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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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).
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:
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?”
My University, more precise the Human Rights Center at the Law School of Central South University, Changsha, PRC asked me, when I left in February for some
conference visits. to report a bit on the CVC-the Corona Virus Crisis, which is actually at least equally a lesson about how crises are managed. Much had been said, is being said and will be said. Too much? Well, there is hopefully some special perspective here to be added – at least the original publication (part 1 and part 2 … to be continued) met huge interest and acclamation.
Just to be clear from the beginning: thinking biology, medicine and the like are as exact science impeccable, without errs. But this is not the topic – it only mention as some definitely competent people stated that without downplaying the dangers, they should not be exaggerated and, for Corona that as it is, there is surely something to be said about the virus being very much “holder of its own passports”.
1. My Life with the Corona Virus
During the holidays I faced some difficulty at the checkout of a supermarket – Biyu, another customer helped me …, knowledge of language definitely helps. Then, bidding farewell she said: I am so sorry that you experience the country now, the virus doesn’t allow real Spring Festival Mood. Strangely enough it seemed that she had been more worried about me missing out than her own “loss”. Every little makes a difference – I remember one Christmas day when I lived in Ireland, a power cut making it impossible to live the traditional “turkey” – more worrying than anything else. This is not to say that the Irish aren’t hospitable or less than Chinese people. But it still may point on a rather meaningful difference between the East and the West (this as any other categorisation has to be taken with care !!): There is a generally a more pragmatic orientation to be found in China – call it resignation, subordination or you also may call it freedom, of which one definition says that it is the “insight into necessity”. What I saw these days, being back in Europe had been just the opposite: first, complete ignorance, of course suggesting that there is a problem in China, increasingly reacting protective – here protective is just another word for hostile; then, second, the reaction had been more like stepping hastily into a chicken barn, exaggerating reactions instead of a calm, systematic approach.
Some examples will follow over the next time – impressions. And as valuable – and a bit entertaining – as they hopefully are, a systematic analysis, perhaps under the title of The Virologist’s Socio-Political Compass, may be valuable for developing global responsibility and rights-based approaches as crisis management.
2. Oh folks, remain realist …
Definitely, it is for us in China a kind of nightmare-situation: the threat, the insecurity, the psychological strain and also the inconvenience and thus physical strain: shops being closed, villagers deciding quarantine-ing themselves and people just accepting, staying calm and cooperating. And then …. – the German news magazine coming up with a title-page like this:
Sorry, for me it is sending a wrong message, it is simply tasteless … “when globalisation is becoming a deadly danger” …, I suppose that is more about Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, though mind: not produced there … and so many other similar incidents …
And, indeed, there is something else made in China – the other day I received a message from a former student of mine – when I had been teaching economics. We are still in touch and Isn’t him a message, just the hello and how r u and take care -part of the answer:
Not only protecting myself, also protecting people around me. Ordered nearly 1,800 face masks from Japan last week and looking forward to receive them. Going to sell them at original price with a limit number per person and donate revenue from selling them. Purchased 2kg of “hande desinfektionsgel” from Germany for my parents.
Now, I would not even be surprised if les boches claim that is “German benevolence”
Machine translation of the letter mentioned:
Hello, I thank you for this letter and the assurance of solidarity from the German side. While searching for this mail-address of the BS I also see the reference to the naturally welcome wish for respectful cooperation. Germany East not Germany and the AA cannot be everywhere and control etc. But I must confess that such a tasteless cover picture, like the one of the Spiegel, simply shakes me. The experience that I make with my life in China lets me see with my German passport such an insult with shame and anger.
Der Spiegel is not the German press and I can only hope that this is the exception to the rule of reporting. This “naughtiness” of the seal with criticism and rejection but the AA would certainly be compatible with the freedom of the press, because this is equal to the responsibility in reporting.
With kind regards
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
3. Every Little Counts – The Common Good
Finally, with 14 hours delay, I left the Empire of the Middle on the 9th of February – I use this old-fashioned reference to mark the ongoing mystification of China, but also other Asian countries: in the West there is often a strange way of …, well, call it respect for the unknown, the exotic. And as exotic as anything unknown is, a new version of “the magic” appeared to me, walking from the shuttle train to the final passport control: the “magic” of a futurist scenario:
Please, walk slowly – temperature measurement in progress
Compliance again, very likely everybody saying I do not want to be infected and I do not want to infect anybody else – sure this measurement is not the proper medical one in the strict sense …, but every little helps. Big Brother as good friend – let’s take it pragmatically. And of course, every control has different sides. This is what I mentioned earlier, filling in some questionnaire, amongst others containing the questions:
I guess even every toddler did have temperature and then: in connection with the delay of the flight I had been chased across the airport for a couple of times – consider that I’m not trained olympionique, consider as well that I’m not the youngest anymore, it seems quite natural that I had been exhausted. Every little helps …, and every little needs attention, even the smallest thing. All this shows that there is always the “human factor”, leaving us with some errors of a special nature: Formal approaches are applied, assumptions are made and the best and probably the only thing we can do is moving on, accepting the four fundamental notions:
This way the every little helps, combined with the every little needs attention is joined by a third pillar, namely everybody has an important role to play.
Thus, the Kantian categorical imperative –
“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”
(this is the wording from Kant’s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals from 1785, later he used slightly different formulations)
applies, but needs to be enhanced:
And the expert may justifiably feel tempted to see some Rawlsian veil of ignorance at play.
Leaving the funny aspects of obviously (and also seemingly) unreasoned questions aside, there is a further serious issue, not least in perspective of rights to be raised: we are always caught between highly standardised means, possibly applied in a mechanical way on the one hand and the need for what had been frequently called the struggle for law, that is the dispute and human empathy to elaborate a solution that is just, meaning that is appropriate to the situation. Or in more common terms, the tension between legality and justice (and those who studied law will of course remember the seminars on the different takes on “ought” and “is”).
This section may be concluded by the most crucial point, arising from what had been said so far: at the very core we are dealing with the common good, and importantly this stands at the beginning – as such it is one of the interpretations of the Marxist thinking, expressed in two frequently quoted sentences:
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past”
standing at the beginning of The Eighteenth Brumaire.
And in the Introduction to the Outline of the Critique of the Political Economy
“The human being is in the most literal sense a ζώov πoλιτιχόv [political animal], not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society”
Seeing here a superiority of the social would be problematic, as such interpretation presupposes the social as “reification of its own”, arising from nowhere – like a deus ex machina. However, this common good is nevertheless of special – quasi-superior – character, as it is source and objective of acting individuals – take (a) simple issues as language (needed to speak with somebody else, something that is shared), (b) more complex issues as common sense and morals (yes, something you share) or (c) highly elaborated systems as the regulative body (or call it civil code and related legislation) of a country or the trans- and international system –and remember: crossing the street, buying a tiny commodity or making a present …. all these are legal acts. Highlighting the crucial meaning of the social – for instance in form of the common good gains at present some special relevance as in the context of CORVID19, one of the leading online gazettes on EU-affairs laments its BRIEF (Stam, Claire: Common Good; https://www.euractiv.com/section/coronavirus/news/the-brief-common-good/; 12/03/20; ) that “[t]he swiftly-spreading coronavirus forces all of us to take a reality-check and face the ugly truth. It also forces us to adapt and change our behaviour for the common good. Because this is what it is all about. This is what is at stake.” This statement – and the then following reference to “disruption” caused by the virus, is remarkable, showing the Western (under)valuation of the public good: peripheral, related to emergencies, the last resort. With some good will one classify see it as slip – an argument of bad taste brought forward by one of the many unsettled journalists. However, looking at EU policies over the years, in particular the debate of services of general interest, there cannot any doubt that there is little appreciation of the common good as general standard: everything is geared to individuals looking for their own, personal benefit.
– Doesn’t this connect nicely with the argument I brought forward, when addressing the international Human Rights conference in Changsha in December 2019, an argument that is widely discussed, often as matter of a fourth generation of human rights – here I would put it under the heading of human rights (also) as right of humanity, not (only) of individuals.
recently ….., well, yes taking a historical perspective it had been recently I had been strolling through Rome and a touristy asked for the way – I cannot recall where he wanted to go, but it actually doesn’t matter.
“You should just walk to the Main Street and then turn right; you see the church on left side, cross the street and into the little Street, just go on for a few yards, you will come to church and turn right until you see …”
I gave up this way of explaining a route – being in Rome, churches are not really useful to guide a persons way. The other day I went out for a walk in Changhsha – nobody asked me for any way. Still, I was thinking, making a route:
“Walk along the Lushan Road, it is not long walk – approximately 30 minutes. I guess after passing probably between 5 and ten universities
you will pursue the huge statue. What ever you say at the end (and I said a lot in the 60s and 70s), it is with him that everything begun.”
It has a little bit of a third New Years Celebration in a row: first to 2020, then the year of the rat and finally Brexit. a commemorative coin, a celebratory speech and surely for many some form of hangover feeling …
Of course this date is a fake – and it is impossible to assess history before it actually happened. What we just witnessed is not more than another stage of long process. Still, it is a crucial one. I will not try to make an analysis of it. However, three points are worthwhile to be mentioned.
Let’s start with the kind of success story: it is the extremely low unemployment rate on the island. According to The Economist we see in unemployment rate of 3.8 percent. So Brexit is already now a success? The Economist – and mind it isThe Economist – highlights of the following context:
* A low unemployment rate
* Young people sticking to their job and not ready for change
* And the stability translates into stable low wages.
In the labour market, loyalty does not pay: shifting jobs tends to be a good way of getting a salary boost. In 2017 the average pay rise for a worker staying with the same employer was just 1.1% after inflation compared with 5.4% for someone making a change.
You might also expect supposedly flighty 20-somethings to be eager movers. Yet younger workers remain more wedded to their current jobs than they were before the financial crisis of 2007-09. There is a similar trend in other rich countries, but it is particularly pronounced in Britain. Young Britons’ reluctance to move may be part of the explanation for their dismal wage-growth. In the five years after the crash, they experienced a larger cut in real wages than their older colleagues.
Success? Things are open for discussion.
I do not recall the time and occasion of the proposal of a “EU-free day”: all fees and taxes due, all regulations and bureaucratic procedures to be accepted -of course, everybody having the own national money in the pockets. Difficult to imagine? Trying to buy a computer, produced by a global enterprise, while you are residing in China. Go to the website of HP, DELL, xyz – at least in one respect they are global: you cannot find what you. It is a language problem, of course; however in this case the language problem is the fundamentals of the computer you buy are geared too the country where you buy in this case China. It may be even more obvious, if ui look at the Huawei mobile phones: for the Western market they have all are Google preinstalled while it is banned here. Then you may try going to a European site, ask for instance a friend in Germany or France to buy a laptop with an Italian keyboard. Please do not forget, to send a train ticket or flight billet – such keyboard will not be available in Gemany or France. As you will be more lucky if you go to the Internet. – there’s a good deal of deceiving – anyway we may speak of a veil of globalisation. It is topped by Apple, of course: they offer you to come into the shop, nowadays called store. You can go there and they will help you going to the Italian website and buy the computer online. The last hurdle: you will need the codice fiscale (the Italian tax number), an address in Italy and a friend who sends it from there to you. Writing the last hurdle, does not mean that the curtain falls: instead of saving the VAT, you will have to pay import tax – on top of the money paid for transport.
Did you ever have the spiderweb apps? Well, it’s just another expression for a broken screen. It had been a little bit of a nuisance, so I decided to get repaired. Is so often, Guo Min helped me, suggesting:
Don’t go to the high-street. There is the small workshop – actually as well on the high-street, the Lushan road, but it is kind of hidden – under the rarely used stair case. It is such cheaper.
So, one day, in the evening when I went home, I stopped there and asked the guy if he could repair the screen. Kind of spontaneously he replied
I walked on, not thinking much about it anymore. But then, a few hundred metres further, there had been another “under-the-stairs-shop” – here it a lady and she looked is a phone, checked a number, look something up in the catalogue and on the Internet, finally saying
Yes, that’s no problem. It will take about three hours
Great, I’ll be back tomorrow. what time do you start business?
– and that had been the time I arrived there the following day.She looked at me, shook her head:ù
I am sorry, but I cannot repair it – it is a foreign phone.
I look at the brand-name, saying:
Foreign? But it is the leading Chinese brand, isn’t it?
Yes, indeed, but you bought it abroad, right?
Yes, that is a fact. And of course I know what you mean ….
So I trotted away, not thinking about it any further. Another day Lv visited me, saw the broken screen and she said
I sorted out, don’t worry.
A couple of keystrokes on the phone:
It is a workshop nearby – he will still do it if we go there now. He won’t close the shop then.
So we went there, about one hour later the screen had been replaced – but the brand-name, ingrained in it, had not been the original – just that of the main competitor.
Now, don’t believe I will let you go. In actual fact, we are arriving now at the most exciting point the the tragicomedy. according to the one article in teleSUR
For proponents, Brexit is a dream “independence day” for the U.K. escaping what they cast as a doomed German-dominated project that is failing its 500 million population.
And another article is headlined
Scots: Leave a light on for Scotland because we will be back
Indeed, a mess, isn’t it. As outlined earlier, and anecdotical, there are truly “good points”, favoring the EU. And we should not forget that the British orientation for independence is prevailing since a very long time – some will surely remember the fear and hostility around the tunnel; for others this remembrance day may be about the various anti-social, even anti-human(e) attitudes. I remember e.g. the way of dealing with the BSE-issue. I remember one Council meeting – the British refusing to accept a “package” (it contained a major social initiative) unless the discontinuation BSE-trade limitation would be included into the package. A very sad example of ignorance of human rights. The EU could you at least mean some control of such imperialist, anti-humanist, most egoistic behaviour. One of these successive stories, although not especially concerning, is the progress in the area of gender equality – though this is still limited, it is undeniable. Nevertheless, there is the trap we easily forget consciously ignore: in actual this European Union is a project of the centre-states, Germany still playing a leading role. And the historical comedy – or is it a parody – is, that Scotland – or to be precise the Scottish independentistas – want to counter British colonialism by joining the Franco-Germanic imperialism. – This could, indeed, emerge one day as real tragedy of the commons.
Brexit – a kind of third New Years eve and New Year … . One of the visible similarities consists in the fact, there is much ado about it, a lot of it is for us, as people from all ways of life, just like a pool with many bubbles: some shallow waters, dangerous currents, and of course stretches of smooth sailing and many paired with traps. But I suppose in the end, it is just about opening another web, and we will be easily victims of the spider – on both sides of the border, not so much both sides of the classes. though there will surely be a hangover for everybody.
It reminds me of in some strange way of something – when theGerman Basic Law had been discussed, Kurt Bachmann said the German Bundestag something like the following
Although we are going to vote this act today, you will see the we will be the strongest defenders at some stage in the future.
Indeed, so it came. And so it seems to be with the institutionalized Europe: although we had been fundamentally critical about it, about THIS Europe, we are now those who are defending it in the most pronounced way.
A more or less recent decease pattern may be called APPSISM, it is transferred by a virus that comes along with different subtypes, as e.g. kakao, telegram, WeChat, QQ and not least WhatsApp. All the details are not yet known, also it remains open if the virus itself originates the symptoms or only activates something that has been there in a dormant state. The following lists the main single features:
The problem is not primarily the short span of attention (an often discussed issue nowadays), but the lacking readiness to take dining decisions, formulated in a positive way: the claim to be as far as possible in control of situations – who would deny that this is at most for seconds.
— What, taking hypothetically, there would have been a god, and not that only, but the that god would have created the world with this attitude …, or knowledge? – But perhaps god and the followers are guilty, asking for obedience, asking for avoiding risks, asking for permanent calculability.
— I was watching Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (Der Himmel ueber Berlin), right at the beginning there is a scene, the two angles talking to each other, one expressing his wish being expressed in words like “to be normal again, visible, not observing but living.” Mind the paradox: While he is observing, it is him who is observing those of which “heaven” demands to observe every step they do.
New technologies – the other day I bought a new phone card – life without such gadgets as mobile phone with connection to the world wrapping weirdness seems to be barely possible even if there is the internet-connection in the office. Arriving at about 17:00 it took about 1.5 hours.
Oh yes, fortunately I did not come during peak hours …
Still, time enough to wonder how such technology initialises a momentum of a certain …, well perhaps we can speak of “circularity of madness”:
First we are mad to avail of the new junk; and having it, we are becoming mad, being busy with maintaining it … installing the upgrades and updates; adding the credit card to an account, adding the account to the social network, installing the security apps, going back to website of the bank in order to fix a bug that actually occurs only with this bank … And then being told that this card would not be accepted anyway ….
It reminds me (for good reasons I guess) of the often quoted passage from Marx’ Capital
Capital is said by a Quarterly Reviewer to fly turbulence and strife, and to be timid, which is very true; but this is very incompletely stating the question. Capital eschews no profit, or very small profit, just as Nature was formerly said to abhor a vacuum. With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent. will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 per cent. certain will produce eagerness; 50 per cent., positive audacity; 100 per cent. will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 per cent., and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulence and strife will bring a profit, it will freely encourage both. Smuggling and the slave-trade have amply proved all that is here stated.
(T.J. Dunning, l. c. [Trades Union and Strikes], pp. 35, 36; in: Marx, Karl, 1867: Capital; Volume I; in: Karl Marx/Frederick Engels. Collected Works; Volume 35; London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1996: 748, footnote 2)
In fact we can make out that all this is part and parcel of the capital circle: the need to continue, even accelerate – like a bike, falling as soon as we stop cycling …
Add my name to it, say it is Herrmann’s circularity of madness, named after the person who first formulated it … , it may make me famous one day, having found one of the diseases of our times … (mind, not being founder …)