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.

Bulbous noses – happy news from Mrs. von der Leyen

The candidate arrived with the tie at his back – and was immediately kicked out of the room by the HR department. We, of course, see such rude treatment as a crying injustice. Why should someone with a tie hanging down his back not be suitable for the post of engineer, department head or at least that of a servant? The personnel manager in charge justified his rejection in a totally irrational way. If someone is so inconsiderate about breaking the generally accepted rules, how can we trust that he won’t suddenly get the idea of waving a fork in our face instead of the roast beef while eating with colleagues or with a customer?

This harebrained statement reveals how unenlightened large parts of our society are even today. Most probably, our man with the reversed tie is quite a harmless person, perhaps even downright likeable. What evil can a tie on the back do to his fellow human beings? Are we not dealing with cultural self-assertion, even special spiritual independence?

Personally, I would like to see more people muster the courage to wear a colorful tie demonstratively on their backs, just as, for example, some women already have the guts to hide their entire faces, except for a tiny slit above their eyes, from the all-too-curious gaze of men. I would say, this too is a proof of particular originality! If people get so excited about cultural outsiders, how hard must it be for the ordinary type of philistines, conformists and other unenlightened people, when from time to time Mother Nature herself resorts to such creativeness?

Take, for example, the most prominent part of human faces: the nose. Aesthetically educated people whose minds have been shaped by the sublime art of a Leonardo or Piero della Francesca will experience an elementary psychological shock when confronted with a potato-shaped bulbous nose, even if the presumption of innocence applies to its wearer and nothing else incriminating can be said about him. In this an similar cases, it is apparently nature itself that must be accused of a prank against good taste.

This is what happens not only with bulbous noses, but also when we look directly into two challenging nostrils instead of a well-formed face with a decently shaped olfactory organ. In German, we resort to a poetical paraphrase, namely the beautiful expression “ascension nose” (Himmelfahrtsnase). A nice word, to be sure, although few of us feel inclined to religious rapture at its sight. Rather, the view into the two open holes usually makes us freeze, it is almost as if their unfortunate owner is directing two chimneys or, to use a more modern term, two exhaust pipes against us. A sensitive person will desperately look for consolation – for example, in two daringly curved eyebrows, in a sensual mouth or the profound gaze of the person in question – if such a thing is available. Fortunately, Mother Nature sometimes makes up for a faux pas in one area with compensatory justice in another.

Be that as it may, the problem is serious – it should not be underestimated. As everyone knows, bulbous and ascension noses are a matter of social concern at least in Western countries for several decades already. I would like to say, they are so quite rightly. After all, why are people punished by nature with such facial aberrations continue to be the victims of ugly prejudice? What a monstrosity to find contempt against them even among high placed personalities, like for instance politicians!

Conferring equal rights to bulbous noses and normal people cannot be done in Bavaria,” proclaimed CSU leader Markus Söder in 2008. Incidentally, this man had also campaigned for European anti-discrimination law to give the owners of bulbous, balloon and ascension noses less protection than other groups – unbelievable. Fortunately – in view of his political survival – the man recently showed a certain ability to learn, or should we better speak of opportunism? In the last week of his election campaign, Söder declared that he did not want to reverse the opening of marriage to bulbous and ascension noses. He justified his change of mind by saying that science has now been able to produce robust evidence that deviant noses are not passed on to future generations. Bavarians may therefore be confident that their offspring of strong autochthonous girls and boys would not be harmed by these marriages. Bavaria would continue to supply the world with the most beautiful specimens of human noses.

So far, so good. We did, however, hear objections of a different kind, diabolical objections, to be precise. Due to increasing shortages in above-ground drinking water supplies, major German cities are now forced to turn to those limited reserves to be found only very deep in the ground. For some years already, Bremen has been getting its drinking water from the Harz mountains via a 200-kilometer long pipeline. Hamburg helps itself to water from the Lüneburg Heath. Munich plans to secure its supply by accessing underground water reserves in the Loisach Valley near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. We are faced with the emergence of a new class society divided by access to drinking water: poor citizens – for example, those of heavily indebted Frankfurt – have to make do with contaminated drinking water, while citizens of wealthy communities are much better off – a typical sign of an incipient shortage situation. Does the Bavarian prime minister, the malicious critic asks, have nothing better to do than to get excited about noses, while his citizens some years from now will be in danger of dying of thirst or of contamination?

Well, such criticism is, of course, stupid and superficial. You will notice that immediately when contacting the discriminated noses themselves and hear about their suffering. For centuries, these people have been looked at askance, they have been ridiculed and pushed to the fringes of human society. How can you blame them for finally having the courage to come out and even face the world with pride because their originality? And remember, drinking resources can be replaced with soda water at any supermarket on the next street corner, but our noses provide us with air not available for purchase anywhere.

The newfound pride resists all criticism. “I’m an ascension nose, and I want to be one,” says one, “taste is relative.” “I’m a potato nose,” says the other. “We need an aesthetic canon where the potato finally gets its long overdue appreciation.” Yes, these people are deadly serious, but at the same time selfless, because they care not only about themselves, but about all their fellow sufferers. In fact, their solidarity extends globally across all noses, that is, all bulbous noses, sloping noses, crooked noses, flat noses, stump noses and balloon noses, for which a common term, a global acronym so to speak, has now finally been found: the lyrical sequence of letters BSCFSB. You see, a new generation of self-confident original nose pioneers has emerged. We are dealing with people who no longer cower from us standard noses, the representatives of sad and unimaginative normality, but proclaim their BSCFSB-ness with pride and, yes, even with special demands on the general public. They know that what seems to be the exception today will be the rule tomorrow, because tastes are relative and naturally change all the time. They are sure, these pioneers enthuse, that one day your own children and grandchildren will rave about Homo naso-optimus and they will be ashamed if they themselves do not have a potato nose, or at least a nose that aspires to ascension.

The prospects for this to happen are quite favorable for the first time since the EU itself has taken the lead in this evolutionary shift. No less an authority than Ursula von der Leyen, the German Commission president, has denounced as a disgrace the outrageous law passed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban that victimizes deviant noses. “The law discriminates against people based on their olfactory system. It violates fundamental values of the European Union: human dignity, equality and respect for human rights,” the EU president said Wednesday morning in Brussels.

These open and upright words speak directly from the heart of every decent person. In this situation, civil courage is demanded from each of us. We should be grateful to culture when it produces innovative people who dare to wear their damned ties on their backs. But we should be equally grateful to nature when after so many millennia it finally comes up with something challenging new. Instead of the previous mass production of standard noses, spat out, so to speak, from the genetic assembly line, it now overwhelms us with its glorious BSCFSB. With reverence we should bow before this newly found originality. Please do not forget: Europe is a continent of innovation. Therein, if you please, lies our greatest strength.

Well, as always – that’s life! – the eternal grumblers continue to raise their dissonant voices.Europe, those misanthropes say, is currently experiencing what may be the worst upheaval in its entire history. In the coming decades, we will be allowed to consume only one planet instead of five at a time – otherwise there will be no more Europe for our children and grandchildren. Not only do we have to end the fossil fuel era – this Ursula von der Leyen has fully understood – but nuclear power will only be available to us for a few decades to come. The Commission President has nothing to say about this fact. And what will we do if there is no more coal, oil, gas or uranium and the renewables, even if we pave the entire landscape with wind turbines, will only provide us with a fraction of the energy we need? Ms. von der Leyen is equally silent on this perspective. Is it possible, the malicious critic continues his tirade, that she devotes so much of her passion to noses only because the luxury spoiled citizens of old Europe are not ready to hear about the world’s true and real needs? In other words: Is it possible that Europe is currently in a deep sleep, a sleep that the European Commission is actively promoting with sedatives?

The educated reader can, of course, only shake his head in displeasure at such insinuations. This gives me hope, because it proves that he belongs to that fundamentally decent part of society that does not allow itself to be irritated by superficial doubts. No, we want to and we will continue to fight for the freedom of the nose. And we will joyfully welcome its further proliferation, because it is by no means certain that the number of unusual and original varieties of the olfactory organ will not increase significantly in the times to come. In addition to all BSCFSB already among us, there will most probably be the split nose, the tank and the spray nose – to name only the most conspicuous creations. Our society will have to adapt institutionally to this wealth – fortunately, it is already in the process of doing so. We already know from scientific expertise that women react differently than men to many diseases and therefore need to be helped by different medicines. The same insight has now been experimentally validated for the carriers of stump and bulbous noses. Thus, the European Commission reached the obvious conclusion that there should be specialized general practitioners and various departments in hospitals and spas not only for women, but equally for the representatives of the most common types of nose. And while we are talking about special doctors and departments, we must not understand this requirement only in a physical sense, the psyche also demands its right.

Yes, the psyche. Here, too, the Commission is producing beneficial effects in its own way. How long was it accepted without resistance throughout Europe that mischievous people compared bulbous noses with potatoes and in this way caused immeasurable suffering! Now, the Commission has finally put its foot down and backed its determination up with a plethora of decrees. The word potato has been completely banned from our vocabulary – from daily language use and from the literature down to the classical period. All places, where the unfortunate word is used, are now blacked.  Under penalty of social ostracism no one is allowed to even whisper the word potato or bulbous nose – in France pommes nose. Instead we now speak of “flourishing”, “rich” or “substantial” noses. It is to be hoped that the long overdue cleansing of language and literature from all remnants of prejudice will soon be introduced for stump and balloon noses too. There is still a great deal to be done!

However, with all the tasks still to be accomplished, let us not forget, that in the midst of a world of lies and deceit only old Europe has the privilege of being the last heart-warming island of reason and enlightenment. Vladimir Putin, the ruthless Russian czar, has even less sympathy for fancy noses than Orban and Söder. While we on the side of progress are outdoing even the Bible as we love flamboyant noses more than ourselves, Putin drives his military to tinker with murderous toys – supersonic missiles and the steady expansion of his nuclear arsenal. His intention is obvious: in the next clash with the West, he wants to eliminate not only us, the standard noses, but all the fancy luxury noses as well. “You are hopelessly decadent,” sneers the uncanny gentleman from the Kremlin. “For noses, you take to the streets, for noses you reshape your language, for noses you ruin careers or elevate political clowns to the pinnacle of power. You’re obsessed with noses and don’t realize you’re sitting astride a seething volcano with the first flames already erupting from its mouth. You are decadent, ripe for destruction!”

Fortunately, such words emanate from the mouth of a dictator, so they are self-defeating! As for us, the progressive and enlightened citizens of Europe, we know about our mission. We want to show the world that the true problems of our time are neither the poisoning of nature, the climate crisis, the nuclear threat nor the fermenting of social discontent. These are the superficial phenomena that we delegate to our capable specialists who, in league with all-mighty science, always find the right solution for every problem. The real and pressing problem of our time are noses. After all, we all must come to terms with our own. Discriminate against noses and you will leave the deepest traces in your own soul.

No, Mrs. von der Leyen says nothing about the extinction of species, the poisoning of drinking water, the nuclear threat, the end of our luxurious life when we get out of oil, gas and nuclear power and only renewable energies are left to compensate for our previous luxuries. About all this she has nothing to say, because 450 million citizens of pretty old Europe are not in the mood for fashionable scaremongering. How beautiful the message that she does tell us – it could have come from the Sermon on the Mount. She believes, says Ms. von der Leyen, in a European Union “where we can all be who we are” and “where we can love exactly the noses we want to love – bulbous noses, flat noses, balloon, stump or ascension noses.” How humane, how conforting and how right!

Jenner: I don’t expect any reactions to this essay (except perhaps from the wrong Side). In the well-known barbaric way, the topic is only discussed among right-wing extremists, otherwise it is taboo. In our supposedly free society, most people are afraid to expose themselves, even if they only want to distinguish existentially important matters from far less important ones, such as noses.

Author Sanjeev Ghotge writes:

Dear Gero,

Hugely enjoyed your piece on European noses! I think you should write more often in this vein. I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed the original German version but I can’t read German. Long time since I enjoyed a tongue-in-cheek piece of political writing.

Best, Sanjeev Ghotge

Migration and Dishonesty

By dishonesty I understand an attitude that hides behind a facade of morality unpalatable measures that obviously violate avowed principles. The European immigration or rather anti-immigration policy is a glaring and shameful example. It is an incontestable fact that a vast majority of Europe’s citizens do not want further immigration. The governing bodies – i.e., national governments, the European Commission, and the European Parliament – are, of course, fully aware of this fact, not only through referenda, but also through the outcome of elections whenever migration (or xenophobia) becomes an issue. Politicians are therefore doing their best to curb immigration, for example, by paying (more correctly, bribing) Turkey with more than three billion euro to put a stop to further unwanted immigration to Greece and other countries of eastern Europe.

Any honest international observer knows that holding migrants back can only be achieved by force. People who no longer see a future in their own country due to political oppression or a lack of prospects for economic survival (a no less life-threatening challenge) are understandably prepared to overcome any obstacles by sheer violence if necessary. Keeping them out of a more promising country therefore requires an equal amount of counterviolence. This too is no secret to the EU. But the Union feels satisfied if others soil their hands in the process, so that she herself need not climb down from her elevated moral pedestal. I call this dishonesty. Violence is not diminished or made more acceptable by leaving its execution to others.

The same dishonesty is apparent in Europe’s treatment of the refugee camps in Greece, Libya or Tunisia. The prevailing conditions there are definitely inhumane (just as they are in the US-camps at the Mexican border). The countries of North Africa, just like Turkey, are being paid by Europe to do what is necessary to stop the avalanche of people from the battered countries of the Middle East as well as from the desperately poor countries of sub-Saharan Africa that are particularly affected by climate change. They do this by treating the refugees like lepers or criminals, because young adventurers hoping for a better life elsewhere or even desperate people with nothing to lose are deterred only in this brutal way. If instead they were handled with kid gloves in these reception centers, we can be sure that cell phones would immediately broadcast the sensational news to the entire world, causing the flow of people to swell into a mass migration.

Those who resist cheap lies cannot deny these facts. But most people want to be appeased with lies. They certainly don’t want any more strangers in their country, but they still want to live with a clear conscience. So, they are willing to pay large sums of money for the defense against migrants, but they do not want to know that the defense against desperate people and young adventurers is possible only by force and in violation of human rights. Can we see anything other than dishonesty in this attitude?

As long as there is that glaring difference between poor and rich nations, the situation is not likely to change. We should therefore ask ourselves what is more important, a clear conscience or the defense against unrestricted migration? For, obviously, both cannot be had at the same time. Moral absolutists, who reject any kind of violence against their fellow human beings, have a clear answer from the outset. For them, the distribution of all refugees from Asia or Africa arriving in Greece, Italy and Spain over the whole of Europe is a self-evident postulate. If they were consistent, they would even have to go much further. Without doubt, it is inhumane to expose boat refugees to the danger of drowning. The consistent moral absolutist would have to advocate a bridge across the Mediterranean, e.g. at Gibraltar.

Oddly enough, moral absolutists like to see themselves as staunch defenders of democracy. This is an embarrassing fact as it results in an obvious contradiction. They are very keen to help the people on the other side of the border, but for what they see as the unenlightened majority in their own country they have little understanding at best, and open contempt at worst. As already mentioned, an overwhelming majority in all countries of Europe is strictly against further immigration – and this with some irrefutable reasons. First-generation immigrants are willing to accept great hardships such as minimum wages in order to gain a foothold within their new homeland. They are therefore popular with entrepreneurs, but feared by workers, the unemployed and precarious employees as dangerous competition (a justified fear that populists like to exploit in the shape of xenophobia). As is well known, Donald Trump’s victory is not insignificantly explained by the resentment of the so-called “white trash” and its fear of precisely this competition. These people still crave for a wall on the border with Mexico. The moral absolutists, on the other hand, need not fear competition from refugees. On the contrary, they benefit from cheap servants, errand boys and parcel deliverers who depress wages. In other words, they can afford to be enlightened cosmopolitans and cultivate a clear conscience – after all, they are predominantly part of the educated, sheltered and privileged section of society.

We live in a time when we can no longer have both at the same time, a clear conscience and the defense against people beyond our borders. When we repel them, we accept the use of violence, yes, and inhumanity. It is nothing but dishonesty if we imagine to improve the situation by paying others to do the dirty work for us. That does not diminish our own responsibility. If we want to maintain a clear conscience at any price, we have to open the door to the avalanche of people from the many long overpopulated parts of the earth.

But what would we achieve by doing so? From an ecological perspective, the countries of Europe are already far beyond the sustainability limit at their current population levels. The most industrialized countries of Europe consume up to five planets. Not more but less people is – ecologically speaking – the only right strategy for the future.

The decision for or against open borders is thus one of the great challenges of our time. The decision is all the more painful as the people on the other side of the border have, of course, the same right to a decent life as we do. But moral absolutists oversimplify when they unreservedly approve migration on the basis of this conviction. They can certainly have a clear conscience – but only at the price of banishing inconvenient reality from their field of vision. The price is high – it consists in more or less conscious dishonesty.

In contrast, the opponents of open borders have a much harder time. They know that an unrestricted influx of strangers will cause resistance – popular uprisings, social disintegration, and even civil wars (in the United States, social disintegration is well underway). Their disillusioned view of reality makes the realists – let’s call them that way – anything but happy. They are painfully aware that desperate refugees can only be warded off by force in a world where climate change will soon condemn many to even greater poverty. For the realists, the problem is not dishonesty but the admission that there can never be – nay, that there will never be, a clear conscience on these issues.

The dilemma is expressed directly and factually in the incessant struggle between the two camps. The realists are willing to bribe border states outside the European Union for their services and to turn a blind eye to the way they crack down on refugees at the borders. They are only lying if they convince themselves: It is those brutal others who do so and not us. And they are also lying when they try to keep this brutality out of the public eye. 

The moral absolutists, on the other hand, are making every effort to expose these evils and make them public. They are constantly on the lookout for human rights violations by Frontex and in the refugee camps. Thus, in Europe, realism and moral aspiration are in irreconcilable and constant struggle with each other. It seems to me a particular misfortune that this real and existential dilemma is usually expressed and discussed only on the level of right-wing xenophobia versus left-wing cosmopolitanism. But that is not really the point – as is vividly demonstrated when European states recruit well-trained professionals from abroad and welcome them with open arms. As long as foreigners do not overburden the native population through excessive numbers and a lack of willingness to integrate, they can be a great enrichment. Almost all modern states have come into being in this way – a fact that a cursory perusal of telephone directories quickly confirms. The point is that an unregulated influx becoming too large within a short period of time poses a threat to the internal cohesion of any society.

The Verdikt

The ruling against oil company Shell, forcing it to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030, is a landmark – the dawn of a new era. For the first time, the fate of a major corporation is no longer exclusively in its own hands, nor ruled by government regulations; instead, it is civil society that determines its freedom of action. We may assume that this verdict will be the first in a series of subsequent court cases that will limit the power of even the largest corporations when they pose serious economic dangers to climate goals.

This is not merely good news, it is a sensational ruling

Nevertheless, there is no reason for exaggerated euphoria. The climate saviors of civil society – including Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement – don’t seem to know what mountains they are trying to move. Don’t forget: today’s world owes its immense material wealth to a historically unique flash in the pan, namely fossil (and to a much lesser extent to no less dangerous nuclear) energy. What common sense should tell everyone, experts have long since proven: the gigantic amount of energy that has been largely burned up in just two hundred years through the exploitation of fossil reserves stored for millions of years, can, of course, only be replaced to a fraction by renewable energies as they are produced in every single year. In a future world without gas, oil, coal, and nuclear reactors, we will therefore be forced to radically curtail our current consumption and standard of living. This insight is generally suppressed – even by the Greens – and replaced by wishful thinking. On the other hand, no reasonable person will doubt that a restriction of living standards, no matter how great, is a small sacrifice when we compare it with a future where the great coastal metropolises lie under water, forests are destroyed by firestorms, and man loses his previous means of living.

So, the good news is by no means cancelled out by the fact

that wishful thinking all too easily obscures our view of the reality that lies ahead. Certainly, we can and must save the climate, but that cannot be done by saving our current standard of living as well. We should be honest and admit to ourselves that the victory over a corporation only makes sense if it is at the same time a victory over our habits, because, as we know, corporations produce for consumers, i.e. for each of us.

The bad news is of a different kind

It concerns no less than the benefit of this present victory and those still to come. After all, it is not only possible, but absolutely certain under current conditions, that while we may succeed in bringing Shell and dozens of other corporations to their knees, this will not have the slightest effect on reducing CO2 emissions.

This paradoxical truth is best demonstrated by the example of worldwide nuclear and ballistic armament, which, unlike the climate crisis, threatens us not with a creeping but with sudden death. Of course, almost nobody talks about this menace. We tend to persistently expel the biggest possible catastrophes from our consciousness – no Greta Thunberg is there to mobilize the world. The reason is obvious. It is true that each atomic bomb is exactly one too many, but it is of no use if a single state renounces its possession, because its opponents are only too happy to gain the upper glad hand. Obviously, only a higher authority, the UN or a world government can decree general disarmament.

This dilemma also seems to apply to limiting fossil fuel consumption

It is no use for Europe to force its companies to forego fossil energies if, at the same time, China, India and soon Africa and the rest of the world see their only chance of raising their own standard of living in exploiting deposits, especially the abundant coal reserves. These countries will be glad that reserves will last longer and will be cheaper if Europe foregoes their use. This is precisely the development currently taking place.

And it could have devastating consequences

The U.S. has already largely de-industrialized in favor of China, and – somewhat belatedly – Europe is about to do the same. In other words, we are only imagining we are doing something for the climate, in reality we are doing something against ourselves – we are dismantling our own industries. In my book “Yes we can – no we must“, I saw no other way out of this dilemma than exactly the one that also applies to disarmament: only a higher authority, the UN or a world government, is in a position to order all states (and corporations) to reduce their environmentally harmful activities. This solution makes sense, but it is certainly not satisfactory. On the one hand, skeptics will say that for the time being the vision of a world government is nothing more than a mirage. On the other hand, the climate saviors see in it a poison that paralyzes their forces. After all, they want to act right here and right now. And I agree, action must be taken here and now!

Now there is actually good news

The paradox of nuclear disarmament cannot be transferred one-to-one to the paradox of fossil disarmament. In the latter there is a recognizable way out of the dilemma. Of course, it is true that European civil society must not limit itself to imposing CO2 requirements on companies. That alone will achieve nothing, except to ruin our own economy. But if we operate a second strategy at the same time, then we escape this predicament. When forcing domestic companies to abide by the rules fixed by climate goals, we must, at the same time, ensure that no products from outside enter Europe in violation of such requirements. These products must either be completely blocked or made so expensive through tariffs that the latter serve to compensate the competitive disadvantages of European industries. Only in this way can we – even without a UN or world government – force foreign industries, e.g. in China, to adopt our example. But this also means that the protest must be directed not only against corporations but also against a pernicious free trade – that is, against the state that determines its rules. Only if both types of protest happen at the same time and with equal success can we hope that the climate movement does not degenerate into a motor of domestic deindustrialization, which, judged from a global perspective, achieves nothing, while transforming Europe into a poor de-industrialized continent.

However, we should not be lulled by illusions

It will not be possible to maintain the current standard of living even under such conditions. China will, of course, immediately react to European tariffs by, among other things, restricting imports of German cars or European Airbuses and replacing them with domestic products. That is a serious blow as we know that Germany in particular owes a substantial part of its current prosperity to exports. So, we will have to forego much of our present standard of living. No one likes to talk about this perspective because it is so much easier to live on wishful thinking. But, as I just said, the sacrifices we have to make are small compared to the sacrifices that devastated nature will surely impose on everybody. The new era that is just beginning will usher in the successful fight against climate change or accelerate the decline of Europe that has already begun – with China and Russia as the laughing third.

I got the following mail from Prof. Nate Hagens:

gero

I hope this finds you well. I read your Verdikt summary and it aligned over 95% with my recent treatment of 33 cultural myths in my Earth Day talkpasted here in case you have almost 3 hours to dive in Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality. Kind regards- and keep fighting the good fight. nate

Debate with Per Molander on social justice and the longing for identity

(Per Molander, the internationally known specialist on distribution issues, confronts Gero Jenner. Mephisto stayed away unexcused. All Molander quotes are in italics).

GJ: Dear Mr. Molander. You have made a name for yourself studying human inequality and are particularly qualified for the topic because, as a Swede, you grew up in a state that – seen globally – is still considered a model in terms of material justice. In addition, you are equally at home in several foreign idioms, such as German, as you are in your own native language.

PM: You are right, Sweden ranks high on the Gini scale, material equality is a fundamental concern of our society. In countries with relatively high ambitions for redistribution, such as Australia, Canada, Finland, and Sweden, more than half of the market-driven increase in income disparity has been offset by their tax and transfer systems. This policy reduces social tensions because interpersonal envy plays a minor role. A consistent observation is that trust and equality have a strong correlation: the more equal a society is, the more trust the people in that society feel toward each other.

The positive effects of such policies can be empirically verified. In states with high trust, the schools function better, however the results are measured. In states with high trust, children and youths fare better, measured in infant mortality, teen pregnancy, and other health variables. In states with high trust, the rate of violent crime is lower. In states with a strong sense of solidarity, people are generally healthier. States with high trust have lower levels of tax evasion, as estimated by the American Internal Revenue Service.

GJ: Trust is the social glue binding people together.

PM: It is even more than that. A policy of material equality also pays off economically. It makes an economy more dynamic. We can prove empirically that societies grow faster when their initial state is as close as possible to the egalitarian state, because equality of opportunity is conducive to growth.

GJ: If trust and economic dynamism are among the values that every politician should strive for, it becomes difficult to explain why inequality has been on the rise in Western countries since the 1970s and is now as high again as it was before World War II?

PM: You see, mathematically, equality is a most unlikely condition. Let’s put two individuals with equal mental and physical endowments on an island where each builds an existence with the resources at hand. They will probably trade with each other so that each of them will not have to perform the same work. What will happen? After some time, you will notice that one of them had more luck than the other – and immediately inequality develops. Chance determines who, in practice, gets the upper hand in a situation where effort and talent are identical. Research has shown that more than 80 percent of a person’s real income will depend on circumstances beyond her control: country of birth and family background. These effects beyond our control quickly lead to some becoming increasingly richer and others poorer.

GJ: But that’s not true of all societies. Where everyone has just enough to survive, virtual equality prevails – you may say these societies are doomed to equality. In a hunter-gatherer society, where everyone is more or less living at the subsistence level, there simply is no room for inequality, because resources have to be shared equally to ensure that everyone will survive. It is only when there is a surplus that inequality between individuals can develop. As soon as societies become richer, equality belongs to the past. In other words, poverty makes equal, wealth multiplies differences.

PM: That’s the way it is. In that sense, you may say that wealth makes you unhappy, because it breeds envy and destroys trust. Since, from a historical perspective, societies have never been as prosperous as they are in our time, this trend de facto amounts to modern societies being more prone to envy and loss of trust than most societies of the past. Such a development leads to social unrest and instability. If a few people become richer while the majority become relatively poorer, such a development will eventually lead to social tensions if the state does not intervene. For the sake of social peace, government feels compelled to restrict excessive wealth as well as oppressive poverty.

GJ: You just said that an egalitarian society provides the best conditions for growth. But since growth means an increase in wealth, it automatically results in greater inequality. Accordingly, it is egalitarian society itself that is in danger of destroying the state of equality by its very success, because of its particular potential for growth.

PM: That’s right, but in order to prevent this from happening, a welfare state must intervene to correct the situation. He supports this effort by creating an education system that offers all citizens the opportunity for advancement. The state is not the only actor in the service of social justice; private interest groups such as trade unions are important participants. It is thanks to both actors that a high degree of material equality still prevails in Scandinavian countries today.

GJ: Mr. Molander, then we would actually have created the ideal state – a perpetual motion machine! The egalitarian society creates maximum trust and growth potential, while the state intervenes to ensure that growth does not lead to greater inequality and thus to lower growth. If this is indeed the ideal, how do you explain the disturbing fact that social justice plays an increasingly minor role in public debate? Workers’ newspapers have gone out of business one after the other, and trade unions everywhere are in retreat – even though inequality has again been on the rise for half a century. If social trust and economic growth are so vitally important, why do so many people no longer care about the issue? How is it that people vote for right-wing parties and listen to populist theses that praise nationalism and xenophobia, while left-wing demands for more social equality go on unheeded?

PM: You see, Mr. Jenner, for most ruling elites throughout history, whether democratically elected or not, staying in power is their primary goal, and public interest has at best been a means to this end. But it is true that it is only since about the 1980s that elites have increasingly succeeded in overriding the public interest. In 1965, the average American CEO in a larger company earned 24 times as much as the average worker. In 2005, this number had risen to 262. In Sweden, this quotient has been measured since 1950, when it was 26. In 1980, it was at its lowest (9), only to rise to 46 in 2011. How could this happen? First, there are the large international corporations, whose neoliberal course has put pressure on individual states and the trade unions. In addition, many once well-paid jobs were outsourced to Asia, jobs that until then had offered well-paid jobs even to people without special training in our own countries. In the meantime, digitalization is cutting an even greater swathe – in other words, globalization and technological progress continue to destroy jobs. This has inevitably increased the gap between rich and poor. Outsourcing and globalization started in the 1980s; the impact of digitization was felt somewhat later.

GJ: In your book, you emphasize the fact that Europe’s societies achieved maximum social equality in the three postwar decades, that is, until the 1970s.

PM: Yes, the notable exception to the general pattern of rising inequality, which is practically unique in size and scope, is the leveling-out of wealth in the twentieth century following unionization, democratization, and the growth of the welfare state.

GJ: But you don’t explain why this miracle occurred just after World War II.

PM: Aren’t the reasons quite obvious? You know that at that time – and in all Western countries, i.e. in Germany as well as in the United States or in Japan – trade unions had as much influence as never before and never since. Yes, and the state intervened everywhere with a strong hand to help the disadvantaged. By contrast, globalization has increased the room for maneuver of capital. Capital can be moved with a phone call or a keystroke, but the process of mobilizing unions and homogenizing laws across national borders and between continents is a time-consuming and complicated process.

GJ: True, but why was it that the state could afford to intervene in that way at that particular time, and why was it that unions were so strong in those three decades, while in comparison both seem almost helpless today? That’s a question we have to ask ourselves.

PM: You see, the West had to compete with a powerful enemy at that time: communism. Not that in those countries conditions were really any better. In fact, the risk for a concentration of power is higher in a communist economy than in a market economy, because the latter does in fact have the potential for innovation and challenge of existing cartels. The party elite of the so-called communist states de facto accumulated enormous wealth and privileges, but among the population there was greater equality – compared to the West, it consisted in general poverty, which was fairly evenly spread. But the false appearance of greater social justice in the communist states kept Western capitalism in check and thus worked in favor of the welfare state. Today, Russian communism has abdicated. We have lost the enemy – and that has removed all inhibitions among neoliberals. 

GJ: And we should not forget that the capitalist system had been discredited at the end of the war. In the United States, the Great Depression of the late 1920s had deprived millions of people of their livelihood. After a tumultuous economic boom, it had plunged the United States into the greatest crisis in its history. It took the economic recovery set in motion by Franklin D. Roosevelt – usually called the New Deal – to alleviate the most extreme hardship. In Germany, however, the collapse of the capitalist system helped fascism to power and led to war – without the Great Depression no Hitler, without Hitler no Second World War, as Eric Hobsbawm concluded. This terrible economic collapse and the horrors of war were still engraved in people’s minds after 1945. That explains why a policy of social equality was able to achieve such resounding success. Yet this policy was maintained for only three decades, after which it was increasingly watered down. Why have we now come to a point where the question of social justice is only dealt with in scholarly books and academic circles?

PM: Human forgetfulness certainly plays a role. The Great Depression and the horrors of war are far behind us. Most people simply lack the imagination to imagine that at any time this may well happen again.

GJ: I am sure that our lack of imagination plays some role. But I am afraid that there is another, a much deeper reason for today’s indifference to social inequality – and this reason has to do with another defect of capitalism. Capitalism not only promotes inequality, it also deeply affects relationships and thus people’s psyche.

PM: You’ll have to explain that to me. Remember. Our question is: Why have certain societies managed to keep inequality within reasonable bounds /and others like our contemporary one have not/?

GJ: I would like to choose as a starting point for my answer the example that you yourself consider a paradigm of systematic and brutal human inequality: the Indian caste system.

PM: An important paradigm indeed. The Indian subcontinent was invaded from the northwest some time during the second millennium BC, when it was populated by people who spoke Dravidian languages. The invaders introduced a strict hierarchical social order – the seeds of the caste system.To this day, DNA analysis reveals that among the highest castes, the proportion of European descent is the largest. The origins of the caste system are thus based on the power of conquering immigrants, a predominantly male horde that entered India via the Hindu Kush and, thanks to better weapons and brutality, was able to enslave a large part of the native population. But that is not all. The cunning of the conquerors of the time was to cloak their system of oppression in a religious mantle. Supposedly, it was the gods themselves who would have placed them, the foreign conquerors, in their privileged position. So, they did, of course, not owe it to the coincidence of an unjust historical invasion but to their own merit. Later, this merit was understood to be the good deeds performed by people in previous existences. According to this ideology, the lower castes are themselves to blame and responsible for their misfortunes because they committed the greatest misdeeds in previous lives. This is the well-known doctrine of karma, which is exceedingly clever in immunizing itself against any possible objections. Who, after all, is able to prove that two hundred years ago he did not live as an earthworm, a marten, a master baker or a bookworm, and during that time did all sorts of good or bad deeds that condition his present birth?

GJ: I agree with you. The whole absurdity of human inequality appears more glaringly in the example of the Indian caste system than anywhere else. The moment we see through rebirths and karma as ideological fictions, the caste system collapses like a house of cards. And yet…

PM: And yet? What are you trying to say? I don’t see any possible limitation of this verdict. Nor is the connection of the Indian paradigm with our starting point, the three happy postwar decades, clear to me.

GJ: Please wait a moment! Let me mention an important historical insight, which you yourself also emphasize. In subsistence societies, where people have to live from hand to mouth, equality is at its greatest. In contrast, human inequality was de facto enforced with the Neolithic Revolution and the wealth that came with it. This seems obvious. By cultivating the fields ninety percent of the population had to provide for that surplus of food, which gave the remaining ten percent the opportunity to pursue occupations beyond working on fields. We see that, except in a few small island communities and religious sects, this compulsion dominated all mass societies from China to India via Europe to the New World. But if inequality was in fact enforced by existing agrarian technology from the Neolithic to the Industrial Revolution, then the Indian example only fits the prevailing norm. Which means that we have rephrase our question: Which of the great agrarian cultures has been best able to cope with this technological constraint?

PM: If ninety percent of the people who worked the land had to produce that surplus of food that fed the top ten percent outside of agriculture, then I would say that those cultures did best with this limitation that allowed the lower classes to move up the social scale through education. Today, at any rate, it is the case that an active education policy seems to be a requirement if the liberal idea of establishing relatively equal conditions for the younger generation is to be realized.

GJ: But there was no active education policy anywhere on a large scale until the Industrial Revolution. No agrarian society could afford to provide the children of peasants scattered far and wide across the countryside with the same education as the children of the top ten percent. The resources required to do so would have made the burden on the shoulders of peasants fully unbearable. In other words, the bottom ninety percent never had a chance to rise to the top in any of the major classical cultures. If now and then in Europe a peasant child could become a cardinal because of his special talent, this was exceptional and did not invalidate the general rule.

The question therefore remains. What did the great cultures of the past make of this constraint imposed on them by the technology of agriculture and animal husbandry? If you ask the question in this way, the caste system suddenly appears in a very different light.

PM: All right. If this light may serve us to return to the starting point of our debate, that is, the three golden postwar decades, it shall be fine with me to learn more about it.

GJ: Let me first confirm that your view of the Indian caste system is the only correct one in our time – no sane person today believes in the ideological fictions of karma and reincarnation. But this is only one perspective. If we accept this belief as a fact of its time, then there emerges another view that is no less correct. Few societies have made reverence for all living beings the supreme duty of man as did Hinduism with its comprehensive religious interpretation of the universe. It clothed both nature and man with moral meaning. In the cycle of births, in which the people of India began to believe already in pre-Christian times, all creatures from the blade of grass over tigers and monkeys up to humans and the supernatural deities pass through the different reincarnations up to their final redemption. They all are reborn and get their meaning of life on the basis of the karma that is the balance of morally noble and morally reprehensible deeds committed by them.

Nothing was so far removed from this way of thinking as the modern idea of the world as a soulless machine that man may manipulate at will. Rather, individuals saw themselves as animated microcosms in the midst of a nature pulsating with and shaped by the forces of will. By virtue of their will and their decisions for right or wrong actions they were able to steer their own future in the wheel of rebirths either to their favor or disadvantage. If an individual decided for a morally exemplary life, as ordered by his or her respective caste, then a higher rebirth was possible – even the highest rank of one of the many gods of the Indian pantheon. If, on the other hand, his or her actions were morally reprehensible, the individual slipped further and further down the hierarchy of living beings until finally ending up among the “Pretas”, the terrible hunger ghosts. The thoroughly moral world view of Hinduism integrated the whole sphere of  living beings within a single planet-wide net.

The natural consequence of such a world view was empathy with all living beings: In a quite literal sense, man recognized himself in each of them. Like himself, all other beings were wandering souls on the way to salvation. It was this theory of an all-encompassing community of all living things that made classical India a land of peaceful coexistence of all creatures. When we speak of an enchanted world citing India as an example, then we refer to a peculiar Indian trait. While the great empires of Mesopotamia and China strove for uniformity in their spheres of rule and were able to enforce it to a great extent, striving for a standardization of language, customs, economic rules, etc., Hinduism allowed diversity, yes, even made the pluralism of world concepts and traditions its very basis. Truth was relative, but not in the sense of Paul Feyerabend, who did not believe in any final and inviolable truth, but because, according to the Hindu view, people differ according to their state of salvation. This ideologically confirmed underpinned diversity made India what it still was until a century ago: a continent of inexhaustible material and spiritual diversity – a continent larger than the world, as the great poet of Argentina, George Louis Borges, once said in an unsurpassed bon mot. Within the constraints of the agrarian caste order, human freedom unfolded into an amazing spiritual cosmos: “The Wonder that was India,” as the Asian scholar A. L. Basham described it in his book of the same name.

PM: You will understand, Dr. Jenner, that as a scientist I have little use for lyrical outpourings like those of Borges. While it is certainly true that inequality is written into the fabric of all agrarian mass societies, we should rather ask ourselves how this could happen in the first place? Suppose a philosopher among hunter-gatherers, where killing was part of the daily business of survival, had asked himself at that time what life would be like in a society of peasants, where everyone pursued the peaceful occupation of planting grain and vegetables on some piece of field. I guess he would have said that agrarian economy would set the stage for eternal peace. You don’t have to own weapons, you don’t have to kill animals, if you live on grains and fruits.

GJ: And this prophetic vision would have been utterly wrong, as was soon to become apparent. Real and great wars only started after the epoch of the hunter-gatherers, that is with the transition to agriculture. And the reason is a well-known historic fact. Some clever individuals soon became aware that a few well-armed and mobile people were enough to subjugate and squeeze the surplus from any number of farmers who were tied to their land. From these few armed parasites emerged the top ten percent. It was the agrarian societies that brought about human war and inequality on a large scale.

PM: That’s right, and it’s just as true for India. The warriors (Kshatriyas) allied themselves with the priests (Brahmins) to perpetuate their own rule both militarily and spiritually.

GJ: Yes, and it is this view that corresponds to the understanding of modern critical science. But science so far failed to provide an answer to a most intriguing question. Why has such an unjust, seemingly inhuman system proved to be the most durable of all? For at least three thousand years the caste system prevailed unchallenged. But relative equality in a mass society just prevailed for hardly thirty years after the last world war. And moreover, the caste system not only dominated its own religious community, but also radiated to Christians and Muslims. They, too, developed caste-like inequalities though their ideologies forbade them to do so. Science has not yet solved this riddle.

PM: I think it is somewhat understandable that we do not necessarily want to explain absurdities.

GJ: And yet it is precisely such a seemingly absurd fact that may help us to better understand our present time. India was a mass society early on, and the main problem of such societies is the relationship of its people. To be sure, at first glance the caste system is nothing more than an elaborate apparatus of domination that cements social inequality – but that is only one perspective. As mentioned earlier, India, like any other agrarian society, had to cope with the fact that eighty to ninety percent of the people were forced to produce that surplus of food which allowed a minority of ten to twenty percent at most to pursue other occupations. But India has mastered this constraint in a special way – that is the second and more revealing perspective. It redeemed the people of mass society from isolation and anonymity by providing them with a firm hold in tightly knit communities. Each caste was a microcosm of unconditional mutual solidarity, where everyone was responsible for everyone else. A kind of social insurance had existed in this system for more than two thousand years – and for this purpose neither the state nor trade unions were needed.

PM: Because among its members the caste was the unit that provided a great deal of equality?

GJ: Yes, but this system did even more. The meaning of every individual’s activity was immediately comprehensible to the rest of society, because all castes served each other. While biologically segregated with marriages and even meals among members of different castes strictly forbidden, the baker, the blacksmith, the washer, the barber, the priest were indissolubly chained to each other in daily life because each caste had a right to their respective services. This was a kind of labor guarantee and permanency that in our societies was invented much later.

PM: I agree, these are interesting assertions, which of course science would have to verify in detail. But what are you actually trying to say with your excursion to India? I still miss the connection with our previous discussion.

GJ: The Indian caste system defined people as unequal from birth and underpinned this with an ideology that in our understanding is a mere fiction. In this respect, it is an absurd relic, as you rightly criticize in your book. But we are making a huge mistake if we overlook the fact that this system was able to cope in its own way – and very successfully at that – with the greatest challenge that massively threatens us today, namely radical isolation, lack of support, loneliness and anonymity of people who feel uprooted within large state structures.

PM: If I understand you correctly, you see the main problem of our society in loneliness, isolation and anonymity rather than in material inequality?

GJ: That is precisely my thesis.

PM: But then how do you explain that in the first three postwar decades Western states cared so little about this supposed main problem and, on the contrary, regarded the establishment of social justice as their most urgent task?

GJ: That was the time when people in the West no longer wanted to know anything about ideology. The fanfares of propaganda that had led to the were still ringing in people’s ears. They wanted only one thing: to regain a minimum of prosperity, and they did not envy others for wanting the same. But by the beginning of the 1980s at the latest, the war had been forgotten, prosperity had arrived, and most people were materially satiated. And people became aware that modern capitalism produces material wealth but does not increase their psychological well-being. They had to experience that human alienation grows, as it were, in parallel with gross national product.

PM: You mean to say that while capitalism is an efficient, perhaps the most efficient, instrument for increasing wealth, it achieves this goal only at the cost of destroying people in the process?

GJ: Despite all ist booms and busts, capitalism has undoubtedly proved to be the most successful economic model – in a purely material sense the world has never even remotely been as wealthy as it is today. It is precisely because capitalism is so terribly efficient that raw materials are being consumed at a rapid pace and water, air and earth being poisoned with the residues of industrial production. The moment half the world’s population enjoys the same standard of living as your country, Sweden, Mr. Molander, large parts of the globe will no longer be habitable. And that is still not the whole story. For this frightening efficiency of capitalism, not only is nature sacrificed, but also the deepest needs of man. In the perfect capitalist machinery, human beings serve as functional cogs to be replaced at any time. They are not supposed to build lasting interpersonal bonds among each other. In this way, neoliberal capitalism exerts a devastating effect on the needs of man. For these are oriented in the opposite direction: at lasting and reliable bonds with surrounding people and with the habitat where people live.

PM: An interesting thesis. But that is still no answer to the question you yourself posed earlier. Why did equality no longer count after those exceptional three postwar decades?

GJ: But I have already hinted at the answer. At the end of the 1970s, when most people were once again living in prosperity to the point of material saturation, memories of the war and the ideologically fomented Volksgemeinschaft receded. Instead, the need for spiritual support and togetherness, the need for identity and community came to the fore again. Now the ideal of social justice lost its appeal, while ideological proposals of struggle against taxes, for the preservation of migratory toads, against deforestation of the rainforest, for the climate, or the confession of sexual peculiarities created militant groups united by common beliefs and goals. Such communities are particularly tight-knit when they have to stand up against enemies – real or perceived persecution always brings people particularly close together. This is especially true for sexual or ethnic minorities, for whom, everywhere in the world, their own identity soon became much more important than social.

PM: Even if your analysis is correct, I don’t see what politics can do to strengthen human community. As I show in detail in my book, we can pass laws and strengthen institutions like labor unions to make our societies more socially just. But we cannot impose community. So, what is the use of an analysis that does not lead to practical consequences?

GJ: No, no state can impose community, but a strong – very strong – state can impose equality. That is true. But, dear Mr. Molander, you overlook a crucial difference. If it is true that the social instinct is one of man’s deepest needs, then the state does not need to become active. Friendships, communities, associations and cooperatives, that is, bonds, arise spontaneously among people. The state only needs to remove those impediments that prevent this need from unfolding. 

PM: You mean to say that he must rein in capitalism when it isolates man, tears apart human bonds, transforms him into a mere interchangeable cog?

GJ: That’s exactly what I’m trying to say, because it’s dangerous when people can’t live out their basic need for community. Then this need will be satisfied in other ways. The uprooted, unstable, lonely person, for whom one’s neighbors are only numbers, has by no means lost his longing for human communication and bonding. Demagogues from Hitler and Stalin up to their more or less diabolical contemporary imitators know this quite well. Populist politicians of the right-wing spectrum in particular take advantage of this need when they artificially weld people together into hordes with unrealizable promises or inflammatory slogans. Then bawling mobs emerge, feeding on resentment and hatred – a diabolical substitute for peaceful community.

PM: If I understand you correctly, you are saying that in rich capitalist societies, which are flexible, mobile, and diverse to the point of disintegration, identity, not social justice, is the anchor consciously or unconsciously sought for by most people. In other words, the economic system should not interfere with our human need to create lasting ties to other people and to the nonhuman environment as well such as the village, the town, the professional community, and ultimately the homeland where we live. To my ears, that sounds very much like social romanticism.

GJ: You are right. During the past two centuries, capitalism, so efficient in economic terms, proved to be a power of destruction for long-term human ties; nowadays, even marriage and nation seem to be romantic reminiscences. But if we allow our neoliberal economic system to gradually break down lasting human communities, then we should not be surprised that people reach for artificial substitutes. In order to experience that inborn need for social belonging, they allow themselves to be seduced by the inflammatory slogans and whispers of demagogues. The lowest common denominator – usually hatred of some opponent built up into a bogeyman – then welds people together into manipulable hordes. Don’t think that these people criticize shallow seducers like Donald Trump for being a hereditary millionaire. If they are united with him in common hatred, that union means a hundred times more to them than material equality.

PM: I know, of course, that those people exist. But I know enough others who need neither good nor demagogic communities, people who feel very happy communicating across the boundaries of space and time with their colleagues all over the world. They are so absorbed in their respective specialties as businessmen, biogeneticists, astrophysicists, corporate executives, rock stars, etc., that home, nation, and place of origin have not the slightest meaning for them. These cosmopolitically oriented, often highly educated people are, by the way, extremely resistant to demagogic whispers.

GJ: Yes, but this is a favored minority – and favored minorities are on the upper rungs of the social ladder and therefore feel comfortable everywhere. And they don’t care about social justice either – scientists like you are an exception. Social justice and identity primarily concern the lower classes. These form the overwhelming majority, a majority which has never been cosmopolitan. For these people community means the people of their neighborhood, their language, their way of feeling and thinking. For these either offend or strengthen their self-esteem.

Let us be clear on this point: The great intellectual adventures that our time in particular has to offer in such abundance can be a substitute for the need for local rootedness and community. Through these adventures a privileged find their spiritual home in transnational communities. But when politics is oriented toward the privileged instead of the majority and its needs, it not only loses sight of social justice, but also prepares the ground for resentment, hatred, and demagogues.

The Lucifer Principle

(Conversation between Lucifer, Howard Bloom and a certain GJ – statements in italics are quotes from Bloom)

LUC: Howard, you are a merciless exposer of human weaknesses and criticize intellectuals like Erich Fromm who, you say, assign false greatness to man. Eric Fromm, the psychoanalytic guru of the sixties, turned the idea that the individual can control his own universe into a rabidly popular notion. Fromm told us that needing other people is a character flaw, a mark of immaturity. Possessiveness in a romantic relationship is an illness. Jealousy is a character defect of the highest magnitude. A mature individual is one who can drift through this world in the self-contained manner of an interstellar transport manufacturing its own oxygen and food. As a consequence, he had no need for the admiration and reassurance that only the weak long for.

GJ: Your criticism of Fromm does, of course, raise the question of why Fromm’s writings have been translated into most of the world’s languages and are admired by millions of people, while your book, The Lucifer Principle, is either completely unknown to most of them or only touched with tweezers by those who know it?

LUC: As my name implies, I am a light-bringer who blinds the eyes of the simple-minded. Seeing me many blink in sheer horror. Even the old good Lord loves illusions. That is why HE could not tolerate Eve tasting from a certain apple. Your professors are outraged for yet another reason. They loathe any outsider who intrudes into their enclosure. Howard is a genius of the PR industry spoiled by runaway success. He represented rock stars such as Michael Jackson, John Cougar Mellencamp and many other luminaries of the music world. When such an outsider claims to know more about man and nature than they, the state-certified specialists, they turn up their noses in indignation.

GJ: But that wouldn’t stop the large audience from eagerly picking up Mr. Bloom’s theses. Apparently, people don’t want to know anything about enlighteners who mercilessly dismantle their most cherished ideals. In contrast, they love men like Erich Fromm because they arouse their enthusiasm. What is the use of someone showing us our helplessness and our weakness? Mr. Bloom is in the tradition of Thomas Hobbes who was admired for his sharp mind, but no one loved him for that excellence.

HB: My point is not to diminish the human being. Or are neurologists belittling man when they prove that our genes determine our behavior as much as that of any other biological species? My point is to strengthen what is most precious in man: his self-knowledge. If, in the process, I succeed in shattering some of your cherished illusions, then accept that please as an intended side effect, for those who have illusions distort reality. Ideas can trigger the loftiest idealism and the basest cruelty. My book shows how the competition between groups can explain the mystery of our self-destructive emotions depression, anxiety, and hopelessness – as well as our ferocious addiction to mythology, scientific theory, ideology, and religion, and our one even more disturbing addiction – to hatred. The greatest human evils are not those that individuals perform in private, the tiny transgressions against some arbitrary social standard we call sins. The ultimate evils are the mass murders that occur in revolution and war, the large-scale savageries that arise when one agglomeration of humans tries to dominate another: the deeds of the social group.

LUC: Howard makes you appreciate how much you depend on me. In the creation of the world, I carefully consulted with the Ancient One when I planted evil in your souls.

HB: Evil is a by-product, a component, of creation. We have failed to see that our finest qualities often lead us to the actions we most abhor – murder, torture, genocide, and war. We need to stare directly into Nature’s bloody face and realize that she has saddled us with evil for a reason. And we must understand that reason to outwit her. By the way, evil is by no means just a male thing. Peru’s Shining Path guerrilla assassination squads were headed almost entirely by women.

GJ: Mr. Bloom, what is so new about exposing evil? The church has spoken of “original sin”, all religions deal with evil and how man should overcome it. And what is more, modern science has found a value-free way of looking at things long before you did. Science shows that animals grow paws and claws and the human grows intelligence – and they do so for the same purpose. All individuals are faced with the imperative of survival, which is won by those who prove superior to their competitors.

HB: Religions have projected evil to a place far from man, mostly to hell; the sciences have done a great service to knowledge by illuminating the mechanisms of natural selection. They show that evolution invented larger claws and higher intelligence not just for play but as weapons that give advantages to the individuals equipped with them. Evil, too, is in the service of natural selection.

GJ: Erich Fromm called for a competition-free society in which everyone develops his inborn capacities, but does so without realizing his personal growth at the expense of others. What is wrong with this ideal? The great psychoanalyst described a society which every well-meaning person must see as a desirable ideal.

LUC: But a foolish ideal, because it blinds you to what reality is really like.

HB: In fact, even in the animal kingdom equality without competition cannot be found. Strict pecking orders exist with chickens as well as with chimpanzees and gorillas. Nature intended it that way. She wanted the strongest, most assertive and most intelligent individuals to pass their genetic makeup to their offspring. All others should and must be subordinate. These facts have been known to science at least since Darwin. But today’s science has made a serious mistake by relating natural selection exclusively to individuals. I agree with Thomas Hobbes when showing that the pecking order opposes groups, nations, and superpowers to an even greater degree. As long as there have been human groups, they behaved just like all other primate hordes: They fight each other. This too is natural selection, of which Darwin was well aware, by the way. /He/ saw competition taking place at several levels, including that which occurs between individuals and that which occurs between groups. When discussing ants, he acknowledged that evolution could easily induce individuals to sacrifice their self-interest to that of the larger social unit. In his later writings, he proposed that a similar process occurs among human beings. 

GJ: Please, how can it be a purpose of evolution that states merciless fight each other, torture their opponents to death, or exterminate entire peoples? Such a terrible picture of nature was up to now only envisaged by Arthur Schopenhauer, for whom the will – today we would say: evolution – was the principle of pure and meaningless evil.

LUC: Schopenhauer was a realist. He never doubted my existence. On the other hand, he erred as only a German philosopher can err. Pure evil is by no means without meaning – by God, no one should be allowed to disparage me in this manner. Nature does pursue a definite purpose. She not only wants the strongest, most assertive and most intelligent individuals to emerge victorious but also the strongest groups and nations. And within the latter, it increases the will of individual members to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the group.

GJ: Don’t you see the stark contradiction to the instinct of self-preservation as postulated by modern science? Individuals whose highest purpose is their own self-preservation will not voluntarily sacrifice themselves for others.

HB: It is just not true that self-preservation is the only instinct, also its opposite, the death instinct, is an inborn drive. Back in 1897, the seminal French sociologist Emile Durkheim compiled a set of statistics that demonstrated the rise of self-inflicted deaths after the market crashes of 1873 and 1882, and coined the term “altruistic suicide.” Durkheim seemed to sense that beneath the surface, the suicide was destroying himself to rid the wider social group of a burden. Sociologist and ethnologist Marcel Mauss, a relative and follower of Durkheim, was even more specific. He noted an occasional “violent negation of the instinct for self-preservation by the social instinct.” The fact is, if individual selection’s survival instinct is our ruling force, then self-destruct mechanisms should not exist… But animals of all kinds are born with a virtual arsenal of built-in poison pills. 

For nature single individuals just do not constitute values as such but are mere figures in the big chess game of collectives that assert themselves against each other. The individual figure gets sacrificed if this is a benefit for the group. E. O. Wilson, in his keystone book “Sociobiology”, cites numerous examples of behavior in which individuals sacrifice themselves for the good of the larger whole. But current theory continues to explain these away.

GJ: We have not forgiven Konrad Lorenz for consistently comparing us to ducks, geese and other creatures. Supposedly realistic realists like the Austrian ethologist simply overlooked the fact that it is the privilege of man to overcome himself and nature. Our human greatness is based on the fact that each of us is more than his past.

HB: Quite nice, but did we succeed in overcoming ourselves and our past? Not at all. Human groups, nations and superpowers still fight for precedence with strength and intelligence just like our animal ancestors, e.g. the rats. /Their cordial contact/ only extends to family. Rats will mercilessly hunt down members of a rival clan. And if a nonrelative accidentally stumbles into their nest, the homey little creatures who a moment before were hugging one another will turn on the guest with the foreign genes and tear him limb from limb. /The great American ethnologist/ Margaret Mead says every human group makes a simple rule: thou shalt not kill members of our gang, but everyone else is fair game. According to Mead, each group says that all humans are brothers and declares that murdering humans is out of the question. Most groups, however, have very strange means of defining who is human /rather than barbarian, outsider, heathen, capitalist, communist, etc./.

Luc: But undoubtedly you have risen far above your animal ancestors in two remarkable ways. First, because we have turned the claws, paws and fangs of our distant ancestors into tenfold supersonic intercontinental missiles with nuclear heads. And these apocalyptic paws have fallen into the hands even of mid-sized states like Iran or dwarf states like North Korea and Israel.

HB: Four of the seven nations that lead in building the bomb — Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Algeria — see America as their major enemy. And, second, that is by no means all. In addition to physical weapons, we are also making use of mental weapons that are at least as effective.

GJ: An appalling doctrine. What about these spiritual weapons?

HB: They are our ideas, which I call “memes” borrowing this term from Richard Dawkins. Every religion is a web of ideas that binds people together, often so tightly and instantaneously, that it chains them together into a single superorganism that – driven by a common will – may hence completely change and reshape reality. Humans grab at ideas because ideas knit them together in groups of people who agree with them. They provide the comfort of companionship and mutual aid. That’s one way memes seduce humans into their power. Behind this seduction, however, we glimpse another reality. An ideology is usually a high-minded mask for a group’s itch to take power and resources from other social groups.

LUC: No religion has accomplished this effect as visibly as Islam. It has preached mercy towards one’s own group and persecution towards all others. /Islam/ imposes a host of admirable responsibilities on its adherents: for example, zakat, the presentation of regular, substantial contributions to the poor. Allah also demands that his followers “give glad tidings to those who believe and work righteousness,” “cover not Truth with falsehood nor conceal the Truth when ye know [what it is],” and “treat with kindness your parents and kindred and orphans and those in need.”

The approach to non-believers is quite different. In A.D. 624, the Prophet announced the concept of the jihad – the holy war. He said in the blessed book, the Koran, “I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their fingertips off them… And slay them wherever ye catch them.” Elias Canetti, in his Nobel Prize – winning book Crowds and Power, calls Islam a killer religion, literally “a Religion of War.”

The founder of the Iranian Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini shares this opinion. “Islam does not allow peace between… a Moslem and an infidel.” And: “Any nonreligious [i.e., non- Islamic] power, whatever form or shape, is necessarily an atheistic power, the tool of Satan.” Khomeini’s works advocate vigorously converting or murdering all those who do not embrace Allah’s holy meme. /They/ urge a holy war on the nations of the West.

HB: Ideas are our special human invention. In their effectiveness they are as powerful, often even more powerful than physical weapons – and much more terrible, too. In the schoolyard, in a company, or on a soccer team, when individuals vie for a higher place in the pecking order, they settle for headlocks and scuffles, or the alpha male’s chairs are sawed off. Such fights are comparatively harmless, although there are always losers and winners. But when in the competition between groups, nations and superpowers memes are used – that is ideas and ideologies, religions, doctrines and dogmas – whole battlefields full of corpses are usually left behind. The Nazis invented the terrible idea of Untermenschen (subhumans) in order to exterminate their fellow human beings. The Marxists invented the evil to be destroyed in the shape of the bourgeois – any human being with property such as a simple peasant or a small factory owner. Mohammed invented the infidels and handed them over to the believers for slaughter. As for medieval Christians, the Crusaders waded with utmost fervor in the blood of Muslim pagans. But they were all just continuing what humans have always done since the dawn of civilization: dividing the world into two opposing spheres with “us” on one side and “them” on the other.

LUC: My friend Howard was the first to realize that the good Lord and my humble self paved your way to perfection by means of ideas. The survival of the fittest drives evolution – not only by tooth and claw but also by the very craziest memes. Stripped of their moral disguises, the slogans of freedom, peace, and justice are often weapons that those attempting to achieve hierarchical superiority use to stuff the rest of us into the lower ranks of the pecking order. Even the idea of Christian charity has served you as a weapon to carry out the destruction of all those who did not profess Christianity.

GJ: How primitive this Social Darwinism! We enlightened people of the 21st century have overcome such a sick way of thinking long ago! And let me add that the idea of memes being powerful weapons is not new after all. Max Weber saw “The Protestant Ethic” as a weapon that helped capitalism to victory. And in his famous work “Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse,” Émile Durkheim advocated an even more fundamental position. For him, ideas serve the same purpose as, for example, the war dances of early tribal societies before the start of a battle. They were meant to mentally streamline all individuals into one collective whole bound on wiping out the enemy.

HB: That’s right. The measure of the success of a web of memes – a myth, a hypothesis, or a dogma – is not its truth but how well it serves as social glue. If a belief system performs that function well enough, it can trigger the growth of a superorganism of massive size, even if its most basic tenets prove dead wrong.

GJ: But again, what you say is dead matter – long-forgotten history! In modern secular societies like for instance the states of Europe, religious dogmas and myths play at most a secondary role. Every individual is allowed to put together his or her own personal worldview. We rightly reject as absurd the idea that ideologies- religious or secular – weld us together or even serve as weapons to suppress others – let alone to fight them.

LUC: Absurd because you are masters of forgetfulness. It is just over half a century since the diabolical idea of Nazism was eradicated from your minds. Just three decades have passed since no less bloodthirsty communism of the Stalinist type suffered an equal fate. You do not want to see that what ruled a large part of the world with iron grip only a couple of years ago may at any time arise anew.

HB: Militant ideas are currently experiencing a frightening renaissance. Just look at the Internet. Unfortunately, there are good reasons for such a rebirth.

GJ: What do you mean by good reasons?

HB: People cannot exist in isolation. The pronounced individualism that Erich Fromm conjured up as an ideal was never more than a fairy tale. We are not the independent individuals we would like to be, but the dispensable parts of an organism that is much larger than ourselves. Each of us is sewn by invisible threads into the superorganism. We are cells in the beast of family, company, and country. If those social ties are severed we begin to shrivel and die.

GJ: But there again you get caught in an obvious contradiction. On the one hand, the members of every group – from chickens to primates up to humans – are in competition, that is, in constant struggle, with and against each other. On the other hand, they are supposed to stick together so tightly that even the lower ranks cannot live without the group. How does that fit together?

HB: For sure, it even fits devilishly well, because the frustration of the badly off is a welcome force to be directed at external enemies. As soon as the public scorn is directed against outsiders, non-believers, non-humans or subhumans, everyone suddenly feels quite close to his group mates. Propaganda is set in motion that sends shivers of patriotism down the spines of the lower classes. Suddenly the downtrodden feel how much they are needed. This sudden awareness of their value to the group tends to excite them so much that they gladly let their masters lead them to the slaughter. The more frustration the lower classes endure in peacetime, the greater their willingness to be trained against any common enemy. The diversion of frustration and anger against those outside the group always proved to be the means of choice to keep a horde together.

GJ: That is a Machiavellian theory. If true there would have to be many societies with a tremendously large potential for violence.

HB: Certainly, especially in the Middle East, where a majority of the population cannot find work. There, frustration was unleashed a few years ago during the so-called Arab Spring. But it is not only poverty and unemployment that drive young people to the barricades. Often, it’s less about daily bread than about the sense of self: the idea one has of oneself. We assume that humans /merely/desire, food, clothing, and shelter, but we forget that people crave something far more vital: status and prestige.

LUC: Pre-revolution Iran provides a poignant example.

HB: Right. Iran did very well under American tutelage. Poverty plunged, education and health care spread through the land, women gained new freedoms, and the standard of living skyrocketed. American policymakers were proud of their accomplishments. By the measure of food, clothing, and shelter, the U.S. had helped Iran accomplish miracles. But both our State Department and the shah had forgotten that pride, dignity, and dominance – the needs of the pecking order impulse – can be far more pressing than the demands of the body. Though the country owed much of its progress to the Americans, a rabble-rousing clergyman said the Yankees had placed the Iranians in chains and robbed them of their self-respect. The cleric understood the needs of the pecking order far better than the shah. The fathers of our foreign policy feel that by alleviating hunger, poverty, and disease, we can pull the pins out from under the urge to shed blood and make the third world love us. The philosophy hasn’t worked.

LUC: The gift of prosperity was worth nothing in their eyes. They chased the shah to the devil and called for a slobbering Ayatollah, who plunged them into poverty and terror, but gave them the enthusiastic feeling that they were the only ones in possession of a wonderful doctrine of salvation. The ayatollah had turned the pecking order upside down. The Americans, the children of the devil, were /now/ at the bottom. And the Iranians – the blessed of Allah – were on the top.

HB: /So it was and/ the lesson is simple: Helping those less fortunate than ourselves is a moral necessity, but don’t expect it to bring stability. And certainly don’t look for gratitude, or peace.

GJ: Attention! There we just heard the usual Islam-baiting, the same as the ill-fated Thilo Sarrazin inflicted on Germans a few years ago.

LUC: Your starry-eyed intellectuals did not want to hear the truth then or now.

GJ: If truth is a poison for the peaceful coexistence of people, we better keep it under lock and key. After all, an overwhelming majority of Muslims wants to live in peace with their neighbors. Sarrazin may have told the truth when he cited a whole range of scientific evidence that a religion that preaches fighting infidels does not provide a good basis for integration into German society. But this truth was not “helpful,” as Chancellor Merkel rightly noted. And many Germans took it as an insult to their self-esteem that someone understood the relationship with migrants differently than they themselves wanted to understand it. You might call that wishful thinking. But that was worth more to them than the deeply sobering analysis of the Berlin senator.

LUC: Like so many incorrigible idealists you believed that the best way to march into the future was with your eyes closed. In that sense, you should have forgotten Nazi crimes long ago.

GJ: Here in peace-loving Europe, we don’t want to hear messages preaching eternal struggle and never-ending competition.

HB: You imagine yourselves to be a protected island, while the superpowers point their missiles against each other, wage cyber wars and march their troops on your borders. Like the ostrich, you think you are out of danger if only you hide your head in the sand. /But/ to both body and brain, taking it easy is death; vigorous activity, on the other hand, is life itself. Humans need to vigorously pursue goals, to wrestle with problems, and to master them. The nation moving up embraces adventure. The country moving down abandons the strange and buries its head in the familiar. It tries to march backward in time.

LUC: True, all vigorous nations pursue the goal of catching up with or being ahead of the others. Hegel already saw through this game two hundred years ago. Hegel said the ultimate tragedy is not the struggle of an easily recognized good against a clearly loathsome evil. Tragedy, he said, is the battle between two forces, both of which are good, a battle in which only one can win.

HB: From the first to the last page, the message of my book boils down to the demand: open your eyes to reality as it is, then you are most capable of creating the reality as you want it to be! Illusions blind you to the requirements of action.

GJ: Mr. Bloom, you demonstrate this demand with the example of the United States, which, as you say, is blindly staggering into descent, although knowledge of the history of the fallen British world power should prevent it from making the same mistakes.

HB: Until 1870, Britain had been without question the strongest nation on the earth, yet she had spent the least on military hardware. From 1815 to 1865, a minuscule 3 percent of her GNP had gone into military budgets. Her strength had come from the spinning jenny, the steam-driven loom, the Cunard steamship, and the railroad. But Britain forgot that industrial innovation was the key to her power. It lost its economic superiority to Germany from the seventies of the 19th century. The British world power rested on its laurels, from then on it was far less innovative than Germany.

/British/ big business was defending itself through counterproductive mergers and takeovers, and the gap between rich and poor was growing ever greater as England was slipping downward in the pecking order of nations. /In this situation/ floundering British industrial titans dreamed of holding on to their old position by force. From 1880 to 1900, Britain raised her warship tonnage by 64 percent, and she nearly doubled the number of men she kept in arms. 

Today America seems to be following the path that led the British to their downfall. In 1945, the United States produced 40 percent of the world’s goods. By the mid-eighties, our share was half of that. Until the early seventies, we were the biggest exporter in the world. Today, we are the biggest importer. Our federal deficits are soaring, and the amount of money we’ve borrowed from the citizens of foreign countries is so large that we are now the biggest debtors since the prehistoric invention of the loan. Meanwhile, throughout the eighties our military budgets climbed dramatically. Like the English under Victoria, we were trying to fool ourselves with the notion that weapons are the real source of strength.

LUC: And meanwhile, two very ambitious upstarts are pushing up: Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. But that my friend Howard could not possibly know, because he published his great book back in 1997. At that time, Japan’s star was still high up in the sky, but Japan was too small to seriously challenge the United States. Now, however, we are witnessing an entirely different confrontation. This time, things are just the same as with chimpanzees, when the existing pecking order is shaken. The two pretenders in China and Russia are taking every opportunity to grab the legs of the American alpha dog. China is abrogating the Hong Kong Treaty, it brazenly claims the entire South China Sea for itself, and scouts for an opportunity to incorporate Taiwan into its territory. Russia, too, is pursuing an increasingly aggressive policy – albeit in response to a previous NATO enlargement. Putin has annexed Crimea in violation of international law and is propping up eastern Ukraine so that it can keep the West on its toes with military pinpricks.

GJ: Wait a minute! Why should Russia continue to keep the West on tenterhooks? After all, it has already achieved its goal. No one is seriously willing to dispute Russia’s possession of Crimea.

HB: The winner is never satisfied, because victories tend to make him still more aggressive. Testosterone levels go up in the winners and down in the losers. Testosterone makes winners restless, confident, and aggressive. The nation moving up embraces adventure. The country moving down abandons the strange and buries its head in the familiar. It tries to march backward in time.

LUC: As our friend Howard demonstrates with many examples, aggressive adventure is called for primarily through memes, by which a nation invokes its own uniqueness. Usually you call that chauvinism.

GJ: I agree. Putin welds Russians together by pushing them into the role of victims. “We liberated Europe from fascism, but the West does not recognize our achievement but falsifies history to diminish our merits.” Putin conceals the fact that the Soviet Union, insidiously invaded by Hitler, did indeed liberate itself – but only itself. In Eastern Europe it soon supplanted Nazi totalitarianism with its Stalinist counterpart. From Poland to Hungary, Russian occupation was by no means experienced as liberation. East Germans, Czechs, Hungarians and Poles protested in uprisings against the Soviet yoke. Putin turns this evident truth into a malicious falsification of history.

LUC: My friend Putin is a gifted master of propaganda. It is not by chance that he was a man from the secret service. The day of victory over fascism, May 9, is now celebrated with utmost pomp, fanfare, solemn avowals to the fatherland, glorification of Russian might and overwhelming public emotion. As breathtakingly pompous as under the Nazis, or in today’s China or North Korea, the Russian government is celebrating the oceanic feeling of collective destiny, something you in the West hardly know, because each individual leads an isolated private existence. Propaganda extolls the feeling of belonging to the great Slavic brotherhood, it evokes a glorious past and sends goose bumps down people’s spines at endless professions to homeland, veterans and all Russian compatriots. That is the positive side of collective emotional exuberance. If the system of belief pulls together a large enough superorganism, the faithful will, indeed, taste a bit of heaven.

HB: But few see the other side of the coin. They do not suspect that the purpose of the collective ecstasy so cleverly orchestrated by the government is the same as that of chimpanzees and our ancestors when they performed their dances of war: it is meant to arouse willingness to sacrifice one’s own life for the community when called to the flags.

Beware, I tell you. The Russian war machinery not only consists of supersonic missiles (against which US defense bases are powerless for the time being), it consists furthermore of people who are united in the awareness that the rest of the world is against them and that it is therefore their mission to prove to a decadent and malicious West that the Russian people will never give in.

GJ: That may well be true. Even those who see through Russian lies feel strangely touched by the intensity conjuring up a new collective sense of brotherhood. The agonizing self-doubt that afflicted the Russian people under Gorbachev and Yeltsin after the collapse of the Soviet Union has given way to a combative self-confidence since Putin is at the helm. I would like to note, that patriotism, when expressed in love for one’s people, one’s homeland and for the positive aspects of a shared history, gives expression to a respectable feeling. I think that those people are more deplorable who do not like their own countrymen, their own homeland and their own history – as is the case for many Germans.

LUC: My friend Vladimir Putin has accomplished an even greater feat. He feeds and fuels resentment. “Us against the rest of the world” – that’s the new attitude welding Russians together. With the state pouring much of its resources into the military machine, many Russians are objectively worse off under Putin. But skillful propaganda has nevertheless achieved its goal. The frustrated many do not blame the government for their miserable situation, they blame the hostile West. Putin is using an instrument that the Chinese under Xi Jinping have mastered just as well. Patriotism is perverted into a sharp weapon by turning it into resentful chauvinism. By now the Chinese are fully convinced that they have the better economy, the more efficient government, and that they are the better people, who naturally deserve to be at the head of the world community.

HB: But watch out! They are not so stupid as to openly reveal their true intentions. On the contrary, Russians as well as Chinese, when talking about the future as they conceive it, invariably proclaim that there should be no alpha-nation, no pecking order, no top and bottom but a multipolar world of equals. For as far as they are concerned, they would, of course, never seek world domination. Unfortunately, history tells a very different lesson. Rebellion against the hegemon always proceeds in this manner. In order to bring the bystanders to their side, the beta and gamma males make themselves small; they whitewash their drive to the top by portraying it as a blessing for all concerned.

GJ: Then the eternal game would just repeat itself for all eternity? At some point, the alpha male at the top – in this case the United States – is so weak that it has to abdicate to make way for China or Russia – just as Rome, Habsburg and Great Britain had to abdicate in the past?

LUC: Within a group, the alpha male is forced to retire when pushed aside by an upstart. That is of no concern to the rest of the world. But between nations, rise and fall are decided not by bites but by swords, guns and now missiles and nuclear bombs. That’s how the Creator, in his wisdom, set it all up. Howard calls this “natural selection” between superorganisms held together by ideas (memes). Evolution is not just a competition between individuals. It is a competition between networks, between webs, between group souls.

HB: True. But missiles and bombs require a strong economy. That’s why the United States must do everything in its power to accelerate technological innovation and return strength to the economy. We have to stay ahead in the technological race because that race will continue – as well as the merciless competition at its base. No individual and no nation can escape this destiny. With our dream of eliminating competition, we try to wish the pecking order away. But the fact is that we will continue to live in pecking order structures whether we like it or not /and/ the brutal fact is that the more we opt out of competition, the lower our position is likely to be. That holds true in our lives as individuals, and it holds even more true in our life as a nation. If you’re not on top, you’re going to sink.

GJ: Wrong! At one point you say yourself that this ghoulish spectacle must come to an end. To our species, evolution has given something new – the imagination. With that gift, we have dreamed of peace. Our task – perhaps the only one that will save us – is to turn what we have dreamed into reality. To fashion a world where violence ceases to be.

Here, you admit the truth. Nevertheless, you fail to acknowledge that we have to create this new world right now, that is, in the coming decades of the present century, because thanks to our intelligence we have increased potential violence to such an extent that for the first time in human history we are able to extinguish ourselves and, what is more, all life on the planet. Even if the gruesome game will never end among individuals, among nations that can destroy each other at the push of a button, it must end once and for all: We must stop the race of nations.

In this pressing necessity lies a break with all previous history. Until yesterday, it was still possible for the ruling nation to be knocked off its throne by another younger and stronger one. For hundreds of thousands of years, this iron law has held true among humans as in the animal kingdom, promoting “natural selection.” But in the 21st century, this law can and must no longer apply. For victory with today’s weapons no longer selects the strongest but kills all of us indiscriminately: the victor as well as the vanquished.

HB: Certainly, all are aware of this radically changed situation – all, including, of course, Biden, Xi, and Putin -, but this awareness has not in the least attenuated the need to sit at the head of the table and preside over the others. That’s why I implore my compatriots to push competition and technological progress with all their might. /Some/ self-proclaimed champions of the public interest are attempting to stop critical areas of scientific advancement: In many intellectual circles, even the concept of progress has been turned into a dirty word. This is a pernicious development. If we want the U.S. to remain at the forefront of the global community, we can only achieve this through competition and technological progress.

LUC: Dear Howard, with my gift for seeing into the future, I’ll allow myself a little warning. The progress you hail so much could cost you dearly. There is not even a guarantee that the inferno will not be unleashed by mere chance – I mean, technological chance. With ever-shorter warning times against a nuclear first strike by the enemy, you have programmed computers to automatically retaliate (as there is not enough time for humans to check). For the sake of survival, you should tame that kind of “progress” that instead of taking you to the top may finally catapult all of you out of existence.

GJ: If I understand Mr. Bloom correctly, nothing significant has changed in our psychological disposition from the Stone Age up to the present. In every group, someone wants to be on top – that’s what we call competition. In the world community, one nation wants to set the tone – that’s what we call the race of nations for greater economic and military power. But now, due to incredible technological progress, something radically new has entered the stage. Since the second half of the 20th century, each superpower has fabricated enough bombs to make the globe uninhabitable for humans. The victory of one over the other, does no longer lead to a mere replacement as in the past but carries the risk of collective demise.

I conclude from this fundamentally new situation that for human reason there remains but one way out this impasse: agreement on a world regiment. But such unification becomes more and more difficult when Americans, Russians and Chinese stir up hatred against each other. We must fight this hatred. /Because/ our task – perhaps the only one that will save us – is to turn what we have dreamed into reality.

GJ and Lucifer: Mr. Bloom, Howard thanks for this debate.

Sahra Wagenknecht – a righteous one among the self-righteous

(Debate between the devil, Mrs. Wagenknecht and a certain GJ. Original quotes from SW are in italics)

GJ: Released from ice are brook and river by the quickening glance of the gracious Spring.

MEPH: Say, will we discover even a single righteous person under the laughing sun of spring?

GJ hurries toward a tall figure in the merrily strolling crowd.

MEPH (whispering): Attention! This is no German Gretchen, this is a Teutonic-Iranian Valkyrie!

Fair lady, let it not offend you, that arm and escort I would lend you!

SW: I’m neither lady, neither fair, and home I can go without your care.

However, the cheerful mood of spring puts me in a mild disposition. I am quite prepared to talk to you provided you have something to say. As an emancipated woman, I do not consider men to be fundamentally stupid. But no me-too! I strongly advise you not to try this on me!

Together, the three of them move to an invitingly decorated table in the garden of a sidewalk café.

GJ: May I introduce you to my friend Mr. M.? He is a great debunker, but you, dear Mrs. Wagenknecht, you can boast of an even sharper eye. You managed to scrape off all that glossy varnish from leftist hypocrites.

SW: It seems that our society has forgotten how to discuss its problems without aggression and with a minimum of decency and respect. Democratic debate has been replaced by emotionalized rituals of indignation, moral defamation and open hatred. That’s frightening.

MEPH: And I always thought the left stood for social justice, for brotherhood with the whole world, for altruism and commitment to the weak. If you declare that to be hypocrisy, aren’t you putting yourself on the sidelines?

SW: According to Piketty, there are two major groups that voted for left-wing parties in the broadest sense in the 1950s and 1960s and /didn’t do so any more/.. in 1990-2020. These are, on the one hand, industrial workers and, on the other, simple white-collar workers in the service sector, who since the 1990s have, of course, in many cases also been former industrial workers or their children. Today, it is the better educated and, increasingly, the better paid who vote left, while the lower half of the population either stays away from the elections or votes for parties from the conservative and right-wing spectrum. In Germany, the Greens have now replaced the FDP as the party of the high-income earners.

MEPH: Dear Madam, I sympathize with your opinions. But the same could be said by the right, the AfD for example.

GJ: Objection! Our guest says something quite different, namely that leftist hypocrisy made the insurgency of the far right possible in the first place.

SW: There would have been no Donald Trump and no AfD if their opponents had not prepared the ground for them. Left-liberal intolerance and right-wing hate speech are communicating tubes that need each other, reinforce each other, and live off each other. Instead of addressing the /people/… with a program attractive to them, the SPD and the left have helped the AfD to its electoral victories and made it the leading “workers’ party”. The political right is the big winner of the beginning 21st century. We have to take note of the fact that the majority of voters of right-wing parties declare protest, not conviction, as their electoral motive. /This fact/ shows that economic liberalism, globalization and social cuts have made many people worse off or at least exposed them to greater insecurities and fears about life. That the left-liberal journalistic mainstream has also given them the feeling that their values and way of life are no longer respected, but morally devalued. In keeping with this, AfD supporters in particular repeatedly criticize the “widespread selfishness, lack of togetherness, and striving for power and profit” in our societyIn this context, one fact in particular stands out, which should actually cause sleepless nights to every leftist who still has any connection to their own tradition: the right-wing parties are the new workers’ parties… the AfD too owes its electoral successes to a considerable extent to the working class. The fact that it is the underprivileged rather than the wealthy who vote right-wing remains true even if the party in question advocates economically liberal policies oriented toward privatization and social cuts, as the majority of the AfD does, as well as the FPÖ or Donald Trump. In the 2016 election for the Berlin House of Representatives, 69 percent of AfD voters surveyed said they had voted for the party out of disappointment with everyone else. In the Thuringia election of 2019, too, more than one in two AfD voters confirmed that they had voted out of disappointment with the other parties.

GJ: So, you see the culprits in that academic middle class, which belongs to the winners of globalization. You speak of a lifestyle left that hides a frightening illiberality behind a deluding façade of liberalism.

SW: The Greens, in particular, are now the party of the academic middle class in most countries, voted for by software programmers and marketers and journalists and senior civil servants alike. In pure form, /they/ embody this lifestyle-left political offer, but it has also become the dominant current in the social democratic, socialist and other left parties in most countries. For the politico-cultural worldview of this lifestyle left, the term left-liberalism has recently become established, although left-illiberalism would be much more appropriate. What makes the lifestyle left so unappealing in the eyes of many people, especially the less advantaged, is its obvious tendency to mistake its privileges for personal virtues and to glorify its worldview and way of life as the epitome of progressiveness and responsibility. One does not want to be lectured about immigration as a great enrichment for our society by those friends of multiculturalism who carefully make sure that their own child attends a school where it only has to make acquaintance with other cultures in literature and art classes.The term white trash for the white American working class was also propagated by left-wing liberals. What also makes the lifestyle left less likeable, of course, is that it continually calls for an open, tolerant society, but itself often displays a frightening intolerance in dealing with dissenting views. In this respect it can easily compete with the far right. There is now even a term for campaigns whose declared goal is to silence and socially destroy disagreeable intellectuals: cancel culture. Another typical trait of the lifestyle left: showing a morally untouchable attitude is more important to them than actually implementing their concerns. The right attitude weighs more heavily than doing the right thing.

MEPH: But that’s an old story! How many heretics have been tortured, dismembered and burned at the stake by the Church of the gentle Lord Jesus Christ, although morally they were often the better people, whose only fault was to contradict some dogma. From time immemorial people had  to profess their allegiance to an association and wave its flag. As long as one was an opportunist, he was respected as an honorable citizen and upright believer; even mortal sins could then be tolerated. The right attitude counted, the right deed was a secondary matter.

GJ: Ms. Wagenknecht not only criticizes, she also clearly states what has been done wrong. That’s what gives her words so much weight.

SW: Anyone who expects their own government to look first and foremost after the welfare of the local population and protect it from international dumping competition and other negative consequences of globalization – a principle that was self-evident among traditional leftists – is now considered a nationalist or even a Nazi.

MEPH: And that’s what he is. A true socialist is committed to ensuring that it is not merely himself and his neighbor who get richer and richer, but that the poorly off all over the world benefit from this progress. If companies from the U.S. or Germany migrate to China, that’s fine with him, even if thousands of jobs are lost here, because in their own country wealth is reduced at a high level, while in China, India or Africa it is created for the first time. The same attitude is expressed by allowing migration and thus providing a better life for people who could never hope for it in their home countries. Long live cosmopolitanism!

GJ: But you say, that even the apparent altruist who supports migration – if possible even to an unlimited extent – does so either because he is ignorant or because he is defending very tangible interests of his own.

SW: Everywhere, the opening to migration has been the reaction to falling unemployment and its consequence, namely that workers and their unions have become stronger and more militant. The most important interest group that has always had a pronounced interest in migration, lobbied vigorously for its promotion and facilitation, and often even took its recruitment into its own hands, is the business camp. And its purpose remained always the same: cheap labor and the division of the workforce. 2.5 million so-called guest workers were working in Germany when Social Democratic Chancellor Willy Brandt ended this policy in 1973 with a complete recruitment freeze. In today’s SPD, he would probably be attacked for this as being close to the AfD. Today, domestic workers and immigrants are in direct competition in many areas, with all the ensuing negative consequences. After all, the German low-wage sector is one of the largest in Europe. One in five employees now works in this sector.

The same holds true for other Western countries. Already in 2016, 20 percent of all low-skilled jobs in the United Kingdom were held by foreigners. Migrants made up 43 percent of the workforces in bottling and packaging factories, and 33 percent in the manufacturing industry. One major beverage manufacturer in London had hired its entire workforce in Lithuania. That the migration issue thus became the key issue in the Brexit debate was hardly surprising. ‘Leave Europe’ means gaining control over migration; ‘Remain,’ on the other hand, means unlimited immigration, falling wages and cultural tensions.

A study on migration to the United States proves a direct link between the degree of unionization in individual sectors and the non-employment of immigrants. Although the U.S. allows almost no legal migration beyond high-skilled immigration, illegal migration is politically desired and therefore has not been stopped by either Democrats or Republicans for decades.

As for the consequences for wage levels, these rather tend to be obscured by statistics. As far as /they/… are analyzed at all, the average wage level of an economy is usually taken as a reference. The effects that can then be demonstrated are usually small. This is because it is not all employees, but primarily those without higher qualifications, who suffer from competition. This is why migration does not affect the salaries of Michelin-starred chefs, just as it does not affect the salaries of journalists, commercial artists, senior teachers or other occupational groups in the so-called knowledge economy. On the contrary, these people rather profit because for them many services become cheaper: from the cleaning help to the delivery person, who drags the packages ordered online into the chic old apartment, to the waitress who serves specialties in the sushi bar. So, for the academically educated middle class, more migration increases the purchasing power of their own incomes.

MEPH: Madame, you are a tightrope walker. You skillfully maneuver between left and right, between “on the one” and “on the other hand”. On the one hand, you defend capitalism as long as it provides workers with good wages; on the other hand, you think capitalism is bad because it makes the rich even richer. On the one hand, you think competition is good, as long as it provides cheap consumer goods for the classes with the least purchasing power; on the other hand, you think it is bad, if it promotes the survival of the strong at the expense of the weak. Where do you actually stand? On the one hand, you are on the left; on the other hand, you represent positions that were previously attributed to the right. On the one hand, you come from the left – you even saw yourself as a communist for a while – but on the other hand, you blame your own people, which is why you had to give up your position as deputy leader of your parliamentary group. On the one hand you condemn the terrible liar Donald Trump, on the other hand you praise his tariff policy.

SW: People not only pardoned Donald Trump’s vulgarities, foul language and sexist slogans, these have indeed been the secret of his success. With all this, he distinguished himself as an underdog, as an outsider and opponent of the political establishment, who was hated and fought by exactly the same forces by which the non-academic American population had felt betrayed and despised for many years. The common opponent earned him sympathies from the blue-collar worker to the conservative Southerner up to the strictly religious churchgoer who should have thought him a godless bully. That’s one thing. On the other hand, Democrats and Republicans alike have accepted the de-industrialization of the country and the destruction of industrial jobs with complete indifference for decades, while he /though having done little/ for workers and the poorer, has put the issue front and center and declared war on globalization with his tariff policies.

Now, as far as my relationship with capitalism is concerned, the incentive to develop new products and to produce in a more labor-saving way … is the reason why … /capitalism/ has driven technological development for 150 years and multiplied the material foundations for our social prosperity. That is the positive side of this economic system. /Capitalism/ works best in highly competitive industries where laws and strong unions ensure rising wages and high social and environmental standards. When, however, these conditions are absent, things look quite different. All in all, capitalism is not a beneficial economic order for an economy dominated by services. Digital technologies are conceivably unsuitable for capitalist economic activity because, due to the trend toward monopolization, they lead to extremely high profit margins combined with unprecedented market power. In many places today, capitalism is not an economic recipe for promoting prosperity and well-being, but the exact opposite. An extreme example is the poorest district in Glasgow, Scotland, which is home to a particularly large number of people who have been thrown off track by developments in recent decades. Here, life expectancy is currently just 54 years, 30 years less than in the wealthy London neighborhoods of Kensington and Chelsea. In the U.S., life expectancy for women and especially men from the old middle class and working class has been declining for years. Where’s the contradiction when I show both aspects?

GJ: I agree with you. You make a coherent point.

SW: And now for my assessment of right versus left. Right-wing in its original understanding is the advocacy of war, social cuts, and great inequality.

GJ: A harsh criticism. You are thinking of Joschka Fischer’s (Germany’s former minister of foreign affairs) support for the war in Yugoslavia?

SW: For example. But these are positions that many Greens and left-liberal social democrats also share. Saying goodbye to reactionary traditions is quite different from hailing as progressive modernization the dissolution of all commonalities and the disintegration of society into an indifferent coexistence of isolated individuals and selfish small groups. Most people love their homeland and identify with their country, and they do not want to be antagonized or morally degraded for it. When left-liberals declare war on the renationalization of politics, they translate that as the left no longer defending the welfare state. For people who are oriented toward communities, their family is not just any family, their home region is not just any stretch of land, and their country is something different from other countries. That’s why they feel more closely connected to citizens of their own country than to people who live elsewhere, and they don’t want politics or the economy in their country to be controlled from the outside. People who think this way and uphold the values described are called conservatives today. The term is not wrong. People who think this way actually want to preserve and protect from destruction a system of values that is under massive pressure in the globalized capitalism of our time and has already broken down in some cases. All these attitudes, which according to surveys are shared by majorities, can be described as enlightened conservatives. They are easily compatible with a fundamentally liberal basic attitude. In a deeper sense, they are even left-wing. This is because they correspond to the daily experience, the traditions and also the social interests of employees in non-academic industrial and service occupations and the classical middle class. In no case is the longing for social bonds … /the/ result of a subjugation, as one of the masterminds of left-liberalism, Michel Foucault, has claimed. The imprinting of man by his history and national culture is not a prison from which he must be freed. However, value conservatism, which is oriented toward belonging and community, not only has most conservative parties as its opponents, but also left-liberalism: The latter regards people with value-conservative attitudes as backward-looking and suspects them of cultivating outdated prejudices and resentments. But being conservative in values and left-wing at the same time is not a contradiction in terms. To put it bluntly, such a program could be called left-wing conservative, even if this term faces the risk of being rejected by both sides.

MEPH: And yet you are strangely out of time with your weighing of one against the other. Young people don’t want a yes-no. They want clarity, and they want to protest and to strike when politics and economics no longer suit them.

GJ: And that’s what they’re doing with endless hate speeches evaporating from the poisonous kitchen of social media. I, on my part, praise the clear, honest view of reality that Ms. Wagenknecht offers us. Only the outraged, the stupid and criminals take clear positions. Reason always weighs the pros and the cons.

MEPH: Did the reasonable ever make world politics? The owl of Minerva only begins its flight as dusk falls. But Ms. Wagenknecht is not Minerva and not even an owl; she beguiles us with her idealistic visions. If she had her way, the nation-state would again be equipped with the instruments that made a comparatively just capitalism possible in the three post-war decades – then everything would allegedly change for the better.

SW: Yes, the nation-state is not a defunct model. The leftist… /position/ consists in presenting the nation-state not only as obsolete, but moreover as dangerous, namely potentially aggressive and bellicose. /But/ there can be no question of the nation-states being incapable of action. In every major crisis, regardless of whether the banks are collapsing or Corona is dragging the economy into the abyss, the nation states, which are said to be dead, turn out to be the only actors capable of acting. It is not the international organizations but the large nation-states that are powerful enough to enforce compliance with certain rules even outside their territory. This power is now used particularly ruthlessly by the United States. The nation-states are… also the only entity that currently corrects market outcomes, redistributes income, and provides social protection on a significant scale. The fairy tale of the weak nation-state in our globalized world is thus primarily one thing: an expedient lie by governments to shift responsibility for the departure from the state’s former promises of protection and security to factual constraints. According to a survey conducted by the World Value Survey between 2010 and 2014, the percentage of EU citizens who feel first as Europeans and then as citizens of their nation-state ranges between 4 and 6 percent in the various European countries. The highest figure is in Germany, at 10 percent. Let us be clear: The highest level at which institutions for joint action and joint problem solving exist and which can also be democratically controlled, is not Europe for the foreseeable future, and certainly not the world. It is the much-maligned nation state that has been prematurely declared dead.

MEPH: And yet in your book you show that the nation state no longer helps the weak. You contradict yourself and agitate against Europe, thereby strengthening the forces of the right-wing camp.

SW: A malicious insinuation. I am only showing that the neoliberal corporate-controlled nation-state, which has denounced solidarity with its own citizens, no longer helps the weak. And I show that Europe, too, no longer fulfills its duty to ordinary citizens. Since the so-called European Semester was introduced in 2011, under which the EU Commission can exert direct influence on national budgets, it has called on European states a total of 63 (!) times to make cuts in health care and to increase the privatization of hospitals. Around 50 times, the EU Commission called on governments to take measures to stop wage growth. 38 times it issued instructions to restrict employment protection and dismantle more workers’ rights. And the European Court of Justice supports these policies. The common thread running through /its/ socioeconomic judgments… is unmistakable: they favor large transnational corporations and they worsen conditions for workers and small and medium-sized businesses. The European Union today, Thomas Piketty concludes, has become an issue that unites the educational and economic elites, that is, the upper class and the academic middle class, while on the opposite side it unites the classical middle class, workers and simple service employees, who in most countries are united in their rejection of Europe in its present shape. 

MEPH: Madame, Globalization was not made in Europe, it was made by the United States. You disregard this fact.

SW: The globalization of production was… a politically enabled process under corporate pressure. Its motive was not productivity advances, but interests. It did not raise general prosperity, but made some richer and many poorer.  It is estimated that one-fifth to one-quarter of lost industrial jobs are due to outsourcing. Whereas at the beginning of the 1970s, large carmakers had completed about 60 percent of value creation in-house, by the beginning of the 21st century, this figure was only between 20 to 30 percent. By 1983 alone, within the first five years of the Thatcher government, a third of all British industrial jobs disappeared. By 2012, one in two industrial jobs had been lost in the UK and France, and one in four in Germany. The sectors hardest hit were textiles, shipbuilding, mining and steel.

MEPH: Again, you’ve made a mistake – and a very big one at that. Globalization has not made some richer and many poorer, but the other way round: it has made many richer and some poorer. Almost a quarter of humanity, namely Japan, China and the Asian Tigers have become rich and India is about to follow suit. Only the old industrialized nations of the U.S. and Europe, a fraction of humanity in terms of population, have suffered losses because many of their industries have been taken over by Asia. If you think of the whole of humanity and not of that small part which for more than two centuries has enjoyed great advantages anyway, you can only welcome this development.

SW: It was politicians who lifted capital controls and opened the way for international direct investment. It was politicians who refrained from equalizing differences in production costs through tariffs or even from curbing international tax dumping. It was politicians who sought investment protection agreements and the global protection of trademark, patent and copyright rights in order to embed the foreign investments of corporations in the most advantageous legal framework possible. They did so because business enterprises and their lobbyists used all their influence, money and economic power to bring about the relevant decisions. But politicians did not have to do that. Globalization has extremely increased the wealth of the upper class and the economic elites.

GJ: On that point, I agree with Mrs. Wagenknecht. Globalization was not the work of altruistically moved cosmopolitans. American companies made China rich, they laid the foundation for the rise of the coming world power that is soon to push America from the first place, but they did this not out of cosmopolitanism and altruism but out of short-term interests and long-term stupidity, because with utmost effort they themselves nurtured their powerful rival.

SW: Left-liberal cosmopolitanism are… above all one thing: a particularly tricky justification, allegedly based on noble motives, of exactly the development that we have been experiencing for a good thirty years: a justification for the freedom of global profit-seeking no longer hampered by any restrictions by the state. This celebrated cosmopolitanism is above all an alibi to get rid of the ties and thus also of the perceived obligations towards the less privileged strata of the population in one’s own country.

I insist that we must not put whole strata of the population out of work. If we do so there will be revolutions like those in the Middle East and, to some extent, nowadays in the US. That would be a horror vision for right and left alike. If the left does not take sides with the disadvantaged, then the right will. While the parties that operated under the left-wing label in Poland had prepared the ground for a Wild West capitalism with extreme inequality, the much-maligned PiS adopted the largest social program in recent Polish history after its election victory in 2015. This included, as the most important measure, a child benefit of 500 zloty per month, the equivalent of about 120 euros, a huge sum in view of Poland’s per capita income. This measure alone reduced the poverty rate in Poland by 20 to 40 percent, and by as much as 70 to 90 percent for children. What left-wing party can boast such successes in recent times? However unsympathetic one might otherwise find the PiS, and however reactionary its positions on many issues actually are, this package represents the kind of courageous social policy one would wish for from all social democratic and left-wing parties in Western Europe.

GJ: Agreed! This is the policy that China pursued in exactly the same way, and that’s why the dictatorship can rely on the loyalty of its people to this very day.

SW: That’s right. While 82 percent in China and 79 percent in India have confidence in the institutions /state, business, and media/ mentioned above, only 47 percent in the U.S., 46 percent in Germany, and 42 percent in the UK.

MEPH: Madame, you not only praise the right-wing in Poland and Hungary but even the Chinese dictatorship. How can you still be surprised that many consider you a right-winger in disguise?

SW: A malicious insinuation! I’m just trying to understand why people are satisfied with a government that represents their interests and why, conversely, they refuse to vote for governments – whether left or right – that ignore them.

GJ: China has absorbed over two-thirds of global industrial production because it still has a vast reservoir of disciplined cheap labor. What Germany was half a century ago, but is now less and less: a welfare state, is exactly what China is on the way to becoming in our time. Millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, and the billion-strong nation now even enjoys health insurance for all. But in our country more and more people have to do without the standard of living to which they had been accustomed.

MEPH: Which means that your politicians have betrayed the common good? I cannot share this view. No, there were objective reasons for the economic restructuring they initiated. Almost half a century ago, former Justice Minister Horst Ehmke described Daimler Benz as a bank with an affiliated car division. “In 1981, the Daimler-Benz company earned more from assets, especially in interest income, than from the sale of truck and car production,” he stated before the German Bundestag on October 13, 1982. It was similar in the United States. “General Motors… makes more money from mortgages than from selling cars” (Roszak, Red Alert, p. 67). Markets were saturated, leading industries were no longer making money in the real economy, so they got involved in financial speculation. It was at that time, that economists like Robert Reich announced to the world that home production (together with the insistence on local content) was a mistake. The so-called Washington Consensus made this a dogma and called for a new economic order. This was the turning point for globalization. You Europeans could only watch helplessly. Once the U.S. had started outsourcing ever larger parts of its industrial production to China, German companies had no choice but to adopt this strategy as well. Otherwise Germany’s products would no longer have be competitive on world markets due to excessively high prices. Contrary to what you, Madame, would have us believe, German politicians and German business were forced to comply. The nation state was doomed to impotence.

GJ: Not quite. German politicians could have refused globalization. Then all German exports would have been limited to Europe. At the beginning of the 1990s, the effects of such a refusal still remained manageable. At that time, three quarters of German exports went to Europe, so the loss would have been limited to the fourth part of exports. I made this suggestion in my book “Die Arbeitslose Gesellschaft” (Jobless Society, S. Fischer). German economist Meinhard Miegel gave the following commentary: “Try to persuade German industrialists to renounce”.

MEPH: Such renunciation could indeed not be expected because globalization proved beneficial for a majority of mankind. The Chinese and Indians would simply describe Madame’s theses as absurd – that explains why they have so much confidence in their governments. At the same time, you have to acknowledge the fact that outsourcing, once a state (in this case the US) has started with it, has to be accepted by all other states if these want to remain present on world markets. Madame is studiously turning a blind eye to this fact, because it does not fit into her image of a sovereign national state. Such blindness also explains her harsh judgment of the Agenda 2010 of the then German chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

SW: In their dealings with corporate boards and business associations, economic liberals like Schröder or Blair have usually only distinguished themselves from their conservative colleagues by an even greater subservience. /The existence/ of the low-wage sector /goes back /in part/… to the labor market reforms during the time of the SPD-Green coalition under Gerhard Schröder, which had abolished many protective rights of employees and given companies the opportunity to replace regular full-time jobs with irregular employment relationships on a large scale.

MEPH: Again, Madame is simply ignoring an essential part of economic reality. After the Washington Consensus made outsourcing acceptable, the level of wages paid in Germany no longer depended exclusively on competitive conditions in Europe but also on the requirements of the world market. If low-wage countries sold products there at much lower prices, German export companies had to lower wages at home or they would have been forced out of the market. The companies in question were as powerless in the face of this external coercion as were the trade unions. Like economist Heiner Flassbeck and many others, Madame does not want to acknowledge this elementary fact. She seems to forget that German competitiveness was already in danger, which is why at the time the rest of the world derided Germany as “the sick man of Europe”. It was for this reason that chancellor Gerhard Schröder pulled the emergency brake. By making the German welfare state cheaper, he gave German exports a huge boost, but at the cost of installing a low-wage sector in his own country – the largest in Europe. For a left-wing party like the SPD, it was. of course, a terrible blow that a chancellor from its own ranks decided to take such a step.

GJ: As long as Germany excelled with innovations, it was hardly subject to external wage pressure, because companies can charge monopoly prices for innovative products, at least for a time. But innovation cannot be decreed from above. The Chinese now register the most patents worldwide.

MEPH: Madame is nursing a number of other illusions as well. Even without outsourcing, there will be no return to the conditions of half a century ago. I am very surprised that the term “automation” does not appear once in your book. But you omit automation for good reason, as it makes your vision a failure. Workers and employees whose function was to carry out mental or physical routines are no longer needed in modern economy because a large part of their work can now be done by robots and artificial intelligence. But those who are not needed are not paid wages. Of course, no company or state can be forced to use robots and artificial intelligence, but if it ignores or refuses this development, it will technologically lag behind and will produce with less efficiency and more expense. For this reason, digitization and the advance of job-destroying robots can no longer be stopped. This affects all the classic professions of the working class and white-collar employees – in other words, that part of the population which represented the majority during those three post-war decades praised by Madame as a model. Due to technological progress, this majority has now already largely crumbled away. How can you hope that their representation, the trade unions, will still play a role in the future? How can we use the tools of the past to meet the challenges of such a very different future?

SW: Private ownership and the pursuit of profit /can/ only advance technological progress and thus increase the economy’s potential for prosperity where competition works and clear rules and laws ensure that costs cannot be cut at the expense of employees and the environment.

GJ: Unfortunately, that is not true. Because of Agenda 2010, Germany as a whole became richer, there was growth again, only the less advantaged classes, the globalization losers, suffered. And as I said, while globalization made the losers in Old Europe and the United States poorer, almost a quarter of humanity has become wealthier since then – so overall the world got richer.

MEPH: Which is why Madame only receives applause for her theses in Old Europe and perhaps also in the United States. But my doubts go even deeper. There is something else – something really frightening – that she has completely overlooked. For about two centuries since the Industrial Revolution, the world assumed that resources were available in unlimited quantities. This hope was at the base for the demand for perpetual growth, which would eventually make rich everyone on the globe. But mankind has to dispense with this illusion. By now, it is already consuming more than a single globe (in the shape of non-renewable fossil energy reserves). But if we exhaust a non-renewable reservoir, then we are dealing with a zero-sum game. What some consume in excess, others must do without – now and in the future. Thus, in a world with limited resources, wealth for all becomes a mirage. The growth of some inevitably occurs at the expense of others. We would have to accept this objection to growth even if the climate crisis did not exist.

SW: Ah yes, the climate crisis. “Fridays for Future” and the left-liberal mainstream had turned the climate debate into a lifestyle debate, focusing on the demand for a carbon tax. The climate package passed by the federal government in response to /this/.. movement disproportionately burdens the lower middle class and the poor, as well as people living in rural areas. In order to save the environment and the climate, do we want to turn many of life’s comforts back into a luxury good that only the privileged can afford – or would we rather produce sustainably and with other technologies instead?

GJ: Please, that is surely the wrong alternative. With our actual growth mania we are heading for collapse if we don’t radically limit resource consumption. You admit as much at another place: Where will the energy come from to keep our economy running, to power our vehicles, and to supply our homes with heat and electricity if we do not want to use fossil fuels or return to nuclear power? Anyone who thinks they can solve this problem with a few more wind turbines and solar panels at today’s technological level has obviously never considered the energy needs of a society like ours, nor the fact that dark, windless days are very common in our latitudes despite climate change.Indirectly, you yourself admit that climate change and dwindling resources are forcing renunciation. The question is, who should renounce? You are committed to helping the poorest in society – and I am right there with you. If cutting consumption is not to lead to revolts within states and resource wars between them, then it has to apply to everyone.

MEPH: Very true, but the nation state is not in a position to enforce it. If it taxes domestic companies in a way that seriously helps the poor, they relocate abroad; if it makes the rich pay, they take flight with their capital; if it cuts the salaries of its most talented people – the scientists, computer scientists, doctors, etc. – for the purpose of redistribution, they will look for jobs elsewhere. Only new walls between states – in other words, worldwide deglobalization – could prevent such evasion. But this would still be of no help under present conditions. For each state would then have to find all resources necessary for its way of living within its own borders. It could not be allowed to pollute with its own waste the air and the seas of the entire globe and, of course, it would have to renounce the missiles and bombs with which it threatens the whole rest of the world.

Technology has forced globalization on you – not the malice of politicians. By now, you all find yourself in the same tiny boat because through technological progress you have made the globe so small that everyone can know in real time what at the same moment not only his neighbor in the same street but the people on the other side of the globe are doing and intending. Globalization produced by technology is your undoing.

SW: I insist that there is still the opposition of near and far. A key category for delineating communities is the distinction of belonging and not belonging. In an intact family, we feel more closely connected to other family members than we do to people who are not part of the family. We are more likely to support family members than strangers. And we have greater confidence that we will not be taken advantage of and deceived. This is not morally questionable, but normal human behavior. The more we feel connected to people, the greater the inhibition to pull the wool over their eyes. It is… /this closeness/ that creates a basis for trust.

GJ: Certainly, and you also provide an apt quotation from Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Beware of these cosmopolitans, who in their writings promote far away duties, the fulfillment of which they contemptuously reject among themselves. Such a philosopher loves the Tartars in order to be above loving his neighbors.”

But despite this, and whether we like it or not, technology has brought all the people of the world so close together through an ever-increasing flow of resources, goods, information, and, unfortunately, garbage and bombs, that we are now forced, for our very survival, to trust those farthest away almost as much as those closest to us, because mere distance does not prevent even the most distant people from poisoning the air and the seas, irradiating the atmosphere, and melting the last glaciers. One can see in this an imminent danger, because the nation-state and its people have largely lost control over their own destiny. Or we can deny this dependence, as Mrs. Wagenknecht does. Or, finally, we can promise the rest of the world the gospel of an ever-growing and, what’s more, green economy, as China does, boasting that it is the most powerful engine of industrial production, world trade and global welfare.

MEPH: A blue-eyed vision that should rather be called a fraud, because China is well aware of the world’s dwindling resources. It is doing everything in its power to buy up land around the world and to secure access to resources in Africa as well as in Latin America. The battle for the remaining treasures has long since begun.

But I must add one more accusation. Mrs. Wagenknecht is blind to the real challenges that will make the situation of the poorest even worse in rich Western countries of the West. What we have been observing for several decades already is a global race for the best brains. After all, digital revolution has made technology even more complex and intellectually demanding. The most highly developed computer programs are already so extensive that DIN-A4 pages filled with them result in stacks the height of the Eiffel Tower. In a positive sense, we may call this a spiritualization of modern civilization. In a negative perspective, this development amounts to fewer and fewer people being eligible for these professions, because the Gaussian normal distribution of intelligence has not changed. The pool from which to draw such professions is therefore limited. Differences in pay will therefore inevitably increase, because the talent and competence required will increasingly turn into a rare commodity. Your society is in danger of falling apart or even breaking down because of complexity. While a shrinking minority of highly gifted people maintain technological “progress,” a majority sees itself increasingly sidelined.

As little as the nation-state, no matter how hard it strives for social justice, can reverse automation, so little can it do against the tendency of growing complexity.

SW: Factual constraints! I know, that’s how all those like to talk who find an explanation for even the most unbearable conditions. This entitles them to put their hands in their laps: there’s nothing more that can be done.

GJ: Objection. Let me defend my friend against such accusation. He only claims that the nation state is powerless against this development. Whether we like it or not, it is our triumphant technology that narrows our globe and imposes its laws. Nowhere is this compulsion more evident than with weapons. Every state that can afford them today possesses armaments with which to destroy its neighbors; the three superpowers can even wipe out the whole of mankind and make the globe uninhabitable for thousands of years. Against this impending danger the individual nation state is condemned to utter helplessness. If out of Christian meekness it were to decide to completely neutralize its own weapons arsenal, it is doomed to be oppressed by its previous opponents. Up to now no state has ever been rewarded for presenting its right cheek after being hit on the left one. So, all states continually strive for more arms – and in the process become more and more dangerous to each other. In our time, a more spark could suffice to ignite a global conflagration. This danger, which has been threatening us more and more since the beginning of the new century, cannot be averted by any individual state, but only by the leading superpowers. Either they succeed in deciding on a common world governance or they plunge each other and the rest of the world into ruin.

MEPH: Madame, you did not see or did not want to see that the nation-state cannot solve this most pressing problem of the new century. But the same is true for the climate crisis, resource depletion, and environmental littering. Every individual nation state, but also every confederation of states like the European Union, suffers disadvantages if being the only one that abandons fossil fuels and nuclear power, because renewables alone cannot meet its needs – as you yourself admit. So here again the nation-state remains helpless. There is only one solution to the greatest challenges of our century. Countries must get together and adopt rules for the whole world. Only when renouncing bombs, growth and the poisoning of nature becomes a common concern will it be recognized and followed by everyone. By attributing to the nation-state a competence to find solutions that it can no longer have in our time, you are describing conditions that belong to the past without giving us a realistic perspective for the future.

GJ: Please stop, you go too far. Ms. Wagenknecht rightly condemns the disintegration of society, which threatens not only the US but also Europe. She is one of very few righteous persons among the self-righteous because she exposes the hypocrisy of the lifestyle left by siding with the losers of globalization.

Sahra Wagenknecht to GJ:

Who is this belligerent gentleman who is pressing me so hard?

GJ: That is OldNick, my personal shadow and self-proclaimed friend.

MEPH: I am Part of that Power, not understood, Which always wills the Bad, and always works the Good.

GJ and his companion together:

Dr. Wagenknecht. Thank you for this interview!

A guest of Mephisto – What distinguishes chimpanzees from alpha males?

HIM: At times, I like to hear The Ancient’s word!

Me: God’s word – but why the subjunctive?

HIM: Such question betrays the unaware. Don’t the enlightened know for quite a time already that HE is dead, while I am pretty much alive? Nobody still believes in God and heaven’s work, but all can see that I still get dirt on my hands… Just think of Darwin’s glorious theory of descent.

Please, I object, man did not evolve from apes! I hope you do accept this basic truth.

And, nevertheless, the lines run strictly parallel. Hierarchy is an iron rule among your brethren chimpanzees. The alpha male invariably sets the tone. And woe to those who do not understand! That’s how it has remained with you, but you use bombs when fighting with each other – not stones, sticks and a biting jaw.

Aha, I concede with hesitation. You’re trying to convince me that our alpha males – now and then even some alpha female – are just some other naked monkeys?

HIM: Don’t worry, I don’t want to be impolite. I would rather like to have more respect for primates who like to call themselves sapiens, but then I take a glance at all those Kims, the Khomeinis, those Putins and Trumps of your world, and immediately I have a hard time seeing any difference with your hairy relatives. Certainly, things are different down below. There, I see people teeming with daily life, gathering and sifting, mating and multiplying, crying and laughing, some even enjoying their life, but above them the scene always remains the same. There I see the chief monkey sitting on top his throne, baring his teeth, waving his bombs.

What a sad vision, I say, and one that certainly only occurs to the devil. Has life no better meaning than to threaten and destroy ones neighbor? Aren’t we all human beings? Besides, the most advanced states have long adopted democracy, it tames our atavistic lust for power.

HIM: My friend, you make me laugh! Power cannot be tamed, it comes to being wherever weakness reigns – and of weakness you have more than enough. For the time being, the US is still the strongest power on earth. It can afford democracy and a constant wrangling for power of two rivalling parties, but China would continue to be as powerless as it has been for the past two hundred years if it allowed its citizens democratic diversity and dissent. After all, the leading power would readily exploit any internal weakness. Against the strong, the weak tend to defend themselves by means of autocracy or even dictatorship. You see, Putin and Xi have turned their states into dictatorships because they cannot afford democratic diversity without crumbling under external and internal pressure. And what is more, they form alliances against the leading power. These are – if I may humbly call it by that name – those potent elixirs of the devil, which you like to call by the name of “realpolitik”.

No, I say, that’s what we call lies. Nowhere are words and deeds so far apart as among the weak. Listen to president Xi’s lofty announcements when he describes the coming world order. According to him it will be free of hegemonic powers as it will consist of nations with equal rights, none of which aspires to rule over others. China’s concern is nothing but peace and harmony. But now please take a look at reality behind the imposing facade. Xi’s regime is demonizing the Dalai Lama, “re-educating” millions of Uighurs, trampling on political freedom in Hong Kong, wanting to do the same to Taiwan rather sooner than later, and seeking dominion over the entire South China Sea – all this in the name of peace and harmony.

HIM: Right. That’s what alpha males do all over the world. For an additional strip of land and a few more tax-paying subjects, they bite and bomb, and after the act is done, they want to be celebrated as the immortal heroes of history.

Me: On this point, I agree. The Russian president too has proven to be an expert in this art. At every opportunity he complains about the merciless persecution by a russophobic West. But that did not prevent him from occupying Crimea and effectively carving out the eastern part of Ukraine.

HIM: Putin mourns Stalin’s tyranny, for in the collapse of the Soviet Union he sees the greatest catastrophe of the twentieth century. How I admire this master of dissimulation! Like his colleague Xi, he is intent on spreading the fable that his government is only concerned with cooperation and peace. He even pretends that it was the Soviet Union that has rendered a unique service to humanity: According to him, it liberated the world from fascism.

What a falsification of history! I protest. The Russians have repelled the insidious, brutal invasion of Hitler. In the “great patriotic war” they liberated their country from a merciless aggressor at the most terrible sacrifices – this is a historical victory of which they can be proud, especially since they dealt the death blow to the Third Reich. But by no means did they liberate Europe, because in the place of German totalitarianism they only put Russian totalitarianism of the no less merciless Stalinist type. At the beginning they were welcomed with open arms by the subjugated peoples. But what did they bring them? A new kind of enslavement. Putin should not be surprised that Eastern Europe to this day harbors a panic fear of this kind of liberation.

HIM: Bravo for so much insight. So it was and so it is, because Homo sapiens is simply a naked monkey. In this atavistic capacity you even find your way completely without my assistance. You will bring about your own demise all by yourselves.

Demise? I ask. What do you mean by such apocalyptic insinuation?

HIM: How slow-witted you know-it-all romantics. Yes, from time to time I’d really like to see the late Allmighty. My modest powers are not quite up to the new era. I can no longer save you, you all already learned all my arts. Only the Old Man would still be able…

No, I shout, knocking over the cup on the garden table that separates me from my counterpart. As I do so, I spill all the coffee and have to watch helplessly how the brown liquid pours over the tablecloth, that just before was still immaculately white.

No, only the devil can talk of doom. Humans are much too intelligent, that’s precisely what distinguishes us from stupid apes.

HIM: Grotesque mistake. It is precisely your intelligence that makes you so dangerous. I admire the great president of the Russian Federation almost as much as I admire myself. Certainly, we must revere him as the smartest living politician. About everything he is informed to the letter, nothing escapes his vigilance. He even knows exactly what his end-time bombs can do – unlike that dismissed liar and genius moron from the White House in Washington, D.C., who could not distinguish between fantasy and reality.*1* I had taken lying Donald to my heart, as he would have sent the world to its doom out of sheer stupidity, but Vladimir Putin has a right to my admiration. He is the naked alpha monkey, as usually only to be found in fairy tales. He could wreck the world thanks to his superior intelligence.

Here you go, I object to the cynic. Let me try to understand the man. Mustn’t he be infinitely pained that, seen from Obama or Biden, he only represents “a third-rate regional power”? That’s why he has filled his house to the brim with ultra-sonic missiles and the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. And tell me, who among his Western counterparts could compete with him in judo, in ice hockey, on a motorcycle, or even in the size of his biceps? Putin is Superman incarnate, demanding recognition and submission from the world. This goal he already achieved in Russia itself. All dissenting voices have been exterminated one by one as traitors, any real opposition has been destroyed, everyone is talking after the Lord’s mouth. In Russia, sepulchral silence reigns supreme with the Russian military ready to follow the new tsar to the death.

HIM: I see that you are capable of learning. Yes, this man can’t stand contradiction. He is not merely intelligent (and, at times, even charming). Like so many people small in stature, he is also very sensitive. In his dreams, he is haunted by the one and only desire to show his proud rivals across the Atlantic and in Europe that you can’t insult someone like him with impunity. He will bring nuclear winter to the globe, he will sacrifice his soul and his whole country with all its inhabitants to me if you should hurt him too much in his vanity. And you will see, as soon as the first shot is fired in Europe, your whole society of old men and of fun will desert on the spot.

Oh, I object, do you expect me to show pity for a dictator, since you are so concerned with his vanity? I would say this one-sidedness does you no honor. Or do you want to deny that this regime lies with a brazenness that only Donald Trump surpassed? One dissident after another was killed, but the regime denied any guilt. No evidence! was the only answer. As if verdicts are only valid when accepted by the accused. Trump never cared about lying because for him there was no truth anyway but only successful statements and their opposite. But Putin and his people know the truth very well – the Russians always had a very fine sense for it. Anyone familiar with the intellectual giants of this country, with great writers like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, knows that they struggled for nothing so much as for truth. When a Russian foreign minister like Sergey Lavrov infamously blames the Germans for Nawalny’s poisoning, he knows exactly what he is doing. He openly demonstrates that he does not care about deliberately mocking the Germans and the world public. You only do so if you want to burn bridges – if necessary at the gruesome price of war.

HIM: And if it were so? Didn’t you, I mean first and foremost the Americans, hit Russia to the core with the humiliation of the nineties? At that time, Gorbachev was ready to renounce Russia’s past and make glasnost and perestroika, i.e. accountability and democratic restructuring, the program of the future. For this courage, you in the West revered the man like a saint, but you did not give him any help. Russia experienced a terrible collapse both economic and spiritual. With the blessing of Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, who with usual American naiveté simply prescribed the gospel of privatization, Russia was open to plunder by profit-mongering oligarchs. Just in time before these managed to sell off Russia’s oil wells to Western investors, Putin came to power to end the national sellout. But as late as 2001, the new ruler still wanted closer ties with the West, especially with Europe. At that time, however, Russia was on its knees, and rapprochement would have meant help – but no one in the West was prepared to help. Thus, bitter resentment grew out of Russia’s humiliation, and Putin gradually assumed a new face. Its pride wounded, Russia now began to ferret out the West’s many faults – especially its often shameless lies. In 1953, President Eisenhower had allowed himself to be misled by the British into overthrowing the Mossadegh regime in Iran, which had emerged from democratic elections. He did so simply because Iran dared to nationalize oil exploitation, its only wealth. Much later, Madeleine Albright, then Secretary of State, at least had the courage to describe this intervention as a serious mistake. In 1973, with the help of the CIA, the likewise democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in Chile. It could not be accused of having connections to America’s rival, the Soviet Union; it was enough that economic interests of the US seemed to be endangered. And how should we assess a war based from the outset on Fake News, namely weapons of mass destruction, which Saddam Hussein, this former ally of the United States, allegedly possessed? Hussein had attracted the superpower’s suspicion because he was toying with the idea of becoming independent of the dollar. In this case, America’s war was not merely based on a lie, it was moreover unforgivably stupid, because the Sunni minority around Saddam Hussein had successfully kept Iran in check. After his fall, Iran was to become the United States’ nemesis, its constant challenger.

You see, my dear friend, there is a reason why the Russians, whom you rightly consider to be very sensitive to lies, suddenly use this instrument with complete shamelessness. They just copied this art from you in the West. Let me teach you one lesson: Enemies become increasingly similar the more intensely they fight each other. In the end, they even cultivate the same style and commit the same crimes. The Arab Spring, for example…

I immediately interrupt the zealous man.

The Arab Spring, I say, is a good example to refute your cold objectivity. When, first, in Tunisia, then in Egypt, and finally in Libya and in Syria, the people went to the barricades to overthrow their inhumanly corrupt regimes, the West felt sympathy and was on their side. And this time there was nothing to gain (except in Libya). Western governments and people simply had a heart for the oppressed and granted them the freedom and democracy they so longed for. Barack Obama gave one of his great speeches in Cairo at that time.

HIM: Oh yes, he was quite good at speeches. But his and other speeches did not improve anything. The spring turned into a winter of chaos and mass exodus, of hundreds of thousands of dead and still greater poverty. The Russians are quite right when they describe the destruction of the Middle East as one of the greatest crimes in recent history and hold the West responsible because it not only supported the uprisings but also added fuel to the fire. For the first time, Putin had a chance to position himself as a savior before the world public. At least in Syria, he ended chaos and civil war thanks to his determination. Since then, Russia has distinguished itself to the West as a moral authority.

Me: But that is pure cynicism! How can you morally defend Russia keeping alive one of the most repressive, brutal, bloody regimes? Putin has established graveyard silence at the expense of humanity.

HIM: Graveyard silence certainly. But such silence is still better than chaos and never-ending war. Or are you going to absolve the West of its guilt, even though it allowed so much of this injustice to come about in the first place with its reckless support of the Arab uprisings?

Me: No. It was history-blind stupidity that determined Western actions. There had been a population explosion throughout the Middle East. For every four young people who wanted to start a family, there was on average no more than a single vacancy. So, three young people were doomed to unemployment from the start, crying out for revolution. The terrible dictators in these countries had a sad function: They had to keep the lid on the boiling cauldron. It was not understood in the West nor by the protesting masses, that no change of regime can improve a situation where there are too many people in a country with too few resources. Therefore – and not because of the encouraging shouts from the West – the whole revolution fizzled out miserably or ended in blood and tears. As the only result, a new generation of dictators took the place of their predecessors.

HE: Bravo, my dear, at last you are ready to learn some wisdom from people like me. Just make sure that you don’t proclaim such findings too loudly. You’ll make yourself unpopular with all your starry-eyed idealists who offer a patent solution for everything on earth. Your do-gooders don’t want to know that too many people in a country – or on the entire globe for that matter – will lead to ruin. Even the most beautiful speech of democracy and freedom held by a convincing president like Barack Obama remaines impotent against this elementary fact. You just don’t want to understand that you are biological beings like your ancestors, the chimpanzees, with whom you share much more than the cult of alpha males.

I am glad you again pronounce our keyword: Alpha male. How do you explain that “Sleepy Joe”, the naked ape at the head of the American state, this stumbling and sometimes helplessly stuttering old man *2*, within the first hundred days of his administration set more in motion and effected more for the reputation of his country than his Russian counterpart, who so much surpasses him in intelligence, presence of mind and sheer knowledge? How is it possible that after the terrible Trump, the world is once again looking to America with confidence because of Joe Biden’s moral greatness, while Russia, once so powerful in spirit, has been so committed to common lies by its undoubtedly charismatic leader that one who, like Nawalny, objects to pervasive corruption becomes the umpteenth victim of assassination? Biden admits to all the world that the United States suffers from terrible ills: racism, a profit-obsessed National Rifle Organization, and glaring social inequality. Putin, on the other hand, kills or jails people who doubt his infallibility. He cannot tolerate a man like Nawalny in his country, although – or rather because – the latter is his faithful mirror image. Nawalny is just as ardent a nationalist (because you can’t get anywhere in Russia without that quality), but he fights against the corruption tolerated by Putin as an instrument of political control. In Western fun society, a toothache is enough to make people doubt the meaning of life. They have no sympathy for a hero who sticks unswervingly to his convictions and deliberately enters the lion’s den, even if this means risking death. This Russia of holy fanatics may seem strange to us, but it reconciles me with the sad fact that the only thing with which the once great intellectual power Russia impresses the world today are its multiple supersonic zircon missiles and its modernized nuclear weapons and, of course, the Russian president’s announcement that Russia will respond to a serious challenge (i.e. to a conventional attack, where NATO remains superior) in an asymmetrical way, i.e. with nuclear bombs. 

HIM: The Russian leader knows he is not loved, so at least he wants to be feared. That’s the understandable reaction of a recklessly humiliated power, and that’s why Russia and China have agreed to join forces to fight back against the West.

Me: Which brings us back to chimpanzees, where the little ones gang up on the ruling alpha male.

HIM: That’s right. Compared to Putin and Xi, Joe Biden may be much more morally honest and almost a shining light, but as an American alpha male he leaves as little doubt about his chimpanzee propensities as did Trump and all other American presidents of the past hundred years. America and its leadership are destined by providence to show the world its way. Yet Biden should really be aware that neither of his two rivals accepts this claim assuming the role of subordinates. You see, how the heritage of the chimpanzees reappears in its full strength even in a very old man. The advance of one demands a yielding of the other – an eternal zero-sum game.

No, I disagree, that is an overly primitive worldview. This our earth is big enough to offer to all the desired expansion and development. Whether I may be big or must remain small does not depend on the well-being or the oppression of my neighbor.

HIM: Dear friend, nothing against idealism, but this is Sancta Simplicitas! The world is big enough for all little people, but it is much too narrow for alpha males, because at the very top there can be just one of them. You see, an advance of the former Warsaw Pact invariably amounted to a weakening of NATO, while an expansion of NATO just as inevitably led to a weakening of the Warsaw Pact – or, in our time, to the weakening of the Russian Union and China. West Germany and South Korea retained their freedom only because they sided with the U.S. that offered them protection against the Soviet Union. Vassalage in exchange for protection, that is the price paid by the small to the big. But sometimes small countries are simply ground down between the big ones, like the ill-fated Vietnam or in our days the whole Middle East. The bloody Vietnam War only left the United States with their greatest defeat because they had supported a corrupt regime hated by the Vietnamese themselves. Russians and Chinese were able to watch in peace as the Americans bled to death. That’s another way to expand your own influence.

Me: Fortunately, your nefarious view of history is made absurd by the better insight of American students then protesting against the war. They and finally even repentant politicians stopped the killing. Surely this shows that we are quite capable of overcoming our chimpanzee heritage.

HIM: My dear friend, your simplicity does you little credit. I know you are a romantic. You want to call upon great philosophy, the inspirations of poets, the intelligence of great natural scientists. Keeping such greatness in mind, you want to prove, that you are vastly superior to the old ape. No, I tell you, all this dwindles to nothing as soon as it gets into the hands of an alpha male. Then you always hear one and the same mantra: We, the Russians, or we, the Americans, or we, the Chinese, are ultimately the best and greatest (and you Germans have imagined that for centuries anyway). They hold that there is something in the nature of a Russian, Chinese, or American that makes him superior to all others and entitles him to prescribe their respective worldviews: American democracy or Russian love for the great fatherland or Chinese socialism with a unique Chinese tinge. Look at the naked monkey in Peking, in Moscow or in Washington. With equal fervor, each proclaims to his own following that he is the better, if not the very best.

Am I revealing a secret if I call to your mind that even such a great scholar as your Max Weber, who carried all cultures from China via India to Israel in his head, that even this man, I say, when he flirted with a political career at the end of his life, soon turned out to be an ardent German nationalist? After having looked around the whole world and absorbing all its wonders, the only wisdom that was suitable for him as a politician turned out to be the atavistic one of a chimpanzee chief.

My guest provokes me to indignation. This is a diabolical view of things, I exclaim, and it contradicts historical truth. Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Heine and so many of our greatest poets and thinkers had professed cosmopolitanism and condemned all national narrow-mindedness. Yes, and are you blind to the fact that the young and educated people amidst us are in the majority decided opponents of nationalism?

With your supposed wisdom, I counter, you are nothing more than a puny reactionary who does not understand the new enlightened times.

HIM: The new enlightened times. You really make me laugh. Not for a moment have your great cosmopolitans been able to prevent alpha men from staging their power games. If they were lucky, they survived the invasion of the enemies, like Goethe, who was saved by his Christiane at the last moment when Napoleon’s soldiery was invading his house in the Frauenplan. Plato was less fortuneate, he was sold into slavery, but how many others were simply slaughtered! In Germany you are allowed to criticize the hegemon, the United States, and you can make fun of Russia and China. This makes you cling to the illusion as if Germany and Europe were so to speak on another star, far away from the power games of the superpowers. In reality, missile bases on this side and on the other side of the Russian border stand ready 24 hours and every day to fire against each other. Any false signal threatens to trigger war. I know you want to embrace the world in brotherhood, but your cosmopolitanism is a fantasy born of pure ignorance and guilelessness.

Me: Do you have nothing but black bile to pour out around you? It is true that we threaten each other not only with ever more deadly, ever more unerringly, ever more extensively destructive weapons but at the same time we are threatening nature with ever greater demands. Not only do the vanities of alpha men clash, but all citizens of all countries demand a greater share of earth’s wealth, i.e. of nature’s resouces. Thus, the race for dwindling resources pits not only governments against each other, but also the people, each of whom wants to increase their current standard of living as much as possible – no word of renunciation.

HIM: At last I hear the realist speak. People are pretty much like their masters.

Me: And yet there is a great hope, and it is clearly before the eyes of every sensible person. The alpha males need to sit down at the same table, they need to realize that history has reached an end point where our only choice is between mutual annihilation and understanding.

HIM: I’m listening intently. I almost feel as if the Old Man is speaking. Yes, he has always been a fantasist. He believed that the animal heritage could be overcome. He liked to imagine himself in front of a table in the Garden of Eden, where Xi, Putin and Biden sit together in a relaxed atmosphere. The angels hover around them so seductively that they suddenly forget their chimpanzee nature. I may be unique, each says to the other, but so are you, my dear rivals. Therefore, from now on, let us definitely resolve to end the struggle against each other. We will abolish weapons of mass destruction, share resources and rule together.

How beautiful. It makes me feel all wistful. Yes, I can really hear the Old Man talking. He could fantasize so beautifully. Just imagine, he even stubbornly denied the doctrine of descent. I can well remember how he sometimes boasted about having created you separately on the sixth day. He just wasn’t quite up to it. Oh yes, from time to time…

*1* Mephisto had better be careful not to be dragged before the cadi for insulting an ex-president. Can his statement still be justified as artistic freedom? Well, I think that someone who recommends drinking a disinfectant as a medicine against covid may very well be called a fool. As for the accusation of lying, Trump was elected because he saw the truth that no one among the supposedly grassroots Democrats wanted to take care of the “white trash” in the rust belts. However, even this truth served the shrewd wheeler-dealer only as a means to an end, namely to gain political power. Empathy with the poor is as foreign to this man as empathy for the mouse is to the cat.

*2* In the political show “Vremya pakazhet” on Russian tv 1 kanal,” all these weaknesses are mercilessly exposed and ridiculed. In contrast, attacks on Chinese state television (CCTV-4) are aimed less ad personam. Instead they show the daily protests against police assaults and racial discriminiation, armed robberies and everything that can be understood as an internal disintegration of American society.

Nation state or Homo technicus universalis?

Abstract:

The “Clash of Cultures” due to irreconcilable religions and ideologies belongs to the past. In contrast, the “Clash of Civilizations”, i.e. the worldwide struggle for an equally high and, if possible, ever higher material standard of living, is darkening our common future, since the last resources are being plundered and nature increasingly poisoned in the name of progress. Mankind will only escape this struggle against itself and against nature by submitting to a global authority that demands the same restrictions from all of us.

We are used to lamenting entries on the red list of extinct or endangered species; these include dinosaurs, Bengal tigers, black grouse or river pearl mussels. But do not think that nature is unimaginative. She continuously replaces the worn out with lots of new creations: instead of the dinosaurs she now gives us Corona and even adds many new mutants.

As in the animal kingdom, so in human cultures. To the Germans, as they once existed, we must undoubtedly say goodbye, but this is no less true of the French, the English, the Indians, the Chinese, and so on. In this case too, however, the decline of entire cultures is accompanied by a new and surprising phenomenon. It has been noticed for some time that there are more and more global professions, e.g. the mathematician, the programmer, the engineer, the chemist, the truck driver, the mechanic, the internist, the ENT doctor and thousands of similar functions, but these new professions are free from all national roots. Something has died – while at the same time something surprisingly new has taken its place. As it were, nature has triumphed over culture. Since nature is the same everywhere, the laws found by the natural sciences must be the same in Berlin, Tokyo, Dubai or in Timbuktu, i.e. independent of respective national cultures. Obviously, most of the life and functioning of modern civilization is based on these laws. All over the world, a chemical factory, a car company, a corporate office are like undistinguishable peas in a pod all over the world. Identical function determines identical structure. The differences are only technical, namely due to more or less technical progress.

The time when everything was still different,

because people in France, India, China thought differently, ate differently, loved differently and lived differently – this time dates back just a century and a half, and it still looms with its stone witnesses – cathedrals, temples and palaces – here and there into our present, but it already belongs to a distant history (mercilessly parodied by Disneyland). Our omnipotent present not only produced a new international species, homo technicus, who – whether in Cape Town, Berlin, Houston or Madras – spends more and more of his time in front of the computer and with the cell phone, but at the same time it has made the urban landscapes of all countries more and more similar to each other. Meanwhile, Austrian, Chinese, South African or Indian architecture merely exists in remnants: megacities employ the same architects and engineers from all over the world. A worldwide uniformity due to uniform functions is inevitable. Banks, millennium and television towers, museums, train stations, airports and dormitory towns all over the world are stitched according to the same pattern. Everything national is in unmistakable retreat.

But is it right to call the new man,

this prototype of the 21st century, who is about to create a global unified civilization, “Homo technicus”? Do not games, music, painting and leisure time form an opposite pole that seems at least as important to many people?

That may certainly be so. The love of mathematics and the natural sciences was nowhere so widespread that it alone was able to bring forth the new prototype. In fact, Homo technicus owes his triumph to a much more elementary drive: the addiction, spread over the entire globe, to all the achievements of civilization to which only technology provides access. Much-maligned capitalism did not have to cajole them into it. No one in our present world wants to do without a flush toilet, a washing machine, a personal bank account, a computer or a cell phone, and very few people want to do without a car or the prospect of someday hovering above the clouds in a modern airplane. However, each of the aforementioned achievements presupposes a modern infrastructure, i.e., a radical transformation and reorganization of nature such as no single country on the globe knew two hundred years ago.

Meanwhile, many of these modern achievements

have come to be traded as human rights, without which life is considered incomplete and miserable. Nowadays, no Chinese person is looked at askance if he or she has not read Confucius; hardly any German still takes a look at Goethe’s Faust (“Fuck you Goethe” has even become a slogan meant to discourage such action). Seen by the millennial generation, i.e. those under forty, this is mere history, completely written off by most of them. As cultural knowledge is of no use with regard to the preservation of our all-devouring techno-economic civilization, it is considered superfluous. This liberation of the new generation from all historical burdens undoubtedly holds its own opportunities. Young people – Chinese, Japanese, U.S. Americans, Germans, French, etc. – can look each other in the eye without feeling any different. What counts is the knowledge and handling of the gadgets of modern civilization – and they are all equally good at that. What could divide them – their national culture and national history – they have already shaken off. Seen in this light, the fact that modern Homo technicus has shed all the trappings of his tribal affiliation – regardless of religion, race or ideology – can also be seen as a progress.

Global fraternization

seems to be within reach for the first time in human history. The unifying basis of techno-scientific thinking as well as of common external living conditions could become the springboard to a future in which irreconcilable antagonisms and the resulting struggles are replaced by mutual understanding and thus by harmony and peace. Nor should greater global uniformity worry us, because it is uniformity in constant change. Diversity and development do not disappear, they only manifest themselves in fundamentally different ways. Until two hundred years ago, history consisted in the formation of human beings – that is why the natives of Papua New Guinea so much differed in appearance, religion, and customs from native New Yorkers or Hindu Brahmins that all three could be considered different species within the same genus. In contrast, history today no longer consists in the shaping of man – an Indian, a U.S. American, or a New Guinea physicist can be distinguished at most by the hue of their skin. It consists in the shaping and formation of nature. Homo technicus recognizes and shapes nature according to his own purposes. In this case too variety is created, even potentially infinite variety. But it comes about in a different way, namely by the fact that our knowledge of nature constantly grows and with it the products it creates.

As homo technicus leaves history behind him

like a bad memory, he does not want to know anything about privileges – for him these too belong to the burden of history. It is, therefore, not surprising that the overwhelming majority of Millennials are committed to a fair distribution of material goods – regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation (as the ritual mantra would have it). Whether Europeans, Africans or Chinese, all people have the same inherent right to a decent life, i.e. to those material blessings that the people of the West have long enjoyed. At the same time, the new generation also wants to grant nature its rights, which is why a green mindset is widespread among Millennials. They take to the streets not only to protest against white supremacy but also to demand action against climate change. The new generation doesn’t want to know anything about past history, but they take history very seriously when seen as their own future: they want to make it themselves. That’s why their demonstrations are causing so much headache for governments around the world.

Millennials are cosmopolitans

For the first time, an entire generation of humanity represents what was previously the privilege of only a handful of great minds. In Germany, Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Schiller and Kant were cosmopolitans in the best sense of the word.  All national narrow-mindedness was not only alien to them but considered repugnant. How could these early pioneers have guessed that, since the end of the 20th century at the latest, Millennials would turn their intellectual cosmopolitanism into a technical one that would encompass the entire globe? More and more young people enthusiastically experience the Internet as a tool for making as many friends on other continents as in their own country. Millennials are aware that kindred spirits in Chengdu, Vancouver or Bangalore may be far closer to them than reactionary morons in their own homeland. And this is much more than a mere abstract insight. More and more marriages are taking place internationally, and ever greater sums are being donated to people in need somewhere in the world. Not a few idealists would even like to build a bridge over the Mediterranean so that in the future no refugee will have to perish on the way to the north.*1*

The problem

In the face of this general tendency toward global fraternization, there is a danger that we will all too credulously and naively overlook the forces working against it. The technical generation has grown up believing that all conflicts can be solved by technical means. The breathtaking successes of scientific civilization even turned this belief into a kind of quasi-religious salvation promise. Digitization, automation and artificial intelligence are celebrating triumphs the likes of which humanity has never experienced. No wonder that the optimism nurtured by all these triumphs makes people blind to all dangers. These are, however, omnipresent. Even a sudden and unforeseen event such as a global pandemic may dissolve the beautiful belief in the interconnectedness of all people. How unpleasant was and is even within the European Union the scramble for vaccination doses! The current Austrian chancellor, who at the beginning urged frugality (maximum 200,000 euros), unabashedly put out the fairy tale that the Commission had treated his own and other European countries unfairly.

This occasion demonstrated that we may well find friends everywhere in the world, but in times of need it is only our own neighbors and our own government that can help us. Only they are able to provide their citizens with the desired level of security and standard of living. Cosmopolitanism that so gloriously flourishes in the realm of the mind proves impotent when it comes to providing those very services that local people are looking for in emergency situations. As, in such cases, spatial proximity counts more than anything else, everyone is next to himself in need. Even the United Europe must constantly fight against national egoisms.

This problem becomes truly massive and frightening,

once we take a closer look at modern technical civilization itself. For technology has a double face that optimists do not want to acknowledge. On the one hand it is responsible for our greatest triumphs, on the other hand for an apocalypse that nobody can rule out any longer. The pan-happiness philosophy of the millennials, who would like to grant and allocate the same material blessing to all people of the globe, is contradicted by the laws of physics. From a scientific point of view, the realization of this program is simply impossible. To exist sustainably on our globe with renewable energy requires either that three quarters of humanity mysteriously disappear, or that humanity at its current population level of about eight billion reduce its energy consumption to one quarter (and that’s just talking about energy, not yet about all other non-renewable resources).*2*

It is absolutely correct when Steven Pinker and Hans Rosling insist in their books that mankind is materially better off than ever before in terms of almost all relevant indicators, but this amazing feat could only be achieved because we consume far more renewable energy than a single globe can provide. We do so by using dwindling reserves of fossil fuels, whose residues furthermore contribute to the poisoning of nature on an ever increasing scale.

This is the existential problem of our time,

and it is not a technical task that can be solved in a technical way, but a challenge for political and ethical man. In the extreme, only two solutions come into question. Either a scramble for the last remaining resources leading to wars, which the strongest powers of the globe incite against the weaker ones and of course against nature. Or a global agreement that all are committed to the preservation of the globe and thus to a way of life that requires a total departure from that which still prevails today.

How do Millennials respond

to this shattering of the technocratic ideology with which they themselves have grown up and been indoctrinated? They use to respond in three different ways. Either they simply deny the facts (thus siding with Donald Trump); or, second, they are optimists on principle and believe in future technological miracles; or, third, they call for demonstrations, usually blaming some evil forces.

Denial is the prevailing attitude – against all evidence from scientific expertise. Homo technicus is prone to let himself be guided by wishful thinking when evidence threatens to shake his optimism. Optimists have always found it particularly difficult to admit that the world is perhaps not quite as well set up as they would like.

If, however, the evidence of an irresponsible consumption of resources and an increasing poisoning of the globe can no longer be denied, there still remains a messianic belief in miracles. Then nuclear power is supposed to achieve what renewable energies alone will never be able to do, namely to maintain the current standard of living and at the same time to reduce CO2 emissions to a tolerable level. Apart from the fact that this is impossible in purely quantitative terms due to dwindling uranium deposits, the dangers associated with this technology tend to be blissfully ignored. However, they are just as great, if not greater, than those of global warming. And it tends to be completely overlooked that energy is used for the conversion of non-energy resources – and these are dwindling as well. The belief in future miracles, which homo technicus has nurtured over two centuries and which today is just as much at home in China and India as in Europe and the US, arguably constitutes mankind’s greatest delusion. It makes us run blindly to our doom because until shortly before the catastrophe we hope for a deus ex machina who will avert all disaster .*3*

Seen, from this perspective, political activism,

expressed worldwide in demonstrations, seems to be hardly more than a diversionary maneuver. The “Fridays for Future” movement fully recognized the urgency of the environmental situation, but it was mistaken in its assessment of the true causes. It is not “them up there” who are responsible for the destruction of the globe, but “us down here,” that is, all of us together, because “them up there” usually only enforce a majority will – at least when it comes to an accepted standard of living. This applies to democratic states of the West as well as to autocratic regimes in China and Russia. A majority of the world’s population – especially, of course, the developing countries – would not accept radical sacrifice, certainly not when a truly sustainable economy requires a reduction of the global ecological footprint to the fourth part of today’s level.

Not renunciation but a global scramble

over dwindling resources and mutual accusations of excessive nature poisoning are therefore in store for us in the near future. Just as in a pandemic, where every nation first thinks of itself, it first enhances and protects the standard of living for its own citizens. That is, why in times of need and struggle all those national provisos that the Millennials fought against and wanted to abolish forever creep up again. The U.S. is home to about twenty million Asian-born citizens, most of them of Chinese origin. Now that China has become a serious rival for the U.S. and threatens to become number one in terms of power and standard of living, tensions between the two superpowers are rising sharply. Prejudices against the Chinese are reviving in America just as they are reviving in China against the West. Nationalistically motivated “hate crimes” have become the order of the day.

On a smaller and, fortunately, far more benign scale, we find this tussle also within the EU, where Hungary and Poland, but also the Czech Republic and Slovakia, insist on their national autonomy and elect autocracy-prone governments that endanger European unity. If it is true that the struggle for dwindling resources in a world that abhors sacrifice will become the portent of the 21st century, then we are heading for a time that will bring about the opposite of cosmopolitanism, namely increasing national egoism. Even if the EU succeeds in welding Europe together into a stable entity, it will be faced as a whole with the prospect of having to fight with the rest of the world over its interests.

It is therefore too early for a requiem of the nation states

Germany (but also Austria, France, etc.) will continue to exist, even if they eventually merge with other states in the EU. Homo technicus universalis therefore remains an illusion, albeit one that arouses some sympathy because it conjures up the common ground connecting modern people. It remains an illusion not only because cosmopolitanism does not provide help in emergencies – only the political community in which we are rooted can do this. But homo technicus is incomplete for still another reason. We may indeed completely dispose of all narratives related to the past and in this way create ahistorical man, but this procedure does not eliminate the basic need of man for a narrative that gives meaning and purpose to his life. Neither technology nor science can provide such meaning (even if both can at times completely satisfy individual life, because common tasks and shared work represent precisely this overriding meaning beyond technology itself).

In perverted form, history has

never lost its dominance. A Chinese technician may be confusingly similar to his counterpart in the US as regards thinking and habits of life; this will not prevent the one from using his skills and knowledge for the power and wealth of China, while the other does so for the power and wealth of the United States of America. Thus, one of them may be developing the weapons with which to wipe out the US in the case of a nuclear war, while his counterpart fulfills exactly the same task for his own country. Which means that our demand for the equality of all people proves to be impotent in the face of history dominating us in the shape of elementary material interests.

And this modern day history, which we see re-entering through the back door, is much more primitive than that which the Millennials disposed of through the front door. It expresses itself in the form of such populist prejudices as promulgated by Donald Trump on a daily basis, when, to mention just one example, he spoke of the “Chinese virus.” Homo technicus is easily seduced by the fake news of modern history when it comes to defending his interests.

This brings to light the fundamental conflict

that will accompany us through the 21st century. On the one hand, the uniform technical civilization that prevails worldwide has given rise to homo technicus, thereby creating an awareness, especially in young people, of the equality of all human beings. But, on the other hand, this civilization has nurtured the claim to a standard of living that can no longer be met in a world of eight billion people faced with dwindling resources and a rampant poisoning of nature.*4* The scramble for this claim inevitably leads to a struggle against all rivals who threaten a nation’s position. 

History falsely declared to be dead

thus returns. The fratricidal struggle, fed by hostile narratives, which once divided the peoples of Europe in centuries-long battles, has only been shifted to a higher plane. Tribal claims and identities remain, but not in the harmless form of patriotism, i.e. love for one’s homeland and a shared history, but as ideological delusions of uniqueness of Europeans, Yankees, Chinese etc. These delusions tend to be much cruder and primitive, because they consist less in the loving reminiscence of one’s own past (so far as it deserves such treatment) than in the denunciation of rivals. The race of nations currently taking place between the great powers of the US, China, Russia and Europe is laden with populist denunciation – in view of the unending progress of weapons this constitutes an imminent danger.

The problem is further aggravated by the fact

that it is of no use if only one part of the world, say Germany, pulls the emergency brake. Germany is only responsible for a minimal two percent of total CO2 emissions. Of course, it could boast of being a role model if it also reduced the remaining two to a mere zero percent. But what is the point if others don’t follow suit, but end up just being happy that the Germans are no longer a rival because they are abandoning their previous industrial power and sinking into a state of poverty? Therein lies the real challenge of the 21st century, which can only be overcome if humanity submits to a common authority that imposes the same sacrifice on everyone at the same time – in the most favorable but rather unlikely case, this would be the UN. Then – but only then – the consciousness of the equality of mankind could bring about that eternal peace, which Immanuel Kant had conjured up more than two hundred years ago.

*1* An impressive testimony to this idealism is provided by the Indian-born author Parag Khanna with his book: “The Age of Migration”. On almost five hundred pages, the author deals with God and the world from A to Z. Khanna seems to take climate crisis for granted – even in its most catastrophic form with an increase in average temperatures of up to four degrees. This serves him well because he preaches the gospel of unrestricted migration which, according to him, will provide for mankind’s ultimate salvation. Here, fraternization is not a politically thought-out program, but is administered to the reader like a drug.

*2* In its latest issue, “Der Spiegel” calls for optimism in the title essay (Spg 14.21: “Hope dies last”). But like any other citizen, the Spiegel author too must rely on what leading experts say. And these – starting from Herman Daly, the intellectual guide of the ecological movement, up to William Rees, the inventor of the ecological footprint – say something completely different.

*3* In the article mentioned above, Der Spiegel shows how wishful thinking works. On the one hand, we find the following passage: “It is certainly an imperative of responsibility to make decisions on the basis of currently available knowledge.” But shortly thereafter, this sober statement is invalidated: “An English saying is: Expect the unexpected. Men, especially Germans, are not very good at this.” So: Dear Germans, please believe in the Deus ex Machina!

*4* Here, too, Der Spiegel preaches wishful thinking. It is correct that the world population “will /grow/ by about two billion to then almost ten billion people by 2050, yes, and that will lead to severe crises in some regions. However, in terms of world population as a whole, growth will slow down after that and will only be problematic in a few areas.” Really? Is it no longer problematic if all these ten billion people together then consume four and more globes? And what to make of the following statement: “The goal of a maximum warming of two degrees by the year 2100 is within reach. If countries stick to their pledges… global average temperatures will rise 2.1 degrees by 2100.” Yes, but what if they don’t stick to their pledges? So far, there is no indication that Western countries, let alone developing countries, will be able to meet these pledges and impose the above mentioned sacrifices on their populations.

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