Peter Herrmann, currently research fellow at the Human Rights Centre at the Law School, Central South University, Changsha, PRC, has been interviewed by an Irish radio station – the interview will be broadcasted February 14th, 12:00 hrs. Irish time and can be listened thee by following link www.phoenixfm.ie:. The interview is part of a series, titled Making a Difference. It is an interesting format, accommodating reflections on general issues of societal development and political issues and at the same time linking this to questions of personal development and life of the interviewee. Importantly, such format supports or even urges to think about human rights as matter of daily life, in many cases the importance of this dimension not being really perceived. There are, of course, the big questions like racism – a forthcoming book, going back to an event at the human rights centre in 2020 and is looking at different aspects thereof. It is now in print under the title Between Ignorance and Murder – Racism in Times of Pandemics. But equally and mainly we are talking about those issues where rights are embedded in a complex moral and ethical context without which they cannot be understood. In the interview, Herrmann emphasised that for him – working as university teacher and researcher – Making a Difference had been very much a matter of respect, engaging in a communicative act, aiming on understanding the other. Something that requires not least leaving the lecture theatres and seminar rooms. Having been able to live and work in different countries had been a topic frequently coming up in the interview. The answer in a nutshell: “Living as ‘eternal tourist’ is nothing that I would recommend as ultimately “best and only way of life.’ But it surely made a difference, helping me to make hopefully also some difference in the life of people.”
paura, speranza, luce alla fine del tunnel …. Forse ora si svegliamo, prendendo coscienza del fatto che stavamo guidando ad alta velocità e verso un treno proveniente da altra estremità.
When I left Rome a couple of years ago I decided to leave my books there, making a donation so that the books and material can be accessed by the public. EURISPES kindly accepted this and took it as opportunity to establish this small collection (so many books I lost over the time due to moving from one place to another and also due to political attacks from the extreme right; not least, university libraries did not accept earlier offers of material which means many EU-(project-) documents from pre-internet times are lost as I could not store them privately) as a foundation for which I propose the name
Fondazione della biblioteca per l’apprendimento profondo – Foundation of a library for deep learning.
Admittedly there is only a small number of those books, I owned during my lifetime, left. Still, I hope that those books left can serve as a foundation stone for an increasing number of books donated by others, offering what educational institutions unfortunately offer less and less: access to books including such books that are not mainstream and not topical in the sense of offering little space for independent thinking behind catchy titles, in other words books that allow studying beyond the usual textbooks. The small and hopefully growing collection contains study material that allows developing independent and critical thinking. Saving space in my own accommodation, socialising the means of production of knowledge and avoiding further damage while moving on had been important reasons. Furthermore, it had been the experience I made in Rome: the joy of reading in public libraries, being together or at least feeling together with others, experiencing the production of knowledge as a social, collective process. It may sound pathetic, but indeed it would be a great satisfaction for me if I could contribute a wee bit in the creation of such orientation from young scholars (and old peers too, of course).
The library including reading space is located adjunct to the office of EURISPES
- Istituto di Studi Politici Economici e Sociali, Via Cagliari, 14 – 00198 Roma
- +39.06.6821.0205 (ra) +39.06.4411.7029
It can be assessed during office hours and I sincerely hope that many people make use of it and also get support and an open space for debate when visiting the library. I haven’t seen the place and do not know if I will ever see it. In any case the satisfaction of knowing about it is great.
I am grateful for support and also for interest.
Peter Herrmann. Prof. Dr. habil.; Research Fellow at the Human Rights Center. Law School at the Central South University, Changsha, PRC
IASQ (The Netherlands); CU (Hungary); IPE (Germany); LU-MSU (Russia); MPISoc.Law (Germany); NUI-M (Ireland); UEF (Finland)
Lushan South Road, 410083 Changsha, Hunan, PRC/
Ratio turns into nonsense, benefit into menace
Woe unto you, that you are grandchild!
The right, that is born with us,
Translated from Goethe’s original:
Vernunft wird Unſinn, Wohlthat Plage;
Weh dir, daß du ein Enkel biſt!
Vom Rechte, das mit uns geboren iſt
(Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 1790: Faust. Ein Fragment; Leipzig: Goeschen: 32)
Well, this could be written today without changing any substantial issue. Online teaching will remain if not dominant so at least as co-player on the agenda. To discuss respective issues, I attended recently a meeting for lecturers and casual lecturers. One of the issues had been the problematic that students are reluctant to switch on the video. Of course, there are many sides that can be discussed in this context. One point that came up, and been about obliging students to leave the video switched on – confirming the decision would not be recorded for the purpose of publication. However, such a proposal was harshly rejected, the reason being concerns with data protection.
You may kindly ask them, but not oblige them … doing so, would be a serious issue of breaching the right to privacy.
Indeed, ratio turns into nonsense, benefit into menace. , If we continue thinking this way, we have to be afraid that one day attendance in the class is equally problematic in the light of data protection. Going even further anything, that forces us to show up in the public, can be seen as problematic in the light of data protection, in the light of breaching privacy rights: going shopping, taking a means of public transport, going to coffee or pub, and of course even going to the public administration as for any service becomes seriously problematic. And the service workers ???? — sure, seeing this as a matter of privacy rights and data protection; equally true is, however, another interpretation: we have been fighting to be heard, to have a say in public matters, however, the result of a conservative turn is complete individualism, the loss of any rights that could be considered as social rights. Finally, MargaretThatcher succeeded — there will be no such thing as society. Taking Aristoteles, Marx, Durkheim and the many others who said that humans are social beings, seriously, we are thus preparing the end of human existence.
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.
I am really hyper-sensitive!
It is said with a soft voice of a loving person. The answer sounds a bit weird and out of place:
I know what you mean, love; I am suffering from stomach ulcers too.
Two bears are meeting after a couple of weeks.
How are you keepin’?
The answer of the grizzly, with an obvious sigh of relief:
Oh gosh I am feeling great! It is like waking from hibernation. And what about yourself?
A few seconds passed, though it felt like minutes until the icebear replied
hum, I guess I know what you mean. We call it global warming!
life being quiet and well structured. Sure, the climate change: No real spring, no real summer, no real autumn, no real winter … but at least the days reasonably well structured … and nowadays?
3:00 Berlin time, getting up, checking essays …, 4:07 to 5:24; going for a walk, listening to some web-presentation …: 5: 30: back to the desk, some mails – business and “gioia di vivere”; 8 Berlin time – 14 Changsha: four hours teaching: “black boxes with names (Chinese characters) written in it”, 13:00 Berlin-Vienna time, after grabbing some lunch, ventilating communication strategies that are more appropriate than lectures and Q&A sessions, off to … ah no, online banking is better than queuing, possibly chatting with some other folks also waiting there: 14:30 Berlin-Berlin some voluntary work, doing the “shopping for a stranger”, also “offering an ear”, 15:15: some homework: fixing some board; 15:30 Berlin — all other places and times: writing down some notes for my contribution to a global webinar; 16: 00: start, one hour reasonably intense presentation and debate on the social security measures and the need …, well to develop other standards to measure their effectiveness; 17:00 Berlin … some time, somewhere: chatting with my daughter? a friend? a friend to be? 17:30 Berlin — late in ChangSha, but I still have to talk to my assistant, we arranged to meet this hour …, later some writing, perhaps some music, more likely the analysis of a recent judgment regarding the payment of social benefits in another country than that of permanent residence
11:00 Berlin – timelessness in the realm of dreams … time for it, though it will not be much time … dreaming … the “good old times when the world had been structured: trotting for 9 to the office, leaving at 5 ….”
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.
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-Be and the Is; the other is the tension between the individual will and 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?
- Referring to Italy another time is just a matter of “bing-MSN-random news” – the browser setting of the computer, unchanged after purchase. Having a look at one of the headlines … – well, a matter of taste and I would personally say the presentation of the more or less complete lockdown by the Prime Minister shows a pathos that borders to crudity (https://www.msn.com/it-it/notizie/other/scheda-le-aziende-aperte-e-chiuse-dopo-decreto-chiudi-italia/ar-BB11zCkR?ocid=spartanntp).
- 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.
Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
(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.
Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
(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:
|Containment||More or less strict control of movement; reducing economic activities on what is necessary||Human lives||China, South Korea|
|Mitigation||Control of movement, especially targeted (“vulnerable people”) and reducing economic activities on necessities||Health care management||Several EU-member states|
|Herd immunisation||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||Germany|
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?”