Keep Your Head Down

russian radio

 

What will the future hold for most of us? Decline, usually slow but sometimes rapid. Anger, blame, disillusionment. At least that’s the way it feels for most Americans and Brits. But does everybody feel this way? Do people in the third world feel as gloomy about their prospects as do we Facebook-addicted first-worlders?

If you don’t have much to begin with, you don’t have much to lose. If you’ve never enjoyed even the semblance of benign governance, then anything that doesn’t involve outright extortion and oppression feels like business as usual.

Banana republics and tinpot dictatorships keep most of their citizens dirt poor and allow a very few to get away with fiscal murder. Since there was never any semblance of a level playing field, the poor and uneducated don’t assume there’s a chance they can improve their lot. Hard work will simply exhaust you. If you do manage to accumulate wealth, your neighbors will envy you and someone, maybe someone in uniform, will take it away from you. So don’t make waves. Keep your head down, eyes to the ground.

Most of us have every reason to be grateful for the level of comfort we already enjoy. Life is not a shit sandwich for most of the people I come into contact with. Here in Thailand, which is in many ways like America was sixty years ago, they have a show on TV that is very much like Queen for a Day. Poor people with insurmountable problems come on and tell their sad story. The twist here is that the show requires them to sing in a talent contest and then guess a lucky number. If the judges are lenient and they guess correctly, they win a few hundred dollars. If not, they go away with a box of laundry soap.

This is a Buddhist country, and there is a strong belief in karma underlies the societal ranking. If you are poor, maybe you deserve your poverty based on your actions in your previous life, so you might as well practice humility and acceptance. The peasant class doesn’t seem to be chronically outraged by their lot. The men who stoop to plant rice and the women who sit patiently for hours a day at a market stall tend to smile easily. Maybe later the men get drunk and beat their wives when they get home, but since I don’t live in a poor village, I don’t see it.

It’s just assumed that the rich will act like the world owes them a living. Nobody is scandalized when the son of a rich man doesn’t have to pay for his crimes. His father pays a large amount to the victim’s family. The son may go into the monastery for a few months and have his head shaved for a photo op. If his family is really, really rich, like the heir to the Red Bull fortune who drove his Lamborghini over a policeman who was attempting to get him to stop, then dragged the body under the car all the way home, he won’t even have to appear in court.

This is the way it is in much of the world. Africa, South America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East. They don’t pretend it’s otherwise. They have no tradition of a free press or democratic governance, for that would first demand and allow dissent and discourse, which are quickly quashed. There’s too much at stake to risk it. Take the lid off that kettle and who knows what might leap out.

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