Germany – Frankfurt
Germany at the dawn of 2018
Report of a Listening Post held in Frankfurt in January 2018
PART 1: THE SHARING OF PREOCCUPATIONS AND EXPERIENCES [in German]
In this part, the Listening Post participants were invited to identify, contribute, and explore their experiences in their various social roles, be they: in work, unemployed or retired; as members of religious, political, neighbourhood, voluntary or leisure organisations; or as members of families and communities. This part was largely concerned with what might be called, ‘the stuff of people’s everyday lives’: the ‘socio’ or ‘external’ world of participants.
PART 2: IDENTIFICATION OF MAJOR THEMES
In Part 2, the aim collectively was to identify the major themes emerging from Part 1.
- Experiences and Irritations
Once simple procedures are becoming increasingly complicated eg investing money, registering for online banking.
There is a surplus of information – often pseudo, frequently not helpful and of dubious transparency. How are the young to cope with this flood? One grandmother’s overheard a reply: Hitler should come back, one kid is convinced Trump has already detonated the bomb. On the other hand significant political information is only stated briefly and triggers little public reaction – a radical contrast to earlier times; eg few demonstrate against deforestation for the extension of Frankfurt Airport. Imprecise rumours spark off waves of anxiety: a hobby bomber is let loose on mankind after release from prison.
This surplus of information and the manner of presentation numb and blunt reactions: endless stories about Trump, but scant reports of actual facts.
More and more exhortations to spend money and buy stuff go hand in hand with the mountain of packaging and garbage; one member. a hobby diver, is horrified by confrontation with plastic and the ocean pollution threat, another describes an inundation of cheapest Chinese bicycles for hire lying in heaps in some districts and – even new – constituting unusable junk.
There appears to be a trend towards ignoring even those rules and guidelines that make community life worth living: bicycle riders do not follow the highway code, people cannot be bothered to vote in important decisions such as Brexit, one father was given too much change at a supermarket checkout and the whole queue and his foster child watch perplexedly when he returns the extra cash.
Finally positive aspects are mentioned: food donation services for the poor are given support, refugee initiatives, audiences that can be so moved by films that popcorn is forgotten, passengers that usually constantly moan about railway deficits behave differently when faced by exceptional weather disruptions. Many issues have become easier to deal with through network systems, though there is no universal agreement here.
We appear to be lagging behind in development of information management.
It is apparent how close good and bad aspects are and how the one or the other can develop reciprocally.
II Main Themes in three Groups
- Inadequacy due to complexity
Need to differentiate
Cooperation would be helpful in view of global threats
- Aggressive indoctrination by information and offers. Preference of ignoring rules instead of evaluating (good / bad that results in boredom) the question of significance should be put (but entails effort)
- The more complex the state of affairs, the greater the feeling of being both overwhelmed and inhibited
Wherever a situation is more concrete and personally tangible, the greater the willingness to assume personal commitment and become involved
PART 3: ANALYSIS AND HYPOTHESIS FORMATION
In Part 3, the participants were working with the information resulting from Parts 1 & 2, with a view to collectively identifying the underlying dynamics both conscious and unconscious that may be predominant at the time; and developing hypotheses as to why they might be occurring at that moment. Here, participants were working more with what might be called their ‘psycho’ or ‘internal’ world: their collective ideas and ways of thinking that both determine how they perceive the external realities and shape their actions towards them.
Society appears to be stuck in permanent standby mode. Someone described an image of one immense grey mass of paper. The people behind it remain elusive. Political activity often seems banal. The relevant criteria in decision-making processes are not transparent. In many areas of life it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep one’s bearings. Multifarious so-called options abound, as does competition on the most mundane level: a refugee asks what the best detergent is, whereas they are all the same stuff, but merely have different packaging.
In former times ideologies took on the role of regulation, offering a sort of substitute for religion. They offered guidelines. Proverbs and sayings fashioned through generations of tradition fulfilled a similar function, usually passed on through older women. Nowadays such societal positions as left/ rightwing have disintegrated. It is difficult to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong.
Variety is presented as if it offered freedom to choose. The world of the product and spending sprees are deemed to fill the void, contours become blurred. It is difficult to identify the unambiguous. Political measures appear rather profane and banal.
In this climate of general uncertainty populist parties such as AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) find it possible to emerge. They hark back to long-gone enemy images, promise security and absorb attention of both followers and opponents.
At this point there is the postulation to position oneself as individual or as groups. – cf. “Me too“ as expression of the wish to take steps beyond emotional apathy. This is viewed as challenge and will entail enormous effort since it must be admitted that the truth is always preliminary and not absolute. Knowledge must be accepted as both good and bad, and the strength of a position also bearing one’s own weaker points in mind. Questions should be put about the meaning of information, of changes and the acceleration of digitalization, of the effectiveness of societal and political action, of ascertaining reliable sources from fake and deciding on what risk one is prepared to take. To this positioning there is also the need to accept different perceptions of changes and the opening in the world – implicit in the group’s observations that did not correlate with the member’s actual age.
A frequent topic in the meeting was the environmental threat due to vast amounts of plastic trash that is scarcely visible in everyday life but pollutes the oceans with micro-particles invisible to the naked human eye. The question was raised what should be done (headword garbage prevention). This can be interpreted as need to tackle something tangible, experiential and manageable in an increasingly virtual world (to make a move like “Me Too“).
Convenors: Barbara Schneider and Diethelm Sannwald
Translator: Carolyn Roether