Oops, I think I’ve started burrowing down a different hole to where I initially planned for this post. I’ve been having fun digging up information on our historical-Cultural timeline. I’m interested to see how we culturally evolved to where we are today.
It’s strange how life’s energy synergizes though. Here I was busy trying to get a picture of how cultures have changed through the eras and why, and while I was visiting Ancient Greece I came across Epictetus and the philosophy of stoicism. Initially I just put that aside as that word just feels cold and detached, but my inner voice said something different. So I sniffed it out and guess what? I got pulled right in.
Around the same time as this, there was an influx of articles in my inbox about America, capitalism and Neo-Nazism which also grabbed my attention.
Sitting back and thinking about all this I wondered “is there a correlation here, is there a message here I may need to look at”? So here we go, let’s see what this dig reveals.
I’m having flashbacks from my first cultural shock memories to my new life in Canada. The move took place in 1978 when I moved from my home, Uganda to Surrey, British Columbia; the time period was during “President for life, King of Scotland, Dictator Dr. Idi Amin Dada VC, DSO, MC, CBE’s” reign of terror.
This was a time when life was very topsy-turvy in Uganda, the country’s back was broken. There were very few shops open with anything to sell. For 10 years there was no running water. Life revolved around lining up for basics, such as petrol, milk, bread, sugar, and oil; sometimes you were lucky and sometimes you weren’t. But somehow we survived because whether stranger or friend, black, brown, white, we stood together and watched out for each other.
Coming to Canada was a rocking shock to my system, and it took many years for the culture shock to begin to subside. There are a couple of shocks I’ll mention here as I can conjure them up very quickly.
The first shock was going to a supermarket; I was in awe of the size of the shop, the variety of goods and the number of individual items. I remember questioning what happens to all the fresh produce at the end of the day when it’s not sold. With many other large supermarkets in the area full like this one, how can it be that everything is sold before it goes off? I was told the system worked on “consumer demand”, whatever that meant. It was beyond my comprehension and reality of lining up, waiting and not knowing, “would I be lucky or not in getting what I needed”.
The second shock was when my eldest son, who was about 4 or 5 came home crying from playing at the neighbour’s house. Apparently, his “friend” didn’t want to come to his house and play as he didn’t have all the latest and cool toys that most kids had. This stopped me in my tracks; I was flabbergasted that this was even an issue. Now I had to try and explain to him that “what’s important here is to like a person for who they are, not because of their toys”. Not an easy message to share with a little boy who now believes “no one likes me because I don’t have all these new fancy toys”.
I don’t believe you fully get over the culture shock, I think you just try and make sense of it and adjust as best as you can. In the process of this journey, where my whole belief foundation was rocked, I needed to question and mull over situations I didn’t understand to try and make sense of it all. Eventually, I came to a realization that I don’t believe a culture of conveniences and a belief of “consumer demand” is healthy. What I came to see is an environment eventually reaching a level of unsustainability leading to life ultimately imploding into its self.
No one took any notice of this African woman trying to explain what she was seeing, so in the end, I shut up and basically joined the rat race. Spend, spend, spend I was made to believe because if we don’t spend the economy will collapse; what a wicked trick we have been taught.
Well, now I believe this African woman’s predictions are not just crazy talk. I think it’s clear to see the results of our convenient and comfortable lifestyle shake and shudder as we “try” to continue living our chosen and expected way of life. It’s not hard to see that there are overwhelming issues troubling the world. The climate is very confused, the poor are growing poorer, the middle class is shrinking, and the rich are getting richer every day. There is a devastating refugee crisis, the world’s debt is off the charts, and corruption is now worldwide. The physical and mental health of humanity is at its worse, and ethical and moral standards are almost a thing of the past. I would say we are in a very turbulent environment.
I know people don’t want to hear this. One gets accused of being negative, so it’s better to bury our head in the sand and claim that all is not so bad. Climate change is a hoax; it’s good to keep the oil industry pumping away and transporting this necessary oil no matter how; it creates jobs remember. It’s totally acceptable for big corporations to make insane amounts of profit on the backs of ordinary working class; God forbid, they are the CEO’s. They need the incentive to keep going, right, like creating new ways to cut back the workforce so they can make more money. Now it’s acceptable for the President of the USA and pretty much anyone who makes a ton of money to not pay their taxes. Instead, they’re allowed to hide their hordes of millions & billions of dollars in tax-free accounts rather than support their country.
I don’t know, I don’t like burying my head in the sand, I like to see where I’m going, and what I’m seeing is a very sad and sick planet.
What to do about it, people say? Well, I think we could start looking at the system we have in place. Let’s just remind ourselves of a couple of things. The modern world it seems is run on democracy and capitalism.
Definition of democracy? Wikipedia says:-
- It’s a system of government which people choose their rulers by voting for them.
From my research, it looks like there are 3 democratic options, all based on a system where citizens exercise their power by voting.
Direct Democracy – “citizens as a whole form a governing body and vote directly on each issue. Switzerland has the closes form of this democracy allowing the people to have better control over their representatives. (It’s worth researching)
Representative Democracy – This is the most common form of Democracy “citizens elect representatives from among themselves. These representatives form a governing body, such as a legislature. Canada has this form of Democracy. I wonder if this system breeds complacency.
Constitutional Democracy – “The people are the ultimate source of authority of government. Germany, Israel, Japan and the USA have this form of Democracy.
A definition of Constitutional Democracy:
“The government derives its right to govern from the people. The people and government are guided and must obey the country’s constitution. The voting populace has effective means of controlling the elected representatives and holding them accountable while in public office” (1).
I’m not noticing any of this action lately in the USA.
Definition of Capitalism? Wikipedia tells us:
- It’s an economic system based on private ownership on means of production resulting in profit.
“Characteristics central to capitalism include: (2)
- Private property (owned privately, not government owned)
- Capital accumulation (The force that motivates the pursuit of profit)
- Wage labour (Relationships between worker and employer; worker sells his or her labour, usually in the labour market where wages are market determined)
- Voluntary exchange (The act of buyers and sellers freely and willingly engaging in market transactions where both parties end up better off after the exchange)
- Price system (Either a fixed price system administered by Government or a free price system floating freely determined by supply and demand. Mixed price system, a combination of both) (I’m confused here with prices going up when the product is popular, rather than go down! Greed I’m guessing).
- Competitive markets” (Activity or condition to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others).
There is something else at play here that needs mentioning and that is corruption.
Definition of corruption:- (3)
“Corruption is a form of dishonesty or criminal activity undertaken either by a person or organization entrusted with a position of authority, often to acquire illicit benefit”
- Political corruption: the use of power by government officials or their network contacts for illegitimate private gain.
- Grand corruption: The abuse of high-level power benefiting the few at the expense of the many, often going without consequences!
- Petty corruption: small favours between a small number of people
Bribery which is part and parcel of this world: “the act of giving or receiving something of value in exchange for some kind of influence or action in return”. (4)
Ok, now I have a clearer picture of how this all ticks. It’s a delicate balance. Democracy is supposed to be a tool for us, the people. We have the power to elect our government officials who are responsible to run the country based on what we the people want. How come in reality this is not what happens? One problem could be people seem to become complacent, and a bigger problem being people don’t vote. The trend seems to be politicians become politically corrupt seeking control and making that their priority, especially in Representative Democracy, and I’m guessing Constitutional. These two systems encourage us to vote and then stand back and allow our government to get on with it without much interference from the people. When we are unhappy with the outcome we then vote for a different party and the process is repeated. Direct Democracy works differently; it cannot work if the people are not involved.
Capitalism from what I understand is the accumulation of wealth and the underlying motive for growth.
Well, the issue I see here is when the system rests on the accumulation of wealth which is not then put back into society, that delicate balance is then toppled over.
Then you add the elephant in the room which is corruption which leaves no room for a healthy, sustainable and fair environment for everyone.
So where does that leave us, the people, the 99% of us? How do we survive and maintain this lifestyle we now expect? We struggle to maintain our standard of life as best we can, we become complacent and bitch and moan, but don’t do anything, just let the system carry on. Or we get angry and become part of the 99% movement, and when that doesn’t work we turn to Neo-Nazism or terrorism. Many fall through the cracks and live in poverty or worse become homeless. Or we become part of the system that is not running in an ethical manner anymore and join the world of corruption.
Am I off track here, or is there a reason for concern? Personally, I believe so. This is one of my reasons for creating my website “Weaving Cultural Trails”. I feel really scared that developing countries are blindly following the ways of the modern world, believing our way of life is the way to go, that we have everything figured out and know what we’re doing, and in turn, they are forsaking their own traditional cultural ways.
Remember at the beginning of this tirade I mentioned the word Stoicism? Well, I need to keep digging here on that as I feel there could be a solution that can help us find our way back to a healthier and more sustainable and balanced way of life. Hang tight and join me on the next dig.