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Freedom of Speech: The Screaming Spiral


Can one no longer say freely how many believe? The opposite is true: there is too much of it.

It is already a sign emanating from the University of Hamburg: When Bernd Lucke, a retired founding member of the AfD, wanted to give a lecture there on Wednesday, black-clad protesters stormed past the security checkpoint and made sure that the event had to be canceled , Already at his first attempt a week earlier, Lucke had shouted in the lecture hall, insulted as a "Nazi pig" and physically harassed. He had to leave the campus under police protection. A sign so - only where? Against the right wing? Many would rather say: against freedom of expression. "In Germany, you can not say anything bad about foreigners without immediately being labeled a racist" - 68 per cent of all young people agree with this statement.

This was the result of the Shell Youth Study 2019, which became public the day before the Lucke Lecture. 53 percent think on top of that, "the government keeps the truth out of the population." Mind you: We are talking about 12 to 25 year olds. From the Greta generation, who are taking to the streets worldwide for their concerns. Perhaps the rebellious youth often just repeats what they hear at home: According to an Allensbach study, 78 percent of Germans are now "cautious" when commenting on some or even too many topics. The Discourse DNA of the 21st Century

Seriously? Especially today, where there is more opinion than ever, on all channels, around the clock, freedom of expression should be in danger? You could make it easy now and explain the feeling for the devious. But that's not it. It has a logical origin: Where there are more and more opinions, there are also more and more opinions. And with the points of view, it is like children: the more clash, the louder the individual must be to attract attention. And the coarser and shriller. So very few will fear if they can express a position.

It's about whether they can withstand the social costs. But this finding is neither tragic nor new: it is beneficial for people to think twice before they speak out on sensitive issues. Not all people have gotten worse. Those who wanted to oppose the mainstream always had to expect headwinds. As early as the 1970s, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann described her theory of the spiral of silence, according to which opinions are expressed less frequently the more they deviate from the assessment of the perceived climate of opinion.

But what is this opinion climate? This would probably describe, for example, a refugee worker in Thuringia differently than the Asta in Hamburg. Public opinion is not objective, it varies with time and place. And she is constantly renegotiated. New is not this negotiation process in itself. What is new is how many milieus compare their own truths against each other. In the past, if one were at the mercy of the embarrassing NPD uncle at family festivals, all milieus collide in social media today. Constant, unchecked, unfiltered. So devour two spirals: a silence and a screaming spiral.

The discourse DNA of the 21st century can be brutal. A half sentence can be enough for a shitstorm. The boundaries between contradiction and character murder melt away. Recently, a court ruled that it was not an insult to call the politician Renate Künast "a piece of shit". But who concludes that the discourse is completely unbounded, stops halfway. The case of Künast, for example, was widely criticized. The company has responded. She has not forgotten her reflexes - but changed. Public opinion is a cultural product that is disputed, not obstructed.

The assassin of Halle shared his hatred only in obscure forums. Hardly anyone had the chance to contradict. Of course, not every contradiction is good, especially not when it attacks unchangeable views of the other's unchangeable properties such as gender, skin color or religion. All the more important are discursive shelters, from the Bundestag to lecture theaters, which are about arguments and not about people, about solutions and not just about having a say. In which the civilizational value of dispute is maintained. Because he is undoubtedly high. Or, as Helmut Schmidt said: "A democracy in which there is no dispute is not."

A shorter version of this article appeared in the TIME 44/2019.

Source: zeit

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