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Related Categories: International | Labor & Workers
Justice, Impoverishment and Fear
by M Scheller, F Scheidler & G Gillet
Saturday Aug 21st, 2021 5:07 AM
The defense of the welfare state is the defense of democracy...
Democracy is as strong as it is fragile. It is strong when it is defended. It is strong when we do not allow ourselves to be fobbed off with answers that do not tolerate questions. But it disappears immediately when we have become indifferent to it.
Philosophies of justice
What is justice? What is social justice? For 2500 years, philosophers have also been searching for answers.
By Martha Scheller
[This article published in Aug 2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.ossietzky.net.]

First explanations resorted to metaphysical justifications: justice was understood as an order existing in nature or as of divine origin. There was a striking difference between the early Egyptian and Assyrian civilizations, for whom justice was derived from a divine world order, and the Greece of the archaic period from about 800 to 500 BC. For the gods in the early Greek epics such as the Odyssey by no means acted according to a deliberate and intelligent overall plan, but intervened in world events - not least out of self-interest - depending on the situation and whim, to the benefit or disadvantage of mankind.

The philosophical debate among the Greeks on the question of justice began in the fifth century B.C. with the Sophists, a group of philosophers who were concerned with the conditions for a successful life. They denied objective standards for truth and justice, but placed man, his ethics and his possibilities for knowledge at the center of their considerations. In Greek antiquity, justice was not expressed in legal norms or measured against existing legal norms, but was seen as an expression of a personal attitude to life.

For other philosophers of ancient Greece, for Plato or for his student Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), only a just person was a happy person. And justice was the highest virtue. Aristotle, like Plato, differentiated between two types of justice or equality in the coexistence of people: First, there is the purely numerical, arithmetical equality, for example, among business partners, one of whom owes the other a corresponding value for a given good. Or the duty of a tort feasor to pay exactly for the damage caused. And there is, secondly, qualitative equality, which is decisive in the distribution of goods and offices. According to Aristotle and also Plato, more is due to the person whose general merits are greater.

It was not until Roman society that codified legislation became more developed. Justice was still associated with a personal attitude, but was already oriented to the social order, for example, in Cicero (106-43 BC). The Roman jurist Ulpian (170-223) formulated three principles of law: "Live honorably! Do no one wrong! Give to each his own!" Principles that are also found at the beginning of the Corpus Juris Civilis, the legal collection of the Emperor Justinian (527-565).

Even in late antiquity and the Middle Ages, the Platonic conception of justice had some influence. Plato's concept of the just soul for a just state is found in the Neoplatonist Plotinus (c. 205-270) as well as in the Church Father Augustine (354-430). However, both distinguished between a still imperfect justice on earth and a higher, true, precisely heavenly justice. According to Augustine, the reason for the imperfect character of virtues under earthly conditions lay in man's original sin. Accordingly, in his eyes, true righteousness was dependent on God's grace.

Medieval thinking is Christian thinking. It asserts a single overriding principle to which everything is subject - the Christian God. This is infinite and perfect, while human thinking is finite and fallible. In the Middle Ages, not understanding or reason are the measure of all things, but faith. This is not a good time for philosophy; it must subordinate itself to theology. The "truth" is reserved for religion. Man, so the gagging and oppressing assertion, can attain justice only by the grace of God. But justice and grace were decided solely by the self-appointed and power-obsessed representatives of God on earth.

With modern times, skepticism grew among philosophers as to whether man was at all interested in behaving justly toward his neighbor. The opposite was the case, noted the Englishman Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who was committed to the new, experience-oriented way of thinking: "Man is wolf to man," Hobbes said, and the "war of all against all" was the natural state among men. They possessed no free will and were dominated by their egoistic instinct for self-preservation. In order to put an end to the resulting insecurity and violence, people, according to Hobbes, must collectively transfer their violence to a state, with whose legal system justice for man can be established in the first place.

This is an idea that Thomas More already had. In 1516, the English statesman wrote his work "Utopia. The dramatic social and political conditions, the poverty and the violent arbitrariness of the rulers were Morus' main motivation for writing his social utopia, in which he develops an ideal society, an ideal just state, in which, however, "justice" is enforced by totalitarian methods.

The Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) also proposed a "social contract." But unlike for Hobbes, who saw in the state above all a guarantor of the legal protection of individual property, for Rousseau private property was the root of human evil. From the moment of first possession, Rousseau argued, the development of society moved away from an almost paradisiacal, pre-civilization state of nature to a state-protected rule of the rich over the poor. A just state requires a "social contract" that comes into being through the free agreement of all citizens. Through the contract, citizens subordinated themselves to the common will of their majority, the common will, which had to be the basis for their laws. In fact, in the wake of Hobbes or Rousseau, new concepts for social contracts emerged, which also shaped, for example, the Constitution of the United States.

Also in the 18th century, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) developed the idea of the law of reason. And following on from the Scottish philosopher David Hume, a contemporary of Kant, utilitarianism emerged as the dominant ethical principle in the English-speaking world. Its most important representative was the social reformer Jeremy Bentham: for him, morality consisted in the search for the greatest possible individual happiness for all. In this sense, in terms of the benefit to society as a whole, he advocated general welfare. Utilitarian actions were those that increased the overall welfare of a society, that is, increased happiness for all or at least many. Justice was (again) understood only as a framework condition.

The realization that justice cannot be derived from a higher principle, but is a very concrete question of survival, finally led from the 19th century onwards - from Karl Marx via Friedrich Nietzsche and Walter Benjamin to Jacques Derrida - to a massive critique of the bourgeois-liberal conceptions of justice. After Morus and Rousseau, Karl Marx (1818-1883) was the first political theorist who (in reaction to the escalation of social conflicts in the age of the Industrial Revolution) placed the "social" in the narrower sense, i.e., the elimination of economic-social inequality and liberation from oppression and poverty, at the center of his thought. Only since Marx has the concept of "social justice" roughly corresponded to what we understand by it today.
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Impoverishment of the planet
By Fabian Scheidler
[This article published in Aug 2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.ossietzky.net.]

Industrial civilization has radically changed the face of the earth within the last two centuries: Nearly endless forests and diverse cultural landscapes have been replaced by megacities and industrial zones, road networks and container ports, agricultural monocultures and spoil heaps. Huge river courses have been straightened, diverted and dammed, mountains tunneled under and blasted. What appears on the one hand as a triumph of civilization over nature, as proof of man's power and intelligence, turns out on the other hand to be a disaster: the supposed victory over the forces of nature has steered the planet into one of the deepest crises in its history. Never before since 66 million years ago, when the dinosaurs largely disappeared from the earth, have so many animal and plant species become extinct so quickly. The climate system is approaching dangerous tipping points; if they are exceeded, entire regions of the earth threaten to become uninhabitable. Whether the genus Homo will ultimately survive this process is anything but certain.

Although all this has been known in principle for decades, our civilization is apparently incapable of correcting its course. As I wrote in my book "The End of the Megamachine. History of a Failing Civilization," the reasons for this reach deep into the economic, political and ideological foundations of our society. These deep structures also include a special relationship to what we call "nature." For the pioneers of mechanistic science, which emerged in the early modern period and was to become formative for our civilization, nature consisted of objects separate from man, which could be disassembled, analyzed, reassembled, and controlled at will. Everything, it seemed, could be fathomed and ultimately mastered by man. But in fact, precisely these assumptions have now been proven wrong on all levels: First, the stuff of which we are made is revealed to be increasingly mysterious the deeper science penetrates it; second, it cannot be separated into isolated objects; and third, the attempt at total control over nature leads straight to ecological collapse - and thus to an increasing loss of control.

Yet these insights have so far failed to take hold in our everyday consciousness and actions. We still speak as a matter of course as if nature were something that exists independently of us "out there," an "environment" that surrounds us, while we ourselves belong to a different sphere: "civilization." We act as if the dislocations in the biosphere concern us little more than a movie on a screen that we can simply turn off when needed. In the meantime, we spend most of our time in a digital technosphere in which the non-man-made world appears only as an image, a data set. But as high as the walls we erect between ourselves and the "environment" through technology are, they ultimately prove to be an illusion. Through respiration and metabolism, all the atoms of my liver are exchanged every two months, and those of my skin every six weeks. What was just "out there" is in the next moment a part of me. And vice versa. The substance out there is our substance. What we do to it, we ultimately do to ourselves. The idea that there is a nature separate from us, which we can deal with at will, which we can excavate, heat up, disassemble, reassemble and control like a civil engineer controls his materials, is a deadly deception.

The modern natural sciences originated 400 years ago with the idea that the world was one big machine that could be controlled by man. It was believed that everything in nature was based on the collisions of very small billiard ball-like particles and could therefore be calculated like the flight of cannonballs. Quantum physics, however, has shown that in the innermost part of what we call matter there is nothing solid at all, but only a vibrating web of energy fields that pervade the entire universe and behave stranger than the characters in "Alice in Wonderland." At the same time, biology has had to recognize that the mechanistic approach is not conducive to truly understanding life. Life, as the young research field of biosemiotics teaches us, is organized by the exchange of messages, not by mechanical collisions. And life can also give rise to something that is as mysterious today as it was in the days of the first humans: Consciousness. This does not mean the human ability to reflect alone, but the fact that humans - and presumably many animals as well - have an inner space of experience, a world of colors, smells, feelings and images that cannot be reduced to external descriptions of our brain tissue. Put all this together, and it becomes apparent that the natural sciences have by no means discovered a bleak mechanical nature, but a universe based on connectedness, self-organization, and creativity. We are not biological robots in a machine-like world, as the technocrats of Silicon Valley suggest to us, but part of an all-connecting cosmic self-development process that extends from the subatomic level through the sphere of life and into the far reaches of the universe.

This new view will also be of great consequence for how we deal with the planetary crisis into which centuries of exploitation of nature, including humans, have steered us. To escape the foreseeable collapse of life-support systems, we need a deep transformation of our societies at all levels. We need an economy of connectedness that serves not profit maximization for the few, but the long-term common good, including non-human living beings. We need a politics of connectedness that includes all people in decision-making processes. And we need a science that is committed neither to the delusion of total domination of nature nor to short-term economic interests, but to the study of cooperative forms of complex living systems.

This text is based on the book "The Stuff We Are Made Of. Why we need to rethink nature and society" (Piper Verlag, Munich 2021).
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Fear will soon have everything*
By Gabriele Gillen
[This article published in Aug 2021 is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.ossietzky.net.]

The other night, in a pub, Father Daniel came to mind again. A monastic friar in the brown Capuchin habit and at that time, in elementary school, a teacher of Catholic religion. I had a hard time with him, and he had a hard time with me. He lived in answers that tolerated no questions; I, still a child, lived in questions that sought answers.
"Why is there war?"
Unfortunately, there is war.
"Can't God abolish war?"
All people are sinners.
"Why did God make sin?"
Sin exists because Eve ate the apple.
"But Eve was as God created her?"
If you don't shut up now, you will have to sit down in front of the door.
"Does God want war?"
You sit down in front of the door right now!

I often sat in front of the classroom during religious education classes. And Father Daniel, who didn't like my questions, told my parents I was insolent. There was a good thunder storm, and of course it was the worst possible time to ask a question, but there it was:
"Why can't you ask questions, anyway?"
You're disrupting class.
"But I'm supposed to be learning something."
If you don't shut up right now....

Of course, I was deeply offended by so much injustice at the time, and besides, I had learned what children learn: questions are not welcome. At best, one was put off until later: "When you're grown up, you'll understand."

I have long since grown up, but I still don't want to understand. The only thing I have understood is that the fear of questions is the fear of answers. Whenever the questioner doesn't want to know the exact answer.

Children can live in questions. Adults prefer to live in answers that prevent questions. To accept without question the order.
"But who made the order?"
As I said, the other night in the pub I had to think of Father Daniel because the seller of a homeless newspaper reminded me of my questions:

Why are there rich and poor?" he wanted to know.
"But that's a difficult question," I replied helplessly.
Questions are dangerous simplifications and that is why it is desirable that everything is so complicated, and if it is perhaps not complicated at all, it is made complicated, so that just nobody gets the idea to ask a simple question. And to expect a simple answer.

Imagine if the Bundestag were to allow the killing of human beings. In the mediation committee of the Bundesrat, perhaps a few compromises would be found between the government and the opposition: Do not kill after 10 p.m. or do not kill on church holidays. But after that, there would be a law saying that killing is not punished except after 10 p.m. and on church holidays. Would you start killing right away? I don't think you would. I don't think it's just the law or the state or the fear of prison that keeps us from killing. There must be something inherent in us. Education or upbringing or morals. Inhibitions. Some love for people. How do we learn to respect the dignity of others?

"Is everything that is forbidden wrong? And is everything that is allowed right?"

Killing is not easy for us. Not at first, anyway. We have to be persuaded. The weapons manufacturers, for example. Or the Ministry of Defense, which already has the "moral" justification for killing in its name. There is always a priest who blesses the weapons for the defense of the fatherland and the garden fence. And money. Money is also a means of persuasion. We could kill the old, the shaky nursing cases that only cost money. We could justifiably deny Hartz IV recipients expensive hip joints or chemotherapy. They contribute nothing to our gross national product anyway. We could even throw refugees back into the sea in the name of the law. Or lock up the long-term unemployed and other paupers in disused factories. Because our economy cannot afford the many superfluous people in the long run. More and more tiresome old people, more and more people who have been digitally sorted out, more and more people who have been left behind.

You don't want to imagine all that? You don't like such horrible exaggerations?
Have you ever been in a deportation prison? Desperate people who have committed only one crime. They don't do the math. Have you ever been in a secondary school? Children and young people who already know: they don't compute.

Have you ever been in one of the cheap nursing homes? In a homeless shelter? In one of the apartments in one of the streets where the majority is unemployed? In one of the pubs in the particularly poor Ruhr area: "I've seen some men crying here," a landlady told me a few weeks ago.

Do you know what fear smells like? It smells bad.
The question is:
"Are law and justice the same thing?"
Surely what is right cannot be wrong.

We want to believe that decency and law are the same. We don't want to have to know that indecency could be law. But for many, it is a daily experience.

"What is a rule of law?"
A country where everyone gets their due.

With what certainty of victory, for example, Klaus Esser, the former head of Mannesmann, insists on his right in court - even though he should have doubted his right to help himself to around 30 million euros in bonuses after Mannesmann was taken over by Vodafone. In the end, the case against him and his co-defendants was dropped.

The exploitation of the law.
It is law because law that millions of unemployed since 2005 only receive Hartz IV and have fewer rights.

"What is democracy?"
It's what the Americans brought us.

The powerlessness of the people is the will of the people. Since the entrepreneurs are a minority in this country, they can easily blame the democratically legitimized destruction of the welfare state, the legal cementing of poverty on the majority. Decided with the votes of the people's representatives. Who are not powerless, but loyal to power. Democracy as an alibi. With the appropriate legal situation, resistance becomes resistance to state power and can be punished as a violation of "the law. Anyone who resigns is a well-behaved auxiliary democrat. Such a one does not rebel against the cynicism of those who are always in the right.

"Why are deserters criminals?"
Because they have abandoned their fatherland.

The warlords as guardians of the rule of law? And the deserters its traitors? The economy as the savior of the welfare state? And the unemployed its gravediggers?

Democracy lives from questions and from resistance against those who use democracy as an alibi. Silence destroys democracy. And fear eats the soul. Now we are faced with laws that they say we made ourselves, and we are rightly put in the wrong.
"Are all men equal?"

People are costs on two legs, a top official of the employers' association once said.

The post office around the corner, where I used to carry my letters and packages, has long since closed. Now I have to walk half an hour to reach one of the remaining "central" post offices. The bakery across the street from my apartment, a family business with its own bakery whose delicious aromas could be smelled even on the street, had to give up years ago because the commercial rent was increased prohibitively. Mrs. Mück's stocking store is no longer there. Or the small furniture store whose employees took the time to come to the apartment and measure and make suggestions. The cobbler two corners away has given up because his care could no longer keep up with the quick-repair competition.

On a stretch of perhaps 300 meters, there are now seven snack bars and two large supermarkets - and six branches of various fast-food bakeries that no longer bake real bread, but have a mixture of flour and leavening agents toasted into a so-called roll. The self-service that is common there saves the buyer a few cents, but apart from the fact that the goods do not taste good, they are brought to the customers with almost no labor. Individual women with mini-jobs squat under fluorescent lights at the respective cash registers and type in the prices for the baked goods packaged by the customers themselves, as if on an assembly line. I used to know every saleswoman, every shopkeeper in the neighborhood, but today it's hardly worth asking for a name. The owners are big chains with anonymous managers, and the few staff on site change too quickly.

Gone are familiar faces. Gone are the benches along the major streets where you could sit and watch passersby. Now you can find a seat only in a gastronomic establishment and pay for the street box seat with the overpriced latte.

Not only the small stores are closing, but also the branches of banks and savings banks are being closed down because of staff cuts and cost savings.

Gone are the small neighborhood libraries where rainy afternoons could be spent browsing and reading. Gone (because of the higher rent) is the old-fashioned café one street over, where the old people used to meet on Sundays for a tea dance. We, who were still younger and of course much more modern, were happy to smile superiorly about that. But it was still nice.

Feelings of loss. Fewer public spaces for everyone, less warmth. And ever greater fear of not being able to keep up.

Those who don't do anything with media, anything with business, or anything with software have also disappeared from my old neighborhood. The bakers or cobblers have lost their jobs, the cashiers or street sweepers or geriatric nurses can no longer afford a new apartment here.

Everything costs money, only the sun and the wind and breathing are still free of charge.
Everything costs money and yet this rich country is getting poorer and poorer.

“Why don't we have money?"
Because the welfare state is too expensive.
Yet social benefits (pensions, for example, or sickness benefits) continue to be cut. And what was built and opened in the 1970s is now being closed, downsized, neglected: swimming pools and libraries, neighborhood centers and playgrounds, kindergartens and parks. Universities are cutting back on lectures; schools are falling into disrepair. This, too, is a cutback in social services, on which the poor and average earners depend.

Old people's homes and hospitals are being privatized more and more. And schools. But public schools lack teachers. A ticket for the train of the Deutsche Bahn stock corporation is a luxury for many, and in the bistros of the ICE trains, fantasy prices are charged for a roll or water.
There is a lack of dignified care places for old or handicapped people, in the waiting rooms of the doctors price lists for medical services are displayed, which are not paid any more by the health insurance companies. Existential risks are privatized, as well as communal, i.e. low-cost housing continues to be privatized.

"Why doesn't anyone fight back?"
Because nothing can be done anyway.
Have we, the people, really already given up on democracy? Has the opium of the neoliberal religion made us so weary and tired that we no longer value the welfare state as a precious cultural achievement? For a century, as private prosperity increased, so did public prosperity. Justice and participation as the basis for the protection of individual liberties. Now it is claimed that in the age of globalization, the nation can no longer afford to distribute wealth as public wealth.

"Who is the nation?"
We are the nation.
But the nation is weakened because internationalization strengthens capital. More precisely, because nation-states allow themselves to be played off against each other by the managers of billion-dollar global corporations and investment funds. Because the states of the world have allowed themselves to be entangled in a "competition of tax systems" by companies operating across borders. If corporations find taxes in one country too high or investment allowances in another too low, they threaten to leave or move. And as long as individual countries are in competition for these corporations, they remain powerless against the pressure of capital. (Whether the proposed global minimum tax gets to the root of the problem remains to be seen).

Without breathing space, finance capital is also looking for new investment opportunities. Particularly profitable (and still expandable) is the privatization of the public wealth once created. The private sector hospital, the private sector university, the private sector housing package, the private sector mined money. On the one hand, the billions in profits of global corporations are hardly being converted into public wealth, but are being cashed in by a few. On the other hand, the remaining public wealth is sold to the same profiteers. The unleashed neoliberalism could leave behind a rump state, a modern feudalism, in which there might still be some kind of public care for the poor at soup kitchen level, public schools for the literacy of the common people and masses of law enforcement and security forces. Like in the USA. In Europe, too, rich people have retreated to their ghettos guarded by private police, to zones freed from poverty and welfare state ideas.

That is why there is war.
That's why there are poor and rich.
People care. For most of them, welfare state protection and their (increasingly eroded) legal rights as workers are the only assets and security they have. The gradual departure from the idea of solidarity and the exploitation of the law by the powerful are frightening. Soon fear will have us all. But fear makes docile and fear makes stupid. Fear is, as Oskar Negt says, "always a good cement of existing power and domination relations." Fear prevents resistance.

"How can we resist?"
Europe needs a basic law in which social democracy is irrevocably established. The welfare state for the foundation of a European identity. The European Constitutional Treaty signed by the EU heads of state and government on October 29, 2004 has little to do with this idea.

That is why we citizens are called upon to stand up against the ruling political class for laws that put us back in the right and no longer in the "wrong". In our own interest and in the interest of those who are deprived of their civil rights with the help of the "right": Working and unemployed people, children, the elderly, refugees... All over the world.

The defense of the welfare state is the defense of democracy. We should not allow it to remain a cheap alibi for the powerful profiteers of the right. Whoever murders or whoever robs people and plunges them into misery, no law should put him in the right. But in order to prevent it, we need the unceasing struggle for the strength of the law against the law of the strongest.

Democracy is as strong as it is fragile. It is strong when it is defended. It is strong when we do not allow ourselves to be fobbed off with answers that do not tolerate questions. But it disappears immediately when we have become indifferent to it.
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