EU election & Ibiza Gate – a 2000 year old history

Dear voters, dear decision makers.

It is not your fault, it is in human nature to prioritise personal fear and advantage over common good. The EU election has taken place a week after the dreadful Ibiza Gate when the telling attitude of the main face of Austrian´s populist right wing party showed the world how power works: not with democratic votes or content, or let alone an original ideology, but through financial investment and media control. This ugly video recorded in Ibiza was causing the meltdown of the Austrian government literally over night – the notorious vice-chancellor and culprit (not victim!) HC Strache and all FPÖ ministers were forced to step down, including the highly criticised Interior minister and FPÖ mastermind Herbert Kickl. A week later the signals from the voting ballots are not much reflecting this outrage, unfortunately. France favoured the right-wing RN of LePen, and Savini stayed strongest in Italy. After not much of clarification and young conservative chancellor Kurz is clinging to his chair till today trying to sound cool and look relaxed, a kind of fake facade and indecent cheerfulness. He triumphed somehow on the same day and remained the strongest faction with the ÖVP in the EU election sorting out power in the European parliament – on the same day the parliament voted him out of office in an impeachment on base of “distrust”, the first one in Austrian parliamentary history, the first one of 185. It is a vote against a solitary decision, a singular way, a vote against acting alone.

The EU election has been a signal in my view that people are craving for stability – no matter what, and no matter who is promising it to them. There seem to have been not much backlash that Kurz was diving into political rally mode immediately rather than apologising that he made a pact with the devil. Inviting this troupe of chaos, racism and spinelessness to form a government and proposing changes in law was a catastrophe for the republic. It was obviously a mistake, but he is not alone in this, he still gets support. The gain was high and the advantages too good to make one party, one designed politician great, no matter what that means for Austria. It is what Titus Livius has observed in Rome´s history…

You are not alone, even though a lot of comedians in Europe appear to sing about exactly the opposite. We are not alone, and only the paradox of the rise of nationalistic tendencies in a united Europe, Brexit drama & Co. exposes this ignorance deriving from spoiled egocentric and tooled individualism which serves markets, rather than people. Polls for filter bubbles create yield for extreme parts of the (largely moderate) European spectrum, sneering on the notion of “togetherness”, but in the end all what we want is just feeling not alone. Well, this is, with all dear respect, dear voter for divisive action, a big mistake and you get tricked,…pardon, you trick yourself.

Alone, you are alone and the world has become a BIG place since 1760 or 50 BC, a highly interconnected and interdependent one. Earth is a planet, not a nation or region. Singular nations are social constructs, but there are no borders perceivable from orbit and the walls created in the “interwebs” and in physical places may rather come across like grasping straws, isolation deriving from fear and social control. Fear because people could start to understand each other. Masses could start to become angry because they are being played and tricked by the ones in power who thrive financially as long as nobody is responsible and global multi-national trade and finance industry has its way behind politics. Meanwhile peoples incomes and job prospects are stagnating while prices and the population are rising. Divide et impera.

The majority rules in modern democracies, not comedians – but wait a minute, actually a LOT OF comedians, professional ones are successful politicians nowadays. Jón Gnarr (Iceland), Beppe Grillo (Italy), Volodymyr Zelenksy (Ukrainia) – and activists like Jan Böhmermann and Russell Brand. That is a bad sign for professional politicians – like a king should be concerned if the subjects are demanding the joker to become king. The joker´s job at the court is speaking the truth, but somewhat being protected as he is not taken seriously, a person without power, only dwelling in the temporary power of truth, always on the border of falling from grace – and loosing his head.

O tempera, o mores, the joker may say, sadly. Always true, always not really funny.

The foundation of this post, this rant for “togetherness” (in German “Zusammengehörigkeit” but also “Zweisamkeit”) are two quotes (actually three) – one contemporary, which will come at the end, one from about 260 years ago and the other from 2000 years ago, about 50 years before Christ. Knowledge could help to not repeat history, as we are blindly walking into the traps of human nature, without the conscious choice to overcome our flaws for a greater good – and gather more humility on the way.

The Memoires of Giacomo Casanova cannot be recommended more highly, much more for his social and political observations than for its erotic content. In the periphery of the illustrious people Casanova dealt with in his adventurous life, one might recount his stays in Switzerland and meeting a family Muralt (specially one of the daughters) again in London in 1763 which he knew from being on the road. This Bern official Johann Bernhard von Muralt was writing a recommendation letter for the Venetian alchemist and libertine to pave the way to a famous Swiss scientist even though he was not sure what to make of Casanova. The person addressed is Albrecht von Haller, a name which should not be forgotten, as he published over 50’000 pages of mainly scientific texts in high quality as well as books in a vast field of research as an anatomist, physiologist, naturalist, encyclopedist, bibliographer and poet. For example, everyone has experience with one structure of the human body: the nipple – and a network of venes underneath which does bear his name, as he described it anatomically for the first time in a methodological manner: Circulus venosus mamillae Halleri 

This giant of European intellectualism, the so called “father of physiology” was meeting with Casanova after reading what his friend wrote by hand while also musing about the election process of a Military official to be appointed by the townhall of Bern which he was involved in, also sporting some universal criticism:

… that with regret I think of the beautiful passage of Titus Livius: Factio, et rerum privatarum respectus, semper offecere et semper officiare consiliis publicis (The division into parties and the consideration of the advantage of the individual are always harming the decisions for the commons and always will harm them. “Titus Livy, II, 30, 2) May we wish each other always peace and to console ourselves that people have always been and will be the same, and that things are are run in the same way elsewhere as well as here and here in the same way as elsewhere.

Johann Bernhard von Muralt an Albrecht Haller, 21. Juni 1760, Bern Burger-bibliothek

[orig.: “…daß ich mich mit Bedauern an die schöne Stelle bei Titus Livius denke: Factio, et rerum privatarum respectus, semper offecere et semper officient consiliis publicis (Die Spaltung in Parteien und die Rücksicht auf den Vorteil des einzelnen schade den Entscheidungen für die Allgemeinheit immer und werden ihnen auch immer schaden. Titus Livius , II , 30, 2) Wir wollen uns immer Frieden wünschen und zu unserem Trost daran denken, daß die Menschen immer die gleichen waren und sein werden, und daß die Dinge anderswo ebenso wie hier und hier wie anderswo laufen. “

my translation from German. Found in

  • Giacomo Casanova “Geschichte meines Lebens”, übersetzt von Heinz von Sauter von der Urfassung, Ausgabe mit Anmerkungen und Bildtafeln, Propylän Verlag 1964, Neuausgabe Ullstein Verlag 1985, Band 5-6 S. 345]
  • Titus Livius quote from his “Ab Urbe Condita / History of Rome” written about ~2050 years ago

The letter is found by the researchers of Casanova´s story and is not usually found in other editions, specially not by the widely adopted earlier translation from French by Laforgue (1826-1838), who was not always on spot and changed the text to its detriment in numerous passages. Why is this telling might be obvious. Without the taste of what people knew and could refer to 300 years ago connecting to the writing of people even further down in history, one might assume we are alone in this future evolution of politics and deception. No, we are not. The times of campfires (internet) and storytelling (posts? journalism? e-books? tweets, music…anyone?) are not over, they just evolved around the same human flaws. The best and shortest summary of what happens right now I have found in a small book by a contemporary author from New York, Douglas Rushkoff. He deals largely with the digital evolution and tries to pinpoint this transformation and what is may mean for society:

In the more immediate sense, facts devoid of context are almost impossible to apply sensibly. They become the fodder for falsely constructed arguments of one side or other of the social or political spectrum. The single vote of a politician is used to describe his entire record, a single positive attribute of caffeine or tobacco receives attention thanks to public relations funding and a picture of a single wounded child turns public opinion against one side of a conflict rather than against war itself.

Both sides in a debate can cherry-pick the facts that suit them – enraging their constituencies and polarising everybody. In a digital culture that values data points over context, everyone comes to believe they have the real answer and that the other side is crazy or evil. Once they reach this point, it no longer matters that the opposing side´s facts contradict one´s own: True believers push through to a new level of cynicism where if the facts are contradictory, it means they are all irrelevant. The abundance of facts ends up reducing their value to us.

As a result, we tend to retreat into tribes, guided primarily by our uninformed rage And we naturally hunger for reinforcement. Television news shows rise to the occasion, offering shouting matches between caricatured opposites competing for ratings. Elected officials are ridiculed as “wonks” for sharing or even understanding multiple viewpoints, the history of an issue, or its greater context. We forget that these are people we´re paying to learn about these issues on our behalf. Instead, we overvalue our own opinions on issues about which we are ill informed, and undervalue those who are telling us things that are actually more complex than they look on the surface. They become the despised “elite”.

[Douglas Rushkoff, Program or be Programmed, Soft Skull Press, 2010 p. 66f]

Let´s celebrate context.

Let´s be joyfully this “elite” and not shy away from knowing some references about a certain subject or theme. Not all is novel, not all brushed away by innovation. We need now human trust and and people with a backbone, who´s judgements are open and unclouded – as good as it gets. The confusion which has set in and which gets exploited by populism of all sides can only be fought by thinking clearly and in a multi-lateral way – so that a majority is profiting from progress, not just a small minority of “proprietors”, the rich and powerful in the shadows.

With regret I think of beautiful passages.

May we wish each other always peace, dear friend and voter for the common good – there are interesting times ahead, indeed.



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