Dhe human being, as Friedrich Schiller already knew, is only fully human where he is playing. Accordingly, the German language is bursting with allusions, language games and variations of the word “spiel”: to play, to play, to play, to play around, to play around, to allude, to play, to play – to name just a few. We are particularly interested in the verb “play out”, not because of the upcoming World Cup, where hopefully one German player will outplay another, but because “play out” is the word of the hour in political communication.
Nor the pension against armament!
Just a few examples from the recent past: Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) said it was “more than cynical” to “play off gas bills against Ukrainian mothers and children”. At the same time, the gas bills should not be played off against “people in Africa”. Catholic aid organizations, in turn, warned: “We must not play off poverty in Germany against poverty worldwide.” Which does not mean that one can “play off needy people against low earners” – Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil (SPD) warned of this just as urgently as of “pensions against armaments to play out”. The Baden-Württemberg Minister of Education Theresa Schopper (Greens) meanwhile emphasized that the school types should not be played off against each other, while Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) affirmed: “We must not play off the modes of transport against each other.”
It would almost be like playing “the major structural crises of our time” against each other, which according to Climate Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) is not possible, just like playing off private households, hospitals and the economy against each other, which the Federal Network Agency only advises against could.
Are you still allowed to play someone off against someone else, after all it’s a bit of fun? German schools against African modes of transport maybe? Poor versus super rich? Russian pensioners against Ukrainian super-rich? Better not. Because that would promote the envious society, endanger social cohesion and deepen the divisions in Europe. How did bridge-builder Nancy Faeser (SPD) sum it up: “You shouldn’t play people off against people”. Whereby you shouldn’t play things off against things either, conventional medicine against homeopathy, for example, nuclear power against coal power, unimportant things against central issues, Scylla against Charybdis, SPD against CDU.
The government only warns
On closer reflection, however, one wonders what that is supposed to be: playing one off against another. For a change, does it mean anything at all, like that they both end up losing? Or even all? Is feminism playing men against women? Or not because, as many women say, men ultimately also benefit from feminism, not to mention Africa? It seems essential to us that playing out is only possible rhetorically. This means that Ukrainian refugees can be treated better than Syrian ones, and that the major structural crisis of climate change can be postponed for a few years, but it should never be talked about. That only brings in unrest. Not for nothing is it usually the government that warns against playing off, never the opposition.
On the other hand, it is clear why the word “play out” is playing out in such a way. So far, you really didn’t have to play anything off against anything else, because in principle there was enough of everything for everyone: electricity, water, land, mobile phones. But in the future there will be more and more battles over distribution. At least distribution games in which it is played out who has played out. The playfulness inherent in “playing out” does not do justice to the seriousness of the situation. The word should still be used. Because otherwise you would play off the seriousness against the game. And that would really be more than cynical, even inhuman, at least in Schiller’s sense.