The Phileas Club 95 – EU Matters


On this episode we talk about:

  • The issue with being 110% outraged about everything
  • Social and tax reform in France
  • Scotland’s SNP and Brexit stance
  • Elections in Germany and Jamaica coalition

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  1. An interesting episode as usual but was very much a liberal echo chamber episode, highlighted by Bruce’s disgraceful characterisation of UKIP as racist. (N.b Nigel Farage is no longer UKIP leader and has not been since the last election)

    Patrick’s opening observation was in my view very on the money, noting that the more aggressive you are toward your enemies (Twitter mobs, character using anyone you disagree with fascists or nazis etc) is simply compounding the problem and creating more of the people you dislike.

    Always interesting though to hear the view of others.

    Thanks as always for these episodes.

    • Hey Hayden; I’d argue your using of the word “disgraceful” is a bit on the “outrage” side in the context of the opening discussion, but the comment is well noted nonetheless. 🙂

      And thanks for the compliments!

  2. I was interested in your opening, Patrick… it reminded me of a thing one of my kids’ teachers did for her class.
    She had a picture of a thermometer on a large piece of paper. And then she talked with the class about different things that made them stressed/worried/angry… or in your words today, outraged. And they graded them on the thermometer. So things like ‘someone died’ was at the top, and ‘my shoelace is undone’ was at the bottom. It was a way for class members to check their responses BEFORE they lost their minds and went nuts.

    Listening to you today, I think the world needs such a thermometer.

    It then got me thinking about why… and I wonder if it’s stress. Which is sort of circular, as you picked up during the show, since those on the left are stressed by the existence of the right leaning leaders… who in turn create stress as their way of keeping control… and so it goes round in circles. Plus which the media in general whips us into a frenzy of outrage, that’s how it sells stuff. When we’re stressed, we respond from our emotional part of our brains only, even if we think we’re being rational. So everything gets an 11. When we are not stressed, we can say, mate, that’s not cool, don’t do that… and things go along nicely.

    Anyway. I think the world needs a thermometer, and to be able to put things into perspective. And some way of stopping the stress cycle.

    Thanks for the reminder =)

    • Hey Fiona, thank you so much for the comment. I think the way your kid’s teacher put it is really astute (I might steal it in a future episode ! 🙂
      And I’m sure there are more people who think about this in that way, more people have to start realising that this is what we’re doing. I also don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, really, it’s just one of the kinks of the system we’ve evolved into and designed. We just need to be aware of it, and start paying attention more, so as not to let the emotional part of our psyche take over. Sometimes being aware of something is enough to neutralise it (to an extent), I think…

  3. To explain the rise of the AfD in Germany: they started out as the brainchild of an economics professor back then on the sole narrative that the Euro and the European Central Bank policies are economic havoc. This generated some attention during the times of the eurozone crisis but the party was quite irrelevant (way below the threshold to enter the parliament) and not an ideological cousin of Front National only three years ago.

    To understand why they got on the landscape so quickly now you should not underestimate the refugee crisis in 2015 and the magnitude it had. To recap, more than 900.000 entered the country that year, and since the greatest influx happenend after August that it was in effect tens of thousands a week that arrived and had to be accomodated by municipalities on a few hours notice. Many arrived without any identification at all, some with fake Afghan or Syrian papers purchased in Greece, many were not registered on arrival because the police lacked capacity – it was not such a stretch to think “this is sort of out of control, does Merkel actually know what’s going on?”. A few things in that context I think are important to bear in mind:

    1. Merkel is not a communicator. She never really found the words for the magnitude of her “welcome policy”. What she did say at the time was “we can do it”. She changed her policy the year afterwards when negotiating the EU deal with Turkey but has not really communicated that either, in the run-up to the election she just said she wouldn’t have done anything different.
    2. In the last parliament her conservative party were the one most “to the right”, the social democrats and the two more leftie parties in the opposition all supported the “welcome policy” or are even more liberal. Most Germans supported it too in the end but there are of course legitimate arguments against it e.g. security issues (reportedly ISIS “fake refugees” and Assad people who had committed war crimes were amongst the immigrants), the fact that the more people arrive the harder it is to integrate them, increasing housing market tensions since space especially in the cities is already limited, the fact that the policy created a pull factor for people striving for a better life from say Maghreb, Pakistan, Africa… I’m saying you can’t expect everyone to be on board with a policy that would be considered highly controversial in nearly every other countries (could you imagine this in UK, France, Denmark?) but the established parties didn’t address those concerns (arguably it would usually be the conservatives raising exactly that), it was instead the AfD that then became very vocal and swung more and more to the national spectrum.
    3. The same year, the sexual harrassment of hundred of women at New Year’s Eve in Cologne happened, last year the terrorist attack by a “fake refugee” who had registered with different papers all over the country – not Merkel’s fault but it didn’t help her narrative that everything is peachy.
    4. In the east of Germany (where AfD has a stronghold), there was no history of immigration before the wall came down (and little afterwards either), further there is generally much more of a distrust in the political system and less loyality to any traditional party. There is no loyality to AfD either btw, 70% of their voters said they didn’t vote for them because they agree so much but instead it was to vote against the political system and show their protest.

    I wish the moderators had dealt with the AfD exactly like you suggested, Patrick: Inviting them to talkshows and rather than shouting just going “What’s your plan on pensions?”, “- oh there isn’t one just yet? Well, that’s a bit poor, isn’t it?”. Instead it was exactly like on this show all the time; the most outrageous quote would be repeated 5 times, and at a talkshow the moderators would go “How can someone in your party say this, this is so outrageous????”, they would go “oh, we didn’t mean it like that of course” and their mantra would follow of how the establishment lies all the time to the little people, how they are a victim of the journalists who are so biased and lie all the time and how Merkel is so irresponsible.

    Still, I am hopeful that their star will be fading because they are so backwards also on social issues/equality etc. Though it pains how with their entry into parliament they now really get a lot of money, staff and means to professionalize.

    • Thanks for your input Christine. I think this is an approach that is sorely needed in this context. And while outrage is a natural initial reaction (God know I am very full of it, and have been for the last two years), at some point we have to realise it does more harm than good, and we have to change tactics. I admire Matthias’s passion, but I think I have come to a conclusion that it’s just as effective as trying to wave your arms around in the air when you’re falling from a plane, hoping you’ll start flying. It feels like panic and desperation, but it doesn’t work. I’ve been there (we’ve all been there), but to paraphrase a common saying from American infomercials: “there has to be a better way!!!” 🙂

      • Christine says:

        Hi Patrick,

        you know, it was actually a French/Belgian film called “Chez nous” that I found valuable in understanding the Front National (and who actually votes for them), and I think it’s applicable for the AfD in Germany as well. While both parties have undoubtedly very dark shades, their voters are such a heterogenous bunch with yes, different motives and different (sometimes limited) understanding of the party and its policies. There is a violent alt-right fringe within the supporters, I don’t negate that in the slightest. But shouting at all of their voters as though they were like that (and the inflated use of “nazi”) won’t solve a single thing. It will just end discourse, alienate one from the other and cement a “them” against “us” mindset. We need to have a conversation even if you deeply disagree on a personal level – as you do on your show :).

      • Matthias Keller says:

        I think it will not surprise you, but I disagree with you here, Patrick 😉

        If you want to talk about panic reactions or desperation, I would offer the established parties’ response to the whole shift to the right, which is “we also need to shift towards the right to get back those voters”.

        If your premise is that voters don’t care about the policies of the right winged parties but use these elections to vent their frustration, then talking to them and trying to convince them with rational arguments won’t help. Especially in a day and age when “alternative facts” are the new norm and everything the media report is “fake news” and lies anyway. I’m not saying, that these people don’t have real issues that need to be addressed; I’m just saying that you can’t talk to them rationally if they want to behave irrationally out of spite or desperation.

        Besides, we need to put the whole thing into perspective: we are just rewarding 12 percent of the voters for voting for fascists and racists with all the attention and the reasoning “but we need to look after those people in particular and do everything to get them back”. But what would be the incentive for them to come back? You just proofed that they get all the attention if they vote for the AfD and get nothing if they vote for the established parties because everyone is now ignoring the 88 percent that didn’t do it. (This is a bit exaggerated but I think you get my point) Or to put it on an abstract level: Why enforce “bad behavior” by rewarding it?

        I’m not saying that you should shout at these people and that all of them are immune to reasonable arguments. But if those don’t work then there is no point in trying after a certain point. You don’t need to ignore them or exclude them; but you don’t need to give in to their demands or cater to them while they are basically throwing a tantrum. Especially if they are part of a group that explicitly stated that they are under no obligation to work in a constructive way themselves. (One of the AfD party leaders said that on TV)

        I don’t see myself as desperate when I say I don’t want to give an inch to these people and don’t see a reason to legitimize them even more. They are now part of the political process and we can’t change that. But that doesn’t mean that we need to tolerate their methods and behavior. And until someone proofs to me, that there is indeed “a better way” that also works, I see no reason to move away from my position. Because, as I stated on the show, I’m not going to take any risk on this issue.

        And on a separate note: If it isn’t time for passion while fighting people that want to undermine society and take away people’s rights, then when is the time for it? 😉

    • Matthias Keller says:

      I just saw the comment so here is a late reply:

      I didn’t include the whole party history of the AfD because there was simply not enough time for that in the podcast (and I didn’t want to waste even more time on this as we already did…). But you summed up the evolution (if you can call it that) of this party pretty good. 🙂

      Still, there are a few points on which I disagree with you:

      While the refugee crisis was undoubtedly a major event that influenced the outcome of this election, I still see it more as a trigger then a real issue when it comes to voters of the AfD. For 95% of the people, this issue is one that does not affect them in any way in their daily lives. If you are living in a Bavarian village right next to the border or across from refugee housing, if you are involved with the registration process or if you volunteer to help them in some organization, then this effects you. But most people don’t have any contact with this issue in their daily lives. It is an abstract problem which somehow seems to very much concern them all of a sudden. And in most cases, this is a welcomed excuse to project their real (and in a lot of cases long-lasting) problems or their fears for the future upon this in order to have a scapegoat. It is not as if all of a sudden everyone turned angry because of this single issue. There are many underlying problems that go back as far as the (in many parts) botched buildup of the former states of the GDR and got compounded with the dismantling of the social services brought on by the “Agenda 2010”. But if you look at the problems these people have not a single one really has anything to do with the refugee issue.
      Therefore, I see this as an easy to proclaim outcry that is, in reality, something they project their other problems onto. This doesn’t lessen the impact it had on the election but it should affect the way we discuss it.

      I also disagree with your point on media coverage and about inviting them to talk shows. In my opinion, the media played a big part in getting the AfD to such a strength by blowing the whole thing out of proportion. You constantly saw politicians from the AfD sitting in talk shows, allowing them to spew their hatred and lies into the camera, often enough unchallenged. They openly lied on TV and no one called them out.

      The whole refugee issue has been dying down and the officials were getting a handle on things when it came to the backlog etc. but the political talk shows constantly reopened the whole thing. Every week there was another show about it to the point that it seemed that there is nothing else worth talking about but this. (Another example would be the TV duel between Merkel and Schulz, where other issues were hardly present and the majority of the time was used to talk about refugees and security issues). And in the usual sensation-seeking mode they mostly concentrated on the AfD and their theme, because that is something that makes headlines.

      But more importantly: The media played right into the hand of the AfD because their whole media strategy was to create as much scandal and controversy as possible to get all the coverage. That was even leaked months before the election with an internal memo that detailed how the party wants to exploit the media this way. But nobody in media cared for it or drew any conclusions it seems. Instead, they just kept on going because ratings are strong and everyone wants to see the next scandal. And by doing that they gave them a bigger platform than most other parties. I know that it would be a hard course for TV stations, radio shows and newspapers to not invite or write about them. Especially since the followers of this party usually just cry “Lügenpresse” or “Zensur” if you don’t include them all the time. But they don’t care about facts anyway so why even bother trying to convince them with discussions? There is no way to win this, so why play on their terms?
      But if you really want to include them into a discussion (which might be reasonable in some instances) you need to be ready to call them out on their lies and bullshit and not just accept it, move on or even cater to this. You need TV hosts that are willing to say “No, what you just said is simply not true!” and I thought the whole “alternative facts” BS we saw in the US over the last months would be a wake-up call. But apparently not…

      Besides, if we take your premise, that most of the voters don’t care about the policies the party stands for but just wanted to express their anger and frustration with the other parties, the whole strategy of convincing them by talking about policies wouldn’t work. Even if you would invite politicians from the AfD and ask them about their policies on certain other topics to unmask them, that wouldn’t really change anyone’s mind if your initial premise is correct because they don’t care about it. Or they would just make other excuses like “We are a new party so we don’t have a position on this yet” (which was also the usual tagline when the Pirate party was new and en vogue) or “We don’t need anything on this at first anyway because we are just the Opposition”.

      To sum up, I just don’t see this as a viable strategy to convince the people who voted for this party. I would even go as far as saying that this would even further strengthen the AfD if this goes on as it has been up until now (especially since political talk shows seldom yield anything productive besides the usual phrases from politicians you hear all day).

  4. StephSinalco says:

    I know I always say that, but I’ve got to repeat myself again : each and every episode, I understand how this kind of show is important and I’m glad to help in my little way by being a patreon. It’s also a perfect example of how podcasts can address issues in a very different way the other media can… No time constraints leads to people listening to each other and way more constructive interactions ! So, again, thank you very much for everything you do.

    P.S. You’ll be amazed to learn that ISF is not a French specificity and we do have the same concept in Switzerland. And the rate is even higher here 🙂

    • Thanks Steph! It’s always as nice to hear!
      And for the wealth tax in Switzerland, I didn’t realise but it’s really interesting (I don’t think there are many other countries that have it though); I guess wealth is also almost a “natural ressource” in the country (if you know what I mean), so it’s a somewhat different dynamic… 🙂

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