Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I woke up in a Salvador Dali Painting

Kafka – The Castle

The basic idea with this book is that there is a land surveyor who was commissioned to measure the inside of the castle, but try as he might he can not get in to do his work.  His efforts to secure entrance to the castle are rebuffed at every turn by villagers and bureaucrats.  This is K.’s (the land surveyor) life quest.  He eventually dies of exhaustion and never completes the survey of the interior of the castle, and he never meets the count who rules the castle.  This can be an analogy for many things, religion (The elusiveness of God), psychology (never being able to understand our interior life), man’s quest to understand what makes up the universe.  

This summer I am working for one of my professors and he is overseas doing work in rural villages.  He came across a boy who was dying of dehydration because he has diarrhea.  He did what he could for him, but didn’t think he was going to make it.  It seems absurd that preventable diseases kill millions of people.  Ie. Malaria, it is the number one killer, and the medicine exists.  Forget aids, why not fight a disease that we have the cure for already?  Oh yeah, I forgot, aids kills North Americans, and one North American is worth a hundred Africans.  Silly me.  And besides, once we find the cure for aids will it be accessible to Africans?  (Scary stat: if you’re a child whose mother had aids while she was pregnant you have a 50% chance of not having aids, but if your mother is African it is more around the 4% mark, from the Steven Lewis book)

Which leads me back to Kafka, perhaps The Castle deserves a rewrite.  K. should show up in the village and begin his work as land surveyor in the village.  At every turn the measurements won’t add up though.  He will go back and measure everything a second time.  The measurements are all correct, but one street is one hundred kilometers and has three store fronts and looks the same as the next block up that is thirty meters.  Both streets look the same, have the same 3 shops and hold the same number of people.  

Back to malaria and diarrhea, at first I just thought that is the way it is, you know.  But then I took a step back and asked why.  It makes sense in the context, I can understand the mechanisms, but those mechanisms (colonialism, corruption, civil and regular war etc) don’t make moral sense.  

Ethiopia has problems with food security because of political conflict (read burning crops and killing livestock as a method of control).  This is a moral problem.  But where did they learn those tactics?  Didn’t Europeans come to North America and run a campaign of biological warfare against the native population?  Weren’t they in Africa too?  The only distinction between Hutus and Tutsis was tone of skin that was decided by their European warlords.  An even more direct link is the estimated ten trillion dollars worth of labour that was stolen from Africa and exported to North America and the Caribbean during the slave trade.  Maybe the current dictators of Africa learned it from somewhere.  

What I am saying is that the mechanisms that have created the context for Africa are the same mechanisms that have created North America.  What happens when we accept moral responsibility for our collective history?  All of a sudden it seems wrong to be thankful for our security and health because it is stolen.  

Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) isn’t charity and goodwill, it is debt repayment.  

Should people die of malaria in North America?  Then why is it alright in Africa?  Why does a rural African have to walk a hundred kilometers to get as to the same place a North American only has to walk thirty meters to get to?  This goes beyond the analogy… the boys family took him for a fourteen hour round trip to visit a clinic that couldn’t help him because they didn’t have any supplies.  That is a round trip it would take me thirty five minutes.  And I wouldn’t even have to go to the hospital because I have everything I need right in my medicine cabinet.  

A matter of discomfort for me becomes a matter of life and death in another country.  
This is what is absurd.  

I would illustrate K.’s world with Surrealist art, because all of a sudden Salvador Dali makes a lot more sense.  It is the way the world is.  If you look at his art rationally (with a standard unit of measure) it seems absurd.

I woke up in a Salvidor Dali Painting

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Doublethink, Boredom and Bean Counters

Doublethink, Boredom and Bean Counters

This blog is based on two sources:
  1. Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy, while I have never read it a friend was telling me about this part where there is a planet that had three classes.  There were people that made things and had practical skills, and there were the visionaries that dreamed of how to live, then there were the middle managers that dealt with papers, a very sustainable industry in the sense that they were self supporting, one application could last for years traveling through hundreds of hands and creating numerous jobs.  Well, this planet decided to round up all of these people and exile them, well these people found the planet earth and decided to settle.  

  2. Canadians consume to most coffee per capita.

I think coffee consumption is a good indicator of the quality of life in a country.  I say this because I was at work and was not exactly riveted by the subject matter – which I don’t really understand because it is quite interesting (but maybe what I find interesting isn’t really that interesting).  I think it isn’t that interesting because it doesn’t express anything about me, there is no personal investment, I am working for someone else, not for myself.  This isn’t selfish because there is the difference between working for someone else and doing my work that benefits someone else.  I guess my work benefits my boss, but is my work really matter to him, or is it just job creation?  How many other people ask this question?  How many jobs are created just to have jobs?

I remember a story about homeless people having to separate black and brown grain for 8 hours a day to get food to eat.  At the end of the day the person who provided the food would mix all the separated grains into one pile so that there would be work for the next day.  Is this situation really much different than my job?  How many people spend their working life categorizing different things?  How many people write reports re-organizing information in previous reports and soon become sources for later reports?  The endless re-organization of information, is it all that different?  No wonder people are addicted to coffee, we need it to survive the monotony.  

Welcome to the information age.  With the rise of the complex society there are people that make decisions that affect the lives of millions of people (and billions in India and China).  These people need information to make the decisions.  This information has to be organized to see things in one way, and re-organized to see things in another way, so I do understand the importance of “separating the black and brown grain” but at the end of the day, there is still the haunting feeling that all I am doing is re-organizing information, regardless of how important it might be.  

Maybe society doesn’t have to be supported by 1/3 of the population who has to be bureaucrats.  What would happen if we organized on a local level?  There would still be a need for information, but maybe the one organizer of the small town could get the whole picture himself, and be able to make decisions that make sense for the people of that community.  But…would it end up being a third of the population anyway?  

I am not advocating anarchy, but asking the question: Does society need bean counters?  

Think of all the people that work at stats Canada.  All they do is organize information that informs a lot of decisions.  It is important to the workings of a modern society, but man is it soul killing.  So the question is, is there people that are really interested in stats?  Or is it something that they tell themselves they are interested in to survive and drink a lot of coffee to stay interested in?  

It is this phenomena that I have experienced where I will get really (emotionally) excited when I hear about the topic and am discussing it, then once I start my heart beat slows right down and I fall asleep.   The experience reminds me of doublethink from 1984 by Orwell.  Coffee is our mood control, it keeps us excited and we can chemically support the process of doublethink (telling ourselves we are excited and passionate about something that we aren’t really passionate and excited about, but still believing we are).  

If we get excited and passionate about something, how do we know we aren’t really if all the signs are there?  Well, that is what this blog is all about, the phenomena of interesting things being really boring.  

This is an internal disconnection; it makes us anxious, irritable, and entertainment seeking.  It leads to the question, what am I really excited about, who am I and how can I express that person?  

Well, good luck with that