Last weekend it was 30 years ago the Wall/iron curtain fell. I sat in front of the tv deep into the night watching German live tv. Having visited Eastern Germany just two years before it, I cried watching. I felt a strong urge to go there, but it wasn’t my place I also felt, not my personal history being made and I didn’t want to be a spectator in their midst. It was my neighbour’s, Rainer’s, history, who fled Eastern Germany with his parents as the iron curtain came up in ’61, while his sister stayed as she was freshly in love. Their lives separated for almost 3 decades, punctuated by his visits as often as he was allowed in. Their parents never being allowed back in. I remember in ’87 getting into an argument with an East-Berlin civil servant who told us the wall was there as a ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart’ against the/us fascists in the West. It was so much cognitive dissonance for me that the Wall was supposedly there to keep me out, but yet here I was let in, just not them let out. A prison with the key on the inside. He couldn’t acknowledge my comment obviously, which I couldn’t in turn accept as a teenager. Now, as I’ve worked in various places and settings, where diplomacy is the only way forward, allowing others to save face, and room to manoeuvre to get somewhere, I know why there was no way at all I would have ‘won’ being right that day in East-Berlin city hall. Yet I was, empathy against bureaucracy is/should always be right.

Last weekend it was also 81 years ago that Nazis roamed the streets in Germany trashing Jewish owned businesses, homes and synagogues, and the murder of hundreds and internment in concentration camps of some thirty thousand German citizens of Jewish faith, Kristallnacht.

Oddly enough it is in the regions most affected by the separation of the Wall, Thuringia and Saxony, that the fascist echoes ring the loudest in Germany these days, where AfD. ‘alternative for Germany’ finds an electoral feeding ground. Or maybe it is not surprising, as societal complexity may make you yearn for the (imagined) simplicity of something that never was, exchange the simplicity of one authoritarian construct for another, or at least to blame someone, anyone, some mythical Other, for the baffling complexity around us.

All three of these things are important and current to my own life in different ways. As is the next.

Today I was in Brussels, a very complicated city in an equally complicated country in its own right. Whatever you can say about this place, and here too nationalist (or rather regionalist) sentiments boil, there is beauty in the elegance of dealing with otherness here. Where you are being spoken to in French or Dutch, and answer in a mixture of French, Dutch and English, or vice versa, and it’s all fine. Where the hotel barman tonight has a distinctive Flemish/Dutch name, Gert, yet is Walloon, and we both shrug and say, yeah Europe is complicated, and we appreciate each other’s efforts to be understood and embrace how our lands have been the crossroads of so many different things. It’s fitting that the EU has its institutions in both Brussels and Luxembourg, the two linguistically most confused/mixed cities in Europe.

E and I often remark to each other when we encounter situations like me and the barman above how ‘Europe works’. Last time I was here in Brussels, over dinner I sat next to a family of 4 who amongst themselves effortlessly conversed in Italian, Dutch and German, while fluently ordering in French. I texted to E that very phrase, “Europe works”, not for the first time. It’s our regular shorthand for what the EU has achieved, starting from co-governing the coal and steel works of 6 nations in 1951 so that none of us could build up a war machine without the others being able to stop it, to what the EU is now and how it plays out practically in the lives of us, our networks and the people we encounter across the continent. I intimately know the divisions national borders created within my own family, as well as the deep pain on all sides and resentment of World War II. Equally, I deeply know in my bones what we’ve all gained when freedom of movement kicked in 27 years ago (it’s a tangible sensation every time I personally or professionally do something where there before was a fence), as well as how it makes my professional life possible. Yet across the EU, which from my travels around the world I know to be a place of such enormous abundance (which is not a synonym for perfection nor utopia), resentment against those gains has built. While I recognise the things that feed into that resentment, all too often it smacks of Kristallnacht. It reeks. German rock-band BAP, singing in the Cologne dialect which in itself is a testament to the age-old connection between my own lands of origin and Germany (I can use may own Dutch dialect deep into Germany without issue of being understood, and Cologne’s dialect is akin to my own), sketches out the political pantomime of the copy-cat fascists perfectly. Their 1982 song is just as pertinent in 2019.

Trust your nose. Your nose points out the arsonists. You’ll know when et rüsch noh Kristallnaach, when it reeks of Kristallnacht.
My nose makes me an EU citizen.

Some links I thought worth reading the past few days

  • Peter Rukavina pointed me to this excellent posting on voting, in the context of violence as a state monopoly and how that vote contributes to violence. It’s this type of long form blogging that I often find so valuable as it shows you the detailed reasoning of the author. Where on FB or Twitter would you find such argumentation, and how would it ever surface in a algorithmic timeline? Added Edward Hasbrouck to my feedreader : The Practical Nomad blog: To vote, or not to vote?
  • This quote is very interesting. Earlier in the conversation Stephen Downes mentions “networks are grown, not constructed”. (true for communities too). Tanya Dorey adds how from a perspective of indigenous or other marginalised groups ‘facts’ my be different, and that arriving a truth therefore is a process: “For me, “truth growing” needs to involve systems, opportunities, communities, networks, etc. that cause critical engagement with ideas, beliefs and ways of thinking that are foreign, perhaps even contrary to our own. And not just on the content level, but embedded within the fabric of the system et al itself.“: A conversation during EL30.mooc.ca on truth, data, networks and graphs.
  • This article has a ‘but’ title, but actually is a ‘yes, and’. Saying ethics isn’t enough because we also need “A society-wide debate on values and on how we want to live in the digital age” is saying the same thing. The real money quote though is “political parties should be able to review technology through the lens of their specific world-views and formulate political positions accordingly. A party that has no position on how their values relate to digital technology or the environment cannot be expected to develop any useful agenda for the challenges we are facing in the 21st century.” : Gartner calls Digital Ethics a strategic trend for 2019 – but ethics are not enough
  • A Dutch essay on post-truth. Says it’s not the end of truth that’s at issue but rather that everyone claims it for themselves. Pits Foucault’s parrhesia, speaking truth to power against the populists : Waarheidsspreken in tijden van ‘post-truth’: Foucault, ‘parrèsia’ en populisme
  • When talking about networked agency and specifically resilience, increasingly addressing infrastructure dependencies gets important. When you run decentralised tools so that your instance is still useful when others are down, then all of a sudden your ISP and energy supplier are a potential risk too: disaster.radio | a disaster-resilient communications network powered by the sun
  • On the amplification of hate speech. It’s not about the speech to me, but about the amplification and the societal acceptability that signals, and illusion of being mainstream it creates: Opinion | I Thought the Web Would Stop Hate, Not Spread It
  • One of the essential elements of the EU GDPR is that it applies to anyone having data about EU citizens. As such it can set a de facto standard globally. As with environmental standards market players will tend to use one standard, not multiple for their products, and so the most stringent one is top of the list. It’s an element in how data is of geopolitical importance these days. This link is an example how GDPR is being adopted in South-Africa : Four essential pillars of GDPR compliance
  • A great story how open source tools played a key role in dealing with the Sierra Leone Ebola crisis a few years ago: How Open Source Software Helped End Ebola – iDT Labs – Medium
  • This seems like a platform of groups working towards their own networked agency, solving issues for their own context and then pushing them into the network: GIG – we are what we create together
  • An article on the limits on current AI, and the elusiveness of meaning: Opinion | Artificial Intelligence Hits the Barrier of Meaning

Playing politically on base emotions has consequences. Choice of words has consequences. It does not make the fear mongers and populists directly or criminally responsible, but it does come with moral responsibilities. If you consistently fan emotional flames you do bear moral responsibility for the resulting sparks and ‘singular unconnected’ fires. What British radio host James O’Brien says in the fragment embedded above about the UK, is as much true in Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Poland, Austria etc. I share his deep frustration.

The arsonists walk among us pretending to bring common sense and empathy, because “one should be allowed to say this after all, and high-time too”. They don’t go by the names of Schmitz or Eisenring, but it doesn’t take Max Frisch to point them out. The arsonists walk among us pretending it is some mythical Other that will take “what is Ours” and who will burn our house and institutions down. The arsonists walk among us, luring us with reactionary nostalgia for a country and a time that has never existed. It will be those arsonists however that end up setting things alight, not any ‘Other’.

The question is how much of a Herr Biedermann I will be, you will be, we will be, before we learn to send the arsonists packing.

Do we even know anymore how to do that?

The Burning of the houses of Parliament, October 16, 1834
The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, Oct 16 1834, by J M W Turner. Image by Pete Jelliffe, CC-BY-SA