Why the Duality? or What is it with German History?

Ok, so having spent the past week in Germany, I now have a better understanding of the history and actions from this part of the world. Or at least I thought I did.

I started to understand things in a nice, and safe, dualistic way. Things were not like this, they are rather like that. Problematic areas of Germany’s past are expressed in one way or another, and just when I started falling into one area of the dualistic divide, another notion hit me that helped shatter it and illustrate how the rhizome moves and undulates. Let me explain.

As I continue to process our #rhizo15 experience, and particularly when considering various forms of #rhizomatic learning across variations in contexts, worldviews, and histories, I thought I began to appreciate the German habit of following the rules. After all, have rules that are fair and consistent, and what could be better?

That is, until we perceive them from a different perspective.

A tour guide we met emigrated to Germany many years ago, and told us a story that happened recently. He returned home one Saturday afternoon to find a note on the floor, inside his apartment, alerting him to the game t that the police entered his apartment, when nobody was at home, to do a 5 minute security scan. Heading down to the police station to inquire and ultimately complain about this, he was told there was a complaint about there being a gun in his apartment. You see, in Germany it is a No-No to have guns, so the neighbor’s complaint followed the letter of the law. The only problem, thus far, is this person’s son had a gun, one that was quite evidently a plastic toy.

This is where it got interesting for me, as the guide commented that he felt the police overstepped their boundaries when they entered and searched the apartment for the offending weapon, only to leave with nothing. He contended this action typified a German infatuation with laws, reporting on one’s neighbor for infractions, and a zealous use of policing. Sounds, perhaps, a bit like much of modern German history?

It certainly did for this person, though I found myself pausing to think of this story from a different perspective (or two). German gun control is somewhat different from that in the U.S., where guns are even sold at Wal-Mart, but my musing left me with more questions than answers.

  • Is the issue mainly one of nosy neighbors or concerned citizen?
  • Could somebody really mistake a plastic toy gun with a real one?
  • To what limits can the authorities move to enforce laws?
  • How somebody be offended when another person contacts the police to help make the neighborhood safer?
  • To what extent does this person’s experience, as a somewhat recent resident (almost 20 years) affect his experiences now (as he came from an oppressive regime)?
  • How do my own experiences of guns, police, laws, and travel affect my own reading of this situation (not to mention how tired I was at the time, overwhelmed after a tour of a Concentration Camp, recent considerations of alternative ways of learning and knowing, etc.)?

For me, the take-away was not my reaction, of agreement or disagreement or anything else. Instead, I found myself thinking beyond the dualism of simple yes or no answers. Perhaps that is the trap of dualism: questions are often only phrased to expect a yes or nothis or that answer. In fact, life is often quite a bit more complicated than a duality suggests. A Yes or No may be easier to box in our understandings, but do they really express the complexities of our experiences or beliefs?

As a lifelong learner and educator, what does all this mean when I teach or learn . . .

18 thoughts on “Why the Duality? or What is it with German History?

  1. I’m not sure about the use of “dualism” and “dualities” – I wonder if “dichotomy” would be a better word? I think dichotomies can be useful to understand something – such as rhizomatic and arborescent for example. In reality, as we know, nothing is just one thing and not another, but being able to understand something as a bit rhixomatic or fairly arborescent can be a useful. Sorry, am not being very coherent here!

  2. hard to believe police would enter without a warrant – urban myth, or a malicious neighbour who should be prosecuted for wasting police time?… but certainly very familiar with the obsessive rule following for its own sake ! (have been verbally abused more than once for crossing a street late at night with no cars in sight – can’t you see the red light! – nothing to do with safety, just about control and compliance)

    but, yeah it’s interesting how you can be more aware of the multiple discourses competing for your interpretive alliance when you’re in new territory and have a greater openness to the possibilities – like when entering the open online learning environment for the first time…. it seems like a foreign country where they do things differently… until it doesn’t.

    Polarity is the term I’d use though, to label yes/no questions and how they differ from open-ended ones… and to recognise how they shape the discourse that follows, (as any interviewing researcher knows)… whether a variety of voices are acknowledged and invited in, or the possibility of open exploratory conversation and connection to multiple views is closed down – it’s so in the type of questions we ask isn’t it? (hmmm, ironic, why did I end that comment with a polar question?!)

    1. Thanks, @EP. Not sure about the warrant or not, but it does speak to gun control, a focus on the law, and perhaps issues including a sense of safety, being an outsider or insider, and even how different places have different levels of morality / sense of community, or not. It was refreshing to see that other countries have their own issues, those that may be so different than what they are elsewhere, that we see some issues tend to get oversimplified and, in the process, the complexities that most likely come from real issues get blurred.

  3. At last – reconstituted my lost reply.
    Like you Jeffrey I feel the limitations of yes/no answers-what l would call a dualism. My idea of a duality (that aligns with how Wenger uses the concept) is more flexible I think. Here’s a post I wrote in rhizo14 that expresses my view of it as a mutuality between, say freedom and responsibility https://francesbell.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/you-cant-have-one-without-the-other/. So you see Jeffrey l think duality might be your friend in your rejection of dualism.

    1. Thanks, @Frances. I really appreciate your successful attempts to post here (and I am working on the posting issue!). I like that, “duality might be your friend in your rejection of dualism.” I need to think deeply about this one . . .

  4. Like you Jeffrey I feel the limitations of yes/no answers-what l would call a dualism. My idea of a duality (that aligns with how Wenger uses the concept) is more flexible I think. Here’s a post I wrote in rhizo14 that expresses my view of it as a mutuality between, say freedom and responsibility https://francesbell.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/you-cant-have-one-without-the-other/. So you see Jeffrey l think duality might be your friend in your rejection of dualism.

  5. Ur right to point out the diff dimensions of this. But I am missing a lot of context that would help one navigate through all these questions (not necessarily leading to ONE answer but more clarity on points of view on the matter).

    I am very tempted to ask about the ethnicity of the person being searched. Is ir obvious they are immigrants? They may feel offended because they may feel they were only accused because neighbors know them not to be “original” Germans. Without that info, it seems silly to be offended by sthg that in effect was harmless. However, think NSA.

    I also find myself wondering if the morality of toy guns should be questioned or if that’s going overboard? To let kids feel playing w guns is a fun thing? Obviously most ppl come out of it unscathed (watching horror and action movies, same, tho i think i need to read tbe research on these things coz i know there was some about violence on TV and video games affecting kids – i suppose toy guns are similar?)

    1. @Maha, these are all good points, and while I had not thought of some of them before, I think they speak to how some things that may initially appear simple to one person or another (I played with this notion a bit more in another post today http://silenceandvoice.com/2015/06/16/when-my-reality-is-the-reality/) may in fact be much more involved. Truly context and content, along with worldview, all merge together. Perhaps this is no wonder why we like to box ideas into simple, and workable, forms?

  6. I like the way ur problematizing this. I am curious tho about all the context that is missing from the story. What is the immigrant’s ethnicity and how does it affect how neighbors treat him and how he perceives oppression?
    Technically yes a police search is harmless next to the possibility of someone being armed in a country where no one is armed. But some bigger social justice issue is at hand if immigrants are constantly searched this way or suspected by neighbors ; and also what the consequences are for other ppl to know/see that someone’s home has beeen searched.
    P.S. Are toy guns even ethical or am i going overboard here?

    1. I am increasingly scratching my head about toy guns . . . I do not have an answer here.

      However, @Maha, can you speak more about the immigration issue you seem to be raising here? I would like to hear more about your thinking on this one. Thanks again for the comment!!


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