What I learned during that semester (tho neither professor came right out and said so) is that the socio-political system (of a nation) is defined by its economic system (and vice versa).
Many of the weekly classes mirrored one another. For example, I would go to my Sociology class one night, where the professor would talk about "Karl Marx, the great social scientist." The next evening, sitting in Economics class, I'd hear all about "Karl Marx, the great economist."
It's worth mentioning (as a side note) that professors in both classes were quick to point out that the version of "communism" practiced by countries such China and the old Soviet Union bears little resemblance to the socio-economic (political) system espoused by Marx & Engels. (I got an A in both classes, which was all that mattered to me.)
Here in the States, where the notion of capitalism is so ingrained that it has become part of who we are, we walk around largely unaware that other systems exist. We know only that Communism is bad. But in reality, no system of government is perfect. All have flaws. (Cuz they're all run by flawed, imperfect people.)
But here's my point » how we approach money (capital) speaks *volumes* about who we are, both collectively (as a people) and individually (as a person).
In a capitalistic society (such as the one in which you & I live) it's rare to find someone who does not esteem capital. I mean, even the panhandler prizes your loose change. The lives of those at all levels of the socio-economic ladder seem to revolve - to some degree - around capital. How many people have been murdered for money? Now I said all that to say this.
Into the Wild
Been enjoying this new book: Into the Wild (refer to yesterday's entry). Feels like I'm sucking the juice out of every word. Fascinating reading. Read the first chapter twice .. so the book would last longer.
••• today's entry continues below •••
In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter...
Notice the references (highlighted) to how completely he renounced the things most good capitalists prize. This is one of the things about the story that really grabs people's attention. Those of us working hard everyday (to acquire capital) view such forsaking as .. well, as a sort of capitalistic blasphemy.
Into the Wild is now a Movie, by Sean Penn
An article published in the Los Angeles Times mentions that McCandless was very upset by his parents' (quote) "capitalistic obsessions." Here's another quote:
McCandless grew up in a wealthy but troubled Virginia family; when his parents weren't fighting, they were working around the clock.
When I was 11 years old, I begged my folks to let me get a paper route (deliveries 7 days a week), which I kept 'til I was old enough to get a job at a car wash (at age 15) .. where I stayed until I could get a job at a gas station (age 16), which offered more hours (7 days/week).. which I kept until I went in the Navy (at age 18). So I always had plenty of spending ca$h.
Yet my folks, too, seemed to place an inordinate emphasis on money. I remember, once, out of frustration, tearing up a 20-dollar bill .. to make a point. I was trying to convey that money shouldn't be the most important thing in life. (Seems obvious, no?)
In retrospect, I can see now that I wasn't getting from them what I needed (the intangibles, such as love, attention, affection, understanding, etc. you know). But as pimple-faced teenagers, we often lack the skills needed to express these things in an effective manner.
I'll never forget my parents' reaction. My mother's jaw dropped (literally). I mean, if I would've called the Pope a dirty name, I can't imagine a more dramatic expression. (We grew up Catholic.) She threatened to have me arrested .. "for destroying government property." =)
Now certainly money is important. Few will deny that. Which is probably why it's easy to give it such a place of prominence (reverence?) .. one it often doesn't deserve. In the end, it all comes down to one's values & priorities. And mine diverged from those of my family.
Security & the Adventurous Spirit
I remember (last year) while living out my car, how I felt more alive than I had in a long time .. something I *still* don't fully understand. But the following quote from McCandless might shed some light:
".. a life of security, conformity and conservatism .. appears to give peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man .. than a secure future."
Role of McCandless' Parents
The movie, surprisingly, is critical of McCandless' parents. I say surprising because they're the ones who had to authorize the project, something they were not willing to do .. until only recently. (The book was published more than 10 years ago.)
More surprising is that the parents selected (from a long list of producers, I'm sure) Sean Penn, who (if you know anything about Sean) isn't known as the type who is likely to water down the truth .. in order to secure rights to the film. [Sean wrote, produced and directed this film.] From the Times article:
But unlike Krakauer's book, which Penn feels errs on the side of being sensitive to the parents' concerns, Penn's movie is more unflinching toward them, particularly in what role they might have played in their son's decision to renounce them.
"It's impossible," says sister Carine of her parents, "to be fair to Chris without being critical of my parents."
Despite that 15 years have passed since their son's death, this is still huge .. especially since I'm sure other producers offered promises of a less-critical picture. Regarding the parents, Penn says:
"There is something selfless about their decision. It one thing to lose a son. It's another to hold yourself accountable to being part of that."
After college, Chris McCandless left for the wilderness. The big question in everybody's mind is "What drove him?" After high school, I left for the Navy (couldn't leave fast enough. I know what drove me.). In the book, Krakauer-himself describes a similar need to get away (from his parents). The common thread? » Contentious family relations.
Still Time to Read the Book
For those who plan to see the movie when it comes out, you still have time to read the book. At barely 200 pages, it's a quick read (too quick). One final quote (from Penn):
"I think you would be hard-pressed to find a more authentic adaptation of a book in the last 10 years."
The initial casting included Leonardo DiCaprio (as McCandless) and Marlon Brando (as father-figure Ron Franz). That was 10 years ago. Sean waited a long time to make this movie. Patience is a virtue.
Here's something very interesting I just realized (November, 2009) .. after reading the Wikipedia bio-page for Eddie Vedder, who did the soundtrack for the film. Both Vedder & McCandless have the same life-experience in that both were deceived by their parents regarding the situation regarding their respect dad's.
Vedder did not know his dad was not his real, biological dad until later in life. McCandless did not know about his dad being married to another woman other than his mom. In both cases, the deceit cause serious emotional damage. I can only assume that this is why Vedder was selected to write the soundtrack (which *does* rock, btw).
For more along these lines, here's a Google search for the query » into the wild film movie review sean penn mccandless krakauer