Thursday, October 11, 2018

Holiday Midwest, Chicago, Milwaukee, maybe Michigan and Ohio

Hey friends, I think I'm going to try to be in Milwaukee, Chicago, and maybe other places in Michigan and Ohio during the holiday week between Christmas and New Years and in the first week of January. Let me know if you would like to meet up.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Dachau and the problem of "evil"

I've spent a total of like 14 hours in the Copenhagen airport in the last 24 hours with delayed and then cancelled flights, but I wanted to write some quick thoughts about Dachau and evil while I wait for yet another European connecting flight before going home. I'll write more about the trip later.

Dachau is an interesting example of what people would call "evil". Dachau is a city in Bavaria and Dachau the prison and then concentration camp was the first of its kind and often used as a model for the construction of others. It began in the 1930s to house primarily all of the political prisoners that were occurring as Nazism had gained control over the German government and had gotten permission to protect the fatherland by eliminating or isolating potential threats. Interestingly, when they first obtained this permission through what was mostly still a legit democratically elected government, the pretense they gave for the need for such power was to protect their political rivals from the harm that might happen to the political rivals. In other words, they argued that their political rivals were so endangered by the political fury the Nazis themselves had worked so hard to foment via well placed propaganda preying upon the banal fears to which empaths in particular are susceptible. I sort of vaguely remember this being one of the given purposes for the establishment of Jewish ghettos as well -- that they were so hated that they needed to be separated for their own protection.

I went there with my German friend, which was interesting for me not so much because of who she is (sociopathic identifying, although that was also a little hilarious to sort of see the different ways she approached things than a more neurotypical person might), but because of how I reacted to her presence. I still have very low maybe non-existent affective empathy even post therapy, but one thing that I have always done particularly at the height of my manipulative ways is to be very aware of my audience and adjust my conversation and behavior to please. I still do this. I don't think it's bad, it's just being responsive to the context in which you find yourself, and the people around you are also part of that context. What I mean is that because she was German, I thought much more of the German perspective of what it would be like to live in Dachau -- a city that is still thriving but probably for a lot of the world will always be associated with the camp. Or what it might be like to just generally be German, especially a young German and be both so far removed from any connection to these events, but still inextricably entangled in them. And she had some very interesting thoughts about how the connection continues to affect the German sense of their national identity, like maybe they are less likely to be waving German flags in foreign places or making other overt shows of national pride, particularly while abroad.

So I found myself chatting with her about how the Germans have done a good job accepting responsibility for the things that their nation had done. They do and continue to do reparations, they have all of these memorial sites that are well attended and well maintained, and my German friend told me that the vast majority of her history lessons focused on WWII and with this idea of trying not to repeat past mistakes.

I also found myself saying things like despite the sheer magnitude of this particular path of human cruelty, the German example is not so singular. I had just been to Russia and seen a gulag, spoke at length with a local whose grandfather disappeared into a gulag long ago for the smallest of jokes about Stalin, and saw the affect that such a repressive regime still had. I had just spoken with new polish friend about some of the Russian slaughters of polish political prisoners. I also mentioned to new German friend that when I was in Russia and told people that I was visiting gulags that the U.S. has its own gulags -- the private prisons and terrible legal system that imprisons such a large proportion of its population, particularly its traditionally disadvantaged classes of people. I told her about how there has long been a Russian tu quoque response to American complaints about Russian civil rights violations -- "And you are lynching Negroes".

It was so easy to come up with examples of evil, not just of other nations both historical and contemporary, but personal examples and examples of very common brands of human cruelty -- the failure of common people to understand their fellows as being dynamic and capable of redemption, no matter what past misdeeds, the modern day stoning of public shaming done mostly via social media, the tribalism that has led to polarization and justification for violence and other "ends justify the minds" reasoning among such a broad swath of the population to a level I wouldn't have thought possible ten years ago.


The Germans have done a good job acknowledging the problem of evil, the fact that they as a nation fell susceptible to it generations ago, and trying to learn what this means for not just their own humanity and the dual good/bad that we all share, but for what it means when people do "bad" things to them. Do we judge as hypocrites? Do we falsely set ourselves up as being  beyond reproach?

Evil is not just banal, as Hannah Arendt famously argued, it is ubiquitous and we participate in it in ways small and big every day. When we can do as good of a job as the Germans do about acknowledging this and trying to learn from it and do better, I think the world would be such a better place.

Pictured, gate with the famous motto and lie that work will make free, crematorium, room marked showers that leads to a functioning gas chamber (although apparently never used), and "shower" head designed to dispense zylkon b for the efficient murder of people that were considered by their murders to themselves be "evil" and as such worth of such treatment.

Ok, my plane is boarding! Please forgive any typos or convoluted writing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

How to Process Your Emotions

I thought this was a good, short video about how everyone has emotions that they don't process and how that is both influenced by societal expectations and has an ultimate affect on society:



It doesn't say anything terribly new, but this concept of having emotions that you don't even acknowledge as being emotions because they're happening at a level that you're not aware of is very much my traditional way of experiencing emotions.

It's not as if I was ever an emotionless void. But to the extent I did experience emotions, it's was if they were a conversation being had in another room -- or gossip about you that you're not aware of. I had physical or other symptoms (grouchiness). Like I would know that I felt tired or disinterested, but my awareness was more of my physical symptoms than being able to identify a specific source.

But even if I did have a greater awareness, I traditionally have not had the skills to process the emotion.

Through therapy I became more aware of and better at identifying my emotions, which solved the first problem. But then I had to (like everyone else) learn what to do with that knowledge. So I ended up with the same problem as everyone else in which I was experiencing general malaise, some generalized anxiety, and bad sleep because I had unacknowledged and unprocessed worries. Luckily once stuff starts affecting my sleep, I'm generally willing to do whatever it takes to figure out how to fix what's fixable. And in a way, as the video sort of alludes to at the end, although the way I lived my life was already following the philosophy of stoicism quite a bit, I became even more (via what I learned in therapy) an unintentional stoic. The key is this willingness to accept reality for what it is. Once that happens, I think most people are able to figure things out with just a little help maybe from a therapist or friend who sees things for how they truly are.  

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Italy and Munich in September

Hey friends, I’ll be in Italy in the second week of September, starting in Rome, Naples, Florence, and a couple other Northern Italy destinations before ending up in Munich around the last weekend in September. Hit me up if you want to meet up. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Paris in an efficient week

This travel time is cheating a little bit because I met a friend in Paris and his friend had been living in Paris for the past few months studying cooking, so I kind of coasted.

Things that I did and found worthwhile were the Louvre. I went through the newer area up the stairs from the boat sculpture, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, first, which I think was a good idea because there's less pizzazz that route, and then when I was tired after lunch is when I hit up the crazy Italian wing. The French revolution wing was closed, which was a little disappointing because I'm a fan of Géricault and Delacroix, but ok.

Musée d'Orsay is not as massive as the Louvre, but is also very interesting and important more modern pieces and a beautiful building in its own right.

I really liked dining at the Jules Verne in the Eiffel Tower. It as a Michelin star and was of course pricey, but seemed like exactly the sort of thing you would want to spend money on. Make a reservation for sure, and as early as you can. I think they assume you want a good window seat and seating is based on how early you make reservations. Even locals believe Jules Verne to be "classique".

For other restaurants in Paris, the Fork App is apparently good. As one local put it, it's like Groupon for Paris restaurants, but good. You make discounted reservations when restaurants think they'll have extra capacity. There's also Yelp, but apparently the reviews in French can be quite different from the reviews in English. For instance, one restaurant within a short walk of the Eiffel Tower had things like "Good standard fare" while the French reviews called it a "National scandal!"

Pigeon is delicious. Heads up! Also of course escargot. My chef friend really recommends Grand Cœur as one of her favorite restaurants.

Also, my friend had been taking private French tutoring with a Paris local, and I think he enjoyed getting the inside scoop on local trends before he went. The Google Translate app is a must for weak French. Be sure to download the French dictionary ahead of time and get used to the app if it's your first time.

Apparently Parisian French is particularly hard to learn and understand. I had heard that from many sources, but it wasn't until I was dining with a new friend who was French herself, but who had been away for a decade or two, struggling to communicate with a server at a restaurant that I realized how serious that admonition was. She said that when she comes back, she often ends up speaking to her friends in English, so they can practice and because it just ends up being easier.

Notre Dame was beautiful, although an interesting trend is that Cathedrals or other older buildings in big old cities that have turned into sprawling modern metropolises is that there is just a lot more updating and other changes that happen to the buildings over centuries, for better or for worse. I did meet a cheese chef outside named Remy and kissed in the rain near the bridge to the other little island behind Notre Dame and he invited me to come visit him in Monaco. That seemed very Paris, but I also think I viewed the interaction in a more casual way than he did. Be sure to check out that view of the Seine and Notre Dame, I think it looks its best that way.

Versailles was great, but I definitely got lost going out there, had to ask people what train was the right one (which I should have done in the first place) and it's true that the line is pretty long to get in. It was what I thought it would be, which is a testament to its fame and current status.

A cheaper and dirtier version of French opulence was the Paris opera house, which was wonderfully more than I thought it was going to be. Also, for Phantom of the Opera fans, you can see the Phantom's box -- Box 5. While we were there, the inside (Chagall ceiling!) was closed for a ballet rehearsal. That was also beautiful to watch.

The catacombs were awesome! Again, because they are so small and down so far, only so many people can go in at a time so be sure to book well ahead, print out your tickets, etc. so you don't end up having to stand in the very long line and instead can stand in the shorter.

You can climb up to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and check out Montmarte, in fact one of my new friends suggest I wake up early and climb up those steps to see the sunrise, but I was exhausted by this time.

I took a quick day trip outside the city to meet a new sociopath friend. More on her later, probably, but her story for me was perhaps one of the most compelling because she had just discovered her identity by chance a few months before, so I was seeing her discover herself and come to terms with it in almost real time. And she's such a classic example of what you would expect a very smart, beautiful, successful sociopath to be. Really you would all love to meet her, as well as the rest of the new friends I met on this trip and I hope to be able to write more about them in the next book.

I never feel sorry for the people I meet, but sometimes their circumstances are so poignant to me. A lot of them just want to live an authentic life of pleasure, but also some sort of substance or meaning. And it's not so much their unique mental processes that often keep them from it, but rather the reactions and misunderstandings of the people around them. I hope that we can do better as a society in this regard. I hope that we can come to understand each other better and allow each other to freely live genuine lives. 
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