Debate culture – counteracting the polarization of society

The polarization is visible – at demonstrations, in social media and parliaments. Since Corona, some have been calling for more protection, others have taken to the streets against masks and lockdown. The fronts are hardened. Experts advise: talk and listen.

A debate is a form of argument that follows formal rules. In a debate, the arguments for and against a thesis are presented in short speeches. A debate can only work in a good culture of argument. The culture of arguing and thus empowering citizens is an elementary component of a functioning democratic and pluralistic society. Debating means taking a stand, weighing up arguments, expressing them in a justified manner and being able to present criticism in the process.

Corona as an amplifier of polarization

Political scientists are speaking of an increasing polarization of society. Research has found that there are profound and general social causes for this: increasing inequality between income, between occupational security and precarious employment, between urban and rural.  These factors are aggravated by Corona. The measures to limit the pandemic hit particularly hard those who were previously in poor financial shape. The gap between the poor and the rich has widened since the beginning of the pandemic. 

For example, people who offer personal services are financially worse off due to their lower income, even in cases of state aid such as short-time work benefits. Pandemic-related income losses primarily affect low-wage earners. Mini-job-takers and self-employed people in turn become visible as losers on the labor market, as they lose their job or their income base more often and often fall through the contribution-financed safety net.

The new divisions in society

Corona divides society into proponents and critics of the restrictions on private and public life ordered by politics.

Corona is thus part of a series of new divisions within the population, the ideological trenches are being re-dug and strengthened. It is true that in the past there was also disagreement on important political decisions, what is new about the current situation is that the actors involved take divergent positions compared to the past and the extreme radicality of the discourses or their suppression is also new.  Also new are the massive marginalization and stigmatization of critics of the corona policy.

It seems that the radical nature of the measures is reflected in the radical nature of public opinion. A new form, the block attendant mentality, is emerging and newspaper articles ask whether dissident doctors shouldn’t be reported to the medical associations right away, hinting at a professional ban.

The radical nature of the discourse is also expressed in the tendency to become a question of faith. A gap has been drawn between belief and disbelief, which even scientifically no longer seems to be bridged. Which of the virologists decides who is “right”? Is it simply the number of “experts” assigned to the respective camp? But who can call themselves an expert, is an ENT doctor or orthopedic surgeon even allowed to comment on the subject?

Who is actually dividing the country here?

It is certain that the supporters of one or the other camp contribute to the division, but this division is reinforced above all by the enormous use of the media. One might think that biased journalism would be more important here than an open, differentiated opinion. Perhaps some journalists also fear that if their own words are not carefully adapted to the desired narrative of the reporting, they could lose their job and thus their livelihood. And it seems as if politics and the media presence reinforce each other and fertilize each other in the demand for ever new and tougher measures.

Half of the people want nothing more than openings that are as wide as possible, because they have to school their children at home or fear for their economic existence. The other half have basically settled down quite well in the slowed-down time: There is the mother who is with her baby all the time. The parents who have their studying children at home again. The lovers who have more sex than ever before. These two camps are now facing each other.

With the seemingly endless measures, the course taken by the government and the decreasing satisfaction with them, the voices of those who want an open dialogue with critical experts increase.

In matters of such importance you always have different points of view from scientists. I am not saying that the fierce critics of the measures are right, but I can say: I want them to have their say and their arguments to be dealt with. That should actually be a matter of course in a democracy.

It is wrong that the federal government in the corona pandemic does not listen enough to the experts who criticize the federal government’s measures.  A clear majority thinks it is wrong that the federal government hardly enters into a dialogue with experts who are critical of their measures.

So there is a need in a large part of the population for more dialogue, more controversy and the inclusion instead of exclusion of critics of the corona measures in the public discourse and thus also in decision-making. The result can be seen as a slap in the face for the government’s monoculture in matters of experts.

The politics of massive division and exclusion, which is supported by large parts of the political and media landscape, does not reflect the peoples’ desire for dialogue. Perhaps the situation in terms of division in society is not quite as dramatic as it appears when following politics and the media.

When the public discourse – here one has to emphasize the role of the media in particular – stops framing the critics of the measures as deniers, conspiracy theorists, opponents of vaccinations and right-wingers, spaces are created in which to approach each other again. Instead of dividing, the representatives of all parties should turn to dialogue with the citizens. Since people orient themselves towards role models and through the constant media presence of the defamatory and the denigration of critical fellow citizens, as well as the stirring up of fears, a massive climate of mutual mistrust has been established.

In interpersonal relationships, we should stop reproaching each other and again giving our counterparts an open ear for their needs and fears. As part of the critics of the actions of the government and authorities, I would like to say the following again very clearly.

We want a voice in the democratic process.  We represent the voices of those who do not wear masks and who do not want to be vaccinated.

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