...and the perceived situation wins

If we continue in this manner, the split seems inevitable.

Worse still, looking around Saxony at the moment, one might conclude that the split not only seems inevitable, but that it is

Saxony is no isolated case. When something falls over in Saxony, it is not a global problem. But a dynamic like the one in Saxony is also taking place on a much larger scale and on completely different levels, for example in the United States. 

If "The Donald" manages to do it again, or if someone of his spirit does it, there is a certain probability, which in my opinion is not to be despised, that people will not wait until after the next election to storm the Capitol.

If it should then fail, one didn't want it to have been (like "The Donald" at the beginning of 2021). But assuming it were successful - then one will have wanted it to have been, but even then one will make oneself a victim of circumstances in retrospect. Only a fool would think of the Reichstag fire in 1933.

For those who think that is unlikely, listen to what Tennessee Congressman Mark Green, for example, says when the day is long.

The pattern behind it is always similar: you provoke something, you claim that it is escalating, it splits, and afterwards you act as a victim or as a helper of the victims. You create the circumstances yourself, so to speak, with which you legitimise your own actions.

A simple example: A news item appears on the internet that a food manufacturer has recently become halal-certified. However, the news does not appear on the company's website, but in an emotionally written "counter-reaction" by a well-known personality whose positions include being against the immigration of people of the Muslim faith. In the echo chamber of this person in one social medium in particular, it escalates accordingly. The likes and comments go through the roof. People agree, feel vindicated.


Days later, on what feels like page 17 of a well-known daily newspaper with shrinking coverage, it says that the company in question has no such certification at all, nor is it seeking such. 

The reaction among those who took note of it at all: "What was that again? Oh, that's right... !"


For all others, the dynamics of the escalation and the subsequent rectification are not even associated with each other - let alone realised that someone has caused this escalation by means of a simple, equally unfounded and strategically invented assertion in order to achieve a certain effect. 

We respond, so to speak, to fantasy... or propaganda.

That's where we are: Something is simply asserted, the reactions take place as they do, but whether the whole thing is "true" or "testable" at all plays no role or at most a peripheral role with considerably less effect.

The "other side", so to speak, still adheres to the outdated rules, for example that journalists need training, that the facts behind claims should be researched, that one has to follow certain procedures and so forth. 

The procedures are continued. But there is an unintended as well as paradoxical effect: by continuing them, they are further undermined. Maintaining the procedures becomes part of the problem. 

You try to do everything right. One researches, substantiates, argues, justifies. But one can hardly make a difference any more, because what is at stake has long since become a question of faith: I believe in the conventional procedures - or not. If I don't believe in them, I am open to assertions that don't need to be substantiated.

Let's go back to the example: A company was allegedly halal-certified. But it does not say "allegedly". It only says that it was certified.  And there are the many direct reactions to it.

If I still believe in the procedures and consider the source credible, I fall for it. If I no longer believe in the procedures and consider the source to be credible, there is no more falling for it, then I consider the unsubstantiated claim to be proof in and of itself that the system is ailing. 

In addition, where a newspaper has a procedure (qualification, research, etc.), social media do not have such filters. Everyone can write or say what he or she wants. And of course everyone can believe what they want. And then it's like in rhetoric classes or marketing seminars: people are taught that the perceived situation is always more effective than the factual situation. And that the perceived situation wins.

Strategic communication is as old as humanity. And it would not be the first time that the foundations of togetherness have been shaken. Something like democracy is always a matter of consent. If enough people join in and believe in it, the togetherness can withstand stress. If there are fewer of them and then migrants, a pandemic or soaring prices are added to the mix, things get exciting.

Where are we now?

My esteemed colleague Christoph Meißelbach once described the development of our relationship to freedom as an inverted U-function. On the left side of the parabola, imagine a totalitarian system, North Korea for example. There, one cannot behave non-conformist without the party ringing the doorbell. In comparison, the former GDR was "also sporty", but at least towards the end rather mild. The fangs had slowly but surely turned rotten. Regardless of the "degree of totality" of the respective system, the following applies: under the circumstances of such a system, "more freedom" is generally also "better". 

But what happens when, for example, we no longer use the right to question political or official decisions merely to defend ourselves, but use it strategically, as it were, to make other ideas of order more popular? 

Admittedly, this is a bold hypothesis: we question because we can, because we want to achieve an effect, and no longer with the aim of questioning possibly unjust or unlawful processes, but rather to expand our own comfort zones. Then more freedom does not necessarily mean that things will get better, but rather that things will get mixed up. 

Some examples from "rather harmless" to "questioning the basis of democratic societies":

A student questions a grade and makes use of their right to inspect the exam. The conversation does not lead to any new insights, and the grade remains the same. When asked why the student had asked to see the exam, they reply: "It always worked at the grammar school." Such processes now lead in some degree courses to a kind of "prophylactic" final grade of 1.0 for all.

At some demonstrations, security forces are attacked. The general insinuation of "systematic" police violence serves as legitimisation for their own violence. If someone is arrested, they can rely on the support of volunteer lawyers who immediately pull them back to the constitutional footing despite their criminal actions and turn the proverbial tables on them for argumentation.

A former president who lost an election challenges the election. He cannot prove it in court, but he sticks to his claim and larger parts of his supporters follow him anyway.

Another president attacks a country whose existence he denies. He elevates himself to the position of protector of a minority that has not asked for protection - at least not by a majority, which would be tantamount to a referendum. He claims that the country in question is full of "Nazis" who would existentially endanger the very existence of the minority. He uses fascist methods, claiming that the other side is fascist.

Systems only work if you stick to the rules. If you use the rules to optimise your own comfort zones, it's not nice, but it doesn't dismantle the system - it just hollows it out over time. But if you use the peculiarities and rules of the system to dismantle the system itself, it becomes dangerous. 

This is the point we are at: Following the rules no longer helps because many counteract the rules by breaking them, but claim afterwards that they followed the rules and would even defend them.

Our democracy is being put to the test, and always anew. And many a stress test (in Saxony with corona at the latest) leads to a noticeable change in the overall climate. The next stress test is coming up: how much support for Ukraine will be possible until the war-weariness of the German population rises to the point, at the latest due to the price increases, that we call for peace, no matter what the price?

The dynamic is becoming more and more acute: we are used to questioning things, and that is actually a good thing. But we have also become accustomed to questioning things strategically, so much so that it is becoming more and more laborious and unpredictable to generate consent on certain decisions.

Someone is always against something. We are becoming more and more dependent on momentarily successful communication - with rapidly shrinking time horizons. This leads to a real-time distortion: while the perception of the present accelerates further, we live more and more in some ideal past or future, because these can be different from reality in the way they are supposed to be - according to our wishes. Social media act as amplifiers here, creating even more pressure on the present.

Freedom is an achievement. Full stop. 

But freedom comes under pressure as its procedures are strategically applied - not only to one's own advantage, but with the foundations of freedom being called into question. 

This is what is meant by the analogy of the inverted U-function: there is the point at which "more freedom" no longer means "better", on the contrary. Freedom without foundations that are believed in and whose rules are adhered to leads to the dissolution of freedom and to the return of many an authoritarian monster that was believed to be dead, at least as it seems to be happening in Saxony at the moment. Many question things not only because they consider it necessary, but because they can (strategic use of freedom for individual comfort zone expansion: after all, you have a lawyer, even prophylactically if necessary). However, some use freedom strategically on another level: not only to optimise their own comfort zones, but to achieve certain effects (strategic use to achieve political goals while accepting or intending to shake the foundations of freedom). And as I said: unfortunately, social media act as an amplifier here.

You can oppose it, you can continue to play by the rules, but the "question of faith" is showing itself more openly than ever. Something like supporting the Ukrainian people in the war against the aggressor Russia becomes a question of positioning, and in Saxony at the latest, many are calling for "peace for Russia", which at the end of the day is as mocking as it is undemocratic. These people have "competing ideas of order". Democracy is certainly not the only concept of order, but it is perhaps the best one for the well-being of the individual. Now, of course, one could reflect on whether many were not frustrated by socialism in 1989, but socialist education nevertheless programmed those emotions with which one reacts today to the contradictions and crisis situations in democracy. 

Basically, we are looking at a complex landscape. Where there used to be "red" and "black", today there are "blue" and "green". In the past, I would have simply argued from a neutral standpoint and analysed what happens when too many move away from the basis of the constitution. However, I have to admit to myself: Many are already too far away, no one will "bring back" these people anywhere. 

It will be something different, and if you look to America, I think: nothing good. But just because you cannot discover enough of what you think is good in the future doesn't mean that the future won't come anyway.  In my opinion, it's about facing the future. Also and especially because of the fact that a time will soon come when the majority of voters will be over sixty. 

What certainly does not help us is mutual defamation. While some people are still giving "woke" lectures, others are making use of "alternative facts" and don't give a damn about what is considered necessary and right in newspapers. While some cling to their procedures, believing themselves to be in the right, others smash the traditional assumptions with even more vigour.

In the past, I would have argued something like this: Mutual questioning erodes the common basis for action, puts our common "basis of the constitution" in danger. I am still of the opinion that this is the case. What makes the difference this year is that the fascist grimace behind the strategic questioning is now quite open.  Reacting to this with even more "wokeness" helps as much as trying to put out a fire with petrol.

It is time to realise that the fans of competing conceptions of order reject democracy, and reject it vigorously.  This also means that one can no longer talk to each other about democracy - at best, one hears loud cries about the defence of democracy, only to suspect later that it was not democracy but the competing conception of order that was meant, only that one has strategically done otherwise. 

In Saxony, the fate of the Weimar Republic is currently repeating itself - on a small scale and without prospects and nowhere near as brutally, but the emotions fit. Many of those who think they are defending the changes when the Berlin Wall fell actually see legions marching. 

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