Opinion: Return to the law of the jungle | Opinion | DW | 23.07.2017
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Opinion: Return to the law of the jungle

In Hamburg and Schorndorf it was primarily young people who attacked the police. According to Kersten Knipp, the main reason for this is that their actions are unlikely to have consequences – a dangerous development.

In less urban areas areas, it can be easier to get a clear idea of what's going on. Cities are a different matter, as we have seen recently in both the small town of Schorndorf and the cosmopolitan city of Hamburg. At the G20 summit in Hamburg two weeks ago one could at least, with a bit of good will, wonder whether the violence of the thousands of rioters might indeed have been ethically motivated. Were the people who smashed up the Schanze quarter actually heroes of the resistance, freedom fighters who had decided, with heavy hearts, to respond to the pressures of capitalism and the misery of the world with the last means at their disposal, i.e. physical violence?

The riots at a festival in the small town of Schorndorf suggest that this was not the case. Among those throwing bottles at police were a large number of high school students – uninhibited young people under the influence of alcohol who we can assume were probably from middle-class backgrounds. This is a social group whose future prospects remain pretty good. So violence is clearly also, perhaps above all, perpetrated by those who are themselves doing fine.

Loss of norms

This observation negates another argument that is often put forward in an attempt to explain, perhaps even legitimize the violence: that the state has to ensure the wellbeing of its citizens. That only then will these citizens accept the state and, in return, renounce violence. The rioting Schorndorf bourgeoise have disproved this thesis.

Knipp Kersten

DW's Kersten Knipp

Rather, their actions give rise to a different supposition: that violence is committed because there is no risk of punishment. Every Bundesliga weekend demonstrates that people go on the rampage because their actions usually have no consequences – no serious ones, anyway – because the state avoids taking decisive measures to assert norms and civilizatory standards.

Changes in everyday attitudes

The consequences of this are worrying, including – perhaps above all – in the small, unspectacular arena of daily life. In these situations, norms are felt, subjectively, to be less and less valid. For example, I live in the heart of a popular Cologne nightlife district, where people like to stand on the sidewalk outside the pubs. These days, they do so in such a way that they occupy the sidewalk in its entirety. If you want to get past them, you must step into the road. It's a similar thing with those who walk along the sidewalk in groups of three or four: You have to make yourself very, very small in order to avoid a collision.

The concept that there are other people in the world outside one's own horizons can, apparently, no longer be assumed to be part of the general consciousness. Considerate and complex thought processes are, in some areas, in decline. Other people are perceived only as background scenery for the individual's personal experience.

Return to the law of the jungle?

The events in Hamburg and Schorndorf are an extreme expression of this. In both instances, the objects of the violence were the police. They were attacked in a way that is familiar to the generation of those principally involved in the rioting, from playing video games. From the rioters' point of view, police officers are non-person characters to be attacked. Not all these opportunistic thugs get off scot-free, but for a great many, as in a video game, their actions remain without consequence. Loss of control precedes the loss of norms. It doesn't seem absurd to suggest that the state needs to take more forceful legal action to help reassert these norms. Otherwise we risk a return to the law of the jungle.

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