21 May 2011


"Your group, left to its own devices, couldn't build or maintain a livable society."


Hurts to hear.  Could you say it to someone?  Looking them in the eye?  "Your group just isn't equipped by nature with the ability to create a pleasant, safe, modern society.  If you want to live in one, the only way you'll ever be able to is by taking up residence in somebody else's.  If they let you."

Ouch, ouch, ouch.  Could I say it?  Sure.  Eye to eye?  

All I have to do is look in a mirror.

My group can't cut it.  If we were running things, as some wag has gently put it, the human race "would never have left the cave."


But every group has its oddballs.

What if some really exceptional members of my group got together and decided they wanted to leave the rest behind?  Strike off and create a new country?  Where only exceptionals such as themselves are invited.  It could happen.  We've got some far-outside-the-norm oddballs in my group.

And let's say their new improved country runs nicely; it's not the envy of the planet, maybe, but passers-through always go back home saying it's a modern, safe, pleasant place to live.

And the un-exceptionals left behind?  The averages of the group, that overwhelming majority left all alone among themselves?  Well, their country's not so great.  Can't get up any decent infrastructure, can't control crime, can't produce enough to feed themselves.

But one thing they can do is see over that high wall into Exceptionland.

And they like what they see.

They see tall buildings.  They see electricity and flush toilets.  They see the rule of law.  They see Cuisinarts.  They want these things too.

Of course Exceptionals can also see into Averagestan, and it's a rather sorry sight.  Primitive, poor, unhealthy, unsafe.  Not a place anyone's knocking down the door to get into.

So some unusually kind-hearted Exceptionals start haranguing their fellow citizens to let in a few Averages.  Just a couple, for pity's sake, look at the poor wretches over there, they can't even fill their own bellies.  It's the least we can do.

So in they come—but just a few!   These fresh-off-the-boat Averagestanis can't believe their good fortune.  Paved clean roads, fully-stocked grocery stores, a pill for anything that ails you.  They start writing letters as fast as they can to their fellow Averages left behind in the old country, saying Come! Come!  We've found Paradise on Earth!

And come they do.

Exceptionals have understood the happiness that comes with being able to provide for your brood, so they tend to have small ones. 

Averages don't.  As they always have, they keep churning out babies rapid fire, until entire neighborhoods are filled with their progeny, then whole cities, then entire regions.

Exceptionals have discovered the enjoyment of self-rule, so they elect a new set of leaders each year by majority vote.

But their majority is starting to run desperately thin.

The prolific Averages soon outnumber them and, annoyed to see a group as large and, presumably, as capable as themselves so stingily represented at the summits of Government, Business, and Education, they simply start voting themselves there.

Easy as pie.

And bit by bit, despite the Exceptionals' muffled throat-clearing and exchanges of quizzical looks, Averagestanis are soon running the place.  Native Exceptionals who had once strolled fearlessly down safe, clean streets begin to see garbage pile up, potholes left unfilled, attacks of random violence, police holding their hand out for a bribe.

                              *               *               *

It's a beautiful spring morning, and the newest boatload of Averagestanis has just arrived at Exceptionland's harbor.  As they troop off the ship trembling in anticipation at the streets paved with gold that surely await them, they look around and realize that…

                       ... ? ...

They don't seem to have left home at all.

It's Averagestan all over again.  Could the boat have taken a wrong turn?  A U-turn?  How did they end up back in their poor, primitive, miserable country after such a very long sea trip?

How indeed.

If we can answer that question, we can perhaps find the answer to many.

  • Why do some citizens of the world's Exceptionlands seem to object so forcefully to the arrival in their ports of great boatloads of Averagestanis?
  • When Averagestani newcomers who produce little are able to vote themselves money out of the pockets of Exceptionlanders who produce much….Why are the latter so bothered about it?
  • Why do some Exceptionlands become less pleasant over time, and some don't?
  • Why do so few Averagestans become more pleasant over time (unless a boatload of Exceptionlanders has arrived to impose pleasantness upon them)?

No group is defined by its Exceptions.  Only its Averages.  But the former are fun to point out, because they defy stereotypes.    Look!  It's a woman physicist!  It's a seven-foot Chinese! It's a German with a sense of humor!

Oddballs are just that--odd.  Curiosities.  A two-headed lizard floating in formaldehyde, rarely portending anything new or exciting for the future of a group.  Just one of Nature's hiccups.

Get enough members of any group together, and the Averages carry the day.  It's true for my group in any case.  Anywhere we end up in the world in large numbers, it tends to look the same--Like the kind of place people want to get out of, not into.

Refuse to admit this unpleasant truth, and there's no chance we'll ever come close to finding a way to mitigate it.  

Unpleasant truth which is, in this brave new globally-connected world we've flung ourselves head-long into, slowly but surely becoming everybody's problem.  No exceptions.


JG said...

Where'd you find that quote.. I think I wrote it.

Unknown said...

“Anywhere we end up in the world in large numbers, it tends to look the same — Like the kind of place people want to get out of, not into.” What race are you, M.G.?