The last commercial that was broadcast in a German bar before the game started starred Oliver Kahn, Germany’s and Munich’s legendary goalkeeper. He held a football in his gloved hands and smiled broadly, to promote a betting company. I shook my head in anger and disbelief. What a testimonial! You don’t need that, so-called Titan, I said to him. You earn a lot of money, you have a great job which is not really a job, and that’s not even the point. The point is: These companies ruin soccer, your sport, our sport. I don’t have to recount the manipulations, the mafias, and everything surrounding it, the rigged games, the blackmailed or corrupt players, the entangled referees. The point is, furthermore: How many supporters, how many fans, ordinary people, are driven to ruin by these companies? They see the one chance to get out of their economic misery and, in the long run, of course, they lose the little that was left. Why the hell are you doing this? I heard a million voices answering for him: If he doesn’t do it, someone else will.
That, of course, is precisely the capitalist logic: Everyone can be replaced, and everyone will be replaced to keep the machine running. The machine, however — that is the production of goods, both material and immaterial, for private profit and accumulation — wants to be perceived as natural, as quasi-inscribed in human nature; and by no means as something historic that will wither away, be overthrown or, sooner than later, lead into the next big catastrophe. The machine, its ideology informs us, is permanent, here to stay, and you can either take your chance or let someone else take it. It speaks directly to each individual who is faced with an ethical dilemma over whether one should or should not do something. It is, when it comes down to work, down to what one does for whom and why, a question with which everyone is confronted. You may think it’s not right, it whispers, you may even know it’s detrimental but, hey, someone else will do it. Someone else would even love to do it. And by the way: Take the money and run. It doesn’t make a difference. You don’t make a difference. You can’t. And that is why the million voices didn’t answer for the so-called Titan: If he had said no, others would have followed suit, and maybe, together, they would have spoken out publicly against those companies that ruin everything they hold dear.
And yet, on the other side, what an upheaval in liberal morality! How much effort to show that one can make a difference by liking a post, sharing an article, signing a petition and sometimes, rarely, taking to the streets. Every day we are bombarded by statements about how to live and speak and comment ongoing events correctly. Every day we hear people cry out against injustices of every imaginable kind. It might be a challenge on social media to show your face to welcome refugees, a protest against commercials that are perceived as sexist, outcries against racism, trans and xenophobia, the denouncement of the poor avocado that needs too much water to be grown, the embrace of a new diet that benefits the whole world, a new phone that was produced just as fairly and exploitation-free as the organic cocaine one can order in Berlin, or just the boycott of a company that did something you didn’t like. Whatever it might be, the subtext screams: It’s up to you to make a difference! Start with yourself! Make a difference, and the world gets a tiny bit better the day you start doing this and not doing that!
Which might actually really change something, or it might be naive, or just plain folly — the possibilities are endless. Yet the liberal plea for making the world a better place by starting with yourself, the dearly-held belief in its mere possibility, is just the flipside of the nagging whisper that, when it comes down to the logic of production and the fabric of society, really to the underlying capitalist paradigm, it doesn’t make any difference, since there is always someone willing to do what one could or should refrain from doing. Because, in the end, it is the capitalist machine that produces the very problems in the first place that liberal morality addresses and cries out against. While it protests its symptoms, it holds the belief that nothing could be done about its cause — if that is seen at all.
A few weeks after I saw the commercial, three bombs detonated in Dortmund. They were aimed at the bus of the town’s most famous sports club, Borussia, which was on its way to an important football game. One player was injured, but luckily the bomb which would have caused the greatest damage didn’t work as it was supposed to. Had it been planted slightly differently, we heard, many team members would have been killed. For a while, the perpetrator couldn't be found, before two Islamists were arrested, but soon it was clear that they had not planted the bombs. People speculated about right wing extremists, ties to betting mafias or rival fans, even a miserably-fabricated leftist claim of responsibility was found, that mocked leftist gender neutral language by using a word no queer activist would ever use. When the alleged bomber was finally arrested, his plan was revealed: He had wanted the stocks of Borussia Dortmund to crash tremendously, in order to get rich. Apparently he was no extremist, one heard on Austrian radio, but rather driven by greed for money. People shook their heads in anger and disbelief. Someone who would accept the death of human beings just to make money at the stock exchange! How crazy! Unheard of!
A terrorist with a capitalist background. We should talk about the religion that produced him.