Your true traveller finds boredom rather agreeable than painful.
It is the symbol of his liberty - his excessive freedom.
He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically,
but almost with pleasure.

Aldous Huxley

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

2+2 = 4?

"Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follow." (Orwell, 1949).
In Orwell's 1984 Big Brother has become so big that two plus two makes four is not granted anymore; and Winston, the protagonist, when writing the above quote in his diary thinks he's being a lunatic, as the whole world surrounding him seems to believe the contrary.

Compare and contrast. This seems quite far from the world in which Fyodor Dostoyevsky was writing Notes from Underground, in which his underground man is shouting out and loud that two and two makes five is just as nice as two and two makes four. It seems that the road has been long since the rationality brought by the booming industrial revolution was perceived as a threat to human condition. In this time it was the underground man who was the lunatic when being irrational.

The critics of rationality went unheard by the mainstream ideology prevailing throughout most of the 18th and 19th century. Industrialization went on, international trade boomed, and standards of living increased dramatically when a wave of romanticism and illusory peace finally flooded the beginning of the 20th century. Yet as Norman Angell's Great Illusion became the Great Disillusion with the outbreak of the First World War, as in the east a bloody civil war ended up with the victory of the Red Army, and as further time of uncertainty came with the Great Depression George Orwell wrote 1984 in which two plus two makes four seemed inattainable.

And now where are we? In the past twenty years everyone witnessed and acknowledged an increase in the phenomenum of globalization. In the 80s the world catched up with the rate of globalization that prevailed on the eve of the First World War - and with the rate of rationalization - but since then numbers have sky rocketed any previous figures. Thomas Friedman, the famous collumnist of the New York Times, described globalization as embracing the rationalization process, hence we can now safely assume that two plus two makes four.

But is that a good thing? Has the wheel turned enough so that Dostoyevsky's wanderings are once again relevant? Michael Veseth wrote an answer to Thomas Friedman in his book Globaloney. Quote: "The more globalization proceeds, the more we have and the less it means to us. Existential questions inevitably arise." (Veseth, 2005, p.141). Indeed as globalization proceeds people loose identity and their reaction can be violent sometimes, as the rise of fundamentalism often denotes.

So where will that lead us once we recover from the actual economic crisis? Who knows? The wheel will probably turn again. I will finish this post with a quote from captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Carribean 3: "It's not the world that's smaller, there's just less stuff in it".