FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany

In Germany, there is apparently no limit to the amount of absurd sophistry regarding how to treat people entering the country. When it comes to illegal immigration, refugees and political asylum, one general indication that we are living a potential disaster is not so much the number of migrants but the inability to recognize just how painfully hilarious the public debate about them has become. Here are just a few of the elements of what has become a public embarassment. The sequence in which they are listed here is not intended to reflect their relative importance.

One of the more insidious words used in this context is “we”. Admittedly this point is not one specific position statement, but it covers a lot of ground. For example: “Yes, we can.” Nearly everyone of any political stripe can sign up to this. That’s because it is practically meaningless. It is an empty bucket into which anyone can puke whatever they have recently slurped, chomped and incompletely digested. If you hear the pronoun “we” used in public policy statements you should be concerned. It is possibly an “I” in disguise or a group that the speaker himself cannot clearly identify. This also applies to “they”, especially where it is understood as the counterpart to “we”.

Dead language. Example: “The boat is full.” More credible, and hence more insidious: “Merkel has opened the border.” Germany is not a boat and, in fact, nobody knows what in this context the word full means. Specifically, there is far too little public discussion of substantial questions regarding population density, social cohesion, integration, etc. Moreover, the border has no door or gate that was once closed and is now open. The statement is complete nonsense. As with the first statement, its emptiness is exposed as soon as the discussion becomes concrete. It is not an exageration to claim that nearly all public discussions about the topic of migration are infected with dead language.

“The reason there are so many refugees entering the country is because of the  human smugglers.” No. This statement is false. The reason there are so many human smugglers is that there are so many refugees. The reason the latter are victimized so frequently is that their migration has been illegalized. These travel agencies operate in a market that has been made illegal. That is why they are called smugglers. No, they are not smuggling their customers through doors (closed, ajar or wide open) but rather around obstacles, man-made obstacles. Cracking down on smugglers means making a desperate situation more desperate (concretely: refugees will pay higher fees for travel services and accept more dangerous travel conditions).

None of this would be of any interest except to language analysts if it weren’t for the damaging consequences of a non-critical attitude towards the use of language. There is no truth in language, only commonly agreed deceptions. As long as language users all agree on a deception, it’s the truth. And nearly everyone loves lies. Readers and movie-goers even pay to be deceived. What people are afraid of is suffering injury or damage. But what happens when our choice of words is inadequate? And what does that mean? I suggest that most people could care less that the truths of the day are merely popularly accepted deceptions. What should be of concern, however, is that particular deceptions lead to specific damages, injuries and loss of life. Between Aleppo and Stockholm, Kundus and Hamburg, Bamako and Paris, all this is happening now.

More articles by:

William Hadfield is an American translator residing in Germany.

November 14, 2018
Charles Pierson
Unstoppable: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and NAFTA
Sam Bahour
Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take
Cesar Chelala
How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health
George Ochenski
What Tester’s Win Means
Louisa Willcox
Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation
George Wuerthner
Alternatives to Wilderness?
Robert Fisk
Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East
Dennis Morgan
For What?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Government is Our Teacher
Bill Martin
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend
Rivera Sun
After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North
Jamie McConnell
Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing
Thomas Knapp
Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?
Bill Glahn
Snow Day
November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
Patrick Howlett-Martin
A Note on the Paris Peace Forum
Joseph G. Ramsey
Does America Have a “Gun Problem”…Or a White Supremacy Capitalist Empire Problem?
Weekend Edition
November 09, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing
Andrew Levine
What Now?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Chuck and Nancy’s House of Cards
Brian Cloughley
The Malevolent Hypocrisy of Selective Sanctions
Marc Levy
Welcome, Class of ‘70
David Archuleta Jr.
Facebook Allows Governments to Decide What to Censor
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Zika Scare: a Political and Commercial Maneuver of the Chemical Poisons Industry
Nick Pemberton
When It Comes To Stone Throwing, Democrats Live In A Glass House
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail