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Chaos as Usual

In our collective helplessness, we seek salvation in the transcendental empire of the inexplicable. "How could it be?" becomes the self-defense to forget our miserable social existence..The economic has taken society hostage.
Non vitae sed solum rei oeconomicae discimus?

By Thomas Strobl

[This article published March 14, 2009 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  link to faz-community.faz.net.]

In the debate about the running amok of Winnenden, responsibility was ascribed to all possible suspects - from tasteless computer games to negligent parents, from overstrained school authorities to the inattentive circle of friends. This was foreseeable. There was hardly a word about the real evil we were afraid to address - German middle class education. This is an awkward, unseemly and unseasonable subject. The school has become a neglected place, a custody institution for children and y8ouths that mocks the Humboldt ideal of education, a standardized processing machine for the commercial goal from which a Seneca would have turned away in horror. Seneca criticized ancient philosophers ' schools with his well-known admonition on being more realistic and down-to-earth.

The writer described here as a manager, an honorable profession with occasionally negative connotations in the headlines is engaged in his leisure time as a spokesperson of a local elementary school. As a youth, I enjoyed an excellent education... If I ever should write my memoirs, I would use the sentence of my Latin teacher as the central leitmotif of my life, "If you don't learn Latin from me, at least learn German!"

He was the best teacher I ever had. My success in Latin was not overwhelming... With a toolbox of basic equipment, he sent us on our journey. At 18, I was everything other than the prototype of the careerist corporate warrior. That part of my biography appeared rather accidentally, years later.

Today's school is no longer the place where one gladly sends one's children in their most important period of life. I don't blame the teachers, at least not directly. They are also only victims of a tragic self-forgetting collective evil deed that brought no one less than the former German chancellor and present energy lobbyist Gerhard Schroeder to describe Lower Saxony teachers lock, stock and barrel as "lazy bastards." He harvested spirited public applause for that. We have made the school what it is today. We have mutilated and raped it, robbed it of its most original and noble functions and assigned it to the child's table of our society. Didn't we want to give our children the key to a better world? Wasn't that our maxim - in their interest and our own? Where is this seriously debated today? Who still writes this on his banner except for politicians in election campaigns when they distribute their bouquets of flowers and colorful ballpoint pens on Sundays and send their verbal waterfalls through the ether from nighttime talk show chairs?

We, the grateful favorites of an earlier better epoch, economized the school into land or property. We allowed it to fall prey completely to the commodity-fiction of labor. The school as an educational institution and schooldays as a phase of life of the best and most important persons of our society were once treated differently. With mouths open wide in shock, we see those whom we set all our hopes in their "inexplicable" works. We, who defrauded those who can see of the most important time of their lives, we are once again speechless when a truly "dis-inhibited" one finds a vent for his or her inner energies - sometimes unfortunately very destructive energies - through which the pent-up frustration, the search for meaning desperately broken off and the cry for attention are unloaded. In our collective helplessness, we seek salvation in the transcendental realm of the inexplicable. "How could it be?" becomes the self-defense presumably to forget our miserable social existence, not to have to admit to our children and ourselves the sad situation into which we have brought ourselves. Isn't that true? It can't be helped.

Education must be adjusted to the goals of the economy because we compete with cheap Chinese and smart persons from India. Little time is left for childlike innocent inexperience and humanist digressions beyond the curriculum standard of Goethe and Kafka. Time is money, as we know, and we have much too little of both. It seems like a bad joke that both money and time play no role in the dominant academic model of the economic mainstream. The modern school system can't go fast and cost-efficient enough to produce "human resources" (at least Anglo-Saxons call children by their names). In the most flexible, standardized "just-in-time" form, the modern school system can be used without greatly slowing down the learning curves as befits a "lean" society. The school mutates into a standardized socio-economic container. Well-done! The professional "Operational Excellence" representative in us knows: Nothing more can be achieved.

The economic has taken society captive as hostage. The ransom money is astronomically high but nonetheless is paid in small-unmarked bills. Our children largely robbed of traditional forms of self-confirmation and recognition humiliate themselves for a little social acknowledgment, for a tiny bit of "meaning" in "Germany seeks the superstar" and other forms of media masochism or reaches unceremoniously for a pistol and organizes a massacre. Both help; both lift out of the misshapen meaningless mass of a deaf-and-dumb society. In a blog, my friend Fonst asks innocently: "Why don't they read Voltaire and Rilke?" - He could have answered: "What for?" Nowadays you won't get very far in your circle of friends, with your parents, in school or on the labor market. Do you want your 5 minutes of fame?" - ... The most intelligent, most gifted and best only have the second choice: rock the media circus of a nihilist society on the front page. If you are the great blockhead of this century, your chances only become better.

Whoever imagines the writer a closeted Marxist who only finds fault with the existing system and the market should recall the words of Karl Popper, that admirable liberal and glowing defender of the "open society":

"Traditions are necessary to create a connection between institutions and the intentions and values of individuals."

"Among traditions, those that form the "moral framework" of a society and embody the sense for justice, decency and moral sensitivity must be rated the most important."

"Nothing is more dangerous than the destruction of this framework, this tradition... Nazism consciously desired this destruction. In the end Nazism had to lead in a cynical nihilism - to the disdain and destruction of human values."

Unfortunately Popper could not experience the developments of the present epoch. His commentary would have been interesting. In truth, liberals sin against the next generation by betraying the highest principle of liberalism: uninhibited personal development. The obsessive subordination of education under a certain dogma, even a dogma derived from the pressures of a liberal market economy, cannot possibly be regarded as "liberal."

In the Darwin year 2009, it should be mentioned that a liberal like Popper cultivated an exceptionally positive interpretation of evolution in which evolution forms the innermost of the individual, not primarily the outward pressure of adaptation of a merciless nature. His environment is shaped according to his conceptions. Popper meant art, culture, sports and all the areas where people are spurred to top performance above all, from an inner drive. He did not speak about the economy. But in an economic regard, Schumpeter's innovative entrepreneur could also have come from Popper's pen, the creative destroyer who shapes competition to his advantage and according to his ideas, the unconventional thinker, the non-conformer, the single-handed, the type with a 1000 silly ideas in his head, with whom "the others" somehow cannot manage well, who seeks his own way, who tries, fails and tries again - until he finally succeeds and opens the door to a new better era for all humanity, not only for himself. The creative destroyer does not only passively experience competition.

That is the liberal view of the person in the best sense. Who of those who now say events are "inexplicable" believe such a view of the person underlies our education factories today? What politician who now displays his shock on the front page in a simplistic demagogic way would battle for this view of the person without referring in the same sentence to budget principles or international competitiveness?...


"The Quiet Coup" by Simon Johnson

"The Right to Development" by Brigitte Hamm

"Neoliberal Consciousness" by Harald Werner

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