Pure equality in relationships is possible

Communication at eye levelAbout false symmetries

We should discuss at eye level, learn to recognize possible discrimination and oppression in inferior positions and help the inferior to speak. Every asymmetry should be transformed into a state of equality, of symmetry. But where would be the power of the better argument, the technical expertise, the decision-making authority if the eye level wants to level out any differences as the decisive criterion? The sociologist Irmhild Saake has repeatedly expressed herself critically about such a balance ethic. Because a discussion under their aegis can in principle never end.

If it is less about truth and superiority through sound arguments than about tolerance, harmony and the abolition of hierarchy, this would have serious consequences: The discussion between doctor and patient would produce more harm than good. A professor whose experience and knowledge no longer counts would lead teaching to an absurdity. In fact, any educational relationship would be doomed to failure. In the hamster wheel at eye level, the truth falls by the wayside.

Finally, we have to come to terms with asymmetries: on the one hand, because the road to equality could be a long one; on the other hand, because some asymmetries may not even be abolished. Perhaps the emerging ethic of balance also shows that we as a society have forgotten how to tolerate asymmetry at all.

Irmhild Saake, Born in Paderborn in 1965, studied educational science, sociology and psychology in Paderborn and Münster and received his doctorate in 1997 on theories about old age. She has been an academic adviser at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich since 2005. Irmhild Saake has published on a wide range of sociological topics, including age, medicine, dying, religion and the theory of sociology.

Makes leveling dumber?

Florian Felix Weyh: "The whole of society is part of the great experiment in leveling, and it is not yet clear where this experiment is leading." I read that in a text entitled "At eye level", published five years ago in the "Süddeutsche Zeitung". Further: "It is quite possible that our society will become freer, more equal, fairer in this way, our lives will certainly become more complicated, and we may also become a little more stupid." I am talking about this with the author of these lines - about equality and inequality, communication on an equal footing, symmetries and asymmetries and the complexity or intricacy of society. The author is the sociologist Irmhild Saake.

We are sitting in her study at the Ludwig Maximilians University, LMU, in Munich. Irmhild Saake is an academic counselor there, so she teaches a lot, she has a good communication skills in dealing with young people, but she has also done a lot of research, especially in the field of medical sociology on the doctor-patient relationship and on dealing with the dying. That is then a very special communicative challenge.

Now, Ms. Saake, it is initially unkind of me to introduce you with a five-year-old newspaper quote, even if you then, I believe, deepened the subject again a year later in an essay. It was probably close to your heart. Question: Is that still the case, and, in order to add butter to the fish in terms of content right away, why does the leveling possibly make things more stupid?

Irmhild Saake: In the past few years in teaching, in the seminars here at the university, I have noticed that in many cases our students find it much easier to look for ideals of equality and to ask whether equality is being enforced and that they are themselves it is actually much more difficult to look at the substantive argument. For me, that was an experience that led me to take a closer look at what is actually causing this new search movement. Perhaps in order to better understand what it looks like in seminars at the university: So my situation, in which I was now regularly, looked like that, for example, in a seminar that was about an argument of Understanding Jürgen Habermas came into the situation where we had to talk about the fact that someone like Habermas assumes that competent speakers who are able to exchange arguments are typically adults. He would call children incompetent speakers because they are unable to generalize an argument regardless of who they are. If you formulate this sentence like this in a seminar, then you regularly, I would say, come into the situation with students now that they consider this to be problematic because they perceive it as discriminatory towards children. First of all, this is a situation in which one is surprised, because Habermas explains exactly why he makes this difference. But then you realize that the seminar has long been about the question of whether it is justified to actually put children in a different situation. This affects a lot of topics in sociology. George Herbert Mead would say that humans differ from animals through the use of symbols, they speak, and that is the next starting point for students to criticize the fact that one denies animals to speak in this way. Here, too, they start again and have long dealt with the question of how it happens in our modern society that we discriminate animals in this way.

Weyh: In a novelist, Rolf Dobelli, in the novel "Thirty-five", who plays in a management environment, I found a nice quote about arguing: "Arguments are like acid that eat into what is sociable, kill it and dissolve it, hinder arguments, hurt arguments. Therefore better without arguments, but with a lot of sugar. " That kind of describes the situation, doesn't it?

Saake: Yes, that's actually a big problem for us at the universities because it's actually about the arguments. What one sees - you mentioned the decomposition of sociability - that means for us that we are abstracting. We abstract from the concrete situation, from the concrete people and want to produce generalizable sentences. This is increasingly felt by the students as unpleasant, they abstract, generalize, so to speak, in the other direction and are interested in whether certain speakers are not included, whether someone is not taken into account, whether somehow inequalities arise from the situation.

Equality and the emphasis on the good argument

Weyh: What you are describing is, so to speak, a nucleus of democracy and the enlightenment that at some point it was said that the personal indifference of democracy, it doesn't matter which person expresses an idea, we look at the idea and not, who said that, what context does it come from.

Saake: Yes, and it might actually be interesting again to see that this expectation of equality is actually included in this figure of democracy. As you have said now, in abstraction, the person should not play a role, but conversely you can of course also see that many people are actually not included. It is all the more exciting that this problem, which I have just described, actually emerged during this discussion on Jürgen Habermas' theory. He developed a very elegant combination of these two elements, equality and the emphasis on the good argument. Habermas' idea was actually that we can recognize the good argument when we speak independently of our positions, i.e. that someone should not be right because they have more power, a certain gender or something, but that they are not Should play a role and only then are we actually in a position to actually understand an argument well. In this respect, it would in principle be a very successful combination of these two elements, equality and dealing with the good argument, and you can actually see, I would say, with our students that they push these expectations of equality further than someone like Habermas does probably thought. Finally, you also refer to the question of whether it is actually good if only the good argument counts. So we would try at the universities to train our students in how they can make a good argument really strong and that this good argument can actually show its superiority over other arguments, but even this situation actually produces discomfort, and with the look When it comes to cultural differences, traditions, in other countries, it occurs to our students very, very quickly in the situation that it could in principle be unfair to make one argument so strong against other arguments. Then they are happy to deal with the multitude of arguments and in the end they would perhaps find it rather nice if everything is mixed up a bit.

Can all truths be reconciled with one another?

Weyh: You wrote that very nicely in, I believe, in the newspaper article or in the essay. I can’t say exactly anymore. Many students expect a lot from a theory that reconciles all truths, they patiently wait for a harmonizing mixture of different elements, which may even be a little meaningless, but which demonstrates that everyone is right. It's like a little bit of truth, a little bit of peace. Isn't that truth kitsch?

Saake: Yes, and it is interesting to see that we are obviously involved in such traditions, in new traditions that now lead us to actually like this kind of harmony. I would say that in this situation you have to take into account that the search movement that asks for equality is actually a different one than the search movement that asks for good arguments. In a way, it's easier to ask about equality. So you get the interesting information more easily. With the good argument you are forced to take a closer look. You have to read additional texts again, take a closer look at what this argument is actually different from. That is very tedious, but this movement, who could be excluded, who could still be taken into account, which voice has not yet been heard. It's easier in a way. I believe that this is, so to speak, the big gain for students when they get involved so strongly with these ideals of equality.

Harmonious argumentation strategies in scientific discourse?

Weyh: The conversation in "Essay and Discourse" on Deutschlandfunk today with the Munich sociologist Irmhild Saake about symmetries, asymmetries - let's get to it - and communication at eye level. Years ago I read a book by the economist and philosopher Birger Priddat. This is an experienced university teacher. That is about six years old, the book is called "We are being tested to death" and is basically a kind of guide to the students, how should they actually behave when they come to the university. It is also about argumentation strategies in scientific discourse. I quote this once: "Always argue with the argument of the other first. Reconstruct the argument of the other in such a way that it is right. Balance your argument against the arguments of others. Take the other's argument into account. Use it to present your understanding of his statements In order to be able to distinguish between the existing similarities. Offer him the opportunity to understand the points on which you deviate and thus point out to him reasons that could make him deviate from himself. " Whoa, I thought as I read that again. I wrote it down from the book back then. Is that defensive? Where is foil fencing with arguments as I still know it in my generation? It's like just ducking away.

Saake: I think it is not so badly worded for a university setting, because understanding the other person's argument is actually a very, very difficult thing and then also helpful to make your own argument strong again. The key question now would be, how does it go from the moment you've tried that. So if you stick to the understanding of the other argument, you will find more plausibility in introducing yourself, that must also be heard and also be visible, or you use it to make your own argument stronger.

Weyh: So in the essay or in the book there is another short quote: "It is wonderful to experience consensus, suspicious if it persists." Would you also sign that?

Saake: Well, I would say by now that my younger colleagues also want to have a harmonious discussion on a topic on which something has been agreed in the end, is very, very great. This competition, that you actually try to make a person strong in such a competition of arguments and ultimately also to be someone who has actually shown others in a certain way how a better argument will turn out, this situation that occurs a bit in the background and seems a bit rude.

Weyh: But now we are living in Corona times, and the question of skepticism and verification is now, one could say, sociology, because it is not primarily about human lives when you debate a theory, but isn't that a bit questionable, that you would rather togetherness in science is more important than what poppersch, so to speak, the skepticism, the doubting, always think first, how can I refute that?

Saake: So I would emphasize again that you can see how much easier this figure works in considering other positions and this desire for harmony in contrast to how much work you have to invest to actually deal intensively with specific positions. The benefit of this harmonization movement is actually that it is much faster and that it is much easier to reach your goal.

Weyh: This is a very classic way of reducing complexity and saving time.

Saake: Yes. Indeed, and of course in such a way that one has nevertheless experienced that one has seen something new. So if nothing new came out of it, it would be dead. Then it wouldn't work. But we are now in the situation where we can actually see that in many situations it is desirable to make suppressed voices visible and to include other people, and to that extent it works out quite well. I would actually take this phenomenon, which now looks like it only takes place at universities, out of this situation and claim that this is something that plays a very general role in our everyday lives. So I first saw it with the students and asked myself where it actually comes from, and then you go into your own everyday life and see that it actually takes place everywhere. So we all know it from our everyday situations, in dealing with the partner, families know these situations. Wherever we go in public, we are now vulnerable to the question of whether someone is not taken into account or whether inequalities somehow emerge.

Unequal distribution is under observation

Weyh: That's kind of mindfulness. First of all, you can say that we have become more careful.

Saake: Yes, and then the interesting question for me is actually again, why is this such a broadly functioning, now new culture that has emerged. How does it actually come about that something shows up in all contexts that I would say is a kind of philosophy of everyday life. We have all become a bit of a petty everyday philosopher who scan their environment to see whether something is unevenly distributed. If you then specifically refer to the question of how to deal with each other in a partnership, for example, then you can see that there are a lot of consequences. So the way we deal with the argument, as we have just said, is that you want harmony in everyday life, in a partnership this leads to many conflicts. So you see how unevenly certain tasks are distributed in the household and fight to ensure that it should be as equal as possible. Anyone who has had a long partnership knows that you somehow specialize over time. That makes perfect sense, but it is precisely these specializations that become a problem when you suddenly discover that only one person does the vacuuming and only the other does the laundry. Then suddenly something like that becomes a problem. What we are seeing is that it actually escalates a lot the moment a family is started.Then additional inequalities appear. Then there are asymmetries, strong asymmetries, the woman has the child and is initially very strongly tied to the child, has to change a lot in her everyday life, then the question is really, how does that actually come about. Then such young couples find themselves in a situation in which they are surprised at how unequal they suddenly behave towards one another.

Weyh: The sociologist Irmhild Saake from the LMU Munich in an interview about, we've heard the word again: asymmetries. Are we actually symmetrical or asymmetrical in this situation? I have the feeling that I am steering you a bit, so we are asymmetrical.

Saake: Yes, we can't really imagine a situation that isn't actually somehow structured asymmetrically. So roles are always unevenly distributed. That makes it all the more interesting that we want to make such situations symmetrical. For me, that was the real gain in dealing with this issue of equality. So when I started to grapple with where this strong pursuit of equality actually comes from, I noticed that we actually almost cannot question this norm of equality in our society. There is also in the classic ...

The ideal of equality is a philosophical taboo

Weyh: Where does the taboo come from?

Saake: Yes, it is actually very surprising. So even in the philosophical tradition there are hardly any texts that somehow bracketed this ideal of equality. Rather, there is criticism that there is still no real equality in this or that context, but that one wonders where it actually comes from, and should we want this norm, should we actually want equality, this situation does not actually exist . It actually sounds strange now, because you think what else would you want, if not equality, you would want inequality.

Weyh: Let me go back for a moment, almost to the French Revolution. I found a text by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, written around 1795, a brief note in his Sudel books, also relates to the French Revolution on equality: "The equality that we demand is the most tolerable degree of inequality. So many kinds of equality there are, among which there are dreadful ones, likewise there are various degrees of inequality and among them some which are just as dreadful. On both sides there is corruption. But it is only to be feared that that middle equality or inequality as one wills , is equally abhorred by both parties. It must therefore be introduced by force, and then it is not to blame for the introducer if he gives himself a somewhat strong rash. Herein lies a general reason for the rarity of good middle-class conditions. " I think that's so wonderful, the term "good middle status". How can this be conveyed? Is it possible to find a mean, so to speak, between equality and inequality?

Saake: That is actually the interesting thing where I would say that the pursuit of equality is obviously something that almost automatically wants to overshoot the mark. We obviously don't want mediocrity or something in everyday life. Once you have started to want equality, and the French Revolution is, so to speak, the great historical date before which we stand in amazement and where we think, it has shown us how strongly we humans want equality, once you look at it If you go away, you actually only ever come to the conclusion that you see new situations of inequality and continue to wonder how you can get rid of them. A look at the French Revolution and this idea that equality arose there also directs our attention to how it actually came about historically, that we are interested in equality. Then you actually see that it may not necessarily have been the French Revolution that taught us that, but in part probably more like the emergence of printing and the development of money as a medium of exchange, because you read and interact with it has experienced with money that it doesn't matter who you are. What struck me is that, for example, we also make typical wrong conclusions when we are so interested in equality without actually noticing that it becomes such an automatism at some point. So a typical result of these ideals of equality is that when we observe inequalities, we actually automatically think that the person who benefits from the situation is also the cause of this situation. So the inequality between men and women then arises in this way of thinking through the men.

Willingness for equality creates new inequalities

Weyh: You had it earlier when the baby was born. It is clear that in the first months of life it is difficult for the man or the father to be able to replace the mother, even physically, if it is breastfed. Then write: "Nobody is responsible for this asymmetry, it just exists." Then I remembered a sentence by the sociologist Rainer Paris, who once wrote an essay entitled "Suffering Seeks Guilt", and that seems to me to be such a mechanism. So you can't live with the fact that something is just like that, there is this asymmetry, you are looking for causes, so to speak, and you are actually almost looking for the culprit.

Saake: Yes. This is an automatic effect, so to speak. So we are now in a situation in which we actually think that those who are on the better side of this inequality are the causes of this situation, and they have to be charged for it, they have to change this situation themselves. In fact, it is more plausible to assume that both sides are moving in a pattern that produces this type of inequality. Only now can one actually ask oneself more precisely what is the other side of symmetry. So we want symmetry, we want everyone to take on the same tasks and blindly run into this expectation. If we do that again, then we can see on the other hand how functional asymmetries are.

Asymmetry as a guarantee of success

Weyh: May I tell you a great example, also stumbled upon it by accident in game theory: asymmetry as a guarantee of success. If two people get lost in the crowd, there are three strategies: The first strategy is to both start looking, that is a medium probability of success. The second strategy is, both stand still, then they never find each other - symmetrical, the first was also symmetrical. The third strategy is, one person searches, one person stands still - asymmetrical is the quickest way to find each other.

Saake: Yes, and once you have considered that, you will find it again in many situations. So, in principle, all organizations are made to enable asymmetries. There are hierarchies in all organizations, and even if you have got used to talking to one another very symmetrically, there are still differences in salaries, different authority to issue instructions, and different responsibilities. All of this is actually very helpful in everyday life, and without it we could hardly cope with a social situation. The benefit of these asymmetries, I would say, can actually only be understood once you have tried to think beyond this expectation of symmetry.

Weyh: That's a nice approach, but I'll extend back to equality for our last few minutes. The great equalizer is death. You have now dealt with the dying and communication with the dying and terminally ill and you realize that there is no greater asymmetry to be found - before, before death, which, however, nihilates us, so to speak. Then we are no longer us.

Saake: Yes, and that is actually still the most convincing example to understand how formative asymmetries are in our everyday life. It is understandable that when dealing with the dying, everyone involved is looking for ways to make things as easy as possible for the dying. A very typical strategy - we found in our research - would be for the audience to try to empathize with the dying person and then actually tell them how well they succeeded, and they also believe they understand the dying person better can. But if you look at the result, you actually see that it makes a big difference for the dying person that he is in a different position. Incidentally, we find that again as a result of the question of whether one wishes to receive further treatment in old age or in the event of illness or not. Even there, many people in good health still say that they do not want to be treated so intensively, and when they are actually in the situation, then they notice that it looks different. Then they really want to go on living. In this respect, this empathy with the dying does not really bring us that much. It also leads to the fact that we actually talk a lot about ourselves in such a situation. One must probably even assume that the dying also learn to deal with it, that they, so to speak, also work on our problems a little while watching. That's exactly what you wouldn't want.

Asymmetries shape our everyday life

Weyh: I found a number - it was an older book, 20 years old - from a psychologist who said that 65 percent of people without cancer said that if they got it, they would prefer to choose their own treatment method. Of those who actually had cancer, 88 percent said they would rather not make that decision. So the very classic doctor-patient relationship, first of all we think we want more eye level than patients, but we don't want it, do we?

Saake: Yes, and I think we actually want both. You want the competent doctor and of course you go to whoever you think is the most competent, and actually we also see doctors complaining that patients want them to give them a clear recommendation. Doctors would sometimes like to give up their authority and leave it to the patient, but they report that the patients do not want that, and the more dramatic the situation, the more urgently we want a confident doctor who can give us good advice. but then it does make a difference how this advice is phrased. In this respect, we see that this strongly paternalistic doctor, who doesn't talk a lot, but knows very well what is good, that he is also a problematic figure, and that doctors are increasingly expected to do such a balancing act. So they should actually show a good way, but it should not appear dominant.

Weyh: So hierarchy with empathy.

Saake: Yes. This can actually be found in many social contexts. So I would say that in many situations we have got used to symmetrizing forms of communication that pretend we are talking on an equal footing, and then they are at the same time underpinned by strongly asymmetrical positions. They actually run in the background.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.