feeling that my friend and her friends live in a world where society doesn’t matter – too abstract, too negative too. Why they would want a stubborn, strong leader is still a mystery to me. She never gave me a good answer to that.
My girlfriend is no exception. I know a former HR director of a large and renowned consultancy who started his own business a few years ago. „I don’t read a newspaper, don’t watch TV except Veronica Inside and Netflix,” he often says proudly. Because he does not want to be confronted with social disappointments on a daily basis.
Yet this friend is very angry with the government. The reason: he has recently started having health problems. But he does not see any return of the social contributions that he has paid for decades as an employee. Now he has to continue working despite his illness, because otherwise he will not be able to pay the mortgage, his ex-wife, his expensive dinners and studying daughters.
Every time I speak to him, he says that a stubborn politician must quickly stand up and ‘send the current leaders in The Hague home’. He is also sensitive to conspiracy theories: for big pharma this corona crisis is very good…
Last Friday the violent riots in Rotterdam took place. The outgoing cabinet reacted furiously. But the tenor of the many analyzes that followed in the media was that it was short-sighted: we should especially look for the sociological backgrounds. Rioters, the fireworks, the Sinterklaas entry and pub nights have been taken away; their frustration is easy to follow, I read somewhere.
In the TV show m Monday I heard only one guest (from the police) say that violence against the police is completely intolerable. Everything else was added, including the housing market. A teacher present from Capelle aan den IJssel had seen the riots coming for a long time, he said, partly because young people feel ‘liened’ because the prime minister and the OMT do not always say the same things. He also knew that 2G will be very poorly drawn in these neighbourhoods, especially by children from broken homes.
Well, strangely enough, what such analyzes are not about: that many people, including the rioters, refuse to delve into the social importance of corona measures, let alone that they muzzle their personal life or ‘good feeling’. This applies to the fourteen-year-old rioters who fill shelves during the day at Albert Heijn in South Rotterdam, but just as much for the well-earning managers in business who do not want to let their own fine life be spoiled.
Their ‘I’ is their ethical compass. A prick in your arm, while you yourself are too young to really get sick: why would you. Canceling a party because we’re in lockdown: hey hello, you only live once. But if the consequence is that after more than a year and a half we still do not have that virus under control: then argue for a strong man in The Hague or smash shops to pieces – whether or not out of boredom.
For many, social interest seems completely subordinate to ‘my freedom’ and ‘I do what feels right’. But you are a liberal, you must stand up for individual freedom, I am often told on Twitter. I sometimes try to explain that the French Revolution – the cradle of liberalism – had three principles: liberty, equality and fraternity. And that the latter is at least as important to a liberal as the first two. It rarely happens.
Aylin Bilic is an entrepreneur and publicist.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of November 25, 2021
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