Sunday, June 5, 2011

Nuclear Energy and National Identity Part V: Against National Stereotyping

25 years "Hamburger Kessel" (police kept anti-nuke protesters encircled for one day. June 8, 1986)

Why do newspapers or journals such as The Daily Telegraph, Die Zeit or the New York Times  write about the German national character when commenting on Merkel's decision for a nuclear phase out? What role do these mostly embarrassingly stupid stereotypes play in the discussion about energy supply? This makes me really wonder. German angst; Germany, the land of great poets and thinkers; German irrationalism; German organization etc etc - what is this all about?
Here my explanation: the debate about nuclear energy is highly emotional. There are excellent and reliable science & technology experts on both sides, pro and con. There is the question of the future (of economy, of markets, of resources, of values, of technologies etc),  which is unknown. There is the question of global warming and CO2 emission, again highly emotional. There is a troubled history of 40 years struggle about nuclear energy in Germany (see the picture above) etc. In short, there is both an abundance and a shortage of good arguments - again, on both sides.
This is where "nation" as an argument comes in. It leaves the football stadium  and enters the public arena. Journalists and experts on both sides of the nuclear energy debate transform themselves into rhetorical hooligans, while still pretending to be "scientific", to argue "technical" or "in the name of reason". They use either negative (angst, irrationalism, romanticism, forest etc ) or positive (thinkers and poets, adventurous, industrious, engineering etc) stereotypes of an imagined "national character" in order to support their arguments. As we know from scholars such as Eric Hobsbawm and Benedict Anderson, nations are "imagined communities" , which in turn are based on  "invented traditions". Nations do not have "characters"; character is something ascribed to them. Consequently, we first have to keep an eye on those who speak about national characteristics, before taking the ascribed characteristics at face value.
Once in the nationalistic mood, there are no limits to sarcasm, polemics, and Schadenfreude. Many of the arguments in the newspapers, journals and comments in the blogosphere give ample proof of this. Determinisms flourish in this atmosphere: Germans are just like this or that, and consequently they do this and that.... There are no limits in misusing this powerful source. From Benedict Anderson's seminal book "Imagined communities" we know, that "nation" is the most powerful source to agitate people; to include and exclude people; to make people even willing to die for their nation! That's why the pro-nuclear expert suddenly talks about the "German angst" when he runs out of arguments, or the anti-nuclear guy remembers the power of engineering qualities in  Germany. Once infected by the nationalistic virus, nobody seems to remember that Germany is a democracy, and that energy supply is of course subject to political decisions. As is the nuclear phase out: yes, it is a political decision in a highly democratic country. Is it too much to ask to assume that Germans are not slaves to an obscure national DNA? Just read the names of the German national soccer team and think about it once more...

But even worse, the arguments on German's national character are even enforced by other seemingly "objective" criteria such as "technology", "progress" or "markets" - do they all really want to substitute politics by these empty phrases? Some even come up with a new carbon emission determinism -as if national, natural  and biological determinisms hadn't caused enough damage in Germany!

Okay, I hope you get the idea. I want to suggest that "nation"  is not a valid argument. Quite the contrary, to go back to national stereotypes in order to win an argument in the energy debate is simply embarrassing. On the other hand, it is so difficult to avoid. Because we live in nations, and we live in nations that are mostly fueled by fossil and nuclear energy. Debates about our energy futures will affect the very condition of our existence. But anyway, German history shows that we should take care with misusing "nation" as cheap excuse for having run out of arguments.


Peter Heller said...

I do not live in a "nation". I live in a "network". It is a network of people wanting to develop our future without fear. And this network does not end at national frontiers.

This is what all the discussions (climate change, nuclear energy, ...) are about in the end: fear. The decision in Germany to phase out nuclear power is only based on angst, nothing else.

And if Germany is the only country worldwide, where such a decision has been possible, it is necessary to talk about German angst.

Based on the experience in my network I am convinced; The German angst exists. And it is strong. Why? I do not know.

Werner Krauss said...

Dear Peter Heller, I am afraid that you suffer from "cosmopolitan angst"! But you don't have to be afraid of a non nuclear German future (if it will ever come...): there are many ways into a high-technology energy future! (By the way,there are many other countries without nuclear energy.)

Georg said...

I had a post on that as well
discussing mainly an article of Pierre Radanne in the Liberation

There is obviously something to explain. Why are Japan and France so in love with their nuclear power station and why are even conservatives in Germany against nuclear power? Your suggestion that it's all an illusion does not explain much.

By the by the discussion between Montbiot and Helen Caldicott goes on. Devastating for Mrs Caldicott to my opinion.

Werner Krauss said...

The explanation is in the detailed nuclear histories of the respective nations. I doubt that Japan and France are in love with their nuclear plants. Here just one example: "The Nuclear Peninsula" by Francoise Zonabend:
"A quiet French country district is the site of a nuclear waste-processing plant. Francoise Zonabend describes the ways in which those working in the plant, and living nearby, come to terms with the risks in their daily lives. She provides a superb sociology of the nuclear work-place, with its divisions and hierarchies, and explains the often unexpected responses of the workers to the fear of radiation and contamination. The work is described euphemistically in terms of women's tasks - cleaning, cooking, preparing a soup - but the male workers subvert this language to create a more satisfying self-image. They divide workers into the cautious ('rentiers') and the bold ('kamikazes') who relish danger. By analysing work practices and the language of the work-place, the author shows how workers and locals can recognise the possibility of nuclear catastrophe while, at the same time, denying that it could ever happen to them. This is a major contribution to the anthropology of modern life."


Werner Krauss said...

Indeed, your discussion of the Liberation article is very interesting. A detailed history of national technologies is different from making use of national stereotypes. My goal was not to explain the differences; instead, I wanted to argue against the naive use of indeed "imagined" national qualities.

Here a very interesting interview with Joachim Radkau about nuclear energy in Japan and why there is (no) protest movement:

Hier ein erstaunlicher Ausschnitt:

"ZEIT: Was ist dran an den Klischees der japanischen Technikgläubigkeit und der deutschen romantischen Technikfeindschaft als Motive für das verschiedene Verhältnis zur Kernkraft?

Radkau: Außer dem redensartlichen Fünkchen Wahrheit wenig. Die vermeintliche Technikfeindschaft hat im 19. Jahrhundert immerhin den Typus des höchst erfolgreichen deutschen Ingenieurs hervorgebracht, für den Geduld und Besonnenheit hohe Tugenden waren. In Fragen der Reaktorsicherheit war der Ingenieur seit den Anfängen nachweislich ein vorsichtiger Skeptiker und Warner vor den Risiken. Außerdem hat gerade die Skepsis gegenüber der Kernenergie in Deutschland eine Heerschar von Techniktüftlern in Gang gesetzt, der man seither die kulturelle Revolution durch die erneuerbaren Energien verdankt. Das angeblich technikgläubige Japan wiederum hat nicht nur seine eigenen nationalen Naturmythen hervorgebracht, sondern zudem ein bemerkenswertes ökologisches Bewusstsein."

Georg said...

"The explanation is in the detailed nuclear histories of the respective nations."
The history is what it is because of the detailed history?
In daily life nuclear energy is hardly challenged in France. It's implementation was seen as a sort of a general modernisation of the country after WWII. Still the acceptance of nuclear energy by average people is very high.
So in very short we will have a situation with two countries with very similar live standards and similar industrialisation with 80% electricity supply being nuclear for France and 0% for Germany and with 0 accidents since nuclear power was implemented in the 60s. So I guess there is something to explain.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Nations are 'imagined' but this does not make them 'unreal'. All identity shaping activities are social and cultural, therefore imagined. Arguments based on nation are not 'invalid' for this reason. There may be other good reasons to reject nation based arguments but this does not seem to be one.

Werner Krauss said...

I like your unbeatable "I have been there" argument! I have been in France, and they have no problem with nuclear energy. Period. I bet you also did not see a nuclear accident, so there weren't any!

(I don't get your problem with my argument that a close look into history might reveal something about the differences between France and Germany. This is wrong? But why?).

Werner Krauss said...

I guess you also don't consider it correct to switch from scientific / technological argumentation to arguments based on national characteristics and back? I did not say that this is incorrect because nation based arguments are imagined. I wanted to point out that it is dangerous to mix these things and to pretend that something like "German angst" is a fact of the same quality as a technological or scientific fact. And I did not say that nations or national arguments are "unreal" because they are imagined. Instead, I said that they are powerful tools to include and exclude people or even to start wars. This is different from "unreal". It is very real.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

OK Werner, sorry if this was misunderstanding. Let me put the point differently then. How do you explain that there is a common perception about Germans and their risk averseness (or angst)? You seem to say that this is because they use national stereotypes ... which are wrong.
Or did I misunderstand again?

Georg said...

"I like your unbeatable "I have been there" argument! "

It's one of the best. And if one coulndt answer such question as "How do people feel about nuclear energy in X" after you've lived in X there for 15 years one is most probably not a very attentive listener. Actually the principal green personality, TV presenter and adventurer, Nicolas Hulot, the only serious candidate for presidency was very long time pro nuclear (he seems to have changed opinion) and the green party in France never made the anti-nuclear power attitude to a central point of their campaigns. However everyone in France (oh my god I said "everyone") is quite obsessed about food, the way how food is produced, genetic modification etc. Not far from what one would expect given the clichee of the franch national character.

"I don't get your problem with my argument that a close look into history might reveal something about the differences between France and Germany. This is wrong? But why?"

Nothing is wrong about it. But where is the argument? "German angst" is oversimplifying. Ok. So go on. I am listening. My suggestion is again Rabannes argument. Nuclear energy is considered as an "elite" technology, controlled, understood and to the benefit of a relative small technological elite. Since WWII the germans do like what the elite is suggesting- from Stuttgart 21 to nuclear power.

We were discussing Germany vs France. There is absolutely nothing worth to be mentioned in both countries. Actually if you would compare the list of nuclear accidents in France and Germany to accidents with hair dryers in both countries there can only be one conclusion: hair dryers? Nej tak.

Werner Krauss said...

@Reiner #10
I would prefer to hear your opinion, Reiner. I don't get where you are heading at with these kind of "do I get your logic" questions. Just let us know what you think!

Georg said...

Above in the last paragraph better read

Since WWII the germans do NOT like what the elite is suggesting- from Stuttgart 21 to nuclear power.

We were discussing Germany vs France. There is absolutely no accident worth to be mentioned in both countries. Actually if you would compare the list of nuclear accidents in France and Germany to accidents with hair dryers in both countries there can only be one conclusion: hair dryers? Nej tak.

You mentioned Hobsbawn.
Norbert Elias was clearly less sceptic about analysing "national characters" though he called it "national habitus".

Werner Krauss said...

@Georg #11

Thanks so much, Georg! Your comment was the ultimate cure against my stupid "German angst". Imagine, stupid German I am, I had thought nuclear plants are more dangerous than hair dryers! Unbelievable. Thanks for telling me the truth, with the cool and detached attitude of a real scientist!

And yes, I have to admit: why anthropology, psychology, or sociology? Just ask a stranger living abroad for a while, and he will tell you everything about the others. Where's the problem? No problem. People are open books, everybody can read in them.

And sorry for causing so much trouble; no problem, man, just say "everyone", and "us", and "them" whenever you want to! That's fine with me. I am only afraid - no, stop! I am no longer afraid! You cured me!
(and bald headed as I am, I even don't need a hair dryer anymore, so I am really on the safe side now!!)

Georg said...

"Imagine, stupid German I am, I had thought nuclear plants are more dangerous than hair dryers!"

Well, there are two technologies, nuclear power plants to produce electricity and hair dryers, well, to dry hairs. After 50 years of common existence in Germany we can check who killed more people. Couldnt find numbers for Germany, in the US each year there are about 17 mortalities.

How do you start to find out what people think about something? Naively I started with listening to what they say. What is a better strategy of an anthropologist?

The german cancler decided to abandon nuclear energy and though she is probably convinced that nuclear energy is too dangerous for Germany might be she thought also, I can win elections with this issue. On the other hand and beyond the Rhine, if you dont take my word for it just check in french newspapers who of all candidates for presidency (the election are in a couple of months) ever talked about nuclear energy? What is your conclusion from the quasi non-existence of this issue in political debates?

Georg said...


Actually most accidents with hair dryers are due to bad handling and not respecting security measures (drying hair in the bath tub). But it seems to me that the russian engineers in Chernobyl didnt respect the security advices neither.

I am balder than you are. So we are safe. Do you know about the death toll of gas ovens? Modern life is dangerous.

Werner Krauss said...

@Georg #16
yes, gas ovens. Very dangerous! Nuclear bombs, too. This here is pretty interesting:

"In 1956 the French agreed to secretly build the Dimona nuclear reactor in Israel and soon after agreed to construct a reprocessing plant for the extraction of plutonium at the site. The following year Euratom was created and under cover of the peaceful use of nuclear power the French signed deals with Germany and Italy to work together on nuclear weapons development.[8] The West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer told his cabinet that he "wanted to achieve, through EURATOM, as quickly as possible, the chance of producing our own nuclear weapons".[9] The idea was short-lived. In 1958 de Gaulle became President and Germany and Italy were excluded."

There were also some casualties involved while testing the bomb etc.

yes, talking to people is a good start. As far as I remember, they add some additional methodologies, theories, fieldwork practice etc during the ten plus x semesters at university :-), but you are right: talking to people is a very good start! (Just as knowing how to add numbers is a great start for a future mathematician).

@ReinerGrundmann said...

I am asking these question to find out where you are heading to!
Is it just the assertion that stereotypes are too simple and superficial? All typologies are simplifications.

Werner Krauss said...

@ Reiner 18

What a klimazwiebel discussion! Those Germans are really, really tough! First, my polemical answer:

Yesterday, it was our 7/24 happy Spanish friend, Eduardo, who attacked me. I think he likes nuclear energy because it radiates like the sun (he is soooo Mediterranean, you know!).

Today, I am permanently attacked by this pseudo-French Frog with his really sloppy 'laissez-faire' arguments (hair dryer etc);

and now you, my German friend! Questions with an exclamation mark! Jawoll, zu Befehl, mein Führer!

Funny? Thanks! I knew you would love it!

From cultural studies, I learned that race, class, gender, nation and age mostly are not very fair arguments. See the examples above. Add this one: To denounce an argument by a female expert as "typical female" is not very intelligent. It pretends to point at an inherent quality she cannot control, because it is her nature, allegedly.

To denounce a political decision in Germany as based on "German angst" is of a similar quality. There is no argument left, because angst is part of the German DNA, allegedly. You can show it or hide it, but it is part of you. That's the point.

Is angst a superficial argument? Not really. Not true? This is not the problem. It misses the point, because once spoken, it turns into a reality. It is a so called performative act - it exists in the moment you name it.

It's about power and who has the right to speak, to include and to exclude, and to silence other people. What is the correct answer to German angst? To: you are typical female? If I say to you: Jawoll, mein Führer! - what do you answer?
You lost round one. That's what it is all about.

It's this sometimes almost invisible switch from a "real" argument to stigmatizing someone along the above criteria. This happened, in my opinion, in the discussion about Germany's energy future - in the news articles I posted, in comments on the blogoshpere.

I just read in Radkau's "Die Ära der Ökologie" the following about how a nuclear energy politics debate could look like (after the famous Enquete-Commission "Future Energy Policies" in 1978):

"Up to then, nuclear politics were seen as the execution of practical constraints (Sachzwang); only when it was understood as a 'making public' of various options, it turned into real politics in the full sense of the term - into politics which has something to decide."

33 years later, the debate is still heated and full of emotions. It is difficult to keep in mind that there are indeed options; there is indeed something to decide.
Race, class, gender, nation etc. are unreliable allies in this discussion; using them to denounce others is kind of playing foul. The line between stigmatizing and explaining a difference along these lines is very, very fine.

Anonymous said...

@Werner Krauss

So let's say that the "Atomkraft Nein Danke"-movement is part oft the german culture. How can you convince somebody that his reasoning is wrong?

I think that it's not easy to explain why Germany is the only country with no speed limits on the highways? No "angst"?

That is also part of the german culture.


@ReinerGrundmann said...

Werner, why assume that people mean German DNA when talking about German angst? It could well be cultural/ institutional/ political/ historical/ social.

Werner Krauss said...

@ anonymous #20

Yes, I agree. "Atomkraft - Nein danke" is part of German culture. As is the Autobahn.

I like your observation that obviously Germans are NOT afraid on the Autobahn. I looked up wikipedia, German Angst:

A very complicated concept. The conclusion is that angst is a general phenomenon in or of mass societies and cannot be reduced to Germany. In my opinion, something is missing. The concept is so powerful; everybody seems to know what it means. My guess is that German angst was a topic in Hollywood movies. Maybe someone else knows more?

Here the history of the Tempolimit on the German Autobahn:
Highly interesting, and also not completely satisfying. It is just like it is - no one introduced a general limit. Not a real explanation.
What I learn from this: German angst has nothing to do with fear. It is an expression completely of its own. It takes some Anglo-saxons to explain the concept to us - they know what it is.

Cultural phenomena have their own histories. History, history of science, Volkskunde, cultural and social anthropology, sociology etc deal with these phenomena. In everyday life (or in discussions on the blogosphere), we permanently use concepts such as German angst, without being conscious about it. Of course, everybody knows what German angst is! If you ask, nobody has a clue where this idea comes from...

In the energy debate it is really stunning that scientists, journalists and experts, who in other contexts insist on clarity, objectivity, validation etc, here make use of cultural concepts in order to enforce their scientific arguments. They just use them as if they were natural facts - they even don't get the idea that they make use of cultural concepts. I think this is really remarkable.

How to convince someone? This is a really great question, anonymous! Honestly, I have no clue. Normally, I guess, it is almost impossible to convince someone, especially if the topic is as hot and emotional as nuclear energy and climate change.

The nuclear phase out is a consequence of Fukushima, on the one hand; on the other, there are forty years of discussions and debates. It is simply impossible to discuss this topic while ignoring this history. Not only "Atomkraft - Nein danke" is part of German culture; the relation between industry, science and laypeople is also deeply cultural in this question. We do not start from scratch. We are inside culture in this debate, and there is no way out. This is why the pro-nukes argumentation often times is so weak: it pretends to be scientific or technological, but makes permanent use of cultural arguments. For the other side, it is easier: they have their experts, too, but they do not have to pretend to be merely scientific. Instead, they put their bets on alternative technologies and often times promote a change in culture.

eduardo said...


Maybe you are misinterpreting the discussion, or maybe you have been reading other media which I have not. The term German Angst is not meant to be dismissive, at least not as I use it. It is a description of a way of how society tends to confront problems; rather a tendency and not a determinism. Other cultures have other traits. Whether or not the German Angst really exists as a cultural trait should be the object of a sociological investigation by experts. I guess that one could reach an objective answer, but short of this, it seems to me clear that the French, the German, the Spanish and the Russian and the US societies are different, the representative political parties are very different, and therefore it seems natural to try to explain decisions like the nuclear phase-out in terms of those cultural backgrounds. It is not a matter of positive or negative judgment, but a matter of inquiry.

Now I pose a question for you. The current German government could have design the same legal strategy to save so and so many Gigawatts hours of energy by 2022 in order to shut down the coal plants instead of the nuclear plants. If this is technical possible, in theory, why is this alternative not even being mentioned ? In reality coal causes much more deaths per unit of energy produced than nuclear power, and therefore it could be perfectly argued that this alternative is more firmly placed on the high moral ground. It seems clear that it is much more that science or technology what is involved here, and actually most of it is emotional or electoral. That is , a government playing to the emotions of its people, instead of shaping an important decisions in a rational or at least transparent way. Thus German Angst would be here an explanation of why this decision is possible in Germany and impossible in France, but not an argument that Germany is in any sense inferior.

Anonymous said...

It seems that German organically grown bean sprouts are more dangerous than larger than designed nautural incidents at Nuclear Power plants (E-Coli 18 deaths so far vs Earthquake & Tsunami zero deaths) at Fukushima see here
I note that the Spanish are turning away from greens & socialists. When will the Germans admit they are again (but in a different way to Hitler- remember he was elected) being lead down the wrong path.

Werner Krauss said...

œReiner #21
Because in the series of articles I posted here, so-called German characteristics are used to de-politicize politics. The nuclear phase out is an eminently political process, which is presented in these articles as a kind of cultural defect. 40 years of Anti-nukes movement, the history of the green party etc etc are subsumed under the term "German angst" or German "irrationalism" etc. This is a perfect example for "essentializing" something that is eminently political. I use DNA here as a metaphor for this process, and I think it fits well.

You don't have to agree with my interpretation, but it would be interesting to learn something about your opinion, too.

Werner Krauss said...

@Eduardo #23

"and therefore it seems natural to try to explain decisions like the nuclear phase-out in terms of those cultural backgrounds."

And why not explain these decisions in political terms? Why de-politicize political decisions?

In cultural anthropology, explanatory concepts like "cultural traits", "national characters" or the unity of "territory, nation, and culture" are completely obsolete. They have no explanatory value at all; instead, in the hand of nationalist movements they can turn into powerful weapons. Just think of the use of these concepts in German history, or recently in the nation building process in former Yugoslavia.

This does not mean that cultural differences do not exist. But when talking about national differences, the context of the talk is as important as the message. Why does somebody suddenly make use of the national characteristic argument?
Why does a scientist, who is known for being absolutely rational, suddenly use highly speculative cultural arguments?
The situation, the context is important. Cultural "characteristics" are not like natural facts; instead, they are dependent on speech situations. They are only real when you make use of them. Thus, it is impossible to "objectify" them. Once you do objectify them, you already make a political statement. National folklore studies did so; eugenics; climate science when being deterministic; and there are many more examples when science (innocently or not) contributed to bloodshed, racism, nationalism etc.

So I strongly urge to be careful with the use of these concepts. I think we learn much more about the German nuclear phase out, when we study the last forty years of debate about nuclear energy in Germany. When we study the role of science, of industry, of social movements and their interplay.

Remember, for example, how concerned we are about regaining public trust in climate science after climategate? Why not discuss why nuclear science never again regained public trust in Germany? This would be a much less speculative approach to the nuclear phase out than reasoning about "German angst".

To your second question:
Why not shut down coal plants instead of nuclear plants?
Well, why not end hunger? Why not make all people happy? It would be so easy....

Werner Krauss said...

@ anonymous #24

I think to sign with "anonymous" fits perfectly to the content of your post!

Georg said...

"yes, talking to people is a good start. As far as I remember, they add some additional methodologies, theories, fieldwork practice etc during the ten plus x semesters at university :"

So it might be that all these frenchmen I spoke to who told me that they are not afraid at all by nuclear energy and that they trust in the security of the french nuclear power plants that at the end a psychologist/anthropologists with all his/her years of study finds out that in reality theses frenchies are scared to death?
Could it also be the contrary? I mean all these germans who are convinced that any birth defect on this planet is due to Chernobyl and who demonstrate since 30 years with the same nej tak stickers are in reality firth believers in the absolute security of nuclear energy. Werner, you are right. I need a lot of phsychological training to read correctly a man/womans mind.

"Why not shut down coal plants instead of nuclear plants?
Well, why not end hunger? Why not make all people happy? It would be so easy...."
More rhetorical foam is hardly possible. There is a sum X which is right now invested in Germany to modernise the german energy sector. So you have to decide between nuclear energy or coal. It's as simple as that. The happiness of all people will be decided tomorrow.

Hannah said...

Sadly I have to work right now so the rather long comment that is building up will have to wait. However, quickly:
George, why would the Germans (or the French) say “Nej tak” to anything? It is Danish for “No thanks” (we all grew up saying “Nej tak til Barsebäck” but I don’t recall us sending stickers to Germany). Am I missing something terribly clever? Otherwise it is “Atomkraft? Nein, Danke!”
With regard to the "anonymous" couldn’t people just sign off with something that makes it possible to distinguish them from each other? @20 and @24 is either two different people or one person in the UK with insomnia……(no alcohol and camomile tea seems to work for me).

Georg said...

Just participate in whatever anti nuclear power demonstration in Germany and then ask the people who are wearing the stickers the whys and wherefroms. My guess is that it looks international? No idea.

ghost said...

There is a sum X which is right now invested in Germany to modernise the german energy sector. So you have to decide between nuclear energy or coal. It's as simple as that.

or Renewable Energies or Gas.

Cool... I always think like that. The Problem is the "Wende". Change is always risky, expensive, but also full of possibilities. If we point to nuclear energy, we have to built 40, 50 new reactors in the next 30-40 years in Germany. Either to replace old reactors or coal power plants. We have to (re-)build an uranium industry, we have to build huge nuclear waste deposits. To do that, we need a huge amount of money and we have to convince 70-80% of the population. I think, extending the running time of nuclear power plants is different than building new plants, "Wiederaufbereitungsanlagen", research plant, new final deposits, etc.

Is this possible? Is this affordable?

Comparison France Germany and Chernobyl. (arte biased ;))

French people are the ones who believed that because of a High above France and a Low over Italy the Chernobyl cloud stopped in Italy and southern Germany. Who is more idiotic? We Germans or the French? I do not want to decide. It was so simple: just handle carefully or avoid fresh milk and fresh salad in the first weeks after Chernobyl, especially for young children. German government decided to report faithfully, young mothers were really upset and unsettled. French government decided to lie, French people were happier, weren't they? Probably, apart of the little girl in Korsika who ate every day a lot of milk with sugar in the small cheese business of her parents: thyroid cancer. This girl said now: just honesty would have been enough.

What is better: Germany or France?

PS: thyroid cancer and radioactive Iodine is quite sure connected.

eduardo said...

since I am not an anthropologist I may not be using the right terminology. I am not suggesting any cultural determinisms of the sort 'Germans are like this, they have been always been and they will be always be. Let me illustrate it with an example instead of using misleading concepts. The industrial revolution emerge in Britain in the 18th century. why there and then and not in China in the 19th century or in Spain in the 15th century. There must be an explanation for this. I gather that this explanation does not involve any DNA or race superiority of any king. I assume that it will involve a combination of physical, but also societal, circumstances. For instance, a societal milieus supporting risk taking, or profit making or any other, that was not present in the other societies. This does not mean the the British society has been and will be leading the world - obviously an absurd idea. By the same token, Germany now displays some characteristics that are not found in France or Britain, which may disappear in the future and which did not exist in the past. This happens for all cultures. Perhaps that is what you call 'politics' and I call cultural dynamics, for instance.

There are many minor examples of these differences: Springer once tried to launch the Bild Zeitung in Spain, and it failed. Spaniards do not seem to like that type of journals. It doesnt mean that Spaniards are more intellectual, because on the other hand Spanish television is full of gossip and reality tv programs that would ashame most German spectator. In the US it seems very difficult to impose a ban on the right to carry weapons, which is unthinkable in Europe. Why? Political, cultural, anthropological ? you name it, I am not the expert. I surmise that on a larger scale, an explanation could be found as to why there is a powerful Green party in Germany and not in France.

Autobahn-Angst. Indeed, Germany does not seem to be afraid of Autobahnen, and therefore the translation of Angst as fear is not correct. It must be something more profound. If it were true it would not be a problem to impose in Germany a speed limit, which as it has been shown this year in Spain has reduced the number of car-crash deaths by 10%. A simple, cheaply implemented measure that on top of saving lives, saves energy (5% of petrol consumption in Spain).A speed limits was discussed in Germany already in 1990, if not earlier. I would have two questions. One is the cultural one: why it is so difficult in Germany and apparently very easy in all other countries ?. The second is the political one: What is the reason not to impose a speed limit on German Autobahnen ? Perhaps because one would lose voters ?

To your second question:
Why not shut down coal plants instead of nuclear plants?
Well, why not end hunger? Why not make all people happy? It would be so easy....

I think you are weaseling out here..

Anonymous said...


I'm commenter n° 20 an forgot to mention my name again. I never thought I would ever agree with Georg, but he's not all that wrong this time.

The first thing I learned in my life about germans was "arrogance". Many people still were a little bit angry because the germans did invade our (political neutral) country some 20 years before I was born.

What about a cultural identity when we speak about the holocaust?

Well many people I knew in my life were good friends and they were germans, but even many of them told me they thought that germans were arrogant (at that time).

What I learned later on to like about germans was their openness, their green movement, their Krautrock usw.

They became less and less arrogant and hated their own conservative behaviour of the past.

The first time I was confronted with a similar kind of arrogance again was during the "climate wars" of the last decades and one person behaved like the quintessence of this "old german behaviour". And now he is posting here and I agree with him on some points.

That's a real revolution, a clash of cultures. And even if my beloved Krautrockers now still call for photovoltaic and wind energy and protest against nukes, I know how much I miss them .



Hannah said...

George, actually, come to think of it, it might very well just be Danes coming along for a bit of demonstration and discussion. We like that. I always maintain that the only thing a Dane do without discussion is dying…. and that only after having discussed how to die :o)
Anyway, it strikes me how we are all products of what is coded into our “software” in terms of past experiences and education etc. When I see “race, age, nationality and sex” I think “protected characteristics” because I am an employment solicitor who has had quite a few cases dealing with discrimination. When reading Werner’s comments about the “German angst” I was reminded of a case where an employee successfully claimed race (nationality) discrimination because her boss had said something ending with “unless you are married off before” (she was Indian). Similarly I reckon that a German, as an employee, would have a fair shot of claiming nationality discrimination if he was asked to do something which he declined saying that he didn’t feel comfortable doing so as he didn’t think it safe and he was then told to shut up and not give in to his “German angst”:o) The reason we protect against race, age, nationality, sex and sexual orientation discrimination is that any nation on Earth contain multitudes and therefore it doesn’t really make sense, in general, to speak of “German angst” or “Scandinavian gloominess” etc. My comment above about the Danes is, of course, the exception ;o)
Last week I went to a conversation with the writer V.S. Naipaul who managed to be controversial (the newspapers in the UK picked it up) by saying that no female writer is “equal” to him. The reason being that they ALL write “sentimental toss” because “a woman is never the master in the house”. Personally I just thought he had lost it a bit. It would have been perfectly fine to say that it is difficult to compare male and female writers (there is a big distinction to be made between things not being “equal” and things being “different”) or he could had said that Jane Austen wrote sentimental toss. Others might not agree but he is entitled to that opinion. By saying that “all women write sentimental toss” he totally undermined himself. A bit of the same thing here in my opinion. It is perfectly fine to say that the decision to close nuclear down in Germany is “angst based” or not a rational decision (if that happen to be your opinion) but to talk of a general “German angst” sort of undermines the argument, in my opinion, because of its generality. Gosh, I really gotta do some work now :o)

Peter Heller said...

My definition of "German Angst": Wishing not to be free from fear.

To understand this it is necessary to differentiate between "real dangers" ( a car accident) and "potential risks" (nuclear energy). Therefore the two topics "speed limit" and "nuclear phase out" are not comparable. Germans do not fear dangers, they are obsessed to find risks.

The growing number of deaths in car accidents until the 1970s has not led to a speed limit, but to the development of safer cars and infrastructures. This is one reason (not the only one) for the strength of the German automotive industry. And second this solves the problem: We simply do not need a speed limit anymore to make traffic safer. The argument for the speed limit now (since the 1990s) is not safety, it is emission reduction. The danger has been replaced by a risk (climate change). And if the reds and greens will win the next elections and form a government together, the speed limit will be implemented. Again the German Angst will win.

(By the way: Seen from a scientific point of view the only reason for a speed limit can be boosting the capacity of the streets - but this has never been discussed in Germany in the public.)

Some remarks to this very interesting discussion:

@ Eduardo:
The Atlantic ocean is smaller and easier to cross than the Pacific. Therefore the Europeans were able to discover the Americas and to settle there, and not the people from Asia. This means new markets for trade and the expected outcome of satisfying them leads to more efficient production processes. This ignites the Industrial Revolution (in Great Britain as the leading sea power). It is a question of geography, trade and innovation, not one of social aspects.

@ Ghost:
"We have to (re-)build an uranium industry, we have to build huge nuclear waste deposits. To do that, we need a huge amount of money and we have to convince 70-80% of the population."
Accepting the dangers (the destructive potential) of nuclear energy as such and not seeking for risks (the operational safety) would lead to the rational answer: Shut down the old facilities and build new ones without the identified destructive potential. All we need is to build up a thorium industry, then we do not need any nuclear waste deposits anymore (the "waste" will be an origin of new resources then). We need 10% of the population backing this solution and not willing to change their minds. Then this might be a future for our electricity production.

@ all:
That the shutdown of the nuclear plants in Germany is combined with the ending of basic and applied research in this technology is one of the most important aspects of the plan of our government which is commonly not noticed and not discussed. Ignoring the technological realities and opportunities is a typical result of German Angst.

Werner Krauss said...

So I, a cultural anthropologist, get educated by natural scientists about the use of talking to people, about the existence of cultural differences and the insights cultural history can offer.
How come?

Obviously, Eduardo and Georg search for an explanation. Why does Germany / the German government phase out nuclear energy? Why does Germany not follow their advice? There must be something culturally wrong. Maybe it's the "German angst"? Or German irrationalism? Or even something related to German antisemitism, as the Daily Telegraph suggested?

I suggest to explain this political decision differently. The decision to phase out is as scientifically sound as is the opposite. If there is a postnormal situation, then it is the nuclear debate. There are experts on both sides. There re values in play. The stakes are high. And the topic is hot.

It is a political question whether we use nuclear energy or not. There is no "Sachzwang"; instead, there is an option. Politics opted against nuclear energy. Look at the recent history of social movements and at the political landscape of the past 40 years in Germany: the phase out does NOT come as a total surprise.

That's why I think the sudden interest in cultural history is not completely innocent. I don't deny the use of looking into cultural concepts. But when doing so we should have a self-reflective and critical view at the questions we pose.

For example, why not ask: Why is France still so stubbornly nuclear? Is the trauma of collaboration during occupation that hinders them to follow the German example and to phase out? Or is the postcolonial trauma of a formerly influential nation, that makes them stick to nuclear power fantasies? Or is it an unconscious expression of the prevailing sexism - the atom bomb as the ultimate sexual fantasy? Or is it the result of brainwashing propaganda in a centralized nation?

You think these questions are ridiculous? Are they more ridiculous than "German irrationalism", "German angst", "German romanticism" or, as the Daily Telegraph suggested, even something related to "German anti-semitism"?

In my previous posts, I displayed journalistic examples of such a highly speculative and apolitical approach - by both sides, pro (Die Zeit) and contra (Daily Telegraph, NYT). Instead of soul searching, why not acknowledge that a nation with a physicist as a chancellor and a highly educated electorate made a decision in a case with two valid options. It is important to judge; but first we should respect those who we want to understand. It is the cultural anthropologist who has to learn, not the other way round.

Of course, as an anthropologist, I totally agree that cultural history and the history of cultural differences are highly important topics. Both the history of natural science as well as the history of the European Union are closely linked to nuclear power. My suggestion, as cultural anthropologist, is to see the phase out first and foremost in the context of post-war (nuclear) history. In the context of klimazwiebel, this debate also can serve as an example for a truly postnormal situation and a case study of postnormal science.

In cultural disciplines it is, maybe other than in natural sciences, extremely important to be self-reflexive. This is also true in respect to your research questions. Otherwise, you will find in history or everyday conversations only what you wanted to find.

fmassen said...

One of my former teachers said that Germans are a nation of people tending to extreme reactions: extreme nationalistic (WWII), extreme anti-nuclear, extreme anti-salad (Ehec). Frenchmen are more unorganized, and a collective hysteria wave is damped by an inborn refusal of authority. This makes sudden nation-wide mood-changes more moot, less probable to be directed by a common agreed Zeitgeist. That the radical nuclear Ausstieg is a healthy democratic decision must be proven during the coming years. If Germany refuses to import large quantities of nuclear electricity from its French and Czech neighbors, does not return to fossil coal and gas plants and manages to keep it's metal-smelters, ok, than I agree that this was an intelligent nationwide reaction and not a collective hysteria triggered by a far away accident.

Georg said...

"So I, a cultural anthropologist, get educated by natural scientists about the use of talking to people, about the existence of cultural differences and the insights cultural history can offer."

Why not? You are also explaining scientific questions as completely open for whatever conclusion. "Some say this and others say that. So its a postnormal situation"

"For example, why not ask: Why is France still so stubbornly nuclear?"

1) The question was asked and I tend to be convinced by the answer (see the text by Radanne).

2) Right now the question about the German decision is more interesting since a) no other nation took this decision b) it has major consequences for both german and european CO2 emissions c) with the slightly changed words of Wilhem II:
I dont know political parties, I only know anti-nuclear convictions. There is actually no other nation where the anti-nuclear power movement became a sort of constitutional conviction no longer disputed between the political players. Quite unique and for the moment no other real political issue comes to my mind which stepped completely out of the political domain and became a sort of core belief of the nation.

So that's why it's worth looking for national culture and particularities to understand the german decision.

Could it be purely rational decision by physicist chancellor and a highly educated population?
I dont think so.
Other methods to produce energy are more dangerous ( To a large extent Germany will replace nuclear power by coal burning with longterm consequences (cc) and short term risks (accidents) higher than the running german nuclear power plants. A discussion about that takes not place. So I think there is actually some work to do for a cultural scientist.

Werner Krauss said...


no objections, Georg, as long as you take my above caveats into account. I never doubted that there is a lot of work to do for a cultural scientist; instead, this decision is indeed historical and deserves to be analyzed. I only had some methodological implications concerning the use of national characteristics, national stereotypes, and ideological biases as analytical tools.

Thus, I considered none of the analyses in the articles I posted (Telegraph, Die Zeit, NYT) as really helpful for understanding the German decision. They are all busily constructing a national identity for polemic purposes instead of helping to understand a political decision. Thus, these articles (and the use of these stereotypes) do NOT serve as a template for cultural research.

By the way, counting death rates does not help much when we agree that all big decisions are deeply rooted in culture. No doubt mining produces many more deaths; but mining is deeply entrenched in our cultures, while nuclear energy obviously is not. There is not really a nuclear lifestyle, but the Ruhrgebiet or the British coal mines are indeed a (dark) national heritage. Nuclear cultural traditions or lifestyles mostly exist in the negative, as anti-nukes (except those towns near power plants which were well paid by the nuclear industry).

I totally agree with you, national histories (in the European, colonial etc context) absolutely matter. This indeed differs in each country, while there are many mutual dependencies (such as Euroatom).

Furthermore, quitting nuclear energy does not necessarily mean forgetting the greenhouse gas problem (it's already discussed a lot in German TV, for example). There are many ways to carbon friendly societies (and many possibilities to fail miserably). I am sure you will remind folks that there indeed is a problem...

You see, no objections anymore.

eduardo said...


mm. I am now totally confused by your comment. You first asked whether '

Could it be purely rational decision by physicist chancellor and a highly educated population?'

I interpret that you suggest that it could be so.

But later you write:

By the way, counting death rates does not help much when we agree that all big decisions are deeply rooted in culture. No doubt mining produces many more deaths; but mining is deeply entrenched in our cultures, while nuclear energy obviously is not. There is not really a nuclear lifestyle, but the Ruhrgebiet or the British coal mines are indeed a (dark) national heritage.

Isnt it contradictory? If the decision to phase-out nuclear energy, instead of coal-fired plants, is based on entrenched culture - I interpret here many more votes from coal mining regions - it cannot be based on scientific grounds. The government can take that decision, of course. It is however based on electoral calculus and not on scientific reasoning. The fact that this has been a long claim of the Green movement just underlies its political motives.

To your questions about France. Totally agree, those questions can be posed as well. France has not taken that decision now, thats why we discuss the German decision. If France had decided now to move into nuclear power we would be discussing its cultural background as well

Werner Krauss said...


sorry for the confusion:
"Could it be purely rational decision by physicist chancellor and a highly educated population?"

No, I only wanted to say that chancellor and electorate are educated people who know what they do (and not a bunch of angst driven Germans). Frau Merkel is not a layperson in things energy; let's assume that she can even legitimate her (policy driven) decision scientifically. I did not intend to say that the decision is purely "rational" or "science based". My fault, sorry.

nuclear - coal: it's not about votes. Georg and you had the purely rational (and maybe correct) argument, that many more people die in coal mines than by nuclear plants. Correct. I just wanted to point out another aspect: coal mining is a cultural technique with a long history. It is part of the everyday culture in many countries. On the other hand, nuclear plants never really became part of everyday cultures. Coal mining is related to the making, the exploitation and emancipation of the working classes, for example. There is nothing comparable with nuclear energy, except the protest cultures against it and the association with nuclear bombs (lots of deaths, by the way). So nuclear energy is not seen by too many as a natural candidate to substitute coal. It doesn't fit in; quite the contrary, kicking it out strengthens the sense of (counter-) culture. (in Germany; in France, it might be different).
Does that make sense?

eduardo said...


of course it makes sense to me. That is what I have been arguing all the time (! ). That this decision, and others can be explained by the cultural background in Germany. by the same token that similar decisions in France and Spain can be explained by their respective cultural backgrounds.

Now I am really totally confused :-)

Werner Krauss said...


please, read again my comment #39 to Georg.
My objections were
towards the "how" of cultural analysis, to the methodology. "German angst" etc. do not serve well as analytical tools.

Furthermore, I was suspicious to the motivation behind your sudden interest in culture. This interest only comes up in natural science when things run contrary to scientists' intentions or wishes. Suddenly a political decision (nuclear - non nuclear) is transformed into a decision between rational (science) and cultural (irrational). This attitude is not a good start for cultural analysis, because it has a blind spot. Only the others are cultural, but not the observer. Which is wrong.

I am glad that we finally agree.

eduardo said...

my sudden interest in culture ????? So ungerecht. ich lese die Bild jeden Tag seit Jahrzehnten.

to celebrate agreement here is an interesting link about German cultural traits

Werner Krauss said...

Excellent link; a case for participant observation! This finally makes you an honorary anthropologist! Congratulations!

Hannah said...

Love the link about German nudity. It is true as well! My nanny is German with an English/Irish boyfriend and last summer she dragged him to a nudist beach in Germany. He was mortified for months after. :o)

Anonymous said...

Werner @27 might "unvershaemt" describe your attitude. The Washington times has the following "Indeed, in the past two years, two public safety stories have dominated global news headlines - an explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and a nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan. Yet in the recent German organic-food-disease outbreak, nearly twice as many people already have died as in the two other industrial disasters combined.

In response to the oil spill, countries all over the world have stopped or curtailed deep-water oil drilling as new safety and environmental regulations are designed and implemented. And ground hasn’t been broken on any new nuclear power plant in Europe or the United States since news of the Japanese meltdown broke. Germany is developing plans to mothball its whole nuclear industry.

Yet, 23 deaths and more than 1,000 hospitalizations caused by an industrial accident at an organic farm in northern Germany have caused no such newfound caution toward the expansion of that industry. It is easy to understand why. Organic farming has a reputation for being the domain of small-scale family businesses focused on caring for the Earth more than profits. Every organic-produce customer I interviewed at three supermarkets since the German outbreak began have cited better health as a key reason for buying organic food."
Is there not something naive and sefserving about green supporters most of whom have no technical qualifications and understand nothing about the complexity of nature.
Deutch geboren

Werner Krauss said...

hey dude, it's not "unvershaemt", it's "unverschämt" with an s! And, even worse, it's not "Deutch geboren", it's "Deutsch"! Too funny to be deleted, sorry. Next time, I promise!