(5) The Familiar and the Commonplace

Our relationship to miracles and the miraculous is ambivalent. On the one hand, we crave the extraordinary and devour all reports and rumors of the occurrence of an event believed impossible; on the other hand, we fear such events because we perceive the unplanned, unwanted, unforeseen as a threat to our security. By contrast, the attitude of science is unambiguous. It scorns the miracle and mocks all who believe in it. If the validity of the laws of nature does by definition not allow any exception, there can be no miracles.

Science also rejects the miraculous, unless it elevates the formulas by which it describes physical processes, e.g., Einstein’s famous equation quantifying the ratio of mass to energy, to the status of objects of awe and admiration because of their miraculous simplicity. However, most scientists hasten to emphasize that even this formula only expresses that everything in the world happens in a completely natural way, so there too we find nothing miraculous. We can at most marvel at the extraordinary intelligence of those people who were the first to explain the machinery of nature and to represent it in such elegant and simple formulas.

Discussions about the miraculous in nature

take place in science at best among the real experts, e.g., when they try to understand quantum theory. After all, one of the most prominent authorities in the field, physicist Richard Feynman, was moved to remark, “If you think you understand quantum theory . . . you don’t understand quantum theory.”

No doubt, this statement provides a direct confrontation with the miraculous. A theory which in practice allows useful statisti­cal predictions of physical processes is said to be inaccessible to reason. This is also illustrated by the so-called Copenhagen inter­pretation with the popular metaphor of a black box. If we do not open it, the cat inside is both dead and alive. As soon as we open it, it is only one of both: either dead or alive.

If you want to understand the paradox of the cat

that is dead and alive at the same time, you must go beyond the metaphor. You must complete years of study in quantum physics. This could be interpreted as if the encounter with the miraculous had to remain the preserve of the experts. Doesn’t this remind us of earlier, dark times when religion reigned supreme? For a millennium and a half, reading the Bible was the privilege of experts, i.e., priests. To prevent people from relying on their own judgment and criticizing its often grotesque and contradictory content, the priests not only insisted that the Bible remain inaccessible to lay people, but also that sermons be delivered in a language they could not understand, namely Latin. If unautho­rized persons nevertheless dared to enter the enclosure of the priestly monopolists of truth, they risked persecution as heretics, possibly even death at the stake.

Meanwhile, the natural sciences have become no less remote from the understanding of ordinary people. With the cordon sanitaire of their respective technical language, they effectively close themselves off from the laity. Thus, the impression must arise that only those have the right to talk about God and nature who successfully completed specialized seminars and acquired the corresponding diploma.

In contrast, the democratic task of critical

thinking is to prove that even the highest towers of religion and science are built on the pedestal of a few basic truths that every human being is capable of understanding. We do not have to look for the miraculous in quantum theory – it reveals itself much more obviously and with far greater clarity in quite familiar and everyday facts. To open our eyes to this truth was the aim of Kant’s “pure reason” (when he discussed antinomies).

Let’s take a process of seemingly utmost banality, like the movement of my arm because I want to move it. Or think of the departure of an army of tankers to the Ukrainian border because Vladimir Putin just gave the order to do so. Mere thoughts – the modifications of neurons within a human brain – can trigger the greatest physical events, although according to the textbooks of physics even the smallest change or movement is fundamentally dependent on and caused by natural laws. However, the thoughts in the head of a Vladimir Putin or of all those billions of actors who constantly change the events in our world are not due to any natural law known to us.

This obvious contradiction,

this confrontation with the miraculous, which so far defies any explanation, is hardly ever discussed. Experts are agreed that this problem is none of their business – at least for the time being. Problems that – at least for the moment – seem unsolvable are tacitly suppressed. The representatives of religion were anxious to hide the contradictions and riddles of the Bible from people so that they would not doubt their supposedly higher knowledge, the experts of science suppress the most elementary riddles of reality for quite the same reason. In other words, the experts keep silent about the miraculous. This saves them from admitting their ignorance.

The familiar is anything but ordinary

This insight imposes itself the moment we realize that the ordinary is by no means identical with what we understand. Let us take another example. As long as people believed that the earth was a disk, there existed an upside as well as a downside. The sky above your head indicated the direction upwards. So, once you reached the edge of the disk you would, of course, fall downwards. Meanwhile we know that the earth is a sphere and therefore there can be neither top nor bottom. Or more correctly said, the sky above the heads of the Australians designates the direction upwards for them as well as for us on the opposite side of the sphere. But this means that the idea of above and below, so familiar to each of us, cannot apply to cosmological space. It is, in fact, just as incomprehensible as the force of gravity that keeps every German just as firmly glued to the planet as Australians on the other side of the globe.

Gravity is such an ordinary fact of everyday life that no one gives it any thought at all. Nevertheless, we could apply Richard Feynman’s above-mentioned statement to gravitation too: “If you think that you have understood gravitation … then /that is proof/ that you do not understand it.” It is true that physics has no difficulty in quantifying its effects with the greatest accuracy for any distance from the center of the earth. Nevertheless, this invisible force is beyond our understanding. We know that it exists and has exactly measurable effects, but why it is there and why this invisible force succeeds to glue us reliably to the globe and to steer the course of far-away celestial bodies, we simply do not know. Some (like for instance Karl Popper) concluded that questions about the essence of physical phenomena are inadmissible and should therefore be kept out of science. The essence of any force, i.e., what it actually is, need not interest us, it is sufficient that we can describe its effects in detail and use them for our purposes. 

Others have grasped the obvious paradox

To these others belongs no less a person than Immanuel Kant, who dealt with a similar problem, namely the extension of space. Its experience is one of the habitual facts of life about which we seldom or never think. But once this happens, we immediately encounter the miraculous – Kant called it “antinomy” (an impasse for perception and conception as well). We cannot accept that the world is finite, because after every limit we expect further spaces. But we cannot imagine its infinity either, because infinity is for us inconceivable. At this point Kant encountered the wonder of a world that is beyond human comprehension. This is how he presented the paradoxical in the chapter On the Antinomies of Pure Reason. This will be discussed later (cf. chapter Pioneers of Antignosis: Hume, Kant, Popper).

The fact is that our ability to comprehend reality

is limited. This explains why we are so much shaken by the antinomy of space, which we can neither imagine to be finite nor infinite. Our senses and our mind are made for the intermediate world between the infinite smallness of the atoms and the infinite grandeur of the universe. More than a century ago, quantum physics had already shown that we do not understand the realm of the very small. In our time modern astrophysics has demon­strated the same truth for the realm of the exceedingly large. It points to black holes, so-called “singularities”, where the laws of nature that govern the Intermediate World lose their validity and possibly universes with completely different regularities arise.There will be an eternal dispute among experts about the paradoxes of time and space. But this need not interest us. We may forget quantum physics, and the singularities of astrophysics. That is not the place where we need to look for the miraculous – it surrounds us on all sides. But we don’t notice it because we confuse the ordinary with what we understand. Chapter taken from my book The Miraculous and its Enemies).

Saint Sebastian’s Victory

You may admire the man him for this masterful move, were it not for the fact that the brilliant rochade from chancellor to party and club chairman is as perfidious as it is ingenious. Perfidious because it damages Austrian democracy. Sebastian Kurz, this obedient disciple of Machiavell with the winningly innocent face of a best of class, has fooled them all. First of all, the Greens under their brave but not too perspicacious chairman, Werner Kogler. That was to be expected, because they could never hold a candle to this master of beautiful appearances. And his party willingly followed him instead of upholding its moral principles. The example of Donald Trump, who cleverly uses his martyr role for catching votes, seems to have reached Austria as well. Above all, Kurz has tricked the judiciary, because as a member of parliament he is protected from any further investigation. And the citizens of Austria? As they had paid for their own indoctrination with their tax money, most of them are ready and willing to believe in his innocence. They even have to, because no one can contradict him anymore when he mantra-like affirms that all accusations against him are simply false. Yes, he too may have some all-too-human weaknesses – who among us doesn’t? – but he certainly did not knowingly act against the law. This is nothing but slander by his enemies, he says.

We may see this as an opening for a fresh career that will be denied to the brutal macho Donald Trump – the career of a man unjustly persecuted by vicious enemies and envious opponents. In this role he may eventually rise to become a kind of saint in the eyes of the public. You guessed right: Saint Sebastian.

If Mr. Kurz succeeds in continuing to play this role convincingly – he certainly has all the talent to do so -, we may safely predict that his career is by no means over, but only beginning. Kurz may lean back, he no longer needs to justify himself to the judiciary, he no longer needs to refute the accusations against him, because his immunity protects him against the judiciary. But once the latter is condemned to silence, the presumption of innocence will turn into certainty among average citizens. At the next or subsequent elections, a seemingly completely rehabilitated ex-Chancellor Kurz could well become chancellor again – his head then comfortably wreathed in the halo of the unjustly persecuted.

And his statement that he would ask the Parlament to lift his immunity?

I don’t believe a word of it. If that were serious, then the perfidious personnel rochade would have been set up for nothing. No, after an extradition request by the public prosecutor’s office, his followers will unanimously affirm that they are deeply convinced of their chairman’s innocence and will therefore vote against extradition. And the Greens? They have become so intoxicated with the sweet elixir of power that it is enough to endanger their projects to make them just as docile. The only pawns will be people like Thomas Schmid and a few others whom the judiciary may continue to pursue. But no one will shed a tear for them anyway.

Yes, it is a blessing that the crazy idea of a four-party coalition will not be realized. Kurz was right: that would have led to chaos and instability. But it was not right for the Greens to tie their continued cooperation only to Kurz’s replacement. They should have insisted that his immunity should by all means be lifted after a corresponding request by the judiciary. If that does not happen – and it would be a miracle if it does – the damage to Austrian democracy will be no less severe.

Saint Sebastian (Kurz) – an Austrian martyr?

“It seems I am to be blamed for everything!” With such a retort to the accusation of corruption, Austria’s chancellor on call, Sebastian Kurz, staked out his line of defense. Since the ÖVP’s coalition partner, the Greens, have certified him unfit for office because from now on he would be mainly concerned with justifying himself to a judiciary that accuses him of systematically embezzling taxpayers’ money for ad campaigns in favor of his own party and person, it is foreseeable that he will be toppled on Tuesday next week by a vote of no confidence by the opposition and his coalition partner, the Greens. Will this end Sebastian Kurz’s meteoric rise to the position of Austria’s youngest chancellor ever?

The answer depends on whether and how quickly the Vienna Corruption Prosecutor’s Office succeeds in proving his guilt so conclusively that as a politician with a criminal record he will have no chance of making a comeback. According to all we know so far from the seized chats between Kurz and his political henchmen, such a verdict should be very likely, indeed almost certain. However, the time factor plays a decisive role. If – as to be expected – it takes a year or even longer for the judiciary to reach a final verdict, then the interim period could very well lead to a simmering state crisis in Austria. Let’s assume that after Kurz is voted out of office next Tuesday by a vote of no confidence by both the Greens and the three opposition parties, SPÖ, FPÖ and Neos, the Austrian government as a whole will have to step down because the ministers of the ÖVP, made it clear that in unbreakable loyalty to Kurz they too would resign. In that case, a coalition comprising both the opposition and the Greens could take charge, presumably with Rendi-Wagner, the designated leader of the SPÖ, at its head. That would be a misfortune for Austria because such a government would certainly fail in no time, not only because of the sneers of the ÖVP, first and foremost those of its deposed martyr Sebastian Kurz, but even more because of internal self-destruction.

Just think about the people who are coming together! Ms. Rendi-Wagner is an honest, very educated, clear-thinking woman – in other words, a positive-thinking intellectual – whose only, but unfortunately decisive flaw is that she only convinces those who are just as honest, educated and think as clearly as she does. But that is a vanishing minority, to which the working class, i.e. the classic clientele of the SPÖ, rather does not belong. For his part, the leader of the Austrian Free Democrats, Herbert Kickl, is known for his special and rather elementary understanding of truth – true is what he himself says and represents. This contradiction alone would cause the new coalition to break up and lose all credit within quite a short time – and I did not even mention the fundamentally different positions of the Greens and Neos.

In other words, such a coalition would be a disaster for Austria, because a majority would probably long for a strong Chancellor Kurz after just one or two months. Fighting against such a public mood – longing for the martyr Saint Kurz and growing discontent with the new government – would make the work of the judiciary much more difficult. Arguably, this would also be the case in the event of a new election, which would probably still be clearly in favor of the ÖVP – after all, the Orbanization of Austria by means of ad-buying has not been pursued in vain …

I see a way out of this muddled situation only if the ÖVP recalls its democratic tradition and its Christian values and finally shakes off the spell to which the undoubtedly very clever, extremely skillful, and even charismatic populist Sebastian Kurz has subjected it. He succeeded in making a party docile and personally committed to him that used to be known for its diversity of opinion. Within the ÖVP he created a “family” of devoted courtiers operating via chats and in conspiratorial circles, whose machinations are only now gradually coming to light. I am afraid that this spook cannot be brought to an end by the opposition and the Greens. That is why we must put our hope in the forces of self-renewal within the ÖVP, the Austrian People’s Party. Only when and if within this party the opponents of an undemocratic “Orban-ization” of Austria step out of the shadows and summon up the courage to stand up to a man who has crossed a red line not only of political decency but of Austria’s democratic constitution will the country be saved from political self-destruction. Only in this case would Alexander van der Bellen, the Austrian president, be right in his optimistic assumption that this is not a crisis of state.

Tax Reform

It is worthwhile to think thoughts through to their logical conclusion, e.g. tax reform. What does a tax system look like that is both socially just and ecologically accurate and guarantees a minimum income for all citizens? A century and a half ago, John Stuart Mill considered only the taxation of consumption to be socially just. What a nonsense to tax performance, whether that of a worker or a manager – performance benefits the community. But by consuming goods, the total amount of which is always and necessarily limited, each of us limits the consumption of his fellow human beings. However, a progressive consumption tax is only conceivable with today’s technical means. Ten years ago, I proposed such a system in “Wohlstand und Armut” (Metropolis). It will never be realized in this logically uncompromising form, but the direction is clearly marked out. Only in one point did I not go far enough. Herman Daly, the great American pioneer of ecology, went a decisive step further. It is not possible, he argued, to curb the consumption of resources through taxes, but only through capping, i.e. through steadily decreasing upper limits, e.g. for the consumption of coal, oil, gas etc. (published as paperback and Amazon Kindle edition). See:

Tax Reform

Germany – a Banana Republic?

The critics of representative democracy suspect it of disenfranchising voters because they are prevented from voting directly on legislative proposals. This accusation ignores social reality, which has changed fundamentally since ancient Greece and the Germanic Thing, where free men (women were still excluded) decided on war and peace and many other basic concerns. Modern society has become so complex that most decisions require technical expertise that can only be provided by specialists. We need only think of climate change. Almost every enlightened citizen realizes that the further poisoning of the atmosphere with CO2 is a great evil that we should stop as soon as possible, but only a few people are aware of the far-reaching consequences of ill-considered measures. If we really want to save the climate, our economy and our current way of life will have to undergo drastic changes – changes that in ways quite unimaginable to most people, would interfere with production, transportation, the energy industry, and most importantly, jobs and incomes.

Direct democracy is an ideal

that can only be realized if all citizens are equally well informed about all issues at stake. But that was no longer the case even in the days of Athenian democracy – and has been less and less so ever since. After the industrial revolution, man has lived in a knowledge society of exponentially growing expertise and professional competence. Even seemingly simple problems, such as whether and to what extent a state may incur debt, presuppose comprehensive knowledge, which the popular providers of knowledge, that is, the media, only convey in a fragmented or populistically distorted manner, because citizens usually stressed by everyday work are understandably not inclined or even able to deal personally with problems that have become unmanageable in their range and ramifications. To put it bluntly: the rejection of direct democracy in favor of a representative one was forced upon modern states by their transition toward knowledge societies. Anyone who still propagates the former as the solution to our actual problems is a dangerous populist because he wants laymen to decide on technical problems only understood by specialists.

But doesn’t this statement imply the suspicion

that democracy is no longer functioning, precisely because most of the issues at hand are no longer accessible to the average voter and the media – as the fourth authority alongside the executive, legislative and judicial branches – hardly offer any real clarification?

No, this conclusion would be quite misleading, because in a deeper and therefore essential respect, citizens remain the authority of last resort: in their value judgments. Whether a majority approves of further immigration or whether it lets itself be determined by pity to open the borders; whether people want material equality rather than a special promotion of talents, i.e. greater inequality; whether the inner cities should be kept free of traffic or the car should be given right of way everywhere; whether marriage should be limited to men and women or apply to all; whether religious minorities should have the same rights as the traditionally dominant religion; whether politicians should be allowed to enrich themselves personally through their office – these and similar questions depend on value judgments on which every citizen can express his preference – value judgments do not require expert knowledge.

Exactly the opposite is true: Values are at the root of all expert knowledge.  After all, the Industrial Revolution and the exponential expansion of our scientific and technical knowledge caused by it were themselves the result of a new value orientation. Since that time, man has hoped to find happiness in the improvement of earthly conditions instead of a future career in heaven.

The dichotomy of decision-making

in modern Western democracies is therefore tailored to modern society in its historically developed shape. The citizen is to remain the final authority in matters of moral value judgments. The majority within a territory are entitled to decide how they want to live together and design their own future and that of their children. The technical questions of how and whether these ideas can be realized in concrete terms are then decided by parliamentary committees and ministerial bureaucracies, which – ideally – dispose of the required knowledge. The division of democratic decision-making into fundamental value decisions expressed by all citizens and technical competence, which they delegate to technical committees and technically competent bureaucracies, is the direct and unavoidable consequence of social complexity.

Since every citizen has the right to vote and to stand for election,

representative democracy cannot avoid certain dangers. It may enable people without any knowledge to become politicians or even heads of state. It also allows demagogues who want to abolish democracy to rally a large following behind them. This danger can be mitigated but not abolished by an educational system that provides the broadest possible general education up to the beginning of professional training at universities. The greater the proportion of citizens who have at least the basic ability to distinguish specialized knowledge from charlatanry, the better the conditions for the functioning of democracy.

But education alone is not enough to prevent a legal transition to dictatorship (as has already been accomplished in Russia and is in the offing in Poland and Hungary). It may always happen that a majority of citizens is convinced that only a strong man with unlimited powers can solve pending problems. This is where the judiciary comes into play as the third pillar of a functioning democracy. It exercises the indispensable task of defending the constitution against those who try to subvert freedom by legal means.

Value judgments are subject to a wide range of fluctuation

not infrequently they are even opposed to each other. For this reason, coalitions are a suitable democratic means of giving minorities a say. When the two strongest parties have roughly equal numbers of votes, as is the case with the SPD and the Christian Democrats after this year’s federal election, then under normal circumstances both have the possibility and the right to seek coalitions that would secure government responsibility for either of them. This does not distort the voters’ mandate – on the contrary, the latter is reflected in possible coalition variants.

I dwell on these basic considerations of representative democracy before pointing out that they seem to have been forgotten in today’s Germany. Some politicians are paving the way toward a bananarepublic.

For the basic democratic competence

is taken away from citizens if his or her value decision is called into question. Whatever one may think of the two candidates for chancellor, Olaf Scholz and Armin Laschet – is of no importance in the present context. The only thing to keep in mind is the fact that one of them recorded an enormous increase in votes, while the other caused his party to lose votes like never before since its founding in 1945. In this case, the voter has made a clear value decision. He does not want Armin Laschet as German chancellor. Against such a background, it is quite insignificant that the two leading parties were able to garner roughly the same number of votes. This fact does not reflect the preference of voters, which is expressed by the enormous increase in votes for one candidate and the huge loss of votes for the other.

From some sides we hear,

that such objections do not count because politics has little to do with morals. So, you can’t blame Armin Laschet for pulling out all the stops to save his political future. Anyone who speaks in this way is a cynic who despises democracy. He wants to deprive voters of the only real competence they are not only allowed but required to exercise if representative democracy is to have any meaning. Fortunately, there are high-ranking politicians like Michael Kretschmer, the prime minister of Saxony, who refuses to howl with the wolves. And Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder at least concedes, “No claim to form a government arises from second place.” These are the voices Democrats should listen to. Politician of whatever party should not be allowed to make a mockery of the will of voters and of democratic decency out of a personal obsession with power.

Let us not delude ourselves

The next step in the direction that leads us away from democracy and toward a banana republic would be to challenge the election itself – as has been done by Donald Trump in one of the world’s oldest democracies. It is regrettable that Angela Merkel, who achieved such a sovereign, such an admirable exit from politics, stood by the clear loser Armin Laschet, at least not contradicting him when he put himself in play as a candidate for chancellor. As for the Greens and the FDP, it is understandable that they see the unpleasant, undemocratic move of Arnim Laschet as an opportunity to squeeze out a maximum of demands for themselves, but this is no excuse in terms of democratic policy.

However, these breaches of democratic decency

should not make us forget that democracy faces even greater challenges. Citizens are supposed to have the right to decide on values and thus give direction to politics, while ministerial bureaucracies and parliamentary committees are then supposed to technically implement this direction and these values. But how is this to be done when the technical apparatus of modern economies has become so autonomous that the freedom of citizens is inevitably increasingly restricted?

Highways, high-voltage power lines and sprawling wind farms

certainly do not make the landscape more beautiful – that is no secret, but it is an inevitable development if our hunger for energy is to be satisfied. Likewise, small-scale agriculture once beautified nature, while large-scale plantations and endless fields are turning it into an agricultural desert – another inevitable consequence of the planet’s overpopulation, which is also responsible for our need to further increase harvests through the use of genetically modified, pesticide-dependent crops that meet the world’s growing demand. These are developments that nobody wanted – nor are they the effects of any particular economic system such as capitalism or neoliberalism. Rather, they result from the eightfold increase of population within the past two centuries and from the fact that all these people strive for the highest standard of living.

The techno-economic apparatus has taken on a life of its own

that increasingly restricts our freedom. The same applies, of course, to the people who operate its levers and ensure that we do not starve, have our jobs, and draw our incomes and pensions. The picture of democracy sketched above is an ideal abstraction that does not account for actual power. In addition to the executive, legislative and judicial branches, there is also the “privative” – the private sector – which, through lobbyists and the media, wields more power than all parliamentary committees and ministerial bureaucracies combined. In the US, the power of the private sector is obvious. Presidential candidates must run the gauntlet of an election campaign that gets more expensive every year and can only be won with substantial donations from big corporations. No American president can govern against big business, but he can certainly govern against the people.

In Germany, this development toward plutocracy has gone less far. However, the transition to a service society together with digital automation could decimate the workforce to such an extent that the unions, as a counterweight, lose as much power as they already did on the other side of the Atlantic. The greatest danger to democracy comes not from people like Armin Laschet who flout the rules of the game, but from the fourth power, the mighty private sector, which could abolish them altogether and use the government as the executor of its will.

Global Arena: China and the Dialectics of Freedom

If the world were a racetrack in which nations compete for victory and medals, we would admire the mighty catching-up nations that are surging ahead. These include China and India – Russia would like to join them. Western countries still claim the first position, but we see them torn by the strongest internal contradictions and social protests. This is especially true of the United States.

Western countries themselves prefer a different perspective: these internal contradictions and protests are seen as a proof of the freedom they concede to their citizens. But this looks more and more like a sugarcoating and a lie – as evidenced by the shameful handling of the pandemic. They should have rejoiced over the incredible progress of medicine that produced highly efficient vaccines, which – if properly administered – would have allowed Western nations to eradicate Corona within a year. Instead, incorrigible fools took and take en masse to the streets to prove to themselves and others that freedom for them consists of bashing each other’s heads in constant street fights with the police.

From the perspective of the most successful teams

in the global racing arena, such an understanding of freedom is nothing other than a sign of moral and spiritual decline. Accordingly, Chinese and Russian propaganda confidently assume that the period of Western domination is about to end: from this point of view, the West is made up of degenerated people. Mind you, this is not just the party’s or the government’s view; meanwhile, the majority of the people of China and a number of other countries believe this analysis to be correct.  After all, Beijing has succeeded – so far at least – in protecting its own population of billions from the pandemic, and it has done so exclusively by following the recommandations of science. What a paradox: this science has its origins in the West, and that is where the best vaccines still come from, but a false, self-destructive understanding of freedom now makes it impossible for Western countries to apply it with the same success as a country that to this day still officially calls itself a developing one (quite wrongly by now, but with political cleverness). While the spectacular success in the fight against the pandemic continues to bring China uninterrupted growth, most Western countries don’t even dare to speak of mandatory vaccination – that would be dictatorship! -, although such a simple measure would have spared us countless deaths, several lockdowns and economic decline.

The race of nations does not only take place in this particular field,

that is, in dealing with a dangerous epidemic. The economy, the military, political freedom, all dimensions of social and governmental life are affected. But what is completely overlooked by most is the interdependence of the participants in this planetary race – the dialectics of freedom and its opposite. Until five hundred years ago, the great civilizations lived largely apart from each other. The Indian Mogul empire under Akbar, but even Qianlong’s China, did not need to worry about what was going on in Europe any more than Henry the Fourth of England needed to worry about what was happening in faraway China or India. But today, global distances no longer count. The political actions and the program of the Chinese party are directly determined by the political, economic and social orientation of America. To put it bluntly, the Chinese have an authoritarian system because the Americans insist on the greatest possible freedom.

This interdependence resulting from the race of nations

was first evident in the rise of Japan during the second half of the 19th century. Japan would never have been able to build up its own industry; the tiny pacific island country would never have risen to become the second largest economic power on earth (only recently to be ousted from this position by giant China), if it had not deprived its own citizens of much of their freedom – in other words, without the transition to an authoritarian regime. Although almost all industrial products of the West, i.e. of the then world power Great Britain, as well as German and American goods, were classes better than those of its own emerging industries, Japan forbade its citizens to import and consume them. And it did so with good reason, for otherwise its own companies, which were only just being established, would have had no chance. Every state that wants to hold its own in the international race against far superior competitors feels compelled to make this authoritarian intervention. It restricts the present freedom of its citizens in order to give them all the more freedom in the future.

The US itself took this path

during the 19th century in order to assert itself against England, the world power at the time. Japan and China followed in its footsteps. As long as there are great differences in technological development in the race between nations, freedom is a luxury that only the countries at the top can afford. This seems evident, but the beneficiaries of such freedom like to conceal the obvious truth. Yes, they even go to great lengths to impose this freedom, which is so useful to them, on the rest of the world. They do so ostensibly out of philanthropy, but in fact because it suits their own interests. Back then, when Japan was still in the process of building its own industry, English, German and American companies would have made much more profit if the citizens of Japan had been allowed to buy their superior products. English propaganda therefore denounced Japanese and all other foreign protectionism as a sign of political backwardness. The top runners assiduously ignore that countries that are catching up have no choice but to restrict the freedom of their citizens – in some cases even drastically.

The dialectic of freedom and unfreedom

becomes immediately apparent as soon as the laggards are themselves getting close to the top. Then a radical transformation takes place: their attitude toward freedom changes completely. After the end of World War II, the United States – a decidedly protectionist state until the Great Depression of the late 1920s – became the greatest champion of economic freedom. No wonder, since the industries of their competitors were largely destroyed by the war and they now took the technological lead in several fields until the end of the last century.

There is no clearer evidence of the rise of China

and the decline of the United States than the rapidly changing relationship of both nations to economic freedom. While the United States has turn protectionist since Donald Trump, the same country, China, which until recently surrounded its own industry with a high protectionist wall, can now afford to take ever greater steps toward economic liberalism. Chinese products have become so competitive on the world market that it is now Western countries that feel threatened and call ever loudly for protective measures. The up and downs of economic development do, of course, have political consequences. It is no coincidence that in the United States as well as in Europe, the trend is not toward a strengthening of democracy but toward authoritarian regimes. The dialectic of freedom and its opposite proves once again that today no single state is sovereign master of its own destiny. Instead, all nations are caught in a web of mutual dependencies. Of course, the government and politicians in general want to convince their citizens that their fate rests entirely in their own hands. But such intimations are becoming more and more of a self-delusion and self-congratulation.

In the global race for economic,

political and military power, it is not only the drive to stay on top or to reach it that imposes a certain way of acting on nations – the state of technological development also has a profound impact on politics and society. Since the second half of the 20th century technology has made great strides. Not only has it become possible to create technical wonders like the computer in backyard garages the same can be said of weapons of mass destruction like nerve agents and bombs, the recipe for which anyone can call up on the Internet – and without the knowledge of the police, the state and the public (the first to recognize this in all sharpness was Hoimar v. Ditfurth). That is why states are de facto forced to increasingly monitor their own citizens. So-called technological progress goes hand in hand with a social regression that could end in the transformation of society into an Orwellian surveillance state. Even conceding that the initial reactions to the threat of terror were greatly exaggerated and served as a welcome excuse for some politicians to give themselves and the state greater power, it still remains undeniable that new technologies and their convenient misuse by individual criminals (and the intelligence services of other states) must undermine the freedom of society in the long term and push it in the direction of ever increased control. China has already set a bad example, but other states such as the U.S. and the U.K. go to great lengths to monitor their own citizens as extensively as possible.

There is no symmetry between the leading world power

and its challenger. The former is accustomed to ruling and commanding and therefore usually acts overconfident to the point of clumsiness; the latter is fixated on the adversary and follows its every action with the utmost vigilance, carefully considering each of his moves. How well the Chinese know the U.S. and, conversely, how little the U.S. knows China, is already evident from the number of students in each other’s countries. In 2019/20, China sent a total of half a million of them to the U.S. and to Canada, but only eleven thousand students from the U.S. came to China. In other words, China knows much more about the West than the West knows about the Far Eastern country.

Chinese strategists are therefore well informed about the destructive tensions in Western societies. They know that “capitalism,” although it created the wealth of their own and Western societies, is seen by a growing number of people as the greatest bogeyman because it increasingly deepens the rifts between rich and poor. What a brilliant move by Xi Jinping to oppose big business in his own country in the interest of social justice! Having largely eliminated the greatest poverty in his own country and in a very short time introduced a pension system for the entire population, he is now doing what all Western reformers have been demanding for two centuries, namely to rein in the excessive wealth of a few in the name of the majority of the population. Twenty years ago, such a measure could have paralyzed rapid industrial growth, because the total commitment, the willingness to work to the point of self-sacrifice, which the race with the technologically far superior states of the West demanded of the most capable and intelligent, could have failed because of such a measure. China therefore copied the West’s recipe for economic success (and de facto laid communism to rest, although it calls itself a communist regime). In the meantime, however, China’s industry has grown immensely, it is consolidated and diverse. Moreover, a highly efficient education system has produced so many capable minds that Xi can make the surprising move toward a welfare state. As a result, the Middle Kingdom is not only catching up with the West ideologically, it may overtake the The country will certainly not become communist in the Marxian sense, but it will achieve greater equality.

This will significantly strengthen China’s reputation abroad

For we should have no illusions, the protest against so-called capitalism, or rather against social inequality and unequal treatment, is the ideological dynamite that threatens to tear Western states apart. To be sure, the mostly invisible and inconspicuous corporate overlords and billionaires are no longer the primary targets of present-day protests – on a large scale, that was the case with the Occupy Wall Street movement under President Obama – instead, the opposition to inequality is instead directed against whites, Christians, Protestants, straights etc., in order to fight for the rights and opportunities of the actually or allegedly underprivileged. These may be blacks, gays, Latinos, Afghans, or asylum seekers.

China solves this problem in its own way

In Beijing People’s Congress, you can discover exotic butterflies with colorful headdresses among an overwhelming majority of dull grey men and women in Western outfits. These are the “Indians” of China, in other words the original ethnic groups who, along with the majority Han Chinese, once made a major contribution to the cultural wealth of the country. I say “once,” because today these people are being relocated to those faceless tenement cuboids that are shooting up like ugly mushrooms everywhere out of the Chinese soil. In one or two decades at the latest, nothing will remain of the former cultural diversity except some exotic headdresses and other museum artifacts. Nothing and nobody can resist this forced levelling by the Communist Party. If individual ethnic groups, such as the Uyghurs, seriously resist, the regime becomes merciless, because how and by what means a person may aspire to happiness is determined exclusively by the party (i.e., the majority of Han Chinese). Then drastic measures are implemented: Labor camps and ethnic cleansing – just as, by the way, the United States treated its native population for nearly two centuries (not to mention us Germans, who showed even less mercy to people identical to ourselves).

Actors are always unconscionable,

as Goethe once said. The most powerful take this tendency to its extreme. But unfortunately, it is not merely a moral defect that drives them. If the evil were so easy to diagnose, then it might be just as easy to cure. It is the unfortunate race of nations, and – to no smaller extent – it is the so-called technological progress that is directly responsible for the most pressing evils. This race is leading the world ever closer to the abyss and may eventually turn all of us into losers. Only a higher authority – the UN or whatever it may be called – can put an end to this ominous race.

(4) By their fruits you shall know them!

Not only the saying from the Gospel of Matthew emphasizes the connection between right thinking and right acting. It stands to reason that every religion, indeed every worldview in general, takes this connection for granted. If thought and belief were without any influence on our actions, we would rightly regard them as superfluous. A good part of the skepticism that modern man has towards critical thinking (and philosophy in general) is based on precisely this argument: what are they good for? Are they capable of changing our behavior toward reality and, by extension, of changing reality itself?

Measured against this question, religion

religion and science have been partly very successful, partly they have failed miserably. Religions are first and foremost instruc­tions for action; they prescribe laws for people to act correctly.*1* These regulations – they say – do not originate from the arbitrariness of individual people, but from the will of superhuman beings – gods and spirits – or from a superhuman order. In the ideal case, i.e. if their laws were followed to the letter, perfect peace and unbreakable solidarity up to the most fervent mutual sacrifice would prevail within a religious community. This is especially true for Christianity. Unlike all earlier religions, the New Testament has extended this ideal beyond all tribal boundaries and nationalities to include all humanity in mutual love and solidarity.

Since religions are primarily concerned

with regulating interpersonal behavior, they usually accept nature as it was created by God. To change the natural world cannot be their concern, because this would imply a criticism of the divine creation. Therefore, religious teaching shows a clear difference between statements about nature and the guidelines for human life. While practical instructions to the believers belong to the core of all religions, because they are meant to shape daily behavior, their mostly fantastic statements about the creation of the world or the explanation of natural phenomena are of importance only insofar as the acceptance of these propositions serves as external proof of faith and membership in a particular religious community. Whether or not someone believes in the creation of the world 6000 years ago, in virgin births, in the transformation of water into wine, is irrelevant for practical behavior.

The opposite is true in technology and science

In contrast to religion, they do not set up instructions for action towards other people but action towards nature. Since they only deal with what is, they were pushed in this direction from the beginning. What humans should do, that is, their actions, cannot be derived from what they are. No analysis of human societies, however comprehensive, can prove to us that we are better off loving our neighbor than hating him. Statistics can teach us that in peacetime people are happier if they follow the first alternative, but in wartime and even in everyday competition that dominates the economy in times of peace, unrestricted love would be a path to certain failure. Statistics say nothing at all about which behavior is the right one for the individual in a particular situation. Faced with the question what humans should do, science inevitably remains mute.

This observation allows us

a preliminary – admittedly still rather superficial – answer to the question of the fruits of religion and science. Religions have fulfilled an extremely important function by setting limits to man’s actions – by subjecting him to specific rules. Without these limits, no one would have shrunk from murdering his neighbor, robbing him, abusing his wife. I do not claim that only religion is able to set such limits, but only that it was primarily religion that fulfilled this task in the past. From a historical point of view, this was the core of its mission, while its further statements about the world appear as an ingredient, which from today’s point of view is not only predominantly wrong and therefore worthless, but actively prevented man from exploring the nature surrounding him more thoroughly. Religion was at best an important instrument to order the behavior of people towards other people, but it was never a suitable means to reach a deeper understanding of nature. To this day, little has changed in this regard. The evangelicals of North America reject the doctrine of descent of Charles Darwin.

Science procedes in the opposite way

It has proven to be an excellent instrument to explore nature. Here it has achieved its greatest triumphs, but it fails miserably when it comes to establishing rules for the behavior of man and society. This field lies outside its competence. Summarizing this prelimi­nary consideration, we may say that religions throughout their history have been responsible for superstition – a false understanding of extra-human reality. Science, while producing a provably correct – and in this sense objective – understanding of the extra-human world, has suffered from the opposite shortcoming. It had to give up the most important demands of man.

I consider this approach to be provisional

and to a certain extent superficial, because it is much closer to the ideal than to complex historical reality. We need only look at the ideal itself to grasp this distance. As already said, the world would look different if believers had taken the teachings of religion seriously. In their communities there would be neither envy, hatred, nor anger, hubris, or all those human qualities that endanger inner peace. Since Christianity requires love of enemies, even war with other peoples would have been forever impossible.

As we know, the taming of evil has never been achieved by any religion, among any people. This is a historical fact indicating that we are confronted with a fundamental failure. There must be a deep defiance in human nature itself that successfully resists any final standardization by any instructions. Certainly, without such instructions for action, society would be in chaos because everyone would act as he likes without regard for others. But this profound defiance has nevertheless prevented religions from ever achieving their self-imposed goal. To be sure, they have pacified societies and individuals, but to this day they never produced the ideal man, the ideal society.

And what did the sciences achieve?

They have taught us how to recognize the hidden order of nature – its laws – without being swayed by our desires and wills. This is a tremendous advance in the knowledge of truth. Science and technology created the conditions for a historically uniquely high standard of living: Electricity and running water in every home, mobility on water, on the roads and in the air. On the other hand, they also gave us the tools to limit human fertility, because humans, like any other biological species, tend to reproduce beyond the carrying capacity of the environment. In other words, scientific thinking has enlightened us as to what we would need to do if we want to make our material life similar to El Dorado. Theoretically, our knowledge and mastery of material conditions could be as conducive to a good life as religion’s knowledge of the perfect relationship between human beings. But in both cases theory and practice are separated by an abyss. Ecologists like William Rees, along with Mathis Wackernagel the inventor of the ecological footprint, have proven that in the long run a maximum of two billion people can enjoy the Western standard of living with renewable energies.

Since the beginning of the new century at the latest,

we have become aware that we are in the process of turning the earth not into a paradise but into a hell, because we are ruthlessly exploiting and poisoning it with more and more people – soon approaching ten billion. So, our initial question about the fruits by which the success or failure of our theories should be measured, suddenly receives an answer that goes far beyond our initial, still tentative, conclusion.

It is true that religions have always been turned into instru­ments of persecution of non-believers with other instructions for action. Moreover, their understanding of extra-human reality was mostly grotesque and prevented them from dealing with nature properly, but they never endangered the very survival of man on planet Earth. This, however, is exactly the prospect that scientific knowledge and its practical application has made possible for the first time in history. The greatest breakthrough of this knowledge, the formula E=M x c2, i.e. the conversion of mass into energy, is a symbolic expression for an existential danger, which did not exist until then, namely before man’s savoring the apple of knowledge. Thanks to science and technology, the wholesale destruction of life has turned into a real possibility. 

Seen in this light, the accusations against religion,as expounded with great eloquence and wit by Richard Dawkins in his 500 pages best-seller The God Delusion, seem almost harmless. As mentioned, religions caused much persecution and discord among peoples, but they never threatened the survival of the human species. On the other hand, science and technology have given us the means to do just that: to murder our kind en masse and make our home, the planet, uninhabitable to humans for millennia. A book with the title The Science Delusion has not yet been written, but it could enumerate on far more than five hundred pages all the threatening effects, they have produced. If we are to recognize theories by their fruits, then the comparison does not turn out in favor of the scientific world view, as it has dominated first Europe and then the whole world for about three centuries by now.

1 The only exception to this rule is mysticism, which, like science, aspires to be a doctrine of knowledge. Mysticism is equally far from and equally near to religion as to science. See Jenner The Dawkins Delusion.

(3) Shadows of the Miraculous

Every time, every people lives by ideas that they strive for, that are worth living for. Our epoch has lived for about two hundred years on the guiding idea that man, by his own intellectual power, will not only be able to decipher the world completely, but also to master it to any degree of perfection. In 1926, the German philosopher Max Scheler expressed this in the following way: “It is … a new will to dominate nature … in sharpest contrast to the loving devotion to it … which now gains primacy in all cognizant behavior. The goal and the basic value, which leads the new technology, is not that, to conceive economically or otherwise useful machines … It aspires to something much higher. It strives for the goal, if I may say so, of constructing all possible machines, at first only as thoughts and as a plan by which nature could be guided and directed to all purposes, useful or useless, if one wanted to.”

If we bring this thought down from the pedestal of grandeur on which it is usually enthroned, then we must note somewhat more prosaically that people today strive to produce ever newer, ever more amazing gadgets that make their lives easier, safer and more convenient. Little do they realize that these things then become their daily occupation and, for many, even their purpose in life. 

This observation certainly applies to the car, but it is especially true of the latest products of technology, such as computers and cell phones. The digitization of all processes is only the last trump card on this seemingly unstoppable path of technological progress. According to enthusiasts, robots equipped with artificial intelligence will not only imitate humans, but one day they will replace them altogether.

Put into a simplified formula,

we could say that in our time the miraculous is embodied in the newest technological gadgets and in the scientific thinking that underlies them. Apparatuses not only dominate those who use them passively, but they also determine the lives of a growing number of people who, as technicians, engineers, and scientists, are actively engaged in their production. The extent to which the dream of the technologically fantastic and marvelous inspires people is shown by that type of literature which raises it to ever greater heights. Of course, I am talking about science fiction. Here, technological fantasy celebrates its greatest triumphs. We imagine all the unbelievable devices we will create in the future to colonize even the farthest corners of the universe and our daily lives. We become intoxicated by the victories that the new godlike man – Homo Deus – will still achieve, namely victories over a nature we will completely subject to our whims –  a will-less slave.

The self-infatuation by the technically miraculous

is proven by its excessiveness. Although technology is nothing more than a means to an end, it is elevated to the rank of a goal – a goal for the self and for life. Since the invention of the hoe and the plow, physical instruments have proven their usefulness in making life easier and helping us create greater freedom to live in a more beautiful, spiritual world. As long as we keep this ultimate goal in mind, technology has a salutary purpose. But the moment the intoxication of technological progress turns it into an illusion of salvation and into an obsession, technology and science become a threat: they turn against man.

It seems that we have long since reached this stage. Just think of gigantic undertakings such as the flights to Mars and its prospective colonization. This planet – as well as all celestial bodies in proximity to the earth – is a desert-like sphere, on which human survival seems possible only under a bell jar filled with an artificial atmosphere. In other words, human existence would be conceivable only under conditions, which do not only resemble those of criminals in a high-security prison, but exceed them in harshness. So far, no one has thought of setting up a hut in the hottest parts of the Sahara or on the coldest icebergs in Antarctica. So where does the exuberance come from that tempts even halfway rational people to imagine a rosy future in the hostile hell of Mars?

This obsession, this strange delusion can only be explained by the fact that we wrap damnation in the seductive purple of high technology.

Nowhere do we get a clearer insight into modern man’s obsession with technology and science. He agrees to suffer like a convict under unspeakable conditions (let us be honest: the everyday life on space stations represents a similar torture), as long as this is done in the name of science, because in our time people believe in science as they once believed in God. This irrational belief still asserts itself at a time when much is preparing us for the fact that our technical civilization could soon make life on the planet a hell for us.

When an era becomes intoxicated with ideals

that seem to represent the miraculous, anything that might endanger this intoxication, i.e., lead to disillusionment, is frowned upon, derided as reactionary, or branded as “unscientific” – the latter accusation being probably the harshest of all. Disillusionment can come from different quarters. It may consist in a cautious objection to a prevailing claim to absolute certainty – or it may lead to a radical antithesis. I would like to summarize everything that falls under this disillusionment in a single term, that of the “shadow”.*1*

The shadow to the prevailing

scientific understanding of the world is represented primarily by religion, beauty, history, and critical philosophy.

That religion has become the shadow of the scientific worldview – its radical antithesis -, is a well-known fact of history. Science in its modern form is a creation of the 17th century and the Enlightenment. From the outset, the Enlightenment has placed the new rational thinking and knowledge in sharp opposition not only to irrational superstition but to all kinds of belief that cannot be corroborated by experiment and proof. In other words: the new world view developed in the struggle with and even fight against religion.

As already mentioned, art constitutes another radical antithesis to the techno-scientific worldview, as it not only starts from completely different premises but also pursues entirely different goals. Beauty is a human category. Why the art of Johann Sebastian Bach has become important for the people of the West, while the Peking Opera is equally important for the Chinese, cannot be derived from any law. Unlike the knowledge of technology and science, which is based on natural laws, art arises from human freedom and choice. It is therefore not surprising that it has no place in the scientific world view. What this means practically, can no longer be overlooked. Art has almost completely disappeared from everyday reality as a creative principle. Because beauty no longer counts, landscapes are turned into agricultural deserts, forests into timber, everywhere beauty gives way to utility and profit. And the same disregard for the human need for beauty applies equally to our homes and cities. At best, these fulfill the requirements of utility because they are places of industrial production and repositories for people.

Mere utility and mere beauty are indeed irreconcilable rivals: the more science and technology have advanced during the last three centuries, the more they have pushed art to the margins of our lives and out of our landscapes and cities. Beauty, in theory and practice, constitutes a radical antithesis to mere utility.

It is the same with history,

History, too, has turned into a shadow of our science-believing era. A characteristic exception is only the material, measurable research. This has, on the contrary, made astonishing progress during the last decades. With ever greater precision, all material aspects of human existence are being explored – beginning with the diseases from which Stone Age people suffered, at what age they died, what weapons they used and what they ate. Our modern historians have acquired an almost infinite knowledge of the physical facts of the past, most of which, however, are of interest only to specialists. On the other hand, interest in immaterial facts is vanishing as it cannot be measured and scientifically represented. The thinking, feeling, and worldview of earlier generations, the study of which had been the focus of interest in the nineteenth until about the middle of the twentieth century, is receiving less and less attention. As today’s research is obsessed with the material and measurable, it is as little interested in immaterial history as a young person of our time is interested in the knowledge of his parents – and for the same obvious reason. From a technical point of view, their knowledge is outdated and therefore obsolete. It no longer counts; only people who have mastered the latest state of technological progress have useful, exploitable knowledge. From the point of view of a science-believing world, the thinking and worldview of earlier times are simply irrelevant and therefore without value.

The two shadows of beauty

and immaterial intellectual history may well be understood as absolute opposites to our era. In contrast, critical philosophy stands only in a relativizing opposition. It would amount to unforgivable stupidity to belittle or even fail to recognize the achievements of science. The European Enlightenment represents one of the greatest intellectual achievements in human history. Used correctly and sensibly, science could create nothing less than paradise on earth – just as the greatest Enlightenment thinkers, above all the brilliant mathematician Marquis of Condorcet, who perished in the turmoil of the Revolution, had indeed imagined.

However, critical philosophy immediately adds a relativizing postscript to this statement. Religion, too, could have created paradise on earth if it had been understood correctly and used sensibly. If Christians had understood the love of enemies of the New Testament literally, there would be no more wars. And that would certainly have been a greater approximation to paradise than all the inventions of science and technology put together …

As little as critical philosophy

would suggest a wholesale condemnation of religion, so much does it guard against the opposite stupidity of a wholesale glorification of science and technology. Rather, it sees its goal in critically illuminating the preconditions of our bewitchment by modern science and technology and in pointing out the limits of both – an effort that I have called “democratic antignosis” in the preceding chapter.

For the time being, this critical view, this rebellious philosophy, is, however, no more than a shadow. Philosophy is neither dead nor alive. It is a zombie viewed by mainstream science with extreme suspicion. “Philosophy,” says U.S. psychologist Steven Pinker, “today gets no respect. Many scientists use the term as a synonym for effete speculation. And elsewhere, “Universities have disinvested in the humanities: since 1960, the proportion of faculty in liberal arts has fallen by half, salaries and working conditions have stagnated …” (Pinker 2003).

At this point, a critical reader might ask

Why should I bother with a shadow when the light that science has been casting on reality for more than two hundred years is shining so brightly, awakening humanity from its millennia-long slumber for the first time? But does this light really shine so brightly? If it is true that we should test our theories by their fruits, then our first question should be: What have religion, beauty, history, and critical philosophy offered us, and our second question should be: What are the fruits of science and technology? Isn’t that the all-important question?

1 C. G. Jung has given this term a special meaning. I understand shadow here as the repressed, neglected, devalued counterpart to the official interpretation of reality.

The Miraculous and its enemies (2)

Democratic Antignosis – knowing the limits

In this book, I want to encourage the reader to become aware of the miraculous. However, my approach, will not consist in quoting authorities or presenting mere assertions. Rather, I want to guide the reader by stimulating his or her own approach. Independent thinking is the prerogative of human beings, everyone may engage in it and everyone can gain from it, if in the process he frees himself from prevailing prejudices or announced taboos.

That means, I will appeal explicitly to a democratic capacity, because pure thinking is not the prerogative of self-appointed experts. Pure or elementary thinking is the foundation on which all of us, including experts, must rely. This fact is all too easily lost sight of. Certainly – to speak with expertise about any field of science, be it physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc., requires a study of several years, and even then individual knowledge remains fragmentary considering what in any particular field can be known. Since Leibniz and Voltaire, the universal scholar no longer exists. But the principles on which human knowledge is based – including of course all expert knowledge –  are quite simple and elementary and belong to the comprehension of all of us. That is why the sciences are accessible to all mankind – all dispose of the necessary preconditions of “pure reason”.

These basic premises are so universal

that, after an assumed destruction of present-day humanity, a new generation, starting from zero, would bring forth science anew in theory and practice. Of course, all conventional determinations such as length, weight, time, temperature, etc., could be determined in different ways (which is true even today: Celsius differs from Fahrenheit, inches from centimeters, etc.), but after conversion of these conventional units the laws of nature would have the same appearance as before – and for an obvious reason: we abstract them from a reality existing outside ourselves, independent of our desires and wills.

It is of crucial importance,

to keep this in mind. The democratic basis of human thought is universal, even if – opposed to it and often denying it – we are faced with the claims of power, which exist in science quite as much as in all other human activities. I already said that anyone would make a fool of himself who talks about details of quantum theory without having acquired the relevant knowledge in years of study. In such a case, ridicule is, of course, justified. But it becomes an abuse of power when specialists resist the generalist’s efforts to illuminate the elementary, democratic foundations of knowledge that are at the root of his particular knowledge too. Then they ascribe to themselves a monopoly of truth that they certainly do not possess because the foundations of their method of thinking have their roots in the thinking of all other people.

Pure or elementary thinking,

once described by the now rather worn-out term of philosophy – leads man not only to the objective world, which he understands with the help of science, but to his own self as well. It is true that he may understand his own person in a scientific way, namely like any other external object, as he is made of the same material as the nature surrounding him. For the physician, my body is a machine, which he can diagnose and possibly repair by means of his physical, chemical, biological, neuronal, and psychological knowledge. When he restores this body-machine to its normal state, we speak of a cure. The laws of nature inside my body are not different from those outside me. Therefore, miracles have just as little place here as in the rest of nature. A dead man has never risen from the graveyard, a severed head has never grown back, no man can withstand a hail of bullets.

And yet it is precisely at this point

that we encounter the miraculous. It remains hidden from most people only because it seems so commonplace and ordinary. Science assumes that a stone detaches itself from the height of a rock at a certain moment, because quite determinate natural causes are responsible for this event. If a physicist were to know all relevant causes, he would be able to predict exactly when, where, and why such an event will and must happen. In any case, science already determines causes and effects so precisely that a rocket to Mars arrives exactly at the time and place predicted by theory. But now look at my person or at yours. Nobody – at most times not even I myself – is able to predict what I will do in half an hour.

The contrast between the behavior of a stone

and that of a human being seems at first sight irreconcilable. Obviously, the stone slavishly obeys those laws which we can demonstrate in all nature.  It has no will of its own and therefore no possibility to change reality. It is exclusively controlled by forces over which it has no influence – at least this used to be the view of classical natural science. Meanwhile, quantum theory has cast some doubt on this understanding. After having introduced chance, it attributes to the stone (more exactly, to the elementary particles of which it consists) a certain initiative of its own, even if an infinitely small one. Theoretically it is quite conceivable that the stone not merely slavishly obeys external laws but may, so to speak, take the initiative of falling from the top of the rock, because some of its atoms happen to make some erratic, unpredictable movements…

Like any stone, humans and other living creatures are subject to thousands of dependencies. If calories are missing from their diet, they die of debilitation; if calcium is lacking, their bones atrophy; if they are exposed to an excess of ultraviolet radiation, cancerous melanomas develop on their skin. Moreover, are we seldom aware of how narrow the boundary conditions of our existence on this planet really are. The air must have a minimum percentage of oxygen and must not exceed a maximum concentration of CO2 or nitrogen. The temperature range that allows us and other living beings to survive on Gaia is, as we now learn, compressed to a very narrow corridor. In addition, life only takes place in a wafer-thin area spanning no more than ten kilometers between the hard surface of the earth and surrounding infinity. Seen in this perspective, the laws of nature radically limit possible life on our planet. We are part of nature and so inescapably subject to its laws that even minor changes to the existing physical parameters could completely wipe out our existence.

But this is by no means all

Though life is subject to the same laws of nature, these laws do not exclude chance and freedom. Guided by the meaning which we give to our actions we constantly intervene in the things around us, in order to shape them (for good or for worse) after our own desires. This constant shaping of outside reality does not happen against the laws of nature, but it can in no way be derived or justified from them.

This is the miracle par excellence, because in a world, where all events without exception are determined by law, such an intervention of the will should not exist. Is it not the most basic principle of science that its procedure consists in describing and explaining reality – independent of our will and desires – as it objectively exists? But if living beings led by their wants and desires constantly shape reality, then we are faced with a completely different picture! The will – the human one as well as that of our animal fellow creatures – represents a separate force beside the laws of nature. It is, moreover, a force of such prodigious proportions that it enables us to transform our own habitat into a paradise or, conversely, to poison and destroy it so permanently that it may become uninhabitable for life.

The scientific specialist does not need

to close his mind to such insights into the power of human will, yet they do not belong to his or any other field of expertise – they belong to the pure, elementary thinking that is common to all human beings. The marvelous, as just shown, does not only expand the self, in some cases it is also terrible and threatening, that is, exiting and shaking us at the same time. It is a fact of life to which we should devote special attention. The specialist, every specialist, deals with certain problems of a theoretical or practical nature. For this he is respected and rewarded. If his achievements significantly exceed the usual range, he may even be awarded with the highest prize that today’s mankind has to award, the Nobel Prize. This raises an important question.

What does a generalist achieve,

when he falls back on pure thinking, that is, on initial principles in dealing with nature? We will see that he shows something completely different: the limits which human knowledge is not able to cross. Limits – the word is discouraging at first sight. You may get the impression that the generalist would rather do a bad service to human knowledge even if he succeeds in opposing learned certainty of knowledge – all that learned arrogance that demands submission. The generalist seems to diminish the faculties of man as he demonstrates the boundaries beyond which our knowledge and the explanation of reality do not reach.

This impression is reinforced by the fact that democratic antignosis does not deal with those fluid boundaries conditioned by the actual state of scientific knowledge. No, it speaks of fundamental limits which result from the nature of our cognitive faculty itself. We do not trust an ant to possess a complete theory of the world; its senses and intelligence are made exclusively for its particular sphere of life. Human beings too are the product of evolution. We possess senses and a mental apparatus which are made for the orientation within the areas of reality relevant for us. This results in obvious limits which we partly exceed by extending our senses by all kinds of instruments. In the same manner, we extend our reason quantitatively through artificial intelligence, but we cannot change it qualitatively, because in this case we would no longer understand this kind of intelligence.

I speak of democratic antignosis

as that insight which not only intuitively describes the limits of human reason but by compellingly proving them goes far beyong mere intution.  This insight is rightly seen as democratic because it is at the base of all specialized knowledge and therefore accessible to everyone. I speak of “antignosis”, because it is not at all identical with that seemingly similar doctrine, which may boast of a long history – I mean agnosticism. Agnosticism consists in the – usually hesitant – admission that there is much we do not know and perhaps cannot know. Agnosticism is another word for renunciation, and as such it is always experienced as a shortcoming that brings no satisfaction.Antignosis, on the other hand, knows a lot more than agnosticism. It shows, no, it proves by means of pure thinking that human knowledge is limited in principle. But this insight does not lead to mere renunciation or resignation. It will be seen that, on the contrary, it opens the horizon of a world freed from prejudice and hubris. For democratic antignosis shows us that we could neither live nor want to live in a world that we have completely concquered, deciphered, decrypted. Such a world would block all horizons and stifle all freedom. The fact that democratic antignosis also puts the arrogance of experts in its place may seem to some to be a democratically desirable side effect.

The Miraculous and its Enemies (1)

This is an excerpt from my new book „Das Wunderbare und seine Feinde“.  The english translation „The Miraculous and its Enemies” will be completed within a few weeks.

Preface

This book is certainly not an esoteric attempt to counter the prevailing scientific worldview with a neo-obscurantist theory of miracles. It would be a miracle in the classical sense if, in a cemetery, coffin lids were suddenly lifted, and the dead were to rise again. It would be a miracle as well if an eagle suddenly hatched from a hen’s egg, if water turned into wine, if God stepped out of a burning bush, or if a magician succeeded in overriding a natural law of physics by the mere power of his mind.

Such and even more extraordinary miracles have been ascribed by religions all over the world to their respective deities – and their followers have believed them fervently Today, this is no longer the case. At least since the European Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, science has relentlessly ridiculed such claims and rejected them as superstition. This view is unswervingly maintained in the present book – even if, as already shown by Karl Popper, the sciences themselves are by no means immune to the temptation to flirt with superstition ….

The miraculous is an altogether different matter

It is all around us, even though the routine of everyday life has made most people almost blind to its presence. They are continuously told that only fools are amazed by the phenomena of this world. In contrast, every scientifically enlightened and educated person knows that everything happens in nature in the most natural way. A great poet like Saint-Exupéry had to transfer the Little Prince to an asteroid in order to make these educated and enlightened beings aware of their truly unbelievable situation in the vastness of the universe. And Immanuel Kant had to invoke the starry sky and the moral law in his chest to get in touch with the mystery of life and to make his readers shiver. But even this great man did not keep up the mode of inner shock for long; right after Kant was busy to press the mystery into abstract formulas. The trembling before a reality more powerful than human reason, that seeks to tame it, is the privilege of spiritual openness. It opens the eyes to mysteries that man has been trying to unravel since the beginning of history. In other words, such spiritual experience opens the eyes to the miraculous that lies at the bottom and beyond everyday life.

Who faces such mystery without blinders,

knows that THE TRUTH remains inaccessible, even if an infinite number of partial truths are constantly revealed. After two centuries of industrial revolution, the scientifically proven knowledge of facts and laws has swelled to a torrent that is getting wider day by day. Superficially, it might seem that modern man is about to solve even the last riddles of his existence. But it should give pause for reflection that he was already imbued with this conviction more than a hundred years earlier, when his knowledge was incomparably less than it is today. In 1899 Ernst Haeckel published a book with the title Die Welträthsel (The Riddle of the Universe). There, the author triumphantly claimed that all mysteries had by now been successfully solved by science. True, there still remained a last mystery, the Kantian “thing-in-itself”; but that was probably because this strange thing could be a mere invention.

From Haeckel’s book – by far the greatest popular success in the history of the German book – it can be seen that the proclaimed unraveling of mysteries has little or nothing to do with the actual state of knowledge of a particular time and author. This amazing realization is brought home to us even more forcefully when we take a much larger leap into the past. Two and a half thousand years ago, the two Greek philosophers Democritus and Leucippus were deeply convinced that they could fully explain and trace back all events to the different relations of smallest material particles, which they called “atoms”.  In this way, they created an all-encompassing mechanistic worldview that made the gods as superfluous as sentient and willing humans. But note that the knowledge then was close to zero compared to its present state. Obviously, it is not its extent and depth that makes certain people accept or reject the miraculous. Indeed, it was simple wishful thinking that led the two Greek philosophers to anticipate Laplace’s notorious formula (see chapter Science-Religion: Disenchanting Man and Nature).

Modern science

is neither the only nor the first attempt to make the desire for divine knowledge the father of thought. No matter how great or limited actual knowledge was, there existed always some foolhardy theorists who thought themselves able to occupy that lofty armchair somewhere in space, on which man had previously enthroned the divine creator of the world. If these theorists had rightly claimed to solve all mysteries, then man would have succeeded not only in banishing forever all miracles but the miraculous as well. What mystery will remain once we have completely decoded all events, put everything into formulas, and used these to explain all futures so that we can predict human actions as reliably as the orbits of planets?

In truth, we are dealing

with mere wishful thinking, which I will call “science-religion”. It is precisely the greatest scientists who are quite aware that one solved problem immediately conjures up a dozen others. The brighter the ray of light that the discerning spirit casts into the surrounding darkness, the more the spaces touched by that light expand. Science is the attempt to advance into the infinite with the finite means of discerning reason. The miraculous is never exhausted in the process.

Nor is science

the only way in which we approach reality. This is impossible, since science addresses only the intellectually cognizing faculty. Feelings and sensations are suppressed because they are only “subjective” – dependent on the wishes and desires of the person. In contrast, scientific truth is said to be fundamentally independent of desire and will, so that it can grasp reality “objectively” without involving personal inclinations. A piece of glucose on my tongue can trigger joy, but the chemical formula C6H12O6 leaves my feelings untouched. This is because the emerging scientific formula owes its origin exclusively to the requirements of the analytical mind. The value of science to man is thus only instrumental (although the act of discovering a scientific law can, of course, move its author strongly in an emotional way). Science gives us security in dealing with the things of the world; it achieves its greatest success when it allows us to plan or predict the future. In this way, it indirectly serves human emotions as well, for security satisfies an elementary need – it frees us from fear of the unplannable, the unpredictable.

But man would be deprived of the fullness

of his humanity if he encountered reality only in a scientific way, i.e., by applying his analytical abilities to describe reality objectively – without regard to his feelings. In addition to the scientific approach, there is a second way of dealing with reality that radically differs from the scientific one. Here, too, we are dealing with a form of cognition, but it is of a completely different kind. Instead of deciphering existing reality, this cognition consists in creating realities. In other words, it creates truth and its physical manifestations instead of merely recognizing them.

Of course, I am talking about art

It is not miracles that manifests itself in art – miracles were rightly disposed of by science – but the miraculous. Though art is by no means identical with the beautiful (this point will be discussed later), it often consists in its conscious creation. Beauty is not a description of what exists on the basis of intellectual analysis, and it is certainly not an emotionally uninvolved testimony. Beauty is the projection of our intellectual together with our emotional forces to bring forth something that does not yet exist. Art makes man a creator, because beauty is a new truth and reality that cannot be deduced from the existing one, but originates in the human being – his brain and his heart. Science, on the other hand, does not establish a new truth and a new reality because both can be derived – in an analytical and generalizing form – from what is already objectively present in an infinite number of individual events. A law of nature is not an invention of man – it is a finding of something already existing.

Let us arbitrarily pick out

one of an infinite number of examples illustrating beauty: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. From a scientific perspective we can easily understand why the supply of calories keeps us alive. But how can we understand that mere vibrations of the air can put us into ecstasy – vibrations produced by blowing through pipes and by the scratching of horsehair on metallic strings, for that’s indeed what symphonies consists of. This is and remains an insoluble mystery: the epitome of the beautiful and the miraculous. In order to be shaken by this mystery, we do not need a suspension of the laws of nature, and we do not need miracles. We only need to look at the smiling face of a human being, when the latter, conquered by rhythm and melody, experiences something invisible, intangible, which touches him more strongly than the everyday acts of his physical existence.

From a physical point of view, the mere vibrations of air molecules are almost unreal. And yet their effect can be so overwhelming that some of us can only endure everyday life because music temporarily catapults us into another, higher form of existence – into the miraculous.  Of course, this too is a form of cognition, for it shapes us just as it shapes our experience of external things. The world transforms itself and ourselves through the experience of the beautiful

Contact with the miraculous

makes everyday life tolerable, it bewitches reality. On the other hand, the de-enchantment of reality is responsible for the fact that many people find their own lives and the world around them difficult to bear. Must science take the blame for alienation from nature and man?

No, it is certainly not that simple. It is only partially correct to blame science for this disillusionment. But there is no doubt that they have deprived the world of much charm and poetry. Before William Harvey (1578 – 1657) the heart was a mysterious organ – for many peoples and times the seat of supernatural powers. After Harvey, the heart was just a simple pump. On the one hand, this was an enormous leap of knowledge – expansion of verifiable truth, on the other hand, it was an emotional loss: a pump no longer lends itself to extravagant poetic parables. For poetry, the heart was lost – disenchanted. The same trivialization of reality due to successive advances in truth achieved by the analytical mind soon affected larger and larger areas of nature as for instance the celestial bodies. Until the advent of modern astronomy and spectroscopy, planets and stars were considered the seats of the gods or even their very embodiments. Today they are only flying clusters of different chemical structure. For our feelings they have become icy cold and lost all attraction. We would not wish our worst enemies to stay on one of these desolate structures, let alone the gods (if we still believe in them).

What a radical disenchantment! When we look around us, we see that scientific explanation has laid a gray mildew on things robbing them of their poetry. The heart became a pump, the whole reality surrounding us became a mere machine of varying complexity.

However, since the beginning of the last century

something strange, rather unexpected has happened. Quantum theory made physics so extraordinarily complex that its theories and products once again exude a kind of magic. Newton’s general celestial mechanics, which describes the motion of stars as well as that of a falling apple on our planet, was comprehensible (almost) to everyone. By virtue of the reliability of its formulas it worked as a revelation for the inquiring intellect, and as a cold disillusionment for human feeling. While the cosmos had been pulsating with life before Newton, after him man only faced a gigantic clockwork, which he could understand but not love. Who loves such a dead thing as a mechanism working according to stubborn rules?

But in 1900 Max Planck developed the basic idea of quantum mechanics and one and a half decades later Albert Einstein achieved world-wide fame with his general theory of relativity. As its greatest authorities unanimously proclaim, quantum theory can no longer be visualized. The reality of the atom no longer corresponds to the reality of the Middle World where we live (cf. Chap. “The Failed Revolution of Quantum Physics”).

The failure of the human mind to grasp the strange reality of the infinitely small could not remain without consequences. Suddenly, the image of nature as a clockwork and dead mechanics had become obsolete. Mystery had returned, because for natural science there is no greater mystery than when it must admit that it can no longer explain parts of the external world (even if these can still be manipulated – otherwise the new theory would be superfluous in the first place). In view of this development, we may claim that the supreme discipline of science, physics, while having radically disenchanted nature in the past, has now given it back some of its lost mystery. What we do not understand is mystery to our mind.

This re-enchantment applies not only to theory,

but extends to many modern products that we owe to it. Just think of computers or cell phones to get an idea. People would not be so addicted to them, they would not work and play with these things so obsessively, if these devices did not seem to them to be mysterious and downright inexhaustible. How a classic telephone worked was still easy to understand, even for the layman. It had a specific task to fulfill, the transmission of speech; its use was confined to that purpose. A smartphone, however, offers an almost unmanageable wealth of these and other functions; not only does it pose an intellectual challenge, but it also captivates the emotions when its users lose themselves in exciting games. For many people, the latest products of science suddenly turn into gadgets of magic and sorcery, because at best one in a thousand persons knows how such devices actually work.

Ours are paradoxical times

I just claimed that art creates new, unprecedented realities, while science describes existing realities. This statement seems logically incontestable, but is it not contradicted by facts? Until the 18th century, the shaping of reality all over the world was mainly achieved through art. Temples and cathedrals, gardens and castles are the most visible examples of this transformation of reality by man. Add to this the realm of the invisible, namely music and poetry, and the evidence for the reality-shaping power of art is overwhelming.

But this power of art over reality has been broken since the end of the 18th century. Since then, it is the products of science that transform the nature around us to such an extent that the people of earlier times would hardly recognize their former world in the present one. There are thousands of new scientific devices – railroads, automobiles, airplanes – and thousands of factories for their production that now determine the appearance of our cities and landscapes as well as our daily life. The real achievement of science, visible to everyone, is obviously not that it correctly describes the order of nature with its laws, but that it radically reshapes nature in the briefest of moments in an unprecedented way – and far more comprehensively than art has ever been able to do.

How does this fit together?

On the one hand, science as the totality of all objectively verifiable statements about the world around us and, on the other hand, science as the most effective instrument for the creation of new, unprecedented realities, i.e. as an instrument for the unleashing of human freedom?

As we will see, this does not at all fit together. It is precisely at this point that we encounter the miraculous, which science itself is not able to explain. The unleashing of human freedom by a science that denies freedom altogether or equates it with meaningless chance is surely one of the greatest paradoxes of our time (see chapter: “Democratic Antignosis in Our Time”).

Seen in this light, it is a rather modest paradox,

that for at least a century the most talented and ambitious minds have been crowding into the sciences, and specifically into the sciences of nature, because their utility in increasing the wealth, power, and prestige of states is so evident. On the other hand, the arts and the sciences of the mind have been withering away for decades. They are being kept on an ever-shorter leash because the material benefits that can be derived from them are comparatively small.

What a contrast to the past? While five hundred years ago men of talent devoted themselves to the arts and made Italy the wonder it remains today because of its many testimonies of beauty, the outstanding minds of today devote all their energy to the natural sciences and everything related to them. However, although they produce intellectual wealth, increase analytical abilities, and turn us into rational people with growing intelligence quotients, the sciences leave a spiritual and emotional vacuum because they do not satisfy the human need for emotional warmth and spiritual security. In their theoretical foundation they have no place for ethical ideals and aesthetic beauty. What concerns the human being, if he wants to give a meaning to his existence, is beyond their grasp and their interest. We easily understand why miracles have no place in the scientific world view. If the laws of nature are by definition eternal and unbreakable, then breaking them constitutes a logical absurdity. But why has the miraculous disappeared completely from man’s field of vision since the advent of science? This fact cannot be justified with logic – it belongs to the prejudices of science as a new type of secularized religion.Uncovering these prejudices is not a task for experts, who are rather anxious to administer their knowledge like a monopoly. It is a task of that basic human faculty which Kant had called “pure reason”. I will speak of “democratic antignosis”.


Peter Michael Lingens – honest or merely respectable?

In Germany, at most a few insiders know Peter Michael Lingens or the Viennese weekly magazine “Der Falter,” where he publishes his weekly articles. But the problem of seriousness and respectability is no less pertinent north of the Alps. It seems to me, that we should regard it as one of the main problems of our time. From this point of view, it is more than mere coincidence that I choose the Falter and one of its authors to highlight a fundamental problem.

Without exaggeration, it may be said

that the Viennese Falter fulfills a vital task for Austrian democracy – it is fighting with all its might against the Orban-ization of the country. Sebastian Kurz, the current chancellor, is distinguished by superior intelligence, confident demeanor, and even personal charisma. This imparts a special poignancy to his politics, as he has never made a secret of his admiration for Orban, the Hungarian potentate on the other side of the border. Of course, Mr. Kurz is far too intelligent to openly advocate an “illiberal democracy,” but in practice he is proceeding along precisely these lines. While his government promotes all print media that follow its line with generous advertisements, one can also say bribes and makes them compliant through bribery (a scandal, because of course it does so at the expense of the taxpayers), the Falter is dependent on the income from sold copies. One can imagine how precarious in this case too the position of the critical mind must be.

I always read the articles of Peter Michael Lingens

with special attention and often with admiration, because he belongs to the endangered species of those journalists who, apart from the two colors black and white, still recognize the shades of gray in between. The great passion of our time is to praise the like-minded and insult all those who think differently. But that is not what Peter Lingens does. He strives for justice – that’s what makes him so endearing in my eyes. In this endeavor, he sometimes even goes to the limits of what seems reasonable. In several of his articles, he explicitly praised the economic policies of Donald Trump. Those who do not know that he condemns the pathological liar just as much as any clear-sighted person might have misunderstood his remarks as an expression of sympathy. Even when commenting on the policies of the Turquoise-Blacks in the current Austrian government, he doesn’t let protest obscure his sense of justice. Lingens reminds his readers that the Social Democrats, too, were by no means squeamish when they held power. Lingens is credible because he is not a simple partisan. His sense of justice, fostered by long experience, prevents him from concealing the weaknesses of those to whom his true sympathies belong.

But his honesty has definite limits

and these are circumscribed by respectability. The Falter is committed to the fight for democracy and democratic institutions. Its best journalists, Florian Klenk and Arnim Thurnherr, are out like sniffer dogs to show how, at the instigation of the current government, the independence of the judiciary is undermined, post racketeering is practiced, and media are bribed. In autocracies like Russia or China, all this has long since happened: Opposition media are shut down, the judiciary is controlled by the government, and the most important posts are awarded on orders from above. From a global perspective, democracy is currently under threat almost everywhere – even and especially in some of the states that until recently represented it in a classical way. In the United States, the supposed model and defender of democratic institutions, it almost fell victim to an ambush: the storming of the Capitol.

Peter Lingens is unfortunately in the right,

when he compares the actions of the right-wing part of the current government with similar power-seeking under social democratic governments. These actions do not represent a historically unique case. In democracies too, those in power, whether they belong to the left or the right, have always sought to expand their power and, if possible, to maintain it permanently. Unlike today, however, most of the population and the most important institutions, such as the judiciary, the press, etc., strongly supported adherence to the democratic rules of the game. It is this support that seems to have been eroding for some time. A charismatic, highly intelligent, and talented young “leader” like the current Austrian chancellor could very well challenge it and introduce Hungarian conditions in Austria as well.  This is precisely why magazines like the Wiener Falter are vital to democracy.

At this point, respectability comes into play

Magazines critical of the government only have a chance if they are absolutely respectable. Any obvious error would be welcome food for their opponents. A magazine that opposes the government, that is, the ruling power including most other media, must be unassailable. But it remains unassailable only if it confines itself to the one topic where its position is difficult to attack, namely the defense of democracy and its institutions. That means, it should, as far as possible, avoid all topics where fierce and well-founded attacks could damage it to such an extent that its main concern is no longer taken seriously. One such issue is the climate crisis.

The climate crisis represents a neuralgic topic

because it is here that the question of honesty versus respectability is likely to arise. What is Mr. Lingens allowed to say and what not if the respectability of the “Falter” is to be maintained?

Some people may think this question to be preposterous. “In this country, we don’t have censorship,” they will say. “An intellectual journal like the Falter fiercely defends itself against all its possible forms.” These people are right. I am perfectly convinced that none of the star journalists, neither Florian Klenk nor Armin Thurnherr, prescribe thought contents to any journalist of their paper. Censorship just takes another shape. They will not allow an article to appear that could put their newspaper in danger, even if it tells the truth and nothing but the truth. This internalized imperative is enough to explain what a Peter Michael Lingens may and may not say on a hotly contested issue like the climate crisis. Or – let’s put it more sharply – what forces this otherwise so honest man to obscure the truth and instead tell us half-truths.

Untruths – that would be nothing special; in the tabloid press, lies are too commonplace to get particularly worked up about them. But if even the Falter and such an outstanding journalist as Mr. Lingens cannot be acquitted of this accusation, then the case takes on a paradigmatic significance. We are indeed facing a profound crisis that affects not only the climate, but at least as much the way we talk and are allowed to talk about it.

The assertion of falsehood would be outrageous

without the corresponding justification, which I would like to keep concrete and general at the same time, because it concerns untruths, to which even the Falter feel compelled – not to mention publications of lesser rank. Mr. Lingens would have had three possibilities to talk about climate crisis. Two of them are respectable in the sense that they do not damage the paper; the third alternative is honest, but far from respectable. It would get the paper into serious trouble.

Let’s start with alternative one,

which Mr. Lingens did not choose. He could have quoted almost any number of experts to tell his readers which strategy against the climate crisis remains definitely out of the question: switching to nuclear power plants in order to replace fossil fuels. Since Chernobyl, we know what a worst-case scenario looks like. Since Fukushima, we have learned that even a leading high-tech country like Japan is powerless against the consequences of nuclear contamination. Radiating material from damaged reactors is currently being discharged into the Pacific Ocean – with unforeseeable consequences. Nowhere on earth is there a safe place to store radiating residues. If all fossil-fueled power plants were replaced by nuclear ones, this would be the worst policy we can imagine as it leads to a multiplication of residues and nuclear pollution. Austria and Germany have done well to get out of nuclear energy. Moreover, few people know – apparently not even Mr. Lingens – that in the coming decades this path will also be forced on those states that continue to adhere to the nuclear production of electricity. This is because the stockpiles of uranium have been largely exhausted; today’s demand is fed primarily by dismantled nuclear warheads. The moment this supply is also depleted, uranium will have to be mined again, but natural mining has become so expensive that it will eventually consume as much energy as will subsequently be extracted from the uranium itself (Ugo Bardi, 2013, p. 94ff).

So Lingens could have argued, relying on internationally recognized expertise. He would then have placated his readers with the perspective that the green camp – to which, after all, his sympathies belong – has been proclaiming the right solution for quite a time already. Renewable energies should be expanded rapidly, and the electric car take the place of fossil-fueled diesel and gasoline engines. Most readers of the Falters would have considered this answer to be respectable. The paper would have benefitted. Even in business circles, the nuclear lobby is not strong enough to discredit the Falter as an anti-business publication.

Mr. Lingens has chosen alternative two,

which is riskier for the Falter since it must irritate a not insignificant part of its regular readers. As mentioned before, anyone carefully reading his articles knows that Mr. Lingens has much sympathy for the Green Party. Perhaps it is precisely this preference from which he derives the right to criticize them without much ado. In his latest article, for example, he takes aim at the Greens’ credo that the conversion of transport to electric cars will open up the hoped-for future of sustainability. He refers to an expertise conclusively proving that for the next few decades the supply of green electricity will not even remotely suffice to supply all electric cars with sufficient energy after the complete abandonment of fossil sources. However, if we continue to run the fleet on fossil fuel electricity, then CO2 emissions will, of course, not decrease.

Considering that for the Greens

the transition to electric mobility is one of the ten commandments you absolutely must believe in if you want to be one of their fold, this article represents nothing less than a frontal attack. Lingens is, of course, no expert in this field; like any of us, he must rely on the available expertise. He bases his judgment on a book by the technician and blogger Kai Ruhsert. But he could as well have cited an internationally respected authority such as the former president of the Munich-based Ifo Institute, Hans-Werner Sinn, who has gone much further in his criticism of the Greens’ promises. In a particular study, the renowned economist proved that green energies cannot sustain the German economy in its current form. As solar power is provided only intermittently, it must be stored, but the costs for doing so are simply unaffordable even for a rich country like Germany. To put it in his own words, “the green turnaround is leading us nowhere.” In fact, Germany must operate a parallel structure of largely gas-fired caloric power plants to compensate for solar power outages. No wonder that the withdrawal from coal and nuclear power has not yet brought about a reduction in CO2 pollution.

Mr. Lingens represents a point of view

Well established by science. Contrary to what the Greens would like us to believe, the climate crisis will not be overcome by simply switching to electric cars – and hence we will be living in a much better world. But it is not enough to expose an illusion for what it is. After this harsh criticism of a basic green credo, the reader is unsettled and wants to know what Mr. Lingens has to offer instead: after all, we must do something! This question is unavoidable, regardless of whether we are talking about a tabloid or an intellectual medium like the Falter. So, Mr. Lingens is forced to give an answer. People simply expect it from him. Supposed he were unable to give it, he should have remained silent on the subject. I think silence would have been the better choice for himself and the Falter.

Mr. Lingens speaks out in favor of nuclear power

He does so with great ease as he simply overlooks all available counter-expertise. It is simply of no interest to him – it cannot interest him, because after rejecting the proposals by the green camp he is forced to offer his readers a positive perspective. Indeed, the wish to do so immediately turns into the father of his thoughts – as proved by previous article, where Mr. Lingens does not shy away from endowing the nuclear solution with miraculous powers that are hitherto only known to himself. He pretends to know that “low-cost small nuclear power plants are not only very safe, but also do not need a “final repository” because they use their waste for continued operation.”

Using nuclear waste for continual operation? Lingens declares the new reactors to be a kind of perpetuum mobile, where eternal operation feeds on its excrements. Who whispered this silly nonsense into his ears? Is he confusing small-scale reactors with fast breeders, the most dangerous nuclear reactors of all? And where did he get the aberrant assertion that mere downsizing makes nuclear plants safer? The opposite is true. Just as a new generation of mini nuclear warheads has lowered the threshold for a nuclear war, small nuclear plants multiply the risk of terrorist attacks. And they do not reduce nuclear waste in any way; ten small reactors produce as much of it as one large one. They only accelerate the depletion of the remaining uranium reserves.

With this second alternative

Mr. Lingens has done no service to the “Falter”. By simply disregarding the overwhelming evidence against nuclear power and clinging to ridiculous assertions in the process, he has alarmingly lowered the level of the discussion about what to do about the climate crisis. His contribution is dishonest, but it is still respectable as it cannot cause serious harm the Viennese periodical. After all, the nuclear lobby will be pleased. And for a magazine critical of the government, it is of vital importance that it has at least part of the business community on its side.

Let’s now move on to alternative three,

which differs fundamentally from the previous two in that it would do great damage to the Falter. Its thesis is radical, and it is well known that neither Germans nor Austrians love radicalism, even if perfectly true.  What this alternative says, the attentive reader will already suspect. On the one hand, scientific evidence tells us that the strategy proposed by the Greens will not save us from climate disaster. On the other hand, equally well-established evidence proves that a renaissance of nuclear power plants cannot be the solution. And this is where matters really get complicated, because readers want to know what can be done if the Greens spread illusions instead of hope and the seemingly simplest solution, the “clean” supply of nuclear power, is totally out of the question. Alternatives one and two are dishonest because they deliberately conceal part of the truth. But they are respectable because business, politics, and most of the population are willing to believe them even against the evidence. Alternative three is honest in the sense that it does not conceal any of the present scientific knowledge. I would like to illustrate what I mean with a side glance at a great German intellectual.

Hoimar von Ditfurth

published a book in 1985 that would never have gone into print had its author not enjoyed such great authority and popularity with a broad public. This man of science combined an encyclopedic knowledge with the rare ability to explain the most difficult problems in such a way that they became comprehensible even to laymen. However, in contrast to countries with a long democratic tradition, Germany rather tends to devalue this particular skill. An incomprehensible language was and is the prerogative of experts, just as the use of Latin was the prerogative of the priesthood in the Middle Ages. Moreover, von Ditfurth spoke and wrote a beautiful German. In any case, his book “Es ist so weit – so lasst uns denn ein Apfelbäumchen pflanzen” /The apocalypse has come – let’s plant an apple tree/ was printed and became a bestseller, which for a short moment made Germans freeze in terror, as its message was outrageous. It was a fundamentally honest book, which – 35 years ago and in a manner unsurpassed to this day – listed all the existential dangers threatening humanity. Von Ditfurth considered the situation to be hopeless.

I can still remember how a flabbergasted radio reporter asked von Ditfurth whether he could justify taking away all hope from the young generation with his apocalyptic vision? The question was meant to include the answer – this book was too radical and therefore not really respectable, thoughts like these should not be spread. Of course, this book like all others of this great intellectual was the fruit of painstaking research. As far as I know, it has not been refuted on any point to this day, but its radicalism soon proved to be its undoing. The public, including most experts, did not accept or even want to know such a devastating vision. All were in a hurry to forget the book and its author. It provided no answer to the readers’ justified question: But what can and should we do?

No situation is ever hopeless,

on this point I wish to contradict Hoimar von Ditfurth. It is part of man’s freedom to be able to choose a path other than the usual one in any situation. But von Ditfurth was right in saying that our situation is historically unique, and that all the usual recipes fail in this totally new situation. In a huge feast, a potlatch – that’s how I would like to put the issue – man has burned up most of the fossil energy reservoir of millions of years within only three centuries and in the process poisoned the air (CO2), the water (plastic waste in the oceans) and the soil (with artificial fertilizers and pesticides) to such an extent that is now taking revenge on him. It is true that by the end of the twentieth century a large proportion of people had achieved a material standard of living never before attained in its long history. But now we realize the price we must pay for this unbelievable feast. At least since the beginning of the twenty-first century, we are living in a “repair society”. Even if not condemned to certain doom, as von Ditfurth said, we are certainly faced with a probable one if we fail in turning the tide. And today that will only happen in a radical way. The end of the great potlatch means renunciation, and radical renunciation at that. This is the third alternative, which Peter Lingens does not mention – and for good reason. Just dare to mention the word “renunciation” and you will be bombarded with indignant protests from all sides. The Greens don’t even mouth the hot potato; instead, they prefer to make illusory promises so dear to their voters. It makes sense why a journalist like Peter Michael Lingens would rather dishonestly make himself a propagandist for nuclear power instead of mouthing the word renunciation. And we understand why an article that tells us the bitter, radical truth cannot – yet – be printed in Falter. There is an unspoken censorship preventing such an event.

But the truth cannot be permanently suppressed

Lingens should know this. He is an authority when he relies on his psychological intuition, matured in long experience. Here he certainly knows how to separate the wheat from the chaff, i.e. the political jugglers from those who think of more than just their own ego and career. We even forgive him the occasional tendency to speak pontificatingly ex cattedra, as if he had already transformed himself into his own statue. Lingens is a great observer of people, a man of practice – and of courage too. Coming from a family of resistance fighters, he did not even shy away from standing up to the great Kreisky when defending his friend Simon Wiesenthal.

As a theorist

he is much less fortunate. When a man doesn’t care about attacks in the fight for moral values, one admires such an attitude as a strength of character. It is quite different when a man theorizes and does not care about arguments that question his position. Then we do not call this character strength but dogmatism. Lingens’ statements on economic theory are often dogmatic in a way that is hard to bear. As we have seen, his recommendations for overcoming the climate crisis are far from honest. When he talks about politics, Lingens is knowledgeable and has no need to appear with aplomb. When he presents himself as a theoretician, he compensates his shortcomings with the appearance of infallibility.*1*

1: Mr. Lingens is a bad theorist – if this is a personal attack, he must condone it, as he often dismisses the opinions of others as ignorant and stupid. Just as the defense of nuclear energy now threatens to become his intellectual “trademark,” Lingens enthusiastically champions national debt when arguing as an economist. He even goes so far as to recommend digging and filling in holes as a political means to stimulate economic activity (but in the meantime he seems to have deleted that passage). Just as Mr. Lingens invented perpetual motion in the case of atomic energy, in this case he uses a mysterious “balance mechanics” to attribute miraculous powers to debt as well.

Dear Mr. Lingens, if your panacea did really exist, then every “failed state” could pull itself out of the swamp by its own hair. It would only have to print money and distribute it. Even economic laymen know that debts only make sense if they lead to investments, the future proceeds of which exceed those debts. Even companies do not always succeed in achieving this goal; states often fail because the money borrowed is mostly used to distribute election gifts that yield little or no return. In this case, future generations will suffer under the burden. But Mr. Lingens is right about one point. It was sound policy that the state did not hesitate to take a lot of money in hand to combat the Corona crisis. This debt does not generate a return, but it has averted a large part of the devastating consequences (i.e., the reduction in returns) that the economy would have suffered without it.

Delta – Is democracy losing the battle against dictatorship and autocracy?

Although we usually hear populists in both camps saying, that the realm of good – their own – is facing that of evil – the other side, U.S. and Chinese students and scholars move effortlessly from one country to the other. After the Chinese conformed most of their institutions to the Western model, the similarities between them are significantly greater than anything that still separates them. “The Chinese now enjoy almost complete freedom of movement. They can buy a house, choose an education, start a job or a business, join a church (as long as it is Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Catholicism or Protestantism), dress as they like, openly express homosexual tendencies without ending up in a penal colony, travel abroad at their own pleasure and even criticize the party as long as they do not question its rule. So even lack of freedom is no longer what it used to be” (Norberg). Meantime, however, these freedoms apply only to Chinese without negative entries on their social credit account that shows the balance of good behavior and negative marks for every citizen of the empire. Xi Jinping has succeeded in imposing the Orwellian vision of a perfect surveillance state on a nation of more than one billion people. Yet the 99 percent of obeying citizens have nothing to fear – instead they benefit from security, prosperity and advancement. It is the remaining one percent, those rebelling against the party’s regulations and leadership, who must reckon with suppression and persecution, up to and including physical annihilation. This applies to the Han Chinese themselves but much more to the subjugated Uyghurs and Tibetans. The party is convinced that it confers happiness on the people (and it has undoubtedly succeeded in a material sense). That is the reason why it does not shrink back from imposing happiness from above. An overwhelming majority – though certainly not 99 % – seem to approve of the system as long as it brings them and their country prosperity and visible power. In this perspective, the reckless persecution of opponents seems a small sacrifice.

In the West, politics and the public lean to the other side. We are dedicated to protecting outsiders, critics and even outspoken opponents of our political, social and moral system. With this attitude of tolerance, we are morally far superior to any surveillance state – but only as long as the freedom of critics and outsiders does not threaten the freedom of the community as a whole. If this balance is upset, states collapse due to internal resistance. Unfortunately, such process of inner corrosion is already taking place.

This can be seen in the response to the pandemic

Even though the government of China constantly trumpets its successes to the world for propaganda reasons, we must acknowledge that it has indeed taken and implemented the right measures to protect its people, while the West still fails miserably in this task. Vaccination against dangerous epidemics was once compulsory even in European countries and could be carried out without mass protests. In 1807, the Kingdom of Bavaria was the first German state to introduce compulsory vaccination, which was followed by other states in the following decades. Then, in 1874, all Germans in the German Empire were required by the Imperial Vaccination Act to have their children vaccinated against smallpox at the ages of one and twelve (repeat vaccination).

After the Second World War, there was a legal obligation to vaccinate in the GDR from 1953, which was successively extended until 1970: In addition to smallpox, vaccination against tuberculosis (1953), polio (1961), diphtheria (1961), tetanus (1961), and pertussis (1964, then in the form of the DTP vaccine) was mandatory; from 1970, vaccination against measles was also legally required.

In the Federal Republic of Germany, there was compulsory vaccination against diphtheria and scarlet fever from 1946 to 1954, and there was general compulsory vaccination against smallpox from 1949 to the end of 1975. The legal basis for the compulsory smallpox vaccination at that time was still the Imperial Vaccination Act of 1874.

Some of the most dangerous epidemics were completely or largely eradicated as a result, so that nowadays vaccination against them is no longer necessary – a life-saving medical success owed exclusively to the compulsory vaccination at previous times.

China, a nation of more than a billion people,

has achieved within a few months, what Westerners too were still able to do in the 19th century. Why are we no longer able to do this today? Why do a billion people in China suffer from no more than a dozen cases of corona per day (most of them introduced from outside), while we will soon have to accept the next killing wave? Certainly, the contrast between China and the West cannot be blamed on a lack of knowledge on our part. Our pharmaceutical companies and epidemiological experts are still superior to the Chinese. Nor can we simply explain the difference setting our Western freedom against Chinese autocracy. A jab in the arm that protects me and the persons I meet from possible death or probable illness is a much lesser encroachment on my liberties than, for example, the fact that in the leading Western power, the United States, anyone is allowed to get a firearm, thus massively compromising the safety of the community. Even taxes, against which the rich can successfully defend themselves with a variety of legal tricks, constitute a restriction of liberties, but they generate far less resistance than compulsory vaccination. Nay, I may say that even crosswalks noticeably restrict my personal freedom, since they forbid me to cross the street wherever I like. But apart from anarchists, whose highest value is their own unrestricted freedom, no one has ever seriously complained about this. Like in present day China, people in 19th century Germany still trusted science and the state that acted according to its precepts. If epidemiological experts (at least an overwhelming majority among them) are agreed that vaccination will safe a hundred times more lives than it may cost, then it was considered a foregone conclusion that it must be made compulsory for the benefit of the community. The opponents were rightly considered ego-hungry populists from a moral point of view, dangerous obstructionists from a political perspective, and poor lunatics (one could also say ignorant imbeciles) in the light of science.

Should the West lose the battle against China and other autocracies,

it is not because it glorifies personal freedom as an ideal – hardly could there be a more beautiful vision – but because it no longer understands the meaning and aim of freedom. Freedom gets confused with the empowerment of individual citizens to act at will against the interests of the community. As for the ownership of firearms, such confusion is obvious (to all but US-Americans). It makes no sense to preach tolerance towards egomaniacal populists, dangerous obstructionists and ignorant idiots, even if these people endanger the physical and psychological stability of society. At its peak, which, as we know, may reemerge at any time, the epidemic paralyzed Western societies in a way that usually only happens in times of war. If the leading medical experts can guarantee that a simple measure such as compulsory vaccination will effectively defeat the enemy (as it has successfully done in the past), then any Western state is behaving irresponsibly towards its citizens if it refrains from saving their lives by doing so. China has acted with great determination and success and by now almost vaccinated its entire population – more than a fifth of the world’s whole population. The communist giant pours scorn on the helpless West.  If we do not understand that in a temporary state of war, the protection of the community takes precedence over the will of populists, obstructionists, poor lunatics and ignorant idiots, then we must be prepared that ever larger parts of the population will long for an autocratic regime that knows how to act in times of emergency.

The process is already underway, and it is so precisely among those people who we hear screaming the loudest, namely populists, obstructionists and lunatics.