Sometimes people who perceive me as arrogant say to me: „What do you know? You are a privileged intellectual. You sit in your warm room and can make big speeches – about democracy, capitalism and neoliberalism. But you don’t know anything about the real existential pressure that most people face today – a pressure they rarely can withstand. Your hollow concepts don’t get there.“
It may be that my terms are hollow – perhaps in the ears of people who have nothing to do with philosophy, just as hollow as the terms of an Alain Badiou, a Slavoj Žižek or even – especially deterring – a Stefan Lorenz Sorgner. But if one thing is not correct, it is this: that I have no idea of the existential pressure to which many people are exposed today, that I know nothing about hard physical work and the fear of falling into financial ruin.
I’ve spent half my life doing hard, physical work. Already during my school years I had to get by with a job in a cleaning company, because I did not receive the slightest financial support from my parents. In turn, I could only finance my studies by regularly accepting jobs on construction sites, in factories on the assembly line or in print shops. And after my studies I finally worked for many years, from 1992 to 2003, at night in post delivery centres in Berlin-Mitte (Möckernstraße) and Berlin-Schöneberg (Alboinstraße).
There, with wind and weather, it wasn’t exactly squeamish to go to. In an open hall – this was particularly hard in winter – we had to load trucks with tons of outgoing letters and parcels, which we had previously collected in individual containers, and at the end of our shift we had to unload the incoming letters and parcels from the trucks again in order to make them available to the sorting staff for further processing and transport. In short, I worked for eleven years as a kind of „warehouse clerk“: it was called a „postal worker“.
Still today I have friendly contact to one or the other with whom I worked at that time. Because when you „work hard“ together for years, it welds you together. And you don’t forget such time, or at least I never forget it again. For it shaped me like no other – precisely because it was the hardest time of my life and because it is still constitutive for it today that it cannot be transfigured in any nostalgic-romantic way.
So don’t tell me I don’t know anything about hard work. And please don’t come to me with the usual intellectual scolding. Anyone who has read my philosophical texts, read my blog or got to know me personally knows that my writing, however twisted and complex it may be occasionally, and my current teaching profession, however „normal“ and „civil“ it may seem, are and remain committed to those people who represent the physical and / or social backbone of our society.
Nothing disappoints me as much as the insinuation that I don’t know what I’m talking about when I talk about capitalist exploitation, the difference between rich and poor, below and above, neoliberal disfigurement and / or degrading conditions of living in an alleged „postmodernism“ that is perceived by many, but not by the many, as the most progressive, because pluralistic age of all ages.
There is virtually nothing post-modern about the postmodernism we have today, at least not if we understand postmodernism to mean a state in which, firstly, a large part of the promises of modernity are fulfilled and, secondly, this fulfilment is not only reserved for a few, but – precisely – for the many. Philosophy – and this should not be forgotten – is a thoroughly universal, not an elitist undertaking. It is about questions of humanity, not whether people in some remote part of the world have managed to build their own small paradise on the shoulders of others. Progress is universal, or it is not.