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

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.

Future – God’s eighth Day of Creation?

When studying and trying to understand the past, we always do so in order to cope with the present and be better equipped for the future – that’s a truism. But our endeavors become difficult when the past provides us with contradictory signals so that the future turns into mystery. Then it can happen that our certainties waver and we look for completely new orientations and even concepts. Continue reading Future – God’s eighth Day of Creation?

Max Weber – Jared Diamond – Joseph Henrich

There are fundamental questions that every human being and probably every people and epoch ask themselves. Who or what am I? Why and how am I different from others? What is it that makes me singular? Max Weber, Jared Diamond, and Joseph Henrich have each asked this question in their own yet very similar ways. Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904), Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel (1997), and Henrich in The WEIRDest People in the World(2019).

Max Weber wanted to explore why capitalism, that economic system so astonishingly successful in his time, had arisen in Europe, and especially in its Protestant parts. Jared Diamond asks his readers why Cortez and Pizarro, with a mere handful of soldiers, so easily defeated the two most powerful empires of the New world, namely Aztecs and Incas at the beginning of the 16th century. Why did these two peoples of the New World not invade and subjugate Europe? Joseph Henrich formulates the question in a similar vein. How did Europe come to follow a path different from all previous history, namely a weird one (“WEIRD = Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic”)? The three questions resemble each other, but the answers of the three scholars differ in significant ways.

Max Weber is rooted in the German tradition

of a conception of history and sociology deeply influenced by Romanticism that makes him locate the peculiarities of human development primarily in cultural causes. For Weber, it was the Protestant ethic that had created the spirit of capitalism – albeit in a tortuous, indirect way. And conversely, it was its opposite, the religiously conditioned magical variety of traditional constraints, which had prevented its emergence in pre-capitalist times. Culturally conditioned human attitudes can thus become the causes of profound social transformations – a view with which Weber distinguished himself from Karl Marx.

In contrast, Jared Diamond rather follows a tradition,

one of whose most outstanding 18th-century representatives was Montesquieu, who held that the decisive factor for the divergent developmental paths of different peoples was not their subjective attitudes, but rather externally given conditions such as climate. This theory is now passé, but Diamond, in a work of immense erudition, has convincingly demonstrated that “Eurasia got the wild ancestors of wheat, barley, millet, oats, and rice, along with cows, horses, pigs, goats, sheep, water buffaloes, and camels. Meanwhile, the Americas ended up with few wild plants or animals that were both easy to domesticate and productive. Corn, the major staple in the New World, required numerous genetic changes from its wild version to yield a productive crop – so it was a long road. For domesticated animals, the Americas ended up with llamas, guinea pigs, and turkeys – which gave them no general-purpose work animals like oxen, horses, water buffaloes, or donkeys to pull plows, carry heavy burdens, and crank mills. In Australia, the candidate crops and domesticated animals were even fewer than in the Americas. Accentuating these inequalities in fauna and flora, Eurasia’s complex societies also developed more rapidly due to an east-west geographic orientation. This fostered the rapid development and diffusion of new crops, agricultural knowledge, domesticated animals, and technological know-how” (this is how Henrich summarizes Diamond’s theses). To which a further insight of Diamond should be added. The inhabitants of Eurasia had acquired immunity against a broad range of diseases due to their close coexistence with domestic animals – in contrast to the inhabitants of Australia and the New World, who died en masse from the germs introduced by Europeans.

Jared Diamond thus harkens back to the initial scientific tradition of deriving cultural attitudes and behaviors from externally imposed conditions. Since this approach is far more in line with the strict standards established by the natural sciences since the 17th century, modern historical science and sociology have in recent decades followed Diamond far more than Max Weber. It is surely no exaggeration to state that this orientation has brought about nothing less than an explosion of research activity. All the methods and findings of the natural sciences are now being used to retrace man’s past over the millennia in unimagined material detail.

It is all the more surprising, then,

that Harvard professor Joseph Henrich, a man who began his studies in aerospace engineering, i.e. in the natural sciences, is directing his own research back to cultural causes. After what has just been said, this may well be considered a scientific sensation. He answers the question of the causes of Europe’s special path, which led to a capitalist economy, democratic constitutions and a historically unique development of individualism, in an astonishing way. “The much-heralded ideals of Western civilization, like human rights, liberty, representative democracy, and science, aren’t monuments to pure reason or logic, as so many assume. People didn’t suddenly become rational during the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, and then invent the modern world. Instead, these institutions represent cumulative cultural products – born from a particular cultural psychology – that trace their origins back over centuries, through a cascade of causal chains involving wars, markets, and monks, to a peculiar package of incest taboos, marriage prohibitions, and family prescriptions (the MFP) that developed in a radical religious sect – Western Christianity.”

And Henrich goes significantly further. From the very beginning, the Catholic Church had pursued a marriage and family policy in Europe that as early as 1000 AD had almost completely dissolved the close kinship relationships that prevailed everywhere else (except among hunter-gatherers). This policy was particularly evident in the strict prohibition of marriage between cousins and other close relatives, which had formed the basic pattern of biologically defined units. Thus, the individual was torn away from all kinship-defined ties of clans and tribes. The place previously occupied by obligations and constraints to the extended family and clans was now taken by common interests and motives that extended to and united biological strangers. In other words, it was the work of the Church that the individual defined himself less and less by his origin and more and more by his very personal aspirations and skills. The free association of biological strangers in markets, guilds, etc. – so characteristic of Western development – was triggered by the cultural policy of the Church.*1*

Max Weber always asked (though not with the exclusivity of Karl Marx) about the material interests behind political actions. So does Henrich, if only in one place of his book. “The Church had potent incentives to promote individual ownership and testamentary inheritance. Working with secular rulers, the Church pushed for laws supporting individual ownership, default inheritance rules favoring strictly lineal inheritance (cutting out brothers, uncles, and cousins), and greater autonomy in making bequests by testament. This drive for individual ownership and personal testaments would have weakened kin-based organizations, because these corporate groups would have continually lost their land and wealth to the Church. Lying on their deathbeds, Christians gave what they could to the Church to improve their prospects for the afterlife… By 900 CE, the Church owned about a third of the cultivated land in western Europe, including in Germany (35 percent) and France (44 percent). By the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the Church owned half of Germany, and between one-quarter and one-third of England.”

On the one hand, Henrich continues Max Weber’s arguments,

on the other hand, he goes much beyond it. Protestantism, he argues, only furthered a trend that the Church had already set in motion for one and a half thousand years with its marriage and family policies. Protestantism can therefore only be seen as the culminating conclusion of a development that had begun with the very takeover of power by the Church. This is a definite step beyond the thesis of Max Weber.

The widening of arguments and evidence also applies to the analysis of the causes which so greatly hindered the emergence of free markets, representative rule and individualism in other parts of the world. In the predominance of castes in India and clans in China, Weber had seen an insurmountable obstacle to the emergence of capitalism. Likewise, he explained the resistance of traditional societies to the emergence of capitalist forms of economy by the opposition of internal and external morality (which in turn is based on the distinction between biological kin and biological strangers). And Weber had intuitively summarized this resistance in the concept of magic – magic as a cultural force inimical to all forms of innovation. Henrich, however, provides much more concrete evidence. He tries to demonstrate that an elementary fact of social organization, namely the close biological ties of people in traditional kinship relationships – primarily marriage between cousins – was the most effective obstacle to that special development which Europe was only able to embark on because the Church had systematically removed this obstacle through its marriage and family policy.

Here Henrich therefore also differs from Jared Diamond

The latter makes us understand why the conquest of the New World and Australia took place from Eurasia and not in the opposite direction. Diamond enumerates the many external advantages that this continent had over the other two. One might ask, however, why within the Eurasian continent it happened to be tiny Europe and not mighty China – still far more prosperous until the 17th century – that subjugated large parts of the world since the beginning of the 16th century – and this despite the fact that at the very beginning of the 15th century China had managed to send the then most powerful fleet as far as the borders of Africa? And why was this enterprise not planned as an instrument of conquest in the first place? Jared Diamond’s insights do not explain this curious fact and probably cannot explain it, because the external causes listed by him would rather suggest that rich China and not Europe would have conquered the world. Diamond notes: “competition between different political entities spurred innovation in geographically fragmented Europe, and.. the lack of such competition held innovation back in unified China.” But this takes us back to the question why competition played such a significant role in Europe and not in China?

Henrich himself does not pose the question of why Europe and not China conquered the new world, but it seems to me that his theory may very well provide an answer. On the one hand, classical China, dominated throughout by clans, never knew competition between equals. Moreover, it always closed itself to the barbarians of the outside world, that is, against biological foreigners and their constant invasions (the Great Wall representing up to the present day mankind’s most monumental testimony to this aversion). The Roman Church, on the other hand, not only challenged biological otherness with its policies, but largely abolished it. All people were equal before God and could therefore be equal under one religion and political rule. For this reason, it was considered a legitimate goal to subjugate the rest of the world. In this way, Europe – not China – had prepared itself psychologically for a globalized world and subsequently initiated those very conquests that eventually brought about globalization. 

Psychology – it too plays a prominent role in Joseph Henrich’s work

The politics of the Church not only intervened in the social organization of people preparing them for democratic constitutions, where the personal value of each individual would count infinitely more than his biological origin. These politics also had profound psychological effects because they fostered characteristics that would have been difficult to develop under traditional conditions, namely individualism, analytical thinking, rejection of authority, intellectual independence, willingness to innovate.

“Concretely, think of the UN diplomats, corporate managers, or high-level executives… All are materially comfortable, yet their propensity for (1) impersonal honesty (parking illegally… ), (2) universal morality (lying in court to protect their reckless buddies… ), and (3) nepotism (hiring relatives into executive positions) varies immensely and can be explained by our measures of kinship intensity and Church exposure… /But/ national populations that collectively experienced longer durations under the Western Church tend to be (A) less tightly bound by norms, (B) less conformist, (C) less enamored with tradition, (D) more individualistic, (E) less distrustful of strangers, (F) stronger on universalistic morality, (G) more cooperative in new groups with strangers, (H) more responsive to third-party punishment… , (I) more inclined to voluntarily donate blood, (J) more impersonally honest (toward faceless institutions), (K) less inclined to accumulate parking tickets under diplomatic immunity, and (L) more analytically minded.”

Thus, the Church’s policies continue to have a massive impact right into the present time. “Our analyses show that if a region was inside the Carolingian Empire during the Early Middle Ages, its rate of first cousin marriage in the 20th century was minuscule, and probably zero. If the region was outside the Carolingian Empire, as were southern Italy, southern Spain, and Brittany (France’s northwestern peninsula), the rate was higher. In Sicily, there were so many requests for dispensations to marry cousins in the 20th century that the pope delegated special power to the bishop of Sicily to allow marriages between second cousins without the Vatican’s permission.”

And those numbers reveal an even more amazing correlation: “The greater the rate of cousin marriage in a province, the higher the rates of corruption and Mafia activity.”

Individualism, rejection of authority, intellectual independence, willingness to innovate

are, in our time, qualities with positive connotations that almost no one seriously questions. This gives rise to another contrast between Henrich and his two great predecessors, Max Weber and Jared Diamond. Insignificant reservations aside, Joseph Henrich sees a great progress in the social and psychological evolution that has made possible this weird and unique Western path (remember weird = Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic”). His book reads like a paean to this extraordinary historic achievement in which, by the way, the US occupies the top position with regard to most criteria.

In contrast, Max Weber had spoken of the “steel casing of capitalism,” of the impersonality and “loneliness of man” in modern society, and he did not try to conceal the negative aspects of an overwhelming bureaucracy to which it has to submit. To be sure, Henrich mentions the higher suicide rates in Protestant as opposed to Catholic regions, a fact that already attracted Emile Durkheim’s attention, but in his book these limitations only figure as minor blemishes in what on the whole represents a magnificent development of humankind.

As for Jared Diamond, he is far too much of a historian with a deep love of everything concrete that catches his eye to embark on such generalizations. The question is, are they justified? With this question I would like to turn to Henrich’s method.

Henrich treats culture

with the instruments of the natural sciences. He does this in so systematical a way that, in my estimation, more than half of his book of no less than 680 pages is – directly or indirectly – devoted to methodological considerations. Readability suffers from such preoccupation – these considerations together with the accompanying statistics would probably be better off in an appendix – but as a rigorous researcher, Henrich seems to fear nothing so much as to be convicted of lack of seriousness in dealing with causal explanations and statistical evidence. This caution has brought him success. Renowned peers like Francis Fukuyama, Ian Morris, Daron Acemoglu have praised the book: it has definitely earned its place in the wake of Weber and Diamond.

Nevertheless, some reservations intrude on my mind with regard to method. The impression that must arise in the unbiased reader is just too deceptively optimistic. With the methods of rigorous analysis originating from the natural sciences, the proof now seems conclusive that mankind, having overcome disruptive obstacles (such as the marriage of cousins and the traditional clan mentality that accompanies it), had to follow a path of infinite ascent – all numbers collected by Henrich (and they are many) seem to confirm this conclusion. We get the impression that cultural developments are just as predictable as those of inanimate nature (where, for example, we can predict for coming millennia the positions of the celestial bodies surrounding us).

At this point I would like to express some reservations

Henrich has overlooked an important historical fact. Presumably, the Church succeeded in destroying close kinship ties to a certain extent, but it did not remove them in order to create new human beings freed from all ties but in order to create believing Christians ready to offer donations. It has simply put wider ideological ties in the place of more restrictive biological ones. As we know, one’s brethren were now fellow Christians while one’s enemies were the heretics at home and the unconverted pagans (Muslims, etc.) abroad. For a long time, these followers of the devil could be murdered with tacit consent and or even open approval by the Church. The latter certainly substantially extended existing ties when defining these ideologically, but it has by no means abolished them.

We know that this opposition between us and them continues unabated in today’s secularized society. Those who oppose political correctness at home are muzzled in Western countries, while they may be persecuted or even murdered in states like Russia or China. Nations that cling to their own ideology (nowadays, Western, Russian or Chinese capitalism) point thousands of nuclear warheads on their respective enemies. Seen in this light, nothing essential has changed.

A second criticism concerns the great ruptures of history

These just cannot be grasped by means of the methods used in Henrich’s book. This observation applies to the great revolutions which we call Neolithic,  Industrial and Digital. As is well known today, the sedentary way of life initially only brought disadvantages to people: a shorter, less healthy life deprived of many freedoms. Only later did it become apparent that agriculture and animal husbandry could feed many times more people; this superiority then led to hunter-gatherers being more and more displaced by sedentary societies. But of course, no one could have foreseen this at the time when this transition was just beginning.

In the same way, no one at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution could have had the slightest idea that the exploitation of fossil deposits, on which the new economic model relied from its very beginning, would less than two hundred years later exhaust fossil resources and poison nature through its toxic residues (CO2) – an unforeseen turn of events that could very well herald the end of the industrial age with its soon to be ten billion people. Henrich rightly sees the Industrial Revolution as a logical continuation of the increasing liberation of markets and individuals from all the fetters that had hitherto constrained them, but he all but ignores that this development may result in the total exploitation and poisoning of nature. Since many and quite serious thinkers meanwhile warn of these dangers, any analysis of cultural evolution must be deemed one-sided, that overlooks these obvious facts.

Max Weber was thoroughly aware of future dangers (not of course of the environmental crisis). This is also true of Jared Diamond, who in his book Collapse explicitly evokes the possibility of the total collapse of societies. In this context, our reservations become are even more relevant when we consider the importance that Henrich justly ascribes to competition.

The competition of individuals and populations

has become an accepted idea since Charles Darwin at the latest. Starting from biology, it conquered the social sciences. In its coarse form, it turned into Social Darwinism, which infamously wreaked immense havoc during the twentieth century. But in the refined form, as accepted by research and by Henrich, competition between clans, tribes and nations means that the most successful models of different human lifestyles are imitated and adopted by other clans, tribes and nations. Of course, this often includes the very opposite of competition, namely cooperation. The big companies in Silicon Valley developed their amazing ideas in constant competition with each other, but within each company cooperation must be the rule – the great companies owe their global success to this coincidentia oppositorum. Like Max Weber before him, Henrich explains the spread of democracy, open markets and innovation throughout today’s world with the fascination of a model that convinces through its greater performance.

However, Henrich is blind to a crucial flaw

of his development model. We already noted that the marriage and family policy of the Church was not at all aimed at freeing man from all ties. The Church wanted to produce Christians. Until the beginning of modern secularized Europe, Christian were instructed to see in pagans and heretics their enemies that had to be fought relentlessly. Instead of ties to a specific clan, ties to a specific religion became the hallmark of one’s identity.

At the beginning of our modern era (roughly from the 17the century onwards), secularization broke the power of the Church and with it the image of its ideological enemies that is pagans and heretics, but this process did not liberate man from ideological foes. Instead, it merely replaced the old enemies with new ones. Anyone who follows the talk shows in China or Russia and the broadcasts of CNN or Fox News in the United States or the sanctions policy of the EU is well aware of the deep socio-political front lines separating mankind today. Inside the major ideological blocs, heresy has been replaced by political incorrectness while between nations pagan beliefs have been replaced by rival ideologies.

This state of affairs confronts us with the paramount problem

of our time. So successful have the great nations become by the process described by Henrich that each of them, with its economy grown to incredible strength by the industrial civilization, consumes for itself several globes, in this way not only destroying their own sustainable livelihood but at the same time that of the rest of mankind. And the three largest of them – the U.S., Russia and China – can each make the entire globe uninhabitable for millennia to come through nuclear destruction. This is the catastrophic effect of that social, psychological, and scientific-innovative increase in efficiency that Henrich so convincingly describes.

Silicon Valley became the symbol of a recipe for success that spread to the entire world: competition towards the outside, cooperation within – therein lies the magic formula of this recipe. But while the miniature happening in the state of  California signals a high point in economic development, its expansion to the entire globe is leading us down the fastest path to disaster. The ceaseless increase in economic and military efficiency of competing nations both cannibalizes the globe and brings humanity ever closer to nuclear self-destruction.

The dilemma, insurmountable at first sight, is that each nation, in the race with all others, weakens itself as soon as it refrains from increasing its own economic or military power for the sake of mankind. That is why we look in vain for even one single rich state pursuing a policy of negative growth and a single poor state voluntarily foregoing positive growth. The situation becomes even more dramatic when we turn to military competition. More and more small states of the kind of North Korea consider it their right (a basic human right?) to acquire the ultimate bomb.

Conclusion

Henrich convincingly demonstrates how the elimination of archaic clan ties has decisively broadened people’s horizons. Nor is it perhaps mere coincidence that he completely overlooks the emergence of new ideologically determined friend-foe stereotypes that replace the old biological ones. If I suggest that this oversight may correspond to an unacknowledged intention on his part, it is because the future of mankind in the 21st century depends on our ability to abolish ideological separation as well. The race of nations for greater economic and military power can only be ended if they mutually recognize each other as representing equal human beings with equal rights, where ideological as well as earlier biological barriers must lose all importance. Only when mankind finally submits to a common authority that replaces the nuclear missiles constantly directed at all of us by a world police, and only when the exploitation and destruction of the earth’s habitat gives way to a sustainable management of the common spaceship earth, can there can be an escape from this race towards the abyss. I know, this idea still seems like utopia to most people today, because, fortunately, the globe is not yet completely poisoned and exploited and because, by mere chance, the ever more complex, ever more destructive arsenals of annihilation constantly enlarged by the great powers have turned our globe into a nuclear waste.In Prof. Henrich’s paean to human development, this rather gloomy perspective is not mentioned. But it arises as an immediate, I would almost say logical consequence. For the sake of intellectual honesty, therefore, it should not be omitted.

*1* It may, of course, be objected that ninety percent of the population, namely the peasantry, were still tied to the land until the 18th century and had to marry locally. The nobility largely resisted the church’s regulations anyway. By and large, only the inhabitants of the cities will have followed them. The British ancient historian Charles Freeman is correspondingly skeptical of Henrich’s thesis. But the historical criticism does not invalidate the astonishing findings that result from Henrich’s statistical material.

Commentary by Prof. Michael Mitterauer,

Dear Mr. Jenner,

with great interest I follow your mailings, which I have been receiving for quite some time. I was particularly interested in your latest contribution “Max Weber – Jared Diamond – Joseph Henrich”. You treat the three authors with regard to how they explain the fact “that Europe followed a path different from all previous history”. This question has also occupied me for many years. In 2003, I published in the Munich Beck-Verlag “Why Europe? Medieval Foundations of a Special Path”. The book received the German Historian’s Prize in 2004 and is now available in Spanish and English translation. As a social historian I started from Max Weber, as an agricultural historian I worked intensively with my classmate Jared Diamond, from whom I received very important suggestions for my Sonderweg research. Since this research is now available in English in several translations, Joseph Henrich and his colleague Jonathan Schulz have repeatedly contacted me. You will find my publications often in their literature citations, unfortunately not my critical remarks. On this background of experience, I would like to allow myself some comments on your article.

Max Weber has put his specific approach to the explanation of the European Sonderweg in the preface to his “Collected Essays on the Sociology of Religion” under the keyword “concatenation of circumstances”. And at such circumstances “concatenated with each other” he cites a long series of factors. If he is quoted again and again only with his “Protestant ethics”, this is an abridgement of his argumentation. One need only look at his work on Italian trading societies or on urbanism in Upper Italy in the High Middle Ages to realize the breadth of his approach. He by no means explains in a one-line, monocausal fashion. Personally, I have tried to take up his approach of the “concatenation of circumstances” and carry it further. And I am convinced, it needs such multifactorial explanations to understand the European special path. I would be happy to send you summary texts on this, if you are interested.

Jared Diamond has chosen the rapid victories of the Spanish in the Americas as vivid examples of how their military superiority was caused by deep-seated cultural differences. But his approach is also much broader and anything but unilinear or monocausal. Inspired by Jared Diamond, I have placed the first chapter on the European Sonderweg in my book under the title “Rye and Oats.” This was done deliberately as a provocation to cultural and intellectual historians who unilaterally seek the origins of the European Sonderweg in the lofty heights of idealistic developments.

Max Weber and Jared Diamond are undoubtedly researchers whose reading should not be specifically recommended to those interested in the conditions of the European Sonderweg. With Joseph Henrich the situation is quite different. His “WEIRD people” are in the truest sense of the word “peculiar people”, whose designation at first arouses interest. However, the explanatory model behind it is very simple and above all scientifically totally outdated. With decades of delay, it once again takes up the thesis of anthropologist Jack Goody, namely that the popes’ early medieval prohibitions on marrying close relatives were the decisive cause for the development of marriage and family in Europe. As recently as 2009, a leading German family historian today, Bernhard Jussen, full professor of medieval studies in Frankfurt a. M., wrote a summary article entitled “Perspectives on Kinship Research Twenty-Five Years after Jack Goody’s ‘Development of Marriage and Family in Europe'” (The Family in Medieval Society, Lectures and Research 71, pp.275-324). After the extensive discussions in medieval studies during this period, Goody’s thesis about the impact of early medieval ecclesiastical endogamy prohibitions on the development of marriage and the family simply cannot be sustained. And now Joseph Henrich and his team try to derive not only the European family development, but the whole European special development, from it with great propaganda effort! The new labeling with “WEIRDpeople” or WEIRDest people” should help this attempt terminologically. In your text you clearly refer to what cannot be explained with the world formula of Henrich&Co. We must indeed speak of Henrich & Co, since Henrich has a large number of collaborators in his scientific production. In your paragraph “At this point I would like to express reservations”, you speak of new bonds which “the church” has brought about that cannot be explaned by the endogamy prohibition. And you are absolutely right when saying “A second criticism concerns the great breaking points of history. Definitely, these cannot be grasped with the methods used in Henrich’s book”.

As an example, you mention the Industrial Revolution. One could add many such “great breaking points of history”. This is also due to the methodology used. The correlations established by Henrich and his team with such mighty effort can ultimately only help to formulate hypotheses. They do not prove anything. For example, they quote: “The higher the marriage rate of cousins in a province, the higher the corruption rate and mafia activity. Henrich &Co fail to provide proof of this supposed regularity. The fact that Francis Fukuyama and other “authorities” recommend the book in no way guarantees methodological reliability.  It only shows that powerful citation and praise cartels are behind it. One could also point to prominent critics. Their number among American anthropologists is currently increasing.

I am firmly convinced that it is worthwhile to analyze historical conditions of the European Sonderweg – especially if one wants to draw conclusions for political action in the present. Reading Max Weber and Jared Diamond with such intentions can still be recommended with a clear conscience. Joseph Henrich does not fit into this line.

Please understand the severity of my criticism. It is not primarily directed at you, but at the busybody Harvard professor.

Yours sincerelyMichael Mitterauer

My response.
This comment is so interesting that I will answer it in my following essay.

Meritocracy – should Technology rule?

In 1958, a young British author achieved overnight fame with his satirical writing “The Rise of the Meritocracy”. He had correctly identified a trend of the times. Basically, this trend was not particularly new; it had begun in the 18th century, when using their knowledge and skills commoners conquered more and more of those prestigious places that had until then fallen to the nobility due to the privileges of birth. But after 1945, at the end of the fratricidal Thirty Years’ War, the world lay in ruins and knowledge and skill were in particularly high demand. Overnight, as it were, outstanding talent was able to achieve the greatest impact and wealth – most visibly in the United States, where world-dominating companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, etc. were launched by individual pioneers and quickly attained the status of global corporations. Elon Musk, a technical all-round genius who has been just as imaginative and successful in the field of communications technology as he has been in car manufacturing, the space industry and brain research, became a symbol of such superior personal ability. People like him are universally admired, because no one can deny that they owe their fame, rank and wealth primarily to their own above-average skills.

Why did Michael Young write his book “The Rise of the Meritocracy”

as a satire rather than a paean to the most capable men of his time? Will anyone seriously take offense at the fact that the privileges of birth have finally been replaced by individual ability?

Perhaps they will, the argument referring to justice being indeed much more complex. For, are we not, after all, again dealing with a privilege of birth when a Mozart, Beethoven or Bach is born with extraordinary talent for music or an Elon Musk with a special talent for technology? Admittedly, this privilege was not bestowed upon them by society, as is the case with princely or royal titles. In this case, it is nature itself that is responsible – depending on one’s inclination, one may imagine nature to be represented by evolution or God.

Is it acceptable from a point of justice – we may well ask ourselves – that people are born with different talents? Even those who do not want to ask this question are still confronted with the problem whether to give society the right to grant additional awards and rewards to those who are already at an advantage over their fellow human beings due to innate talent? Society thereby only exacerbates existing natural differences.

Obviously, such questions are difficult to answer,

especially since social differences additionally contribute to offering natural talents very different development opportunities. As Pisa studies have shown, even in Germany children from the middle class have a much better chance of finding well-paid jobs than those from lower social strata. The financial situation of ones parents – once again the fortuitous result of birth – thus plays a decisive role in the prospects and happiness of a person’s life. Michael Young had his reasons for being skeptical about the rise of the most capable.

In a departure from Young, I would, however, like to examine meritocracy

from a different perspective. I assume that an overwhelming majority of contemporaries think it is perfectly good and right that people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk have global influence and power because they made a name for themselves through spectacular inventions. In contrast, they have for about three centuries fundamentally rejected being ruled by princes, barons, rajahs, sultans, kings and dictators whose only merit is their descent from high-born parents. If we take this acceptance of meritocracy for granted, we are, nevertheless, left with an extremely interesting and, as we shall see, very troubling question: what will be the future social order emerging on such a basis?

A look at the billions all over the world,

who devote a substantial share of their life time to the cell phones in their hands, makes it easier to get to grips with our problem. Ninety-nine percent know how to use the device. Less than one percent know why and how it works, and an infinitesimally small fraction of the latter would be able to redevelop the device if it suddenly disappeared due to some catastrophe.

This contrast between an overwhelming majority of ignorant users and a vanishing minority of experts deepens with each passing day – and it does so in an inescapable way, because technological progress means nothing else but growing complexity – knowledge and skill being increasingly and infinitely widened and deepened. The consequences for society will be radical and can easily be foreseen.

In the future, a decreasing number of people

will still be capable of understanding complex technologies. This is unavoidable as the demands on the technical intelligence of researchers and engineers are increasing as knowledge deepens. It is true that subjects are becoming more and more divided, but each subject is getting a broader base and at the same time the knowledge pyramid is reaching higher. This process of increasing complexity of knowledge is in the nature of things and therefore inevitable. Accordingly, the demands on human intelligence become higher and higher, while the Gaussian normal distribution of intelligence within the population is a constant, changing at most slightly in the course of centuries.

The inevitable consequence is worldwide headhunting,

where those countries are at an advantage that either have the greatest potential of a well-trained population (e.g. Japan, South Korea, China) or the greatest financial means to lure talent from all over the world with high salaries (e.g. USA and other Western countries). At the present day, there is a general competition for the funds of investors and for the technologically trained intelligentsia all over the world. The pool of talent that can be drawn from is now expanding to include all of Asia and soon Africa as well.

But globalization only temporarily alleviates the pressure to tap ever greater intelligence potential. The Gaussian normal distribution of intelligence and the demands due to rising technological complexity contradict each other. And this will have a consequence that will change the structure of future society in a profound way. What we already observe at present will deepen dramatically in the future: the gap between a majority that passively enjoys the fruits of technological complexity on the one hand, and on the other, technical geniuses like Elon Musk and his ilk, who invent, plan and understand what they are dealing with. Headhunting for above-average intelligence will inevitably be accompanied by growing inequality of social recognition and reward.

The loss of a common language

The masters and geniuses of technology and science have less and less in common with their fellow human beings. An astrophysicist, a neurological expert or a drosophila researcher each live in their own bubbles of highly specialized knowledge. The astrophysicist can really communicate only with other astrophysicists, be it in China or in the USA, it is merely the coincidence of birth that still connects him with his compatriots. The natural sciences have created a type of human being for whom national and cultural affiliation plays no more than a subordinate role, because the laws of nature, to whose knowledge he devotes his life, exist independently of national and cultural borders.

This is tantamount to a loss of meaning

The modern natural sciences that emerged in the 17th century created, for the first time in history, a social class that is allowed to act in a socially meaningless way. Until then, this freedom had nowhere existed in any human society. Among hunter-gatherers, the meaning of daily actions was as directly prescribed to the few members of the horde as is the role of each animal in a pack of lions while they are hunting. In later agrarian societies after the Neolithic Revolution, the actions of each social class were visibly related to the good of the whole. The farmer had to feed everyone, the nobility had to provide defense, the clergy had to explain the world, and the artisans were responsible for keeping the material framework of society in repair.

Today there are countless professions,

whose designation alone is exotic so that their purpose has to be circumstantially explained to the average citizen in order for him to grasp their meaning, e.g. drosophila researcher, ocularist, industrial climber, to name but a few from a steadily growing plethora of examples. But the most exotic professions come about as a result of the broader and broader research foci within the natural sciences. Only in the case of medical research, is their meaning immediately comprehensible to the layman. A doctor may be a specialist in researching a particular drug for the cure of an equally particular organ of the human body, but the meaning of what he does remains evident: he cures people.

On the other hand, the meaning of our knowledge

about the structure of atoms or galaxies is not obvious at all. Until recently, mankind knew nothing about black holes, red giants, protons and electrons, and yet it has existed on this planet for more than a million years. Whether we can count on a further period of this length, indeed, whether we can count on even the next hundred years, is by no means settled. The reason for this uncertainty lies exactly in the fact that we have abandoned the question of meaning. For quite some time meaning did not seem to matter at all, because the industrial revolution and ist main agent, technological meritocracy, produced an unbelievable upswing in living conditions and for many people they still do so today. That is why the research that made this process possible in the first place was generally credited as being “good” and highly “meaningful”.

The industrial revolution, recently also called Anthropocene,

has undoubtedly brought about the most profound of all upheavals in human history. As recently as the last century, a question about its meaning seemed simply superfluous. A growing number of people worldwide gained access to greater material well-being. In the states of the West, this goal was realized to such a high degree in the second half of the twentieth century that some could afford the luxury of rejecting the goal itself as “materialistic” and asking for higher goals. But wherever people still live in terrible poverty, that is, in large parts of Asia, in Africa or South America there is no room for such doubts. There, people follow the example of China. First, they want to achieve the Western standard of living, and later they may afford themselves the luxury of striving for something higher – for the time being, the striving for material prosperity exhausts the range of meaning.

But what, if meaning turns into nonsense?

The Industrial Revolution has made the Anthropocene possible, in other words, the unrestricted domination of the planet by human beings. The exploitation of all available resources, especially fossil energy, has so increased the food supply that Homo sapiens has increased its numbers more than sevenfold in a mere blink of history. The consequences are mega-metropolises that turn entire landscapes into deserts of concrete, with more and more space beyond those cities needed for the production of food so that it too must be used as a kind of agrarian desert where other species are reduced to a minimum. The best-known example is the Amazon rainforests transformed into fields for growing soy. However, the same process started much earlier in a prosperous country like Germany. Here, natural forests have predominantly given way to spruce plantations, where trees are planted in military order lined up like tin soldiers.

Obviously, acquiring wealth becomes meaningless when a manifold increase in population thwarts the increase in global per capita wealth and when, at the same time, the resources needed for local wealth increase are largely consumed by the generation currently living, so that future generations will have to be content with a devastated and exhausted globe.

Unfortunately, a word like “devastated” is anything but an exaggeration. We are poisoning the air with the climate poison CO2, we are poisoning the oceans with plastic and thousands of other industrial products, we are reducing the yield and usable area of the soil with garbage and the addition of artificial nutrients that destroy the humus. Recently, we are even littering the ionosphere as ubiquitous space debris becomes a threat to future space travel.

Technical knowledge and research are not “value-neutral”,

as often claimed, they are forces which, on the contrary, exert a direct influence on our values. It is our immensely increased knowledge, it is technological meritocracy that, in the past three hundred years, have transformed the world so comprehensively that the question of meaning has become the most urgent of all.

Meaning not only threatens to turn into nonsense but into madness,

once our knowledge not only deepens the social divide between technical laymen and experts, but its misuse finally becomes a threat to all mankind. Regardless of whether a researcher develops a drug that helps millions to survive, or whether he explores the physical prerequisites for a new, even more efficient bomb, or the chemical basis for an even more effective nerve poison – in all cases he is sure to win the Nobel Prize if his research represents a breakthrough in his respective field. Knowing nature and its laws better and better has generally been judged and appreciated as meaningful for three centuries, although it is precisely this knowledge that enables mankind to extinguish itself for the first time.

The question of meaning was put aside,

as if knowledge and research were always and essentially good, even if they equip us with more and more effective instruments of self-destruction.  Man has, so to speak, divided himself into two halves: to the knowing and researching spirit he ascribes innocence, the acting man alone is supposed to bear responsibility. Thus, it comes that all larger states employ thousands of researchers with the production of weapons of mass destruction, the researchers themselves, however, decline all responsibility. What others do with their knowledge is none of their business.

Not everyone thought that way. In a few cases, it is a great researcher himself who sees through the fatal irresponsibility. 

Albert Einstein contributed substantially to the development of the final bomb. At the end of his life, however, he wondered about the meaning of what he had been doing. He saw no other way out to cope with the new threat than putting a definite end to the global race for greater economic and military power. But this would require the final step toward a united world. Only a world government would have the possibility to really prevent this race towards the abyss. It may be added that only such a world-uniting power would be able to put a stop to the progressive desolation and destruction of the planet.

Any not well-disposed reader is likely to protest

at this point at the latest. Why, Mr. Jenner, do you end a not entirely uninteresting essay with such unrealistic proposals? Your readers have to fight against Corona and unemployment, the economy as a whole against decline and enormous debts, but you talk about the necessity of a world government, which is of no interest to any of us if only because nobody has the possibility to bring it about by his own actions!

That’s right! All I can say is that this is precisely the tragedy and danger of our current situation. A meritocracy of the technologically most powerful has been wreaking havoc on nature for three hundred years – and with increasing speed and efficiency. It works on behalf of superpowers whose end-time weapons it increases in scale and lethal perfection with every passing year. Actually, it should be obvious to everyone that the dangers involved are infinitely greater than Corona, unemployment and swelling debt. Nevertheless, the abyss towards which we are heading by the destruction of nature and the perfection of end-time weapons hardly seems to be of general interest – as if it were no more than the invention of malicious imagination. Should we really leave our fate to a meritocracy that to this day does not ask itself the question about the meaning, nonsense and madness of its actions?

Is Democracy still alive?

We are used to measuring this form of government above all by the degree of freedom that a government grants its citizens. Viewed from this perspective, the picture is as bright as it is gloomy. No one prevents me from expressing even the most absurd opinions. I may even call publicly for the overthrow of the government, provided that this is done without insulting specific individuals and without denouncing the democratic constitution as such. Continue reading Is Democracy still alive?

Thymos and Logic – Why we know, yet do not act

Francis Fukuyama, arguably America’s most profound political scientist, enriched our understanding of man and history by an important notion of Greek origin – “thymos”. This term, used extensively by Plato in “The State”, is well suited to illuminate our present situation. The Greek philosopher speaks of thymos to describe a decisive dimension of human action. In his opinion, man does not obey reason alone; in truth, something else is added, namely will, desire, passion, anger, self-assertion – in short, “thymos”. Whoever ignores this driving force hardly understands human behavior. Continue reading Thymos and Logic – Why we know, yet do not act