Control is a necessity of our time

We live in a time when it some­times feels like the world is falling apart. Ter­ror­ist attacks in the mid­dle of Europe, the with­draw­al of the Unit­ed King­dom from the EU, the elec­tion results in the US with all their impli­ca­tions for the econ­o­my, secu­ri­ty and cli­mate pol­i­cy, cyber attacks, fake news, media bub­bles and much more.

„People’s wor­ries are not tak­en seri­ous­ly by fuel­ing them.”

We live in a time of rad­i­cal change. On the one hand, this offers great oppor­tu­ni­ties which need to be rec­og­nized and embraced, while on the oth­er hand, uncer­tain­ties and risks increase. Trust in insti­tu­tions and fel­low human beings seems to be declin­ing. It becomes more and more dif­fi­cult for many peo­ple to under­stand the present; the future is less pre­dictable. This often results in an unde­fin­able feel­ing of loss of con­trol and dis­ori­en­ta­tion as well as in con­cerns about the per­son­al and soci­etal future. It explains the increas­ing desire for con­trol, for secu­ri­ty, for out­ward delim­i­ta­tion and for sim­ple expla­na­tions.

When it comes to the issue of con­trol, the atti­tude of our mod­ern, enlight­ened and free­dom-ori­ent­ed soci­eties is very ambiva­lent: As indi­vid­u­als, we pre­fer to be con­trolled as lit­tle as pos­si­ble, but at the same time, we want to exer­cise great con­trol. We want to deter­mine our own lives and actions; we reject exces­sive bureau­cra­cy, reg­u­la­tion and pater­nal­ism. At the same time, we want to make sure we are on a reg­u­lat­ed and secure path. We want to be able to rely on things and to trust the future. How­ev­er, this desire to con­trol as much as pos­si­ble on the one hand and – at the same time – not to be con­trolled cre­ates ten­sions and can­not be ful­ly rec­on­ciled with our liv­ing togeth­er.

Creating trust

What are the answers to these devel­op­ments? The task of pol­i­tics is to take the fears of peo­ple seri­ous­ly. How­ev­er, you don’t achieve this by heat­ing up pop­ulist debates but by using strate­gic fore­sight to cre­ate a frame­work that allows for trust and secu­ri­ty, a frame­work that com­bines con­trol with respon­si­bil­i­ty.

Par­tic­u­lar­ly in the age of dig­i­tal­iza­tion, every­one becomes more trans­par­ent. Indi­vid­ual actions can be bet­ter iden­ti­fied and mon­i­tored. New meth­ods of big data analy­sis enable com­pa­nies, polit­i­cal par­ties or states to assess and influ­ence peo­ple more and more through their dig­i­tal user behav­ior. The fol­low­ing rule has to be applied to the dig­i­tal world as well: The greater the intru­sion into pri­va­cy, the greater the pro­tec­tion against abuse has to be.At the moment, how­ev­er, we are run­ning the risk that the right lev­el of con­trol itself is get­ting out of con­trol.

There are wor­ri­some hints that there have already been suc­cess­ful attempts to influ­ence elec­tions by fake news and auto­mat­ed chat­bots in the social media. At the same time, inde­pen­dent media, which are one of the pil­lars of democ­ra­cy, are increas­ing­ly con­front­ed with the chal­lenge to demon­strate and defend their inde­pen­dence and integri­ty. We have to find answers soon to the ques­tion of how you can build up more trust again in the dig­i­tized world.

„Inno­va­tion requires self-respon­si­bil­i­ty, not con­trol.”

Trust is based on reci­procity. Our soci­ety builds upon this com­mon con­sen­sus of coop­er­a­tion. Free­dom of action and self-respon­si­bil­i­ty are the fuel for inno­va­tion and devel­op­ment. They are the rea­son why “free­dom soci­eties” have made the world a bet­ter place and “con­trol soci­eties” have failed repeat­ed­ly. This is why con­trol is good, but trust is bet­ter.

There is no con­trol with­out the loss of con­trol, no sta­bil­i­ty with­out insta­bil­i­ty, no cer­tain­ty with­out uncer­tain­ty. The world is not real­ly out of con­trol. The world wants to be shaped. And it’s up to us to embrace the respon­si­bil­i­ty for that.