All over the world mass demonstrations took place against the rollout of the 5G-network. Protesters claim that the ’toxic radiation’ will cause brain cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, dementia, and infertility. There is zero scientific proof for these claims. Unlike X-rays and gamma rays, the frequency of radio and TV waves, mobile phones, and power lines is just too low to damage atoms. So where is this fear-mongering news about 5G coming from? Groups who specialize in anti-technology and anti-vaccine beliefs shared fake reports about the alleged dangers of 5G on Facebook and reached thousands of followers. Conspiracy theories explain the injustices they see in the world, it gives them a sense of meaning and an illusion of control, but does it justify setting phone masts alight?
The internet is full of communities built around hate, conspiracy theories, shooter manifestos, and terrorist propaganda. People who perceive minorities and cultural diversity as a threat, who have a bias against others based on their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, can easily find like-minded people with a comparable ideology online. It seems that the recent attacks by lone-wolf terrorists targeting religious institutions were inspired and amplified by social media and alt-tech websites. Homemade guns, not explosives, are now the weapon of choice for these self-radicalized extremists. And a short Google search is enough to find online instructions on how to manufacture homemade firearms.
Murder is punishable by law. But militant ‘pro-life’ activists claim that the killing of abortion providers is justifiable homicide. They believe that abortion is the murder of helpless children and that it’s hard to see why using deadly force against those who carry it out is immoral. We are simply obeying God’s law, they say. For other Christians, the killing of doctors who perform abortions is not just a terrible crime against an individual, but also an unacceptable way of advancing a point of view. Not everybody believes that God’s law has precedence over man’s law.
Ritalin is mostly prescribed to children and adults with ADHD. When used according to a prescription by properly diagnosed individuals, Ritalin has a calming effect. However, many people use Ritalin for non-medical purposes and without a prescription, especially college students. They use Ritalin as a performance-enhancing drug, similar to amphetamines or cocaine. The life of a student can be stressful. Places for top universities are becoming more competitive. Especially high-achievers worry about getting good grades all the time. Ritalin helps them to stay awake, focus, and study hard before a big exam. But like amphetamines, Ritalin in large doses is highly addictive, and educators worry that the pressure of our so-called meritocracy is turning our best and brightest into prescription drug abusers.
Gustave Courbet’s L’Orgine du monde still seems to provoke viewers more than 150 years after it was painted. For the greater part of its history, Courbet’s painting was hidden in private art collections, now it hangs in the Musée d’Orsay for everyone to see. Is that the problem? In 2014 performance artist Deborah de Robertis sat in front of Courbet’s painting in the Musée d’Orsay exposing her vagina and was arrested. What is the taboo? Nudity, female sexuality or the male gaze?
There is a controversy over a painting by the artist Balthus. Two young women asked the Metropolitan Museum of Art to remove Thérèse Dreaming (1938). Not one of his pictures of a naked adolescent girl, but a painting of the fully dressed Thérèse Blanchard. Yes, you can see her underwear, but is that enough to arouse the viewer? The question here is: was Balthus a pedophile and are pedophiles allowed to visualize their sexual orientation?
Or does this painting represent the kind of sexualized power abuse we try so hard to get rid of? Was that the reason someone decided to throw out his Balthus painting?
A favored theme for Third Reich artists was a portrait of the Führer. These became so numerous that Hitler finally decreed that only one would be displayed officially at each annual Greater German Art Exhibition. The official portrait of Adolf Hitler for 1937 was painted by Heinrich Knirr (1862 – 1944). After studying at the Academy of fine arts in Vienna, Heinrich Knirr opened a private art school in Munich. It gained a good reputation throughout Europe. During the Nazi régime he painted the portraits of Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess and others, and Albert Speer often referred to him as ‘the court painter’. Isn’t it ironic that a former member of the progressive Munich Secession and Vienna Secession paints a portrait of Hitler in the style of Anthony van Dyck and Joshua Reynolds and then calls it ‘Hitler, the Creator of the Third Reich and Renewer of German Art’?
Did we lose faith in the values of the Enlightenment? What is left of the belief that to be informed is manifestly better than to be ignorant or prejudiced? Denis Diderot, the main editor of the Encyclopédia (1751-1772), wrote ‘our aim is to bring together all knowledge, to present its overall structure to our contemporaries and to hand it on to those who will come after us, so that our children, by becoming more knowledgeable, will become more virtuous and happier’. So how did that turn out? It does feel like there is an overwhelming sense of pessimism at the moment and a worrisome trend toward increasing polarization with a willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy. So who is going to fight tribalism, nationalist fervour, religious ecstasy, medical quackery and conspiracy theorizing, and make a case for reason, science and humanism?
Between half a million and a million people demonstrated in East Berlin on 4 November 1989, demanding political reform, holding protest signs saying ‘Nie wieder Lügen’, ’40 Jahre SED sind genug’, ‘Wir sind das Volk’, ‘Freie Presse, freie Wahlen’, ‘Demokratie, jetzt + hier’. Thirty years later I remade these protest signs and placed them next to waste containers.
We were so optimistic in the 1960s. Things could only get better. The advent of modern appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators changed the lives of women. We put a man on the moon. The future looked bright. But of course, all that changed. The rise of our living standard created a waste problem and climate change became a serious issue. Instead of hope the dominant mood today seems to be one of anxiety. Is it all downhill from here?
The writings of Karl Marx were hugely influential. They were an inspiration for the Russian Marxists, led by Lenin in 1917, and the Chinese Marxists, led by Mao in 1949, but they also inspired the student movement of the 1960s, in hopes of realizing a more fully democratic and inclusive version of Marx’s original vision of social justice. Well, this copy of Das Kapital is not likely to inspire anyone anymore. So, whose writings can inspire us in a time when capital has run amok, a time of wage stagnation and growing social inequality?
When did this Madonna and Child end up in the river Reuss? Was it in 1529, when Bremgarten became a Protestant city? But the city was re-Catholicised only two years later, after the Second War of Kappel. Or was it in 1712, after the Second Villmerger War, when the official religion changed back to Protestantism again? For a long time there was no individual freedom of religion in Switzerland. Everybody had to adopt the faith of their rulers (‘cuius regio, eius religio’). Dissenters who didn’t want to convert had to emigrate to a region where their faith was the state religion. Or they could hide their faith (and maybe even throw away a Madonna and Child sculpture) just to be on the safe side….
Thalidomide (brand name Contergan, Softenon) had been prescribed in the late 1950s and early 1960s to pregnant women to help reduce morning sickness, but tragically, it turned out to be toxic to developing fetuses. Worldwide, an estimated 24,000 babies were born with short arms, twisted hands and no thumbs. The thalidomide tragedy is probably one of the greatest pharmaceutical disasters of all time. In November 1961, the Grünenthal company withdrew the drug from the market, but thalidomide never disappeared, it is available now for treating leprosy and as an anticancer drug.
I didn’t know the French liked rum so much. Negrita rum is distilled in the French islands of Réunion, Guadeloupe, and Martinique in the Caribbean. In the colonial era, rum production depended on the labor of slaves to harvest the sugar cane. Is advertising this Caribbean drink with a picture of a black girl still acceptable? Who wants to be served by a black servant? To this day, the logo of the Negrita brand is this black girl, but in their ads they now show a more diverse group of ethnically mixed young people, dancing in the Caribbean sun.
Gary Glitter (real name Paul Gadd), was a successful glam rocker in the 1970s, selling over 20 million records. In 1999 he was sentenced to 4 months in prison for possession of child pornography. Later, he was convicted repeatedly of child sexual abuse, cumulating in a 16 years in prison conviction in 2015 for having sex with a girl under the age of 13. Is it ever OK to listen to the music of this convicted pedophile? Can we separate the artist from his art?