The Unbearable Darkness of Being (German)

Theodore Dalrymple writes about the German psyche, and how even now Germans find it hard to feel national pride, or even anger at what was done to them in Dresden. My German roots are distant enough that I’ll have to take his word for that. However, he then goes on to diagnose a deep malaise in modern Germany:

The urban environment of Germany, whose towns and cities were once among the most beautiful in the world, second only to Italy’s, is now a wasteland of functional yet discordant modern architecture, soulless and incapable of inspiring anything but a vague existential unease, with a sense of impermanence and unreality that mere prosperity can do nothing to dispel. […] Nor are the comforts of victimhood available to the Germans as they survey the devastation of their homeland.

Of course, that pre-supposes that modern architecture is “devastation”. Apparently Dalrymple feels that the proper response to the end of World War II would have been to replicas of the destroyed classical architecture and make Germany a kind of Weimar Disneyland with compulsory lederhosen for all.

Instead, the influence of the bauhaus is everywhere. Though a few old Gothic typeface street signs remain, minimalist sans-serif typography is almost ubiquitous. And why not? The bauhaus is a piece of 20th Century culture Germany can be proud of; it profoundly influenced the entire world—and Hitler hated it.

So, I say better to look forward with modern architecture, than to build faux reproductions of the medieval Germanic buildings that Hitler loved.

Collective pride is denied the Germans because, if pride is taken in the achievements of one’s national ancestors, it follows that shame for what they have done must also be accepted.

What can I say? Apparently Mr Dalrymple hasn’t spent much time in the company of ordinary Americans. Even now, US torture is being written off as the responsibility of a few “bad apples”, as the architect of the policy gets moved into the Attorney General’s office, and SUVs sport magnetic “God Bless Our Troops” ribbons.

A young German once said to me, “I don’t feel German, I feel European.” This sounded false to my ears: it had the same effect upon me as the squeal of chalk on a blackboard, and sent a shiver down my spine. One might as well say, “I don’t feel human, I feel mammalian.”

Hyperbole aside, it’s not surprising that a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph would be horrified by the thought of identifying as European. But what’s wrong with saying “I don’t feel human, I feel mammalian”? Am I the only person to have thought that while reading the newspaper?

Coincidentally, National Geographic reports that scientists have successfully fused human and animal cells, and that plans are underway to engineer mice with human-style (albeit very small) brains. There’s an obvious joke about chimp/human hybrids, but I don’t really need to spell it out, do I?

The news from the House of Pain led one person on Slashdot to ask: if we can “uplift” animals to a more human-like state, why shouldn’t we do so? My response was that if we do, they might start thinking and behaving like humans. If you want to know what’s wrong with that, ask a German.

Don’t get me wrong, I know a number of wonderful human beings. I’m just not wild about humanity as a whole. In that respect my philosophy has something in common with that of Bill Hicks (authentic Texan): as he put it, “We’re a virus with shoes”