The definitive end of the commons as we know it

What we are witnessing is the end of the polity as we know it. The ultimate extinction of public spirit. Parallel societies will remain. We will probably have to live with division. And die.
The definitive end of the commons as we know it
by Roberto J. De Lapuente
[This article published on June 13, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Das endgültige Ende des Gemeinwesens, wie wir es kennen – neulandrebellen.]

There might have been a small chance of reconciliation if the war in Ukraine had not come upon us directly after the pandemic. Now the society has finally, probably irretrievably divided. The division remains.

We will have a lot to forgive, we said just a year ago. To forgive, yes, but not to forget. How thin the varnish of civilization really was could be well observed since mid-July. Suddenly, discrimination was no longer a dirty word. Helge Braun, then Minister of the Chancellor’s Office, dictated to a newspaper on a sunny Sunday that in his opinion there was really nothing to be said against this discrimination, if it did not affect vaccinated people. From that moment on, all inhibitions seemed to fall – but also the faint hope that one could forgive after all.

Of course, hope germinated every now and then. Perhaps one could still somehow return to a halfway acceptable normality. People hope – even if it is irrational. Especially then. When I wrote a few sentences ago how thin the varnish of civilization actually was, I deliberately chose the past tense. Because such a varnish no longer exists. There is paint damage everywhere. And no one has what it takes to mend them. Then the war came upon us, the last hopes for a new sense of community were wiped away. The country is slipping completely, the paint damage is turning into bullet holes. And if you think it through more carefully: explosion craters.

Division as an attitude

For many, the first weeks of the pandemic were marked by fear. Also by uncertainty. Of course, there was also irritation as to how an international community of states, which usually only pulls together in rare cases, could become so united in such a short time. Nevertheless, the feeling was not entirely bad. People wished each other good health, scoffed at those raiding the toilet paper shelves in the queue for the checkout with complete strangers. No one seemed to know anyone who stocked up on toilet paper. When I was still working in the hospital, a fruit or chocolate basket greeted us every day: as a thank you for not being able to stay at home.

But just as the tone of the hospital changed, with only the threat of labor law consequences being used to keep the staff on track, it quickly re-established the dissolution of the delicate social bonds. Anyone who had doubts, demanded more transparency, or wanted to allow other expert opinions was cast out and degraded to the status of a dangerous person who had to be fought with all means at their disposal. Week after week, the tone intensified. Then came the vaccination: from a social point of view, probably the worst possible accident. Democracy did not vaccinate itself back to health. It ignited on several hearths at the same time.

The split is not a daughter of the pandemic, of course. It is an instrument of domination. Divide et impera, divide and rule, was already said, I almost said, by the ancient Romans – but the slogan is probably not ancient, probably Machiavelli is behind it. By the way, divide here means to split up – and not to distribute in the sense of handing out. In short, those who divide up social groups rule more comfortably. In Scorsese’s epic “Gangs of New York,” the city’s rich are worried because things are rumbling in the poor neighborhoods. At a game of pool, however, one of the gentlemen present laconically observes, “You can always buy half the poor to kill the other half.” That, in itself and vividly, is the principle underlying purposeful division for the purpose of domination.

With the pandemic, however, division took on a new quality. For this virus lent itself much better to cleavage than the usual issues of poverty and wealth. It could be charged with the question of life and death. It is true that the pandemic was a classist selection from the outset, i.e., it was certainly a question of rich and poor, but this was overshadowed by the existential question and the images from Bergamo and various intensive care units. The rhetoric of division was thus able to radicalize relatively uninhibitedly. The government’s course was made into the only true attitude that every normal, decent, polite person should adopt.

Harmony only in the bubble

This attitude came upon us as a split. And since then, the normative discourse spaces are no longer simply narrow: they are oppressive. Almost everyone now defends only his or her own safe space, in which he or she locks himself or herself up and into which nothing, but really nothing at all, of all that one sees differently should penetrate, please. That others think, feel and act differently: That has become the real imposition that we are supposed to expose ourselves to on a daily basis. The echo chambers are growing in number, and in the filter bubbles there is still something like harmony and cohesion, almost a sense of community. But woe betide anyone who says anything that runs counter to this happy state of mind: Then it’s war!

You don’t even need to try to mix different echo chambers and bubbles. That fails more and more often because one has simply no interest at all in points of view which others maintain. Why do they see it that way? What has happened to make them think that way and not otherwise? These questions actually belong in the debate area; they are an expression of opinion-forming and later also political will-forming. If you exclude this, there is no longer any willingness to compromise; you understand the community more and more as an apparatus in which I have to assert my will, only my will – and that without compromise and without taking other interests into account.

Dissenters have had a hard time at all times. No question, to claim otherwise would be nostalgia. But whether the fronts were ever so hardened: One may well doubt it. Of course, politics and the media have always steered opinion. But what has emerged in recent years is probably unique. A guiding culture has been established that makes it clear how far one is allowed to stray from the path of mass opinion before setting the dogs on the renegade. And around this cartel of planned opinion control, a public debate culture has developed that no longer takes prisoners. A verbal mob operates with downright rabid egocentricity in the spaces where people debate today – in the networks. Observations and opinions that are judged to be wrong are not discussed or debated out: they are shouted down, and social cold calls are initiated.

Consequently, a number of bubbles manifest themselves in which halfway like-minded people meet. The public space splinters into several segments that exist in parallel but no longer have any contact with each other. The pandemic was immediately followed by the war in Ukraine: And the already divided society runs directly into the next battle of opinions. The mood seems to have radicalized once again. At times, one has the feeling that one’s chosen opinion is sacrosanct and that anything that deviates from it is about to be banned. One is shouted down, if one does not remain on opinion course, insulted and threatened. And at the same time, you get encouragement, because quite a few people also see the situation critically. Only those who, because of their different views, should perhaps talk to each other and understand the opposing position no longer find any connection to each other.

An exit strategy for the parallel society?

How to get out of this parallel society? There is nothing to suggest that such a step is even contemplated or considered necessary by the opinion leaders. Politics does not de-escalate; it regularly pours oil on the fire, takes up debates in which it sketches entire segments of the population as stupid, brazen and backward, and does not address their concerns or objections at all. The media establishment goes along with this, really stoking debates, rarely questioning other positions. Instead, such positions are pathologized, even criminalized.

Only on Sundays, when certain office holders say something that is supposed to sound like a statesmanlike lecture, do they quote the noble sayings that still seem to know something about cohesion, respect and togetherness; only in Sunday speeches do they take pity and place such noble positions prominently in the media. But these holidays are also damn edifying, if one can feast on such beautifully turned sentences …
Where is the exit strategy supposed to come from? At any rate, not from the behalves of this totally screwed-up, completely destructive world and economic order. As I type this, I do notice that here and there some journalists in the mainstream media are calling for more discussion culture. But they are only whispering, their calls are drowned out. We’ll probably only come to our senses again when we take a step back and spend more time in real life, with real people and not just with accounts that people sit behind. When we deliberately turn off the constant media feed and allow ourselves fixed times of information during the day – and are not constantly bombarded with scraps of manipulation and propaganda between door and door, until we are inclined to believe everything that we can’t escape anyway.

With the vicarious agents of the powerful, these incumbent functional elites in politics and media, such an end of the Verparallelgesellschaftung is simply not conceivable. For they have an existential interest in division. Only through division can the blatant processes of decomposition of the global order be concealed – at least for a while. We are so finished. After all, where is the spirit to suddenly shun the media and politics supposed to come from? The scapegoats presented to us by the divide-and-rule approach are easier to get hold of than the richest 0.1 percent, who are the ones we really suffer from. What we are witnessing is the end of the polity as we know it. The ultimate extinction of public spirit. Parallel societies will remain. We will probably have to live with division. And die.

Yes, I also feel like my hat goes off when I hear and read about pandemic in connection with “Corona”. The Ukraine war is a completely different matter.

In any case, my reading of Roberto’s text looks at what you complain so that both came in the sense about “us”, that people like us – so, you and I and with us all those who are also only “small sausages or carrots”, – not the slightest influence on the evaluation as a pandemic and the resulting handling and just as little influence in the official evaluation of the Ukraine war had or have.

If it were up to me, Nord Stream 2 would have gone ahead. There would also be no sanctions against Russia. Not even against North Korea. I would not have declared a pandemic because of this virus. Etc, etc, etc…

But most people let themselves be brought “in line”. With not few therefore the hat goes up to me really. Others I can understand well.

What do you do with (small) children for whom you are responsible? I honestly don’t know how I would have behaved if I still had (small) children. At the moment, I’m lucky enough to be responsible only for myself. The offspring is
grown up.

I am particularly pissed off at the generation of my age (around 60) and even older. I can understand that young people have had themselves vaccinated. That was the only chance to avoid bans. I don’t know how I would have dealt with it when I was around 20?

That’s why I find it more than a little difficult to lump together all the people who took part in the bullshit.

As far as the war propaganda in Germany is concerned, I am not at all convinced that it is as well received by the population as Tagesschau and the like like to report. In any case, the allegedly high level of support does not match what I hear here in my microcosm.

Roberto J. De Lapuente

Strong state with weaknesses
by Roberto J. De Lapuente
[This article published on May 20, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

The rich are stupid because they are greedy. If they were less so, many things on earth would be better: that’s how simple the world seems to be for Spiegel Online’s Sunday columnist. He calls on the rich to be reasonable. That’s pretty casual for someone who was still playing tough the other day.

Every Sunday, cognitive psychologist Christian Stöcker has his say at Spiegel. Germans love their Sunday addresses, they like the sublime and uplifting style that helps them get over the adversities of the workday. Those who address their congregations on Sunday don’t necessarily have to be cogent or serve up really good arguments: A pastoral tone is enough. Christian Stöcker has had some practice in this, for umpteen years he has been pious from his column pulpit on Sundays. This was also the case the other day, when he once again – and not for the first time – addressed the stupidity of the rich.

They are doom profiteers, he wrote. They should be smarter, though, his closing plea read like this: “The rich of the world would do well to rather work to save humanity – in their own interest.” Quite mild, how the man deals with a class that seems to have so much money that even the purchase of a villa, which stands in an area of the world that will soon be swallowed up by rising sea levels, does not need to be reconsidered – because what are a few milliards sunk? Well, his column is appropriately called “The Rationalist” – which doesn’t mean that the name is always present when he picks up his pen to serve up something edifying for his community.

Lean State: Only in the Pandemic Very Thickly

Six months ago, Stöcker was far less reserved and restrained: he called for “maximum coercion” – not against the rich, of course, but against people who did not want to be vaccinated. For all this obedience to the state during the pandemic, however, one thing was always clear, especially in the Spiegel editorial office: a strong state in economic matters was never (and still is not) wanted.

The columnist does here what is commonly done in the German press landscape: The systemic logics are personalized; it is not the apparatus that fails, but individual black sheep that crap out. Because we are dealing with individual cases, the system does not even need to be strictly regulated and controlled. Stöcker therefore does not even ask how it can be permissible for people to have so much money that they can do whatever they want with it – without having to consider sustainability and future prospects. It quietly resonates in his lines that there are two natural disasters: Climate change and the greed of the rich – and apparently not much can be done about at least one of them.

However, one could declare war on greed, on this unspeakable wealth that is allowed to run riot uninhibitedly. You just have to want to do it, you finally have to start fleecing those who own too much. Taxes are possible – yes, taxes are possible. You just have to muster the political will, socialize wealth. Reading the riot act to the rich and telling them that their greed is stupid: Can be done, it doesn’t cost anything. Some planned readers might even find words of praise. But the Sunday columnist can’t bring himself to ask the system question: Is it perhaps not the rich who are to blame? Are they perhaps only the perverted product of a perverted economic system, which we do not want to control and steer with state power for inexplicably perverse reasons, out of a perverse ideology?

It seems curious that it is always those who months ago were still calling for a strong, even an authoritarian state, who then always step back liberally when it comes to the reorganization of the welfare state and the burdening of obscenely large fortunes. Then they again declare their support for a state that is as weak as possible. And if they don’t, they do as Stöcker did and maneuver around, writing feel-good texts that don’t want to get to the bottom of the matter. After all, it’s good that there are rich people with such huge fortunes who now and then put something in the mirror’s coffee box.

Socialism is only okay if it saves corporations

The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben pointed out quite early in the pandemic that politics will not let up again so quickly, because with Covid-19 it has finally found a field of activity again where it is allowed to decide on its own. At least at the beginning of the pandemic, this was certainly the case. The strong state experienced a last, issue-specific renaissance. His French philosopher colleague Alain Finkielkraut also expressly welcomed the development that government leaders had finally wrested primacy from the economy.

Of course, this was only a snapshot, a brief snippet of the pandemic story. At best, it was a subject-specific development. The strong state did not experience a revival. It did not return to old influence in all areas. It is true that the logic of a state that disenfranchises its citizens, shifts them from A to B as if they were mere chattel, and imposes duties on them that can hardly be proven scientifically, if at all, still haunts some people’s minds: But this refers only to the subarea that they pompously call epidemic protection. Otherwise, the strong state continues to be nothing more than a bloated night watchman state.

Of course, socialism was back in these two years. Admittedly, it is not a socialism that is there for you and me – or for small businesses, artists and freelancers. But it was there for corporations. They financed their dividend distributions and bonus payments from these state alimentations. The strong state thus also experienced a resurgence in the economic sector, as it did back then when the business practices of the banks – or rather the systemically accepted lack of control of the banking sector – led to a deep crisis. Too-big-to-fail socialism took hold, saving well-paid jobs and watching small savers lose their homes. Back then, too, some optimists believed that the days of the lean state were irretrievably over. They were wrong, of course. They came back. The casino reopened after only a short vacation.

Of course, you can’t write all this in a Spiegel column on a holy Sunday, not even tentatively hint at it. On Sunday, Germans need edification and, every now and then, a scapegoat. In this case, the perverted rich, who are to blame for everything because they can’t control themselves. If these rich people were just a little better educated, Stöcker explains to his readership between the lines financed by the Gates Foundation, we would be much further along today. So the system is okay, the fault is in the people. Good try to get his ideologically driven laissez-faire across to the man, Stöcker – well, by your systemic standards, good …

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