Friday, January 2, 2009

54. Latvia’s Profound vs Shallow Traditions [4]

The following series (not exactly serials) concern the importance of self-sacrifice in the creation and maintenance of a community. Do not be put off by the name "Latvia", the name of the country where I live, because you can probably replace the name with that of your own country. I believe self-sacrifice is "religion" without you or me necessarily having to believe in God.

The Latvian government has the world watching it. In a peculiar way it replicates in miniature such giants as America, England, France et al. Of course, Latvia has none of the wealth of the above, however, due to the government’s insistence that its top officials follow the ways of radical capitalism, Latvia’s population has visions of becoming as one with the government in order to join the haves.

Though the ordinary citizens of Latvia are unlikely to achieve the income levels of top government bureaucrats, the country serves as a mirror to the legacy of the West. At this point, the legacy projects failure. After taking the advice of Harvard professors to leap with eyes closed into the liberal capitalist oven, reality has taken hold. The cooking thermometer shows the rump “done to death”. A pot-bellied undertaker is standing by.

Because the rotisserie of fate is slow and Latvia has been on the spigot nearly a hundred years, the history of Latvia is not easily charted . Nevertheless, the process may be visualized through a few symbolic images, which can then be project back as a theatrical play.

To wit: the government is a theatre company where the actors are ever coming and going, , but all know how to use sleigh of hand in such a way that they keep their audience ever enthralled. As the audience tries to awaken from the nightmare of bondage, it falls back (at least up to now) into the dream, which is of three monkeys tied together to a log.

The government does not tire of the play, while the monkeys remain convinced that they have been abducted by Martians. As befits Martians, the government has named the play, “An Amoral Institution”, a daringly transparent title indeed. The acting is noteworthy for its avant garde style.

The play opens with a government representative explaining to the audience why the government believes that increasing unemployment, making medications unaffordable, suppressing a free press with high taxes, and offering poor quality education are sacrifices the country cannot escape. The government insists this will not result in increased demoralization, increased deaths among retirees and the poor, increasingly positivist media, and in monkeys discovered not to have fur.

Does Latvia’s government take itself seriously? The question is a Zen coan. Hint: to arrive at the right answer take note that half of the gambling casinos in Riga are in the process of going bankrupt due to the collapsing economy.

Even so, Latvian government officials have placed their bets on the money. The three monkeys remain sitting and waiting. The government can hardly believe its luck. To test it, it slips a noose around its ankle to make sure. After all, any serious government would not expect to get away with such provocations to a nation’s well-being.

Unexpectedly, something does happen. One of the monkeys throws at the actors a banana peel. An actor goes to kick the peel off the stage, but slips on it, and the noose around his ankle takes up the bet. The actor flies to the ceiling and soon hangs upside down. Stagehands rush on stage. Alarm bells ring. The Martian police arrest the peel thrower.

Fortunately, there is little harm done. The actor suffers no more than a scare. He reappears on stage the next day walking with a cane and wearing a white collar around his neck. He tells the audience that he is now chaste and has gained “religion”. He tells the monkeys: “The government is no joke. We must unite behind it.”

What do Latvians themselves think of this? Jānis Domburs, the host of a weekly television news show called “What Takes Place in Latvia?” may have provided the answer. Domburs worried that the government “…switched off the light at the end of the tunnel to save money” .

Which poses the question: Who will enter the tunnel first, the Latvian government or the monkeys? If the monkeys do not discover a way to untie themselves, they will—log and all—be sacrificed to lead the way.

(More to follow.)

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