Sometimes I feel like Milla Jovovich in The 5th Element, speed-watching human history and starting to cry because all that humankind seems to do is basically destroying each other. I think Bruce Willis tells her something about love being the motivator to carry on nevertheless. Or maybe I just want to remember this because it makes so much sense. However, wouldn’t it be awesome if we actually lived up to this?
On Sunday, we had elections in Germany, and, unfortunately not very surprisingly when following the developments over the past years, we now have a populist right-extremist party with more than 90 seats in the parliament. I wrote something about the possible reasons for people choosing such politics already when Trump got elected, but what worries me even more at the moment are the reactions of my non-AfD-electing friends and acquaintances. Yes, this outcome is bad. The AfD openly campaigns racism, homophobia, anti-women-rights, and a lot of other stuff that is detrimental for a progressing and forward-looking democratic society. Given our history, it might be even worse than if it had happened in a different country. It was, however, foreseeable, and I do claim that it is not just the politicians’ duty to prevent this from happening. We all have this duty as a society.
Everyone can vote in a democracy. You don’t need an election-license, even though some might half-jokingly suggest it could benefit the outcome. The problem here is threefold: For once, politics is a complex process, and complex things require thorough understanding in order to take an educated decision. That’s one thing. The other thing is that, even though there are many parties out there, the tendency goes towards a moderate mean with little change and more or less the same politics over time. That’s how our political system is shaped, and how our political parties have changed over time. If you’re not happy with that mean, you have to go to the extremes to suggest a change. That’s what the AfD took advantage of. Just like Trump, they listened to the dissatisfied, and promised them to solve all their problems. This is when the third problem enters the equation: In order to understand fully the complexity of an economy, and how to solve its problems, you need not only constant discourse, a diversified view on media, and formal education, you also need to be able to push past your basic human instincts. Otherwise, scammers like Trump and the AfD have an easy game at promising you exactly what you want to hear, without any logical grounds, and you’ll buy it. And once they got you, they even may utter the most outrageous, racist, human-rights-violating statements, you don’t hear them anymore. You stopped at “I hear you, I know your problem, I have a solution”, and give them your vote.
One of the basic human instincts, besides the one of wanting to be heard and not ignored, is fear. The majority of the votes for the AfD came from regions with low immigration rates. Humans are xenophobe by nature, I reckon – it’s what kept us alive back in the cave-days. Traveling, interaction with strangeness, reading about it, getting to know other cultures and people, is what opens the mind towards otherness. Experiencing it and seeing that it is not a threat. Thus, I find it only logical that in those regions where people are very homogenic, the fear of otherness is bigger. It’s the fear of the unknown. It cannot be discussed away easily, and certainly it won’t disappear by being judged for having it.
Now let’s add some other factors. High unemployment rates. It’s the same regions, by the way – in East Germany, unemployment rates are higher than in West Germany. Not to forget that for roughly 40 years, this part of the country was completely isolated from the rest of Europe – that’s a bunch to catch up with, anyways. Unemployment and job insecurity leads to less financial security, less security in general. People feel ignored, they get frustrated. They fear for their own future. Fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate – Yoda already told us. It’s the path to the dark side.
This is one side of it. People sliding onto the dark path unknowingly, while on the other side the ones that are still on solid ground could help them. So, how are they gonna stop the sliders? I would now expect the open-minded, tolerant, formally educated non-AfD-voters to act reasonable and rational. But they don’t. They also react with anger. They try to fight fire with fire, hate with hate. They, prior to the elections, already lashed out on everyone who dared to even mention they could maybe vote for the AfD – and now that it has happened, they (thousands of Germans, including leading newspapers) brag about how they are the smarter, the better, the wiser “87%” that did not vote for the Nazis to enter our parliament again.
Fact is, the voters of the AfD are the ones with the highest percentage of disappointment-driven votes. While other party-supporters elect ‘their’ parties out of belief, or maybe because it was the best they could get, 60% of the AfD-voters gave their votes because they felt left behind from the rest of the political system. Let’s look at this in the big picture: roughly 72% of the voting-eligible people actually did participate in the elections. Now I might be completely off, but I do think at least a part of this 28% that did not vote is demonstrating frustration and disappointment over the political system by refraining to make use of their democratic rights, too. Less than 6% of the eligible voters were so disappointed that they decided to give their vote to the AfD. Only 3.7% of all eligible voters actually believe in the concepts of this party. Around 62% voted for the other parties. Now it might not be impossible, but definitely very hard to change someone’s beliefs about the world, so let’s forget about the 3.7% for a minute here: These 6% plus whatever is left in the 28% non-voters are the ones we have to pick up again and start listening to. In numbers, it means that of 62 million eligible voters, more than 20 million feel overrun. 3.5 million so much that they saw the AfD as the only way out of this desperation. Isn’t that sad?
A well-functioning society only works as a whole, not as a power-play with the strongest making the rules for everybody. Power can change, easily, it just takes the right people to come along, promise whatever one wants to hear, and harvest disappointed voters. And if we keep on splitting our society into “them” and “us”, logically, there will always be disappointed ones. And “we” keep on driving “them” towards the vote-harvesters. Just like in any human relationship we need to find compromises where everyone is listened to and heard.
We have to stop insulting each other. If we call all the AfD voters a bunch of idiots and racist pigs, we are doing exactly the same the representatives of the AfD are doing, when they call all foreigners criminals and rapists and job-stealers because of some outliers which exist in every society. Sure, you might argue that the voters still gave their vote to a racist party, but re-read the part I wrote about hearing only what you want to hear. Plus, you cannot tell me anyone is 100% satisfied with the entire program of the party they voted for. If you now take into consideration the individual frustration- or desperation-level, you might, in a real hypothetical thought, far away from everything you yourself believe in, understand that it could eventually lead to giving the vote to a party that promises improvement. Maybe they are even anticipating a split from the far right, much like it happened in Finland, resulting in more of an ‘alternative’ without all the extremist, discriminatory thinking.
Whatever the motivations of those supposedly secretly voting for AfD are, generalization is the dangerous tool these populists use, and we ought to be better than that. If we insult someone for voting a destructive party out of desperation, with allegories like throwing a Molotov-cocktail into your own house if you have a water damage (or something), we can just as well go to people who injure themselves because they are depressive, and start laughing at them. Yes, human reaction does not always make sense, especially not when emotions are involved. The boundaries for what one is willing to sacrifice for their own well-being are set individually. Banning those that don’t conform to what we would do, what we would say, if we were in their situation, is not only wrong and destructive, it also is very irrational. We cannot possibly know what we would do.
I understand the frustration over the election results. I understand the anger. But fact is: This happened. This is our country today. There are more than 30% among us that feel left out – what are we gonna do about it? We can call them stupid and stop talking to them – where does that lead to? How can that possibly change anything into something better?
In the end, the big decisions are up to the politicians, that’s right (you can, by the way, become one of those yourself. Just join a party if you really want to change something). But we cannot give up on conversation now. Even if it might not lead to anything – what’s there to lose? You won’t make it worse by arguing. You will most likely make it worse by banning the people that you disagree with – or then you won’t change anything, in the best case. Neither will you change your own well-being, by the way, because the anger will also bring you closer to the dark side. Yes, there are dark sides both left and right of the way. It’s time to fight hate with love and live up to Bruce Willis’ promises.