The complementary reality
Where we cannot completely displace the mainstream, we should first try to supplement it with our own, more humane concepts.
by Roland Rottenfußer
[This article published on Oct 10, 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.rubikon.news/artikel/die-komplementare-wirklichkeit.]
Man is a creature of habits, and habits are also strong on a social level. Whether it is a matter of one-sidedly understood science and orthodox medicine, authoritarian frontal teaching at school, or political parties frozen in their power rituals - the old does not abdicate so easily and without a fight. Even the danger that by "muddling on" all humanity, even all life on this earth, could become an obsolete model does not challenge the exponents of the "Ancien Régime". And when it comes to defending against criticism and attempts at change, "state power" is not only used in the metaphorical sense. Here we must fall back on a proven strategy: What we cannot - yet - defeat, we should supplement, so that a second, complementary reality emerges. Let us place our own, better designs next to the existing. The new can then, if it proves its worth, spread at the expense of the old, compete with it and exert a pulling effect that people who are sensitive to the shortcomings of the ruling institutions cannot escape. Prophets say: This world is about to end. But when we get involved and stick together, something else happens: a new world is about to open.
Who can actually still hear the word "reform"? It is definitely used up. After the "Agenda 2010" and other political flashes of the past, the term only elicits an unnerved groan from politically informed people.
The "revolution" is also a double-edged issue - after all, it is not only a malicious narrative of power that such total overthrows are often extremely violent and do not necessarily produce humane new castes of rulers.
But how about "reformation"? This term probably has little appeal to many readers, who tend to associate their experiences with Protestant religious communities with moral stale and uninspired religious routines. Even Martin Luther as a reformer is not a role model for many because of his numerous anti-Semitic, misogynistic and antisocial outbursts. However, I am not at all concerned here with the substantive orientation of "Protestant" or "Catholic", but rather with the principle: two churches with differing world views, whose members live halfway peacefully with or next to each other, on one and the same ground.
The example is interesting because it could be exemplary for a new beginning, which would be urgently needed today in the environment of a neoliberal and in 2020 also corona-hysterical monoculture of opinion. In the Middle Ages there was only one church - the Catholic one. Membership in this church was virtually inevitable in a certain geographical area, because it socially protected and supported an individual. Then Martin Luther came along and "invented" a second church at the beginning of the 16th century, a parallel church with similar functions and institutions to the Catholic one, but with values and rituals that partly deviated from it.
Today, there are many other spiritual paths besides these two large churches, which can usually coexist with the Christian ones without any problems - apart from more recent tendencies towards "Islamophobia". The monopoly of the one church on the provision of religious meaning and religious services has been abolished. With Luther there was a crack in the ceiling of the seemingly all-encompassing validity of the Catholic principle. Whenever a paradigm presents itself as "without alternative" and thus threatens to suffocate the spiritual life of a society, when it also makes itself highly implausible and can only achieve "obedience to faith" through massive coercion and manipulation - then it is time for a "reformation".
While reforms seek to improve only a small section of reality - and often enough make it worse - a reformation aims at the whole of a society's intellectual and organizational orientation. It is radical in the sense of "going to the roots".
Such a reformation is similar to what Rudi Dutschke called the "system-abolishing reform". The mere existence of a viable alternative puts pressure on the representatives of the old paradigm, which can lead to changes. We have seen where the idea of a "unipolar world order" has led after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.
If one thinks further here, one could say: The dominant secular belief system of our time - the belief in the infallible shaping power of the market - should be confronted with an alternative via "reformation", since its lack of integrity is evident in many fields. This alternative should be organized in the form of idealistic communities - supplemented by supra-regional networks. Alternative forms of economic activity - the regional currencies to some extent - already represent functioning alternative concepts at the community level. Compare for example the parallel currency "Chiemgauer" in southeast Bavaria.
Such monetary experiments and other individual projects cannot be expected to address all the systemic shortcomings in a state dominated by market radicalism. A politically active community such as the one I have in mind should therefore always keep a larger design in mind. I believe that the old world, with its values, its economic and organizational forms, is doomed one way or another. Not because we want it that way or because we have the power to force it on our own, but because the system is created in such a way that it will collapse by itself. The bubble will burst, the Titanic will sink - especially in the economic and ecological sector.
What matters now is to build lifeboats for as many people as possible. What will die are above all outdated values, ideologies and sham securities. There will be economic problems in the years to come and above all considerable problems in the minds and souls of all those who cannot follow the events inwardly because they are taken by surprise and completely thrown off course by it. Corona has not initiated this process as a whole, but has accelerated it and made it visible as if under a burning glass.
A new movement of 68?
I also sympathize with the idea of a "new '68 movement" - if only because at that time many people underwent a fundamental change on many levels. This included politics and culture, family structures and sexuality, upbringing, thinking, science and - for some of the people open to it - spirituality. A creative, experimental, and anti-authoritarian spirit took hold of many areas of life.
There is, however, one essential difference to 1968: the situation is more dramatic today, and the challenge for the 2020s is far greater. It is a matter of virtually unwinding the old order and simultaneously building a new order. Not "on the rubble", as one might pathetically say, but already now, as long as the old structures function reasonably well and the cumbersome ship can carry the "passengers" for a while longer.
We cannot start building lifeboats only after the ship has already sunk.
Let us once again bear in mind why we cannot trust in the organizational forms and thought patterns of the old order, why the current "party landscape" in particular - regardless of whether the balance of power shifts somewhat within it - is unsuitable for solving the problems at hand. I have commented on this topic in more detail in my article "Democracy gone astray".
The death of real opposition
At the large demonstration in Berlin on August 29, the young Green Party member of parliament Claudio Siber appeared at the main rally. In a moving speech, Siber settled accounts with his party.
"For a long time, I thought my party would take a critical view if I presented them with all the facts. I wanted my party to be the party that takes away the fear of the people. I wanted to minimize the damage of SARS-Cov-2 and especially the consequential damage of the measures".
Think: The Greens, to whom Claudio Siber had presented a well-informed position paper on Corona, decided in favor of the lockdown, loyal to the government. Every attempt at discussion was stifled at the municipal level. "I was marginalized and stigmatized." And all this on the basis of a single expert opinion, which was expressed by - guess what! - Christian Drosten.
"He told us that over a million people will be in intensive care and over 100,000 people in Germany will die if we do not have a lockdown. (...) I asked and wanted to know whether this was the only basis for the Bündnis90/Die Grünen party to vote on the lockdown in parliament. Absolutely clear: Yes, it was. (...) My contradiction that we have had data and studies for a long time, e.g. in my letter, was met with scorn.
Siber could no longer reconcile the politics of the ex-idealists with his conscience. No matter how we judge the mixed audience at this demonstration: Siber's appearance is a document of political courage that shows how far inner-party democracy - and democracy in general - has deteriorated in this country. "The task of the opposition is to control the government. Restricting basic rights without making up your own mind, without being critical, without your own experts, is not control. (...) We have no opposition at all at the moment," Sibers concludes bitterly.
Two days after this speech, Claudio Siber was expelled by the Green Party faction of the Flensburg council assembly. The party establishment does not tolerate independent thinkers. The mainstream dogmatists did not even want to accept a model rebel as a fig leaf. Instead, they rely on intensified internal repression and the deterrent effect of a severely sanctioned dissenter.
Perfectly functioning brainwashing system
The political system apparently functions like a brainwashing machine. Politicians there are subject to enormous pressure to adapt. Who does not fit, is made fit. In order to swim further up the ladder, aspirants to responsible positions must either adjust their opinions or cleverly hide unadjusted soul movements - until no one notices that they are "actually" rebels. This kind of conformity or conformity simulation is all too evident on the political stage - even more oppressive on the subject of corona than elsewhere.
We recognize "ex negativo", i.e. from the realization of what does not work, that we must work powerfully on building the new before the old is unwound. It is about building parallel structures that serve several purposes.
Withdrawing "energy" and attention from the old so that it gradually loses its power. This means, for example, largely ignoring the propaganda offerings of the "mainstream" and no longer staring at politicians like a rabbit at a snake, anxiously exploring what they want from us at the moment.
To live largely undisturbed by "alternative" values. Imagine, for example, the community building of a housing estate, in which the mask compulsion that existed "outside" no longer exists, because no one would admonish it anymore and no one would report violations to the authorities. Or to places where a vegetarian or vegan diet is common practice and where food produced by animal suffering is no longer imposed anywhere.
To escape the appropriation, blackmail and temptation of the "old". A concrete example: Although I am currently quasi opponent of the regime, I am not subject to financial pressure to adjust my opinion. This is possible because I am employed by the Rubicon. In order to achieve freedom of opinion and conscience for as many people as possible, more jobs in the "alternative" sector must be created. The members of a worldview that negates the destructive old structures should support each other as far as possible. This also includes avoiding negative consumer incentives as much as possible by a better choice of information media and entertainment programs and by changing shopping and living habits.
Living among like-minded people without fundamentally rejecting contact with others. It is good to exchange with people who have a different world view and a different way of life. In the long run, however, it can be exhausting to always fight against the pressure to adapt that is exerted from "outside". Finally the "normalo surrounding field" colors then nevertheless on creative, independently thinking humans off. With like-minded people one can tank up strength, relax and find support for the own conviction. Ideally, one will then influence one's system-adapted environment instead of only being influenced by it. If one withdraws to a large extent from the "mainstream", one also avoids too many hurtful hostilities from this camp. I have said some things about this in my article "Resistance as a way of life".
Building lifeboats in case the big ship sinks. Especially a collapse of our economic system is anything but a distant and unlikely vision of the future. Suitable safeguards against this are, for example, regional parallel currencies, which could keep money and goods in circulation regionally. Likewise, contacts with regional food producers and, in general, good connections to other people, so that people can support each other in an emergency.
Act immediately instead of waiting until everyone is "converted". It may take time for all or even most politicians and citizens to come to their senses. The longed-for "change in consciousness" among the majority of the population is a long time coming, and time and again it even suffers severe setbacks. In this situation it is advisable that we rely more on ourselves and on the environment of "soulmates". We can begin to tinker out of this more humane consciousness to create a better world. In principle, we do not have to change location or wait long for this to happen. Let's start with the obvious - with what we are good at and what we are "burning" for. And let's be persistent in doing so even if we suffer setbacks.
The Freedom Archipelago
The libertarian philosopher Horst Stowasser outlined such a path of social change in his major work "Anarchy!", first published in 2007. He called his "Third Way" - besides reform and revolution - also "Project A". I am not concerned here with recommending exclusively anarchist projects. All attempts to anchor a new consciousness in material reality could spread according to this pattern in a society still rooted in the old. Stowasser consciously points out a great many options:
"These could be stores, kindergartens, workshops, shared flats, cultural projects, pubs, educational institutions, manufactories, libraries, municipalities, farms, publishing houses, leisure initiatives, political groups, service companies, action committees, health care facilities, cooperatives, circles of friends, projects for the elderly, neighborhood assistance, and much more. (...) The totality of such small collectives formed an interweaving, which worked inwardly as "net", outwardly as "root work". In addition to the innumerable contacts of everyday social life, they would be linked together by a system of assemblies, committees and boards in a council-like structure" (1).
In this way, politics and everyday life would merge, for the everyday is political, political interest and political activity become commonplace. A permaculture garden is an environmental policy statement because it conserves resources and enables biodiversity. And a solar roof on a house is also political. So is a private visiting service for elderly and lonely people or a culture of encounter where people "still" embrace each other. Direct political action - such as participating in large-scale demonstrations - does not have to suffocate the daily life of the community and allotment gardening. Both "forms of action" are not mutually exclusive.
Stowasser uses the image of the "archipelago" - the group of islands - in the sea of the mainstream. He speaks of a "virulent counter-society" consisting of interlinked projects, even beyond national borders.
"This could also increasingly become a political, economic and cultural factor: an 'archipelago' of libertarian islands in an authoritarian world that is slowly growing together and slowly breaking out of its social niches. At the same time, the concrete archetypes of a new society developed there. With increasing strength, such a project could also become increasingly active and militant in interfering in the social conflicts of the 'old' society" (2).
As already mentioned, we can also replace the word "libertarian" here with other values that are important to us: ecological, social, pacifist, coronasceptic, and so on. Or several such values can complement each other. In contrast to the classic, goal-oriented political "action front-the leftist direction, for example-the new consciousness archipelago would place more emphasis on how activists are doing: on their potential development, indeed on their level of happiness. In addition Stowasser:
"But their strength could lie precisely in the fact that 'private happiness' is no longer seen as something reprehensible.
And the time to realize this "new world" would be now.
"Nevertheless, the claim remains that it is legitimate to want to have some of the beautiful utopias of the day after tomorrow here and now. All the ideologies of despair that have the selfless, ascetic revolutionary as their model are basically perceived as mendacious. The consequence of this is, of course, that one can appear outwardly open, experiencable and attractive. There would thus be a chance to reach thousands of 'normal' people in everyday social life and to provide them with very simple access to an understanding of anarchic life" (3).
I add: instead of an "anarchic" one could also care about an environmentally conscious life, a life without violence and so on.
Once again to the terminology. I have spoken of a parallel reality - when, for example, people of Catholic and Protestant faith coexist on one and the same national territory. I spoke of an alternative reality - a word that has gained urgency through the devastating, anti-democratic Merkel dictum of "lack of alternatives". We strive for an alternative wherever the old is not even bearable for us as a neighboring or "parallel" structure. For example in the case of war, oppression and exploitation.
There is also the appealing term new reality, which the leader of the 1968 student movement, Rudi Dutschke, once used as a vision of a connection between political and spiritual freedom:
"Christ shows all people a way to the self. For me, however, this gaining of inner freedom cannot be separated from the gaining of a maximum of outer freedom, which is to be fought for equally and perhaps even more. I can understand the saying of Jesus, 'My kingdom is not of this world,' only immanently. Of course, the world in which Jesus really lived and worked was not yet the new reality. This was and still is to be created.
The disadvantage of this focus on the "new" is that we sometimes overlook what is worthy of imitation in the "old" and can be well integrated into progressive projects.
Furthermore, the concept of a counter-reality is also common - in formulations such as "counter-movement" or "counter-public sphere". Users of these terms define themselves predominantly through the confrontation with the "old regime". This is necessary to a certain degree. If an established person uses the term "counter-party" as a fighting term, caution is advised. Of course, the person concerned wants his or her policy to be accepted without criticism. However, "being against" is at most half of what is necessary for our oppressed world now.
I myself also like to use the term complementary reality. What is meant:
Where we cannot yet abolish and replace destructive structures, we simply supplement them with our own and better ones.
Or the "old" works quite well in a limited area, but comes up against limits where it is applied in an all-encompassing and totalitarian way. I am thinking, for example, of economism - the principle of subjecting every area of life to criteria of profitability and profit maximization. Economism works quite well if you want to make sure that the expenses of a business do not permanently exceed the income. But economism has no place, for example, in the cynically so-called "relationship market", where people are traded according to their attractiveness, their "market value".
The principle of complementary supplementation has proven its worth wherever the prevailing system can either not be levered out at present - as in the case of the interest rate system - or is not to be levered out because it is still needed in certain areas - as in the case of conventional medicine. Indeed, it is precisely the terms "complementary medicine" and "complementary currencies" that have made the term popular in recent times.
Complementary medical practitioners usually realize that conventional medical treatment methods "work" within a limited framework and even remain necessary. For example, when broken bones are "patched up" after an accident, when anesthesia prevents unbearable pain during an operation, or when antibiotics save lives in cases of serious infections. In contrast, "complementary" medicine can strengthen the immune system, stabilize health preventively, help to avoid unnecessary serious side effects or remove traces of synthetic drugs from the body - not instead of, but in addition to, conventional medicine.
The supporters of complementary currencies sometimes admit that the old monetary system has its strengths, for example when it comes to international payment transactions and the financing of major projects. However, they want to build up regional, non-interest-based currencies as a complement to the old system, which will keep money and goods in circulation locally in the event of global financial crises and thus secure the livelihood of many people.
"Complementary" are principles that complement each other, as in the Chinese symbol "Yin and Yang", so that one represents what the other is missing. Opposite pairs such as "male/female", "old/young", "dark/light", "cold/warm" are related to each other in this way. Without one of them, the other would not be recognizable in its particularity at all. Bright spots appear particularly bright in a dark painting, as in Rembrandt's painting.
This does not mean that in all political questions both sides of the "truth" are always equally valid. War and peace do not complement each other in a meaningful way; rather, the former should disappear from the face of the earth completely, if possible. On the other hand, the model of complementary complementarity sometimes saves us from the ongoing, exhausting "fight against ...". We can start building complementary life and economic models now, not only when the ideological opponent has been "defeated".
Here are a few more areas of life in which the principle of complementary complementarity already works well - even if the word "complementary" is not usually used.
Large churches and independent, smaller denominations. Although the relationship between these confessions does not always function smoothly, in fact the followers of these world views live in complementary realities.
Ordinary diet and "alternatives" such as organic products, fair trade, vegan and vegetarian food.
Conventional energy production, for example by coal and nuclear power, and "renewable" like solar and wind energy.
Industrial agriculture based on artificial fertilizers and pesticides and "alternatives" such as organic farming, permaculture and the like.
Profit-based housing construction and cooperative housing construction.
Internet and software giants like Microsoft, Amazon and Google and "alternative" search engines and video portals as well as free software.
"Normal" state schools and alternative school models such as Waldorf, Montessori and complementary education.
Mainstream media and alternative media like Rubikon.
Popular and mainstream culture or state-sponsored high culture as well as independent "scene" and niche culture.
Traditional family models such as the nuclear family and alternatives (communities, shared flats, polyamory, LGTBQ scene and others.
With all these "alternatives" can be observed: They are part of a complementary reality. They do not exist in place of the traditional models, but in addition to them, i.e. complementary. However, it is a misunderstanding to assume that in all cases I do not care if people prefer the "mainstream" or the complementary principle. In nutrition, for example, I find it very important that as many people as possible switch to organic, wholefood, and preferably vegan or vegetarian. With most of the opposites I have mentioned, I would like to see the "complementary" side become widely accepted.
But this seems difficult at first. Power cartels stand against it - as with everything that has to do with the economy. Or the alternatives are relatively expensive, as with food. Or one simply cannot and does not want to "force people to be happy". In this case it is preferable to build on the complementary reality even before the conventional reality has disappeared from the face of the earth.
An example of this would be the introduction of an unconditional basic income in a smaller circle of interested people. It would not be necessary to wait until the last unreasonable CDU member of parliament agrees. An association could collect money through members and donations and distribute a basic income. With it experiences could be gained, could be tested whether humans, who are financially more independent, really only "lie on the rotten skin". The German Institute for Economic Research is planning a pilot project in this regard for 2021.
An example of a system that already works on a small scale - and in addition to the "big", often destructive economy, is the public welfare economy, as Christian Felber explains. Felber proposes a conversion of our dangerous economic system, which often rewards the worst human characteristics such as egoism, to an economy that is useful for the common good. Companies that take part in the project should draw up a public welfare balance and collect points: How do they deal with their employees? How do they treat women, suppliers and the environment? Depending on the balance sheet, the entrepreneurs will then be in a better or worse financial position. Only those who serve everyone can be successful. That is why, for example, organic food from fair trade must not be more expensive than conventional food.
Multioptional "lack of alternatives
We live in a world that is confusingly multi-optional on the one hand - we can and should choose in almost all situations in life - but which, on the other hand, comes along in the oppressive corset of lack of alternatives in essential social questions. One and the same political system, split into several "block parties" - that is what we are content with year in, year out. If the established have their way, the "alternative" should be limited to a small, powerless niche. The supermarket "may" offer a single vegan sausage based on peas between 200 sausage varieties from torture farming. The "normal" - or better: the normopathic - society does not feel threatened by this and can at the same time simulate tolerance to the outside world.
Today's people must overflow in large numbers to the "alternatives" - or the "complements" - if they want to create a future worth living for themselves and their descendants. There must be a pull, away from the old system, towards the "utopian" alternatives. The new must attract people with the "power of Eros", as Geseko von Lüpke said. It must convince and inspire them. Those who still remain in the old system will sooner or later have the feeling of being the stupid one. If the iron curtain of the old order gets a crack in just one single spot, the whole system starts to totter.
For too long, the state has relied on being able to allow itself to do anything, because voters were able to replace one system-compliant politician with another, but not the state itself. This is exactly what our world looks like today: a prey of arrogant monopolists who never had to fear real competition.
Something similar can be seen in the conventional health care system, in conventional agriculture and in other areas of public life. But germs of the new are already penetrating the snow cover of lack of alternatives. Citizens are beginning to vote with their feet on whether they still want this old world. They are running away from the established.
A system that can no longer take the membership of its citizens for granted must begin to really care for them, to listen to them and to respond to their wishes. The old system still has a chance to prove that its existence is necessary. To do so, however, it would have to fulfill essential demands of the critical innovators and become something excitingly new itself. As long as this does not happen, an effect will occur like in a paternoster elevator: The old world will go under and a new world will open up right next to it.