September 08, 2010

Lost in Translation or An Abyss of Demagoguery

The Sarrazin affair has hit international headlines, which is not entirely a good thing. For example (just one of many, this Yahoo/AFP article, "German banker hits nerve with anti-immigration book", gets it subtly and thus dangerously wrong. Let me pick on two details. Quoting the leading, well, THE, German newsmagazine DER SPIEGEL it says:
Thilo Sarrazin's book "is not convincing, but it has convinced many people," said the influential Spiegel magazine, which this week has the Bundesbank executive on its cover, calling him a "people's hero."
And further down in the article:
Sarrazin has no intention of doing any such thing [i.e. setting up his own political party], but the survey raised fears that a charismatic right-wing populist in Germany, like anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, could win considerable political support.
This is misleading on several levels.

First,somewhat naturally, it doesn't get across the sneering, contemptuous overtones of the German DER SPIEGEL article and the English translation is toned down considerably. For example, while the English DER SPIEGEL article is headed "Why Sarrazin's Integration Demagoguery Has Many Followers", the cover of the print edition says bluntly: "Volksheld Sarrazin -- Warum so viele Deutsche einem Provokateur verfallen". This is disingenuous because anything connected to the word "Volk" evokes, in German, memories of Nazi-terminology and is cunningly exploited by those who intend to give others a bad name. So "Volksheld" doesn't just mean "people's hero" but has nasty overtones which subtly allude to something sinister and unwanted. Second, Estimated 18% share Sarrazin's views and 18% do not a people's hero make.

The subtitle of the cover says: "Warum so viele Deutsche einem Provokateur verfallen". This can be translated simply as: "Why so many people fall for a trouble maker/rabble rouser/agitator/somebody who fishes for a reaction". (I couldn't find a 1:1 English translation for the word "Provokateur".) But what is really interesting is the verb "verfallen". It can indeed be translated as "to fall for", but it has strong overtones of "to get addicted to" or "to become a slave of". It used to be used in a sexual sense as well, but has become somewhat archaic. To use it in this context insinuates an extracerebral reaction from those who are supporting Sarrazin. They don't see his points, they don't support him because they have come to see that he is right, they have become addicted to him, or his slaves.

Talk about demagoguery.

The Yahoo/AFP article then says that the support for Sarrazin raises fears that a charismatic right-wing populist in Germany, like Geert Wilders in Holland, might win political support on a large scale. I have said before that Sarrazin has carefully distanced himself from Geert Wilders (whether that was a good thing to do or not is a different question) and has the charisma of a floor vase, so there goes the "populist". Part of this is that, different from Wilders, Sarrazin is entirely void of any vanity. He is one of the leading economists of his generation, not a politician, although he used to hold a public office. To insinuate that he might set up his own party and thus evoke fear of "right wing extremism" is not just disingenuous, it is demagoguery of the vilest sort.

One last point: Sarrazin is not "right wing" by any definition. If anything, he is a somehow surviving fossil of the European Socialdemocratic "Old Left", law-abiding revisionists with a strong law and order strain. Eugenics were openly discussed in Germany among Social Democrats pre-1933, but to no practical avail, notabene because of the resistance by the conservative bourgeois powers, men who are considered now "right wing extremists". Of course, nobody of the readers of this blog will know all those long-dead (many of them prematurely because of REAL "right wing extremist" action) old Germans, but maybe some remember Tommy Douglas, another one of that extinct breed.

"Right wing extremism" has nothing do do with it, but it sounds good, pushes the right (or rather: left) buttons and keeps the people where they belong: Anxious, frightened, insecure and addicted to and slaves of the debased left wing ideology as preached by, for example, DER SPIEGEL.


Anne said...

Thanks for these insightful remarks. I read the English version of the Der Spiegel article but of course had no idea of the nuances you point out.

Do I remember Tommy Douglas? My father was a charter member of his Canadian party.

Strange how everyone has forgotten how eugenics was once considered "progressive" and its opponents considered dinosaurs clinging to clearly antiquated religious beliefs (did I ever hear a lot of about antiquated religious beliefs when I was growing up).

Interesting indeed.

The_Editrix said...

Anne, I bet your and my childhood were very alike in many respects.

I wonder quite often what my father would think were he still alive. He would be 99 this year. My mother can't keep up anymore at 87, although her intellect is still basically intact. I guess it's as hard to say goodbye to an old enemy stereotype as to an old friend. If she is complaining about how far values, ethics, the lot, have gone down the drain, I often say (in a kind way, not as harsh as it comes across here): But that is what my father and your father have done. Yes, they were meaning well, but that doesn't change reality a bit. They didn't see the inescapable consequences of their brave new world.

It's so sad.

Anne said...

My father (1913-1993) was getting partially disillusioned with the left by the 1960's-70's. He was unimpressed with hippie movement for much the same reason as many right-wingers were (dressed like slobs, didn't work, etc.)
I think he would agree with Sarazin, unless of course Sarazin harbours religious beliefs--my father never lost his life-long atheism.
My mother (1927-2006) just went along with everything dad said.
My sister and I have both returned to the church (could it be that Presbyterian grandmother teaching me to pray despite her son's disapproval?)
Don't get me started on modern trends in Protestant world though.


Anne said...

I tried to leave a comment. Did it vanish?

The_Editrix said...

Anne, comments are moderated here. That isn't always clear because I am working from home, tend to be a lot at the computer and release comments immediately. However, due to the the time difference and the necessity of sleep I may only release one several hours later.

My father died 1977. I know that he heavily disapproved of the "new left" and the anti-Israel bias that emerged in the Sixties. However, it was for a left-leaning German of that generation quite difficult to distance himself from anything that went under the big label "left". Hadn't it been "the left" who was against the Nazis? Looking back, I think it never occured to him that his larger-than-life-fiend Adenauer was as persecuted by the Nazis as he was.

My mother just went along with everything my father said as well, but then, she came from a similar background. Her brother had been one of my father's political companions.

My parents called themselves agnostics, not atheists, which adds intellectual and moral cowardice to godlessness. They had been both Protestants, I have become Catholic for various reasons, one of which you mention in vour comment.

Fascinating stuff!

bruce-church said...

Hi Editrix, I mentioned before about the US rich and politicians (who are usually rich, too) liking cheap drugs and labor that illegals provide, and that's why the US has an OpenBorders problem, and unemployment among the poor. Here, Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State under Bush, admits he appreciates illegal aliens fixing his house and doing landscaping:

Colin Powell brags: I can see illegal aliens inside my house

bruce-church said...

Here's a typical US healthcare debate that I participated in just the other day. Notice the Republic propaganda I had to counter with a dose of reality: