The Be-All and End-All of “Nothing learnt?!?”


A commentary on the week in review – week 47-48/23

A fortnight ago, when I halved the publication frequency of my weekly commentary for the period until after the Christmas holidays, I accepted that the last few weeks of the year would be very dynamic, to say the least. And despite the challenge posed by the plethora of events that need to be commented on, I have no regrets about slowing down a little. It is perhaps just a drop in the ocean, just a little more time, but otherwise, another drop might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back – to the detriment of those around me and myself. I have also been able to practise the Finnish attitude of sisu these days, which requires whole books to describe, but which ultimately aims to accept life’s challenges and questions with patience and perseverance and to find the right answers. So I am in the process of learning.

Unfortunately, you can’t recognise this as the year draws to a close; it doesn’t get smarter the older it gets. The fact that age does not automatically lead to wisdom was once sung about by Curd Jürgens when he sang “60 years and not a bit wise” and “nothing learnt from damage done”. Medical historian Gerd Reuther takes a slightly more optimistic view, saying that although history does not repeat itself, it does rhyme. Unfortunately, the result is only marginally better, if at all. And a legendary Austrian chancellor (yes, they really did exist back then) advised an editor to “learn a bit of history …”

This chancellor also had a different view of the Middle East conflict, which he was repeatedly criticised for. He cultivated relations with the PLO under Yassir Arafat, trying in this way to dissuade the Palestinians from their terrorist activities. The success was moderate, but the then Chancellor was not deterred by this. For a country with perpetual neutrality, it is entirely appropriate to seek dialogue with both sides and not to take sides unilaterally. However, it is just as important to clearly reject terrorism and violence, while at the same time maintaining the necessary basis for dialogue with all parties involved in order to resolve the conflict – a balancing act. But unavoidable. This is also emphasised by retired General Günther Greindl in my next Kamingespräch chat, which will be published next week to mark the International Day of Neutrality on 12 December 2013. Among other things, he calls for better training for Austrian diplomats in crisis diplomacy and compliance with the rules to which we are bound by our perpetual neutrality. The New York Times recently published information that makes it seem not impossible that the unspeakable war between Israel and Hamas was triggered by a case of LIHOP (“Let it happen on purpose”). The crucial question that arises in all atrocities in this world is always the same: Cui bono – who benefits? And there are beneficiaries in this case too, even if they are not the majority of the civilian population on either side involved in this conflict.

Is it all just a question of education? I have already looked into this matter several times here. A yes seems at least very likely. Another question that arises is how to define education. The PISA study currently being presented once again assumes a purely “quantitative” “knowledge assessment” in its investigations in the individual areas of education. In my view, this setting is very superficial and is not a qualitative “educational assessment”. This would also include other areas and not just rely on snapshots – as the PISA tests are. Nevertheless, the trend of the results is also in line with my perception: PISA’s “education storm” is becoming more and more lopsided in Austria. Perhaps also because the focus continues to be on quantity rather than quality.

A few years ago, due to the poor results of this annual educational measurement, Austria’s education policy decided to subsidise elementary educational institutions, i.e. kindergartens, children’s groups and childminders. Little has remained of this; many providers of smaller facilities such as children’s groups and childminders are struggling to survive financially. The only calculation that can be surmised behind this is that they want to put an end to “free” educational institutions and expand state institutions. In Upper Austria, for example, an organisation that has been providing childminders for years recently had to file for insolvency.

But perhaps the ORF reform will save the education of young people in Austria. With an increase of 714,000 licence fee payers, it is already possible to make a lot of money and, according to Director General Weißmann, even set up a 24/7 children’s channel that is enshrined in law. The ORF boss in original sound: “You have to ask the legislator what the vision behind the children’s channel is. We only implement what has been decided by law”. In this way, it may even be possible to save millions on childcare for kindergarten children, as the screen has been the most popular babysitter among parents for what feels like decades anyway. For various reasons, they themselves are no longer in a position to provide sufficient support for their children. The pressure to work, social pressures and the desire for self-realisation propagated by advertising send their regards.

René Benko apparently also felt called to self-realisation, which in the worst case ends in pure selfishness. His SIGNA house of cards is currently collapsing faster than he, his financiers and the managers in charge of the reorganisation can see. My wife studied economics at a BFI technical college decades ago and learnt that it is a good idea to set up subsidiaries, as this allows the company’s profits to be packaged in a tax-saving way. Benko went one better by “failing” to prepare balance sheets and thus “concealing” the overall economic situation of his 1600 subsidiaries and the entire holding company. He apparently paid the fines for this out of his petty cash and never provided the long overdue statements.

As it gradually emerges, one or two politicians are also involved in the affair. The recently agreed committees of enquiry, which are now to be broadcast live, also want to shed light on this case. However, it is to be feared that in the 2024 election year, they will bring nothing more than the usual political carnage of the election campaign, i.e. exactly what already bores voters and is likely to put them off voting. The fact that National Council President Wolfgang Sobotka wants to chair both committees – which is his absolute right by law – also gives critics plenty of reason to dismiss the deliberations as a mere show. Steeled under Erwin Pröll in Lower Austria’s ÖVP, Sobotka sees no reason to allow himself to be driven out of this function by a little wind. He has not yet replied to the email from our IP editorial team. It is possible that his staff have even kept it away from him due to its insignificance.

Nevertheless, things remain exciting for the President of the National Council because Justice Minister Alma Zadic has set up a commission of enquiry to investigate the allegations of alleged abuse of office by Sobotka made by the deceased head of the Justice Section, Christian Pilnacek. A report in the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten is at least interesting, according to which Pilnacek had been picked up by an employee of the President of the National Council, with whom he was close friends, shortly before his suicide and after his driving licence had been withdrawn due to a drunken drive. It also says: “For some unknown reason, Pilnacek got out of the car on the way home and walked into the Danube meadows. He was later found dead there.” The “Iron Man”, namely Wolfgang Sobotka, has certainly fallen in the current political trust index. According to the index, 80% of the 1,000 Austrians surveyed in a representative sample do not trust him.

Whether the zero wage round can improve trust in politics is more than questionable – not only because it is only really being implemented at federal level. Much to the chagrin of FPÖ leader Kickl, his otherwise popularly-minded colleagues also think little of this measure.

A highly controversial healthcare reform and the Charities Reform Act are due to be passed in the National Council before Christmas. The minister responsible for the former is accused of a lack of cooperation with doctors, while there is resistance to the latter from the ranks of NGOs because the wording raises fears that the tax authorities could prohibit the tax deductibility of donations if one opposes government projects. In any case, the paragraph that expressly excludes the suspensive effect of appeals against such decisions is likely to be unconstitutional.

The mobile phone signature has been history since Krampus Day on 5 December. It has been replaced by the “Digital ID”, which is available in two versions, namely the “Digital Office” and the “eAusweise”. To use these apps, you need a smartphone that allows facial recognition or a fingerprint. When asked, the responsible ÖVP State Secretary Florian Tursky, who will soon also be vying for the office of Mayor of Innsbruck, assured us that no personal data would be collected when using the app. Data protection experts are not so sure, especially as the app naturally records when and where you have digitally signed what for reasons of proof. As an alternative, there is still the option of going to the authorities in person, provided you have the necessary time and nerves.

The Guardian recently published an article on digitalisation that is well worth reading. It states that “the real story of the OpenAI debacle is the tyranny of Big Tech”. Sam Altman was fired from OpenAI, wanted to join Microsoft, refused to return to his former employer despite attempts by investors and then returned to its arms. Courtney C. Radsch, director of the Centre for Journalism and Freedom at the Open Markets Institute, concludes: “If this latest drama playing out on the public stage does not shake us out of our complacency and force us to confront the dangers of monopolies, we will miss a critical opportunity to restructure the AI ecosystem by breaking up malignant concentrations of power that stifle innovation in the public interest, distort our information systems, and threaten our national security.” So far, so worrying.

One man who pointed out these dangers years ago is still being held in extradition detention in London under inhumane conditions. At the Federal Press Conference on December 6th 2023, German journalist Florian Warweg recalled a pledge made two years ago during the German parliamentary election campaign by the current Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to campaign for the release of Julian Assange. Government spokesperson Fischer stated that “we have regularly taken up the issue with our partners in the UK and the USA at various levels”. “At the same time, however, a court case is still ongoing before the independent British courts that is dealing with this issue, and we must respect the independence of these courts.”

The public interest lobby in Germany has made another attempt to support the imprisoned investigative journalist. It is inviting cities and municipalities to make Julian Assange an honorary citizen – as Rome has done in an exemplary fashion. This option is of course also available in other countries around the world, including Austria. A sample letter to this effect can be found on the initiative’s website.

Two historic events of the last few days are certainly worth mentioning. Henry Kissinger, the now 100-year-old former and highly controversial US Secretary of State, recently passed away. And Thomas Gottschalk hosted his last “Wetten, dass …” show. There would be a lot to say about both of them, but the fact that these few lines are all I have to say is due to the limited time I have available as honorary editor-in-chief alongside my “bread and butter” jobs.

But I would like to go into one thing in more detail: At the COP 28 World Climate Change Conference currently taking place in Dubai, it was decided to multiply the expansion of nuclear energy as a climate-neutral energy source. The issue of final storage, which is unlikely to have much impact on the climate but poses a threat to humanity that should not be neglected, remained unaddressed. The struggle for further measures is characterised above all by the primacy of CO2 reduction. This is – in my opinion – an abbreviated view of the issue. Expanding the system of CO2 certificates will probably not really solve this issue either. After all, the reduction of this “greenhouse gas” demanded by many sides will not be achieved through this “indulgence trade”.

Which once again raises the question of whether the human species is actually capable of learning – even from the past. There is an unfortunate pedagogical theory that assumes that every generation, indeed every person, has to learn everything again from scratch, meaning that what has been learnt cannot be “inherited”.

I would like to counter this by saying that a society can actually benefit from wise people if they are allowed to have their say. There are cultures in which the elderly are not first and foremost an important consumer factor or care cases, but are highly valued members of the community due to their many years of experience. However, they must also be given the opportunity to become wise. Reducing them to “consumer idiots” is not suitable for this. Which brings us back to the education system.

I leave the further conclusions to you, but without wishing to withhold from you the fact that I am convinced that each of us is in a position to make a significant contribution to the actual further development of humanity and the world, despite the prevailing social conditions. As always, however, we ourselves are called upon to realise this. Unfortunately, nothing can be expected in this respect from those who sit at the so-called levers of power.


Image Title Author License
WG – 2023 KW47-48-E-YT Wolfgang Müller CC BY-SA 4.0