Ye shall know them by their Fruits!

This classic saying from the New Testament (Matthew 7:16) confronts effect and cause. A bad effect is not likely to have a good cause, and vice versa. Thorns do not bear grapes, and we find no figs on thistles. We should therefore not rely on fine words and theories. What counts are the effects that arise from them.

Ludwig Boltzmann, the great Austrian physicist, applied this elementary truth to the natural sciences. “It is not logic, not philosophy, not metaphysics that ultimately decides whether something is true or false, but action. That is why I do not consider the achievements of technology to be incidental; I consider them to be logical evidence. If we had not achieved these practical results, we would not know how to argue. Only such conclusions, which have practical success, are correct”

Very well, a type of thinking without proven results,

which regarded all natural phenomena as causally determined, already existed 1500 years before Christ, namely in the so-called Brahmana texts, where all events of the universe were considered to be magically linked to human thinking and acting. What the Vedic priest imagined and then magically set in scene by piling up sacrificial stones and pouring holy butter over them, resulted in definite and inevitable consequences – or so the priests of that time believed. These magicians thought themselves capable of destroying enemy armies with their incantations or of arbitrarily inducing lunar eclipses (apart from healing all possible diseases and misfortunes). The Indologist Hermann Oldenberg described the world view of that time as “prescientific science”; the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss interpreted it as an anticipation of scientific determinism. But it was Ludwig Boltzmann, who highlighted the crucial difference between this way of thinking and the scientific world view that emerged almost two thousand years later in the 17th century. Magical thinking merely wreaked havoc in the minds of priests, but nature remained unchanged. After all, enemies were never really defeated by priests, lunar eclipses were never induced by priests. At some point, these aberrations of mere thinking were doomed to death because people no longer believed in them. In recent times a somewhat bewildered American anthropologist even called them the senseless “jabbering of priests”. So Boltzmann is right indeed and so is the Bible: Ye shall know them by their fruits!

Ludwig Boltzmann was to live until the beginning

of the last century. He could rightly speak of a spectacular success of the natural sciences. Within only three centuries, these had made the states of Europe by far the richest and most powerful of the globe. Never before had a majority of the population enjoyed such great material prosperity, never before had people enjoyed longer lives, never had they been able to protect themselves better against diseases. And technological progress had given Europe enormous power over the rest of the world. By 1914, Great Britain controlled a quarter of the globe’s total land area before it achieved its greatest expansion in 1921. Tiny industrially armed states of a tiny western part of Eurasia had conquered entire continents (North America and Australia) and brought the rest of the world, including the two advanced civilizations of China and India, under their sway. No one was in any doubt as to the reason of this extraordinary success: All those new weapons recently developed with high scientific expertise played the decisive role: They were the direct fruit of the new scientific knowledge and skills.

But beware, how do these fruits look like today

more than a century after Boltzmann? Let’s apply the ethical standard of the Bible and the scientific standard of the great Austrian scientist to our present situation. What conclusion will we reach? Albert Einstein, the theorist, scribbled the famous formula of the equivalence of mass and energy on a piece of paper. This was a Faustian act, but Mephisto was immediately on hand to make a fruit of it, by which to recognize the validity of the theoretical formula. Since then mankind has been living with that enormous arsenal of weapons of mass destruction with which it can exterminate itself more than a hundred times over. No theorist wanted this, least of all Einstein himself, who later warned like no other of the effects of the bomb and saw in a world government the only way to deal with the deadly threat. But thistles are made to carry thorns. If we follow Boltzmann’s logic, we are not allowed to rave one-sidedly about the sweet fruits of science only – such as the historically unique wealth it has brought to a substantial part of the world’s population. No, we must also have the courage to see its poisonous fruits.

It does not even require special courage to do so

An intact world only exists in fairy tale books, the real world is made of a multitude of red lists. From California past Australia and Indonesia to Siberia forests are blazing everywhere. At the same time storms are getting more and more violent and destructive, floods are becoming more and more frequent. Already in 2006 the Stern Report conjured up the frightening prospect that agriculture in large parts of Africa can no longer feed the people so that millions of people can be expected to storm Fortress Europe.

Doctor Faust, the bold theorist, has drawn up those abstract

formulas that give modern man a dominion over nature, which until then was considered a prerogative of God. It was Mephisto, the incarnation of thousands and thousands of gifted engineers, who subsequently put the theory into actual practice. The latter was, as Boltzmann says, its logical proof.

Both together, Doctor Faustus and Mephistoles, embody the two sides of man, whose deeds consist of both good and poisonous fruits. No one, for example, doubts the tremendous progress of medicine. However, its breathtaking not only enabled man to extend life by decades and keep him healthy into old age, but it made us change the genetic make-up of living beings according to our wishes. And now we see Mephisto whispering in  our ears why not apply this ability to humans themselves, so that we may create superman not caring for the danger that he may turn out to be a mere Frankenstein monster? Such prospects are depressing. Our earth will soon become a terrible place unless we are willing and able to put something completely different alongside the superior intelligence of Dr. Faust and his alter ego Mephisto. For such help we must turn to Sophia, human wisdom, which, fortunately, we find in ourselves as well. For the sake of the common good – or rather for the sake of mere survival on an increasingly maltreated planet – Sophia must issue binding ethical rules to protect humanity from itself, namely from the poisonous fruits of scientific intelligence.

For – let us not forget – the fruits of science

cannot be obtained without exploiting things, that is nature and its resources. Without the ever increasing use of coal, oil and gas hidden in the earth’s crust, the industrial revolution would never have happened. With equal justification we may therefore call it “fossil revolution” as well. One of the poisonous fruits of the new scientific world view is that it brought about acts of unbelievable brutality against nature. In the introduction to a new, as yet unpublished book, I use the following comparison:

“Should we not compare our present situation to that of a victorious army that after seizing all the booty of a conquered country now squanders it in a short, drunken frenzy? Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, which should rather be called a fossil flash in the pan, we have been squandering the wealth of the earth and do not want to admit that all this may last for just one or two generations more. And we certainly do not want to be told that our great feast produces poisonous traces all around us: in the air, in the water and in the soil.”

For sensitive ears these are Cassandra warnings,

which endanger the complacent lies of our state-sponsored “positive” world view. But the ecological crisis is a hard fact long since accepted by all leading ecologists. Herman E. Daly, former economic officer of the World Bank, whose ecological writings are considered by many to be represent outstanding examples of scientific analysis, has given my book his explicit applause. ” Dear Dr. Jenner, Thanks for sending me your cogently reasoned, well informed, and clearly written book. I hope it is widely read. Best wishes, Herman E. Daly.

I had already received praise for my writings from economic experts, namely two well-known German economists Bert Rürup and Gerhard Scherhorn. However, I regard Prof. Daly’s benevolent assessment as particularly important, because I know of only a few scientists who uphold the truth even when it turns out to be rather “unsavory” (in Al Gore’s words) and violates the subjection to “political correctness”, which is about to force thinking more and more onto the track of self-censorship.

In any case, my book is certainly not politically correct

for I had no other intention than to be “well informed” with regard to facts, to present a ‘”clearly written” text and all arguments in a “cogently reasoned” way. Nevertheless, will those who demand political correctness so that everybody is content, shy away from some of its statements, even if their professional soundness is expressly acknowledged by an internationally celebrated authority. Ms. Julia Womser, an editor at the German dtv publishing house, with whom I had on telephone arranged the sending of the manuscript, may until now not have understood that even a young student like Greta Thunberg is fully aware of the dramatic situation we are faced with. In any case, my disregard for political correctness apparently upset the lady so much that she did not even consider it necessary to maintain the outward rules of common politeness: Even after a written inquiry – one month after delivery I asked if there was any interest in publishing my book – she did not consider it necessary to give an answer.*1* 

Yes, it is true: The book “Yes, we can – No, we must!”*2*

is characterized throughout by political incorrectness. Renouncing any euphemism, it deals with climate change, migration, basic income and similar topics that have become combat terms for many contemporaries by which to recognize other humans either as like-minded ideological friends or as enemies to be ruthlessly fought. I believe that the scientific search for truth depends on our willingness to deal objectively with each matter – carefully weighing the pros and cons. Open discussion is essential, as criticism constitutes the very essence and impetus of science. What fundamentally contradicts its spirit is the popular shitstorm as well as any secret string pulling in the background. Unfortunately, I had to experience the latter myself. I mention this incident, which in itself is devoid of any general interest, for the sole reason that it has become part of current political correctness too to make oneself small like a sneak and cowardly conceal violations of the ethos of truth and science.

The editor of a German publishing house and a German scientist

acted, in my opinion, quite carelessly, the first with regard to his reputation, the second in view of scientific ethos – such may be the consequences caused by political incorrectness. Or is it not a serious danger for the good reputation of an editor, if two weeks after my inquiry, whether there is any interest in publishing the book, he states that the “idea of the book … naturally suits us and it is surely also Worth /sic!/ to appear in Germany”, but then concludes  only the mail with the standard phrase: “please do not evaluate this refusal as criticism of the book’s quality.” Mind you, Mr. Hirsch said so without having read even one line of the book, because in my publishing offer I had only mentioned the title together with  the benevolent assessment by an internationally renowned expert. But in truth, he learned to know about the manuscript too from Mr. Niko Paech, an esteemed author of his house, who had indeed received the manuscript and already congratulated me on the commendatory statement from Mr. Daly: “I would have liked to have such a feedback from the Pope /the growth criticism/…” Prof. Paech also knew that I wanted to contact the oekom publishing house, because I had previously informed him of my intent in two emails.*3*

Well, such intrigues and secret arrangements behind the scenes are so commonplace that it would not be worthwhile to Even mention them. On the other hand, I don’t want to be told that I’m closing my eyes to such manoevres out of a sense of defenselessness. Open discussion also means calling by name those who avoid  such discussion and prefer to whisper behind the scenes. Ye shall know them by their fruits!

But is there still anything more to be learned about climate change

that is not already known to those who want to be informed? Not really much, indeed. My book will only be granted a certain originality and value for further discussion in one respect. If it is true that the depletion of resources and – even more so – the constant poisoning of the environment by the residues of industrial processes (of which CO2 is only one among hundreds of thousands) represents an even greater turning point than the two greatest revolutions of the past, the Neolithic and the fossil. And if it is equally true that the measures necessary to overcome this historic crisis are in themselves quite simple and well known to science, then we must ask ourselves why these rather simple and well known measures are meeting with such bitter resistance so that despite the Paris Treaty and countless other efforts we are de facto sliding towards the abyss ever faster? This question cries for an answer – and this what the book wants to provide.

1 We should not be surprised that in view of such proceedings on the part of editors it is becoming more and more common for authors to send their manuscripts to several publishers at the same time – otherwise they must reckon with waiting for an anser until the end of their days.

2 The German original is titled “Wir schaffen das!” (We can do it!); the English version, available as Kindle on Amazon, has a better title: “Yes, we can – No, we must!”.

3 I very much appreciate the thoughtful and often challenging reflections of German ecologist Prof. Niko Paech. That was the reason why I sent him a copy of the present book venturing at the same time to ask him to intercede with the oekom publishing house, where he was an esteemed author, in case he liked the manuscript. I even made this request a second time after he had confirmed receipt of the manuscript. I then contacted Mr. Hirsch of the oekom publishing house to ask if he was interested in the work, in which case I would send him the manuscript. I did so by mail and by phone on the same day. If from the outset he had to turn down my offer because at that time there was no more room left for further publications, then he could have told me this right away on the phone – indeed that is what he should have done.

It was not until two weeks later that I received a rejection in the form of the usual standard text, namely that unfortunately the publisher already had other books in its program and that I should please not take this as a statement about the quality of my book. This was pure mockery in view of the fact that Mr. Hirsch never received the manuscript. Only Mr. Paech, the established author of the publishing house, had been able to provide information within these two weeks – I had twice informed Mr. Paech that I wanted to contact oekom.

I mention this refusal which in itself is, of course, quite insignificant, because it is the opposite of a possibly very justified criticism of my work. Indeed, I would have been grateful to Mr. Paech if he had conducted in an open way. As to Mr. Hirsch: publishers are private companies and therefore have the right to accept or reject whom or what they want, even without giving reasons, but there are rules of decency that even a Mr. Hirsch should observe. Let me add that the presumption of innocence applies to Mr. Paech as it does to everybody else. After all, nothing is impossible with God – perhaps archangel Gabriel gave Mr. Hirsch insight into my book making him a competent judge.

Difficult truth – cheap lies

In times of the Internet, historical memory shrinks. Who remembers today that for almost half a century the United States of America represented the realm of enlightenment, truth and progress, while the other side of the Iron Curtain was ruled by arbitrariness, gulags and politically decreed lies? This contrast was inflated by mutual propaganda, certainly, but forced labor camps and those millions of people Stalin had sent to their deaths were bitter reality. There was so little doubt concerning this gruesome past that Solzhenitsyn’s accusations were read worldwide, that is even in Russia. When Gorbachev finally dared to say the truth, the collapse of the regime was inevitable.

Truth in politics works like salvation.

In Nazi Germany, prescribed political lies had been on the agenda from the very beginning of the regime. After Hitler’s seizure of power, his oldest ally Ernst Röhm and the SA militias he controlled had suddenly become inconvenient (a thorn in the side of the Reichswehr and conservative circles, whose support Hitler could not do without). The Nazis therefore invented the fake news of a planned coup. Röhm and about two hundred other citizens were murdered in a cloak-and-dagger operation. This was a foretaste of the nihilism of power that would darken Germany for more than a decade. Hitler and his henchmen assumed that lie and truth had no meaning in politics (or anywhere else for that matter). What counts, according to their credo, is power and nothing but power, for whose sake no human sacrifice would be too great.

The Liberation of Germans

from the bloody rule of Adolf Hitler was perceived as a redemption not because the Nazis had been militarily defeated. In most cases, peoples still prefer to be ruled by local villains rather than by foreign saviors – after all, the latter show them their own failure and humiliation. The sigh of relief was due to the fact that now it was possible again to recognize reality for what it is and speak the truth. Truth and lies are not mere products of power, as diehard nihilists claim. During the last years of Nazi rule, citizen were aware that the constant reports of victory were nothing but cynical lies. Moreover, many Germans had resisted decreed racial hatred at least in such a way that they opposed the ordered lie with private exceptions – the Jews known to them personally were quite different from all others! When holding to this miserable remnant of truth, Germans did not endanger their life which they would have done when resorting to open protest.

The willingness of Germans to welcome the American liberators with open arms at the end of the war was based on the fact that lie and truth were not mere creations of power. American democracy, and soon the German one too granted every citizen the right to decide for himself what he considered true or false in daily life and in politics. This was experienced as an escape from the prison of state-imposed lies.

Between 1945 until the fall of the Iron Curtain

these feelings remained largely unchallenged. It was the scientists, the thinkers, yes, and also the politicians of the West who enjoyed most credibility. As it turned out, they were trusted even in the East. After all, the walls, barbed wires and watchtowers between East and West were not built on the Western side to keep the people of Western democracies from fleeing into Stalin’s empire. They had to be built on the eastern side because so many people were pushing from there to the West. And when the Wall finally fell at the end of the 1980s, it was the heartland of the West, America, that took the whole world by storm. Jazz, jeans, the movies of Hollywood, the internet and last but not least American science and the English language started a triumphal march all over Europe and Asia.

But, as so often happens, the climax was to be

the beginning of decline. Actually, clear-sighted observers were able to see much earlier that it was stupid to maintain that darkness reigned on one side only, and light on the other. Both great powers had no qualms about wearing down or completely exhausting in constant proxy wars the countries on the fringes of their respective spheres of power. Peace in Europe was paid for with enormous suffering in Vietnam, Chile and many African states. Great powers establish order in their spheres of rule – just as each individual state does within its own borders. The Roman Empire had already proceeded in such a way. It had successfully pacified most of the ancient world, so that people could travel safely from Britain to the borders of the Persian Empire. At the same time, the peripheral areas subjugated by the center were notoriously exploited and generally treated with unabashed brutality. The privilege of Enlightenment, peace, and a freedom that included the right to describe conditions truthfully applied to the centers of power, not to the disputed peripheries.

The year 1945 marked the greatest historical break

in the history of Europe. After more than two thousand years of domination, the Old Continent had deliberately catapulted itself out of the world’s center with a civil war lasting for almost 30 years. In its place, the US and the Soviet Union had now become the leading powers. This is how things remained up to now (except that China could outstrip both great powers in the coming decade).

In other words, Europe has become so marginalized and militarily insignificant that it can no longer withstand any encroachment without outside help. In 1989 it could still appear as if Russia too had to bid farewell to its former role as a superpower. From a superficial point of view, the United States had ended the Cold War victoriously by an arms race the enemy was unable to withstand. But there were deeper reasons for the incredibly rapid disintegration of the Soviet camp. The people in the GDR (1953), in Hungary (1956), in the Czech Republic (1968) and finally in Poland (1981) had already shown that they no longer believed the promises of the communist regime. According to Soviet ideology, communism had brought paradise on earth; but Eastern people soon realized that Western nations were much better off than they were. Such evident truths could however not be openly stated – they were taboo. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, people were forced to live with state-imposed lies and had to fear being banished to Siberia for speaking the truth. Gorbachev had only given the external impetus for the dissolution of the regime. In reality, the regime had already been broken down by its own lies – hence its incredibly rapid disintegration.

The meeting of Sergejewitsch Gorbatschow, the great Russian,

(today outlawed as a traitor in his homeland) with the American president Ronald Reagan was one of the great moments in recent world history. Two former enemies communicated in the same language of truth, proving to the world that there is an objective reality that unites people. Both men were aware of the gruesome madness that East and West were threatening each other with weapons of final destruction that at any time could trigger the end of humanity. Both wanted to establish a new peaceful order – and the whole world believed that this was possible indeed. The moment appeared like a release from the nightmare of potential self-annihilation.

Why does all this already seem so remote from present reality?

Why was Gorbachev, who had initially brought so much hope to his own country and to the world, later regarded rather like a traitor? Why did Russia under Putin once again become a great power armed to the teeth and a declared opponent of the West, though now without the communist creed? And yes, while we are asking these unpalatable questions, why not add an even more unpleasant one? Why is politics in the United States under Donald Trump dominated by lies just as much as in Russia under Vladimir Putin?

Apparently, after the fall of the Berlin Wall

and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, something went very wrong. Under Hitler, the Germans had brought forth a regime at least as totalitarian, bloody and cruel as Stalin’s rule. But the Americans were quick to help defeated Germany back on its feet with the Marshall Plan. We should never forget: Seldom was a defeated people treated so generously.

But what happened to Russia after the fall of the Berlin Wall? Not only was Russia lying prostrate on the ground, it was deliberately pushed to the ground. The West pursued an economic policy that Russia paid for with greater economic losses and misery than those caused by the Second World War. At that time, industrial production in the Soviet Union fell by “only” 24 percent, whereas in the ten years after the fall of the Iron Curtain it fell by almost 60 percent. The nineties under Boris Yeltsin were experienced by the Russians as a period of extreme humiliation. Instead of receiving thanks for having voluntarily shaken off a dictatorship and being willing to recognize the West as a model, they were completely beaten to the ground: entire branches of industry being dismantled, their scientists poached and (with the active cooperation of Jeffrey Sachs) privatization pushed through overnight so that the country’s most important resources were sold off to a few oligarchs. At that time it was an open secret that Russia’s oil wells should be open for sale in the West so that the Russian bear could be finally brought under control.

The comet-like rise of Vladimir Putin

is unthinkable without the thoughtless humiliation of Russia by the United States. That unique wisdom in dealing with defeated Germany, which had distinguished U.S. policy after ’45, was no longer an option in the case of defeated Russia after 1989. Today we have to admit that the increasingly hostile and extraordinarily successful Russian President Vladimir Putin is a creature of misguided Western policy.

The effects of such policy are becoming increasingly evident

While political lies were undoubtedly much more deeply rooted in the East until the fall of the Wall, from then on they began to spread more and more in both camps. It had always been easy for unscrupulous power to substitute lies for truth. Even science had to submit to political arbitrariness. Anyone who openly polemicized against the Nazis’ racial theory could end up in a concentration camp; anyone who questioned Lyssenkoism under Stalin had to reckon with spending the rest of his life in a Siberian gulag.

And what about truth in our time, for example in the United States? Until the 1990s, the denial of Darwin’s theory of descendance remained limited to a small number of crackpots, such as exist at any time in any country. But since about three decades, ideologically blinded crackpots have turned into the broad movement of anti-scientific Evangelicals, without whose votes Donald Trump would not have become president. Even a despiser of the truth like the current American president does not dare to declare the Darwinian theory of descendance a fake, but otherwise he confidently disregards scientific findings (on Corona, for example). And so does Vladimir Putin when he wipes off the table as “unproven” the unanimous finding of German experts that Alexei Navalny is the victim of a political assassination attempt with the nerve poison Novichok. In Russia this denial of truth is nothing new. Regularly occurring political killings were never admitted – see Sergei Yushchenkov (shot in 2003), Yuri Shchekochichin (presumably poisoned in 2003), Paul Klebnikov (shot in 2004), Anna Politikovskaya (shot in 2006), Alexander Litvinenko (poisoned with radioactive polonium in 2006), Stanislav Markelov (shot in 2009), Natalya Estemirova (shot in 2009), Boris Nemtsov (shot in 2015), Vladimir Kara-Mursa (presumably poisoned in 2017), Sergei and Yulia Skripal (poisoned with Novichok in 2018), Pyotr Werzilov (poisoned in 2018), and finally Alexei Navalny (poisoned with Novichok in 2020).

Of course, political murders are not a Russian specialty. Both superpowers never had any qualms about having them carried out in disputed peripheral regions. The CIA looks back on a long list of sins down to the violent overthrow of democratically elected President Allende in Chile, whose only mistake had been his intention to achieve a greater degree of social justice for his own people. However, in contrast to today’s Russia under Putin, the United States had maintained elementary democratic rules within its own territory – and this privilege applied just as much to its closest allies like Germany. Unfortunately, many indications give rise to the fear that President Trump – an admirer of dictators like Kim Jung-un and autocrats like Vladimir Putin – would like to override democratic rules even within his country. What we are seeing today gives no cause for optimism: Under Putin and Trump the two nuclear superpowers Russia and the USA have become alarmingly similar to each other.

A weak Europe

is doomed to become a plaything of the superpowers. Peripheral areas are being victimized without mercy. No moral superiority – whether real or imagined – may help them, indeed it has never benefited the weak. That was the case in the time of Rome, and it has remained so until today. Europe must be strong – it must become strong if it wants to escape this fate. Angela Merkel saw this clearly when she spoke of the need for Europe to strengthen its own defense capability.

Adam Tooze – An experts’s review of ten years of global economic crisis

Recently (on 14 August) I had the good fortune to follow an interview with the British historian Adam Tooze on Austrian Radio. I was so impressed that I immediately took to reading his book “Crashed. How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World” (Allen Lane 2018) ) – and so an important work finally reached me with a two-year delay. These are my comments:

When an author combines an immense range of detailed knowledge with the ability to see things in their context and interdependence, he constantly presents the reader with eureka moments. This is how I would describe the exciting experience of reading the great monograph by Adam Tooze “Crashed. How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World”, Allen Lane 2018. Of course, the study of history is inconceivable without value judgments. Natural science may talk about clockworks, chemical compounds or a virus without subjective valuation, but historians cannot deal in this manner with world economy. We should, therefore, right at the beginning take note of the position taken by the historian.

Tooze leaves no doubt that he feels close to the left wing of American politics. The reader is therefore confronted with the full extent of economic and social destruction caused by the 2008 crisis and the subsequent euro crisis. There is no glossing over the fact that, according to Tooze, these crises were even more devastating than the Great Depression of 1929.*1* This is true for the US, *2* but even more so for the rest of the world, especially southern Europe.*3*

The subprime crisis originated in the United States, and in particular in the leading American financial institutions that served the greed of wealthy investors through blatant fraud in both the United States and Europe.*4* The major rating agencies also actively supported fraud through incorrect ratings.*5*

So far the British historian’s observations on the crisis are not new, but they become quite interesting when Tooze analyses its mechanism, namely credit creation by a handful of large investment banks.*6* These institutions, he states, are by no means dependent on the money of savers. As central banks have always done when creating money, they can produce money and credit in exchange for real values (real estate playing a special role in this case).*7* A crisis erupts when the money created either has no counterpart in real assets (in which case the result will be inflation without “sterilisation” of the ensuing surplus) – or when, conversely, existing real assets lose their value (this was the case with the collapse of subprime real estate).*8* In this new and modern type of financial crisis, there is no run on the banks; instead, there is a freeze on internal banking transactions. No bank can be sure anymore that the securities of other banks still have any value. These findings are important because they confirm that the creation of money and credit – whether by central banks or by large private financial institutions – never occurs out of nothing, but in accordance with material values. At the moment when confidence in these values is lost (as was the case with subprime real estate), the modern banking system is thrown off course, just as the classic system is thrown off course by the run of savers on their house banks. After subprime securities had lost all their value, American government bonds remained the last anchor of stability still unchallenged.*9*

The convincing main thesis of Adam Tooze states that we should understand the euro crisis as a mere continuation of its predecessor of 2008, which in turn was brought about by neoliberal deregulation.*10* At this point, the British historian assumes the role of an outspoken critic. While the Americans had taken the right measures to make the American banking system functional again in a surprisingly short time,*11* the Europeans had great pains in doing so.*12* It was only when the ECB led by Mario Draghi took over the American therapy that the danger of the eurozone’s disintegration was finally averted.*13* Prof. Tooze is an expert on Europe and especially Germany, where he studied for quite a time. If he accuses German provincialism and its incorrigible and hegemonic behavior towards the rest of Europe,*14* then that should be taken very seriously.

At this point I feel entitled not to contradict the expert’s account – nobody knows the facts as well as he does – but to make a different assessment that to me seems to be equally compatible with the facts. Tooze sings a hymn to the expertise of the American financial and political elite (that belongs to both major parties and easily switches from the private to the public sector and vice versa as if through a revolving door)*15*. It was precisely this elite, I would like to add, that led the world into the abyss twice. It was its ruthlessness and greed that had produced the crisis of 1929. As another eminent historian, Eric Hobsbawm, explicitly pointed out, the Great Depression constituted the most important cause of Hitler’s rise and the outbreak of the Second World War.*16* And it was again – as proven by Tooze himself – the greed of this elite that made the 2008 crisis possible in both the USA and Europe.*17*

It is therefore somewhat surprising to see the British historian praise the achievement of that very elite that bears responsibility for the disaster in the first place – contrasting it with the inability of Europeans.*18* I think that Franklin D. Roosevelt may rightly be praised for starting the fight against monopoly and growing inequality with his famous New Deal.*19* But what did the American financial-political elite when it defeated the 2008 crisis? It had first of all created the existing monopolies and oligopolies and deepened inequality,*20* but when dealing with the crisis, it did not diminish these evils, but on the contrary further increased them! In other words, it eliminated the symptoms of the crisis but not its causes. Certainly, the financial jugglers who were responsible for the crisis have successfully ensured that there was no collapse or even – as in the 1930s – the rise of a dictator and the outbreak of war. This is a tremendous achievement – economic science has learned the lesson from the Great Depression. The cardinal mistake of deflationary policy was avoided. But the next major crisis can happen at any time, because only the symptoms have been eliminated. Shouldn’t it be the proper task of an elite to eliminate the roots of such crises – oligopolies and growing inequality? Should we call it progress if arsonists become firemen?*21*

At the very least, we should have expected the US elite responsible for the crisis to admit their own mistakes. But until today this did not happen. That’s why Trump the Terrible is to a certain extent right when, on the same day that Joe Biden made his glittering appearance as presidential candidate in his inaugural speech, he chose Biden’s birthplace in Pennsylvania for quite a different speech where he deftly exposed the weak point of his opponent. “Biden pledged to serve the American people every hour of his tenure as president. What did he do for the last half century when your jobs were transferred to Asia?”

Unless the elite acknowledges its mistakes, it does not regain its credibility. This is also true, I believe, of one of its most eminent representatives, the economist and former Clinton Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, who in his book “The Work of Nations” provided the “scientific” justification for the outsourcing of American industries, but has since become a critic of inequality and monopolies *22* – however, without admitting his part in this development. Reich wanted to transform Americans into “symbol analysts”. He succeeded – the entire financial sector where the big money is made is populated by them, but the average American has lost his once well-paid job to the Chinese.

Tooze seems to be fascinated by the high technical skill of the US financial experts, and he laughs at the provincial stubbornness of the Germans, who still imagined they had to lecture the Americans, even though they have done just about everything wrong – especially when dealing with Greece. *23* It should have been clear to everyone from the start that Greece could not service its debts and that therefore a partial or even complete debt cancellation (restructuring, haircut at the expense of private creditors), as finally demanded by the IMF, was the only right solution from the outset. Instead, Schäuble and Merkel had pedantically insisted on debt repayment, only then Germany was ready to authorize aid funds. But that was absurd from the outset, because the billions in aid money from the IMF and the Eurogroup did not benefit the Greeks but were almost exclusively passed on to creditor banks in Germany and France. The people of Greece were subjected to an ordeal in order to set a warning example to all other potential exit candidates: “Look, this is the price to be paid by anyone who breaks the rules of the eurozone!

The monumental monograph of Adam Tooze demonstrates how closely the financial and economic interdependence of the leading global currency power, the USA, with the rest of the world has already become.*24* In concrete terms, this means that crisis shocks to the leading global power (and indeed to every leading power, not just the USA – I would add) inevitably spill over to the rest of the world. When American securities (the subprime bonds) started to falter, interbank traffic in Europe froze. Subsequently, it was also the FED as lender of last resort, which alone was able to put an end to this petrification by printing dollars. Those who make themselves dependent on the center, whether they like it or not, are also subject to the rules of the center. Tooze has demonstrated this elementary truth for the world’s dependence on the US and its dollar reserve currency. The same dependence, however, applies – and I think this is just as inevitable – to the dependence of the euro zone on Germany, the leading economic power in the region – regardless of whether Germany intends to do so or not.

Tooze’s question of whether Merkel and Schäuble acted correctly at the time when they subjected Greece to such a murderous ordeal remains unanswered. Total debt cancellation, i.e. an official state bankruptcy, as Hans-Werner Sinn, if I remember correctly, demanded early on, would probably have cost far fewer victims. Greece would have had to leave the euro zone for a limited period, its creditworthiness would have been shaken for at least a decade – that fact alone should sufficiently deter all other eurosceptics. But Greece would then rely on its own strength to overcome the crisis and realize that its misfortune was caused by nobody but itself. In any case, this alternative would have spared the people of Greece the additional humiliation of the ordeal imposed on them by the troika of IMF, ECB and the European Commission. I even think that, in this case, the rest of Europe, and Germany in particular, would have cut a much better figure, because they could have voluntarily bestowed a modicum of aid and help on poor Greece. Since Greece was unable to pay its debts anyway and will never repay them (as the IMF recognized early on), debt restructuring or complete debt cancellation, i.e. state bankruptcy, would have been the more honest and probably the much better solution. After all Greece’s economy was far too small to pull the whole of Europe into the maelstrom.

In his analysis of the decade between 2008 and 2018, Adam Tooze speaks exclusively about acute crises – not about those that have been smoldering underground for at least half a century. For this reason, one searches in vain for words like “ecology” or “ecological sustainability” in his 700-page monograph. This is somewhat surprising as the awareness of an impending environmental crisis originated in the United States and that it was an American president too – Jimmy Carter – who had commissioned the major environmental study “Global 2000”. Moreover, it was Vice President Al Gore who saw the destruction of the environment as the greatest and most momentous challenge of our time, and it was President Obama who followed him in this assessment. Why do we find only five incidental references to “climate change” in the otherwise comprehensive book by Adam Tooze?

Unfortunately, Tooze proves to be a realist who faithfully reflects global political and economic reality. During the world financial crisis of 2008 and the euro crisis that followed, the environment was simply forgotten – and the same is true today of our reaction to Covid-19. All we then thought and now think about is how to get the stuttering fossil fuel engine going again – as quickly as possible or even faster than before. In other words, for the biggest crisis of all the elites are by no means prepared. Their motto is: Let everything just be as it was before (including growing inequality and environmental destruction)! I assume that Prof. Adam Tooze would without hesitation subscribe to this truth.

All quotes are taken from the ebook version of “Crashed” with the position indicated:

*1* On a global level, industrial output, stock markets and trade were all falling at least as fast in 2008-2009 as they had in 1929 (3456).

*2*  Across the country, class, not race, was the most important determinant of an American’s life chances, and the big story of his second term as president was rural white working-class despair. It was Appalachia—West Virginia and Kentucky—held back by structural change, educational failure and immobility, that lurched into the headlines (9176). Among white Americans, deaths from /drug/ overdose increased by 297 percent between 2010 and 2014 alone. Unlike in any other developed society, life expectancy among working-class white Americans had been decreasing since the early 2000s. In modern history the only obvious parallel was with Russia in the desperate aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union (9181)…by 2013 the population of the urban core of Detroit had shrunk to 688,000, of whom 550,000 were African American. They were left behind in a city that was literally falling into ruin, burdened with debts running into the tens of billions of dollars (9067). As the crisis cut a swath across America, 65,000 homes in Detroit were foreclosed. Of those, 36,400 were considered of so little value that they were simply abandoned, joining a total stock of 140,000 blighted properties (9075). While the banks and lenders were bailed out, 9.3 million American families lost their homes to foreclosure, surrendered their home to a lender or were forced to resort to a distress sale (5938). As 2010 began, 3.7 million families were more than ninety days past due on their mortgage payments. Millions more were struggling to make ends meet, one or two months behind on their payments. Over the next twelve months 1.178 million homes would slide into foreclosure, the worst year of the crisis… The contrast in fortunes between Wall Street and Main Street was increasingly intolerable. The big banks had been bailed out. Some of the most unscrupulous bosses might face legal action, but they were not facing personal ruin. They retired to lifestyles of wealth and comfort.46 None had gone to jail… The bonus season in 2009 was better than ever, netting $145 billion for the executives at the top (6385). As 2010 began, 3.7 million families were more than ninety days past due on their mortgage payments. Millions more were struggling to make ends meet, one or two months behind on their payments. Over the next twelve months 1.178 million homes would slide into foreclosure, the worst year of the crisis… The contrast in fortunes between Wall Street and Main Street was increasingly intolerable. The big banks had been bailed out. Some of the most unscrupulous bosses might face legal action, but they were not facing personal ruin. They retired to lifestyles of wealth and comfort.46 None had gone to jail… The bonus season in 2009 was better than ever, netting $145 billion for the executives at the top (6385). The financial crisis of 2008 had revealed how in extremis national economic policy was subordinated to the needs of a cluster of giant transnational banks. Now, in the face of a dismal recovery, the correspondence between economic growth and the progress of a national society was being challenged from the bottom up. Could the national economy any longer be plausibly presented as a project common to all Americans? (9158). Obama insisted, there must be no more evasion, “this increasing inequality is most pronounced in our country …. [S]tatistics show … that our levels of income inequality rank near countries like Jamaica and Argentina” (9170).

*3*  Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain were driven into depressions the likes of which had not been seen since the 1930s (6608). In 2008 Greek unemployment had been 8 percent. Four years later it was rising inexorably toward 25 percent. Half of young Greeks were without jobs. In a nation of ten million, a quarter of a million people were fed daily at church-run food banks and soup kitchens (8717). As the housing market collapsed, Spain’s unemployment rate shot up. Of the 6.6 million increase in unemployment in the eurozone between 2007 and 2012, 3.9 million was accounted for by Spain—60 percent of that grim total. As bad as Greece’s situation was, it was small by comparison and accounted for only 12 percent of the increase in eurozone unemployment. Most catastrophic of all was Spain’s youth unemployment rate, which by the summer of 2012 had surged to 55 percent (8769).

*4*  The crisis… was… fully native to Western capitalism /genauer den USA/- a meltdown on Wall Street driven by toxic securitized subprime mortgages that threatened to take Europe down with it (Tooze 2018, 975). The competitive race for profit and market share among the banks… unleashed a regulatory race to the bottom (1821). The idea that social Europe” had deviated in any essential way from the logic of turbocharged financial capitalism” as exemplified by America was an illusion. In fact, Europe’s financial capitalism was even more spectacularly overgrown and it owed a large part of its growth to its deep entanglement in the American boom (2666). …every member of the eurozone was at least three times more overbanked” than the United States (2559).

*5*  … S&P had delivered just one more demonstration of how broken the ratings agencies were. It was their AAA certifications, handed out to hundreds of billions of subprime MBS /mortgage-backed securities/, that had helped to precipitate the crisis in 2008. It was their serial downgrades that were setting the pace of the crisis in the eurozone (8003). The regulators were utterly subservient to the logic of the businesses they were supposed to be regulating (1861). 

*6*  The overwhelming majority of private credit creation is done by a tight-knit corporate oligarchy… At a global level twenty to thirty banks matter. Allowing for nationally significant banks, the number worldwide is perhaps a hundred big financial firms (500).

*7*  Investment banks don’t have deposits. They borrow the money they lend on wholesale markets from other banks or institutional funds (1165). In modern finance, credit is not a fixed sum constrained by the ‘fundamentals’ of the ‘real economy’. It is an elastic quantity, which in an asset price boom can easily become self-expanding on a transnational scale (2436). Real estate is not only the largest single form of wealth, it is also the most important form of collateral for borrowing (998). Almost all human history can be written as the search for and the production of different forms of safe assets (1261). Without valuation the assets could not be used as collateral. Without collateral there was no funding. And if there was no funding all the banks were in trouble, no matter how large their exposure to real estate. In a general liquidity freeze, the equivalent of a giant bank run, no bank was safe (3150).

*8*  By the magic of independent probabilities, the worse the quality of the debt that entered into the tranching and pooling process, the more dramatic the effect. Substantial portions of undocumented, low-rated, high-yield debt emerged as AAA. In any boom, irresponsible, near criminal or outright fraudulent behavior is to be expected (1413). It was a bank run without deposit withdrawals. There had been no deposits. There was nothing to withdraw. For banks to find themselves a trillion dollars short, all that needed to happen was for major providers of funding to withdraw from the money markets (3190).

*9*  On a global scale over the next five years, the United States would be the only source of safe, Treasury-grade assets for investors worldwide. Whatever you might think of the Trump administration, if you needed to park a large volume of funds in safe government debt, there was no alternative to US Treasurys (11511). A huge class of AAA-rated private label securities had shown itself to be far from safe, so the demand for Treasurys was huge (6018).

*10*  It wasn’t the sovereign debt crisis of 2010 that halted Europe’s growth, it was the transatlantic banking crisis of 2008 (3351). America’s securitized mortgage system had been designed from the outset to suck foreign capital into US financial markets and foreign banks had not been slow to see the opportunity (1583). …foreigners owned a large portion of America’s houses. By 2008 roughly a quarter of all securitized mortgages were held by foreign investors (1586). …by far the largest purchasers of US assets, by far the largest foreign lenders to the United States prior to the crisis, were not Asian but European (1673). By the early 1980s both Britain and the United States had abolished all restrictions on capital movements and this was followed in October 1986 by Thatcher’s Big Bang” deregulation (1743). …the competitive race for profit and market share among the banks in turn unleashed a regulatory race to the bottom (1821).

*11*  Never before outside wartime had states intervened on such a scale and with such speed. It was a devastating blow to the complacent belief in the great moderation, a shocking overturning of prevailing laissez-faire ideology (3529).

*12*  In the United States and the UK the central banks were pushing liquidity into the banking system. By contrast, in the eurozone, it was the balance sheets of the banks that absorbed the sovereign debt (6037). … the failure to build new capital would leave the European banks in no position to absorb any further shocks. While the United States began to stabilize, in Europe the banking crisis of 2008 would merge a year later with a new crisis: a panic in the eurozone public debt market. The connecting thread between the crisis of subprime and the crisis of the eurozone was the fragility of Europe’s bank balance sheets (6573). As the Financial Times put it, the failure of the eurozone to restore stability on its own terms meant that by April 2010, the ‘rescue’ of the euro, ‘the ultimate expression of European integration’, depended on outsiders in international institutions and the US administration” (7037). Whereas tiny Latvia had needed only a few billion euros, now the IMF pledged 250 billion. It was by far the largest commitment the IMF had ever made to any program. The $1 trillion pledged to the IMF at the London G20 that was supposed to mark the advent of a new age of global firefighting would be deployed to rescue Europe (7115)

*13*  In retrospect, Draghi’s whatever it takes” speech has come to be seen as the turning point of the eurozone crisis. In the aftermath, markets immediately calmed (8910). ‘Whatever it takes’ was, in fact, a form of surrender. The eurozone was finally giving in to what Anglophone economic commentators had been calling for all along. If only the ECB had moved to the Fed model earlier, as Obama had spelled out at Cannes, the worst of the eurozone crisis might have been avoided. What Draghi now promised was what Geithner, Bernanke and Obama had been preaching to the Europeans since 2010: Do it our way.”… The eurozone was saved by its belated Americanization (8989). Though the ECB did not purchase newly issued government debt, what it did do was to repo sovereign euro bonds.27 As the eurozone deficits ballooned, the ECB operated what was known informally as the “grand bargain.”28 It supplied hundreds of billions of euros in cheap liquidity to Europe’s banks in the form of the socalled Long-Term Refinancing Operation initiated in May 2009.29 The banks then bought sovereign bonds” (6028).

*14*  In the spring of 2009 France and Germany had lectured the UK and the United States about financial stability. A year later they were reduced to calling on the IMF to help not just Greece but the eurozone as a whole (6611). In the space of barely three weeks, the German chancellor managed to tell the press that politicians should be responsible to markets and to tell the pope that politicians should make policy for the people” regardless of those markets (8064).

*15*  The revolving door that feeds government in America regularly rotates between public service and the corporate world (11398). Both the number one and number two positions at the Treasury were to be filled by men—Steve Mnuchin and Jim Donovan—with Goldman Sachs pedigree. Dina Powell, who moved to the influential assistant position at the White House, had formerly headed the bank’s philanthropic efforts. National Economic Council director Gary Cohn was formerly Goldman’s president.

*16* But for it /the Great Slump / there would certainly have been no Hitler”… “Would fascism have become very significant in world history but for the Great Slump? Probably not. Italy alone was not a promising base from which to shake the world…. It was patently the Great Slump which turned Hitler from a phenomenon of the political fringe into the potential, and eventually the actual, master of the country (Hobsbawm (1996), p. 86, 130).

*17*  Political choice, ideology and agency are everywhere across this narrative with highly consequential results, not merely as disturbing factors but as vital reactions to the huge volatility and contingency generated by the malfunctioning of the giant systems” and machines” and apparatuses of financial engineering (11989). The idea that ‘social Europe’ had deviated in any essential way from the logic of turbocharged ‘financial capitalism’ as exemplified by America was an illusion. In fact, Europe’s financial capitalism was even more spectacularly overgrown and it owed a large part of its growth to its deep entanglement in the American boom (2666).

*18*  In the spring of 2010, Schäuble’s scheme was shot down, by friendly fire.23 Chancellor Merkel was no European federalist. She had no desire to reopen the terms of the Lisbon Treaty for which she had fought so hard and which was only just coming into operation (6923). She /Merkel/ was not about to endow Brussels with its own monetary fund. She was far too skeptical of Europe’s capacity for self-discipline (6925). A committee of the EU, the ECB and the IMF would make up the soon to be infamous “troika,” dictating policy to Greece and the other “program countries.” What was ruled out was restructuring. On that Washington sided with the French and the ECB. Existing Greek debt would be paid off with new loans from the troika, whether or not the result was sustainable (6997).

*19* Throughout the Nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly… For too many of us the political equality we once had won was meaningless in the face of economic inequality… A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor – other people’s lives. For too many of us life was no longer free, liberty no longer real… Franklin D. Roosevelt 1932

*20*  Globalization had pushed top incomes up and lower incomes down. Since the 1990s, the impact of these factors had only increased. Imports of cheap manufacturers opened up by NAFTA and Chinese accession to the WTO benefited consumers, but depressed wages and robbed blue-collar Americans of secure manufacturing jobs and the health and retirement benefits that went with them. By 2013, experts close to the American labor movement estimated that the trade deficit with China had cost 3.2 million jobs and the competition of low-wage foreign labor had depressed the wages of the 100 million American workers without college education by $180 billion (9187). Between 1977 and 2014 the share of national income going to the top 1 percent before taxes and benefits had risen by 88.8 percent. After fiscal redistribution their share increased by 81.4 percent. Nor did the tax and welfare state prevent the share of the bottom 50 percent from declining from 25.6 to 19.4 percent (9202).

*21*  The arsonists from Goldman Sachs: On April 16, 2010, the SEC announced that it would be bringing charges against Goldman Sachs for misleading the investors to whom it had sold inferior quality mortgage-backed securities (6402). The revolving door that feeds government in America regularly rotates between public service and the corporate world (11398). The firefighters from Goldman Sachs: In his early days as Treasury secretary, Geithner was quite commonly described as being formerly of Goldman Sachs (6216). In 1993 /Robert/ Rubin had moved from his position at the top of Wall Street, as cochairman at Goldman Sachs, to serve as the first head of the National Economic Council, which Bill Clinton had called into existence as a counterpart to the National Security Council. Two years later Rubin was appointed Treasury secretary (690). Hank Paulson, like Rubin, moved to the Treasury from the CEO job at Goldman Sachs. (948) It was surely more than coincidence that MontiDraghi and Otmar Issing, Merkel’s favorite economic adviser, had all worked for Goldman. (8401) It was Draghi—an American-trained economist; a Goldman Sachs associate; a paid-up member of the global financial community; a “friend of Ben” /Bernanke/; an internationalized, urbane Italian, not a provincial German—who delivered this conclusion to the agonizing story of the eurozone crisis (8992). Both the number one and number two positions at the Treasury were to be filled by men—Steve Mnuchin and Jim Donovan—with Goldman Sachs pedigree. Dina Powell, who moved to the influential assistant position at the White House, had formerly headed the bank’s philanthropic efforts. National Economic Council director Gary Cohn was formerly Goldman’s president (11382).

Harald Schumann had already spoken of “plutocratic nepotism” (Global Countdown, 2008, p. 121).

*22*  What Reich now recognized was that much of this was “insufficient,” if not “beside the point,” because it overlooked a “critically important phenomenon: the increasing concentration of political power in a corporate and financial elite that has been able to influence the rules by which the economy runs …. The problem is not the size of government but whom the government is for” (9236)

*23*  If there was any justification for the protracted torture of Greece, it was the fear that an immediate debt restructuring would unleash contagion to other sovereign debtors across the eurozone and destabilize Europe’s banks, thus causing a far wider crisis (7372). Restructuring would have had immediate and devastating implications for the Greek banking system, not to mention broader spillover effects.” This was what was ultimately decisive (7159). …restructuring was an unpopular option with the creditors. As recently as 2007 Greece’s bonds had traded at virtually the same yield as Germany’s. They were widely held. At the end of 2009, of Greece’s 293 billion euros in public debt outstanding, 206 billion were foreign owned, 90 billion were held by European banks and roughly the same amount by pension and insurance funds (6644).

*24*  What drives global trade are not the relationships between national economies but multinational corporations coordinating far-flung value chains (424). … the world economy is not run by medium-sized “Mittelstand” entrepreneurs but by a few thousand massive corporations, with interlocking shareholdings controlled by a tiny group of asset managers (562). In 2008 that flow of dollars grew to such proportions that it rendered any effort to write a separate history of the American and European crises anachronistic and profoundly misleading” (4333). Obama was left to remark: “We now live in a global economy where everything is interconnected, and that means that when you have problems in Europe and in Spain and in Italy and in Greece, those problems wash over into our shores” (8016). Greenspan declared, because “(we) are fortunate that, thanks to globalization, policy decisions in the US have been largely replaced by global market forces. National security aside, it hardly makes any difference who will be the next president. The world is governed by market forces.”… As Fed chair he had made the markets into the ultimate arbiter of American economic policy” (11293).

I would like to add that the book is also rich in information about Asia and Russia, which I could not include in this brief review.

The snow of yesterday is today’s Deluge – Remarks on an amazing book by Daniela Dahn

There are books – and, alas, they make up the vast majority – that one skims over because they offer nothing more than facts that we barely take note of. There are others where each sentence acquires importance because it expresses an attitude, a person’s relationship to the world, and therefore urges the reader to take a stand. I was recently allowed to read one such book, its author is Daniela Dahn. She writes about the injustice that Germany’s Western half has done to the citizens of the East, calling on the West to reflect on its failures. What so much pleases me about this book – even though its theses are anything but pleasant – is its honesty. In times of generalized dishonesty, where arguments mostly serve as weapons in the struggle of parties, this is a refreshing book. Let us listen to the author’s own words.

About the former GDR and the present new federal states

The possibilities of becoming wealthy or making large inheritances were just as limited in the GDR as those of buying great luxury. This was not only a disadvantage. It facilitated social cohesion.

The pedagogy of the GDR was impressive. The Finns made no secret of the fact that it had been the German Democratic Republic from where they had adopted their education system, which had been generally praised after the first Pisa study. I wasn’t surprised by the fact, I had already heard, that developing countries had adopted complete GDR mathematics and physics textbooks because of the good didactics.

Nor was there any lack of female emancipation. How refreshing when Daniela Dahn laughs at the new political correctness of the Me-too movement. We women of the East were much too self-confident to see harassment as a serious problem. Of course, it existed, and even with us most of the bosses were men. But in this case too, West Germans insisted on knowing everything better. The emancipation of women was immediately declared a mere sham. The superior modern family law, which some developing countries had largely adopted, was, like all laws, disposed of without hesitation.

Dahn does not whitewash, but she insists that facts should not be artificially inflated, even if they concern the Stasi. At no time /were/ more than 0.5 percent of the 17 million GDR citizens victims of targeted, operative reporting… On the other hand, I would argue, it is not so much the actual extent of observations that matters, but rather the consequences they had for determined opposition members. In today’s Russia and China, they are mysteriously perishing or simply disappearing. What was it like in the GDR?

Again and again, she rejects the often deliberate distortion of facts. Until the 1980s the genocide of the Jews in the GDR was /as western sources claimed/… a “completely suppressed topic”. So much disinformation leaves one speechless. I perceived it exactly the other way round: The GDR culture had taken up this topic earlier and more often than the Federal Republic, had continuously pursued it over the years, and this to an extent that caused many people to be fed up with it… /a lecture by Marion Neiss/ showed that from 1945 to 1989, the same period in which shameful 85 desecrations took place in the GDR, 1400 attacks on Jewish cemeteries occurred in West Germany… In 1992, a representative Spiegel survey showed that only 4 percent of the inhabitants of the new federal states were anti-Semitic, whereas 16 percent of the inhabitants of the old states were. “East Germans consistently express themselves less anti-Semitic, right-wing extremist and xenophobic than West Germans,” it was said.

Mrs Dahn is speaking plainly, even when she talks about the economic development of the East, which on the whole must be considered a blatant failure. At the beginning of the short Rohwedder era /from August 1990 to April 1991/, the total value of GDR national property was still estimated at between 600 billion and 1 trillion DM. At the end of the Treuhand’s activities, the value of an entire national economy, with its huge, export-strong combines, often equipped with Western technology, with the debt-free land and all state-owned real estate, had been falsified to a value of minus 330 billion DM… Within a very short period of time, 95 percent of the people’s property fell into the hands of Western entrepreneurs in a colonial manner… /and/ in East Germany itself, 80 percent of the leading positions are still occupied by Westerners. Egon Bahr commented bitterly at the time: “Feudal, early medieval ownership structures have been created in East Germany that were overcome even in Africa and the Orient two generations ago… The south of Italy has a current account deficit of almost 13 percent with the north, but the east of Germany has a deficit of at least 45 percent with the west… A full-time employee still earns on average 1000 euros less per month than in the West. And: the population in East Germany today is the same as in 1905. pre-industrial. This is a warning sign… One of the main reasons for this collapse: The Eastern European markets had not broken away, as is always claimed, but had been taken away… Instead of improving the competitiveness of GDR companies…, 80% of East German industry collapsed.

And instead of “creating a high level of employment”, the hasty monetary union led to the loss of four million jobs, while at the same time two million new jobs were created in West Germany… The number of German millionaires doubled to over one million, while in the East the number of unemployed rose from zero to four million with the long-awaited D-Mark…

The author’s conclusion: instead of taking what was good and worth preserving from the GDR’s heritage, the latter was wholesale discarded as worthless and GDR citizens were robbed of all self-respect by West German arrogance – also in intellectual terms: Even when putting all newly founded publishing houses together, only 2.2 per cent of total German book production is now produced in the East German states. Leipzig, for centuries the number one German book city, now ranks 16th behind Göttingen, Saarbrücken and Heidelberg. The memory of GDR culture was thus erased thought for thought. And even harmless witnesses of the past such as street names were systematically erased: In Dresden, almost 100 streets and squares have been renamed, often in favor of the former Saxon nobility, who were obsessed with pomp. The fates of communists tortured to death and executed by the Nazis were rendered nameless.

Federal Republic:

Daniela Dahn is far from speaking with resentment about united Germany, but she takes the liberty of challenging prejudices spread by the state and the Western press. In East Germany not flourishing landscapes emerged, as promised by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, but dying ones and a population of declassified people. That is, why we should not be surprised about the consequences: The quittance for social coldness and political failure is the AfD… The rebellion predicted by Negt has finally erupted in xenophobia, Pegida and AfD. A “new nationalism of the declassed” – that is exactly what has happened… Before right-wing extremism reached the center of society, it came from the center of the state… And: the main responsibility for the rise of right-wing extremism in the East lies with the political class in the West.

Let me add to this lucid analysis that Le Monde Diplomatique takes a very similar view of Trump’s election. In the “Swing States” of the Rust Belt, it was the whites, driven into unemployment by outsourcing (“White Trash”, as they have been derided), who made Trump, the Terrible, president of the United States.

In this context Daniela Dahn also accuses West Germans of a good measure of hypocrisy and false self-righteousness: Without the preliminary work of the lawyer Globke, /so diligently protected and promoted by Konrad Adenauer after the war/, the Holocaust would not have been possible… The first law passed in the Bundestag was the Amnesty Law for NS-perpetrators in 1950!… Two thirds of the 9000 West German judges and prosecutors had already served under Hitler. And the author takes a look at the impact of this state of mind on contemporary politics.

Daniela Dahn on Ukraine and Russia

There is no doubt that Russia’s tricky incorporation of the Crimea into its own territory was a blatant violation of the Budapest Memorandum agreed with Ukraine. This breach of law has dangerously increased the doubts as to how much reliance can be placed on the promises of major powers.

But the Western approach to Ukraine was no less short-sighted – to put it mildly. Instead of allowing the weakened countries /to maintain/ this basis /for further trade with the East/ and making attractive offers from Europe, the West insisted that Kiev had to decide with whom it wanted to cooperate: either progress from the West or despotism from Russia. This fatal compulsion cannot be seen as mere mistake. What prevailed was rather the intention described by US security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to tolerate no alliances in Eurasia that call into question the US claim to leadership… The consequences are obvious: The EU is about to make the former Soviet breadbasket its own. This is linked to progressive deindustrialization. Today Ukraine is the poorest country in Europe… There are only seven countries in the world, most of them in Africa, where more of the native soil is controlled by foreigners than in Ukraine.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West has  been at odds with Russia too. Western countries pursued an economic policy, propagated and supported by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, under which Russia.. suffered greater economic losses than during the Second World War. During that period, industrial production in the Soviet Union fell by 24 percent, but it fell by almost 60 percent in the ten years after its dissolution.

A stance against political correctness, and for honesty

Before talking about the general conclusions that Daniela Dahn draws from these findings, conclusions which I do not share, I would like to say something about the courage of this woman, who has no qualms about sovereignly disregarding the mainstream of political correctness, for example all that terrible “gendering” degenerating into an orgy of small-mindedness. She sums up small-mindedness and hypocrisy in a single sentence when stating: There is no evidence of a connection between decades of language-degrading lip service and a genuine change in awareness. And: If I have the choice between politically correct and linguistically beautiful, I admit that I choose the beautiful. That is also a female attitude. A redeeming truth, indeed!

On other occasions too, Daniela Dahn votes also for the beautiful and the humane, for example when it comes to Muslim dress codes for women. Since then /after she herself had to dress so in Yemen/ I consider burqa or nikab a specific form of violence against women. This custom, which is neither required by the Koran nor by the Sunna, is for me a criminal offence of bodily injury, if not torture…

She also comments on one of the greatest crimes in recent history, the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. Contradictions and flaws – for example, the collapse of the third high-rise building, WTC 7, into which no aircraft flew, is not mentioned at all in the official document. The report illustrates that there was never a comprehensive investigation of all circumstances and open questions. Eight times more money has been invested in uncovering the Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal than in analyzing the day that changed the world… With interest I have taken note of some of the research on the objections against the official final report on September 11 (9/11 Commission Report of 2004) without participating myself. I didn’t have the time, the strength, maybe even the courage.

“Maybe even the courage” – from how many others do we hear such an honest confession?

Why I will not join the party “Die Linke” (The Left) despite Daniela Dahn

I understand the following objections as a contribution to a larger discussion, because honest and upright authors should not be criticized as we may count on their intellectual openness. I read in her book: I have not encountered anything recognizable in view of the blood toll of millions and millions of dead, which the Soviet soldiers paid for the liberation from our fascism.

That would, indeed, be unforgivable if liberation there really was – as maintained by President Putin and by now by Mrs Dahn as well. Recently, Stalin is more and more rehabilitated as a liberator and opponent of fascism, which I think is a crude falsification of history; as a matter of fact Stalin admired Adolf Hitler and until the end did not want to believe that the latter would attack his country. To be sure, the Soviet Union defended itself against the treacherous invasion of the Hitler regime and in the process made much greater sacrifices than Western countries – that is an undeniable historical fact. But it did not liberate its own and others countries from fascism (totalitarianism) but from a brutal aggressor.  After all, Stalin’s regime was just as totalitarian, just as murderous as Hitler’s so-called National Socialism – I think that after Hannah Arendt these facts need no further confirmation. How can a totalitarian regime liberate other states from totalitarianism, i.e. bring them freedom? In fact, Soviet dictatorship was merely extended over the Eastern Bloc. The uprisings in the GDR, in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland and finally the collapse of the communist regime prove that these countries understood liberation and freedom in a completely different way.

This truth seems so evident to me – and the revision of history pursued by the Russian president so obvious – that I do not quite understand when the book continues to say: How much brainwashing did you /Westerners/ actually undergo in order to believe, even today, the fairy tale that the Americans brought you freedom and democracy after the war? It was always all about capitalism first. Democracy found its limits where it did not subordinate itself to the freedom of capital.

No, that’s definitely not true. During the first decades after the war, Americans brought just that to Western Europe: freedom, democracy – yes, and capitalism. Until the 1990s the latter was not perceived as a dirty economic device, but as a synonym for the prosperity that people in the East Bloc longed for just as much as those in the West. For that very reason, there were uprisings in the East, but I am not aware that Western Europe was until quite recently as outraged against America’s hegemony as Eastern people loathed the Russian yoke (since Trump, things could substantially change).

The word “capitalism”, as used by Daniela Dahn and by an ever wider circle of people, represents the evil par excellence. When she says that Americans always thought of capital and its freedom first, she means that they were always driven by greed. But this view disregards historical truth. Since their independence in the 18th century, Americans have been steeped in the conviction that free men perform best when liberated from the paternalism of the state. The vigorous optimism of Americans, so characteristic of them until quite recently, had its origin here – in the trust they placed in the power of responsible individuals (Max Weber had described the religious roots of this attitude).

As we see today, this trust was based on great naivety, because it has led to the fact that in our time half of all global wealth is concentrated in the hands of the world’s richest eight people.*1* But thirty years ago, when it seemed that eternal growth would make the whole world richer and richer, little thought was given to the concentration of wealth. We should therefore ask ourselves why it is only in the last twenty years or so that we have become so sensitive to criticism of the Americans in particular and of capitalism in general? I miss this historical analysis in Daniela Dahn’s book; instead, she turns to a purely ideological assessment. However, in this case too, I must pay Mrs Dahn the compliment of getting straight to the heart of the matter, that is, the question of private property and competition.

Capitalism:

Private property and competition are the two pillars of capitalism – what makes it, I would say, at some times the most vigorous force of development and at others a force of destruction. For one must be blind to historical reality when overlooking its wealth-creating dynamism. Under Mao, egalitarianism became an ideological principle and competition was forbidden, as it inevitably leads to inequality. Apparently, people tolerated the straitjacket of imposed egalitarianism quite badly – Mao’s rule turned out to be even bloodier than that of Josef Stalin. When Deng Xiao Ping suddenly gave free reign to competition and private property, it became obvious what people really wanted. All previously oppressed energies were suddenly unleashed. Within just three decades, China became a superpower – almost the superpower. Since then, the Chinese are so much in love with capitalism that they sell it to the world as Chinese-style socialism!

Do we still have to talk about the ban on property in collective farms, decreed in the times of Lenin and Stalin, a ban that led to general sabotage and mismanagement, because nobody bears or wants to bear responsibility for something that does not belong to him? Can anybody still overlook the invigorating results of distributive land reforms, which made the masses responsible owners and beneficiaries of their own achievements?*2* Mrs. Dahn does not want to admit this fact but explains that the profiteering /of western capitalist/ was under the proviso that not only a small clique, but as many people as possible had to be offered more benefits than the communists. In her eyes, this was no more than a tactic to avoid looking worse than the Communists, but this explanation, dear Mrs Dahn, seems to be rather tortuous.

Nevertheless, it is absolutely right that capitalism regularly becomes a force of destruction. For the time being, this is not yet the case in China, because thanks to private property and competition, the masses are doing somewhat better every year – in some parts of the country even much better. In the industrially highly developed countries of the West, however, the opposite has been true for some time now: the masses are doing worse.

The reason seems obvious. If property and competition are left to themselves, then the most intelligent and the most ruthless and of course the owners of capital will become increasingly rich and powerful, i.e. inequality will increase. While in an initial phase privatization and competition can mobilize entire populations, raising wealth and wellfare, as it were, overnight, this process is now turning in the opposite direction as inequality increases and growth declines or even stagnates. Thereafter the already privileged few continue to get even richer, but they now do so at the expense of the majority, who, on the contrary, are getting poorer.*3*

It is not private property and competition per se that are responsible for this transition, but the fact that no state has so far succeeded in controlling both in the public interest so that they exclusively develop their beneficial effects. The big question is how the fundamentally wrong capitalist functional logic of profit maximization through growth compulsion, of privileging the privileged and weakening the weak can be broken. This is, indeed, the crucial question, and it is more difficult than ever before to answer in our new globalized world, where we are all

Caught in the Race of Nations for greater economic (and military) power:

Ms Dahn is realist enough to be aware of the constraints imposed by globalization. She recognizes that locally limited alternative models cannot prevail over the merciless logic of the market. Whether we have a wine-growing cooperative or a /capitalist corporation/.. , the problem is that they all are subject to the brutal logic of competition and the market, which demands that they stand up to others or go under... And: that private shareholders, just because they are smaller and have joined forces with other small ones, can therefore afford to think day and night about the common good, is a leftist illusion.

Yes, that’s perfectly true. But what applies on a small scale to Christian Felber’s Common Welfare Economics and many other initiatives that could make our world more beautiful, also applies to the state as a whole, for example the Federal Republic of Germany. The global race for greater economic (and military) power, which is intensifying from year to year because resources are dwindling, not only concerns the three superpowers but extends to even the smallest states, which all demand their share of the common cake. Under such conditions protecting the weak, just redistribution or giving priority to a meaningful life recede into the background. States are not so much dominated by capitalism, which is a mere method of attaining economic strength, but by the objective which this method is intended to serve, namely the preservation or at least the maintenance of their strength and power. But since capitalism produces different results in emerging states like China and in hardly growing ones like the United States, it is the majority who benefit in the first case and only a minority of the super-rich in the second.

Let us assume that Mrs Dahn is right in saying that common property, as she believes existed in the former GDR, makes for a better society. A more convincing option than real common property has not been revealed to me. In other words, property that does not belong to separate groups, which always pursue their separate interests, but in fact to everyone. If this is really the hoped-for panacea, it should be possible to show that this strengthens the sense of responsibility and improves performance – because in the race of nations, unfortunately, this is precisely what matters. The example of the GDR does not seem to suggest this conclusion. So, I am quite sure that under prevailing conditions no state will adopt the theory let alone the practice of common property lest it be pushed back in the race of nations.

I agree with Mrs. Dahn that we are living in a time of severe crisis, but we will only escape this when this fateful race comes to an end, because as long as it persists we are not masters of our destiny but the victims of external forces.*4*

1) According to a 2016 Oxfam study, only eight privileged people – Bill Gates, Amancio Ortega, Warren Buffett, Carlos Slim Helú, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison and Michael Bloomberg – currently have the same wealth as 3.6 billion of the poorest people, half of the current human population!

2) Probably the best book on this subject is by Acemoglu and Robinson (2012): Why Nations Fail.New York: Crown Publishers.

3. It is a fact, illuminated by many among them Thomas Piketti, that the majority must pay for a rich minority as soon as the growth rate is below the rate for interest and dividends.

4 Since this article is meant to appreciate Daniela Dahn’s thoughts not to develop my own propositions, my rather superficial reference to what I call the “Race of Nations” may seem quite unsatisfactory to the reader. But I dealt with this topic in detail in my last books (Reflections on Meaning and Purpose in History; Peace and War; and, satirically, Homo In-sapiens).

Charles Darwin, Chance and the good Lord – a Philosophical Excursion

In 1970 Jacques Monod’s seminal book “Le Hasard et la Nécessité” (Chance and Necessity) was published, on the cover of which the renowned biochemist summed up in a single and concise formula the world view that had dominated first Europe and then the entire world since the 17th century. For the objective scientist, so Monod’s message, the world is nothing but chance and necessity. For there is nothing in the world but these two principles alone: on the one hand, necessity representing that order, which the natural sciences explore in the shape of laws, and on the other hand, chance, which denotes the void within this order – in other words, a meaningless nothing with which science does not know what to do. Since Monod established this formula, neurology has made tremendous progress, his book is certainly no longer “up-to-date”, but the view that reality has nothing else to offer but these two dimensions has become even more entrenched. According to a now prevalent view, our world is made of calculable mechanisms of the physical and neuronal world, and the yawning emptiness of meaningless chance.

Exploring the natural order of things (its “laws”)

always represented the true goal of knowledge. But for a long time, chance was felt to be so disturbing and superfluous that its very existence was questioned – and this even in two distinctly different ways. France’s prince of enlightenment, Voltaire, for example, was convinced that chance was but interim ignorance – it merely referred to what we yet do not know. This opinion can be based on solid arguments, because an infinite number of findings that still seemed random events to our ancestors, like for example cholera epidemics or lunar eclipses, can be deduced by modern science from quite specific causes and are thus conforming to definite natural laws. For this reason, the conclusion seemed quite convincing that all events we still call random are so only because of gaps in human knowledge. To the extent that the progress of science gradually fills these gaps with increased knowledge, we would be able to eliminate chance altogether and in the end recognize everywhere and at any time nothing but lawful order.

This, at any rate, was the opinion of Baruch de Spinoza as well as of his great admirer, Albert Einstein, who, as is well known, put his own rejection of chance into a famous dictum: “God does not play dice”. In other words, the good Lord creates order, because order conforms to reason, order is rational. Chance, on the other hand, carries with it the odor of the worthless and the irrational. No doubt the idea that in chance we are encountering something quite useless and superfluous resonates in its disparagement.

But chance is more than just a gap in our knowledge

It was an epochal discovery that quantum physics helped chance to regain a prominent place in scientific world view. Towards the beginning of the 20th century, it was physics, the supreme discipline of natural sciences, that had to confront randomness – the absence of order. The basic principle of classical physics, according to which every definite effect could be attributed to some definite cause, had definitely to be abandoned. Werner Heisenberg expressed the revolutionary insight in the following way. “Let us consider a radium atom, which can emit an alpha-particle. When we observe the emission, we do not actually look for a foregoing event from which the emission must according to a rule follow… If we wanted to know why the alpha-particle was emitted at this particular time… we would have to know the microscopic structure of the whole world, including ourselves, and that is impossible.”

Chance added the dimension

of unpredictability to the world of classical physics,*1* which up to then had been considered thoroughly predictable as a matter of principle. Jacques Monod put this view in a nutshell when describing evolution (once understood as a process of divine creation) in the following way. “Chance alone is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution: this central concept of modern biology is no longer one among other possible or even conceivable hypotheses. It is today the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one that squares with observed and tested fact.”

The French biochemist,

would not have insisted so emphatically on the sole validity of this hypothesis, had he not kept its opponents in mind, the religious “animists”, as he calls them, who want to give some ulterior meaning to the events of evolution. But this meaning, he adamantly insists, does not exist. The scientist, no matter whether physicist or neurologist, cannot see anything else in the history of dead or living matter but lawful mechanisms that owe their unfolding to blind, meaningless chance. And in order to be absolutely certain that even the most stubborn reader correctly grasps the extent of such total absence of meaning, Monod refers to chance as mere ‘noise’. “… we may say that the same source of fortuitous perturbations, of ‘noise’, which in a nonliving.. system would lead little by little to the disintegration of all structure, is the progenitor of evolution in the biosphere and accounts for its unrestricted liberty of creation.”

In these crushingly dismal lines

Monod summarizes the world view of modern science. Let me supplement his intention with a metaphor that illustrates what he means in a more vivid way. In the view of ancient prophets and founders of religions, a poet like Dante sat at the typewriter to write the divine comedy, only that this poet was God himself creating the cosmos in the process, to which he gives a meaning that man is able to understand. Now, according to the great scientific thinkers since the 17th century up to the present time, this role is played by a monkey who pointlessly presses the keys, and after eons, chance brings forth the divine comedy or the cosmos – but purely mechanically and because of blind and meaningless chance. In one case, God represents embodied intelligence and wisdom, while in the other the monkey represents the exact opposite, the embodied non-intelligence, a candidate for the madhouse.

The special thing about both metaphors

is, in my opinion, that each must be called wrong – that is, wrong by the standards of truth and science.*2* The fact that the first cannot be correct, namely that God created a universe whose plan of salvation is rationally accessible to the human mind, was early on maintained by scientists – Monod merely represents the last link in a long chain of four hundred years. But Albert Schweitzer, great theologian and even greater man, holds the same conviction. “The refined and deceitful attempts to understand the world in an optimistic-ethical sense have no better success than the naive ones. What our thinking wants to pass off as knowledge is but an unjustified interpretation of the world. Thinking defends itself against this admission with the courage of despair, because it fears that it will be at a loss to face the problem of life. What /moral/ meaning should be given to human existence if we have to renounce giving /moral/ meaning to the world? But thinking has no choice but to submit to the facts.”

The statement is perfectly clear! The most outspoken critics of religion could not have expressed their opposition to any moral interpretation of evolution more distinctly than Schweitzer does in these lines where he calls such an interpretation “deceitful”. For thousands of years people attributed plans of salvation to their respective gods, they imagined a rational meaning of evolution, but the scientifically sober observer must conclude that the facts do not agree with any of these mythological constructions.

But the counter-metaphor of blind and meaningless chance

is no more acceptable. We even have to use a much harsher word, it is “unscientific” – a condemnation that carries approximately the same blame today as did in earlier times words like “godless” or “atheist”. The image of the monkey pressing the keys purely mechanically is void of scientific justification even if given the more sober appearance of chance described as “blind” and “meaningless”. Unscientific in this case means that we claim more than we can ever know.

Everybody agrees that we can assign properties only to things we know. Do we know chance so that we may endow it with properties? Certainly not. We have not the slightest idea what chance really is, and we can’t generate it artificially (certainly not by means of a “random generator”!). All algorithms by which we try to produce it, even the most complex ones, necessarily create repeatable events, in other words order – that is, the very opposite of chance. Whoever knows the algorithm in question is therefore able to predict its results. If we want to produce genuine chance, we must borrow it from reality, for example by triggering a certain algorithm whenever a real random event happens, let’s say whenever a sensor connected to the trigger sees a woman in a yellow shirt passing by on the street. This would be as random an event as when some passer-by crossing the street is hit by a tile, which suddenly falls on his head from the roof (Monod uses this example to illustrate randomness).

The impossibility of knowing chance is a simple yet decisive insight. It says that we cannot, in principle, get a knowledge or concept of chance. In fact, chance represents the opposite not only of what we know but (according to Heisenberg) of what we can know. Chance is thus the ultimate unknown, the unintelligible, which no science is able to render accessible. In this sense it is and remains an insoluble mystery for human knowledge.

It is for this reason that both the philosopher and critical science

must reject Monod’s world view as naive and scientifically untenable. The world is not made of necessity and meaningless chance, but its two basic dimensions are order and mystery. Reality presents itself to human understanding on the one hand as the object of (presumably infinitely expandable) knowledge, on the other hand as fundamentally unrecognizable – the limits to human knowledge being set by chance.

This insight bears consequences for believers too. If a God created the world, then we must acknowledge with Albert Schweitzer that we do not understand the meaning he gave to his creation – but that is, of course, not at all the same as Monod’s statement that the world is devoid of meaning. It makes a fundamental difference whether something does not exist absolutely or only when seen from the perspective of a certain type of mind. The Austrian biologist Rupert Riedl found the right metaphor for expressing this truth. “What presumption would it be if the tick wanted to imagine the blood vessels of a mammal, the dog the international drug scene or we /humans/ the laws beyond the cosmos.” Science is now able to explain infinitely many things in detail, e.g. why a bee stings us, a volcano erupts or how a mobile phone works, but it cannot tell us anything about why this world and its orders exist at all and what sense to give to human existence.

This difference is indeed crucial

Just consider Charles Darwin’s great evolutionary formula and see how different it looks as soon as we acknowledge that chance is not blind and not meaningless but represents an unsolvable mystery? Darwin explains the development of species with the struggle for survival, where individuals that are better adapted to prevailing conditions enjoy a selection advantage and therefore have larger offspring. It is well known that Karl Popper called this theory “metaphysical” because it cannot be refuted (falsified) – which means that it cannot be proven either.

We easily understand why the white birch moth previously clinging to an equally white bark of some birch tree had no selection advantage when England’s landscapes slowly became sooty and the moths on the dark bark suddenly became much more visible to their predators. But the environment to which every living creature must adapt is seldom so clearly defined. As a rule, it is extremely complex and changes at every moment. It therefore demands all kinds of simultaneous adaptations from living beings, which are just as difficult to calculate as the forces of the whole world acting on an alpha-particle at any given moment. This is why Darwin’s theory has never achieved what physicists demand of their laws, namely the capacity to predict the future development of species. Even the most convinced Darwinist would not dare to predict what mice – let alone human beings – will look like 500 or 1000 years from now, (unless under laboratory conditions, when all environmental conditions have been artificially reduced to a minimum).

In his time, Darwin himself did not yet know

about the mechanisms, which provide the “material” to be selected, i.e. genetically differentiated individuals. Biogeneticists have long since described the causes that may lead to different genetic make-up – e.g. endogenous or, conversely, externally induced errors in the replication of the genetic code. It is important to note that biogeneticists are dealing here with random changes (e.g. mutations); if these were lawful, they would be able to calculate future developments. So, biogene­ticists agree with Jacques Monod that here it is indeed chance – the absence of laws -, which reigns supreme. That is why Monod’s basic law may indeed be transferred from physics to biology: “The development of species is completely explained by chance and necessity”.

But what do we really explain

given that we never know chance as it represents pure  mystery? As soon as we acknowledge this basic truth, the formula that summarizes Darwin’s teaching (as enlarged by his followers) takes on a completely transformed appearance. “The evolution of species is entirely explained by necessity together with mystery.” Obviously this is a contradictio in adjecto, for this formula fails because of its obvious internal contradiction. An explanation can never be complete if based on unsolvable mystery.

This insight is of a fundamental nature, for it compels us to be epistemologically humble. The science of life may gain perfect knowledge of the descent of species, that is of the history of evolution. But it will never be able to offer a complete explanation of the evolution of species, precisely because the latter comprises the scientifically unintelligible dimension of chance as one of its two basic dimensions.*3*

The revolution of knowledge that began in the 17th century,

consisted in a methodical search for truth that should in principle be accessible to everybody. Science does not recognize the dictates or revelations of authorities, it is radically democratic. But science was always tempted to act like a revelation itself, and that fact explains why from the outset it was not just a method for searching the truth but could itself become the victim of lies, especially since it had a most influential opponent from the beginning: undemocratic “power religion”, which did not rely on reason but on supposedly incontestable revelation.

In order to fight this powerful enemy, as science did since the 17th century and Monod still in the twentieth, it gave and still gives the public an explanation of reality meant to be as comprehensive and total as the claim and intention of “power religion” (in contrast to “critical religion” that does not pretend to recognize the last reality, that is, God and his intentions). The very moment when science embarks on this path, it turns into a mirror image of its opponent becoming itself dogmatic or “power science”. Of course, critical scientists always resisted this lapse into dogmatism. The mathematician Gödel proved that no system can give a logically complete account of itself, it fails to do so because of fundamental incompleteness (Gödel’s Incompleteness theorems). If man tries to do so nevertheless, he acts – as Rupert Riedl said – like a police dog trying to know the international drug scene.

Unlike “power religion”

criticized by Albert Schweitzer for deceitfully pretending to offer an optimistic explanation of evolution, “power science” does the exact opposite: it raises an oppressive perspective to the rank of indisputable, absolute truth. Or can there be a more dismal vision than the philosophy of Nothing-But, according to which man and the cosmos are nothing better than mechanisms whose development is determined by blind, meaningless chance? This is clearly the kind of valuation that scientists usually avoid, for example when they describe the chemical bonding of H and O to H2O. There is no talk here of beautiful or meaningless – the event is simply presented in its factuality. Science cannot do more than this, if it does not want to turn into an ideology itself.

When calling chance, one of the two basic dimensions of reality,

a mystery we do not valuate but are naming a fact because we simple do not what chance is apart from being the opposite of recognizable order. And that is why we must firmly reject the world view of Monod, which continues to be that of most scientists even today, and replace it with an entirely different one. Reality is both an architecture of recognizable order and unrecognizable mystery.

This insight is new only to “power religion” and “power science”. Critical reli­gion, one of whose greatest representatives is the mystic Meister Eckart, who preached the unrecognizable God, has always known about it. Critical scientists like Kurt Gödel or the supposedly positivist Karl Popper, the biologist Rupert Riedl and many others always acknowledged this truth. But for fear of admitting their limitations, power religion and power science both insist on total explanation, the first by artificially imputing an optimistic plan of salvation to reality, the second by devaluing the latter into a mere Nothing-But.

In our time, when science and technology

are reshaping reality more deeply and comprehensively than religion has ever been able to do, the threats we face are not merely of a theoretical nature but consist of more serious material challenges. The greatest achievement of our time: the scientific search for truth, threatens to turn into actual meaninglessness, as our immense knowledge and skills tempt us to gradually render uninhabitable the unique green planet to which we became adapted in millions of years. What a blatant contradiction! Homo sapiens, the most highly developed among primates, manages to invent the vehicles that will carry him to another planet in the solar system. It is no longer unrealistic to expect him to build oxygen-filled container prisons on the barren stone deserts of Mars, in which he may lead a sad and secluded life like in a Siberian penal colony. But so far he seems unable to create the necessary conditions for leading a sustainable life within his own habitat, the Earth. Science could have offered us the opportunity to make life on the green planet a paradise, instead we have used it to poison nature so that we may well turn Earth into an uninhabitable hell.

Nobel Prize winners of the rank and intelligence of Jacques Monod

mentally prepared this development by spreading their false and unscientific philosophy of Nothing-But. Why should we have any inhibitions when dealing with a meaningless world, a meaningless life? This attitude assures that destroying or preserving our habitat are equally devoid of meaning. I would like to call this “false enlightenment” which was destined to lead to a secular counter-reaction. The renaissance of fundamentalist religions as well as the terrifying proliferation of artificial concoctions of meaning in esotericism are intended to fill the void that the lie of Nothing-But created in people’s minds. As is so often the case: the fanaticism of one camp promotes that of the other. We have seen that Monod too does not tolerate contradiction: “Pure coincidence, absolutely free but blind, at the root of the mighty edifice of evolution: this central concept of modern biology is no longer one among other possible or even conceivable hypotheses. It is today the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one that squares with observed and tested fact.”

The dogmatism of “power science” may be refuted

in still another way. Instead of tracing the secret of chance in the cosmos or in biological evolution, where we will never unravel it, we could have looked for it within ourselves. After all, evolution constantly happens in the Here and Now and in every living being. At the moment we seek the effects of chance within ourselves, we experience it directly as meaningful, for instance when listening to music. Music owes its elementary effect on our psyche to resonance, that is recognition. We are enraptured by the beauty of some musical architecture, e.g. a sonata by Mozart or Bach, because it not only flows upon us as an external sequence of notes, but the elements of this order are already present within us, so that we experience recognition and re-encounter. Thus, the supreme enjoyment produced by music emanates equally from the outside and from within ourselves – without resonance, i.e. our active participation, music would have no effect.

But music is much more than just a certain order or architecture that we have internalized as part of our culture; at the same type it produces an escape from petrified order by playing in an unpredictable way with established “architectural” elements. Music becomes bad, boring or even kitschy when it seems predictable because it has nothing new to offer in terms of sound or rhythm. Great music surprises us precisely by the fact that while we constantly recognize established elements, yet it appears to us to be refreshingly new, because we cannot anticipate all those surprising ideas, variations, sudden discoveries that are enriching it. This is how chance, when experienced within ourselves, turns into freedom acquiring a quality that goes far beyond mere randomness. We experience it as the highest meaning of all, because the unexpected escape from petrified patterns proves to be a source of intense happiness. This is creation, but certainly not of meaninglessness but of abundance.

Of course, the same observation applies to all cultural creations as these constitute are our own human contribution to evolution. But here too, the happiness we experience remains a secret that we cannot put into a formula though its effects are perfectly real – real enough, in any case, to decisively modify Monod’s bleak world view, which largely corresponds to the one prevailing today.

*1* That chance can range from zero to one in probability theory, i.e. from total unpredictability to the certain occurrence of an event, only means that the transition from recognizable order to unrecognizable chaos is a gradual one.

*2* Cf. my book “Creative Reason”.

*3* Just as we are faced with a potential infinity if we want to grasp the totality of the facts to which a living being must adapt, we are also faced with a potential infinity of possible reactions to these circumstances. Modern science has identified magnetic fields, infrared and ultraviolet light, ultrasound, etc. as possible sensory abilities in certain living beings, giving them survival advantages, but we do not know how many other phenomena exist that living beings could use for this purpose. For this reason alone, Darwin’s teaching lacks prognostic capacity.

Young and Old

Nobody is interested in the fact that, because of my date of birth, I have to be counted among the elderly, perhaps even the old people – certainly the fact is of no interest to myself. But a malicious being of microscopic size takes very much interest in the matter, as it likes to choose its victims mainly within my group of age. And the stakes are equally high for the modern welfare state; for the latter the virus came at just the right time – at least that’s what nasty rumors claim. Haven’t the apocalyptics been whining for years that it would not be long until the collapse of our pension system because fewer and fewer young people carry more and more old people on their shoulders? Now the cute little thing is doing the state a favor by resolutely thinning ranks within the old generation. Even such a simple action as the virus’ targeted rage against old people does however show that the devil always has the last say. True, the current pandemic kills very few young people, but these are nonetheless much more affected in terms of future prospects. The worldwide slump in economic activity will give them a very hard time.

As I said, no one cares,

that anyone among us crosses this or that age threshold. But to reflect on the difference between old and young is perhaps not without interest. Old people sit back and ask themselves, what is left of a life that is, after all, by no means short? The young person takes no interest in the question. He lives on hopes for the future. He imagines everything that can still come out of him – for him the future is a pledge and a promise. Old men, on the other hand, look back at all the twists and turns that lie behind them, and in retrospect try to fill them with meaning. They wonder whether the pledges were kept and the promises fulfilled. How different it is for the young! Life being an open horizon, they want to intervene in what is happening by means of action, so as to change it. Young people are out for the new, they tend to radicalism, as to them it seems to be a lack of imagination, initiative and vitality to simply ride on the tracks of the old generation..

Elderly persons rarely sympathize with radicalism. At best, they have realized many initiatives that arose from their own vitality and imagination; they are more concerned with preserving for the future what they see as their achievements. Folk wisdom has long ago summarized the contrast between old and young: Even people who had been radicals in early youth usually become conservatives in old age (but some even conserve their radicalism).

But I think that this rule

is no longer valid for our time – or more correctly, that it should no longer be valid. For conservative today are those people – and unfortunately they are still an overwhelming majority – who want to continue life after Corona exactly as it was before. They would like to have as many planes, cars and cruise ships and produce as much CO2 as before, may be even more, because eternal growth will hardly be possible without it. This means that even more goods must be produced, even more waste be disposed of, even more landscape be sealed with motorways, even more arable land be covered with monocultures and treated with pesticides, artificial fertilizers and genetically modified plants. This is what the 21. century looks like for those for whom the past provides the only yardstick against which to measure the future. But humanity can no longer afford this kind of conservatism because then it will squander what remains of resources, exterminate the last species of wildlife and change the climate to such an extent that it destroys its own livelihood.

Certainly, old age tends to be pessimistic

The complaint that everything is getting worse seems as old as mankind itself. But it is based on an optical illusion. The young generation is changing the world, giving it a new face; the old generation is acquainted with reality as it used to be. That is the world old people had learned to love, or at least have become accustomed to, so they fear the new as something that threatens to destroy what has become dear to them. In this respect, the pessimism of old age is simply based on its inability to get used to things new and to recognize their intrinsic value.

And yet in our time there seems to be some objective reasons for justified pessimism. After all, the global poisoning of air with CO2, of water with plastic and of the earth with artificial fertilizers and pesticides is an undeniable fact. Some also complain that industrialization is making the world increasingly ugly. Take a look at Germany in Goethe’s time: everything was still miraculously small and manageable. In 1786, a city like Weimar had just 6,200 inhabitants, and from today’s point of view, there were many romantic corners and retreats, which either no longer exist or are artificially kept alive in a couple of museum towns like Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Even though life was much harder and more arduous for many people at that time, nature was much better preserved two centuries ago. But the past century has produced cities all over the world that rather resemble concrete deserts. Around them landscapes have become bleak and often repulsive as they have been largely transformed into monocultures buried under a blanket of pesticide fumes. Never before have there been so many no-go areas, before which we prefer to close our eyes and block our nose. It should, however, be added that it is the typical manner of old people to raise such complaints. They remember how things used to be in the past. Young people have no such comparison. They grow up in the new world and possess the wonderful and vital ability to appreciate it for what it is.

A comparison may illustrate what I mean

I couldn’t imagine a worse prospect than spending the rest of my life somewhere in Greenland amidst those barren white deserts, but the Inuit, who were born and grew up in these landscapes, have discovered the magic of the infinite transformations of ice and snow, and have given the barrenness a wealth of feelings and names, as only people can do who are immersed in their surroundings as if these were a part of themselves. It is the prerogative of each new generation to give a new and unique life to the world when they experience it with alert senses, transforming even the most barren environment into a voluptuous abundance. What the elderly experience only as a loss becomes a voyage of discovery for the young. Even if an objective study could prove that the world has become uglier – some would say much uglier and uniform – over the past two hundred years, the subjective view, which discovers new beauties everywhere, weighs just as heavily. That is why it mocks the pessimism of the old.

Germany’s former chancellor Helmut Schmidt

once pronounced the notorious sentence: “If you have visions, you should see a doctor.” At that time, he was already about fifty years of age, and like most elder people had no sympathies for visionaries. We know that the latter together with all kinds of radicals are rather found among young people. But realism seems to be less tied to age, I mean realism as the ability to see reality as what it is, namely contradictory, multifaceted and complex – not confounding it with what one would like it to be. It is precisely the great agents of change – just think of historical actors such as Julius Caesar, Napoleon or Winston Churchill – who, for all their goal-directed persistence, are characterized by a remarkably sober view of reality. The actor who confuses reality with wishful thinking is incapable of overcoming resistance because he does not even recognize it as such. Only visionaries suffering from a lack of realism are well advised to see a doctor.

Old age is withdrawing from active action,

instead it turns to thinking. From the perspective of youth, this may be seen as a loss. But the transition is redolent with a tremendous opportunity as well. Goethe once said: “The doer is always unscrupulous, no one has a conscience but the beholder. Indeed, that’s the way it is. He who acts has to assert his will – often against the resistance of his fellow men. The beholder takes a distance from things. Such distancing has a marked effect on the assessment of human action. Great injustice always existed – we need not look into history in order to find it, the present time offers enough examples. Fighting against it the actor may have a very good conscience. But old age has another insight that youth mostly lacks. We are aware of a thousand and more things that are definitely bad, but there is no recipe for a perfect world. Assuming we had found such a recipe and perhaps even realized it, we would soon become so deadly bored with perfection that we would commit any crime just to escape from paradise. It is no coincidence that Dante knew so much about hell and, like all poets and thinkers, including Karl Marx, so few ideas come to his mind when he describes the perfections of paradise.

Age cannot and will not forget

because life turns more and more into memory, as its active transformation has passed to younger hands. This has undeniable advantages – it is an act of liberation and even happiness. In contrast to the doer, the beholder does not want anything from the outside, and the latter does not make any demands on him. He lets things live and speak, and leaves himself entirely to the impressions received by them. Schopenhauer has expressed the state of happiness of such a contemplation in an incomparable passage. “If one… forgets one’s individual, one’s will, and remains only as a pure subject, as a clear mirror of the object; …then… the person conceiving this view is no longer an individual …but he is the pure, will-less, painless, timeless subject of knowledge.”

It is the prerogative of age, that it experiences at least some of those happy moments when it becomes the pure, will-less, painless, timeless subject of knowledge.

Logical refutation of Noam Chomsky’s famous trees – the essence of his theory of language

The fascination of Chomsky’s theory of language is due to the fact that it seems to derive linguistic diversity and complexity from a simple starting point. After Chomsky, a whole generation of linguists was busy with drawing all these elusive inverted trees. Let us stick to a simple example:

                                S

         NP                                           VP

det               N                     V                     det       N

The               boy                  eats                the       ice cream

The derivation is fascinating because of its apparent proximity to the approach of the natural sciences, where complex events are similarly derived from simple basic elements. No wonder that many praised Noam Chomsky’s approach as a revolution that finally turned the study of language into a science. The tree, with its simple peak of “S” for s(entence), seemed to define the rules that a speaker must obey in order to “generate” a potentially infinite number of grammatically correct sentences in English or any other language (hence the name “Generative Grammar”).

But right at the beginning linguists

should have asked the crucial question, what “S” at the top of the derivation is meant to represent? “S” cannot be an entity void of any content, because nothing can be derived from nothing. It must be something, but what exactly?

Of course, “S” cannot be identical with the formal end product, i.e. the English sound sequence “The boy eats the ice cream”, because then there would be no derivation at all, but the whole thing would amount to a mere tautology. Nor can “S” be a mixture of meaning and form, in the way the English word “boy” represents a phonetic form on the one hand and a carrier of meaning on the other. Then we would end up with partial tautology. The only possible interpretation is that “S” refers to something quite different: a structure of meaning. In the speaker’s brain, the real event is represented in conceptual shape, which in the act of speaking he translates into a structured linguistic form.

But then “S” as a term for s(entence) or formal structure turns out to be a misnomer. We have to replace it with another expression, say “M” as an abbreviation for M(eaning).

                                            M

                     **************************

         NP                                                       VP

det               N                                 V                     det      N

The               boy                              eats                 the      ice cream

However, once we perform this necessary distinction, it becomes obvious that we must separate the starting point “M” with a line from the following derivatives, because NP and VP represent something different from meaning, namely elements in temporal order. “The boy” proceeds in temporal sequence “eats ice-cream”. Such temporal order is not found in the conceptual structure. A unit of meaning such as “The tree is green” is independent of time. An action such as “The boy eats ice cream” is of course a temporal event like any action, but this has nothing to do with the sequence of words in the English sentence.

And “M”, which we have to substitute for “S”

exibits still one more distinguishing feature. The expression “S” suggests unity and simplicity, which, however, does not exist on the level of meaning. “The tree is green” denotes the modification of a substance by a quality. “The boy eats” or “The boy eats ice cream” refers to the modification of a person (living substance) by an action. The “Logical structure of Meaning” (see my work “Principles of Language”), portrays the most important types of such units of meaning. Each of these can take the place of “M” on the top of the tree.

Since, furthermore, the conceptual analysis of reality begins in the animal kingdom and is subject to evolution in human societies as well, only the basic types are present in all societies, not their more complex forms. In other words, evolution already comes into play at the level of “M”. Hence we must define “M” as elementary types of the “Logical and Informational Structure of Meaning” and understand them as products of evolution.

What about the components N and V of the formal level

below the structure of meaning, which, according to Chomsky, belong to General Grammar, so that we may apply them to languages as different from each other as English and Japanese? Are these terms universal? If we understand verb in the sense that it should denote a formal class in which actions occur, then this statement is certainly correct, because we may be sure to find actions like walking, speaking, striking etc. expressed by words in every natural language. So, we may of course give the name of “verb” to any formal class in any language where they occur. Doing so, we will, however have difficulties with words such as running, speaking, striking, etc., which in English and German formally belong to the class of nouns although they express actions. The conclusion seems evident: it is impossible to define verb or noun in a general (universally valid) way. All we know is that certain language-specific formal criteria make eat, run, hit etc. verbs in English, Japanese or any other language. Again, we have to modify Chomsky’s deceptively simple scheme:

                                            M

                     **************************

         NPengl                                                  VPengl

detengl           Nengl                            Vengl                 detengl  Nengl

The               boy                              eats                 the      ice cream

                     Running                      tops                             walking

Consider another example to understand this basic correction. In English we may say “Running tops walking”, which we understand in the sense that someone prefers to run rather than just go walking. In many languages this content cannot be expressed in a similar formal way. This means that already on the conceptual level, we are faced with different kinds of analysis. In some language, people must, for example, say, “I like to walk, but I’d rather run.” The agent “I” cannot simply be effaced like in English.

To sum up, Chomsky’s scheme does not in any way describe the generative linguistic capacity of human brains. On the one hand, Chomsky’s “S” is either tautological or has to be replaced by “M”(eaning) – and then becomes much more complex, since “M” consists of different conceptual types (described in the Logical and Informational Structure of Meaning). And on the formal level below the separating line, categories such as V and N are not universal – when used as such, they obscure the existing differences in the formal realization of language instead of explaining it.

That is because the transformation of structures of meaning into structures of sound does not only result in differences of syntax, i.e. in different temporal sequences (like SVO in English, SOV in Japanese), but creates differences in paratax as well, which concern the classification of concepts as formal categories like English verbs, Japanese verbs, etc.

With their deceitful simplicity Chomsky’s trees – the essence of what is new in his linguistic theory – all but obscure our understanding of language. The question why Chomsky created a scheme that so blatantly disregards basic logic, is of interest, but it must here be relegated to a footnote.*1* 

His trees need still one further correction. All the expressions above the dividing line belong to meaning, ie the immaterial conceptual structure, while all expression below belong to the acoustic chain or its representation on a sheet of paper. Now, there is no cogent reason why “eats the ice cream” or “tops walking” should be put in one class named VP rather than “The boy eats” or “running tops”. There is no justification for such classification neither on the formal level nor on the conceptual level (above the dividing line). But there is such a justification (on both levels) for grouping “dirty cloth” or “chanting joyfully” (see footnote one) each in a special class. So, we again modify Chomsky’s tree leaving out NP and VP altogether:

                                            M

                     **************************

detengl           Nengl                            Vengl                 detengl  Nengl

The               boy                              eats                 the      ice cream

                     Running                      tops                            walking

After this final transformation, Chomsky’s modified and reduced tree corresponds exactly to the general formula I had already used back in the eighties:

M formally realized as F

where M refers to meaning and F to its transformation in symbolic form.

Now lets get back to the present example. It represents a conceptual structure consisting of Agent and Patient and an Action. Its members must be separated by commas as on the conceptual level there is no temporal sequence. According to the specific rules governing English syntax and paratax the conceptual structure is then transformed into the following acoustic chain or sentence (with the arrow signifying formal realization in English):

Ag, Pt, A in English symbolically realized as The boy eats the ice cream

or, if we prefer the shape of a tree:

                                Ag, Pt, A

                     **************************

detengl           Nengl                            Vengl                 detengl  Nengl

The               boy                              eats                 the      ice cream

.

1 Chomsky inherited his position from his teacher Zellig S. Harris, the founder of distributionalism, who had excluded the semantic dimension. Harris restricted the description of language to the study of recurrent formal elements. Let us consider the following utterance:

Bird-s are chanting joyful-ly Mary wash-es all dirty cloth big cloud-s cover the sky

N                 V                Adv          N             V           Adj        N    Adj    N         V     det  N

NP                             VP                NP                       VP                   NP                VP

                  S                                                        S                                                     S

Supposed the analyzing linguist knows beforehand what elements in the unbroken spoken chainrepresent English nouns, verbs, adjectives, then he may by purely formal analysis dissect this chain into three sentences. Knowing furthermore that he may substitue any noun like for instance cloth with a larger expression like dirty cloth, he may write NP for N. Such a purely formal distributional analysis may, of course, be turned upside down. Then “S” is placed at the top but that doesn’s change its nature: it remains strictly tautological and is still a mere abstraction representing no more and no less than the respective formal chains in English. By a mere sleight of hand Chomsky turned an analytical process – a tautology – into a derivation. The apparent miracle was nothing more than a logical error.

Politics, Science and – yes! – Linguistics

Until the twenties of the last century, German was still the most common language of science. By 1933 Germany had won more Nobel Prizes than any other nation, more than England and the United States combined. Then came Hitler and his policy of systematic lies (and crimes). After the Second World War, German was just one language among others, and German science lost much of its former significance.

Since 1945, the United States could until recently claim that it was leading the way in almost all fields of science. Then came George Bush Jr. and afterwards a still greater evil: the show business man Donald Trump with his policy of systematic lies. In the meantime, China is emerging as the new world power of science (fortified by a messianic belief in its unlimited possibilities). The star of the US is now in rapid decline.

Science is committed to truth

This does not mean that it reveals that kind of TRUTH, by which people understand the meaning or goal of life. On the contrary, on this matter science has very little or nothing to say, yet it unites people in understanding reality. Only five hundred years ago, the elites of France, Japan, China or India had little to say to each other, since only the lower classes dealt with the practical matters of life, that is those which all over the world obey the same laws of nature. Peasants in Germany, India or China could have found much common ground when discussing the issues of field cultivation, but elites lived in different spheres, determined by honor, ambition and above all religion, which, in each country, served different gods and moral rules.

Today, the elites of China, the US, India and Europe

have infinitely more common ground. They may expertly discuss a wide range of subjects, be it finance, corporations, computers and tanks or the latest scientific findings.  At the latest since the second half of the last century, science even became the universal language of mankind.

This does not mean, however, that mutual exchange and a common language necessarily bring people closer together. Even in the past, that has never been true. The Indian caste system, for example, brought people into close contact who communicated in one and the same language and practiced professions that brought members of different castes (such as barbers and Brahmins) into daily contact, but they were not allowed to marry or even to dine together. The Brahmins wanted to retain their position of lords, the other castes had to remain servants – this fundamental conflict of interests ensured that close contact and a common language did not bring them closer together.

Things have remained that way until today. The fact that Western science has by now not only been adopted by China, but is being perfected with increasing success by the Chinese themselves, does not in any way mitigate the conflicting interests arising between the US and China. One thing is science where it is always possible to achieve agreement because its predictions are true or not, a mobile phone works or does not work. But interests are something completely different, because there is no objective basis for recognizing them as justified or rejecting them as unjustified. In the case of interests, an instance completely different from truth proclaims the ultimate verdict – namely power.

Unfortunately, science too can become subject to power

and indeed, it always has been. In the words of its great theoretician Thomas S. Kuhn, it then turns into a “paradigm” dogmatically defended against any contradiction. Such a paradigm was for example the pre-Copernican geocentric world view. Giordano Bruno was burned to death, many others were persecuted or likewise executed because they questioned the dominant paradigm. This world view was not even wrong, because in principle every point in the universe can be arbitrarily made the point of reference in order to describe and calculate the orbits of all surrounding celestial bodies. Even a lunacentric world view is perfectly conceivable and could lead to absolutely correct predictions of solar and (partial) earth eclipses. A lunacentric world view would thus be just as correct as the geocentric one – it would only be so extraordinarily complex that it would hinder the progress of astronomy even more than the geocentric one. The replacement of the latter by the teachings of Copernicus therefore represented a historical breakthrough.

We know that the condemnation of Galileo in the 20th century still inspired Bertolt Brecht. But it was not only the Church which resisted the new doctrine so long and so stubbornly, as the latter could not be reconciled with passages from its sacred texts. Lots of scientists, who had been educated in the old world view and had over many years imparted it to their students, rejected it with equal fervor. Their self-assurance, their fame, their previous knowledge depended on the old model, so they clung to it. Einstein once indicated how much this adherence to the familiar also applies to physics, the strictest of sciences. He thought that the old generation of physicists must first die before a new one would be ready to accept his thoughts. 

Often a progress of scientific knowledge

entails no immediate practical significance. As already mentioned, the geocentric world view was not wrong, it only rendered astronomic description unnecessarily complex. Nor was classical physics, as founded by Newton, wrong. Einstein did, however, show that it is not able to explain border areas of the real world (a fact that was further substantiated by quantum physics).

But clinging to a paradigm can have much more serious practical consequences. The Austrian surgeon and obstetrician Ignaz Semmelweis attributed the frequent death of women in childbirth due to childbed fever to lack of hygiene. He drew up a catalogue of regulations to prevent the outbreak of diseases through cleanliness and disinfection – regulations that are considered exemplary today. In his day, however, Semmelweis’s colleagues had different views on the causes of disease and premature deaths. They dismissed his theory as speculative nonsense. Semmelweis died in 1865 under unexplained circumstances in a Viennese lunatic asylum. His theory accused his colleagues – even if only indirectly – of ignorance, conceit and a lack of truthfulness. That is why until his end they never forgave him. In fact, they accepted the death of many women rather than allowing their professional honor to be offended.

Ignorance, conceit and lack of truthfulness

dominate science today as they did in the past. This is the essential insight that Thomas S. Kuhn arrived at in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. I would like to back it up with another example, which is really harmless when compared to the devastation produced in the case just mentioned. But on the other hand, it nicely illustrates how lies not only in politics but in science as well may come to play a dominant role.

Since the beginning of the 1980s, linguistics

had for a couple of years become a kind of beacon of hope for all cultural sciences. Noam Chomsky caused a worldwide sensation with a theory that apparently made it possible to explain, with the help of a few formulas, the principles that enable the speaker of any language to form a basically infinite number of correct sentences. Generative and General Grammar were born – and for a while it looked as if language was that part of culture which would allow the humanities to derive all cultural phenomena from a few universal principles in exactly the same way as the natural sciences had already succeeded in doing far earlier with regard to the realm of inanimate nature. In other words, linguistics became a star science for a short time during the 1980s and 1990s.

What remained of this enthusiasm?

The question may be concisely answered with one single word: nothing! Even one of Chomsky’s most dedicated admirers, Steven Pinker, sees in his master’s theory a bloated scholasticism hard to digest. Others are much outspoken and they have shown that during the past decades Chomsky himself dismantled one component of his theory after the other. Even if they declare its goal, the scientific foundation of a General and Generative Grammar, to be legitimate, most critics agree that Chomsky’s method proves unsuitable and unfruitful for this purpose. Among Chomsky’s followers are of course all those who see him as their teacher – linguists like Steven Pinker, Ray Jackendoff or J. Mendivil-Giro – just to pick up some names at random. Among his more or less devastating critics are Christopher Hallpike, Giorgio Graffi, John Colarusso, David Golumbia, Nikolaus Allott, Roland Hausser, John Goldsmith, Per Linell, Tristan Tondino, Christina Behme – again I arbitrarily pick out a few names from the immense crowd of scientists who spent a good part of their lives trying to find their way through the nearly impenetrable thicket of Chomsky’s scholastic meanderings. Encouraged by Chomsky’s constant changes of direction, these people are now busy with the opposite concern of deconstructing Chomsky’s theses one by one.

As a scientific theory, Chomsky’s teaching is dead,

or rather, it has proved to be a lie, because unlike the geocentric world view, it is not only uncomfortable but decidedly wrong, unable to keep any of its promises. It neither explains the generative nor the universal aspects of human languages. But, of course, the people who have devoted the best part of their lives to this lie and infected their students with it do not want to admit that for years they have simply been wrong – just as Semmelweis’s colleagues did not want to be accused of lacking truthfulness. This is why many of them now turn their superior intelligence to the opposite endeavor, applying Chomsky’s scholastic jargon to the criticism of their former master. The danger associated with this had already been recognized by the wonderfully perceptive William James more than a century ago, when he – at the time with regard to German cultural scholars – recorded the following observation: “The forms /at universities/ are so professionalized that anybody who has gained a teaching chair and written a book, however distorted and eccentric, has the legal right to figure forever in the history of the subject like a fly in amber. All later comers have the duty of quoting him and measuring their opinions with his opinion. Such are the rules of the professorial game – they think and write from each other and for each other and at each other exclusively.”

This is the typical behavior of an elite,

and it is as old as mankind itself. It reminds me of a scholastic enterprise that was conceived almost three thousand years ago and laid down in the so-called Brahmana texts, where an elite group of highly respected and highly paid priests, described with meticulous precision how, by piling up bricks, pouring butter over them and murmuring various mantras, they were able to cure all kinds of diseases, drive away enemies, prevent droughts and produce rain. An American Indologist described the texts – apparently in a fit of intellectual despair – as the “babble of madmen”, although a high level of systematic intelligence and knowledge belongs to its salient features.

As a theoretician of politics, Noam Chomsky has created some texts of great clarity and persuasiveness. The contrast to his sterile linguistic hairsplitting can only be explained by the fact that his method proved to be utterly inedequate and therefore required constant intellectual vagaries, reversals and concealment tactics to be kept alive. How will scientists who already criticize him so mercilessly today think about his linguistics after a decade or two? I suppose that his theory (together with most critical comments, which as a rule are mostly just as scholastic) will then be described as “insane babble” – despite or rather because of their pretentious jargon. As Einstein said, a new generation must take a fresh look at reality. Only then can a change in thinking take place. Now the representatives of the old doctrine are still in office and far too much imbued with their own knowledge and eminence to overcome academic conceit through truthfulness.

But there are always outsiders

sometimes large ones like Nicolaus Copernicus, sometimes smaller ones like Ignaz Semmelweis, who oppose the paradigm. In linguistics, too, there has been such an outsider, early on in the beginning eighties. The person in question realized that General or Universal Grammar was difficult to talk about if you just had a little knowledge of Hebrew and Spanish in addition to your own mother tongue. A zoologist is expected to know hundreds of animals, a botanist thousands of plants to be at home in his area. Doesn’t it seem like a miracle that Chomsky and most of his linguistic followers have just mastered their mother tongue, English, and yet are able to express themselves confidently about Universal Grammar?

The master himself was not aware of any disadvantage. He literally claimed to have a homunculus within himself that would tell him the right thing.*1* It is, of course, difficult to oppose this argument if you do not feel the homunculus in your own chest. The said outsider could not boast of such a mysterious creature within his breast, he therefore had to rely on reason. At the beginning of the 1980s, he was able to prove that Chomsky’s theory was based on quicksand, because it used hybrid concepts of traditional grammar that are not universal, namely verbs and nouns. These constitute formal classes filled with different semantic contents in languages such as English and Chinese, so that we may only speak of English, Chinese, Japanese verbs or nouns but not use these terms as universal categories. If this criticism of wrongly chosen basic concepts was correct, then any further preoccupation with a theory that claimed universality but was based on non-universal building blocks would be a waste of time.

In the 80s, however, the enthusiasm for the apparently Universal Grammar

of Chomskyan provenance was so overwhelming that the voice of an outsider was simply ignored. No, it was actively rejected. His objection was felt to be so disturbing that his initial mention as a linguist in Wikipedia was subsequently revoked. Not only was there never any discussion of his arguments,*2* but by removing the person in question from the list of linguists, the latter wanted the outsider to be declared linguistically non-existent.

Not only in politics but in science too,

such strategies are, as we saw, completely normal – and in most cases quite trivial as well. Lots of women had to lose their lives for the disregard of Semmelweis, but the scholastic aberrations of a Noam Chomsky only wreak havoc in the minds of a handful of university professors, the fate of the rest of humanity remains unaffected.

No, maybe not completely, because science changes its character in the process. Let us not forget that there is also an amazingly successful branch of modern linguistics: machine translation with the help of Artificial Intelligence. The successes in this field may be described as breathtaking. Now that living conditions and languages have become more and more similar worldwide, most of those cultural differences are rapidly disappearing that once made translation so difficult. Today, economic and scientific texts can be translated almost perfectly by these machines. Only literary texts – and especially poems – mock these efforts because they cannot be standardized. If a writer produces standard writings, then they are easy to translate, but mostly without value too.

Automated translation is nothing less than a great triumph

of instrumental intelligence – here the same rule applies as in the applied natural sciences – either it works or it doesn’t work. The quality of translation and thus the criterion of truth (of the underlying algorithms) can be clearly determined. This unambiguity is missing in the non-instrumental – the understanding – cultural sciences. And it is not even sought in those circles where, as William James observed, a clique of academics “write of each other, for each other and against each other”. Hence the imposed cutbacks in the humanities. Without public relevance many politicians no longer see a justification for their further existence – posts and areas are being reduced to such an extent that the humanities now play the role of ignored wallflowers. A considerable share of the blame for such a development must be attributed to the scholasticism of scientists like Noam Chomsky. What remains of the whole, originally so fascinating theory of his General and Generative Grammar is by no means a better understanding of language, but rather a difficult to incomprehensible scientific jargon – the empty shell of an insider language which linguistic adepts must up to this day assiduously learn if they want to belong to the circle of the initiated.*3*.

All that remains at the end is to add that,

by a whim of fate, the outsider in question happens to be identical to the author of these lines.  His book “Principles of Language” is not to be recommended to anyone who is concerned with the beauty of language, for it only speaks of logical structure and the universal constraints every natural language is bound to obey (of course, this applies generally to all linguistic texts that deal with the abstract regularities of language). The “Principles” examine the logical skeleton of language, not its living flesh, seductively blooming in infinite nuances.

Those, however, who are interested in the logic of language will be richly rewarded by reading this book, for it reveals and explains the boundary between linguistic chance and linguistic law, which exists both in language as in culture in general, but is much easier to determine in language. As a matter of principle, immaterial meaning and its material manifestation through sound sequences that are exchanged in the process of communication between speaker and listener, are regarded as the two constituent components of language and carefully kept apart.

The conclusion of the “Principles” proves Chomsky right: Yes, there is a Generative and General Grammar. Language is generative because children are capable of forming an infinite number of statements, even if they have never heard them before. And, yes, the faculty of language must be general because the statements of different languages can be translated into each other. These are empirical facts.

But language is not generative and general according to the deceptive simplicity of the model illustrated by Chomsky when he presented his once famous inverted trees. At the top of the tree he wrote an S for sentence, from which a speaker was supposed to derive in downward direction all possible concrete instances of that language with the help of but a very few general rules and a lexicon. Each particular language then adds some specific rules to the general ones in order to define the differences to other languages.*4* That was the dazzling idea of the Chomskyan model, its actual core, while everything else was just ancillary.

Chomsky’s deceptive trees owe their fascination

to the fact that they turn language into a kind of simple computer game. It is only this extraordinary fascination by a theory that seemed to explain the genesis of language as comprehensively as the natural sciences explain the world of dead things, which makes us understand why no one became aware of the elementary logical error in these deceptively simple trees. For it only needs some straightforward logical analysis to show that the tree model – the very core of Chomskyan Generative Grammar – is wrong from the outset, because it confuses the deep level of immaterial analysis of reality (conceptual structure) and its material manifestation by means of acoustic (or other) signs.

Immaterial reality analysis already takes place in animals even without the use of material signs, and it develops in humans from primitive beginnings (as in the Amazonian Piranha language, for example) to the most complex conceptual structures. These are based on a basic conceptual structure that explains why sentences from an evolutionary primitive language can easily be translated into a more developed one, while this is very difficult or even impossible in the opposite direction (how can a modern text on mathematics be translated into a language where people don’t use numbers beyond two or three?)

But differences on the conceptual level do by no means exhaust the complexity of language, because on the basis of identical immaterial conceptual structures various material realizations, i.e. sign systems, can be built. Chomsky’s seductively simple tree does violence to language and it explains strictly nothing. In the “Principles” General and Generative Grammar is turned into a complex ensemble, which furthermore is characterized by constant evolutionary unfolding.

Steven Pinker, in “The Language Instinct”, correctly recognized pre-linguistic conceptual analysis as the general and generative substrate underlying all languages. That was a bold step beyond Chomsky, but it remained a lonely insight. Pinker did not succeed in drawing the appropriate conclusions. Chomsky’s hopelessly simplistic and logically untenable linguistic model proves to be a stubborn paradigm, which even today hinders the progress of science.

1 See David Golumbia: “The Language of Science and the Science of Language: Chomsky’s Cartesianism

2 This is not quite correct. The linguist John Goldsmith of the University of Chicago finally felt compelled to concede that verbs, nouns, etc. are not suitable as universal categories.

3 Technical languages are of course wholly justified and even unavoidable when they are required by the object in question. Modern natural science cannot do without a specific technical language, because its results can only be achieved in this way. If, on the other hand, a technical language produces no results, then it just serves as a jargon for the initiated like in former times Latin or Old Slavic or Sanskrit in India that were meant to keep the laymen at bay.

4 For example, the difference in word order, which in English mostly prescribes a middle position of the verb, i.e. SVO, whereas in Japanese it prescribes its position at the end: SOV.

.

From Prof. Hallpike I got the following commentary by mail:

Dear Mr Jenner,

Thank you for this, which is most entertaining – “the babble of madmen” indeed! In which one can also include, for example, Skinner and the Behaviourists, and Levi-Strauss and the structuralists.) It’s really fascinating to see how dogma overtakes so many branches of science and learning generally. Those believe that Darwinian Selectionism can explain cultural evolution provide another example in my own field. I have also been thinking some more about Chomsky and recursion. As I understand it, mathematical recursion is nothing more than an iterative procedure by which one constructs a series, like the natural numbers or the Fibonnacci  series, which go on for ever. This “going on for ever”, however, which apparently Chomsky and followers thought an essential feature of language creativity is quite different from and irrelevant to the structural complexity both of grammar and meaning achievable by the repeated nesting of clauses within a sentence, which could actually be quite short. From what you say this basic difference between the two recursions was actually glossed over?

Yours

Christopher Hallpike

My return mail:

Dear Mr. Hallpike,

I am glad you took no offence at my somewhat harsh comment on certain intellectual games in academia, a comment which was indeed meant to amuse. Even more amusing are comments by followers of Chomsky that interpret his thoughts in blatantly contradictory ways:

Mendivil-Giro (“Is Universal Grammar ready for retirement?”): “The mathematical concept of recursion was quasi-synonymous with computability, so that recursive was considered equivalent to computable… what Chomsky… postulates as the central characteristic of human language is recursion in the computational sense, not the existence of sentences within sentences or the existence of noun phrases inside noun phrases” (my italics).

Pinker (“The Language Instinct”): “Recall that all you need for recursion is an ability to embed a noun phrase inside another noun phrase or a clause within a clause” (my italics). Is there a better proof of Chomskyan vagueness than such opposing interpretations?

Yours

Gero Jenner

Justice – Why is it so hard to achieve?

For a serious thinker it is not advisable to talk about “the nature” of man, because such statements almost always turn out to be speculative, mostly they only reveal the nature of the daring author. I will, nevertheless, begin with two sentences that aim at doing just that: to say something about basic human aspirations. I expect that the following statements will support my statement.

1) It is part of the nature of man that he likes to be praised, respected and appreciated.

2) it is in the nature of man that he does not like and often finds it offensive if only others are praised, respected and appreciated, but not he himself.

Assuming that both sentences may claim general validity, we are obviously faced with the basic problem that the ideal of justice can never be realized once and for all, because both sentences are in open contradiction to each other. The more scope a society gives to the first demand, the more concessions it has to make to the second – and vice versa. We are dealing with a variant of the contradiction between freedom and equality.

When we talk of praise, attention and appreciation,

we may, of course, mean quite different things. Acknowledgments can consist of an admiring look, a handshake, a bundle of banknotes, an awe-inspiring title, a high income, a medal or an entry in the Book of Records. Societies have invented thousands of different ways to both punish and reward their members. Robert Knox, the 17th-century captive of Rajasingha, King of Kandy (Ceylon), writes that among court nobles nothing was coveted as much as a lofty title – the longer and the more opulent the closer the man was to the king. At the same time, everyone knew that the closer they came to His Majesty, the more their lives were at risk. The highest title was a guarantee to be trampled by elephants for some, often quite fictitious, offence invented by the mischievous king. This happened regularly, and everyone knew it – and yet all the nobles strove for titles: the more bombastic the better, and everyone wanted to get as close to the king as possible. It was like the fascination of moths by the light.

The need to stand in the light before others

remains unchanged up to the present day. It underlies all competition. On the other hand, the need to be valued by others, not to be disregarded or to be offended as an inferior is at least as strongly anchored in the human breast. This need is at the base of cooperation, which is only possible if the individual sees himself appreciated by others in his specific role – whatever the latter may be. Societies oscillate between the two extremes of (aggressive) competition that drives people to constantly fight against each other and forced cooperation that like in a termite state assigns to everybody their specific role.

The liberation of the individual by Industrial Revolution

since the 18th century has given an increasing number of people the opportunity to be recognized and appreciated on the basis of individual performance, ability, intelligence and determination – usually directly expressed through higher financial remuneration. However, what initially came as liberation quickly turned into growing inequality, because the most capable (and often the most ruthless) were able to appropriate more and more of the common cake. Money, recognition and power were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, thus destroying the initial liberation – this is called refeudalization. In other words, the individual was initially given greater freedom through competition, but he subsequently lost this freedom, as the superiority of a small number of the super-rich and super-powerful condemned him to impotence, which he experienced as an increasing insult to his self-esteem (thesis 2). The US, where income and wealth are concentrated in the top one percent, has come a long way in this direction.

The concentration of power, wealth and recognition

in a few hands has never enabled a stable society – especially not in a time like ours, which, due to its extraordinary organizational and technological complexity, can be so easily destabilized and sabotaged. That is why the idea of a society in which no one feels offended because everyone has equal access to recognition and social dignity is so appealing.

Original Christian Communism

and many sects of various religions have preached equality in spiritual and material terms as an ideal and have even been able to implement it in smaller communities. Marx and more recently Thomas Piketty want this ideal to be realized in all societies, regardless of size. It was left to Mao to promote the ideal with the means not only of ideological propaganda but also of physical coercion. As we know, millions of dead were sacrificed to the experiment. It turned out to be particularly bloody because it contradicted the need mentioned under thesis 1, a need that in turn is based on the fact that people are different and therefore find it unreasonable that the same lifestyle both spiritually and materially is imposed on everybody in the same way.

The craving for self-realization

explains the explosion of creative abilities as soon as Deng Xiao Ping allowed the Chinese to throw off the Maoist straitjacket in the 1980s. Everyone was suddenly called upon to develop their knowledge, their skills, their assertiveness (as long as this did not contradict the goals of the state). Not unlike in Europe at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, this was an act of liberation that changed the world instantly and in a most powerful way.

But in China too

(not only in the US and in Europe) the number of billionaires has risen sharply in quite a short time. There, too, the initial liberation threatens to produce a caste of super-rich people who, by being overweight in power, influence and financial strength, increasingly hinder the rise of their less fortunate fellows. This caste is ready to embark on the same path of refeudalization as the upper one percent in the USA.

Why is it so incredibly difficult to stop halfway and reconcile both needs: the need for cooperation and the need for competition? Why this eternal back and forth between two extremes: first, the accumulation of wealth and then bloody social revolutions that bring about redistribution?

Classless society

In theory, the problem is surprisingly easy to solve. Plato had already proposed to take children away from their parents as in his time practiced by Sparta. Under this premise, every generation begins anew. For every child is to take up exactly that position which is due to him or her on the basis of their abilities. Inheritances cannot be handed over from parents to children, as they infallibly lead to the creation of classes or even castes. Certainly, Sparta was one of the cruelest states in world history, for the wealth of the top five percent of freeborn Spartans had to be earned by 95 percent of lawless helots. But the principle of social justice based solely on individual ability remains unaffected. If we were to transfer such a system to the present day, we would not have to worry about refeudalization and the one percent of super-rich and super-powerful at the head of the state. Marx, Piketty and Mao would not need to demand a classless society, because this comes about all by itself: talent and ability being distributed anew in each generation. And, of course, we wouldn’t even have to follow Plato and commit the cruelty of taking children away from their parents. It is enough to raise the inheritance tax to one hundred percent to achieve the same effect: a classless society.

But even this more modest goal has never been achieved,

because it is in turn contrary to a human need hard to suppress: the care of parents for their children. Every normal person takes it for granted that parents treat their own children with love, and love consists not only in good words but in all kinds of material gifts. It has always been seen as unnatural and as a sign of extreme lack of love that a father disinherits his children.

That is one thing. On the other hand, however, we think it is unfair that someone should be rich, respected, influential only because he received his position by mere accident of birth. Again, we are faced with a contradiction inherent in human nature. And again, we see societies oscillating between two extremes. A very few – especially smaller communities and sects – reject all unearned benefits of inheritance, including Sparta. But in densely populated societies, this strategy has proven to be unworkable. The prospect of working not only for one’s own ego but of sharing it with the whole family, one’s own children and grandchildren seems to be one of the most powerful motivations for action, while conversely the certain prospect of losing all property to the state or other unknown people after one’s death threatens to paralyze all initiative.

We should therefore not be surprised that in this case too it is extremely difficult to find the right balance. Ideals have so far only been realized in societies which we subsequently judge to be inhumane; this is true of communism in Sparta and under Mao and of neoliberal capitalism in the US today. Every society tries anew to find the right distance from the opposing extremes, but none has yet developed a final solution. The problem of justice is bound to accompany man throughout his history.

** The imperative of equality in Sparta had its obvious reason. A ruling minority of about five percent will only be able to permanently subjugate an enslaved majority of 95 percent if it does not allow dissent to arise within its own ranks. Equality among free Spartans was therefore the first commandment to maintain the inequality of all others. We are reminded of the actions of states in times of war. If they want to awaken in their citizens the willingness to sacrifice themselves for the fatherland, ruling circles feel compelled to grant them more rights – a concession that is quickly forgotten in times of peace.

Knox, Robert (??): An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon. (1681) Public Domain Book.

Brave New Corona World – A heated Debate between Steven Pinker and Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley: Did I not make sufficiently clear what I think about principled optimists and ideological perfectionism when I wrote a masterpiece of world literature on the subject? Don’t believe that a man of the mind ever takes leave of thinking and simply retires. Instead I’m anxiously following what you’re doing down there – and certainly that gives me no rest. Coronavirus is only one among many threatening forebodings. Homo sapiens insapientissimus seems to do everything in his power in order to put himself on the red list of species without a future. And you don’t even know what you are doing! *0*

Steven Pinker: Here you go, I don’t talk to the dead; you’ve had your time, now the living are calling the shots. What you delivered in your great masterpiece was after all nothing but poetry, that is to say nothing but fantasy. But I can prove – figures at hand – that almost everything is much better today than it has ever been in the past. People live longer, they kill themselves less, they eat better, they have fewer illnesses than ever before – even though their numbers have increased sevenfold during the last two hundred years. *1* What better proof is there to reduce all your objections to absurdity – together with those of all other naysayers and prophets of doom, both living and dead?

Huxley: Oh certainly, I can provide the proof. It is being delivered to us right now. While you make man believe that he is in paradise, pestilences are spreading at ever shorter intervals and with ever greater devastation. First among the animals. “Hundreds of thousands of closely packed animals waiting to be taken to the slaughterhouse: ideal conditions for the mutation of microbes into deadly pathogens.”*2* The only way to combat the danger is to stuff those animals with antibiotics (which we then use to poison ourselves). Nevertheless, entire populations of pigs, cattle, chickens, geese etc. have to be culled, mauled, gassed and buried.

Pinker: So what? This is but a minor technical problem, which we successfully overcome. The sick is wiped out, the healthy remains, where is the problem?

Huxley: We will never eliminate the problem as long as the habitat for animals and humans is getting more and more cramped. Man himself will have increased his number tenfold within only three hundred years. The emergence of epidemic diseases such as cholera, plague, influenza, typhoid fever and smallpox requires a certain population density to allow effective transmission of germs. Hunter-gatherers were still spared this evil which for us has turned into a murderous danger. Up to the present day, Europe was regularly hit by epidemics. None was as deadly as the so-called Spanish flu between 1918 and 1920. This epidemic, spread by soldiers in America and Europe through the H1N1 influenza virus, killed almost as many people in a single year as the Black Death killed in a whole century: between 50 and 100 million people, far more than the 40 million soldiers who fell victim to the First World War.

But compared to former times, the problem could become much worse. Today, not only Western affluent citizens are demanding more and more meat, but also China and soon Africa and the rest of humanity. And in order to satisfy this hunger for meat, we need an area for all farm animals together that is already as large as the entire African continent.*3*

In other words, industrialized husbandry created those very conditions which produce pestilences not only among animals but also in agriculture at large. Our monocultures among farm animals correspond to the monocultures among edible plants. These too are devastated by epidemics. Meanwhile, we are burdening the agriculturally used landscape with vast amounts of poison – each year with new and stronger ones to save the harvests from hosts of constantly mutating plagues. Where once poets and thinkers sang the praises of nature in romantic verses, we are now confronted with disgusting stench. Who will still be happy let alone be poetically inspired when walking through vineyards or orchards freshly sprayed with pesticides? Ours are landscapes where the devil lets pop his bestial farts.

Pinker: Oh yes, I can see, Aldous, you are a grumpy spoilsport. Instead of shuddering in awe at the great achievements of man’s overpowering mind that led us down to the atom and the genome of living species and up to the galaxies, you criticize what is nothing more than children’s diseases, which of course always existed and will certainly still exist in the future. But I assure you, at some point our phytosanitary experts will invent odorless poisons and then your sensitive romantics and poets will go back to the vineyards to adorn the grapes with their verses. As to the wine, you continue drinking it anyway; I don’t know any sober poets. I tell you, we scientists have so far overcome all difficulties.

Huxley: No, that is definitely not true. So drunk you are with your own mind and Faustian endeavors that you are simply blind to all forebodings, though they be close enough. We are no longer speaking about animals only, it is about us, it is about people that we must worry. Our exploding numbers ensure that mass animal husbandry now goes along with mass human husbandry. In the large concrete heaps, we call metropolises, our species lives similarly confined as the animals we feed upon. What we do to other species, we end up doing to ourselves. To be sure, the Corona crisis has not led to mass slaughter among humans, but we lock ourselves up in multistoried sardine tins for weeks or even months, just to avoid contaminating each other through mutual contact.

Pinker: What’s the point of whining? In the end, we will invent a vaccine – and that’s the end of our problems..

Huxley: We will certainly invent a vaccine, perhaps even odorless poisons. But that only means that we will be forced to search for antidotes at an ever faster pace just to repair all those damages we have caused in the first place. From the era of progressive society, meant to improve people’s lives, we stumbled into the era of risk society during the last century, careful not to let a nuclear power station become an atomic bomb (Chernobyl or Fukushima). In the 21st century, however, we entered the era of repair society, where we are mainly concerned with containing damage. I mean the damage we have caused to the air (CO2), to the soil (destruction of humus) and to the water (plastic waste) over during hundred years of industrialization.

But that’s a race against time, which is becoming more and more complex and expensive. As world population has grown larger and larger, wanting to be fed better and better, we need more and more energy just to satisfy our basic physical needs. Today we realize that the so-called industrial revolution is above all an energy revolution. We can no longer close our eyes to the evidence that we ruthlessly plundered the planet’s energy reserves stored in the ground over millions of years – and that we still do so today. This plundering of scarce resources explains why both have grown exponentially within just two hundred years: energy consumption as well as the material standard of living measured in terms of GNP.

Energy consumption: In 1800, it amounted to about 400 million tons of oil equivalents. A hundred years later it was already 1.9 billion tons, almost five times as much. In the next ninety years, until 1990, consumption increased by a factor of sixteen to 30 billion tons (McNeill).

GNP: While global GNP – converted into US dollars in 1990 – was still around 650 billion around 1800, it had tripled to 1.98 trillion by 1900. With 28 trillion around 1990, this amount had grown fourteenfold in less than a century (Maddison).

The connection between the two exponential curves is obvious. Of course, coal and oil would never have had an effect without the invention of the steam engine, diesel and electric motor. But conversely, these machines were able to begin their triumphal march solely because mankind had by now ignited the fossil fire. The industrial revolution and the use of fossil fuels form an indissoluble unity. It’s only because we plundered the planet without any restraint that we are doing so well today.

Pinker: Right. Today we are doing better than ever before in all human history. I have proven this point in my groundbreaking book “Enlightenment Now” with reference to quite a number of indicators.

Huxley: Certainly, the book is one single hymn to the spirit of invention, but the dark flipside of the coin is unfortunately left out altogether. Any objective observer will understand that our experiment with the energy reserves hidden underneath the earth’s mantle will prove to be a flash in the pan. After just three hundred years, the reserves are already running out – and worse still, the residues from combustion (CO2) are heating up the globe in such a way that the rising tides of the oceans threaten us with submerging most coastal cities thus transforming millions of people into refugees. We already passed the peak of the Gaussian normal distribution of early rise and later fall. Even if our reserves were unlimited, we can no longer use them because the fossil fire leads to climate change. Our wealth is so closely linked to fossil combustion that one can only marvel at how optimists still have the upper hand in most governments and even among economists – optimists who cling with strange naivety to the myth of eternal growth.

Whether we want to admit it or not, growth will be over as soon as our supply of fossil gold is exhausted. Perhaps we will then even be pushed back into the poverty of earlier eras. This is a view openly expressed by the collective of scientists led by Ugo Bardi.*4* In any case, we are facing a way of life in which we will have to make do with the amount of energy that the sun provides for our territory. It is obvious that the discovery of fossil fuels – that is, the solar energy stored in coal and oil over millions of years – allows us to consume far more than the current solar radiation. “It is possible to calculate that at the peak of national coal production in the 1920s, coal was produced in England in such large quantities that it generated almost the same amount of heat as would have been produced by burning down the entire global forest” (Bardi, my italics).*5*

Pinker: How similar you Cassandra’s are! Your true and only trademark is lack of imagination. Maybe oil and gas will one day come to an end – of course they will -, and maybe we will not be able to use the methane abundantly found on the ocean’s seabed because we want to shield the globe from further CO2 emissions. But then fusion energy will come to our aid and provide us with a cornucopia of energy. Don’t you see, dear colleague, that we are the only species on earth, and perhaps in the whole cosmos, that has so far been able to give unlimited scope to the mind finding the right technical answer to every problem? For me, this superior trait represents no less than the very definition of what makes us human: we are the problem-solving species par excellence.

Huxley: And I regret to have to contradict you once more. We are the problem-blind species, because we are very close to the abyss yet hardly anybody seems to notice or – perhaps more correctly – hardly anybody wants to notice. “Listen to the news, to elected politicians, to economic and political pundits in this time of crisis. You will hear virtually no reference to climate change (remember climate change?), wild-fires, biodiversity loss, ocean pollution, sea level rise, tropical deforestation, land/soil degradation, human expansion into wild-lands, etc., etc., and there is no hint of understanding that these trends are connected to each other and to the pandemic.” *6*

Your vision of unlimited fusion power, dear Steven, would probably signal the final end of the human experiment. After all, energy is mainly used to convert substances. However, all the materials we need are now rapidly diminishing: copper, rare earths, phosphorus, even the sand needed for concrete. An unlimited supply of energy would only cause us to use up all the resources still left in one wild, orgiastic feast, so to speak – whereupon mankind then wakes up crowding naked on a barren planet. Although we need more and more energy to produce the food for those ten billion people expected during this century, we are quickly running out of the energy needed to do so – by the way, of green energy too. A research group around Jessica Lovering has calculated that we would have to cover with wind turbines and solar modules an area the size of the United States (including Alaska) together with the inhabited area of Canada and furthermore Central America if we want to produce the amount of energy projected for 2050.*7*

Pinker: Stop it! Such pessimism, Aldous, is a crime not only against the people living now but against future generations as well. It darkens the mind and paralyses the power of invention. The best proof that man’s story is one of unending success can be read from our numbers. We are born survivors. Whereas in the days of hunter-gatherers only hordes of at most a hundred people roamed the savannahs, cities with millions of inhabitants are now shooting out of the ground on all continents. Charles Darwin, undoubtedly the greatest scientist after Newton, gave us the right theory explaining this success already a century and a half ago. Whoever is better equipped in the life struggle will prevail, he will have the largest offspring and rule the globe.

Huxley: Sorry that I have to contradict you again. How can Darwin’s theory be correct, when counterevidence is so obvious? When putting all mammals on the scale, humans account for only 36% of total biomass. With a total of just 4%, elephants, tigers, seals, whales, etc. are practically extinct. An overwhelming mass of 60% is made up of cattle, pigs, chickens and the like. Obviously, these represent by far the most successful species – I can’t see how this fact can be reconciled with Darwin’s theory other than by auxiliary constructions. Man and the animals he devours have multiplied like locusts and lemmings within only two hundred years. But we should know what fate regularly befalls such a population explosion – population collapse. Darwin or not, I do not see how this can be seen as a success.

Pinker: Oh, that’s what you’re getting at.  Nature will help itself – with wars, epidemics, famines, etc., so that in the end there will be a small group of people left who will then again go hunting and gathering, as they did ten thousand years ago. That’s the same old tune I do no longer want to hear. To tell you the truth right to your face. I was always advocating freedom and condemning censorship, but such spoilsports and defeatists like you should simply be forbidden to open their mouth.

Sorry for that, but a small thought experiment would suffice to show you how harmless our current situation really is. If we were to accommodate all seven billion people in your dwarf state of Austria, then there would still be 12m2 for every single inhabitant, that is six by two meters – more space than granted by most prisons where quite a few of our contemporaries have to spend their entire life. So, there can be no question of overpopulation. What bothers me about your pessimism is that it is so mentally barren. If you consider it your task to critically question every achievement of our great technical-scientific civilization, then please tell me how you would devise a better world. Mere criticism is a disease that does no good to anyone unless it is administered at the same time as a prescription for healing.

Huxley: I accept this objection. I am even in complete agreement with you, but I also demand that you understand the immense difficulty we are facing. The sudden proliferation of our species beyond the ecosystem’s biological carrying capacity is a misfortune for which there are endless examples in nature – all of them quite unfortunate. I already mentioned lemmings and locusts, but among bacteria and viruses, exponential-explosive reproduction is the norm. And it is a norm too that nature solves the problem in quite a brutal way: it lets the surplus perish. We humans never rebelled against this cruelty as long as it merely affected other species. Then it seemed even quite “natural”. But now, it is we ourselves with almost ten billion individuals that face an ecosystem that can no longer cope with this burden. “Even at current global average levels of consumption (about a third of the Canadian average) the human population far exceeds the long-term carrying capacity of Earth.  We’d need almost five Earth-like planets to support just the present world population indefinitely at Canadian average material standards.”*8*

Yes, we are much better off materially than all of humanity before our time – you are absolutely right insisting on this point. But as soon as we realize that our success is due to the fact that we stripped the planet like locusts, the picture looks completely different. Only we, the ones you revile as naysayers and Cassandras, point out the danger. We say as loudly as we can that in the beginning 21st century humanity must do everything in its capacity to prevent nature from taking revenge on us by treating us in the same way as locusts and lemmings. Or to prevent nature from making ourselves its executors as we destroy each other with wars for the sake of the last remaining resources. “There are no exceptions to the 1st law of plague dynamics:  the unconstrained expansion of any species’ population invariably destroys the conditions that enabled the expansion, thus triggering collapse. “*9* 

Pinker: All right, let’s get to the main topic. Tell me now what you think the world should look like. I assume you either want to lead us back to stone age frugality or to radically reduce our number, as nature does with locusts. That’s what your prescription boils down to.

Huxley: I am surprised by the ease with which you compare humans with locusts, although you see reason, gained through enlightenment, as a characteristic that distinguishes us from other living beings. I guess you know that lots of scientific studies unequivocally prove that the present Western standard of living can only be maintained quite a short time for a population of almost ten billion people. Our energetic flash of the pan will probably be extinguished before the end of this century. If we want to avoid this collapse and create a sustainable world, we will only achieve this goal in two ways: either we reduce our consumption of nature to about one fifth of its actual amount, or only two billion people will be allowed to enjoy the current Western standard of living.

Pinker: Bravo, I already knew that’s what it boils down to. Either radical renunciation, where we all lead an existence of beggars, or five of the existing seven billion people are simply declared superfluous. Maybe you’ll dispose of them on Mars?

Huxley: Please, put mockery aside for a moment. It’s nothing but the usual flight reflex when we are confronted with an existential threat. I guess you’re thinking of the disastrous book by Ilija Trojanow “Der Überflüssige Mensch” (Superfluous Man). But no one who advocates a sensible population policy – Bertrand Russell himself had already done so more than half a century ago – has even for a moment thought of misunderstanding it in the sense of declaring any part of people already living to be superfluous. Such an absurd (and criminal) idea can only arise in the heads of demagogues. The point is to work towards the goal of sustainable population size by limiting the birth rate, as already practiced with considerable success in China. With its falling birth rate, Europe too provides a praiseworthy example.

Pinker: Oh really? And why do companies, politicians and pensioners continue to complain about a lack of workers and even of money to pay their pensions? And why do European nations let foreigners from all over the world stream across their borders in Order to compensate for shrinking population numbers? In Europe, no one seems to be happy about what you call a praiseworthy example. Instead everyone seems to see demographic decline as a national disaster.

Huxley: True, unfortunately, I have to agree with you. Leading scientists leave no doubt that a radical restriction of births is the only sensible policy if we want to escape ecological catastrophe. Everything: the overfishing of oceans and their rapid pollution with plastic, the poisoning of the atmosphere with CO2, the imminent depletion of energy reserves, the increasing threat of all kinds of epidemics in a totally overcrowded world – all this can only be overcome if a consistent population policy succeeds in reducing the birth rate to a fraction within this century. However, instead of presenting the Chinese and European examples as the best solution to what is currently the biggest problem facing humanity, we complain about dwindling pensions. Instead of recommending a radically different policy to the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, where the birth surplus is thwarting all sustainability, and supporting all efforts to this effect, we are opening up our borders, thus encouraging these countries to stick to their existing population policies.

Pinker: Do I understand you correctly that we should close our borders? Beware, dear colleague, of mutating into an inhuman, brutal national egoist who lets others die on the other side of the border rather than allowing foreigners into his country.

Huxley: I admit that you are touching a sore point – and one that is extremely problematic and controversial. Let’s leave migration aside for a moment and look at the same problem from a different point of view. Then we may perhaps find more easily common ground.

Let’s take waste production, for example. It seems obvious to me that, in future, every state will have to dispose of it exclusively by itself. More and more foreign countries (once treated superciliously as the “Third World”) are now refusing to poison their own territory with Western garbage. This trend should be welcome. Only by being forced to deal with the problem ourselves do we find strategies for waste avoidance. The responsibility for one’s own actions must again lie with the actor himself, whether individual, company or state. But what is true for waste should apply to industrial production as well. The Corona crisis has shown that, in an emergency, we should produce everything that is essential for life, if not in our own country then at least within the existing federations of states such as the European Union. We must not bring ourselves into existential dependence by relying on a workbench on the other side of the world.*10* In an ideal world, as described by orthodox economics, completely free trade would bring the greatest benefit to all people, that is true, but so far we never lived in a similar world, and we will only achieve it under a future world government.

Yes, and this brings me to point three. Every country (or federation or Union) should only accommodate as many people as can live sustainably on its territory. This conclusion too seems to be inescapable.

Pinker: Quite interesting – and quite strange. Do you really know what you are saying? This is a program to reverse 150 years of globalization. You want to go back to the world as it was a thousand years ago, when China, India, Europe, Australia and America either knew nothing about each other or at least needed almost nothing from each other to satisfy their immediate material needs.

Huxley: If it were as simple as that! Didn’t I just remark that the world is facing what is perhaps the greatest challenge of all times? It belongs to the power of each of the three great powers that it may at any moment contaminate any point on earth with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in such a disastrous way that the entire human race will be affected. This globalization through the “progress” of weapons technology is irreversible. Even if, in the future, each state or confederation of states were to bear sole responsibility for its own territory and the people living within it, common survival would still depend on no one harming the other. But this can only be achieved through peace, cooperation and mutually binding treaties. In other words, current humanity will have to achieve two major feats at the same time: regionalization on the one hand, i.e. full responsibility within its own borders, and globalization on the other, because we are all passengers on the same boat that may easily capsize.

Pinker: That is again your usual exaggeration and panic mongering! In the times of the Thirty Years’ War, people believed that salvation could only be found in the right faith. In his great book “The God Delusion”, my dear friend Richard Dawkins has denounced the hopeless nonsense of all past and present religious fighters.  A century after thirty years of religious murder, the Enlightenment has for the first time exposed this madness. But then Karl Marx came and created a new delusion. Supposedly, the workers only had to own the machines used by them for production in order to make them happy. Soviet Russia has shown us that they did not become happier at all but were simply turned into beggars, when  compared with their rich counterparts in the US. Now the latest craze is that we ruin all previous progress for the sake of ecology.

Huxley: No, we don’t ruin progress, we only turn to the evidence. In the “Lucky Latitudes” located in the Old World in a strip of about 20 to 35 degrees north and in the New World between 15 degrees south to 20 degrees north, collecting yielded the best results. For a single calorie invested on the work of collecting, our distant ancestors ten thousand years ago gained fifty calories from the food thus collected.  Today, this balance has turned into the opposite: 22,000 calories are needed to produce 100g of beef with a calorie content of 270 calories. Instead of being rewarded for a single calorie of bodily exertion with fifty calories of food, we now put 81 calories into work to gain just one calorie of food. Most of the calories needed are obtained from fossil fuels that are used in tractors, fertilizers, etc. – a devastating energy balance. Every thinking person must understand that things cannot go on like this. The Green Revolution quadrupled the harvest yield between 1950 and 2000; only in this way was it at all possible to largely feed the number of people, which jumped from about 1.5 to six billion during this period. If instead the old methods would have remained in place, so that the agricultural yield had not been increased, then an area equivalent to the entire surface of the United States plus Canada and China would have had to be cleared and ploughed up to feed today’s world population.*11*

However, the willingness to draw the right conclusions from these facts has so far been demonstrated by only a handful of scientists. For it is at this point that something quite different comes into play. The elementary problem of ecology turns into a social question – one could also say a question of consciousness. As long as a minority wallows in power and wealth, the majority will not want to accept any loss. Seen in this light, Marx was indeed perfectly right.

Pinker: No, even this argument is far too simple. As long as the superpowers remain suspicious of each other, neither of them will want to give up the slightest advantage if it benefits the competitor. It’s a great naivety to think that while the superpowers invest billions in weapons just to keep up with their rivals, they will voluntarily cut back on their use of resources just because they listen to the siren sounds of ecologists. It’s here, my dear colleague, where all your hopeless idealism is suddenly revealed.

Let me suggest a little more realism. Mankind has developed something much more effective and thoroughly democratic than the voluntary cutting back of resources and waste production. And you should know that as well as everybody else. We have got the market, which does not show any consideration even for governments. The market controls all economic transactions through prices. That’s why we have nothing to fear for the environment. If oil becomes too expensive or the disposal of waste no longer affordable, the industry will switch to other forms of energy. Market and prices – that is global reason embodied in a global institution, which tames and regulates itself. As long as the market is intact, we have nothing to fear!

Huxley: Steven, now you are making me laugh! You call me an idealist when you yourself are nothing but a conservative dreamer. Do the melting glaciers have a price? Will wild animals dying out all over the world ever be included in market calculations? Does industry measure CO2 content in the atmosphere in order to add the cost of climate change to its prices? Has inequality that made some people multi-billionaires and others starving ever unsettled the market?

No, it is not the market that saves the world, but strong governments that consider the interests of both present and future generations. Our current misfortune could, however, prove to be helpful. As long as the world market, i.e. international competition, sets the tone, regionalization is out of the question. But now the major economic blocs have to think about themselves. This could turn out to be a huge opportunity. Before the onslaught of corona, many people were complaining about the fact that the environment cannot cope with the ever growing air traffic. Now the air industry has collapsed. Corona does almost everything that the saviors of the environment have been preaching and demanding for years. The virus has significantly reduced energy consumption, exhaust gases were reduced to a minimum because traffic came to a standstill, the sky over the cities has turned blue again, in sheer amazement some animals venture out of their hiding places. Corona forces the world to change.

Pinker: That sounds as if you ecologists had been longing for such a crisis.

Huxley: If without a smaller crisis it is not possible to save the world from the great catastrophe, then this question should be answered in the affirmative, because it is a fact that humans learn best from their mistakes. Incidentally, international cooperation in the fight against Corona is the obvious proof of the salutary aspect of globalization. The common misfortune could become a common opportunity.

Pinker: This won’t do. Man needs hope and a positive narrative. With my groundbreaking book on the Enlightenment, I succeeded in conveying precisely that kind of hope. We should be proud of everything we have achieved in science and technology. But you are taking hope away from the people.

Huxley: Is there a greater hope than a world whose beauty we preserve for ourselves and future generations? Has it never occurred to you that a peacock, a hippopotamus or a lion are greater and far more complex inventions than even our fastest supercomputers? It is this world of incredible beauty and complexity that we want to preserve. I know of no greater positive narrative than this common task.

.

*0* Arguably an even more convincing partner in this dispute with Steven Pinker would have been the former German psychiatrist and neurologist Hoimar v. Ditfurth, who is, however, little known outside Germany. The title of his book (published already in 1985!) “So lasst uns denn ein Apfelbäumchen pflanzen – Es ist soweit” (let’s plant an apple tree – it’s time) alludes to what Luther would have done if the world were to perish. The book provides not only a detailed description of mankind’s likely self-extermination through nuclear, biological and chemical weapons but also identifies the main reason for the predicament of our species: exponential growth of world population. For one thing only would I blame this extraordinarily well-informed, intelligent and sympathetic man. He saw no way out of mankind’s predicament and equated his own demise – which took place four years after the publication of the book – with the end of the world.

*1* Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now.

*2*  Des centaines de milliers de bêtes entassées les unes sur les autres en attendant d’être conduites à l’abattoir : voilà des conditions idéales pour que les microbes se muent en agents pathogènes mortels. (https://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2020/03/SHAH/61547#nb9)

*3*  Pour assouvir son appétit carnivore, l’homme a rasé une surface équivalant à celle du continent africain (8) afin de nourrir et d’élever des bêtes destinées à l’abattage. (https://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2020/03/SHAH/61547#nb9)

*4* Bardi (2014): “Extracted. How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet”, Chelsea Green Publishing 2014,

*5* Quoted from Jenner (2019): Reflections.

*6* William E. Rees (2020): The Earth Is Telling Us We Must Rethink Our Growth Society (https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2020/04/06/The-Earth-Is-Telling-Us-We-Must-Rethink-Our-Growth-Society/).

*7* Quoted from Jenner (2019), Reflections.

*8* William E. Rees, op. cit.

*9* Rees, op cit.: Now here’s the thing. H. sapiens has recently experienced a genuine population explosion. It took all of human evolutionary history, at least 200,000 years, for our population to reach its first billion early in the 19th Century. Then, in just two hundred years, (less than 1/1000thas much time) we blossomed to over seven billion at the beginning of this century.  This unprecedented outbreak is attributable to H. sapiens’ technological ingenuity, e.g., modern medicine and especially the use of fossil fuels. (The latter enabled the continuous increases in food production and provided access to all the other resources needed to expand the human enterprise.) 

The problem is that Earth is a finite planet, a human Petri dish on which the seven-fold increase in human numbers, vastly augmented by a 100-fold increase in gross world product (consumption), is systematically destroying prospects for continued civilized existence.

*10* This imperative I had already advocated in my first book on economics: “Die arbeitslose Gesellschaft” (S. Fischer 1997; now newly published by Amazon “Nach der Coronakrise – keine Arbeitslosigkeit durch Auslagerung und Automation”).

*11* Quoted from Jenner (2019): Reflections.

Delusion!

Anti-cyclical behavior is recommended among economists. When the economy is flourishing, it should reduce debt, but in times of decline, it should rather stimulate business by incurring debt. As far as I am concerned, acting counter-cyclically seemed advisable to me amid the current corona crisis. Seeing all around me people who want to save the world and themselves from the virus, I decided to save myself from thinking about the virus, lest it should not only infect my body but perhaps even my brain. In this state of forced self-isolation what could be better than to turn it into a time of self-contemplation?

Eight years ago, I had put aside a manuscript to which I had been inspired by reading Richard Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion” – a world bestseller which owed its success to taking a clear-cut position regarding two primary topics. The first: religions are – according to Dawkins – not merely superfluous but constitute a positive danger – probably the greatest that man ever faced. Throughout history, religions tended to defend false knowledge with utter fanaticism. They set authority and command against personal thinking, thus subjugating the individual instead of calling him to maturity.

With equal determination the British biologist defends his second basic thesis. Today man finally started the epoch of victorious science that puts an end to millennia of religious madness. Science is able to solve all questions that up to then seemed unsolvable.

I assume that the problem of coronavirus if not solved in this year by medical science, will be solved in one of the years to come. But no one will be naive enough to assume that humanity will eventually reach a stage where it will have solved all problems. It would probably consider such a stage, if it were possible at all, to be as unbearable as the problems themselves. Would it not bring about a standstill of all thinking and acting?

In my endeavor to think anticyclically about such questions, I remembered that Albert Einstein – certainly a match for Richard Dawkins both in rank and range of mind – had a very different relationship to religion, and that this also applies to other great physicists such as Niels Bohr, Max Born, David Bohm or Erwin Schrödinger. I picked up the manuscript and the title was immediately found:

The Dawkins Delusionas seen by Mystic Universalism and its most famous advocate: Albert Einstein

As you may see, I could not renounce my penchant for polemics, although I had read with great suspense Dawkins’ very knowledgeable, intellectually stimulating book, which furthermore is sometimes enlivened by British wit. Dawkins’ delusion lies at a different place – a place where most of us may easily detect it in themselves. Dawkins clearly sees the mote in the eye of his opponent. But he fails to see the beam in his own. His exalted hymn of science suffers from a serious shortcoming. He is blind to the fact that science is at its greatest, when it is critically against itself. That is why my rather anti-cyclical book is about the limits of both religion and scientific knowledge and what area might exist beyond those limits. My intent is specified on the back cover:

Humanity invented two universal languages that have been understood at all times and on all continents – the language of facts (today named science) and the language of intuition (mystic universalism), but both have been and are being misused for the purpose of power. Power religion and power science distorted man’s world view. It is time for critical science to get aware of the limits of reason and for self-critical religion to go back to its mystical origins. This should not be understood as a rejection of the sharp intelligence of Richard Dawkins, but rather as criticism of power delusions.

The subtitle of the German edition asks the question: “Duel between science and religion?” We know that this duel has been going on since the 17th century. It will certainly not come to an end with Dawkins – to this very day power-science and power-religion are unreconciled and irreconcilable. But there is no antagonism between critical science and self-critical religion, namely mystic universalism. Aldous Huxley had described mysticism as “Philosophia perennis”: an eternal and universal philosophy. What is it that makes the mysticism of the Upanishads, Islam, Zen and Christianity so similar to critical science? The book wants to give an answer to this question.

P.S: I published the book in German and English on Amazon, both in Kindle format and as a paperback edition. I am, of course, aware that among my readers there may be quite a few, who shy away from a purchase at Amazon. I also admit that there are good reasons to do so, but on the other hand we should not forget that Amazon as a publishing house is probably the only institution that offers access to everyone who can write and design a book, i.e. the only really democratic publishing house. A critical, knowledgeable, unprejudiced editor in a renowned publishing house is irreplaceable, I admit, but how many publishers can still afford this luxury today? Most of them encourage their editors to base their judgement on expected sales figures. But those who write about mystic universalism and critical science are addressing thoughtful people, i.e. a tiny minority. In other words, I am grateful to Amazon for offering a platform to my thoughts.

Jenner on Jenner: Outline of a mind-related biography

As human beings we are controlled by emotions and by our intellect – at any time both are invariably involved, even if it sometimes seems as if we are dealing with either purely emotional people or pure intellectuals. A mathematic formula, for example, which to an average person may seem as cold, lifeless and repellent as a prison wall, may produce enchantment and ecstasy in a mathematician who perceives it something extremely beautiful and elegant. In other words, he experiences much the same feelings as a musician who is playing Mozart or Bach. Feelings and the intellect don’t present themselves to us with an either-or, but we may definitely speak of prevailing tendencies.

The more emotionally driven man

let’s himself get involved with an object and makes it his own step by step in ever greater depth and complexity. This is how the artist proceeds, but this is also how any normal student approaches his subject. He feels attracted by an object, then slowly acquires more and more knowledge and skills in its handling – and at some point he himself will become an expert. In the course of his studies he acquires a reputation or at least some official certificate testifying that he may with legitimate competence express himself about the matter.

Those who identify with the object of their studies in this usual way hardly ever perceive it as a problem. A classical musician is not supposed to ask himself whether it is not the mere coincidence of his birth that is responsible for the fact that he loves Bach so much instead of, say, the musical tradition of the Peking Opera. The philosopher who grew up with Kant sees the world through the eyes of the famous man from Königsberg, he usually does not ask himself why he does not see it through the glasses of Shankaracharya’s Vedanta. The intense emotional attachment to a beloved object very often virtually excludes even the mere awareness of problems. People who grow up in a certain tradition therefore often reject as unconscionable the mere attempt by outsiders to doubt, to question or to modify it. The understandable reaction of such an affective relationship then consists in the motto that one holds against any intruders: “Unauthorized persons are forbidden to enter”.

More intellectually controlled persons

seldom follow the straight and slow path of a growing emotional bond; on the contrary, they are attracted to problems and fractures without necessarily scoring with great knowledge in the first place. “Die arbeitslose Gesellschaft“,  S. Fischer, 1997 (Society without work) proved to be a publishing success, but Jenner had never attended an economics seminar. What preoccupied him was not the economics subject as such, which until then had hardly attracted his attention but something quite different: a problem. During his stay in Japan for the purpose of study and work, he experienced how this country – much like China today – was taking over more and more industrial capacities from the West. He wondered what an increasing outsourcing of industrial production to Asia (at that time mainly to Japan and the “East Asian Tigers”) would mean for Germany. This problem preoccupied him – and it was only while working on it that he, as an autodidact, acquired the necessary economic knowledge to be able to have a say in the matter.

Problem solvers may be recognized by the fact

that they turn the usual order upside down: they rarely start with years of study, gradually and lovingly deepening their understanding until they are rewarded with some official certificate; instead they get involved with some problem that challenges them, fascinates them – and this then pushes them to an often stormy conquest of the subject in question. Without doubt, this approach contradicts the above-mentioned motto, because in this case an unauthorized person gains access. In other words, problem solvers tend to do so in an unusual way, often considered improper, namely without first asking the reigning luminaries for permission.

The risk of such a procedure is obvious

We know that lots of inspired weirdos are constantly busy conjuring up solutions to all kinds of world problems from all kinds of esoteric hats. At best, such people appear as problem finders – they point out existing fractures and conflicts – but rarely do they emerge as real problem solvers. You only need to take a quick glance at the Internet to see the truth of this statement. On the other hand, no society can do without problem finders and problem solvers, because emotionally attached people often tend to be inaccessible or completely blind to fractures and contradictions. They cling to what they have learned and to their respective subject as if it were a beloved one whose beauty they not even dare to question.

As for Jenner, he was certainly lucky

Prof. Bert Rürup, then a renowned leading German economist, who acted as an economic advisor for the German government as well as for S. Fischer publishing house, supported his work (whose topic, outsourcing, may again be quite relevant in times of the Corona). In this way he paved the way for the book’s success. The usual reaction towards an outsider: “Access prohibited for unauthorized persons” was overridden by Prof. Rürup’s timely recommendation. Jenner had gained access to the ranks of the economic guild – at least for a certain time.

However, problem solvers are unpredictable

precisely because they tend to question many things that others take for granted. This was soon to be seen in the case of the newly qualified economist. Jenner undoubtedly owed Mr. Rürup a great debt of gratitude (which, of course, he only noticed later, when the latter had already turned into his enemy). Had his manuscript fallen into the hands of an average editor, instead of being presented to the distinguished economist, the editor would have asked first of all: “Is this man even authorized to comment on the subject?”. He would of course have answered this question in the negative, and the manuscript would have been rejected by the publisher with the usual haughty arrogance.

But gratitude was no reason for Jenner to accept a course of action that to him seemed not really gentleman-like. On one of the first pages of his second book published by S. Fischer “Das Ende des Kapitalismus -Triumph oder Kollaps eines Wirtschaftssystems” (The End of Capitalism – Triumph or Collapse of an Economic System), Prof. Rürup described himself as co-author – literally: “Expert advice: Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Rürup”. Since Jenner could not remember any advice even after the most strenuous self-questioning, he immediately spotted a new major problem, which he personally solved by publicly rejecting this usurpation.

Of course, Jenner should have known that in Germany such a procedure is perfectly in tune with academic ethos. Professors consider it their God-given right to have most back-breaking work done by assistants and to adorn themselves with borrowed intellectual plumes, whenever this seems opportune. Jenner believed he had to protest against this venerable tradition. That was naive, because he had, of course, soon to pay for this audacity. Mr. Rürup made sure that from then on his access to the S. Fischer publishing house would be blocked.

Two more economic works were related to obvious problems

Both were published by major editors: “Energiewende – so sichern wir Deutschlands Zukunft” (Energy turnaround – how to secure Germany’s future) in 2006 (Propyläen), when there was yet hardly any talk of the impending climate crisis. Here Jenner propagated the transition to sustainability with a slogan that became part of popular usage later after the disaster of Fukushima. Jenner literally spoke of a “national project“. However, in that book he had drawn too black a picture of the German economy. The loss of competitiveness in key German industries (especially the automotive sector) due to outsourcing and Chinese competition is only now becoming apparent.

With “Das Pyramidenspiel” (The Ponzi Scheme) on the dynamics of public and private debt published by Signum in 2008, Jenner once again attracted the attention of an economic expert, namely Prof. Gerhard Scherhorn. Scherhorn also introduced the book with a benevolent foreword. In contrast to the first-mentioned economist, Jenner still remembers this outstanding scientist with great respect, even though he did not follow the fatherly advice he received from him. Prof. Scherhorn urged him to refrain from sending his texts (newsletters) to God and the world. This, he rightly said, was simply not usual among serious academics.

A characteristic of problem finders and problem solvers

is their volatility. Jenner had acquired knowledge and interest in basic economic facts. But the economy as such had attracted him less than the preoccupation with foreign cultures, which he had turned to from the very beginning of his studies, being concerned mainly with the Indian, Chinese and Japanese cultures. During his last stay in Japan, however, a problem began to worry him, which in time was to become the problem par excellence for him, although he first encountered it where most people are usually not even aware of it, namely in language.

Germans think it is evident to call a monkey with the word “Affe”, while an Englishman says “monkey”, an Italian “scimmia”, a Japanese “Saru”, a Chinese “Houzi”. The famous Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure concluded that the signs that humans use for concepts are arbitrary, i.e. the outcome of chance. This view is, of course, a purely intellectual insight, which is in stark contrast to the way in which the emotionally attached person normally experiences his mother tongue. In most earlier cultures, people were convinced that the gods expressed themselves with the very same words – these could therefore by no means be merely coincidental.

Nevertheless, the reader will wonder whether it is not ridiculous to see a problem in the relationship of a concept to its sign?

No, in reality this is much less ridiculous than it seems at first glance. How far this relationship actually extends becomes obvious as soon as we relate the question to other cultural “self-evidences”. Just try to tell a Muslim that the consumption of pigs is no more and no less justified than that of cattle. Or a Christian that his faith in Jesus Christ could be explained by the coincidence of his belonging to this specific religious community just as much as a Hindu’s faith in Shiva or Vishnu. Both will react to this with utmost anger. Obviously we are dealing here with cultural positions that have been able to incite people against each other in such a way that they repeatedly bash each other’s heads.

But first Jenner “only” looked at the problem of language,

because here he was confronted with a most intriguing question. If in natural languages all individual signs (tree, monkey, cloud, etc.) are arbitrary, as de Saussure claims, does this not apply to language as a whole, namely also to all those regularities, which we refer to by the term grammar? And furthermore: if every language as a whole is a work of chance, can we expect any connecting similarities to exist between different languages? After all, there can be no similarity between mere coincidences!

This question became a problem for Jenner, which fascinated him to such a degree that it gave rise to his next and quite ambitious work. As in the case of economics, he had never dealt with the subject matter itself – in this case linguistics -, although he had learned several languages in the course of his studies. Now he immediately fell under the spell of one of the leading linguists of the time: the then Pope of Linguistics, Noam Chomsky, who had asked the same question in quite a similar way. Is there a universal linguistic ability that is common to all human beings and can be demonstrated by drawing up a Universal Grammar? Apparently such a Universal Grammar would separate linguistic chance from linguistic necessity. Although people would use arbitrary signs in any language, the rules that codify their connection in grammatical patterns would then be universal, that is, far from accidental. Chomsky believed he had discovered such universal patterns, but in their description he used the same basic concepts that traditional grammars had gained from the study of Indo-European languages. Jenner soon realized that this path was misleading. Chomsky had never understood that the basic concepts he used can’t be applied to other languages – for instance Chinese. 1

Jenner was and remains in agreement with Chomsky as to the goal

It is about the description of the universal properties of the human faculty of speech. Where does chance end, and where do we find the structural laws common to all of them? After all, there must be a Tertium comparationis – how else would could we otherwise explain that they can be translated (to a large extent, though by no means completely!).

The outer garment of their random form must be based on meanings and structures of meaning that are understood as such by all human beings. Between 1981 and 1993, when Jenner’s “Principles of Language” were published (by Peter Lang Verlag), Jenner set out to define these non-random “deep structures” together with their partly random, partly formally necessary realization in various empirical languages. From today’s perspective, much of what he wrote at that time now seems to him to be too difficult to read and even more difficult to understand. He only agrees with the revised edition of the Principles published by Amazon in 2019 (“The Principles of Language: Towards trans-Chomskyan Linguistics“).

In this case too, Jenner acted as an unauthorized outsider,

who invaded a field of knowledge that originally was quite foreign to him. But this time he did not have the chance of finding a patron who appreciated an investigation openly contradicting the prevailing paradigm. Instead, he was confronted with the typical reaction: “Unauthorized persons are forbidden to enter!” 2

The reason is not hard to discover. Renowned scientists had wasted the most precious time of a short human life on the almost superhuman task of shedding some light on the largely incomprehensible scholasticism of Noam Chomsky, and an outsider simply declares this effort superfluous, making fun of respectable scientists, so to speak, when he claims that even the basic concepts of Generative Grammar are misleading because they are simply not universal. The answer followed immediately, it was: “Don’t even ignore the outsider!” 3

And yet it was by no means absurd to assume that a linguist should have acquired a certain knowledge of his subject, i.e. a knowledge of empirical languages. It is said of Chomsky that, apart from English, he only speaks Spanish and a little Hebrew, while Jenner earned his doctorate in Sanskrit, reads and understands Russian, Japanese and Chinese, and studied at the Sorbonne (Paris), at the Università degli Studi in Rome and at the School for Oriental and African Studies in London. Chomsky would, of course, not accept such an objection. He believes that he can do without trivialities such as empirical knowledge, as he carries a “homunculus” within him, as he literally confesses. Therefore, he only needs to study this tiny man in order to discover everything essential about language within himself. In other words, the knowledge of empirical languages does not really count and concern him! 4

The problem of chance and freedom

continued to be Jenner’s obsession. Having first encountered it in language it soon turned into a problem of a much more basic nature. With his book “Creative Reason – A Philosophy of Freedom (dedicated to William James)” he now ventured into a large terrain that had always intrigued him, but until then not as a particular challenge.

We noticed that in language the existence of chance is undeniable, nobody can explain why a concept like tree is “realized” with the sound prescribed for it in English while it could as well be realized by an infinite number of different signs. It must have seemed all the more strange to Jenner that since the 17th century a dogmatically held doctrine held sway over European science, namely determinism, which fundamentally denies chance and explains it as a mere indication of human ignorance. In truth, this doctrine states that all of nature, including man, is governed exclusively by laws. Chance does simply not exist. According to this view, human freedom, too, is dismissed as an illusion – more precisely, as a subjective delusion.

Creative Reason” is in its first part a historical work. The book traces the denial of chance and freedom through the philosophical history of the past three hundred years. It shows why science insisted so much on the denial of freedom and that even when quantum physics finally accepted the existence of chance, it did not know what to do with it. Chance is dismissed as blind and meaningless.

In contrast, with regard to chance and freedom

Jenner’s position is the exact opposite to the traditional one. “We cannot even think necessity without freedom (chance). A deterministic science is a logical self-contradiction because on logical grounds it presupposes the existence of freedom.” In his view, Creative Reason is of equal importance beside that Reason, which is based on the recognition of laws.

Jenner considers “Creative Reason” to be his best and most original work, because for the first time, it establishes freedom alongside necessity as a logically indispensable dimension and thus opts for a basic change of our present world view. In his view, “tantum possumus quantum scimus” (we can only do as much as we know – this statement about man, accepted since Francis Bacon) has been wrong from the start. In every moment of his personal life, each human being can and does far more than he knows. Creative Reason is a book whose aim is both to illuminate and explore the scope and limits of human reason.

In human history

the antithesis of necessity is not chance but freedom, with the essential difference between both resulting from the fact that we do not understand what we encounter as chance in nature, whereas we do sympathize with the motives of other people and are therefore able to give meaning to their as well as to our own freedom in thoughts and in acts. Why this world exists at all and why it is the way it is, we will never decipher, even if we describe existing order in thousands of laws. That is why in nature, necessity (comprising the totality of laws) is opposed to chance, which we perceive as blind and senseless, just because we are unable to endow it with any human meaning.

On the other hand, human history is so fascinating for us precisely because people always orient their own actions along some kind of meaning, which we may detect and decipher. Of course, there is necessity here as well. We can only survive in nature as long as we obey nature’s laws, but we can use these laws for purposes designed by ourselves – and indeed since the Industrial Revolution we have been doing so to an extent never seen before.

The three books

Reflections on Meaning and Purpose in History – The Destiny of Mankind in the 21st Century”,Peace, War and Climate Change – a Call for New Strategies“, and finally “Homo IN-sapiens – A Short History of Human Insanity” were written by Jenner again in the capacity of a problem solver, who gropes for the meaning of history. Let us remember: in language he was concerned with finding universals beyond the arbitrariness of signs.

He now set himself the same task with regard to the differences and contrasts in culture that go beyond language – aren’t all those infinite rules concerning food, behavior and belief equally arbitrary?

The basic question remained the same: Do we find supra-cultural meaning in human history? With regard to omnipresent evil, meaning seems indeed very hard to come by. But this is certainly not the last word. At least we can always ask for the motives of human agents, and – when finding them – explain evil to a certain degree.

As to the goal of history,

however, it seems to Jenner not only possible, but downright necessary to offer a solution to this paramount problem (which from Immanuel Kant to Arnold Toynbee, had already been conceived in a similar way).

Since the second half of the 20th century, the survival of humans as a species is in evident danger. Using the huge arsenal of existing nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles, it is as much in his hands to end his earthly existence as by irrevocably destroying the globe’s natural environment. For the first time in history, the goal of history becomes therefore perfectly clear. We are all in the same boat and together we must prevent it from capsizing and pulling us all into the abyss. In concrete terms, this means that we must radically change our economic system together with current politics. The problem of freedom being directly related to war and peace suddenly becomes very concrete, because man is not merely confronted with nature, but with his fellow human beings – and they pose a similar threat to his survival. In our days, the race between nations for greater economic, military and political power is the major force threatening to drive homo insapiens into insanity.

The intellectually controlled human being,

who is a problem finder and sometimes also a problem solver, who points to existing fractures, conflicts and contradictions, can only reveal insanity but not overcome it. He can show how Homo insapiens acts against his own advantage even risking his own survival. There is no lack of supreme intelligence in all modern states. Indeed, the breathtaking ingenuity of science and technology has radically transformed the face of the earth within only three centuries. But we now understand that intelligence alone does not make man a Homo sapiens. For this to happen, something else is needed, namely wisdom that springs from feelings, from sympathy for other beings, from mutual respect and help. As long as the disastrous race of nations for greater economic and military power is not ended, we can hardly hope that Homo sapiens – the wise and not the merely intelligent man – will steer history in a different direction.

For his large-scale history project

Jenner did not meet with any interest from major publishers, despite several attempts. Meinhard Miegel, a well-known German author whose writings Jenner always held in high esteem, expressed his praise both for the style and content of “Reflections on Meaning and Purpose in Human History” (referring, of course, to the German original). Miegel insisted that it must absolutely be published, and that he would like to support this if necessary with a printing cost subsidy. Not only Mr. Miegel welcomed Jenner’s new work, but Karl Acham, a renowned Austrian professor of sociology, even vouched for its scientific respectability with an extensive foreword.

Prof. Acham recommended the Springer publishing house (sociology), being convinced that his preface would open the door to the author. This time, however, things turned out quite differently from when he had offered “Die Arbeitslose Gesellschaft” (Society without work) to the Fischer Verlag. Just two days after the manuscript arrived at the publishing house, it was rejected without even being examined.

This out-of-hand rejection is not as strange as it may appear at first glance. A proofreader is hardly allowed to rely on his own opinion or that of a foreign reviewer. As in the Colosseum, where thumbs up or thumbs down decided on the life or death of a gladiator – all turns around the “placet” of one of those demigods in the German professorial sky who reserve for themselves the last word on what may or may not be published – anonymously, of course, nobody can hold them accountable. This time the motto obviously prevailed: “Unauthorized persons not allowed to enter“.

Since then, Jenner has published on Amazon

In a certain way, this kind of publication even seems to suit the author’s inclinations, for he not only finds fault with others, but often with himself as well. He continues to retouch his own writings, to add or to remove whole passages. Nothing worries him as much as when he can be proven to have made a mistake in the reception of facts or the framing of arguments (and, unfortunately that sometimes happens. Jenner is a lone fighter, so mistakes can never be wholly excluded). 5 In any case, the publication at Amazon accommodates his tendency to self-correction, because changes in both the print as well as in the Kindle edition can be done on the personal computer within hardly more than half an hour – a procedure that would be completely unthinkable at other publishers.

1 Jenner’s thesis that the basic concepts of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar (verb, nouns etc.) are not universal is either right or wrong. One would therefore think that serious scientists would either accept or disprove it. But Jenner knows of no linguist who has seriously dealt with the problem. So much has the orchid subject linguistics become a “paradigm” as described by Thomas Kuhn, that no one studies its premises anymore. Although attacks on Chomsky have increased recently, the child is now being ejected with the bath: The legitimate goal of getting language as such into view, and not just individual languages, is being questioned.

2 Jenner’s habilitation thesis on linguistics, which already contained his main propositions, was rejected “for formal reasons”, although a reviewer (Prof. Peter Hartmann from Konstanz) had stood up for it in the review board. However, Prof. Bernfried Schlerath, the then full professor at the Free University of Berlin, was not to be trifled with. And that for understandable reasons: Jenner had never sat at his feet for Even a single hour.

3 Chomsky is as clear in his political writings as he is unclear in his linguistic texts. That is probably why he finally abandoned the second and embraced the first area. Even a linguist like Steven Pinker rejects the scholasticism of his academic mentor. Pinker convinces with his amazing knowledge, with a clear language and clever argumentation. Jenner criticizes Pinker for another reason: he considers him not quite honest. His idea of a prelinguistic language (mentalese) is completely on Jenner’s line, and the conclusion resulting from this premise seems obvious. Pinker, like him, would have to replace Chomsky’s basic concepts of Generative Grammar with prelinguistic ones. But Pinker shrinks from doing so, for he would then be in danger of breaking away from Chomsky altogether and standing by the side of a still ignored outsider. Here again, we experience the power of paradigms so vividly described by Kuhn. Kuhn had tracked down dogmatism in the natural sciences through their paradigms. He would have had a much easier job if he had looked for them in the humanities. If a company plans and produces new devices according to the known laws of nature, we can be sure that the laws it applies are true – otherwise the devices would simply not work. But in the humanities, the most outlandish theories can emerge with no need (and often no possibility) for their proponents to test it by confronting it with reality.

4 Homunculus science, as practiced by the late Chomsky, is questioned by David Golumbia in the essay “The Language of Science and the Science of Language – Chomsky’s Cartesianism” as a violation of the principles of an empirical science.

5 Jenner is a lone wolf, his last books have not passed through the hands of an editor, nor has he asked friends to peruse them. Sometimes this has led to mistakes that quite embarrassed him. For example, the term Anthropocene he erroneously did not use in the sense intended by its inventor Paul Josef Crutzen to designate the industrial age, but referred it to the entire history since man actively changed his environment. We know, that this already happened at the time of hunters and gatherers, when they largely exterminated the existing megafauna. Jenner corrected this mistake by using the term “Great Anthropocene”.