Lateral thinking: critique of critical unreasonableness

What is this actually: Lateral thinking. One thing seems to be certain in advance: It has little to do with enlightenment.

Protest against Corona deniers in Berlin-Mitte last Thursday Photo: dpa

"Lateral thinker" has always been a strange, unappealing term, even when it was a seemingly innocent vocabulary. On the one hand, it was used to characterize people who had some kind of "original" ideas, i.e. opinions that were so far-fetched that you had to come up with them first.

On the other hand, however, it was simply used to describe people who thought at all and did not merely parrot the current, trendy opinion pieces, which is why the question always arose as to what was supposed to be transverse about it. The opposite of not thinking is not thinking laterally, but thinking. Anyone who expressed even one thought that seemed to be reasonably well thought-out was already ennobled as a lateral thinker and at the same time ridiculed in this sunken time. So the fact that "lateral thinker" is now reserved for goofy muddleheads is not the worst outcome of 2020.

In the world of the lunatics, people think they are "critical" because they no longer believe in science or rationalism, because they no longer trust the news or "mainstream politicians," but they do trust websites sent to them on Telegram by pop singers or vegan chefs.

So the term "critical" is itself in a critical position. It was not so long ago that "critical thinking" and "science" were perceived as two sides of the same coin.

Enlightenment and emancipation

The ruling order, which believed itself to be God-given and based itself on tradition and religion, was confronted with the power of Enlightenment criticism. The oppressed thought that science was on their side, and the workers’ movement proclaimed: "Knowledge is power." In the Enlightenment, emancipation, science, rationalism, and critique were somehow one, true to the dictum: Have courage to use your own mind.

But there was always an anti-science and anti-rationalist side strand as well; one need only think of German Romanticism, but later also of more leftist objections, such as that scientific reason cripples man into a one-dimensional character, or that in capitalist rationalism, with its reification, science and technology themselves become ideology. Many a path of the post-68 critique of science led directly to homeopathy and esotericism. Sorry to say.

So medical progress has given us several vaccines against Covid-19, and it’s a triumph of science. 2020 has taught us that disaster can always lurk – but if everything goes reasonably well, we may have our normal lives back in six months. It’s terrific, praise be to the ingenious researchers and specialists!

Millions of hobby experts

Speaking of specialists, many of us have become amateur experts in virology and epidemiology in the past year, we have acquired considerable specialized statistical knowledge and also developed a feeling for exponential curves. There is also scorn about the fact that millions of Germans are now not only better national soccer coaches, but have switched to epidemiology and immunology.

It must be remembered, however, that this cynical mockery is itself a questionable thing. Medical and health policy issues are – especially in our days – key topics of a society. However, democracy is characterized by the fact that all citizens should have a say. They should at least be able to judge whether the politicians they elect are doing a good job or a bad job, whether a lockdown is justified or not. However, this also means that interested lay people should be able to inform themselves to such an extent that they can judge things at least vaguely. In a democracy, interested laypeople must be able to have their say on highly complex issues, otherwise we will end up in an expertocracy.

All borderline issues, of course. Enlightened citizens should be able to have an informed say – but in the end they still need to have confidence in specialists. As a rule, we have that, too.

This text was taken from the taz am wochenende. Always from Saturday on the kiosk, in the eKiosk or immediately in the weekend subscription. And on Facebook and Twitter.

It’s not just in pandemic vaccine development that we have to trust the experts; we do it whenever we get in a car, on the subway or on a plane. After all, at the end of the day, we have no idea why this thing brakes, flies, lands, or activates the airbag in case of danger; but we trust the experts that this stuff is already working. Without this trust, we can hardly get through life in a modern society based on the division of labor.

So once again, everything is very complex.

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