Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Newsletter September - October 2016





In many streets of Berlin but especially in the areas of nobleness, there is no one no where to be seen. It is as if life has disappeared into the nearby houses standing there wordless. Such a term seems strange to use when compared to life in the South, especially to a city like Athens.

A better term might be 'speechless' what Berlin faces come the election on Sept. 18th. There are different alternatives but none of them are really convincing. Consequently many do not really know for whom to cast their vote. Since the last election, too much doubt prevails about all parties. It has left the voters without a conviction in any of the advocated political directions. Hence it is not surprising that the ones who are most schrill and extreme tend to be those claiming to be the Alternative to the established parties. Even the Greens living too long off the weakness of the other parties find themselves suddenly confronted with the possibility of not gaining more votes and even to risk a drop in support. It has not done them any good to be in opposition. What counts for the voters is afterall what policies are going to be implemented once elected to do the job.

Naturally there is a lot of commotion about the AfD or Alternative for Germany, a party which has come virtually out of nowhere and gaining last in the election in Mecklenburg/Vorpommern 21% of the vote. Many have difficulties to take them serious or to make sense of them. Are they dangerous since leaning to the extreme Right since driven by xenophobie and racism or are they harmless so that no much media attention should be given to them? Whatever, established politicians seem to have difficulties to counter their typical arguments. One of their main ones derives its philosophical spearhead from Sloterdijk who accuses the media of having undermined any sense of public truth. Hence they can engage themselves in a new form of mendacity and claim immediately if the media takes them by the word that the media is lying. The new term for that practice demonstrated as well by Trump in the United States is Post-Truism. Hence they can claim more criminals are amongst the many migrants if though the police statistics does not substantiate such a claim. Also they jab into social jealousy by pointing out repeatedly the migrants are being treated better than 'us who are left behind'. Still, all that does not suffice to explain their surge in popularity or to call them merely populists who are for a politics of simplicity. They are definitely a party of the resigned since their counter argument to the famous statement made by Merkel in 2015 that Germany shall make it when taking in over a million or more migrants is 'that we shall not make it.'

One interesting comment to understand a possible deeper reason for both the lack of conviction and dissatisfaction has been all this is not so much a challenge to the parties themselves but a questioning of the kind of knowledge which has dominated politics for too long. That includes assumptions about what works, what not. This deeper unease exists without having its own knowledge base and therefore finds it difficult to articulate itself. One analysis of those who voted for the BREXIT in the UK points out that unease exists about certain experts propagating certain assumptions which no longer hold in the eyes of most voters. This applies especialy to economists behind the neo liberal policy propagating austerity measures but is as well directed against the technocratic governance which claimed until now successfully to be completely neutral i.e. interest free, when in fact it is highly politicized. A part of that argumentation is directed as well against lobbies having influence upon decision making processes but not the ordinary citizens. 

What it amounts to in reality is an epistemological revolt and could derive some sense from Michel Foucault's 'Order of Things'. Such a shift of power in how defines the perception and meaning of things reflects an growing unease on how things have been defined, categorized and ordered. By the same token, people are slowly realizing on how they have been defined no longer suffices to deal adequately with a world changing in a direction which promises no longer prosperity but greater insecurity. In a certain way, they have to acknowledge that holding onto their identities no longer suffices to have a clear orientation in life. All the more is strange that not only the AfD but also Merkel misinterpret this as if wishing to stay the same by holding onto an image of oneself as if it does not require any change.

Hence politics but also the media lands in futile attempts to explain certain contradictions e.g. why Germans living in a wealthy society are dissatisfied or voters in Mecklenburg/Vorpommern fear foreigners even though they have the least amount present in their state? Such attempts to explain a contraction miss this point. For one, Cornelius Castoriadis pointed out in an age of iterative logic used by the IT sector and which is installed in every computer does away with any thinking in terms of contradictions as used to be still the case by Hegel in the nineteenth century. On the other hand, the revolt is more about no longer wishing to be silenced in a fake political debate which assumes a self-understanding that is no longer self-understood or understood by nearly everyone.

The philosophical gambit of politics is to acknowledge what defines the 'self' and thereby constitutes the self-understanding in society. Without going here into details since it poses a huge philosophical challenge, clarification thereof does require reflection of what constitutes not just man as a 'political animal' (Aristotle), but what makes possible being social and individual at one and the same time. In one discussion broadcast by Kulturradio Germany one woman said empathy has not really entered yet the political debate. It is well known empathy as understanding of the other is only possible if there is not only an imagination which is alive and the prerequisite for a dialogue with reality, but a possibility given by language to reflect what the other imagines would be a desirable future. The latter has been marked by philosophy, ideology and politics as being everything from utopia to a human reality lived and enjoyed by everyone because access to community has become the Right of everyone. Thus it is a question of how to translate these older models providing orientation into a contemporary setting having to deal with many new challenges. Again the flood of information makes it into an epistemological question as to what needs to be known for making the right decision. That there is much doubt and delay in drawing sound conclusions explains already why so many do not know how to cast their vote.

Naturally it is difficult to gauge the real reasons for this political shift in Germany since the constant reference to fear of being over demanded by the many migrants coming into the country has transformed the political discourse once again into a psychological introspection.

Likewise it may be a mere semantic difference between Merkel saying "Germany will remain the Germany we love and value" compared to Seehofer's slogan "Germany must remain to be Germany", for both attempt to reinforce a nationalist sentiment to solicit support for their political position. The latter assumes what people want to hear and to be the core of policy. However, it falls way short of what Germany is all about especially if it implies to forget Europe and the rest of the world.

German socity is a highly explosive mixture of high competence and yet shallow knowledge of life. The latter is due to the fact that a real historical reflection over the ages is missing. Official cultural policy has fixated memory to not forgetting the past as defined by the terrible involvement of Germany in two World Wars and in having committed huge astrocities against humanity. As indicated already by Günter Grass in his novel 'The Tin Drum', the alternative to the marching order of the Nazis was the traditional folkdance. It means simply identity formations officially allowed is always stipulated as German (not European) law and culturally speaking a matter to be confined to some localism or patriotic song dedicated to the swans, so that people can be kept in the illusion this Germany will stay as it was always. It does create nostalgic feelings which are all too easily traceable back to a certain order of things. A closer look will tell immediately that it excludes the plurality of things and invites instead a kind of craziness not to be lived at a small and human scale where individual actions do not really harm others, but at a much larger scale since still the desire to be heroic and to stand out is most desired. Footballers are not just players if they won the world cup, but are 'Weltmeister' or masters of the world. That over-drive or over-zealous belief if to achieve anything it has to be done by an expansionist drive produces the real contradiction to what is being claimed as a wish to live in a world as it was. Rather the thirst for something more than what immediate life or the surrounding society can offer explains the real dissatisfaction.

There comes to mind the fear of being 'over demanded' and therefore to fail. That might explain a bit better one further source of a hidden fear reinforced by society following but a simple model of being successful or not. In a trade off to this fear is mentioned also the sense as if the global world is too complex and therefore the wish to return to a more simple model of life re-surges. Again it contradicts the expansionist drive. Moreover regardless whether now voters in the countrysite of Great Britain who supported Brexit or those who voted for the AfD in Mecklenburg/Vorpommer, they may have similar sentiments, but already it is clear especially to the tourist branch that a closed off world goes completely against the practical business interest. In other words, all localities require tourists and incoming business to survive, so that hospitality goes hand in hand together with love for the stranger. There is no alternative to being open to the world.

It has been a long standing impression especially in Great Britain that Germans tend too much to engage themselves in soul searches and still they never succeed in coming to reason with their own self understanding. This may well be as Adorno pointed out that the concept 'self' is most difficult to define, and since not to be reduced to the individual alone, it makes no sense to cut oneself off from how others understand you. Self understanding is as well a key term to cover all the assumptions made in public as to what is expected in terms of behaviour of the other. This includes waiting at the intersection when the signal is red.


Hatto Fischer 10.9.2016

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