Rob Riemen: What are your most press­ing con­cerns about the polit­i­cal world in which you are liv­ing? Flavia, you can start. 

Flavia Kleiner: Maybe the first thing to refer also to Der Zauberberg is that to me the big prob­lem starts with the fact that Hans Castorp lives for sev­en years in a par­al­lel world, right. So he’s in this super closed world, with impuls­es, of course, impuls­es, dif­fer­ent ones. But you know, it seems much big­ger than it should be and you know, what­ev­er like, he’s total­ly nar­rowed down to this…parallel world. And I think if I relate this to today’s world, I think a democ­ra­cy can­not bear that many par­al­lel worlds.

The biggest prob­lem, and I see it a lot among young peo­ple, is that they some­how just want their safe spaces. They don’t want to…like, they want to be mind­ful, they want to be self-fulfilled… It’s total­ly deca­dent. It’s because we are so well-off in the Western soci­eties and things are going so well, I don’t bear it any longer. I think they’re miss­ing the true changes going on abroad and out­side of our lit­tle” nice, cute worlds. 

My biggest teacher, actu­al­ly, in pol­i­tics was my own moth­er, who was a com­mu­nal politi­cian for six­teen years. And she you know, every Saturday she dragged us kids with her on some farm open­ing or, I don’t know you know, what­ev­er, some shop open­ing. And we went there, tak tak tak tak tak, and then she says, Okay. Talk to this guy,” tak, and she was away. And so we just had to get used to talk to any per­son from any back­ground. And what I expe­ri­enced is that many many peo­ple don’t have this. They’re not used to this any­more. And some­times I really…I know…you know. But I feel ashamed how far away the elites [air quotes] got from…just the nor­mal, aver­age per­son. And if we say that we want to live in a democ­ra­cy togeth­er, we sim­ply are accept­ing the fact that a Nobel Prize win­ner has the same voice as every oth­er cit­i­zen, you know. And that’s what is annoy­ing me a lot and that’s what makes me fear a lot. Because we should real­ly get out of this sit­u­a­tion. [audi­ence applauds]

Celeste Marcus: I think it’s true that… I don’t know if this is like…I don’t want to speak about this as if this is only a con­tem­po­rary prob­lem. I think that this is a human prob­lem. I think that pol­i­tics has always been sus­cep­ti­ble to con­ver­sion so that it’s not actu­al­ly about liv­ing peo­ple it’s about sig­nal­ing mem­ber­ship with­in a par­tic­u­lar com­mu­ni­ty. I think that has always been true. I think that tech­nol­o­gy has changed the way that that man­i­fests now, but I think that it’s always been true that when peo­ple align them­selves with their par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal ide­ol­o­gy, it is less because they’re con­scious of the prac­ti­cal ram­i­fi­ca­tions of like, the poli­cies that are con­sis­tent with that ide­ol­o­gy and more because their friends and their fam­i­ly, or their teach­ers espouse that phi­los­o­phy and they admire the peo­ple who say it and so they want to be part of that group. 

And I agree with you that like, the only way to under­stand the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of pol­i­tics and the stuff of pol­i­tics is human life, so you have to go out and see what human life actu­al­ly looks like, not just the life that you’ve been born into but every oth­er kind of life. 

The only thing that I would dis­agree about is that I don’t think only elites are guilty of this. I think that it’s not like one real­i­ty is more real than anoth­er just because it’s poor­er, or hard­er. I think that every sub­group is guilty of the same impulse. Because like, we hap—I hap­pen to be a mem­ber of the elite. I know I’m very lucky to have been priv­i­leged such that I don’t feel pol­i­tics in the same way that some­body who’s born dirt poor on the street does. But they don’t know what it is to live the life that I’ve lived just like I don’t know what it is to live the life that they’ve lived. And I think it’s dan­ger­ous to talk about some­body else’s real­i­ty as if it’s more real just because it’s harder. 

Joan Magrané Figuera: Maybe it’s because I was born in a lit­tle coun­ty inside a big­ger state, I have always felt more close with the lit­tle things. And I talk about inti­ma­cy in terms of art. And I think in pol­i­tics it has to be the same. Because maybe peo­ple feel pol­i­tics like some­thing far because they are talk­ing pol­i­tics all the time—[buròcrates?]—about big things, big ideas, big orga­ni­za­tions, big blocks. And no, the more impor­tant is the human scale, the human mea­sure, and the diver­si­ty of voic­es. And democ­ra­cy is a polypho­ny, nev­er a uni­son. For me I think it’s like [motza?], music. It’s an absolute fan­ta­sy in terms of melod­ic— The rhythm is always flex­i­ble. There’s lots of orna­men­ta­tion. That’s democ­ra­cy, not this path we are fol­low­ing to uni­form blocks. I don’t know. 

Wojtek Wieczorek: We haven’t devel­oped a lan­guage to talk about big com­mu­ni­ties. That’s the prob­lem. Like in a sense… Of course pro­pa­gan­da has always been accom­pa­ny­ing peo­ple as long as the com­mu­ni­ties were here. Hate is rather a new way of express­ing lan­guage. But when we’re talk­ing about cli­mate change for instance, like lan­guage is so inca­pable of describ­ing what’s hap­pen­ing. It’s like you want to write some­thing about cli­mate change and then you ask your­self a ques­tion, is it a cat­a­stro­phe? Now like, a cat­a­stro­phe is some­thing that hap­pens once. After sev­en years it’s no longer a cat­a­stro­phe. We have a cri­sis. Crisis is resolved with­in the bor­ders of a state, like the Greek cri­sis for instance. Then you’ve got a prob­lem. Like, it’s not a prob­lem. Like I might have a prob­lem with a too-tight shirt. But like, it’s not a prob­lem so like, where are the words to describe what’s happening? 

Intissar Kherigi: I do feel that there’s some­thing about the way that pol­i­tics is done which turns peo­ple off Europe and turns young peo­ple off pol­i­tics, which is the tech­no­crat­ic way that pol­i­tics is car­ried out. And you know, I think maybe our gen­er­a­tion had a kind of polit­i­cal awak­en­ing because of these mas­sive life-changing moments like the finan­cial cri­sis, 9‍/‍11, war in Iraq. So many dif­fer­ent things. But before that, I think a lot of peo­ple were dis­en­gaged because of the way pol­i­tics is done. I think the whole rep­re­sen­ta­tive demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tem has to devel­op new mech­a­nisms for actu­al­ly engag­ing peo­ple. And I think you find that when it does offer new mech­a­nisms, peo­ple are interested. 

So for exam­ple if you look at the prac­tice of cit­i­zen’s con­ven­tions or cit­i­zen’s assem­blies, where they’ve been done peo­ple come for­ward. They’re inter­est­ed. You know, tens of thou­sands of peo­ple volunteer. 

Kleiner: Absolutely.

Kherigi: My expe­ri­ence in Tunisia as well is that you know, I work with the most dis­en­gaged young peo­ple who don’t even believe in democ­ra­cy. And I work with them for two years, and after­wards they stand for elec­tion in a demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tem. And so I think it’s about cre­at­ing spaces, and about not see­ing democ­ra­cy as a prod­uct that’s going to be con­sumed by cit­i­zens who are sit­ting there, but a dynam­ic sys­tem that has to con­stant­ly look for new ways to con­nect with peo­ple when things are chang­ing. When we have tech­nol­o­gy, and cul­tur­al change. We cannnot expect demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions to remain untouched. They have to change the way they engage with citizens.

Further Reference

Nexus Institute Symposium 2019, The Magic Mountain Revisited: Cultivating the Human Spirit in Dispirited Times event page