Germany: We can’t be

Then again, sometimes there are stories that completely shatter my faith in humanity:

A row with uncomfortable echoes of the past is gripping the world of Germany’s student duelling societies after a club admitted a non-European member. Duellers in Munich objected to the fact a Mannheim club had allowed a member with an Asian background to join, despite his service in the German army.

Yep… that’s happening. Apparently the member in question is German enough to serve Germany in the armed forces, but not German enough to dress up in a silly costume and wave a sword around. The reaction of the club? Well I think we could all have predicted this one:

The clubs’ national association insisted they were not racist.

“We’re not racist, honest! We just don’t like darkies being in our clubs!” The story reads like the plot of a bad Disney movie (Erinner Das Titan maybe?), and just gets more ridiculous the further in you go:

Such societies are usually male and involve dressing up in traditional 19th Century outfits, as well as drinking and fighting with swords. Real swords are used and the men who join often sport a scar on their cheeks to show they have fought a real duel.

There was a feeling from the more conservative elements in Bavaria that, according to internal documents, members with “non-European facial and bodily characteristics” did not qualify as Germans and so could not join what the objectors see as a bastion of true German identity, our correspondent says.

It’s funny, many of the rampant anti-immigrant sentiment currently running through Europe hinges around the idea that immigrants won’t “assimilate”. That people whose ancestry hails from another part of the world (by the way, Germany – your ancestry is from Africa, so maybe you should put down the swords and pick up a drum) will refuse to adopt the customs and mores of the majority group. Since immigrants won’t take on native ideas, we should keep them out! Except here’s a guy who is trying to do just that – take part in a custom that is about as German as it gets, and he’s being forced out by the same majority group.

These kinds of attitudes come from a mindset in which culture is a static thing that cannot and should not change. This is a faulty view of the world – all currently-existing cultures are departures from ones that came before. Those elements of cultures that are valuable are retained (co-operation, family cohesion, respect for individual rights), and those that are not necessary for survival can be sloughed off (exclusion of outsiders, absolute power of the patriarch, tyranny of the majority). There can be debate over the merit of the individual component values, but it is ludicrous to suggest that any change to traditions is a destruction of those values.

The fact that this kind of story merits any discussion at all, let alone the tide of public opinion against the egregious racism on display by these clubs (or at least their conservative elements), is evidence of the fact of this cultural evolution. Time was, not long ago, it was considered entirely reasonable to exclude members of certain racial groups from “private clubs”. This practice still occurs, mind you, but only in those places where the light of modernity hasn’t quite penetrated the curtain of stupidity.

As with the story this morning, these kinds of attitudes will be consigned to the dustbin of history, and be seen as simply an odd curiosity of our ancestry.

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  1. Lars says

    Yes, these “duelling societies” are notoriously right-wing. In principle they’re just fraternities, i.e. places to get smashed at least once a week while being funded by alumni. As far as I’m aware the last good thing they were involved in was the revolution of 1848, the first attempt at a democratic German state, and even that was strongly fueled by nationalism.
    Oh, and of course they are overwhelmingly male-only and rampantly sexist and misogynistic.
    They’re not incredibly prevalent anymore and represent Germany about as much as the average greek-letter fraternity represents America.

  2. says

    Yeah, reading the story I definitely got a “frat” vibe. It kind of reminded me of that ridiculous Joshua Jackson movie “The Skulls“. Oh Jo-Jack, why can’t they all be Fringe?

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