Sunday, March 11, 2007

America's Machine...

Taken from Slashdot:

"What is it about train system efficiency that inculcates a preference for or against fascism in the general populace?"

This might sound kind of silly, but hear me out. I think it's a question of whether society as a whole prioritizes the lives of individuals, or the regular functioning of societal institutions.

Will the train wait for you if you are running two minutes late? Or will it leave exactly on time? What if you are going to visit your sick mother in the hospital? Will the conductor let you on if you run up at the last minute, after the doors have closed, tears in your eyes?

Are the people in charge sticklers for the rules, or will the allow an except for your particular life story and situation? Are we cogs in the machine, to be cast off in the ditch if we are unable to keep up with the machinations of the city? Are we here to support the institutions, or are the institutions here to make our lives easier?

I grew up in the US and got used to reliable infrastructure. I have done a lot of travelling in South American since I was in college, and it has really changed my perspective. Not that I am saying that one is better (I'll get to fascism later), but just observing at this point.

I just got back from Bolivia. In La Paz, any body with a car can put a sign on their windshield and do their own taxi service. Anybody can set down a blanket on the sidewalk and start selling potatoes or trinkets to tourists. Open air markets have fresh meat rotting in the high-altitude sun, and freshly picked vegetables sitting out in the open, dirt still on them. There are no police who are going to stop you, there are no taxes to pay. There *are* registered, licensed taxis, and regular retail shops like we are used to here in the United States. However, official institutions don't have total control over every aspect of life like they do here. Here in the US, you need permission to do wipe your ass, pardon the expression. But in Bolivia, at least, informal 'institutions' exist alongside the official ones.

In La Paz, there are full-size vans that run regular routes as taxi/buses. After 5 O'clock, when people are getting off of work, they will squeeze in as many people as can fit. Everyone is just trying to get home to their families, and nobody is going to throw you off if you are just sitting one butt-cheek on the edge of a seat. I've ridden several times in crowded, swaying full-size buses over dirt roads on mountains. I'm agnostic, but I prayed an awful lot.

Now, of course, there are a lot more deaths due to safety hazards in Bolivia, in traffic and in homes. A lot of people get food poisoning. I think Bolivians are more accepting of the suffering and death in general.

Here in the US, people seem to have what I call a hysteria of action. If something bad happens to anyone , Sometime Must Be Done, so that nobody ever has to suffer ever again. If a child dies in a shooting, all guns everywhere must be registered and locked up. If somebody gets food poisoning, we must institute totally new rules and procedures about handling food. If somebody dies in a car accident, we have to put air-bags on the roofs of all new cars. If somebody dies of a rare, expensive disease, we must establish a new non-profit so that nobody ever need suffer this disease again. If something bad ever manages to happen again, it was because somebody was lazy, not doing their job, and they must be fired. America is a paradise, and if bad things happen, it's somebody's fault for not doing their job.

Written by "lawpoop". More can be found at


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