Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Nuclear Power & National Identity: Irrational Germany?

There is an international debate going on about Germany's nuclear phase out. Here is an article from Daniel Johnson in The Telegraph "Why Germany said no to nuclear power". In a nutshell, this commentary presents all stereotypes ever held about Germany. The commentator mixes them up, adds some (interesting) details about Germany's nuclear history, and presents the phase out as an indigestable, irrational German stew. That's how the Krauts are! It reminded me spontaneously of soccer matches between Germany and England; in the media, sport commentators start with presenting the teams and end in talking about national stereotypes, about war and peace, about life and death. This article is a great example for the difficulties we have in debating our energy futures. Like sports commentators, we switch effortlessly from the nuclear cooling pond to the pitch and back, insisting that it's all rational, scientific and economic.
Here just one example: a paragraph that presents well the general tone of the comment. It could be from an article about soccer, about history, about economy - it fits everywhere:
Germany is one of the most admirable countries in the world, but Germans, like other nationalities, are not immune to irrational attitudes. Decent Germans have reason to worry about the fact that, according to a recent poll, nearly half of their compatriots express anti-Semitic opinions, such as that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against Palestinians, or that "Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era".

Just Krauts. And the link to the nuclear phase out? No problem, no bridge necessary, here we go:
But Germans have no reason to fear nuclear power. Mrs Merkel's appeasement of nuclear hysteria is disturbing far beyond Germany's borders because it represents a capitulation to irrationalism by the leader of a nation that once led the world in science and technology. The land of Leibniz and Humboldt, of Goethe and Gauss, is now indulging the fantasies of cynical scaremongers.

Well, I am sure this comes as no surprise to the British readers. They know who we are. Why care?  Because there is an embarrassing problem:
So should it matter to us if Germany chooses to impose unnecessary costs on its own industrial and domestic energy consumption? Germany is the largest economy in Europe and the European Union has a habit of imposing German prejudices on the rest of its member states. Enemies of nuclear energy will be emboldened to pressurise other governments, including our own, to follow the German lead.

A well known problem in England. Gary Lineker, the British advance player, once put it like this:
Soccer is a game for 22 people that run around, play the ball, and one referee who makes a slew of mistakes, and in the end Germany always wins.

It's just a small step from the nuclear cooling pond to the pitch...

(Thanks, Silke, for sending me the link to this article!)

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a Brit, I'd advise against reading an article in the DT as an "international debate", especially if it's only in the online version.

The Economist is a much better read. ;)

Hannah said...

The Economist is a much better read than most newspapers. ;o)

Werner Krauss said...

More people read the Daily Telegraph instead of the Economist :-)

eduardo said...

Werner,

articles from the Daily Telegraph should always be taken with a big grain of salt, but not everything is wrong in this article. I think one of the big historical errors of the 'left', say the socialist or communist movements of the 19th century, was to assume that we could shoehorn all societies into the very same model. It seems now clear that there exists a substrate of national values or cultural values or historical values, however you may choose to denote them, that makes societies different. Germany is clearly different from Spain, although a single German in isolation may be not very different from a single Spaniard. Every society is in some sense special, and the German is no exception. Spain will never have an influential Green Party, and Germany will never attain the levels of the Spanish political corruption. Yet, Germans do not feel as happy as Spaniards, and the German Angst is a characteristic which, I think, becomes very soon clear to any foreign observer exposed to German society. In some situations it makes for a more stable society compared to other countries. But it can also be misused by shrewd elites to tow the people towards other hidden goals.

Note that I have not used the word 'better' or 'worse' in this post, just the word 'different' and 'special'

Werner Krauss said...

Eduardo,

to put this into context of our debate: each country has a cultural history of its own. Including technological history. My argument is that technology is cultural, too. Not only socialism and communism failed when disrespecting culture; the same is true for every technological fantasy which is not rooted in or compatible with a cultural tradition / everyday practices / political economy etc

As much as I learned from the news about Fukushima: in a high technology country like Japan, the culture of organization is one of hierarchy and obedience. In the case of a nuclear emergency, this does not fit that well, obviously. Or would you feel safe as a citizen in such a situation when administration hides information?

The best technological solution is not in every case the best practical solution. History is full of examples when the well-intended implementation of technologies failed.

Science and technology are deeply ingrained in our cultures; they are not the opposite to culture. Fossil fuels, radioactivity, the sun and the wind fuel our cultures. There is something literally true about the saying that oil runs through our veins. Even in the veins of scientists and energy experts. It is only part of our official culture to make people believe that science is above or beyond culture and speaks innocently "truth" to power. In reality, it's much more complicated, as most people know, hopefully.

It doesn't matter whether the Daily Telegraph or Die Zeit is right; what matters is that we discuss the acceptance of nuclear (and every other form of ) energy in cultural terms - even though we pretend to do so in purely technical or scientific terms.

Just consider the role "angst" plays in the international discussion of the German nuclear phase out. Is "angst" an "objective" fact or is it just an invention from the Hollywood film industry? Are Spaniards happy because of the Mediterranean climate? Are they happy at all? Or does it only make sense in the context of mutual stereotyping? In the end, the interesting point is: when does a seemingly technological argument suddenly turn into a cultural one? When does somebody suddenly use "angst" in order to close a discussion about energy?

eduardo said...

Werner,
it seems that we actually agree. To say no or yes to nuclear energy cannot be solely based on science because there are risks and unknowns that have to be weighted against another risks and unknowns, from instance from climate change. Each nation would answer differently to this question.

It does not however mean that Merkel's decision is the optimal that could be taken now. For instance, I do not understand why nuclear energy has to be phased out. Sweden adopted another solution along the same lines, which was to freeze the number of reactors that can be active at any given time. Merkel could proposed to reduce the number of reactors depending on the progress in alternative energies. Why should a nation clip its options ?
If Merkel considers that nuclear energy is so dangerous so as to phase it out in Germany , she should also commit Germany to never buy any nuclear energy from abroad, say France, Netherlands and the Tchek Republic.

Anonymous said...

1) On the first comments, the Economist, nr 1 (Anon. (not my (aka namenlos) comment)) and 2 (Hannah):

Out of curiosity/On the side: Does someone know if an editor from the "globocratic"(?) Economist will attend the "Bilderberg Meeting" this year again (June 9-12; St. Moritz, Swiss)? Almost like constant participants of that meetings of which some come out of the MSM, e.g. like from (the also f.i. at Klimazwiebel repeatedly adulated) Die Zeit? I'm asking since I wonder if there are more good reasons that "we" hear or read only *if any* seldom sth about this *org* (and if, then rather in vague statements (alike)):

"The 'private meetings'[...] were credited for organizing and 'helping to lay the groundwork for creating'[...] (f.i. 'informal'[...] or ''trilaterale''[...] etc) 'networks_of'[...]/'networks_for'[...] the ('partly'[...]) 'so-called power elites'[...]."

[If even priv. communication are suggested to be helpful (esp. WRT the 'Euro'[...] or/and even the 'EU'[...] etc) (or even if e.g. a 'malleable Chatham House Rule'[...] has been applied):]

What *if any* can be "seen" more or less rationally as worth learning from that "chats" (esp. WRT 'trust', or WRT (private) press/media, or WRT 'successful'[...] 'participants of that meetings'[...], or WRT possible 'beneficiary parties'[...], or WRT 'tax monies'[...] ...)?"

2a) To the "nations" and on comments nr 4 (eduardo) and 5 (Werner Krauß). Also questions for all (and possible especially for Hans von Storch or Nico Stehr (who both/together have published earlier a paper that included some of Herder's views).):

Interesting point: If you, esp. eduardo or/and Werner, did not know it yet or if you want to know:

Your fairly ..err.. "relativistic"(!?) views on "nations" ("countries") or "cultures" are, among other things, remarkable similar to those famous and surely quite "painstaking" arguments that belong also to many if not to "all" "Herderians" (and, as a matter of fact, to "their" basic understanding) aren't they? Some wonder whether these so-called Herdrites are in some "groups" more often by majorities wrongly labeled: "Anti-Enlightenment" or/and even sometimes into the direction of: "For example Herderians are (precisely because of remarks like those Klimazwiebel comments from above on nations and cultures) nearly always or at least in the majority suitable examples of advocats of "'the' [..] 'Tea Party Movement'"". What do you think?

2b) One "opposite to culture" (see above) can be seen in nature, or not?

namenlos

Anonymous said...

Minor "typo" in comment nr 7: Instead of "Herdrites" the "group" should be spelled "Herderites".

namenlos

Sam Schulman said...

Generalizations about national character are of course rather dubious - and in any case, before repeating any such generalizations, we all ought to remember that Germans are very sensitive!

Hannah said...

Namenlos, I read and re-read your first question (point?) and I am afraid that I simply do not understand it. In all fairness this may very well be because I am currently a bit lacking in sleep :o) could you rephrase it please?

Anonymous said...

Hannah, I hope you slept well.

Unsuccessfully, I get the indefinite feeling that obviously something of my ("on the side" (s.a.):) subtopic "1)" in comment #7 (above) couldn't have been well-placed (here?/enough?). But at the very least, I'm even quite confident you and I can agree on most "points" - also on our points above and that we can “understand“ each other, especially if we will try harder to become (even) more precise.

To your question (#10):

Yes, fortunately I “could [..] rephrase“ that (That you are “a bit lacking in sleep“ is to me actual, in all fairness, not only your most congenial but also your most comprehensible reason for your comment(s (above))/please.):

What, if any, can be seen more or less rationally as worth learning from this [and our somewhat "pseudo-critic"] chattings that contain little, if any, compelling evidences?

I could - or maybe should - have avoided at all costs your (in any way possible) imprecise question, or, for instance – theoretically - I could avoid it also/too, indirectly, by answering with "rhetorical questions" *[...]*, but I wouldn't've done a thing like that in this situation.

Likewise I can furthermore oblige your please in an easy way:

No (rephrasing of my) "question"! Coz I'm even quite sure most people will agree that most texts are a much better read when they (i.e. these texts) use "reasonable endeavours" to "rationalize" and stuff like that. As it is known in common parlance, "reasonable" texts are likely more convincing/fruitful... than assertions/questions without arguments/substance.

Ordinarily, all texts - not only yours - are sooner or later improvable. This applies probably to all of my and - as far as I know - other people's "texts" (and thus it applies unanimously not solely or especially to written texts (such as those "newspaper 'criticisms'" or such as single and one-sided claims in blog-comments and -questions etc from above)).

namenlos