In corona times we lack conversations, but they are not easy

Munich These days you long for the old life and still only have the new one. You rave about the long conversations in the restaurant and speak the monologue of everyday life. You dream of freedom and have a curfew.

What is going on around us is an involuntary social and human experiment for an indefinite period of time, a reversal of the situation – an invitation for communication professionals. How do we deal with each other in our new cages? How do relationships and societies develop? Are we still talking – or do we hate already?

“The quarantine enforces closeness,” says Bernhard Pörksen, “that can lead to intensive donations and dialogues, but also to uninhibited aggression in a small group.” It is not exactly a reassurance, perhaps an encouragement.

The professor of media sciences at the University of Tübingen, together with the psychology professor Friedemann Schulz von Thun, wrote a book for the Corona period – unintentionally.

It is a work about the right, good dialogue. Pörksen says he has been concerned with this question since 1998, since his first work “Truth is the invention of a liar”, which he wrote together with the cyberneticist Heinz von Foerster.

Bernhard Pörksen, Friedemann Schulz von Thun: The Art of Talking to Each Other.
Carl Hanser publishing house
224 pages
20 Euros

And so the new book “The Art of Talking to Each Other” was created over a period of five years. It documents the two authors’ intensive conversations about the conversation problems of that time, recorded on 826 transcript pages. There is the prompt escalation of public debates. The anger and the hate. The “excitement democracy”. The hype and the spectacle as elements of the rhetorical battle zone. A devastating development: “The art of talking to each other is not a luxury, but a survival issue,” writes Schulz von Thun.

For Pörksen, it was the main concern to show that “talking to each other under the current conditions is becoming more important and must be more effective”. The middle of society – from Trump to Corona – is challenged like never before: it has to “engage more committed, persistently stand for a language of moderation and not use the rhetoric of escalation: if you immediately use general phrases like ‘white, old man’, hysterical feminist or ‘criminal refugee’, any dialogue is surely ruined. ”

So wait and see if in doubt. Take a breath. Don’t upgrade yourself. The principle of “loving struggle” applies. Small problem: The other side has to think the same way.

The Greens co-boss Robert Habeck and in the meantime also CSU leader Markus Söder – before he became a mask man – “copied instruments of dialogic attention”, praises Pörksen: “This makes sense because many of the confrontational spectacle are tired of.” Professor sees a new need for good conversations, for a way out of noisy debates like in one of those TV talk shows that are not about recognizing or understanding, but about winning in front of an audience of millions.

Talking in quarantine

If you ask Pörksen what happens to our speech skills and dialog strength in the corona crisis, in the era of “balconies” and virtual yoga sessions, the professor unfolds a broad analysis of the “simultaneity of the different” in society. Everything is present in the communication channels and coexists: hysteria and disinformation, but also hypersensitivity and authentic appreciation.

There is a “general communicative uncertainty,” summarizes Pörksen. The network is a huge machine that reveals differences. Nobody can preserve an ideal world anymore. There are only parallel universes. Especially on Youtube, a world with all kinds of insane things has opened up in the corona crisis, with the most daring virus conspiracy theories.

Dialogue becomes more difficult beyond such extremes. Polarization is poison for communication, especially if it solidifies ritually. And the prototype of polarizing and solidifying is Donald Trump with his “censorship through noise”, as Pörksen calls it: censorship through a daily offer of “information confetti, mobbing and disinformation”

Trump hacked the media system like this. At the same time, the US President offers himself as an authoritarian leader, “at least not strategically stupid,” says the media scientist. Trump is not just a liar here, but a master of metacommunication.

And what do you say, Mr. Pörksen, to the criticism of FDP leader Christian Lindner that the government speaks “to us as with children” in the crisis? That would not be a dialogue of the kind one would like to maintain.
The answer is harsh: “The knocking of the speech hides that the conceptual superstructure is missing.”

Lindner believes that there is a milieu between the CDU and the AfD that the FDP can win with “anti-political correctness boom”. But: “This milieu may be business liberal, it is not liberal liberal, often rather embittered and entangled. It would be necessary for liberalism to re-establish itself under the challenge of nationalism and in the face of populism. ”

In the book, the authors argue whether it was correct that the former SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel spoke to representatives of Pegida in Dresden. For Schulz von Thun (motto: “The truth begins in pairs”) the answer is yes. Pörksen, on the other hand, thinks this is a mistake, one should not spread a red carpet for right-wing extremism.

Humans are dialogue animals

The principle of a good conversation is: to want to understand the other. But that doesn’t mean “that you can or should talk to everyone,” says Pörksen. “Beyond what you can develop understanding for, clear demarcation is required. The dialogue is always a mixture of empathy and a willingness to confront. ”Discussion is a duty here, but it has to be serious and appreciative.

“People are dialogue animals who need the oxygen of good conversations,” says Pörksen in the Paul Watzlawick style.

The question is, of course, whether this oxygen is not becoming scarce given the many platforms and first-person channels that are now becoming a cosmos of cacophony via smartphones and tablets. The dialogue expert sees us in the “puberty of the new media world“, the social media had made the audience the broadcaster, “everyone is now powerful, but not yet mature”. It is as if the digital media marked the transition from candles and oil lamps to neon lights – “everything is suddenly bright”.

He still considers the theory of filter bubbles, which the American scientist Eli Pariser designed, to be a “myth”. There is no overpowering algorithm that lures us into a reality bunker: “We rather google our self-confirmation milieus.”

We retreat to one valley and still see the next valley. Bernhard Pörksen (media scientist)

Since there is permanent “enemy contact” with other views, there is a “filter clash”, the collision of parallel publics – that is a deep cause for the “great irritability of society”. Pörksen: “We retreat to one valley and still see the next valley.”

This is where classic media come into play, which can build bridges over valleys, so to speak. “Serious journalism is more important and more threatened than ever,” says Pörksen. The problem is digitization, traditional media no longer have a robust business model, “whereas you can earn a lot of money with journalistic filth”.

After all, the classic media had given up their “discourse harmony” to a certain extent, which they cultivated with politics at the beginning of the corona crisis. The previously tame journalism is now criticizing Berlin’s prohibitions on thinking about the “exit”, says the professor from Tübingen.

In the book, Pörksen writes of “news deserts” that around 500 newspapers were posted in the United States from 1970 to 2016. There is therefore a fundamental risk that populists are the winners of the changed media world, the scientist explains.

In the interest of a liberal democracy, the state must therefore increase the indirect subsidization of the press, for example in sales: “You should be able to buy and buy daily newspapers all over Germany.” Maybe one day you can even read them again in the café and read about them, well, have a dialogue.

More: Customer contact in times of Corona – clarity is paramount

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