Hate and Fear

I recently noticed a disturbing trend on social networks. People are much more willing to spread hate speech, racist slurs, anti-islamic propaganda, and extreme right-wing positions than before. I guess there has always been a certain amount of racism and xenophobia in society bubbling slightly under the surface, but now people are way more open about those positions. I especially noticed it in the German corner of the internet, but I guess it’s pretty much the same in other European countries, probably even world-wide.

As a German I am deeply disturbed by the fact that anti-immigrant, racist, and generally hostile ideas are spread openly. From what I’ve seen these ideas are mainly spread by people who feel insecure, weak and powerless, or overwhelmed. They are looking for reasons why they are in such a powerless position and instead of blaming the real culprits, they tend to attack people even weaker than themselves. War refugees, people trying to get political asylum, immigrants, etc. are blamed for everything. In most cases the people spreading this kind of hate are actually not bad people. They are just uninformed and in fear. Alas the media does nothing to set things right, instead major news corporations are using the people’s fears to make a buck. Even the government is happy to distort the facts and use people’s fears to further their agenda. During the financial crisis in Greece many German politicians spread false information about Greece in order to obfuscate what was really going on.

Especially because of Germany’s history I am particular sensitive when it comes to certain behaviours and ideas. In my opinion we have a special responsibilty to make sure that something like the Third Reich never happens again. But with each year that passes I get the impression that many people don’t care about this responsibilty anymore. In politics Germany wields its power over Europe more openly. Gone are the humble days of the Bonn republic. This is pretty obvious when you look at how our government forces its Austerity policies on all Europe. And it can be felt when thousands of people joined the PEGIDA marches to protest against immigration, refugees, and the “islamification” of Europe. Hate and fear are rearing their ugly heads again.

I am sick and tired of this. And I plan to do something about it. At the moment I can’t do that much, but I started by spreading real information over social networks, especially when people who I was “friends” with, shared links to questionable hate-mongering sites. I also openly stated that I don’t accept such things in my stream. Since I am both active in a political party and a workers union I try to use my positions to actively fight everything from racism to islamophobia. Instead of keeping my mouth shut, I tell everyone where I stand and oppose the spread of lies. I don’t want to remain silent anymore!

The threat of nuclear war

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the decline of the Soviet Union many people believed the nuclear threat was a thing of a past. But even though both the US and Russia have reduced the number of nuclear weapons in their arsenals, the actual destructive power hasn’t decreased – quite the contrary. The bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki are what we nowadays call tactical nuclear weapons, and mere firecrackers compared to modern strategic nuclear weapons.

Strangely enough the risk of nuclear war was much lower during the Cold War than today. Back in the day the US and the Soviet Union kept in touch all the time. The militaries of both sides spoke with each other in order to prevent misunderstandings which could lead to mutual assured destruction. There was the famous red telephone line connecting the White House and the Kremlin directly. All these safeguards don’t exist anymore.

So, why am I writing about all this? Just today I read an article about how the current situation makes World War III more likely than ever. Perhaps the article is a bit alarmist, but I still recommend anyone to read it. The only way to get out of this dire situation is to realize that there’s an actual risk and finally ban ALL nuclear weapons.

The end of democracy

This post originally appeared on my old blog stargazer.wordpress.com. It’s about 2 years old but still has some relevancy, I think.

The events of the last years have convinced me that we are living in post-democratic times. For most of my life I believed in democracy, freedom, human rights, and now I feel that all these ideals are slowly thrown down the drain by the people we elected into power.

Democracy comes from the greek words for “rule of the people”. In a democracy the sovereign are actually its citizens. But since it’s unpractical to give everyone a vote in every decision we usually practice a system where we elect people to do the decision making for us. And herein lies a part of the problem. It’s much easier to influence a few hundred policy makers than to influence whole nations. And usually it’s wholly sufficient to influence the people in the government which are even fewer. Nowadays major politicians are more in touch with lobbyists than with the people who elected them in the first place. In several cases laws have actually been written by lobbyist group and not in the ministries by the people who we elected to do the job. Just look at international copyright law and you’ll clearly see what I mean. These laws are made for corporations and not the people.

This is something which has been going on for a while now. It has become more and more obvious to me in the late nineties when the social democrat Gerhard Schröder became chancellor. Up to this day I am member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and I am still a stout believer of the original idea of social democracy, but I have got the impression many years ago that these ideals are usually sacrificed to stay in (or get back into) power or to get personal benefits.

When back in the late nineties the social democrats and the green party came to power in Germany, I had high hopes, but years later I now realize what damage has been caused back then. The reforms called Agenda 2010 might have had a positive effect on the competitiveness of the German economy, but it furthered the gap between the rich and the poor. During the Schröder administration the financial sector had been heavily deregulated and the situation of the unemployed have been worsened. These decision damaged the SPD in the eyes of its voters severely and the party has been struggling in elections ever since.

If you look closer at the policies made in Germany during the last 20 years you’ll notice that while governments changed, the policies made are eerily similar. Sure, there are some fields where the German major parties disagree, but in most important questions their election programs are pretty close if not identical. And in the end they all listen more closely to lobbyists than to the people, so what party you elect every four years doesn’t really make such a big difference.

A watershed moment for the Western world was surely September 11, 2001. The last remaining superpower, the United States of America, which has felt invincible ever since the end of the Cold War, suddenly felt vulnerable again. This was also the moment when politicians and the secret agencies saw their chance to implement all the laws they always wanted to. In the name of the war against terrorism many liberties of the Western World including free speech and due process have been undermined. Surveillance of the public has reached unprecedented levels, “enemy combatants” have been tortured and kept in military prisons. We all  just started to understand what has been lost during these 12 years. The recent unveiling of projects like PRISM or Tempora by Edward Snowden show that secret agencies all of the Western world have been monitoring the internet in an extent never thought possible. Privacy, one of the big achievements of modern Western society, is basically nonexistent. Especially journalists, internet and civil right activists are deeply disturbed by this, while the majority of the population doesn’t seem to realize the scope of these programs.

Politicians do their best to tell the people that everything was done within the law and to protect our security. But I have my doubts that’s the case. And why are governments and government agencies so keen on monitoring the communication of their own citizens or the citizens of allied countries? What are they afraid of? And are we still the sovereign if our communication over phone and internet is constantly monitored and stored for later analysis? I’ve come to the conclusion that Western democracies are democracies by name only. Our governments act as if they are not our elected representatives but as if they are the sovereign, not us. We are treated as mere subjects, which need to be controlled and if necessary detained for as long as it’s deemed necessary without a trial or due process. We are living in a post-democratic world. And in recent years, especially since the recent financial crisis in Europe, I’ve read that people have publicly spoken out against democracy, deeming it too slow to react to such crises. Democracy is not perfect – no system of government is – but in my opinion it’s still the best guarantee for human rights, freedom, and liberty. But we are in the process of squandering all that in order to please our corporate masters and to feel a little bit more secure.