BUENOS AIRES â€" Choosing a career path is one of the most important decisions a person can make. But how much choice does one really have? How much say in the matter is an individual really afforded? What kind of advice can we give our children and grandchildren?
Life alternates between doing what we want to do and bowing to collective pressure to do what we should do. It is what the philosopher Michel Foucault termed the subjected subject: one who believes her actions are autonomous, who can't imagine she's actually conforming to laws created by others; a person whose personal interest consists of other people's interests.
If the subject is subjected, then the problem becomes twofold: subjection and normalization. And to that end, one of the most functional tools is perhaps the ability to mark limits between the normal and abnormal. Would anyone urge their children to take an "abnormal" path in life? Would certain vocational choices throw us into such a world of abnormality? Which are the normal, or abnormal career choices? Perhaps the most abnormal thing is not making a choice at all. The social norm, after all, is to choose between myriad options offered by the marketplace of careers.
First anomaly: A person cannot not study.
For the most part, "studying" is taken to mean higher education â€" something one does at a specific time and place and commits to (more or less exclusively), until eventually earning a formal qualification or degree. But is that the only way a person can study?
Studying is not easily defined. Does it have to do with our existential, inherent and human search for meaning? Or does it require fitting into one of the roles the established order sets out, a place in the framework of professional development intended to make society function?
The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, for one, compares studying to a blow that leaves us stunned. He sees it as an endless exercise that removes us from ourselves. This is a big question, one as problematic as the convoluted concepts of love and marriage; justice and legality; religion and spirituality. We can even tie it to another, almost traditional dispute: vocation vs. profession. Do institutions represent us? Or restrict us?
The only clear thing is that there is no clear answer. One cannot not study, but the desire for meaning exceeds the options available.
Second anomaly: There is little margin for error.
Check the boxes â€" Photo: College of DuPage
People's identities are often tied to their choice of study and career. But that often means defining one's future while still in high school. I am what I studied!
Social pressures weigh heavily: Someone who does not know what to study is immediately shunted toward vocational training options. The apparent implication is a "crisis" of identity. As if identity were not already in a permanent state of crisis! The link between personal identity and career path is questionable at best.
Nietzsche believed that the I is a battleground of different fragments in conflict; and I would only add no single fragment should prevail as the only perspective on one's life.
Third anomaly: There isn't really much of a distinction between vocation and profession, after all.
And thank God, because otherwise we would live in a state of cultural schizophrenia. Imagine if everyone had it clear in their mind that what they really should be doing is one thing while instead they're stuck doing another. In reality, people can do various things at once. The most conservative outlook would maintain that existing professions constitute all vocations. The most revolutionary perspective is that come the revolution, every vocation will find its way to becoming a profession.
In the meantime, we can propose this to our children: Do what you want, for the only abnormality is to do something you do not believe in.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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