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Anguish as a trigger for reflection is bad advice

Sixth “enter the future” event: “Finding our way in a multipolar world – Key concepts on the spiritual situation of the time”


The aim of the sixth event in the Wittenstein Foundation’s “enter the future” series was to better comprehend the state of our society in general and understand which entities can provide benchmarks for direction in this day and age. This mammoth, and provocatively formulated, task was addressed by none other than Professor Peter Sloterdijk, the eminent German philosopher, cultural scientist and author, who – after referring to titanisms, apocalyptic pressure and burden-shifting – maintained at the end of the event that it is simply too much for human beings, as a living system, to find their own direction and that they frequently risk following a supposedly clear compass in inappropriate ways.

Narrowing of perspectives rather than calendrical structures

Sloterdijk began his keynote speech at the TauberPhilharmonie in Weikersheim by asserting that our desire as human beings to find our way in societies is as old as the human culture of writing. However, from the perspective of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim calendars, the time frames are too broad-meshed and loose-fitting to allow individuals a precise sense of position based on calendrical structures in today’s world. Sloterdijk’s advice is therefore to narrow the window of observation, or to restrict it to the 19th century, in order to better comprehend the situation of contemporary society. In his view, the age of coal, which “entered the global economy through the side door, developed into a titanic quantity on a scale completely beyond human grasp at the time”. According to the philosopher, the fountain that spewed from the ground when the first crude oil was discovered on January 10, 1901 in Houston / Texas is regarded as a symbol of the 20th century and as a liberating, world-changing source of wealth and energy, yet it merely served to further fuel the resource-ignoring mobilization of human needs. “If we narrow the time window in this way, we are situated in an episode between the end of the workers’ movement, the new green wave and the growing realization that our highly energy-defined way of life represents a renewed titanic struggle”, Sloterdijk explained.

Interpretations change over time

The speaker cited two events in world history as examples of modernity’s learning process: the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. They were both considered disasters at the time, yet today a different interpretation has emerged of the lesson that it was the power of human abilities that enabled that kind of ship or building to be constructed in the first place. Both were succeeded by even bigger structures christened “Queen Mary” and “World Trade Center One” – “post-disaster provocations”, as Sloterdijk calls them. He looks upon these disaster-triggered responses as, at any rate, an attempt to find our way in a multipolar world. He has come to the conclusion that our culture has totally forgotten the meaning of modesty. In his opinion, burden-shifting – that is, the externalization of one’s own responsibilities onto machines and artificial intelligence – is ultimately “nothing but an instance of modern slavery, although at least we don’t harbor any feelings of guilt towards machines”.

The world as a spaceship without a manual

Assuming that a higher power or intelligence exists, then present-day society is in a phase where we are discovering that the world is a spaceship without an accompanying manual. According to Sloterdijk, the inhabitants of planet Earth are consequently obliged to find out for themselves how to steer this spaceship in the context of an autodidactic, life-and-death experiment. He asserts that a more binding form of recommendation for direction cannot be communicated to contemporary humankind, whereas apocalyptic pressure as a trigger for transformations of human existence and activity would not have worked in the past and will not work in the future either. Peter Sloterdijk wound up his 45-minute keynote with a word of caution: “Maximum confusion in society is a fairly normal state across all time windows; we just need to avoid making a fuss of it and beware of relying on supposedly false compasses in the wrong places”.

Exactly how complex reality is, and how difficult it is to navigate and find our way in this reality, was also emphasized by host Dr Manfred Wittenstein, initiator and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Wittenstein Foundation, in his final remarks: “Simple answers to complex challenges are not generally suitable signposts for the future – although they often are gladly received. Unfortunately, they are of little actual help to us – at best, they lead us down wrong paths on which we feel safe for far too long.”

Next “enter the future” event

The date for the next “enter the future event” has already been set: on November 29, 2023, the focus at the TauberPhilharmonie in Weikersheim will be on “New Space”. Registrations will be accepted from early October on the Wittenstein Foundation website.

For a recording of the complete event, including the discussion with the audience, see


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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda

Photo (from left to right): Dr Manfred Wittenstein (initiator and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Wittenstein Foundation), Professor Peter Sloterdijk (German philosopher, cultural scientist and author) and moderator Benedikt Hofmann (Editor-in-Chief of MM MaschinenMarkt).

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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda

More than 400 guests attended the sixth “enter the future” event in person or took part via a live stream.

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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda

Professor Peter Sloterdijk is a German philosopher, cultural scientist and author. He taught philosophy and esthetics at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design until 2017.

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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda

The audience – both online and in person – took advantage of this rare opportunity to engage in an active exchange with Professor Peter Sloterdijk.

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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda

Professor Peter Sloterdijk answered questions from the audience and the moderator at length.

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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda

Even after the event was over, Professor Peter Sloterdijk took time to talk to members of the audience.

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