Monday, December 06, 2010

Four Corners

I had the pleasure of eating lunch and touring landmark historical buildings with a Modern Languages professor and three Fulbright scholars, one from Libya, one from China, and one from Tanzania.

Alcoholic beverages are prohibited outright in Libya, although available via black market if you know someone who knows someone. No one drinks out in the open. Entirely Muslim, there is no Christmas in Libya, and the Muslim holidays are few. Libya's political holidays have remarkably simple names, “Evacuation Day,” “British Evacuation Day,” “Italian Evacuation Day,” “National Day,” and then there's Quadafi's unique Jamahiriya Day, referring to the “people/Democracy” part of its two part government. English is considered the second language in Libya, and in their public schools, all children begin learning English in the third grade. About half of the country can speak and read English.

The globally ubiquitous photograph of the young Chinese student standing boldly in front of a column of tanks during the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising isn't so visible in China. I asked the Chinese student if she had heard of someone standing before tanks and stopping them. She had no idea what I was talking about, and she's a Fulbright scholar. The coffee shop had wireless, so I got my laptop and image googled “China tank man”. The screen was instantly filled with dozens of photos. We then found ample material online all about the incident, which she devoured.

I asked the woman from Tanzania about growing up in her town and if she had greater connections with other people than what she is experiencing since she has been in the states. My question was based on concepts so eloquently captured in God Grew Tired of Us. Her face lit up, and it was clear she knew exactly what I was pointing towards. She relayed, “When I was growing up, I knew everyone in all of the families around me, the parents, grandparents, children, babies, and I really knew them, all of them. Everyone knew everyone and everyone saw everyone and often.”

I asked her if being in the USA resulted in periods of loneliness and isolation compared to what she was used to, and with complete candor she acknowledged without hesitation, “Yes, I get very lonely here.”

I find myself before questions I have yet to formulate, except to say that the semantics and definitions of certain words are shifting. Do the Sarah Palin devotees that cheer as she talks about freedom occur to you as free? What values indeed have value?

Those Africans may not have a nickel or know if they will get to eat tomorrow, but they have an experience of community the likes of which most Americans cannot even imagine. Is a house owned really superior to a house shared? Ayn Rand asserted that a house shared is a house destroyed, yet we share roads and parks and libraries. Conservatives may assert, “A house is shared by family.” Yeah, but thinking of Africa, what if we were all family?

Imagine if we operated like that.


Anonymous Robish said...

Remember when American Neanderthals scoffed at the "socialistic" notion of Hillary Clinton's book, "It Takes a Village"?

Wow, imagine that: neighbors, acquaintances, fellow community members, even strangers, feeling a shared responsibility for making the community strong and sustainable.

12/06/2010 10:45 PM  
Anonymous Scarlett Letter said...

Glad to see a post from you, x4mr.

12/06/2010 11:30 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

The last time the US could make any reasonable claim to having a similar view of "community" would likely date back to at least the 1930's (idyllic visions of 1950's and 60's Cleaver-like household, or the Waltons to the contrary). I would argue that you really need to go back to the first part of the 1800's.

It's not coincidental that both of those time periods pre-date fairly major changes in cultural mobility - the 1930's saw a large growth in automobile travel, and were followed by the onset of the era of public aviation, while the mid-1800's started to see the growth of the railroads. As cultural mobility increases (bringing with it a vast array of new opportunities), one of the casualties seems to be the close-knit community structure mentioned by your Tanzanian friend.

I suspect, when and if the poorer regions of Africa begin to gain more access to modern transportation technologies, they will see a similar change in the meaning of "community".

12/07/2010 8:40 AM  
Blogger The Navigator said...

A thought provoking post, as usual. I hope x4mr keeps blogging. The title “Four Corners” shows that the post has some depth, with the fourth corner of course being the United States. We have the USA, with all of its “freedom” and economic opportunity, China’s seemingly all powerful government, Libya’s intriguing mix of democracy and dictatorship, and finally, Tanzania’s village. I would argue that x4mr is noting that each have their bag of desirable and undesirable. I too ache for the ability to take what I want from each one, but this option is fiction.

Sirocco is right of course that with mobility and resources the cultures shift. From the perspective of this post, I see a struggle between individual freedom/amassing private property and the overall well being of the community. I also question the real “freedom” of freedom, as x4mr suggested about the Palin groupies, and I would extend it to the Limbaugh and Fox duped masses of lobotomized sheep. They are free to think and do whatever they are told. That they do this willingly and unconsciously does not make them free.

Returning to Sirocco’s point, yes the Africans may move in the direction of the kind of isolation and fragmentation seen in the USA as mobility increases, but the more I think about it, I think the African village is closer to what the human DNA was built for, and therefore what the human heart and mind craves. We sacrificed a lot to be able to accumulate a bunch of property that is ours and ours alone, and sadly, I think are going to get worse before they get better.

12/07/2010 9:32 AM  
Anonymous Observer said...

I know x4mr knows Bob Gilby and his wife Donna. They fought long and hard to create a community based housing project a few miles west of Tucson. The homes are built in a coordinated fashion with common space, and by design with some structure the dwellers have events and activities that bring them together regularly.

I think they even have written documents about how certain things occur. This allows people to have a private space as well as a "village" to enhance their experience of community.

In a few years everyone's community will probably whatever is the next FaceBook.

x4mr mentioned Ayn Rand, and I think her book The Fountainhead is relevant to Limbaugh, Palin, and Fox in general. In the book, Wygand is the newspaper mogul who believes he has all this power because of his paper's wealth and his ability to tell everyone what to think.

Actually, as the book shows, his paper can only tell them what they want to hear, which is the lowest of the low, pandering to the basest and most foul elements of the human psyche. When he tries to do something good with his paper, his readers condemn him.

X4mr is right that the mob is not really free, but not in the sense that they are told what to think. Fox, etc. only help them justify what they already think. They are just united in their fear, hatred, and longing to feel superior to "bad people." Feed them what they want, and you can make a lot of money.

The people who love Limbaugh, Fox, and Palin are already hate prone xenophobic white supremacist types hungry to hear what legitimizes their venom and makes them feel righteous. If Fox or Palin or Limbaugh, or any of their type, started trying to promote something good, like working in good faith with the president to truly start addressing the nation's problems, they would be crucified.

Imagine Limbaugh using his radio show to spearhead a massive project to end world hunger. His ratings would implode at once.

12/07/2010 2:07 PM  

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