The Meta-Crisis of the Meta-Crisis

Johannes Achill Niederhauser, PhD

Perhaps it is helpful to begin with the meaning and origin of the word crisis and what its concept signifies for us today – if we begin to take seriously that apparently something announces itself in the ubiquity of crisis. Perhaps it would even be fair to claim that crisis and its specific dimension is today that which addresses us most urgently and assuming this is indeed the case the question becomes: whence this utmost urgent crisis?


The word crisis is of Ancient Greek origin. The Greek κρίσις means separation, dichotomy, conflict, strife, but also selection and decision. Hippocrates speaks of κρίσις also as pertaining to disease. The word κρίσις here means the moment when the fate of the patient is decided, either for recovery or for death. In tragedy κρίσις is the singular incision when the hero’s destiny becomes apparent. According to the Brothers Grimm Dictionary Goethe writes somewhere: “all transitions are crises, and is a crisis not a disease?”[1] We could then translate or maybe cross over from the shore of the Greeks to ours, ferry across the river of the aeons, the word κρίσις as follows: the within-itself turning of self-conflicting strife thanks to which selection and decision transpire such that the path entered upon irreversibly becomes one’s own. This entering-upon a path, however, is the instance in which κρίσις disappears. A crisis appears when a transition is paving its way for itself and another grounding neeeds to be prepared. This seems to be coming from behind, barely seen, rather than looming on the horizon. It is in the paving for itself the path that indicates this and that also requires, once the crisis is brought into focus, a decision. The word “decision” pleases the modern ear, it would seem, for “making” decisions, as the English vernacular says, indicates that something can be done, control can be executed, the crisis can and hence should be managed to minimise damage (insert: suffering) and maximise utility.


And still, despite the will to make decisions and to control, there are crises over crises. The climate crisis, the corona crisis, the financial, economic, social, political, institutional, intersubjective crises. There is a housing crisis, a homelessness crisis, a public health crisis, a mental health crisis. Crises upon crises, diseases upon diseases