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The search for truth is probably as old as mankind itself. So are lies and deceit. Secrets and conspiracies are uncovered or swept under the table. Like a red thread, the human game between truth and falsehood runs through history. According to his apostle John, Jesus also knew about the revolutionary potential of truth: "It makes you free" was the message. Catch 22: To be God's disciple was the condition. Can man or god lease the truth? Like a timeshare principle? As the Roman author Aulus Gellius stated around the 100s, truth is the "daughter of time". Every epoch, every generation plays anew. Only the basic conditions change, the basic principle remains the same: truth or dare?
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
― Oscar Wilde
Fast Forward to 2019. A new level in this game is upon us, including a threatening "boss": the destruction of our natural resources by the ongoing climate crisis. It seems paradoxical. Overall, humanity today is at its highest level of education to date, thanks to the technical capability to share knowledge, regardless of location, almost free of charge, and, through projects like Wikipedia, more openly than ever before. Nevertheless, humanity is stumbling into a danger zone from which there is no turning back. Saying it is like driving against the wall at full throttle is an understatement. But what mechanisms - what power mechanisms – are preventing the unfolding of the long known potential of shared knowledge? What powerful interests stand against the manifold and promising solutions in the fight against the boss? Power and truth - the core of the conflict?
"Knowledge is power, and not knowing does not matter". In times of a networked and mobile information society, Spontis 1970s maxim would probably have to be modified: "Knowledge is power, and knowing everything doesn't matter either". This impression can arise, because despite - or because of? - the almost barrier-free possibility of access to an infinite amount of allegedly factual knowledge, it is hardly feasible for users to see through underlying power or profit interests, nationalistic or religious fundamentalisms play an increasing role in personal and political decisions.
And what role do mainstream media still printed on paper play in this game? Or is it the commercial television garbage of the 80s and 90s that is at fault? The educational systems of the 21st century should also look in the mirror and recognize that radical changes in media and technology must also lead to radical changes in pedagogy.
"A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."
― Mark Twain
"Lies have short legs" is the saying. But they seem to run faster than the truth, according to Mark Twain. Could he ever have expected that, 200 years after his death, his bon mot would be so true? Sensational falsehoods are easy to launch and fast to spread across the Internet, while painstaking fact-checkers struggle to keep up, losing ground in the race for information sovereignty. Message control and framing are some of the tools used by small bosses in the great game of power. Who will win? Or is the only profitable move the one not to play?
"The Truth is out there."
― FBI Special Agent Fox William Mulder
Elevate does not search for the extraterrestrial, but Mulder is right: the truth is out there and waiting to be discovered in the festival's discourse programme. The themes are multi-layered and all worthy of intensive exploration:
The grand opening at the Orpheum in Graz on Wednesday 27th February evening will focus on activists who are committed to important socio-political issues in the public spotlight. The star guest of this year's festival is Pamela Anderson, actress and model with a global reputation. Some already know, but for many it's new: Pamela Anderson, known for years as an animal rights activist, has been campaigning for other topics as an activist for quite some time. Recently, she criticized political developments in Italy and took on the right-wing Foreign Minister Salvini. She also made astute comments about the Gilet Jaune protests in France, and regularly raises important issues such as the climate crisis or migration via social media. She makes clever use of her celebrity status and thus reaches a large audience. The Croatian philosopher Srećko Horvat, on the other hand, as co-founder of the DiEM25 movement, is very active in European politics and will speak about philosophy, truth and activism at the festival. An ARTE team will accompany Pamela and Srećko "through the night" in Graz. Nnimmo Bassey from Nigeria, winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize "Right Livelihood Award", has been campaigning for years for environmental protection and against climate change and will speak at the Elevate Festival about the developments of recent years and the African perspective: is it still possible to avert the climate crisis?
Philosophy, media and journalism will open the discourse programme on Thursday. University professor Dr. Peter Strasser starts his search for the truth after the truth after the truth in his introductory lecture at 12 noon. Afterwards, Julia Herrnböck and Florian Skrabal from Dossier will provide deep insights into the methods and possibilities of investigative journalism and explore the potential of international research cooperation with Romanian corruption investigator Paul Radu, who will also be able to answer questions on the subject during a Q&A for the Austrian premiere of the documentary film "The Panama Papers". Questions concerning the media, journalism and trust, will be discussed in a high-level panel discussion with Austrian journalists and media experts. In the evening we return to the beginning of the day and thus to philosophy. The Croatian philosopher and DiEM25 co-founder Srećko Horvat significantly titles his lecture with a question mark: "The Truth Will Set You Free?".
At Kunsthaus Space04 we welcome representation from the EU Commission in Vienna. A panel discussion on a current topic of EU politics: "Fake News and Disinformation Campaigns" will explore their influence on political opinion-forming processes. Taking place shortly before the EU elections, this open and critical discussion of the planned measures of the EU Commission could not be more timely.
The Friday programme focuses on science, art, technology, fiction and immersion. A series of lectures on the one hand critically deals with technologies and scientific developments, on the other hand the potentials and connections of different methods are discussed. The lecturers and discussants are particularly colourful, and thus the only obstacle to an inspiring and interdisciplinary exchange between artists, scientists, activists and nerds is the time limit of the programme. Starting at 10am with workshops featuring Xenia Ermoshina and InterACT, the "Laboratory for Theatre and Socioculture", and finishing with the closing credits of documentary "Trust Machine" at about 11pm, there will be an action-packed programme of 10 events.
On Elevate Saturday, the programmatic pendulum will swing again. Two workshops focused on self-empowerment in democracy and community building offer a positive introduction on a day when we will be cracking a few tough nuts. Right-wing extremist structures in Austria and their "Internationale of the Nationalists" are the focus of Andreas Peham, an expert in his field working at the DÖW. Thomas Moser, one of the best informed experts on the NSU complex, will then report on how quickly right-wing extremism can become right-wing terrorism and tell us the truth about the investigations of the worst right wing terrorism of the 21st century in Germany. The author and journalist Mathias Bröckers then provides conceptual and historical clarifications on the combat concept of psychological warfare. Conspiracy theories are not only a problem in right-wing extremism, but have also become much broader in social terms. A fishbowl discussion following this lecture will deal with ways and means to take the wind out of the sails of right-wing extremism. But that's not all: two more, potentially controversial, evening panel discussions with renowned personalities will follow. We welcome Siegfried Beer, an intelligence researcher at Graz University,, as well as up-and-coming German philosopher Jan Skudlarek, anti-corruption veteran Peter Pilz, filmmaker Paul Poet, and sociologist Laura Wiesböck from Vienna University. Topics range from the echo chambers of communication to secrecy and the suspicious shredding of secret service files to preserve "national security".
Sunday will be dedicated to, among other things, the "boss": the climate crisis and its already serious consequences for many people, including armed conflicts and migration movements. As always, we will start in the morning with a workshop from the Nigerian environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey. The second workshop on Sunday is thematically unrelated, but all the more exciting. Together with Wikimedia Austria, Elevate presents a session on a relatively new project from the Wikiverse: WikiData. In the afternoon there will be four more events on the topic of climate crisis and migration. The first will be a discussion on climate truths and climate lies, which in contrast to the historical parallel of fact- doubt-opinion manipulation by tobacco companies in the 1970s and 1980s is likely to have much more serious consequences. Among the guests are Professor of International Politics Amanda Machin who conducts research on climate policy, renowned climate expert and head of the Wegener Centre for Climate and Global Change Gottfried Kirchengast, climate geographer Mathis Hampel who conducts research on the interaction between climate science and climate policy, and Mira Hapfinger, an activist in System Change Not Climate Change. Roxana Baldrich, a member of the International Climate Policy team at the NGO Germanwatch, discusses climate change as a reason for migration with Nnimmo Bassey. Finally, Graz-based human rights activist Doro Blancke talks about the reality of the tightened conditions in the Austrian asylum system under the current right wing government.
These are just some of the many topics across a total of about 30 events in the Elevate discourse program, which begins with the world premiere of the documentary film "The Mission of the Lifeline" at Schubertkino on Monday, February 25th.
"The truth is you don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed."
This year, in the Free Space of the Elevate festival experience, there will doubtless be a lot of substance and intellectual debate in the discourse programme; plenty of inspiration, exciting encounters, and, above all, a broadening of consciousness in a unique synergy with the expanded art programme and an overwhelming music line-up.
Daniel Erlacher, February 2019
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