Illustration with a portrait of Dietmar Wischmeyer


Pandemic phantasms

In his column, author and satirist Dietmar Wischmeyer writes about the human flaw to emerge from crises hardly wiser.

About Mr Wischmeyer
Portrait of Dietmar Wischmeyer

Dietmar Wischmeyer, a regular guest on the “heute show” on ZDF had to postpone his tour until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

There are two major fears about the time after coronavirus. One is that nothing will be like it was before, and the other is that everything will remain as it was before. It’s a well-known fact that opposites attract, which is why both fears will probably come to pass. Even just the proportion of things that will remain and of those that are changing is part of a third major fear: everything will be even worse than we thought and be a different sort of evil than the one we expect.

Humanity is biologically limited when it comes to the future, which leads us to become victims of two major misconceptions. The first: good follows bad almost automatically because we put so much effort into ridding ourselves of the bad. All revolutions to date have succumbed to this serious fallacy, from Robespierre to Robert Mugabe, it is always the same old story. The second basic misconception is similarly disastrous: we intuitively assume that if we experience suffering then we will be spared suffering in the future because we have already “paid our dues”. This is why amputees often continue smoking.

This nonsense cannot be exorcised from humanity and is all the more cause for fear about what we have left to face during the remaining pandemic and the post-coronavirus era. Number one is reflected in the positive phantasms of the post-coronavirus whitewashers. They say things like “this will teach us a lesson”, “we will have to rethink things”, “nature is telling us that we cannot continue to go further and faster forever”, etc. There is no basis for this optimism, and there are at least as many indications that signal the exact opposite – just look at the renaissance of the global coal industry and of private car use we are seeing.

Number two draws its optimism from the existing suffering which we will overcome at some point. It says that, in a fair and just world, we surely won’t experience the next mess immediately after surviving this one. It would be wonderful if this naive belief would become reality. As a matter of fact, the opposite is usually the case. Once the cart is stuck in the mud, the horse often falls over dead. “When it rains, it pours.” Popular wisdom has known this forever. So why are we constantly lying to make ourselves believe that things will be better after the coronavirus pandemic is over? Because we are human. We can’t help it. We are diehard optimists – even the pessimists who believe they’re right.

Now to spread some real optimism towards the end: coronavirus taught us two things. First: even if we are able to destroy the entire planet and are in the midst of doing so, we are clearly not masters of the world. Second: nature is not a Waldorf School. Since we began killing off every animal at will, and will most likely be able to clear out the entire Amazon forest earlier than previously thought, we considered ourselves as humans to be clearly evil, and nature to be good in and of itself. In the process we forgot that nature’s players are constantly eating each other and would do the same to us if they had the opportunity.

It took a little tiny virus to teach us humility. Nature is neither good nor evil. And mother nature is also surely not our friend, per se. The Golden Retriever on our couch is deceiving. Will we survive this period? Absolutely! Will everything be better afterwards? Unlikely, but at least not completely impossible. That should be motivation enough.

If I knew that the world was going to end tomorrow, I would buy another pound of minced meat on sale today. Then I would eat it as my Last Supper before Judgement Day. That is just how we humans are. There is nothing to be done, we are too daft for this world!

Published on KfW Stories: 24 November 2020.