Saturday, April 7, 2012

Ralph Boes, My New Hero (Part II)

(Part I)

We left our antagonistic hero with the task of drawing up the legally tight yet humane contract he would present to the employment agency at some reasonable later date. Three days after his suggestion to draw up said contract, he received an official letter from his employment officer asking him politely to put his money where his mouth is. It is far from uninteresting that the monolithic state can apparently be forced to deal with a human being as a unique individual, though the degree to which it can be so flexible is limited, as laid out below. The cracks, however, are showing.

Without further ado, I shall translate said contract for you in full:

Considering the fact that industrialisation of human labour frees ever more people from work while paying ever less for it, the following goals are to be agreed:

The release of Herrn Ralph Boes from the coercion to ground his life’s meaning either in earning a living or in having to find paid work;

guarantee of the financial livelihood he requires for the constitutionally chartered right to exist and participation in social life;

recognition of the special social relevance of work which carries intrinsic meaning and has value in its immediate social utility, work which is carried out freely, self-determinedly, and as a labour of love (of cooperation, others, culture, environment …) and not (in the first instance) for remuneration;

furtherance of freedom and self-determination as founded in constitutional law, in particular also
  1. respect and encouragement of human dignity,
  2. the right to unimpeded personal development,
  3. protection of the family,
  4. freedom of movement across all Germany,
  5. freedom to choose a career and the forbidding of compulsory labour,
  6. the sanctity of the home;
and furtherance of individual creativity, such that release from work as brought about by rationalisation becomes a blessing opening new vistas for work, while holding the standard of living in Germany high, though production be outsourced. (Creativity is the raw material of the future -- Adrienne Goehle.)

Responsibilities of the Job Centre:

The job centre recognises constitutional law as well as those basic rights applicable to it in its realm of authority, unreservedly, and diligently fulfils, as an organ of the state, its constitutional duty to unconditionally respect and protect human dignity.

It recognises Ralph Boes as a free and honourable member of society, and works actively to protect his dignity from all forms of discrimination, sanctioning, and paternalism.

The Job Centre helpfully accompanies and supports Herr Boes through his freely chosen career or activity—as long as he meets the necessary requirements thereof, and as long as he so desires.

The sanctions in paragraphs 31, 31a, 31b and 32 SGB II shall not be used, since they invalidate core human rights and contravene constitutional law.

Bureaucratic appointments and necessities shall be kept to a minimum.

Responsibilities of Herrn Ralph Boes:

Herr Ralph Boes commits to meet not only claims made on him by his social life, but also those claims arising from his own life (also inner) and from his personal field, whatsoever it be, comprehensively and freely, and so doing, to also respect and protect his own dignity as well as that of living and non-living things around him.

As far as circumstances seem in want of improvement, he shall assist in their improvement with all available means.

In this context, Herr Ralph Boes continues to make himself available, as before, to hold, without remuneration, public lectures and seminars on guaranteed income. He urgently offers this service to workers at the job centre.

Notes on legal assistance:

No one is entitled to dispossess another of his or her dignity or legal rights! Whoever so acts makes him- or herself liable to prosecution, even if he or she acts on behalf of or is contracted by a governmental agency.


Protect yourself as a worker at the job centre from recourse claims and actively respect human rights…
I’ve cut the rest off, since it quotes long passages from various legal sources, and because the core message of the contract’s final section is clear from the two paragraphs I’ve translated here. Boes is taking the fight to the state by reminding anyone enforcing the constitutionally illegal aspects of Hartz IV that they are not immune to prosecution, no matter how powerful they now feel themselves to be. Oppression cannot work forever.

All in all, I see this as a stealth quasi-guaranteed income through the back door. As the Germans say, from behind through the chest and into the eye! Of course, this is a contract which deals explicitly with unemployment benefit, but its terms are to a large degree those of guaranteed income (more on this in a following post), especially as it attempts to redefine what work is, and what work ought to be respected by the state. Guaranteed income frees the individual to do meaningful work; unemployment benefit is given only to those either looking for or taking on paid work, regardless of its social value. As the German constitution is founded on the dignity of the individual, so the logic behind the growing pressure towards a guaranteed income rests on individual human dignity, which must supersede monetary or waged-labour considerations. And at the heart of that assertion, which I fully support, is the powerful implication that money cannot measure value, or rather, that the market-based price-system cannot measure value flexibly enough in today’s conditions.

Boes points out the simple fact that if someone forces you to do work he or she deems worthy (simply because it is paid work), that if you do not you will be made homeless and hungry, such is coercion and is therefore prosecutable. He cites a case in Duesseldorf, in which a woman was told to continue as a prostitute in order to carry on receiving Hartz IV. After an enormous public outcry, she was allowed to stop prostituting herself, though she was sanctioned. I have yet to look into the details of this, but the point is clear. What matters is the money. Money first, dignity (might maybe arise) as a possible second.

So, Boes mailed his new contract, then had to wait twenty days for a reply. The employment agency sent back the old contract, though with two important differences. Under “Responsibilities of Ralph Boes” (a slightly different title in the agency’s contract) appeared the following sentence:
Herr Ralph Boes commits to meet not only claims made on him by his social life, but also those claims arising from his own life (also inner) and from his personal field, whatsoever it be, comprehensively and freely.
After that, the usual blah blah about restricted movement and other restrictions were there, but that sentence made it through, like a snowdrop heralding spring (to borrow from Boes). This is an amazing concession, a clear victory, though not yet by any means enough. Boes took his time before responding, and responded in length and with much fire. His letter is too long to translate here in its entirety, but the following section warrants your attention:
Dear Frau xxxxxxxxx,

I would urge you to never again sign nor even to present for signature such an “incorporation agreement”, as you have again presented here, since you thereby make yourself liable even by presentation thereof, and even more with each signature (or even application), to possible prosecution.

It would be far better to step into the domain of the Hartz IV people, than to allow yourself to be led, from the low level of security of your own livelihood, to adopt a constitution-contravening, inhumane, unethical and prosecutable position. Or, apply yourself earnestly, as required by your obligation to remonstrate (!), and pass decisions not conforming to the constitution up the chain of command. The higher, the better.

Other than in the DDR, in which there were hardly any explicit laws against injustice, German laws in effect since 1949 proclaim Hartz IV as prosecutable. It and its executors can therefore be retroactively punished back to its first hour of life. Today, actions against human rights can even be pursued at the European and international level.

The neoliberal, exploitative, inhumane era of Schröder, Hartz and Ackerman is over. The tide is turning quickly now. In only a short time you will all be standing in the dock. Even the lawyers of your house will not be able to protect you, for they were instrumental in undoing human rights — they will have to defend themselves too.
Them, ladies and gentlemen, is fighting words.

The second difference was that the contract arrived on Boes’ doormat unsigned. Typically, the contract arrives in duplicate signed by some representative, to then be signed by the “customer”, sent back, with a pre-signed copy remaining in the “customer’s”  possession. His employment officer’s unwillingness to sign speaks volumes.

Also voluminous is the silence. As yet I am aware of no reaction from the state. On the 16th March, Boes sent a reminder to his employment office, asking why he is still receiving Hartz IV payments. Why has he not been sanctioned? He wants to know whether; a) they have written a new law for him and him alone, or b) if they have written new law for all Germans. Again, no reply as yet (April 7, 2012).

If only my non-German speaking readers could hear the passion with which Boes tells his tale and reads out his letters. What I find most inspiring about him is the compassionate fire he is filled with. I hope his example is as inspirational to others as it has been for me. My own far smaller risk has given me many panic-filled nights, made me question my intelligence and honour. Ralph Boes’ example lends me the confidence and strength to fight on. Make no mistake, we are at war against a system and its defenders, whose former pragmatic and practical role is dead. Until we join full voice and in good knowledge of our position and its connotations the battle Boes (and many others) have begun, we will continue to be mere cogs ground down by great but quickly crumbling wheels. No need for foolhardy heroism. Do what you can.

As Boes says, the tide is turning, even though the status quo strains to make it seem otherwise. That said, the nakedness of their criminality is a sure sign of desperation. That, (and/)or unbridled sociopathy. If the latter, the great majority of us, endowed as we are with empathy, need to do what we can to put together a far freer and more open system in which the sociopathic few cannot exploit and extract, with institutional impunity, the dignity and labour of the many.

I will leave you with the delicious tidbit that, late last year, a certain Herr Johannes Ponada drew up his own “incorporation agreement” (as per Boes’), added freedom of movement across Germany (still denied Boes) and it was accepted. Another gentlemen in Peine fights for the same dignity, but has not made the same inroads. Not yet.

Germany, for all its labyrinthine bureaucracy, has a constitution which may well prove the soil from which a far more humane and sensible system can arise.


Debra said...

I am currently reading a book by Catherine Baker called "Pourquoi faudrait-il punir ? Pour l'abolition du système pénal"...
"Why is it necessary to PUNISH ? In favor of abolishing the penal system", in English.
I noticed in the U.S. starting towards the end of the 1980's, a rise in what I like to call the rage to punish as a force of social cohesion, a social project.
After much reflexion, I have decided that this rage to punish (which socially, and not individually motivates Hartz IV, not sociopathic.. individuals, from my perspective) is evidence of yet another bout of irritation against the effects of our Judeo Christian heritage, and its foundation stone : the emphasis on the possibility of pardon, change, and WIPING THE SLATE CLEAN.
The rage to punish which animates our social systems right now is neo-paganism.
Personally... I think that paganism has some great advantages. I love Beowulf, and a vision of a warrior KING, and fate, etc.
The kind of... ethos ? which is behind current Hollywood... neopaganism.
But... our pagan ancestors were much more entwined in their natural world than WE are...and more alive, to boot.
They felt a part of their natural surroundings, and they also felt.. BEHOLDEN ? DEPENDANT ? on their environment, it seems to me.
We are still light years away from that, and our neo-paganism chills me to the bone.
That, to give another perspective on why WE are entrusting the State with the punishment program...
Yes, Ralph Boes sounds like a very courageous man.
A new.. prophet ? ;-)
Time to get back to the garden of my kitchen.
Happy Easter, by the way.

Rupert Russell said...

Hi Toby, great piece, looking forward to seeing how this one unfolds.

During the meanwhilst, here is an article you may 'enjoy':

Toby said...

Hi Debbie,

from the title, that sonds like an important book, perhaps you could send some tidbits our way on these pages should time and mood permit. I'd also be interested to hear your definition of neo-paganism, because, as you know, my position is that everything is nature. So, while I'd agree we are likely less vitally alive than our pagan ancestors, we are as entwined in nature as they were, only now our nature is (predominantly) the concrete jungle, the internet jungle, the multimedia jungle. Perhaps the disossication that cocktail breeds is one part of why we hunger for such 'entertaining' punishment, although our medieval ancestors sure loved their gruesome entertainment!

You're right about this being a social phenomena, rather than a handful of super-sociopaths being in total control and enslaving us all. What I mean there is that the system tends to sociopathy, or favours sociopaths in control positions, and that they are highly unlikely to press for meaningul change. It's going to take empathy and courage as we see them in Ralph Boes to bring that about, to slowly put together the new bits and pieces of an humane system.

Hi Rupert,

some shocking stats in that article; Indian population 2.3bn, 100 Indians own 25% of Indian GDP. That is freaky. But it's good to see at least a little resistance to trickle down in India. In my ignorance, I imagine it as capitalism's new Mecca.

Debra said...

Hi Toby,
I'll try to give a few quotes. I wouldn't say that the book is earthshaking, but it is well written, with feeling and wit.
That is rather rare, these days...
On neo paganism..
I like "Beowulf" a lot. "Beowulf" is not particularly caught up in the Christian ethos.. yet. There is a lot of fighting, men are men, and gesticulate a lot, are brave, loyal to their lord/leader, etc. "Beowulf"'s author also recognizes the melancolic effect of time's passing : warrior kings get old, and lose physical force, and command less respect, and then the fighting starts again. Everything is subject to decay and death. That is the way of the world.
Reading "Beowulf" is not at all like watching "Conan the Barbarian" for me, even if there are warrior kings who are fighting.
Somehow or other, our civilization has lost touch with emotional depth, feeling.
It is going through all the motions, but without belief. That makes a world of difference to me.
Yes the concrete jungle is still nature, but the big difference is one of perspective, as Stephen would say.
If we obscurely believe that we have triumphed over nature, and that our cities exist to keep her OUT/at bay, well... that fatal misapprehension changes the entire nature of our relationship to nature.
It isn't enough to say that, of course, we are still a part of nature.
If we can't believe, or understand that, then we are NEO pagans, still struggling with the perversion of our Christian values (which, by the way, are still very present in our constant harping on empathy for our neighbor).
Once again, I don't like neo paganism, Toby, and while the eternal repetition of the world is a fact of life in my book, it is also a fact of life that nothing returns/repeats in an identical form.
A couple of years ago, I had an interesting discussion with a psychoanalyst in the south of France on the "Oresteia", Aeschylus's trilogy.
She was promoting the idea that pre-Apollonian/Athenian justice was arbitrary vengeance, and that that nice guy Apollo arrived on the scene to introduce reason, and our modern conception of justice.
Sometimes it is a good idea to go straight back to the texts that found our civilization, and the Oresteia is a good example.
Contrary to what WE think, Apollo's justice does not displace anarchic personal vengeance. It displaces a coherent, structured system of DIFFERENT VALUES which was already in place.
Paganism, yes, but not.. neo paganism...

Toby said...

Well said, Debbie.

We can't escape nature, even in cities, and yet the Tower of Babel mentality of building away from earth towards airy and perfect heaven distances us from Mother Nature in a discernable way. On the other hand, that distancing is a natural process, just as the extinction of dinosaurs was, just as everything is. So while it is human to bemoan this separation, it is impossible to know what is going to come of it, and to know how 'good' or 'bad' it is. Possibly you find me horribly relativist on this point, but more and more I am incapable of seeing any 'how it should be' anywhere. Especially in the past, whatever that is (I still don't know what time is, nor how it relates to entropy, matter and energy).