By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Germany right now is in the midst of an absurd “cultural war,” where society on a day to day basis is confronted by self- proclaimed “guardians” and “judges” – who raise their voice in defense of “gender language” and of “political correctness”, what is “discrimination”, what is “identity.” It is a “sophist” (a person who uses sophistry [clever but untrue arguments] in order to deceive people – Cambridge dictionary) and “hairsplitting” debate about words, pushed forward by those who want to abolish the “patriarchal” structures in society in the name of feminist linguistics, preaching the virtues of “gender language”, “decolonization” and “deconstruction” in philosophy and art.
The obsession with “gender language” has conquered various TV stations and Media. Leading news moderators (ZDF and Deutschlandfunk) no more use the generic masculine but instead of “Programmierer” they say “Programmierer* innen”, “Ärzt*innen” or “Zuhörer* innen”, i.e. they use the “gender star” so as to be perceived as “neutral” by having included with “*innen” the female person. “Gender light.de” is a project of female journalists for example that is even supported by the German family ministry which offers help for all those who feel discriminated by the use of language and speech. For example, if among 99 male doctors there is one female doctor – she may feel repressed and discriminated by not being explicitly mentioned. Hence the regulation to say: Ärzt*innen. They also demand that “if women or trans- and intersexual persons” are being talked about in a given text, they should be explicitly identified.
Another typical example is the storm of indignation which was breaking out in respect to the well- known German historian from the Berlin Humboldt University – Professor Joerg Baberowski- whose “center for the study of dictatorships” (Baberowski is expert on Eastern European History and Stalin etc.) got cancelled and his university lectures boycotted. He was accused for being too much “pro- Russian”. Like many other professors teaching in different German universities he became a victim of what is today known as “cancel culture.”
Origin of “Gender-debate” and “Cancel culture”
This sophist debate has its origin in the USA, in the philosophical studies of Judith Pamela Butler (born February 24, 1956), an American philosopher and gender theorist whose work has influenced political philosophy, ethics, and the fields of third-wave feminist, queer, and literary theory. She is deeply steeped in the “critical theory of the Frankfurt School” and became known for her books Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) and Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (1993), in which she challenges the conventional notions of gender and develops her theory of gender performativity. This theory has had a major influence on feminist and queer scholarship. Butler has supported lesbian and gay rights movements and has spoken out on many contemporary political issues, including criticism of Zionism, Israeli politics, and their effects on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Following the argumentation of Butler’s theory, we can see that the present debate in Germany qualifies those who defend certain fundamental “values” of our society such as justice, tolerance, love, truth seeking, solidarity, the belief in monotheistic religion and belief in family life – as “racist” or “right-extremist”. Value oriented people are considered as a typical expression of a “racist and patriarchal world view”; as people who believe in the classical philosophy of “dead white male philosophers” (such as Plato or Aristotle). What is demanded instead is that they should be replaced with an “identity” philosophy. A typical case is an article in the New York Times Magazine (2.February 2021) about Princeton Professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta, an Afro-American professor for Classical Greek and Roman studies. In the article by Rachel Poser the professor stated that these classical philosophers would be too much connected with the identity of “Western civilization” which is based on the concept of “wisdom” and “white supremacy”. He therefore called for a “purge” of the university curricula from the philosophy of “dead white male philosophers” – who represent a “racist” philosophy. Exemplary is also the case of mathematics curricula at the university of Oregon and recommendation by the Oregon Cultural Department that in Mathematics 2+ 2≠ 4 i.e. this “rule” is an outflow of “white supremacy” and alternative ways should be probed (FAZ, 02.03.21). (sic!)
Critical remarks by former German Parliament President
On February 22nd 77 year old Prof. Wolfgang Thierse (SPD), former President of the German Federal Parliament, published an essay in the German daily FAZ, under the Title How much “identity” can society tolerate? Identity policy should not become a trench-warfare that destroys the sense of public spirit: What we need is a new Solidarity. Thierse correctly identified those modern forms of ideological war and reported that today the question where and what somebody culturally belongs to, is causing heated debates and splits society more than the question of “political and social justice.” The ideological debate focusses on “ethnic and sexual identity”, on the debate about “racism”, “post colonialism” and “gender”. Thierse pointed out that “right wing identity policy” only focusses on “cultural and national homogeneity.” It is patriotism, which expresses hatred and intolerance against those outsiders who think differently and calls for their exclusion.
On the other side, he observes that “left identity policy” is based on the demand for “equality” which aims at fighting for the equality rights (political, economic and social) for minorities and which is an answer to what is described as the “experience of discrimination.” Thierse refers to the “cancel culture” phenomenon in German society which is spreading right now in academic circles, leading many times to the exclusion of people from the universities who have a “deviating” opinion and who don’t use a language that is “politically correct”, or “regulated”. This is in reality counter to any democratic culture. The absurdity is that it is not “rational arguments” which dominate the debate, but “origin” or social status, which decides, what is “correct”. He speaks about the spread of an ideology that is opposing “white supremacy” and uses the myth of some kind of “hereditary guilt.” Along the line that whoever is “white” is “guilty.” And therefore “black facing”, the playing of roles in theater of black people for example by white actors, should not be allowed. When university professors have to prudently find out how to address their student audience, whether for example they address them with Good afternoon, Missis, Mister, Human, Diverse etc. this is no more a harmless thing, Thierse stated.
Thierse described what we see right now as “a new form of iconoclasm”: The eradication of names, the overthrow of statues and monuments (like the Christopher Columbus statue in San Francisco 2020), the denunciation of intellectual giants. What we see is “symbolic acts of liberation” from a disturbing “evil” history where the “subjective concern” counts more than the name of a statue or philosopher. Since we live in an ethnic, cultural and religious pluralist society, Thierse calls for an “in depth debate” in society which should concentrate on that which is the “common basis of values” that is keeps our society together. Society can’t function “if single groups only insist on their difference, on their specific “identity”, but we should make the effort to see what is common concerning the ideas of freedom, justice, cultural norms, tradition and historical memories.” In an interview with the German radio DLF (26.02) Thierse reported that his article produced a “shit storm” and “hashtags” from homosexual and lesbian people. He was called an “old white man with heterosexual” orientation. One loud voice against these thoughts of Thierse was raised by Trier University Gender Theorist, Prof. Andrea Geier (also head of the Center for Gender and Postcolonial studies) who pleaded for a much more “gender oriented” and “gender sensitive” debate in Germany.
Gender-language and gender star – a new form of “language police”
Back in March 2019 the “Verein Deutsche Sprache e.V. (Association of German Language) with 36.000 members published an appeal which was signed by 73.000 people, including prominent language researchers, writers, poets, politicians, former ambassadors and media people. They essentially stated that the so called “gender correct language” is based on a “general error” – namely that there is a connection between the biological sex and the grammatical gender (in German the language for example says: Der Löwe, die Giraffe, das Pferd) They further state that “gender” produces a variety of “ridiculous language constructs”, for example by using participles in order to avoid any explicit gender. Instead of Radfahrer it should say by adding the participle Radfahrende, Fahrzeugführende oder Studierende. The Language society calls for massive resistance against such “gender nonsense” which however has conquered various TV stations and Media.
Betrayal of our ancient philosophical heritage of Western civilization
Whoever masters the use of classical humanist language and believes in the classical principles of art and truth seeking along Plato’s method of “dialogue”, experiences at present in Germany or the USA that he is seen as “racist”, as someone who identifies with the philosophy of “dead white male”. One such “Dead white male” is for example the Greek Philosopher Plato, who in his well- known work “Republic” made a masterful critique of that which is the basis for today’s iconoclasm: It’s Sophistry and the Sophists – in reality a sect – which during Plato’s time were belonging to the most fervent enemies of Socrates’ dialectical method. During Plato’s time- typical sophists were figures like “Trasymachos” a staunch personal enemy of Plato and his dialectical method.
In the famous dialogue “Republic” Trasymachos proclaimed that “power is the right of the stronger”- a motto which was used by the Nazi legal advisor Carl Schmitt and later by autocrats. Plato in his oeuvre proved that the sophists were the true enemies of his beloved teacher Socrates: It was the Sophists who organized a trial against Socrates that ended in a death sentence against him, accusing him for having negatively organized the youth by teaching them the rigorous application of his dialectical method of thinking. The characteristics of the Sophists were that they exchanged mere “opinions” opposite to looking for truth. In his dialogue Plato showed that in such a sophist society everything is arbitrary in the name of “democracy” and everybody does what pleases him: Hence the teacher flatters his pupils and students, while the parents “compete” with their sons and daughters. We should finally add to this absurd debate that at present the most fervent defenders of “gender” society can be found among some of the German Liberal party adherents and the Greenies. They suggested a law whereby each individual can choose the “gender” it wants to have, beginning at the age of 14 (without consent of the parents), namely to choose whether it wants to be male, female, gay, lesbian, transsexual, bisexual or diverse, i.e. “how they feel about their sexual orientation”, their “true identity”.