It is in the meantime a widely used term, possibly also a widely misunderstood one?
Wikipedia suggests on the disambiguation site the following:
Artificial intelligence is at this stage a widely used term, and of course we even agree by small-signing the dotted line of the big thing:
Occasionally I access websites, using the phone. In a blink of an eye the search history is available on the other machines. Sure, I do not have anything to hide …, and as said: I signed. But what exactly did I sign when? Recently I had been looking for a shop – I needed the address and knew that there are some branches in town, however, I did not know that this is actually a national chain. The web suggested the maps with the branches in Berlin, then the general website, and then … the question if I would allow google to use my position. hum …and at the very bottom
Consoling: the postcode is wrong. Or in more popular terms: Artificial intelligence has something humane: it is at times equally stupid.
Under the direction of the Chinese Society for Human Rights Studies, the Centre for Human Rights Studies of Central South University, the Centre for Intercultural Human Rights Studies of the Free University of Amsterdam and the National Human Rights Commission of China. Against Contemporary Forms of Racism: The Challenge of the Epidemic and States’ Responses”, co-hosted by the Institute of International Law, Wuhan University, a high-level think tank “The international video symposium was held on July 3, with participants from China, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and other countries and the United Nations’ Experts and scholars in the field of human rights held in-depth discussions on related topics. Peter Herrmann, Professor of the Human Rights Center of Central South University and member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, made a speech entitled “Racism: everyday life”.
Peter Herrmann argues that we must look for conditions that provide public guarantees to shape our own lives. In society, it is about health and services, it is about education, and it is about providing an environment that makes life easier.
How is it that a car, driven by electricity, cleans the air from the polution that is caused by generating the energy? Please, submit answers until 31. of December 4217 – earlier submissions will be stored …
It is a while back – already on the 25th of March, George Floyd was brutally murdered. And still it is high on the agenda: the lasting shock, the protests around the world, the impossibility to understand what happened. And it is on my personal agenda, preparing a presentation for the seminar “Best Practices to Combat Contemporary Forms of Racism”. As part of this preparation I came across this statement by the US-president in office, Trump:
‘I could shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters’
It is a statement he made in 2016, supposedly a joke. But listen to the context and you won’t be laughing anymore. And we actually will be able to understand what is impossible to understand.
Only time will show the valid origin and possibly not even that: there are different sources for the phrase “I don’t trust any statistics that I did not made up myself.” Statistics and presumed scientific analysis show different results. Sometimes there are simple explanations – for instance there is a difference between figures for regions and entire countries and the reference is not clearly stated; also rounding may appear as huge difference in the overall result. As such, scientific results are used as guiding political decisions, often a contest between different individual measures. An interesting framework for analysis of pandemias had been already proposed by Ed Snowden about 10 years ago in a lecture series where he posed 10 questions. It may be worthwhile to reproduce them in full length here (from https://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-234/lecture-12):
10 questions on diseases
“I have a sort of suggestion of maybe ten major questions that we ought to be thinking about with regard to diseases.
The first major question, for any of the diseases we’re talking about, was what’s the total mortality and morbidity that’s caused by the epidemic in question? The mortality, the total numbers of deaths. Morbidity, the total number of cases. That’s an important factor that needs to be taken into account in assessing the impact of the epidemic. A second question has to do with a term we introduced long ago, a phrase, which was the case fatality rate. And a related question with that is, is there an effective therapy or means of prevention, or instead does a society experience the disease in feeling itself to be helpless, and physicians feeling the same?
The case fatality rate is — we could call it the kill rate of a disease, the percentage of cases that terminate in death. And we know that, for example, in dealing with plague, one of the features of it — and Asiatic cholera as well — was a very high case fatality rate, of plague, fifty to eighty percent, cholera, something like fifty percent. At the other extreme, when we come to it, we’ll see that influenza has a very high morbidity, but quite a low case fatality rate, and that’s related, I think, to the impact that that disease, influenza, has on society, which isn’t associated with such terror as say plague or cholera. That’s an important variable, the kill rate of the disease.
Another factor, a third question we need to ask, is what’s the nature of the symptoms of the infectious disease in question? Are they particularly painful? Are they degrading, according to the norms of the time? And we’ve seen, for example, in dealing with plague and cholera that a major feature about them was that their symptoms were agonizing and dehumanizing. Clearly, as we turn to syphilis, its symptoms also were extremely important in the way that the disease was experienced. Tuberculosis, on the other hand — and we’ll be looking at that — was seen, at the time, to make its sufferers more intelligent, more romantic, more beautiful in some sense, at least in the first half of the nineteenth century. So, that — what is the nature of the symptoms, is a crucially important question.
Another, fourth question, that I hope you’ll bear in mind throughout the course, and in your review for the exercise this week, is the question, is this disease new, or is it familiar to the population? Familiar diseases tend not to be so terrifying. The population is also likely to have some degree of immunity to the disease, and the disease is likely, or may have, already mutated to become less deadly. Examples are the so-called diseases of childhood, like chickenpox, mumps and measles; normally relatively mild, but in populations to which they’re newly introduced, they can be devastating.
A fifth question has to do with, what’s the profile of the victims of the disease? Is this a disease that’s an affliction of the young and the elderly; that is, experienced as a more normal course of a disease, in accord with society’s expectations and past experience? Or does it instead strike down particularly those who are in the prime of life, thereby no longer seeming natural but as something extraordinary in the experience of the population? And it also means that the disease is likely to maximize its economic and financial impact, to be particularly destabilizing to a community. Cholera, in this regard, for example, was terrifying because of the way in which it seemed to afflict those who were the bulwarks of families and of communities.
A sixth question that’s important: what’s the class profile of the sufferers? What sorts of people in society are stricken with the affliction? Is this a disease of poverty, such as cholera is usually thought of? Or is it an affliction that strikes everyone, without particular reference to class or social and economic status, like influenza or syphilis, indeed?
A seventh important question is what is the mode of transmission of the disease? Is it transmitted person to person? Is it transmitted by contaminated food and water? Are vectors involved? Is it spread through the air by droplets? Is it spread by sexual contact? And clearly, I think we’ll be arguing that the mode of transmission is really crucial, and in sexually transmitted diseases I think that that is fairly self-evident and a very important factor in the social impact of those diseases.
An eighth important question is whether the disease is fulminant in its course, or is it slow acting and a wasting disease? If we look, for example, at cholera, one of the features, and a striking one, is that it was one of the most fulminant of diseases. It would strike down a sufferer, and you could board a train and die before you reached your destination, as the disease ran its course that quickly through the human body. Or, on the other hand, is the disease one that takes years, perhaps even decades, to run its course? And an example of that, of course, would be tuberculosis or HIV-AIDS, in our own time.
A ninth important question we need always to bear in mind is how is the disease understood by the population that it’s infecting? Is it seen as a punishment of God? Is it later on thought to be something that comes from the dangerous classes? Or later on, is it understood to be a microbial infection? And those ways in which the disease is understood have enormous impact on how the population reacts to the disease. A tenth variable is what’s the duration of the epidemic? Influenza, for example, passes through a locality in a matter of weeks, normally. Cholera or plague tend to have epidemics that last for months. And tuberculosis, one might describe as an epidemic in slow motion that afflicts a community for a whole century or more.”
There is another dimension which I want to propose as 11th concern: it is about how people deal with the situation, the “grounding” that serves as foundation for political decions about different measures and approaches to fight the spread of virus. As subheading of this section “Grounding” I propose “What are we really talking about?” And I want to start by telling a little story – one that seems to be completely unconnected to the question of policies against the spreading of the virus. Although not a fairy tale, it begins with once upon a time. So, once upon a time, after the workshop meeting in Brussels, I went with some colleagues to a pub. All of them had been Swedish nationals, two native Swedes, one of them holding Swedish passport but having been raised in Macedonia. We have been talking about some business – the Swedish-Macedonian colleague moving along with the rhythm of the music, played in the background. One of the other colleagues, looking little bit sad, said:
“Look at her – she is relaxed, enjoying herself, expressing frankly her emotions. It’s so different, compared with me: standing still like a rock, wearing a grey suit, a grey shirt and a grey tie and probably all this mirrored in a grey face. I simply cannot jump out of this.”
This story does not end with the phrase “and they lived happily ever after” – although they were very nice people. The different character was showing up in the following months while we worked together. The reason for telling the story is very simple: currently Sweden is often celebrated for a very open and liberal approach when it comes to dealing with the virus. There seems to be no lockout, businesses are continuing works they did earlier, schools and kindergardens remained open … . And still, the spread of the virus, its victims, and the mystic number “R” remained reasonably low. Such policies of containing the spread of the virus is then frequently compared with strict measures of containment: in Ireland people had not been allowed to go further than two km from their home; in Germany the situation had been one of “loose lockdown”, in the Mediterranean countries we find “strict lockdowns” … – relevant are also differences in the speed of reaction: some countries more or less hesitant, waiting some time before they introduced even harsher measures … – now I could tell another story, reflecting on the opening of a telephone call one of the last days, speaking to a Chinese friend who is still working in the UK but quit her job in order to return to China.
“There are many reasons …..”
Taking the many reasons together, thinking also of what I heard from other Chinese friends and colleagues the many reasons may be summarised by saying
“you know, there’s something about home … – there I do not feel lonely, I am well looked after and things are done when they need to be done.”
Sure, much of the following is anecdotal, based on statements of few individuals out of a population of nearly 1,439,324,000 Chinese people (https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/china-population/) and as such should not be overestimated. Nevertheless, it may well be taken as reflection of the often highlighted “we-society” – some forms of control, but performing two roles at the same time: limitation and protection, the chaxugeju providing a framework and security bed that defines the individual (comparable with the African ubuntu, i.e. the ”I am because we are”), so entirely different if compared with the west where the individual is not defined by relations but a self-contained entity, striving to be different from others, even unique and even independent from others. Still, in using such terms, we should never forget that the meaning may will be different to Western uses of the terms.
Organizational principles are to a society what a grammar is to a language. The principles provide the structural framework for social action; they are intuitive and taken for granted; they are deeply embedded in people’s worldviews, as well as in the society that people re-create every day.“ (Introduction to Fei Xiaotong’s From the Soil-The Foundations by Gary G Hamilton and Wang Zheng; University of California Press, 1992: 19)
So, looking at societies, the relevant economies and legal systems, is always about understanding those parts that are known to everybody, though difficult to be spelled out: the tacit knowledge, usually not appearing in the textbooks (as it seems to be of no relevance) and not talked about amongst those who live their life accordingly (as it is too obvious in its permanent presence).
It is about the Guanxi in China, the Christian bonds in Europe, the family ties in … – but this is exactly the point: while we find families everywhere, their meaning is completely different.
Coming back to politics of controlling the spread of the virus, one of the main issues of the debate is about containment policies. With a very broad brush, being aware of the danger of stereotyping (and re-producing stereotypes), the following can be said:
celebrating Sweden as example of a liberal handling is questionable as it starts from two premises that are standing against the common understanding of liberal: • it is a country that is highly bureaucratic, the country of men wearing grey suits, grey shirts and grey ties, not allowing themselves to express emotions – self-containment does not need external control; • it is a country that is highly advanced in respect of social provisions, modern working conditions including home-office (although never leaving people go off-ice) and the like – so it is obviously not really a matter to find new regulations for what is given already by existing regulations and tacit rules
Supposedly Lenin once said that the Germans, storming a railway station during a revolution, would first buy a platform ticket: rule bound and in need of rules, like the Alsation, so often used as service-dog by the German police …. And still, one of the rules, in very general terms, is a welfare system that is still “advanced”: elaborated, bureaucratic but altogether based in the idea of a unified (yes, unified though today’s critiques of strict “loose confinement” do not criticise this “quasi anti-liberal unification”) system, expressed in the fact of having a somewhat all-encompassing, comprehensive “book of social law” (Sozialgesetzbuch) [including unemployment insurance but excluding labour law] – comprehensive does not mean accessible for everybody although accessibility had been one of the reasons for the reform by which the different areas of relevant “social legislation” had been brought together. Today we speak of one book of social law, this consists now of 12 volumes, and a further extension is planed for 2024. Rule-obedience is thus closely linked to an expertocratic system – including non-obedience where expert-reasoning is lacking. – This is surely one of the reasons behind the important role of the Robert-Koch-Institute. A high representative of the organisation that is specialised on virus research frequently said that they cannot decide – instead there are political decisions, whereas the RKI can only provide data on the basis of which political decisions are to be taken. The problem, one can say, is in this country to find a balance between the authoritarian (not least it means submissive) character and the enlightened “liberal” bourgeois. As formulated on an earlier occasion in this series of reflections: the country of poets and thinkers (in German: Dichter und Denker) being at the very same time the country of judges and hangman (in German: Richter und Henker). Well, there is a sideliner to this, where the two actually meet, creeping into daily life without being noticed: much of the poesy and thinking is a matter of appearance, not of essence – the market, with its essence of making profit, comes along and makes profit even of the emergency and health threat: mouth and nose masks, after they had been sold out, are back, now already as a “new normality”: in fashionable designs they are available – the sellers asking for “the little bit more”, the little bit that individuals can afford for looking good, but society cannot afford to look after those in need: some excluded from suggested beauty by the judgement of the market …
Non posso crederci – non siamo qui per divertirci, non siamo qui per il momento, per fare un respiro profondo per ammirare le bellezze e le ricchezze dell’antichità…, e noi stessi, la famiglia e bambini? Restrizioni ….. – incredibile – I cannot believe it – aren’t we here to enjoy ourselves, aren’t we here for the moment, taking a deep breath to admire the beauties and wealth of antiquity …, and ourselves, the family and children? Restrictions …. – unbelievable” – A torrent of words like this, and an emotionally based resistance, followed by cocooning, weirdly combined with an expressionist/exhibitionist and collectivist public performance of “street balcony singing”. There is good reason behind extreme familiarism, regionalism, political extremism and short-termism characterising Italian politics – though “electoral rule changes in the early 1990s turned Italy more towards majority governments”
Prejudice? Maybe, though it may also be a reflection of the history of the United States of Northern America: a people that arrived there as a result of failing to claim their – mainly economic – freedom in their country of origin, welded together by religion, a commonly claimed right to occupy the country and expel the Indians and an extreme form of economic liberalism – the occupation of a vast area, the quasi tabula rasa in economic terms, where everything had to be started from the scratch and a kind of cultural new beginning (there had not been anything they could build upon: in some way the own history had been rejected and the then contemporary new culture of the Indians had been genocided),
established the feeling of superiority, later elevated to a claim of world leadership, i.e. the role of a world gendarme. What can a virus do to a people like this? How could a god hurt a people that makes even a Muslim president a professing Christian? And yet: the flip side is that everyone must be seen as an enemy of everyone else – the price of freedom, which ruthlessly makes everyone a self-made man. This may explain to some extent the way in which the US faced the virus: ignorance going hand in hand with a combination of fear and self-defence. Concrete: a long time of ignoring the dangers; and a worrying increase in the sale of weapons: “Fear of the consequences of the Corona virus is driving Americans into the arms trade. Hunting rifles are slow sellers, but pistols, sports rifles and semi-automatic assault weapons are in demand. Fear drives Americans into the shops, fear of what the virus will do to a society.” (https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/corona-schusswaffen-usa-101.html; own translation)
Although arguments based on the notion of “national character” have to be treated with care – this being even more true if based on a small sample, without introducing any control variable as class, gender, religion … . Still, even this may make at least thinking – finally the question of prejudice is a tricky one, as there is some judice, i.e. some judication, some preceding judgement – a perpetuation can hardly be avoided as the process of civilisation is one that is concerned with the perpetuation of socialisation emerging from the conditions it creates in the preceding stages of development – the irresolvable problem of the grandfather paradox that makes it so difficult to reach the other side where the grass is always greener, not least as part of this civilising process is about social distancing. The problems of social science consists of the fact of a lack of communication – on a superficial level we find plenty of chitchat, the exchange of data, the bean-counting of everything and the speculative combination of a variety of data. Terms and concepts are taken for granted while any serious debate is postponed – methodology chapters and papers are frequently chapters that deal in actual fact with methods, analysis is too often looking at “facts”, however forgetting that positivism is characterised by a fundamental lack of understanding and law is obsessed with rules forgetting the problematique that a decision may be absolutely lawful, though it is in the light of fundamental, social and human rights awful.
… but that does not mean that tragedies are not recurrent.
On different occasions I raised my scepticism in respect of euro- or corona bonds. To be clear from the outset, I agree with the notion some kind of European finance mechanism has to be put into place as matter of solidarity in tackling the current crisis. However, we know from the not too distant history, namely the way in which Europe and in particular Germany interpreted solidarity in connection with the developments in Greece, that mechanisms can be interpreted in very different ways. Obviously this is what we see already now in connection with European money possibly spent in the spirit of solidarity: The German constitutional court in the ruling of the 5th of May urged the ECB to maintain a specific understanding of proportionality. The highest German Court concluded
“by unconditionally pursuing the PSPP’s monetary policy objective – to achieve inflation rates below, but close to, 2% – while ignoring its economic policy effects, the ECB manifestly disregards the principle of proportionality”
Seen in this light, my scepticism is possibly justified in the same way as it had been in the context of the so-called European anti-poverty programmes that had been performed from the 1970s to the mid-1990s. The European institutions did not have a proper competence in the area of combatting poverty – then European ruling, asked for not least by the German government, resulted in a reinterpretation of combating poverty as a matter of solely employment policy, too often interpreted as workfare – I commented briefly on that in an article in the German Nachrichtendienst des Vereins fuer offentliche und private Fuersorrge under the Title Subsidiaritaet und die falsche Zurueckhaltung
– I am afraid, that cum grano salis, the same may happen today with the financial instruments: what is good in the short run may become the first chapter in the new book of expansionist (German) economic and social policy.
It is worth a side-remark, highlighting the irony of history: it could well be that Christine Lagarde is now victim of exactly those measures that she pursued in the context of the Greek crisis. History does not repeat itself, but that does not mean tragedies of the same kind do not appear again.
 (Subsidiarity and the Wrong Reserve or: The Meaning of European Programmes Combating Poverty (Subsidiariät und die falsche Zurückhaltung oder: Über den Sinn europäischer Armutsprogramme); in: Nachrichtendienst des Deutschen Vereins für öffentliche und private Fürsorge, Frankfurt/M., Issue 2/1995: pp. 79-86a
One of the reasons for delayed reply is actually given by some difficulties to re-register for the health insurance. I am resident in Germany and in China and the German Social Security system requires that people who are residents here, are covered by health insurance. It is a relatively complicated system – on the one hand it is possible not to be insured in Germany – under the condition you have a foreign insurance policy that covers necessary treatment in the country. However, in general it requires that you’re covered by a German health insurance. When I left Germany for China, I cancelled the insurance policy here; when I returned, I wanted for different reasons to re-join. Cutting a long story short, I can only ask you to believe what is unbelievable: getting addresses wrong, not being able to deal with the foreign insurance policy, issuing a temporary insurance confirmation to tell me at some later stage that I have to provide a flight ticket to prove that I returned to Germany … making contradicting statements etc.pp. At some stage suggesting that I never left the German system, at the very same time stating that they cannot formally recognise my insurance status in China which would be necessary to re-join in Germany. – If you do not understand this, don’t worry: nobody to whom I talked from the health insurance itself was able to understand what is going on. What is striking here and why I mention it, is the fact that they work with one central database and nevertheless manage to get different results. Again, why do I mention this here? Obviously, the technological system is used by different units, each of them having a different remit; these different remits are determined by a very narrow goal, defined in administrative terms, by a financial systematique, the logic of legal coherence etc.. In other words these are system-centered instead of focusing on the actual problem of the people involved: the person in need of heath care, the doctors providing this. I see this very much also as one dominant feature of the educational system: we are not dealing with what people really need in order to be able to cope with daily life, we are not looking at their conditions. Instead, at best we are possibly dealing with the integration of people into the system that is alien to them and in the worst case we are dealing with the University system and ways of academic thinking, that are dealing with only one interest: to maintain itself. The most telling example is in my experience the central issue of financing universities – not least gathering finance via fees is one of the main issues. Another experience i made the other day: one of the universities with which I’m affiliated introduced a performance-based payment for teaching-
– Rejecting all this on an individual basis means, of course, that one does not only ruin ones own career, but it is as well endangering the material basis of life: the vicious cycle, a catch 22 situation – a constellation which one cannot and shouldn’t escape from. At the end it means in actual fact that we allow “external”, non-substantial criteria to control our action and the direction into which we lead our students.
Online teaching being future expectation of my work, I looked a little bit around, registered for a “relevant” Open University course dealing with online teaching. Learning outcome: some trivial results (online teaching is asynchronous – actually this is to some extent also the case for traditional in-class-courses), some general issues (speak the language of your students; do not leave them alone), some, as I think, problematic orientations (learning should be “playful” and topics issued in little chunks, enough to fill a spoon) – no mention of learning as work, using knife and fork, instead of waiting to be spoon-fed, no mention of acquiring knowledge for the sake of “being educated” which should mean: being able to be in control, being able to cooperate, being ready to demand.
Taking this as background, stating that we are all learners means as well and not least that we are facing societal changes that have to be taken as focus on in our tea-learn-ching (sorry, language can be a toy):
Social in-equality – those who are lagging behind in the use of “global tools” are in some respect those who are – paradoxically – most advanced in the overall setting of globalisation: the excluded are excluded as result of the inappropriate international division of weal-abour-th (wealth and labour as entity) – Bill Gates would still sit in a garage without the many who are exploited in their huts;
Though not to be taken simplistic, much of production in a global-societal setting – production of daily life and the respective development of the productive forces – is a zero-sum game: the fire used in one place to drive the steam-engines of the spinning wheel is missing in another place to produce the energy for the fridge that is needed to keep the groceries fresh – needed due to global warming as consequence of having ignored global warnings, also needed as result of eating habits that are not reflecting the cycle of natural reproduction, needed for harvesting agricultural products of monocultural farming and extraction and not least needed to transport and store pharmaceutical products in(to) regions that are voided from own resources;
Robert Cox differentiated between problem-solving and critical theory (Cox, Robert, 1981: Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory; https://doi.org/10.1177/03058298810100020501) – with this we face in teaching and learning the challenge to work with a dual strategy, reflecting on the one hand the need to secure survival, taking up on the other hand the challenges to find solutions that guarantee the development of own resources.
From my admittedly limited overview of e-learning programs and tools (including LMS), I found an orientation that is one-sided, providing knowledge (or should we even say information of the ”how-to”-kind?) to build up a personal affirmative strategy, aiming on integrating into the given system instead of mobilising all resources of the learner, in order to go beyond the subordination under the rules of global production- and trade-chains. Learning, as it is understood now, is about adapting to new means instead of understanding the challenge to adopting what is learned to new societal conditions. In actual fact, this is a complicated multi-level process, that has to consider political, psychological, social and cultural intervention. Although we face different situations from country to country, from continent to continent, the principle framework within which we have to locate the different fields of action can be made out as presented in the following:
The foundation is concerned with locating the world in which we live, here presented as the globe, in the tensional field between the given nature (ourselves being part of it) and the build-up environment, here presented as the industrial society, however also encompassing human habitats as cities, estates, nature resorts etc..
The globe – in the middle of it – is what we can define as society that is condition and result of our action.
On the second level, we find the processes of creating wealth, here understood as accumulation regime and life regime. We are concerned with the way in which we make money, in which we spend money (as matter of consumption and investment alike) and the class relationships providing the social framework in which these processes are taking place. Seeing this as a definition of accumulation regimes, we can understand the life regime as socio-cultural pattern in which the accumulation regime is located – taken together, we are looking at natural conditions, the geopolitical location, the “national character” of the people and not least the class relationship. And it is in addition important, to recognise this relationship as metabolism in which human beings engage.
While this concerns the general level, we find on top of it the mode of regulation and the mode of living. Here we are concerned with the immediate and concrete ways of regulating those relationships by moral and juridical norms (as matter of the mode of regulation) and the way individuals adopt these frameworks to make a living – here making a living is not understood as matter of simply availing of the resources needed, but also on the way in which resources are in actual fact used. It is about resources obtained in terms of material goods, but it is also about resources as knowledge utilising social relationships, the relating to concrete, also local frameworks and the like – without going into deeper discussion we may refer to Bordieu’s theory of different categories of capital.
Breaking this down, we arrive at a kind of “task list” with for instance the following points:
Preparing students to deal with major shifts of the productive forces – this, of course, can only be undertaken if the teachers themselves are aware of these changes:
the emergence of patchwork products, i.e. products that can be increasingly assembled to different end-products and different uses
the increasing meaning of multiple use products, i.e. the use of certain goods for different purposes
the ongoing falling apart of processes of production and consumption and at the very same time the emergence of prosuming, ie the consumer acting as producer while s/he is consuming and vice versa
the factual expropriation of capital at least in the sense of objectively increasing control of products and processes of production by the immediate user (one aspect is the miniaturisation, the office in the hand held device; another aspect is the increasing role of network effects and the meaning of local knowledge – interesting in this context is is the work by Anna Tsing, looking at Supply Chains and the Human Condition (see Tsing, Anna, 2009: Supply Chains and the Human Condition; in: Rethinking Marxism. A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society; Volume 21, 2009 – Issue 2: 148-176; https://doi.org/10.1080/08935690902743088)
the re-emergence of cooperative forms of organising production (understood as encompassing manufacturing, consuming, distributing, exchanging).
Taking this together, we arrive at points of teaching with the purpose of managing life instead of making money. We can see this by taking the example of the sharing economy – the origin can be seen in a pattern of over production and the pattern of inequality of distribution, and at the very same time the distortion of many goods into “bads”. This goes hand in hand with a misled production of knowledge, by and large perverted into information management and reduced on “skills”. Another factor in this overall context is the fact that traditional forms of government do not work anymore in sufficient ways, while structures of governance and the needed knowledge base of using governance mechanisms in democratic ways are not developed (see e.g. for a presentation and discussion Herrmann, Peter, April 2016: From 5 giant evils to 5 giant tensions – the current crisis of capitalism as seedbed for its overturn – or: How Many Gigabyte has a Horse?; Contribution to the Seminar ‘Continuidad y Cambios en las Relaciones Internacionales’ at ISRI (Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales Raul Roas Garcia), Havana; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301815015_From_5_giant_evils_to_5_giant_tensions_-_the_current_crisis_of_capitalism_as_seedbed_for_its_overturn_-_or_How_Many_Gigabyte_has_a_Horse). The discussion of these allows in my understanding a new take on education, also (but not only) when it comes to distance-teaching/learning. The specificity – and progressive element – of the use of e-methods can be seen in the fact of the enforced decentralisation and with this the increased potential of project-oriented teaching/learning and the potential to immediate adaptability. – If we do not take up this challenge it may end as it is the case with the use of computers: in many cases the users still limits the use on that of an intelligent typewriter which includes a kind of easily accessible dictionary, called internet – in consequence it is too often the case that the user is actually used by the machine instead of being in control of what happens.
It may sound a silly conclusion but it will not be completely ridiculous or naïve to suggest that there is little use in teaching a person how to make money when s/he is in the desert, near to dehydration.
Sure, we may ask if we are somewhat near to any state of desert – being in positions where for many (to be sure, not for all!!) any complain is a complain that is arguing from a very privileged perspective.
Still, can’t we say that we face in African countries (or regions of the continent), in PNG (I refer to my experience of having worked in Oz), The Americas, India a kind of desert? The attempts to catch up had been in many cases ruining the countries and/or causing increasing inequalities, right? And my thesis is that the result of not talking about the content of e-teaching (taking the challenge up now), will result in one of the following: They will all have computers etc., but will lag behind, having the “previous generation stuff”. OR they will have the next generation, which will leave the now-advanced regions/countries behind. Empirical evidence can be found for both, bottom line will then always be ongoing and increasing inequality.
Now, what to do with the following two different points, for me exemplified by two different students? The one – I had been teaching economics, his course was “Finances” or “Accounting” – saying one day to me: I do not really like all this – I would prefer to have a pastry shop, selling bread and roles and cakes, making people happy. But my parents …
The other, an extremely bright student, truly a “research nature”, was turning to me one day, saying that she applied for course that she would find rather boring, but she would easily get a job and her parents …
Change: society instead of parents – skills/money orientation, predominating today’s educational system, is a choice. And having read Wells, and remembering the Morlocks, I am afraid that we as teachers have the responsibility to work “against that”. And I think we did not yet arrive at the grand-father paradox.
 E.g. the development of means of mobility (private cars) to a point where they result in immobility and destruction of the environment.
Written for the blog of the Human Rights Centre of the Law School at Central South University, Changsha, PRC
Obviously we are facing a very dramatic challenge since some time: the virus that dominates the world, suggesting to humankind
Nothing will be the same again after defeating me!
If this is true or if we will fall back into the age-old ding-dong, we are challenged today for example by
near to 1,000.00 deaths per day in the UK (the figures from the 10th and 11th of April)
an increasing fear amongst people
lack of coordination – globally and locally
political debates that are not discussing the security of life but the maintenance of individual freedom – and economic profitability
in many regions of the world – the so-called developing countries – substandard of medical supply and medical care and the lack of means to secure a minimum what is needed, Including the lack of Social Security
the president of the United States – carelessly or stupidly – stating in a press conference, talking about the virus , that “It comes from China. It will disappear, one day – it is like a miracle – it will disappear …”
the president of the European Union proclaiming – nearer to tears then to political realism – that we have to help each other and there’s no other way then helping each other
The list could be extended, but in the present context of the so-called virus-crisis I want to highlight the following three – seemingly not belonging to the current humanitarian challenge, they can be seen as the core of the entire debate we have to engage in. These are the * political debates, * the politicisation and * the fact of private companies being encouraged to move to the moon. Why? At the very core of the current debate we are dealing with the process of socialisation and its analysis, characterising a specific relationship of accumulation regime and life regimes. The cutting edge concerns the question of valuation with the two dimensions of exchange value and use value. The globalised economy has – today – as its focus the production of exchange value and furthermore the orientation of life and living along this line. Exchange value is as such considered as the ultimate use value – the actual use in terms of managing daily life is shifting away from the metabolism of human practice. This, in consequence, means that we externalise control of daily life as artificial aspect of an alienated economic process: we live in order to work instead of work in order to live; we are in order to eat instead of eating in order to be; we consume in order to keep the machine going instead of maintaining the economic process in order to satisfy our needs; we absorb knowledge in order to be informed instead of gathering and processing information in order to develop knowledge … . Indeed, these are complex processes at the core of which we see an alienation of the social as the core of human existence today. In this light the privatisation of the moon, the exploration that has as its ultimate goal the enclosure, the destruction of the common good, can be seen as a metaphor, though a very real one, of the current debate. Happening in the background of the debate of the virus crisis, it is clearly showing that the core of the crisis is about the disruption of the connection between accumulation regime and life regime. This disruption establishes a hiatus that is difficult to overcome. As stated on a different occasion, we face the following dilemma – a cage from which it is difficult to find an escape. It is this constellation of mutual dependencies, that makes an escape nearly impossible. Individual behaviour can hardly be changed due to system requirements; change of the system is equally impossible due to the endurance of individual behaviour. Equally, there is the blockage between the accumulation regime and the life regime on the one hand and the mode of regulation and the mode of living on the other hand. The complexity is furthered by the tension between the two different regimes and between the two modes.
Indeed, as Hannah Arendt suggested that a country has to be very rich to be able to cover the loss of imperialism, a country has to be also veryrich to cover the cost of privatisation of public services.
All this means not least that we have to find a different way of discussing rights. So far, we are usually concerned with the juxtaposition of social and individual. In other words, the rights of individuals, indeed individual freedoms, are counterposed to matters of intervention in the public interest – the first is expressed by individuals being allowed to define their own rules, as mentioned previously with the reference to Tinder; the latter can be expressed by the phrase recently brought forward in a Chinese article, saying
don’t be the farmer who saved the snake.
Realistically, the complex situation is not about social and individual orientation of action, activities, praxis and behaviour, but about the relationship between accumulation regime and life regime, and subsequently the mode of regulation and the mode of living. The following definitions are underlying this interpretation:
the accumulation regime is the way in which we make money and spend it for reproduction
the life regime presents the fundamental pattern of production and consumption in the perspective of classes and social groups
the mode of regulation can be understood as the framework and the rail system, supporting and limiting the processes of accumulation
finally we arrive at the way in which individuals translate the general opportunities and restrictions into their real life.
At the very core we find the metabolism, determining the position of human beings in relation to the world around them, determining the two dimensions: “what is given” on the one hand, “what had been built” on the other hand.
Thoroughly thinking through these dimensions and the interdependencies will reveal the true dimensions of the political: on the one hand it is about the political economy which is today specifically shaped in order to promote profitmaking instead of securing people’s life; on the other hand it is about is the political management not only of the healthcare sector but of services of public or general interest and their denial. In other words, we are dealing with the question if the economy is grounded in commons, understood as common control of the use of means of production in the widest sense in the common interest of the common people, or if the economy is geared to secure the profits of a minority. This is not only about the immediate threat, but it is an issue that concerns the way in which society is shaped, the way the social is actually understood – on the one hand we have the merciful understanding and support, on the other hand we see a rights-based approach that emphasises the need of social security not as matter of supporting individuals, but as matter of societal responsibility, the focus of government action on the common weal and the balance of rights and obligations, based on the principle of acknowledging everybody’s needs and everybody’s capabilities.
Epistemologically it should not come as a surprise that in the country that provided the fertile ground for a very peculiar philosopher from Koenigsberg coming up with the categorical imperative:
Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.
social distancing takes the form of a very different peculiarity,
namely that of being by and large ignored – finally one acts in the supposed freedom, of the individual who defines the rule … – go back a bit, and read again, and perhaps a third and even forth time as it is such a paradoxical situation that in fact results in pulling the wool over one’s eyes, making white to appear as black. As stated on another occasion, all this is concerned with the question of how to define freedom – as liberty to do what one wants or as insight into what is necessary – and how to understand public responsibility – as control or provision of social security. And to be honest, I do not value freedom of miners to work on the moon; instead, I value the security of minors, established on a firm foundation of rights.
One highly important although by no means conclusively defined aspect is the blurring of borders and boundaries in conjunction with increasingly strict closures. Thus, the contributions to this book may also be read as contributions along the line of tension between ‘gated communities’ and the open global village. The question quo vadis? gains a twofold meaning. It is asking where people actually go, where and why they move and where they find some kind of belonging. And the question is also about frames and gains. Where are moves allowed and how is moving allowed and what are the expected outcomes for the different actors? One point can be made at the outset: we have to start from here – this hugely tensional question. And there is a long way to go until we arrive at a position which allows all of us to feel – at least for some time – comfortable in the global village.
Decisively, we are today all migrants and as such in need of The Right to Stay – The Right to Move with its mental, intelectual and spatial dimension. This makes it also meaningful to speak of lockouts in the context of the virus crisis and the crisis of the health system: while we are in fact locked in/quasi-locked in – being privatised, dispelled from the social and this way denaturalised considering that humans are social beings.
 Kant, Immanuel, 1785: Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals
Freedom and the Control of the Individual that Lacks Insight into Necessities
Written for the blog of the Human Rights Centre of the Law School at Central South University, Changsha, PRC
Of course, mentioning ”common goods” remains abstract, as long as we do not connect it to concrete forms of social and societal processes. The same is true, if we look at anthropological patterns, usually claiming to be constant, characterising human behaviour independent of socio-historical formations. Remaining on this general level, it is probably fair to say that two tensions guide human beings in their behaviour and acting: The one is the tension between the Ought-To-Beand the Is; the other is the tension between the individual willand societal dynamics. However, making any anthropological reference has to acknowledge that it is always about an anthropology that is specifically shaped by the concrete formation that serves as “frame” and “network of rails” (see Herbert Marcuse in his presentation titled Man in a Socialised World).
Taking this as point of departure, we can see that another issue is about security and problem management – understood as individual and as well as a collective issue. However, such general statement needs to be clarified by establishing a concrete understanding of the different points in question. These are in particular the understanding of security, the definition of the collectivity, and the understanding of responsibility. Against this background the following will highlight some sets of norms and behaviour, allowing a tentative classification – the following may be a justifiable simplification when it comes to different ways in which the crisis is encountered and managed – in some respect we can see this as reflection of different understandings of the common good.
La Vita e Bella – even if circumstances changed to the worst. Central is Nessun Problema – no problem. First, any expectation that comes along as a restriction is refuted, then fearfully accepted but only on a superficial level. The pattern is actually well-known from intercultural studies with – amongst others – the following traits:
proxemics (relevant is what is close to me, not what is at distance)
denial – why should I worry …, it is not me, it is not here (like the child, for whom the parent seemingly does not exist anymore as soon as he/she is around the corner)
chronemics (time as “wild ocean”, things overlapping and everything has to be dealt with the second it occurs instead of seeing time as chronologically ordered, like the linen hung up to dry, one after the other …) – which translates into dealing with things as they occur, without any strategic consideration, as in the case of the virus: its coming had been foreseeable but remained ignored until it actually shoerd for some time
kinesics (most part of communication is non-verbal, its interpretation very much depending on tacit knowledge, a pattern that is emphasised, using strong gestures and an expressive body language, appearing to the outsider as eccentric/something that is not explicitly “used”, the person him/herself by and large not aware of it, reserved, hiding behind a mask of neutrality).
How does it translate into the way the corona-crisis is encountered? Taking from some recent communication with my former fellow-citizens (I lived a couple of years in Rome, the city that claims hosting the Holy Grail of western culture): initially, seeing some shops closed, panic showed in eyes and words, feeling like being innocently imprisoned: not being allowed to visit the coffee bar (for us Italians only a matter of minutes, but as essential as the boring blue suit, dressing the Italian gentlemen), not able to meet neighbours and friends for a chat and making up rumours … . – all under the veil of innocence, as catholicism, the quasi-state-religion, is about exactly this: escapism as escape into the here and now, as a friend says: people are having more time for family, to look after themselves … and they are singing from the balconies and rooftops. – All this sounds nice …, until we are getting aware of some bitter facts: the health services are collapsing under unbearable pressure, mismanagement and the lack of an early coordination of intervention. Being a country that depends economically to a large extent on tourism it is – at first glance – of course the best to deny as long as possible. And sadly – though not limited to this country – “it had not been me”: looking for the origin in order to think about preventive measures is of course appropriate; however, to point with the finger on “the bad boys” (it is suggested that the virus arrived from France and Germany, both countries not taking any security measures) is another thing. In a nutshell it is what Francesco, a friend, said many years ago when I criticised the result of the elections. His reply: “Certo, Berlusconi è una vergogna. Ma in realtà nessuno si preoccupa di quelo che fa il governo centrale. Noi italiani facciamo quello che ci piace fare. [Sure, Berlusconi is a disgrace. But actually nobody bothers what the central government does. We Italians do what we like to do.]” – And indeed, both are common: the romantic scene of people standing on rooftops or balconies; singing like Luciano Pavarotti, acting like Totò or Sophia Loren…, and feeling like Romeo and Juliette; the common joy – or should I say: the joy of common action – also now and also as expression of solidarity as for instance the virtual choir that is dedicated to the medical workers (https://youtu.be/VubAWDQ3gco); and on the other hand the extremely poor, neglected and self-neglecting – the ugly, not even waiting for the beast, knowing that it will be at most the helpless helper, more likely the police or the fellow citizen who denies their right to be fellow citizen. It may be taken as recurrence of those medieval times: ten young people enjoying themselves in a retreat, mutually entertaining by their narrations, while the ordinary people had been victims of the black death. Boccaccio’s well-known Il Decamerone (古腾堡计划中收录的)the well-known outcome, enjoyed by many even today; the suffering of the many wiped away – today as in those days.
Alles im Griff – all well controlled and ordered, also a matter of individual freedom – but European freedom has different faces, the German version is about well-ordered life. The country is for good reason known for law and order – the country of poets and thinkers (in German: Dichter und Denker) being at the very same time the country of judges and hangman (in German: Richter und Henker). There are definitely huge advantages of federalism, in principle realising by and large the catholic notion of subsidiarity, suggesting that decisions should be taken as near as possible to the people who are concerned – and actually they should be taken by the people. At the same time we find here the re-interpretation of this principle in the light of the protestant work ethics as presented by Max Weber: work hard for your own benefit which will be in your favour in the after-life – or as the saying goes “every man for himself, and God for us all” (admittedly a slightly obscured presentation of a relatively complex ideology). All this sounds reasonable and attractive, doesn’t it? However, there is definitely a miscalculation when it comes to Corona:
While seemingly something that occurs in multitude, there is only ONE virus: instead of looking for ONE answer, in Germany every Land (“county”) is looking for its own answer: in some there is more or less business as usual, only large public events are not taking place, in others the County-Government announced the state of emergency, some issues are up to the decision by the municipalities … – and in any case, the state of fear has to cope with the virus and with the lack of political and administrative security. Taking up the patterns presented above for Italy, it looks somewhat different for a country like Germany:
proxemics (relevant is as well what is close to me, not what is at distance
denial – why should I worry …, it is not me, it is not here (but not like the child, for whom the parent seemingly does not exist as soon as he/she is around the corner; instead, it is about the illusion of protestant work ethics: being industrious, not chasing up for the joyful life but being convinced of “standing above evil”)
chronemics (time as “wild ocean”, things overlapping and everything has to be dealt with the second it occurs – here this wild ocean is chronologically ordered, like the linen hung up to dry, one after the other … – this translates into dealing with things not as they occur, but in a strategic way, …. – elaborating a plan, consolidating the plan, coordinating it with the different countries, coming to the conclusion that such coordination is not possible, revisiting the plan on the regional level … this sounds more than ridiculous; and while the advantages of federalism are not denied in total, it is suggested that it is not a pattern that can claim general validity (the reform of the German language [Dittrich, Monika, 2016: German Spelling Reform. Nearly a cultural war; Goethe Institute; https://www.goethe.de/en/spr/mag/20802137.html; 25.3.2020] at the end of the last century showed indeed such a pattern of taking decisions, recalling them again to taking them again in one of the Laender, not the other etc,. – meaning also a huge material loss. Huge losses are currently also accepted by orienting along the lines of herd immunisation, without any further backing – it is a Darwinist mechanism, following the principle of the survival of the fittest. The presumption is that it is necessary that approximately 60 to 70 % of the population needs to be infected so that can speak of immunity being reached – allowing this means to allow at the very same time a high mortality rate: especially older people, young children, people living under unhealthy conditions (substandard accommodation, homeless people … these are most vulnerable groups, most likely victims paying with their lives.
kinesics (most part of communication is non-verbal, its interpretation very much depending on tacit knowledge, a pattern that is emphasised, using strong gestures and an expressive body language, appearing to the outsider as eccentric – here this is not explicitly “used”, the person him/herself is by and large not aware of it, reserved, hiding behind a mask of neutrality).
At some stage then, this neutrality and remaining individual freedom turns into its opposite: the fear if one behaves correctly, if the relevant government (though one may not know which one is relevant in the particular case) made an announcement of which one is not aware, the fear also of the other: isn’t everybody potential host of the virus: the other and oneself? It is not the bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all), Thomas Hobbes was talking about – or perhaps it is: at least the very moment one stands in front of the empty shelves, the milk being sold out, the moment juicy lemons are sold out and one has to buy the more expensive ones, not really suitable for freshly pressed juice facing the empty shelves, one has the idea that there could be another virus at play, the virus of fear, which is itself a hiding place, the real name being the “left-alone-you-must-fight-for-yourself-virus”. Feudalism, in its absolutist version, had been about the king announcing “l’état c’est moi”. The anti-feudal revolution, at least part of it, resulted in making everybody king, everybody defining him/herself as owner of the common good, boldly claiming as individual what actually belongs to the community – and one may feel alone, though standing in the middle of countless others.
Now, the latter has to be qualified as many are staying at home – being told so or escaping into the apparent security of “the home being my castle”; all this may well be about the revival of the family, mutual support and public responsibility: on the latter, after years of seriously deconstructing the public health system, the UK plans investment in the health sector; the head of the Deutsche Städte- und Gemeindebund (German Federation of Cities and Communities) stating “We are currently becoming a little more considered about whether it is really economic efficiency that is so decisive, whether it is not necessary to say: We are going to maintain certain hospitals, even in the wider terrain.” (Landsberg, Gerd, March 11th, 2020: Schliessung von Krankenhaeusern ueberdenken; interview. SWR Aktuell; translation P.H.). And the family? According to some sources the lack of structuration of the day, living together on limited space, not being used to lively children and the like can often cause domestic violence (https://www.msn.com/de-at/news/other/ausgangsbeschr-c3-a4nkungen-anstieg-der-gewalt-gegen-frauen-bef-c3-bcrchtet/ar-BB11l21D; 28/03/2020).
EUropean unity – how should it work if unity does not work on the national level and between the member states. In actual fact, lack of coordination and cooperation is in several instances the better option – better at least than competition, hostility and envy. However, the latter is by far not uncommon. Even in circles, that we may call enlightened and cautious about the responsibility, we find critique that may well be founded, that is however appearing as hostile afront, brought forward emotionally instead of searching for common solutions in solidarity. Of course, this is understandable; however it is surely not helpful. Just a few examples may show what is meant:
The Italian South Tyrolian tourist industry, severely hit by the corona-bust, complains that in the German North Rhine Westphalia more cases can be counted – many other cases of shaming and blaming could be listed. The mentioned case is, however, especially meaningful as it is about reviving patterns of nationalism that reach far back. Isn’t this a clear sign, showing that the discussion it is not about human lives but about political interests of nationalism and protectionism?
Primarily an issue between the United States of America and China, we find also the European Union playing a role in the trade war: mainly the rise of China is seen as a threat, although one should be more precise and speak of geopolitics and a global trade war: the People’s Republic of China is indeed the most successful of a group of countries that is increasingly a threat to the so-called developed world. Sure, a manifold of issues is at stake: the so-called Boomerang-effect, the questionable Rostowian model, the debate on the explanatory reach of quantitative approaches (in particular GDP) towards measuring progress are just a few. Leaving all this aside, of interest is here that the hegemonic position of “the West” – the USA, the EU and the EU-USA – is questioned. As said, China is one of the main “push points”, but also countries as Brazil and not least international cooperative efforts as BRICS and “the Belt” have to be seen as perceived threat. In this light, Corvid19 is a welcome opportunity to argue against China, and to propose even to name the virus “China virus” – we see only slowly the awareness that cause and dealing with epidemics and mass diseases is something that needs to be approached globally (an interesting course from Yale-university can be found here: HIST 234: Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600: https://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-234/lecture-1 – though already from Spring 2010, it did not loose anything of its meaning). – It is surely a bit trite, but there is some truth in what supposedly Blaise Pascale, theologian, physicist, mathematician, physicist, and inventor who lived in the17th century, said: “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Shall we take it as variation of the insight that man is a social being? – Summarising and in short: not competition and blame, but cooperation and understanding should be at stake.
Sure, there is more to it but can we expect citizens behaving rational and considerate, if their political leaders aren’t? At stake is, indeed, eth long-term hegemonic notion that characterises “Western Modernity”. There is, of course, the danger of throwing the baby out with the bathing water, denying the progressive side of the development. However, experiencing the negative side in such a concentrated form as I do now, makes me probably first time feeling deeply what this Europeaness is really about: I am not talking about the short-term issue, namely the reaction on the virus pandemic and its management. It is a mindset that shapes history in the longue durée, the temps des événements and as well the time spanning between these poles (see Braudel, Fernand, 1987: Grammaire des Civilisations; Paris: Flammarion, 1993: 30). It is a common and firm floor, providing sufficient ground for erecting differently featured superstructures. In the present context superstructure is not understood in the traditional Marxist sense; instead, reference is made to the theory of regulation, here put forward in an extended and elaborated form. The core are the accumulation regime, the life regime, the mode of regulation and finally the mode of living. In a nutshell and in a more or less casual formulation and they can be defined as follows:
The accumulation regime is the way in which we make money and spend it for reproduction
the life regime presents the fundamental pattern of production and consumption in the perspective of classes and social groups
the mode of regulation can be understood as the framework and the rail system, supporting and limiting the processes of accumulation
finally we arrive at the way in which individuals translate the general opportunities and restrictions into their real life.
It is within this framework, that we find individualism, short-termism and localism being centre-staged by systems and individuals alike. Today, this is in the European and more general western debate frequently reflected by reference to neoliberalism. While this is a valid reference in some respect, it is easily forgotten that neoliberalism itself is a complex and differentiated system. One important aspect can be seen in the fact that on the national level and equally in the European Union we find patterns of centre periphery-relationships, as they had been analysed and elaborated by Immanuel Wallerstein. It is this constellation where we find mutual dependencies, that make an escape nearly impossible. Individual behaviour can hardly be changed due to system requirements; change of the system is equally impossible due to the endurance of individual behaviour. Equally there is the blockage between the accumulation regime and the life regime on the one hand and the mode of regulation and the mode of living on the other hand. The complexity is furthered by the tension between the two different regimes and between the two modes (En passent, underestimating this complexity and its political-economic grounding is the problem with – in tendency – subjectivist approaches that focus on a supposed imperial mode of life as brought forward by Ulrich Brand and Markus Wissen).
One further point at the end of this list remains to be mentioned: all these examples are not least a matter of a certain arrogance of the Western countries towards Asia and in particular towards China. This is about the underlying assumption of the “advanced countries” being advanced in their cultural development, their ability to avoid catastrophe’s like this and to deal with them in the supposedly unlikely case of their occurrence. Although very critical about the politics in China, Verena Kreilinger and Christian Zeller state:
Auch sie gingen vielfach davon aus, dass unsere reichen Länder mit ihrer vorzüglichen technischen Infrastruktur eine solche Herausforderung schon meistern würden. Einige tun das immer noch, womit sie sich ähnlich verhalten wie die sogenannten „Klimaleugner*innen“. Das ist Ausdruck einer völligen Verkennung der Ausbreitungsdynamik des Virus, der beschränkten Leistungsfähigkeit unserer Gesundheitsinfrastruktur sowie der ökonomischen und sozialen Konsequenzen, die diese Krise mit sich bringen wird.
Many of them also assumed that our rich countries with their excellent technical infrastructure would already be able to master such a challenge. Some are still doing so, which makes them behave in a similar way to the so-called “climate deniers”. This is an expression of a complete misunderstanding of the dynamics of the virus’ spread, the limited capacity of our health infrastructure, and the economic and social consequences that this crisis will bring with it.
(Kreilinger, Verena/Zeller, Christian, 21.3.2020: Corona-Pandemie – eine historische Wende Gesundheitswesen gesellschaftlich aneignen, Produktion kurzzeitig und geplant runterfahren! (gegenüber der Version vom 20. März leicht korrigiert und Abbildungen aktualisiert); http://www.oekosoz.org/2020/03/corona-pandemie-eine-historische-wende; 23.3.2020)
At least at this stage, namely since the middle of March, we find some European awareness; this is, however, not a matter of coordination. Instead, it is about the development of a common understanding of the supposed need defined by the European accumulation regime. Verena Kreilinger and Christian Zeller again, who suggest:
Wir zeigen in diesem Beitrag das schwerwiegende Versagen der europäischen Regierungen und insbesondere der EU auf. Bewusste Entscheidungen, Fehleinschätzungen und Versäumnisse führten dazu, dass Europa zum Epizentrum der Corona-Pandemie wurde. Die Regierungen und die EU sind nicht in der Lage, die für die Gesundheit und das Wohl der Bevölkerung erforderlichen Maßnahmen zu treffen. Sie können das nicht, weil sie sich dem Primat der Kapitalakkumulation und der Wettbewerbsfähigkeit unterwerfen. Anstatt die erforderlichen Einschnitte in alle Sektoren der Wirtschaft vorzunehmen, die für die gesellschaftliche Versorgung nicht notwendig sind, ziehen sie es vor, eine unbestimmte Anzahl Menschen sterben zu lassen.
In this article we highlight the serious failures of European governments and the EU in particular. Deliberate decisions, misjudgements and omissions led to Europe becoming the epicentre of the corona pandemic. Governments and the EU are not in a position to take the measures necessary for the health and well-being of the population. They cannot do so because they are subject to the primacy of capital accumulation and competitiveness. Instead of making the necessary cuts in all sectors of the economy that are not necessary for social care, they prefer to let an unspecified number of people die.
(Kreilinger, Verena/Zeller, Christian, 21.3.2020: Corona-Pandemie – eine historische Wende Gesundheitswesen gesellschaftlich aneignen, Produktion kurzzeitig und geplant runterfahren! (gegenüber der Version vom 20. März leicht korrigiert und Abbildungen aktualisiert); http://www.oekosoz.org/2020/03/corona-pandemie-eine-historische-wende; 23.3.2020)
As said, it is not just the reaction on the virus pandemic. Indeed, it is if it is perhaps the first time that I really feel Europeanness – a mindset that shapes history in the longue durée showing its exclusivity clearer than usually: exclusive equals exclusion.
Earlier it had been said already that this is founded in and leads individualism, translating into egoism and egocentrism, presentism as orientation on short term periods, localism in terms of “reachable space” and finally exclusionism as matter of externalisation. It seems to be fair just see the focus of the entire – Western? Modern? – mindset oriented on the supposed compatibility of leaving the definition of the common good to individuals, resulting also in a strange utilitarian understanding of ones own life.
Tinder, one of the so-called social networks is an example par excellence – what Uber and Didier are for “ride-sharing”, is tinder for … partner-search: “use & enjoy & drop”, just as you like … – ops, just as I like. The critique here is not based on any puritan attitude; it is not questioning changing sexual partners, something that is here simply not of concern. At stake is …, well, even this terminology of things “being at stake”: we are permanently creating ourselves not as personalities but as stakes, “items on a scale”.
Most obviously the incongruence – between and within the nation states – results in different national, reginal social “performances” different with specific emphasis, related to religious festivities, specific national or regional experiences etc., though (nearly) never reaching a real collective identity, something for which we even lack a clear term. And what is it the EU-member states come up with as togetherness? On the 26th of March, the EU-summit proves its inability to act “with one voice and in support of those who need it most” (see the Joint statement of the Members of the European Council, Brussels 26th of March, 2020; https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/43076/26-vc-euco-statement-en.pdf). Looking at the debates in detail, the decisive step had been postponed: a systematic support programme for the two European member states that are under the most severe pressure. – Having mentioned earlier the being and feeling “really European”, remembering the earlier involvement in these debates, it shows another side of what it can mean that history is like a nightmare determining our life: the seems to be no way out – and protest from within doesn’t change anything; at most it ends in the inability to act.
Hannah Arendt proposed, that it is not cruelty that characterises tyranny but the destruction of the public political realm, the tyrant monopolises for himself (a claim based on supposed wisdom or craving for power), thus insisting that the citizen cares for the private realm, leaving it to him to look after the public realm (paraphrased from Arendt, Hannah, 1958: Vita Activa oder Vom Tätigen Leben München/Zürich: Piper, 1967, Neuauflage: 1994: 215). Of course this is a wide and difficult field – organisations of the civil society are often referred to and equally often criticised as prolonged instrument of the state and/or the ruling classes (see already the critique by Robert Michels, concluding 1915 in his book on Political Parties, an iron law of large organisations: to be effective and influential they have to grow; but if they grow, they stagnate and bureaucratise). If this is an iron law …? In my PhD-thesis I argued against it … but that is another topic. Here, coming back to Hannah Arendt, we know that latest since the “era Thatcher” such sentence as hers would have to refer today to “him/herself” and “him/her”. And looking at the “public”, one issue comes especially these days to the fore, while they are often ignored and forgotten when the question of freedom is discussed: While it is at least at first glance easy to prove individual freedom or oppression, one random pick of a daily newspaper (Neues Deutschland, March 13th, 2020) should make us thinking: page 13 (reports from the Land Brandenburg) has an entire column, considering the difficulties of “limiting public life” in the run of the corona crisis management, about half the page reports on violence of right/fascist forces, 1/3 reports on economic difficulties of public hospitals, not least due to recent cutbacks; half a column on new police equipment; page 14 then: a long article with photo (more than ½ page) on the difficulties to maintain child protection due to recent cutbacks; a short note on shortages to establish barrier-free access of public places; nearly one column on the need of emergency investment: public schools being in a disgraceful state; approximately a third of a page on a “deal” between a small town and the successors of the last Hapsburg-emperor, promising the family a huge amount of money and a gain of reputation. And in the same line it should make us thinking that China and Cuba are now helping other countries, not least Italy – they are helping in a situation that is much worsened by previous cutbacks. A look at relevant data is alarming: According to World Bank data (, the development of the number of beds and the medical staff decrease can be taken as clear indicator for the “success” of neoliberal policies – a frightening development in the light of standards based on professional requirements.
Just so far – some impressions … – looking at expressions: I suppose it is fair to say that much of what we witness is the combination of at least four strands:
The objective “threat” given by the virus, and the lack of knowledge countering it;
The “national social character”
The objective conditions, not least the material resources that determine the space of action
The “sensibility of governments”, aiming on coherence of policy making and citizenry – we may speak of social (dis)harmony
While this gives some approximation, the hard classification goes along the lines of containment, i.e. the intended limitation of the spread of the virus; mitigation, the “flattening of the curve”; and finally herd immunisation, possibly to be translated into “famishment of the virus” and it can also be translated into “feed the virus until it is saturated and calms down” – of course, the weakest being especially sacrificed. Each strategy is, of course, based in a specific interest and while caution is needed (as it is with any synopsis, the following can be taken for a useful approximation:
More or less strict control of movement; reducing economic activities on what is necessary
China, South Korea
Control of movement, especially targeted (“vulnerable people”) and reducing economic activities on necessities
Health care management
Several EU-member states
Limited control of movement, often based on appeals; reducing economic activities, while maintaining that “we will us all means we can avail of to ensure that the … economy will withstand this storm.” (U.v.d. Leyen in ORF: Mühsam berechnete Milliarden. 12. März 2020 https://orf.at/stories/3157397/; quoted Kreilinger, Verena/Zeller, Christian, 21.3.2020: Corona-Pandemie – eine historische Wende Gesundheitswesen gesellschaftlich aneignen, Produktion kurzzeitig und geplant runterfahren! (gegenüber der Version vom 20. März leicht korrigiert und Abbildungen aktualisiert); http://www.oekosoz.org/2020/03/corona-pandemie-eine-historische-wende; 23.3.2020; translation P.H.).
“keep business going” + health care management + securing individual freedom
Well, it surely is for all of us a difficult situation; difficult to deal and cope with in different respect: the fear of some, the need to accept requirements that limit behaviour, the coping with physical distance which sometimes really comes across as social distance and of course for many the difficulties emerging from material cuts and/or bureaucratic requirements.
Still, there is perhaps a global trend – just a trend that is visible and that is presented here without any qualification, any valuation. 26th of March, I receive a mail, informing me of the death of Lucien Seve – a profound critical thinker, who passed away already on the 23rd. The first victim of the virus I personally know …. knew – and even if he had been already in the 90s … . The message to me has also a link to a French daily, the Huma. I open the page, follow also another link:
“Gérer les décès, les familles, je n’y suis pas préparée…” Le témoignage bouleversant d’Alice, infirmière en réanimation – “Managing deaths, families, I am not prepared for it …”
– The overwhelming testimony of Alice, resuscitation nurse – an article reporting on the work of a 33-year old, but also on the hypocrisy of a political system that leaves workers and patients alone. A very personal statement, emotionally touching … . Later I am talking to a colleague from one of the universities here in Berlin. He invites me to join one of the next days for a drink: the regular’s table of the institute I am affiliated with – he sends me later the details, a URL. I promise to join, it will be after a meeting with colleagues from China, Italy and South Africa, preparing an online conference for early April. Indeed, another world is already happening, a somewhat weird world of which we have to master the dangers, and develop the opportunities … – together.
For us an old debate has to be taken up, under changing conditions – and is of interest again what from what find in Pashukanis’ Selected Writings on Marxism and Law:
“Comrade Stuchka, from our point of view, correctly identified the problem of law as a problem of a social relationship. But instead of beginning to search for the specific social objectivity of the relationship, he returned to the usual and formal definition-although a definition now influenced by class characteristics. In the general formula given by Stuchka, law figures not as a specific social relationship but, as with all relationships in general, as a system of relations which corresponds to the interests of the ruling class and which protects it with organized force. Accordingly, within these class boundaries, law as a relationship is indistinguishable from social relations in general, and Comrade Stuchka is therefore not in a position to answer Professor Reisner’s venomous question: how do social relationships become legal institutions, or how is law converted into itself?”
My University, more precise the Human Rights Center at the Law School of Central South University, Changsha, PRC asked me, when I left in February for some conference visits. to report a bit on the CVC-the Corona Virus Crisis, which is actually at least equally a lesson about how crises are managed. Much had been said, is being said and will be said. Too much? Well, there is hopefully some special perspective here to be added – at least the original publication (part 1 and part 2 … to be continued) met huge interest and acclamation.
Just to be clear from the beginning: thinking biology, medicine and the like are as exact science impeccable, without errs. But this is not the topic – it only mention as some definitely competent people stated that without downplaying the dangers, they should not be exaggerated and, for Corona that as it is, there is surely something to be said about the virus being very much “holder of its own passports”.
1. My Life with the Corona Virus
During the holidays I faced some difficulty at the checkout of a supermarket – Biyu, another customer helped me …, knowledge of language definitely helps. Then, bidding farewell she said: I am so sorry that you experience the country now, the virus doesn’t allow real Spring Festival Mood. Strangely enough it seemed that she had been more worried about me missing out than her own “loss”. Every little makes a difference – I remember one Christmas day when I lived in Ireland, a power cut making it impossible to live the traditional “turkey” – more worrying than anything else. This is not to say that the Irish aren’t hospitable or less than Chinese people. But it still may point on a rather meaningful difference between the East and the West (this as any other categorisation has to be taken with care !!): There is a generally a more pragmatic orientation to be found in China – call it resignation, subordination or you also may call it freedom, of which one definition says that it is the “insight into necessity”. What I saw these days, being back in Europe had been just the opposite: first, complete ignorance, of course suggesting that there is a problem in China, increasingly reacting protective – here protective is just another word for hostile; then, second, the reaction had been more like stepping hastily into a chicken barn, exaggerating reactions instead of a calm, systematic approach.
Some examples will follow over the next time – impressions. And as valuable – and a bit entertaining – as they hopefully are, a systematic analysis, perhaps under the title of The Virologist’s Socio-Political Compass, may be valuable for developing global responsibility and rights-based approaches as crisis management.
2. Oh folks, remain realist …
Definitely, it is for us in China a kind of nightmare-situation: the threat, the insecurity, the psychological strain and also the inconvenience and thus physical strain: shops being closed, villagers deciding quarantine-ing themselves and people just accepting, staying calm and cooperating. And then …. – the German news magazine coming up with a title-page like this:
Sorry, for me it is sending a wrong message, it is simply tasteless … “when globalisation is becoming a deadly danger” …, I suppose that is more about Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, though mind: not produced there … and so many other similar incidents …
And, indeed, there is something else made in China – the other day I received a message from a former student of mine – when I had been teaching economics. We are still in touch and Isn’t him a message, just the hello and how r u and take care -part of the answer:
Not only protecting myself, also protecting people around me. Ordered nearly 1,800 face masks from Japan last week and looking forward to receive them. Going to sell them at original price with a limit number per person and donate revenue from selling them. Purchased 2kg of “hande desinfektionsgel” from Germany for my parents.
Now, I would not even be surprised if les boches claim that is “German benevolence”
Machine translation of the letter mentioned:
Hello, I thank you for this letter and the assurance of solidarity from the German side. While searching for this mail-address of the BS I also see the reference to the naturally welcome wish for respectful cooperation. Germany East not Germany and the AA cannot be everywhere and control etc. But I must confess that such a tasteless cover picture, like the one of the Spiegel, simply shakes me. The experience that I make with my life in China lets me see with my German passport such an insult with shame and anger.
Der Spiegel is not the German press and I can only hope that this is the exception to the rule of reporting. This “naughtiness” of the seal with criticism and rejection but the AA would certainly be compatible with the freedom of the press, because this is equal to the responsibility in reporting.
With kind regards
Finally, with 14 hours delay, I left the Empire of the Middle on the 9th of February – I use this old-fashioned reference to mark the ongoing mystification of China, but also other Asian countries: in the West there is often a strange way of …, well, call it respect for the unknown, the exotic. And as exotic as anything unknown is, a new version of “the magic” appeared to me, walking from the shuttle train to the final passport control: the “magic” of a futurist scenario:
Please, walk slowly – temperature measurement in progress
Compliance again, very likely everybody saying I do not want to be infected and I do not want to infect anybody else – sure this measurement is not the proper medical one in the strict sense …, but every little helps. Big Brother as good friend – let’s take it pragmatically. And of course, every control has different sides. This is what I mentioned earlier, filling in some questionnaire, amongst others containing the questions:
Have you ever have had temperature?
Did you feel exhausted recently?
I guess even every toddler did have temperature and then: in connection with the delay of the flight I had been chased across the airport for a couple of times – consider that I’m not trained olympionique, consider as well that I’m not the youngest anymore, it seems quite natural that I had been exhausted. Every little helps …, and every little needs attention, even the smallest thing. All this shows that there is always the “human factor”, leaving us with some errors of a special nature: Formal approaches are applied, assumptions are made and the best and probably the only thing we can do is moving on, accepting the four fundamental notions:
Common sense is – not always, but often – a sound guide for our action and activities
Though we may often feel alone – seemingly a characteristic of modern societies – we are never alone; thus, any kind of complex situations and processes needs toell be explored from different sides, not only considering what is self-evident for ourselves (think about it: you see something that is “yellow”; your friend sees the same thing but does not see it as yellow but as “in a very bright colour” – you may easily end up in some misunderstanding).
Not least: communication is decisive – society had been characterised by various terms: society as theatre, as leisure society, court society, welfare society, and of course as industrial society, service society, class society, middle class society. It is Niklas Luhmann’s merit to have introduced the term communication society, however, he understood communication in such a way that …, ehem, there had not been any people left: communication in his understanding had been a process without subjects (if you do not understand this “autopoitic process”, you actually are right: it cannot be understood – it has a bit of swimming in a lake without getting wet). I propose it may be appropriate to speak of a court-room society, the latter understood as place where justice is negotiated by applying a specific language, one that is necessarily both, precise and disputatious, neutral and strictly goal-oriented.
This way the every little helps, combined with the every little needs attention is joined by a third pillar, namely everybody has an important role to play.
Thus, the Kantian categorical imperative –
“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”
(this is the wording from Kant’s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals from 1785, later he used slightly different formulations)
applies, but needs to be enhanced:
Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that you action and activity is well interwoven and coordinated with the action and activities of others
Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that the result is one that can prove validity in the future.
And the expert may justifiably feel tempted to see some Rawlsian veil of ignorance at play.
Leaving the funny aspects of obviously (and also seemingly) unreasoned questions aside, there is a further serious issue, not least in perspective of rights to be raised: we are always caught between highly standardised means, possibly applied in a mechanical way on the one hand and the need for what had been frequently called the struggle for law, that is the dispute and human empathy to elaborate a solution that is just, meaning that is appropriate to the situation. Or in more common terms, the tension between legality and justice (and those who studied law will of course remember the seminars on the different takes on “ought” and “is”).
This section may be concluded by the most crucial point, arising from what had been said so far: at the very core we are dealing with the common good, and importantly this stands at the beginning – as such it is one of the interpretations of the Marxist thinking, expressed in two frequently quoted sentences:
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past”
standing at the beginning of The Eighteenth Brumaire.
And in the Introduction to the Outline of the Critique of the Political Economy
“The human being is in the most literal sense a ζώov πoλιτιχόv [political animal], not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society”
Seeing here a superiority of the social would be problematic, as such interpretation presupposes the social as “reification of its own”, arising from nowhere – like a deus ex machina. However, this common good is nevertheless of special – quasi-superior – character, as it is source and objective of acting individuals – take (a) simple issues as language (needed to speak with somebody else, something that is shared), (b) more complex issues as common sense and morals (yes, something you share) or (c) highly elaborated systems as the regulative body (or call it civil code and related legislation) of a country or the trans- and international system –and remember: crossing the street, buying a tiny commodity or making a present …. all these are legal acts. Highlighting the crucial meaning of the social – for instance in form of the common good gains at present some special relevance as in the context of CORVID19, one of the leading online gazettes on EU-affairs laments its BRIEF (Stam, Claire: Common Good; https://www.euractiv.com/section/coronavirus/news/the-brief-common-good/; 12/03/20; ) that “[t]he swiftly-spreading coronavirus forces all of us to take a reality-check and face the ugly truth. It also forces us to adapt and change our behaviour for the common good. Because this is what it is all about. This is what is at stake.” This statement – and the then following reference to “disruption” caused by the virus, is remarkable, showing the Western (under)valuation of the public good: peripheral, related to emergencies, the last resort. With some good will one classify see it as slip – an argument of bad taste brought forward by one of the many unsettled journalists. However, looking at EU policies over the years, in particular the debate of services of general interest, there cannot any doubt that there is little appreciation of the common good as general standard: everything is geared to individuals looking for their own, personal benefit.