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.

January 23, 2019
Charles McKelvey
Popular Democracy in Cuba
Kenn Orphan
The Smile of Class Privilege
Leonard Peltier
The History Behind Nate Phillips’ Song
Kenneth Surin
Stalled Brexit Goings On
Jeff Cohen
The System’s Falling Apart: Were the Dogmatic Marxists Right After All?
Cira Pascual Marquina
Chavez and the Continent of Politics: a Conversation with Chris Gilbert
George Ochenski
Turning Federal Lands Over to the States and Other Rightwing Fantasies
George Wuerthner
Forest Service Ignores Science to Justify Logging
Raouf Halaby
In the Fray: Responses to Covington Catholic High
Kim C. Domenico
No Saviors But Ourselves; No Disobedience Without Deeper Loyalty
Ted Rall
Jury Trial? You Have No Right!
Michael Doliner
The Pros and Cons of Near Term Human Extinction
Lee Ballinger
Musical Unity
Elliot Sperber
The Ark Builders
January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Glenn Sacks
Teachers Strike Dispatch #8: New Independent Study Confirms LAUSD Has the Money to Meet UTLA’s Demands
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposable Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail