Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The case of youth judge Kirsten Heisig

We can experience self-negation out of lack of experience, and this even at the highest level most people associate with job security. As this can apply to even a youth judge, the problem of security has to be perceived not only in terms of a safe income but also in an ability to withstand pressures of the work and not to give up on life.

Just at the beginning of July 2010, there has been reported that a youth judge in Berlin had gone missing for four days and then her dead body has been found. Originally one suspected some of her potential enemies - she had spoken out against Arabic clans and against cultural minorities living in Germany according to their own laws and ways of doing things - were behind her disappearance. But autopsy of the body shows it was clearly suicide.

The youth judge Kirsten Heisig had become famous by shortening the time lapse between the arrest of a youth and the date when he had to stand trial, in order to receive his sentence. It became known as the 'Neu Köln' model and is said now to be practiced widely throughout Berlin and not only in that city. For many cities have huge problems with the youth.

Shortening the time has to do with how time and memory lapse may explain also why youth would not recognize any judgement if the deed they committed was already half a year ago. In terms of the youth that is a life time ago. Time and experience do go together but often they are quickly bundled so much together that the experiences made then become something like some left over clothes. They are quickly abandoned when on the road and in need to get on with life.

Shortcomings of life can be explained by 'poverty of experience'. This is what the youth faces and goes through every day when growing up, namely to feel inadequate and equally unjustly treated by life, the teachers, parents, friends and finally by the police. Yet this does not explain the death of a 45 year old youth judge who left behind two young daughters.

According to recent newspaper reports one thing seems to confirm the thesis of Durkheim, namely that social isolation can lead to suicide. The youth judge Kirsten spoke about this fact in most recent interviews with the press. She maintained while no one intervenes in her work, she does not have really any support for what she is attempting to do. She felt all alone in what she was facing both at work and most likely as well at home. While others would accuse her of seeking publicity, they did not recognize sufficiently that she reflected seriously in public and therefore more open to doubt the true conditions of today’s youth. That did not fit neatly or at all in the pattern of a judge who has to make daily hard judgments and pass clear sentences.

Kirsten Heisig seemed to have understood intuitively why the youth tends towards criminal behaviour even though she was often shocked by their aggression. She saw it as the failure of society to correct those structures well before that kind of behaviour would lead them to end up in front of the judge’s bench.

Altogether it is a phenomenon of the youth to fall prey to one and the same phenomenon often mistaken as reckless behaviour by those witnessing it directly while society as a whole would simply condemn them by passing sentences as if of criminal nature. The youth in their rebellious spirit tend easily to mistake wild or lawless behaviour as something sanctioned by a society without any laws. A good example for this is youth riding 'free' on the subway but when caught - in German it is called 'Schwarzfahren' or driving in the black - the charge is that they try to creep into services without paying for them. The German term for that is 'Leistungserschleichung' and used by the management company to charge the passanger who took the train without paying for the service. Of interest are here two things: the creep into services without paying for them resonates with the analysis about Fascism of having crept into power before seizing it. That was demonstrated again when Essen applied to become European Capital of Culture and once the designation had been given, then suddenly it turned out to be a consortium of 54 cities of the Ruhr area. The European Commission was certainly upset but it means something in relation to the use that this is common practice and not just what the youth is doing. Hitler also crept into power before he seized it. Thus an evocation of a similar charge has this problem of touching upon a historical complexity not easily understood in the day by day decisions judges need to make in court when faced by an unruly youth.

Indeed, they wish to question the legal system especially when politically motivated as they perceive the law to be on the side of the rich and powerful, but never on their side. That then is a question whether the system serves really the purpose of social peace and justice. So how to communicate some sentence on the basis of an interpretation of the law which a judge cannot share with the youth standing in front of her? That can easily lead to despair or else to a hardening of one’s own personality. The latter is a risk of the job. It goes together with a tendency to shut out serious self-doubts when finding some youth guilty for break-in into a car even though the father is an alcoholic and the mother ended up in a closed ward of psychiatry. That makes it most difficult to establish whose fault it is or in legal terms who is really the guilty party in this case?

Certainly Heisig had no illusion that when it comes to pass a sentence in court, it was usually already too late to do anything. However, she did not go as far as did the writer Robert Musil who spoke about the faults of a societal structure to explain the reason for the murder. In the world of Kirsten Heisig as judge of a society based on 'law', it is the individual who has to bear the full responsibility for whatever he or she does. It rules out any kind of relativization with reference to possible impediments by social structures. That would apply even to a youth who would commit something criminal within the context of a gang following its own codex of behaviour and which the youth has to accept for otherwise he shall be thrown out of the group or worse be punished likewise. To let these coercive principles go unchecked is also a problem of secular society. For how to intervene in families and communities that base their moral values on a lawfulness defined by religion, customs and recognition within the community as to has the strength to keep everyone together and whose position of justification is reproduced by the so-called cultural argument as being different from the prevailing legal system.

The cultural argument is deeply flawed as is the one referring to social structures to abnegate individual responsibility. The fault of the cultural argument can be easily demonstrated on hand of gang rapes in places like Congo. Unfortunately even international peace workers resort apparently to this argument in order to explain away this gruesome fact by declaring it to be a cultural way for men to treat women. The same goes for other indigenous people who would not consider marriage and sex with a twelve year old to be a criminal act but claim to see it as a part of the customs their tribe has been following a long time.

All this says, and here it can be presumed this is what Kirsten Heisig as youth judge meant to say, that society lacks the experience to deal with these matters. This is all the more when there prevails in society an enormous lack of experience when it comes to enact upon principles of human solidarity. This is especially the case when there is a need to show solidarity not with the weak or the victims, but with those who stick out their neck for the sake of trying to make up for the failures of society. They do so by being more courageous than most would dare but risk thereby to stand there all alone. Often the others fail to show human solidarity not merely due to false presumptions as if the already famous person has it made in society when in fact quite the opposite may be the case, but they fear to become isolated like that person when they show a true position in need of being upheld in society.

Consequently the fear factor involved explains in anticipation of possible consequences - punishment in various forms can be outlined by the coercive principles at work e.g. no one will buy anymore things in your shop if you do not conform to our way of handling things in this community – why there prevails so much 'poverty of experience' in society. Without standing up and risking something no experiences shall be made on how to bring about social justice.

Rather than letting experiences speak up, they are made voiceless. This is why so seldom are heard in public speeches which speak out of experience and to the experiences of others. Therefore so few can make out a continuity in life since most of the time public rhetoric is completely divorced from the reality people live and experience daily. The lack of public discourse has been analysed by Habermas. Here it suffices to add that ‘poverty of experience’ explains why so few make this transition from being just a private i.e. silent person to someone who speaks up in public. Further interpretations of public discourse, all too often reinforced by a media orientated communication pattern operating with overt images and highly suggestive, but never proven assertions, can illustrate why so few speakers can make visible in public that line of continuity of thought needed to get to the point and still to give energy in order to work on and through the problems named.

Any upright speech and positioning would be a contribution to bring about consistency as cultural value. With it goes a conscious effort to work through solutions till contradictions are resolved and a forward looking dynamic can let people and therefore culture unfold. Interestingly enough the German constitution does guarantee as a basic right this unfolding aspect of any person's creative potentialities. No wonder then that there is a poverty of experience when instead of unfolding, people hide their talents and abilities out of fear. The fear of going public is here one of the main factors holding them back.

But there is one more crucial aspect to be linked to this most unfortunate death of this youth judge who seemed to have come to the end of her possibilities, and therefore saw no other way out but to commit suicide. Besides having felt to be all alone while facing this huge task of keeping up a public conscience with regards to the key problem, namely how to uphold the law, she showed not only in her speeches and reflections, but also actions by going to schools, community centres etc. that she attempted to further an understanding that the problems lie elsewhere and in these structures. Yet anyone working with ‘understanding’ risks to fail in a society set on dehumanizing anything said at especially political level when it comes to policy measures and decisions.

All the more unfortunate that her surrounding did not respond early enough even when warning signals had become more than just apparent. The most crucial one was apparently her divorce from her man and father of the two girls. Who knows why they did split. Maybe the tension between her public and private life had become so great that her husband felt he could no longer bridge the gap. She had to act already as a politician who was constantly in the public limelight while she did attempt and succeeded in keeping her two daughters outside the scrutiny of the press.

This is how the Clintons protected their daughter when they lived in the White House during Bill Clinton's terms in office as President of the United States. Those who have never been under the scrutiny of the press cannot imagine what this play with fire is like: on the one hand, it is flattering to be asked for interviews, on the other hand one wrong step and literally hell can break loose.

To know how to handle the press and the media is an art by itself. Apparently the wife of the newly elected President of Germany has such skills. At least she showed her skills when they weathered together the storm over his divorce and his marriage to her despite him being a politician in high office and thus easily exposed to all kinds of rumours and even worse an easy target for hurtful stigmatizations of his person. Thus the way to handle things without getting into panic may be too much for those never received any training for dealing with the press.

Yet this factor of the press and publicity cannot ignore the failure of those who were close to her insofar as they did not notice a certain development in her before it was too late. In retrospect someone said during the last weeks prior to her disappearance she had grown sullen in her face. In other words, she showed already the early symptoms of complete withdrawal from the world with its consequential end being suicide. Here Klaus Heinrich would say instead of lack of experience there is entailed the difficulty of saying no to this drive towards self-destruction without saying no to the person.

In the case of Kirsten Heisig, people would see her gain in fame but not the real person in need of solidarity and open discussion at personal level about everything she has to face alone. As such it reflects again the lack of experience not only of this youth judge, but also of those close to her. No one seemed to know how to handle situations created by people when they appear to be highly active but slip at the same time into manic depressions. This is the case if they consider themselves to be the biggest failure even when everyone else assumes them to be at the highest form of success.

This failure to perceive what is going on really in another person makes it important to ask why someone in such a stressful job was not monitored or why the person had no access to someone who could counsel her in time. Police people know how difficult it is to take cases such as when an eleven year old girl has committed suicide at the very latest when they return home and see their own daughter of the same age playing in the living room. Innocent moments like these can easily strike home a message with huge repercussions if they are not reflected upon in time as an experience - traumatic ones included - in need to be worked through before anything can be said about them.

Jean Paul Sartre used the term 'le vecu' - lived through experiences. In other words, it is not enough to refer simply to experience as such. No, they need to be lived through before they can become a part of the memory track by which Freud would say we can step outside of the system and experience our own emotions pointing the way ahead. It goes without saying few step out and even fewer trust their feelings in such a way that they can be like a compass a guidance in unknown territories.

Hatto Fischer Athens 4.7.2010

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