A couple weeks ago, I stayed in a giant hippy-anarchist house in Berlin. Biggest hippy house I ever saw! It was like six stories of hippies! Apparently it had once been a squat. It was in what used to be East Berlin. It’s still “East Berlin,” but not in the same way as before. Sometime after the Berlin Wall came down the building was abandoned and then re-occupied by squatters.
These days it’s not a squat. Some collective got together and started paying for it. They told me they own the building but they don’t own the windows. I heard this same thing from several people who all shrugged after they said it because they didn’t understand it either.
There are all kinds of slogans spray-painted on the walls. I knew which floor the room I was staying in was on because it was the one with “No Race, No Scene, No Gender, Resist Xenophobia” spray-painted on the entrance to the floor.
There were posters all over too, for different events and demonstrations. People ate together, the food was shared by all who live there. It wasn’t neat and tidy, but it wasn’t dirty either. Unlike some of the punk houses I’ve lived at, whoever’s job it was to clean the toilets actually did it. The kitchen had just as many posters and stuff as the other rooms, yet it was not full of three-day-old dirty dishes being feasted upon by roaches. It was pretty well maintained, actually.
One of the things these Berlin hippies like to do is fight for the rights of refugees. Back in America people are freaking out over refugees coming from Syria and Iraq. But how many are there in the US? Ten? Twenty? Even if there are thousands, we Americans sound like cry-babies to the Germans when we whine about it. Last year the main train station in Salzburg was so filled with refuges they had to close down the multistory underground parking garage and use it as a shelter for people waiting to go north into Germany. Everywhere you go in Germany, you see reminders that there are a whole lot of new immigrants into the country. Low-paying service jobs are now almost completely filled by Africans and Middle Easterners. Hijabs and even burkhas are common sights.
The hippies I stayed with made me aware of an interesting ironic twist to all of this. See, they are real into helping the refugees and have even left a couple rooms of their place unoccupied to serve as temporary housing for them.
But these Berlin hippies are very progressive in their attitudes about pretty much everything. Especially their attitudes toward sexual equality and the role of women in society. The refugees they take in from Iran and Syria and parts of Africa generally are not so progressive. This leads to a lot of problems. Male refugees often act inappropriately toward their female hosts. The place I stayed at had to remove at least one guy from the premises because he couldn’t keep his hands to himself and couldn’t understand why this was a problem.
These refugees are confronted with a very different society from the one they escaped. I heard one telling story from a German person who was showing some refugees around her city. They came upon an apartment that had a giant billboard for women’s underwear on top. The refugees all thought the place must be a brothel. Why else would they have that giant picture of a nearly naked woman on top?
The irony is that the only people in Germany likely to take in these refugees and treat them kindly are the people whose attitudes are the most different from the refugees’. If some super conservative family in Bavaria took them in maybe the men could commiserate about how women really need to be kept in their place and how the lack of religion is destroying the youth. But that’s not gonna happen.
This is speculative, but I’ll speculate anyway. It may be that this current wave of refugees is human society acting as a single entity to try to balance itself out. I know a guy in Germany who keeps bees. He said you can’t understand bees if you just consider individual insects. You have to think of the hive as a single entity. I wonder if people are like that too.
We don’t act this way consciously, of course. Our so-called “leaders” are just worker-bees with delusions of grandeur. The best they can accomplish is to follow the hive directive while pretending they invented it themselves. I believe a lot of forces are at work that individual human beings can never truly understand because they don’t operate on the level of the individual. The individual is totally inconsequential.
I know a lot of people believe that the human collective must be stupid, that it always devolves into the lowest common denominator. I believed that myself for a very long time. But now I’m starting to wonder if the human collective might be smarter than any of us as individuals. We may be forcing ourselves into these head-on confrontations knowing unconsciously that it’s the only way things will ever get solved.
November 11-13, 2016 Mt. Baldy, California (near Los Angeles) Three Day Retreat
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Check out my podcast with Pirooz Kalayeh, ONCE AGAIN ZEN!
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Every Monday at 7:30pm there’s zazen at Angel City Zen Center (NEW TIME, NEW PLACE!) 1407 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!
Every Saturday at 10:00 am there’s zazen at the Angel City Zen Center (NEW PLACE!) 1407 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!
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