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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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Few good arguments, a lot of bad bickering: where is our conflict competence?

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There is no shortage of insights and bon mots praising the dispute. Conflicts are constitutive for societies, as the sociologist Georg Simmel explained at the beginning of the 20th century. And Helmut Schmidt is quoted everywhere as saying “A democracy in which there is no dispute is not one”. But if things should be like that, as the former chancellor once snapped, things are looking rather bleak for democracy at the moment. Because there is currently little arguing. It is more likely to be scolded and insulted.

Most recently, the riots on New Year’s Eve in Berlin gave rise to many appearances by political personnel, at which different views were expressed, but what followed was little more than the expected outrage rituals of those who saw it differently.

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Public discussions or political debates far too often exhaust themselves in the stoic presentation of respective points of view. All actors stick to their views, nothing moves. If you follow the Mannheim conflict researcher Rainer Kilb, it doesn’t help if politicians in backrooms probably act more pragmatically and calmly than in front of an audience. It is important “to deal with problems and conflicts in a way that is visible and understandable for the citizens,” he recommends.

The public is not an annoying fly, but central to democracy

This is “a central issue of civil society and political self-regulation”. Should also mean: In political disputes, the audience is not an annoying fly, without which life would be easier. It is a participant in the pluralistic process. And ultimately, more than the political personnel, it is the decisive factor for the quality and durability of democracy.

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Kilb identifies the long prevailing peaceful period as one reason for the “inadequate ability to deal with conflict”. Conflicts have become something negative, unsettling disruptive factors that are generally reacted to with suppression, avoidance and small talk. He also counts neighborhood disputes that end up in court and educational problems that schools are now supposed to regulate.

You delegate conflicts to authorities and personally stay out of it. In addition, there are now the global polycrises from Corona to the Ukraine war, which on the one hand further undermine the culture of debate because the resources for conflictual situations are overused, and also lead to a growing basic irritation that provokes new disputes.

And now the global polycrises that are getting on my nerves

From the education sector, however, there is a study by the political didactician Sybille Reinhardt, among others, from 2000, according to which young people regard conflicts as something harmful and strive for harmony and unity as the top priority. For them, opposition in the political arena is no longer something good or important, but a starting point for unrest.

At the same time, however, the ability to deal with conflicts is generally regarded as a key competence for life in democracies, because they are inherently conflict-ridden. And all the more, the more international, the more diverse, the more culturally and socially different their composition is. But if the individual conflict is already considered a problem, how should one value democracy as a conflict system?

Experts keep pointing out that democracy has to be learned specifically and actively, whether as the ability to compromise, reach consensus or dissent. Because growing up in a democracy alone does not make a democrat.

If we forget to recognize that coherent answers, positions and stories often do not exist, we lose democracy.

Thomas Krüger, Head of the Federal Agency for Civic Education

Sybille Reinhardt explained in a lecture in 2018 that learning democracy requires high cognitive skills, because it is important to be able to deal competently with contradictions and impositions. Thomas Krüger, head of the Federal Agency for Civic Education, put it this way in a speech in 2020: “If we forget to recognize that coherent answers, positions and stories often do not exist, we lose democracy.”

Rainer Kilb, too, sees school as the “central socialization agency” today, i.e. the place where people learn to endure unreasonable demands and contradictions. And it also has to be learned if you don’t want to constantly offend the social structures.

Ariane Bemmer is a Tagesspiegel author with a focus on social issues.

But can schools do that? Do you want to rely on it? Is the school underutilized with problems such as a shortage of teachers, canceled classes and deficits in teaching subjects such as German or mathematics? And if the family and the school fail to mediate conflict cultures, who could then take over?

The public political debates are hardly suitable. They are not exemplary in terms of increasing the capacity for democracy. Far too often it seems as if the participants on podiums or in TV formats are primarily concerned with winning. Armed with certainties, they enter the arena of conflict, aim: dish out as much as possible, take in as little as possible.

And the moderators accompany the fight, sometimes intervene to regulate them, but then they also stir things up again and, above all, always give the most space to certainties, to what has already been said often – and much less to doubt, to what has not been said before. imaginary.

But isn’t the willingness to doubt an elementary part of the competence to dispute? Wouldn’t one wish to ask the spokespersons more often: Where do you get your certainty from, what makes you so sure? After all, if none of the parties involved is willing to ever change their views, why talk to each other?

Without a culture of debate, conflicts generally remain untreated at their core, without them disappearing as a result. Rather, they intensify and expand, affecting more and more people as a result, and as a result, views on them multiply and the number of potential parties to a dispute grows.

The tone is getting rougher, there are more and more calls for order in the Bundestag

In the political debates, an increasingly harsh tone is complained about, the number of calls for order in the Bundestag is increasing, on the streets frustration and anger are vented in physical aggression, not only on New Year’s Eve in Berlin, but throughout the year and almost everywhere. In addition, there is the aggressive abuse and caustic tone, which has long been the norm on Twitter, malice, mockery, insults, garnished with eye roll and puke emojis. Hardly anyone would want to ennoble all this as a dispute.

In order to escape from these destructive affects, people understandably withdraw from the big arenas into their so-called bubbles, in which they find their own kind and similar views and thus find harmony and freedom from conflict. That in itself shouldn’t be a cause for concern if everyone were willing and, above all, able to leave these bubbles again and endure and test out how other people tick, what makes other people special.

But if the bubbles become more and more tailor-made and in the end nothing else seems acceptable, then the problem with the culture of debate has become a problem for democracy. Nobody can want that. And everyone can start changing that at any time. By arguing – but right.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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