The Corona pandemic relentlessly exposes abuses. First and foremost, there is the deplorable state of the German health care system, which was already broken even before the pandemic. Although it has received a great deal of applause and solidarity over the last twenty months, it strangely has not seen any lasting improvement; on the contrary, there are now around 4,500 fewer intensive care beds than there were a year ago. Our elected representatives do not take this urgent and quite obvious task nearly as seriously as their publicized role as warners and admonishers in the omnipresent panic orchestra or, like Markus Söder as a brave general and crusader, wildly determined to impose harsh restrictions, even if they then turn out to be unlawful after the fact, as in the case of the curfews in Bavaria.
This crisis has also exposed our elected representatives’ collective leadership failure. Our government — and the opposition in large parts just as well — consistently apply only one tool since the beginning of the pandemic, and that is the stoking of fear and the spreading of panic. They follow the roadmap from the April 2020 paper of the Ministry of the Interior. In this paper, there is clear advice to use shock effect, culminating in the (now seen as false) claim that children infect their parents, who then die in agony at home — all because the child forgot to wash his hands after playing (sic!). To this day, the government uses primal fears (suffocation, guilt) to portray the seriousness of the situation and to swear the population to a line of caution and — a prankster who thinks evil of it — of unconditional obedience.
Fear and terror were already the leadership principle of Caligula, who ruled as emperor in Rome from 37 to 41 AD. He described his uncharitable relationship with his people with his motto, “Oderint, dum metuant” (let them hate me as long as they fear me). An attitude that many autocrats after him cultivated similarly. Pressure creates counter-pressure, and violence leads to counter-violence. So Caligula was murdered by a Praetorian Guard after only four years as emperor at the age of 29, and his memory was subsequently destroyed.
Operating so offensively with fear and terror to force obedience only works short-term. It ends in bloodshed, as history shows with the example of many despots before and after Caligula. However, for politicians in a democracy, it is not an option to be hated by too many. Nevertheless, intimidated and thus unquestioningly obedient subjects are practical and tempting for elected representatives. Then, the high political art is to stir up fears without becoming the target of the majority’s hatred or, even better, to be hailed as a savior by the masses with an appropriately resolute stance and strict measures.
The threat of a new kind of virus is perfect for forcing unity and obedience through fear on the one hand, while at the same time being hailed as a savior by most for protection and authoritarian measures. Which politician can resist this temptation? Perhaps this is why these sometimes totalitarian reaction patterns are similar in most democracies worldwide. And thus, fueled by the media, for whom this mass psychosis constantly brings high ratings and click rates, an escalating spiral of panic and an outbidding competition of measures has been set in motion. In the meantime, even scientists have rejected the stoking of fear for behavior control as unethical, but it’s too late to shut the stable door — the horse has already bolted.
Fear of a threat to the community unites. But fear of someone within the community divides and corrodes. It corrupts both him who uses fear and him who fears.Peter F. Drucker
Doubts about the measures and fear of their consequences for the individual and society are, on the other hand, undesirable and therefore have been consistently ignored, talked down, and fact-checked since the beginning of the pandemic. The critics were defamed as corona deniers, “Querdenker”, tin-foil-hat-wearers, or — as ultima ratio — Nazis. Even those who have good questions and express legitimate concerns make themselves suspect, undermine unity, and thus become opponents of measures or anti-vaxxers. The rhetoric of politics and the media slips month by month further toward a religious war of a frightened, obedient, and applauding majority against a critically questioning minority. The latter also includes some offside groups and opinions. Still, they are only a marginal phenomenon in this minority, even if the media stylizes them as pars pro toto.
The fear of the external threat, which initially seemed valuable and practical in uniting the community in this crisis, is increasingly becoming a fear that divides the community more deeply week by week. Those who speak of the “tyranny of the unvaccinated,” as Frank Ulrich Montgomery, the Chairman of the World Medicin Association, recently did not only accept that fear will turn into hatred but are on the verge of committing incitement to hatred. And the media thankfully spreads this breach of taboo without further questions or even objections, which was unthinkable two years ago.
Fear is the path to the dark side … fear leads to anger … anger leads to hate … hate leads to suffering.Yoda
Here we are now, and I don’t want to go this way. At least the last part of this causal chain of Yoda, the suffering as a consequence of hate, I want to prevent. We may look differently at this complex situation, we may have different opinions, our fears may be different, and our needs may be different. Still, we will not be played off against each other and incited. Never. Not in this country. We talk to each other, argue about data, facts, and their interpretation, bring arguments and counter-arguments, listen to each other, and strive for understanding. And in the end, we join hands for a shared future in peace.
Out beyond ideas of right or wrong, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.Rumi