November 2022


Living in Amsterdam is like living in an exclusive boutique window display; watching the action from behind glass, from the sidelines of the catwalk during fashion week. There is an undeniable attitude dripping from almost everyone in this city; people intoxicated on the fame and prestige of the place itself. This strange phenomenon can be found in New York City, Paris, Sydney, London and other wealthy ‘global cities’.

Modern societies, as in ancient ones, are built on the model of the pyramid: a vast number of workers at the bottom support the opulent lifestyles of the wealthy at the peak.

In the Netherlands, although society may seem more horizontal than elsewhere, there also exists very clear haves and have nots. Segregated from each other not by barbed-wire fences - uncivilised in this age - but by elegant canal rings. In the Dutch capital, these form the socio-economic barrier between those living in the famous UNESCO city centre, and those living on the outskirts of town: the pyramid workers, mostly from the Middle East and Africa. They keep the city running and live in purpose-built housing estates, from which they are now being slowly evicted.

Buzz words like ‘neighbourhood regeneration’ and ‘equal opportunity’ mask a cunning practise: housing corporations in the Netherlands must get 70% sign-off from the original inhabitants of neighbourhoods they want to gentrify and financially profit from, before they can go in and either tear the buildings down or renovate them. A source at Amsterdam City Hall informed me that the corporations count on only about 20% of the original inhabitants actually returning. Their former homes are snapped up, the rent is raised or the dwelling sold; further pricing out many unable to enter the real estate market. Realities like this are to be found in other popular cities around the globe.

In the center of town - riding around on a VanMoof bicycle or in a Mercedes Benz - are those projecting status and high circles of association, a common behaviour here, one so glaring that it feels almost like sport. It is the behaviour of a tribe that principally values money and power. 

In the traditional sense of the word, a tribe must behave as a unit in order to survive in the wilderness. The worth of the individual to the tribe is their contribution to it…one they must prove.

Members of a tribe must adhere to certain behaviours, values, rituals and very often a specific physical appearance. Tribes are inherently uniform— the motto being ‘either fit in, or get out’. Amsterdammers at the top of the pyramid behave in the same fashion: ‘burnout culture’ is idolised; shopping in De Bijenkorf and taking the boat out for a Sunday cruise are popular pastimes - being seen on the waters of the IJsselmeer is the Dutch version of driving a Lamborghini down Rodeo Drive. You will spot this particular tribe in their identical Rains jackets, Givenchy sweaters and spotless white sneakers. 

However, despite wanting to be perceived as rich, never wanting to end up in the ‘other’ tribe, it is this other tribe - existing in sharp contrast - that keeps the fantasy of social status alive at all. The ‘other’ tribe in this case are the poorer and far less advantaged of Dutch society: Moroccans, Turks, Surinamese and the Caucasian Dutch from Nieuw-West, De Bijlmer and the outskirts of Oost, none whom could ever afford the outrageous housing prices elsewhere in the city. Belonging to one tribe, simultaneously means exclusion; to be set apart from the whole. 

Paradoxically, without this ‘other’ polar point to ignore, ridicule or rally against, nobody would actually exist at all. In tribes we inevitably exist in opposition to other tribes, ie: the Republican Party, Jihadists, Antifa, neo-Nazis, Vegans, Climate Acitivists, Brexiters, Podemos, Fratelli d’Italia, etc etc etc….

Wherever one defines themselves as ‘anti-’ this or that, they have allowed their so-called enemy to define their own very existence.


Moving through the crowds on a Sunday afternoon, I feel the pang of mutual uncertainty leaking out just behind the dazzling façades; the fleeting, insecure looks when no one is watching; the secret fear of not being good enough to participate in the grand spectacle.

We are brought up from the very youngest age to get a gold star, be a student of the week, be handsome, get the highest grades, find the best-paying job and live in a nice area. Children are in fact all raised with a rather disturbing sense of competition which allows - even encourages - passing judgements on others, pointing these ‘imperfections’ out in order to boost social credit.

In a shoe store in the fashionable 9 Straatjes, I enter a perfumed space pumping a loud beat. I am looked up and down by the young shop keeper who pouts and glares at me, exchanging a smirk with her colleague. I have only walked into the shop and have done nothing to provoke them. 

We live anonymously with little if no responsibility to one another. This is particularly true of city dwellers who as my father would say: “Wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire.” Sustaining material survival — housing, utilities, food — is becoming increasingly uncertain, fuelled by decades of neoliberalism and corporate-government amalgamation. Most people are simply scared of falling behind against a backdrop of inflation and whispers of the “r” word.

In this context, it makes sense that we are generally on the defensive whenever we step into the public sphere. Actually, all of us are on edge. Our efforts must radiate success.

We must avoid being seen as a failure, at every cost. If we are considered a failure, it could literally mean the gutter - cast out of the tribe and left to die in the wilderness. 

When a person acts cruelly towards another, whether they know them or they are a total stranger, then one cannot say, despite the bravado and confidence projected by this person, that they are at peace within themselves. When I have acted with malice towards others, I have been experiencing inner turmoil, most often sadness, anxiety or fear. “I mustn’t let them see that I am scared”. Imagine the inner monologue of Donald Trump when he turns the light off to sleep, when no one can see him in the dark - how unfulfilled and anxious he must feel. Acting tough is really cover for weakness. Showing ‘weakness’ in the form of vulnerability, is to live in your own skin.   


Slowly, the understanding of why we treat each other so poorly, creates room to be able to not bite back when slighted by another. If we make the effort to get to know ourselves, who we really are without pretending; if we are at simple ease, meeting what is thrown at us and not needing more; if we are without fear and if we do not feel threatened and project our past traumas into the present — then all status-seeking, pomposity and other trivial social behaviour fades away.

We are for the vast majority, spinning cogs in a game of money and influence. All of us, the richest and the poorest, suffer from the same ailment.

Marcus Aurelius said that everyday when we walk out the door we will be met with ignorance, injustice and hypocrisy but that still we must always walk a straight line through it, letting it fall from us as we strive forward. I have never belonged to tribes; I seek adventure, connection, experience and love. I am not sold on the H&M off-the-rack version of capitalist ‘individualism’.  Being yourself is about finding your own way back to who you were as a child, before we were forced to ignore our instincts towards freedom, love and play and mostly left in an adult casing, that is for the most part quite lonely and disconnected - not only from nature, but tragically also from itself.

Fear of not surviving is the root of all judgement.

If we are unsettled or feeling vulnerable to attack, we pick at the imperfections of others, projecting our own insecurities onto a target other than ourselves. In very tangible ways, we comprehend - or ignore - our inner lives by looking to others. After all, we are a social animal; we need one another to grow, to challenge ourselves, to exchange knowledge. We are mirrors for one other, like it or not. Like mushrooms in a forest, inextricably connected, we are dependent on one another for survival. When we eventually die, most people will not care which tribe we were in, which designer bag we wore. Death is the great equaliser. All I ever hear when someone passes away is: “Oh, they were such a nice person”. That’s all that really matters in the end, isn’t it?