Light on Violence

Whether intentionally, I’ve ascribed to the “simplify your life” mantra that many of my generation seem to embrace. We grew up with grandparents who had seen a war that directly threatened their communities and families. When the world erupted into a violent outburst and world leaders killed millions of their own people, a stable community became the only thing that mattered. And peace, meaning absence of war.

Our parents generation had their own ideas about peace; it meant freedom to explore psychical, familial, and communal relationships. Those interactions during domestic peacetime that seemed to betray the staying-power of violence. War had lost it’s legitimacy and political subversion was the new enemy. They wanted freedom and peace from both.

My generation has grown up without a domestic threat and with fairly broad freedoms. Our grandparents were the greatest generation and our progenitors rode out or were drowned by an economic and technological boom. We all had freedom to move, but ours was the greatest. And consumerism had created it’s own sort of bondage and subversion. We travel light, purge our stuff, and move quickly: a freedom our parents and grandparents had not known. Staying light, we can outrun any threat.

But what did we lose and what threatens us with violence?

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Free to Choose

Today is Election Day. The German word for election is “Wahl”, a word that also means “choose” and I find myself considering the consequences of the German people’s choice.

Nine months and counting since I left my homeland and the time in-between seems to have progressed rapidly. But the perceptive rate at which time passes increases as time passes. That has always seemed like a cruel cosmic joke. My adoptive home-city, Berlin, has proved the appropriate testing ground. All the weight of latter half of the 20th century rests on this town, and it shows.

In 1939, Berlin had a population of 4.3 million. As of my arrival on December 21, 2016 Berlin is occupied by 3.6 million people. A cosmopolitan metropolis, the bear city has been known for centuries as a haven for disparate groups and cultures. Before the Nazis, there was a significant presence of Jews and gypsies. Since the war, the influx into Germany of Turks seeking economic asylum has been impressive and 190,000 of them now occupy the capital city. If you ask the German people their thoughts on immigration, you will get a mixed response. But one thing about Berlin remains clear: people are different, and different in ways you can’t imagine.

There are young Muslim families and political activists, brewers, punks, tech entrepeneurs, U.S. expats, prostitutes, trixies, opera singers and buskers. Not to mention all the metalheads. I find myself among these groups on a daily basis. And one thing has impressed itself upon my immediate consciousness: people let people be people.

The diffferences are enourmous, but the atmosphere is relaxed and accepting. Dwell not on your neighbors position, disposition, madness, or mental status and you may find yourself in good company among Berliners. I don’t believe this is unique to 21st-century Berlin. Based on my conversations with the town’s natives, this is the magic of the Gray City. My adoptive home.

 

 

Servus!

In middle Europe, an increasingly passé greeting among friends is “Servus!”. Depending on the region of Germany one finds themselves in, the usage of this phrase will either earn you a hearty response or a “Morgen” with a funny look. Regardless of how quickly the word betrays one’s origin, most german speakers would recognise its meaning. It comes from an old Latin phrase, which translates roughly to “at your service , my noble lord”. Isn’t it interesting that an almost hyperbolic pleasantry, would become an endangered folky colloquialism. What’s more is that as the greeting dies a slow death, the german people, for all their positive traits, struggle to provide a good customer service experience.

This is definitely a generalization. Sometimes, when I am out to buy a coffee or get some dinner a server or barista will surprise me with a strong display of training and pride in their service. But even in these instances, it is hard to describe the service as exceptional.

It’s not that the Germans with whom I’ve interracted are mean, or lazy, or disinterested. Quite the contrary. So why is this a reoccuring phenomenon? My best guess is three-fold: (1) it’s not something that is forefront in the minds of those who manage these organizations causing employees to disregard customer service as a priority. (2) The bureaucracy is massive and its easy for customers/clients/citizens to get lost in the system. (3) It is common to use the 4 – 6 weeks of vacation which full-time German employees receive in addition to a decent amount of personal time. It seems like everytime I reach out to someone at the bank, they are not there and won’t be back for some time.

I recently relayed my qualms to a german friend and he suggested as an explanation that I am foreign and therefore people just don’t want to deal with me. That might be true in many circumstances, but I can speak enough german to communicate. Shouldn’t that endear me to some degree and thereby make this a less consistent occurence?

The one exception, surprisingly, to this observation is the government. They make you do wierd stuff like register, or “Anmeldung”, with the local municipality whenever you move. But our experiences have been efficient and positive during these appointments. That and their websites are actually well-designed. This was extremely refreshing in comparison to dealing with the state in the U.S.

One might also consider that german service is pretty good and that service in the United States is just exceptional. Don’t delude yourself, I talked to the Australians, and they agree that service here leaves something to be desired. Lastly, I want to consider the fact that Germans in general are a fairly unemotional bunch and that perhaps their tolerance for rudeness is higher than mine. In this regard, I am thankful as I generally cringe at public displays of unneeded drama.

Whatever the reason may be, its an observation I’ve made. This may be the most glaringly negative aspect of living in Germany, which is saying a lot since Katelin can ride public transport home at midnight without too much worry and we live behind a castle. Its still overall a fantastic place to be and I am supremely grateful to be greeting strangers with a friendly “Servus!”.

Burning Time

 

time-equation

Time can be burned in a combustion reaction requiring an equivalent part oxygen

Combustion byproducts include an equivalent part water, 2 parts energy (prefereably power), and a single part regret

Too much oxygen, and time will burn bright, indicating an inefficient conversion into power and loss of energy in heat and light

Too little oxygen will favor the production of regret which is lethal in high doses

 

Freedom of Self

Photo: “Change or Die” of a creepy bar statue at Pauly Saal Cocktail Bar

What good is freedom of speech when no one can hear you?

It’s hard to hear people. To understand what they mean, even as they construe their meaning with inadequate, sparse, or excessive language (words). Worse yet, when others use words as weapons; speaking in jargon that only serves to alienate a listener. Effectively conveying meaning requires a speaker to adjust their language to the listener, just as the listener, well… you know, listens.

I consider myself a “compassionate intellectual”. This is a very broad term that has been bandied about recently to describe those that gravitate to the left of the political spectrum. This predisposes me to empathize with others, so I’m told. The compassionate side of me wants to believe that language is used by humans as a tool to exchange meaning. While the intellectual side believes that this exchange, or dialogue, is the ultimate progressive act. However, this act requires that both sides give each other the benefit of the doubt and not freak out when conflict arises or language gets in the way.

At some point, we learned the difference between ideology and pragmatism. Ideology seemed the higher calling: to hold beliefs so fervently and fight for truth. Pragmatism seemed tainted by comprimise and prone to human fallibility. Yet how stalemated a society, pervaded with idealogues, can be with no focus on actually getting something done. It seems better to have ideologies tempered by pragmatism and vice-versa. And I, for one, believe the idiom “you’re either growing [changing] or you’re dying”.

If you’re reading this, I likely have a lot in common with you and share a lot of your beliefs. However, these beliefs likely take on different meaning for me than they do for you. If you have a strong reaction to the next paragraph, do me a favor and ask yourself why you’re having that reaction.

I have recently noticed that there are key phrases that I need to avoid if I’m speaking to someone(s) that identify with a particular group (Pro-choice, Pro-life, Black lives, Blue lives, Gun control, Gun rights, Feminist, LGBTQ, Alt-right, Pro-Trump, Anti-Trump, Globalist, Nationalist). Sometimes I stumble into these phrases and I instantly lose the person(s) I’m conversing with. In some cases, I can tell that their whole perception of me is altered because I said the “wrong” thing in trying to exchange meaning about a touchy subject. And often they become very emotional. Dialogue ceases.

Without dialogue and a desire to keep our society moving, it seems, American democracy will fade. And something will take its place. “Alternative facts” are a real thing in a civil society that is predominantly composed of groups that are more interested in pushing ideologies, than engaging in dialogue. Dialogue leaves room for alternative truths, but not alternative facts.

The Observatory

Photo: Lab Notes and Illustrations of Fibers (120x magnification)

This is why you turn to the internet, right? We exhalt in our voices. Our contributions create the social fiber. A sharing of our individual experience… through photographs and text. Perhaps that’s why I’m here: to communicate my observations of my own experience, and then check back to see who cares.

I had always thought this a boring pursuit. To share one’s observations of the world with others. Why do they care? Others have their own experiences to fill their mind and consume their capacity for concern. It is only recently that I have come to conceive of how infinite human experience and curiosity is. Who am I to judge what other’s find interesting?

Anyways, the lens through which each individual views thier world is what interests me. Not what others see, but how they see it. Since social media is all about sharing, I have chosen to take a very specific approach to sharing how I see my world. To help you understand what you’ve signed up for, my social tao is as follows:

  1. Only original content: any and all photos or writing appearing on this blog will be generated by yours truly.
  2. Photos are (loosely) topical.
  3. No more that one post per day. Exceptions for rare occasions.
  4. Truthfulness over fuzzy feelings.
  5. Focus on science, art, architecture, and engineering.
  6. Limited-to-no nostalgia. I will reflect on the present while anticipating the future.

Amateur

My grandfather was Irish. He spun narratives and told tales larger than life and, most importantly, larger than himself. I understood at a young age that my maternal grandfather had a gift for writing and storytelling. There was nothing better in this world for Leo Raymund than when he had a captive audience. It gave him energy and life, which he in turn shared with those around him.

Sometimes I wonder how my mother’s and my life would have been different had Leo, or Blue Twisted Steel as he liked to be called, pursued writing as a profession. To know what gives you energy and have faith in your ability to wield that gift with so much force, so much passion, that you can support your family through it. When your passion is your work and your work your passion, meaningful creation is not hard to come by. Alas, it’s a risky business pursuing dreams.

I am not picking up where he left off. Rather, I hope to overcome my violent silences through exercising the gift he’s passed on to me, as an amateur.