A commentary on the week in review – week 43/23
“There must be more to life than everything” is the title of a book by the American author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, who died in 2012 at the age of 83 and was best known in the German-speaking world for his story of the Wild Bunch. In it, he describes the experiences of a terrier called Jennie, who one day leaves his sheltered home head over heels for no recognizable reason in order to throw himself into life. The sudden realisation expressed in the eponymous sentence is reason enough.
In fact, there are also phases in a person’s life in which what is there or what has been achieved is no longer enough – and not because you want more of the same, but something completely different, even a completely different life, a living existence. Stagnation and eternal sameness are too reminiscent of the death that will one day befall us all, of which we do not (want to) know anything and which leads us to organize the wildest distraction maneuvers that sometimes even harm us and others.
The events that are currently shaking this world and making it feel like it is spinning (even) faster are eloquent testimony to this. We run and run and try to escape their horrors, but we have to realize that we are only moving in our own hamster wheel and are not actually getting anywhere.
Those politicians who are speaking out in the current Middle East conflict are also moving in the hamster wheel of global political logic, which is actually illogical when viewed neutrally. A resolution in favour of an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, which had been drawn up by 22 Arab states, was recently adopted by 120 (including France) of the 193 UN member states, but 45 states abstained from voting (such as Germany and Finland) and 14 states (including the USA and Austria) even voted against it. Those who abstained said that the resolution did not take sufficient account of the terrorist attack by Hamas. Austria stated that a resolution “which is not even able to name the terrorist organisation Hamas … cannot be supported by Austria”. Both sides, if you want to call them that, are forgetting those who are now mostly in harm´s way, namely the Palestinian civilian population. One side, namely the initiators of the resolution and their supporters, are not even prepared to mention Hamas, let alone recognize their attack on Israel as a brutal act of terrorism. This makes it easy for the other side to reject this resolution. The others are not prepared to fight seriously for their point of view to be taken into account in the resolution. This ignorance on the part of those involved makes a peace agreement, which is in any case extremely difficult, impossible; indeed, it even encourages acts of war because it enables Israel to remain true to its military and political line and because it continues to provide the terrorist militias on the other side with fuel for their unspeakable attacks against Israel’s civil population.
The power blocs on our globe are also trapped in the polarity of the world that they themselves have created, and their representatives do not even think about questioning or even changing their point of view. The profit from this is still likely to be greater than the losses it causes, which ultimately plunge many people to death, whether directly or indirectly.
NATO has known how to use the war in Ukraine, which was stirred up by the Russian president for political reasons, in its favour. Negotiations between the USA and Finland, the newest partner of the transatlantic alliance, regarding the conditions for their cooperation were concluded at diplomatic level this week. The agreement, known as the “defence co-operation agreement (DCA)”, is intended to regulate the conditions for the presence of US military personnel in Finland, the areas in which NATO weapons can be stored and the security guarantees of the USA in “legal and technical terms”, among other things. The next step is now the political processing of the agreement by parliament with the involvement of the population, as Finland’s Prime Minister Petteri Orpo emphasized.
Sweden will probably have to wait even longer for its accession to the Western military alliance to be ratified. Although Turkish President Erdogan recently gave the green light, Hungary is still dragging its feet. The Swedes are taking it with humour, and a joke that has been circulating for what seems like forever is now doing the rounds again. “If Russia attacks, we’ll defend ourselves to the last Finn,” they say. And history teaches us that Russia has never actually succeeded in conquering Swedish territory. The “Swedish Empire” (which ruled over its neighbour from the Middle Ages until 1809) has only ever lost regions, which now belong to Finland.
Speaking of the USA: Mike Pence, former Vice President under President Donald Trump, has now suspended his candidacy for President and therefor his quest for the Republican presidential nomination. “This is not my time,” he said, calling on the sovereign to elect someone who appeals to the better side of people and can lead with “civility”.
Whether artificial intelligence (AI) could bring about an improvement in the topics already mentioned remains questionable – although it is being used more and more and experts believe it has a bright future. Even ordinary users can hardly avoid the tools of AI: be it in search engines or when using tools such as Chat GPT, Bing Chat or Google Bard. Sam Altman and Mira Murati were invited by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) to discuss the capacities and possibilities of Open AI. Altman emphasised that “the future will be incredibly great” and considers artificial intelligence to be the most important invention mankind has ever made. However, he also admits that “we are dealing with something very powerful that will affect us all in ways that we cannot yet accurately predict.” Murati sees AI as an opportunity to “advance our civilisation by increasing our collective intelligence” and continues: “There are many ways to screw it up. And we’ve seen that with a lot of technologies, so I hope we get it right.” The pair’s concerns probably relate to the fact that the foundations for the development of AI are still man-made and therefore their intentions when programming are crucial.
Is “critical mass” also a question of intelligence? In an essay on his website, the organisational consultant and management coach Konrad Breit presents group and mass dynamic phenomena using two case studies and addresses the following central question: Where is the tipping point at which a different or (counter) strategy can become self-sustaining? He concludes that it takes at least 10% to “open up a space for a new vision of our future as humanity (self-determination, freedom and human relations as a paradigm)”, whereby “not all people need to reach dizzying heights of awareness”. And: “A critical mass of those who see through the created stereotypes and pseudo-realities should be stable enough today (September 2023).”
The situation with regard to “poverty in Austria” is also worth considering – in terms of social change. This week, WIFO presented a study in which the authors analysed the years 2005-2019 and came to the conclusion that there is “strong, effective redistribution in Austria”, as WIFO economist Silvia Rocha-Akis noted in the presentation. This has also remained stable over the years. Wifo head Gabriel Felbermayr noted that our country is “not so great” when it comes to income distribution. The bottom fifth of the population received five per cent of income in 2019, while the top fifth received 44 per cent. According to WIFO, there is a problematic trend among younger families. In 2005, 46 per cent of households with a main earner up to the age of 35 and children were still in the bottom third of incomes; since 2010, this proportion has risen to 58 per cent, where it had stabilised by 2019. Rocha-Akis and Felbermayr cited the financial crisis, unstable employment relationships and the issue of migration as possible reasons. The fact that family and social benefits were not indexed for many years also played a role. WIFO proposed a reduction in non-wage labour costs, which could be financed with the help of an inheritance tax. The Minister of Social Affairs, Johannes Rauch, who was present at the presentation, argued in favour of a wealth tax and the introduction of a basic child tax and praised the government’s decision to index social benefits.
Following the plans recently presented in Germany to create a new party under the leadership of Sahra Wagenknecht, the Left Party, of which Wagenknecht is currently still a member, is called upon to sharpen its profile. Whether this will succeed is still written in the stars. One person who wants to achieve this is Ines Schwerdtner. The freelance journalist and publicist writes on her website: “We win when we stand up unconditionally for people in need, but just as unconditionally for all those who keep our society running through their work and just about make ends meet.” Because this is becoming increasingly rare, the existence of the party is under threat, especially in eastern Germany. She points to developments in some neighbouring countries, where public discourse is turning into a mud-slinging battle between liberals and the right and social issues no longer play a role. Because it is important to take responsibility in this situation, she has decided to join the Left Party and run for a seat in the 2024 European elections. She stands for a socially just Europe, for East Germany, for a different economy and a different political culture. In a blog post shortly after the move to create the „Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance“ (BSW) was announced, she writes that it is important “not just to proclaim truths, but first and foremost to listen to what people are angry about: be it high prices, broken heat systems at home, fears of war. This is the material from which we make politics – in the city council or in the European Parliament.” According to Schwerdtner, she learnt from Sahra Wagenknecht’s books that she leans more into the direction of Ludwig Erhard than Karl Marx. However, the Left Party should speak from the perspective of employees and not that of entrepreneurs. And: donations would therefore not be accepted from companies in order to remain incorruptible and “to be able to stand up for people unconditionally.”
“The woke bubble” was “cleared up” – as one editorial colleague emphasised – in the Wiener Zeitung. “What can you say when people who describe themselves as ‘progressive’ or ‘left-wing’ do not condemn the Hamas massacre in Israel, but approve of it?” it says. In her article, the author presents a rather merciless reckoning: “In recent years, left-wing activism, including feminist activism, has been dumbed down and superficialised on all fronts in all subject areas in such a way that it has largely become incoherent and inherently contradictory verbiage,” she says. She continues: “The complete absence of any critical thinking ability, combined with #isupportthecurrentthing (whatever this current thing is), has become the epitome of left-wing activism. And in an emergency, you shred and mix everything up until all that comes out is shit.” In conclusion, she pleads for universalism, humanism, truth, backbone and freedom not to be taken away from us. These are all values that the left has propagated but sometimes forgotten in its ideological blindness and blindness.
Yes, things are going round and round in this world, the hamster wheel turns and turns and turns – and we hardly realize it. And when we do realize it, we believe we have no recipe to stop it.
In view of all this madness and the enormous pace at which everything is happening, reflection is urgently needed. We could do this like the brown bears at Helsinki Zoo and go into hibernation two weeks earlier than usual. Or we could stay awake and take the necessary time. And I emphasize: take time. Because we only have time if we make it. We are about a month away from the start of what is supposed to be the quietest time of the year, which always degenerates into the shrillest time of the year. And this is not because it is, but because we are unable or unwilling to expose ourselves to this silence, because this is where the inner emptiness lurks and with it the all too readily suppressed fear of death. A conscious “memento mori” leads to a more fulfilling life. There is also a message in the “Morituri te salutant” of the gladiators burnt to death in the Circus Maximus that concerns us all, as we too often feel like fighters at the mercy of fate without much chance of success. But this feeling is deceptive, because we often have more control over our lives than we realize. And if we can’t change anything immediately on a large scale, we can certainly do so on a small scale. With the courage to start right there and “look death in the eye”, we are given a life that is able to offer more than anything else. It is absolutely worth the effort.
Picture rights Ines Schwerdtner: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ines_Schwerdtner#/media/Datei:Ines_Schwerdtner,_2023.jpg
|WG – 2023 KW43-E-YT||Wolfgang Müller||CC BY-SA 4.0|