Monday, February 16, 2004


Circular logic

Over the course of the last few days I have been trying to make a few points about some of the causes and effects of the changeover in systems here in Belarus. Today I have one of two concepts that I wanted to talk about. I had originally planned to put them together into one thought, but I found that I liked the presentation better when handled individually. I will go o a bit about vested interest tomorrow.

To start with today, I would like to talk a bit about the intrinsic mechanics of the differences between the communism as was practiced here against the same ideological practices we teach in the west. I want to try to explain something to you all.

But to do this, I must make a little model for you. I wish I could draw pictures here, but I can’t, so you’ll just have to use your imagination. So please imagine if you will a circle. Make it fairly large, maybe half the size of a piece of paper. Now this circle represents the physical world, which we perceive to be around us as individuals. Imagine if you will now, that we make a dot or a period, such as would be made by a pencil, at the center of the circle. This dot represents you as you exist within the sphere of your life. Of course, you are not alone on a blank page, there are a remarkable amount of people and things around you, so we can represent them as other dots and clusters of dots placed in various places inside the circle. Get the picture so far?

Now, if you were to say that this looks a little like a negative view of a star map, you would be making a very shrewd observation. I say this because, very much like the gravity between the stars, we are remarkably influenced by the people and events around us. There is a pull, a weight to each and every one of those dots, just as there is between the stars.

Remember this first picture of the unmoving dot at the center of a group of many such dots.

Now, from the edge of the circle, make a line, with an arrow at the front, just through and beyond the dot at the center. This is an illustration of the actual movement of that center dot. It is going somewhere, you see? This then, is you moving through your life, both through space and time.

And at this point, a remarkable oversimplification can be derived from these two models: The first picture with the unmoving dot was communism, and the second picture with the streaking arrow, is our western model of “life in the marketplace”.

Here is my explanation: In the times of communism, it was the communities and the groups and the basic idea of survival for all that was at play. Your dot was of course moving a little, all living things move or grow, but you were basically where you were, and with whom you were going to be with. Communities were seen as permanent. Because you were there, and that “there” was a really big deal, those “dots” were also a really big deal; more than that, they were all you had. They were life. And so, because the natural gravitational pull between people was not only allowed to be, but amplified to an enormous extent, human interaction was the principal and fundamental engine of movement in anyone’s life. S-O-C-I-A-L-I-S-M. Get it? People stayed together and tried not to hurt each other too much. It was all very, very nice.

In the other model though, that dot is streaking past all of the other dots (who themselves are also streaking by at a remarkable speed) with only the slightest ripple of an effect gravitationally on one another. That center dot is on its way someplace, eyes on the prize, looking neither right nor left, and filled with the knowledge that something good will happen if it just keeps on going as fast as it can. And this is the way we live in the west; conversations kept to a minimum (pillow talk being the exception), drugs for the pain and off hours and then back to work on the comet.

And so there are differences. We may be strong on achievement, but they had really long attention spans. They had to contend with everybody being around all of the time, we like to pretend we are always alone. They spent a lot of time learning how to deal well with social situations, we spend a lot of time learning how to take advantage of the situation. They had very limited recourses with which to work, we have really a lot, they made everything last, we go through stuff and discard it to make space for more.

But, we are all still just people. How can I say this?

To answer this, I will make one more model. It is my opinion that perhaps 80% of all people living on the planet these days are remarkably similar to each other in their capacity to learn. They have a gauge for this known as intelligence quotient, or IQ. It is noted that average human intelligence falls in and around the number 100. An IQ ninety would make you a little slow and an IQ of one hundred and ten might allow you a slightly better job with the firm. Genius is said to exist at about 120 and conversely, an IQ of 80 makes for a pretty simple outlook. It is however a mistake to think of the differences between these numbers as being distributed popularly on an even line (as if to say: 80<100>120). I say this because the reality of IQ is that the differences are charted on a “bell curve” with the center being exponentially greater than the edges (more like this: 80{100} 120). Which means that for all intents and purposes, though indeed it would be proper to say that we are all of us individuals, in the great basin of life, none of us is really so damned much better than anyone else. Yes you can specialize, but in the end, in terms of capacity, people can do what people can do. And what we do, given the chance, and all cultural variations considered, is simply to live in the best way we can. We eat, we sleep, we work and we make more people- these are our basic wants and desires; entertainment… regardless of culture, we are not all that much different in this respect.

So, if we can consider this as true (hold the thought about competition for a moment), how do our societal models work? Well, the basic differences come in that the communists removed for the most part, economics from the social striation process. People were asked to me the same. No one was asked to try and gain more resources than the next person without merit; and especially not for competition or ego satisfaction. They liked a steady, quiet model in which people went about their business in a quiet way. They didn’t want a bunch of comets streaking across the sky because all of those comets sucked up a lot of recourses and energy that were better left for the social good. And this is especially true when the comets crashed. We in the west though, revere this faster model and admonish our people get going after their money and resources as fast as humanly (the arguable word here is “humanly”) possible. We say: Get what you can as fast as you can because if you don’t get it now, someone else will- and there is always someone faster, stronger meaner, smarter etc, etc…

Sound about right? The real difference is of course recourses. And this is a very, very big deal. Only about 300 years ago, some very comet like Europeans went through the North and South American continents like a hot knife through butter and in the process acquired an enormous amount of natural recourses that were previously unavailable within the limitations of the homestead. Having all of these new recourses created a real change in attitude as to what in life was available to people. Seeing this change and its economic possibilities, the French reacted by quickly lopping off the heads of its royalty, the Americans ousted a bowel sick king and Adam Smith, Patrick Henry and Descartes quickly told us we were free to go and get it.

There is nothing like having money to make one feel that they are right.

And this has basically been the engine that has created pretty much everything everyone sees every day.

But it didn’t make everyone happy because not everyone was getting rich. In fact, as it turned out, only a really, really few people actually profited by the rape of all of those dark skinned cultures. And in the end, people were quite unhappy all over again.

What happened as a result of a lot of people feeling unhappy and left out? Well, amongst other things, the communists, as led by the ideology of Karl Marx, disagreed strongly with the economic exploitation by the rich of the poor in their quest for more. The poor folks of Russia and China agreed that this was rather undemocratic and took the trouble to shoot (and/or re-educate) their royalty. The west did not agree with this idea that populism should be popular, they themselves feeling strongly that it got in the way of the actual exploiting of poor people, which was seen as a God given right. The thought that poor people might just go off and take care of themselves if left alone I suppose, being not in accordance to the bible. So, in response to all of this anti-exploitation, the east and west both agreed to hold really big, big, big guns to each other’s heads for forty or so years, taking the whole of humanity hostage. Supposedly we worked this out only a few short years ago.

The result of that “agreement” is what I have been writing about here at the Internet cafe.

So, all of that having been said: Which is the better model?

Well, to answer this, we only have to look at two factors. The first is found by asking: What is the “goal” for all of those streaking comets? It is a good question. What do you want? I find that what is actually wanted by probably better than 80% of everybody I have every met or seen would be a few quite simple things: A house, a nice place to live, to be free of debt, to not have to “worry” about money so much, to have enough to eat, to have free time, to be able to make a family, to have time for sport or hobby to be able to do new things… Or to be able simply to spend more time with family and friends. Tell me I am wrong?

And I think that there is probably no greater irony than that this was what was offered to the general population during the times of the Soviet Union. Yes, it was true that you had to wait years for an apartment or a car, it wasn’t so easy to “get” things, but for the most part, you didn’t have to shoot it out with Miami cocaine lords just to be able to afford a home. You already had one. You didn’t have to fight your way into the social elite; drinking, companionship and interesting social interaction was everywhere. They weren’t goals in life, they were a given.

I mean, we don’t need to go too far into the existentialist point of view, but as far as the concept of “home” was concerned, they were all already there. And as far as the “go getter” 10% or so was concerned, if you were a real sharpy, there were available all of the jobs to be done that actually are too hard for most of us to do. If you had a capacity to do things, it was utilized somewhere. And everyone else simply did what all of our normal people did: We helped out and got a job and that job paid enough to get by. Explain to me the difference.

The second factor is simply that we seem to be ignoring how many people actually populate the world right now and what the cost ecologically is to our small planet to take care of them. I think that it is simply asinine to preach kill or be killed in the fight for recourses at a time when it is becoming more and more difficult just to feed everybody. In every winner take all situation, there are losers. But losers are not happy people, and making losers out of so many people invites such turmoil. Anyone care to argue the motives behind flying two planes into the World Trade Center? Are we thinking that if we get Osama Bin Laden than all of those desert folks are just going to march in McDonalds and plop down more than their daily wage for a burger and fries?

Can you live without that car? Ask me. I say yes. I RIDE A BIKE! Can you get by without new clothes for a while. Tanya says that it is very difficult, but yes. Is life less exciting? No, it is different. But the best question is, would you rather make these decisions about ego-containment and social responsibility in advance of socio-ecological disaster, or under duress. Do you want the inevitable crash, or can we show some restraint and quiet thought and agree to work together on the solutions while it is still possible.

Tale another look at those two models. See what I see? The circles are finite. There are real physical limitations. And no matter how fast you fly, no matter how far, no matter how much money you think you need, there is still in the end nowhere else to go. We are already home. But it’s just an island. Just a dot in the sky. Maybe it is a good time to re-learn how to get along, before there is no place for any of us to live.