Nation state or Homo technicus universalis?

Abstract:

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

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

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

The time when everything was still different,

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

But is it right to call the new man,

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

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

Meanwhile, many of these modern achievements

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

Global fraternization

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

As homo technicus leaves history behind him

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

Millennials are cosmopolitans

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

The problem

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

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

This problem becomes truly massive and frightening,

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

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

This is the existential problem of our time,

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

How do Millennials respond

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

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

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

Seen, from this perspective, political activism,

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

Not renunciation but a global scramble

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

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

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

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

In perverted form, history has

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

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

This brings to light the fundamental conflict

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

History falsely declared to be dead

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

The problem is further aggravated by the fact

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Yes, we can – No, we must! Build a better, sustainable World

When contemporaries talk about the dark years of Nazi rule, they want to make us believe, consciously or not, that they themselves would have been immune to the poison of inhuman propaganda. The fact is, however, that about 99 percent of Germans did not openly resist the regime, and a large part of them were eager to clap their hands at the big parades. Only a few took refuge in a kind of internal emigration offering invisible and silent resistance. Those, who today pretend to know precisely how they would have acted in those somber times, can muster hardly even one percent probability that they would have actually put their own lives at risk through open resistance.

When people have the bad luck

to live in a dictatorship which nips in the bud any open resistance, they have no choice but to close their mouths if they do not want to expose themselves and their relatives to immediate danger. Only uncritical later born ones imagine that they would have been the exceptions, that is the few opponents or even resistance fighters. They behave like people believing in former lives. When asked what they figure out to have represented in earlier times, they invariably assume the roles of the greats: Napoleons, Caesars, or Alexander, although the probability that they were merely part of the overwhelming majority of poor servants, slaves, or peasants is immensely greater.

Meanwhile, few people doubt

that we humans are social beings, who find it infinitely painful not to belong to some group of like-minded fellows. In the long run, we cannot stand to being looked down upon by others or being cut off as outsiders. It is not only external pressure that causes us to adapt to others, but the same pressure also comes from within each of us. Without a common language and common convictions, that is, some common identity, people find it hard to live. This is precisely why it is such a terrible misfortune when a criminal regime abuses this basic need for common language, convictions and identity for its own purposes.

To avoid being seen as eccentrics by their peers, many then adopt opinions and actions they would previously have vigorously rejected. The hatred that Hitler stirred up against the Jews had appeared offensive to many people, so they looked all the more for reasons to justify their silence. Did Germany not regain much prestige abroad? And had the regime not succeeded in ending the terrible unemployment within the country in a very short time? Very few understood that in order to pay off the resulting debts, the regime expropriated the Jews then robbed in merciless wars all of Europe.

Even regimes that, in comparison to Hitler’s thousand-year Reich

cause infinitely less suffering and harm, can count on our social needs as long as they are able to produce some undeniable achievements. Vladimir Putin successfully ended the chaos of the 1990s (partly promoted by the West); he has given his country’s economy a remarkable boost despite Western sanctions, and with a surprisingly effective armament has turned Russia into a superpower again – a power that has nothing to fear from anyone but terrifies the rest of the world with its latest nine-times supersonic nuclear missiles that no existing ballistic defense is able to intercept. For these achievements Russians are very grateful and willing to accept the crimes of their leadership: the occupation of Crimea in violation of international law and the unbroken chain of murders and assassinations of resistant opposition members.

It is no different with China

Anyone who believes that the one-party system there is built on shaky foundations is completely mistaken about this rapidly rising country. In reality, American democracy is currently much more at risk of imminent collapse than the regime in Beijing. While a civil war and final transition of the greatest Western democracy to an authoritarian system under presidents like Donald Trump now seems entirely possible, China is showing the world a model of stability. The Muslim minorities in Xin Jiang and the people of Tibet are ruthlessly oppressed, but this is accepted by the majority, because the government can justly claim that no other regime ever brought material prosperity in so short a time to a people bitterly poor still half a century ago. It now seems likely that the billion-strong nation will reach 75 percent of the American gross national product as early as next year.

Everything in China is new, monumental and nowhere else do people believe so unconditionally in the blessings of science. In the fight against Covid-19, the country strictly followed the recommendations of its expert epidemiologists and achieved a resounding success, while Western countries, above all the USA, are completely incapable of decisive action due to rampant internal dissent. Nothing is new in the US, far from it: the infrastructure is crumbling and is threatened by decay, much like in Third World countries. Only American science still remains a leader in many fields, but it must increasingly assert itself against a superiority of medieval creationists and fake news propagandists. Meanwhile, China’s government rides on a wave of success, it is silencing the opposition with an argument that is hard to contradict. We will make you rich and admired all over the world – what more do you want? What has the American one percent plutocracy to offer? It has made itself rich above all others while a majority got relatively poorer. No wonder, then, that democracy is losing more and more credibility in its oldest homeland.

Dictatorships remain in power for so long,

as a majority believes their promises. The later born ones should therefore be honest and not contradict probability. 99 percent will always shrink back from any statement or action that a resolute regime punishes with labor camps or death: they prefer to cooperate and will rather behave as opportunists. We may count those among the chosen few who at least do not take part in the general adulation and keep an inner distance – in dictatorships this is the only kind of resistance that does not endanger their lives.

Accordingly, there are situations in which people are almost powerless

This is an important lesson, because today you cannot talk about any topic without being confronted with an immediate objection: “But what can we do?” During most epochs of human history, 95% of all human beings could do little or nothing, if one understands by that the change of a given political and social order. At best, they could – even under the Nazis – preserve their inner freedom. During the thirteen years of the Third Reich, was there the slightest possibility for individuals to create another better world? Certainly not! There was only the possibility to keep a consciousness of decency and truth in one’s head and to preserve this ideal for future times.

What does this look into the past have to do with our present situation?

At first glance very little, but at second glance very much. Nobody has to fear for his life, even if he represents the most adventurous or even downright insane views, as for example the proselytes of the QAnon movement. In Western countries this freedom even extends to the president of a world power, who may openly disregard and discredit elementary truths of science. Not only ludicrous opinions, but obvious fakes have conquered the public life in the United States and elsewhere and are not only tolerated by disoriented masses but frenetically applauded when emanating from the very apex of political power.

This is the first thing in common with a dark past

In Germany we involuntarily think of the jeering crowds that cheered Goebbels or Hitler. But as a matter of fact, we gave a farewell to the freedom of thought just a decade ago. A striking break in Germany’s intellectual history was the way the country’s intelligentsia dealt with Thilo Sarrazin. Even those who did not agree with the opinions of the former social democratic senator, should have said with Voltaire that he not only had the right to express them, but that his fears should be taken seriously.

But there was no willingness to do so. It was considered unforgivable that he questioned the self-image of his compatriots, according to which they had thoroughly “overcome” their past and could not only boast of the greatest tolerance toward strangers, but even lived in the greatest harmony with them. Sarrazin denied this and insisted that cultural differences acquired in youth can be so persistent as to become a serious, insurmountable obstacle to a mutual beneficial coexistence. Self-righteous German intellectuals did not want to hear such admonitions. From the outset, a real intellectual confrontation with Sarrazin’s theses was therefore out of the question. What was to be heard instead was a goat’s song of indignation all over Germany and Austria, where the self-declared defenders of political correctness demonstrated their abysmal contempt for a man, who merely repeated what serious scientists had long before him said and proved with relevant numbers in lots of unheeded scientific articles. Sarrazin’s only scientifically untenable fault had been that at one point he confused culture with biology attributing a special gene to the Jews.

Only German Chancellor Merkel made a valid objection

The book was “not helpful,” she said. That’s right. In the scarcest conceivable formula, she touched upon the extremely difficult problem of uncomfortable, sometimes really destructive truth. As already mentioned, in his book “Deutschland schafft sich ab! (Germany abolishes itself) Sarrazin had only presented insights that were not at all controversial in professional circles. But it cannot be denied that his insights were in no way helpful if Germans wanted to successfully integrate strangers and win their confidence.

Does this constitute a valid argument to suppress all unhelpful truths? Certainly not. The great damage was not caused by the book but by the furious outcry of its enemies. Had it not been for the witch hunt that followed its publication, the book “Germany abolishes itself” would hardly have caused greater damage, but it would have saved the government from recklessly accepting more foreigners into the country than the population is ready to welcome with active help instead of being overpowered by distrust and finally xenophobia. I guess that the sober civil servant Sarrazin, so totally averse to fanaticism, never wanted to achieve more.

The nationwide outrage of the self-righteous,

which at that time included above all people who did not necessarily shine with more knowledge and argumentative intelligence, but who insisted all the more on their moral superiority, marks the beginning of an intellectual regression in Germany called “political correctness” elsewhere. The rapid progress of this new pressure for conformity is now everywhere to be seen. Especially in American politics under President Trump, who elevated lying and the whitewashing of problems to the rank of a working principle.

But we are hardly in a better position in view of those imminent challenges that currently worry us far more than immigration. As far as the latter is concerned, we did perhaps really manage – at least for the time being – to turn foreigners into good and equal citizens who enrich our societies. Provided, of course, that in the coming years there will not be millions of new asylum seekers who bring the specter of xenophobia back to life. But now there are other problems or rather crises that threaten us a lot more. “Yes, we can” has a much less convincing ring, though it is certainly true that “we must” overcome them.

Here, of course, I am thinking first and foremost of the great environmental and climate crisis,

which will remain with us even when there will be no more talk of Corona. But what does actually happen? In a grotesque way, discussions are dominated by taboos and bans on speaking and thinking. The freedom to openly speak ones mind is being deliberately destroyed by the outraged, the wishful thinkers, the populists, the hypocrites and the reptile conjurors of political correctness.

Bertrand Russell, at his time a globally respected mouthpiece of a left-wing world conscience, was still allowed to say what is anathema today, namely that humanity is destroying itself through uninhibited reproduction and that nature will take revenge if mankind were to prove unable to oppose this development with the means of intelligence, namely targeted family planning. In this case, nature, so Russell, would just mobilize its usual apocalyptic horsemen, namely wars, epidemics, etc. Nobody today is allowed to utter such an elementary truth. Such freedom has been destroyed, not least by a well-known Austrian writer who populistically distorted Russell’s warning by conjuring up the horror image of “superfluous human beings” – as if family planning meant that we wanted to eliminate our fellows.

Arnold Toynbee, one of the most renowned historians of modernity, could still maintain that the fossil-industrial revolution invented in Great Britain would probably be no more than an interlude in history, because in the future humanity must once again reduce its consumption of resources to an ecologically acceptable minimum while putting a definite end to the poisoning of nature produced by the remains of consumption.

But the most clear-sighted thinker, whose entire life’s work was to warn of and to avert the ecological catastrophe, is undoubtedly Herman Daly, who may therefore rightfully be considered the “pope” of ecological enlightenment. Daly never shied away from speaking the truth without any compromise. For example, he explained that none of the usual measures, such as taxes, help against the squandering of resources, but only definite upper limits on their consumption. But these could only be adhered to if states decoupled their economies from each other so that each of them was responsible for consumption and the poisons it produced. Daly also clearly recognized that Karl Marx’s definition of exploitation was too narrow. Exploitation also occurs when the wealthy classes encourage the proliferation of the poorer ones in order to secure a constant supply of cheap labor (it is no coincidence that the poor in ancient Rome were already called proletarians, that is child-makers). As a scientist of his time, he was still allowed to state such and similar unsavory truths. Today the hypocrites, trivializers, and beautifiers shiver with indignation when confronted with such insights.

But the resistance always gets really fierce when cherished illusions are frontally attacked. Under the prevailing political conditions, a green revolution is simply impossible. We are just as powerless as people were under the National Socialist regime. Admittedly, we can take all kinds of positive actions on a small scale – under National Socialism Germans were able to do so as well. Within their own families they could do a lot to ensure private peace. But it was, of course, an illusion to believe that in this way the crimes of the regime could be prevented.

With regard to the climate crisis, we find ourselves in exactly the same situation. We can certainly vote for the Greens, give up air travel, some may change the car for a bicycle and even deny themselves the pleasure of meat, but this will not avert the climate catastrophe. The reason is to be found in the dynamics of power.

The power spiral

The leading giants USA, Russia and China, but also some smaller states like India, Pakistan, Iran or North Korea, are so focused on each other that they constantly scan the strength of their rivals, i.e. their level of armament and economic power, in order either to catch up with them or at least not to lag behind them. It is completely unthinkable that any one of these states should voluntarily leave the arena of this race, unless a world power grants it protection or an economic collapse drags it down. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, but hardly ten years had passed when the new Russia re-entered the arena of the global arms race. True, Europe remained aloof as if it could change righteousness for armament. But it could do so only because until Obama it trusted that the US would never allow it to come under Russian rule.

The spiral of military and economic power makes it impossible for anyone to reduce the consumption of resources if that puts him at a disadvantage vis-a-vis his rivals. The American military alone, with its aircraft carriers and jets, is one of the main consumers of fossil fuels – not to mention all other resources. This should deliver us from the illusion that a serious reduction in the consumption of resources is possible as long as the global spiral of power continues to turn.

In the future – and under present political conditions -, it will only turn faster, since emerging giants like China are not at all willing to comply with the American demand to join the US and Russia on questions of disarmament. Not only does China first want to become as rich as the West, it also wants to become equally powerful by equipping its military with a nuclear arsenal at least as large as that of Russia and the US. The same rush for military strength is apparent in India and may in generally be observed in all states as soon as they get economically strong. Under these circumstances, a reduction in resource consumption and environmental poisoning is simply out of the question. Only Corona has brought about an involuntary break, but not in China, the country that causes the greatest environmental pollution.

For thirteen years, it would have been an illusion

if the Germans had believed that they could change the political or social situation in their country. They were de facto condemned to powerlessness. With the exception of Corona, our lives are infinitely easier today, but none of us can change the great environmental crisis now threatening the entire world. Again, it is a regime, this time the power spiral of global actors, that prevents effective resistance. Of course, a single state like Austria or even the whole of Europe could drop out of the race and ban all processes that demonstrably pollute nature. But the consequence would be that such an individual state or Europe as a whole would reduce its own competitiveness to such an extent that its exports collapse because its rivals displace its goods on the world market. That would be a solo run paid for with weakness. But weak states are – as we, the former colonial powers, do, of course, know very well – easy victims of the strong.

Is all that remains mere powerlessness and a sure the way

into catastrophe? No. Just as many Germans, after the thirteen dark years of their history, retained within themselves the image of another better world and translated this image – however imperfectly – into post-war reality, so the global community, which is more interwoven today than ever before, will have to take the final step towards global unity in order to become once again master of its destiny. Only after this terrible race, this final struggle of humanity against itself, is brought to an end, will men come to grips with the existential crisis of fossil-industrial civilization.

We know exactly what to do in order to make this happen. My book “Yes, we can – No, we must! Build a better, sustainable World!” says as little really new about measures we have to take as do most of the books written after Herman Daly’s fundamental work. But one thing it does illuminate in a completely new way and in all its facets: The book shows in detail why we – i.e. every state on earth, no matter how green it pretends to be – are completely incapable of putting this program into practice under the prevailing political conditions.

Nobody likes to hear this bitter truth,

because, even when we are powerless, we like to placate our conscience with comforting illusions. But it is precisely this self-deception which makes us run blindly towards disaster. “Yes, we can – No, we must! Build a better, sustainable World!” is an illusion-free call for honesty and a sharpened conscience. That one of the most honest and illusion resistant of all warners, Herman Daly, gave it his special praise is certainly a recommendation: “Dear Dr Gero Jenner, Thanks for sending me your cogently reasoned, well informed, and clearly written book. I hope it is widely read. Best wishes, Herman Daly” (July 14, 2020). 

This may be an additional reason to overcome taboos, mental prohibitions and political correctness, for that is what the book is all about.

Ye shall know them by their Fruits!

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

Continue reading Ye shall know them by their Fruits!

Good Governance: Let it be ecosocial!

To leave nature to our children and grandchildren undestroyed by the ever more weighty ecological footprint of present generations – within Europe, this demand meets with broad understanding. Nowadays there is little doubt that the steady increase in the consumption of resources wreaks havoc on the world’s natural resources, even as the residuals of industrial production tend to pollute air, water and soil to an ever-increasing worldwide scale. Continue reading Good Governance: Let it be ecosocial!

Wealth without growth – Why the current economic system is incompatible with sustainable development

Since 1972 when the Club of Rome first invoked the dramatic consequences of unlimited growth, global awareness as to the relationship between growth and environmental destruction has been considerably sharpened. Growth is no longer considered a boon pure and simple. Ecological minded people start to make a difference between positive and harmful growth. Of course, growth itself is no evil. Continue reading Wealth without growth – Why the current economic system is incompatible with sustainable development