Wenn ein Land existiert, dessen Bürger die Pflicht haben, sich nicht von gerechtem Zorn, eindrucksvollen Bildern, sentimentalen Geschichten und der Dämonisierung des Anderen mitreißen zu lassen, dann ist es wohl Deutschland. Zumindest beschwören unsere Politiker diese Pflicht gern bei Staatsbesuchen und Kranzniederlegungen.
Denn wenn ich mir die deutschen Medien anschaue, sehe ich wenig davon. Putin ist ein „Monster“ (FAZ), ein „Soziopath“ (Spiegel), Volodimir Selenskyj ist der „Verteidiger der freien Welt.“ (Spiegel) Das Gefühl, das aus diesen Formulierungen spricht, ist gut nachvollziehbar. Was in der Ukraine geschieht ist entsetzlich und die Invasion ist unentschuldbar.
Trotz dieser sehr verständlichen Empörung sollten wir aber zumindest den Versuch machen mit dem Kopf statt mit dem Bauch zu denken.
Wer in Deutschland kann sagen, sich vor dem Einmarsch der russischen Armee intensiv mit der komplizierten politischen Situation in der Ukraine und dem schon seit vielen Jahren schwelenden Konflikt befasst zu haben? Wer weiß noch, wie Obama zur Aufrüstung der Ukraine stand?
Wie war das mit dem Telefonat, in dem der Satz „Fuck the EU“ gefallen ist? Wer hat den wann warum zu wem gesagt? Wer erinnert sich noch an Putins Rede auf der Münchener Sicherheitskonferenz 2007? Wer ist mit dem „Azov Battalion“ vertraut? Wem sagt der Begriff „Russiagate“ etwas?
Vielleicht ist Putin ein Monster und will die Welt beherrschen oder zumindest die Sowjetunion wiedererrichten.
Vielleicht haben viele von uns sich aber auch nur oberflächlich informiert und dem Kräftemessen der Großmächte wenig Aufmerksamkeit geschenkt. Weil es uns nur indirekt betroffen hat, auch wenn beispielsweise die Flüchtlingskrise unter Merkel im direkten Zusammenhang damit stand. Trotzdem schien das immer alles weit weg zu sein.
Wir haben uns in Deutschland sicher gefühlt, auch wenn die Welt für viele andere Menschen, für Syrer, Iraker, Afghanen schon lange nicht mehr sicher war. Wir haben uns lange den Luxus geleistet, Politik als eine Frage des Managements zu sehen. Es ist anstrengend und kostet Zeit, sich mit diesen Themen auseinanderzusetzen. Wir sind lieber in den Urlaub gefahren.
Jetzt müssen wir schmerzhaft neu lernen, dass Politik keine Frage des Managements, sondern eine Frage der Macht ist. Und dass die Auseinandersetzungen der Großmächte sich in einer anarchischen Welt abspielen, in der Gewalt kein Tabu, sondern häufig das Mittel der Wahl ist. Die Menschen im Irak und Syrien wussten das schon lange. Jetzt sind die auch Ukrainer Opfer dieser Auseinandersetzung geworden.
Für jedes komplexe Problem gibt es eine einfacheLösung und die ist die falsche hat Umberto Eco gesagt. Putin ist ein Monster und will die Welt regieren klingt nach so einer einfachen Lösung. Getrieben von hetzerischer Berichterstattung entsteht in Deutschland gerade ein Klima, in dem die Kinder russischer Immigranten in der Schule gemobbt werden und sich von Putin lossagen müssen. Wenn es so weitergeht, fliegen bald Tolstoi und Dostojewski aus den Bücherregalen.
Die Vorstellung, die russische Bevölkerung mit Sanktionen zwingen zu können Putin abzusetzen, ist so eine einfache Lösung. Denn tatsächlich ist dieses Vorgehen nicht nur unmoralisch, es ist auch unlogisch und nicht erfolgsversprechend.Wenn der Tyrann mit eiserner Faust regiert und mit Propaganda manipuliert, welche Verantwortung trägt dann die Bevölkerung?
Gilt „Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar“ nur für Helden, nicht für normale Bürger, die vor allem ihr Leben leben wollen und kein Interesse an Politik haben? Gerade wir Deutsche sollten an dieser Stelle sehr vorsichtig sein.
Abgesehen davon fahren die USA, die Anführer der freien Welt, diesen Ansatz schon seit vielen Jahren erfolglos gegen Kuba, Venezuela und Nordkorea. Auch Afghanistan bleibt unter Sanktionen. Das Resultat: Millionen von Menschen dort drohen zu verhungern.
Wenn eine Nation sich auf die Fahne geschrieben hat, für die Würde jedes Menschens einzutreten, dann ist es die deutsche. Unsere Großeltern und Eltern haben vorgemacht, was es zu vermeiden gilt. Wenn wir eine also Pflicht haben, die sich aus uns unserer Geschichte ableitet, scheint es mir diese zu sein: Jeder Dehumanisierung entgegenzutreten und keine Kollektivurteile zu fällen.
Es ist beklemmend, welche Einhelligkeit plötzlich über das Liefern deutscher Panzerfäuste in die Ukraine besteht. Wenn man den Experten glauben darf, ist es nur eine Frage der Zeit bis zum Sieg der Russen. Wenn das wahr ist, ist es ekelerregend unethisch Waffen zu liefern und ukrainische Verkäuferinnen mit AK47s auf den Straßen Kiews zu verherrlichen.
Wir bejubeln Selenskyj, als wäre er Churchill. Selenskyj fordert eine Flugverbotszone über der Ukraine. Ist allen klar, was das bedeuten würde? Das wäre der Beginn des 3. Weltkriegs. Die erste abgeschossene Mig über der Ukraine wäre unser Sarajevo-Moment.
Wir riskieren damit das Ende der menschlichen Zivilisation, wie wir sie kennen. Ist jemand, der so etwas fordert, der seine Leute in sinnlosen Straßenkämpfen verheizen will, wirklich ein Held? Ein Leader?
Wir haben nicht alle Informationen, aber wir können sicher sein, dass wir als Verbündete der USA nicht auf der Seite der Engel stehen. Im Gegensatz zu den Russen sind wir Bürger einer freiheitlichen Demokratie und können uns umfassend informieren.
Wir sollten diese Chance nutzen und versuchen mit dem Kopf zu denken. Wir sollten unsere Gewissheiten zu hinterfragen, damit diese extrem gefährliche Situation nicht weiter eskaliert. Sehen sich die Situation aus der Perspektive von Glenn Greenwald an. Greenwald ist Jurist und der vielleicht wichtigste amerikanische Journalist.
Geopolitik ist ambivalent, komplex und schmutzig. Die Auseindersetzung damit kostet Mühe und ist desillusionierend. Und das Video ist auch noch auf Englisch. Aber ich verspreche Ihnen, die Mühe lohnt sich.
Ich beobachte die amerikanischen Medien aus beruflichen Gründen schon seit vielen Jahren und hoffe mit der Empfehlung von Greenwalds Video am Ende dieses Artikels einen winzigen Beitrag zur Deeskalation des Diskurses in Deutschland leisten zu können.
Glenn Greenwalds Perspektive entzieht sich deutschen Rastern. Gerade deswegen ist sie so erhellend. Der Krieg in der Ukraine ist Teil einer Auseinandersetzung zwischen Russland und den USA. Die Ukrainer spielen dabei tragischerweise nur eine untergeordnete Rolle.
Glenn Greenwald hat immer wieder bewiesen, dass er ein Autor und Denker ist, dem wir vertrauen können. Er hat den Mut, den Mächtigen die Wahrheit ins Gesicht zu sagen, das Markenzeichen eines echten Journalisten.
Er hat die Snowden-Leaks veröffentlicht und sich gegen Bolsonaro gestellt. Für seinen Mut wurde er fast ermodet. Er ist ein schwuler Mann aus den USA der in Brasilien lebt. Er ist keine Putin Propaganda Puppe.
Vielleicht sind Sie mit dem, was Glenn zu sagen hat, nicht einverstanden. Gut. Dann argumentieren Sie, diskutieren Sie, denken Sie nach. Bitte lassen Sie sich nicht ausschließlich von Ihren Emotionen mitreißen, ganz gleich, wie berechtigt sie sind. Es steht zu viel auf dem Spiel.
I took a flight from Frankfurt to Mexico City a few days before New Year’s Eve. According to the latest edition of the German infection protection law, everybody on the flight had to provide proof of vaccination, recovery from Covid 19 or a negative test result before boarding. The mask mandate still applied, though and the flight attendants tried hard to make sure everybody complied.
I don’t think that there was a single passenger who dared to take the mask off completely. But there were many who pulled it down under their noses, who didn’t put back on fast enough when they had sip off water or took longer than necessary to sip their coffees. The flight attendants were fighting a losing battle and it took a toll on them.
There was one lady in particular who clearly had come to hate most passengers and her job. She was battling the Russian girl in the row behind me the entire flight. 12 hours. The blonde Russian girl could not have been older than 14 and had an innocent look about her. But she was a one child insurgency and never stopped fighting. That mask rode down her nose the second the flight attendant turned her back.
Revolution and Subversion
The elderly woman sitting next to her, probably her grandmother, aided and abetted her struggle by being quietly complicit. The revolutionary refused to be tamed or intimated, even though the exasperated flight attendant in the end called her boss, the purser, to give her a stern talking to. To no avail. The moment the purser left, down went the mask.
The young Dutch couple on the seats next to me was more cunning about the subversion of the rules, but they had their masks pulled down for a large part of the flight. I started to fear for the mental health of the flight attendant locked in battle against the Russian. Her face and body clearly communicated her anguish, but she still managed to keep the friendly sing song going whenever she addressed the passengers. The incongruence was striking and a little worrying.
The Russian girl was the most formidable opponent, but she wasn’t the only one. There were several people just in the few rows I could observe who obviously hated the way the masks make breathing through the nose uncomfortable and were pulling their masks down as soon as they felt unobserved. I understand where they’re coming from; I suffer from chronic sinusitis and wear glasses. I will admit that I too, tend to stretch out my drinking breaks.
The Nail in the Casket
The new role the flight attendants have to play could be the final nail in the casket of the flight experience. Long gone are the days when working on airplanes was the stuff dreams of seeing exotic places were made of. But even though the fun has gone out flying for passengers and staff a while ago, before the pandemic, the vast majority attendants managed to put their game faces on and deliver a friendly, professional service.
Having to police the way people wear masks on planes seems to have fundamentally changed the way in flight staff relates to passengers. There always have been unruly passengers and confrontations, of course, but these used to be the exceptions. Now, situations like the one girl Russian revolution I witnessed are bound to happen all the time.
Workers on planes must be close to the breaking point. They are doing a tough, stressful and not terribly well- paid job in any case. Thanks to the mask mandate, attendants are now forced to constantly treat a considerable minority of passengers in a way these passengers will perceive as bullying and intrusive.
Flying is set to become an even more unpleasant experience and planes will remain an important battleground in the culture war between deeply divided segments of the population. Incidents of air rage are already at an all-time high and compliance with the mask mandate has become a morally charged issue, with the “reasonable” majority in favour of strictly enforcing mask mandates on all flights.
Is this really the reasonable position when access to planes is as tightly controlled as it was on my flight from Frankfurt to Mexico City, though? Mask mandates on airplanes were introduced in May 2020, i.e. before rapid tests were available and before large parts of the population of the globe were vaccinated.
Following the Science
At that time, it was possible to board a flight with symptoms of respiratory disease and without health documentation of any kind. For example, in March 2020 a Vietnamese businesswoman with a sore throat and a cough boarded a flight in London. Ten hours later, she landed in Hanoi, Vietnam. She allegedly infected 15 people on the flight, including more than half of the passengers sitting with her in business class.
These days are long gone. It’s all but impossible to board a plane without providing a negative test result or proof of vaccination. The sense of what is acceptable behaviour when it comes to running the risk of infecting others has fundamentally changed. The story of the fully vaccinated, boosted and PCR tested American teacher who still tested herself on the lavatory of the plane she was on and decided to quarantine on said lavatory when she received a positive result is a case in point.
Following the science is a popular slogan when it comes dealing with the risk of infection with Covid 19. According to the largest real-world study to date, conducted by Delta Air Lines, the chances of being exposed to Covid-19 on a flight on which every passenger has tested negative is less than 0.1 per cent.
Separate findings from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), from early 2020 – crucially before the use of face masks on flights became common practice – identified just 44 cases of potential coronavirus infections among the 1.2 billion people who travelled by air in that period. It seems that, if we decide to follow the science, the risk of contracting a corona virus infection on an airplane is low.
Following the science also means acknowledging that the studies which support the efficacy of masks in planes were done with mannequins that were sitting straight forward, never removing their masks, without eating and drinking. In the ideal word of the laboratory, it’s easy to maintain “rigid masking” conditions.
This aspect of the problem deserves closer consideration, not just when it comes to using masks on planes. How do people actually use face masks? Is the rigid masking that the protective effect of wearing masks is predicated on practiced by many people? Observation of myself and just about everybody I know strongly suggest one answer: no, absolutely not.
One more or less filthy mask is used over and over again, taken on and off all the time, pulled down to drink, eat or speak on the phone. Masking makes sense if it is done right and in the right context, i.e. short encounters in uncontrolled spaces like the line at the supermarket check-out.
Doing it right means putting on the mask tightly, without touching it or removing it, disposing of it after use. Even when used correctly, masks just reduce the risk of infection, they don’t eliminate it. It stands to reason that the use of masks in the shoddy fashion that is so very common provides a lower protective effect, especially when sitting next to people in a confined space for 12 hours.
Safer than Restaurants
Coming back to the specific situations on planes: even if no-one wore masks on flights at all, airline cabins would still provide about the safest environment you can be confined to when it comes to COVID transmission. Planes are far safer than bars, coffee shops or restaurants, where guests are not forced to wear masks once they are seated.
In reality, thanks to their hospital-grade HEP (high-efficiency particulate) filters, the air inside a plane cabin is changed more than 25 times an hour; a system that removes 99.97 per cent of airborne viruses and bacteria, states the IATA.
Would “rigid masking”, i.e. wearing masks like they are worn in a laboratory setting reduce the risk even further? It probably would. Would wearing a face shield reduce the risk of infection even further? It probably would. Would wearing surgical gloves at all times reduce the risk of infection even further? It probably would. Would staying at home and not interacting with anybody reduce the risk of infection? It certainly would.
Would living a life with safety as the highest goal be a life worth living, though? It might be for a minority of people. In other contexts, we would start wondering if these people suffer from some form of mental illness. In everyday parlance, we’d call them germophobes. Psychologists might interpret their excessive concerns with cleanliness and safety as symptoms for obsessive compulsive disorder.
It seems odd that it needs to be said, but life is an inherently risky business and death is the only certainty. Human beings as a group and we as individuals have far less control over our lives than we like to admit. On the group level, environmental degradation and global warming as unintended side effects of the amazing successes of industrialisation and technological progress are a case in point. On the individual level, you might fall ill with cancer or slip in the shower and crack your head open at any time, no matter how much you exercise, eat well and think positive thoughts.
A “normal” life, a life worth living, not one shrouded in constant anxiety, is predicated on forgetting these unpleasant facts most of the time. It is a predicated on a healthy fatalism and the ability to lose oneself. The English philosopher Alan Watts put it well in his classic book the “Wisdom of Insecurity”: “Indeed, one of the highest pleasures is to be more or less unconscious of one’s own existence, to be absorbed in interesting sights, sounds, places, and people. Conversely, one of the greatest pains is to be self-conscious, to feel unabsorbed and cut off from the community and the surrounding world.”
Having to wear a face mask induces a heightened level of self-consciousness. Wearing a mask ourselves and seeing others wearing masks serves as a constant reminder that we are in danger, that we shouldn’t relax, that a certain level of constant anxiety is appropriate. Making masks mandatory on planes and in other highly controlled environments might have made sense at the beginning of the pandemic, when there was a lot of uncertainty and rapid testing, vaccines and medication weren’t available. It doesn’t make sense now.
An Endless Emergency?
We are at the point where the remedy has become more toxic than the poison. Irresponsible clickbait reporting by all kinds of media outlets, not just tabloids, has contributed to creating an atmosphere of a seemingly endless emergency. The lockdowns have caused a lot of suffering for the most vulnerable people across the globe, for example, while the benefits of the policy are far from certain.
It is time to get back to what we already knew but seem to have forgotten: “Experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted.” ( quoted from the paper, “Disease Mitigation Measures in the Control of Pandemic Influenza”, 2006, Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, now known as the John Hopkins Center for Health Security)
The situation on planes is a good case in point: access to planes is more restricted than any other means of public transport. It is highly unlikely that an infectious passenger will be able to get on board. Even if they did, planes, due to their air filtration systems, are very safe environments. And even if somebody did get infected, the hospitalization rate for the vaccinated population is 0.01% or 1 in 10,914. Let’s take into consideration what science has to teach us, but let’s understand that science is just a method of inquiry, dealing in probabilities.
Good science can tell us something about the way things are, it has little to say about the way things ought to be. The way things ought to be, the way we want to live, is the stuff that debates in democratic societies should be made of. Instead, we have to a situation where this debate has turned into a kind of civil war. An overriding concern for safety, so extreme that it borders on the fanatical has asserted itself and the discourse has become morally charged beyond all logic and reason.
A Breath-Retention Contest
A free society is a society where people have the right to be foolish and take risks. We should limit the detrimental effects of such behaviour on others as much as possible. But we need to accept that any meaningful notion of freedom is incompatible with desperate attempts of completely eliminating such effects. We run the risk of creating a society where a child, like the Russian girl I observed on the plane, gets treated like a criminal for failing to comply with a regulation which has little utility beyond creating an environment of tension and anxiety.
The trend towards chasing an illusion of safety is nothing new, it has just been accelerated by the advent of digital technology and the onset of the pandemic. We would do well to heed the advice given by Alan Watts several decades ago: “The desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.”
„You will own nothing and you will be happy.“ That’s the sentence commentators all over the world got worked up about, attributing it to the book “The Great Reset” by Klaus Schwab and Thierry Malleret. Australian media personality Rowan Dean, a staunch climate change denier and Trump aficionado, used it to caricature Schwab, the German founder of the World Economic Forum (WEF), as an authoritarian eco-communist, with a touch of old Nazi, hell-bent on abolishing private property.
The segment has racked up almost 1.5 million views on YouTube and thousands of people have expressed their concerns about the future of the free world in the comment section. This is ludicrous. It’s hard to think of a more bourgeois figure than Klaus Schwab.
Born into privilege as the son of a top executive, Schwab became a millionaire with his annual conference. Here are some of the companies who support his ideas: Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, IBM, IKEA, Lockheed Martin, Ericsson and Deloitte. Not exactly your usual commie suspects.
Dean’s absurd caricature is the kind of cheap, misleading shot somebody in the Anglophone world was bound to take. Schwab, the professor with the thick German accent is the quintessential egghead and an easy target for the kind of schoolyard bullying figures like Dean excel in. The fact that Schwab bears a certain resemblance to the Bond villain Blofeld and rarely breaks a smile doesn’t help.
A fun fact about the sentence, „You will own nothing and you will be happy“, Dean and the other commentators omit is that the sentence doesn’t appear in the book „The Great Reset“. What else won’t you find in the book? A single word about abolishing private property. Schwab never uttered the sentence the talking heads are freaking out about.
It only appears in that glossy WEF video which puts together various speculative statements about what the world might look like in 2030. It is clearly inspired by the idea of the “ sharing economy ” that was all the rage in Silicon Valley not so long ago. That particular video has since been retracted, but a fair-minded take on the issue clearly indicates that the sentence the rabble-rousers latched on to is better understood in the context of this WEF video from 2017.
So, what is „The Great Reset“ all about then? First and foremost, it’s a great disappointment if you are fired up by videos and books about it and expect a juicy, diabolical plan for global enslavement by the “power elites”.
Basically, Schwab and Malleret use the pandemic and its‘ consequences as a launching pad for another attempt to convince the world of the concept of “stakeholder capitalism”, a supposedly more benign and humane version of capitalism, which they contrast with the colder, more ruthless “shareholder capitalism” practiced notably in the US and in the UK since the 80s.
The whole idea smacks of self-regulation, of “socially responsible capitalism”, of philanthropy and “enlightened leadership”, of “British Petroleum” claiming to go “Beyond Petroleum” and similar exercises in corporate fairy tale telling.
Another obvious problem with “stakeholder capitalism” is that small and medium-sized businesses already practice this. They have no other choice, as they are by nature local and bosses actually have the chance to get to know their stakeholders.
Large global corporations are a different kind of beast and it isn’t clear why CEOs should practice this approach voluntarily. They should take direction from the elected leaders of the countries they operate in, they shouldn’t be the ones setting the agenda.
There is an argument for keeping it simple, as Milton Friedman set out in this famous passage: “In a free-enterprise, private-property system, a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business. He has direct responsibility to his employers. That responsibility is to conduct the business in accordance with their desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.“
Friedman acknowledges the primacy of politics. What is necessary is a political class willing to exercise its power, to ensure that businesses serve the common good and to force them if necessary. Not to persuade and flatter them as Schwab seemingly prefers to do.
Schwab and the WEF have a certain amount of power, mostly derived from acting as courtiers and enablers for the powerful, but Schwab’s apparent elitism, vanity and do-goodery probably mean that the people he admires view him as a harmless busybody rather than an éminence grise. The fact that he employed people like Philip Rösler, the very unremarkable former German health minister, as a top WEF executive, indicates as much.
Schwab first wrote about “stakeholder capitalism” in 1971. There is nothing scary or indeed, new, about any of this. The cynical reading of “The Great Reset” would be that the current elite fears that the risk of revolt, of “social unrest” will greatly increase in the aftermath of the pandemic and that Schwab once again urges them to make concessions to avoid the risk of being swept away.
This kind of thinking has a long tradition in Germany: the German chancellor Bismarck introduced social legislation in the late 19th century, creating a comprehensive health insurance system which exists to this day, to avoid “social unrest”, i.e. a communist revolution.
Schwab and his co-author explicitly say this several times. For example, in the course of their description of the “Macro Reset” on page 89: “The greatest underlying cause of social unrest is inequality. The policy tools to fight unacceptable levels do exist and they often lie in the hands of governments.“
Stylistically, reading „The Great Reset“ frequently feels like being sentenced to death by PowerPoint. But it’s a PowerPoint presentation with ambitions above its paygrade, a PowerPoint presentation that is living the dream of becoming a book and has left bullet points and (most) graphs behind. The bland, technocratic language is probably part of the reason many people who pontificate about the book haven’t actually read it.
They avoided the torture of struggling through paragraphs like this one: “In today’s complex and adaptive world, the principle of non-linearity means that suddenly a fragile state can turn into a failed state and that, conversely, a failed state can see its situation improve with equal celerity thanks to the intermediation of international organizations or even an infusion of foreign capital.“
The actual “Great Reset” has none of the trashy charm of the other works by the same title, my favourite being: “The Great Reset: How Big Tech Elites and the World’s People Can Be Enslaved by China CCP or AI” by Mr Cyrus Parsa. Here is Mr Parsa about himself: “I was the only human being in the world that knew the timing and worked hard to accurately warn and predict that the world’s people were in impending danger from a Bioweapon or disease (COVID 19, AKA CCP Virus) from China CCP in 2019, leading to conflicts with lockdown, famines, AI enslavement, and the entire Great Reset.“
You won’t find sophisticated schemes aimed at chipping the masses and the belief in the powers of technology, what Evgeny Morozov has called „solutionism“ is probably more fanatical in the boardrooms of Alphabet, Facebook and Microsoft. The people occupying these boardrooms probably also have a better understanding of what technology is about than the 83-year-old Klaus Schwab.
It’s hard to imagine that they would come up with the following train of thought: trotting out the platitude that „it is now well understood that physical activity greatly contributes to health“, Messieurs Malleret and Schwab conclude that „For a whole social distancing may constrain the practice of certain sports, which in turn will benefit the ever-more-powerful expansion of e-sports. Tech and digital are never far away! “ As if competitive gaming was an alternative to physical exercise for the masses. Tech and digital are never far away!
Written by two people whose closest connection to gaming most likely is watching their grandchildren play. Other than this, Schwab and Malleret report that the power of intergovernmental organizations dwindles in a world where nationalism is on the rise. The section about surveillance ends with a bland, uninspired passage about the need to balance safety and personal freedom.
Before we get to the „Conclusion“, we are treated to a well-meaning little section about protecting mental health, followed by a quaint meditation about the benefits of walking in nature: „Exercise, nature, unprocessed food… They all have the dual benefits of improving immunity and suppressing inflammation.“
It’s hard to quell the urge to add yoga and mindfulness to the list and of course, the importance of really, truly loving yourself. Here are some questions the authors feel the readers should be asking themselves, in the “Individual Reset” section: “Do we know what is important? Are we too selfish and overfocused on ourselves? Do we give too great a priority and excessive time to our career? Are we slaves to consumerism?“
There are several passages in “The Great Reset” that could be easily published as an opinion piece in the “Guardian” or the “New York Times”. Under “Macro Reset”, page 61, we are told that “If we collectively recognize that, beyond a certain level of wealth defined by GDP per capita, happiness depends more on intangible factors such as accessible healthcare and a robust social fabric than on material Consumption, then values as different as the respect for the environment, responsible eating empathy or generosity may gain ground and progressively come to characterize the new social norms.“
Hard to imagine even somebody like Russel Brand disagreeing with this. Brand has dedicated a whole series of videos to „The Great Reset“. To his credit, he tries to dispel the idea that “The Great Reset” is the kind of communist plot Dean makes it out to be, but it does seem as if he hasn’t read the book, either.
In many ways, “The Great Reset” is a great let down, offering up a strange mix of jargon, platitudes and the occasional morsel of valuable information and insight. One comes in the form of the idea that past pandemics might have been instrumental in shaping the world we live in today, “bringing feudalism and serfdom to an end ushering in the era of enlightenment.“
Malleret and Schwab got the idea from “A Distant Mirror – The Calamitous 14th Century” a book by the historian Barbara Tuchmann. That’s the only trace of Marxist thinking I could find in “The Great Reset”, an allusion to historical materialism, ie the idea that our thinking is shaped by the world we live in rather than the other way around.
They accurately predict that government policy, especially in the US, was going to change in response to the pandemic. Even though it is unclear to what extent Joe Biden will actually realize his policy proposals, it looks like Malleret and Schwab are onto something when they write: „First and foremost, the post-pandemic era will usher in a period of massive wealth redistribution, from the rich to the poor, from capital to labor.“
Schwab and Malleret continue to speculate that “COVID 19 is likely going to sound the death knell of neoliberalism, a corpus of ideas and policies that can loosely be defined as favoring competition over solidarity, creative destruction over government intervention and economic growth over social welfare.“
This sounds like wishful thinking: the idea that this fictional creature, the “free market” should be the final arbiter is very entrenched in the United States and it is an inaccurate description of the status quo in any case. Government intervention has never gone away, on the contrary, the US government intervened massively in the financial crises of 2008, it just chose to make the large banks and their investors whole and left average citizens holding the bag.
Reading this kind of vaguely social-democratic stuff, it is unclear how people like the British journalist James Delingpole have concluded that we are dealing with a “global communist takeover plan”. As Ben Sixsmith, one of Mr Delingpole’s colleagues at the “Spectator America” puts it: “This is no Communist Manifesto. The Communist Manifesto was a bracing read.“
There is reason to believe that Mr Schwab is genuine in his concern about mitigating the downsides of the dominant capitalist regime. A portrait in a Swiss newspaper labels him a “starry-eyed idealist” and attests that his favorite role is acting as a promoter of dialogue between hostile groups or nations.
One of Schwab’s proudest moments was an encounter between Nelson Mandela and South African President Willem de Klerk at WEF in 1992. Asked what should be his legacy, he answered: “An institution that will still exist in one hundred or two hundred years. A Red Cross for international cooperation – that would be a legacy that I would like to leave behind.“
Schwab has been at it for quite a while and the tune hasn’t changed much:
„The crisis symptoms which we discussed here in the last years have reached such a scale during 1982 that we can only feel relief that there has not been a disaster.“
“Governments‘ margin of maneuvre is today seriously limited by the crisis of credibility and moral authority that most industrialized countries are going through. . . What we need urgently is a convergence of efforts by political, business and labor leaders.“
“The management of an enterprise has to serve all stakeholders. This goes beyond serving only the shareholders; it means that the management has to lead the enterprise as the trustee of all stakeholders and not just the appointee of the shareholders”… I hope that the conscious adoption of a business ethos based on the comprehensive and long-term stakeholder principle, instead of the one-sided, short-term shareholder principle, becomes one positive outcome of this crisis.“
“Capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us. . . . A global transformation is urgently needed and it must start with reinstating a global sense of social responsibility.“
There are some serious problems with Mr Schwab’s world view which become apparent in throwaway paragraphs like this one: “the endgame of all this is clear: consumers and producers, spouses and parents, leaders and followers, we are all being subjected to constant, albeit discontinuous, rapid change.“
The mantra of “change, change, change”, as something that we are being subjected to as if it was a naturally occurring phenomenon rather than a choice made by specific, identifiable human beings is all too familiar from corporate mission statements and similar collections of jargon and platitudes.
What is more worrying is that Mr Schwab leaves out the supposedly most important role “consumers and producers, spouses and parents” play in democratic societies; he doesn’t even mention „citizens“. That’s the problem with Schwab’s ideology and his “idealism”. He obviously enjoys rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful and sees his role in persuading them to be nice.
How shallow this “it’s nice to be nice ” school of politics is was on full display when the young Dutch historian Rutger Bregman had the audacity to bring up the topic of tax evasion during the 2019 WEF conference in Davos. He met with a good deal of hostility from the audience and wasn’t invited again.
Ben Sixsmith from the “Spectator” puts it very well: “An air of otherworldliness pervades this book. One of its symptoms is its constant references to ‚we‘: ‚we will‘, ‚we should‘, ‚we must‘. Who are we? I think Schwab and Malleret mean ‚mankind‘ but in practice, it means ‚Davos Man‘, a species of a high-status politician, businessman or academic about whom Samuel Huntington wrote:
‚These transnationalists have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations.‘
The political theorist Colin Crouch warned 20 years ago that industrialized societies were on the way to becoming “ post-democratic ” and provided the following definition: „A post-democratic society is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell. The energy and innovative drive pass away from the democratic arena and into small circles of a politico-economic elite.“
So, there is nothing new about this dominance of business and economics over all spheres of life. This is the real problem, “we”, as in the average people in the industrialized societies who will most likely never get an invitation to Davos, have to wrestle with. Mr Schwab and Mr Malleret might be right, maybe “we are now at a crossroads” and “one path will take us to a better world”, but I don’t have the impression that they are asking the right questions.
Here are some suggestions for questions “we” could be asking:
How do we regain democratic control?
How do we show solidarity with workers in developing countries and create global rules for corporations?
How do we regain the understanding that business and economics are the servants of human life, not the masters?
How do we distribute and use the gains from automation and technological progress to enable our life as citizens, as moral agents, rather than passive consumers and cheap biological robots?
How do we liberate ourselves from the grip of the business jargon which has deformed our thinking, talking about love, trust and compassion as paying into “emotional bank accounts” etc.?
We shouldn’t leave the crucial task of asking and trying to answer these questions to Schwab and his powerful friends. It is comforting to know that what they have in mind is not to enslave the masses or to steal our stuff, but more of the same, just a little nicer, just a little greener. But that’s not good enough. We need to do better.
The United States of America dominates the news in Germany like no other country. On any given day, German newspapers will report several stories from the US and the interest German audiences take in America’s internal affairs is extraordinary. The influence goes beyond mere curiosity about what’s happening in the country that could be called the leader of the free world, the hegemon, or the empire; choose the label that fits your political convictions.
A great way to satisfy this interest is to actually watch the news from the United States rather than relying on the choices made by German newspaper editors and TV producers. The best choice for a German audience is probably the „Top US & World Headlines“ segment from the independent news broadcaster „Democracy Now!.“ It airs every weekday at 8 AM Eastern Standard Time and is available on “YouTube” in the afternoon of the same day.
A familiar look and feel
The format of the „Democracy Now!“ news briefing is ideal for a German audience accustomed to the “Tagesschau” format. (The “Tagesschau” has been leading the ratings of daily news digests in Germany since its inception in 1952.) Like the “Tagesschau”, the “Democracy Now! Headlines ”segment has a strong focus on the anchor, acclaimed veteran journalist Amy Goodman, it lasts 15 minutes and is much less visually aggressive than the average US cable news show. In other words: the look and feel of the segment will be comfortable and familiar to an audience used to watching the serious and conservative “Tagesschau”.
Since „Democracy Now!“ targets an audience beyond the US and is broadcasted on TV and radio at the same time, the anchor speaks clearly and is good to understand for non-native viewers. The advantage of watching the show on „YouTube“ is the possibility of using the fairly accurate automated subtitles and being able to stop the video. To maximize the language acquisition value, you should make watching it a habit. Ideally, watch it every weekday.
Like the “Tagesschau”, “Democracy Now!” is publically funded, the difference being that the German news briefing is produced by the German state television channel “ARD”, while “Democracy Now!” is funded through grants and donations. „Democracy Now!“ launched in 1996, airing on nine radio stations. More than two decades later, the program has become one of the leading independent daily news broadcasts in the world.
Goodman describes „Democracy Now!“ as „trickle-up journalism“ because the stories it runs are frequently taken up by the mainstream media and her interviewees are often interviewed by other channels after they’ve appeared on „Democracy Now!“. The show is produced by seven producers, 20 full-time and 15 paid part-time staff as well as many volunteers. While seen as a “progressive” show in the United States, the political slant will seem rather centrist to a German audience.
To a certain extent, „Democracy Now!“ has become a victim of its own success and is regarded as part of the establishment media by new progressive American outlets like Max Blumenthal’s “Grayzone”. Blumenthal, one of the most influential independent English language journalists, has criticized Amy Goodman and „Democracy Now!“ for being complicit in “Russiagate”, the demonization of Russia as a kind of super villain on the global stage.
The Crystal Ball
The rule of thumb is: whatever trend dominates in the United States will come to play an important role in Germany. Sometimes it happens almost immediately, as seen by the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in several German cities. Sometimes it takes a few years, like how social media has become ubiquitous and influential.
Observing the cultural and political scene in the United States is almost like looking into a crystal ball, allowing you an educated guess about what trend might dominate the discourse in Germany in the foreseeable future. Knowing this, it’s curious that it’s still not common for Germans to follow American media. I recommend adding the „Top US & World Headlines“ segment to your daily news round up.
The race for the American presidency is entering the final phase. More than ever, the outcome of this election will affect the whole world. If you are looking for an honest, funny and consistently insightful commentator of American politics, you should give the young New Yorker Kyle Kulinski a chance. I believe his YouTube show „Secular Talk“ to be one of the best sources of information about the American political scene.
Kyle Kulinski’s strengths lie in his focus on policy, his sound understanding of the American political system and his uncanny ability to see through the empty rhetoric and the platitudes deployed by both Democrats and Republicans. With the sensitivity of the talented satirist, he constantly ridicules the deception and pompousness so common in the current American political discourse. His delivery mixes straightforward analysis and commentary with stand-up style interludes and personal anecdotes.
He is extremely critical of the militarism so characteristic of American foreign policy, a position that might seem radical in the United States but is perfectly compatible with the mainstream of opinion in Germany. Since his target audience is the younger segment of the population in United States, his videos are short and easy to understand even for a non-native viewers.
Unlike CNN or MSNBC hosts, Kulinski doesn’t pretend to be impartial. He identifies as a social democrat and is one of the co-founders of the influential „Justice Democrats“, the group the popular Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez comes out of. To fully understand what his self-identification means, it’s important to keep in mind that the political spectrum in the United States differs significantly from its German counterpart.
From a German perspective, both the Democrats and the Republicans could be described as right-wing parties, especially when it comes to issues like health care, gun ownership and the use of military force. Bernie Sander’s „socialism“, for example, in some aspects would be a better fit for the „SPD“, the German social democrats, than „Die Linke“, the actual socialist party represented in the German parliament.
Similarly, Kulinski’s version of a „social democratic“ way of thinking is in some aspects more similar to the left wing of the FDP, the German liberal party. He argues for broad scale drug legalization, for example. In keeping with the American mainstream,he supports the Second Amendment, i.e. the right to gun ownership, even though he does advocate for background checks and more stringent regulation.
The fact that the YouTube host is open about his political beliefs, what he calls his „ideology“, serves to make him more credible and his commentary less biased. While at CNN and MSNBC, the allegiance to the Democratic Party establishment is hidden behind a veneer of objectivity, Kulinski makes a clear and honest distinction between his agenda and his analysis. Unlike most his mainstream media counterparts, he is even able to give President Trump credit when he deserves it.
The 32-year-old Kulinski is a great example of the beneficial effects social media can still have. Remember when that was what everybody talked about? The democratization of access, giving voice to voiceless, the Facebook revolutions? Seems a long time ago now, when the discourse, especially in the US, has shifted to the dangers and downsides of the new media environment.
While there is a fair amount of hostility from Kulinski and other You Tubers towards mainstream media outlets like CNN, the YouTubers couldn’t exist without them. The majority of their material is drawn from mainstream media reporting and acts as a corrective to its shortcomings.
In the current apocalyptic atmosphere, „Secular Talk“ can serve as a reminder that there are many positive aspects to digitalization and the rise of social media. More than anything, commentators like Kyle Kulinski show that simplistic ideas about one form of media replacing another are inaccurate.
Check out the videos below and decide for yourself!
Eine praktische Anleitung am Beispiel der Weltsprache
„Der Bär bringt eine Ente zur Welt“, „Der Ingenieur ist im Kühlschrank“ oder wie wäre es mit „Die Zwiebel frisst das Mädchen.“ Das sind echte Beispiele aus Duolingo-Übersetzungsübungen. Duolingo ist eines der weltweit beliebtesten Lernportale. Auffallend ist, dass die Plattform unter der gefälligen, an ein Computerspiel erinnernden Benutzeroberfläche auf die älteste Methode des Sprachlernens zurückgreift: die Grammatik-Übersetzungsmethode. Diese Methode, für die Ausbildung von Übersetzern weiterhin unverzichtbar, war bereits im Mittelalter populär.
Wir wissen, dass Spracherwerb auf diese Weise nicht gut funktioniert. Spracherwerb ist ein unbewusster Prozess, er findet statt, wenn wir Botschaften verstehen. Der traditionelle Ansatz, immer noch die Methode der Wahl für die meisten Schulen und Plattformen, ist ineffektiv, weil der Schwerpunkt auf der Form und nicht auf dem Inhalt liegt. Die Betonung liegt auf dem „Wie“ und nicht auf dem „Was“, auf Struktur und Grammatik und nicht auf Sinn und
Bedeutung, auf interessanten Ideen und wertvollen Informationen.
So gelangt man zu „Die Zwiebel isst ein Mädchen“ und den anderen bizarren Beispielen. Das soll nicht heißen, dass formbasierte Ansätze überhaupt nicht funktionieren. Für Anfänger funktioniert jede Lernmethode bis zu einem gewissen Grad. Dazu gehört auch die Grammatik-Übersetzungsmethode, die heutzutage im Sprachunterricht verpönt ist, aber in der digitalen Welt eine Renaissance erlebt.
Zur Ehrenrettung von Duolingo lässt sich sagen, dass es tatsächlich dabei hilft, sich Wörter einzuprägen, wenn man sie mit skurrilen Bildern verknüpft. Der Bär bringt eine Ente zur Welt. Auf Spanisch hieße das: „El oso esta pariendo un pato.“ Lesen Sie den Satz einmal laut. Jetzt schließen Sie die Augen, stellen sich bildlich vor wie ein Bär eine Ente zur Welt bringt und wiederholen Sie den Satz. Die Wahrscheinlichkeit, dass Sie sich zumindest die spanischen Worte für Bär, „oso“ und Ente, „pato“ eine Zeitlang in Erinnerung behalten ist nun wesentlich höher, als wenn Sie den Satz einfach nur übersetzt
Nicht lernen, erwerben
Bevor ich darauf komme, was zu tun ist, um eine Sprache wirklich zu beherrschen, ist es notwendig, den Unterschied zwischen Sprachlernen und Spracherwerb deutlich zu machen. Sprachlernen ist was während des Sprachunterrichts geschieht: Rollenspiele und Sprechübungen aller Art, Grammatikübungen und Vokabeltraining und Übersetzungsübungen wie z.B. auf Duolingo. Auch das Erstellen und Auswendiglernen von Vokabellisten gehört dazu.
Spracherwerb ist was geschieht, wenn wir Botschaften in der Zielsprache verstehen, wenn wir uns auf das „Was“ und nicht auf das „Wie“ konzentrieren. Es ist der unbewusste, implizite Prozess des Erwerbs von Wortschatz und Struktur. Spracherwerb ist was geschieht, wenn Kinder ihre Muttersprache lernen. Auch Erwachsene haben eine Fremdsprache erworben, nicht gelernt, wenn es ihnen gelingt, sie souverän zu beherrschen.
Diese Unterscheidung ist aus verschiedenen Gründen von großer Bedeutung: Es ist möglich, ein wenig von einer Sprache auf
viele verschiedene Arten zu lernen. Eine Sprache zu meistern, sie souverän oder „verhandlungssicher“ zu beherrschen ist nur
über einen ausgedehnten Prozess des Spracherwerbs möglich. Der Prozess des Spracherwerbs hört nie auf, denn wir lernen ja auch in unserer Muttersprache immer neue Wörter dazu.
Es geht nicht um ein „Entweder /Oder“ zwischen explizitem Sprachlernen und impliziten Spracherwerb. Ohne eine Basis in der Zielsprache, die über explizites Sprachlernen gelegt wird, ist für erwachsene Lerner der Schritt zum impliziten Spracherwerb nicht möglich. Ohne den darauffolgenden Prozess des Spracherwerbs ist eine Beherrschung der Zielsprache auf hohem Niveau ebenso unmöglich. Entscheidend ist, sich nicht puristisch auf einen Ansatz zu versteifen. Auch Anfänger können unter bestimmten Umständen implizit lernen und Fortgeschrittene profitieren vom expliziten Sprachlernen, beispielsweise von punktuellen Grammatikerklärungen und Ubüngen, sowie dem Nachschlagen von Wörtern, die sich nicht eindeutig aus dem Kontext erschliessen.
Wichtig ist, auf dem Weg zu einem höheren Niveau der Sprachkompetenz die Betonung zunehmend weniger auf das „Wie“ und mehr auf das „Was“ zu legen. Wenn die Inhalte interessant sind und dazu anregen, sich weiter mit dem Thema zu beschäftigen, wenn die Kommunikation sinnvoll ist und Sprache als Werkzeug der Vermittlung dient, dann werden sie abgespeichert, dann „bleiben sie hängen.“ Desto formbasierter, verwässerter und langweiliger die Inhalte, desto weniger wird dieses Ziel erreicht. Um eine Sprache auf hohem Niveau zu beherrschen müssen eine Vielzahl von Informationen abgespeichert werden; nicht nur eine große Anzahl von Wörtern, sondern auch Nuancen der Bedeutung und Verwendung in unterschiedlichen Situationen.
Um zu veranschaulichen, was ich damit meine, schauen wir uns die Wortanzahl der englischen Sprache an: Das Standardwörterbuch „Webster’s Dictionary“ kommt auf 470.000 Einträge. Das ist eine noch eher geringe Zahl, es gibt andere Schätzungen, die regionale Dialekte, Slang und Fachjargons miteinbeziehen. Dann ist man schnell bei über einer Million Wörtern. Englisch ist – und zwar mit großem Abstand – die Sprache mit den meisten Wörtern.
Zu viel zu lernen
Niemand kennt oder verwendet natürlich all diese Wörter. Tests zeigen, dass Muttersprachler zwischen 20 000 und 35 000 Tausend Wörter kennen und verwenden. Setzen wir für einen Zweitsprachler, der Englisch auf hohem Niveau beherrschen will, ein konservatives Ziel: 18 000 Wörter. Das Auswendiglernen der 18 000 Wörter wäre nur ein Ziel, das der Lerner erreichen muss.
Er müsste auch den angemessenen Gebrauch der Wörter erlernen und die Unterschiede im Sprachniveau, z.B. formell oder informell, verstehen. Wann ist es angebracht, „beipflichten“ statt „zustimmen“ zu sagen? Welches ist das richtige Wort, wenn Sie den Ausdruck ironisch verwenden möchten? Ganz zu schweigen von Grammatik, Rechtschreibung und Interpunktion, den Unterschieden zwischen britischem und amerikanischem Englisch, den kulturellen Bezügen und so weiter und so fort. Für den Durchschnittsmenschen ist es einfach unmöglich, all dies bewusst zu lernen. Und es geschieht auch nie.
Wenn Menschen eine Fremdsprache auf einem hohen Niveau beherrschen, dann deshalb, weil sie sie über einen längeren
Zeitraum erfolgreich erworben haben. Sie haben viel gehört und gelesen, sie haben eine große Zahl von Botschaften in der Zielsprache verstanden. Oder, um den Fachjargon zu verwenden: Sie waren über einen längeren Zeitraum einem hohen Volumen an „verständlichem Input“ ausgesetzt.
Das Erkennen von Pornographie
Was genau versteht man unter „verständlichem Input“? In der Angewandten Linguistik wird seit Jahren darüber diskutiert;
wir halten uns einfach an die berühmte Definition, die ein britischer Richter angeblich für Pornographie vorgeschlagen hat: Sie werden es wissen, wenn Sie es sehen. Um ein Beispiel zu geben: Wenn Sie sich auf der Stufe C1 finden, also schon fortgeschrittene Kenntnisse haben, stellt eine wissenschaftliche Arbeit zum Thema Psychologie, die Sie in Ihrer Muttersprache nur mühsam verstehen, keinen verständlichen Input dar. Ein klar geschriebenes populärwissenschaftliches
Buch zum gleichen Thema, das keine besonderen Vorkenntnisse voraussetzt, schon.
Aber lernt man eine Sprache nicht durch sprechen? Nein. Was man lernt, indem man die Zielsprache spricht, ist vor allem die richtigen Laute zu formen. Man gewöhnt sich daran, die Sprache zu produzieren, man verfestigt schon Erworbenes und kann mit neu Erworbenem experimentieren. Vor allem aber: Man gewöhnt sich an das Gefühl, sich in einer anderen Sprache auszudrücken. Für die meisten Erwachsenen ist das vor allem zu Anfang unangenehm und erzeugt Unsicherheit. Die Intensität dieses Gefühls ist von Mensch zu Mensch sehr verschieden und stellt besonders Perfektionisten vor große Probleme.
Trinken zum Reden
Sie glauben mir nicht? Versuchen Sie, eine Fremdsprache zu sprechen, nachdem Sie das konsumiert haben, was Sie für verträgliche Menge von Alkohol halten. (Auch hier werden die Definitionen von Mensch zu Mensch sehr unterschiedlich sein). Sie werden feststellen, dass es besser klappt. Wie kommt das? Weil Alkohol Hemmungen senkt und Unsicherheit abmildert. Deshalb trinken wir ihn und nennen ihn ein soziales Schmiermittel. Es versteht sich von selbst, dass eine große Menge Alkohol die gegenteilige Wirkung erzielt.
Eines der Hauptprobleme beim tatsächlichen Gebrauch einer Fremdsprache hat also mehr mit Psychologie als mit Linguistik
zu tun. Je stärker Ihren perfektionistischen Tendenzen sind, desto weniger Sie in der Lage sind, sich Fehler zu verzeihen, desto schwieriger wird es für Sie werden, eine Fremdsprache tatsächlich fließend zu beherrschen. Hier kann die intensive Beschäftigung mit einer Fremdsprache einen wichtigen Beitrag zur persönlichen Entwicklung leisten: Der notwendigerweise holprige, fehlerreiche Prozess beim Meistern einer Fremdsprache dient dann als Weg sich seinen irrationalen Ängsten zu stellen.
Es ist meist Angst vor Ablehnung und Ausgrenzung, die dem Perfektionismus zugrunde liegt. Das Erlernen einer Sprache
kann Ihnen dabei behilflich sein, sich mit der einfachen Tatsache der menschlichen Fehlbarkeit anzufreunden. Der Wiener Psychologe Raphael Bonelli hat dafür den Begriff „Imperfektionstoleranz“ geprägt“, eine wertvolle Eigenschaft für das notorisch fehleranfällige Wesen Mensch. Bei „L&S“ nutzen wir konkrete Aufgaben aus dem Kommunikationstraining, wie zum Beispiel unser Präsentationstraining „Training for TED“, um unseren Trainees zu helfen, sich an schwierige Situationen zu gewöhnen und trotz Nervösität handlungsfähig zu bleiben.
1) Lassen Sie die Anfängerstufe, A 1 bis B 1, so schnell wie möglich hinter sich. Wenn Sie eine Fremdsprache tatsächlich beherrschen wollen oder müssen, nehmen Sie sich die Zeit für Intensivkurse. Ideal wäre natürlich, wenn Sie die Möglichkeit hätten, die Kurse über einen längeren Zeitraum zu besuchen. Wenn das nicht möglich sein sollte, gilt: Viel hilft viel. Desto länger die Dauer des Kurses, desto besser. Anfänger haben eine steile Lernkurve und Ihr Ziel ist, das reine Sprachlernen schnell hinter sich zu lassen.
Die einfache Faustregel: Desto ähnlicher die Zielsprache der Muttersprache ist, desto schneller gelingt der Schritt vom
Sprachlernen zum Spracherwerb. Wenn Sie sich für eine Sprachschule entscheiden, bitten Sie um die Teilnahme an einem
Probeunterricht. Wenn der Unterricht stark grammatiklastig ist und die meisten Sprechanteile bei der Lehrkraft liegen, gehen Sie woanders hin. Glauben Sie nicht, dass das stille Leiden sich am Ende auszahlen wird. Sie müssen sich so schnell wie möglich mit Aussprache und Sprachmelodie Ihrer Zielsprache vertraut machen.
Wenn die Lehrkraft sich weigert, Zusammenhänge zu erklären, stattdessen die Antworten immer den Teilnehmern entlocken
möchte und die Gruppe zwanghaft zu Paaren zusammensetzt, gehen Sie woanders hin. Natürlich sollte der Großteil des Unterrichts in der Zielsprache stattfinden, aber wenn eine gemeinsame Sprache existiert, spricht nichts dagegen, den Teilnehmern das Leben mit einer schnellen Erklärung oder Übersetzung zu erleichtern. Gerade ältere Teilnehmer wissen das zu schätzen.
Die „kommunikative Methode“ ist das aktuelle Dogma des Sprachunterrichts. Sie ist nützlich und sollte Teil jedes Sprachkurses sein, aber viele Lehrer übertreiben es damit. Wenn Sie allerdings nur die Wahl zwischen kommunikativen Dogma und stillem Leiden unter Grammatikfolter haben, entscheiden Sie sich für das kommunikative Dogma. Idealerweise sollte es ein Gleichgewicht zwischen Interaktion, Paararbeit, Übung und Erklärung und strukturellem Überblick geben.
Achten Sie darauf, dass die Schule im 21. Jahrhundert angekommen ist und authentisches Video- und Audiomaterial verwendet und nicht nur CD-Player, Lehrbücher und Fotokopien.
Wenn Sie nicht an einem Intensivkurs teilnehmen können, bleibt Ihnen meist nur das allgegenwärtige 90-Minuten-Einmal-die-Woche-Format. Ergänzen Sie es mit viel einfachem Video-, Audio- und Lesematerial. Seien Sie kein Snob. Sehen Sie sich Kindergeschichten und Zeichentrickfilme in der Zielsprache an, lesen Sie illustrierte Bücher und Comics. Bilder sind sehr hilfreich und Sie werden merken, dass Sie sich wesentlich besser an die Bedeutung eines Wortes erinnern, wenn Sie ein Bild vor Augen haben. Beschäftigen Sie sich oft und regelmäßig mit dieser Art von Material. Zehn Minuten am Tag sind zu wenig, wenn Sie schnell Fortschritte erzielen wollen.
2) Wenn Sie das Niveau B1 erreicht haben, experimentieren Sie mit vielen Arten von verständlichem Input. Auf dem B1 Niveau sind kurze Präsentationen, Bücher in einfacher Sprache, Comics, Graphic Novels, Erklärvideos und Geschichten auf YouTube der richtige Weg. Probieren Sie auch Filme und Shows auf Netflix aus, achten Sie nur darauf, dass Sie Untertitel in der Zielsprache haben. Verwenden Sie keine Untertitel in Ihrer Muttersprache.
Generell gilt: Wenn Sie jedes Wort verstehen, ist das Material zu leicht. Finden Sie ein Verhältnis von bekanntem und unbekanntem Vokabular, mit dem Sie sich wohl fühlen. Das richtige Maß wird individuell verschieden sein, aber im Allgemeinen müssen Sie Ihre Fertigkeit trainieren, Wörter aus dem Kontext heraus zu verstehen und weniger abhängig von Übersetzungen und Wörterbüchern zu sein.
Nachschlagen dürfen und sollen Sie natürlich, aber nicht reflexhaft, sobald Sie ein Wort nicht kennen. Streichen Sie sich das Wort an und versuchen Sie, es aus dem Kontext zu verstehen. Wenn es ein
kürzerer Text ist, lesen Sie ihn zu Ende, bevor Sie nachschlagen. Bei längeren Text oder Büchern können Sie seitenweise oder kapitelweise vorgehen. Zum Nachschlagen nutzen Sie am besten dieses Online-Lexikon: www.linguee.com. Der große Vorteil von Linguee ist, dass Sie neben der reinen Übersetzung immer auch eine Vielzahl Sätzen sehen, in denen das Wort verwendet wird. Manchmal kann es sinnvoll sein, sich eine wortwörtliche Übersetzung von Sätzen oder ganzen Passagen anzuschauen, nutzen Sie dafür dieses Tool: //www.deepl.com/en/translator.
So unterstützen Sie auch die heimische Wirtschaft: Das Kölner Unternehmen ist eines der wenigen deutschen KI-Startups, das Google in seine Schranken weist. Wo wir gerade bei Nachschlagen und Übersetzen sind: Die Konzentration auf Sprachaneignung bedeutet nicht, dass Sie auf Grammatikerklärungen und Übungen komplett verzichten müssen. Es kann hilfreich sein und Sicherheit geben, sich einzelne Themen gezielt anzuschauen. Eine gute Möglichkeit, das online, kostenlos und in deutscher Sprache zu tun, finden Sie hier: https://www.ego4u.de/
Wenn möglich, suchen Sie ruhig das Gespräch mit Muttersprachlern oder bilden Tandems, aber denken Sie nicht, dies sei der wichtigste Teil Ihres Spracherwerbs. Es wird Ihnen helfen, sich in der Sprache wohler zu fühlen, und es wird Ihnen helfen, Imperfektionstoleranz aufzubauen. Auf dem Niveau B1 kann die Interaktion mit Muttersprachlern jedoch schnell überwältigend und frustrierend werden. Lassen Sie sich nicht entmutigen. Sie sind dabei, sich die Zielsprache anzueignen, in Ihrem eigenen Tempo, ohne Stress.
Vertrauen Sie auf den Erfolg des Prozesses. Wenn für Ihre Zielsprache verfügbar, machen Sie hin und wieder einen der Einstufungstest, die viele Sprachschulen online anbieten. So überprüfen Sie Ihre Fortschritte und rufen sich Struktur und Vokabeln ins Gedächtnis. Betrachten Sie Tests generell besser als Lernhilfen, nicht als Bewertungsinstrumente. Hier ist der Link zu unserem Einstufungstest: https://www.language-and-skills.com/home/placement/
3) Sobald Sie das Niveau B 2 erreicht haben, wenden Sie sich spannenderem Material zu. Halten Sie sich von Sprachlernmaterial fern. Das meiste ist verwässert, langweilig und verbirgt den Fokus auf Form hinter eindrucksvoll klingenden Markennamen wie „Financial Times“ oder „Economist“. Lassen Sie sich nicht täuschen. Dahinter verbirgt sich der altbekannte Mix aus Lückenfülltexten, Grammatikhäppchen und Verständnisfragen. Filme und Serien in der
Originalsprache sind besser, wenn möglich Untertitel in der Originalsprache zuschalten.
Hier hätten wir also einen Teil der Lösung für den langen Pandemiewinter: Binging ohne schlechtes Gewissen. Denken Sie
allerdings daran, dass auch beim impliziten Lernen von Vokabeln die Verarbeitungstiefe eine Rolle spielt. Je aufmerksamer Sie sind, je mehr das Material Sie zur Reflexion anregt und sich mit schon bekannten Informationen abgleichen und verknüpfen lässt, desto besser werden Sie es im Gedächtnis behalten. Bei Netflix also auch den Dokumentationen mal eine Chance geben.
Generell bietet das Internet bietet Ihnen die Möglichkeit, die englische Sprache zu erwerben ohne den Fuß vor die Tür zu setzen. Das Netz bieten tausende Stunden von hochwertigem häufig kostenlos verfügbarem Material. Beginnen Sie beispielsweise mit den TED-Präsentationen unter www.ted.com . Schauen Sie sich die ersten paar Minuten möglichst vieler Vorträge an und finden Sie Themen, für die Sie sich interessieren. Falls Sie schon auf dem C 1 Level sind, bieten sich die Autorenvorträge bei Google an: https://talksat.withgoogle.com/
Wenn ein Referent versucht, Ihnen sein Buch zu verkaufen und Ihnen das Thema gefällt, bestellen Sie das Buch und lesen es. Wenn Sie nicht so hoch einsteigen möchten, schauen Sie, ob sie online eine Zusammenfassung finden, beispielsweise auf www.blinkist.com/. Oder Sie suchen in einer englischsprachigen Zeitung nach einer Rezension. Der britische Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/bietet sich an, da er bisher auf eine Bezahlschranke verzichtet.
Die Macht der MOOCs
Eine noch zu wenig für die Sprachaneignung genutzte Plattform sind die MOOCs. MOOCs, kurz für „Massive Open Online
Courses“, sind Online-Kurse auf akademischem Niveau. Die MOOCs bieten ein extrem breites Spektrum von Themen, von Buddhismus über Wertpapierhandel bis zu Künstlicher Intelligenz. Teilweise werden die Kurse aufwendig für das Videoformat produziert, teilweise sind es simple Mittschnitte aus Seminarräumen. Eine Vielzahl der Kurse ist ständig verfügbar und lassen sich kostenlos nutzen.
Einige müssen in einem bestimmten Zeitraum absolviert werden, bieten die Möglichkeit mit den Lehrenden in Kontakt zu
treten und bei erfolgreichen Abschluss den Erwerb eines Zertifikats von renommierten amerikanischen und englischen
Universitäten. Für die Nutzung dieser Kurse wird normalerweise eine moderate Gebühr, zwischen 40 und 80 Dollar verlangt.
Schauen Sie sich „Coursera“ :/www.coursera.org/ , „edX“ : /www.edx.org/ und „Future Learn“ /www.futurelearn.com/ an.
Viele MOOCs Videos sind mittlerweile auch bei „YouTube“ gelandet. Die MOOCs haben das Versprechen, die akademische
Bildung komplett zu revolutionieren, nicht eingelöst. Die angeleitete Diskussion in der Lerngruppe wird uns erhalten bleiben, und sei es nur, weil das gemeinsame Lernen eine schöne und bereichernde Erfahrung ist. Auf jeden Fall sind MOOCs aber ein fantastischer Weg, zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe zu schlagen: Sich eine Sprache auf hohem Niveau anzueignen und dabei etwas Neues zu lernen.
Häufig werden Romane empfohlen, dieser Empfehlung stimme ich allerdings nur eingeschränkt zu. Wirklich gut funktionieren Romane zum Spracherwerb nur für Literaturbegeisterte. Romane sind sprachliche Kunstwerke, sie sind nicht geschrieben, um gut verständlich zu sein.
Für viele Erwachsene funktionieren populärwissenschaftliche Bücher besser. Im amerikanischen Wissenschaftsbetrieb gilt das Schreiben von erfolgreichen Büchern für gebildete Laien als Auszeichnung und
es gibt eine Vielzahl lesenswerter Werke. Viele unserer Kunden haben sich für „Behavioral Economics“, d.h. Verhaltensökonomik begeistern können. Hinter diesem sperrigen Begriff verbirgt sich eine spannende Synthese aus Wirtschafswissenschaft und experimenteller Psychologie, die versucht, der faszinierenden Frage nach der Natur des Menschen auf den Grund zu gehen. Ein guter Einstieg ins Thema sind
die Bücher und Videos des akademischen Superstars Dan Ariely: https://danariely.com/
Suchen Sie den Kontakt mit Muttersprachlern, idealerweise in Situationen, wo es um ein Thema geht, über das es sich zu
sprechen lohnt und die Sprache als Werkzeug dient. Das ist häufig das Problem mit Tandems; sie werden schnell langweilig
und verlaufen im Sande. Als Alternative zu Tandems bietet sich „Inter Nations“ an: www.internations.org Inter Nations ist ein erfolgreiches deutsches Startup mit Sitz in München und hat eine weltweit aktive Plattform für Expats aufgebaut. Für die Sprachaneignung eignen sich besonders die „Activity Groups“ Eine (virtuelle?) Weinprobe auf Englisch, zum Beispiel, ist unter dem eingangs erwähnten psychologischen Gesichtspunkt das ideale Event für Sprachaneignung und Sprechtraining.
Theoretisch können Sie eine Sprache alleine meistern, so wie Sie auch ohne Fitnessstudio und Trainer in Form kommen können. Das Hauptproblem, sowohl beim Fitwerden als auch beim Beherrschen einer Sprache, ist die guten Vorsätze einzuhalten und den Absichten Taten folgen zu lassen, regelmäßig und langfristig. Die Zusammenarbeit mit einer guten Sprachschule hilft, denn die regelmäßigen Treffen und die Beziehung zum Trainer machen es leichter, den inneren Schweinehund an die Leine zu nehmen.
Spracherwerb funktioniert. Die besten Sprachschulen bauen ihre Methode auf dieser Einsicht auf und gute Trainer tun mehr
als nur einmal die Woche einen angenehmen Plausch zu moderieren und hin und wieder Grammatik zu korrigieren. Gute
Trainer werden Sie auf interessantes Material hinweisen und es mit Ihnen diskutieren. Sie werden Ihren Horizont erweitern und bereit sein, von Ihnen zu lernen. Wenn Sie auf der Suche nach einem guten Trainer sind, besuchen Sie uns unter : www.language-and-skills.eu
“The bear gives birth to a duck”; “The engineer is in the refrigerator”. Or how about: “The onion eats the girl.” All these are real examples of sentences for translation exercises from “Duolingo”, one of the world’s most popular platforms for language learning. It’s striking that under the sleek, gamified surface it relies on the most old school of methods: the Grammar-Translation method. This approach, useful for training translators, was already popular in the Middle Ages.
We know that language acquisition doesn’t work well this way. Language acquisition is a subconscious process. It happens when we understand messages. The traditional approach, still the method of choice for most schools and platforms, is ineffective because the focus is on form rather than content. The emphasis is on “how”, not on “what”, on structure and grammar rather than on meaning, interesting ideas and valuable information.
That’s how you end up with “The onion eats a girl” and all the other bizarre examples. This is not to say that a form-based approach doesn’t work at all. For beginners, almost every approach works to a certain extent. This includes the Grammar-Translation method, which is frowned upon in the language classroom these days, but has seen a renaissance in the digital sphere.
To Duolingo’s credit, it can be said that linking them to bizarre images actually helps to memorize words. The bear gives birth to a duck. In Spanish this would read: „El oso esta pariendo un pato.“ Read the sentence out loud. Now close your eyes visualize how a bear gives birth to a duck. Repeat the sentence. The probability that you will at least remember the Spanish words for bear, „oso“ and duck, „pato“, for a while is now much higher than if you had simply translated the sentence.
Don’t learn, acquire
Before I talk about how to apply this knowledge to master a language, let’s clarify the distinction between language learning and language acquisition.
Language learning is the conscious effort associated with the language classroom: translation tasks like the ones on “Duolingo”, grammar exercises and vocabulary practice but also role plays and fluency practice of all kinds. The underlying similarity is that the language is the topic to be learned, it’s not used as a tool to communicate messages.
Language acquisition is what happens when we get the message in the target language, when we focus on the “what” rather than the “how”. It is the subconscious process of acquiring vocabulary and structure. It’s the way children learn their native language and it’s also the way the grown-ups master a foreign language.
The distinction is crucial for a variety of reasons. It’s possible to learn a bit of a language in many different ways, but it’s only possible to master a language through the subconscious process of acquisition. The process of language acquisition never stops. We are always learning new words and phrases in our second language as well as in our mother tongue.
It is not about an „either/or“ between explicit language learning and implicit language acquisition. Without a foundation in the target language, laid through explicit language learning, the step to implicit language acquisition is impossible for adult learners. Without the subsequent process of language acquisition, mastery of the target language at a high level is equally impossible.
It is crucial not to be fixated on one approach. Under certain circumstances, even beginners can learn implicitly and more advanced learners can benefit from explicit language learning, through focused grammar explanations and exercises, as well as from looking up words that cannot be deduced from the context.
It is important to place less emphasis on the „how“ and more on the „what“ as you progress towards higher levels of language competence. If the content is interesting and encourages further engagement with the topic, if the communication is meaningful and the target language is used as a tool of communication you’ll remember it more easily. It will stick. The more form-based, diluted and boring the content, the less you’ll achieve this goal. To master a language at a high level, you need to store a lot of information, not only a large number of words, but also nuances of meaning and use in different situations.
To provide some perspective, let’s look at the word count of the English language. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary includes some 470,000 entries. This number is on the conservative side, there are other estimates that include regional dialects, slang and professional jargon which come up to a million words.
Too much to learn
Nobody knows or uses all of these words, of course. Tests show that native speakers know and use between 20 000 and 35 000 thousand words. Let’s set a conservative goal for a second language speaker who wants to master English: 20 000 words. Memorizing the 20 000 items would be just one goal the language learner has to reach. She would also have to master the appropriate use of the words, understand the differences in register, formal or informal, for example.
When is it appropriate to say “I concur” rather than “I agree”? What is the right word to use if you would like to use the expression ironically? Not to mention accurate grammar, spelling and punctuation, the differences between British and American English, the cultural references, so on and so forth. It is simply impossible for the average person to consciously learn all of this. And nobody ever does.
If people do master a language to a high level of proficiency, it is because they have successfully acquired it over an extended period of time. They heard and read plenty of stuff that in the target language that they understood, that they were able to make sense of. Or, to use the technical jargon: they were exposed to a high volume of “comprehensible input” over an extended period of time.
What then, is comprehensible input? There is a long standing debate in applied linguistics what exactly constitutes comprehensible input which need not concern us here. We’ll stick with the famous definition Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward provided for pornography: you’ll know it when you see it. To give an example: if you are at the B 2 level, a scientific paper about psychology that you will have a hard time understanding in your native language does not qualify as comprehensible input. A well written, clear popular science book about the same topic does.
But don’t you learn a language by speaking it? No, you don’t. What you learn by speaking the target language is making the right sounds. You get used to producing the language, you solidify what you have already learned and you get the chance experiment with newly acquired words and expressions.
The most important benefit of speaking practice is: you get used to the feeling of expressing yourself in a foreign language. For most people, that feeling is uncomfortable and produces the unpleasant sensation of self-consciousness. The degree of intensity of this feeling differs greatly between individuals and ironically, it is especially challenging for the most ambitious types, for the strivers and the perfectionists.
Drinking to talk
Don’t believe me? Try speaking foreign language after consuming what constitutes a moderate amount of alcohol for you. Again, definitions will vary greatly between individuals. You will find that your performance will improve after a few drinks. Why? Because alcohol lowers inhibitions, it lowers the inhibiting sense of self-consciousness. That’s why it’s popular and why it’s called a social lubricant. It should go without saying that large amount of alcohol will have the opposite effect.
What is the point? The point is that the main problem with actually using a foreign language has more to do with psychology than linguistics. The more perfectionistic you are, the more you are invested in getting it right and avoiding mistakes, the harder it will be for you to actually to become fluent in a foreign language.
This is where learning another language can render an additional benefit of personal growth, beyond the obvious one of broadening your circle of communication. It can help you to face the fear of rejection that lies at the bottom of perfectionism. It can help you to come to terms with your simple human fallibility. Psychologists call this “imperfection tolerance”, a truly valuable trait to acquire. At „L&S“, we use communication training, like our „Training for TED“, to help our trainees get used to difficult situations and remain capable to act under pressure.
So, what should you be doing to master a language?
1) Leave the beginner stage behind you as quickly as possible. If you actually want or have to master a foreign language, try to make the time for intensive courses. It would be ideal if you could attend the courses over a longer period of time. Beginners have a steep learning curve and your goal is to leave pure language learning behind as quickly as possible. As a rule of thumb, the more similar the target language is to the mother tongue, the faster the step from language learning to language acquisition.
Three to six months should do the trick for most learners and most languages. When you choose a language school, ask to participate in a trial day. If the lessons are very grammar heavy and the teacher does most of the talking, go elsewhere. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this pain will pay off in the end. It won’t. You need to get used to making the sounds as soon as possible.
Likewise, if the teacher refuses to give straightforward explanations, wants to elicit everything from the students and obsessively puts the group into pairs, go elsewhere. The “communicative method” is the current dogma of language teaching. It is useful and should be part of every language course, but many teachers have had too much of the Kool-Aid and overdo it. If you only have the choice between communicative dogma and silent suffering under grammar torture, choose the communicative dogma.
Ideally, there should be a balance between interaction, pair work, practice and straight forward explanation and structural overview. Make sure that the school has arrived in the 21st century and uses authentic video and audio material, not just CD players, textbooks and photocopies.
If you can’t attend an intensive course, use the ubiquitous once a week, 90 minutes format. Make sure you have the grammar basics down. The web is your friend, there are plenty of useful grammar training sites online. www.ego4u.com is a good site for learners of English, for example. Supplement it with plenty of simple video, audio and reading that you can understand. Pictures are very helpful and you’ll find that you’ll remember the meaning of a word much better when you can connect it with an image.
Deal with this kind of material often and regularly. Use going to the gym as an analogy: you will only see results if do it regularly and when you stick with it. The analogy to the gym has its limits. It won’t hurt if you do a language work out of some kind every day, especially at the beginning. Vary your activities and get into the habit of using material aimed at native speakers. Don’t be a snob. Watch children stories, cartoons, read books and comics for children.
2) Once you have reached the B1 level, seek out all kinds of comprehensible input. At the B1 level, short TED presentations, comic books, graphic novels, graded readers, simple explanatory videos and stories on YouTube are the way to go. Try movies and shows on Netflix, too, just make sure that you have subtitles in the target language. Don’t use subtitles in your native language.
If you understand everything, the material is too easy. Find a ratio of known and unknown vocab that you feel comfortable with. This will differ between individuals, generally, you need to train your ability to figure out words from context and be less teacher and dictionary dependent.
You can and should look up words, but not reflexively, as soon as you do not know a word. Highlight the word and try to deduce it from the context. If it is a shorter text, read to the end before looking it up. For longer text or books, you can proceed page by page or chapter by chapter. The best way to look it up is to use this online dictionary: www.linguee.com. It doesn’t cover as many languages as “Google Translate”, but the quality is better.
The great advantage of “Linguee” is that it will show you a variety of example sentences in addition to the pure translation. Sometimes it can be useful to look up a literal translation of sentences or entire passages. To do so, use this tool: www.deepl.com/en/translator
Seek out every-day interactions with native speakers or tandems, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this is the most important part of your language acquisition. It will help you to become more comfortable in the language and it will build imperfection tolerance. At the B1 level, however, interactions with native speakers can easily feel overwhelming and frustrating.
Don’t get discouraged. You are acquiring the language, by yourself, at your own pace, away from the stress of having to perform in the situation. Trust the process. Assuming they are available for your target language, take one of the assessment tests language schools provide online to check your progress. Here’s a link to our assessment test: https://www.language-and-skills.com/home/placement/
3) Once you have reached the B 2 level, turn to more interesting and challenging material. As a general rule, stay away from dedicated language learning material. Most of it is watered down, boring and hides the focus on form behind impressive sounding brand names like “Financial Times” or the “Economist”. Don’t be fooled. It’s the same old gap fill, grammar tidbit and comprehension question approach with a fancy label. There is a lot more you can do beyond the obvious Netflix and movie watching.
By all means do that, but know that in order to retain vocab well, you need what cognitive scientists call “depth of processing”. The more alert you are, the more the material makes you think and challenges what you thought you knew, the better you will remember it.
If your target language is English, you certainly live in the best of times. There are thousands of hours of free or cheaply available high- quality material to be found online. Start with the TED presentations, www.ted.com, find a topic that you are interested in and research it in the target language. If you are already at the C 1 level, do the same thing; but with presentations given by authors at Google: https://talksat.withgoogle.com/.
Another good place to find long, in depth interviews is Joe Rogan’s podcast, the “Joe Rogan Experience”: https://www.youtube.com/user/PowerfulJRE Rogan is a controversial figure in the United States, but his views are safe enough for people not deeply involved in the American culture wars. Rogan’s podcast is extremely successful, probably because he embodies the average American guy better than anybody else. You won’t get sharp, critical journalism from him, but a sincere interest in learning and time for the guests to fully explain their views.
If a speaker or podcast guest tries to sell you his book and you like the topic, order the book and read it. If that seems a little too extreme, see if you can find a summary online, for example at www.blinkist.com. Or look for a review in an English language newspaper. The British Guardian, www.theguardian.com, is a good choice, as it has so far dispensed with a paywall.
The Power of MOOCs
Platforms which aren’t used enough for language acquisition are the MOOCs. MOOCs, short for „Massive Open Online Courses“, are online courses at an academic level. The MOOCs offer an extremely wide range of topics, from Buddhism to securities trading and artificial intelligence. Some of the courses are elaborately produced for the video format; others are simple recordings from seminar rooms. Many of the courses are permanently available and can be used free of charge.
Some have to be completed within a certain period of time and offer the possibility to get in contact with the teachers, to hand in coursework and get it corrected. A number of MOOCs offer the possibility to obtain a certificate from high profile American and English universities for a moderate fee, normally between $40 and 80. Check out „Coursera“: www.coursera.org „edX“ : www.edx.org and „Future Learn“ www.futurelearn.com.
Many MOOC videos have also made it onto YouTube. The MOOCs haven’t lived up to the hype of revolutionizing academic education, but they are a fantastic way of killing two birds with one stone: mastering a language while learning something new.
Many language teachers recommend novels, but novels for language acquisition will only work well for literature buffs. Novels are linguistic works of art; they are not written to be easily understood. For many adults, popular science books work better. In the American scientific community, writing successful popular science books is considered a distinction and there are plenty of works worth reading.
Many of our clients like “Behavioural Economics“. Behind this unwieldy term lies an exciting synthesis of economics and experimental psychology, which attempts to get to the bottom of fascinating questions about human nature. Good introductions to the topic are the books and videos of academic superstar Dan Ariely: www.danariely.com
By all means look for contact with native speakers, ideally in situations where there is a topic to be discussed and the language serves as a tool. This is often the problem with tandems, they quickly become boring and peter out. As an alternative to tandems, „Inter Nations“ is a good choice: www.internations.org Inter Nations is a successful German start-up based in Munich and has established a globally active platform for expats. The „Activity Groups“ are particularly suitable for language acquisition.
Theoretically, you can master a language by yourself, just like you can get into shape without a gym and a personal trainer. The main problem, both with getting in shape and mastering a language is compliance. Working with a good language school helps, because the regular sessions and the relationship with the trainer will boost compliance.
Acquisition works. The best language schools base their method on this insight and good trainers do more than just have a pleasant chat and correct your grammar once a week. Good trainers will point you toward interesting material and discuss it with you. They will broaden your horizon and be just as eager to learn from you. If you are looking for a good trainer, visit us under www.language-and-skills.eu
Review: TED Talks – The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking
Connect, narrate, persuade, explain, reveal – and practice, practice, practice
Let‘s start with news you can use – if you‘re in the market for a how to book about public speaking, I suggest you get this one. You won‘t escape the underlying „you can get if you really want“ theme so prevalent in the genre, but here it comes in much milder form than usual. If you need to work on an important presentation urgently, invest in the accompanying „Udemy“ course, too. Anderson delivers it himself and it comes with some helpful worksheets:
The combination is probably the best value-for-money public speaking training material you can find in the English language market. It will almost certainly work for you, provided you are the rare kind of learner able to hone her public speaking skills in a self-directed fashion. Because even if you apply all the useful techniques that Anderson introduces, you still need to practice your delivery.
Recruit an audience
And you‘ll need practice it in front of an audience – an audience which is willing to listen and willing to listen more than once. Not easy for autodidacts, but doable.
So, if you are willing to pester friends and family with your presentation for a couple of weeks: get the book, buy the course, apply the advice and practice as much as you can. You have every chance that your performance as a public speaker will improve significantly.
This just in case you are busy and were reading this article purely to help you decide whether or not to buy the book. Buy it. And get the Udemy course. The video lectures in combination with the blow by blow worksheets make it much easier to actually apply the ideas and create a presentation.
If you have time and would like to know more about the book, read on by all means. Initially, Anderson does wax a little too grandiose about the power of speeches and presentations on the internet, but I guess that‘s to be expected from the Head of TED.
Language is awesome
It is a bit of struggle to get past the „Prologue“ and „Foundation“ with its‘ college dorm-room philosophy: „Humans have evolved a technology that make this possible (the communication of ideas). It‘s called language.“ Reading it, you feel like passing the joint and saying –„Yeah, man. Language is a technology. That‘s amazing“. – or „Our ideas make us who we are“.
Anderson obviously skipped the Hume lectures and the Scot‘s insight that reason is a „slave to passion“ while he was at Oxford.
And of course there is a fair amount of the ever popular brain and “neurotalk”: „Rich, neurologically encoded patterns of information inside the woman‘s brain are somehow copied and transferred to the 1200 brains in the audience. These pattern will remain in those brains for the rest of their lives impacting their behaviour years into the future.“
It seems as if every writer of business and self-improvement book feels the need to make his output sound scientific by talking about neurons and the brain. This is unfortunate, because it often fails to provide any insights. If we agree that there is no divine spirit dwelling in the brain, every cognitive process by definition involves the biological matter inside the skull.
Shaping the brain
Unfortunately, business book neurotalk is often misleading and sometimes just plain wrong. Listening to a presentation once will most likely not leave any durable traces in the brain. Learning does shape the brain, but learning takes time, revision and plenty of practice . The audience will simply forget the content if it isn‘t reinforced, no matter how skillful the presentation. “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand“, Confucius is supposed to have said 450 BC. Long before there was neurotalk and modern science.
You also have to navigate past the preachy, seemingly inevitable ideas -can-save the-world stuff: „Ideas that could solve our toughest problem often remain invisible because the brilliant people in whose mind the reside of lack confidence or the know-how to share those ideas effectively.“ Like everybody who has been binging on Silicon Valley Kool-Aid , Anderson seems to be convinced that it‘s all about ideas, innovation and technology. Politics, power and distribution of wealth are ideas that don‘t seem to flourish in sunny California.
But once you made it through the prologue, Anderson‘s polished, self-deprecating style makes for much better reading than the tedious self-aggrandizing and militant positive thinking so common in American self-improvement literature. Or to say it with Steven Rosenbaum, the American TED speaker who wrote a fawning review for “Forbes” magazine: „Anderson‘s thinking, his evolution, and his emerging leadership in the world of spoken word storytelling is in turns both inspirational and remarkably useful.“
Beware the Org Bore
In addition to the style, Anderson‘s book distinguishes itself by framing a successful talk as a gift, the gift of an idea. This is a good metaphor because it helps to avoid the four types of talk that he warns against: the sales pitch, the ramble, the org bore and the inspiration perfomance. The org bore, i.e. a monothematic rant about the wonders of the organization you work for; and the sales pitch – are in my experience more common in businesses, especially in Germany.
Like every good English language how-to book, the guide presents a mix and match „tool box“. Anderson calls his tools: connection, narration, persuasion, explanation and revelation. These are useful techniques and once he gets on to practical part, the book becomes very valuable. He livens up the narrative with plenty of examples and excerpts from conversations with TED superstars like Ken Robinson and Amy Cuddy.
Cuddy is an interesting case, because the results she based her wildly successful TED talk on are actually hotly debated in the scientific community, to say the least. But this kind of critical, questioning stance isn‘t Anderson‘s forte and he doesn‘t even mention the controversy (For more information, take a look here:
TED freaks also get plenty of TED history, behind the scenes anecdotes and some insights into Chris Anderson‘s own journey. Anderson took over the TED conferences from its colorfull founder Richard Saul Wurman in 2001. As he reveals in the book, “I was reeling from the near collapse of the company I had spent fifteen years building and was terrified of another huge public failure.”
The approach in a nutshell: Distil your throughline, own your vulnerability
The strength of the book is its realism when it comes to the difficulties of creating an excellent presentation and its focus on actionable advice. From appropriate dress to calming your nerves, the bulk of the book brims with useful tips. Spend time on distilling the “throughline” of your talk into 15 words, own your vulnerability and express it onstage. Emphasize parable and metaphor in your storytelling.
Avoid bombarding people with information, don‘t put bullet points on slides and read them off. Avoid airy expressions of gratitude when you start and finish, focus on the big questions and assertions that stoke curiosity. His exhortations to revise, rehearse, and rethink your story and the emphasis on practice and rehearsal are to the point.
The book can also be read as a helpful writing guide or a primer for effective communication in general. It’s disappointing that the closing chapters once again devolve into overenthusiastic cheerleading about TED‘s world-changing powers. He does at least achieve what in presenting lingo is sometimes called the „loop“, i.e. coming back to the opener in closing.
Book Review: “How to have impossible conversations – A very practical guide” by authors Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay.“How to Have Impossible Conversations” is a terrific book in many ways and it does contain some directly applicable practical advice. What it isn’t, however, is very practical, even though it makes that claim in the title.
“It’s easier to write 10 volumes of philosophy than to practically apply a single principle.”
Tolstoi, Diaries 1847
The blurb states that authors Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay will “guide you through the straightforward, practical, conversational techniques necessary for every successful conversation, whether the issue is climate change, religious faith, gender identity, race, poverty, immigration, or gun control.”
In my edition, the back cover comes with praise from atheism’s number one ideologue Richard Dawkins, who calls it “a self-help book on how to argue effectively, conciliate and gently persuade” and claims that “The world would be a better place if everyone read this book.” There is a certain irony in having one of the most ideological “New Atheists” praising a book that has a whole chapter on dealing with ideologues but since Mr. Boghossian previously wrote “A Manual for Creating Atheists”, it fits.
For the purposes of this review, it makes things easier that the authors seem to agree with the categorization of their work as a “self-help book”. Leaving aside the misgivings about the genre, the relevant questions are: Does it do the job? Does it help? Mr. Dawkins says that the world would be a better place if everybody read the book. I hope what he means is that the world might become a better place if people actually applied the lessons from the book.
Reading a book is easy, even writing a book is easy, compared to the notoriously difficult task of changing one’s behavior. This is where the book falls short; it overwhelms with extensive lists of skills and challenging concepts, while providing next to no guidance of how to go about practicing and actually applying them.
However, before we get to the problems and suggestions on how to remedy them, there is some useful advice that you can hopefully take away from reading this review. In order to avoid the trap that the authors fall into, I will limit it to three points. Two of them are taken from the “Beginner Level: Nine Ways to Start Changing Minds”, the third one is hidden in the end notes to the “ Six Expert Skills to Engage the Closed Minded.”
Beginners are advised to model to the conversational behavior that they would like to see in their counterparts. In order to stop your partner in the conversation from obfuscating or refusing to answer a direct question, Boghossian and Lindsay suggest this refreshingly simple and straight forward idea: Tell your counterparts to ask you the same question. When they do that, “give them a succinct answer (that is, model what you’re seeking) and then immediately ask them the identical question.”
There is an interesting example for the application of the technique at the beginning of Chapter Three, where Boghossian successfully used the technique with a Muslim community leader in Australia who tried to obfuscate the fact that he was in favor of stoning adulterous women. Everybody with teaching or leadership experience and every parent knows how important consistent modelling is and how much more effective than the popular “Do as I say, not as I do” school of trying to influence behavior.
The second useful idea from the Beginner Level is the “Unread Library Effect.” It refers to “the well-known phenomenon of people who believe they understand how things work better than they actually do, i.e. the “tendency to believe we’re more knowledgeable than we are because we believe in other people’s expertise.” The authors invite us to think about this very common phenomenon with the analogy of “borrowing books from the great library of human knowledge and then never reading the books.”
A way in which self-help books can be useful is making something explicit that many of us know implicitly. Giving it a name and describing it as a skill makes it easier to apply, like the human tendency to get into arguments about issues we don’t know very much about. The practical application of the “Unread Library Effect” that the authors suggest is to “model ignorance”. Instead of getting into a discussion about an issue that both parties know little about, the idea is to start with a question about the “how” rather than the “what”.
Using the contentious topic of immigration, they give this example: “I don’t know how the details of using mass deportations of illegal immigrants would play out. I think there are likely pros and cons and I really don’t know which outweigh which. How would that policy be implemented?”
The more ignorance you dare to admit, the greater the likelihood that your counterpart will not switch into adversarial mode but will try to explain the issue to you. Using this approach you get the chance to either learn something about immigration policy or it can lead your conversation partner to the realization of her own “Unread Library Effect”. This is a more effective way of sowing doubt in somebody’s mind than arguing your point.
Giving others the “gift of doubt” is the main theme of the book, in this way it is a philosophical book in the best sense. The authors seem to have great faith in the human ability to reason, the whole book can be read as an encouragement to reflect and to lead an “examined life” in the meaning attributed to Socrates. For Socrates, the examined life meant the attainment of wisdom and intellectual humility by questioning our superficial certainties.
There is a dangerous political naivety and inability or unwillingness to see the limits of their faith in reason and civil discourse that I will examine in the last part of this review.
One of the most common dead ends in conversation is what the authors call the “true for” stance, meaning this is true for me and therefore cannot be questioned. Everybody has encountered this maddening stance which insists on the only superficially understood relativity and subjectivity of knowledge. What it fails to understand is that rational discourse is only possible if both parties agree that there are things which are “objectively” true in the sense of a shared description of the world.
A simple way of understanding this is to use the example of the natural sciences. There are no final truths in science. This doesn’t mean that it is a free for all, however. There needs to be a shared understanding of the method of deriving knowledge and there needs to be shared insights to build on, in order to make discourse possible. Would you want to fly in a jet constructed by an engineer who strongly believes in her truth, even though it substantially differs from the laws of thermodynamics?
Boghossian and Lindsay suggest this ingenious intervention, one my favorites being: “If someone says something is true for them, ask to borrow one of their possessions, such as their water bottle, sunglasses, phone or keys. Then claim that you believe “Possession means ownership is true for me, so it is true for me that this is mine now.” When they object, you can immediately ask them “Why can things be true for you, but not true for me?” I love this idea and am looking forward to applying it.
I hope I have convinced you at this point that “How to Have Impossible Conversations” is a terrific book, a treasure trove of interesting ideas, backed up by solid research and a thorough understanding of philosophy and science. From the point of view of reaching its objective, however, of actually helping people to change their behavior, there is a problem. It is an academic book written by a mathematician and a philosopher who seem to lack an equally thorough understanding of didactics and the psychology of learning.
Say Please and Thank you
Here is the table of contents of “Seven Fundamentals of Good Conversations”: Beginner Level: Nine Ways to Start Changing Minds, Intermediate Level: Seven Ways to Improve Your Interventions, Five Advanced Skills for Contentious Conversations, Six Expert Skills to Engage the Closed Minded, Master Level: Two Keys to Conversing with Ideologues. 36 skills you need to master, with a large number of subordinate skills, all in one book, which claims to be a “Very Practical Guide”.
Even if I build a “golden bridge”, skill two, intermediate level and grant that some of the skills are very basic and most people won’t need to train them, like for example “be courteous, say please and thank you” subskill nine, from main skill three, “rapport”, this is simply way too much to handle and nearly impossible to operationalize.
Be the change
I have been working on “active listening” skills with participants in communication training for years. I would argue that active listening, i.e. fully concentrating on listening and understanding, suspending judgment and quelling the urge to discuss or formulate a reply while the other person is talking, actually covers a lot of the ground that Boghossian and Lindsay aim for.
They list it merely as skill four of the “Seven Fundamentals of Good Conversations”. The insight I’ve taken away from training active listening and trying to apply myself is how very difficult it is to actually do consistently. The instances where people are able to apply active listening after the first time they encounter it is rare.
I am referring to a training situation, where the trainees first get an explanation, then watch a video and read a text about the skill. Once they are asked to apply it in a role play, the majority of trainees struggle to suspend judgement and many fall into the trap of turning the conversation into a friendly discussion and the normal exchange of views.
The Noble Quest
This doesn’t say anything about the intelligence or level of education of the trainees. Most of them were highly educated, intelligent and competent people. It just shows how difficult it is to break the habit of a lifetime. Modern organizations are competitive environments where wisdom and intellectual humility are not regarded as career enhancers. What is rightly seen as career enhancing is intellectual dexterity, strong rhetorical skill and the ability to intelligently bullshit when you don’t know the answer.
How many times can you honestly say “I don’t know” in a meeting or a presentation, subskill 17, Skill 9, Beginner Level, before your boss and/or your colleagues will have the impression that you are incompetent rather than wise and intellectually humble?
They might make the counter argument that their advice is not intended for the workplace but that is where people spend most of their time, if they are lucky enough to have a well paid white collar job. If people can’t train and apply the insights from the book there, its value is questionable.
This discrepancy between the ideal world the authors are painting and the reality of the existing professional environment again points towards the political naivety I will deal with at the end. For the time being, my focus is on how to help people actually apply all of the great ideas the authors present in their work.
The Psychology of Religion
If my task was to develop a full time curriculum to train all of the skills up to “Master Level”, where they delve into fascinating questions regarding the connection between identity and morality, I would say that a year long full-time course would still be an ambitious time frame. And it would certainly entail a fair bit of reading after class.
Especially the “Master Level” covers a lot of challenging content and you need to wrap your head around quotes like this one: “The psychology of politics is really the psychology of religion, understanding national elections is not about what’s the most efficient policy. It really is the psychology that we evolve to be religious; we evolve to do intergroup conflict; we evolve to make things sacred and encircle around them.” If you are not familiar with evolutionary biology, the work of Jonathan Haidt and the psychological turn in philosophy, you have a lot to read up on.
Communication seminars normally last 2 or 3 days and if they are good, the majority of the time is devoted to actually practicing the skills. It is obviously impossible to even cover the “Beginner Level” in such a time frame. The only way to deal with the wealth of content accumulated by Boghossian and Lindsay would be to break it up into a series of seminars, streamline the content, boil the 36 skills and innumerable subskills into something a lot more manageable, say five skills each for every level.
That would be an interesting project and a valuable series of seminars. A crucial point would be to create practical exercises for every single skill. It would take time to get the concept to a level where it flows well since creating good seminars depends on actually running them several times to smooth out the kinks. So much for some constructive criticism and a suggestion on how to remedy the book’s shortcomings.
Let’s now turn to the problems that have no obvious solutions. The main problem that I see is the insistence on “civility” and “rational discourse” being the solutions that America needs right now. We find ourselves in their version of the “agora”, the public square of ancient Greece where the philosophers assembled to hash out their differences, jointly seeking truth through the application of reason.
Straight White Guys Are Liars
If only, they seem to say, the United States could be more like this, less divided, less ideological, less irrational, then America would be great again. You can read the whole book as an academic version of “Why can’t we all just get along?” They have very little time for “radicals” and “extremists” and seem to conceptualize politics in the United States as a failing debating society that needs to read their book.
They are amusingly tone deaf to the anger of minorities since they see the righteous anger not as necessary propellent of social change but as something to be avoided at all costs. There is a very telling example in the book, where they talk about a feminist colleague who said to Boghossian: “At this point, if a straight white male told me 2 + 2 = 4, I wouldn’t believe it.”
The two communication specialists take this statement at face value, not as an expression of exasperation with a society that continues to treat women and minorities unfairly. They hilariously suggest applying their methods to the statement and recommend asking questions such as: “If you went to the emergency room and the doctor happened to be a straight white male, would you believe him if he told you that you need an immediate emergency surgery to save your life?”
It would be interesting to know how they would react if a black man said the same thing to them. Since their underlying philosophy is nothing if not conventional, they would probably shy away from giving such a silly, patronizing response. Convention has made white Americans very sensitive about belittling the righteous anger of black people but it’s still ok to mock the feelings of women and queer folk.
This is not the place to discuss the real problems of identity politics. Suffice it to say that America’s gravest problems are not to be found in the powerful position of the “grievance studies” in American academia.
More Than Rational
The most serious intellectual error they commit lies in their shortsighted critique of ideology and the assumption that the problems of ideology can be remedied by a good helping of “reason” and “rationality”. As much as they might dislike Focault and modern political philosophy, it is baffling that they fail to appreciate that politics in modern mass democracies is not a debating society, especially since they hail from a country which came into being through a violent revolution.
Ideology, understood correctly in this context, is the necessary legitimization for a political struggle that is fundamentally about power. It’s not amenable to reason, its very point lies in the fact that it cannot be questioned and thereby legitimizes action. “We hold these truths to be self-evident”. Very little room for sowing doubt there.
Peddling the usual facile self-help ideology while delivering a solid, predictable mix of communications advice and psychological research, „Talk like TED“ by C. Gallo is more remarkable for what it fails to talk about.
When you offer a course by the name of „Training for TED“, it‘s almost unavoidable to read a book called „Talk like TED“, if only to satisfy your curiosity about how somebody else got away with so shamelessly attaching himself to a popular brand.
Journalist turned communication consultant Carmine Gallo is an old hand when it comes to surfing in the wake of popular brands and people. His oeuvre includes works like: „The Apple Experience – Secrets to building insanely great customer loyalty“, „The presentation secret of Steve Jobs – How to be insanely great in front of any audience“ and „The power of foursquare – 7 innovative ways to get customers to check in wherever they are“.
Like many a self-help book, „Talk like TED“ is more interesting in terms of what it leaves out than what it actually says, not that it is bad when measured against the standards of its genre. It delivers everything one would expect, starting with the conventional, Silicon Valley inspired big picture: „ideas are the currency of the 21st century“ and the cliches that come along with this kind of superficial thinking: „There is nothing more inspiring than a bold idea delivered by a great speaker. Ideas, effectively packaged and delivered can change the world.“
Ideas are the currency of the 21st century. We will, of course, later on be regaled with a passionate lecture about what powerful rhetorical tools metaphors and analogies are, all backed by what Gallo likes to call „deep science“. The naive, philosophically ignorant admiration of science is a typical problem of self-help books. Science is a very poor guide when it comes to the fundamental, ethical questions human beings are faced with.
Sincerity is good because it works, science proves it. If science proved that skillful mendacity was a higher predictor of success, as it actually does in some instances, how would the advice sound like then? It seems unlikely that the many CEOs Gallo likes to talk about as his clients have reached their positions because they are just decent, honest gals and boys who‘ve learned to speak from the heart
Burning with passion
The metaphor of ideas being the currency of the 21st century probably didn‘t originate with Gallo but it warrants some closer examination. What is meant by that, one wonders? Ideas won‘t pay your rent or your health care bills. What Gallo and the great Silicon Valley visionaries mean, of course, that everybody equipped with a smartphone and good helping of passion, (we will hear a lot more about the importance of passion in the chapter „Unleash the Master within“), has the chance to turn his ideas into a life mission and, more importantly for the average person, a livelihood. We only need to identify our „core purpose“ and liberate our passion and we are all set.
I try to avoid being too cynical about the intention and mindset of individuals and prefer to leave it as a question: With half of the United States living either just above or already below the poverty line, with Trump in power, with social unrest in France and the right wing on the ascent all over Europe, how can anybody in their right mind continue to dish out such platitudes?
Not that ideas aren‘t important or beautiful or that being able to communicate them well isn‘t a valuable skill, but it‘s the kind of high end skill and life goal that a growing number of people are light years away from. They are just too busy coming up with creative ideas to make it to the end of the month. Why is that? Have they failed to identify their core purpose?
Not even to mention the pregnant teenager working in the Bangladeshi garment factory or the Thai girl from the countryside working in the Bangkok Go Go bar to feed the family, but much closer to home: the uber driver, the fast food worker, the disposable cubicle soldier. Have they failed to unlock their passion?
Many people who do follow their passion, their passion for helping others, for example, or for doing valuable and meaningful work, like nursing or teaching, are actually punished for their choice. Rather than being richly rewarded for following their passion, they are poorly paid and treated. Since they do what they love and care about what they do, they are easy targets for exploitation.
Let‘s hear what Gallo has to say in his parting piece of wisdom: „ If you are like most people, you‘re capable of so much more than you‘ve imagined in your life.“ Dream big. „You have the ability to educate and electrify, inform and inspire, but only if you believe in your ability do so“. You’ve got to believe. Believe in yourself. Gallo, who later on advises the reader to stay away from empty phrases and worn out cliches, should have taken his own advice.
The Power of You
The myth about the immense power of the individual, its untapped potential, the dormant kernel of greatness that lies in everybody and blossoms once the authentic self, „the core purpose“ has been identified, is probably the most toxic psychological effect of neoliberal ideology. It is so toxic because it is not blatantly wrong or malicious in itself. Who wants to argue against the importance of the quality of individual experience? It is after all the founding ideal and indispensable myth of modern societies.
It is so toxic because it falls on fertile ground, i.e. the unleashed, often almost infantile narcissism of consumer society. If the imagination wasn‘t clouded by the cult of the self, it would be obvious that the kind of world Gallo seems to have in mind is far away from the social reality of most people in both the industrial and the developing word. It is an upper middle class fata morgana with a fair sprinkling of the rich and the super rich. It‘s not that it is an unattractive world; I like TED presentations and Davos is probably lovely in spring, but before it makes ethical sense to get all excited about this kind of world a more fundamental problem needs to be addressed: the problem of how to make this kind of social reality accessible to more than a tiny minority.
In the rich diet of illusions that maintain the status quo, the idea papadums of TED presentation are certainly the tastier and more easily digestible bits. As long as people are encouraged to see themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires, however, and don‘t understand that in modern mass democracies the fundamental problems are solved through politics and solidarity rather than economics and individualism, the kind of optimism on offer there doesn‘t seem warranted.
The Value of Being Average
There are, of course, other problems with the idea that everybody should be the hero of their own life. What about the value of being average, which, let‘s face it, most of us are? It seems cruel and inhuman to force everybody to release their inner hero in this particular neoliberal fashion. It lays the onus purely on the individual and, unwittingly or not, creates the cruel logic of winner and loser, of form over content, that Donald Trump is such a glorious example of.
Which is not to say that people shouldn‘t educate themselves or try to become better public speakers, on the contrary. There is certainly value in identifying what you really care about and what drives you. Expressing it can be and often is liberation from this very topic, however, rather than turning it into the message on which to base your newfangled entrepreneurial self.
Authenticity in many ways is something that happens when you stop trying so very hard and learn to acknowledge unadorned reality, about yourself and others. It is a slow process and it entails the ability to become aware of the full range of your emotions including the anger, frustration and helplessness that so many feel; especially the ones who are excluded from the neoliberal fantasyland where unemployment, zero hour contracts and unpaid electricity bills are non-issues.
The book abounds with stories of resilient people heroically overcoming the worst of life‘s vicissitudes: a stroke, the amputation of both legs, a brain tumor, are met with the most positive of attitudes. They are presented as role models for the deeply ingrained dogma of „being positive“; to not feel or display anger. Or, if you do, your anger should be entertainingly packaged, for example as exasperation directed at individuals failing „to have a great career“, like in Larry Smith‘s TED presentation.
Political change from below is impossible without the fuel of righteous anger, however. Anger becomes noble and positive only insofar as it becomes a quest for justice; its confrontational character remains unchanged. Significant change in democratic societies only happens if ruling elites feel that they have something to lose in a confrontation; not because of their benevolence. Anger remains dangerous and unpredictable, however and the elites should start to respond before it turns violent. Insofar as the elites are present like TED conferences and Davos, they would do well to start taking their role more seriously and use these platforms to enlighten each other about the social reality for the many that has developed under their watch. They should by all means be exchanging visions but they need to do better than a miserly guaranteed basic income for the obsolescent masses muddling through a burnt out planet.
Success Breeds Success
Gallo, of course, is as far away as you can be from any kind of critical attitude.“Talk like TED“ is an American self-help book, after all, bound by the iron laws of being positive and starry eyed, undignified admiration of success for its own sake. It is this slavish admiration of success for its own sake, of form over content, that is one of the strongest indicators of the paucity of the current public discourse. Whether you are Martin Luther King, Joel Osteen or Ronald Reagan, it doesn‘t matter to Gallo. They are all great, great speakers and successful communicators. It feels very much like the next book in the series is going to be: „Playing with the truth and moving the masses – Donald Trump’s insanely effective communication secrets.“
In terms of its value as as an effective, practical how to guide, „Talk like TED“ is solid average. None of it is completely wrong, it‘s easy to read, Gallo is a fairly skillful writer even though the way he keeps stealing subheadings from the TED presenters is as shameless as the book’s title. „Novel“, „Emotional“ and „Memorable“, behold the „power of three“, is what the presenters should strive for their presentations to be. If I had to give a buying recommendation for this kind of book, however, I would suggest to get „TED Talks“ by TED curator Chris Anderson. (I will review his book in the next article).
It‘s likely that „Talk like TED“ will be helpful on the simple level of imparting some basically sound advice about how to communicate effectively to ambitious middle managers and junior consultants. It will solidify the status of the TED format as the gold standard for how to give presentations. It will help to further alleviate the grim tedium of the old school business presentation, where somebody reads off slides which are later on e-mailed and used as a document. The problem of form over content stays the same, however. As long as there is no viable political vision for society that business can serve and fall in line with, the content will more often than not be cant and skillful mendacity, obfuscating an empty obsession with profit and shareholder value, no matter how glossy and skillful the presentation.
My critical review of „Talk like TED“ begs the question how my „Training for TED“ is different, since I am backpacking on the success of the TED format just as much as he is. My approach doesn‘t differ very much in the skills which the trainees train, human beings need stories and concrete examples, they do prefer new information to old and so on. The difference rather lies in inviting and offering a more critical and challenging view of what means to understand and present an idea.
To fully understand an idea means also to understand its limitations and the context in which it is or can be applied. It means to present it well and with enthusiasm, but without becoming a mindless cheerleader and without deluding oneself that it somehow magically will „change the world“. The role of the trainer needs to cover the whole breadth from being encouraging and supportive to playing devil‘s advocate who encourages honesty and critical thinking. I‘d like my trainees to get better at telling truly fascinating stories, stories that engage with difficulty, ambiguity and contradiction, not simple commercials.