How does dialectic work in daily life

About freedomThe dialectical relationship between freedom and control

Incredibly, you can never have one without the other. No person is free who is not in control of himself. And no society is free in which the various authorities do not control each other. The tense unity of freedom and control is probably one of the most important engines of our cultural history.

The radio essay traces the history of the dialectical unity of control and freedom through politics and art, philosophy and everyday life in order to arrive in the digital present: where the greatest promises of freedom meet the most perfect surveillance and control techniques. And possibly say goodbye to each other with a bang. Markus Metz and Georg Seeßlen work as a team of authors for radio projects in Bavaria.

Part 2 on October 12, 2014



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Freedom is currently spoken of with great pleasure and often. However, very few think about what it actually is. Here with us you have freedom, you should appreciate it and be grateful. Elsewhere, people have less or almost no freedom. No free elections, no free press, no free choice, not in matters of taste and certainly not in matters of faith. What freedom is - you can see, feel and understand it best when it is taken away, suppressed or unjustly distributed somewhere.

Control is currently spoken of with pleasure and often. However, very few think about what it actually is. An adult is one who has himself under control, but also one who defends himself against too much external control. Democracy works when all persons and authorities who demand and exercise power are controlled by other persons and authorities. People function when they are in control of themselves. Technology is as good as we can control it. The urgent need for control can always be seen when someone or something gets out of control. This happens quite often, and in always unpredictable ways.

The basis for all of this is openness. The world in general, people's lives in particular, should become more transparent. The more you know about another, the more freedom you could give him, the more you could control him. The origin of the split between perception and relationship into freedom and control is knowledge. Every knowledge is a liberation and demands control.

Not releasing anything that is uncontrollable

Man does not want to release anything that becomes uncontrollable. Neither a new technology nor a new idea of ​​society. Control creates security. One could gain confidence in one's fellow human beings and one's environment from security. Lenin is supposed to have said that trust is good, control is better. As far as human interaction is concerned, trust would at least feel better than control. Control makes the controlled things submissive to us, but also makes us strange. We pride ourselves on the fact that we live in a controlled world: food, fire extinguishers, electrical connections, tax compliance, wrong parking, safety at work, pornographic images, speed ...

The Internet as a data collection point (dpa / picture alliance / Jan Woitas) Unthinkable if all of this was not properly controlled. One could no longer move freely in our cities and in our programs. But at the same time it causes more than unease when you know or at least suspect how Internet clicks, phone calls, purchases and vacation trips are monitored and registered by anonymous governmental or economic authorities. When surveillance cameras are pointed at us at every turn. When drones and satellites keep an eye on us. When someone always knows where we're going, driving, flying. The control technique, it seems, is out of control!

Control is a particular restriction on freedom - not necessarily through violence, not necessarily through terror, but rather through the ubiquity of overt and secret observations. The word control, derived from the French contrerolle, the second register that was created to check the actual register, comes from the 19th century and the bourgeoisisation and economization of life.

It no longer wants to express pure domination, but regulating mechanisms and principles of order that can develop from several sides and that have a multifunctional effect. If the ideal citizen claims of himself that he does not want to be master or servant, then he must in the place of domination and servitude, which are clearly enough defined and are always determined from eternity and for eternity, put the control that the the former master as well as the former servant.

It was hoped that those who have overcome rule and are now equals can also control themselves. The prerequisite for such control is, of course, the transformation of the world into quantities, and the subject of control does not say "I want" but "It must". The power that desires cannot control, because it simply takes what it wants, but the power that wants to increase.

The desire in the end for total control

Because control obviously tends to spread in space and time, in quantity and quality, in scope and technology. Obviously, in every type of control there is the desire to become more and more precise and sustainable, the absurd desire in the end: total control.

But freedom can also develop an urge to cross borders. Just like control, it can only be understood in terms of a dynamic. Freedom is much more a search than possession. As an experience, freedom is only possible in an act of liberation. In spite of the speeches of politicians and the wisdom of the philosophers, freedom is also a promise that only wants to be fulfilled in an ever-more, and which repeatedly turns out to be deceptive. Just as one can only achieve total control over systems, communities and people who are no longer alive, i.e. total control would mean the spiritual, emotional and even physical death of the controlled person, so total freedom would mean ruthless mutual annihilation.

The ancient archetype of democracy meant freedom for a manageable group of equal people in a polis - a city, a state, a society. All others - in Athens they were women, strangers and slaves - were, however, subjected to strict controls. But even this democracy from above, the freedom of a few equals, only worked as long as they could control each other. That seldom went well for a very long time.

And something else was subjected to strict control: the narrative, the myth, the establishment of one's own order, the legitimation. More than 2000 years later, all of this received the term discourse, which was quite popular for a while. The discourses negotiate what the majority think is reasonable, justified, useful, pleasant, and beautiful. Also what unites us and what divides us. Whoever masters the discourse also masters the people. Power does not only mean being able to restrict the freedom of other people, but also to determine what that actually is: freedom. And what kind of freedom is good and which is bad.

You have to live freedom

Even so, freedom is only what its subjects practice. You don't have freedom, you can only live it. Freedom is not just a privilege granted by birth and fate. Freedom has to be earned too. It is always a risk that some take and others don't. Conversely, lack of freedom would never be the fault of others alone, but also an expression of one's own failure. At least in this model, people have as much freedom as they trust themselves and as they fight for.

This becomes the beautiful story of the revolts: slaves who free themselves through their own strength and solidarity. Thus begins a second history of democracy: in addition to the democracy that is formed from above, the other that is fought for from below. From people who no longer want to endure their bondage.

History is full of terrible examples of what follows these beautiful dreams of freedom, which one dreams precisely when it is most drastically denied to one: the birth of a reign of terror from the spirit of liberation. Liberation from the yoke of a tyrant, which only puts another tyrant into office. Propagandistic rogue, driven by the concept of freedom. The only effective means of realizing freedom in the long term, of getting from the intoxication of liberation to a stable social system, is control.

It can be reduced to a simple denominator: Democracy is not just controlled freedom, democracy is above all freedom through control. The people control the government that controls them. The opposition controls the government, politics controls the economy, the economy controls work, and so on.

In a democracy, it is not just the individual powers that are as strictly separate as possible that control each other. It is not only constantly checked whether government action complies with the constitution. But there is another, the most comprehensive of all kinds of democratic control: control by a critical, free press, informed and politically educated public.

The public as the sovereign of the discourse

This public, which in a democracy should be the sovereign of the discourse like the people the sovereign of politics, is constantly changing its shape and its media. A public that is formed by the book is a different public than that formed by the newspaper. A public formed primarily by radio and television is different from that formed by digital information and social networks. The relationships between freedom and control must therefore be constantly renegotiated. Because, in a tricky way, the public not only fights with their media for the right relationship, the right distribution of freedom and control, but also in these media themselves about who can take liberties and who can exercise control.

At first it was the princes and the churches who wanted to secure control over the media of the discourse. They exercised censorship, distributed privileges or withdrawn them again, and in cases of doubt persecuted authors and publishers. After sovereign and state authorities had more or less withdrawn from control of the media, the free market itself took control. In a democracy and a free market economy, people are allowed to read, see and click whatever they want. Even if, as a rule, it is linked to economic interests, advertising and public relations, marketing and product aesthetics.

The mass media are operated with economic interest. (Jan Woitas, dpa) That is not always nice, sensible, moral, not even democratic, what forms discourses in this free public. There is therefore a remnant of the old censorship, protection of minors against abuse of violence and sexuality, for example, laws against hate speech, violations of human dignity and so on. And there is hope for a form of self-control, whether this is institutionalized or arises from a sense of responsibility on the part of the producers. Is voluntary self-control the solution or just a symptom of the contradiction between freedom and control?

In addition to the system of mutual control and the guarantee of fundamental rights to freedom in a democracy, the critical public is the essential instrument for achieving a meaningful and just relationship between control and freedom. It should ensure that freedom is fairly distributed and that control is used with measure and purpose.

Few people are of the opinion that this is working perfectly at this point in time. Three ways of explaining this. First, this public is no longer what it was once established. Too many interests and powers have established themselves in it that run counter to the original enlightenment and democratic goal. Second, the idea of ​​freedom has changed. Third, the techniques and goals of control have changed.

The feeling of enjoying more and more freedoms and at the same time being subject to more and more controls is certainly related to a decisive change in the concept of freedom, which is noticeable in the predominance of economy over politics and in the predominance of political economy over political philosophy. The ideal of positive freedom - namely that of participating in decisions in the state and society has given way to the ideal of negative freedom - namely that of being largely left in peace by state and society in order to do business and enjoyment at their own discretion to pursue.

Positive freedom is based on the state and citizens having an intensive relationship with one another. The negative freedom, on the other hand, that the state should stay out of the life of the individual as much as possible. While one could well be called liberal in the classical sense, the term libertarian has prevailed for the second.

Change towards the negative concept of freedom

Correspondingly, we can also speak of a change from the positive concept of control to a negative concept. The positive form of control in a democratic state arose through an agreement - through a constitution, for example - and said that the individual elements of the state in the separation of powers should control each other and then jointly come to control everything that affects citizens : Defense against enemies, organization of work, education, medical care; in the end, also the sphere of the economy and the market, which is primarily about compliance with important rules, without which a free play of supply and demand would not be possible.

The negative form of control, on the other hand, has itself become a commodity and a market instrument. Their power of disposal is no longer in the hands of democratic institutions. On the one hand, on the perhaps not so free market, in the hands of companies that have taken advantage of the rapid digital transformation. And on the other hand in the hands of opaque political institutions that are no longer subject to democratic control. This not only affects the secret services, police and military, but also a growing part of the statistical and psychopolitical service sector, among other things in the form of so-called "Behavioral Insights Teams" that apply neuromarketing and behavioral human control techniques to politics.

Many European governments, including the German one for some time, use such teams to generate desirable behavior among the population. Of course, this only works if you have precise information about this population in advance. In the traditional form of governance, control should become discipline - people who know they are controlled behave differently. In the new forms of soft power, the most comprehensive possible control based on data and photographic recording leads to a type of manipulation that has been evidenced by the harmless-sounding term "nudging".

The aim is to encourage people to do more for their health care, to agree to donate organs or to invest more in share-based retirement funds. Of course, the same techniques can also be used to try to swear a population to war or to make the abolition of civil rights for certain sections of the population palatable. In any case, citizens are neither free to defend themselves against nudging strategies, nor are they able to democratically control the relevant institutions.

A steady increase in instruments, institutions and techniques of control and power, which are aimed at restricting the freedom of citizens and which are beyond the control of the democratic public: actually a development that should make every conceivable alarm siren sound.

But so far there has been little more than one excitement about the American NSA tapping our Chancellor's cell phone calls. And the daily annoyance that every action on the Internet triggers a flood of advertising emails whose senders obviously know exactly what we have bought, what we are interested in, which is our favorite pasta and which is our sexual orientation.

Negative freedom does not seem too threatened by such control. Because each of these new forms of control begins with the promise to take people seriously as market participants and customers, to free them from annoying corridors and decisions, to give them completely new possibilities for movement and communication. The new instruments of control come in the form of games, purchase opportunities, social contacts for more or less good purposes, in short, they come in the form of simulated freedoms.

The dialectic of freedom and control dissolves

The dialectic of freedom and control is about to dissolve into a new duality: freedom can only be had in exchange for control. For example, car insurers offer a discount if the car is equipped with on-board electronic systems. If you want to enjoy mobile freedom with a middle income, you have to pay for it with a control of your driving style, a control of all your movements up to coffee and pee breaks. There is no longer a protected genital area for these new forms. Because the negative freedom that the company is aiming for barely knows the difference between private and public space. The new media have brought work, shopping, travel, experience, even politics, along with leisure activities, dream machines and simulation games into one's private sphere.

And, of course, also brings in the supervisory authorities.

Negative freedom has created a project of self-abolition: one wanted to keep the state out of all its business and all its pleasures - with the result that the state is now everywhere, but especially where it is still in its most authoritarian forms did not get there: in privacy. The state has never wanted so little from us (except, of course, our taxes); and never before has he known so much about us.

But it also pays a heavy price for control instruments to be on the market like other goods, like other services. Government is hardly democratically and critically controlled, fewer and fewer people take the trouble to vote at all, and there is less and less interest in political education and critical political journalism.

Intelligence services: exploitation of information monopolies (Patrick Seeger, dpa picture-alliance) At the same time, the rulers themselves are subjected to ever more meticulous personal control, through a form of publicity that seems more interested in scandals than in programs, more in questions of taste than in decisions.

The transparent citizen faces a no less transparent politician who will be careful not to show this public more than an external image controlled by advertising strategists and behavioral insights teams. It is difficult to say anything against such an intimated and subjective form of control, if only because you no longer know exactly who is actually controlling whom.

Before Google, Amazon, NSA or Microsoft exhibited their information monopolies so shamelessly, the Internet conveyed the idea of ​​a completely new, completely fluid form of democracy. A democracy under the motto: Everyone controls everyone. In all freedom.

But the utopia of a fluid management of freedom and control by swarm intelligence has turned into another nightmare: the pressure of conformity generated by shitstorms, cyberbullying and militant complexity reduction as the downside of the new technical freedoms of expression and communication.

Internet freedom and its control

Anyone who makes use of their freedom on the Internet thus attracts two powerful techniques of control - and with them discipline, manipulation, intimidation, expropriation, threats - control by the data octopuses of the state and the economy. And the control through a more or less spontaneous collective order against deviations, non-conformism or other kinds of undesirable being.

As the goal of spiritual and, if need be, physical struggle, philosophy and art have promised us the freedom for millennia to become an autonomous subject in a community of the free and equal.

We seem to be further removed from this freedom than ever, with all the enjoyment of the negative freedoms as market participants and consumers, with all the formal freedoms that so many voluntarily renounce to use and the abolition of which others have made a great success of .

Resistance to this creeping, seductive and market-compliant abolition of positive freedom is not in sight.

Just as in the 18th and 19th centuries the freedom of the many had to be fought for against the freedom of the few, so in the 20th and especially in the 21st century new monopolies of control seem to create a loss of control for the many. In order to free ourselves from the dilemma that a spiral of subjective freedom and object-based control creates, not only a new concept of freedom is necessary, but also an explanation of the grammar of control.

Who controls whom, with what means, for what purposes? The criticism of data octopuses and surveillance mania would of course no longer be had without a criticism of everyday media life. The only question is, what is the deal with which we swap one form of freedom for the other and freedom enters an absurd new unity with control techniques. Rather, it also affects our relationship with ourselves and with our fellow human beings.

In the 19th century Ferdinand Lassalle postulated: "In the Middle Ages there was solidarity of interests in the forms of bondage, in the present there is freedom without any solidarity, the future will bring solidarity in the forms of freedom."

That would have been nice: a freedom for everyone that is realized in the form of solidarity. Solidarity would be nothing more than the most philanthropic, civilized and tenderest form of control. Right now, things are obviously going in exactly the opposite direction.

The idea of ​​freedom is broken

The idea of ​​freedom has broken before our eyes: into the subjective and perhaps commercially viable experiences of small and large frenzies of freedom - and into political freedom, in which a growing number of people no longer even show enough interest to get up to make a ballot paper. It is broken up into individual and community, into negative and positive, into political and economic, into spiritual and material freedom. One form of freedom is celebrated so loudly that the loss of the other is no longer noticed.

And the idea of ​​control has broken before our eyes: New material and psychological forces have flowed into the controls of the subject and society, carnivalized control games for the subject, more control data than real people can still process, for the new digital powers from business and the world Politics. The legitimized loss of control in everyday life, the legitimized urge to expand self-expression, the legitimized social voyeurism - all of this is not only paid for by a loss of freedom. Rather, it boils down to a reconstruction of the image of man.

The problem is not the dialectic of freedom and control. It is precisely the abolition of this dialectic or its conversion into a negative dialectic. We have become accustomed to understanding freedom primarily as the absence of control (wrong) and, conversely, control primarily as a kind of poison for free development (in the market). Ultimately, freedom in the market is limitless and includes, above all, the control of competition or users. Freedom and control no longer relate to one another dialectically, but rather according to the image of the hare and the hedgehog.

It is possible that it has not yet been finally clarified which side takes on the role of the hare and which of the hedgehog. But we know some things about this game. The race is getting faster and faster. Every new medium, every new toy, every new household appliance, every new communication system promises new freedom and delivers new forms of control at the same time.

That freedom and control, certainly under constant tension, were once allies, that they formed a dialectical unity as the basis of democracy - that seems largely to be forgotten. Freedom 2.0 and control 2.0 work side by side and at best only engage in rhetorical battles. In reality, they both go their own way. Democracy doesn't really care about Freedom 2.0 and Control 2.0. What both interests them is the market. And both are useful for him.

Only the doubt, they have not yet been able to overcome it.