Reading time: 8 min. | The growing climate emergency will trigger a freedom emergency with violence at its centre. How we will experience this growing violence has to do with our personal lifeworld and its guidelines. The first battles over our guidelines are already underway.
Before anyone wonders why this story isn’t about wars, terrorism, crime, oppression of minorities, me-too culture, Black Lives Matter and many other daily forms of violence, I would like to start by saying that I have had the great privilege so far of experiencing very little violence myself.
The other day I was standing in a circle of managers. Now that Frederick William I no longer needs his Lange Kerls (tall soldiers), Prussia has been abolished, the Bundeswehr sell themselves as a military task force for world peace, and real soldiers don’t want to go there people have to do something else: management. “Joe should be put up against the wall.” “I have already put my troops in place.” “Last week, Miller was under heavy fire.” “On Monday, the bomb will burst.” “The meeting in London was a bloody massacre.”
In their mind, they’re all military officers. They live and think in conflict; violence is the order of the day. Hardly anyone dies physically, but mentally often, that’s called burn-out. Or a heart attack: wounded in the field, killed for the company and the career if they are unlucky. The hospital is the military hospital; rehab is the furlough. Weakness is unmanly and must be exploited. Management by fear. Darwin is God, and the mantra is survival of the fittest. The idea that the cream always floats on top, we all know, is utter nonsense.
The realisation that phenomena of violence are used in language as allegories for largely peaceful processes, even by friendly, kind and well-intentioned people, but without any reflection, showed me how deeply violence exists as a normal state in our society and how little freedom is understood as a state of nature and overriding principle.
Nature as a cleanser of conscience
When I started abstaining from eating meat 16 years ago, there was no specific reason. There was just a dark, uncomfortable feeling of sin and filth. Significantly stronger than pornography or a train journey or going to a public toilet can contaminate me.
Fishing is a great thing. In the beginning, there was the consumption of technical equipment. You have to read catalogues, search the internet, go to fishing shops and finally buy expensive special equipment. That’s super fun for boys. Finally, you stand at the pier and then have the problem of catching a fish. It’s raining, the wind is blowing from the NW at 6, and it’s 5 degrees cold. But with willpower, stamina and the great rod made of Apache helicopter carbon fibre, one finally bites. What follows is a sudden charge of endogenous drugs that shoots intravenously into the cerebellum.
As always with drugs, the hangover follows on its heels as soon as the fish lies wriggling in front of you. Fortunately, of course, we were not helpless city dwellers, but nature boys with the comforting knowledge that our position at the top of the food chain is God-given. The fish is slaughtered in a hunter’s way with learned expertise and the required spiritual seriousness. First, a hit on the head with the wooden club, and then a stab to the heart with the super sharp knife specially brought from Norway, which had a blood-red washable handle. Although the fish is a cold animal, it bleeds red and astonishingly much. Then you slit it from the anus to the front and gut it. It is important not to damage the green gall bladder. Otherwise, the flesh will literally turn gallic, i.e., bitter and inedible.
It is hard to describe how delicious the first cod I caught myself was. I cooked it in the oven with butter, salt, and pepper on a bed of celery and tomato vegetables. I covered it with aluminium foil and let it cook for half an hour on low heat. Served with rice, there is hardly anything more delicate for the tongue.
At night in bed came the stings of conscience. They weren’t regretful because everything had been done naturally, huntsmanlike in old fathers’ custom. Was the death of the fish worth the fun, I was asking myself? In nightly self-interrogations, dull and unformulated, this question stood in the room and robbed sleep. Not much, but a few minutes. I then went fishing and caught something now and then, but I let it run out.
Should little boys be protected from the cruelty of killing and eating animals, or is fishing a natural part of a child’s general education? And why doesn’t my daughter care about this issue at all?
Truth creates consequences
Self-delusion is one of the outstanding characteristics of human beings. We do it all the time, even now when writing and reading, the truth is permanently bent; otherwise, life would be too unbearable. And so, we tell ourselves that killing animals is necessary because humans need meat; we are omnivores, after all. We say that nature wants it that way. Wasn’t the Neanderthal a pure meat eater? Life is about eating and being eaten. Everywhere is Darwin. The stronger eats the weaker. And we humans are the strongest. Too bad for the pigs and the chickens. That’s nature — quite normal!
But is that the truth?
Nature doesn’t care what happens to us humans or to any other creature or thing. Nature moves the world and thus us. We are mercilessly at its mercy because there is no mercy. We experience that daily through local natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, floods, or droughts. But also through global natural disasters such as the Covid-19 pandemic or the intensifying global warming. We are only players in the game and only have a selective and little say in it. We may be highly developed, but we are also highly vulnerable. Hardly anyone disagrees when a biologist notes that cockroaches have a greater probability of survival if the world’s end than we do.
Another fact is that we humans are enormously adaptable. We exist in the Arctic Circle, on the equator, even in great drought and heat areas. This has an impact on our diet. We can live exclusively on whale and seal meat like the Inuit or quasi-vegan on lentils with grain porridge and bread, which Roman legionaries did for over 600 years. Meat consumption is not a must for our well-being. We could well leave it alone.
It is not because we only discuss the issue of violence in its effects but don’t get to the root of it. We act like family doctors who learn during their careers to deal pragmatically with illness. Knowing that the vast majority of diseases go away on their own, symptomatic treatment is usually enough. The doctor knows that in most cases, the healing power comes from statistics and placebo. The art of the family doctor is to know when proper medicine is required — which is primarily antibiotics — and when to send patients to the hospital. That takes experience and a hospital.
Now is the time to ask for the hospital. And it’s time to give the patient medicine that heals the illness for good. If we really want to achieve something in the violence sector, we need more than symptom treatments. We have to understand the patient’s illness in its roots.
Violence threatens our freedom
One of the roots of violence is the ignorance of the truth. One can think for a long time about the various reasons people have for turning their backs on the facts. In any case, the common motive is to avoid the consequences that follow the truth.
Consequences are always a current conditions change, which many people are reluctant to, especially if their existing state of affairs is pleasant and seemingly sustainable. Tons of examples are in our lives in avoiding the truth and opting for alternative facts.
Two years ago, I buried a dear producer colleague. His body had managed to completely cure a malignant lung cancer 15 years earlier. Unfortunately, his mind failed to follow the facts and denied that his tobacco use was the cause of this fatal disease. So, he surrendered to nicotine and continued smoking with relish.
Another example is the persistent, deeply malicious claim that there are different races of people. The science-based factual record (crazy that I feel urged to use the word science-based to prove the term facts) unequivocally denies this claim. Nevertheless, US society has a chance of ultimately failing on the “race question”, which isn’t a valid question because it has long since been answered. It is particularly striking how a false theory, which as a justification for slavery became the basis for a unique crime in history, later became a social question of significant magnitude, which today seems as unlikely as ever to be solved.
If the USA fails on the race question and does not answer it entirely with the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, the principle of freedom will be weakened by the refusal to recognise the truth, to the point of its dissolution, as we see with totalitarian states. The example of the USA and its inability to end the consequences of slavery, namely the violence and deprivation of freedom of a population group, clearly shows how truth and liberty are inseparably linked.
I am happy to leave it to the reader to clarify why the freedom of others is often restricted. There are many possible reasons. But all reasons are based on the bending of truths, the following of (untrue) ideas or if they are imperative for action on a larger scale, ideologies. If one wanted to follow the principle of freedom as an imperative, as is intended in open societies, there would only be violence when it seems sensible — probably only when liberty itself is in danger.
But when is liberty in danger?
On a small scale, when crimes are threatening the individual and our liberal order? A little further, when majorities are oppressing minorities? Or somewhat more prominent, when totalitarian societies and rogue corporations are threatening our democracies? Or when global warming, as an external danger, is threatening the existence of all people? Or only when aliens landed and wanted to enslave us?
I am convinced that the climate emergency contains an encapsulated freedom emergency that slowly pushes its way to the surface. We have long been aware of it, inside us, unconsciously. That’s why we are caught up in the middle of culture wars whose inner motivation is the struggle for freedom because we cast freedom’s guidelines into laws: Only act according to that maxim by which you can at the same time wish it to become a general law. (Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, Riga, 1788).
Which maxims or guidelines do we want?