Different Yet Similar

 

 

Capitalist countries at relatively the same stage of development are pretty similar. They all think themselves democratic, yet only a handful are. Money talks more loudly in some places than other, but everywhere if it’s not shouting it’s at least mumbling in the background. Supposedly communist countries like Russia, Vietnam, Laos and China have some of the greatest disparities of wealth of any country, and no one is shocked by the special privileges enjoyed by the super rich.

There are many places in the world that do not entertain notions of the right to free speech. Asian countries put a lot more value on honoring and respecting your superiors than do western ones. Here in Thailand, discourse is suspect and debate is considered sedition. You can’t really have much of a democracy in a setting like that. You can call yourself a democracy. The “Peoples Democratic Republic of…” but Dear Leader always gets ninety-nine percent of the vote.

Everybody claims to value education, but what they mean by that varies from place to place. In many places teachers are expected to be autocratic. No Socratic discussions allowed. Student opinions are neither encouraged nor valued.

As writer Ivan Illich pointed out in his book Deschooling Society, “With very rare exceptions, the university graduate from a poor country feels more comfortable with his North American and European colleagues than with his nonschooled compatriots, and all students are academically processed to be happy only in the company of fellow consumers of the products of the educational machine. The modern university confers the privilege of dissent on those who have been tested and classified as potential money-makers or power-holders.”

It’s not education that we prize, but the stability of the power structure. We claim to exalt in freedom, but we work hard to deny it to those who deeply threaten the status quo. This is not just true of advanced, capitalist economies. They are simply better at hiding the true motives of the power elite, and corruption is less obvious, though no less prevalent than in banana republics or obvious dictatorships.

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Fierce Grace

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He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

-Aeschylus

If you spend a lot of time in school, you could easily form the impression that everything has already been cut and dried, labeled and codified, when actually the world is delightfully ambiguous and full of surprises. Too much schooling takes all the fun out of it, removes the element of surprise, and turns everything into a report that could be graded, evaluated and certified. If you’re willing to risk saying “no thanks” to schooling, life can be pretty exciting.

But wisdom comes at a cost. Real wisdom, the kind you experience directly, cannot be ordered up in transferable credit hours. It is a gift from God, via his awful grace.

What happens without my prior expectation or permission could be also considered “fierce grace.” There’s a documentary about Richard Alpert, aka Baba Ram Das, named that. He had a stroke and decided to experience it as a gift.

Fate has a way of not asking permission before it acts. Not asking permission beforehand is a form of mercy. How I feel about what is going to happen versus what actually happens is, in the long run, not important. If I want to be happy, I have to learn acceptance and to appreciate what is. I have to cultivate patience and gratitude. Otherwise I’ll always be somewhere between miffed and outraged.