The Feuilleton and Its Discontents

Alexander Stern has an essay on the feuilleton which is as readable as it is erudite, no mean feat:

“In the beginning was the press, and then the world appeared.” So begins a satirical 1922 poem by Karl Kraus. A ruthless critic who regularly excoriated the press in his magazine The Torch, Kraus blamed German newspapers for the outbreak of World War I. He reserved a special hatred for the feuilleton (pronounced “fuh-yah-tawn”) section of the paper, which included, along with art, literature, and reviews, short impressionistic pieces about city life and culture. And he was far from the only one to bemoan “the age of the feuilleton,” as novelist Hermann Hesse dubbed it. In 1929 the philosopher Theodor Lessing, who would be assassinated by Nazis four years later, reflected that “feuilletonist” had become “the nastiest insult in the German language.”

Whence all this contempt for light reading material?

The answer is complicated, but lies somewhere at the intersection of a volatile political climate, quickly modernizing cities, and the emergence of mass culture. In papers like Die Frankfurter Zeitung, Das Berliner Tageblatt, and Vienna’s Neue Freie Presse, German journalists attempted to come to terms with their fast-changing times, writing literary vignettes that reflected philosophically on culture, technology, and politics. The feuilleton section thus became a battleground over the meaning of modernity. The controversy it generated prefigured present-day concerns about the deterioration of attention and the media’s role in shaping—or, as Walter Benjamin suggested, generating—public opinion....

n modernity we are wrenched out of history, take up an “objective” viewpoint on our culture, and immediately find genuine connection to much of it gone. God dies, traditions wither, only the words remain. To the feuilletonist, in Benjamin’s view, this means we can finally think clearly. We can finally view religion, tradition, and so forth objectively—things that to premoderns were still obscure because they were too close to their culture, because the words meant too much.

The feuilletonist thus covers all his subjects with a finish of urbane, pseudo-philosophical detachment. Kraus wrote:

When a streetcar accident takes place in Vienna, the gentlemen [of the press] write about the nature of streetcars, about the nature of streetcar accidents, and about the nature of accidents in general, all with the viewpoint: what is man?

Glib generalization and a tone of seen-it-all skepticism seduces the reader and seems to lift them up into the writer’s realm of free-floating observation. Even when written in the first person, the feuilleton takes up a kind of third-person “I” that surveys the scene, wary and detached, hovering above the crowd. Judgments seem to emerge effortlessly. Individual observations always serve some unassailable universal point. Feuilletons were written with what Benjamin called a “false subjectivity that can be separated from the person and incorporated in the circulation of commodities.”

The feuilletonist is like a conversation partner who convinces you of something by assuming you already knew it. A tacit note of almost conspiratorial intimacy accompanies his opinions: This is just obvious to two people of our intellect and experience. The reader is, on the one hand, flattered without argument into accepting the view expressed, and, on the other, infantilized.

The result is the manufacture of opinion—not that the feuilleton necessarily indoctrinates its readers. Rather, it absolves them of having to think for themselves. “It is precisely the purpose of the public opinion generated by the press,” Benjamin wrote, “to make the public incapable of judging, to insinuate into it the attitude of someone irresponsible, uninformed.”

Read the whole thing, as they say. I love feuilletons, which don't exist in the English-speaking press. I've often thought of trying to import the genre, but there's probably a reason it doesn't seem to travel well. At first, the English-speaking reader is put off by the distinctive tone of amused, world-weary detachment. He's used to either facts or opinions, dammit, not some weirdly subjective mix of the two.

But once you get up to what masters like Roth and Kracauer and Tucholsky are up to, you're hooked.


Germany: Less Perverted Than You Think. Despite All the Apotemnophiliacs.


sprockets germany's most disturbing videos von pentakatharidis

Canada's National Post fills us in on the latest in the field of apotemnophilia, which we're now apparently supposed to call "transability":

People like Jason [who chopped one of his arms off] have been classified as ‘‘transabled’’ — feeling like imposters in their bodies, their arms and legs in full working order.

“We define transability as the desire or the need for a person identified as able-bodied by other people to transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment,” says Alexandre Baril, a Quebec born academic who will present on “transability” at this week’s Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ottawa.

“The person could want to become deaf, blind, amputee, paraplegic. It’s a really, really strong desire.”

Researchers in Canada are trying to better understand how transabled people think and feel. Clive Baldwin, a Canada Research Chair in Narrative Studies who teaches social work at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B., has interviewed 37 people worldwide who identify as transabled.

Most of them are men. About half are in Germany and Switzerland, but he knows of a few in Canada. Most crave an amputation or paralysis, though he has interviewed one person who wants his penis removed. Another wants to be blind.

One stereotype many Germans aren't aware of is "the German-speaking parts of Northern Europe are hothouses of the most exotic perversions known to humanity -- second only, perhaps, to Japan".

When Germans think of Kraut stereotypes, they generally imagine Alphorns, Bavarian dress, punctuality, precision engineering, Nazis, beer, sausage, pretzels. But not necessarily perversion.

But that is indeed one of the stereotypes. Where does it come from? Perhaps an amalgam of:

  • Weimar-era transvestitism, rape-murders, and Expressionist documentation of same
  • Nazi sadists and homosexuals, and the weirdly sexless Hitler
  • A long -- and continuing -- history of legalized prostitution
  • Freikörperkultur, i.e. hanging around in large groups naked
  • Extreme German performance and body art (I'm looking at you, Nitsch and, to a much lesser extent, Beuys)
  • Freudian theory and Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis
  • Elfriede Jelinek
  • Armin Meiwes (you know, the cannibal)
  • Berlin gay sex clubs

I could go on. Stereotypes are generally accurate, but I think this one ain't. It's a matter of selection bias and self-fulfilling prophecies: sex sells, so anything happening in Germany which has to do with sex gets reported to the outside world. Germany, like most European cultures, is fairly sexually conservative compared to the United States or Britain. Germans who travel abroad (both men and women) are usually shocked, even primly dismayed, by how promiscuous Anglo-American city-dwellers are. Not to mention all the irresponsible drinking and drug use.

Truth to tell, the kind of Germans in my social circle tend to combine a lack of prudishness with a sensible moderation in matters genital. It's quite admirable. And even the ones who might go in for a suckling-pig swinger orgy (g) or two (as a friend of mine once quipped, this would be the ultimate integration test for foreigners) are unrecognizable outside the club. You get the definite impression that their second-favorite activity, after swinger orgies, is scoring excellent deals on equipment to re-grout their bathtubs.

Germany, I pronounce thee no more perverted than any other advanced country, and a lot less perverted than some. You're welcome!


Ambush Rapist in Bochum is 31-Year-Old Iraqi Migrant

And speaking of random stranger-on-stranger violence:

2,w=1986,q=low,c=0.bild

Two female students at the University of Bochum were ambushed and raped in August and November of this year. One of them was a 27-year-old Chinese exchange student; the rape prompted the Chinese embassy to issue a travel warning. The other victim, 21, was beaten so severely that the police assumed that the rapist intended to murder her. Apparently the police sketch (above) and DNA both played a role in his arrest.

Bild reports that the suspect is a 31-year-old Iraqi migrant living in a refugee shelter.

Drip, drip, drip....


Working Sort of Hard to Find a Serial Rapist/Murderer

Freiburg, Germany, is an idyllic university town located at the edge of the Black Forest. It is the sunniest spot in Germany. And the site of 4 brutal crimes in the past 6 weeks. One man was beaten to death near the main train station. One 13-year-old girl gang-raped by four young men.

And most disturbingly, two young women, one 19 and on 27 years old, were raped and murdered in apparent random attacks -- one just behind the main football stadium, one in a small community 30 kilometers from Freiburg. Police think it's possible the same man might be behind both attacks. So, there may well be a serial rapist/murderer currently active in Freiburg now. Or perhaps two. I would say this kind of thing is almost unknown in Germany, but we all know that's no longer the case. Still, it's got all of Freiburg on edge. 

And as the video below from the conservative weekly Junge Freiheit shows, the police are being hampered by German law from pursuing the killer. They found a DNA sample which they believe is from the killer at one of the rape/murder crime scenes. Using modern DNA technology, it's possible to determine the eye color, hair color, and ethnicity of someone from a good DNA sample. In fact, it's possible to generate a fairly good likeness of their face, as this photo accompanying a New York Times article shows:

24faces_otherpeople-master1050

As you can see, the images aren't perfect, but they are certainly a far cry better than the recollection of a traumatized witness or someone who saw a man run past them in a dark alley. In particular, DNA is extremely good at predicting ethnicity and skin tone, which can allow investigators to immediately cross huge pools of suspects off their list and focus only on a narrow subset. Another article looks at the use of this technology in an American criminal case.

But not in Germany.

According to Section 81(e) of the Criminal Procedure Code, DNA can be used only comparison to potential suspects, determining family relationships, and determining gender. Every analysis going beyond these is expressly forbidden. Here is the provision in English:

(1) Material obtained by measures pursuant to Section 81a subsection (1) may also be subjected to molecular and genetic examinations, insofar as such measures are necessary to establish descent or to ascertain whether traces found originate from the accused or the aggrieved person; in so doing the gender of the person may also be determined by examination. Examinations pursuant to the first sentence shall also be admissible to obtain similar findings on material obtained by measures pursuant to Section 81c. Findings on facts other than those referred to in the first sentence shall not be made; examinations designed to establish such facts shall be inadmissible.

The prohibition, like so many others in German law, is based on the idea of data protection -- in a society in which mass surveillance caused so much harm last century, there must be strict limits on the amount of data the state can gather on its citizens. As I've pointed out before, this idea trumps many other legitimate public concerns, such as preserving historical monuments. And here, it trumps public safety. Here's a video from the conservative website Junge Freiheit featuring an interview in which the Freiburg policy confirm that they are obeying this restriction. The head of the German police union complains about it, and citizens interviewed in Freiburg are dumbfounded that the law prevents police from using a reliable, proven strategy which could lead to the apprehension of a possible serial killer in their midst. 

This is yet another cultural mismatch between the USA and Germany. I have explained restrictions such as this to many colleagues in the USA. These colleagues are mostly criminal defense lawyers and civil libertarians. That is, they spend each day defending the rights of criminals, and forcing the state to uphold its case. To say they don't have an authoritarian bone in their body is an understatement -- they don't have an authoritarian cell in their body.

Yet when I describe things like this, many of them register, to their own shock and amazement, disapproval and consternation. Sure, DNA isn't miraculous, it has to be handled carefully, it's not a panacea. But it is an extremely powerful tool which, used properly, can help ensure the guilty are imprisoned, and which has been used now hundreds of times to free the innocent from unjust confinement. Building a profile from DNA, as long as it's done responsibly according to the best scientific protocols, is definitely a legitimate means of law enforcement. Especially since it is likely to be much more reliable than eyewitness testimony.

Yet in Germany, only the right-wing website Junge Freiheit considers this an important policy issue. I have never seen it addressed by the more left-liberal press.

So there you have it: DNA profiling is so mainstream in the USA that even most civil libertarians approve of it. In Germany, apparently, only the right-wing does.


Germans Ignore Dying Man in Bank Despite Law Telling them to Help

Inore

The police in Essen reported (g) on a case in which an 82-year-old man collapsed to the floor of a branch bank in Essen, Germany in early October. At least four people were seen on security cam footage simply walking over his body without offering help or calling an ambulance. The man was eventually taken to a hospital, where he later died. The police are now investigating these persons for failure to render assistance, which is a crime under German law. Section 323c of the Penal Code:

Whosoever does not render assistance during accidents or a common danger or emergency although it is necessary and can be expected of him under the circumstances, particularly if it is possible without substantial danger to himself and without violation of other important duties shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine.

In common-law countries such as the United States, the law imposes no duty to rescue strangers. As long as you didn't cause the emergency and the bear no special duty to the victim (as a guest or relative, etc.), the law will not punish you for ignoring him. There are a number of justifications for this doctrine, both theoretical (you can't be held responsible for injuries you didn't cause), and moral (the state should trust its citizens to do the right thing uncoerced).

This is one of the most obvious differences between common-law systems and civil-law systems such as the ones in most European countries. When I was teaching, many of my German students professed to find the common-law doctrine shocking or cold-hearted. It's not hard to detect the attitude behind this: the still, small voice in every German's head which whispers: "Despite the recent unpleasantness, Germany is a more decent, moral, caring and sensitive society than all others in the world, except maybe Sweden, but at any rate definitely more caring and 'social' than the selfish, dog-eat-dog United States."

Am deutschen Wesen...*

The students assumed that the existence of a law requiring help made Germany a more caring place, and that it affected Germans' behavior toward one another. This is another typical German attitude -- the notion that once a law has been passed to address a problem, the problem no longer exists.

Alas, I had to shatter their precious smugness idealism.

Studies show that 'duty to rescue' laws have no effect on whether people rescue their fellow humans in need. In the United States, where the law says you don't have to try to rescue people, a huge majority does exactly that, often risking their own lives:

As Table 3 reflects, there are approximately 1003 non-risky rescues (cell 2) and 263 risky rescues (cell 4) per year in the United States. Thus, verifiable rescues outnumber non-rescues by almost 800:1. If one loosens the standard for rescue only slightly, to encompass instances of rescue that were reported in a newspaper but did not pass initial screening by the Carnegie Hero Trust Commission, the ratio increases to approximately 1400:1.

Approximately 100 Americans lose their lives every year as a result of attempting to rescue someone else. Thus, even in the absence of a duty to rescue, deaths among rescuers outnumber deaths attributable to non-rescue by approximately 60:1 every year. Stated differently, there are six times as many rescuer deaths every year as there are deaths attributable to non-rescue in the past ten years combined.

Finally, injury is common among rescuers. Aggregate figures are unavailable, since most of the data sources did not separately track injury, but in those that did and as detailed below, a substantial percentage of risky-rescuers and a significant number of non-risky rescuers were injured – sometimes quite severely.

This isn't to say that Germans are more cold-hearted than Americans. Why, just five days ago, a staff member on a German Rhine cruise ship jumped into the cold water to rescue a woman who had fallen off a bridge into the Rhine (g).

The point is first, that law on the books, as usual, has little to do with what happens in the real world. Second, that laws drafted by tiny commissions staffed by elites (such as law professors) and then passed word-for-word by the national legislature do not necessarily reflect "the values of our civilization".

Points worth remembering!

Continue reading "Germans Ignore Dying Man in Bank Despite Law Telling them to Help" »


Child Brides A Problem in Europe in 2016

Another problem Europe imported

Should a 14-year-old married girl who migrates to Europe be viewed as a child - or a spouse?

The issue has put European governments in a spin: forcing a policy U-turn in Denmark, new legislation in the Netherlands and an agonised debate in Germany.

Analysts say early marriage is often carried out in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey by families trying to protect girls from poverty or sexual exploitation. Elsewhere, poor families might marry off their young daughters in exchange for dowries.

The question is one of rights and protections - but which? When authorities stop minors cohabiting with their older spouses, are they combating child abuse or breaking up (often already traumatised) families?

Depending on where you go in Europe, you'll find a radically different range of responses to the issue.

This really shouldn't be a problem if we apply a few simple principles:

  • If some other cultures in the world approve of child marriage, that's fine. They should be permitted to carry on that custom without interference.
  • In modern Western culture, this practice is illegal and against public policy. It should neither be permitted on European soil or recognized in any way.
  • This means any marriage in which one partner is underage should be automatically dissolved by law when a couple emigrates to Europe with plans to resettle. Filing an asylum application is proof of intent to resettle. Each partner to the marriage will be processed singly.
  • If the parties do not agree to this, they will be summarily returned to the refugee camp from which they emigrated.

This policy should be posted everywhere in Turkish refugee camps, so people will understand before they set out for Europe. Child marriage is accepted in certain cultures and that's OK over there, within that culture. It is not accepted in Europe, and Europe has every right to absolutely ban it under all circumstances. Europeans aren't trying to bring Leather Pride parades to downtown Damascus, and people from Syria shouldn't try to bring child marriage to Europe. 

Every cultural practice in its proper place. What's so hard about that?


When Dutch Ditchdiggers Die

CrV4vbgUkAAOAlt

Via Rolf Degers.

As a teacher on the Sopranos said about the mobster's feckless, dull-witted son AJ: "Well, like my dad used to say, 'The world needs ditch diggers too.'"

And when Dutch ditchdiggers dolefully depart, the number-one song they choose to accompany their incineration is this:

Of course, they choose the anglicized version of it: 'Time to Say Goodbye', sung as a duet with Sarah Brightman. But that's another ball of wax entirely. English translation of the lyrics here.

This song is also used several times during The Sopranos, both diegetically and non-diegetically, as a sort of psychological cue that one of the grubby, classless Italian mobsters is having a Moment of Profound Emotion. David Chase, one of the world's great misanthropes, used the melling swellody, er I mean swelling melody to spit contempt at the characters he so memorably etched: "Look at these cheap, empty people. This is their idea of a 'bee-yoo-tee-ful' song. Yet they can't even speak the language it's written in anymore, because they're deracinated, lazy, and corrupt. It's just an empty token of their once-proud heritage."

But Chase is wrong! Well, not about the mobsters, but about the song. If you ask me, 'Con te Partiro' is fucking awesome. It's a creamy, silken masterpiece of heart-on-your-sleeve, pop-those-cuffs, if-this-don't-turn-you-on-you-ain't-got-no-switches pop melody-making. I mean come on, once you hear that melody, you'll never forget it. And the sudden key shifts keep the drama intense until the last bar fades.

No wonder this music accompanies the synchronized fountains outside Steve Wynn's Bellagio casino resort in Las Vegas ("The Fountains of Bellagio"!). Once, while watching those fountains in Vegas with a group of friends, 'Con te Partiro' came on. Most of us sneered the sneer of the international urban haute bourgeoisie at this ejaculation of cheese. Yet one of our company, a fluent speaker and lover of Italian culture, visibly choked up. "You assholes don't know quality when you hear it. This is a beautiful old Italian ballad, just amped up with a big orchestra."

I told him that as far as I knew, it had been written in the 1990s for Andrea Bocelli. He said, "Maybe, maybe not," (this was before smartphones), "but even if it was, it's in the grand tradition of Italian song-making. The yearning, the passion, the genuineness of the Neapolitan ballad, it's all there. Laugh all you want, but this is great music. What would you rather have people listening to? Vanilla Ice?"

Needless to say, I've come around to his way of thinking. But judge for yourself: 


Welcome, Sturdy, Sober, Hard-Working Danes! (Other Danes Need Not Apply)

Viking-demo1

Tyler Cowen reviews a new book calling into question Scandinavian welfare states as a model for the world, and working out its implications for immigration policy:

Nima Sanandaji, a Swedish policy analyst and president of European Centre for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform, has recently published a book called "Debunking Utopia: Exposing the Myth of Nordic Socialism." And while the title may be overstated, his best facts and figures are persuasive. 

For instance, Danish-Americans have a measured living standard about 55 percent higher than the Danes in Denmark. Swedish-Americans have a living standard 53 percent higher than the Swedes, and Finnish-Americans have a living standard 59 percent higher than those back in Finland. Only for Norway is the gap a small one, because of the extreme oil wealth of Norway, but even there the living standard of American Norwegians measures as 3 percent higher than in Norway. And that comparison is based on numbers from 2013, when the price of oil was higher, so probably that gap has widened.

Of the Nordic groups, Danish-Americans have the highest per capita income, clocking in at $70,925. That compares to an U.S. per capita income of $52,592, again the numbers being from 2013. Sanandaji also notes that Nordic-Americans have lower poverty rates and about half the unemployment rate of their relatives across the Atlantic.

It is difficult, after seeing those figures, to conclude that the U.S. ought to be copying the policies of the Nordic nations wholesale. It is instead more plausible to think that Americans might learn something from the cultural practices of Nordic-Americans. Sanandaji says those norms include hard work, honesty, a strong civil society and an ethic of cooperation and volunteerism....
 
For one thing, Nordic immigrants to the United States probably came from the better trained, more literate and more ambitious segments of the population. For instance, data on Danish migrants from 1868 to 1900 show that laborers were underrepresented in the group and artisans and craftsmen were overrepresented by a factor of two. It is perhaps no wonder that the ethnic Danes in the U.S. are relatively high earners, because they are the results of a process of positive selection.  And there is a growing literature showing that the cultural traits of migrants can persist to some degree for generations in their new countries....

Most of all we should consider the option of greater freedom of choice for residence decisions. For all the anti-immigrant sentiment that is circulating at the moment, would it hurt the U.S. to have fully open borders with Denmark? It would boost American gross domestic product and probably also improve American education. History teaches that serious assimilation problems would be unlikely, especially since many Danes already speak English. 

Open borders wouldn't attract Danes who want to live off welfare because the benefits are so generous at home.

How's this for a simple rule: Open borders for the residents of any democratic country with more generous transfer payments than Uncle Sam's.

A few observations: Simple one-to-one comparisons of Danish to American living standards are not very meaningful, because even if Americans make more money, they have higher living expenses. They have to pay for (or do without) many things a Scandinavian welfare state provides for free or subsidized. How exactly do you calculate the effect on living standards of guaranteed paid parental leave, health insurance, pre-school education, and public transportation so effective that nobody has to buy a car?

That aside, though, notice the argument Cowen is making. Cowen is a professor of economics, a centrist with libertarian tendencies, and an interesting blogger. Being libertarian, he tends to be in favor of immigration in general. Economists tend to like many kinds of immigration, because it fosters economic growth and comparative advantage and those sorts of things.

But since Cowen is a pragmatic American, he accepts two arguments as so obvious as to need no elaboration. First, that immigration should favor the talented and intelligent. The Danes America got are doing well in America because they come from a successful culture, and because they were some of the most enterprising people in that culture. Second, he notes that immigration policy should obviously not attract people "who want to live off welfare". (Also, note that he uses the word "selection" in reference to getting better Danes. The German version of this word, Selektion, is thermonuclear-level verboten in Germany because it was the term used for the process of determining which new arrivals at Nazi death camps would be selected for immediate death, and which would be put to work).

Both of these arguments will immediately be disputed in European Urban Haute Bourgeois circles. Trust me, I know from personal experience. European urban elites who have liberal-arts educations are educated in hothouses of deontological thinking, in which experiences and policies should be evaluated according to abstract universal principles of humanism. In this view, selecting immigrants is denounced as elitist, as ignoring the "sacred principle" of human equality, as treating some persons as more inherently valuable than others, and as implicitly asserting the supposed "superiority" of Western culture.

Discouraging welfare tourism is denounced for similar reasons. Also, you often encounter the notion that Europeans have no "right" to live in comparative safety and prosperity, and therefore have no legitimate objection to foreigners coming to their country and living off state assistance their entire lives. What are you trying to say, that Joseph from Cameroon somehow has less right to live off German welfare than Josef from Dibbersen? Both are human beings, both have the same entitlement to inviolable human dignity, and therefore both must be treated equally by the welfare state. You didn't choose which country you were born in, so how is it fair for you to reap the incalculable privileges of being born in a place like Germany as opposed to, say, Zimbabwe?

To which the average Brit or American (but not Peter Singer) responds: What's all this bosh? These arguments may have abstract appeal in a seminar room, but as guides for formulating policy in a Western democracy, they're useless, not even wrong. Principles are all well and good, but they're hardly a guide to practical policy-making. Favoring skilled immigrants is legal, proper, does not violate any mutual obligations we may owe to others, and benefits us. Same with making sure foreign welfare cases don't burden our system, which is designed for our people. And no, we think the notion that making sure our welfare system helps our people is not only proper, but that it's the only remotely sane approach. And we feel no need to justify or explain these views. As Disraeli said, "Never complain, never explain."

This, gentle readers, is one of the most fascinating and enduring differences between the mindset of the educated elites of the English-speaking world and those of continental Europe.


The U.S. Is Much Less Xenophobic Than Europe

Foreigner poll

Here's another cultural difference to add to the others.

If you believe it's a good thing for a country to have a generally positive attitude toward diversity, then you must acknowledge that the USA is morally superior to any European country. European elites overwhelmingly think diversity is a good thing, which makes the results of this survey problematic to them. How can a country which embodies so many things they disapprove of 'score' so well on a value they desperately wish their countrymen shared?

If you're neutral on that question, as I am, this is just an interesting difference. Doubtless the main factor here is that the US is a nation of immigrants, while European nations all have native traditions and populations and thick, deep cultures and identities.