Yesterday, Germany witnessed the debate between the two candidates to become the next Chancellor of Germany. Mrs. Merkel, the incumbent against Mr. Steinbrück, the candidate from the SPD, Germany’s largest opposition party today.
With that, we also witnessed the perceived state of the NSA / GCHQ / Snowden debate. Germany’s society made it painfully clear that it is not prepared to punish the ruling administration for not preventing the misdeeds that have been committed by foreign – and probably national – intelligence agencies. As Sascha Lobo noted in one of his many columns for Spiegel Online: what else needs to be revealed that would convince anybody that what has been happening should be punishable for all parties involved? All of what have been revealed so far should have been enough to get people in masses to the streets and should have been noticeable in polls for the upcoming in election September 22nd. Instead, we get nothing.
Obviously people have different priorities and I’m the first one to say that being 30 does make me less anxious about topics as the pension while others are more immanently affected by those. I know that and I’m trying to develop a sensitivity to accept that as a viable argument.
Yet, what I find myself thinking more often than not is the fact that financial security seems to trump any democratic principles and values. At this point, the free market mechanics managed to make people believe that capitalism equals democracy. In an economically shaken Europe, Germans seem to be content with the fact that at least in this uncertain times they are not measurably paying with their wallets.
Another, significant, aspect in this topic is its sheer complexity. I’m tremendously grateful to people like Ed Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. They are prepared to risk everything to guide us into the world of unimaginable corruption. While they are busy doing that, we need a media that is prepared to guide us to a point when we are not only talking about what has been happening, but also speaking up – clearly and unambiguously – about what needs to be done to stop this. We see little, if anything of this. Maybe that needs to change. Maybe the role of journalists in the 21st century needs to be more clearly articulating what needs to happen instead of document what has happened.
This is not something that should be taken lightly. It all starts with the “I don’t have anything to hide”-argument and some people might even think that in times of global unrest the things the intelligence community is doing might actually be a good thing. I don’t. And not only because I was born in a state that oppressed its citizens and minorities for the sake of the greater good while only few really profited from it. It’s also not because I live in a part of Berlin which only 25 years ago was still under the iron fist of the same regime, one that had no regard for its citizens, privacy or the right for self expression.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” said somebody a long, long while ago. While I’m not sure that we are literarly speaking about hell, one does not need to be a historic scholar to see many precedents in history in which excessive disregard for individual rights, privacy by the powerful few did not lead to the greater good. “In a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.”, said Joseph de Maistre. We, as society, might be getting what we deserved. Question is: is it really what we want for the future? If this is the state of things to be what do we want to leave the next generation with?
I’m writing this all while sitting in a train back to Berlin. It’s a monday after a 90 minute long debate between two people who are aspiring to become the most powerful person in the nation. A debate which had 4 moderators and in all of that we heard little more than a few questions on this topic without a clear, articulable message of what will happen. We heard a chancellor who full knowingly tried to reframe the discussion into being about something that it is clearly not and we heard a Mr. Steinbrück who seems to hope that this topic could cost Mrs. Merkel more points on election than it actually will.
On top of it all, there is an elderly women standing across from me in the train. Standing, not because they are no seats, but because she doesn’t dare to sit. She is afraid that she will be killed by CIA agents, she’s rambling about various known and unknown conspiracy theories, she shouts about her experience with the Stasi and how the world is unraveling. While she is clearly ill, she unfortunately doesn’t sound crazy at this point.
It is up to us all to do something. When we can go about our day, discuss new projects, discuss new opportunities, debate the flatness of design on iOS7, we also can debate and act and stand up to the people who fill that they are in charge now.
A good Monday to you all.