Down to Earth!

Until mid-September an art exhibtion was shown In Berlin with the above title. The echo in the media was restrained, and focussed mostly on the fact that in spite of the heat wave hitting the city there was no air-conditioning, and only electricity as far as the solar panels of the building permitted.

While this was an interesting feature, more important was the overall orientation of the exhibits, and the theme which was pursued, namely to give our earth and its resources their due and the respect which they, as our habitat and basis for our existence, deserve.

Arguably not all works shown were making it easy to read this message. But what was easy to understand was that this is a global requirement, and a topic for all artistic modes of expression: paintings, drawings, sculptures, talk, dance and music.

Participating artists came from all corners of the globe, although many live currently in Berlin.

In this period of our planet’s life, human intervention has become the determining force. We either can protect and care for our planet and its resources, or we can exhaust them. Which way we shall turn has become indeed the central issue of our time. For instance, climate change has many causes, but certainly also those caused by human activity. We can either reduce the impact of human intervention, or we continue as usual and thus accelerate climatic change. At the moment it looks that we are globally headed for the latter. But ……

Quo vadis, people on this globe?

There is a growing number of scientists, civil society organisations and political parties, who are focussed on the destructive trends and what to do to reverse them. Clearly, for these views to carry the day a change in our perspective of how we look at the globe is needed.

This advocated change of perspective defines the earth and its resources as a sovereign entity, which is higher ranking than all human societies and nation states, in which we live. In spite of all existing differences the challenges remain the same. Admittedly, the same challenge will hit us differently. Climate change causing floods and forest fires will destroy the houses and other possessions of some, but in other cases it will cost people their livelihood. To exercise social distancing during a pandemic is easier if I have a second residence in a rural setting, than if I am a member of a family living in a two-bedroom apartment.

I believe with such a perspective change, politics become exciting again. It is no longer a question to preserve what we have achieved, and to carry on with business as usual, assuming that after us the deluge is of no concern to us. It is now a question of accepting hard facts, to discard fake news as irrelevant, to seek always, in spite of all differences between us, the common ground, and to balance individual freedom and the common good.

Individual freedom and common good – mutually exclusive?

Very often, these two values are seen as irreconcilable. But are they really? In my view they are at the opposite end of a continuum, and in real situations we need to find the golden middle. Preferably through negotiations and agreements. Winner takes all, the stronger party wins, provocations and violence are in this scenario no longer the desired norm and part of the political toolkit. Can we achieve this? At the moment it does not look this way, but……..

Let’s fight!

Rational insights and measured views can only be achieved, if we engage. Besides, we need a perspective and a goal which reaches beyond daily politics. A good example is Willy Brandt’s policy (Ostpolitik) towards the Soviet Union and West Germany’s eastern neighbours throughout the 1950s,60s,70s and early 1980s! He was not to reap the benefits of his engagement, but his policy succeeded in the end!

By comparison, goal and perspective for our current problems are infinitely more complex. We have to act beyond nation states, both internationally and nationally, we have to engage individually, but reign in egotistical behaviour, we have to accept and tolerate social and cultural differences, ensure that the state has the monopoly of armed forces, and at the same time we have to constantly be vigilant, that no abuse of power by state authorities occur. All this we have to do with attaining verifiable results, admit mistakes and errors, in order to correct them.

As I mentioned earlier, the evolving perspective of one world, which is our habitat, renders politics exciting again. As citizens we have to judge politicians how well they respond to this perspective. We can choose our individual lifestyle in line with this perspective, in order to give human decency a chance. We can take with us from the neoliberal era, that we are individually responsible for ourselves and our community. This responsibility can be carried out in many different ways. It is not the way which counts, but the pursuit of a common goal.

Autor: Kerstin Leitner

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