Another election, another extremist candidate, another worrying result. More inflammatory rhetoric. Noi contra lor. Ei contra noastră. The us versus them ideology is making a surprising comeback after decades of glorified globalization. It would seem that, all of a sudden, people are discovering how precious and worthy of preservation their neck of the woods is.
Except that it’s not even about that.
Extremism is not about the world as patchwork: a beautiful quilt in which each individual square, delicately delineated, carries the charm of carefully preserved local embroidery. It is about ripping out the other squares entirely. It is about replacing diversity with uniformity in fear of losing one’s patch of earth in a sea of unfamiliar otherness.
It is about keeping it separate. Different quilts, different beds, different rooms. If possible, different planets. Extremism (both left and right) is about the monopoly on righteousness and the policy of outrage. It is the obliteration of the individual. It is the ideology of black and white and the blotting out of grey areas. It is the doing away with civility for the sake of percentages and power.
Living side by side (especially when no one has asked your opinion about that) can be stressful. Why not declare it outright unbearable? Why all the relativity? Why all the concern for the other’s concerns? Wouldn’t a system of absolutes be more soothing? Politicians running for office use this for political gain, and – with negativity and impact all too often the main criteria for newsworthiness – it is no wonder the media is also stoking the fire.
Pushing extreme views inevitably leads to polarization because it paints the world in stark contrasts, forcing people to position themselves in an oversimplified dichotomy. The range of possible responses is reduced to allegiance and enmity. Reflected, nuanced opinions are replaced by knee-jerk reactions and reductionist thinking. Shutting out or shouting down the opponent – now perceived as deviant and dangerous – seems to be the only option left. In the battle for the minds and votes of the people, poison and vitriol are no longer off-limits. Polarization and raw discourse go hand in hand.
Extremism is the politics of frustration – and there seems to be a lot of frustration going around these days. In many countries, an increasing share of the population feels excluded from what they perceive as rightfully theirs. Whether this is objective truth or subjective (perhaps even induced) perception is not clear. We feel cheated out of something. Some piece of some pie. An identity. Some essential security in life. We begrudge the rest their access, and would rather shrink the pie than let others come out ahead. In Germany, we call it Schadenfreude. In Romania, it’s called “să moară şi capra vecinului” (the neighbor’s goat should also die).
|Heidelberg, Germany – In the pedestrian zone – Chireau|
In Germany, a spiral of polarization gained momentum in response to Angela Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das” (We can do it) immigration policies. After the summer of 2015 was over, the first challenges appeared and the fears decanted. The water seemed clear on the surface, but deep down, the sand was turbid and unsettled. A country that had long resisted the creation of a controlled immigration framework now discovered the aftertaste of uncontrolled immigration. Western Germany began to feel crowded and heterogenous – years of economic migration from Southern and Eastern Europe, and a recent wave of Middle Eastern and African refugees were showing up in the social fabric. In the depopulated East, which still lags behind economically, middle-aged blue-collar workers and the long-term unemployed began to fear that young male immigrants would be offered the free ride (and, possibly, the women!) that the locals had been denied.
The initial enthusiasm faded. The desire to help and wipe away the stigma of the past was replaced by concerns about limited resources and social norms which must be kept in place. Physical constraints and cultural differences became apparent. Not enough staff, not enough place, long processes. Conflicts among migrants, traumas imported. Refugee shelters sprang up in the vicinity of parks, in school gyms and on the outskirts of ethnically homogenous villages. The country did by no means plunge into chaos, but there were cracks in the hallowed façade of German efficiency. Inexplicable security glitches.
|Munich, Germany – Restless – Kinga Cichewicz|
A few immigrants committed unthinkable acts of violence. The vast majority didn’t. A few locals built fences – or worse. The vast majority didn’t. Still, basic psychology kicked in. And basic psychology says, we tend to associate good qualities with the in-group (“us”) and to view occasional deviance in the out-group as proof of something systemically wrong with “them,” a generalized fault. The foreigner becomes the virus that spreads unchecked, infecting our way of doing things. Some municipalities put out multilingual flyers which included advice on how to separate one’s trash, how to observe Ruhezeiten and where to wash one’s car. Others watched in horror as the container for recycled paper got filled with smelly meal rests – and fumed. Overcrowded daycare centers, a shortage of teachers and public servants, poor transportation and decaying public services did the rest. When we are on the edge, we look for quick, simple fixes.
|Cluj, Romania – Different generations – Oana Pughineanu|
In Romania, polarization takes place roughly along educational rifts and the urban-rural divide. The westernized urban elites in one corner; the older working class and the traditionalist rural population in another. Dissenters and acquiescers of the regime, old and new. Often within the same family. We talk past each other, neither side able to resonate with the other’s viewpoint. The bubbles are closed and far apart. We watch different TV stations, we vote predictably and at different ends of the spectrum. The differences between our respective “realities,” our life choices and our interpretation of (fragmentary) information have reached Orwellian proportions.
|Maramures, Romania – In the depths – Melinda Nagy|
Some yearn for post-modern freedoms and exemplary justice; the others for agrarian-age conservatism and iron fists: So what if they steal a little, doesn’t everybody? The former reject the past and look eagerly into the future. The latter are deeply nostalgic. Some of us prefer hard facts, others counter with idealized narratives or conspiracy theories. There is a cultural battle raging between the advocates of individualism and those of collectivism, a divide between national efficiency and national conceit, between short-term benefits and long-term sustainability. Between impartial institutions and informal, privately-negotiated solutions. There is a face-off between the patriotism of festive speeches and traditions, and the patriotism of ethics and hard work.
|Cluj, Romania – Faces – Oana Pughineanu|
There are many areas of disagreement and discord. But they all boil down to two main issues: wealth and political power. What are the acceptable ways to acquire wealth and to wield political power? What degree of arbitrariness and privilege are we – as a society – willing to allow, and what level of accountability do we expect? How are wealth, power, and the country’s resources to be shared and managed? What behaviors do we tolerate, trust, and reinforce? How much idealism, realism, or cynicism should our recipe for the future allow? But instead of dialogue, we have a series of absurd, shrill monologues overlapping each other. Facts are met with alternative facts or no facts at all. Propaganda and scorn.
How are we going to get past this? Why do we bind ourselves into a Gordian knot and then yearn for the sword that sorts it all out? Who is going to take responsibility for the (potentially destructive) outcome? Who is going to uphold the logos and turn down the intemperate pathos?
|Berlin, Germany – World Clock at Berlin Alexanderplatz – ArminStaudt|
Polarization robs our quilts of their seams and nuances. Things become unicolored and mass-produced. Things suddenly become incompatible with each other. We become incompatible with each other. We lose empathy. The polarized society is made up of two opposing camps in a constant state of siege. Where there used to be dialogue, there is mistrust and moats. We no longer look at each other, we keep an eye on each other.
The other has become illegitimate, the perpetrator of all evils, someone not worth listening to, someone vilified. We are being pushed into camps, into extremes. The middle ground is a mined field. Unaffiliated persons are seen as traitors by both sides. Attempting to build bridges, to use reason and point out how the other side might have some valid concerns gets you labelled as a traitor.
|Cluj-Napoca, Romania – Playing – Val Vesa|
Perhaps (hopefully!) polarization is only a moment in time, a swing of the pendulum in its inexorable movement towards a new equilibrium. People do not become polarized for nothing. “Nu iese foc fără fum,” the Romanians say. There is no smoke without a fire. Extremism is not only a rejection of the center, it is also a feeling that the center is feckless or ineffectual. It is a cry for help and a form of testing one’s power. It is an appeal for a different vision, for less taboos in the conversation. We should initiate that conversation before the camps become so hardened in conflict that the only remaining option becomes “zusammen in den Abgrund.”
We don’t want the abyss to be the only place we can still go together.
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Photo 1: Iași, Romania – Covered – Radu Florin (Unsplash)
Photo 2: Hamburg, Germany – Alter Elbtunnel – Philipp Deus (Unsplash)
Photo 3: Bucharest, Romania – Waiting for the subway – Radu Bercan (Shutterstock)
Photo 4: Heidelberg, Germany – In the pedestrian zone – Chireau (Shutterstock)
Photo 5: Munich, Germany – Restless – Kinga Cichewicz (Unsplash)
Photo 6: Cluj, Romania – Different generations – Oana Pughineanu (Shutterstock)
Photo 7: Maramures, Romania – In the depths – Melinda Nagy (Shutterstock)
Photo 8: Cluj, Romania – Faces – Oana Pughineanu (Shutterstock)
Photo 9: Berlin, Germany – World Clock at Berlin Alexanderplatz – ArminStaudt
Photo 10: Cluj-Napoca, Romania – Playing – Val Vesa (Unsplash)
Cinemblem: Perypatetik youtube channel
The Syncretion of Polarization and Extremes
Alencar, Joana. Lack of Social Trust – Brazil. January 2019.
Baccino, Alejandra. Polarization within Ourselves – South America. January 2019.
Cordido, Veronica. Hanging by Extremes – Venezuela. January 2019.
Romano, Mavi. Censorship and Cultural Survival in a World without Gods – Spain. January 2019.
The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed
Alencar, Joana. Uncertainty – Our Spirit – Brazil. November 2018.
Awdejuk, Pawel. Niepewność – The Road to Freedom – Poland. July 2018.
Bell, Sarah. The Bushfire Drive – Australia. July 2018.
Bondarenko, Evgeny. Twenty Plus Years. August 2018.
Cajoto, Christina. The Trajectory of Life – España. August 2018.
Castañeda, Martha Corzo. Worried Workers – Peru. February 2018.
Cooleridge, Tweeney. Uncertainty in the Abstract – Slovakia. March 2018.
Cordido, Veronica. The Crib of Uncertainty – Venezuela. January 2018.
Dastan, S.A. Uncertain Waters – Turkey. March 2019.
Deiana, Sara. The Dark Side of Perfection. September 2018.
Electra P. Aβεβαιότητα: The Enemy of Romantic Relationships – Greece. February 2018
Escandell, Andrea da Silva. Compromise – Uruguay. March 2018
Fischer, Kristin. Talking about Cancer – Germany. September 2018.
Gómez, Javier. Uncharted Bliss. October 2018
Goumiri, Abdennour. Uncertainty Is All There Is – France. February 2018.
Guerrero, Marilin. Crossing the Uncertain Path of Life – Cuba. February 2018.
Guillot, Iuliana. Preparing for Change – Romania. June 2018.
Huihao, Mu. Going the Uncertain Way. July 2017.
Husaini, Maha. Inshallah – Jordan. December 2018
Israyelyan, Mania. 30 Years of Anoroshutyun – Armenia. December 2018.
Julber, Lillian. What Will Tomorrow Bring? – Chile. July 2018.
Kanunova, Nigina. Metamorphoses in Modern Life. June 2018.
Kingsley, Anastasia. Expect the Unexpected. November 2018.
Konbaz, Rahaf. So You Say You Want A Revolution – Syria. March 2018.
Korneeva, Kate. One We – Russia. April 2018.
Krnceska, Sofija. No Name Country – Macedonia. May 2018.
Lassa, Verónica. The Old Eastern Books of Uncertainty – Argentina. May 2018.
Lozano, Gabriela. El cuchillo de la incertidumbre : Piercing Uncertainty – México. January 2018.
Marti, Sol. A Thought Falling – Spain and Germany. December 2018.
Pang, Lian. Now or Later? October 2018.
Phelps, Jade. Healing Journey Pulls Us Apart – America. June 2018.
Protić, Aleksandar. Environmental Uncertainty. August 2018.
Romano, Mavi. An Uncertain Democracy – Spain. April 2018
Ranaldo, Mary. Incerto or Flexible: Italia and UK. March 2018.
Ray, Sanjay Kumar. Once upon a Time in a Queue – India. November 2018.
Çakır, Peren. Building a Future in Times of Uncertainty – Argentina and Turkey. May 2018.
Sanmartín, Virginia. Qué Será, Será – Spain. June 2018.
Samir, Ahmed. Uncertainty in Personal Life. January 2018.
Sariñana, Alejandra González. A Brighter Future? – Mexico. December 2018.
Skobic, Aleksandar. Genetic Code Name: Unique – Bosnia and Herzegovina. December 2018.
Sekulić, Jelena. Nesigurnost of the Past, Present and Future – Serbia. June 2018.
Sem, Sebastião. Vagrant Poets. September 2018.
Sepi, Andreea. Uncertainties Galore – Germany. April 2018.
Sevunts, Nane. From Uncertainty to Newness. November 2018.
Sitorus, Rina. When Uncertainty Reaches the Land of Certainty – Indonesia and the Netherlands. May 2018.
Trojnar, Kamila. Ephemeral. October 2018.
Quintero, Jonay. The Fear of Not Knowing – España. January 2018.
Uberti, Alejandra Baccino. Adventure – Uruguay. September 2018.
Vuka. Lacking Uncertainty in Political Culture – Serbia. April 2018.
Wallis, Toni. Living for Today – South Africa. October 2018.
Younes, Ghadir. Economic Uncertainty in Life – Lebanon. Part 38.
Zakharova, Anastasiya. LGBQT – Russia. August 2018.
The Anthology of Global Instability
Alvisi, Andrea. Political and Social Instability: The Brexit Mess. May 2017.
Bahras. Unstable Air Pollution – Unstable Solutions: Mongolia. June 2017.
Bichen, Svetlana Novoselova. Mental and Cultural Instability: Russia and Turkey. February 2017.
Bondarenko, Evgeny. Hybrid War: Ukraine. December 2018.
Borghi, Silvana Renée. Living in Inestabilidad. September 2017.
Caetano, Raphael. Instabilidade emocional: Brazil. February 2017.
Çakır, Peren. On the Road in Search of Stability: Argentina and Turkey. June 2017.
Casas, Marilin Guerrero. Emotional Estabilidad: The Key To a Happy Life – Cuba. December 2017.
Charles-Dee. Social Onstabiliteit – South Africa. December 2017.
Cordido, Verónica. Instability, a Stable Reality: Venezuela and America. April 2017.
Dastan, S.A. The Stability of Instability: Turkey and Syria. March 2017.
D’Adam, Anton. Psychosocial Instability in Argentina and America: El granero del mundo and The Manifest Destiny. January 2017.
Delibasheva, Emilia. Political Instability: Electoral Coups in America and Bulgaria. December 2016.
Ellie. Angry Folk: Korea. June 2017.
Farid, Isis Kamal. Stability Is Not An Option – Egypt. August 2017.
Friedrich, Angelika. Introduction: The Emblem of Instability. September 2016.
Fondevik, Vigdis. Unstable Nature: Norway and Denmark. October 2016.
Ghadir, Younes. Political Instability – Lebanon. September 2017.
Gómez, Javier. The Way of No Way – Argentina and the UK. December 2017.
Gotera, Jay R. In Flux Amid Rising Local and Regional Tensions – Philippines. November 2017.
Guillot, Iulianna. Starting and Staying in Instability – Moldova. October 2017.
Gjuzelov, Zoran. The Нестабилност of Transition – Macedonia. November 2017.
Halimi, Sophia. Modern Instabilité: Youth and Employment in France and China. March 2017.
Hernandez, Jonay Quintero. Embracing Instability – Spain. February 2017.
Kelvin, Sera. The Stability in Expecting Emotional Instability: Brazil. April 2017.
Konbaz, Rahaf. The Castaways: On the Verge of Life – Syria. August 2017.
Korneeva, Ekaterina. Instability… or Flexibility? July 2017.
Kreutzer, Karina. Hidden Instabilität – Ecuador and Switzerland. December 2017.
Krnceska, Sofija. Decades of Economic Instability – Macedonia. September 2017.
Kutscher, Karin. Inestabilidad in Interpersonal Relationships – Chile. October 2017.
Larousse, Annabelle. Legal and Emotional Instability in a Transgender Life – Ireland. August 2017.
Larrosa, Mariela. The Very Stable Spanish Instability. April 2017.
Lobos, José. Political Instability: Guatemala. May 2017.
Lozano, Gabriela. Estructuras Inestables: Vignettes of a Contemporary, Not Quite Collapsing Country – Mexico. November 2017.
MacSweeny, Michael. A House on a Hill – America. October 2017.
Mankevich, Tatiana. The Absence of Linguistic Cтабiльнасць: Does the Belarusian Language Have a Future? December 2016.
McGuiness, Matthew. Loving Lady Instability. November 2017.
Meschi, Isabelle. Linguistic Instabilité and Instabilità: France and Italy. November 2016.
Mitra, Ashutosh. The Instability of Change: India. January 2016.
Moussly, Sahar. The Instability of Tyranny: Syria and the Syrian Diaspora. December 2016.
Nastou, Eliza. Psychological Αστάθεια and Inestabilidad during the Economic Crisis: Greece and Spain. December 2016.
Nevosadova, Jirina. Whatever Happens, It Is Experience. May 2017.
Olisthoughts. Stable Instability – Moldova. October 2017.
Partykowska, Natalia. Niestabilność and адсутнасць стабільнасці in the Arts: Polish and Belarusian Theater. January 2017.
Payan, Rodrigo Arenas. Impotence – Venezuela and Columbia. September 2017.
Persio, P.L.F. Social Instabilità and Instabiliteit: Italy and the Netherlands. November 2016.
Pranevich, Liubou. Cultural Instability: Belarus and Poland. March 2017.
Protić, Aleksandar. Demographic Instability: Serbia. July 2017.
Romano, Mavi. Unstable Identities: Ecuador and Europe. October 2016.
Sekulić, Jelena. Нестабилност/Nestabilnost in Language – Serbia. August 2017.
Sepa, Andreea. Instabilitate vs. Stabilität: How Important Are Cultural Differences? – Romania and Germany. September 2017.
Shunit. Economic Instability: Guinea and Gambia. April 2017.
Shalunova, Marina. Language Instability: Russia. June 2017
Sitorus, Rina. Instabilitas Toleransi: Indonesia. May 2017.
Skrypka, Vladyslav. National нестійкість: Ukraine. July 2017.
Staniulis, Justas. Nestabilumas of Gediminas Hill and the Threat to the Symbol of the State: Lithuania. July 2017.
Sousa, Antonia. Social and Economic Instabilidade: Portugal. January 2017.
Vuka. My Intimate Imbalanced Inclination. March 2017.
Walton, Éva. Historical and Psychological Bizonytalanság within Hungarian Culture. January 2017.
Yücel, Sabahattin. The Instability of Turkish Education and its Effect on Culture and Language: Turkey. July 2017.
Zadrożna-Nowak, Amelia. Economic Instability: Poles at Home and the Polish Diaspora. November 2016.
Zakharova, Anastasiya. Instability in Relationships: Russia. April 2017.
CW 6 – South Africa – Sarah Leah Pimentel
CW 7 – Bolivia – Osvaldo Montano
CW 8 – Spain – Jonay Quintero Hernandez
CW 9 – Indonesia – Rina Sitorus
CW 10 – Mexico – Alejandra Gonzalez Sarinana
CW 11 – Armenia – Armine Asryan
CW 12 – Serbia – Vuka Mijuskovic
CW 13 – Peru – Monica Valenzuela
CW 14 – Bosnia and Herzegovina – Aleksandar Skobic
CW 15 – Argentina – Julieta Spirito
CW 16 – Italy – Mary Ranaldo
CW 17 – Lebanon – Ghadir Younes
CW 18 – Cuba – Marilin Guerrero Casas
CW 19 – Ukraine – Evgeny Bondarenko
CW 20 – Uruguay – Andrea da Silva Escandell
CW 21 – Spain – Jazz Williams
CW 22 – Armenia – Mania Israyelyan
CW 23 – Poland – Pawel Awdejuk
CW 24 – Balkans – Aleksandar Protic
CW 25 – Italy – Daniela Cannarella
CW 26 – Serbia – Jelena Sekulic
CW 27 – Tajikistan – Nigina Kanunova
CW 28 – Portugal – Nuno Rosalino
CW 29 – Uruguay – Lillian Julber
CW 30 – Argentina – Javier Gomez
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed