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