The Happiness Inquisition

Before I publish a book, I usually do a Google search for the working title, to make sure mine is as original as possible. In the case of my novella, then titled The War on Parents, I came across an already existing non-fiction work with that exact title. The novella, only 20,000 words, contains a story within the story; a fairy tale one of the characters tells, and which was then called The Land of No Tears. I decided to change both the title of the novella and that of the fairy tale inside it to The Happiness Inquisition and it is according to that title that the cover illustration was designed – an image that has evoked quite different reactions over the years. But to understand the illustration and the title, one must understand the context and message of the book.

Happiness Inquisition - cover.jpg

It was 2009 when a New Zealand politician, following the example of big brother USA, decided to win herself some votes by pushing a bill that was to make smacking illegal. Before and after New Zealand, most western countries obediently did the same.

Having lived in the USA and aware of the psychological danger of such a one-sided law, I joined the protest, which included writing The Happiness Inquisition, to relate the emotional consequences of such a law to the readers and voters.

The protest, however, was predominantly led by people and groups with Christian values and within no time, those promoting the bill turned it into a science versus religion debate, while the real issue was ignored. Needless to say, apart from a few politicians, who were already against the bill, my book did not get much attention. Of all the publications and newspapers I did send a copy to, only one reviewer understood the message:

Nōnen Títi has written and published this book in light of the upcoming referendum on the “anti-smacking” law. It’s a relatively short narrative that could be read in under an hour, showing the disastrous effects of one anonymous telephone call.

It is set in a neighbourhood where everybody is afraid of the police and of each other, of being “dobbed in” and of having their children taken from them. While the story is written in third person, we see events through the eyes of several characters and each person’s perception of the incident that started the action.

This story is bleak. There is no happy ending although characters do come to realise that perceptions may have been wrong and conclusions jumped to that were not altogether correct.

If you’re against the “anti-smacking” law, this may be a book that you buy to distribute to those whose sensibilities are not so clear-cut. A terrifying and eye-opening read.
Naida Mulligen (The Southland Times)

The referendum was held, and despite efforts of those promoting the bill, most voters (many being parents) did not fall for the suggestion that the serious cases of abuse that were used as examples – like children being beaten to death and being put in the washing machine – had until then been legal. Nevertheless, the law was pushed despite this voice of the people, and, although it was recently declared a failure, it is still in effect.

As predicted, its consequences were destructive for decent parents, who now have to be afraid of the police, of neighbours, of school teachers and everybody else who’d been forced to report suspicion of parental discipline to the police, while the instigating politician fled the public scene, without taking responsibility for the countless destroyed homes, the massive increase in stress levels in parents and subsequent syndromes and insecurity in children, who today have to grow up without healthy limits – State Sanctioned Emotional Neglect.

Having recently reread the book, I still believe in its message, and I hope it will have a twofold role: to help efforts to reverse this destructive law and to help support those people who feel deserted and in emotional distress because of it to understand that it is not their fault and that they are not alone.

The only thing I might change for a second edition is the mention of the cost of a doctor’s visit, because in New Zealand a consultation for children is free of charge. However, the book was intended for all western countries, since this is not just a New Zealand problem. It is a short story with a very big message, and I hope that maybe a film maker somewhere will one day help bring it to a bigger audience.

The book is available as eBook (ePub and Kindle) from meBooks and as paperback from The Copy Press or via my own website.

Thank you for reading.

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Autonomous Individual

I am a writer for social progress and a positive future for all the people in the world. My books are based on a deep understanding of group psychology and what motivates individual people. This understanding includes the notion that not every reader will be able to accept my books.

To create a better world, change is needed; we need to change some things we are today taking for granted, even if we believe that those things are dear to us. Change cannot happen in a stagnant and dogmatic world. My job, as a writer, is to wake up the masses to the need for change.

It is well known that all innovative ideas get a lot of resistance, because most people will not accept something until it is confirmed by their environment. Novel ideas usually require a tipping point – a point at which enough people accept it for it to start spreading, sometimes aided by support from a celebrity or authority. Of course, soon after this acceptance, it tends to become dogma, because these same masses want everybody to believe what they do, so that the few who still resist the idea are dismissed as much as the originators of the idea were.

That is because, by their very nature, most people take things at face value and judge according to the current beliefs without putting them in context. Consequently, they’ll get indignant if you even suggest they might have believed differently only a decade ago. Good examples are ideas about ethnic and gender equality and, more recently, sexual orientation equality, as well as notions about beauty. And not only social ideas, but scientific ideas, like the environmental issues, need a tipping point.

Consequently, speaking out for innovative ideas or against the way the world functions today, tends to not be welcomed – especially not by those who are doing well in today’s world; those in power and those who naturally follow or are quite cosy not thinking about social change.

In short, if a writer for social change wants to have an impact, the reader needs to be ready to be woken up. They need to be able to reconsider the beliefs and truths they have grown up with, and to suspend judgment. People who are used to getting their opinions from their environment or from authority – even if they are not always aware of that – will feel an inner resistance to reading what opposes such notions.

My books are written to achieve a re-evaluation of our norms and values. Readers who are not, by nature, autonomous individuals, will feel uncomfortable reading my books. It makes no difference what age you are, because this is part of your personality. Some adults will not grasp the underlying message of my stories, while an 11-year-old of the right personality will get it instantly. I am therefore not hereby making accusations or dismissing the people who naturally follow or don’t like social change. I am only saying, you might not like my books:

In the Real World follows two 16-year-old cousins, who, when trying to make sense of real world issues like war and human rights, find themselves in conflict with their school about obedience and uniforms. Although it starts on Anzac Day, the story could be set in any location, as it deals not with the actions of war, but with the emotions of it – emotions that exist in all people.

The protagonist of Soup and Bread is Vonnie, a healthy 11-year-old, whose carefree life is disrupted when Mum decides she had enough of fussy eaters, and the new boy at school accuses her of being a bystander to the bullying. After a confrontation with serious health and food problems in other children, Vonnie learns that she can use her own “lucky” body and mind to speak out for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

Lohland follows Kaie, who turns from an easy-going 13-year-old into an obnoxious teen when his parents decide to move to the independent city state of Lohland – which lies two hundred meters below sea level in a time when “global warming is real” – and which means he has to give up his comfortable home, his language, his calendar and the celebrations he is used to. But his boycott ends when he discovers the architecture and engineering works needed to keep his new home safe from global warming. Could he help make a positive difference for the future?

 The Happiness Inquisition is a novella, primarily written for adults, but suitable for age eleven and up. It begins with the victim of an act of child abuse being admitted to hospital and, through the eyes of five point of view characters, each of whom has a role to play in the events that lead to the tragedy, deals with the judgment of a society that thrives on guilt induction.

Of a Note in a Cosmic Song is the title of a five-part science fiction novel that spans eight years in the lives of a large group of space colonists. From the heartbreak of deciding to leave their planet, through the cabin fever of space travel and the desperation of the political and environmental unrest of their arrival upon their new home, the books take the reader with the colonists on a high-tech journey from the oppressive planet DJar to the mysterious and eerie Kun DJar. No matter how advanced, it takes more than technology to colonize a whole new world.

All eBooks are currently on sale and can be purchased directly through the links provided, both ePub and Kindle format. Print copies can be ordered directly via my website, but they are priced to include shipping costs from New Zealand.

Thank you for reading.

What is in a Title?

Picking the title of a book is almost as difficult as writing its blurb and it is at least as important. There is no real agreement what makes a good title. Do they have to be catchy, original, outlandish, common, full of key words or simple?

Of my fiction books, two have a title that is common. I get at least one Google alert a day for those titles and they are never about my books.

My science fiction series has titles nobody else has, because I made those words up. I get no alerts.

I have two fiction books with original titles, but no indication that those get more or less attention than the common titles.

My non-fiction series has as its series title The Music of Life. This has resulted in it being put in the music section of some book shops, although the title is a metaphor and the books are about psychological types. The last of that series is just released, but the title for it had been created (and announced in the other books) at least six years ago.

I am not sure whether I would have picked a different title if I had to choose again. Personally, I tend to feel attracted to that which is different and am more likely to pick up a book with an odd title, just to see what it is about. But the the first thing many people say is,

Homological Composition! What does that even mean?”

Indeed, what does it mean? Does it mean that people are going to turn away, scared off by the title, or attracted to it, exactly because it is different?

Since the book is about psychological types and the theory explains why people react so differently to everything concerning information, I am pretty sure that there will be both reactions to the title, depending on the type of the person reading it.

And that goes for any title.

The reason I chose it is because “homology” refers to our common evolutionary origin that is expressed in similar, yet diverse, psychological human types, and a composition is an artistic or intellectual creation. Not only is the book an intellectual creation, but humanity with all its diversity is the composition that makes intellect and artistic expression possible.

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The Art of Begging

What do you first think of when you hear the word “begging”?

For me, growing up in The Netherlands where there was social security, it used to be the hungry children in developing countries I saw on TV.

It wasn’t until I started travelling abroad that I noticed people at night checking garbage bins for something worthwhile. Of course, it is perfectly possible that this also happened in the big cities in The Netherlands, but I had never seen it and being confronted with it in Athens, Brussels and New York – places I had considered rich and therefore capable of providing their citizens with at least enough to eat and a place to live – shocked me.

Since then I’ve learned that the wealth of a country that calls itself democratic is not a reflection of the wealth of its citizens (its voting population) and I have become somewhat used to seeing people sit on the pavement in a busy shopping area with a sign and a pot asking for money – even though it makes me uncomfortable.

But this post is not intended as a discussion of the rights and wrongs of western economy and politics or the poverty of a large part of the world population.

I want to discuss the act of begging itself.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, “to beg” means “to ask for as a charity”, “to entreat” (plead urgently) or “to require as necessary or appropriate”.

Considering these definitions, the child begging on the street corner for a bit of money to pay for food, clothing or school books is asking for charity for himself as a necessity – not just in his own eyes, but in those of most people – and this requirement is urgent, so that it can be considered appropriate. Though it makes me sad that it is necessary for many people to beg for their basic needs of life, I have no ethical issue with the act of begging for this purpose.

What I do have an issue with is the begging that is required of western children (often those of well-off parents) in order to help pay for a communal project or a larger charity in which the interest for the involved children is only that of being the beggar – not the beneficiary or the organizer. In other words, it is not their project but a project that is imposed upon them and which they may not even know the details of or agree with. They are not asking for themselves but for a third party.

Thus,  they may be asking for a charity and this may even be an urgent need, but the individual beggar has no necessity and my issue here is to question its appropriateness.

Now there are different angles to approach this topic with and it depends on the personality type of each person how they will feel about it.

There are those who consider it a good way to instil in children a sense of community and responsibility and to create awareness of how good they have it if compared to those the charity is for – it can be a larger project like “feed the world”, an awareness project to support a minority group, a project for research (cancer charities) or a project that has to do with raising money for a local club or hospital.

The other view – and the population is roughly 50:50 divided according to personality type theory – considers this manner of begging an ethical insult on their autonomy for two reasons: firstly, the being forced to participate because it is expected (the sense of making the act of begging into a moral obligation) and secondly, the act of begging itself being presented as a legitimate way to get to your funds rather than to work for the money.

Note that (despite my own preference) I do not say that either view – “group-responsibility” or “self-accountability” – is right or wrong, since these differences are directly related to a person’s psychological type and thus to one’s inborn perspective of life.

I have defined “group responsibility” as “the sense of belonging to the community one lives in and the duty of every member to partake in what needs to be done” (Concerto for Mankind: 351). In other words, the community is expected to take priority over the individual; the responsibility to obey the moral values of the group and to do one’s duty comes with being a member of the group, regardless of whether that membership was a choice. Thus being born in a certain country or being legally obliged to attend school makes one a member with obligations.

I have defined “self-accountability” as “the expectation that a person actively chooses his membership in groups and is fully accountable for the obligations that follow from this choice” (Concerto for Mankind: 372). Thus the group is expected to allow for the views of each individual and being born in a place or a legal requirement to attend school does not make one morally responsible for participating in that group since it was not an autonomous decision.

Again, this is an inborn perspective difference that cannot be changed. Western society currently supports the first perspective and thus believes that all citizens should share this view or else be considered undemocratic, selfish, manipulative, psychopathic, antisocial and so on. Today, with the risk of pre-emptive justice based on such labels greater than ever, it is extremely important that people become aware of these different perspectives as being different expressions of normal human psychology.

Allow me some personal examples.

When I was young all the fifth and sixth graders of both public and religious primary schools were supposed to go door to door to sell “children’s stamps” – specially printed sets of postage stamps and postcards of which the proceeds went to a nationwide charity – once a year. Not only was each child expected to participate, but between schools it was a competition with some schools allowing their students to leave fifteen minutes early so as to get a head start.

I absolutely detested that project because it is not in my nature to go and ring the doorbell of a stranger to try and sell them something and because asking for money (regardless of whether it is in exchange for goods) is something I don’t like doing. Today, knowing personality type theory, I know why that is and I know that I’m not alone in this view, but when I was ten and eleven I felt forced to go to a few neighbours I knew and have my family buy the rest to prevent being berated at school by teachers saying I was antisocial, did not care for the poor people and was not helping the school win the most points.

Later, when I had my own family in the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand, I have had children ringing my doorbell asking for money (usually in exchange for chocolate bars) for their local scout group, their local netball team or their school. My daughters have occasionally been given boxes of chocolate with the expectation they sell them – by the same schools that lecture these children about how bad chocolate is for your health.

If the child at the door was one I knew I’d usually buy something – so as not to burden them with my political views and for that same reason I gave my children the choice whether they wanted to participate – otherwise I turned those children away, especially those that wore some kind of uniform (scouts or school).

In New Zealand they regularly have high school children (in uniform) standing at street corners or in supermarkets trying to get shoppers to part with their money before buying their groceries – yet those same schools complain that parents are not giving their children proper lunches or enough milk. And as far as I know, scouts are supposed to help people in need not exploit others by putting children out to beg.

My policy with any charity is that you can send me things in my mailbox to make me aware of your existence, but if I want to donate I will come to you. The moment somebody accosts me, I feel that my privacy is invaded and turn them down on principle, regardless if what the cause is.

If a charity uses school children (during school hours), then in my view they are using class time to teach them how to beg. The key of the art involved is the use of the innocent looking and the obedient (in uniform) and the objective is to make the public feel guilty or ashamed and so entice them to donate.

This appeal to shame or guilt – if you don’t give your neighbours may see you – I consider totally unethical. Besides it being emotional blackmail, they are teaching children that it is okay to beg and that peer pressure is an acceptable tactic to force people into compliance.

Even more unethical I consider the begging we start seeing more and more on “reality TV”, where some so-called charity is offering to change somebody’s home (usually with a sob story as an excuse) but without the budget (from the TV producer or network) to actually pull it off, so they invade a local store (usually a small business trying to make ends meet) and literally ask them for free donations of material. The store owner has no choice but to say yes – after all there is a guy with a camera standing behind them, while the presenter of these programmes is no doubt getting a fat salary out of the deal, as is the producer.

This attitude, in which school children and viewers are made to believe that begging is a moral good, equates the sad truth that some people do not have enough to eat with the moral choice of asking for favours using guilt and shame induction.

To me, begging is a desperate last resort for people who have nothing and it should not be made into a moral obligation.