Thursday, March 23, 2006

East and West

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.


  1. Yesterday, Oee and I went to my parents, where we had dinner all of us and then sat around the table taking turns singing to each other, whatever songs we liked.. my dad: train and folk, my mom: celtic irish, me: dirty thirties songs and Oee: made up her own to the tune of 'she'll be comin' 'round the mountain'. We do these things all the time.. it's the best part of life.

  2. Right on! I have tried to do that but my son can't (as he will freely admit) carry a tune in a bucket. He does like music though and whenever I load up his MP3 player or make a CD for him, I include a variety of music, including stuff from as far back as the 1930s. I wish we could sing together.

  3. American "culture" has become decidedly anti-family as it socialistically seeks to export familial altruism to a political concept with which to empower the corrupt by exploiting the gullible.
    Men are paid not to work, and become useless bums. Mothers are paid not to marry. Farmers are paid to not produce. Then there's the relatively new pseudo-industry of "therapy" and "treatment" for non-existent "mental ilnesses" that are a cover for slothfulness. Disciplines and associations that used to be the cohesion of the individuals making up the family are farmed out to Der Schtaat...And dare I even mention feminism?
    Where all this is heading is not encouraging.