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[personal profile] firstfallenpanda
These recent long weekends have been great. I got to spend quality time with my bear, who returned from Old Blighty last week (on a public holiday :P) with a suitcase full of gorgeous yarn for me!* We voted, nommed and then vegged with ST. It was lovely.

Sarah and Hendrik's wedding was lovely, if a bit on the chilly side. I thought I wouldn't enjoy it for lack of Panda but I ended up having a good time (mostly due to an epic conversation on SF authors and mutual agreement that Ian M Banks is overrated and then some ass-shaking on the dance-floor which left me sore for days afterwards).

I also saw The Reader while P was away. It really made me think about cultural guilt. An ex-SS camp guard is portrayed as a (gasp!) normal woman who was just doing her job (there was a big outcry in the media about this aspect). It brought home that lots of people involved in atrocities are just doing their jobs, just going along with the government. One of the characters remarks that the trial of the ex camp guards is a farce, just an outlet for everyone else's guilt and so they can be seen to be "doing something". The only reason they were being prosecuted was because one of the survivors wrote a book. It made me think about whether Germans still feel guilty about the Holocaust. I know there's severe paranoia about anything that might rekindle Nazi sympathies but I wonder how many Germans (especially the children of those who were adults at the time) feel guilty about their parents' (in)actions. Then I started thinking about how many whites my age feel guilty for apartheid. I think I've said on this blog before that I don't particularly feel guilty about it. My family was poor, still are poor. I went to a government school and did pretty well there, but I'd like to think that was because I'm smart and not because I'm white. I don't recall having any particular advantages during primary and pre-school years. Perhaps I'm living in a rose-coloured fairy world of Northern Suburbia. I just don't feel guilty about it, it wasn't me and I don't think I gained by it.

Also, during the run-up to elections I remarked to my sister that the vast majority of South Africans vote according to race and it does seem true. I don't think we'll get rid of that until the last people who suffered under apartheid are dead. Only now am I meeting mixed couples (not white-coloured, but white-black which seems somehow more radical?) and it seems to be young people, people who were too young to have any concept of apartheid. I didn't have any concept of apartheid growing up, the first I knew about it was when the schools were opened and we got a coloured girl in our class. I remember my mom saying "be nice to her but don't bring her home". I didn't really understand that, I was 11 or 12 at the time. I often find myself thinking about what it means to be white and South African. Do I feel guilty? Should I? Did I benefit from others' misery? Afrikanerdom is full of emo :P. Next think you know I'll be walking into the sea.

I am so looking forward to Wolverine: Origins this weekend. I might actually wet my pants, the trailer looks so damn awesome. I do love me some hot X-Men action. You can keep your wangsty Caped Crusader, DC, Marvel ftw. I like my super-heroes to actually have super powers. Iron Man is an exception, because RD Jr can do no wrong. I can't wait for the Ultimates movie.

* also a proposal, which I accepted. Plans are for next year March, UK ceremony and party this Xmas if financial situation stabilizes.

Date: 2009-04-28 02:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thought you'd just sneak that in there about the proposal, eh? Congratulations to you both :-) Suggest you bring yarn into the ceremoney somehow... yarn-wrapped bridesmaids? (pre-knitted yarn, that is, not bridesmaids in woolly jumpers)

Date: 2009-04-28 02:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hmm, ceremony not ceremoney. But in the case of weddings, perhaps the misspelling is appropriate ;-)

Hee hee

Date: 2009-04-28 02:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yup, surreptitious announcement is surreptitious :).

I plan to knit a giant lace shawl to wear. Also, possibly a little knitted wedding cake.

Date: 2009-04-28 02:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Your sneaky tactic did not worku! I saw through eet!

Guilt is still a thing for Germans and South Africans (and others). I somewhat agree with you on the personal level, though - my family wasn't wealthy, and struggled during apartheid. I got to uni, but I like to think that was me personally.

On the trial of camp guards, I have to disagree. Maybe I'm a bit too idealistic, but srsly if any of my soldiers committed war crimes I'd hang them myself. It's never just your job or just your orders. There's that saying: "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."


Date: 2009-04-28 02:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, but you are not an SS dude giving orders to burn ze Jews. Warcrimes is warcrimes, but it's a different kettle of ludevisk if you're obeying orders rather than doing something evil of your own volition.

I agree with that saying. The character who(m?) I paraphrased above also said (to his law lecturer): "There wasn't just this camp, there were thousands. Everybody knew what was going on. If it was so terrible why didn't you all just commit suicide when you found out instead of letting it happen? You're as guilty as they are." I don't think people can stand idly by and let bad things happen. Otoh, what were they to do? Oppose the fascist government? It's a fine line, responsibility like that. No, you weren't a guard in the camps, but you supported the government that was doing these things. The same goes for SA, people might not have been supporters of the Nats' policies but they didn't speak out against them. But then, what were they to do? Eish. History is made of fail.

Re: Hmm

Date: 2009-04-28 03:18 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
'Obeying orders' is not a defense; hasn't been since Nuremberg.
Nobody's suggesting that it's easy, but the whole western system of ethics is predicated on personal responsibility and falls down if you can just say you were following orders. Clearly systems encourage or discourage evil behaviour, but the choice ultimately rests with the person.
The remedy is for the responsible authorities to change the system as well as holding the individuals responsible.

Do the Germans still feel guilty? You betcha! Not in the 'oh no, what did we do' sense, but they remain very aware of what was done in their name, partly enabled by their culture. That's why children visit Auschwitz/Bergen-Belsen/other camp at some point at school: to educate about the past and to try give added backbone to generations to come, so that such things don't emerge from German culture again.

I think every white South African who lived during apartheid benefitted. Some clearly more than others, but the extra resources for schooling meant better education, the preferential hiring meant easier access to jobs and very cheap black labour that kept the cost of public works down. This isn't to say life was automatically easy - certainly wasn't for us - but the situation was much easier than it would have been. If you think otherwise, you're kidding yourself. What's the consequence? Nothing, automatically: you don't have some mythical duty to make reparations for benefitting from a system you didn't choose & were too young to fight against.

But to deny the situation is to risk downplaying the evils of a system that was genuinely very bad.


Re: Hmm

Date: 2009-04-29 08:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I was hoping you'd comment, being the only person I know who lives in Germany :).

I'm glad that children visit camps to learn that "that was bad, let's not do that again". I don't know if we have that here. Certainly when I was studying history at school (1990-1996) there was no Apartheid stuff. But there is a lot on TV (esp on certain public holidays) and there are lots of documentaries and programmes centering on past inequalities.

I think the approach of "let's get on with living and making the country a better place and not dwelling on the past but not forgetting it either" is a good one.

As for the benefits of being white in the past, I honestly can't say that I noticed anything different. Perhaps my dad got a job (not a great one, mind you, but enough to support us) because he was white. Certainly we would probably not have been allowed to live in Goodwood/Table View/Milnerton etc if we were not white. I find Apartheid fascinating, possibly more so than those born after it. Maybe it's because I was alive during it but have no clear memory or awareness of it at all. By the time I got to high school a good portion of my friends were coloured so I wasn't aware of it during the time that I think most of our ideas on stuff and the world around us are formed. I don't know what to do to remedy that. Should I go on township tours? Read more books? Listen to TRC recordings? Or should I just go on with my life with only the vaguest notion of what happened in my country not that long ago?
Edited Date: 2009-04-29 08:55 am (UTC)

Part 1

Date: 2009-05-02 09:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm very pleased Mr Xalfonso replied to you. I'd read your post, had lots to say, didn't have the time, felt guilty about that, and came back today - to find he'd covered most of what I'd have said.

So: what he said.

And: I think it would be a bit weird and artificial for you, personally, to feel guilty about it. But I also think it would be a bit inhuman not to feel curious and mildly disturbed about a brutal history whose consequences (good and bad) still affect you. Learning and remembering so that we say "that was bad, let's not do that again" is good. Understanding the present so we don't repeat past mistakes in new forms is good. Using the experience of the past to appreciate how cruel ordinary people can become, and how dangerous it is to judge people on the basis of arbitrary characteristics, is good. All that is part of "let's get on with living and making the country a better place".

Part 2

Date: 2009-05-02 09:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Personally I am proud of South Africa. I have studied the history a lot and I know how bad it got. Yet I came of age around the time apartheid was ending and I saw how the country chose negotiation over civil war, integration over destruction, noble principles over hurt feelings. However much the implementation may have been flawed, it was still a beautiful, miraculous thing. I don't know of any other country that did that.

I had the immense privilege to play a small part in that process. That was the choice which was open to my generation. Our parents? Their moral options were harder, and in most cases, if only through culpable ignorance, they failed badly. I don't know how they deal with that now. Probably the braver ones try to give something back to society, and the rest bury their heads and forget. The fact is that many others of their generation found a way to oppose the injustice of their time.

But you're of a later generation than me or our parents. Your generation has its own choices. I know you're more concerned than most about making the world a better and fairer place. That's good. Learning about SA's past, because it's fascinating and because it's useful, is also good if you want to do that. I don't know what the good books/museums are, but I can suggest that next time you see an oldie like me, you ask me stuff. I'll puff on me pipe (empty, of course - non-smoker now), rock on me chair, and mumble about when I were a lad and the police were allowed to beat children for being in the wrong part of town, or when one government minister could erase individuals from public life with the stroke of a pen, or the murder squads, or the cynical perversions of the legal system, or the torture camps... and that's why the country's choice to wake up and STOP! all that was so feckin amazing.

Date: 2009-04-28 03:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Surreptitious congrats on the surreptitious announcement.


Date: 2009-04-28 03:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The Germans I've come to know (including those that make cakes out of pea flour) have said that there is a lack of cultural identity or even a total lack of cultural pride (the reason given for so many young German world travellers). It sounds like many young people in Germany are asking themselves what it means to be German. Is it ok to be proud of being German or should they feel ashamed? I have seen a bit of this with native white South Africans in that some have indicated a lack of cultural identity.

My German friend Maya said that it was only in 2006 that she saw German flags being waved at a world cup match.

Interesting point

Date: 2009-04-29 09:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I know what you mean about lack of cultural identity. There has been a surge of popularity in Afrikaans culture in recent years, perhaps a yearning for a sense of "tribe". But for English-speaking whites it seems that there's no basis for cultural identity as we seem to be a mix of European backgrounds with not even a mostly-exclusive language to unite us.

I tried to think of the first words that sprung into my head when I thought of Germany. The first being obviously XX and his lovely wife, but then came "industrial giant" and "autobahns" and "cars". Only towards the end did I think of WW2 and the Nazis. I'm sure English people don't feel guilty about all their colonial shit, I hear they haven't even apologised to any of the countries that they raped and pillaged. I think Germans should totally have national pride, it doesn't have to be a bad thing. Yes, bad shit happened but it was long ago and I'm sure Germany has many things to be proud of now. I know I feel proud to be South African, we have lots to be proud of.

Date: 2009-04-28 04:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
also a proposal, which I accepted

Awesome news - yay for both of you! :D

Date: 2009-04-28 06:18 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I have a German friend, she's 22 and she has the same opinion about the Nazis as I have about the Great Trek - very year in primary school we did the fucking Great Trek and she did WWII. I quote her here: "I don't care what the old people did; now is important". The apartheid shit drives me nuts - yeah, it was a shit deal, grow up and move on. I was sent to a convent because it allowed non-White - colour and related guilt has never been an issue for me. Except when I had to study it last year - grrr...

And congratulations.



Date: 2009-04-28 07:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
So cool. Congrats to you both - sneaky woman.

Re: Congrats!

Date: 2009-04-29 08:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Mwahahahah! Berry berry sneaky.

Date: 2009-04-29 12:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Congratulations... surreptitious or is still very good news! And the first proposal I have ever seen announced through a foot note!

On Nazis: Human beings kill each other…we are pre-historically designed for genocide it is why Homo sapiens survived and our brothers on the other branches of the evolutionary tree fell under our jack booted heel. The good fight this* as we evolve it becomes less acceptable…but there is a pre-historic hook that non-thinking frightened (wo)men have that I believe allows them to turn a blind eye. I don’t think it is right…I just think it is.

It is the evolutionary equivalent of a lapse in human developmental training for example, despite years of training your bladder you wet your bed as a teenager. Initially you might enjoy the warmth but ultimately most people would hate this lapse in themselves and feel guilty about it, but a very few would enjoy the sensation and make it a habit.

Humans suck—they are a tangled web of contradictions. Hanging the perpetrators of genocide makes everybody feel better—we need to do it. As a punishment maybe but probably because for a lot of people there is a latent capability and to kill the external manifestation keeps the internal in check.

Seriously, the only thing that can unite humanity and makes us feel one with one another is the arrival of an external but equal (or preferably slightly weaker) group. Bring on the aliens…

* Creating things such as religion, codes to inoculate the mass of humanity from its self—that is before the associated power corrupts and it becomes a driver for the very condition it was developed to deter.

Date: 2009-04-29 06:31 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Yay, you guys! Congrats :-)



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