Last week my team and I missed an early train transfer to Brussels because my connection from The Hague arrived three minutes late. “If only you had taken a train earlier,” said a disappointed and clearly irritated team member. He had to travel much longer than I did to catch the train to Brussels at Rotterdam Central. Nevertheless, he managed to arrive more than half an hour earlier. I couldn’t help but feel ashamed, because thanks to my chaotic existence, we missed our first appointment at a think tank in Brussels. Our visit to the European Parliament and a Flemish journalistic platform also went differently than planned. The price for operating from chaos is that you lose control, at the mercy of circumstances.
Some friends and relatives today are hesitant to call me for fear that they might “harass” me. Then I run from one meeting to another, from deadline to deadline. Those in a permanent state of crisis have little room to go through life uninhibitedly, and to slow down. This is not only the case on a personal level, it also applies to society as a whole.
In the years that I have consciously considered Dutch society, I find it frightening how many similarities there are between my personal state of chaos and the permanent state of crisis in which the Dutch government finds itself. Two of those crises were national news this week: the reception of asylum seekers and the nitrogen issue. Where I missed my transfer because I had not anticipated a delay of my train, the Dutch government reacted much too late to both the collection and nitrogen issues due to lack of focus. Where I run from deadline to deadline, the Dutch government bumps from crisis to crisis. Where my friends and relatives are afraid to ‘disturb’ me, the Dutch government always treats its citizens as a burden.
To understand why my life is in a permanent state of chaos, you need to take me to a clinical psychologist. There you will meet someone who keeps several balls in the air as a survival strategy, so that he does not have to confront himself with his own fear. To understand why the Dutch government is in a permanent state of crisis, you need to delve into history. There you will find politicians and policymakers who have been taken over by the tyranny of the everyday and the lobbying of influential companies, rather than making painful choices for the sake of long-term stability.
The cliché goes that without darkness the light cannot know itself; duality is an inherent part of life. There are plenty of times when operating from chaos can be romanticized as resistance to the over-organized society. As sharply articulated by Henry Adams, chaos was the law of nature, order was a dream of mankind. Operating from chaos, friction allows us to question existing paths and present alternative solutions. Not only on a personal level, but also on a collective level. Just look at the Second World War, the financial crisis, the corona crisis, and now the Russian war in Ukraine. These chaotic events enabled Europe to operate as a community of values despite cultural and economic differences.
But it becomes risky if we start to see crises as the status quo. Because where we as individuals can become overwrought as a result of permanent incentives and operate from a crisis situation, a government can also lose its clout, as a result of which it always responds to complex problems out of impotence, instead of acting as a ruler.
Let’s reflect on this summer recess to prevent our government from ending up in a burnout. In any case, I am absent from this place.
Kiza Magendane is a political scientist and writes a column here every other week.
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of June 24, 2022