January 16th, 2017
by Bobby Henzler
The second session of be a better being started on the 17th of November at 7:30 in the Deutsche Kinemathek. The films presented at the screening served as the starting point for the panel discussion, which focused on how striving to “be better” affects people at the individual level.
We started with the short film “Wir könnten, wir sollten, wir hätten doch… “ by David Lorenz, who joined the panel after the screening. Lorenz’s contribution started a discussion about the relationship between identification and empathy.
In “Wir könnten, wir sollten, wir hätten doch…”, a middle-class couple fails to help a starving person who rings their doorbell. In the film a strange kind of identification is at work. After watching the film, most people say: “Yes, it is exactly like that! That’s how people are.” But nobody says: “Yes, I am exactly like that.” According to Felix Hasler, a researcher at the Berlin School of Mind and Brain at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, this is one of the reasons why this kind of behavior appears, and why “caring” is institutionalized in our society today. We are responsible only for our own small family cell and not for all members of a society. As a result, people today expect certain services of caring to be provided by institutions instead of individuals.
Clio Nicastro, who researches empathy at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry, Berlin, clarified that the claim that empathy is not possible without identification is a very difficult one, because that would mean that empathy would only be possible in cases of successful identification. According to Nicastro, this is obviously not true and as we all know no binding definition for Empathy exists today.
The next short film, “Eye for an Eye” by Steve Bache, Mahyar Goudarzi, and Louise Peter, led us to the next undefined issue: How does evil come into the world and into individuals? The film is an animated documentary about a prisoner waiting for the death penalty, showing how he reflects on his situation and what he has done to deserve that penalty.
For Felix Hasler, the film boils the whole issue down to the simple question of: ill or evil? What makes a person carry out such an act: raping and killing a young mother and her child? Over the last few decades, neuroscience has sought to find a marker that could forecast this kind of extreme antisocial behavior. But in fact, there is no way to predict a certain social behavior based upon a certain brain state. It is still completely unclear what drives a person to evil behavior. Epigenetics have lately become more important as an explanatory model, but it remains unclear whether the individual who carries out an evil act is sick or evil.
Concerning the attempt to be a better being, it is extremely interesting to reflect on how we distinguish between good and evil. Is the wish to be a good and functional person the healthy state? And is deviant behavior therefore a sign of illness, something that should be diagnosed and, if possible, cured? During the discussion, Felix Hasler emphasized that the data collected by neuroscientific technologies, such as brain scans, are simply highly abstract data that need to be interpreted, and that it is the interpretation that produces sense. In his view, such data do not form a written truth, but are subject to a specific and debatable interpretation by academics.
Mahyar Goudarzi, one of the directors of “Eye for an Eye”, compared the production process of the film with trajectory of our discussion. During the filming, the filmmakers did not want to judge whether the prisoner was sick, whether it was the man’s childhood that drove him to commit murder or the drugs he had taken. Mayhar described the artistic approach taken during production as very similar to the academic approach that shaped the panel discussion.
Anna Henckel Donnersmarck chaired the Session Ain`t No Way.
Here a short impression of “Again” by Chang Gao and “The Trolleybus Man” by Jonas Trukanas, the other films of Ain`t No Way:
Our highly engaged panelists brought a lot of ideas to the discussion and we talked for more than an hour about these fascinating issues. To learn more about our panelists and the screened films, click here >>>
Bobby Henzler is a scriptwriter but has an academic background as well . She is responsible for the coordination of the project, the film section and the curation committee of be a better being.