Headlights

unIMG_6493Last year, Ghent was completely made over by light architects to boast its architecture and promote its tourism. To celebrate, the city organized a grotesque light festival so mainstream media would notice. In case the intention of whoring to the public was unclear, they apparently made it an annual event, with its second edition now finished.

For a couple days, artists get the chance to plant installations all over the city, from projections onto walls to self-supporting archways of LEDs. Some react to sound, some allow for interaction through projection of live images. It’s cute. I was a big fan last year.

This year, it’s just getting annoying. It seems like Ghent wants to refresh its image as “city of light” and get in line with Paris, Prague, New York, London- Every single country needs to have a town to shove forward as the city of light. The biggest difference is that most of those can support the kind of crowd a major event like this attracts. About 1% of the attendees needs to be retarded enough to drive their Winnebago straight into the city center thinking they’ll find parking space, to dip traffic into chaos. It wouldn’t be the first time that they need to shut off the highway and essentially cut off the place from the rest of the world, to stop the flow of ‘BYOB’ style tourists pouring in.
We do not have the parking space. We do not have the accommodation.

unIMG_6506Yes, the festival looks nice. But that’s where it ends. The locals seem to support it more than the Ghent Festival, as if we needed another explosion of foreigners to test the capacity of a medieval city. I don’t think I’ll make the mistake of heading out with my camera again next year, and join the army of photographers shoving each other to get that same underexposed shot of a highlighted building, portraying the same tricks as last year.

Yes, the local bars profit from it. Like they needed another free-for-all with profits unimaginable to cafes outside the city center. Newsflash: Fat tourists with fat wallets raise prices, making Ghent unlivable in yet another way for the locals.

It might seem like a cute idea to start organizing artificial celebrations, patting ourselves on the back for the light pollution we have installed and promoting Ghent on international level. In reality, I don’t think we need this, and the city can’t handle it. I got hit twice today by drivers looking sideways for parking space, had to arch around the city to get home, and saw my home town groan under another oversized crowd I don’t remember asking for. Nope, not a fan.

unIMG_6504


I was “invited” to another “conversation” at the agency for unemployment income- The dreaded RVA (Reichstienst Vür Arbeit). Dreaded, because the only time when you hear from them is when you fucked up again and your paperwork needs sorting out.

While I have half a dozen jobs running, I am technically unemployed in the sense that I’m not a permanent employee anywhere. That suits me fine but causes the RVA to define me as ‘involuntarily unemployed’. They actually don’t have a ‘voluntary’ status so what happens is, they force-feed me money and then blame me for taking it. Not that I’m ungrateful but I find that a little backward.

Part of their job is to harass me enough so that I’d go work in some factory. These “conversations” as they call them, are actually just threats and to clarify that I’m their little bitch, or suspend me and fuck me financially. I don’t really care about being cut off, but with my luck I’ll likely end up ruined two months from now and come crawling back. That means I have to make a good impression.

They didn’t cut me off, in fact they congratulated me with my efforts and sent me on my way. I’ve been making excuses for the shit I do all my life, you see- I’ve become rather good at it.
Not that I would blame them if they did. Society might think free money is our god-given right but I disagree, and would understand if they decided I’m just leeching and need to be removed from the system.

I had to sit in the waiting room for just under two hours, and during that time, saw a lot of people come and go. They all had to wait and I’ll agree, after a while even I was feeling slightly hostile towards the people who first let me sit there for hours and then judge me like some criminal. But it still seems my attitude differs somewhat from the public opinion. One girl even said “I’m going to win this because so and so” while I don’t see how this is a contest you can win.

Frankly, I am finding it very hard to relate to those 99%ers who complain about having so little money. If you hear how the poorer half of our grandparents’ generation lived, I think you’d have to be in a seriously shitty situation to be worse off. Cars were unaffordable, hell- even butter on your sandwich was a privilege for the rich.

If you see our situation in perspective, you might sometimes –like me- lose touch with all this protest about money distribution. Even the poorest of my friends, who really do struggle to make ends meet, are well dressed, have a heated house, and rarely grow hungry. If you compare that to those who need to wonder how they’ll live through the next day, you might realize that you and I just might be much closer to that 1% than we realize, at least on a global scale.

It’s insane how well we have it. Literally. Could you explain to a starving child how we literally bathe in drinking water, how we let food go bad, how we sit and drink beer and still dare to complain about how rough life is for us? I have moments when I feel a gut-wrenching wave of shame wash through me, when another chain reaction of strikes is announced by the unions, who find themselves fresh out of use. If anything will cause the downfall of our society, it is the arrogance to think that we have a right to all the things thrown into our lap.

While I am not making excuses for how the country is run by corporate companies, most of the current complaints involve problems I pointed out back in 2007 and it wasn’t like I was inventing hot water, even then. Things haven’t changed since, I don’t think they have even worsened much. It’s just that we’re in recession and we’re looking for someone to blame: The guys who have the money. I’m afraid it all just boils down to jealousy and while the statements might be absolutely correct, I tend to find all these accusations a little… misplaced.

I know some people have it difficult and I know some of us make more than they should. I know larger companies know loopholes to the point where they actually turn their taxes into a source of income, while small companies go bankrupt.
I understand all of that, and I understand the injustice that shouldn’t be. But somehow, I really feel like we’re missing the real point:
The difference in luxury between someone with my income and someone at the top of a large company, is tiny, compared to the same difference between me and a Libyan refugee.
Tell me I’m wrong.

Easy coming from a guy who gets his money from RVA and the honest tax payer without moving a finger, you might think, but I’d like to point out that I don’t actually receive a thing. I blocked the process by not filling in the necessary paperwork and have not received a cent since I moved, last summer (and would only sporadically accept free income before then). I risk a fine for it, but can’t bring myself to asking for things I don’t feel I deserve.
I am up to my ears in poverty, and that suits me just fine. I have everything I need and so much more. While I may not be a single mother or running a small company, I think it might be time to count our blessings and shift our focus just a little from personal gain, to global gain. We are so far ahead of real poverty, I’ve been feeling it’s time that maybe, we back up a little.

Given, of course, that our wealthiest do the same.

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