Either agree with me or I’ll block you, unfriend you, cut your throat: What puts us under stress is not the hectic world. It’s an encroaching know-it-all attitude on both the left and the right.
"Me mine, you yours": Exhibit from Max Kersting’s series on opinion fatigue Photo: Max Kersting
Between 18, a streetcar rang in my hometown. 65 years after its demolition, there was an attempt to resurrect it as a modern "Citybahn". To this end, there was recently a referendum. Simple question: tramway, yes or no? The FDP was against it, the Greens were for it. Shopkeepers were against it, villa dwellers too. Cyclists were in favor, traffic planners too.
When the FDP is for something, no matter what, I’m usually against it. Here, however, I was indifferent. The proselytizing of both parties disgusted me. I never looked out of the window without seeing a poster for or against. There was no conversation with friends that didn’t bring up the subject of the streetcar at some point.
At the greengrocer’s it came to fisticuffs because a supporter wanted to make the brochures of the opponents displayed there disappear. "With some people," the vendor, an opponent, told me, "we have to avoid the subject." Shortly before the ballot, the local paper truthfully ran the headline, "Population Divided as Never!"
The imposition of constantly having to form an opinion on everything
I’m tired of opinions. Now it’s out. There is no need to apologize for it. I am righteously tired of opinions. If people are already quitting their friendship over a streetcar (yes or no?), then something is wrong. Fundamental.
I am tired of the opinions of other people, which are incessantly held under my nose, so that I accept or reject them. Therefore I would like to bring here also no opinion from own manufacture in circulation. There are already enough opinions. If I claim to be not completely alone with my opinion fatigue at the moment, this is only a well-founded assumption. Not an opinion.
I’m also tired of the imposition of constantly having to form my own opinions. On the climate crisis, on capitalism, on my smartphone’s operating system, on the U.S. elections, on the virus, on terrorism, on anti-Semitism, on Friedrich Merz, on the Greens, on asylum law, on Bushido, on racism, on satire, on the Bundesliga, on transpersons, on service in restaurants, on abortion law in Poland, on secularism in France, on Islamism in Turkey, on dogs or cats, on the streetcar.
The endless stream of perpetually updating phenomena.
And, and, and.
The list could be continued at will. It is as long as the endless stream of perpetually actualizing phenomena, events or facts to which I supposedly have to "relate". But it has never flowed as broadly and powerfully as it does today, covering the vast expanses of the political and seeping through a finely branched system of channels into the most private.
2020 was a high-water mark in this respect. And it will not get better by itself.
This stream has always been the source of the world. Anyone who is interested in the world does not want to remain unaffected by it. That is not the point. Nor is it about the feeling of being stuffed like a goose with news – rarely pleasant, sometimes apocalyptic – every second, so to speak. In our era of fiberglass-reinforced networking, time and space purr together. The business of excitement hums when it bangs.
"Increased irritability" as a headline over our present.
Those who are overwhelmed by this may retire to the wing chair with a meerschaum pipe and a "good book." Sooner or later, his opinion about pipe, book and armchair will come to light after all. Unless he slumbers in time. Then, when he wakes up, he will be able to rate his sleep on a scale of one to ten.
Anyone who permanently denies himself sleep, even in a figurative sense, will observe exactly those symptoms in himself from which entire societies now suffer. There are disturbances of perception and consciousness, apathy and depression. In addition, there is an "increased irritability" phenomenon that could almost be the headline of our present.
For example, I think the Catholic Church should have less influence on abortion law in Poland. I won’t be able to convince any Polish Catholic of that, and maybe she is quite nice anyway. Conversely, I can’t share the popular opinion of being a beneficiary of "structural racism." Also, I think Pink Floyd’s Animals album is more important than the entire genre of punk. I like eggs better hard boiled than soft. Maybe I’m nice anyway?
Every question is a Gretchen question
Opinions no longer tolerate opinions next to them. At the same time, our opinions are milked at every opportunity. Food, vacation, sex, literature. Every question is a Gretchen question. It is now almost impossible not to have an opinion on any given issue up one’s sleeve – which is then in turn subjected to critical evaluation, judged or condemned.
If you are looking for a reason for social divisions or splintering, you might find it here. In Gulliver’s Travels, the war between Lilliput and Blefuscu is ignited by the question of whether the egg should be cracked at the pointed or blunt end. We are not too far away from this satire.
Today it is not the intrusiveness of the world itself that puts us under stress. It is the all-round compulsion, around the clock, to form an opinion about it. And it is possibly this intrusiveness that drives whole societies into states of galloping or creeping defatigations.
Even the most outlandish opinion claims to be heard and respected
We are not "burned out," just tired.
2020 was the year when a great many tired individuals formed very interesting opinions and aggressively espoused them, because, after all, one’s opinions are supposed to be held, for example, on the pandemic. In 1999, social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger described the effect, named after them, that idiots in particular think they are geniuses: "If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent."
Less than two decades later, all the knowledge and nonsense of a world that has meanwhile become less than manageable is just waiting to be called up by a click. A circumstance that amplifies the Dunning-Kruger effect to a critical level. For every piece of bullshit there is "evidence" somewhere, and even the most outlandish opinion is entitled to be heard and respected.
In this respect, the journalistic equivalent of an island of happiness is the interview with Friedrich Kuppersbusch that appears every Monday in the taz. It traditionally starts with a pair of questions from "What was bad last week?" and "What will be better this week?", always ending with a bouncer question about the journalist and publicist’s favorite soccer club: "And what are Borussia doing?"
I mean, you get your
Between entry and exit, it’s like pointing a tennis ball machine at Kuppersbusch. Current questions about political or social events are fired off every second, and the man returns them in an original way. In fact, he receives the questions in a package. And he rarely needs more than a quarter of an hour to answer them.
The decisive sentence, however, is always rounded off. Online, you don’t see it; in print, it’s never missing, like a mantra: "I mean, you mean yours."
Nothing Kuppersbusch expresses demands agreement. His opinions don’t even necessarily provoke dissent. They are simply there, for your perusal. At most, they want to overwhelm through originality. Their owner will get over it if that fails. Next week there will be fresh opinions again, the tennis ball machine never stands still.
From the left as well as from the right, an encroaching know-it-all attitude prevails.
It is this playful composure that has been lost. Today, from both the left and the right, there is an encroaching know-it-all attitude, a resolute "I mean, you mean too – otherwise I’ll block you, unfriend you, cut your throat with a kitchen knife!"
It tires the fact that opinions are sent like fighting cocks into every little ring, with razor blades on their claws. It tires that the keepers of the most aggressive roosters have no attitude. Only stupid poultry, without whose flapping they would cease to exist.
But he who has an attitude does not need opinions at all in principle. He has an attitude towards the world that he does not have to continually try to accommodate by releasing fighting cocks. He who has an attitude is not to be offended or irritated by dissenting opinions. I mean, you yours.
He who has an attitude does not need opinions
It may even be that a well-reasoned opinion will convince him. What a true attitude is, that would not be shaken by it.
And sometimes it is appropriate to sleep a round. With a clear conscience. For the sake of our health, but also for the sake of society. It manages quite well without our opinions. Freedom of opinion also includes the freedom to simply not hold an opinion or, conversely, not even to reject irrelevant opinions, not even to take note of them. Now and then, we have more important things to do.
Possibly opinion fatigue is a good thing because it is vital. And not to be confused with postural fatigue. When we fall asleep, neural networks become disconnected from each other, we literally lose consciousness. But the brain, that is, posture as the citadel of my emotional intelligence and biographical imprint, continues to exist.
In the capitalist logic of exploitation, the nap is not provided for.
And this brain knows quite well what it dreams about and what it is afraid of. It knows quite well whom it can listen to and whom it can ignore. It knows by all means what it believes in and what it doubts. It knows by all means which sticks are worth jumping over. And it knows where to put its cross when the going gets tough. Above all, they know that the going gets tougher less often than they might think.
Only machines never sleep, algorithms do not snore, and the capitalist logic of exploitation does not provide for napping. Fatigue is a physiological and psychological state of exhaustion. It is a human need. We should give in to it more often again.
I mean, you yours.
I voted for the streetcar. And lost.