Interview with Hartmut Rosa #2: “We are in a test laboratory”

The corona pandemic forces us to rethink everything, claims sociologist Hartmut Rosa. Our society has reinvented itself – and heard it.

taz: Mr. Rosa, where do we reach you with our call?

Hartmut Rosa: In the Black Forest.

Did you follow the Chancellor’s recommendations and didn’t go to Jena?

Absolutely everything was canceled there and most of it was closed. It is a historically unique situation that the calendar empties instead of filling up. Most of the time the gaps are still filled with some dates. At the moment it is the other way round: I cancel this appointment, that appointment, this flight …

Do you have to rethink things now?
Yes, because it's something new. But I assume, I am not the only one who has a different everyday life all of a sudden.
You're the one who talked more about deceleration than many others. In your book “Resonance. A Sociology of the World Relationship“ you described the loss of resonance experience in relation to a constantly accelerating world.
Yes, and now we definitely have a form of forced deceleration, while we continue to live in a society that can only be maintained by increasing its structure. If you stop something like that, you usually pay a high price. We still have to pay for it. We live in a reality that is calibrated for growth, dynamism, growth - and that is now obsolete.
Because a virus got in the way. 
It doesn't eat up the planes or break the rails. Rather, we are the ones who stop this huge machine in suspicion, presumption, and sometimes also observation of danger. We have never had such a radical stopping. The result of it is completely uncertain.
If you had imagined such crisis scenarios months ago, you would probably have thought that everyone was hysterical and anxious. Though, now everything goes off very reasonably.
Panic is not really visible, I agree. However, I am a little worried that something similar to the refugee crisis of 2015 may happen again. Back then, as you may remember, the first reactions were really overwhelming, human and appropriate to the situation.

One could have been be really excited!

Indeed, solidarity, charity and a welcome culture at every train station and people thought: this is a sign, a new start for society. But it didn't last long. And today we have a total loss of solidarity and even compassion for the people who are on the Greek-Turkish border. Therefore, I am not sure how sustainable it is, what we see in terms of discipline, solidarity and reason. We have an exceptional situation that feels ambivalent.
What kind of conflict do you feel?
On the one hand, we have this notorious, long-practiced urge to act: the world becomes a point of aggression; you have to do a lot of things. Such an attitude does not disappear overnight. However, this attitude is currently shifting almost entirely to the digital world. The streams are still racing, you think you have to write to this friend here, inquire there, check the Guardian, the New York Times, social media. This is contrary to a massive slowdown in real physical life. Where on the one hand you feel shut down and excluded, on the other you suddenly discover new forms of solidarity and new forms of devotion.

Are you truly surprised?

No. That's what I've been trying to get across for a while through what I write. The fact that the hamster wheel is turning and doing this faster and faster, forces us into a mode of aggression towards the world. This blocks you from all kinds of perceptions. Acoustic signals, optical signals, signals from neighbors: Whoever and whatever I come across, I hide from them because I am in a hurry and I have a goal, I have to be efficient. Now, suddenly there is almost nothing left to do. My world is very limited in space and time to immediate vicinity: I cannot go far and cannot plan far into the future. I call this a radical reduction in global reach. And then you open up again in a mode that I describe as a resonance mode, namely: hearing, perceiving and answering without wanting to do anything in particular, without having to optimize.

This resonance moment is currently the common one, isn’t it?

Basically, I am convinced that new things can only be created through resonance relationships and moments. And that's why I would say that we are in a collective resonance moment: In a situation where we all listen, open up to each other and the world, and are able to find an answer. And there, perhaps in the sense of Hannah Arendt, something new can emerge collectively. Society can reinvent itself. And yes, it really needed it.

The crisis as opportunity, as some already say?

If one were to look for optimistic interpretations of the situation, I would say that this is exactly where the opportunity lies: that one experiences new forms of encounters in being in the world and dealing with one another, from which we may also be able to benefit or to be nourished, when the economic consequences, the unachievable pressure of increases take place.

Are you afraid of the radical, also ecological, halt in our society based on growth logic?

Of course, the concern is that jobs will be lost, public budgets will be imbalanced, and the health system will not be maintained. The question is how this kind of society, which we have established, can live at such a slow pace in the medium or long term. You have to come up with institutional changes, but maybe this now virally induced crisis is exactly the point at which we make a transition. I mean, since the Club of Rome report in the early 1970s, people have somehow dreamed of reducing emissions or putting a stop to this insane growth. And we were completely incapable of it. Smart books, conferences, taz conferences and other things, took on this growth constraint or the logic of growth. The climate crisis threatens us more and more - and nothing has changed at all. But the virus instantly stops this huge machine. It is absolutely fascinating.

A crisis without an enemy?

The virus is the enemy, not only the political president Emmanuel Macron has declared war on it. This enemy represents the socially unavailable: we do not have it under control scientifically, we cannot treat it medically, there is no vaccination, we cannot keep it from spreading politically, there is no regulation, the economic consequences are becoming increasingly dark. I find that really interesting, theoretically this concerns me the most at the moment. Because I read the crisis a bit like the last chapter of my book on incomprehensibility, which has the title: The Return of Incomprehensibility as a Monster.

An anonymized process, right?

Behind our back, unavailability creeps into all everyday practical levels of life. Because we don't hear the virus, we don't smell it, we don't taste it. Suddenly we don't know if the handle or the bill we touch carries a potentially fatal germ. There is an enemy in the game for sure, but fortunately this enemy currently has no national, political or personnel component.

How long can society sit through this?

At the moment it is the case that most people, especially the younger ones, say: Actually I am not at risk, but I show solidarity with the older and the weak ...

… at least most of them.

The question is how this will have effects in the long term. I am not so convinced that the corona experience is sufficient to suddenly transform us into thoroughly civilized people. We shouldn't be blue-eyed.

German to English translation kindly undertaken by Maria Faust M.A.and it was supported by the Czech Science Foundation grant no 19-15511S. The interview was published at Taz.De and conducted by Jan Feddersen and Edith Kresta. Here is the original sourceHartmut Rosa agreed with translation and publication of this interview. 

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