Outside the In-Between: Navigating in Ambiguity

By using the current example of the COVID-19 pandemic and the confrontational situation opposing vaccinated people and non-vaccinated ones, this text questions the equivocal possibilities of being in the place of ambiguity and uncertainty. Instead of asking what is wrong or what is right from constructed assumptions, the text proposes to reflect upon the different perspectives that make them antagonistic.

While asking how to navigate the position of ambiguity without being trapped in polarized positions which suppress communication and reinforce division, the text discusses the numerous possible understanding of clarity and certainty that one perceives and creates within institutional complexities. Responding to feelings of fear and the need for safety, the text sees ambiguity in both: being the center of discord and the potential operator for alteration. 

︎︎︎ Editorial Design

Editorial Design

Writing superwised by:
Patricia Reed
Yaniya Lee

Special Thanks go to:
Ali T. As’ ad
Gijs de Boer
Matylda Krzykowski
Yaniya Lee
Wineke van Muiswinkel
Patricia Reed
Jack Segbars
Saskia van Stein
Lua Vollaard

Abstract by Camille Guibaud

The in between Time

Ambient Ambiguity

I see a lot. But I realize that I might not know. I sometimes use I don’t know at the end of a statement. Maybe to clarify to others that I am open towards their opinions, maybe to weaken a statement to make it digestible to them and to make me more approachable. Surely it is a stupid phrase I simply got used to using. Sometimes I hate using that phrase, because sometimes I do think I could know. I recognized that others use the phrase too. I’ve heard it in English, but Germans also say: Keine Ahnung. I wonder why my surroundings and I are afraid to know, or resistant to claim to know. Maybe because we get confronted with something that we do not know everyday, so stating an opinion seems so very absurd that we add I don’t know to every opinion that might, potentially, be disqualified and proven wrong. Maybe this I don’t know is my reaction to all these questions popping up: opening my phone, book, looking around, to so many perspectives presenting themselves as equal.
        Every time I feel like coming close to anything concrete, I get reminded—or remind myself—that I might have missed something, that I should see from a different point of view, or that I have no qualifications at all to form any kind of opinion. Surely, I could be confronted with having to trust others to know better and to implement that knowledge responsibly. Still, there might be something else. Something seems to complicate this into that and everything seems to be complicated. Maybe it is me thinking I could see on the other side of the globe and judge what is happening there, while I still only perceive a little part of it, maybe even polished through the screen of my phone. Maybe it is hearing extreme positions, screaming at each other and the more reflected voices trying to whisper against the noise. Maybe, it is this time. A time of in-between: in-between positions and perspectives, in-between future and past, there and here, me and others, in-between different Is. This time appears ambiguous, a concept which needs to be differentiated from complexity. Complexity describes a structure built by reality, the surrounding world. Trying to understand something complex is confronting the individual with the bigger picture, and setting the small in relation to the too big to see at once.1 Whilst complexity challenges the individual with the unknown, overwhelming, and possibly ungraspable, ambiguity challenges the individual with multiple perspectives on what is known from said unknown. Dealing with ambiguity means: pausing, thinking, reflecting, and moving around what presents itself as right. The word itself is related to double meaning which needs to be reflected on and confronts humans with questioning their own perspectives.2 There appears to be not one “right” path, but many, circling around statements and opinions presenting themselves as simple and through their simplicity as clear. The individual is confronted with a multiplicity of options obfuscating the complex structures of its surroundings.

Ambiguity is a process of multiple viewpoints connecting and intertwining while messing up the purity of polarities and certainties. By dissolving connections into spots and shapes into gradients, by jumping back and forth between the black and white, ambiguity creates a fog surrounding humans and challenges them to find orientation and within that orientation comfort. I am standing in a gray mass, thick, opaque and obscure. I am stuck. I do not know where I am. I have an idea, very vague, thought flaring up from time to time, lightening— or brightening—the fog, just a little, just a moment. I wonder how to move within this time of accessibility to multiple positions and ideas, complicating the certainty of a position. The individual perceiving the ambiguous is disorientated and confronted with uncertainty. When the complex is overwhelming, the ambiguous is confusing. I cannot see, because I see too much. But this too much is way too little, because it stays superficial. Within that superficiality, this could mean that and something in-between.
       Ambiguity implies an unbiased treatment of perspectives perceived through a distant lens, presenting themselves as equally true until valued by someone negotiating between the different ideas. This process is the very base of reasoning and thinking. Parliaments are split between those elected and those within the opposition. A culture of debate to come closer to the truth is the foundation of democracy which mediates between different interests and is capable of revising decisions.3 This culture of debate, the acceptance that there is not one truth, but many dependent on a process of mediation is highly reliant on tolerance for ambiguity. Still, as the following pages try to illustrate, we live in times in which the tolerance for ambiguity is lacking and the strive for the simple and clear seems prominent, times in which polarization threatens the process of mediation.
How can one avoid a manifestation of either black or white neglecting a necessity to see both, or even multiple? The following text tries to find a way in ambiguity, while recognizing that perceiving something as ambiguous is necessary, but also necessary to be overcome, sometimes—because sometimes—the black or the white might be needed, the clear, valued, defined and decided position. How can one find a position in ambiguity, without being trapped in clarity? How can I move through ambiguity without getting lost in the fog? The fog of ambiguity is illusive, not really existing, but it keeps those individuals confronted and overwhelmed in the gray and shades the vision. Dealing with ambiguity means dealing with the realization that I am overwhelmed, that I am confronted with the fear of being wrong, the fear of the unknown and while I thought that I was in control, I more and more realize that I am not. How can I avoid not understanding turning into fear of what is not understood? The fear of the ambiguous, the fear of losing control, the fear of what might wait in the fog?

The Fog Entered the Self

Today, in a globalized world, societies, especially in the western context are not homogeneous but pluralized by many different milieus existing visibly next to each other. Pluralization emphasized the ambiguity of the life-world and its inhabitants, who do not know how to deal with this ambiguity but also cannot unsee it anymore.4 It changed the proclaimed unquestioned belonging of the individual once treated as part of the majority by a nation dependent on an ideal type creating the image of a nation’s homogeneity. This homogeneity—even if fictional—had to be enforced artificially through massive efforts on a material and cultural level by emotionalizing abstract spaces and the borders in-between with symbols.5 Now, pluralization promotes the erosion of a national identity depending on the superiority of the white man.6 All those creating their identity knowingly or unknowingly according to or against that formerly idealized type are confronted with the loss of the handbook to build their identity. Surely this loss resulted in a liberation of those humans working hard to fit the ideal type, now seeing so many different possibilities to shape their life. Also, one could hope it liberated those who were always different from this ideal. Still, this hyper-optionality has compressed the fog of ambiguity, containing multiple forms of identities the individual has to walk through and orientate itself within. Pluralization changed the way the individual relies on itself and references its identity.7
       To define their identity, individuals have to decide what to exclude as much as what to include,8 whilst thinking about how they picture and differentiate themselves from others. Being an individual is not a private matter. Zygmunt Bauman states that individuals picture identity as a combination of “harmony, logic, [and] consistency” which they struggle to accomplish.9 Everybody else but us seems to be able to achieve this goal which appears too far to reach. The individual is forced to become as individualistic as possible, but it still needs the approval and the confirmation of its surroundings.10 It tries to find clarity within itself and others and through this clarity safety and comfort; it tries to oppose the surrounding fog, which creeps inside its definition of the self. The fog of ambiguity entered my body, my mind. The fog is always there, in me and around me. There seems to be no relief. I cannot distance myself, I have to question myself.

Dangerous Fog Made from Aerosols

Humans are confronted with globalized crises that emotionalize the ambiguous world and visualize the fog. Ghassan Hage describes that the individual finds comfort in denial, a coziness of not knowing or forgetting.11 Nevertheless, ignorance towards crises challenging the individual and society has its limitations. Crises may knock on the door, or peek through a window. The individual may be able to choose not to open, or to close the blinds; still, every abstraction, even if far and foreign, is a form of perception, and even when the individual chooses not to care and to distance the self from other realities, the fog creeps around and visualizes itself as a feeling, the realization of a threat. The superficiality of the perception keeps from understanding, which could offer the individual some form of relief. Instead, I feel a constant feeling of discomfort simmering below the surface. This feeling shapes my perspectives and blurs my vision.

Times of crisis concern every inch and every organism, whilst often being disconnected from the direct perception of one individual making the crisis ungraspable, but very present. Ulrich Beck characterizes the postmodern society as a Risikogesellschaft [risk society] in which crises overcome the boundaries of nation-states or class, once capable of protecting the individuals in the midst of society living the carefree life of the non-affected which now results in new political and social dynamics. In the risk society, individuals, even those comfortable enough, cannot protect themselves by distancing themselves.12 Whilst his book is written under the influence of the atomic crisis of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986,13 his perception on crises can easily be transferred to the recent COVID-19 Pandemic: COVID confronts people with the ambiguity of a complex situation challenging everyone with the realization that we move through something unknown. The virus spreads through fine droplets and even smaller aerosols,14 poisoning the air surrounding humans and amplifying the ambient anxiety by confronting everyone with the impression of an invisible enemy threatening health and life. Aerosols are tiny particles occurring naturally: as plant pollen, fungal spores, or as dust particles carried far through the air. They play a vital role in the global water cycle by attracting vapor in the atmosphere and causing water molecules to condense around them.15 Like this, they are one factor in fog creation, since molecules of the water vapor combining to water droplets floating in the air make the fog visible.16 The image of the fog of ambiguity materializes itself in reality, not visibly, but by the prominence of contaminated air relevant in daily discussions. As natural fog creation is linked to aerosols, comparably, the fog of ambiguity can be seen as relatable to aerosols transporting the COVID-19 virus: it is illusive, an ungraspable and fluctuant idea creeping around the individuals only recognizable by their perspectives manifesting themselves in their actions. The virus is a similar threat, without a microscope solely recognizable through the impact it has on the individual’s health and behavior, next to the regulations and measurements against it.
        Origin and spread of the COVID-19 virus appears uncertain: It is reported that the virus surfaced on a Chinese seafood and poultry market in Wuhan, December 2019,17 even though scientists doubt the origin of the virus. Nanoscientist Prof. Dr. Roland Wiesendanger questions whether the outbreak originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, because they analyze the genetic manipulation of crona viruses.18 The research of geneticist Peter Forster on the Phylogenetic network of SARS-CoV-2 linked the virus to the south of China.19 COVID is described to have entered the European Continent in February of 2020, with France announcing the first COVID case on January, 24 2020,20 nonetheless scientists found through analyzing wastewater that SARS-CoV-2 was already circulating in different geographic regions of northern Italy by the end of 2019.21 Since then, Europe is, as the rest of the world, fighting a pandemic the W.H.O. declared as a global health emergency on January 30, 2020. Only ten months after the occurrence of the virus, on September 28, 2020, the pandemic killed more than one million people, not counting unrecorded cases.22 On February 19, 2022, around two years after the outbreak, 6.198,145 people died and 459.376,964 got infected, again, not including unrecorded cases.23

The in between Space

Boundaries against Ambiguity

The chapter The in between Time attempted to point out the surrounding ambiguity confronting the individual with uncertainty, fear, and overwhelmingness, feelings which are emphasized by crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the chapter expresses that the fog entered the Self, the individual is always confronted with ambiguity. The following chapter speaks about how the fearful individual counters ambiguity by creating an in between space functioning as a shelter attempting to protect from the surrounding fog.

Ambiguity challenges binaries like good or bad, man and women, here and there, above and below, past and future, black or white, binaries that structure and order the world. Today, in post-modern times, Thomas Bauer argues that all influences on the life-world like urbanization, globalization, industrialization, climate change or capitalism are not destiny playing with humans, but originate from the attempt to clarify ambiguity. Together with bureaucratization and technization, seen as human’s ways to organize the globalized life-world, these influences calculate and classify humans and their actions.24 Pascal Gielen states that only a few individuals can respond positively to the ambiguity of meaning. The majority avoids plurality and cannot endure ambiguity for a long time.25 Instead, the individual aims to create its surroundings and itself as the counterpart,26 it finds safety and comfort in structures clarifying the surrounding ambiguity. Nav Haq describes personality traits resulting from the incapability to deal with ambiguity, referring to an analyses of psychoanalyst Else Frenkel-Brunswik: The individual feels the “need for categorization and for certainty,” and is unable to “allow good and bad traits to exist in the same person.” In order to deal with the confrontation of ambiguity, the individual is developing a “black-white view of life; a preference for the familiar over the unfamiliar,” and “a rejection of the unusual or different,” next to an “early selection and dedication to one solution in an ambiguous situation [...].”27 They “verticalize, hierarchize and canonize” the world and are thereby highly reliant on pursuing clarity by finding one truth.28 This truth cannot be ambiguous, because everything that needs interpretation is not pure and everything that is pure is simple and clear.29 In that realm, everything is either completely wrong or completely right, it is black or white.

The all surrounding ambiguity, especially if emphasized by a crisis situation, leads to a division between those who are focused on finding clarity and those who face ambiguity, a division between those who deal with complexity or those striving for the easy way out. Clarity is a realization, something falling into place, it can be positive, an eureka moment opening up the view towards something new. Nonetheless, clarity can only be found by distancing from other perspectives, by simplifying the ambiguous.

Clarity presupposes protection from the fog creeping around, it presupposes walls, a concealed space the individual can move within, without being confronted by the foggy outside. It presupposes an inside, clearly separated from the outside. Like this, clarity can offer safety and security, by sheltering every individual within the comfort of a clear realization. In order to situate this metaphor, I picture clarity as a box defined by the perspectives and boundaries of each individual. The box can be seen as the bias of the individual and determines in what it finds clarity. Similar to the fog of ambiguity, it is not a real space, but illusive, recognized as thoughts most enlightening or numbing. The box is unique to everyone, small or big, having walls thick or thin, while harboring those memories most valuable, those fears most dreadful. The box is the mind-habitat of the individual. As the real-life equivalent of the mind-habitat: pocket, suitcase, room, flat, house, it is the private and intimate retreat for individuals moving around in the outside world. In order to explain the notion of the box and the space in between, some ideas of the book Architectonic Space: Fifteen Lessons on the Disposition of the Human Habitat are used to compare the reflection on the mind-habitat of each individual with the author’s perspectives on the basic notions of human dwelling.

The Single Box: As the author Dom H. van der Laan describes, as soon as one wall is placed next to another, an artificial space called “architectonic space” is created. One form of architectonic space is the house, which van der Laan does not necessarily imagine as a developed and built environment. Instead, he claims that any basic shelter created by walls distinguishes the inside from the outside resulting in a “fortified human existence” confronting nature. Van der Laan calls the space within the house the “experience-space.” This space is defined by the experiences lived by the human inside, its boundaries are thereby built up from within.30
        The human habitat is not restricted to the inside, rather it has to be perceived as a combination of inside and outside, of architectonic space and experience-space. The walls separating humans from the surrounding natural space enable them to bear and inhabit the vastness of nature. The inside is no longer a negotiation of the natural space, but is perceived as positive through its correspondence with the experience-space.31 The architectonic space is a space in which the conflict between natural space and experience-space of the human is overcome. The house is thereby the bridge in between humans and nature, whilst the walls in general function as a space divider.32 As the house, the box is the protection of the human, the shelter from the overwhelmingness of the outside world. Like the house, the box is the point of departure to explore the public. In order to experience their box positively, humans need to stay in their box, as they need to leave their box, inside and outside need to be balanced.

The Wall: As van der Laan points out, the wall is characterized by its opened and closed parts: It allows humans to enter the space and reveals the thickness of the wall.33 This shapes the impact the perception of the walls has on humans entering the space, or staying within. The thickness of walls and their distance away from each other determines the space between them, a space van der Laan calls “neighborhood.”34 This neighborhood establishes the feeling of being in between the walls. If their thickness limits the space in between, the walls appear closer together and the space within gets smaller.35

Walls protect, but they also widen the distance between humans. COVID-19 and the measurements against the virus thickened the boundaries in between the individuals and strengthened the walls of their shelter. This was not unnoticed by the individual. During COVID, the home as a shelter gained significance since public life became an amplifier of the risk. Individuals live within their own little spheres; the possibility of meeting strangers, next to friends and family is limited. Within the neighborhood of the In-between surrounded by walls the individual felt the limited space, the air became stuffy. COVID disrupted the necessary balance of outside and inside manifested in the architectonic space of the house and like this, pressured the feeling of the shelter turning into a trap.

Since the start of the pandemic, politics encouraged interference with the autonomy of the citizens and conduct many new forms of interaction,36 they raised boundaries limiting the freedom of the individual. Next to social distancing and self-isolating, humans have developed multiple strategies to cope with the threat of contaminated air and others. All of these widen the spaces between humans and strengthen boundaries attempting to protect from the virus. Face masks hinder from recognizing humans and their emotions, and the vaccination reduces the chance of getting sick by 70-95%, next to the chance of developing severe symptoms.37 As no other measurement, the vaccination gives hope to normalize human interaction and contact. Still, the perception of these measurements stays to a certain extent ambiguous, since experts and politicians debate about necessity, effectiveness, and implementation since the outbreak of the pandemic, with opinions varying within different locations and time-frames.

The Thickened Skin against COVID-19

On December 8, 2020, the UK became the first Western country to conduc mass vaccination.38 Since then, the European Union has received 1.34 billion doses and vaccinated 81.4% adults (state: Feb 20, 2022),39 Our World in Data, a project at the University of Oxford, speaks of 64.29% Europeans being fully vaccinated, compared to 54.83% of people world-wide (state: Feb 19, 2022).40 According to Our World in Data, 74.44% Germans are fully vaccinated (state: Feb 18, 2022).41 Reuters COVID-19 tracker states that Germany could have vaccinated about 101.6% of their inhabitants two times, since they ordered 168.948,328 doses of COVID vaccines so far.42 Health authorities in Germany speak of 191.2 million doses.43 Additionally, they specify that 62.5 million people (75.1%) got their first vaccination, 46.7 million people additionally got their third vaccination. Nevertheless, 19.8 Million Germans (23.8%),44 who do not have a medical reason to oppose the vaccine risk infecting themselves and others.
        The German Federal Ministry of Health commissioned the forsa Politik- und Sozialforschung GmbH to conduct an online study of those who haven’t been vaccinated so far. The study took place between September 29 and October 10, 2021, questioning 3,048 people in order to identify their motifs. The study shows that the attitude of those against the vaccination is fundamentally different from those in favor of the vaccination. Three quarters of the respondents question the safety of the vaccines being fearful of the side effects. Half of the respondents question their general effectiveness. 10% think of the risks of the vaccinations being higher than the use whilst 8% want to rely on their own immune system. One fifth of the respondents generally deny the existence of the virus. Others are skeptical towards measurements against the virus and the media coverage, stating that not all opinions are treated equally. Additionally, they are critical towards those measurements restricting basic rights. Around two quarters of the respondents want to act independently and perceive the pressure from politics and society as too high: Sanctions like 2G (vaccinated or recovered) would decrease the willingness to get vaccinated by 29%.45
        Two thirds fear a corona-dictatorship expecting the state using COVID as a cover-up to gain more power. More than one third believes that the federal government does not talk honestly about the coronavirus. 37% think that the restrictions of the government won’t be lifted, even with a big vaccination coverage. 26% claim that the virus is not as dangerous as presented by the media and politics and 24% do not believe COVID would be dangerous for themselves. Just a few of those unvaccinated are certain to get vaccinated within the coming weeks (2%), might get vaccinated (3%), or are indecisive (7%). The big majority does not plan to get vaccinated.46
        19.8 Million Germans react to ambiguous measurements against an ambiguous threat with the manifestation of a very last boundary they can claim authority for: their skin. Closing their body off and not letting a little needle enter, they find a bit of certainty in the uncertainty of the pandemic: the certainty of resisting the vaccine. They hinder society from living with the virus in a way closer to the old, normal times, a way for all not to feel threatened by an invisible enemy. They act against all reasonable voices shouting in the proclaimed biased media.47 This rejection by society, the shaming of those not vaccinated seems to promote an act of defiance, a retreat towards their own perspectives, inside their own, intimate box.

The Shelter: The box is the shelter of the individual, necessary to explore the open. Shaming the individual means questioning its identity, its fears and wishes. The individual feels most deeply touched by the criticism of others, it feels the need to claim its space and to protect what might be lost. Under the pressure of a crisis situation, surrounded by contaminated fog, the fearful individual is much likely to isolate itself. Now, as crises emphasize the ambiguity of the world surrounding the individual, they also radicalize the reaction of the individual confronted with the unclear. The overwhelmed individual finds relief from the challenge to find a way through ambiguity by strengthening the walls of its box. The shelter transforms into a trap. Rationality bounces off walls of emotions constructed by fear.

The pandemic gave rise to the Querdenken-movement,48 which is the radical base of those resisting the vaccine in Germany. They function as an example to point out how individuals trapped in their box act, especially being confronted with different opinions. The followers of this movement claim to, according to the name, think laterally, outside the box, against the “dictatorship” of the system and the Biased restricting their life according to boundaries highly criticized by the movement. While claiming to be peaceful, the radicalization of the movement led to militant violations of demonstration-bans and violence against journalists and the police.49 Since April 2021, the movement has been monitored by the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which classified it as hostile to the democracy principle and institutions of the state.50

A study conducted by the Faculty of Sociology at the University of Basel in November 2021 analyzed the origin and motivations behind those part of the Querdenken-movement. Very first demonstrations were initiated in March 2020, aligned with the introduction of first measurements against the spread of the virus by the German Government. The initiative Querdenken 711 founded in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg by Michael Ballweg grew to become the center of protests against COVID in Germany. The first Mahnwache für das Grundgesetz [solemn vigil for the constitution] on April 18, 2020 counted 80 participants, less than a month later 15,000 people attended.51
        The study shows that the Querdenken protest is a very heterogeneous movement and differs geographically between protests in the eastern parts of Germany where protestors are connected to right-wing politics and protests in Baden-Württemberg, a state in the south-western part of the country where followers of the movement can be linked to green and leftist ideas, next to esoteric and anthroposophical philosophies.52 Both are marching alongside each other showing a post-ideological and liberitarian context of the movement, the Reichsflagge [imperial flag] and the rainbow flag are being waved simultaneously.53 The heterogeneity of the protestors is unified by their critique connected to the assumption that critique in general is not possible anymore. The respondents of the study only regard other voices as believable when they share their critical perspectives opposed to what is considered as mainstream. The protestors can stage themselves as the brave opposition, whilst enacting
the role of a messiah who takes the blame for the honorable goal of sharing the truth. Querdenker victimize themselves as a defamed oppositional force, hushed by the biased media.54 From the very beginning, Querdenken spread conspiracy theories. They base their whole argumentation on the perception that the virus is similar to a normal flu. Minimizing the danger of COVID-19 justifies the argument that all measurements of the federal government are out of proportion.55 Distrust in institutions and conspiracy theories are mutually dependent, still, both concepts need to be differentiated: Conspiracy theories indicate concrete beliefs that institutions or individuals in powerful positions misuse their power and conspire in secrecy, working on realizing malicious goals. Individuals assume that there is an underlying truth or purpose behind the reality presented as the truth by officials.56 Conspiracy theories undermine social relationships, reduce cooperation and legitimate forms of political engagement like voting,57 while they increase antisocial behavior, next to illegal forms of political engagement such as violent protest, or harassment of other-minded people online and offline.58 Distrust on the other hand is connected to a global feeling of wanting to avoid a vulnerable position towards powerful institutions.59

This chapter showed that to counter ambiguity, individuals create a box made out of clarity. Still, this box is dependent on a balanced inside and outside in order to be perceived as a shelter; the individual needs to be comfortable enough to leave their box behind. COVID raised boundaries between individuals, distancing them from the outside and simultaneously confronting everyone with the realization that the measurements, although doing a lot may not be doing enough. Being confronted with the ambiguity of the situation, some individuals fell into a trap of continuing to oppose the vaccine. Furthermore, if those in the trap are questioned for what they perceive as a shelter, their position might be radicalized by movements such as Querdenken in the German context, which form around conspiracy theories and a general distrust in institutions. The following chapter Below the In-between will take a closer look on why their conspiracies fell on fruitful grounds.

Below the In-between

Lack of Trust in Institutions

The lack of trust in institutions like the government, science, and media promoting the vaccines and measurements against COVID, next to the lack of trust in the vaccine itself are the most prominent reasons to oppose the vaccination. Nevertheless, within the heterogeneous mass of the 19.8 Million Germans against the vaccine are only few really deeply buried inside their box: Just 5% of the respondents stated that they generally refuse or are fearful of vaccines. Furthermore, the willingness to become vaccinated would increase significantly for half of the respondents (56%) with the admission of classical vaccinations, like inactivated vaccines. More so, the study shows that their positions resonate within the whole of the German population, for instance: 39% of the overall population against 89% of those not vaccinated suspect a one-sided and biased media coverage and 20% of the overall population believes that the state uses COVID as a pretext to gain more power, compared to 68% of those not vaccinated.60 The pandemic visualizes to a new extent the skepticism many hold against core institutions of democracy. Querdenker and others not believing in the vaccine are one symptom of a time where institutions are losing the trust of the individual, a trust necessary to define a secure basis for the community. They enqueue themselves in a series of events and movements that indicate this development, like the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, reacting to Donald Trump falsely declaring himself as winner of the 46th presidential election while simultaneously defaming Joe Biden and the Democratic Party as cheaters.61 The lack of trust in institutions, especially the mainstream-media, provided a perfect setting for the COVID conspiracies to spread, unchecked and unchallenged by experts.62
        As Karin Wilkins, dean of the School of Communication at the University Miami states, public trust in political institutions and the media has been declining since the 1970s, increasingly throughout the more recent years. She links this development to the political discourse becoming more and more adversarial, which emphasizes fragmentation raising walls instead of inspiring collectivity by sharing and promoting the same values. Additionally, the lack of trust can be linked to poor performance of those in powerful positions.63 Chantal Mouffe connects the “growing dissatisfaction with democratic institutions” to the current political theory centering their discourse in an “individualistic, universalistic, and rationalistic framework,” erasing the political and preventing the “pluralistic democratic public sphere.” She states that privatization instead of encouraging active participation in politics did not secure stability, but led towards extreme forms of individualism threatening the social fabric. Additionally, lack of identification with valuable ideas of citizenship let people search for other forms of collective identification. In Mouffes position, the growth of fundamentalism, whether religious, ethnic or moral, is a direct consequence of this development.64
        Institutions play a huge role in today’s democratic society, organizing, and regulating the community, next to inspiring collective goals. Generally, their function can be divided between two key responsibilities: providing a sense of security next to defining and promoting the variety of group norms and values. The first core function of governmental and legal institutions is to protect their citizens on a social and economic level. If individuals distrust institutions, they feel less protected which impacts how they feel about and act around others. Trust in between strangers is one of the fundamentals of working societies and can be heavily impacted by the fear of exploitation or by institutions unable or unwilling to act against malevolent actions.65 Instead of trusting the surrounding community, the individual fears and avoids others, who are perceived as a threat. A reduced feeling of security effects between-group relationships, as it promotes radicalization described as a “tribal mindset” of expecting harm from others,66 which thereby can be seen as one origin of political extremism and a propellant of polarization between different ideological groups.67 The second responsibility of institutions in democratic societies is to function as role models that frame norms and values. Individuals trusting institutions regard these institutional authorities as representatives for the communities norms and values.68 If institutions are perceived as honorable, individuals infer to be part of a respected and valuable group; if they are in contrast regarded as dishonest and unreliable, individuals conclude to be marginalized and powerless whilst being a member of an unworthy group. The perceived quality of institutions and hence the trust individuals put in them is connected to how valuable individuals experience their group membership, shaping their social relationships.69

It is very important to be skeptical towards institutions, to demand accountability from those holding power, and to question when they violate their rights. Nevertheless, when distrust becomes omnipresent instead of being a propellant of positive change, it is a sign that systems are failing and are in need of being reformed.70 Suspicion against institutions has multiple negative societal impacts on the individual and its surroundings, it erodes the foundation of society.71 The individual learns not to rely on community and instead regards others as competition for the common goal to sustain a living and to be safe. A shared ideal is replaced by polarized opponents facing each other, all watching the other in agony. Being skeptical against institutions is replaced by distrust which can develop into irrational assumptions, the individual is open for conspiracy theories. It expects a threat behind every corner, and more importantly: perceives everything through the lens of everybody against me. It becomes a paranoid and isolated individual that relates everything to itself.

The Missing We Elevates the I

Institutions could hold together the differences of many individuals by emphasizing the positivity of common norms and values. They could give perspectives to orient within ambiguity while being trusted to deal with the attempt to understand the surrounding world. Institutions should function as the mortar connecting the multiplicities of perspectives and opinions and yet many individuals are relying on their own box. The lack of trust in institutions transfers to not trusting togetherness with all members of society; the individual preferably trusts itself and follows those proclaiming and feeding individuality.

The Holy Box: The deep mistrust of the members of Querdenken and other conspiracy theorists in core institutions of democracy or science is combined with a libertarian understanding of freedom, individuality, and self-responsibility perceived as absolute.72 Querdenker highly rely on overstated esoteric principles.73 Esoteric can be understood as “claims of higher knowledge and ways of accessing this knowledge,” only available for insiders.74 In crisis situations, the retreat into inwardness, self-experience, and expertise is used to counter feelings of helplessness and powerlessness and again emphasizes the individual as the center of autonomy.75 The followers of the anti-vaccination movement reduce democratic participation to individualistic freedom perceived as completely disconnected from the democratical collective. Self-responsibility and self-autonomy are perceived as idealized values whilst freedom is seen as total independence.
        Conspiracy theories are a source of social stigma, they promote the individual’s belief that it will be regarded negatively by others resulting in the assumption to be excluded.76 This assumption of being part of the opposition towards the mainstream, stigmatized and shamed, combined with the perception that one’s own path is the only right one against all as unreasonable perceived voices, seems to lead towards a superelevation of personal beliefs. The box of the individual is canonized and criticism bounces off on its walls, more so: the individual strengthens the walls of its box and teaches itself that it likes to be inside. The holy box makes it possible to put others into a box, following this common phrase: to define others and through this definition, disregard them as equal. The individual can only elevate itself if it degrades others. Sitting in a box hovering above everybody else’s, it can neglect and dismiss the community surrounding it. Within this enhancement of individualism, individuals cannot expect protection from others and others cannot expect protection from them. Like this, they deny the social world and are able to perceive their own freedom as superior to others.77
        As George Monbiot describes in the case of anti-vaccination movements rooted long before COVID, right-wing ideologies invaded leftwing countercultures and connected the green left and far right. Monbiot believes that this mix originates in a combination between “despondency, confusion and betrayal,” after left-ist political parties exited the opposition and got acquainted with corporate power. Additionally, COVID visualized the capability of governments to realize “powerful agreements,” which is confronting those believing in “the local and the homespun,” who place the responsibility of the singular against the responsibility of the big. Now, the right uses the language formerly used by the left: whilst parties earlier connected to the left speak about security and stability, the right is talking about revolution and disobedience. He detects a dangerous development of eroded boundaries between emphasized individualism as part of esoteric and right-wing pure-blood ideology.78 

The confrontation with the fog of ambiguity emphasized by the crisis and the disregard of their own perspectives by the ‘mainstream’ leads towards a retreat into false truth, wrong clarity, for some obvious mistakes, egocentric, irrational, and non-caring conclusions, for those individuals canonizing their box in contrast: thoughtful, goodhearted, and far from irrational opinions. Next to the institutions losing the trust of the individuals, the individualistic perspective now erodes a shared understanding of the surrounding world and principles formerly agreed on. The individual is easily blended by wrong self-confidence believing to act for the common good. The shelter of the individual turned into a trap the fearful individual can barely leave. Those not vaccinated, including their radical base of Querdenker in Germany, pointing out the lack of trust in institutions and thereby the lack of community, which could form the foundation to explore the outside of the in-between and from this outside perspective: the trigger to question one’s box. But this exploration is highly dependent on trusting what is waiting in front of the box. Taking risks requires feeling safe.

Outside the In-between

A Tiny Toe Is Connected to the Common

The previous chapter showed how the lack of a shared understanding of togetherness emphasized by the lack of trust in institutions elevates the I into holy realms, aiming to become as independent as possible. This chapter now points out how the holy box can be shared within isolated communities while still stressing the independence of the individual. The individual can ignore its tiny toe.

Querdenker claim to think outside the box, they claim to be the opposition to those who follow and obey whilst disqualifying every voice trying to convince, to lure them towards the vaccination. They strengthen one of the most relevant boundaries of our times: the skin of those skeptical of the vaccine. They resist seeing themselves being in their own box but are very capable of using that box as a platform whilst positioning themselves as

Querdenken steht für Eigenverantwortung, Mut, Liebe, Freiheit, Frieden und Wahrheit. [Lateral thinking stands for personal responsibility, courage, love, freedom, peace and truth.]
—Michael Ballweg

One can easily agree on perceiving lateral thinking as connected to personal responsibility or courage. Selling their movement with concepts like love and peace is highly successful because they neglect their ambiguity whilst interpreting them through a superficial lens as clearly arguing for their own perspective. Within that superficiality, they can ignore that freedom means freedom for all and to reach that promise, can mean compromising in times where the freedom for all is threatened by a crisis for all. They are capable of interpreting their actions as an act of love, of caring for others, so that all individuals can express themselves even whilst this expression could harm others. Occupying these highly ambiguous concepts is dependent on the holy box: the idealization of one’s own perception leading to clarity and ignorance, together with neglecting communality. They are confronted with the fog of ambiguity creeping inside, challenging an identity claimed to be clear and authentic. Instead of accepting the challenge, they avoid future development by canonizing the position they stand on. Nevertheless, their elevation of the box into holy realms seems oppositional to a reality so complex it cannot be countered by blessing simplicity, a reality in which we are not lonely beings walking past each other. As George Monbiot states: “Bodily and spiritual sovereignty are illusions.”79 We see each other, and are dependent on each other. Still, we drift away from each other and resent meeting each other.

Multiple Boxes: As van der Laan points out, the experience-space of the individual, its surroundings, is composed of a workspace, a walking space and a visual field, later described as cell, court and domain. This overlap of progressively larger spaces is intrinsically connected. The amended smaller space lies in the midst of the amended bigger space. To the intimate cell the wider court is the outside, but to the even wider domain, the court is the inside. Everybody is the owner of one, personal box and shares multiple other boxes simultaneously. The wider those boxes get, the weaker the effectiveness of the boundary, the wall of the box. Humans relate the space less and less to themselves. With every space the inside becomes less intimate.80 This arrangement of intimate and shared spaces surrounded by boundaries more or less dividing shows that humans are always surrounded by other humans they need to share their space with. Within the visual field also describable as the human perception of its surroundings exist multiple, other alien courts and cells. Humans are thereby always concerned with the boundaries of others and need to find their way around and within other’s boundaries, next to their own.

The Square: Cell and court are arranged within the limited space of the domain (visual field). According to van der Laan, as soon as multiple humans share the same domain, the space can be used most efficiently by arranging courts incorporating cells on the outer border of the domain. With this re-alignment of shared spaces emerges a square in the middle of the domain, approachable for all humans inhabiting the more intimate spaces on the outer border.81 The square is the meeting ground of multiple humans sharing the space, similar to the marketplace in the center of a town. Within this space, humans are confronted with other humans not necessarily similar. They are meeting outside the private sphere of the cell, in the public. This square is the materialization of a balance between inside and outside on which humans can feel at home, since they are used to their visual field, but are still not within their most private, isolated from others. This square can be seen as an ideal of community and exchange, filled with humans willing to meet.

The Mind-Marketplace: As the fog of ambiguity and the box, the square aligns itself as part of this analysis of the individual’s behavior and perspectives. If this idea of the square is now treated similarly as the box, it needs to be interpreted as an illusive space, dependent on the perception of the individual. This individual is creating the square as an imaginative space, an idea of a collective, a perception of other surrounding individuals. The square becomes the individual’s interpretation of its surrounding community, it sees a mind-marketplace as it sees the clarity forming its box, sketched by its opinions and colored by its imagination. The mind-marketplace is designed by the choice of the individual, which can be distinguished as “self-selected personalisation and preselected personalisation.” While the first describes processes determined by the individual choosing what to see and believe, the latter refers to personalization done for the individual, with or without its knowledge. The mind-marketplace can be compared to the phenomenon of the filter bubble, which is a state of “intellectual or ideological isolation,” resulting from algorithms analyzing the behavior of the individual and simultaneously feeding it likable information.82

The Collective Box: The mind-marketplace can materialize itself outside of the individual’s perception of others. It becomes a collective box, shared by like-minded people isolated in their own beliefs, either in the digital realm or in the real world. This collective box is comparable to an echo chamber. The individual is overexposed to ideas and information which are similar to the perspectives of the individual, leading the individual into believing that its perception of the world is reality.83 The echo chamber must be differentiated from the idea of a filter bubble: Instead of muting voices from outside the bubble, echo chambers discredit voices outside the belief realm of their members.84 The individual within the echo chamber begins to distrust everybody outside the shared perception within, simultaneously resulting in the trust for those inside growing. Echo chambers isolate their members, not by shutting out the world around, but by growing distrust towards everything and everyone outside the chamber.

The image of bubble and chamber is not sufficient in describing the significance these spaces have for the individuals inside: As described before, the individual can perceive the safety and comfort boundaries create similar to security provided by a solid space, even while being a creation inside the individual’s head. These walls are not as easily popped as the surface of a bubble, there is no easy way to enter a box so deeply buried that it has the possibility of hurting others and the individual inside. Collective boxes are a closed system, providing answers to essential wonder of human existence, whilst simultaneously not allowing questions or dissent.85 Whilst the holy box elevates the individual into realms where questioning one’s own perspectives is not necessary, the collective box now provides a relief from the singular experience of being excluded for one’s beliefs, a comfortable and shared environment in exchange for unquestioned trust. Individuals feel no need to step on a square where their perspectives are challenged by voices the collective box teaches not to trust.
        The Querdenken movement is highly reliant on the distrust of those criticizing the movement and on the connection to those believing the same. COVID strengthened the walls in between humans and the individual meets others in the digital world. Even though digitalization makes it possible to peek into the multiple different and alien visual fields of others and is thereby confronting the individual with boundaries to other worlds minimizing, technology does not emphasize the tolerance for other life- worlds. The comparison to others described as the challenge to define an identity before, now visualizes itself in the actions of the individual, choosing the most similar visual field limited by algorithms and human choices. The ideal of exchange on the square is replaced by the collective box.

From Box to Box to Square

A Box, Just There

This last chapter tries to propose hopefully that even though the fearful and overwhelmed individual elevating its box seems out of reach for those standing underneath, there might be a way, together, in ambiguity.

We see the other as part of the visual field, but may turn towards those sharing the same perspectives since it is easier to consume clarity than to face ambiguity. The individual feels threatened and exposed if its own clarity is questioned instead of welcomed by a functioning community, it strengthens its boundaries and retreats into the most private. It is hard, maybe even impossible to argue with individuals deeply buried in their box, because they speak from the fear of losing their safe space sheltering their identity, a space strengthened by overrated self-responsibility and fears. Questioning this shelter pushes them way back, maybe even completely out of reach.
       Now, should those comfortable on the square try to avoid strengthening the walls of the others, when questioning boundaries provokes exposure for those who should be confronted outside their comforting realm? Walking on eggshells around those who might be radicalized cannot be the solution. They need to be held accountable; simultaneously, all those circling around those most deeply buried should be tried to reach. We need to find a way with them, they need to be invited to the square, instead of being motivated to clean their box while raising a defensive wall to keep all opposing ideas out. Chantal Mouffe states that if pluralism is taken seriously, the dream of rational consensus is utopian, while friction between different positions—pluralism of values causing antagonism—can actually be beneficial.86 Her theory of agonistic pluralism speaks about negotiating between contrary positions. She defines the other as an adversary, a partner to combat, a legitimate enemy to question, all on a shared foundation supported by “the ethico-political principles of liberal democracy: liberty and equality.” The disagreement between two adversaries cannot question the shared frame, but the meaning and implementation of these principles.87 For Mouffe, agonism is a conflict between adversaries, whereas antagonism is a struggle between enemies. With agonistic pluralism, democratic politics do not neglect the passionate aspect of politics within the public sphere in order to find a consens everybody can agree on through rationalizing the discourse. Rather, they mobilize passions towards designing the democratic without avoiding conflict seen as beneficial.

The Mortar: Box and square are reliant on the mortar holding everything together, mortar mixed from trust in common sense, trust in there is a way, even in ambiguity. This trust cannot be built on rationality, but on fostering emotions which secure belonging and support democratic values.88 As Ludwig Wittenstein mentions, agreement is not dependent on what is true or false, but rather on agreeing on the language which is used, on the different forms of life, on our actions.89 When two existentially different positions face each other, each one of them will declare the other position as foolish. In the end, after reason follows persuasion,90 which can only be done on an emotional level and is highly dependent on trust, enabeling the individual to step outside its own perspective and institutions to represent and respond to common needs.91 Trust provokes the willingness to take risks,92 essential for change and for embracing the surrounding ambiguity. The individual can always be challenged by other perspectives, but it won’t confront the fog of ambiguity and face the uncertain and overwhelming if it risks to threaten the safety of its most private box.

For Mouffe, a functioning democracy is defined by a “vibrant clash of democratic political positions.” When this clash cannot happen within the democratic realm, she suspects a confrontation within other forms of collective identifications. This could lead to manifestations of collective passions around issues outside the influence of democratic processes, concluding in antagonisms threatening the foundation of civility. Furthermore, the emphasis on consensus alongside the rejection of conflict can be responsible for apathy and lack of interest in political participation.93 Even though Chantal Mouffe argues against consensus and emphasizes the moving force of dissent, her concept is still dependent on a shared foundation, of both adversaries agreeing on the ground they stand on. This ground can be seen as the square being the space to challenge one’s own perspectives. If the pandemic showed one thing crystal clear: The square, the ideal of living together, needs to be cared for, by both individuals and institutions and not only superficially by removing the weeds. Both are highly dependent on a functioning meeting ground. As the box being a comforting shelter is dependent on the individual being able to leave it behind, the square depends on the boxes it holds: Only if the individual is willing to question its box, it is willing to care for the square.
        As demonstrated, Querdenken, like the anti-vaccination movement in general, is a very heterogeneous group. They forget and even accept their differences, more so: they get closer to each other through the shared distrust in institutions. Their critique overshadows and bridges their differences. They form themselves against the common enemy, more so: the once common foundation becomes the common enemy. In the shared certainty of a defined opponent they can enter a collective box, which could be described as ambiguous, filled with difference. The definition of their safe space, their shelter, their identity changes.

Ambiguous Box & Square: As described before, the box is the space where the individual finds clarity and through this clarity safety and comfort, functioning as a private shelter in a complex and ambiguous world. One could understand the square as opposite to the box: following this binary, the square would be the open, the public whilst the box would be the closed and intimate. In this understanding, the square is surrounded by boxes and the individuals would leave their box behind to meet in the open, the ambiguous surrounding world. Nevertheless, as the analysis of van der Laan showed: the individual is surrounded by multiple boundaries where some are shared and others are not. It is crucial to understand that box and square are not oppositional realms. The square is not a space which needs to be entered, but is a space the individual is in all the time, at least with the widest boundary it inhabits, such as court or domain. There is no hide- out from the public, especially in times of digitalization. Through the wider boxes of the individual, those boundaries it is willing or forced to share with others, it is always connected to the square, if not a foot, at least a tiny toe rests on a shared ground, even if only while getting groceries. After moving away from the clear binary of square and box emphasizing their codependency, it is possible to bridge between the clear binary of us and them, those vaccinated and those not.

The individual needs the box as a shelter in order to explore, but it also needs the open square not to feel trapped in the box. Without the square, only the collective elevation into holy realms keeps the individual from feeling trapped in its box, an elevation highly dependent on strong unifying forces, like a common enemy. Now, thinking about individuals’ boundaries being changeable can give hope, because it shows how dependent Querdenker and Co. are on their common enemy. If this common enemy could be transformed back into the common foundation, maybe we could dream of a reality of togetherness, as adversaries. It is crucial for us, but especially for institutions being either common foundation or enemy to understand the codependency of box and square in order to counter the attraction of the holy and collective box.

A Fog, Just There

I figured out the in between space. It is a shelter necessary, a trap if elevated. I assumed the in between space is dependent on the in between time, but it seems to be the other way around: the in between time never ends. There will always be fog, I will always be surrounded by ambiguity. The pandemic made individuals feel unsafe, isolated them, limited if not stopped them from interacting physically. The crisis built branches between ideas and concepts which would not have been built under the ability of seeing without the fear of losing control and safety, it thickened the fog of ambiguity confronting the individual. The crises gave birth to a movement in which individuals trappe in clarity abuse a term that could be one way with ambiguity, moving through the fog of uncertainty and not-knowing: Querdenken, thinking lateral, against the mainstream.
        Querdenken can be seen as a way which the arts, design, science, all fields critical of the status quo, use and used to develop new ideas, to think outside the box with others, on the square. It is the essence of counterculture. Those spreading false truths, avoiding ambiguity and claiming to think laterally even though they chose clarity to simplify the complex unite underneath their distrust in institutions and are drawn towards right-wing ideologies. Them abusing Querdenken indicates the need for a new form of describing counter-ideas, a form which is not only counter, but with and against, when needed. This new form could be defined by balancing out oppositional values such as rationality and emotionality and could defend the community from extremism.94 
        The way in ambiguity does not continue as a straight line centered between the black and white. We move around, back and forth, through the fog, sometimes brightened by light, sometimes darker than expected. To be able to confront the fog, I need a standpoint to depart, but also changeable if proven wrong. Individuals need clarity, but they also need to be able to question that clarity. They need a box in order to explore the open and they need the square not to be buried in their box. The space created to shelter and challenge the individual determines whether I see a dangerous fog, or a mysterious mist. The box can be a call for action, a stepping stone leading somewhere new.
        As the individual needs a standpoint to leave, the community needs a foundation to design. As expressed in the book 1984 by George Orwell: “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”95 There is the need for a shared foundation, a common belief sheltering different perspectives and interpretations. Some things need to be agreed on, some things need to be clear. Ambiguity, interpreted as everything is equally true does not lead to total freedom for all, but to everybody defines their own freedom. The different definitions face each other, not discussing how to find similarities maybe arguing to impose their own definition on others. Thinking back and forth requires effort and dedication of all individuals willing to mediate on the square, it is highly reliant on individuals discussing together what they perceive. As George Monbiot describes, “enlightenment of any kind,” like the fog lifting for a brief moment, can only be possible after engaging with other people’s ideas and perspectives.96 If this interaction is missed or performed by like-minded individuals, ambiguity can lead to false clarity. Ambiguity needs to be discussed, the equal needs to be valued in order to proceed, but this evaluation needs to withstand collective examination. Self-reflection, if taking place in a box tiled with mirrors from within, can only lead to a new realization if challenged outside. Starting to question singular perspectives removes the canonized box from the holy realm back to earth, into the ground, where the individual needs to dig it up in order to enter the square. It is harder to shovel than to worship and way easier not to question what is seen, but in order to find a way in ambiguity, questioning is crucial. Skepticism should always motivate the individual to think about what is presented as the truth. Picturing the way in ambiguity as a route on which mistakes can be beneficial to move somewhere new; the individual is not judged for its positions, but argued with.

It is a core characteristic of dealing with ambiguity that one’s own perspectives are challenged. This means: tolerance for ambiguity is dependent on tolerance for oneself, for accepting that one might be wrong, not liked, questioned, and criticized. Perceptions change. I changed. We are other to ourselves and to others, the self is a fiction, as Stuart Hall points out.97 And as Pascal Gielen illustrates, otherness is in each one of us, “we are our own stranger.”98 When the fog of ambiguity enters the Self, the individual is challenged with defining its identity. Maybe by seeing our own ambiguity, by discovering the otherness in ourselves, we notice ambiguity in others and begin to question the boxes we transfer on them. 
        As George Monbiot states: “True freedom emerges from respect for other people.”99 The foggier the surrounding world, the closer one has to get to see the other, to realize that it is not really that lonely in the fog of the ambiguous world. We share the same gray mass, thick, opaque and obscure. But in order to see, to perceive, I need to interact. Getting a glimpse is not enough. I need to dig deeper, or forward. The fog is the combining element of light and dark, the twilight between realization and dullness, the gray in between the black and white.100 Dealing with the fog, dealing with ambiguity is the struggle each individual needs to go through, in order to find comfort in processing how little we know and how different from our perception the world can be.
        In more than 9000 words I tried to find a way of moving within ambiguity. I expected a form of right clarity, as I was able to detect the wrong, the irrational, those buried in their box. I wished for relief from the fog, I wished for it to lift, to reveal what is within so that I could conclude something, outside the black and the white, but still something to comfort myself when I am overwhelmed, scared, lost. But even after writing more than 9000 words, the purity of a realization, a finding, soon becomes challenged again with a question. There is no real relief, just ignorance and avoidance, or the willingness to accept. There is no conclusion, but a process to encounter. I realized it is about proceeding to move. I should not surrender waving a starched white handkerchief. Because the gray fog creeps into my box anyway I could never be uncontaminated. And I do not want to be. A fog seen as poisonous can turn into an exciting not knowing, a fog becoming the background supporting all that comes in sight, a foreground mystifying everything that is too clear. Once we realize that perceiving does not mean seeing clarity, ambiguity becomes prosperous, mediating between hope and devastation at the same time. Seeing in ambiguity, in the fog, means perceiving what is there and imagining what could be. Finding a way in ambiguity means walking together.


The purity of a clearly defined position can only withstand the surrounding fog by forming itself around a strong unifying force, such as perceiving the formerly common foundation as the common enemy, evoking feelings of fear, loss, and uncertainty. Clarity is needed, sometimes, to proceed, departing from one standpoint to another. Expecting purity on the other hand is illusionary. Still, confronting the reality of a fog creeping around and inside asks much of the individual.
       If the individual feels safe enough to challenge its box, its perspectives, it can navigate the fog, together with others. A bridge between me and you, us and them, the vaccinated and those opposing the vaccine forms as soon as both parties perceive ambiguity as a chance, rather than a threat. This can only happen on common ground, a square desperate to be cared for. Right now it seems like the public square deserts, more so: those fearful of their boundaries to be overcome, of the fog creeping around, those fearful of ambiguity can seriously threaten the shared square and draw the public discourse towards their perspectives.
1 Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. “complexity.” 

2 Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. “ambiguity.”

Frese, “So kannst du Schubladendenken vermeiden.”

Charim, Ich und die Anderen: Wie die neue Pluralisierung uns alle verändert, 11; Pascal Gielen, “The Rising Empire of Ambiguity. On the Art of Getting Beyond Identity Politics,” 26.

5 Charim, Ich und die Anderen: Wie die neue Pluralisierung uns alle verändert, 12-13, 21-24.

6 Ibid. 43-44; Resnick, “White fear of demographic change is a powerful psychological force.”

7 Charim, Ich und die Anderen: Wie die neue Pluralisierung uns alle verändert, 28-32, 49.

Braidotti, “Becoming-World: A New Perspective on European Citizenship,” 54.

Bauman, Liquid Modernity, 82.

10 Rauterberg, Wie frei ist die Kunst? Der neue Kulturkampf und die Krise des Liberalismus, 137.

11 Hage, “Waiting Out the Crisis: On Stuckedness and Governmentality,” 105.

12 Beck, Risikogesellschaft: Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne, 9-12, 29-30. 

13  Ibid.

14  Bundeszentrale für Gesundheitliche Aufklärung,
“Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2: Erhöhte Ansteckungsgefahr in Herbst und Winter.” 

15 Broadman, “Explainer: What are aerosols?”; Safai et al., “Two-Way Relationship between Aerosols and Fog: A Case Study at IGI Airport, New Delhi,”

16 Resource Library National Geographic, s.v. “Fog.”

17 Derrick Bryson Taylor, “A Timeline of the Coronavirus Pandemic.” 

18 Universität Hamburg, “Coronavirus Origin Study Released.”

19 Forster et al.,“Phylogenetic network analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genomes;”Vergin, “Corona war schon im September 2019 da, auch in Europa.”

20 European Commission, “Timeline of EU action.”

21 Giuseppina La Rosa et al., “SARS-CoV-2 has been circulating in northern Italy since December 2019: Evidence from environmental monitoring.”

22 Taylor, “A Timeline of the Coronavirus Pandemic.”

23 Tagesschau, “Die Verbreitung des Coronavirus.”

24 Bauer, Die Vereindeutigung der Welt: Über den Verlust an Mehrdeutigkeit und Vielfalt, 12, 87-88.

25 Gielen, “The Rising Empire of Ambiguity. On the Art of Getting Beyond Identity Politics,” 29.

26 Bauman, Liquid Modernity, 82-83.

27 Frenkel-Brunswik, “Environmental Controls and the Impoverishment of Thought,” 171-202 quoted in Haq, “Ambiguity and Liberalism. Artistic and Institutional Practices as a Sphere of Cultural Influence,” 39.

28 Gielen & Haq, “Introduction. Ambiguity and Monocultures,” 11.

29 Bauer, Die Vereindeutigung der Welt: Über den Verlust an Mehrdeutigkeit und Vielfalt, 29.

30 Van der Laan, Architectonic Space: Fifteen Lessons on the Disposition of the Human Habitat, 9-11.

31  Ibid. 12-13.

32  Ibid. 9, 13.

33  Ibid. 145.

34  Ibid. 36-38.

35  Ibid. 145.

36 Frei, Nachtwey, “Quellen des «Querdenkertums». Eine politische Soziologie der Corona-Proteste in Baden-Württemberg,” 6.

37 Bundesministerium für Gesundheit, “Wirksamkeit und Sicherheit.”

38 Taylor, “A Timeline of the Coronavirus Pandemic.”

39 Europaeische Kommission, “Sichere Corona-Impfstoffe für die Menschen in Europa.”

40 Our World in Data, “Share of people vaccinated against COVID-19.”

41 Ibid.

42 Reuters Covid-19 Tracker.

43 Bundesministerium für Gesundheit, “Aktuelle Infor- mationen zur COVID-19-Impfung.”

44 Impfdashbord.de, “Aktueller Impfstatus.”

45 forsa Politik- und Sozialforschung GmbH Büro Berlin, “Befragung von nicht geimpften Personen zu den Gründen für die fehlende Inanspruchnahme der Corona-Schutzimpfung: Ergebnisbericht,” 3-6, 21, 41.

46 Ibid. 4, 7, 20, 41.

47 Frei, Nachtwey, “Quellen des «Querdenkertums». Eine politische Soziologie der Corona-Proteste in Baden -Württemberg”, 11-12.

48  Ibid. 6.

49  Ibid. 15-16.

50  Klaus, “Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz–Teile
von “Querdenken” beobachtet;” Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, “Neuer Phänomenbereich ‘Verfassungsschutzrelevante Delegitimierung des Staates,’”quoted in Klaus, “Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz–Teile von “Querdenken” beobachtet.”

51 Frei, Nachtwey, “Quellen des «Querdenkertums». Eine politische Soziologie der Corona-Proteste in Baden-Württemberg,” 8.

52 Ibid. 5.

53 Ibid. 9; Dr. Teune, “Protest in Stuttgart 2010 und 2020. Zwei Herausforderungen der Demokratie,” Dr. Teune, “Querdenken und die Bewegungsforschung,” 330, quoted in: Frei, Nachtwey, “Quellen des «Querdenkertums». Eine politische Soziologie der Corona-Proteste in Baden-Württemberg,” 9.

54 Frei, Nachtwey, “Quellen des «Querdenkertums». Eine politische Soziologie der Corona-Proteste in Baden-Württemberg,” 10, 12, 17, 22.

55 Ibid. 6, 18.

56 Frei, Nachtwey, “Quellen des «Querdenkertums». Eine politische Soziologie der Corona-Proteste in Baden-Würt- temberg,” 20-21.

57 Jolley, Douglas, “The social conse- quences of conspiracism: exposure to conspiracy theories decreases intentions to engage in politics and to reduce one’s carbon footprints,” 35–56, quoted in van Prooijen et al., “Suspicion of institutions: How distrust and conspiracy theories deteriorate social relationships,” 67.

58 Imhoff, Dieterle, Lamberty, “Re- solving the puzzle of conspiracy worldview and political activism: belief in secret plots decreases normative but increases non-normative political engagement;”  Rottweiler, Gill, “Conspiracy beliefs and violent extremist intentions: the contingent effects of self-efficacy, self-control and law-related morality,” quoted in van Prooijen et al., “Suspicion of institutions: How distrust and conspiracy theories deteriorate social relationships,” 67.

59 van Prooijen et al., “Suspicion of institutions: How distrust and conspiracy theories deteriorate social relationships,” 65.

60 forsa Politik- und Sozialforschung GmbH Büro Berlin, “Befragung von nicht geimpften Personen zu den Gründen für die fehlende Inanspruchnahme der Corona-Schutzimp- fung: Ergebnisbericht,” 8, 21, 32.

61 Duignan, “United States Capitol attack of 2021: riot, Washington, D.C., U.S. [2021].”

62 Delaney, “‘Evil forces’: how Covid-19 paranoia united the wellness industry and rightwing conspiracy theorists.”

63 Gutierrez, “The public continues to lose trust in major institutions—and each other.”

64 Mouffe, “Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism,” 11.

65 Van Prooijen et al., “Suspicion of institutions: How distrust and conspiracy theories deteriorate social rela- tionships,” 65-66.

66 Riek, Mania, Gaertner, “Intergroup threat and outgroup attitudes: a meta-analytic review,” 336–353; van Prooijen, “An existential threat model of conspiracy theories,” 16–25, quoted in van Prooijen et al., “Suspicion of institutions: How distrust and conspiracy theories deteriorate social relationships,” 66.

67 Van Prooijen, Krouwel, “Psycho- logical features of extreme political ideologies,” 159–163, quoted in van Prooijen et al., “Suspicion of institutions: How distrust and conspiracy theories deteriorate social relationships,” 66; van Prooijen et al., “Suspicion of institutions: How distrust and conspiracy theories deteriorate social relationships,” 65-66.

68 Tyler, Blader, “The group engagement model: procedural justice, social identity, and cooperative behavior,” 349–361 quoted in van Prooijen et al., “Suspicion of institutions: How distrust and conspiracy theories deterio- rate social relationships,” 67.

69 Cremer, Tyler: “The effect of trust in authority and procedural fairness on cooperation,” 639–649, quoted in van Prooijen et al., “Suspicion of institutions: How distrust and conspiracy theories deteriorate social relationships,” 67.

70 Gutierrez, “The public continues to lose trust in major institutions—and each other.”

71 Van Prooijen et al., “Suspicion of institutions: How distrust and conspiracy theories deteriorate social relation- ships,” 65.

72 Frei, Nachtwey, “Quellen des «Querden- kertums». Eine politische Soziologie der Corona-Proteste in Baden-Württemberg,” 3-4.

73  Ibid. 24-26.

74  Von Stuckrad, “Western esotericism: Towards
an integrative model of interpretation,” 78-97, 88, quoted in:  Frei, Nachtwey, “Quellen des «Querdenkertums». Eine politische Soziologie der Corona-Proteste in Baden -Württemberg,” 24.

75 Frei, Nachtwey, “Quellen des «Querdenkertums». Eine politische Soziologie der Corona-Proteste in Baden-Württemberg,” 24-26.

76 Lantian A, Muller D, Nurra C, Klein O, Berjot S, Pantazi M, “Stigmatized beliefs: conspiracy theories, anticipated negative evaluation of the self, and fear of social exclusion,” 939–954, quoted in van Prooijen et al., “Suspicion of institutions: How distrust and conspiracy theories deteriorate social relationships,” 66.

77 Bourdieu, Sozialer Sinn Kritik der theoretischen Vernunft, 796; Cornelia Klinger, “Romantik und neue soziale Bewegungen,” 225, quoted in Frei, Nachtwey, “Quellen des «Querdenkertums». Eine politische Soziologie der Corona-Proteste in Baden-Württemberg,” 24.

78 George Monbiot, “It’s shocking to see so many left- wingers lured to the far right by conspiracy theories.”

79 Monbiot, “It’s shocking to see so many leftwingers lured to the far right by conspiracy theories.”

80 Van der Laan, Architectonic Space: Fifteen Lessons
on the Disposition of the Human Habitat
, 22-24.

81 Ibid. 30-31.

82 Dr Fletcher, “The truth behind filter bubbles: Bursting some myths.”

83  Ibid.

84  C. Thi Nguyen, “The problem of living inside echo chambers.”

85 Delaney, “‘Evil forces’: how Covid-19 paranoia united the wellness industry and rightwing conspiracy theorists.”

87 Ibid. 15.

88 Ibid. 10.

89 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 88e quoted in Mouffe, “Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism,” 11-12.

90 Wittgenstein, On Certainty, 81e, quoted in Mouffe, “Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism,” 12.

91 Gutierrez, “The public continues to lose trust in major institutions—and each other.”

92 Ibid.

93 Mouffe, “Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism,” 16-17 . 

94 Ibid.

95 Orwell, 1984, 84.

96 Monbiot, “It’s shocking to see so many leftwingers lured to the far right by conspiracy theories.”

97 Hall, “Minimal Selves,” 41.

98 Gielen, “The Rising Empire of Ambiguity. On the Art of Getting Beyond Identity Politics,” 24.

99 Monbiot, “It’s shocking to see so many leftwingers lured to the far right by conspiracy theories.”

100 Hesse, Im Nebel.

Unknown Photographer. A policeman directs traffic with the help of a fog lamp, near Spitalfields market, Shoreditch. December 1952. Photograph. The Times. Accessed February 23, 2022. https:// www.thetimes.co.uk/article/in-pictures-london-s-smog-fs5g85tgg.

Picture on Home-Page:
Unknown Photographer. In December 1952, London was trapped in a deadly cloud of fog and pollution for five days—what became known as the Great Smog of 1952. Photograph. The Verge. Accessed February 23, 2022. https://www.theverge. com/2017/12/16/16778604/london-great-smog-1952-death- in-the-air-pollution-book-review-john-reginald-christie.