Is the protest overrated?

What's wrong with ... thinking outside the box?
Is that still a virtue?

They refuse to wear masks and call themselves “lateral thinkers”. They consider the risk of Covid-19 to be drastically overestimated and do not want to be vaccinated. They also express great distrust of the media and the government. This picture resulted in an empirical study on the “lateral thinkers”, the results of which Christoph Bartmann discusses briefly and succinctly.

One of the many victims of the corona pandemic must also include the word “lateral thinker”. Wasn't “lateral thinking” a virtue until recently? Didn't the word stand for unconventional, “lateral” thinking “outside the box”, that is, for properties that have been touted by management theorists and management consultants, strategies that should make sluggish companies afloat by giving them a dose of positive insanity? Thinking outside the box, that should mean: unleashed creativity, which arose directly from one's own judgment without incorrect influence by the opinions of the "mainstream".
One must never have taken this praise of lateral thinking at face value to get the impression that with the "lateral thinking" movement critical of corona politics in Germany, non-conformism has reached a critical stage of denial of reality. What kind of people are they who have been taking to the streets for months against the federal government and “for the Basic Law”, which they consider to be violated by the Corona restrictions? Who of the movement (The numbers stand for the telephone area code of Stuttgart) Assuming that they are doing common cause with right-wing radical "Reichsbürgern" or those who even refer to them as "Corona deniers" must expect requests for rectification. The lateral thinkers are right insofar as they neither generally deny the corona pandemic nor generally belong to the right-wing camp (whatever that means). In any case, the lateral thinkers deserve a closer look. Aren't they also “civil society”? Isn't it also about “activists” who take to the streets for good reason to make their voices heard - an opposition practice that we rate far more positively on other occasions from Minsk to Hong Kong to Warsaw? And what about “Fridays for Future”, the protagonists of which were personally received by the Chancellor for a visit? Even if we consider climate change a bigger problem than the lockdown, we have to admit that we are all civil society, and unfortunately that includes even the Trump supporters who recently stormed the Capitol at his suggestion.
As for the lateral thinker movement and its “political sociology”, there has recently been an interesting study by the sociologists Oliver Nachtwey and Nadine Frei from the University of Basel. More than 1000 people from the lateral thinker scene were interviewed, on demonstrations and online. Probably the most discussed result was this: the respondents in the last German federal election (2017) did not vote predominantly right: 23 percent said they voted for the Greens, 18 percent for the Left, but only 15 percent for the AfD and 10 percent for the CDU 21 percent had voted for small parties. When asked who they would vote for next time, the result was dramatically different: 61 percent now want to vote for small parties (“Die Basis”, “Wir 2020” and others), 27 percent for the AfD, only 5 percent for the left and even only 1 percent the Greens; CDU / CSU and SPD hardly ever appeared. The core statements of the respondents reveal views that cannot be consistently qualified as “right-wing”: “The corona protests are deliberately devalued and distorted in the media,” said 85 percent. "When dealing with the corona virus, the wrong experts set the tone," said 63 percent. "The corona problem is being dramatized and exaggerated by the government," said 76 percent. "The government stirs up unnecessary fear in dealing with the corona virus," was even the opinion of 86 percent. After all, 42 percent are of the opinion that “banks and corporations will be the big beneficiaries of the Corona crisis”. A majority of those questioned are dissatisfied with the government's rescue measures for economically affected people and therefore see their very existence threatened. What should one think of this vote: "The mask requirement is child abuse" say 71 percent. It is not difficult to see from such numbers: the lateral thinker movement is very heterogeneous. You can find esotericists, anti-vaccination and pharmaceutical opponents as well as critics of capitalism, worried freelancers or citizens who, for whatever reason, distrust the state per se. The fact that they found their political home predominantly with the established parties a few years ago is more surprising than the announcement that they would turn their backs on them next time. The political sociologist of the Corona protest demonstrates a mentality that defends itself against state and media "patronizing", which positions itself against the "truth" of politics and experts and which differs from "spiritual and holistic thinking." “Hoping for a change for the better. Soon we will see in which political havens these diffuse fears will find a new anchorage.


Christoph Bartmann is the director of the Goethe-Institut Warsaw as well as an author and regular reviewer in the "Süddeutsche Zeitung". His books were published by Carl Hanser Verlag: “Life in the office. The Brave New World of the Employees ”(2012) and“ The Return of the Servants. The new bourgeoisie and its staff ”(2016). For he writes on current topics from the mainstream and the periphery of German culture.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Poland
February 2021

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