Uvalde – A Practical Proposal: Stop the monetization of social media channels glorifying Small Arms and Light Weapons

Picture taken by the author, 2016

Living in the United States between 2013 and 2018, I have had an inside view into the discussion that never seems to get anywhere: How to end the unending series of mass shootings which especially haunt this country. Like so many others, I am sick and tired. I am mad with the arms lobby, I do not understand how any politician arguing the rights of the Second Amendment being more important than any meaningful gun control law in light of the suffering of relatives, especially parents and caregivers, can even sleep, knowing that their sick and crazy protection of the gun lobby is making them morally complicit, as the next mass shooting will not occur in a decade, or next year, but within weeks.

At the time of this writing, parents, caregivers, husbands, wives, relatives, friends in Uvalde, Texas join a group of uncounted individuals who do not get relief from unspeakable pain, suffering losses that no parent and loved one should ever have to live with. Being a parent myself, my heart is broken and my thoughts are reaching out to those who feel utterly destroyed, hopeless, powerless, left with no meaning in their life any more.

Please watch this BBC video.

Gun violence in the United States takes more victims than traffic does. With brutal ignorance, the argument is repeated, over and over again, by these enablers of the NRA, that gun control does not curb this violence, that only armed security at schools does. There is no grain of evidence for such outrageous claims, against all comparative scientific evaluation of the effect of gun control legislation in jurisdictions all over the world. I am not even bothering with referencing such results here, they are ubiquitous for everyone who is really interested in getting the picture.

I invite you, for example, to watch the statement of Jimmy Kimmel, on occasion of the Uvalde school mass killing. I don’t have to add anything.

Meanwhile, German news report about contacts which the perpetrator had, in the weeks running up to the crime, with a fifteen year old girl in Germany. Including that the perpetrator clearly announced his intentions, and not only over the last minutes, but long before.

Which brought me to the role of Social Media, again. And here is a practical suggestion:

Demonetize any social media channel glorifying Small Arms and Light Weapons.


Since 2019, my work is connected to the efforts of the German Federal Foreign Office to support activities of States and international organizations to set up strategic, long-term, and meaningful gun control. We support this in six jurisdictions in the Western Balkans, we support it in the Carribean, we support it in West Africa, we look for ways how to engage in East Europe, and in Central Asia. The center of gravity of my work revolves around supporting the six jurisdictions of the Western Balkans in their effort to implement a regional strategic roadmap addressing all aspects of gun and ammunition control in a holistic way. Please, if you’re interested, read about the Western Balkans SALW Control Roadmap here. I am connected to similar activities in other regions of the world.

So I believe I know what I am talking about.


Advising on all technical, strategic, and often political aspects of this support work, I need to stay informed about latest developments, types of weapons and ammunition, converted weapons, 3D-printed weapons, and so much more.

That’s how Youtube began to invade my watchlist with weapons channels of the craziest forms.

I won’t even promote them here by mentioning names. They are pervasive, ubiquitous, the makers of these channels live and hail from the United States, Germany, Austria, just to name but a few.

Privately I am watching other things. I am subscribing to a few channels of vanlifers, who struggle to keep up a watching community of a few thousand, sometimes more. But none of them reaches the hundreds of thousands or millions of subscribers and views which weapons’ channels easily get. And I do know, from extensive watching, how absolutely centered these channels are around monetization, how makers tip-toe around some rules which would lead to a de-monetization of a vlog entry.

Here are two suggestions:

  1. Those of us who watch these channels: Unsubscribe, and make yourself heard about the reasons why you are doing this, in the comments’ sections. Subscribing to these channels is allowing the makers of these channels to generate a part of their revenue. Stop watching this stuff.
  2. To social media: It is time to take sides, and not to wait for a sickening and tiring new round of discussions on regulating the Internet. You don’t have to take the channels offline. Just demonetize any channel which can not clearly live up to justified reasons, such as scientific, policy, news&reporting, or else. Don’t hide behind the argument that the line is difficult to draw. The number of channels with people firing weapons under the craziest of all circumstances just for the purpose of glorifying weapons, and attract people watching it, it is outrageous. Take a stand. Don’t put your business model front and center. Act with compassion and support those who are eaten alive by grief, for the rest of their lives.

“With The Help of Social Media Memories Can Be Erased“ – Considerations on the Relativity of Truth

Preface: I read the interview with Maria Ressa (see below) and began to express my thoughts about social media manipulation during a few days in Bucharest. It turned out not to be an easy-going process, I was struggling with something that I now identify as the question “Can I find an objective truth?” In a way this felt to me like an extension of my thinking which I began with Part 1 – 3 grappling with aspects of “perception”.

The following travel to Toronto, including some severe jetlag, didn’t help me feeling comfortable with the results of my thought processes, so I let the issue lingering in my drafts folder. Now, with some rest and witnessing a beautiful spring morning in Ontario, I’ll try it again.

What is truth?

Maria Ressa has been awarded the Nobel Price for Peace in 2021, together with Dmitry Muratov, for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Her journalist work is including 20 years as a correspondent and investigative reporter. The title of this blog entry includes a quote from her.

12.02.2022, the German online portal of the news broadcast “Tagesthemen” carried an interview with Maria Ressa on occasion of the Philippine Presidential elections. The elections were won by Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos jr., son of the late Dictator Ferdinand Marcos sr., who ruled the country between 1965 and 1986, until he was finally ousted. Together with his family and his cronies, he stands for decades of authoritarian reign, massive corruption, and reckless brutality. The family fled their country with an estimated 10bn USD. A good summary on occasion of the 2022 elections can be found in this BBC piece.

For context: The outgoing President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte leaves a reign of shame for history, too. Most remembered will be the wave of extra-judicial killings with which he allowed the Police to mutate into a murderous gang, killing scores of people, pretending that a strong-armed fight against drug kings would necessitate this and that there would not be a need for due judicial process. I remember U.S. President Nr. 45 speaking admirably of Duterte. Which in itself does not make Duterte a likeable person, Nr 45 also fell in love with North-Korea’s dictator, and, well, his docile relationship with Vladimir Putin will never be forgotten either. Pied pipers.

The core message of Maria Ressa in this German article is that memories of decades of history can be erased, if social media is masterfully used. Not only that memory can be changed, that alternate versions of the same historical events can be created, no, Ressa says that corporate memories can be erased by social media manipulation. Disinformation campaigns on an industrial scale allow that, according to her. The BBC article quoted above would also indicate a manipulation aiming at changing the perception of history by “Bongbong” and associates for at least the last ten years.

Of course, an interview shortened for the digestion of the general public can not provide the same evidence as academic research would do. But for my thoughts it appears to be enough to rely both on the journalistic ethics behind two renowned public broadcasters and on the fact that a credible investigative journalist won the World’s most prestigious award.

The past years have established a large body of evidence that social media is used systematically for manipulation of public opinion on a gargantuan scale. Many will remember the impact of such activities in the run-up of U.S. presidential elections, 2016. The litany of actual examples would be too long to read. December 2020 I wrote about one example, explaining a NATO study on aspects of this topic.

The case of the Philippine Presidential elections is frightening. Bongbong Marcos has won in a landslide election, not by a margin. No need for Bongbong even to prepare for challenging an election as being manipulated, and to contest it. According to Ressa, Bongbong’s victory is based on a manipulation of the electorate on an industrial scale. On lies that create a narrative of Ferdinand Marcos sr. being a hero, the greatest leader of the Philippine Nation ever, and that his son, if he will win the elections, will give the money back to the poor. We will see whether he will do that. My experience would tell me that chances are slim if the whole election is already based on an epic manipulation of historical reality.

The overwhelming victory appears, strictly speaking by counting the votes, sound. Yet, the manipulation sits straight in front of our eyes: Democracy has been defeated with a never-ending stream of content on social media re-branding the image of the Marcos’ family. Phillipinos were told that the dictatorial regime was a golden age, free of crime. Which is pretty much the opposite of what is on historical record.

But, is there something like one common repository of historical records? That’s what I am struggling with here: Is there something like an objective truth?

In an Address to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin on January 27th, 1921 on Geometry and Experience, Albert Einstein elaborates on the relationship between the laws of mathematics and reality: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” (Project Gutenberg eBooks, “Sidelights on Relativity”, EBook #7333).

In the case of historical truths I would transfrom this sentence into “As far as a historical record refers to reality, it is not certain; and as far as such a record is certain, it does not refer to reality.”

This leaves many people very confused. In my belonging to a group of people, I do establish and participate in a historical context about what happened which is based on a common framework through which the members of this group identify. If the framework is very different between two or several different groups of people, their interpretation of what happened in the past can have little or no common grounds. And always when two or several different explanations clash in a discourse, we try to identify an objective yardstick against which we construct our argument why we believe we hold the truth. And we fail on agreeing on the same yardstick, the same objective measuring rod. The results can include so many divergent views, like two different groups entirely disagreeing on whether historical events were constituting a genocide, or not. The result being that the shared reality of such different groups differs in so fundamental ways that coexistence is the best option, always with the threat of violent discourse looming.


There is nothing new in the above. The new aspect, insofar as my writing goes, relates to the claim that systematic social media manipulation can entirely change the public record of history. Again, the past is filled with examples how systematic disinformation campaigns can establish new perceived realities within a group. Being a German national, I like to refer to disinformation campaigns undertaken by the ilk surrounding Hitler. Goebbels for sure is an example of masterful application of deceit and the use of manipulation in order to control the German populace.

But is there something new stemming from the ubiquity of social media of these days? If the general method of manipulation through disinformation is a tool which has been used for millenia in order to control populations for the benefit of a ruling elite, what is the new dimension which comes from social media?

Maria Ressa, in that “Tagesthemen” interview, also refers to the manipulation machine used by Russia in relation to the situation on the Krim, and in the Ukraine: She claims that the first step is about oppression, and the second step is about extinguishing memory. Based upon the experiences she has made in her home country, the Phillipines, she anticipates the same method being utilised in the context of Russias intent to aggressively usurp the Ukraine. She claims that social media have the effect to divide and to radicalise. Thus, she challenges the argument that social media is a tool vital for guaranteeing the freedom of speech. Instead of being used to allow free speech, according to her the algorithms used by Twitter, FaceBook, Tic Toc, and so many more, they make sure that priority will be given to content which is distributed broadly, preferably even virally. Of course, this is the ad-driven business-model behind social media enterprises. According to Ressa, therefore the distribution of facts will always loose against the distribution of lies, hate, and resentment. Drowning the news related to factual reporting, Ressa then states that the result is an entire loss of a shared reality.

The yardstick of a common historical record has unalterably changed, the division has been established, power can be exerted by controlling the perceived reality. Ressa makes the case for a global threat for values including democracy, but she also hints at, perhaps in my view, the biggest threat of our contemporary times: That we will disagree about the climate crisis as a consequence of global warming.

Which is, probably, on top of the list of global challenges which require a joint reality framework holding true for all people and nations on this globe.


As so often, I have no simple answer. Because there simply is no simple answer at all. We tend to simplify, and to go to extremes. Which always amplifies the problem once a complex system is brought out of its previous delicate state of balance, whilst we do not know how to create a new balance, instead of the entire system collapsing.

So, who is right? Maria Ressa with claiming that social media has the potential to destroy realities, and the underlying framework allowing for democracy, or Elon Musk, who has repeatedly tweeted that taking Nr 45 off Twitter has been one of the biggest mistakes, and that this is all about guaranteeing the freedom of speech?

I am still navigating through the depths of this question, and personal consequences. Should I maintain my Twitter account (which is a microscopic grain of sand in the Twitterverse) once Musk owns Twitter? What I know is that I would be extremely careful about listening to a person who happens to be the richest person in the world, who is able to just buy a social media firm in a snap, take it off from the stock market in order to make the changes of his liking, and then to put it back on the stock market. Why should I trust somebody who has one single intention: Using things for a business model based on profitmaking? Why should I believe that a statement about freedom of opinion is unbiased, if the motivation behind is purely enterprise-driven, and the methodology being used is taking every single accountability mechanism offline?

Also not new. But for me, the new thing is that one person has the potential to make a decision that has global implications on a level unheard of in history, whilst any mechanisms of public accountability appear to be on national level, and to some extent on a level of international organisations, but where the credibility of these international organisations is under massive systematic attack.

I will tell you if I stay on Twitter.

On the rule of law and trusting it in times of misinformation and manipulation spread using social media

I finished my reading of the book “How Civil Wars Start And How To Stop Them”, written by Barbara F. Walter (Crown, 2022, Ebook ISBN 9780593137796). I wrote about it in my article “Anocracies – And Thoughts on International Efforts Related to Conflict Prevention“. There I said that I was impressed with the detailed historical account on the many civil wars, and what political science learned about their predictability. I also said that I will comment less on the second part of the book, where the author is applying those experiences on the current state of affairs in the United States of America. But here is a brief personal impression:

Purely from an emotional perspective, the first part of the book felt gripping, the second part felt like something was missing. Because the first part tells the story of not only why things went haywire, but also how they went haywire. The first part of the book talks about catastrophies that happened. Because the current situation in the U.S. is troubling, and partly deeply concerning, but has NOT led to a worst case scenario (yet?), the book is speculative in this regard, because, simply, it has to.

The author attempts to come up with a future scenario of how a descent into civil war in the U.S. could look like. When I read it, it felt incomplete. It had to. I believe the scenario had to necessarily stay away from including a potential role of individual actors which brought us to the brink of that abyss. Otherwise the book would have become speculative and politically antagonizing. The role of “Number 45” is being described in how the U.S. witnessed it’s downgrading from a starling democracy into the field of anocracies. But the book’s scenario on possible further descent stays away from involving contemporary individual actors. An that is why the scenario feels hypothetical. The absence of this link allows for concluding that we are, perhaps, far away from seeing one of the most stable democracies of the world itching closer to internal chaos. Which we are not, as I believe.

Here are two recent news articles which may make you better understand where my concerns are, still allowing me to stay out of the same trap. Make your own conclusions on whether the future may bring us closer to worst-case, just by reading and thinking about this one, and this one. We are a far cry away from being out of trouble. The mid-term elections in the U.S. are coming up, I feel we are in for a very bumpy 2022. From a European perspective, the current stabilisation of transatlantic jointness is extremely fragile, depending on future development.

At one point I was wondering what would happen if a future presidential candidate would claim his right for using Twitter back. It feels like “You’re damned if he is allowed, and you’re damned if he is not”. The claim of the far-right that it is fighting a corrupt, even pedophile global cabale, including depicting the free press as the enemy of the people, it will see a new and even more intense replication: The next round of racism, xenophobia, white supremacy, male domination, conspiracy theories challenging the efforts to fight the pandemic, and global warming, attempting to establish a narrative fighting Western democracies, it is just coming up. And the use of social media will be pivotal for those who attack, and those who defend.

The jury is out how this unfolds. And then there is the nutshell of Barbara F. Walter’s point how a fragile and unstable further descent into becoming an anocracy can be turned around. Here, the author refers to a piece of work she was commissioned with in 2014, for the World Bank. Like other scholars, the author found three factors standing out by far as being critical for preventing descent into conflict and chaos, including civil war: (1) The Rule of Law; (2) Voice and Accountability; (3) Government effectiveness. So, we will have to think about how we translate these fundamentals into concrete action allowing people all over the world to trust the form of governance which we say is the best of all alternatives we have been able to come up with so far.

So, here we are again. It is why any effort getting us collectively out of the currently very troubled waters must look at the rule of law, which Walter describes as “the equal and impartial application of legal procedure”. I stick to the definition of the rule of law as adopted by the United Nations: “For the United Nations (UN) system, the rule of law is a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness, and procedural and legal transparency.

However, my experience entails that in order to establish any rule of law, there needs to be a large consent of the respective society in how this principle is applied, and this consent must go beyond any larger factionalisation in that society. Any large faction of a society must accept this larger principle, rather than challenging the application of a rule of law as being biased, being imposed on them by other factions. Those who stir conflict for advancing their own objectives, they always will establish a narrative that there is no justice for their constituency. They will portray the rule of law as being a weapon wielded by their enemies against them. What these individuals do is to undermine the trust of their followers in a rule of law applied to their society as a whole. Which points to a second invisible feature of any successful establishing a rule of law: Trust.

It is about trust accepting the specific rule of law, for myself, and others, for the powerful and the less powerful. And it is about trusting that justice will always attempt to prevail, no matter how long it takes. Because very often, it can take a long time. And still, after many years, cases may be unresolved, often are. A society at large must trust the course which justice takes, even if individual members experience pain because their grievances are open and festering wounds for many years, before closure is possible, or sometimes even never.

For me, this challenge can be seen nowhere else with all clarity than in situations where I contributed to the efforts to re-establish a rule of law in a society where it had broken down. May be I will write more about a few of those experiences. Here it would be too long, because I want to finally focus again on the critical role of social media. Here is just one example:

There were two main ethnic factions in Kosovo before and after the violence ending in 1999. Under the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 Kosovo found herself with a majority and a minority faction, no form of own governance at all, and no rule of law beyond what UNSCR 1244 tasked us with. The Old had broken down and had to disengage. The New was not there. It was to be established, and being part of the international community engaging in assisting in finding a new New, I was representing the international interim police.

Whilst, on a technical level of developing policing, and helping a new Kosovo Police to emerge, being more and more successful, we found ourselves in a classical “Catch-22-situation”: All factions involved were blaming us not being able to provide security, and justice. Each side would accuse us to act on the interest of the other side’s agenda. And practically it meant that in case of any evidence of a severe crime which would allow us to make arrests, and prosecute suspects of grievious crime, there would not be a societal consent, or trust beyond factions. At least at the beginning. During those early years, any action by us leading to an arrest would be perceived by one faction as a biased, if not politically motivated, action in favor of the other faction. I have many examples for both factions.

I believe that, over time, some trust could be instilled. Not only that the Kosovan society at large moved forward towards healing from own wounds. Not only that our persistent sticking to a common rule of law for All slowly helped in setting some foundations for trust. Not only that the real success story is the work on the credibility of the Kosovo Police itself, establishing itself as a trusted actor within an emerging rule of law. But any development until today also shows how fragile this trust is. Including in recent times, operational situations can demonstrate how quickly old tensions, mistrust, and biased interpretation of events can break up. But what I want to demonstrate here is exactly that: That any rule of law is critical for peace&security in a society, and that this does go way beyond the technical application of such a principle.

It requires acceptance of that rule of law by a majority of all constituencies in a society, and it requires a sound trust in the equal application and adjucation of that rule of law, beyond personal grievances, and existing factions.

As said earlier (in my first blog article on this book), this holds true both for a society moving towards a rule of law, and it applies to a society where the efforts of trusting a rule of law are heavily undermined by the spreading of misinformation and fake news. Whether the society moves into a positive direction or a negative direction, it is the middle zone between the Old and the New which makes the situation most volatile.

All three factors mentioned by Barbara F. Walter, (1) The Rule of Law; (2) Voice and Accountability; (3) Government effectiveness played into any descent into chaos I have personally witnessed.

In 2022, the means to disrupt by using manipulative voice and amplifying non-accountability are a global challenge: Social media has become a bull-horn for those who know how to exploit fragility, and to further it.

So, how to translate Barbara F. Walter’s message, that civil wars can be avoided, into practice?

By taking responsibility for own action, and making our voices of reason being heard, day by day. Neil Young requested from Spotify to remove his music from the platform because Spotify is hosting “The Joe Rogan Experience”. Neil Young did not want to be on a platform which prominently features a protagonist for this type of spreading misinformation, lies, and manipulation, including wildest conspiracy theories about some mass-hypnosis being used by a global cabale enslaving citizens. Joni Mitchell followed suit, and she is not the only one.

This fight is taking us on a long haul, it is far from being over. Every personal contribution matters.

Anocracies – And Thoughts on International Efforts Related to Conflict Prevention

Anocracy or semi-democracy is, according to Wikipedia, a “form of government that is loosely defined as part democracy and part dictatorship, or as a “regime that mixes democratic with autocratic features.” Another definition classifies anocracy as “a regime that permits some means of participation through opposition group behavior but that has incomplete development of mechanisms to redress grievances.” The term “semi-democratic” is reserved for stable regimes that combine democratic and authoritarian elements. Scholars have also distinguished anocracies from autocracies and democracies in their capability to maintain authority, political dynamics, and policy agendas. Similarly, the regimes have democratic institutions that allow for nominal amounts of competition. Such regimes are particularly susceptible to outbreaks of armed conflict and unexpected or adverse changes in leadership.”


In my blog post “Under The Hood” I wrote that I had pre-ordered “How Civil Wars Start And How To Stop Them”, written by Barbara F. Walter (Crown, 2022, Ebook ISBN 9780593137796). After its publication date it got delivered (in my case as an Apple iBook). I am reading it now, and it is as good as it was assessed in that New York Times book recension. As it was said in that recension, Barbara F. Walter spends much of the first half of the book on a profound history of nearly every civil war haunting mankind in the past many decades before beginning to apply the results of academic research of political scientists on civil wars to the situation of the United States of America.

I am through the first half of the book, and inasmuch as I am now keenly reading her account of the more recent developments in the U.S., I am not intending to write on that subject matter. I have an opinion there, and I share the author’s risk assessment, but this public discourse is already ongoing in the U.S.: Look here and here.

I wanted to reflect on a few general observations that stem from the book’s solid comparative approach of recent situations which led to wide-spread violence, and the solid and vast description of the state of affairs of a number of contemporary nation states. After all, no country is exempted from the danger of plunging into wide-spread violence, just pretending “It can’t happen to us” is nothing less than dangerous denial and wishful thinking of the ostrich burying her head in the sand. In this, Barbara F. Walter’s book establishes itself in the same rational and academic realm as the books “Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism” by Anne Applebaum and “Fascism: A Warning” by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.


My line of work has frequently put me into situations where we have wondered how one can measure the risk of a country or constituency descending into violent forms of conflict, including civil war. On several occasions I have been part of the international community’s peacekeeping efforts following the outbreak and the aftermath of civil war. Operationally and strategically I was part of such efforts in Kosovo under the United Nations’ mandate through Security Council Resolution 1244. Strategically I was part of such efforts in situations such as in Sudan, South Sudan, Mali, the Central African Republic, Somalia, and several more.

Then there is peacebuilding: How to make sure that a successful peacekeeping engagement finds its continuation through peacebuilding, and leads to a stable peaceful environment that will not relapse into conflict? That’s one of the elements of my current line of work, or why I was operationally working in Bosnia&Hercegovina, or strategically in headquarters of UN and EU on a large number of similar situations in greater Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and the Carribean.

Finally, there is conflict prevention: I often sat in meetings with like-minded peacekeepers and peacebuilders where we dealt with conflict prevention. Meaning to extinguish the fire when it was starting small, or even better: To help keeping things stable long before they reach critical mass of instability, and to find ways helping a country, or a constituency, in efforts to resolve disputes peacefully, and to succeed in that. Here I will not give examples. There were a number of cases in which I participated and where we could help in de-confliction of interests, and peaceful resolving of grievances. Those cases did not lead to bad-news-stories, in the general public they went almost entirely unrecognized, and good-news-stories sometimes can not be told in order to keep the good news continuing.

Those stories also don’t sell. Even in the “normal” world of crime, crime prevention does not attract the same interest by readers as the gruesome murder story does. Prevention is the silent humble sister of the guys and gals in military and police fatigues. Repression, threat, coercion, and the use of force, all too often these stories outrun any peaceful piece of news. This is the achilles-heel of prevention, and exponentially more so since the advent of social-media, whose algorithms prefer stories, fake or true, that create viral attention: Stories that create anger will always knock out the stories of crime that never happened. Even cute-cats-stories outrun every story about a conflict which never happened because we all did the right things.


In all those discussions on how to prevent conflict better, we asked ourselves how to asses and to measure the risk of conflict with hard numbered indicators. I remember reading the book “The Responsibility To Protect” by Gareth Evans. Evans, one of the chief architects of a concept called R2P, which tragically failed, at one point mentions the many efforts of academia to come up with a measurable set of indicators. He stated that for many years there was inconclusive academic research on that. In his book he mentioned that only one hard statistical fact could be boiled down: That conflict is much more likely in a country where there was one -more recently- before.

For years, I accepted that. Barbara F. Walter’s book has profoundly changed this view. May be I did personally not notice, or may be it is more of a late-breaking recognition, but according to Walter political science has made tremendous progress and has developed a sophisticated set of predictors, or risk indicators, based on sound bodies of empirical data in at least three very large and internationally recognized data-sets. In order to keep this a relatively easy read, I won’t go into details. The book is very captivating and it is very comprehensible. I truly enjoy the way how hard science is transformed into popular language by Barbara F. Walter. There is no need to undergo a 101 course in political sciences, so instead of summarizing a detailed book, I recommend reading it yourself.


Walter’s book has drawn my attention to three factors that increase the potential for, and are the reasons for, civil wars. Academic research appears to have managed to put these three factors into a rock-hard framework of statistical measurability: (1) Transitions from one system of governance to another system of governance; (2) Factionalisation in societies; (3) The drastic effects of social media.


(1) Transitions from one system of governance to another system of governance

For me, one important contribution of Barbara F. Walter’s book sits with drawing attention to process, rather than a snapshot of a state of affairs in time. Any form of governance can be categorized, and put on a scale. A true representation of all common criteria for a democracy can put a State into a category of “best in class”. Another State can be a full representation of what we call an autocracy. That State would be on the opposite side of that scale. From the viewpoint of a true defender of democratic values, that would bring this State into the zone of “worst in class”. Of course, “the other side of the aisle” would disagree with that judgement, and there we are in a polarized discussion.

But the true focus of Barbara F. Walter is not on the snapshot where a State finds herself on such a scale. It is about the movement from one end to the other, in both directions, and it is about the speed of that process. A State can find herself on the path towards more autocratic forms of government, or on the path from autocratic governance towards democratic governance. Political science has established evidence for that the “middle zone” between one form of governance and another form of governance is the most dangerous and volatile area, and the faster the transitional process from democracy towards autocracy, or from autocracy to democracy, the more risk for wide-spread violence exists on a statistical level.

And this makes perfect sense. Here is my attempt to visualize it:

It means that the “door swings in both directions”: The risk of violence does not only exist in a situation where a country is slipping towards semi-autocratic or fully-autocratic forms of governance. The same risk exists in a situation where interested parties, supported by the international community for example, engage in promoting and establishing regime change towards democracy. Barbara F. Walter makes it clear that the risk for violence is highest when this process into either direction has placed the constituency in question into the middle zone, when transformational change is most unfinished, with the old being ripped down and the new not yet formed and rooted.

Secondly, science tells us that, again, the risk is quantifiably higher if the process of transformation is either too slow or too fast, for which there can be many reasons. From how I look at things from my own experience, it is scientific evidence for what happens when the international community pushes too fast, is compartmentalised in such efforts, displays not enough comprehensive depth in supporting transformational change, nor patience for a long-term coherent support approach based on vision and strategy. Which I often saw when international mandates and policy discussions were held unter terms such as “democratization”, or “state building”.


(2) Factionalisation in societies

The second aspect in Barbara F. Walter’s book is a comprehensive analysis of previous civil wars and the relation between constituencies moving into the “danger zone” of being an anocracy, and the existence of factions in these societies. Also here, the book is very comprehensive in giving a detailed account for a vast array of previous civil wars. In my reading this book, one aspect stood out: Any change of one system through which a state applies governance to citizens towards another set of governance rules inevitably leads to the demise of old elites and the struggle which is happening when new elites try to form, and old elites fight to participate in societal control, for their benefits. This is the second factor which makes the “danger zone” so volatile, and the book provides detailed analytical results to the question when, how, and why this leads to violence. I want to highlight one sentence:

“Remember, it’s not the desperately poor who start civil wars, but those who once had privilege and feel they are losing status they feel is rightfully theirs”.

Likewise I quote her account on a declassified CIA report from 2012: “Most insurgencies, the report notes, “pass through similar stages of development during their life cycle.” In the pre-insurgency phase, a group begins to identify a set of common grievances and build a collective identity around a gripping narrative—the story or myth that helps them rally supporters and justify their actions. They begin to recruit members, some of whom even travel abroad for training. They begin to stockpile arms and supplies.

I note that it is the last sentence which connects my current line of work with the larger picture.

Then Barbara F. Walter goes on to analyze the role of social media in contemporary conflicts:


(3) The drastic effects of social media

Social media acts like the proverbial gasoline poured on a fire. By now, many of us have begun to appreciate this very dark side of a technology which also has contributed so much to bringing us close together in a global world. The author’s account on how social media has been, and continues to be, systematically exploited by those who seek control, including by inciting violence, is nothing short of scathing criticism. Again, the book is unbiased by taking a very comprehensive view on situations of recent violence, and contemporary situations in countries all around the globe, within something which appears to be a rising global pattern of instability, emerging and brooding conflict. She refers to solid data that would allow to conclude that there is a clear connection between the exponential rise of volatile situations and war on one hand, and the the abuse of social media for that purpose on the other hand. It is here where the role of social media and its systematic and professional exploitation by reckless individuals and groups is pervasive. Whereas encouraging factionalism on religious, ethnic, racial, or any grounds has been the key defining modus operandi of individuals manipulating populations into fear and hate of the other, and the acceptance that “Dear Leader” may be the lesser evil, contemporary situations are characterised by a systematic manipulation of many, through some, using social media. The book demonstrates this in Myanmar, in countries in Europe including Eastern and Central Europe, and elsewhere, before even beginning to analyse what happened in the U.S. in recent years.

Our societies struggle with the question of how to apply accountability and regulative frameworks to this new phenomenon. Because, new it is: The effects of how social media can be used for manipulation, inciting hatred, and fueling violence, they may be just ten years old. But they are extremely transformative. And again, we see different approaches in relation to how to control social media in China or Russia, say compared to how open societies handle this challenge. But what we also see: Aspiring autocrats virtuously use social media to gain control. After that, these individuals will undertake everything to control the instrument they have used.

Because, they know better than anyone else how it can be used to their advantage, and against them.


This got long again. I leave it without conclusions, simply because there are so many. This is true for a paradigm change on how we consider engaging in conflict prevention in a world filled with old instruments of international order which require overhaul, or may be outdated if we don’t succeed in transforming them into effective tools. This is also true for how we accept our being affected by what we call “social media”. Personally, I feel this question may belong to the most important ones in our lifetime, in all aspects of our lives.

Kinderwhore – A Book About Unspeakable Truths

This morning I need to work on something very boring in my line of work: The analysis of data that we call “Key Performance Indicators”. These KPI measure the progress being made in controlling Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), within a regional strategy of the six jurisdictions of the Western Balkans to adress all related illicit aspects of such weapons and their ammunition, their intent to reduce the threat coming from such weapons and their stockpiles, their efforts to curb crime, including transnational organized crime, their efforts to protect victims and preventing future victims, their efforts to establish a gender-balanced policy.

But in order to motivate myself to boring number-crunching, I needed to get something else off my chest first:


My commenting on today’s selection of “real world real news” (the opposite of “real world fake news”) begins with a tennis story.

I was baffled about how rapidly the news on the controversy over Novak Djokovic’s Australian visa application caught international media attention. Sorts of with half on an eye I monitored those news, since I was neither interested in tennis news, nor in celebrity news. The kindling of national pride in Serbia was not surprising me at all, and that the Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic spoke with Australian counterpart Scott Morrison in a call on Monday and emphasised Djokovic’s need for good training conditions, oh well, good for Novak, I thought. I don’t have to read these news in my news reader, since I don’t get my newsfeed from any social media company, but from a carefully curated own list of sources.

Until I read a piece in the New York Times from January 11, 2022, titled “Novak Djokovic’s Fight to Play Tennis Could Be Just Starting“. Looking at Djokovic’s victory in fighting his quarantine-detention in Australia, I glimpsed something far beyond the complicated legal battle in Australia which this player, who is an outspoken adversary to Covid-19-vaccinations, has won for the moment.

Because this issue may now affect each and every reporting about future tennis tournaments. It may fuel any heated argument, whether it is about the same rules applying for all, whether it is about victimisation on a personal level and then fueling nationalism and pride, or whether it is about the anti-vaxxer-movement using the story for further radicalisation through distorted reporting and commenting within social media – based circles. The powerful lens for such possible manipulation will include the celebrity involved, and the news factor related to tennis as a sport.

There is more to come on this one. By the way, the NYT reports Djokovic as “having earned about $154 million in career prize money and hundreds of millions more off court”. Taking my distance from the celebrity side of media reporting again, I finally refer to the assessment of the NYT “while Djokovic won in court on Monday, he has undoubtedly lost support in some chambers of the court of public opinion, though he has become a martyr for the anti-vaccine movement and among his countrymen.I would say: This has just begun, more is to be revealed, and it may not going to be a good story.


From the celebrity circus and the glamour moving into a stark contrast between rich and poor:

In another piece of today’s news, it is the New York Times again which I quote with a report titled “Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Virus Tests Per Month“. Of course, this move of the Biden administration is good. It forces private insurance companies to pay for up to eight at-home-tests for those in the United States who do enjoy private health insurance. Again, good for them.

But I can’t help also connecting this piece of news on what wealthy nations can do for their, increasingly discontent, citizens with a story about citizens in some of the poorest countries of this world. The United Nations assesses that 97% of all Afghan families might soon be under what would be considered a threshold of being “poor”. The UN assesses that more than half of the Afghan population may face severe hunger soon. There is more to this story in the German “Tagesschau”, but that is going to be part of the third section of this blog entry. For the moment, I just wanted to reflect on an extremely stark contrast between “rich” and whatever that means, and “poor”, whatever that means. Citizens in one country may benefit from provision of eight Covid-tests per month for free, while this report demonstrates that families in Afghanistan may live on a daily budget of 50 (Euro)Cent, if at all. The Afghan population faces a winter with poverty and cold weather, and much of this also has to do with the international community having frozen all forms of previous financial support and assistance to the country, in order to avoid any support to an illegitimitate Taleban-Government.

Sanctions always hit those the hardest which we seek to protect from suppression, injustice, violence, violation of human rights. We know about this conundrum, but that doesn’t mean that we shall just get used to such horror. The fact that previously, according to the report, up to 75 % of the domestic budget of Afghanistan came from international financial support makes it even more difficult to stomach these news. How do we deal with a situation which, for whatever reason, also directly relates to decisions of engagement over two decades leading to extreme corruption and dependency, and which, for whatever reason, led to the chaotic disengagement of the summer of 2021? Those who suffered from corruption, insecurity, and war, for 20 years, they are the same who suffer now. They won’t forget, and generations to come may also not be ready to forgive.


The same Tagesschau-report on Afghanistan informing us about a daily income of 50 (Euro)Cent or less, or about that those families hope to survive the winter on small coal stockpiles which they bought on credit, not knowing how to repay debts, it also reports on a growing number of families selling their daughters in order to gain income.

Selling their daughters. Into marriage. Under-aged daughters. Selling them. 300 Dollar per sale. Increasingly because of poverty and hunger not keeping these daughters “safe” until they reach an age of fifteen years, but also to give them to the future husband directly after the sale. Children. Young children. Selling them because of financial needs to survive the winter. Turning them over to a man in another family, who considers this child to be his future wife. Who considers owning this child.

Forced marriages are part of a number of cultures, we fight them through all our concerted efforts promoting the rights of women, girls, underaged children in general, and minorities. I have often written about it. Beyond a general expression of horror it is extremely challenging to judge the impact of such a decision on the development of an under-aged girl. Everything we judge about it is including a value-system which may be foreign in those societies.

But here is at least one thing I can say for sure: Consider that this report includes that even the societal protection to such a girl by keeping her with the family of origin until she reaches the age of fifteen is being given up. That a child at an age of ten, or well below, faces a transfer to another man as her future husband. And please, all those men who then treat such a future wife with respect and care, as is appropriate in your society, I mean no disrespect, though my stomach revolts.

Yet, there is no doubt on my mind that many of those under-age girls will end up in abuse, including sexual abuse. I just know, because this criminal behavior transcends any cultural border. Sexual abuse, including most severe forms, is universal, rather than limited to some societies.

I may fail to understand in detail the trauma impact on a girl in a society alien to me. I am only certain that the trauma is massive. How massive? How to relate to the plight of the abused if any understanding of her suffering fails? Which leads me to my encouraging any Western reader to consider my book recommendation:


If you look up the term “Kinderwhore“, some of the returned results will refer to a clothing style worn by some sub-cultures.

Then there is a book with that title by Deanna M. Lehman, and it is a biography about a sexually abused girl in the United States. And then there is a book with the same title by Maria Kjos Fonn and Gabriele Haefs (who translated the book into German).

I am reading “Kinderwhore” by Maria Kjos Fonn in the German eBook edition (© CulturBooks Verlag 2019, ISBN 978-3-95988-145-6). The original book was printed in Norway. Here is a short overview page maintained by the Oslo Literary Agency. I tried to look up whether the entire book is available in English language. I could find sample pages, but I don’t know for sure.

There is no doubt on my mind that Charlotte, the fictional character in this book, represents a real person, and her experiences. It is impossible to come up with a story like this without a true case behind. A case of True Crime, I should like to say. You can download an English translation of 36 sample pages from this site.

I quote from that site: “Charlotte’s mother is always at home, yet hardly ever there. Most of the time she is asleep, heavily medicated in order to remain so. When she is not asleep, she brings home new dads for Charlotte. One of them shows her a glimpse of something else, something better. But too soon, he is replaced by yet another dad. When Charlotte is 12 something happens, something she cannot possibly take in or process. She starts making use of her mother’s pills, happy to learn that there are ways of shutting off your feelings. She establishes a divide between her body and mind, allowing her to take on different sexual roles, like the sedated, passive Doll or the proactive Machine.”

This “something” happening to Charlotte, it is the sexual molestation, the continued sexual abuse, the most painful ordeal of continued rape of a child, by her mother’s boyfriend. And the book is about Charlotte’s survival.

I really have no appropriate words for this book, I feel that any comment on the suffering of the main character would be helpless, incomplete, utterly disrespectful. I have though, the deepest respect for the person behind the fictional character of Charlotte to put her experiences into words. Nothing else would be possible for me than to say “I am deeply sorry for what you had to go through”, and even this feels clumsy, as it includes the past tense.

So, in order to focus my thoughts, I should try to conclude by saying: I have friends with similar experiences. Quite some. I do know about the authenticity described in this book from own experience in my circle of friends. That is why I relate to the fate of those Afghan girls sold into marriage and being given to their future husbands at the age of children.

I encourage you to read the book, or the English sample text.

With that, the World may revert to the plight of Novak. Sorry, Novak, I am sure your legal contestation is justified. That’s all okay, I am using your case as an example putting things into proportion, and for a call for compassion. Please, let us not forget the plight of those who really suffer. And put action to where our mouths are.


Back to my Key Performance Indicators now…

Under The Hood

Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.
DESMOND TUTU

This entire blog is about peace and security, trauma and reconciliation. It is my chosen overarching theme since I began writing.

Ultimately, in order to sustain lasting peace and security in a society, the society needs to be at peace with itself. The impact of traumatic situations and the societal ability to heal these, through reconciliation, is directly affecting the cohesion which is also often referred to as a “social contract”. The less cohesion in a society, the more likely the foundations of that agreement erode.

I pre-ordered “How Civil Wars Start And How To Stop Them”, written by Barbara F. Walter (Crown, 2022, Ebook ISBN 9780593137796). I read an article in the New York Times discussing this book and was immediately drawn to it. Of course, much attention is given to such topics because January 06, 2022 we also looked back on what happened one year earlier: The attacks on the U.S. Capitol by violent crowds, incited by an angry former U.S. President ready to rip everything into pieces and to burn the house to ashes when facing his power coming to an end.

I am specifically interested in understanding the author’s methodological approach. To quote from the New York Times article: “As a political scientist who has spent her career studying conflicts in other countries, she approaches her work methodically, patiently gathering her evidence before laying out her case. She spends the first half of the book explaining how civil wars have started in a number of places around the world, including the former Yugoslavia, the Philippines and Iraq.

So I began this blog entry by looking at my four terms “Peace, Security, Trauma, Reconciliation” with a focus on the January 06, 2021 Capitol riots:

There was no peaceful event, there was no security, there is massive traumatisation of an entire society, and there are huge challenges when it comes to reconciliation. The fabric of the U.S. society is critically wounded. Many, including the current President of the United States, have made that clear on occasion of the commemoration events. Others have blamed them for saying that, accusing them of dividing the very society they have undermined themselves. No matter on which side of the aisle one is, the fact of deep divisions in the society of the U.S. can not be disputed by anyone, because they all participate in it, blaming the respective other side.


Currently in every open society the fabric of consent appears to be at threat. We experience attacks from the outside and from the inside, and we have a large-scale public discourse about that. Attacks and covert efforts in a cyber-information-warfare do point back to actors from inside authoritarian systems, but not only: They include actors from within open societies, in an effort to overturn the systems of governance as they have been set up on grounds of the respective societal contract, enshrined in the relevant basic laws of these societies, their constitutional law. There is a blurry spider web of people and interest groups out there, networking on a global scale, who seem to diligently work on that.


We see societies with authoritarian leadership, heavily applying coercion, and whereever deemed useful, heavy violence against own constituencies. Whichever legitimacy, or sheer power, sits behind coercion into cohesion in those societies, the number of current examples of authoritarian regimes quelling opposition and unrest is considerable. Instability, public unrest, violent coercion of populations by a ruling structure, whether Central Asia, Africa, the Near, the Middle, and the Far East, the Americas, there are many examples.


We see societies with illiberate structures of governance that appear to be stable, sorts of. Big ones, and smaller ones.

We do speculate about the stability of the bigger ones, we suspect, or bluntly see them being in a game of stabilising themselves by dominating spheres of influence, and coercion, whilst at the same time being engaged in efforts destabilising opponents on the side of what we call open societies, including the so-called “West”.

We see smaller societies on their path to illiberate control that position themselves by jockeying for alliances, keeping options open, attempting to take advantage of being friendly to the one or the other, being ambigous.


That is how I came to suspect that the common denominator for all, on a global level, is about societal cohesion. On this level of analysis it is not about attacks of authoritarianism against democracy. It appears to be that notwithstanding the form of governance in many societies, we all struggle with societal cohesion. We all have the same problem, we only differ in how we deal with it.


With that in mind, I revisited my blog entry “Futuretelling” from April 2021. There I had written about the latest report published by the collective of American intelligence agencies: “Global Trends 2040”. The report “finds that the pandemic has proved to be “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II,” with medical, political and security implications that will reverberate for years. That’s not sturm und drang. It’s the prologue to a far darker picture of what lies ahead.”

Five themes are identified in that assessment: (1) Global Challenges, (2) Fragmentation, (3) Disequilibrium, (4) Contestation, and (5) Adaption. I won’t repeat how I summarized the report in my previous artcle, but I do quote the following: Global challenges include climate change, disease, financial crises, and technology disruptions. The report states that they are likely to manifest more frequently and intensely in almost every region and country. Their impact on states and societies will create stress, or even catastrophic shock. The report assesses the current pandemic as “the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political, and security implications that will ripple for years to come.“


That’s huge, and overwhelming. So, what can each and everyone do, in our circles of life?

I am coming back to the basic motivation which I had when I began writing this article. Because it has not been reflected in any of the above, but I believe it is the essence of any individual contribution to finding new ways into cohesion. Lasting cohesion requires some form of consent. Which can only be achieved by talking to each other, and not at all by talking about each other. Talking about each other contributes to dissent. Often we see the dissent manifesting within a public discourse, and all our new contemporary mechanisms of discourse, especially social media, are designed to reinforce messages which achieve large public attention. Those messages are fueled by rage and anger. It is how these systems are set up.

They also function by establishing closed networks. Friends, followers, open or closed chat groups. The opposite to talk with each other is possible there. Stalking, mobbing, bullying, that all adds. Because any dissenting voice within such groups will be yelled at. Can even happen to Ted Cruz, by Tucker Carlson, recently. You stray off the party line, you will be punished.

We can not talk about divisiveness in divisive terms if we genuinely want to address it. Those who do, they purposefully do that in order to solidify it, rather than reverting back to consent. They want to impose a new consent, by manipulation and force.

In everyday life, this is difficult. Like all of us, I have concrete examples: I do not know anti-vaxxers in my circle of friends. Because I have begun to separate myself from any of those. Neither they want me to be part of their circle of friends. And once one enters into those social media groups where attitude to an issue is the polarizing theme, a subtle brainwashing is going on. If I stay, I have to have the same beliefs. They reinforce, and they isolate from any dialogue with others. Over time, own positions and beliefs will radicalize the longer one stays in these groups and circles. As if we would not know how this works. Have we forgotten about how sects do this, how people have difficulties getting out of the prison of Scientology, how difficult it is to de-radicalize people who have been caught in the web of ISIS? There is little difference in the psychology behind all this.

This, again, is happening “under the hood”, and that’s why I have chosen this title. We see the open manifestations of societal dissent. It is hard to quantify and qualify to which extent the invisible divisive lines have already permeated societies. It is fair to suspect these lines of division run much deeper than we see, or acknowledge.

So, I will be interested to see what Barbara F. Walter has to say on that. Because over the last two decades I have been living in societies which at some point broke into open conflict. Or I have been dealing with working for peace in countries which all of a sudden, and often to the surprise of the international community, experienced relapse into conflict and war.

This time, I get a sense it is increasingly about all of us, not about a country far away from us.

How can we identify the threat-level? But notwithstanding that, I firmly believe that nurturing the ability of individuals to listen to others with a dissenting opinion, in an effort to understand the other, rather than subjugating the other under the own doctrine, will be key.

That’s why this will be a momentous task for generations to come.

On Responsibilities of German Public Servants and on Covid-19 – An Open Letter to Hans-Georg Maaßen

Sehr geehrter Herr Hans-Georg Maaßen,

Die digitale Ausgabe der “Tagesschau” berichtet heute, am 03.01.2022 (Link hier) zu dem Umstand, dass Sie auf der sozialen Mediaplattform GETTR ein Video mit der Bildunterschrift “Bewegender Appell von Prof. Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi zur dringenden Notwendigkeit eines Covid-Impfverbots” geteilt haben. Die “Tagesschau” ist fuer ihre faktenbasierte und neutrale Berichterstattung so anerkannt, dass ich auf weitere Verifizierungen dieses Berichtes hier verzichten darf.

Das Video, das Sie demzufolge weiterverbreitet haben, wurde urspruenglich am 22. Dezember 2021 von dem emeritierten Mikrobiologie-Professor Bhakdi auf der Plattform “Rumble” veröffentlicht. Der oben erwaehnte Bericht der Tagesschau leitet in eine detaillierte Schilderung und Bewertung dieses Videos wie folgt ein: “Es traegt den Titel “Der Beweis ist da: Impfung zerstört Immunsystem”. Bhakdi beginnt seine Ausführungen in dem Video mit dem Appell, sich nicht mehr über Details zu streiten, vielmehr lägen die Fakten auf dem Tisch. Alle genbasierten Impfstoffe, gemeint sind mRNA-Vakzine, verursachten das gleiche Ergebnis, so Bhakdi. Das Immunsystem des Körpers werde zerstört. Basis für diese Behauptung sollen Proben aus 15 Obduktionen sein, die der Pathologe Arne Burkhardt untersucht habe.

Professor Bhakdi erklaert in diesem Video: “Sie töten unsere Kinder” […] “Ich halte das nicht aus”, fährt er fort – und kündigt an, “aus diesem verdammten Land” flüchten zu wollen, damit nicht auf “unseren” vierjährigen Sohn “geschossen” werde.”

Der faktenbasierten Berichterstattung der “Tagesschau” ist hoch anzurechnen, dass sie die zugrundeliegenden unbelegten Behauptungen und die vollstaendige Unserioesitaet der angeblichen Beweise, dass m-RNA Impfungen das menschliche Immunsystem zerstoeren, ausfuehrlich in diesem Bericht widerlegt.

Gleichfalls erlaeutert der Bericht, dass sich der fuer den pensionierten Pathologen Arne Burkhardt zustaendige Fachverband, die Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Pathologie bereits vorher von Erklaerungen von Herrn Burkhardt distanziert hat, ebenso wie auch die Universitaet Mainz bezogen auf Herrn Bhakdi. Schlussendlich moechte ich hier erwaehnen, dass die Bildungsministerin Schleswig-Holsteins, Karin Prien, die zugleich Mitglied im Bundesvorstand der Christlich Demokratischen Union CDU ist, sich als Folge dieser Ereignisse fuer den Ausschluss von Ihnen, sehr geehrter Herr Maaßen, aus der Partei CDU ausspricht.


Sehr geehrter Herr Maaßen, nicht jeder kennt Sie, und mein Blog, auf dem ich meist in Englisch schreibe, wird weltweit gelesen. Daher darf ich hier kurz erklaeren, dass Sie in der Zeit von August 2012 bis November 2018 das Bundesamt fuer Verfassungsschutz geleitet haben. Sowohl waehrend Ihrer Amtsausuebung als auch in Ihrem spaeteren politischen Leben sind Ihnen eine Reihe hoch kontroverser Aeusserungen und Stellungnahmen zuzurechnen. Sie werden in Ihrer politischen Orientierung dem sehr rechten Fluegel der CDU zugerechnet. Sie scheinen erhebliche Sympathien in politischen Zirkeln zu geniessen, die rechts vom rechten Fluegel der CDU stehen. Die Verfassungskonformitaet mancher dieser Gruppierungen scheint ebenso erhebliche Fragen aufzuwerfen wie deren Naehe zu Verschwoerungstheoretikern und Covid-Realitaetsverweigerern.

Uns verbindet daher beinahe garnichts, allerdings eins: Wir beide sind Beamte. Sie sind politischer Beamter (im Ruhestand), ich bin Berufsbeamter (im Ruhestand). Vor Ihrer Zeit als politischer Beamter waren Sie im Uebrigen auch Berufsbeamter, einschliesslich in herausragenden Funktionen des Bundesinnenministeriums. Fuer mich gelten die in der Verfassung der Bundesrepublik Deutschland verankerten “hergebrachten Grundsaetze des Berufsbeamtentums”. Sie beinhalten die Pflicht zum inner- und ausserdienstlichen Wohlverhalten, im ausserdienstlichen Bereich gilt dies fuer mich auch im Ruhestand. Fuer mich gilt die Pflicht zur politischen Neutralitaet, fuer Sie als politischer Beamter vielleicht weniger. Aber eine generelle Wohlverhaltenspflicht kann sicherlich sowohl fuer Berufsbeamtinnen und -beamte wie auch fuer politische Beamtinnen und Beamte abgeleitet werden. Diensteide muessen ja auch von beiden Gruppen geleistet werden.


Zu dieser Wohlverhaltenspflicht gehoert ohne Frage, von der vorsaetzlichen oder grob fahrlaessigen Verbreitung evidenter Falschinformationen abzusehen, die zu schweren Fehlentscheidungen anderer Mitbuergerinnen und Mitbuerger mit fatalen Konsequenzen fuehren koennen. Je prominenter das -ehemals-bekleidete Amt und die damit gegebene “Prominenz” bzw. Gelegenheit zur oeffentlichen Einflussnahme auf Meinungsbildung, umso mehr ist Ihnen als Amtstraeger in herausragendendsten Funktionen diese Verpflichtung zuzumuten, und umso schwerwiegender der Vorwurf, wenn Sie es nicht tun.

Mit Ihrem Verhalten tragen Sie zu erheblichen Zweifeln und Aengsten in der Bevoelkerung bei. Sie schueren ohne jegliche Tatsachengrundlage Aengste, die zum Widerstand gegen Covid-19-Impfungen fuehren. Das ist verantwortungslos und sicher ein Grund fuer die Forderung von Ministerin Prien, obwohl auch aus ihrer Perspektive nicht allein wegen dieser Ereignisse, sondern eher ein Ausdruck der Haltung “Das Mass ist voll”.

Mein Argument kommt allerdings auf die von mir aufgefuehrte offenkundige Verletzung der Wohlverhaltenspflicht zurueck: Sie schueren Aengste, die sehr konkret zu Impfverweigerungen fuehren. Die Zahlen und Fakten sprechen fuer sich: (a) Die mittlerweile milliardenfach durchgefuehrten Impfungen sind sicher; (b) Impfungen reduzieren signifikant das Risiko, an Covid-19 zu erkranken und auch die Wahrscheinlichkeit der Transmission; (c) Impfungen reduzieren in erheblicher Weise das Risiko, Opfer einer schweren Erkrankung zu werden. Ersparen Sie mir, diesen offenen Brief mit endlosen Fussnoten zum Nachweis meiner Darstellung zu verlaengern. Vorsaetzlich falsche Aussagen wie die von Ihnen verbreiteten Behauptungen von Professor Bhakdi tragen also sehr konkret zu Krankheit, schwerem Leid und Tod anderer Menschen bei.

Daran moechte ich Sie hier erinnern.

Ich schliesse mit der Bemerkung, dass sich gerade in den letzten Tagen in meinem persoenlichen und beruflichen Umfeld erneut tragische Todesfaelle ereignet haben. In Anbetracht dessen, dass trotz intensivster Hygiene- und Schutzmassnahmen nun auch meine Familie in Kanada von Covid-Erkrankungen heimgesucht wird, kann ich nur dem Umstand danken, dass Alle vollstaendig durchgeimpft sind. Ich hoffe, dass Erkrankungen mild ablaufen.


Sehr geehrter Herr Maaßen, meine eigene Verpflichtung zum Wohlverhalten legt mir auf, diese oeffentliche Aussage zu Ihrem Verhalten in angemessener Form darzulegen. Ich denke aber, es ist mir auch zugestanden, Ihr Verhalten als unerhoert, inakzeptabel und in schaerfster Form verurteilungswuerdig zu qualifizieren.

Stefan Feller, Leitender Polizei/Kriminaldirektor a.D.

Sunday News Blues

Here are a few clustered “pieces of news” which I found myself reading about, and following on various other media, throughout the past couple of days:

  • Afghanistan related news continued to show up on my newsfeeds with a somewhat toned down tendency. Whilst still being a main topic, the fierceness and rage of those weeks in August is lessening. We become used to information about women being deprived from education and from participating in forms of public life, we seem to begin to resign into facing a reality where two decades of successful promotion of women’s rights are being wiped out within weeks. We become used to news about journalists being deprived from the freedom to report. We hear from the humanitarian community warning about an imminent desaster, and we learn about a Taleban government comprising our worst previous enemies. Sometimes I feel that government is just sitting it out: “Don’t produce too bad news about violations of human rights, the international media train will move on after a while.”
  • New news capable to create attention by producing feelings of being upset, being angry, they moved on to Mali. Already being a country where military control replaced civilian governance, within a growing set of West African countries moving away from democratic rules of governance, we now see a potential engagement of the Russian “Wagner Group” mercenaries, on request of the Malian ruling military class, and certainly on basis of profound Russian geo-strategic interests, leading to that France, Germany, and others raise questions of conditionality related to the engagement of our own military capacities, within the United Nations peacekeeping Mission MINUSMA, within EU-led military training missions, and through a multilateral set of counterterrorism forces operating in Mali, and the wider region. Feels like another looming implosion.
  • The most recent clash is a different one: France recalling her Ambassadors to the United States and to Australia for “consultations” after being completely kept in the dark on discussions that led to what now is coined AUKUS. A new alliance being formed in secrecy between the U.S., Australia, and the UK, in a global undertaking confronting China in the Indo-Pacific. A multi-billion deal delivering French conventionally-powered submarines to Australia being scrapped with nothing else than shortest notice, in favor of nuclear-powered submarine technology provided by the U.S., assisted by the UK. These news somewhat also feel like the bookends to a discussion in between, a discourse about the future of the North-Atlantic alliance, and the parallel soul-searching of the European Union where we have a place in all this, including through own military capacities and capabilities. A French President and a French Foreign Minister asking as to which extent there is an extension of abandonment which some hoped to be only temporary during the Trump administration, into the Biden administration. Everyone who is reading this will grasp at least a sense of how profound global alliances and interests are changing. In a different piece, for other channels, I reflected on how much this also affects the work of the United Nations, within the field of peace&security, through political and peacekeeping efforts. Just mentioning that, here. And lastly, at least I begin to make an argument about the emergence of the big picture which explains also why the hard decisions on leaving Afghanistan may have been made: It is about re-organizing political and military might along new geo-strategic lines, and not being timid when implementing it.
  • On a sarcastic note, then there also is rapper Nicki Minaj. For many, here is what CBS graced us with: “The White House has offered Nicki Minaj a call with a doctor, according to an official, after she expressed concerns this week about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The rapper tweeted on Monday that she wants to do more research before getting vaccinated and claimed that a friend of her cousin’s had experienced adverse effects from it, which health officials have refuted. “My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen,” Minaj tweetedMonday. “His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied.” Well, sarcasm also reflecing on that this tweet provides a perfect example for how the media frenzy is providing opportunities for something which I am attempting to describe below.

The above almost arbitrary selection of newsbites which caught my attention yesterday and on this sunny and pleasantly chilly autumn morning in Belgrade, it made me thinking. Because, more often than not, my news selection leaves me with frustration, despair, worry. I know very well what these emotions do to me. If being allowed to go on the rampage, they make me restless and I find myself in a spiral of obsessive reading. My days may not be ending on a positive note then. Like in many other areas of my life, it is about emotional moderation, sometimes we call it emotional sobriety. There is a very thin line between compassion and obsession. If I don’t find a way into some form of loving non-attachment, I take everything personal.

I have to pick and choose amongst the thousands of pieces of information offered by my newsreader. The settings of this newsreader only subscribe to channels which I find interesting, acceptable, in line with my cultural and political belief system. So sorry, Fox News, Bild Zeitung, or alikes. Not subscribing. As a consequence, I have to accept a filtered view on the state of affairs because of my own choices. Solid journalism is not free from beliefs. A robotic emotionless and value-neutral set of information items does not exist. With every new reading, I am solidifying the neural pathways forming my own framework of how I see the world outside myself. With every piece of my writing here, I am doing the same.

The engineers and master-minds behind the advertising machinery and the machinery of political manipulation know about this. Walking in their shoes, I reckon they have at least two questions driving them when optimising their strategies:

  • How to keep people in an existing framework, sometimes also referred to as “ecosystem”? Cynical emphasis put on “eco”. I prefer “belief system” as being a bit more precise. If I go one step further, I would even question “belief” and replace it with “emotion”. Whether we talk about a preference to, say right-wing or left-wing political beliefs, or people using Android or iOS, or PCs or Macintoshs, or being a hard-core fan of BMW or Mercedes, it doesn’t matter. Examples are endless. It’s all about emotions, creating emotional attachment, and emotional dependency.
  • How to manage cross-overs, meaning, getting people moving over from one system to another? That, too, is all about emotions.

In a digital realm profoundly based on psychological knowledge how to manipulate, and how to exploit the neuroscience of addiction, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a blessing for those performing Black Magic. As a consequence, I navigate to the best of my education and ability to at least identify some of the manipulation efforts which are ferociously thrown at me every time I enter the Internet. Not only my computer needs a firewall, my brain needs a firewall as well, allowing me to stay clear from malicious forms of manipulation and from fake news. This goes so much deeper than only avoiding spam and malware attacks. “Social engineering” is a term which had been coined by the hacker scene. But AI takes social engineering to a quantum leap, and a new meaning: Very much like the hacker uses some fake personal credibility through phone calls in order to gain entry, social media perverts the personal meaning of “friends”. One click allows me to request somebody to be my “friend”. Nobody does this free from emotions: Whether I ask somebody in person to be my friend, or I push a button, the emotional reaction is very similar, may be except for sociopaths. With that person’s accepting click, we’re done! I have a new friend, and it is creating an emotional reaction again. If, then, a friend tells me a story, I tend to believe, or to support the attitude behind. That’s what friends do, right?

AI aiming at getting me to become a member of a group of friends, or a “follower” of another category of people, called “influencers”, that’s the wizardry of really smart social engineering. By the way, as perverted the digital meaning of “friend” may be, as cynically clear is the meaning of “influencer”. An “influencer” does what the name is suggesting: Influencing. Not “reasoning”, “informing”, or “entertaining”, but “influencing”. Stomach this. I don’t want to be a friend, nor a follower of, say, Nicki Minaj (see above). My son is dreaming of becoming an “influencer”. Because it’s all about status. But then the opposite to “being an influencer” is “being influenced”. There both is a benign meaning given to it by the new generations of smartphone kids, and a very malicious one, covertly applied by those who manipulate for reasons of profit, or ideological, religious, or political agenda. For those less benign, it is about that content only serves one purpose: Generating a click. There is no difference between somebody using that in order to catch followers adoring long and carefully draped blond hair sitting on top of a rosy face, and somebody who does this in order to catch attention to some specific upper torso specifics.

Nicki Minaj’s boobie-trapped testicle-reasoning against Covid-19-vaccines contributes to fueling the mistrust of millions, and of course because it just is a fancy way for Nicki to create attention for her media circus. No accountability, or sense of responsibility, Ms. Minaj, taking into account the Covid-deaths, suffering, and infringements on the rights of vaccinated people? People who can not pay themselves into privileged high-society realms, now including space, since this weekend’s SpaceX Inspiration4 spaceflight of a billionaire with his three friends?

One of the reasons why democratic values are so much challenged these days: Democracy works best when people make educated choices, and when there is at least some pretention of that all of us are equal. At least that was the idea. If we don’t find a way back into this understanding, democracy may be shown the way to the exit door.

My personal choices in this new world include that I stay almost entirely away from social media sites, like Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, Tic Toc. I also am extremely concerned about their impact on emotional health issues of teenagers. Parenting two teenagers who struggle heavily with this, like millions of other teenagers too, I need to put this aside for another blog entry.

Yes, I have a select set of Youtube channels and I actively use Youtube to broaden my views on things I am interested in. Yes, I have a LinkedIn profile which I use only in a very restricted manner. But mainly, my own subjective worldview is based on choices I make when reading news in the Internet, using my Newsreader. I try to avoid the worst honeytraps of manipulation, and to mitigate the remainder through educated choices.

I consider myself being moderately good at this. I am aware of that I am blessed with sound education, a very broad experience, a non-local life-style, and broad cross-cultural and inter-cultural experiences. In this, I belong to a global minority. This summer allowed me, again, to see this. I traveled for many months and I stayed on campsites all over Europe, making many experiences meeting people from all walks of life. Sourcing my information from verified channels makes me part of a minority.

It’s not only about the quality of the news sources. It also is about the depth and the width. In order to understand (or trying to) global events, I need to maintain a global perspective. In order to understand complexity and interdepedency of events, I need to inform myself about a large variety of topics. Otherwise, developments seem local, disconnected, and hard to understand. Many people who I have met don’t do that. They source their information from unverified sources, they show limited interest to what happens outside their neighborhood, they feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of complex bad news. But they all try to make meaning.

No surprise then how seductive the simplifications offered by pied pipers are. Threatening narratives sell on feeding grounds soaked with fear. This I have expressed in various pieces on my blog here, and I feel it is not enough. There is some more, but I struggle with how to describe it in a way that is making sense without becoming too lengthy in this piece.

But I would end with that people in democratic societies vote. We are one week away from German Federal elections. I keep fingers crossed. Until then, I’ll go for a forest walk now enjoying the beautiful Belgrade late summer.

Social Media Manipulation – An Example

So, here is a little story: STRATCOM is the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence. Recently, they re-ran a test of “the ability of social media companies to identify and remove manipulation”. The result is published, the report can be viewed and downloaded here. It is titled “Social Media Manipulation 2020”.

What did they do, in a nutshell? The researchers used thirty-nine authentic posts on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Tic Toc. As far as I see from related news, for this they cooperated with two U.S. politicians, one a Republican, the other one a Democrat. The German news about it can be found on the German tech-news-site HEISE. Using these thirty-nine posts on social media, STRATCOM bought fake engagement on these posts from three specialised Russian service providers. Providers like these offer manipulated engagement with existing posts, for example. I guess they also offer much more, but this is just an example in which authentic posts of legitimate and appropriate information content were used, since this is NATO. The researchers paid the ridiculously small amount of 300 Euro to these Russian providers.

What did they get in return? 1150 comments, 9690 likes, 323202 views, and 3726 shares! Meaning plain and simple: I can create content on social media, with good, questionable or malicious intentions, and instead of hoping that I will attract many comments, likes, and views on my own, I can buy fake ones. Comments, likes and views increase the “digital weight” of the post. The more of this “digital value”, the more likely other people will look on these pieces of information or disinformation, and the more likely also these posts will be ranked higher by Internet search engines, such as Google. Finally, I can also buy distribution, through shares, of these artificially boosted posts. The more “oomph” I have in getting these informations pieces out into the right target groups, the more I increase chances of further distribution. And I pay very little money for it.

So, let me use a hypothetical example, but one which is commonly being used for manipulation purposes: I create a story with specific target groups in mind. Examples are countless. Like fake news stories which were designed for target groups of color in the U.S. in 2016. They were designed to raise doubt within these groups that a contender, in that case the democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, would be really interested in matters of grave concern for those communities of color. The unauthentic or fake pieces of news were designed to reduce the willingness of people in these target groups to participate in the elections. Many of us, I guess and hope, know about this form of manipulation. It also happened 2020, and it is fair to say that both domestic actors and foreign forces all over the world use this tactic in order to influence the outcome of an electoral process. It happens everywhere, it is commonplace. And it is manipulation at least, and more often violating law in many jurisdictions. But what it chiefly does: It contributes to burning credibility of truth to ashes. It leads to so much confusion about which information I can trust, and which not, that people may give up, or they just decide to only believe what their “friends” say.

By the way, coming to think of it: When sites like FaceBook (I don’t remember who came up with it first) began to abuse the term “friend” for the process of clicking a button asking somebody to “be my friend” and the invited party just accepting this request, I had a revolting feeling in my stomach. It lasts until today and is one of the reasons why I only engage minimally on social media. The notion of reducing the term “friend” to a digital connection with no real deeper meaning feels like the strike of an evil genius to me. It leads to the craving of having as many friends as possible, it is part of the addictive design of social media sites. It hollows out any real understanding of what friendship means. Terms like “friend” and “follower” are almost equal in their meaning. I need these digital friends for status and validation. Having friends has become an online currency. It is like a material possession, not an internal value which gives me the comfort of a deeper emotional, intellectual and spiritual connection to another person in whose well-being I take an interest. It adds to real-world-isolation because it strips the notion of having friends from what the term means in real social life. May be that is for a deeper reflection in another blog article. But ultimately, this manipulation can be used in order to get people into a network of “friends” for purposes of influencing them, depriving them from other sources of information, making them pawns in a game they do not understand, but crave to be part of. Emotions like the wish to belong mix with emotions such as fear, and anger, fake information is being used as a narrative giving them a feeling of meaning.

Back to the STRATCOM report: The first remarkable fact in the results of this research for me was the price for this form of manipulation. 300 Euro is so cheap that this service can be used as a mass tool, whenever this suits own devious interests. 

Secondly, this is a shadowy grey and a criminal market. The methodology can be used by State actors with sophisticated technology and staff at hand. Or money, just hiding traces and buying a service from some groups like the above. Likewise, non-State actors can use it for political purposes, for ideological purposes, for religious purposes, or as a marketing tool. Which is a hint towards how wide the scope of potential manipulation is. The targets are you and I, and we may, very often, not ever know that we were manipulated. So, this is a profound ethical issue with consequences for whether, and how, we want to regulate it, how we want to deal with it.

Thirdly, STRATCOM re-ran the test because they did it before. They did that because the industry promised they would get better at identifying manipulation like this, better at identifying fake, or robot, accounts. Better at curbing influence. The conclusions of the report state that “platforms continue to vary in their ability to counter manipulation of their services”. Read the details, I’m not going to rank services here myself. But there are platforms where manipulation requires a small effort and where costs are one thenth of what is to be invested on other platforms.

Fourthly, the report makes it clear that these actors are not a few, they are an industry. One chapter is titled “The Social Media Manipulation Industry”. With market rules which survived efforts to fight this industry. Quoting the report: “Social media manipulation remains widely available, cheap, and efficient, and continues to be used by antagonists and spoilers seeking to influence elections, polarise public opinion, sidetrack legitimate political discussions, and manipulate commercial interests online.” 

Fifthly, the report states that this industry prospered during 2020. I finish with quoting the three core insights which the researchers came up with:

  1. “The scale of the industry is immense. The infrastructure for developing and maintaining social media manipulation software, generating ficticious accounts, and providing mobile proxies is vast. We have identified hundreds of providers. Several have many employees and generate significant revenues. It is clear that the problem of inauthentic activity is extensive and growing.
  2. During the past year the manipulation industry had become increasingly global and interconnected. A European service provider will likely depend on Russian manipulation software and infrastructure providers who, in turn, will use contractors from Asia for much of the manual labour required. Social media is now a global industry with global implications.
  3. The openness of this industry is striking. Rather than lurking a shadowy underworld, it is an easily accessible marketplace that most web users can reach with little effort through any search engine. In fact, manipulation service providers still advertise openly on major social media platforms and search engines.” 

What do do? Of course, we have a regulation debate. Part of the findings relate to that social media promised earlier to root out this phenomenon, but that they have not become good at it. To me it feels like the contrary, may be because of unwillingness, sloppiness, or the sheer size of the problem. Or any combination of these three. However, regulation always leads to an escalation, or attempts to evade, if the business model generates revenue. Which it clearly does.

My take is to focus on education. I am not a young nerd. I am a nerd in my early sixties. This world rapidly changes, and often I don’t like the course. But disengagement is, I feel, not an option. It is about giving people the knowledge and skills to make their own informed decisions. That is a core principle of open societies based on democratic rules. Truth matters, so we need to know about how truth is demolished in the digital invisible world of the Internet. We need to be able to learn, staying curious about learning, engaging in meaningful discussions, empower people to better identify manipulation when it occurs, giving them the skillset needed for quality decisions for their own lives.

When I talk to my youngest children about how much of their personal information is sucked from their smartphones, iPads, and computers without their knowledge, I am often presented with a sense of “why bother, I don’t feel it, I don’t feel harmed, or hurting”. May be we need to find ways how to reinforce the understanding as to which extent the digital and the real world are interconnected. People seem to discriminate between these two worlds. 

Education is more relevant than regulation. Which motivated me writing this article. Hope you enjoyed reading it.

Die Wahrheit bis zur Unkenntlichkeit verzerrt – Truth Distorted Beyond Recognition – On Gaslighting

Mary Trump, estranged niece of Donald Trump, daugther of Donald Trump’s late older brother Fred Trump jr, published a book this summer. One of these tell-alls, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man”. Mary Trump is a practicing psychologist. In this world where truth is what I tell you, and lies are what the others say, you will probably find references to her credibility widely represented in one side of the media, and scathing attacks on her personal and professional credibility on the other side of the aisle. In a widely published interview she was recently saying that she thinks her uncle genuinely believes he won the election and that he’s the only person she knows ‘who can gaslight himself’. The Internet is chock full with references to her statement, in all languages. So, look it up also for yourself.

One person and his sycophants are gaslighting half of the population of the United States. Why does this matter over here in Europe? Because it has not only a real impact here as well, it is also happening here on its own, and interconnected with what is happening on that other continent. The gaslighting is not limited to an individual victim, not to a community, a society, a political party, a State, or the continent of North America. The systematic imprisonment of individuals into a fake reality which is being established by the gaslighter, it happens all over the world. It has become viral, people being gaslighted who further spread the manipulative messages, mixing with people who may realize what is happening and who hook up to the viral development because it resonates with how they think and feel and how they want to influence things for their own motives. This is not a linear thing which can be traced back to one person, so to speak, at the top. There is no mastermind. There are people who are good at it, and certainly this includes Mary Trump’s uncle. But it happens so widely because there seem to be many conditions being met which allow for the relentless attack on truth and values that we have believed in for decades. Again, Anne Applebaum’s book which I quoted from in a previous entry provides many regional examples, whether from Poland, Hungary, The United Kingdom, or Spain. And my country, Germany, is a breeding space for the same thing as well. Unfortunately, again. History appears to repeat itself.

Gaslighting requires control over the victim and where the victim gets his or her information from. Ideally total control. I will explain in a second, after having said something on the Internet, related to the aspect of “control”: In principle, the Internet knows no geographical border. It has been designed to withstand control. It’s roots are deeply anarchic, allowing for the freedom to exchange anything that can be transmitted through it’s cables and wireless connections. That is why autocratic systems undertake every effort under the sun to control the Internet, including attempting to establish regional versions, or fighting encryption tooth and nail. Whether it is in China, or elsewhere. Shutting down the Internet, in times of a crisis with unrest, it sounds innocent. But it is always a matter of the motive behind: Why does one exert control? Because of a danger for, say individual lifes or the general public? Or because of the danger for an autocrat, his family, and the oligarchy on which’s back he can thrive? Think Belarus, just for example.

Control over what people see, hear, or are meant to believe, you can exert that control by means of physical, or technological deprivation. You do it by making sure that your victim does not communicate with anyone outside the realms of your control: The messaging includes that the other side is your enemy, and you don’t talk to your enemy. One of the oldest tricks under the sleeves of autocrats, dictators, but also terrorists. Gaslighting adds a most perfidious layer: It will lead to that people do not trust other sources of information any longer. They may have a nagging feeling in the back of their minds that something is not adding up. But since they don’t know a way out, they give in. Once you give in, you need to make yourself believing that you are not a victim. So you rationalize why you’re allowing yourself being part of the group you have been coerced into. The “Stockholm Syndrome” is based on the same mechanism.

Like the car dealer has sold the most expensive car to you and you make yourself believe that this was solely a calculation which you came up with yourself, you don’t need to take away access to news channels such as CNN or the NY Times anymore. The victim of gaslighting won’t trust them and won’t use them. Recently, Fox News began to experience this downfall, too.

So, what is “gaslighting”? Gaslighting is an expression being used for a form of psychological abuse and violence. Victims of gaslighting are being purposefully disoriented, manipulated and ripped off their self-confidence. Gaslighting means to gradually take away any ability to trust reality as it is. In individual psychology, gaslighting includes means to deform and eradicate any form of self-esteem of the victim. Here, for once, a German definition of it. The term “gaslighting” gradually appears to become a mainstream expression, including in other languages.

Unfortunately, gaslighting is a common and widely spread form of psychological and emotional abuse. I will use examples for explaining what it means. At the core of why I am writing this blog entry also sits my belief that Mary Trump is wrong by exclusively attributing the ability to gaslight oneself to her uncle. I believe that this is a common phenomenon. In case of need, I make myself believe my own lies, until I have reached the point where I have created a genuine alternate reality, and memory. The current incumbent of the Office of the President of the United States is anything but special in this, except that he may have become really very good at it.

Why is it useful to say that one can become victim of own gaslighting? Like so often, things are not black and white only. Gaslighters are as much perpetrators as they are victims. And the act of gaslighting happens on a scale that can include single-instances, perhaps beginning with negligent, thoughtless, selfish behavior. It can become a self-reinforcing habit, since one has embarked on a path leading to more of the same, and then ultimately to breakdown and severe damage. On its exteme end, gaslighting is pervasive, endemic, and monstrous in acts and damage. Monstrous gaslighters are sociopaths on the extreme side of the spectrum. Their behavior is deeply anti-social, anti-human, and often criminal in nature.

The sibling of gaslighting is denial. Which is, in terms of brain development through hundreds of thousands of years of humankind, a very ancient capability of our brains that allowed for survival. Like, in the stone-age. Denial is a mechanism which shields the brain from overwhelming events and situations posing a threat to physical survival and mental and emotional sanity. It is meant to be a temporary fix. But like many other human capabilities, it requires a balance of threatening events and peaceful times, and when this balance is absent, things get out of control, permanently. Neurophysiologically out of control. Denial alters the way how we perceive, and relate to, reality. And in that, the gaslighter is no better equipped than his or her victim.

The underlying motivation both for denial and gaslighting is fear. Strong fear. More often than not this fear may not even be acknowledged by the gaslighter him- or herself. It is about loosing control. Cold blooded sociopaths can do that without losing the knowledge about that they are creating a fake reality in which they imprison the victim. But most of us are not carrying such extreme sociopathic traits that would allow us to do that.

Like everything else above, sociopathy is a form of human behavior that happens on a scale. There are extreme ends of the scale but to some extent or the other sociopathic traits are common parts of the individual psychology of many people. But even if I say that there are sociopaths who are displaying extreme forms of this disorder, it does not mean that these people do not feel emotions. Severe forms of sociopathic conditions become a disorder entailing to be progressively unable feeling emotions of other people. Note: I say “of”, not “for”. But sociopaths are not machines. Whilst they struggle with understanding and acknowledging emotions of others, they do feel their own emotions. The combination of not feeling what others feel gives space for disproportionate and intensified feelings for oneself, and this is especially true for fear. It is creating extreme forms of selfishness and self-centeredness.

Let me bring the parts of the picture alive with a personal case study. Like I said, the world is not black and white, things can be on the less extreme end, or they can be serious, or, if allowed to, they can develop from less severe to monstrous.

When I was nine years old, I went through a really difficult time at school. It was part of an overall development, I grew up with a raging father using physical punishment as a form of education. Because he had grown up under the same circumstances. Likewise, when he was not able to control his own rage, verbal, emotional and physical violence were something he had no control of. He had experienced the same with his father. As always, it hurt himself when it happened, but the result would not be an apology, but fierce denial. So I grew up with the distorted view that everything which happened to me was my own fault. Since this is not a blog entry for full personal disclosure, I will leave it with that, stressing that I love my father and that I reconciled, many decades later.

However, at the age of nine my difficult times at school fueled my low self-confidence. I had no friends. And getting bad grades wasn’t something that helped me building self-confidence. Rather, it established profound, existential fear. Fear from punishment at home. This fear grew so strong that I would not reveal the bad grade I once got. I simply could not. But the bad grade is in your exam book. And sure enough, the next test would be as bad as the previous one. What to do? Telling? No way. Soldiering on in denial that one day the story would break. But fear grew to panic levels. At one point I found myself physically removing pages from my exam book, just in case my parents would want to see and control it. I went to greatest length in this manipulation, again, with fear in my stomach going through the roof. There were two occasions when I ran away from home. I hated the days, escaped into my bed at night. It was horrible.

Then my teacher lost her patience. She gave me a note to be delivered to my parents, requesting a talk. And she asked me to bring this note back to her, signed by my father or mother. This was the worst development ever, but I was not capable to give up. What did I do? During a long afternoon session, I created a birthday card for my mother. In an insane story I had come up with, this birthday card for some reasons had to include a signature. But where the signature on this card was meant to show up, I cut a hole into that card. Underneath, the note from school. And finally, I used a blank paper as a third level, again with a hole where my mother was supposed to sign the card. I designed it in a way that the decorative elements of the fake birthday card were visible through the cover paper. And I went down to my mother, explaining in full panic mode that I was preparing something as a surprise for which I needed her signature, and that I could not tell her why. My mother was stunned, but she was also seeing me being upset, crying and begging. Whilst she had all reasons to suspect that something was wrong, I made her doubting herself, and trusting me. I gaslighted her. She finally signed.

Well, that signature was so small that my teacher immediately suspected a fake. Subsequently, my cover broke and armageddon came down on me. But why am I exposing myself here? Because this was the first, perhaps mild, form of gaslighting I did. And I never forgot it. I would refer to it for decades to come. But it would not prevent me from doing the same thing again, almost fourty-five years later, when the fear level in relation to my life breaking apart was reaching the same gigantic proportions.

People can grow apart for many reasons, but one chief reason is dishonesty. The bond between a mother and her child may forgive, but marriages and any relationship less likely do so. Dishonesty to oneself and to others is the chief reason for relationships breaking up. I believe the same is true for communities, societies, and States. If there is no honesty in communicating with each other, the catastrophe is inevitable. It may take a long time, but like with me at the age of nine, being a child, this is true because I believe it is a universal truth. And until this catastrophy happens, denial and also gaslighting are common features of an underlying condition of fear. Fear of losing control in a situation which increasingly is slipping out of one’s hands.

In my personal case, this happened roughly fourty-five years after the events of my childhood. I am so NOT proud of it. I’m sparing details, but it had to do with how my marriage had developed into a meaningless hull. Over those many years leading to the final stages, denial led me to believe that the reasons for this deterioration were not sitting with my own behavior. Rather, I victimised myself with an inner narrative with which I made myself believe I was the victim of sad circumstances, and that I deserve some relief. And means of relief, including alcohol, were just sedatives of which I needed more and more. This came with secrecy. I was dishonest to myself and my loved ones. Which wasn’t going unnoticed on the side of my loved ones. In a close relationship it is virtually impossible to entirely hide things, even with the best tricks possible.

But what happens in this case on the side of the partner? He or she will develop a feeling that something is not right. Controlling the other person may not be an option, including because it just doesn’t feel right. So, denial is kicking in on both sides in a relationship. But some things do not add up, and when this happens, gaslighting is coming into play.

I sometimes have the feeling that you want to make me believing that I have wrong perceptions.” Whenever my then wife would say this, after there was enough despair on her side to speak her truth, there was a little corner in myself mumbling that she is right. But overwhelmingly I was making myself and her believing that this wasn’t the case, that I did not establish a fake reality, that it was her who saw things in a distorted way. And again, though I learned a lot about the neurophysiology behind, I am NOT proud of it. I try not to be ashamed either. I just try to be honest, and hold myself accountable, and to do amends.

It was only after we broke up and my ex-wife had gone through enough recovery from her own pain, anger, grief, and also understanding of how the dance of two persons was based on wrong belief systems on both sides that she was able to repeat the above statement towards me with not too much own pain. And it was only because I went through my own recovery with intense work on myself that I was able to see, and to acknowledge, my own behavior. But it took years. When our relationship hit rock-bottom, and I hit rock-bottom, I found myself in so much pain and fear that I literally saw myself repeating my behavior that I had as a nine-year-old: I systematically trained the use of a lie in order to make myself believe the fake reality, so that I could use the narrative without blushing, stuttering, and with a heartbeat beyond 180 bpm.

Because my world broke into pieces, I had the chance to see it. If I would have succceeded in my fear-driven control, I would have progressively believed my own lies. It would have driven my then-wife into insanity. People who discover that they have been subjected to severe forms of gaslighting have a really hard time regaining mental sanity and the ability to trust other people. My ex-wife and I are friends today. Not only parents, good parents, but good friends. It is the gift of my lifetime. On my part, this is the consequence of a rigid decision to always remain honest to myself and others. And after many years of practicing this, my ex-wife saw enough reason to trust me, and to love me for my commitment, to myself, and to the people in my life who I love, and who love me.

Of course, this is only a personal case-study. It is not meant to establish an academic argument on gaslighting. It is meant to underpin why I believe that truth matters. Gaslighting is destroying truth, and the ability to trust. It leads to personal self-destruction, demolition of relationships, even criminal behavior. It leads to incredible suffering and pain. When it happens on a societal scale, it leads to societies running rock-bottom. And yes, like in personal cases, recovery of trust is possible on the level of communities and societies as well. But is doesn’t come as a Christmas present. It requires hard work. Better now than after the breaking-up. Because one way or the other, more often than not breaking up comes with violence. In my personal case, I am so grateful for the peaceful transition into healing and trust, and then love and friendship, through all the endless pain and discomfort. Thus, I believe, we can do it in larger contexts, too.

It requires profound honesty. Zero-tolerance to lies. Avoidance of anger, resentment, and rage. The ability to listen, rather than talking. Humility. Willingness to admit mistakes immediately. And the willingness to forgive. Oneself and others.