Saturday, October 8, 2011

Walking Aimlessly in Amsterdam & Other Thoughts

(This post was written a few days ago while in The Netherlands; I didn’t get to finish it until now, as I’m sitting in a cafe in Glasgow. It’s raining outside, and what’s better than enjoying a good cup of coffee while polluting the blogosphere with my senseless drivel?)

Yesterday (Tuesday) wasn’t an overly interesting day, but still had me thinking. One of those “days of reckoning”.

Took the train from Delft to Amsterdam shortly before noon; Jeroen was going to take the train to a meeting in a nearby city, so we shared the ride to Amsterdam where I departed and let the Dutchman go about his own business.

Half past noon time, and I arrived once again at Amsterdam Centraal—that is, Amsterdam’s central train station. I have been there many times before and had good feelings towards that city. Got of course a bit excited as I left the station; first large-scale European city for me in this trip.

Perhaps I picked the wrong time to travel this year (well, I didn’t really pick it; Mark Knopfler did); perhaps I got way too used to living in paradise; but anyhow, I found myself getting a really strange, disappointing vibe from Amsterdam yesterday. Walking and walking through the city centre’s narrow, shop- and restaurant-filled streets, I simply failed to find anything overly pleasant to occupy my senses with.

In the last few times I strolled around this city, I found it to be pleasant, colourful, unique and exciting; this time around, though, it looked grey, unattractive, dirty and a bit depressed. Absolutely drenched in various tourist traps—mostly “coffee shops” and millions of take-away hole-in-the-wall “restaurants” catering for the post-smoke munchies; scores of tourists, some of which seemed to be as much disinterested as I was.

I ended up spending quite a bit of time in a place called “Grand Cafe Mynt”, which is a surprisingly spacious, pleasant cafe amidst the rush of Nieuwendijk, which is the main shopping and activity strip.

Time passed very slowly until I met Jeroen again at around 6:00pm. Hungry, we went for dinner at a place called “La Paella”, a Spanish restaurant in quite the shady area of the city center. Food was very good.

As we left the restaurant heading towards a bakery to get some desserts, we were approached by an immensely stoned idiot in a leather coat, asking to speak to us. He was telling us a heart-breaking story about losing his friends and asked who do we think he should be calling in such a case. We advised him to call the police and went on our way.

Not ten seconds passed and I heard quick footsteps from behind us. I turned around, and noticed that idiot walking fast towards us. As he was approaching Jeroen, I asked him “What do you want?”, which prompted him to gaze at me in an empty, vacant, pointless look. He then mumbled trying to develop a conversation about calling the police for helping him find his friends; I simply proceeded along my way as Jeroen was trying to get rid of him by means of pleasant conversation. Seconds later, another suspiciously-looking junkie was approaching, advising his stoned friend to “leave us alone” because we obviously “don’t know who to call”.

(Amsterdam, much like many other big cities, is filled with morons trying to scam innocent tourists. A commonly used trick is to make someone give you their phone—for example, so you can call the police to report your missing friends—and then run away with the phone. In Amsterdam where “Coffee Shops” abound, stealing has another incentive—how else are you going to pay for the drugs you need to buy just in order to survive an extra couple of hours in your desolate world?)

As we were standing at the bakery, a friend of the junkie kicked an empty bottle of water towards me, and hinted as if he was going to approach me. His friend advised him not to. I sort-of lost appetite for sweets, so we just abandoned our plans and went straight to the train station, to catch the ride back to Delft.

That was just about the experience I needed in order to decide that this drug-laden pity of an area—that is, touristic Amsterdam—is unlikely to experience my footsteps on it for the foreseeable future. There are many other parts of this city which are worth visiting, but I suppose I’m going to be entirely skipping the main area surrounding the central station for a while.

Much has been said about The Netherlands’ policy of permitting the sales of marijuana, mushrooms and other sorts of substances to help one “get in the mood” (for good starting-point information about the subject, refer to; people come here from all over Europe in order to settle in some joint-smoking cave and smoke their trouble (or, more often, their boredom) away.

Is it good or bad? well, that depends. I for once am not fond of preaching to people what they should be doing with their own body. If you wants to smoke something—by all means, go ahead and do it. Smoke, inject, do whatever the hell it is you want to do—I couldn’t care less what it is that you choose to do with your life and what substances you wish to let into your body.

This is much like my approach towards religion. I don’t at all care who or what you believe in—be it Moses, God, Jesus, Allah, Buddha… I don’t even care if you think that the entire universe has been farted out of a goat’s ass. Really, believe in whatever suits you, I frankly and genuinely don’t care (well, unless you indeed believe that the universe has been farted out of a goat’s ass, in which case, please contact me).

But the shit starts hitting the fan when people, as a result of following certain practices—

  • Attempt enforcing their views on others, delegitimizing others’ freedom of choice; and/or
  • Use their freedoms as an excuse to avoid paying the price, or taking accountability, for their actions.

In my standards (and sorry to be blunt; I sometimes tend to have very strong opinions), you lose your legitimacy to practice your freedoms as soon as your practice has adversely affected others’ rights to practice their own freedoms.

In “Man’s Search for Meaning”, author Viktor Frankl argued that freedom & liberty are only one half of the truth—responsibility being the other (hence his suggestion to construct the Statue of Responsibility in the USA’s west coast, to complement the east coast’s Statue of Liberty. Frankl was referring to “responsibility” in a very broad form, broader than what I am interested to cover here).

It sometimes seems to me as if our world is too obsessed with the “freedom & liberty” part of the equation, too often neglecting the other, least sexy part of responsibility. People are so vocal and aggressive when it comes to protecting their own rights (or what they deem to be “their rights”), often failing to think through the consequences of such demands. Søren Kierkegaard captured it well in his saying:

“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

A consequence (at least in my mind) of this is that, increasingly, individual rights & freedoms are being preferred and favoured over public rights & freedoms. There have been so many manifestations of this ill trend (one of which hit me very close to home: the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riot), The Netherlands’ approach towards drug sale & usage included.

OK. So you decided that allowing (through regulation) the sale & use of drugs (of certain kinds) because you believe that, over the long run, this approach is better than abolishing drugs altogether. Fine. You know what? I tend to agree.

But did you think for a minute what happens afterwards? each individual’s reaction (physical & mental) to certain drugs is different. While some may simply get into a good mood and relax, some will then roam the streets, approach innocent people and rob them in order to be able to pay for their next fix.

So what could the Government of The Netherlands do? The best it could do would be to place police officers around popular drug-use areas in order to ensure that shit doesn’t get out of hand. But no, they won’t do that:

  • It costs a lot of money to continuously monitor such a large area.
  • Unless someone robs you, they didn’t commit any illegal activity. A police officer cannot touch a stoned individual just on the grounds of harassing you.

So if you can’t contain the negative effects of drug legalization (both due to it being a waste of public money, and a violation of “human rights”), then in the bottom line, what you had done is sacrificed public safety & welfare in order to allow just a bit more of individual legal rights.

Is that something to be proud of? in one word—“no”; in four words—“my ass it is”. Increasing individual “human rights” without increasing individual responsibility and accountability is not something to be proud of—it’s senseless, irresponsible, and perhaps most importantly in the long run—unsustainable. Can a society exist when individual rights surpass and supersede public rights?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see it happening.

Finished writing & editing this post at 12:15pm, October 8, in Caffe Nero in Glasgow. Now off for the next post…



GreeceInDireStraits said...

Hello, new to your blog, eventhough AMIT members praise your work, as a MK follower. I chose to make a comment an this non related MK entry of yours, for this reason only: it reveals a part that may not be as interesting as an MK tour account (I couldn't care less since I can't have the experience first hand), on the other hand it is both REAL LIFE and I am most interested in these kind of remarks (about responsibility) from people sharing the same interest than remarks about the same interests themselves. In one word: Bravo.
Also thank you for the MK accounts.

Isaac Shabtay said...

Thank you VG, much appreciated.