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Program

9 April - 20:00 h (Local Time)
FreiRaum 
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Photos: Nina Pieroth, Michael Zapf, Forschungsinstitut Hannover, Nele Martensen, Christian Spielmann

ON THE VALUE OF DIGNITY

Public panel discussion with
Prof. Dr. Naika Foroutan
, migration researcher and acting director of the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research,
Dr. Regula Venske, President of the German PEN Centre in Hamburg,
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Manemann, Director of the Forschungsinstitut für Philosophie Hannover (Hanover Institute for Philosophical Research) and
Bernd Kauffmann, Artistic Director of the Movimentos Festival, who will discuss the "Value of Dignity" and its global vulnerability.
The discussion will be moderated by Stephan Lohr, former chief literary editor of the NDR Kultur radio programme.

Thinking about dignity, it doesn't take long to understand that the concept and meaning of the word are rife with dilemmas and rich in potential. Dignity is specific. It applies above all to people, but also to nature with its plants and animals and to political or religious institutions.

As much as it applies to the individual, dignity presupposes society. Dignity arises in and applies to relationships. Just a few seconds of reflection along these lines make it clear that, time and again, dignity is unequivocally defined in terms of its loss. "Human dignity is inviolable" is the first sentence of the German constitution, and the intention is universal.

But can't we immediately think of thousands of violations of this precept? In private disputes or global events, where too many people are still deprived of clean water, healthy food and a safe home, with human dignity being openly and brutally violated through terror and war? And are we not learning that animals and plants deserve the same respect that the climate is already claiming for itself with its extreme manifestations? If humankind is to survive on this planet, significant ecological adjustments will need to be made: less waste, lower CO2 emissions, enormous global efforts to implement social justice for all, both in the rich industrial nations and in the poverty and hunger-stricken regions of this one world. "The concept of dignity harbours the utopia of a society that is capable of living in peace" (Oskar Negt).

But let us not forget the positive examples. Even areas on the periphery of public attention, like the ethical, medical and sociopolitical aspects of dying, have shifted into focus, with the result that people in palliative care, in hospices and at home can die with a dignity our parents could not have imagined. Civilization has also progressed in terms of how we think about children's education, with parents and teachers in our parts of the world no longer resorting to the cane or demanding blind obedience. And even if there is no consensus around the concepts, the ideas and models of inclusion for the disabled hold the promise of greater dignity.

The categorical quality of dignity is subject to socio-historical change, but, as Immanuel Kant wrote in 1794, it allows no equivalent. Dignity must therefore fulfil the most rigorous requirements of human integrity. We might also recall the religious definition of dignity, which sees all people as created in the image of God and therefore fundamentally equal. At the same time, the engagement of traditionally Christian societies with Islam calls for a cross-denominational dialogue that demands tolerances which are yet to be developed.

If we are to start doing justice to the primacy of dignity, there are enormous and ongoing challenges involved in migration, the authoritarian developments in many nations towards a "dictocracy", the focus on the consequences of globalization and digitalization, and other issues of current debate in the "First World". But in our market-economy driven world, gainful employment is also an essential aspect and a matter of dignity. It is therefore only logical that Oskar Negt writes in his study "Work and Human Dignity" (Göttingen 2001): "Unemployment is an attack on the physical and mental integrity, on the inviolacy of the person affected."

Defending dignity and averting the threat of its loss are not only able to tolerate controversy, debate and conflict, but in fact actually require them – to be battled out within the rules of democracy and with respect. Because dignity stands above conventions like politeness or decency. Apart from the thematic emphasis on the subject itself, it is clear that the academic, artistic and political discourse, while ultimately in the service of dignity, does not itself need to be conducted in a dignified way – as long as the dispute or the artistic provocation is conducive to expanding knowledge and insight and allows scope for an aesthetics of utopia.

Reason enough to reflect in a public debate at the Movimentos Festival on the vulnerability of human dignity in a world that is beset by daily indignities and the disregard of basic precepts of human coexistence.