Monday, April 13, 2015

Cultural Shifts

            My parents recently returned from a trip to China and I was particularly struck by the stories about the current cultural structure they have. They are currently in a transition from communism (where – at least in theory – everyone is provided what they need, but no one really owns anything) to capitalism (where people earn money based on their work and their job and use that money to buy whatever they need or want – or just stockpile it). Since this is a rather extreme mix, they've ended up with a fascinating mash-up of the two, with an odd class system in the middle.

            In the cities live the “citizens”, who have money, rights and all those sorts of things. They own and rent property – although the prices are extremely high and the spaces are small – and function much as we in the Western world would expect.

            On the other hand, out in the country live the “peasants” – mostly farmers who are paid very little and own nothing. Yet, at the same time, they live in houses free of charge and often these homes are nicer and have more space than those of the privileged “citizens”.

            In this system, the “peasants” who work very hard and sacrifice much can buy their way into being a “citizen” – the tour guide was one of these and had made the proud step with much hard work and with the help and sacrifice of his parents. The people seem very proud of their transition into capitalism.

            What I found most interesting about the current state of the system is how close it currently is to ancient Rome. There they had slaves. There were rules about how they could be treated and at a certain age they could be released. They even (at least legally) had the ability to save up money to buy their way to freedom and possibly even a citizenship (if I'm remembering correctly).

            The sad part, though, is that with the change to capitalism, China is starting to lose its artists. In a system where everyone is provided for equally, there is plenty of room for people to focus on developing talents and artwork – and beyond that, there is no need to charge for that art what it is really worth. Switching to a capitalistic system, the artists need to make an hourly wage for their work. With all the detail and care that goes into any given piece of art, it is rarely possible to sell it at a price where someone will actually buy it. So, the artists of a country largely defined by its art are slowly fading away.

            The same problem has struck in the farming community as well, causing a food crisis for the country. Many farmers are abandoning rice fields in favour of fishing, where there is much more money to be made.

            Hearing about this culture and its shift is very enlightening and inspiring to me as a writer, creating my own world and cultures. However, as a resident of this world, I can’t help but feel sad about it. The world leans so heavily towards capitalism, where money is valued above all else. There’s an emphasis on getting as much money as you can, regardless of whose toes you step on to get it. The worst part is that it gives the impression of working well, so many people get behind it and cheer it on – especially the people who have figured out how to make the system work for them and don’t see everyone left behind.

            But where would we be if everyone managed to get the system to work for them? What if all the “unimportant” minimum-wage workers suddenly up and vanished, having found a better way to live? Who would flip our burgers? Who would cash us out and stock the shelves in grocery stores? Who would grow the food?

            Capitalism is clearly not the way to go. They say money is the root of all evil and all you need to do is look at the world to know that it is true.

            What will work better instead? Honestly, I don’t know. I've put a lot of thought into it and every time I think I have a solution, I find a way that human greed will turn it against itself. But I keep hoping and thinking. Perhaps someday I will come up with the answer, or someone else will. Then it will be our turn for a cultural shift.

            Until then, all I can do is share my insights and hope that they might make a difference.

Click here to find the charity anthology containing a couple of my short stories.

To see my chainmaille, click here.

If there's any subject you'd like to see me ramble on about, feel free to leave a comment asking me to do so.

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