At the end of this year, the big questions remain unanswered: Peace at last or more war? Are we witnessing the revitalization of democracy or another move into the camp of despotism? Will climate change only be lamented or finally fought?
These questions, that much is certain, will very naturally move towards an answer in the coming year. War, climate, populism: history sometimes pushes for answers with brute force, although history – thank God, one must say – loves to give small, because provisional, answers to big questions.
We often stand in our own way when trying to answer rationally. There are five phenomena that characterize the zeitgeist of these days (we can also call it the political mainstream) – and that are not good for us. Here are the five vocabulary words that must be mastered before we can recover:
There is left and right conservatism, which have in common that they impede progress.
When it comes to nature, animal husbandry and nutrition, left-wing conservatism cultivates a romantic notion of the natural order of things. So people are trying to restore a farm idyll that disappeared decades ago, which is why economic growth and any form of intensive economic activity are experienced as hostile. In your inner anguish you’re glued to the street.
When it comes to migration, religion and partnership, right-wing conservatism dreams of the homogeneous and hierarchical society of the 1960s – when Germany belonged to the Germans and women belonged to men. A modern immigration society that strives for diversity and does not sort itself according to origin, religion and skin color cannot be built with this mindset.
Both conservatisms fight progress or at least offer passive resistance. For our society, this calculation cannot add up: plus and minus equals zero.
The modern media, especially those that call themselves social, are less concerned with informing the recipient than with triggering waves of excitement in their innermost being. The best way to catch the corresponding trigger point is to trivialize and fictionalize real problems, because the use and exchange value of information only arises when complexity is reduced.
It is, said Peter Sloterdijk when accepting the Ludwig Börne Prize in Frankfurt’s Paulskirche, about the “injection of mental infections”, the journalist becomes “an investor in excitement” and thus a professional “distortionist”: “That distortions in the As a general rule, you shouldn’t let that deter you if you state ‘journalist’ as your profession.”
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As a result, the audience experiences what psychologists call catastrophizing. The compass calibrated to measure and center is replaced by an oversized magnifying glass that makes every ant appear like a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The result is foreseeable: the frightened person is no longer progressive. He is now the snail that stops moving forward and retreats into the snail shell. The frightened creature is waiting. She’s shivering. It does not call for revolution, but for protection.
The old belief that real questions of power can only be decided with violence and that war does not mean failure, but rather the continuation of politics by other means, has returned to Europe.
Putin ushered in the renaissance of bellicoseism, which seemed discredited after the Second World War with its 60 million deaths.
Admittedly, the failure of this way of thinking can be seen in the Ukraine – as before in Vietnam and Afghanistan – where Putin is unable to achieve any of his war goals at a reasonable cost. And yet military fantasies are now flourishing in the West as well. Plowshares are hastily forged into swords: the armaments companies experience the heyday of their time. The stock market speculates on war.
The formalization of life is taking place in our time, which thirsts strongly for justice. Everything has to be comparable and ideally the same. We live, writes Botho Strauss, in a “presence dominated by the same and similar”.
This longing for formal equality affects gender roles, standardized working lives, the educational qualifications of immigrants, but also environmental regulations in the workplace. A primal force has set in, which translates the word difference as injustice and thus strives for levelling.
This longing is the birth of bureaucracy, which is striving for its climax in the leveling of all conditions, which it will of course never experience, which is why it is all the more angrily demanding new indicators, reporting obligations and equal opportunities officers. This is how we become more equal, but not better.
The belief in being the winner of history began in the West shortly after the implosion of the Soviet Union. Political triumphalism became the new religion in Ronald Reagan’s United States—and soon here, too.
According to this ideology, the reunification of the two Germanys was not used for a new start together, but rather organized as the loser Germans joining the victor Germany. No wonder: The Jammer-Ossi was the logical counterpart to the Better-Wessi.
The up-and-coming economic power China has now also entered the race. Meanwhile, Asian triumphalism and American claims to superiority are getting in each other’s way.
There can only be one, that’s the logic of both sides. Exactly this finality will not occur. The philosopher Markus Gabriel knows why: “We won’t encounter a boss like in a video game, after which the end credits will run congratulating us on the final triumph.”
Conclusion: The opponent we fear is not in Beijing, Washington or Tehran, but in the middle of our heads. In the coming year we have to deal with our fears like the artist Jonathan Meese shows us: “I banish my demon. Look for it, find it, kill it. That’s the future.”
Gabor Steingart is one of the best-known journalists in the country. He publishes the newsletter The Pioneer Briefing. The podcast of the same name is Germany’s leading daily podcast for politics and business. Since May 2020, Steingart has been working with his editorial staff on the ship “The Pioneer One”. Before founding Media Pioneer, Steingart was, among other things, Chairman of the Management Board of the Handelsblatt Media Group. You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.
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