Bacterium

NSU: German History X, a crime drama produced in Germany and introduced to US audiences as a Netflix “original,” chronicles the growth of the ultra-right National Socialist Underground (Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund) terrorist movement, which began to gather its destructive energy in the 1990s after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Though based on real events still playing out in Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof or BGH), the Netflix series is nonetheless billed as “a work of fiction, not a documentary” and is told in three, movie-length episodes. The first episode focuses on three perpetrators who, after founding the NSU, go on a killing rampage across Germany that spans many years and that takes the lives of eight Turkish immigrants, one Greek immigrant, and a German policewoman. The second episode centers around the 2000 murder of Turkish florist Enver Simsek, one of the ten victims, and shows with heartbreaking poignancy the impact his violent, senseless death had on the wife and children he left behind. The third episode exposes the police investigation of the crimes for what it was: drawn out, cruelly executed, badly bungled, politically charged, and morally ambiguous.

While the second episode is one of the most unflinching—and wrenching—portraits I have seen of a very particular and, but for this episode, ineffable kind of suffering immigrant families are made to endure wherever a climate of xenophobic, nativist sentiment exists, it is the chilling story of the three young, right-wing reactionaries that I cannot quite shake.

It would be simplistic to say that these three were disaffected, uneducated thugs with a misguided belief that immigrants, Jews, and other so-called minorities had taken away their jobs, had overrun their country, and had somehow usurped their birthright. It would also be simplistic to say that one of them behaved as she did because of a weak, neglectful, alcoholic mother or that all three were looking for ways to feel powerful and visible because they actually felt impotent and unseen.

But there are no easy answers here: Just as there is no explaining the why of a Hitler, perhaps there is no explaining the why of these three neo-Nazis. Evil exists, and who but God knows why.

Yet I am left with an uneasy feeling about these perpetrators, who came of age during a turbulent time of reunification in Germany. While two of the three are now dead and the one still standing is in prison, their strain is alive and spreading infection not only across an increasingly right-shifting Europe but also across this country, where racist, anti-immigration sentiment has once again found a witting mouthpiece for its message of hate in none other than a Republican presidential candidate.

An ocean might separate the US from the current tumult in Europe, where right-wing nationalism has taken firm political hold in Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland, and elsewhere. But Donald Trump’s racist populism provides just the right kind of bubbling broth needed to grow a thriving culture of extremist microbes right here at home.

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Maybe Not

I have admired Deepak Chopra for a long time, but my respect for him soared when I read How to Know God, his stunning reflection on “the mystery of mysteries.” It was in this book that I first encountered the idea that “brain” and “mind” are not the same thing and that I first came to see how the brain might well be “hardwired to know God.”

 

It was here, also, that I found an accessible (and, to me, revolutionary) framework for beginning to understand that our capacity to know the Divine quite likely evolves as we do. As one who has been interested for many years in the ideas of GI Gurdjieff and PD Ouspensky, among others, I found these more mainstream ideas about the evolution of consciousness not incompatible with the esoteric thought to which I had been, and continue to be, deeply attracted.

Since reading this bestseller, I have read a number of Chopra’s books and have followed his career more or less. Joining some two million others, I recently “liked” his Facebook page as well and so now get to see near-daily videos in which he speaks extemporaneously (though he glances at notes from time to time) on topics so profound one cannot help but be in awe of his elegant, understated genius.

Today, I did not want to miss his mysteriously hopeful “3 Cosmic Mysteries: A possible solution,” and so I listened in attentively to a brief talk on the following three “unsolved riddles”: 1) What is the universe made of? 2) How do DNA and our genetic material create life? 3) What is the biological basis of consciousness?

As he was wrapping up this presentation, in which he suggested that an answer to all three questions might be found in the compelling notion that “consciousness is all there is,” he leaned towards his computer to read a few real-time comments. Patty said, “Stop talking crazy and marry me” to which he responded with deadpan delivery, “Sorry, Patty. I would love to connect with you, but I can’t get married. I’m already married at the moment. And happily so.”

He went on to read another message from one Varun Vashishta (alternatively, Vashishtha), who wrote, “Very boring.” To this Chopra had the following to say:

“Vashishta, you do injustice to your name….One of the greatest sages of all time was Yogi Vashishta, the teacher of Ram, the incarnation of Divinity. And Ram went to Vashishta asking him to teach him the meaning of life. And, as was customary in those days (and even now), Ram, the incarnation of Divinity, bowed and paid his respects to Vashishta…. ‘Don’t do that. You are the Divine.’ And Ram said, ‘I might be, but I’ve forgotten. So show me how.’ So Varun, you do a great injustice to your tradition, and I’m sorry to say you should be a little ashamed of yourself. And if you don’t enjoy coming on these podcasts, you don’t need to. Anyway, God bless you, and take care.”

And thus was the immature Varun Vashishta dispatched—with but the gentlest of rebukes. Later, when considering what Varun had written to one of the most esteemed people on the planet, I could not help but think that perhaps unconsciousness is all there is.