My wife and son and I watched Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour DVD yesterday. It was filmed in China, Egypt and India, and was mostly about performances of street magicians in those countries. The show was entertaining and interesting, not just because of the entertainment, but because it showed how many people worldwide still live in very primitive conditions. I couldn't resist pointing out to my son, just how lucky he is to live the life he does. Although China and India are booming economically, many of the people who live there still live lifestyles that we can't even begin to comprehend here. Egypt doesn't even have the good fortune to have a booming economy. At least it's warm there.
Many people in those countries, as in much of the rest of the world, live in what we here would consider hovels, packed like sardines in spaces taht many North Americans wouldn't even consider suitable for their pets.
There are a number of lessons to be learned from this. First of all, in order for people to prosper, they have to have considerable economic liberty. There has to be a minimum of meddling by officialdom. There has to be political stability. In the absence of these conditions, no matter how hard people work or strive to get ahead, they will, at best, merely survive.
We enjoy what we have because of capitalism, even whittled down as it is by decades of inept hacking by legislators and well-meaning but financially illiterate academics and social engineers. Other systems don't work; they never have and never will.
But not everything is about money, about creature comforts or lifestyle. The one thing that is increasingly missing in our materially successful societies is family coherence. We have too much junk, too many distractions. Our kids hide away in their rooms, playing their X-boxes, PlayStations or GameCubes. They can't go anywhere without their MP3 players, or without yakking on their own personal cell phones. They need to be stimulated every second of every day. And we, their parents, aren't any better.
Where there aren't so many distractions, family members interact with each other. They talk to each other. They play together. They help each other. This is all increasingly missing in our western society.
My own fondest memories of my childhood are when we used to sit around the family table after supper. Sometimes, we would play games, like Checkers or Snakes and Ladders. Sometimes we would sing, or listen to my mother play guitar. Sometimes we would draw pictures. Sometimes, we would just talk. My mother and father would tell us stories of their childhood in Poland, Siberia and Germany. We talked. We listened. We communicated.
We are much better off materially than the people we saw in the Penn and Teller DVD. They have something, though, which is even more valuable and which we have mostly lost in our affluence -- the ability to communicate with and appreciate each other.
China, India and Egypt are all places that have long held fascination for me. They are all on my 'list' to visit at some point.