2007 : WHAT ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT?

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Philosophisches Seminar, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz; Author, The Ego Tunnel
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz; Author, Being No One

I Will Be Dead Wrong Again

I am optimistic that I will be dead wrong again. As I have frequently been in the past. Being a philosopher, I was strongly opposed to marriage—on strictly theoretical grounds of course! And about the only thing I always agreed on with Nietzschewas that married philosophers basically are clowns, as he put it: people who belong in a comedy play. Real life proved me wrong (at least I think so), and I am glad it did. Not a single one of all these high-paid sociologists and politologists predicted the wall's coming down in 1989. They were dead wrong. And, boy, would each one of them have loved to be the one to make exactly this prediction! I was also dead wrong in believing that European governments would never have the guts and the actual power to ban advertisements for tobacco products—or that European citizens would actually stop smoking in bars and public places, simply because their governments told them to. Wasn’t it much more plausible to expect major rebellions in countries like Ireland or Italy? How could anyone believe this could actually work?

Now that America is not a Western country any more, I have serious doubts that Europe can actually rescue the heritage of enlightenment. Who will sustain democratic values, and fight for all these old-fashioned ideas like human rights and freedom of speech? China forcefully looks for a path of its own, but in a way that many find quite unsettling. Will India—now the world’s greatest democratic project—manage or will it collapse into even more corruption and self-generated chaos? Who will conserve and cultivate our legal systems, who will culture scientific rationality and the brand new tradition of settling ethical issues by argument, not by force? Europe is in a strange state: Russia looks bad, Italy is a twilight state, Germany can’t move, in many countries like Austria or Denmark the voters are flirting with the extreme right. No constitution. No common vision. And the pressure of globalization on our social nets.

If global sociodynamics keeps on unfolding as it currently does, isn’t it likely that Europeans on their own will not stand a chance to change the overall trend? America is gone for good. How rational is it really—to still keep on believing that Europe as a whole will not only grasp the historical challenge, but eventually get its act together? I am optimistic that, once again, I will be dead wrong.