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Society on the brink of a nervous breakdown

No longer normal Forfatter
Forfatter: Stephan Lessenich
Forlag: Hanser Berlin, (Tyskland)
PROSPERITY / Is there even a way back to our society as it was before? According to Stephan Lessenich, capitalism and prosperity in the West is a result of the exploitation of colonized peoples. But according to him, to abolish capitalism would be to abolish our democracy at the same time.


I Not normal anymore Sociologist Stephan Lessenich investigates our social notions of normality, where norm and normality often fall apart. He is Professor of Social Theory and Social Research at the Goethe University in Frankfurt and Director of their Institute for Social Research.

Our society, as we knew it before the pandemic, is "no longer normal". Lessenich describes today's society as "a society on the verge of a nervous breakdown", which is also the subtitle of the book.

We have the climate crisis, the financial crisis, the migration crisis, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

The crises come in tandem with each other. We have the climate crisis, the financial crisis, the migration crisis, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. The widespread protests in Iran arose immediately after the script was delivered to the publisher; most likely that is why he left them out. The title of the book describes our collective state as a world community right now, where we grit our teeth and try not to lose our minds in the middle of an unpredictable everyday life.

We long to return to our society as it was before. Where we could enjoy everyday life and rather worry about everyday things like what to have for dinner. Or about what we should wear. Such trivial concerns now become our escape in an otherwise serious world situation in which we find ourselves.

Instead of worrying about trivial things, we must make sure to unplug the wireless internet when we leave the apartment or go to bed, don't take too long a shower and recycle our waste. Don't fly as often either, but rather make environmentally friendly choices such as trains, don't buy too many clothes, but rather used ones, eat more regionally, wear a mask in large crowds, remember to vaccinate ourselves, take a corona test when your throat itches, and stay at home until we have received an answer to the test. At the same time, hope that Putin does not push the nuclear button, that the war in Ukraine does not escalate more than it already has, or hope that there are no more executions in Iran...

Financial crisis, immigration, prosperity

Is there even a way back to our society as it was before? Or has the abnormal become the new normal? Do we just have to accept that there is no going back? What will a post-normal society look like in the future? How will post-normal nations and citizens behave? These are some of the issues in the book.

The book is divided into five chapters, which translated into Norwegian would be "The will to normality", "The far-reaching consequences of the financial crisis", "Germany – an immigrant society?", "Fossil mentalities" and "Who is afraid of identity politics?". In addition, there is an introduction and a conclusion,

The first chapter is about why we want normality at all. How notions of normality are socially created, and how our ideas about it change. Lessenich writes: "Normality is a social condition that must be restored every day." Normality is work, and a mutual will is required from all individuals in society to actively create it, he emphasizes.

He describes his Germany as a society where the production of normality has come to a standstill. It has become "a society that cannot hold on to the old and cannot think of the new, which begins to doubt its security and despair of the future". This phenomenon also applies to Norway and other European countries.

In the next three chapters, Lessenich writes about how capitalism and prosperity in the West is a result of the exploitation of colonized peoples. Industrial society still thrives on unlimited consumption of natural resources. If we abolish capitalism, we can delay the consequences of this consumption, he writes.

But our democracy, as we know it today, has its roots in capitalism. If we abolish capitalism, we also abolish our democracy. We are trapped in the system which is no longer normal, where the normal, as the author describes, is constantly changing. So there really is no such thing as normal, as I understand it.

A society

Society is becoming more polarized

In the last chapter and the rest of the book, Lessenich writes about the apocalyptic aspects of what is considered normal today. He writes about the phenomenon of our time, cancel culture (the culture of cancellation), where people, languages ​​and publications that are not considered politically correct are cancelled. He believes that the culture of cancellation endangers democracy by making it impossible for public exchange of different points of view.

Society is becoming more polarized. Rather, sexist and racist discussions take place in civil society safe spaces, writes Lessenich. Atle Antonsen's behavior at Bar Boca is proof of this. The friends did not intervene against his racist attack on Sumaya Jirde Ali. The case was dropped, and Antonsen still performs as a comedian. Sexism and racism are not only a problem in formal and public contexts.

Lessenich concludes that "we live in a society with a self-produced compulsion to normality – which can only be stripped by ourselves and no one else". He calls for the possibilities of an economy that recognizes material resources as limited, a politics that is committed to the organization of social participation, and a solidarity that wants "to cross existing social boundaries."

If we can do this, we no longer need to talk about missing life as it was before.

Pinar Ciftci
Pinar Ciftci
Ciftci is a journalist and actor.

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