Robert Misik, a Vienna journalist and political writer, presented an essay called “The false friends of the ordinary people.” I instantly wonder who exactly is meant by the “ordinary” people? Colloquially the term indicateds the working class, that kind of people who earn their money by hard and simple work: nurses, till girls, dustmean just to name a few.
Who are those ordinary people?
Misik concludes that there is no such thing as a homogeneous group of people who represent THE ordinary people. Finally the composition of our domestic population has changed in the past decades, i.e. through immigration. Okay, there is no simple definition.
How about the “false” friends? Who are they? The politicians? The middle class? The elite? The rightwing populists? We see, whoever is looking for simple answers that reduce complexity of reality to polarised thinking will not like this essay. And still or maybe because of that it is worth while to read the 132 pages of the Vienna writer.
The apathetic citizen
I’d like to illustrate my opinion by taking a closer look at some passages of the book. We start with the caste of politicians. This group is not aiming at showing competence but to represent it, to be more electable than the rival is and to shine with show talent within an culture of garrulity. The whole bunch is controlled by PR-consultants, opinion formers and lobbyists. Looking at lobby list of the German Bundestag seems to confirm this impression. Has this kind of politics anything to do with the man on the street? Presumably politicians do not care too much about the working class they rather want them to be apathetic. And the man on the street? He feels desertation, contempt. He considers himself a loser of globalisation and of increasing immigration – immigrants are cheaper workers at least. That results in a sentiment of degradation, that is the latent menace to be replacable at any time by someone who does any work at a cheap price. This turns human beings to a mere cost centre.
Existential security as measure for satisfaction
What are the ingredients of a reliable existence that has an optimistic overtone, makes life reasonably projectable and gives the feeling to have souvereinigty over one’s own life? Recognition, respect, to be treated with dignity, to have a boss who takes social responsibility and regards his employees as human beings not as a tool. Sounds manageable doesn’t it? But there is something that does not match with this requirements: progress and return assumptions: digitization, flexibility, declining wages, disclocation of jobs and/or staffing with “cheaper” workers. This is how employees are being put under pressure, become beggars, are repressed. The result can be the loss of self-esteem.
What distinguishes the “false” friends?
Snobbery, arrogance, nannyism and imbalance in power are part of the decreasing respect towards the ordinary people. These behaviour patterns are accompanied by looking down onto the working class. Traumas by class affiliation the author calls this phenomena. The outcome are fears, provoked by powerlessness and chronicle experience of being hurt which bury into the psyche of the individual.
Empathetic understanding as prerequisite
Can those ordinary people be lumped together? Are those people are the ones who are being caught by the populists? Again, there is no simple answer. Misik draws the conclusion that those people are no racists but disappointed. They are simply frustrated by their handling through politicians: Economic hardship, experience of being downgraded and cultural alienation by cumulative immigration lead to acrimony. A harsher competition on jobs, flats, good training schools makes them insecure. What do those people need? Respekt, security and a bit of luck. Misiks essay is thought-provoking. Excellent!