Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The radical loser - a thesis by Enzensberger

The radical looser

Radical loser are those who feel being singled out and hurt by the ‘cutting edge’ making a difference between being a success or a failure not so much in the eyes of society but much more in one's own eyes. The term derives its meaning from the book by Enzensberger about "die Schreckenmaenner" or those who create fear of themselves.

Unfortunately a society relying almost exclusively upon a market economy is driven hard by competition. Subsequent mechanisms which regulate everything from how people can earn their living to what taxes have to be paid, they carry a high risk with them. Once installed, then at least a quarter, if not one third of the people end up as a complete social failure. This institution of the so-called free market, especially if backed by a government policy called ‘deregulation’, tend to sharpen continuously the cutting edge of success and failure. As a result many are made into ‘losers’ in a society even if they could contribute substantial things to society, their immediate communities and make a difference in their own lives.

If the so-called losers do not manage to get in time out of this kind of trap being cemented shut by the notion of failure, they end up very quickly believing to be only losers. This radicalizes them in the belief to be permanently disadvantaged in a system which is itself engaged in a permanent war especially against terrorists, including suspected enemies of the system. Even fierce loyalty does not count in such a system but only personal connections. That alters the emphasis put on education and qualification strategies. Other skills are needed if one is to survive.

As the disadvantaged by such a system have not the resources to respond to the crisis they are in nor do they see a way out of a largely polarized world, they seek for other solutions. Permanent losers tend to bide their time in silence. They know what lowers self-esteem especially in a society which tends to give only recognition and hence a voice to those who have apparent success i.e. money, power and influence etc. How then to prove to the rest that they are losers since even that goes unrecognized as long as they stay silent? More importantly their silence covers up a lot of hidden pain while they bide their time, if only to prepare plans on how to silence others due to their failures.

The phenomenon of loosing out on society is not new. Already S. Kracauer in his analysis of ‘Die Angestellten (the employed)’ (1930 (1999)) [1] describes brilliantly how those seeking a job ponder possibilities of getting it. Amongst girls there prevails the alternative of either to become beautiful or else to be reliable. It was an either/or choice as if both together was not possible. They deduced from who got the job or not, which category the employer would prefer. But whenever a beautiful girl applied and everyone thought she would get it, the employer reacted to the contrary by hiring instead of hiring the reliable one. In the end, they were never sure and had to gamble in their own life by putting their own bets on the one or other categories. What Kraucauer wanted to point out is that the employees never succeed in getting to know the system by which someone, the beautiful or the reliable one, is hired. The fact that they do not know who will get the job, explains why they will always lose out in the final end. They seem never to realize that human self understanding is complex and based on multiple levels of meanings all categorically interrelated to form an identity recognized and understood by others. It means that both these categories of reliability and beauty belong in reality together. They are a natural part of any human being and more so self esteem e.g. to think of oneself as being beautiful as more than mere appeal. A system which splits these categories and plays out one against the other is nothing but a crafty design used by those who hold power. What alarms is that they use this power over others arbitrarily and discriminatorily. It leaves the suppressed so stunned that they appear to never really know what shall be the case. The fact that they reduce decisions like these to fate makes it very hard to convince otherwise that things are not dependent merely upon others but lies within their own abilities of conscious decisions. That is, however, a hard position to take up for at times people are completely convinced they cannot do anything themselves.

If people remain at the level of thinking about things in terms of fate, they will believe that without any opportunities given to them, they shall end up self defeated, in a circular virtuosi. It seems that this lack of knowledge is wanted by the system for then people serve more or less ‘blindly’ or at least obediently as to what the owners, managers and those with power tell them to do. Consequently cultural planning must take that into account and attempt to remove such predetermining, equally negative structures which have developed out of a few over dominating the many others. If culture is to play a role in their lives, then the prerequisite for appraising reality in a differentiated way can only be fulfilled, if people emancipate themselves and can let many categories come together. What counts is not outplaying one category against another, but a new playfulness of knowledge as to what is possible in reality. Such playfulness can be taken as a sign of creativity. Culture takes in view of such activities another meaning.

In Hegel’s slave-master model it is the slave who gives voluntarily knowledge to the master on how to be controlled; equally a person standing still has an advantage over the other who is forced to move all the time and not the time to take notice as what the other does. Getting from the other side information if not directly through war and invasion is based fore mostly on voluntarily co-operation and compliance. A young man who spent four years in a Turkish jail after having been caught there as a tourist with drugs told after his release the police would invade the prison cells whenever the prisoners would not inform the police voluntarily what was going on. There is minimum information needed for power to feel secure, i.e. to be in control.

A more recent example shows how far this can go, namely war and therefore occupation of Iraq. Saddam Hussein did not so much provoke the invasion of Iraq in 2003 but he was labelled by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair as not complying and cooperating fully with the inspectors send to Iraq to see if there were any weapons of mass destruction. More so the demand for full cooperation and compliance went far beyond any self understanding as being sovereign in terms of own governance and politics. There has to be always some reasonable doubt in place when it comes to demand something from the other side for otherwise such absolute compliance and full cooperation can only be given by a dead man, so to speak. That is to say any living human being, whether political leader or common person in the street, has an own life and shall deviate from the common ground so as to seek solutions for him- or herself. That significant leeway was never given to Hussein. Certainly the Iraq invasion followed a post colonial demand by Western powers.

Certainly cities can easily be punished if they do not comply and cooperate in the global game of politics. An image thereof as to what can happen if a city does not give in was created by Rodin. His famous sculpture of the citizens of Calais shows them carrying the key of the city outside the gates of the fortification towards the approaching enemy in the hope the city shall not be overrun and ransacked.

The burghers of Calais - standing in Victoria Park, London (1884 – 1889)

Source of the image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The.burg.of.calais.london.arp.750pix.jpg


Recent developments especially after 911 have prompted the question but why do these acts of terrorism happen? Why would people suddenly turn against the community they grew up in? Why kill innocent people who have not done anything to draw attention upon themselves but just try to live a normal life? Here the German writer Enzensberger has identified a new figure which upsets all of a sudden community life: the ‘radical loser’. [3] Enzensberger warns that such a radical loser is about to erupt out of silence. His motive seems to be to seek revenge. In reality he tries to convince himself and everyone that the only way left to preserve life is its very destruction. In these negative acts the radical loser seeks confirmation of previous loses he claims to have suffered or else in symbiosis with losses of others claims to act on their behalf. It is solidarity through death on the way to death. All their arguments take on desperate, equally fanatic forms. They wish to underline first of all that the social process as experienced till now has nothing else in store for everyone but a further degrading of them as human beings. If this alienating and dehumanizing life destroying human relationships is to be countered, then with all the violence that only utmost self sacrifice can produce.

If this downward spiral is not halted by culture as was the case in Germany under National Socialism, then people no longer know what would give them still dignity and respect except by being obedient to the highest authority and a murderer of others at one and the same time. It has all the marks of being a traitor to everyone below and by extension of humanity in general. If that self admission into a spiral of violence becomes a general pattern, then anything is possible even if still unexplainable. The latter was captured by George Steiner when he asked how is it possible for someone to play music by Schubert on the piano the evening before when capable of going the next day into the concentration camp to kill there innocent people?

Nowadays the consequences of such loss of dignity can be seen in the irrational increase in sectarian violence in Iraq after the invasion and occupation of that country in March 21, 2003 by American, British and other coalition forces. The ‘war against terrorism’ has produced since then new kinds of ghettos e.g. the privileged live in the Green or protected zone of Baghdad while the rest of the people are exposed to arbitrary violence. More so an elite or privileged group of people, once cut off from the reality of others, will give shape to opinions and attitudes as something alienated and completely distinct from what common people consider to be ‘reality’ with all the dreams, losses and happiness in-between a hard survival fight. As to those who acclaim themselves to be the ‘radical losers’ in such a situation, they will use terrorism to expose the fact that there is no mediation possible between the rich and the poor, the privileged in the green zones and the commoners forced to survive under extremely hard conditions. Their use of violence shall make any peace process impossible as it will provoke extremists on both sides.

Certainly the Palestinians in the Gaza strip have created their own ghetto under the rule of Hamas but this negative state of affairs has been reinforced all along by the Israeli’s tactics to use at times brutal force to underline their occupation policy. In such an unjust situation only the most negative lessons are perpetuated. People end up in despair and many claim no one can be trusted, lest themselves. On both Israeli and Palestinian side the majority opinion is that the others will attack again even if some peace agreement has been reached. On Israeli side much of the same can be associated with experiences made in the Jewish ghetto in Warszawa but in another way. There came the turning point of the Jewish people. Rather than to submit to the orders of the Germans, the younger Jewish men and women decided to fight back out of fear not to survive. This fear not to survive is continued by the state of Israel, but at another still more extreme level. For state power in the form of tanks and highly trained soldiers vis a vis a stone throwing youth in the Gaza strip describes an asymmetry known already before the war against terrorism became a world wide phenomenon, in particular in Afghanistan and Iraq. But no matter on which side, it means resorting first to violence before trusting anyone outside that cultural and political ghetto surrounded by a minefield of misunderstandings.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 2006


[1] Siegfried Kracauer, (1999) „Die Angestellten (the Salaried Masses)“, reprinted in Middle Classes and Mass Culture. Siegfried Kracauer's Journalistic Analysis of Popular Culture and Culture of Middle Classes in Weimar Republic. Berlin: Lukas Verlag 1999. ISBN 3-931836-25-8

[2] This sculpture by Rodin can be seen in Victoria Tower Park, London. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auguste_Rodin

[3] Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Schreckens Maenner – Versuch ueber den radikalen Verlierer, (2006), Suhrkamp, F.a.M.

3.6.11 Poverty of experience and the lack of participation in culture

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