Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

What lies ahead?

In politics, it is said that there are usually some or even several options possible but all of which have some pros and cons. What politicians decide upon in the final end, depends on numerous factors, including the distance of time from the next elections. The bringing about of these decisions entails most often working out of a compromise, the outcome thereof shall in due time of a legislative process be presented by those having the power as having adopted a particular blend or mix of policy measures.

As is very well known politics of the possible depends, of course, upon what is available not merely on the market, nor exclusively only on the budget (despite Schumpeter calling the latter the most powerful voice in history). Rather it depends fore mostly upon what is being articulated within society and which Jürgen Habermas has called the 'publicness of reason'. Since this concept applies more to society, media and in general what is understood by public debates, it does not cover in its entirety what entails the knowledge base for articulation of the practical agenda.

Once the knowledge base is activated through articulation to make possible 'rational politics', it reveals a responsiveness of the system to the political heritage. By various institutions, including universities, think tanks, Parliamentary committees, independent organisations and the media reflecting the mood of the citizens, this heritage is passed on from the past to an unknown future. It can become conscious by what gives shape to current debates making certain options visible while surpressing others, if only to enter a mediation process between short- and long-term goals to ensure both consistency of thought and continuity in practice. Since there shall be always immediate necessities to act upon like extinguishing a forest fire while securing job perspectives for a youth, the way this complexity becomes known and is dealt with, that shall determine both the character and the responsiveness of the democratic system to the needs of real persons. The latter has to be distinguished from 'public bodies' and even corporations having been made falsely into 'legal persons' as if they can have the same interests as real people. As one woman expresses it after reflecting Fukushima and what has been happening there since the earth quake and Tsunami struck Japan on March 11th, happiness can be shared only with real persons, not with corporations. This difference matters for the persuit of happiness should not be confused with organisations seeking only to maximize profits even if at the risk of real happiness being lost once nuclear radiation cannot be contained any longer. That Merkel decided immediately to reverse her original decision allowing the extension of time for nuclear power stations so that they could continue operating, underlines that practical wisdom is needed along the lines not everything is possible, even if technically feasible.

Thus only once this knowledge base allows for an articulation by citizens to determine the practical agenda, then can be known how to link up with real needs, correct mistakes of the past and cut short power of those about to gain too much power. Since there is no single solution for everything all at once, politicians are required to position themselves on all matters. This is assuming responsibility for everything happening in society. It entails, therefore, an ethical dimension which can be conveyed by artists, in particular writers, who see and respond to what is happening to people in society. In turn, culture is there to give people an understanding of the situation they are living in.

Lately it has become apparent that most of the solutions sought, are not related to efforts to fulfil demands for social and economic justice. Still, for politics to be rational, it has to be linked with efforts to implement a practical agenda, as sought through debates, evaluations and learning processes. All this has to be linked to ways to seek and to obtain legitimacy for the actions to be undertaken in the name of society as a whole.

Reflections of actions undertaken so far can show what does have an impact upon the way politics is both perceived and implemented as a due process. Some would call it the working through of solutions which entail making use of the system without necessarily staying only within its boundaries. For the freedom of man is encountered in the ability to take decisions and to assume responsibilities for one's actions.

In terms of knowledge, intellectual capacity, vision and theoretical dispositions, decisions made in due course reflect not only what advice has been given, but much more who listened to what kind of arguments which prevailed or were presented prior to the making of decisions! That can be understood as departing from a knowledge base of politics and after having made these decisions, to return to such a base, in order to enrich the heritage of democratic practice.

Things become ever harder when some important things cannot be relied upon e.g. the book keeping and statistical records of the Greek state, in order to account for the huge deficit. Aside from anything else, there is by now a basic breakdown in trust as to what is being reported or what experts claim what can be known about reality. The knowledge about what brought about such a huge state deficit becomes ever more difficult to attain, especially when deficits are virtually calculated on the basis of all kinds of projections, assumptions and set figures such as the assumed economic growth rate within the next year or more. Also reliability has to do with the setting of such premises, by which the calculations made can be reflected upon as to their assumptions. In short, reliable statistical evidence is very difficult to come by but it is no excuse if manipulated beyond recognition as to where mistakes have been made deliberately.

There have been a lot of complaints as of late, especially how the Greek crisis has been dealt with, about European politicians taking too long to respond, and when they do, then most inadequately. It seems as if patchworking is the only thing they can muster at this time.

Nevertheless the political philosophical level must not be forgotten. Given the kind of the discoursive practice M. Foucault envisioned as moving towards a new text, in order to have a basis for a consensus of values to guide law making and legal applications, then this is also not evident within Europe. After the failure to ratify the EU Constitutional Treaty in 2005, the European Union has been flaundering its chances to become a political entity. That has become most evident once the economic, fiscal and monetary crisis has hit the Euro-zone, and by extension, the entire European Union, as it lay bare the lack of economic and political governance.

Moreover politics is a matter as to what gives shape to the practical agenda. It is also a matter of culture, and participation, whether citizens can reflect upon the points on the agenda and articulate what is in their views real needs. Equally of importance is that ideas of possible solutions can be discussed prior to being put not merely into practice, but realized in terms of sound interpretations as to what the concepts like 'intercultural dialogue' entail and what is truly happening in reality. People need to know, and cannot be constantly misled but likewise reality is not strictly given, but in need of further going interpretations. Only then good solutions shall be in the making.

Right now politicians, economists, bankers etc. are inclined to view the problem still in terms of economic growth. Due to pressure especially by Germany wishing to advance austerity measures, it means growth can take place only under the condition of reducing the state deficits. Naturally most of these discussions reveal that fiscal and financial policies are there to keep money circulating and indeed to uphold the confidence in the currency. And all of those involved in the decision making process are aware of the fact, that if there would be a run on the banks, then the entire system could no longer cope. There is even a greater fear of the state of Greece going bankrupt i.e. defaulting, and, thereby, sparking a much larger financial crisis than what the Lehmann affair provoked in 2008.

As Louis Baeck in Belgium would put, the best advice for what lies ahead is: 'fasten your seat belts'. Ihe journey is going to get rougher in his opinion. Naturally, in view of most recent experiences, many people have decided to change course. Some of them even resign from fake tasks. That is a good step in the right direction if they are starting to demand substantial work in response to real needs. For too long almost all kinds of institutions have been engaged in refining tools of public diplomacy - another word for propaganda or public relationships. It includes the filter process by which the press and in general the media works. Not everything is made public. There are still enough ways to cut short any real criticism as image care is more important. Consequently many do not know what lies ahead or where one kind of paradigm of reality ends and another begins.

Precisely here begins in substance the real debate. What do we know? The debate should not be subject to manipulation after manipulation of data, information and opinions? Take, for instance, the talk shows and other public forums, many who participate in them no longer know what they are saying, to whom, for what reason! Argumentation in the public space has become too arbitrary for knowing which policies are implemented, for what reason and what lessons can be learned out of them. Unfortunately not critical thinking is heard, but more and more the kind of sales pitch for which spin doctors are famous for. Despite some good analysis, there is too much rationalisation going on and hence false practices are justified. Michael D. Higgins would point out, we risk becoming 'whores of reason', targets and not the arrows which can fly through the blue sky.

People are deeply worried. They sense that things are at risk of getting out of control. As to Greece, the second bail out due in September is jeopardized by several factors. There are the larger problems in Italy and Spain looming over the Euro-market, and the recent debt ceiling debate in the United States left many doubting ever more the political process. But for Greece itself, there is now established a much lower economic growth estimate for 2011. It is predicted the economy will shrink by 5% at the very least. That does not leave any margin of error nor ensures that enough revenues are going to be collected despite in need of. After all, there has to be paid back the money owed and which is expressed by a huge state debt now tied to conditions entered after having signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the Troika. In view of these and other developments, everything appears to have become too thin to speculate on. Of course, there is always at risk everything if more capital needed than what can be earned, especially if this capital wishes on top of everything else to gamble while the state should safeguard its bets. However, now no one is really sure, if the banks supported by the states are still able to uphold this kind of game.

Then, at European level, EU institutions have lost not only now, but already with the rejection of the EU Constitutional Treaty in 2005 their moral legitimacy; everything since then has been patchwork. The Lisbon Treaty of Merkel is a top down illusionary expression of arrogant politics which still believes in the ability to shape reality at will. No, people are much better informed and have their own strong opinions. Jürgen Habermas calls it the democratic deficit within Europe and means the huge gap between citizens and those who decide how the political process is going to work through the various structures and institutions. Naturally, there is as well this long standing problem of a majority being on the side of anti-politics. That makes it ever more difficult to convince not only the Sceptics, but also a radicalized youth that rational politics within institutions is still possible and can be trusted.

Finally, at world level, we still lack the governance needed to bring about new ideas and to inspire above all to work towards peace. There is Afghanistan and Iraq, but also the entire Middle East which has altered its face due to what happened first in Tunesia, then in Egypt. The recent flare up in the Sinai peninsula reflects a growing sentiment against unjust barriers which keep people like prisoners fenced in. There is a desire to have them be dismantled.

Free movement of ideas has to be linked to the freedom of movement of people. That means the question of allowing or not the return of all the Palestinian refugees is an outstanding question not to be resolved, if Israel continues to grant building permissions for new settlements in precisely the contested areas. Also Israel has to cope with its own internal contradiction or question of social justice.

As to Libya, that country faces now the difficult task of transition after Ghaddafi, while in Syria, politics is ever murkier. How reconciliation shall ever work in that society after so much blood shed, that will be quite a challenge. Not to forget Somalia with the hunger draught but only one aspect of a huge problem spreading to neighboring African countries.

At the same time, Japan has to still cope with the destruction caused by the double combination of earthquake and Tsunami wave which struck on March 11th. Here Kids' Guernica in Japan is doing a lot to invoke a sense of achievement in especially those children who have been affected the most, and who still live today in make-shift shelters.

When Michael D. Higgins calls for a practical agenda which goes beyond mere reflection, he contemplates what it takes to build a peaceful mind. This is said in view that many believe Greece, Europe and the world are really heading for a difficult period in the last quarter of 2011. There is fear that in Greece, but also elsewhere much more violent confrontations shall take place. It indicates that civil society may not be able to uphold a dialogue which would allow the creation of a new social contract. This would be needed in Greece, in order to replace the old one of 1976, that is the constitution drafted after the fall of the Junta. There is a needed a common system of measures to ensure that social and economic justice can be realized. Right now the frightening aspect is that corruption may be too deeply rooted, as to be overcome by reforms. That is especially the case when they are based on only half hearted measures.

Europe has been since 1945 a successful peace project as acknowledged by the Nobel Peace awarded in 2012. This should not be forgotten. But as can be seen onhand of the recent riots in the UK, if member states and the European Union do not work towards social and economic cohesion, then European society shall be polarized between the 'haves' and 'have not'. Also it does not help to use double standards as if a 'law and order' approch would resolve these outstanding issues of poverty and social exclusion.

In that sense, Greece is a good place to reflect what lies ahead. A lot more needs to be done and said, in order to avoid all the depressive and negative moments. The latter express themselves first of all and fore mostly through the breaking up of all kinds of social and personal relationships. It means things are no longer trusted and instead outrightly rejected. A sceptical youth is coming ever closer to the kind of cynicism which Klaus Heinrich interprets as being the highest form of resignation.

Thus there is a need for inspirational thoughts to take things further into the 21st century. That could give some hope for a common ethical ground on which people around the globe can stand.

Hatto Fischer 22.8.2011 (updated 20.1.2013)

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