European Hustle

Dangerous Times, Dangerous Ideas

How do you know you are living in dangerous times? Is it the hysterical headlines in the news?

Hardly, the news is always dramatising everything that happens around us. Dangerous times are times when the stability and balance of international norms and institutions are threatened. What truly determines the danger of our time is the amount and legitimacy of dangerous ideologies surfacing or resurfacing.

Fear breeds panic, and panic leads to unsound thinking; readily and happily exploited by extremists. Whether climate change depresses you, or the increasing hysteria around the coronavirus outbreak sends you into a frenzy, it feels like the world is sinking into chaos and our livelihoods are threatened. If only there was a way to regain control, to reestablish order.

Our politicians? Most of them are weak-willed, uninspiring and without a plan or clue for our future. This creates an opening for demagogues, who are more than happy to plant the seeds of their very dangerous ideologies. Freedom is to blame. We need more security and more oversight.

Let’s take the coronavirus outbreak as an example. The main cause for the spread is our globalised society. If people didn’t freely travel across the world, the disease wouldn’t spread as fast and we could contain the outbreak. It’s an argument against globalism and for protectionism served on a silver platter. The panic has even spread to the European institutions.

By now, EP President Sassoli has ordered a three week shut down for all events organised by or on the premises of the European Parliament and it’s worldwide local offices. Staff movements have also been restricted and originally, there were even internal discussions about prohibiting incoming trainees coming from Italy, a loathesome thought, given how much the chance to work in the institutions for a few months means to these young people.

As with everything, there is a silver lining to all of this. For while the political powers that be have been unable to reach an agreement on stopping the monthly travels to Strasbourg, which cost a lot of taxpayer money and causes a significant amount of CO2 emmissions, the coronavirus has managed to temporarily end the travels, as the plenary sessions of the EP have now been moved to Brussels. It is ironic that it took an epidemic for this to happen. Perhaps we should pretend like the epidemic will never stop, just to keep all plenary sessions in Brussels from now on.

But while it is true that diseases spread more easily in a globalised world, it also means that we become more resistent to them over time. Before people travelled regularly, when a visitor from a far away land would come to a town with a new strain of the flu, it could kill a large portion of the population.

To this day, it is dangerous for outsiders to come into contact with some of the isolated indigenous tribes living in places like the Amazon forest, because their immune systems would not be able to handle all of the germs we carry with us and have become immune to.

So in truth, while isolationist behaviour may contain epidemics, a globalised world also ensures that in the long term, humanity becomes naturally more resistant to all kinds of diseases. That is not to say, we should not try to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Of course we should. But we should also remain calm and not panic. We have faced so many epidemics over the years and panic is quick to spread. Remember ebola? Or the bird flu? What about the mad cow disease outbreak in the 90s?

It was tough, but we managed to beat all of them. The coronavirus will be no different. In fact, the virus itself is relatively harmless, compared to the many other epidemics we have had to deal with over the last few decades. The main difference that makes it so dangerous, is that it is able to spread much faster than other diseases, which puts the elderly and people with weak immune systems at serious risks.

Symptoms can be quite mild, and include fever sweat, coughing and respiratory problems. Make sure to go to a doctor if you feel like you may be affected. But please, don’t incite panic in yourself or people around you. Just because someone is sneezing or coughing, doesn’t mean they are dead sick. We have just as many flu viruses making the rounds right now.

Coming back to the issue of climate change, we are experiencing a plethora of horrible and sometimes down right frightening ideas making the rounds. Ideas like regulating what people are allowed to eat and sending people to jail if they refuse to change their habits, or military interventions that would force specific countries to become more climate friendly… How much CO2 do you think a mass military operation would produce? Let’s not even acknowledge stupid ideas by discussing their flaws in detail. Let us focus instead on the fact that stupid ideas are making the rounds and are being taken semi-seriously even by political actors.

A Soviet Union flag, not 100 metres away from the European Parliament in Brussels. Photo Credit: Dominik Kirchdorfer

Some companies are now greenwashing. That means they are riding the green wave, pretending to be eco-friendly, while they are secretly continuing to pollute the Earth. Politics is no different. Every political party and institution is now suddenly green. The European Union’s green deal has also been heavily criticised for being an exercise in greenwashing. Even populist parties that used to deny climate change was real, now either say, okay it is real, but it is not man-made, or they try to utilise it for their own twisted agendas.

By claiming they want to fight climate change, they are attempting to legitimise extreme ideas and policies that would never be accepted by the majority of people in Europe. Ideas I have heard in casual conversation in Brussels include: mass appropriation of wealth by the state, more state intervention in the markets, or centralised planning of agriculture. The extremes went so far as to suggest killing all cows, or even killing people. Analyses, readily served up by mainstream newspapers, that determine that the coronavirus outbreak was good for the Earth, because China’s economy has slowed down, are very dangerous. What are you implying?

At best you are advocating for shutting down all our economies to combat climate change. But shutting down our economies won’t allow us to invent new climate-neutral technology. So are you advocating for going back to the Middle ages, or full on anarchy? Perhaps, you are longing for a new world-spanning edition of the dreaded Soviet Union? At worst, one can interpret it as advocating for genocide. Economies are people. Without people there are no economies.

Ergo, there is no harm to the environment without people. And I have heard this exact sentiment uttered in words. “Let’s just invade China!” or “Let’s get rid of all the polluters in the developing countries. That way we have a chance to save the enviornment!” Collonialism? Nazism? All of these ideas can be associated with these ideologies. Perhaps the Man in the High Castle should become mandatory reading/watching in schools. The amount of horrific policy suggestions uttered on the streets of Brussels is growing day by day, fuelled by the flames of panic, fanned by the mainstream media.

We need to go back to facts and logic-based thinking. If we make policy based only on emotions, and negative emotions run high, it will lead to disastrous decisions being taken, both by our leaders and by us, the electorate. That is why I plead with you to carefully examine any and all ideas and policy solutions presented by people. Saving the planet is important, but we are not saving our ecosystems for the sake of saving them, we are saving them for ourselves, humanity. And if we give up our humanity to save the environment, who are we saving it for?

Dominik Kirchdorfer
Dominik is a European writer and entrepreneur of Austrian and Polish descent. His passion is storytelling and he wants to do everything in his power to give the story of Europe a happy ending. He is currently the President of the EFF - European Future Forum, Editor In-Chief of Euro Babble and EU Adviser to the Austrian Savings Banks Association. Dominik recently published his first SciFi novel, The Intrepid Explorer: First Flight under the nome de plume Nik Kirkham. Twitter: @NikKirkham

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