This post is the result of very weird mind-mulch.
You know mind mulch, right? It’s when you’re reading/looking at three different things at one time, and it all composts in your minds and comes up with a rich ah organic mixture you couldn’t have anticipated.
We’ve been working hell for leather at the other house trying to get it read (I think I have three more days of work, but I’m taking today off so I’m not unreasonably tired at LC. I mean “I have” three days of work (with Robert doing the walls) and then we hire someone to do the “other stuff” that I can’t/don’t have time to do. But anyway, the point is, I’ve been putting in a full day of work at the other house and it’s rather brutal physical labor. Worse than that, it’s boring work. No, seriously. Refinished a baseboard, refinished them all.
As usual, like with house work, I deal with this by listening to recorded books and since — we’ve been stumbling tired and forgetting everything — I keep forgetting to buy new audio books (I have a subscription plan that allows me three a month. It’s cheaper than a cleaning service. Also, I also listen to them while exercising.) So I have been listening to whatever was in the MP3 from three months ago. In the last few days this has included Agatha Christie, Heinlein and Simak.
To be precise I listened to Citizen of the Galaxy and City, back to back.
At the same time I’ve been reading (while cooking, doing laundry, etc) P. F. Chisholm’s Elizabethan Scottish Frontier mysteries at the rate of about one a day.
And my bathroom book (bathroom books are essays or short stories, because if you have never gotten trapped by a novel someone had forgotten in the bathroom and lost the entire morning as well as all circulation in your legs, I can’t explain it to you) is a Daily Life In Medieval England thing. And most of the time I read something that I’m sure the authors thought was new and exotic and think “Well, heck, it was like that in the village.”
So, when I woke up this morning I woke up thinking of how time is different in different parts of the world, which is what the people (Heinlein and Simak included) who pushed for the UN and thought it was the way of the future didn’t seem to get (to be fair, in Tramp Royale it becomes obvious Heinlein got it when he traveled there, and realized it was impossible to bring such a disparate world under one government.)
A minor side note, while listening to City, there is a point at which Simak describes what he might or might not have realized was Marx’s concept of “perfect communism” where the state withers away because there’s no need for it.
Simak thought this would be brought about by perfect abundance. There are no crimes of property when everyone has too much. There are no crimes of violence either, because he seems to think those come from property. (Hits head gently on desk.)
This must have seemed profound to me when I first read the book at 12, but right now I just stared at the mp3 player thinking “what about people who capture other people as sex slaves?” “What about people who covet something someone else made, including the life someone made for themselves? Just because everyone has too much, it doesn’t mean that they don’t covet what someone else made of their too much.”
Which is why I’m not a believer in either Communism or for that matter big L Libertarianism. I don’t believe that humans are only a sum of their material needs and crime the result of the unequal distribution of property. (There is also the unequal distribution of talent, or simply the unequal distribution of happiness, all of which can lead to crime — after all Cain didn’t off Abel because he was starving.) And I don’t believe humans are ever going to become so perfect we can get away with no government, because humans will always (being at heart social apes) lust for power, recognition and heck simply control over others (which is subtly different from power.) So we’re stuck with our good servant but bad master.
Which brings us back, through back roads to the main point of this post. I was (being evil) reading some of the entries in the medieval life book to older son (having brought the book out of the bathroom to pontificate) and I said “bah, it was like that for us, too. It wasn’t that bad.” And son said “mom, it sounds horrific.” And I said “that’s because you grew up in a superabundant society, overflowing at both property and entertainment, which is why the problems we suffer from are problems that only affected the very rich in the past” (Crisis of identity, extreme sensitivity to suffering, etc.)
Which is also true. And note kindly, that though we’re overflowing at the seams with material goods, property crimes we still have with us, not counting on anything else.
But for my child this is the normal world and it doesn’t occur to him to think of it as superabundant. He just thinks of the conditions I grew up under (I think it was the “most people only had one change of clothes, including underwear” that got him) as barbaric and horrible.
I’ve long since realized that I grew up somewhere between medieval England and Victorian England. Tudor England feels about as familiar to me as the present day which is why I like visiting now and then.
But even in Elizabethan England, there were different time zones, by which I don’t mean the artificial time declarations (though they went by the sun, so it was different too) but more that different parts of Britain at that time were in different “places” historically.
The Chisholm mysteries (highly recommended if you like mysteries that are solved through duels, kidnappings and pitched battles) bring a London Courtier and presumed double cousin/nephew of the Queen, Robert Carey (his grandmother was Mary Boleyn and it was rumored his grandfather was Henry VIII. There are reasons not to believe this, and the fact that the author believes it because of his “adventurous nature” …. pfui. It’s a minor annoyance, but I don’t join in the cult of the Tudors. They had Shakespeare. It should be enough. Anyway, I can ignore it to enjoy the books.) to the Scotland Borders to become deputy warden which, if you think of it as sheriff in the old west is about right.
(There are delightful things about the book, including character names you’d expect of the Feegle, and the wonderful understatement of naming areas of pitched battle “the debatable land.” Charles, if you read this, I’m getting you those books as soon as I have money.)
I’m now at the beginning of the fourth book, delayed because yesterday house work was followed up by ironing, neither of which are suited to reading, and the main character has brought his Scottish (not really, but an Englishman fromt he border) helper to London. And the two cultures are pitched against each other.
The Scottishish man cannot understand how Carey could be arrested for debts “if you have kin in town” because justice in Scotland is tribal. It doesn’t matter if you killed someone, it matters if your family will fight to keep you out of the pokey. Oh, and the ownership of horses and cows is very Masai, since every “surname” is convinced G-d gave them all the cattle. If someone else owns any, it’s an injustice and should be rectified.
The borders of Scotland are “centuries behind” Tudor England on the road from tribalism to a modern state. This in turn means a lot of other things about it are “primitive” as the poor character keeps suffering through.
And then you get to things like City or some of the Heinlein juveniles, where you’re assured that the UN brought rationality to the world, one world government is wonderful and, as superabundance set in, humans shed religion as unneeded, and went forward to be perfect angels.
I’m not sure what caused this blindness that affected smart men in the fifties and sixties, and still affects academics, idiots and Marxists today, but I read that and I think “Okay, I can see how you thought this was plausible if what you looked at was the intellectual portions of middle America where religion was a social thing, and where the whole “brotherhood of man” was a believed fable. But can you imagine making Islam just “wither away” without major persecution, war and executions? Oh, heck, even Catholicism in the more traditional regions.
There is probably no religious minority as thoroughly gentrified and intellectualized as the Jewish people, and I know that even if you’re a secular Jew you’ll balk and fight if they try to make you give it up. And even those of us whose ancestors gave it up, haven’t really and there are weird survivals and bits that we cling to.
And then there’s tribalism. Perhaps the EU has made the Portuguese and the Spanish live in peace with each other (I think they’re biding their time, but that’s something else) what about the myriad little tribes in Africa, or even racial/tribal minorities in Asia.
How could they think the nature of man would pass away so completely?
I attribute it to lack of contact with other lands. I mean, the US is a huge country, and back then the industrial-news complex had absolute primacy. You really only got the other countries filtered through the lens of your colleagues in the media. And you only got even other segments of your own country filtered that way.
This was not malice, either. I’m here to tell you that understanding another culture — or even understanding that another culture really exists, and they’re not just sort of playing at it — is REALLY hard. Humans are very good at absorbing the conditions they’re born into and internalizing them as THE conditions, i.e. the only true ones, and then thinking of everything else as a bizarre variation.
At the simplest linguistic level this is manifested in my mom’s tendency to try to talk to my husband and kids by SHOUTING Portuguese words very slowly. She’s fairly sure if they just stop pretending, they’ll understand her. It’s not an intellectual belief, of course, she’s not stupid, but at some subconscious level, she’s sure of it. Same when I used to teach languages. I remember a student telling me in frustration that he got “cat” because “gato” is not that difference but “What possessed the English to call a cao a dog?”
In the same way, I spent a lot of time after I moved to the US (and remember that I had been primed by growing up IN Heinlein books) trying to make people’s actions fit into the motives I’d learned in Portugal (yeah, they sort of do, but you have to strip away the cultural matrix first, and that’s harder than you think.)
So it is a case of people who lived in a rather provincial group, and thought the rest of the world was like them. IOW they thought all human beings were the same, they were just sort of “pretending” not to be (this is obvious in City where Simak says something like people stopped caring what their neighbors think.)
For me, who grew up in one culture, entered another when I went to school (think of it as being raised in Apalachia then joining mainstream culture. I had to learn almost completely different language.) and then came here for a year, went back for four while dating someone neither Portuguese nor American, then came here to live. It gives you a very clear vision of both cultures. And it makes it very obvious it’s not all just “pretending” to be different.
It still stuns me that in that time and in that place, intelligent well read men could believe this clap trap of “one world” and government and religion both withering away leaving behind this human being that if he ever existed would be truly alien.
It stuns me more than in our day and age, with blogs and news that show us clearly the differences around the world, there are people who still believe it.
I want to say it’s living in “different time zones” and provincialism that makes them believe theirs is the only “real” one, but I think it comes down to wishful thinking, and “there are none so blind as those who will not see.”
To which I would add grandma’s saying “I’ve seen them blind, but never without a place for the eyes.”
The funny thing of course, is that these people, nowadays, are in the end just as tribal as the most backwardly tribal of humans. Their beliefs are simply mock sophisticate.
But their time zone is medieval.