A new enlightenment is needed

In the last few days I have watched some documentaries dealing with the topic of the greed and megalomania of German banks and large companies. Amongst others I watched documentaries about the West LB and the Bavarian Landesbank, Quelle (Karstadt) and Schlecker. In none of them was there a mention of the migration crisis. But even at that time the topic already divided society. Unnoticed. And the decline of social democracy began at that same time. Unnoticed. We have moved further and further away from being a humanist society. We need a new enlightenment. 

It is interesting in the documentaries to see that the viewers of the mainly analogue media of the day didn’t really know anything of this “rip-off”. Or to put it differently they not only had no idea of the processes but also didn’t have any understanding of them because they lacked insight. Billions were speculated away, not only in Germany but in the already dilapidated American market where there were already signs of the coming financial crisis. In the end, the banks classed as “too big to fail” (a more than perverse expression) were saved by taxpayers’ money. The Hypo in Austria is one of the best examples of this. Not only taxpayers were affected but also small savers, who had for the first time invested their savings in capital market products of which they had no idea or and which lacked security. 

For the first time there was some anger against the system. “Hey, they’re playing with our money up there.” This was the beginning of a political anti-system movement. It is interesting to note that in Germany, in the case of the West LB and the Hypo Real Estate, the Social Democratic Finance Minister (in both in state and federal government) was Peer Steinbrück. The trade with “securitizations” was facilitated under Steinbrück. This later became known later under the term “toxic assets”. From today’s perspective this was an unpardonable measure for social democracy. 

Financial crisis = banking crisis = sovereign crisis = social crisis 

The financial crisis left behind a gaping hole in European societies. The gap between rich and poor grew wider. Above all, the perpetrators of the crisis were only partially held to account. It was the time for anti-system movements like Tsipras – with big support from social media. Social media was finally living up to its name. Nowhere else is it so clearly visible how society drifts apart in its arguments and how thinking according to set patterns is cultivated. It was very impressive (laconically speaking) to observe this during the Greek crisis. There were only two camps: Schäuble / Merkel and Tsipras / Varoufakis / Tsakolotos. Differentiated discussion and analysis -critical inquiry – was no longer possible. Despite the complexity of subject matter that was only really fully understood by EU banking and financial experts, a massive wave of solidarity grew for Greece on the one hand, while on the other hand Merkel was compared to Hitler.

This picture reversed completely when the refugee movement arrived in Europe. Suddenly Merkel was the one who was responsible for parallel societies and importing terrorism – out of Protestant magnanimity, as many suspected. Again, social media was the driving force behind the promotion and highlighting of this image. The contradiction of the pictures that were transported in a short period of time was only apparent to a few and not to the most established analogue media, whose representatives were actively using social media and often had already lost their critical eye.

Enlightenment 2.0?

And then the others entered the stage : Thomas Piketty, for example, with his critique of capitalism (which is currently very much in vogue with US Democratic delegates like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez), Pankaj Mishra, who considers the Europeans to be Eurocentric and predicted the jolt to the right, Francis Fukuyama and his theory of endangered liberal constitutional state as well as celebrity philosophers such as Richard Precht. But do they contribute to equilibrium in the society? Or to consensus based criticism? Or towards a more open, fairer, more humanistic society, where values such as education, knowledge and culture also play a role? 

I say no. These are not the representatives we need. Above all, they remain outside the mainstream. They are only of use to the tabloids for attacks and as a backdrop. The old elite has failed, now what is needed is enlighteners from the centre of society, so we can re-find ourselves to some extent. Without polemics, without division, without a disastrous choice of words, but at the same time consensus based and critical. I am not optimistic.

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