“Lateral thinkers” scene: radical and lonely

A demonstrator who relativizes the Holocaust is taken away. © dpa

The then head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in North Rhine-Westphalia already sounded desperate last May. The "lateral thinkers" movement had not yet reached its peak. "We have to start very fundamentally and ask ourselves: what emotions are driving?"Burkhard Freier said, and continued: "Above all, there is fear. Not only the fear of the disease, but also existential hardships, such as fear of loneliness." If people felt they could do nothing, conspiracy myths would provide an outlet.

Recently, it was possible to read who was writing hate mail to Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soder (CSU) in particular: mostly men over 50 who were single. It fits in with this that, when it came to political perpetrators of violence in recent years, there was increasingly talk of alleged or actual "lone perpetrators" such as in Idar-Oberstein. There, a man shot down the young employee of a gas station because he asked him to wear a mask.

So what if the insanity of these days and the now almost daily "walks" against the Corona policy have to do with the fact that the insane no longer find anyone to talk to – and thus no one to slow them down either? There is evidence of this.

Large networks on the Internet

At first glance, all the "walks" and chat rooms on messenger services like Telegram and elsewhere look like great networking. Belief in conspiracy myths appears unifying. Networks are actually pulling strings in the background.

At second glance, however, a great deal of isolation becomes visible. The members of the scene draw their "cultural fuel" from the same source, writes journalist Nils Minkmar in the Suddeutsche Zeitung: "Hours of solo sessions in front of radicalization films and chat groups on the major platforms, theoretically networked, but in fact completely alone."

Depending on one’s perspective, this process is triggered or exacerbated by the fact that real networking and thus real conversations with speech and counter-speech are decreasing because the degree of organization is declining almost everywhere: in associations, churches, parties or unions. Not to mention private relationships in single-person households. A further stage of isolation is the home office, forced by Covid-19.

No one is there to say "No

Minkmar writes: "When everyday life was still characterized communicatively by extended family, company, neighborhood, church and unions, the grossest historical aberrations would have been cleared up before lunch. Today, on the other hand, many people work on their private ideologies like model builders once worked on complex wooden ships in their hobby cellars." Often there is no one left to say no! Large organizations also served to reconcile positions and conveyed the fine art of compromise, the journalist continued. Such forums have become rare.

As an example of public isolation, Minkmar cites publicist Ken Jebsen, who was once a journalist at Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB), had to leave there after accusations of anti-Semitism, and further isolated himself socially as his radicalization progressed – which led to further radicalization.

Other examples came to mind, albeit far less radical: former Left Party leader Sahra Wagenknecht, for example, of whom it has long been said in the Left that she is rather reluctant to attend committee meetings and is not available for small talk. So the 52-year-old, who most recently joined the ranks of vaccine skeptics, is drifting further and further away. The result: at the last North Rhine-Westphalian state party conference, the majority of delegates didn’t want to hear it.

Friendships break up over issues of contention

With regard to the "lateral thinkers" scene, Freier, the former constitutional protector, says: "We experience that friendships break up over these disputes. People get caught up in conspiracy myths. They break off their previous contacts – with their family, sometimes even with their workplace. This fuels a real downward spiral, which leads to these people becoming more and more radicalized."

The paradox is that people who secretly suffer from a lack of cohesion reject solidarity-based solutions that would strengthen cohesion, whether in the refugee or the Corona crisis. Spain is a positive counterexample, at least at the moment. There, the vaccination rate is high and the number of "lateral thinkers" is manageable. And the Spanish are people who like to spend time together.

Fitting into the "lateral thinker" context is how Austrian psychiatrist Heidi Kastner defines "stupidity": not as a lack of intelligence, but as a lack of consideration in thinking. "Stupid people don’t see themselves as part of a structure; for them, their own interests always come first," says the Linz-based specialist, who has written a book on the subject. "The zen-tra-le characteristic of stupid people is that they exclusively prioritize their own position and ignore everything else. You can also see that in this Corona pandemic, where people are saying: ‘I’ll keep it all to myself.’"

A downward spiral looms

Finally, there is a threat of a downward spiral, both individually and socially. For example, conflict researcher Andreas Zick recently warned that the course of the Corona conflict could have negative consequences for the resolution of other political problems. "A strong coherent society creates herd immunity," he said – through vaccinations. However, this herd immunity is not occurring. "Now we may have less social cohesion at the end of the pandemic than we had before," Zick opined. This will have an impact on how they deal with future challenges, he said.

Ex-constitutional protector Freier thinks along similar lines. The question is "how to approach people in a preventive way and also look at their living conditions," he said – toward more community. This is "a really complex task" and is "now a high priority".

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