Saturday, 26 November 2011

"Gegeners ..."

In German, the word means to be "against" something, and it covers a range of "protest" activities from anti-atomic power through the full spectrum of "anti-anything" campaigning. I find it a very interesting mindset in a rather frustrated manner, since those who lead these campaigns show a similar tendency toward being able to see only their own campaign, rights, facts, arguments and points of view as being valid. I have previously noted this approach among other groups, both the extreme religious types and the atheist/secularist converts who seem to spend an inordinate amount of time recycling their own often very selective arguments for their particular position.

This thought was prompted recently by the reports on the latest bout of campaigning against the Stuttgart 21 Project, a scheme intended to improve the railway access and connections to the city of Stuttgart. It is a huge project and as with all major projects, it has both its merits and its demerits and not a few highly technical problems to overcome. Stuttgart is the capital of Baden-Wurtemburg and it is also the home of the Mercedes Benz manufacturing empire. Its railway connection was conceived and built in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and rebuilt to the same plan after WW2. So why does it need redesigning?

Put simply, the initial design made the city a terminus. Trains can enter and leave, but there is no "through" service. Anything going into Stuttgart must first back out again and then join the mainline to everywhere else. The Stuttgart 21 Project is intended to fix that, increase rail traffic to the city and improve the whole scheme by putting most of the new work below ground. It will cost an enormous amount to do it, but it is seen by Deutchebahn and both the Federal Government and the State Government as an investment which will ensure the city continues to be attractive for commerce and for tourism. So, what's not to like?

The "S21 Gegeners" maintain the whole project is too big, to costly and too disruptive. They seem to fall into two main camps, those who don't want anything to change at all and those who will accept a smaller and less ambitious project. The latter seem to be in a minority from what I read. The Rail company, the designers, the politicians and even the technical experts have held consultations, briefings, enquiries and even been hauled through the courts. Concessions have been made, some of the "Gegeners" biggest objections have been taken on board and changes made to the scheme - but still they keep hammering away, now complaining about the cost of the project which is escalating with each delay they are causing ...

It is evident that for the hardcore "Gegener" the campaign has become a case of no compromise. They accept nothing anybody from the pro side says, everything is immediately called into question or brushed aside as "inadequate" or "irrelevant" or even simply flatly denied. There is, for these folk, no "middle ground" no matter how detailed the report or the technical assessments, they always know someone who can refute, challenge or raise more questions. I watched in amazement this morning as the spokesperson for this campaign to stop S 21 blithely argued that the costs were "running out of control" but then denied that his campaign and the delays they were causing had anything to do with it.

What fascinates me - and frustrates me - with this mindset is that it is evident in a whole bunch of "campaigning" activities. Greenpeace, Fiends of the Earth, "Stop the Cuts," secularisation - they all know all the faults with the "other" side, they can chant their own sides demands and they know their arguments for their standpoint the way someone of deep religious conviction knows their credo - but there is a blanket refusal to consider the impact of their demands or the costs and consequences.

My question, I guess, is what causes it? Is it that people are unable, despite their much vaunted and often vigorously asserted, "rationalisation"of major events and ideas to actually consider things from an objective point of view and not from a predetermined standpoint? Or is it that they are afraid to? That they just don't like change and are determined to hold it back at all cost no matter the consequences? Is it that, having taken a particular position on something they are afraid to change their thinking when presented with new and perhaps more reliable information? Could it be that, for some at least, "the campaign" becomes their sole raison detre for existing? There are certainly many of that ilk among the "Green" campaigners I have encountered. Likewise among those who campaign over safety, rights, freedom and a host of other matters. One gets a distinct impression that the mindset is governed by the tenet, "Don't confuse me with facts. My mind is made up."

An interesting challenge I suspect for some psychological researcher at some point. There is probably some very good explanation for this refusal to weigh and consider both sides of an argument, but I confess it eludes me ...

Oh dear ....    

1 comment:

  1. It eludes us all... if you ever figure it out we might have a better world.