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|Wutbürger: What makes "Angry Citizens" in Germany?|
|Written by Ben Cheek | Friday, 06 May 2011 15:29|
The New York Times ran an interesting article this week on the Wutbürger -- the grassroots movement of largely independent "angry citizens" that is disrupting politics all over Germany. Even as Europe looks to Germany for increased leadership and stability, the domestic political lives of German leaders are being complicated by an enraged movement insensitive to the usual ideological rhetoric and formerly tucked the politically-active into one camp or the other.
Despite how frustrated politicians might plead that Wutbürgers are unproductive because they won't join a camp, there's a sense no party truly understands the problem. Gero Neugebauer, head of the Otto-Suhr-Institut für Politikwissenschaft (Otto-Suhr Institute for Political Studies), puts it this way:
The parties are out of touch with the changing democratic needs of the 21st century. The issues are so complex, ranging from debts and immigration to climate change and energy policy that government and civil society will have to work much more closely in reaching consensus over these issues.
What Neugebauer is describing, among many things, is a breakdown of the basic Information Ecology in public life, largely brought on by the Storm of Complexity -- the pervasive and uncontrollable fragmentation, mixing, flattening of nearly everything in our lives. A healthy Information Ecology rotates around the axis of what many have lately called "civil discourse". Civil Discourse implicitly demands an outcome of decisions that best represent the shared knowledge and interests of the community, and it contains some basic parameters for what is moral and ethical in political conversations. Speaking and Listening are the components the create the motion around axis of Civil Discourse. The short-term repulsion of these opposites creates the energy from the hard work of communal decision making, and they are held together by the gravity of civil discourse.
In a world as noisy as ours — where information is fragmented into sound bites, mixed into the news cycle of "everything that's happen this instant", and flattened into digestable charactertures anyone can understand, but noone can act on — the benefits of Listening have all but disappeared, as evidenced by more and more people simply tuning out and more leaders over-simplifying everything to tidy ideologies. Left with only the benefits of Speaking, anything said feeds the lopsided energy of the ecology, failing to provide any productive unity and contributing to further fragmenting, mixing, and flattening.
This lack of Listening is what makes the Wutbürgers angry, along with the Tea Party, Wisconsin sit-in protesters, and middle-class youth in many Middle East and North African countries. So far these movements have battled speaking with speaking, and where their voice has been successfully heard, the gargantuan challenge of introducing Listening into a collapsed system has begun, often with little success.
Listening cannot enter an ecology unless there is room. The broken system can only be fixed if we do the most expensive thing few at this point are ready for: give up the anxiety caused by the diminishing returns in the Storm of Complexity that's driving the whole mess. True, your interests are in danger in such a hostile and high-stakes world. But it might just be that all of our interests — especially those most core to the continuation and quality of all our lives — are in greater danger because we can't let go long enough to try a path other than the two or so that lead to distruction.
Over the past few months, I've been helping a friend run for a local election. The vote is next week, and the Information Ecology in his town is as broken as any you'll find in a bigger venue. While volunteering, I was struck by how wearied people were by the political mud-slinging that was going on over their heads, catching them in the cross fire and breaking faith in the idea of civil society as a whole. We tried a few ideas to show we were listening, and in every case, people came alive. It doesn't take much for hope to be rekindled. But for it to be realized, a new kind of Listening will be required to achieve a productive unity. After the election, Listening isn't over as if it was a campaign ploy. Rather, the real work of hearing each other begins.
|Last Updated on Friday, 06 May 2011 17:07|