What is the difference between fear and confidence

The duty to be confident

In a world of populist pessimism and the threat of terrorism, determined hope is a necessary resistance. A plea for rebellious serenity in the face of an epidemic of fear.

By Matthias Horx
(End of 2016, after the Trump election)

A few days after Trump's election victory, a wonderful scene took place in a Manhattan subway station. The artist Matthew Chavez staged the "Subway Therapy" - all those who were shocked and confused by Trump's election victory were able to express their feelings in small post-its. The experience: There is warmth, empathy, confidence when we open up and reveal one another.

An ancient Christian message is: "Do not be afraid!" In the panic-hysterical mood of our day, this message is highly topical. Because aggressive populism is based on the fundamental statement that EVERYTHING is getting worse and worse. A world context of negativity, distrust, the impossibility of the future is constructed. At the center of this construct is fear as a driving force. Fear that has become independent, however, always generates a claim to power, never productive cooperation. What's the alternative?

The possibilities that lie in the future are infinite. When i say "It is our duty to remain optimists", this includes not only the openness of the future but also that which all of us contribute to it by everything we do: We are responsible for what the future holds in store.
Karl Popper, The Myth of the Framework, 1994

May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.
Nelson Mandela

The photographer Sebastião Salgado looks at us with a look that allows us to look into the depths of the human soul. Of all living people, Sebastião Salgado probably looked deepest into the depths of human existence.

In “Salt of the Earth”, a documentary film by Wim Wenders, the entire life of the famous world photographer is traced. For decades, Sebastião Salgado was on the move in every terrible conflict on earth. For months he lived with the starving and dying in the Sahel zone. He was a witness to the Rwandan genocide. He photographed the famous gold mines of Serra Pedal, where tens of thousands gave their lives for a drop of gold. He visited the killing fields of Mozambique and Cambodia. Sebastião Salgado has experienced and accompanied such unspeakable suffering that no soul would be enough to cope with it.

At some point around the turn of the millennium, Salgado was finished. He almost died on the front lines of the endless Congolese Civil War. He got sick and could no longer eat, drifted into a deep burnout crisis, and from there straight into a manifest depression. It placed itself in the hands of psychologists and therapists. But his condition barely improved.

Sebastião Salgado, after everything he had experienced, had every right to despair of the world. But he withdrew to the place where he grew up as a child. To the "Fazenda", a 300-hectare farm owned by his father, who still lived there in old age. But the apocalypse had triumphed there too. Deforestation, erosion and drought had turned the once blooming woodland into a dusty karst wasteland, where cattle died and the water dried up.

Salgado's father was an incorrigible optimist willing to sacrifice the present for the future of his children. "I got 100,000 for the trees," says the father in an interview. “After all, Sebastião and his seven sisters had to go to university!”

After two years of retreating into this sad wasteland, Salgado began to reforest the hills and valleys of his childhood home. He planted tree nurseries, planted 4 million trees, dug wells, dug irrigation ditches, built dams and had fertile soil brought in. Today the forest recaptured the farm. Hundreds of animal species have returned. Springs gush, brooks flow; even the first waterfalls have formed again - a healthy jungle has emerged, a living ecotope. Years after the death of his father, Salgados Facenda is now a natural paradise - a miracle!

Is Sebastião Salgado an incorrigible optimist? Or a desperate pessimist who needed therapy? Perhaps Salgado just understood that at some point you have to decide which side you are on. Especially when you see the depth of suffering that comes with life. On the side of the problem. Or the solution. On the side of the doubt. Or of courage. On the side of fear. Or confidence.

The offer of fear

Hate populism, like terrorism, calls on us to be afraid - and to define the future in perspective. Fear of loss of status. Fear of strangers. Fear of being betrayed by "elites". Fear of unknown forces who stage sophisticated conspiracies. The semantic core of this fear is the basic assumption, that it is never enough for everyone. We have to distinguish between "them" and "us" "because the world is scarce.

When we are afraid, our body pours out signals from the amygdala, the "existential gland" in our brain stem, adrenaline, but also the precursors of dopamines and endorphins - reward substances. Fear acts like a neuromolecular carrot in front of your nose: Make an effort - if you can do it, you will be rewarded! As a power fantasy, fear turns into pure euphoria: In the common roar, in the intoxicating we-feeling, those archaic forces are set free with which our great-great ancestors defended themselves against enemies.

Populism takes up these age-old mechanisms. Fear is contagious and at the same time socially integrating: fearful people communicate easily and quickly. In a state of anxiety, our perception of small gestures and details of facial expressions is massively increased. Because for our ancestors in the savannahs and jungles of the world it was important to be able to coordinate quickly in dangerous situations. Fear creates a kind of intimate familiarity. That is why there is deep solidarity in war. This is why people who are afraid of fear feel so close to each other.

"Don't we have to be afraid?" - This suggestive question, which is constantly being asked by the moderators in every talk show today in order to keep the spiral of excitement going, points to the legitimation character of fear: Those who are afraid identify themselves as legitimate victims of "society" - his feelings are taken to be "true". Those who are afraid are now automatically right because their subjective feelings cannot be wrong.

All of this makes fear of the mental superpower that currently seems to be turning our societies upside down. Those who make fear the center of the political define the code of society in their own way. He has power over the feelings, he can pursue legitimate power strategies that serve his own advantage, but pretend to be generous and grandiose. The fearful often choose those as leaders who are guaranteed not to care. They identify with the coldness of power because it allows them to escape the unbearable warmth of their own fear.

The matrix of trust

The core of all society is trust, and the more complex a society becomes, the more important this mysterious resource becomes. The systems sociologist Niklas Luhmann put it: “Trust is a mechanism for reducing social complexity”. We trust that courts will try to do justice. We trust that everyone obeys basic rules in traffic - and that as few people as possible are injured or killed. That politicians make an effort to shape social change. We trust that food in supermarkets is not toxic. That doctors do their best. That journalists strive for the truth.

Of course we KNOW that all of this cannot be assumed always and everywhere. A breach of trust is part of trust, legality would not be possible without criminals, and without the possible failure of politics there would be no democracy. Trust only works through the possibility of failure. Yes, there is corruption - but there is also an attempt to expose it. There are lazy, selfish politicians - but they will not be re-elected. There is sometimes poison in food, but tests and scandals can fix it. A complex society with its multitude of "checks and balances," of arguments and compromises, can improve the situation. Even if there may be setbacks and sometimes only slow progress. There is a practical hope that things will get better.

That is the confidence in the future that forms the mental basis of a complex society; the basis of progress. Trust only arises in practice - as an experience of give and take, of lively cooperation. precisely in the diversity. Couples must constantly refresh their love through gestures and deeds if the relationship is not to fail. The economy needs innovations that actually bring something to the customer.

Politics also needs innovations (although in a complex culture these will never satisfy all groups at the same time). Trust is the result of a creative relationship process based on the acceptance of DIFFERENCE: precisely BECAUSE everyone is different, unequal, they can and must communicate. Civilization is the moderation of INEQUALITY: The employee trusts the entrepreneur. The poor and unemployed tell the state that they are not left without help. The cultural majority trust the minority to learn new interesting things about themselves - for example in cultural differentiations.

Hate populism - or terrorism - now attacks the substance of trust directly - with viciousness. He claims that ALL social relationships are rotten and rotten, based on lies, obsolete and to be replaced by ONE monocausal structure ("The People", "The Power"). In this way it should become "clear" what was differentiated. Populist fear politics invalidates evidence of trust with the stroke of a pen. It defines politicians as "corrupt gangs" and cuts out individual groups from the diversity of society to which it gives a victim myth or a guilt stigma. So it works like the dementors from the Harry Potter sagas: it sucks the energy of trust from society and creates dark matter of aversion and resentment from it.

The principle of malice

When right-wing populism is mentioned, it is always about hatred. But hate is a temporary feeling, one affect. One can only have hatred and anger as a fit, after a certain time - usually seconds - the affection disappears. The many trolls in the network usually just let off steam - and then probably sit down and relax for dinner.

Populism is not dangerous because it articulates anger, but because, as a destructive communicative strategy, it seeks to destroy the basis of all society: conversation. His malice is not in his feelings, but in his strategy.

Conversation is the basis of all social cooperation. For eons of years people have sat around campfires (or tables, round and square) and talked. A conversation always has a questioning character. When we communicate with other people, we want to know something that we do not yet know. People are able to empathize with each other's feelings. This "theory of mind" effect is the most precious legacy of human evolution. Cooperative systems that protect, nourish us and give us love and joy are based on this basic ability to communicate empathy.

Speaking is always learning: we broaden our horizons to include that of the other. This creates cognitive gains that can be socialized - as shared knowledge and trust capital that becomes cooperation. This also applies if the conversation is controversial and does not lead to any direct result - the mere fact that we TRY, that we EFFECT, creates a noticeable social surplus. This creates what game theorists call a "non-zero-sum" game: a non-zero-sum game in which there are no losers, even if not all get the SAME profit.

Aggressive-populist, i.e. malicious communication, is now aimed precisely at the core of human interaction. You can feel this malevolence immediately when a populist is in a discussion group. You feel that he is assuming that the dialogue has no MEANING. Rather, the goal is to destroy the other argument. The belittling. The dominance. Strictly speaking, it is a refusal to communicate: it is about denying the legitimacy of the other person's speech. The well-known but difficult to stop means are used for this: the suggestion of a palatable "we" against "you". The causalization of phenomena that do not really belong together (conspiracy logic). The grotesque exaggeration of problems. Claiming the majority opinion ("We, the people, thinks ..."). Populist evil is a power strategy disguised as communication.

As resonant social beings, we cannot believe that someone is communicating with us who is actually not communicating. We don't want to believe that. We'd love to convince. That's why we sit spellbound. But the more we try, the more we fall into the trap of negativity set up by the populist.

All the more scandalous is the fact that the classic media, above all television, have long been using the populist code of malice as a daily means - and that is what makes it powerful. More and more people are invited to the talk shows of ARD and ZDF who use devaluation strategies to generate excitement, i.e. attention, i.e. quota. The actual task of such discussions, finding and discovering a new social future, is thus sabotaged. The talk show editors, in their fear of quotas, make themselves the bailiffs of the evil that wants to destroy the fine web of social discourse from within.

Reject the conflict offer

How should, how can we react to the dark power? Harry Potter has already asked this question, and indeed the answer to populism is a real Dumbledore question: How can you defeat the monster if you cannot face it head-on, because doing so only strengthens it ceaselessly?

One possibility would be: not to play the game.

Philipp Karch, the conflict researcher and leadership coach, teaches in his courses in the »School of Life«, the life school of the philosopher Alain de Botton, that every conflict is ultimately based on the acceptance of an OFFER: Couples argue if they decide to that it pays to see things completely differently - instead of passing over them with kindness or generosity. Pilots go on strike when they feel that they are existentially undervalued. We don't argue until we decide to ACCEPT the conflict.

Controversy is a high form of affection. We should give it to those we believe have something to add.

I myself have been repeatedly invited to talk shows that were supposed to deal with »future problems« (but actually only about the »problem« of whether we shouldn't »be afraid!«). I haven't been going there since I knew how populist refusal to communicate makes talking about the future impossible. Whether Sarah Wagenknecht or Frauke Petry try to reduce the world to rudimentary simplicity is completely irrelevant. Talk show moderators today are more like the trainers, the coaches, the stirrup holders of the populist game.

Populists hate nothing more than that you don't care. Wouldn't it be a good idea to let the populists argue UNDER YOURSELF? Immediately the fear arises: will they not then multiply endlessly? Not exactly! It is no accident that right-wing parties are prone to self-destruction. Non-communication, if left to stew in its own juice, leads to a process of deconstruction. Evil needs something that is still intact and that can destroy it.

The second possibility: In an environment coded for fear, we choose the denial of fear as a rebellious act. In a speech at the Ruhrtriennale, the political scientist Esra Küçük spoke of COURAGE NOT TO BE AFRAID.

The beautiful German word Zuversicht has a steep career ahead of it. Confidence is a more active, more vital attitude than hope, which (above all) has the intention of comforting us. Hope, said Francis Bacon, is a good breakfast but a bad dinner. Without confidence, said the systems sociologist Niklas Luhmann, we can't even get out of bed in the morning. It is therefore neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but POSSIBILISTIC. Those who are confident are not looking for a fixed result, they only trust themselves to deal with the possibilities.

Above all, confidence includes that precious quality that is completely negated in populist ideology: self-efficacy. That people can take their lives and their affairs into their own hands - this idea is for the hate populist like garlic is for the vampire. Because he NEEDs people's lack of independence for his power operations.

Confidence sees the world - and its shapeability - from the future. She is not fixated on the problem that stares at it, but is interested in solutions. It does not ask about what should be "abolished", but about the genuine forces that we can strengthen.

At the beginning of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant saw himself as an apologist for this practical hope. In his four paradigmatic questions he relied, among other things, on the idea of ​​what we are entitled to HOPE. Let's pursue this question from today's, current point of view:

Six good reasons why we can be confident:

  1. The complexity of modern societies is more robust than we think.
    In public speaking, social complexity is mostly confused with "complexity". The complexity of the world appears to us to be fragile, everything has to become “somehow easier”, and populism seems to legitimately represent this concern. But it is the complexity itself that offers the key to the future, because only complex systems are creative, adaptive and changeable. Complexity creates beauty and intelligence. Complexity creates resilience and emergence - the ability to create new orders in response to crises. Modern societies are incredibly complex. Their diversity and internal networking is so breathtaking that they can neither be described in ONE algorithm nor changed in ONE command regime.

    Why are the radical right so angry? Because in the end they always have to lose! In contrast to the actually polarized industrial societies of the early 20th century, today it is the diversity that forms the basic social code. Even the toughest right-wing man will not let his right to Thai food be taken away. What is productive is what is diverse. We no longer live in an arbitrarily malleable class society with millions of unemployed and traumatized people, as we did after the First World War. Fascist formation processes have become practically impossible - unless one strives for a political hunger system a la North Korea. If only because the people are too comfortable to march permanently.

  2. We can hope that crises will have paradoxically positive effects.
    We all know this in personal life: only crises suddenly open up progress that otherwise would not have taken place. Seldom does love grow beyond stagnation if it is not challenged by temptation. Companies rarely introduce real innovations when the balance sheet is (too) good. Democracy is the complex result of "failed states" in the course of history. Disturbances are always what improve the systems. Evolutionary catastrophes created today's biodiversity. Good technology is the product of accidents. And times of crisis are often associated with great creativity. This reflects evolutionary laws: When environmental stress arises, the mutational ability of the species explodes. In all systems, including social ones, there is an undeniable tendency towards self-healing through turbulence. And maybe the populist crisis is just one MORE of this turbulence ...
  3. We can be confident that even big problems will be surprisingly solved.
    Anyone who grew up in the Cold War can still well remember the feeling of apocalyptic hopelessness in the face of threatening nuclear weapons arsenals. Then came AIDS, the “mega-epidemic that must push the world into the abyss”, as it was called in newspaper comments in the 1980s. AIDS is not "solved" today, but dealing with the epidemic has had a paradoxical effect. Instead of pushing homosexuals to the margins of society, as was feared, AIDS triggered a wave of empathy that led to the cultural integration of homosexuals.

    The example of "Global Warming" could follow the same pattern. Precisely BECAUSE so much attention is drawn to the problem of global warming through ideological controversies, and precisely BECAUSE cynical rulers and powerful lobbies declare the problem to be "null and void", this leads to a massive counter-movement. The good is often formed and sharpened in resistance to the ignorant. Spontaneous new orders often arise from chaotic movements. Today it is easy to see a turbulent transition from the mono-structure of American globalization to the multipolar world order. Despite all prophecies of doom, it is not certain that this future must automatically be a worse, more fragile one. Trump's chaotic political style could also productively mix up many frozen political forms - from which his successors in particular will benefit.

  4. We can hope that the positive interconnectedness of the world is irreversible.
    Parag Khanna, a political scientist and »connectographer«, recently showed in a TED lecture a breathtaking cartography of the REAL interconnectedness of the world. The fine mesh of roads and waterways that connect the world is overlaid by the infrastructures of energy, above which the mesh of communications has conquered the world. These neo-global structures have long since run across all national borders and form their own "transglobal" pattern.

    Millions of contacts, connectoms between people from different cultures have left an impact. Migration flows are part of human history. Today we may perceive supranational organizations like the UN or UNHCF as weak. Nevertheless: Transnational networks of ideas like TED can move people's minds more than all the assemblies of nationalist concrete minds put together. If we include the SPIRITUAL, the planetary echo space has long since become cosmopolitan. And this is where the Internet shows its other side: It is not just a vessel for hatred, but also a medium of connection. Nationalism, which wants to narrow these borders back into walls, can indeed achieve success in individual regions of the world, but it will not be able to establish itself as a dynamic world principle, as in the second half of the 19th century.

  5. Local intelligence shows how the future is going.
    In the poetic scene piece “The Age of Anxiety” by W. H. Auden, four people sit in a late-war bar (1944) in New York. Four lost, with the horrors of world history in their luggage. Everything begins gloomy, hopelessly the horror of wars seems to determine the future and separate people. How are these forces of evil ever supposed to be overcome? But then, after a few days of agonizing self-questioning, the protagonists begin to understand that fear can be defeated. By strengthening the inner bonding forces, the concrete sympathy and love for one another, in the here and now.

    Auden develops the principle of local intelligence - or local understanding. Marshall McMc Luhan's “Act Local, Think Global” sounds similar. If we look at the world in the concrete here and now, it suddenly appears from the perspective of coping. Everything makes sense when we look at it from the concrete to the larger. It is everyday life, the little things that give the world the stability of the future.

  6. There is an incredible amount of goodness and success.
    And finally there is simply the amazed look at reality: How diverse, lively, hopeful can big cities be - especially when they appear rough and create inequality! How amazingly well many companies work! How much cooperation there is! Those who look out into the world with keen eyes discover another truth beyond the "post-factual": How much terrible does NOT happen! How many more terrorist attacks could there be, how many divorces do NOT take place, how many accidents have been prevented! The fact that 40,000 passenger planes take off and land every day is not worth reporting, but it is still a miracle.

    The world is not getting worse and worse. It is slowly getting better. World poverty has halved in recent years. The victims of natural disasters have become much rarer, as have famine and - it is hard to believe - even the number of war victims is falling worldwide. 92 percent of all children in the world go to school today. Despite all the crises and horrors, there is a "net gain in progress". If you don't believe that, look into the work of global statisticians Hans Rosling or Max Rosen - see www.gapminder.org and https://ourworldindata.org.

    Those who think in terms of the future do not deny the negative, but say goodbye to the catastrophic expectation of salvation, which sees in every shadow the evidence of the victory of darkness. The "Next Society" has long been underway. We just have to learn to look in new ways.

  7. The other look

    When astronaut William Anders on board Apollo 8 pointed his camera at the craters of the moon on Christmas Eve 1968, he was a bit bored. Apollo 8 was the first spacecraft to leave Earth's gravity and enter a lunar orbit. The astronauts were asked to photograph the moon's craters and dusty deserts to find a landing site for the lunar module. After two days a certain routine had developed. The dead landscapes of the moon passed endlessly under the capsule.

    Anders suddenly saw a white glow on the moon horizon out of the corner of his eye. He turned the camera. And made the famous Earthrise recording with the serial number AS8-14-2383HR rather accidentally. And suddenly it was there - the first image of the earth FROM THE OUTSIDE - the image that should change all perspectives.

    In the roaring radio sound in which the helmet microphones were transmitted to the Houston ground station, the voice of Commander Frank Borman could be heard:
    "Oh my God! Look at this picture there! The earth rises here! "

    Since then we have known that we are ONE species - Earth people. We know that all differences - social, cultural, mental - are basically CONSTRUCTIONS. That everything is related to everything. That we are inseparable from a certain perspective.

    Of course, we are constantly overwhelmed by this knowledge. Because it contradicts - initially - our archaic, tribal heritage. It makes it unclear who belongs to us, or more precisely: who does NOT belong to us. In response, we produce new divisions: Left versus Right, Old versus Young, Labor versus Capital, Down versus Up. That clears the world, and that's why the polar simplifications are so beguiling, so universally available, so SIMPLE. But we all have a choice to make. In our personal life, in love, in work, in everyday life. Do we act as fearful beings or as future beings?

    Duty to be confident means that we recognize this responsibility. And learn to see the world with new eyes. Steve Grand, an artificial intelligence researcher, put it:

    “We got a lot of things pretty wrong, but we're starting to look at the world in radically new ways - dynamic, non-linear, self-organizing. A lot of great ideas are about turning the outside in and vice versa - just like our ancient religions did during the Enlightenment. "

    So let's be grateful to hate populism. It gives us a chance to re-understand ourselves as perspective people. Nelson Mandela said, "May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears." No power in the world, no matter how malicious, malicious, denouncing, can relieve us of this responsibility. The external enemy of populism is really our internal enemy, our internal darkness. Let's go into our newly planted forest with Sebastião Salgado and feel his joy when he hears the rushing streams that he himself has created. Let's embrace the fullness of the world.

    I look forward to reprints or links to my texts - please contact Mag. Michaela Németh: [email protected]