PART ONE: BEATRIX & REX
- You're wearing a pink tie.
- I like a bit of color.
- Looks good.
- It is a dangerous world out there. It is important how you look.
- It is dangerous for me. How is it dangerous for you? What is your profession?
- I work for the FBI.
- Would I lie?
- Aren't FBI agents spies and lying standard practice for spies?
- Not in the ordinary course of duty.
- But it is not in the course of duty that you are talking to me now.
- I am talking to you because I know you are in trouble.
- Why do you say that?
- Your name is on the monitor.
- What monitor? What are you talking about?
- This conversation is over.
I looked at him, calculated. About 50 years old. On his left wrist, an expensive Swiss watch. On the right wrist, a heavy gold chain. Hand tailored business suit. He looked back calmly as I examined him. I turned away and walked over to the girl at the counter.
- Does the FBI come in here?
- Yes, everyone comes to Starbucks. And the American Embassy is just around the corner.
- Have you done anything you shouldn’t?
- All the time.
I walked back over and stood in front of him. He was looking down as before.
I tore out of the cafe, slowed myself to a walk once out on the street. An unexceptionable car pulled up a moment later. The very pretty driver, my wife Beatrix, leaned over and unlocked the passenger door. I asked her,
- You don’t want to kill me?
- I’ll tell you later. Get in.
I did, and Beatrix drove off.
- What did Gabor say?
- About what?
- What have you told him about me? That you married me only to get a visa?
- And does he believe you? What does he say?
- He asked about sex. He said, he gets sex and doesn’t have to pay?
- Life’s unfair. Tell him I apologize.
- You’re an idiot.
- And I suppose you tell him you’ll go back to him when you have your visa?
- And will you?
- Yes. Maybe.
- I like the lifestyle. Every day go to the gym, go shopping, go to restaurants, every month travel to foreign countries....
- No love, no friendship, nothing learned, lying and self deception.
- That’s why I left him. I kept trying to love him, but I couldn’t.
- What was wrong with him, what made him so unlovable?
- He’s a pervert. He’s obsessed with prostitutes. He drinks all the time.
- You married the drunken perverted whoremaster.
- I was a young girl from a village in Hungary. He was a millionaire with houses all over the world.
- Now you are an older girl married to an American, realizing your dream to become American, and still you are going back to the pervert after you get your longed for visa.
- Yes. You’re not a serious man.
- Serious meaning having money.
- Why do you need money?
- To have a beautiful life.
- Life with me is not beautiful?
- You live in a dream world. It is beautiful but not real.
- Why isn’t it real? Why is only money real?
- This is a ridiculous conversation.
- Why is only money real? You have everything you need already.
- No. I am not like you. I have ambitions.
- I have ambitions. For doing things I don’t need anyone’s help with, don’t have to compromise for. Why do you have to be ambitious for money, sell yourself for money?
- Everyone sells himself. To make an impression, get sex, get a job.
- Ask your ex-husband, I don’t pay for sex. And don’t sell myself either.
- And look where you are.
- Where am I?
- Aren’t you worried about the future? You’re getting older. You have nothing.
- And you will be gone, and I will have no one and nothing.
- I’ll find something. Some way to live. I’ll be alright. Probably.
We were driving now on the freeway that leads out of the city.
- You’ll die, with nobody to take care of you.
- You think you take care of me?
- Yes. If you don’t appreciate me you can get out here.
- Drop me at the next bus stop.
Beatrix stood on the accelerator, changed lanes, and stopped on the freeway shoulder.
- Get out.
I got out. The car pulled away in a spray of gravel.
Up the steep street, then through a passage in the castle wall. The restaurant doorway was on the right, on the left, stairs leading up to the castle courtyard were closed by a wrought iron gate. I entered a code on the wall pad and climbed the steps. The entrance to the Citadel, the circular castle within the fortress walls, was not far. Peter was at the reception desk just as I'd hoped.
- Welcome back. Good to see you.
- Happy to be back. You don’t know how much.
- Sorry to hear that. You deserve some happiness. But you look well.
- You too. I can stay?
- Room 11. It’s free.
He selected a key from the set hanging on the wall behind the desk and held it out to me.
- I’m surprised you’re still open.
- Me too. Do you remember when you came here first? 14 years. I remember you because of the watches. There was always a story.
- I’m finished with watches.
- I don’t believe it. You love the business.
- I got married, one love drove out another. I’ll go to the room. We’ll talk later.
The same photo exhibit, "Children In War" lined both sides of the hallway. Keep going and you'd circle back to the lobby. The rooms on the left looked out over the city, those on the right a small interior courtyard. Room 11 was on the right, just after the pictures of mass graves at German concentration camps. Room 11 was a ruin.
Once inside I traced with my finger the lighter area on the wall where a poster has been taken down. Six beds without headboards, sheets with no blankets. A couple of floor boards were missing by the radiator. Two worn arm chairs faced two simple square tables. There was not a single decoration in the room. I was about to sit down when there was knocking on the door.
- There’s a call for you.
- I’m coming.
Peter held out the telephone to me from behind the reception counter. It was Beatrix.
- I thought you’d go there. I can predict your every move.
- What am I going to do now?
- You are going to help me. Then you are coming home.
- I just got here. I’m staying.
- Listen, I need your advice. Gabor put 50,000 dollars in a bank account in his name and mine. I have a bank statement showing enough money to get the American visa. But he left instructions with the bank closing the account tomorrow.
- Where are you now?
- I just dropped Gabor off at the airport. I’m driving to the West End Shopping Center. The bank branch there is open until 8 tonight. Do you think they will give me the money?
- He’s given you access for a day? Did he tell you not to withdraw the money?
- He didn’t think of it. He thought I couldn’t.
- Did he tell you he was planning to defraud the American government by producing a false document showing you had access to money you didn't have access to?
- He said he could explain that he simply changed his mind later.
- So the money is yours as far as you know until he changes his mind?
- I think you should try to get your money, because it is yours for the day. The bank statement is worthless. We can't send a false financial statement to the American government.
- OK, I'll go now.
I hand the telephone back to Peter.
- Is everything alright?
- It’s my wife. She’s plotting. Sit down out here with me. We'll talk.
- Of course. Can I offer you a coffee from our new machine? It wasn’t here when you were last time.
Peter operates the vending machine, takes the two plastic cups of instant cappuccino over to the sofas and chairs in the lobby.
- Have you heard about Alex?
- I ran into him in Paris not long ago.
- He’s aging fast.
- He’s falling apart. 77 now.
- So you know he left the Citadel and moved in with a woman.
- A Russian prostitute he used to meet every night at the Marriot. He had an open account paid by his Microsoft billionaire.
- You know all that?
- Sure. I even know he met his billionaire when 18 years ago he answered a classified ad in Seattle for a French tutor. Alex ended up being language instructor and all-around errand boy for him. When I ran into Alex in Paris he said to me,
- The Romantic Writer from the Citadel!
- That’s me.
- In room 11 I found a print of an essay you wrote. It was a f#ck*n' masterpiece. Everything was in it. What happened with it?
- Then what’s new? You disappeared from the hotel, we were worried. What happened to you?
- I got married to a Hungarian girl. In fact, I’ve got a Hungarian billionaire in my life too, at least in my wife’s life.
- You’re legally married?
- A Budapest District marriage office. Want to see pictures? Maybe my billionaire knows your billionaire.
- Mine is a snob, hangs around Austrian aristocrats, von This or Thats.
- Mine writes on his Facebook profile that he loves celebrities. It’s the same bunch. He is supposed to have made his money in financial speculation. I wrote him a message, one husband to another.
- What did you say? How come your wife didn’t get any money from him if they were really married? Why didn’t you get any money from your wife if she did? You don’t look any richer.
- I’m not. It wasn’t easy for her taking his money. She said she did her best to convince herself she was in love with him, but couldn’t manage it. He wanted something in exchange for every dollar spent on her. Right after we got married he offered her a thousand dollars a day to go visit him at his “Chateau” in the South of France for five days. She went against my protest. The beginning of the end of the marriage.
- Five thousand dollars. Where’s the money?
- Hidden in some bank account somewhere, with her other money.
- Why didn’t you get a cut?
- I wasn’t in that business.
- You were cheated.
- I was married, even if my wife wasn’t.
Peter shakes his head at me.
- Again, I’m sorry.
- About what?
- Your marriage.
- Don’t be sorry. It’s the best thing I ever did.
- You love her.
- Want to hear about our marriage ceremony?
- Let me light a cigarette. Ok.
- I arrived half hour early at the district office, a converted palace on the Korut. The entry hall was open, but doors to all the offices shut. I took a seat. It was cool and silent. Mysterious. Where was everybody? About ten minutes to twelve, the appointed hour, the street door let in a rush of noise and I recognized Beatrix’s friend from childhood who would be one of the witnesses. According to Beatrix, she was against the marriage. She sat down beside me, said hello, immediately rose and went out. Silence again in the hall. After another five minutes, the second witness arrived. Said hello, stood there a moment, excused himself and passed out through the door. At noon, I too went outside. Maybe everyone was out there. But no one was. I went back inside, took a seat again. In a rush the photographer friend of Beatrix arrived with camera and her assistant. I asked if Beatrix was coming. Yes. They left too, and the silence of the hall returned. And then the door opened once more and Beatrix swept in wearing a beautiful wedding gown. She sat down next to me, said,
- You're here. Do you have rings? I forget to tell you to get them.
- I got one this morning at the second hand store when I bought my tie. I saw display of silver jewelry in a window across the street and bought this. It matches pretty well.
Beatrix could barely keep her attention on the conversation. The two witnesses, the photographer-friend and assistant had returned, and were expressing their admiration for her dress. They all went out with Beatrix to smoke. Silence again in the hall. Then the door opened, and the middle-aged civil servant who was to perform the ceremony appeared, and caught my eye in passing on the way to her office. A building caretaker unlocked the doors to the ceremonial chamber and stepped inside, closing the doors behind him. The quiet resumed. It was a lonely business, this getting married. And then everyone swept back in together. "Come on!" Beatrix said. I joined the crowd going into the room for the ceremony.
- Your family’s not coming?
- I asked them. What about your friends?
- I asked. The opera singer...
- Quiet. It’s starting.
The ceremony was over in a matter of minutes. Beatrix and I signed the register, assembled with the others for a group photograph, whereupon Beatrix’s parents hurried in just in time to get into the picture. Everyone passed out of the chamber, congratulatory remarks were made, and wife and husband stood together on the sidewalk alone. I looked at Beatrix in her wedding dress, she looked at me in my black tie. I asked her,
- What now?
- Let’s go return the dress. It’s rented only for the day.
We walked to the tram stop. The light was a soft glare this afternoon. A newly married couple on the tram is decorous and appreciated. I waited downstairs while she went up to the office to return the wedding dress and get into her street clothes. And then back on the tram with Beatrix. She said,
- There’s a dinner at the house. Everyone will be there.
- Am I invited?
- Very funny. What do you want to do until then?
- Let's go home.
I’m surprised at you, Peter says.
- You’ve changed. For the better.
- I got married. It nearly killed me.
- Yes. It’s that.
- Fell so hard I saw the truth? Do you know what saved me?
- A find, a great project. The memory book. You remember the English Professor of Law I used to know? We used to meet almost everyday at the Odeon café when he was in Budapest. But this day the street has been blocked to traffic and thousands of agitated people were standing around. I stopped a photo-journalist as he walked past. What’s happening?
- See across the street? The Broadway ticket office. A member of a Neo-Nazi group went in to buy a ticket to a concert, was told the concert was sold out. He believed the Jewish owners of the agency wouldn’t sell to him because he wasn’t Jewish. He or someone else returned at night to smash the shop’s window, and began organizing on the internet a demonstration against Jews to be held outside the shop. A counter demonstration was organized, the police themselves are making a demonstration of force, blocking the street with barricades.
The doors to the cafe were unlocked from inside just as the Professor arrived. We made for our usual table.
- Your wife, my lover might join that crowd of haters. They say the same things. Are we self destructive?
- The women chose us, we accepted them.
- Why did they choose us if not because they could sense that we were self destructive? That we would accept them?
- They chose us because they love us. We accepted them because we love being loved.
- Loved for bad reasons.
- They think you and me benefit from being in a close community. That we help each other, but will do anything against everyone else. The best of both worlds. Community strength, private profit.
- These women are with us because they want to be like us? Hard to believe. They hate us too.
- Yes. Sometimes. When they feel alone and exposed, attacked by us with the strength of “our people”.
- We’re playing a dangerous game with them.
He was prophetic. While he was far away in Budapest a crowd of protesters was outside his house back in his English University town.
- What happened?
- His friend accused him of sexual and personal misconduct, of misusing his power as a teacher and destroying her life. She'd been taking his class in Human Rights Law. My turn soon came. I'd gone through the doors of the Central European University, was showing my identification to the guards when my telephone rang. “Private Caller”. Hungarian was spoken, then, “moment”, and a man speaking English came on.
- This is the Budapest Police. You are requested to appear tomorrow at the district station at 10.
So there I was. There we were. Me, a lawyer I'd met at the cafe, the police translator, all three of us sitting across the desk from the police officer, a woman apparently less than 20 years old. She says nothing as we enter. No expression on her face. A paper bag with her lunch sat on the desk. My lawyer spoke first. Hungarian to the policewoman, then English to me.
- I placed a stipulation in the record. A husband trying to go home where he lives with his wife is not a crime.
The policewoman responded in Hungarian, with the translator repeating for me in English.
- She says they are investigating.
The policewoman spoke again in Hungarian.
- She wants to know how much money you make, whether or not you have a driver’s license, if you are a teacher of English.
- I’m living on savings from my watch business. I don’t have a current driving licence. I am not teaching English.
The translator repeated this information in Hungarian. The policewoman replied.
- The investigation will be continued. They’ll let you know.
A surprise waits for me at the hotel.
- What hotel?
- You know, the one owned by an American friend.
- The hotel you don't pay at.
- That's the one. There was a young guy, an American taking a break in his travelling working at the hotel, siting at the reception desk.
- You’re really in trouble this time, Rex. Three policemen were here and left this for you.
He handed me a envelope. Inside was an official looking letter. I read, then took out my telephone and called the lawyer.
- I just got a letter from the Police. If I fax it to you can you translate it? Call me back and tell me what it says.
The young traveler slipped the letter into the FAX machine and I got out of there. The hotel was the last place I wanted to be.
- You weren't staying at the hotel?
- No. I was putting a distance between me and the only address anyone had for me, practically running, when my telephone rang. The lawyer.
- New charges have been made. This is crazy. Impersonating government officials. That's for starters. You have to appear at another interrogation.
That was it. I sent a message to the Professor: “Meet me at the Odeon. Important”.
It took 20 minutes to get there. The professor was at our usual place.
- I wanted to leave this with you. I’m flying to Los Angeles tomorrow morning.
- It’s a treasure. Where did you find it?
- On one of those days you can take all your unwanted junk out into the street to be picked up by the city. Beds, tables, chairs, televisions, lamps. Just down the block I saw a crate filled with plastic video cassette boxes, but sitting on top this old cloth bound notebook, being rained on.
- As it says here on this page it's a memory book. They used to be common. Young boys and girls had their family, teachers and friends write advice, encouragement, poems, and make pictures. This is a Star of David, of course. Obviously from a Jewish family. 1937, 1938, 1940, 1941. The dates speak for themselves. Time of persecution, the Nurenberg laws.
- Where is the book now?
- A bank vault in Beverly Hills.
- How did it get there? You did go back home?
- Yes. And Beatrix joined me a month later
A domestic scene, Los Angeles. Beatrix had gone back to school to be a Vet. I was reading, as always. Beatrix was working with her laptop at a table covered with papers. Classical music played softly. The doorbell rang.
- Who is it?
- Fed-ex. The memory book is here. Go back to your school work.
- Why? Where was it?
- The Professor had it in Budapest. But when he went home to England he left it with a publisher. They went bankrupt. And he went into hiding from his student-lover - you met her - when she accused him of sexual misconduct. The Publisher didn’t answer my e-mail. The Professor didn’t answer my email. Finally he reappeared, wrote that he’d sent a research assistant to the publisher to get the book. Now it’s here.
- So he’s doing to his student what you’re doing to me.
- What’s that?
- Taking advantage of a young girl’s innocence.
- I'd like to meet your Beatrix. So what about her? Are you still together?
- You know what they say: Not happy in love? Not happy with no one to love? Better to be unhappy and love.
- If you can’t find someone else to be less unhappy in love with.
- If you can trade one love for another you’re not in love.
- You’ll go back to her then.
- Yes. I always have. What would you do?
- The same. Paris, Los Angeles. Where else have you been?
-Cyprus. A long time before I met Beatrix. Had adventures there.
- Tell me about them.
- Did I ever tell you about my Serbian friend? The woman I met in Budapest? She was running from the NATO bombing in the 90's, eventually ended up in Cyprus. She’d found herself a “protector” in a rich lawyer. She said that since I was “no one from no where” I might as well go there.
- What did you do there?
- The same as usual. Melica and I went up and down the island hitchhiking. She went along with me as I looked for watches.
- You're lucky.
- At a watch shop in a resort town the watchmaker questioned us, and we took turns answering.
- Are you married?
- Do we look like it?
- I don’t know. Maybe. What do you want?
- That’s the way you talk to your customers? I am a dealer in old watches. Do you have any for sale?
- At my shop in Limassol. I open it only one day a week. There’s no business. I have to work here for someone else, and sell insurance during the week. I need money for my family. What does she do?
- I have a second-hand shop. Clothes mostly.
- You have a business relationship.
- What could be better?
The watchmaker looks tall Melica over head to toe. That's his answer.
At the Larnaca flea market I stopped before a table with old machine parts and some watches. The middle-aged man with grease stained hands and clothes nodded to me.
- I’m looking for old watches.
- What kind? I have hundreds.
- At my house. Rolex?
- Do you have military watches?
- Rolex military? I used to have a couple. I sold them. I used to deal in military surplus.
- To someone from here?
- A long time ago. He had a shop in Limassol. It’s closed now.
- I think I know who you mean.
- Buy something from me then. For the information I gave you.
Then 6 months of visits to the watchmaker's shop where he still worked on Saturdays, conversation after conversation, negotiation after negotiation. That is when he showed up for our appointments, which wasn't often. But I got one of the two watches and took it back to Zurich.
- You still stayed with your Swiss friend?
- Friends everywhere.
- On my way to Beyer, the watch retailer on Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse, I met Elliot: American, tall, elegantly dressed, a dealer in watches like me, but a lot older. He showed me his watches.
- The Longines has dual mainsprings. Rare. Only 200 Swiss Francs. The Wyler is cheap, 50 Francs, undervalued. What do you have to show me?
- Nothing? I don't believe it. You always have watches.
- I was going inside Beyer to leave a few pieces of a military Rolex.
- Military Rolex! Show me.
- I bought it in Cyprus from a watchmaker turned insurance salesman. It was probably put together from replaced parts kept by the watchmakers at the English military bases. Badly damaged case, its back gouged by a screwdriver. Oil stained face. A few pieces of movement. I’m going in Beyer to ask what they’ll charge to supply the rest.
- Does the Cypriot have any more?
- Yes, he has another, but it would be nearly impossible to buy: the case and face are in better condition, the movement has more parts.
- I know a collector in New York who will pay a high price.
Elliot asked to borrow the watch to show it to someone. How much did I want? The 500 Francs I paid. I didn't hear from him, and sent a message. He wrote back he'd left the watch for evaluation at Beyer. I told him get it back and return it to me. He did.
I called Cyprus when I got home to Ursula's place.
- Do you still have the military Rolex?
- Yes, but there’s a problem. I gave it to a friend who wanted to get a repair estimate. He left the watch at a shop to be repaired without asking me.
- Strange. My American watch dealer friend did the same today with the first watch.
- I can get the watch back, but what if it has been repaired?
- I'll pay the cost, $2500 dollars, and the gold watch I showed you.
- I’ll call you back.
It was months, and only chance that I was again in Switzerland. Ursula brought me the phone: Cyprus calling.
- Do you have the watch?
- Yes. The repair is more than a thousand dollars. Is that alright?
- Yes. Where is the watch?
- My friend still has it. He wants to get the money he spent on the repair.
- I'll pay him.
Sunday I was sitting with the watchmaker in his closed shop. I handed over the gold watch.
- There's still a problem. My friend doesn't want to give back the watch.
- Why not?
- He now says he spent two thousand dollars on the repair.
- If he shows me the receipt, I’ll pay it.
- What will you do, if I keep the gold watch, and don't get the Rolex for you? Go to the police?
- Don't be ridiculous.
The watchmaker clearly is not being ridiculous. He has a conversation in Greek with his cousin, who has joined us. I interrupt,
- What is he saying?
- He says you make too much profit.
- Give me a minute. I’ll write down in detail what the last watch cost me, how much money I paid for repair and how long I waited, how long it was before I sold it and what I sold it for. Just a minute. Here.
- Can I keep the paper?
More conversation in Greek between the watchmaker and his cousin.
- OK, let's go get the watch.
It was dark when we arrived at his friend's house. Dogs barked inside, kicked at the front door. Our knocking wasn't answered. The watchmaker said it was better we wait at his own house around the corner.
While his wife made coffee he kept trying to call his friend. Finally the call was answered. Loud argument ensued. He put down the phone.
- Let's go back.
We stood at the door, the watchmaker repeatedly shouting his friend's name. The watchmaker's friend must've got tired of hearing it. He emerged from the dark house and was introduced. I asked him to explain the problem to me.
- I only want the money I laid out for the repair.
- Show me the receipt, and I'll pay the cost.
- I don't have it.
- Ask the repair company to fax you a copy.
- No. I have the watch. If you want it, you have to pay my price.
- Did you buy the watch? Pay anything for it?
- Did you have permission to repair it?
- I don't see how it's your watch.
- I have possession of it. Legally it's mine.
- Let's go to the police.
- Won't do you any good. The Chief of Police is a friend of mine.
It's midnight. I asked the watchmaker to take me to my hotel.
Two hours later I was awakened by pebbles being thrown at the window. The watchmaker was outside standing beside a police car. I got dressed and went down.
- My friend has been arrested for theft. They want you to go to the station and give a statement.
I gave the statement, sitting at a desk across from a detective typing my replies into a computer. I ask him,
- Where is the watch?
- The watch has been taken as evidence. The case is being investigated.
Months pass. Each time I returned to Cyprus I paid a visit to the police station.
I'd sit patiently waiting, book in one hand, coffee cup in the other. A detective would walk into the waiting room and stand in front of me.
- The case is being investigated.
One day I said to the receptionist:
- I’d like to speak with the Chief of Detectives.
She spoke briefly on the phone, lead me down the hallway, into another office and the desk of the chief of detectives.
- Do you know why I'm here?
- I'd like to know why you haven't finished your investigation. It's been 6 months.
- That's normal for Cyprus.
- But what are you doing? What did you investigate this month?
- Last month?
- Month before? Why aren't you investigating? You won't answer?
- Do you want me to tell you why I'm not investigating?
The Chief Of Detectives picked up his telephone, spoke a few words. One by one detectives came filing into the room, lined themselves up along the wall.
- You want to know why I'm not investigating?
-Because I don't want to. Get out.
- Get out!
I walked down the hall, saw a sign in Greek and English “Chief of Police”. The office door was open, the Chief Of Police seated inside behind a desk.
- I suppose you know why I’m here? About this investigation?
He stared at me without answering.
- About the watch?
- Yes. What do you want?
- The watch.
- I'm not interested. Go.
I went. On the way out the receptionist stopped me.
- What will you do now?
- Call the American Embassy.
- Good luck.
Back at the hotel the owner's father handed me a paper.
- My friend, the Embassy called for you. You can use the phone at the desk if you want.
I went over to the hotel phone and made the call, reached the Embassy officer.
- We made the inquiry into the watch. The police have now closed their investigation. No charge will be pressed against the second man. Since the police had the watch from him, it will be returned to him at the end of a one week period unless you take legal action to stop it. This was the decision of the prosecutor's office in the capitol, according to the police.
Next step, the prosecutor's office in the capitol.
- I’d like to speak to the prosecutor.
- He's not available.
- I'll wait.
A few minutes later the secretary escorted me into the office.
- You’ve come about the watch.
- A fascinating situation. I will reopen the investigation if you want. But in my opinion, it's a waste of time. If the watchmaker’s friend loses the criminal case, he can appeal. It might take years. Much better to file a civil law suit against him.
- That also will take years.
- Maybe not. Depends on what his lawyer advises when he gets notice of suit.
- Can you recommend a lawyer in Nicosia? The lawyer my hotel sent me to turned out to have ties to the both the watchmaker and his friend.
- I wonder if that would be ethical. Excuse me a moment.
The prosecutor left the office. I heard him speaking with someone in the next room. He returned.
- I can recommend my cousin. He's just begun to practice law in his mother's office. I’ve made an appointment for you. There is time. The watch isn't going anywhere.
He handed me a business card.
Next, the lawyer's office. It was only a few streets away.
- I am already familiar with the case. But tell me again.
I removed a folded sheet of paper from my wallet and placed it on the desk.
- Here’s the "Bill Of Sale" I convinced the watchmaker to make out for me last week. Almost a year after we made our deal. Tax stamped, witnessed by the owner of my hotel, dated and signed, very official looking. A lawyer in Limassol called it a forged document. Is it?
- No, there’s precedent for putting into written form an earlier oral agreement.
- Then what’s my next step?
- Apply for a court order to take the watch away from the police and into the keeping of the court. Then sue both watchmaker and the friend.
- How much will it cost?
- Four Hundred Pounds for court and legal fees.
I took out my wallet and put down on the lawyer’s desk small stack of colorful bills.
- Swiss Francs, but I think about right. Nine Hundred.
Once again in Zurich, Ursula's apartment, in the kitchen drinking coffee at the table and reading, Ursula appears in the doorway.
- Cyprus. Your lawyer.
I went to the telephone.
- The watchmaker's friend has made an offer of settlement. If you pay the repair cost which he now says is one thousand dollars, he will give up claim to the watch.
- I accept.
- Are you sure?
- Yes. If you don’t mind, I’ll leave money for the Watchmaker with you to give to him, the price of the watch less my costs.
Arrangements were made. I flew back to Cyprus. The morning after I arrived there was a knock on the door. It was the watchmaker.
- You’re going to the court to get the watch? Why didn’t you call me?
- I don’t know if anything will happen there. I’ve been to lawyers’ offices, police stations, prosecutors’ offices dozens of times. How did you know I am going to court?
- Your hotel told me. I’m coming with you.
I walked through the doors accompanied by the watchmaker. No one came to meet us. We sat down and waited.
- What are we waiting for?
- My lawyer’s assistant is supposed to meet me here.
- I have to go to work.
- If I do get the watch, you can pick up your money from my lawyer. I am leaving Cyprus this afternoon in any case.
The watchmaker took the lawyer’s card and left the courthouse. Time passed. The lawyer's assistant finally appeared.
- I’ve been looking for you. The court has the watch. I’ve been trying to get you permission to see it. I’ll be back.
She goes. Time passes. She returns.
- They say now they don’t have the watch. The other side’s lawyer isn’t here. I’ll be back.
She goes. Time passes. She returns.
- They say now they have the watch but refuse to show it to you.
- I don’t know.
The lawyer for the watchmaker's friend appears in discussion with a couple of other gowned lawyers.
- Finally. This is the other side’s lawyer.
- Do you have the money?
I put the money in his hand. He carefully counted it.
- The best part of my life for the past year has been spent fighting over this watch.
- Why did you? It wasn't your client's.
- He had possession of it.
I waited outside as the friend's lawyer went into an office and shut the door behind him. When he emerged, he passed papers to the assistant, and went on his way. The rest went downstairs, and in another office, papers presented, a safe was opened by a court official and the watch held out to me.
- Is it right?
- New crystal, new hands and winding crown, maybe a new face. The case has been badly polished. Difficult to say if it is the same watch at all. I haven’t seen it for two years.
- What do you want to do?
- Pick up my bag from the hotel, and then go to the airport.
In the hotel lobby the owner was waiting as I got out of the elevator.
- Are you happy now? You’ve been coming here years. Now you have the watch.
- It’s only a watch. Why did you tell the watchmaker I was going to court this morning?
- I’m Cypriot.
At Beyer in Zurich I handed over the receipt I'd been given that morning when I dropped off the watch. The service agent returns with the watch and a written report.
- The watch needs service.
- I was told it just came from service.
- I’m sorry. It failed water-pressure and other tests.
I went to the payphone across the street and called my lawyer in Cyprus.
- Listen. I’m at a Rolex authorized dealer in Zurich. They’ve written a report that the watch hasn’t been serviced. When I deduct the thousand dollars I paid the watchmaker’s friend for servicing the watch, I don’t owe the watchmaker anything. I don’t want you to give him the money I left with you.
- It's not the watchmaker's fault.
-It is. The two were working together to cheat me before they had their falling out. Even if not, the watchmaker is responsible for what it cost me to get the watch.
- Send me the report by fax. And don't come back to Cyprus. Not for a while.
But Peter, I did go back, a couple years later.
- It's difficult to explain, even to myself. Maybe where things happen most is where you feel most at home. The Cypriots really couldn't figure me out. Why had I left my own country, to go there and do nothing? Was I doing nothing, was I not a spy, for the United States, for Israel? Was I even really American? Why was I living like I was, spending time with a Serbian woman who, protected companion of a powerful local lawyer plainly didn't belong with me or to me or me belong to her in any way?
One day, then, I heard my name called, and went out onto the balcony. Milica was down on the street with her two terriers.
- Are you ready?
I went down with my bags, avoiding the attentions of the two dogs jumping with joy at the end of their leashes as best I could.
We walked together to the courtyard of the second-hand shop.
She started clearing away the broken banana tree branches blocking the door.
- See what that monster at the restaurant over there did?
- What's wrong with him?
- He wants to frighten me away.
- Just because he tried to push you around, and you told him to go to hell?
- Welcome to your new home.
She unlocked the door to the shop, and we worked our way inside through piled plastic bags filled with old clothes to the spiral stairway to the loft.
- You can sleep upstairs. I don’t think that maniac will try anything with you here.
The dogs were barking outside where they were tied to a tree.
- I’ll be back tomorrow night.
Every morning I'd climb down the spiral stairway, make my way to the front door, unlock it, drag out a table and a chair and make myself instant coffee. I'd sit outside in the garden with coffee in one hand and book in the other. There was no doubt this was better than having an apartment. Books, coffee, a garden, a constant stream of visitors. A tourist came up to me, asked,
- Do you work here?
- No. House-guest and friend of the owner. Go on in. Prices are on the board by the door. Leave the money somewhere on the book shelves.
He went inside and looked through the books. Then came back out. I asked if he'd like me to make him a cup of coffee.
- No thanks. But can you recommend me a book?
- Since I’ve been here my friend has greatly expanded her collection. Strange books on history and politics and poetry she finds at church sales. Look out for them.
- Do you know the Yiddish writer Grade? In one of his stories a religious man runs his wife’s store the way you do.
- I don’t run the store.
Melica arrived on her moped bringing with her pizza, yogurt, wine, olives. She put everything down on the table outside, collected the money from the shelves inside, grabbed my head roughly and gave me a kiss on the top of my head, and sat down beside me under the night sky. I asked her,
- Why are you so good to me?
- You made me many beautiful gifts, when you were able to.
- I never would have given you anything if I knew it was going to be considered the price of your friendship.
- Too late now.
It wasn't long before the attacks of the restaurant owner had resumed. The palm branches that had been placed as an awning on the roof have been thrown down before the door. I made one more official complaint at the police station.
That evening a man and a woman entered the shop, then stepped carefully though all the stock back outside to speak with me, where I was sitting as usual reading, with a cup of coffee in my hand.
- Do you work here?
- No, I am staying upstairs. Go in. If you find something you want, leave the money for the owner on the shelf. Prices are listed on the board.
He pointed to the book I was holding in my hand, fingers marking the page I left off on.
- Can I buy that book?
- It happens to be my book, not the store's. But I will be finished in a few minutes, and then you can take it.)
- You are under arrest.
- Tell you later.
At the police station he lead me to the holding area and unlocked the gate in the chain link fence.
- Your problem is you think you can change the world.
The next morning, world unchanged, two policemen escorted me out to a police car and we drive to the courthouse. The lawyer I'd picked from a list supplied by the embassy met me at the door.
- Bail will be set. We will ask for a continuance. Are you all right? Good. Let’s go in.
A man came over and introduced himself to me.
- I’ll be translating for you. Stand over there. The hearing is beginning.
The Prosecutor made a statement in Greek. The interpreter translated for me.
- The prosecutor’s representative asked for one thousand pounds bail. Your lawyer suggested one hundred. Two hundred pounds was set by the judge. And you must surrender your passport.
The two policemen drove me to a bank to get the money, and back to the courthouse and my lawyer. He walked me over to a small office where the bail money was paid, my passport handed over, and documents signed.
- To be safe, you must ask for your Embassy’s help. I’ve already spoken with the prosecutor’s representatives here. They’re embarrassed by this. Let’s hope for the best. See you tomorrow.
The next day it was the translator who mets me at the courthouse door and escorted me to the courtroom.
- I’ll be translating for you again. Stand here. The hearing is beginning.
The prosecutor made a statement in Greek.
- The prosecutor’s representative says he believes there is no reason to continue with the case. The judge says he will wait for a written statement from the head prosecutor’s office before acting further. The case is continued until tomorrow, same time.
And again at the new hearing the interpreter stood by me in the courtroom as the prosecutor spoke.
- The Prosecutor says they have changed their minds and will proceed with the prosecution. Case continued until tomorrow, same time.
My lawyer took my arm and lead me to a quiet corner outside.
- I think you must go in person to the Embassy in the capitol.
- The bus stop is just down the street. But what is going on?
- The representative for the police I spoke with told me they were over-ruled by “instructions from above.”
Nicosia was one hour away. I walked from the bus station to the Embassy, a large walled compound, and was admitted to the consular section. They told me to put it in writing.
I wrote out the required statement.
- Have you put down everything? There are no guarantees. But I’ll see what we can do. What is this really all about? Do you know?
- When does the hearing continue?
I was at the court cafeteria early the next morning. I liked it there. It was a good place to read. The court interpreter suddenly appeared at the table.
- The judge wants this case to move forward. What do you expect from the American Embassy?
-I have asked the Ambassador to contact the Attorney General of Cyprus.
- What does the Ambassador say?
- I don't know. I haven't spoken with him directly.
- Tell him the judge wants an answer.
- Call him.
- I’ll try.
I called the Embassy, asked for the Consular Department. The Embassy Officer came on the line. I reminded her who I was.
- I’m at the courthouse. They want to know what you are doing.
- The United States doesn't involve itself with the internal legal affairs of foreign countries.
- It is the judge here that is demanding a response.
- Really? Put your lawyer on the phone.
I passed the phone to my lawyer, who spoke briefly in Greek, then passed the phone back to me.
- What do you want us to do exactly?
- I want the Ambassador to call the Attorney General and ask him if he knows what is going on here. Tell him that a prosecutor from his office has said in court that the case should not be prosecuted, there was no grounds whatsoever for the action to continue, then returned the next day saying he would proceed anyway.
- OK, I'll do that
- What did she say?
- The Ambassador will call the Attorney General.
The interpreter jumped from the table knocking over his chair and ran out of the cafe. Five minutes later he rushed back in.
- Case closed! Call the Ambassador! Tell him not to call the Attorney General".
I made the call. The Embassy officer answered.
- Yes? What now?
- Case closed. The judge wants you to tell the Ambassador not to call the Attorney General.
- Too late. I am looking at him on the phone right now talking with the Attorney General. What happened?
- I don't know.
My lawyer, who’d followed the translator when he rushed out, has now returned too.
- What do you think happened?
- The prosecutor claims his office found a misplaced document from the capitol that had closed the case days before.
- And what was this all about?
- Like I said: Hatred. Hatred of Americans, hatred of Israelis (anyone thought to be Jewish was considered Israeli), hatred of Serbian and other immigrants, police anger at being defied by me and my friend - everyone said her neighbor worked for the police as an informant.
- The place has a reputation.
- The memory book story interests me more. Do you expect to make money from the book? That is what you do, make money from things you find.
- Instead I wrote a children’s book, complete with drawings. It’s here in my bag. Sit back, I’ll read you a bed-time story.
- You’re the only guest, but some things have to be done in my job of doing nothing. Give me a minute.
I took out a lose stack of papers, drawings on top, and spread them out on the coffee table. Peter returned with two more coffees.
- Ready. The story is based on the memory book?
- Yes. Pretend you hear the voice of Kata, Magda’s friend, a young Budapest girl.
Here is a picture of our attic. All those books are ours. And that is Magda sewing my coat.
We have been here for about a month now. Magda has a husband but he had to go away to work.
She is my best friend. And I am her best friend. Though I am only thirteen, she tells me I act like her mother. I don't mind. Her real mother is gone, but I still have mine. And father too. I got the idea for this book from Magda. I mean I found her memory book hidden on the shelves. She doesn't know I found it. You can see how nice it is. People had time to make nice things then. Myself I have poor penmenship. But no one is going to complain. Like Magda's book, my book is a secret. Did you see the tear in the pocket? In the last picture, I mean. On my coat. Magda and I were at Keleti Station. We weren't allowed to be there, obviously. But I had the pass my father gave me. Here is what it looked like. And this is the station. They are going to resettlement. Magda and I stay here, safe in this house that belongs to Sweden. Somewhere among all those people getting on the train was Gabi, Magda's favorite teacher. The memory book was in my pocket, but I didn't have to take it out to know what Gabi wrote down. The date was 1941. Three years ago. Here it is:
"When childhood first awakes to consciousness, When its faith first is being torn by destiny, When you, heart and soul, cry out in pain, Beware, that's when life begins."
My father tells me that mother watches over him. And he watches over me. Always no matter what. And that I have to watch over Magda. Some people need more watching over, he says. I asked what I could possibly do for my friend Magda. She knows everything. Reads all night. She's married, she's a teacher, She's a tailor. She is kind. She is wise. And father said I was right. Still she needs to know someone is watching over her.
"In life you're cared for by these three: God, parents, and good friends. Worship the first, respect the second, and never forget the third."
I guess you are wondering about how we got here. Magda used to live with us. I mean our house, our big house, my father and mother and grandmother's house. We had plenty of company, because families from other parts of the city had to move out of their own houses, they were told to, and they came to live with us. Our house became school, dormitory, my father's law office, and political headquarters too, unfortunately, my father says. Politicians. My father always said that word in a funny way. On our last day, before we came here, the politician guy came over in his big car. He saw me sitting outside on the steps, said to Magda beside me, may I? and ruffled my hair. Pretty girl. Are you a politician? I asked. Are you going to shoot me? Do you deserve it? You're the daughter, I recognize you. Your father taught you to talk that way. And he went up the steps and into the house. Five minutes later all the children, all of them, came stumbling over each other out into the street. Magda went inside and came back with the news: we all had to go. We were going to the Swedes. Father had arranged it. We have to hurry. They are coming. The politician came to warn us. And then she turned to go back inside. For the books. I remembered what my father taught me. All these little kids needed someone to look after them. They looked to each other, and saw that every one of them was looking at the others for someone to look after them, they were scaring each other looking for help from each other. Mother, Father would say, is not here, but I know she looks after us. She demands we do good, she's watching to catch us out. So I thought, give the little kids something good to do. I said,-Magda, tell them we're taking the books. We're taking the books! Get them to repeat it. Line them up, up the stairs, along the street. We'll pass on the books kid to kid, from our library to the Swedes house. We can see it from here. I took Magda's elbow and got her going. She was shocked like the rest at having to move again so soon. And my father was right. The books arrived in our attic here, the kids came with them. This is what Magda's book says:
There are two beautiful things in life, On which destiny has no power: Diligence and morality, On earth and in heaven we're blessed by them.
In the picture of our house you can see the Swedish Flags and the sign above the door, "Svenska Bibliotek". Father said it was Mr. Wallenberg's idea to call the house a library. Now where the sign is really is a library!It was through Per, the man who worked with Mr. Wallenberg, that Magda and I first met. Magda translated German and Hungarian for Per. Per and Mr. Wallenberg are Swedes who are helping us.Father worked with the Politician, as he called him. And both of them often went to see the Swedes. Father always says he liked to keep me in his sight and out of everyone else's.He took me with him to meetings, Per took Magda, so often Magda and I found ourselves waiting together, this time in the kitchen of a big house out in the Buda Hills that Per was renting.We sat over the coffee the house maid prepared for us, listening to the murmur of voices coming from the dining room, the voices of the German Eichmann, Per, and Father. That reminds me. It's hard to describe Magda's voice. She doesn't like to talk much. She likes to sing, especially while she sews. I said to her in the kitchen,- The men in the other room: they are deciding who lives and who dies. Magda looked at me with her quiet eyes. I knew what she was thinking. She was thinking that I was too young to know.But we both had been there at the train station. We saw the brave Mr. Wallenberg jump on the roof of the train, throw in his Shutz Passes, lead the people out of the train and station and into his cars with Swedish flags. The Germans shouted get down! stop! they shot their rifles into the air. He didn't go through that to save people from "resettlement". Even a 13 year old can figure that out.We can at least know what they're saying, I urge Magda. Come with me.We take off our shoes and tip toe to the closed double doors of the dining room.4.Crouched outside, in the hallway around the corner from the closed doors to the dining room, we can clearly hear three voices. Per, the Swedish Diplomat, Adolph Eichmann, the Nazi officer, Rudolph Katztner, the "Politician". Per is saying to Eichmann,- You should worry about what will happen at the end of the war. About your future.- You should be worried too. The Russians will get here first. They will be uncertain about who you work for. Sweden? America? Other countries?- We receive financial support from the American Refugee Relief Board. It is a humanitarian organization.- If you say so. You use American money to help the Jews stay, when it is my job to send them away.- But you know Germany has lost the war.- We can still complete the task we have set for ourselves.- You are talking about killing people.- Killing Jews.- For the glorious future of Germany, when Germany has no future. You say so yourself.- Watch yourself, my dear Per. We Germans still have our present, and presently we are here in Budapest.- I'll ask you again. Why send people to their deaths for an idea you don't believe in? You say the killing will make the world a better place for your people, who might soon be killed to make the world a better place for their conquerors.- And I'll say again, Watch yourself, Per. I believe in doing my job. I am well rewarded for it. I will do it as long as I can and will enjoy doing it up until the end.What do you say, Herr Kasztner?- I also believe in doing my job, and that is saving people. The future of nations, polite dinner table gossip I leave to the diplomats.- Bravo. $1000 each transported. Train to Switzerland. That is true international language. You'll have your train, I promise you. Do your work, I'll do mine.
Magda is surprised, me too, when Father appears standing before us, a quizzical expression on his face. I say,- There you are.- There you are. Clear out!- Where have you been?- Making a telephone call. What business is it of yours? Back to where you are supposed to be, you two!In the kitchen Magda stands before the stove, her face turned away.- Magda! Only God decides who lives and who dies.- I have to trust Father will do what is right.- What can he do alone?- He can be a good man. Kata, come here. We will sit in this kitchen and drink another cup of coffee. We don't get it often. You want to think a way out for us, then go ahead and do it. I'll see that Father listens to you. Right now we'll try to be good to each other.She puts her arms around me, rests her head on my shoulder. I'm big for my age, so it isn't too awkward.
In life you're cared for by these three: God, parents, and good friends.Worship the first, respect the second, and never forget the third.
That's from the first page of the memory book.
On the Sabbath Magda and I exercised our privilege, as Father would say, of leaving our house with the Swedish Flag driving in Per's car flying the Swedish flag.The Pest Synagogue was full. Here is a picture. We looked down on the crowd from the women's balcony high above. I said to Magda,- If I ran down there, climbed onto a chair and shouted, you all are going to die! what would happen? There are thousands. They'd tell their friends.- The Germans would take you away. No one would believe you, man or woman.They'd say to each other that if it were true, the Rabbis would have told them.Do you see that boy? Blond hair, blue eyes? That's Lantos.- Your friend?- You've seen him at home. He brings medicine to all the safe houses. He's coming tonight.- He looking up at us.- Don't look! Let's go to the car.In Magda's book I read:"To love many is a guilt,To love two is a sin,To love One is sweet,Solely be faithful and warm."7.Magda has gathered all the children together for school. I don't have to attend because I take lessons all day living with her up in our attic. And anyway everyone keeps talking about how advanced I am.The surprise I have for Magda is that Lontos is coming after class with Father. We are going to ambush Magda. We need her good sense.By the way, he is not really her father. He's my father. He is father to her, he says, as she is mother to the children. As I am mother to her!Father arrives just as the class ends. Lontos is with him. Father kisses Magda on the cheek, kisses me on the cheek. Lontos signals to me with a little wave of his hand. He says,- I hope Kata was telling me the truth. She said that you would listen. She and I have agreed on this: we cannot choose between selecting some to be saved, and warning the rest the resettlement trains are death trains. We have to do both.- How?- If people are warned, they can try to escape, they can hide, they can defend themselves, they can join the resistance.- Why would they believe you?- We will choose the people who are ready to believe. We'll do it quietly. That's what we are doing now. We won't destroy Kastner's deal with Eichmann.Take your house full of orphans on the Kastner train, if you can do it. But help us too. We'll find those who will believe. We'll do it quietly. They'll join us, save themselves and others. Will you help? Kata, ask your father.- Father?- Magda, what do you think?- Yes. The Memory Book says:
"In the storm of life your clear inner-self is the best shelter."
This is a picture of train station goodbyes.
The memory book:
"It's hard to find a good friend, And a true, whole-hearted partner. But it's even harder to be separated from the one you love, when it's such a precious thing you can't find anything like it on the whole Earth.
Time passes quickly. I'm growing up fast. This is the last I will write for a while. Magda refuses to go with us. She won't take a chance from someone else. And there is work for her here. Lontos is staying too. He laughs: Kastner forgot to save him a place on his train! He promises to look after Magda.
- I didn’t know about Kastner. Did he get his train?
- Yes. But he didn’t himself go on it. He ended up in Israel, became a party politician and journalist. In the 1950’s the story of what happened in Budapest came out. A Hungarian immigrant started publishing pamphlets about him. Kastner got the government to sue for libel. But the court ruled there was no libel because he in fact collaborated with the Nazis. He went into retreat, filed an appeal. Before it could be heard he was shot outside his apartment by a former Israeli spy. The next year the court reversed the judgment and exonerated him.
- What's your interest in this?
- I found the book. If you don’t mind, let’s change the subject.
- It’s dark. I’ll turn the lights on.
Do you know what I liked best about living with my wife? Sitting in the garden in the house in the country, reading Shakespeare. How can we be happy with people who do everything to make us unhappy?
- They don’t do it all the time.
- You’re speaking from experience.
- Yes. She loved you.
- How do you know that?
- I know from the stories. From knowing you. How was living with her in the countryside?
Good times and bad. On a good day Beatrix said to me,
- You're precious to me. I have to take care of you so you'll last. Sit down. I'll cut your nails.
- You don't have to. Why am I precious to you?
- I know you'll never leave me.
- You'll leave me before I have a chance.
- Don't you care?
- What can I do about it?
- You could leave me.
- You just said you know I won't.
- You could leave me first, when you know I am going to leave you. That's what I do.
- Remind me when the time comes.
- In spite of all, because of it all, life is beautiful with her. She says she herself isn’t beautiful, only knows how to make the most of her good points. She does stretching exercises every day, runs for 40 minutes, is dedicated to her singing. She tells me she loves me. Do I love her? How could I not. She cooks for me, sneaks downstairs in the morning to read the notes I am making. She wants to know everything about me.
- And what about you? Do you know everything about her?
I took out my laptop, typed in an internet address.
- I’ve a couple of web sites I put my stories on. This one is named after my wife.
I typed in another address.
- Google Analytics for the site. The month of March, before we returned to Hungary. On the 18th, 3 visits, averaging 12 minutes, from a small town in New Mexico, Alamogoro. Beatrix has a friend there, a German Soldier stationed at the American Air Force Base.
- How do you know?
- She told me about him long ago. Here are records for another site. On the 27th, 2 visits from Horse Neck, New Jersey. Same date she re-set her Facebook profile to show this town as her home.
- And who is there?
- That I don’t know.
- You write, and she watches you. She reads, and you watch her.
- We keep in touch.
- How, when did you meet your wife?
- The day I got out of Cyprus. I'll tell you how.
The airport bus took me to the metro station, the metro brought me to Budpest. A wet, grey day. I walked fast through the gloom and noise of the streets to the Odeon cafe, and once past the double doors, I was relieved to see the couches and arm chairs were just where they were the year before.
Around me were the same grim faces, miserable or just locked in concentration. I set down my bag, arranged my books on the table. Across the room, sitting where I usually did when I had a chance, was a young woman alone. She looked back at me. There was something taunting in her expression. Her hair style looked newly achieved, and expensive: these were warnings. I got up and said hello. Beatrix asked,
- Are you American?
- What do you do?
- Don't really do anything, in the past I’ve made money dealing with old watches between other dealers, in a small way, but at the moment I’m writing.
- Writing what?
- Stories from my life. Trials, police, courts, in Cyprus and New Jersey.
- You get yourself into trouble?
- Sometimes. So far I have always got away unharmed, left it all behind. Mostly I read all day.
- Are you from New Jersey?
- No, Los Angeles, but part of my family moved there.
- I have to go now.
- Can I call you later?
She wrote her phone number on a newspaper margin and said goodby.
We met again at a shopping center in Buda.
I ran through heavy rain from the tramstop to the entrance and looked around for her. She came out to get me.
We took off our winter clothes, sat down in a cafe booth beside each other. Neither of us spoke. Beatrix asked,
- What's wrong?
- I am lost here.
- In Budapest?
- No, here with you.
- Don't you like me? Should I go?
- Do you want to know my story?
I studied English Pedagogy at the University, I work at night at a school teaching English. I’ve signed a contract with Universal Music to sing with a band and record a CD. The company wants to make me a star, create an image for me. Do you care? Are you interested? You don’t like popular music?
- No, I do. I would like to hear you sing.
Beatrix got up and started to walk away. I caught up with her.
- Don't go.
- I'm lost.
That's how it started. Beatrix sent me a message, did I want to go with her to see a live performance of Fiddler on the Roof, In Hungarian? I did.
She picked me up and drove to the theater. With still an hour before show time we ordered tea at the Chinese restaurant on the corner. Beatrix asked,
- What do you think of me?
- I don't know you, I don't understand you.
- Why are you here then?
- I'd like to get to know you.
- It is the old story of wanting to have a story. What else is there in life? Why are you here with me?
- You're interesting. A stray. A hermit hiding in the open, an adventurer against his will, a reluctant warrior.
Better and better!
After the play her car isn't around the corner where she expected. It takes half an hour of walking deserted streets to find it.
- I'd like to go out. Look at the river, the lights. It's been a while.
- The best view in the city.
- I feel so much at home here and it’s not my home at all. This hotel, the country itself can throw me out any time. It’s like being with my wife.
- Is that why you didn’t come back for so long?
- Yes. I don’t understand.
- It’s just life. We don’t understand even our friends, not much, but we’re re-assured when we’re with them. You’re wife will come back to you.
- And then leave again.
- And you can go traveling.
- And return, to her, to the Citadel.
- You’ll be welcome.
- Let’s go inside. I’ll tell you one more story.
- Just a moment.
Peter leaves, returns with two bottles of beer.
- You like cafes. You’ll like this.
When you sit down at a cafe, square your arms like a king along the rests of one of two comfortable chairs at the small round table, and look over at a stranger, the temporary companion in life sitting in the other chair, you might have something like this happen.
I brought my coffee over to a table. Across from me was a man with movie star looks, in his mid-thirties, typing into a laptop. I ask him,
- What are you working on?
- I’m working now with SEO, Search Engine Optimization. Getting your company higher up on internet search results. But I’m interested in getting into the movie business. Are you a writer?
- I have writing on free sites I would like to make money with. Can you help?
- I can get sites noticed, but it’s up to you to have something to sell on them. Do you?
- Not at the moment.
- When you do we can talk again. Where are you going from here? I have to leave for an appointment, can I drop you somewhere?
- What direction are you going?
- It doesn’t matter. I’ll take you where you’re going, if it is not too far.
In the parking lot he points to a new Jaguar
- It’s this one.
- Nice car.
- A gift from a movie actress. I met her when I had a shop with partners selling luxury furniture. We went out once. She liked me. Asked me to meet her a few days later at a Jaguar dealership. She gave me a choice: do I like the dark one better or the light one? Take my pick. The ownership papers came in the mail a little while later.
The traffic is heavy tonight.
I used to sit at the shop with People magazine open before me, concentrating on one famous person or another. Sooner or later they would appear in the shop. I even tried this on birds, and they appeared in the sky as ordered. If you are grateful, you get what you ask for. At least it works for me.
- I was wondering what had happened with a girl from Romania I used to know. And then a couple of days ago she wrote me an email after no contact for seven years. Come to New York and see her! She was traveling with an Italian boyfriend who had to go home suddenly for a family emergency. The problem with this invitation was that the last time I saw her she was robbing me at gunpoint with her boyfriend of that time. A case of be careful of what you ask for.
The car arrived in Westwood. Good-byes were exchanged. As I closed the door, he leaned over to speak through the window.
- I asked for you.
The sound of a car is heard driving up into the castle courtyard. Peter got up and opened the hotel door. Beatrix rushes in past him, sees me and says,
- Let’s go.
PART TWO: IN BUDAPEST
I. The Politics Of Home
Walking in Buda with my new friend the retired translator, talking about the peculiar nature of the Hungarian language and Hungarian thinking, we get to Szondi. A contemporary of Albert Szent-Gyorgi, the discoverer of vitamin C, Szondi was known for his idea that personality disorder was a family inheritance. You felt at home with people who looked like you, you couldn't help it. So he'd show you photos of crazy people, and when you said which you liked and which you didn't, he'd tell you how crazy you were.
I wonder how crazy I am, in the company of this man from another world who says he spent his whole life working. I am someone who almost can say the opposite. Many of these places we're passing on our long walk I haven't seen for years, are places where I said hello or good-by to my friends whose friendship went nowhere. Nothing went anywhere in my life. But does that mean I am crazy? I counter-attack: Show me the picture of Szondi, and I wouldn't like it! His theory is just more myth-making politics pretending to be science. I go on:
- I was thinking over an idea while I was waiting for you at the three benches. I called it my theory of democratic love. This was supposed to describe the last weeks I spent with my wife. I was accustomed to having no pattern in my life, letting it go where it would. And I found this wife who fit right in. There was no pattern, nothing got accomplished. She was like a politician, I decided, who sold one myth or another, to people who didn't pay attention to any facts of political life. They don't pay any attention because in this phase of modern democracy the practical aspect of government, protecting everyone from everyone else's violence, is confused with the requirements of society. Their politics is identical to their psychology: it has its origin in obscure and entirely private drives, desires, forces.
The people, if we look at them as private scientists, we don't have any data on, don't observe how they act with each other; the individual "forces" or drives that motivate them don't communicate with those of other people. Without this data, individuals cannot evaluate competing political theories. Politicians sell them one myth or another, typical stories of how life should be, that appeal to individual drives, independence, cooperation, work, etc. Once in office, politicians, likewise unable to communicate psychologically with the people who elected them, serve their own drives, usually for money and power.
With my wife it seemed like I never knew even the basic truths of what was happening, where I was going to live, what she really thought about me, about her future, our future. The result was that like an ignorant democratic I stumbled from one myth of our future to another, one dream to another. This had its romantic side. With all the different theories I had to live with, I wasn't a democrat, I was an entire democracy!
- In a way, I agree with you. Psychology hasn't been able to get beyond the 5000 year old three part division of our selves - the soul, the spirit, the body - from the Egyptians to present time, to either prove it wrong or improve on it.
- I think that is because it works well enough. I have used it myself.
- Can you say then what spirit is?
- Yes, that's easy. It is the sense of home, it is the drive, desire, motive to get back home when you have gone or been driven away. Home is an intermediary between mind and body. It is, you could say, the body of the mind, the place in the world the mind knows, and that place becoming like another body. Like the body has be maintained, so does the body of the mind. We like to get back home. Our present politics is politics of the body, when it should be politics of home.
- I've never heard anything like that.
- The idea has its home in the stories I wrote*, I've told you about them.
- Yes, I haven't had time to get to it yet.
- Anyway, the idea I was working on this morning was that absent the third part, the spirited part, the part of the soul that give us the idea of home, our democracies become plutocracies, government by the wealthy. Psychology is of forces, of work, doing things, yet politics is about the good life, which involves also feeling good. The third part includes this in the observation, makes it part of the facts which we use to judge the theories that politicians sell us to get their jobs. How we live together as a society is another kind of home.
The thing about living with my wife: I couldn't help the idea coming to mind that she was in fact doing what politicians do, selling me myths but pursuing her own desires, money and power. And it disgusted me finally, terrified me even. In other words, it destroyed my sense of home, and the third part told me: go. So that is what I did.
Whether I was a victim of my own theorizing I don't know. I guess that's what I have to think about next.
* My Wife Who Throws Me Out (An Essay On Home)
Eve (An Essay On Spirit)
II. Hamvas And Humbug
The Toldi Cinema has seen better days. Once a meeting place for the thoughtful and independent of Budapest, now remodeled in the style of a modern office building lobby, it is nearly empty at all hours. At night however many of the original staff can still be found there. Last year, the evening before I returned to L.A., I'd asked about the internet and was taken back into their office and placed before their computer, and was told in the process that I was known there. First came fifteen years ago, right? I thought a moment. Right, that was 1996.
I used to take the night train from Zurich, with at least one watch for business on my wrist and one light bag on my shoulder, and arrive just after noon in Budapest. I'd come to the Toldi, drink a cup of coffee and see one or more of the movies playing that day. I rarely talked with anyone, because when I tried I was gently made aware that this place I was a guest at was a place of friendships, but of longstanding, tried and tested friendship. You weren't sure you had a friend until ten or more years had elapsed. I could expect politeness and no more. It took some getting used to.
I remember one time in particular I approached a young girl reading a Hungarian paperback of Salinger's Seymour, An Introduction and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. Her English was poor, and my attempt to converse about this book, one of my favorites, was not received with any enthusiasm.
Last week, some four or five years later, I think I see there the same girl with the same book. I say Hello. Her English hasn't improved. Hasn't she read the book before, I ask her. She tells me she has read the book uncounted times. And I back off. This is the Toldi, after all, I know the rules.
As things work out, when you are a traveler and when you stick to the same way of life there are many coincidences. My new Hungarian friend the translator I mentioned in The Politics Of Home has a best friend who's written a novel set at the same Toldi Cinema in those days a decade ago, with characters based on many of the regulars. Though we'd probably never spoken together, I guess this friend would recognize me.
Karma, and similar Eastern ideas, the looking for hidden meanings and order, play a large part in the Toldi girl's book. It presents a philosophic argument. It talks to me, even if the cinema patrons don't. I go over it once more. Seymour and his family the Glasses are performers who practice the art of life. They suffer from the bad art practiced by most of the people around them. Seymour's brother, the supposed author of the story we are reading, quotes Kierkegaard and Kafka on the subject of deliberately allowing mistakes to stand as an implicit defense against the claim of art to be the truth about life. Buddy seems to be ecstatically happy over his discovery that his brother killed himself as an act of bad art in defense of the truth in life lived as art.
Though the family members are said to be always performing, they perform out of love for each other. Performance is saved from self destructiveness if and only if it is done for the sake of love. Seymour says he would have liked to please the public librarian who set books before him when he was a child. Following Buddhist principles, practicing the art of Buddhism, he tries and mostly fails to love his new wife, with whom he has nothing important in common. ("Marriage partners are to serve each other. Elevate, help, teach, strengthen each other, but above all, serve.") Yet his brothers and sisters, because they can love each other, do not kill themselves. They do not kill themselves because they can talk to each other seriously, take each other seriously, at least at times of crisis.
I had an interesting experience at another Budapest cafe earlier this week, The California Coffee Company. I asked the man in the chair next to mine what he was working on. Business. And I? What did I do? Standard answer: I write things no one reads. No one reads anything. His woman friend tells me I said that to the wrong person: her friend reads, reads all the time. Philosophy? Yes, that too. The man asks if I know the famous Hungarian philosopher Bela Hamvas. I don't but immediately look to see what is by him on the internet. I say that while I read Bela Hamvas the reading man can read some of what I write, it's also on the internet. Proving his friend correct, he immediately goes to the site address I write down for him, asks me what essay I suggest to read, and he starts reading it right there and then!
So he reads me while I read Hamvas. As far as I know, not one single person has read those thirty pages of mine from beginning to end.
Hamvas is very poetic. I read one essay after another. After a half hour, the man sitting across from me tells me he is done. Read it all? Yes. What did he think? Liked it, especially some parts, liked the style. But it didn't all seem to fit together. Did I agree?
- Yes, I agree. I left it that way, knowing it wasn't really one picture. I wanted the disorder to reflect the disorder of life as it is lived, as opposed to the order art puts life into. I thought I might be permitted to do this since the main idea of the essay was that there were two fundamental ways life was lived, natural and supernatural. The writing of the essay would include examples of both. I realized at the time this was probably a mistake on my part. But as I said, I just left it. I didn't try it again in later writing. Do you understand?
- I think so. What did you think of Hamvas?
- Not a philosopher. His use of terms like "existential corruption", his invention of psychological categories such as "Siren" and "Titan" is poetic, not philosophical. They are the practice of art, not philosophy.
- What is the practice of philosophy?
- When you say something that is testable. Art, myth, poetry help you remember and classify your experiences, but not in a way that can be confirmed by others' experiences. They are only performances. Show-maker and audience remain separate. Philosophy says something to another person that person can test against his experience and then respond that it is right or not right. When I wrote in the essay you read about the supernatural, I didn't simply create or refer to existing categories. I gave the categories an exact description using examples from Shakespeare, which description other people can look to their personal experience to confirm or refute. It is the difference between saying what a philosopher does, and actually doing it. A philosopher doesn't just create categories, he passes the product over to someone he loves, or intends to do this in the future if no one is at hand. The philosopher doesn't worry too much about the beauty of his words, the form of his thoughts, because all he cares about is passing words and thoughts on to his friends and lovers for their improvement, response, adaptation, understanding. His words are always a work in progress.
His life is with other people. The form of his life expressed in his words is not his true subject. His true subject is his life with others, for the love of whom he speaks. That life includes the response to his words that is not there and he is willing to wait for.
The Glass family members can and do speak to each other and test each other's ideas. With one exception, Seymour the suicide, the brother credited with being a saint, a kind of life artist, they safely pass through the danger of their seeing their lives as bad art and deliberately sabotaging them.
Buddy says at the end of the story he is giving Seymour away. He makes a gift of him to his readers. The Seymour of the story who lived a life of art accusing itself of infidelity is only a myth. And the readers, Buddy's friends and confidants, don't deserve more. They're also imaginary.
III. With The Skateboarders Post Forty
Were these the only happy people left in the city? They didn't pay much attention to me, and I didn't pay much attention to them. Six, or maybe eight kids living in this hundred year old apartment on the main tourist street in Budapest. Skateboarders, skating their days, their nights watching skateboard films on the internet, they smoke, they talk, they lounge until they collapse. Around twenty years of age, they have jobs, don't go to school. The apartment belongs to the mother of one of them. One of the youngest has invited me to make this my refuge while I wait to go to Israel. The next step. There have been a lot of steps, and I'm getting tired. The kids see it.
- I hope I'm dead before I'm forty.
- Life is only misery when you're not young.
- You think my life is miserable then.
- You're poor.
- How do you know?
- You are traveling all the time, moving from place to place.
- One place of misery to another. How do you enjoy your youth?
- This apartment is a skakeboarding community. We're all poor.
- Like me.
- But we love to skate. As long as I have my drugs, sex, cigarettes, music, it's all good.
- So you're happy.
- You don't think so?
- I was thinking you were, and wondering why.
- We're young, and doing what we want.
- You might find as you get older there are other good things in life.
- Like what?
- Like knowing things.
- Like what?
- For example, why you like to listen to anarchist music while you skateboard.
- It gets us to push.
- Yeah. Push, push. When I walk without my board that's all I am thinking. I want to push, to move.
- Well, push long enough in one direction, and something will happen, some story. You'll want to know why. It's good to understand, you might want to add it to your list of skating, smoking, sex, and music. Life you can understand is beautiful.
- I don't believe in beautiful lives.
- Then I guessed right about your music?
- Do you think your life is beautiful?
- You refer to my miserable moving from place to place after the hotel threw me out?
- I don't really know you.
- And I don't know you guys. I'm leaving early tomorrow. I know I appreciate your youth, though I am a post forty monster to you.
- No, you're cool. Just kicking.
IV. The Billionaire
We can accept and love without qualification. In the moment we love we are without caution or limit in our appreciation. We do not accept all actions, past or future, but their consideration is for another time. Love is a way of experiencing the moment.
How do we experience our moments of contact with a billionaire?
As the life's work of all billionaires is protecting their money, and protecting themselves from being seen as a source of money, they are comfortable only in the company of others whose main occupation is preventing themselves from being seen as a source of money; living with others of their species they are unable finally to be seen as anything else. Protecting the future of the money acquired in the past, they have no present. They become unconditionally unlovable.
"To be clever enough to get all that money you have to be dull enough to want it."
1. The August 11, 2011 Edition Of The New York Post:
'A beautiful Brazilian soap star has the lead role in her own daytime drama, which casts George Soros, the billionaire financier of lefty causes, as a heavy who not only broke her heart, but also reneged on a promise to give her an Upper East Side apartment worth $1.9 million.
The drama will be staged in Manhattan Supreme Court, where 28-year-old Adriana Ferreyr yesterday filed a blockbuster $50 million suit charging, among other things, that the frisky octogenarian slapped her around while they were in bed discussing his real-estate betrayal.
The sultry actress and the mogul, who's worth some $14.5 billion, had dated for five years before he heartlessly dumped her a year ago, the lawsuit says.
But they briefly reconciled, and while spending a romantic night together, he whispered in her ear that he'd given the apartment to another woman.
"While still in bed, Soros slapped Ferreyr across the face and proceeded to put his hands around her neck in an attempt to choke her," her lawsuit claims.
Soros, 80, then allegedly at tempted to strike her with a glass lamp, and though he narrowly missed, it smashed on the floor and she cut her foot, which required three stitches.
According to a police report, she called cops, but no charges were filed.
Soros "denies throwing the lamp and totally denies trying to choke her," a friend of the billionaire's told The Post.
"This is about a lot of money and an apartment."
Soros' lawyer, William Zabel, called the lawsuit "frivolous and entirely without merit."'
2. The Economy Of The United States, 2012:
$15 Trillion is the current U.S. Deficit.
There are more than 300 Million Americans.
That makes $50,000 borrowed in the name of each American.
Where did the $15 Trillion go?
A few percent to social services.
The greater part of the rest went to tax cuts for corporations and to paying corporate military contractors.
15 Trillion dollars borrowed from Americans and given to corporations. The money isn't gone. It is in corporate bank accounts. Each of 300 million Americans pays between one and two thousand dollars interest each year on the money borrowed and given to the corporations.
3. The June 23, 2011 edition Of The New York Review Of Books:
George Soros reflects on his 30 years of philanthropy in the course of which he has given away 8 Billion dollars:
"I have made it a principle to pursue my self-interest in my business, subject to legal and ethical limitations, and to be guided by the public interest as a public intellectual and philanthropist. If the two are in conflict, the public interest ought to prevail. I do not hesitate to advocate policies that are in conflict with my business interests. I firmly believe that our democracy would function better if more people adopted this principle."
4. The March 12, 2012 Edition Of The Daily Mail:
'THE HUNGARIAN WHO BROKE THE BANK OF ENGLAND
Hungarian-born Soros, while being a notable philanthropist championing liberal causes, is also known as the 'Man Who Broke The Bank Of England'.
He made an estimated £600 million during the 1992 'Black Wednesday' UK currency crises, correctly predicting that the British government would have to devalue the pound.
On 16 September, 1992, his fund sold short more than $10 billion worth of pounds, profiting from the UK government's reluctance to either raise its interest rates or float its currency - finally withdrawing from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and devaluing the pound.
In 1997, the UK Treasury estimated the cost of Black Wednesday at £3.4 billion.'
5. The October 13, 2011 Edition Of The New York Review Of Books:
George Soros puts himself on record saying that the world's bankers and politicians, methodically causing economic distress, are leading the world's democracies into civil war. He can't decide whether they are doing this because they are incompetent or they want what they are working for.
According to Soros, in boom and bust cycles, a boom of unrealistic optimism, where the crowd of optimists imitate and predict each others actions, is followed by bust, a realistic pessimism where the crowd of pessimists imitate and predict each others actions.
Acting on the false economic principle that free markets benefit all, most of the world has gone from boom to bust, but not the bankers and politicians, who because of their ability to control governments with their money are still in a boom. They are richer than ever, than in any time in world history.
6. Budapest, Hungary, Below The Citadel:
Walking down Vaci Street to Vorosmarti Square I met an old acquaintance in the city tour business. He complained about gangsters running the country:
- They try to destroy the lives of everyone except their friends. If you don't have a million Euros you're nothing. I've given up expecting things to get better. These past years have been the worst in my life by far.
- For me too. But things will get better. Greece is standing up to the liars and thieves of the European Union, at Camp David last week they already backed down, at least in words. In the U.S., the law was overturned that allowed the government to kill, torture, abduct, secretly imprison without trial or representation. Your buses go up to the Citadel, right? What's happening up there?
- The owners are all in jail.
- I'm not surprised. What did they get them on?
- Something about taxis at the airport. I only read a few lines in the newspaper.
- When was that?
- A few days ago.
- You know, I first stayed there in 1996. This year I was usually the hotel's only guest. The same people have worked at the hotel for decades. They told me they liked me to be there, mostly because they cooked the books to show I wasn't there and pocketed my rent. I was a profitable guest. One day they asked me to pay the balance, and the next day said it was all over, everything ends, time to go. Leave today. Do you know anything about the Citadel?
- No. Only from the news.
- According to the receptionist, the one who liked to talk with me, this family that runs it is always fighting the city. Their contract with the city giving them the right to rent the castle and grounds was never signed. It's been in court since, unresolved. He said the city had shut down their taxi company, and the city forbid them to use the terrace they built in the castle courtyard. They operate a radio station from the Citadel the city won't give them a license for. I'd be sitting in the lobby and the police would come in and demand the station be turned off. When they left it would resume broadcasting. Then the police came and broke down the door to the equipment room and carried away the transmitter. A new one was then set up outside the Budapest City limits, also without license, and the station was back on the air.
- Now they're in jail.
- The previous holder of the Citadel was murdered, according to the receptionist. The current bosses, their problem was, he said, they didn't have the million Euros to hand over. He was a failure but his bosses were bigger failures.
- I didn't know any of this.
- I like to talk. I used to meet like this all the time, acquaintances, friends, walking down the street. Something happened to all these people I used to meet, talk with. What you said about gangsters destroying the lives of everyone not with them. I'm used to the idea that gangsters help their friends, hurt their enemies, but ruin the lives of everyone not in their gang? That's new to me. It explains something I've been wondering about, why the EU, the American government deliberately destroy the world's economies. Conspiracy theorists say they want to cause riots and respond with repression, make everyone a slave. But maybe they are clearing the field. Destroying all normal life, all capacity for normal business, and then without competition their companies expand into the vacuum.
7. Budapest, Hungary, the Central European University
- Do you want to hear the truth?
- Do you know it?
- I'll tell you what I heard.
- The chief administrators of the European Union were always coming and going at the Central European University. George Soros the billionaire money speculator founded the University, and had recently added a Center For European Union Studies. Thus the traffic in bureaucrats. They were a dull and dispiriting bunch, but do you know what I liked about them?
- They actually said what they thought.
- What did they think?
- The usual: the European Union had lived too long on borrowed money, now had to save, suffer through austerity, and then begin again stronger and healthier.
- And of course you think that is wrong.
- Of course I do. I performed this experiment on the bureaucrats. First, I pointed out that even for them there is nothing right or wrong in paying what you owe. The bankers and financial institutions don't do it themselves. They go bankrupt, or get their governments to subsidize them. Second, I told them they were acting on the belief that economic policy based on "paying what you owe" is best for the countries which it is forced upon. Fifty years of economic history has showed conclusively, with 100% consistency, that this is false.
- What do they say?
- The people who borrow and don't repay have to be taught a lesson.
- But not the bankers who borrow and don't repay.
- The bankers do, usually, repay.
- After they get the government to give them the money to repay with.
- Yes. And the European Union bureaucrats don't want to give the people the money to repay with.
- You tell them they're not being fair. What happens?
- They say something like, "life is unfair."
- They're hypocrites.
- Of course. And that's what's interesting: they know the economic policies they are pursuing will destroy the lives of the majority of the people they supposedly work for. But they excuse themselves by shifting attention to a moral principle, "pay what you owe".
- Which no one practices!
8. Go Find Better Friends
- What's wrong?
- These students I've been staying with. They're making me sick.
- Do you know neo-liberalism?
- I think so. What exactly is it?
- It's something like Marxism. It says, this is god's world. It's getting better. Or it's getting worse, because we are ignorantly or perversely stopping the natural process of getting better. For Marxism, it was a transformation of one kind of economic relation to another, capitalism to communism. For neo-liberalism, it is the natural development of the free market.
- I take it you don't agree.
- I don't. People are attracted to these kinds of ideas because they've been damaged, and following these ideas they are kept unaware of it.
- What do you mean?
- People adapt to the expectations to other people, don't know what is really good or bad from their own experience. They don't make their own choices in anything important. They chose their diversions, their entertainments. The chose each other as entertainments and diversions.
- Diverting themselves from what exactly?
- The unpleasant truth that in everything important they do what other people want.
- You really believe that?
- What's it have to do with Marxism?
- Marxism and neo-liberalism settle the question of good and bad. Good is certain social and political arrangements: the free market, or the transition from capitalism to communism. And those political arrangements on their own, without need of human choice of direction, move towards improvement, get better. Humans don't need to use personal experience to make social arrangements better, all they have to do is make the automatic work in progress more efficient. This is a technical question perfectly suited to people who have experience only with this kind of professional, specialized impersonal decision making.
- I see.
- When the Soviet Union wanted to murder there wasn't any question of good or bad, only the question, would like action make the transition to communism more efficient.
- What's the alternative?
- Making the goal human happiness, not particular schemes of social relations.
- For example?
- Love, freedom, creativity.
- When these are the good things you want to have, and the government says it wants to murder, torture, operate secret prisons, perform secret abductions, bypass the legal process, you ask whether these actions, which may or may not be efficient as means, lead to achieving the actual ends aimed at, freedom, love, creativity. And the answer in the case of Marxism, neo liberalism is obviously they do not. But as I said, when the end you seek is assumed to be already achieved, and getting better on its own in existing social arrangements, good and bad is an issued settled in advance.
- You're saying that only when the end we aim at is general human behavior, not specific social relations, can the means we use to obtain that end be held to any standard of human behavior at all?
- That is exactly what I am saying.
- How does this relate to the students?
- Good and bad do not enter into their lives. It is all settled by the rules they follow in a thoughtless, happy go lucky way. They didn't care about me, they didn't care about themselves. Whatever happened, that was just the way the world was arranged.
- They were unkind. Heartless. Made you lose hope.
- You shouldn't stay with them. Even if you have no other place. It's wrong. You have to trust.
- Trust who? Trust what?
- You'll find something better. You'll find better people.
- Even in this neo-liberal world?
- Yes. You said it yourself. Neo-liberalism is not something new. It's just another religion. Go find better friends.
9. I Know It's Personal But Are You In Love?
- I know it's personal. But are you in love?
- In love, yes, with people who've parted ways with me.
- I'm sorry.
- What about you?
- A girl. Also a tragedy. Big tragedy. It took me two years to recover.
- She wouldn't come back.
- Why did you ask if I was in love?
- Your last two stories are about love.
- I shouldn't repeat myself like that.
- You asked me why I'm nice to people working this waiter job.
- It didn't fit with your saying you're going to be an accountant because you love money.
- It does. I've found 5 girls here since I began a month ago.
- I see. And you keep in role by being nice to everyone, even me, bring out tea for me when you see me standing making notes.
- Don't believe it. There's this theory I've been reading about, of 8 basic levels of life, from primitive desires and fears, to appeals to authority, rationality, compassion, then an understanding of how they all can fit together, some higher because they include the others and do more with them. I think you're a good guy despite the bad things you say about yourself. Some things we do connect deeper than others. But we know almost nothing about it. We can't even say better knowledge will not bring worse misuse of knowledge, connect fear and aggression to knowledge itself. That we can move to a higher level does not imply a continuing progress to history, or progress in our own lives.
- I don't really understand.
- Ok. Writing a story, talking even, is many things at once. It feels claustrophobic, it means being trapped with a couple ideas, ideas I can and do make logical mistakes relating to each other. Yet it feels open too because the ideas I'm hoping will lead me somewhere new. I am literally afraid of the whole thing. I am isolated from every human being on the planet while I do it, I am stuck in myself, not religiously lost in the whole, not completely rational following through a task at hand, not even having a good sleep. In other words, it seems to be a low level activity I am engaged in, but I can say without hesitation it is the highest thing I do. When it's over I level out as it were, feel fine and grateful to the experience, but by then I am not especially high up. I am not a higher order thing, the truth is I'm down on the level with an infant looking at his mother's face and smiling.
- I've got to go back to work. Stay and drink your tea.
10. True Stories
- Can I sit down?
- I'm surprised you're sitting here alone.
- You're not doing anything. Not smoking, drinking, talking on the phone. A pretty girl usually wants company. Someone to admire her. You appear to be thinking.
- I've come from a meeting with my ex-boyfriend. Hadn't seen him in 3 months. It was good. We talked for hours.
- What happened?
- I loved him but he didn't love me.
- Why not? How could anyone not love you? I love you already. It's hard to believe. You told him you loved him. Of course. Was it not important to him? Were thousand of others telling him they loved him?
- No. It wasn't that.
- Did he believe you?
- You really loved him? Wanted to spend all your time together?
- He didn't want to.
- I see. When you don't do anything with love it's only attachment, a baby's clinging to its mother. Love brings on love only when it is real love and the loved knows how to love. You're better off without him. So what happened finally?
- I broke it off. Wrote a book.
- What did you write, the story? ideas?
- Yes. Both.
That's good. That's great. There's nothing better than that. I've done the same. Can't give your love to your love so you give it to the world. You're not waiting for anyone? I'm not disturbing you?
- I'll sit on this side of the table, look at you, think of my disaster and the book I'm going to write about it. You sit on yours - well, you don't have to look at me, - and think about your own stories. Or I can tell you stories. Disaster stories.
- True stories?
- True stories. Want me to? I am very happy to meet you.
11. Budapest, Hungary, Public Lecture by George Soros, November 3, 2011, The Central European University:
Question-and-answer afterwards. I as member of the audience make a suggestion:
- If someone like you supports the Occupy movement it would mean something.
- It depends on what direction it develops.
- Say general strike, and a call for resignations.
- That becomes counter productive. The trouble is, reality is very complicated. And people look for simple answers. And especially in moments of stress and fear everybody is trying to advocate his own self interest. And yet the European project requires cooperation. Cooperation is something you can achieve in times when there is hope and a functioning leadership. And at the moment you don't have it.*
* "And perceptions reflexively reinforce reality - belief in stability leads to arrangements reinforcing that stability, and vice versa." (George Soros, Reflexivity and the Theory and Practice of Social Change, 2011.
12. Budapest, Hungary, American Embassy:
- Do you need help filling out the papers?
- Sure, it couldn't hurt. What kind of papers?
- Visa application. Are you here to get a visa?
- They are going to take away my passport, so I may need a visa.
- Why are they taking your passport? Are you an American Citizen?
- Yes. When you apply for an emergency loan they confiscate your passport.
- Anyway you don't need a visa to your own country.
- What can I do for you?
- I saw on the Embassy's site that you provide emergency repatriation loans. I would like to apply.
- Are you destitute?
- Probably. What's the definition?
- No money to buy a ticket home and no way to get the money.
- I fulfill the requirements. What next?
- You have to prove that you've made an attempt to get the money.
- You have to provide the names of 3 people you have asked and who have refused. Can you do that?
- Sure. There are billions of people I can ask and be refused.
- You have to put it in writing.
- I can do it.
- Give me your passport. We'll do a background check. Take a seat.
- My colleague explained something of your situation. I'd like to ask you for more information.
- You're the Vice Consul?
- Yes. You said you have no money. Can you tell me how this situation arose?
- Whole life story or shorter?
- Start with the most recent events. When did you arrive in this country?
- About 4 months ago.
- What have you been doing?
- Reading and writing. Not employed.
- Were you employed in the United States before you came here?
- No. Doing the same. Reading and writing.
- Do you normally live in Europe or the United States?
- For the past about 20 years, mostly Europe.
- With trips back to the United States.
- How long were you in the United States last time?
- About 9 months.
- Where did you live?
- With friends.
- And before that?
- Here. I was tutoring business executives in English.
- For how long?
- 4 months. And then United States again.
- Are you married?
- Yes. Possibly.
- My wife disappeared, then wrote me that she'd obtained a divorce.
- Do you know you wife's name?
- What if I answer No?
- You don't know your wife's name?
- I'll spell it for you. Do you want to find her for me?
- We're the government but we can't do everything.
- You know, forget about the repatriation loan, just find my wife.
- When was the last time you saw her?
- A year, maybe year and a half ago. Look, is it true you're going to take away my passport if you decide to give me a repatriation loan?
- Yes, it is.
- Couldn't I use, just temporarily, the passport of one of the directors of Goldman Sachs, or General Electric, or Bank Of America? The government took away their passports when they loaned them $900 Billion after they lost all their money in bad investments. They took away their passports, right? They didn't?
- We're not open tomorrow, and over the weekend, and on Monday, an American holiday. Are you going to be alright?
- Where will you be going when you arrive in Los Angeles?
- I don't know.
- You have to provide an address. We can't arrange your travel without knowing you have a place to go.
- Why not?
- We are here to help.
- Are you concerned about my address here if I don't leave?
- We'll try to help.
- Before we can issue a repatriation loan and buy your ticket you have to provide an arrival address.
- I did.
- It can't be a hotel.
- Why not?
- It has to be your residence.
- It will be my residence.
- It has to be your own, or belonging to someone we can contact.
- It's a residential hotel. The address is on my driver's license. They know me there.
- Show me your driver's license. What is the manager's name?
- No. We need to be able to talk with someone who will be responsible for you.
- We need to know you will be safe.
- Why? I'm not safe if I stay in Europe.
- As I said, you need to provide us the name of someone who will take care of you when you return to the U.S.
- If I knew someone like that would I now be applying for an emergency loan?
- Then we can't help you.
- How long would this person have to be responsible for me? My whole life? One year? One month? A week?
- Several weeks.
- And there is no explanation for this demand?
- I don't have to explain.
- Why not?
- It's the rules.
- It can't be. What rule?
- This conversation is over.
13. . Budapest, Hungary, Unpublicized 2012 Appearance By George Soros, The Central European University:
In an informal on-stage interview, Soros, in a reflective mood, admits that the numerous institutions he's funded to study the failure of economic thinking have succeed in demonstrating how economies fail, but not in discovering what to do about it.
The source of the problem, he explained, is relying too much on theory, on knowledge, and not on how our not knowing what to do makes us act in ways that change the world, which world we don't see because we expect it to conform to our theories. We need to be able to discard our theories when they are proven wrong, and we need to understand that no general theory is enough, because our actions are constantly changing the world we need to respond to and understand.
I said to him when he stepped down from the stage:
- You have divided human activity in two parts, theory, and manipulation. Theory doesn't work, and manipulation of markets is based on crowd behavior, that is, fear. But since ancient Greece, the parts to human activity have been divided into not two, but three: you have left out practical action.
Practical action differs from manipulation, fearfully following and leading each other, in that its end is making learning easier. It's purpose is outside of itself, in the part of life where we learn, where we find beauty, what makes life good.
Why not establish institutions that study how economic relations are practical: what forms of cooperation lead to a life of learning and freedom from manipulation, and which don't. And study how to make the transition from the present institutions based entirely on greed and fear to the kind we need to have. Do you understand?
- I have studied maximization of happiness.
- No, that's not what I mean. Counting results of fear based behaviors: doing that is living still in the world of the theoretical and the manipulative. We need to study how to cooperate, study what forms of cooperation help us learn to make our lives better.
Let's go, says George Soros assistant, urging him as she has been doing for the last few minutes as we talked. OK, I say, I tried.
- You remember me, right?
(The week before when I walked through the door of the University the guard said to me, Soros just left. Go talk to him. / Why? / Ask him for a job. I caught up with him and did. He took my card, passed it to his assistant, and said he was in a hurry.)
14. The April 6, 2006 edition of The London Review Of Books:
"The same Soros who gives millions to fund education has ruined the lives of thousands thanks to his financial speculations and in doing so created the conditions for the rise of the intolerance he denounces."
15. Budapest, Hungary, Award Ceremony, Central European University:
The former President and Rector of the Central European University today was given an honorary doctorate degree by the present President and Rector. The degree recipient said in his acceptance address:
Our universities are teaching a false economic theory that making the rich richer will also make everyone else richer, that free markets, absence of regulation and neglect of social services support democracy.
Everyone applauded. I didn't say anything. But what might I, and the others in the audience, have asked both present and past Rectors and Presidents of George Soros's University?
Why did you, in your 10 years as President and Rector, allow the false economic theories to be taught here? Why do the false economic theories continue to be taught? Why didn't you stop it? Why aren't you trying to now?*
hy·poc·ri·sy (h -p k r -s ). n. pl. hy·poc·ri·sies. 1. The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.
After he had spoken his few words and the audience was dismissed I went up to the former President and Rector of the University and said:
- Criticizing free markets - you realize you are in the enemy camp here.
- I've been there my whole life.
* "While noble motives are typically evoked in the context of ceremonial speeches, the university’s various stakeholders generally do not typically commit themselves to clear aims for their institution."- from the former President and Rector's upcoming book, The University In The 21st Century.
16. Budapest, May, 2012, Downtown:
- What happened with the email?
- What email?
- The one you got when you were at the cafe, that night, Friday.
- From the Israelis. Yes, I remember now.
- You didn't know if it was real.
- Yes. It was real.
- There's a story behind it. Where are you guys going? The whole staff of the cafe is right here on this corner, on the other side of the city. Great to see you all.
- We have a minute, or two.
- I'll be fast. The theory, the best I have, why Israel turned friendly comes from a guard at the Central European University. He said Israel likes me now because I'm fighting the American Embassy.
- That's still going on?
- Yes. It's getting worse.
- Last week I visited the office of the President of the University one more time, a former Ambassador himself, and friend of the current Ambassador to Hungary, and left a message for him to try once more to get the Embassy to answer my emails and stop forbidding me to enter the Embassy.
- They forbid you to enter the Embassy?
- That has to be against the law.
- You'd think so. Anyway, yesterday at the University there was a series of lectures celebrating the history of friendly diplomatic relations between the United States and Hungary. I listened to the first for a while before I got bored, and later was on my way to the reception at the lunch break when I was stopped by a woman with a clipboard, who addressed me with these words:
- Mr. Miller! You can't go in.
- I can't go in? It's gratifying you know my name. I don't know yours. What is your name, what is your job exactly?
- Mr. Miller, this is not a joke. You didn't RSVP, so you may not be admitted.
- I am on the guest list.
- No you are not.
- Yes I am. Go check it out. I was placed on it this morning in person before my very eyes. I am an eye witness to the truth of my statement.
- I don't have time for this. Come back in 15 minutes and we can discuss it.
- No, I'm not interested. Thanks anyway.
- So they forbid you to enter the University?
- Yes. I'd noticed the extra security guards, not the University guards who all know me and discuss politics with me, the one's guarding the visiting diplomats, were looking at me strangely, were staring at me, in fact, so that was explained now.
- Why did they do it?
- Why did this University, founded by George Soros, and his Open Society Institute, forbid me entrance?
- Yes. Open Society Institute!
- Later in the afternoon, seeing the long face of one of the friendly University guards, I asked her what was wrong.
- There's a problem.
- Well, tell me.
- They told us not to let you in the building.
- I'm in the building now.
- Before, while the congress was going on.
- Yes, I know about it.
Then another friendly University guard offered the explanation: the American Ambassador had been there, and the Embassy was behind my banishment from Open Society.
- Wow. You really think so? The American Embassy stopped you entering the University to stop you talking with the Ambassador?
- Why not? They already block me from the Embassy.
- What about Israel then? Are they going to let you go there?
- It looks like it. That same last guard, it was his theory that the Israelis are watching me like the Americans, and they, being tough guys, like that I am a tough guy too and defy the Americans.
- But what did you do? All you did was try to visit the Embassy, your own Embassy, and when they didn't let you, wrote about them. And you say yourself almost no one reads what you write.
- No but the American Embassy is my most dedicated reader.
- You know that?
- The site records their visits. They don't hide.
- They want you to know they are reading.
- And I want them to know I know.
- That's insane.
- It's a game.
- But you'll be able to go to Israel.
- We'll see.
- Then good luck. See you at the cafe.
17. Budapest, Hungary, Jewish Agency For Israel
- You're the other American.
- I am.
- They say you and me tell similar stories. Vicious Jewish families, disappearing Hungarian wives. They asked me if I knew you.
- They asked me if I knew you.
- Do you?
- They're processing us as a package deal.
- Yeah. They say they get a better price on the tickets, I don't know how.
- Me either. One way tickets, Budapest to Tel Aviv aren't expensive anyway. Maybe the attraction is not saving money, but double the result for the same effort. It makes it easier to justify to themselves the exception they are making, the Israeli Agency dealing with Americans in Hungary. It's a strange coincidence. Or maybe it isn't. When did you first come here, to this office?
- A few days ago. When did you?
- Two years ago. They told me to go back to L.A. I did, and a year later the Los Angeles office told me it would be immoral to help me go to Israel.
- Really? Why?
- They said I wouldn't be a success.
- But they've changed their minds now.
- Yes. Where did you get the idea from? To come here, I mean.
- From the Consul at the American Embassy.
- Of course.
- Why of course?
- The diplomats over there take an interest in my life.
- You mean they knew you had applied to go to Israel, and they sent me over to go with you?
- That's the way it looks. They forbid me to enter the Embassy, they send you over to Israel.
- They won't let you in? What did you do?
- I told them they were wrong. What did you do?
- They couldn't help me.
- The American government is too busy taking bribes from corporations, doesn't have time to deal with Americans anymore. Sends them over to Israel to handle. Anyway, it's good luck for me.
- Because my application was stalled until you showed up. Two for one.
* * *
The Odeon Cinema, Officer Of The Jewish Agency, Chance Meeting:
- Have seen you the other American today too?
- No, but I just talked to him on the phone.
- It's hard for me, having a double of like that.
- You noticed too? It's strange.
- We're not really alike. Only our circumstances.
- What circumstances?
- American Jewish families that hate truth, love money. Seeking truth is part of the religion, but lying is more profitable. The conflict leads to extremes of behavior.
- They hate you two because you tell the truth.
- Yes, believe it or not. Maybe we learned to love truth more because they hated it.
- Not every American Jewish family is like that.
- A lot are.
- The whole world is moving that way.
- You could have stayed in the U.S. and looked for better people.
- I thought I'd have better luck in Europe. I did have better luck. Then luck ran out.
- As you said, the way the whole world is moving, it's the way of the place I was trying to escape.
18. Budapest, Hungary, Reception Desk, Central European University:
- We'll miss you. We're like in prison here.
- And I your regular visitor, on my way in and out of the building.
- We've enjoyed talking to you, you know that. Will you go on talking to people about revolution?
- With University guards who say they are prisoners? I don't know. Is that how you see me? As someone who talks to people about revolution? Put that way it sounds futile. I like finding words to describe the situation we're in.
- You're lucky you can leave. We wish the best for you.
- Do you have time to talk, one more time, in the way you like? I thought maybe I was boring you with these conversations. That you would talk to anyone, that even being bored by a bore on his way out was better than being bored alone.
- No. We like you here.
- Alright. Lecture begins, last in the series, visitors on their way out, parting words. Title: Correlation And Causation. Do you know the difference?
- People who eat red meat have more heart attacks than people who don't. New Harvard University study. This place is a Harvard colony, you know.
- We know. The Rector, the lecturers.
- Yes. Red meat and heart attacks. That is correlation. When you start doing experiments to separate out other factors that lead to heart attacks, you get close to causation.
- I don't understand.
- It could be that people who like red meat also like to go without sleep, or are nervous, or aggressive, and any of these might be what is really linked to heart attacks.
- What's the difference?
- If you want to prevent heart attacks, and you don't do the experiments, telling people not to eat red meat will have no effect at all, if really the connection, the cause is aggressive behavior.
- I see now.
- Next: social life, success in career, works with correlation, not causation.
- You've lost me again.
- You know George Soros' theory of Reflexivity?
- When I talked with him a few days ago, when he was up on stage of the auditorium down the hall - were you there?
- For a minute. Then I had to go back to work.
- So maybe you heard him say the usual economic theories have now been proven wrong, it was irrational to continue to apply false theories. And how his own theory described only irrational group behavior, how in the stock market traders in good times followed each other in overconfidence, then reality hit and they followed each other in flight from their overconfidence.
- Yes. I know these ideas.
- Ok. Business operates by finding correlations: do this, and profit follows. Why exactly this happens is not known. To find out you'd need to conduct experiments. To be successful in business is the same: you do certain things, go to certain schools, dress a certain way, repeat certain formulas: doing this gets you the job, then in the job, you do the same thing, whatever works, without knowing why. Correlation, never causation. In the stock market you see this reduced to the simplest terms. Correlation need not reflect any real relation. The reason for confidence in a stock, or the market as a whole, may be, usually is, entirely false, a correlation, not a causation. Eventually this comes out and a downturn follows.
- Good. I don't like this economics any more than you do. Really it makes me sick. But here's the point. Have you ever wondered why economists are always talking about efficiency?
- No, can't say I have.
- Well they do. It isn't because they are technocrats, because they have knowledge of technique. They don't know anything, as Soros said right here a few days ago. All they know are correlations, which almost always are sooner or later proven false. So what do these technocrats, technically educated people do?
- What do you mean by technocrats?
- I mean people educated at places like this University, teaching correlations without causation.
- Efficiency for people who don't know anything means reducing complexity. It means eliminating the distance between causation and correlation.
- Again, you lost me.
- If you don't know why there is a correlation, you nevertheless know that as long as you can keep things the same, you keep the real causes connected to the false ones. If you are making money in the stock market, in banking, you will try to simplify everything else so as to make banking and stock trading go more smoothly, efficiently, without change from outside.
- And you say that is what economists mean by efficiency?
- You've got it now. Austerity measures, smaller government, lower deficits, all this means more efficiency in the areas where people making money are relying on presently unstable correlations. Let's go back to the Harvard red meat study.
- Harvard, the government all is funded by business, by professional associations. Let's say someone is making money factory farming chickens and pigs. We don't know why eaters of red meat get more heart attacks. But what if we can stop people being aggressive, nervous, afraid of being discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, nationality, age, income? We control, eliminate all other possible causes. Correlation will suffice, all will work more efficiently.
- But that's crazy.
- No! It's literal reality. And no more crazy that the last 50 years' imposition of so-called neo-liberalism, the long proven-false economic theory that unregulated markets works to the benefit of the majority and to the stability of democracy. This university, funded by George Soros' Open Society Foundation, teaching tolerance of all nations, ages, sexuality, races, religions is putting into effect the same kind of efficiency.
- Explain that.
- I used to think the problem with current politics is that the demand for tolerance, to see all ideas as relative, dependent on personal circumstances, had made people incapable of talking to each other, of caring about each other. Democracy was failing because everyone tolerant of everyone has nothing in common with anyone.
- And you don't believe that anymore?
- I never had confidence in the idea because I saw that, at least in America, people still liked strangers, truly liked them.
- What is the problem then?
- It is knowledge. Knowledge! Correlation and causation.
- And you are going to explain that to me.
- Yes. Do you know what it means when we say we rely on intuition?
- Yes. But I'd like to hear what you have to say.
- It means that we have noticed correlations in our personal lives - when we do this, that happens - and we have tested that correlation, acted on the relation, done experiments to see if it was a chance relation, or a real one. Over time we get a general, what we call intuitive sense of which kinds of correlations are likely to be real relations. But only because we have been actively testing these relations in our own lives.
- That's interesting.
- If you are a stock trader, a banker, a government official or a university founder, president, or professor, you make your living by keeping your behavior in role, keeping your role tightly correlated with other roles.
- What does that mean?
- It means you play by the rules. You have to to keep your job, to be a success. Adapting your behavior by personal experiments, looking for knowledge, not mere probably false correlation, will make you a cause of inefficiency in the organization, will cause everyone else trouble.
- I know that from personal experience. You have no idea what it's like to work here.
- I have an intuition. I know you are mocking me when you ask about the revolution, my political aims. I just write stories, find words. I've found new words, that's all, but for what it's worth, here they are: no matter how corrupt, idiotic, inefficient our governments are revealed to be, people can't do anything, can't respond, because they too have become like politicians.
- They are living in this open society. Society that is all correlation, no causation. Everyone has his type, his role, all is acceptable, open, all in fact as meaningless as red meat being correlated with heart attacks because no one is agressive, anxious, discriminated against anymore. Look at the dead faces of the students here. They rigorously study the correlation between red meat and heart attacks. They follow rules, they're all ambition to make money and be a success, they create a personal efficiency by the elimination of all human qualities.
- You think so?
- Yes, I do. Personal investigation, personal development is punished by career failure, social exclusion. In fact, the Open Society leads to closed society.
- The ignorance it is based on is exposed, the false correlation revealed, by increasing social disruptions. The society supposed to be efficient above all else is revealed to be inefficient. Think about George Soros, the billionaire who founded this university. Efficiency policies result in monopoly, concentration of wealth. Efficiency creates billionaires. Billionaires monopolize property. Which means more and more people have no property. Democracy cannot function, no matter the perfections of institutions and efficiency, when people own no property and are in the conditions of slaves who can be forced by life or death necessity to do anything. This is a destructive influence enough, but monopoly of property inevitably leads to bribery. Or in the case of our open society times, to legal bribery, where bribery is seen as an expression of the personal opinion of the wealthy.
- How can bribery be legal?
- According to numerous Harvard and other University professors it makes democracy into an efficient "marketplace of ideas".
- Hard to believe.
- The open society leads to corruption, to legalized bribery; it leads to concentration of property and consequent slavery of the property-less, which leads to social disruption. Finally the open society, we see this happening now, leads to repression in the name of efficiency, and in some places, is leading to an attempt to return to the original role relations, the original ignorant correlation before outside influences, foreigners, and foreign trade disrupted things. When you don't know anything the best you can do is return to the conditions where things seemed to work better.
- You're talking about Fascism. Neo-nazis.
- It's the destiny of the open society. The invisible hand of economics. Which is no more than people who know they don't understand what they rely on trying to lessen the risk of their ignorance. The invisible hand of economics is the efficient protection of ignorance. Remember, I told you the story, I asked Soros when he spoke here another time to support the Occupy protest movement? He answered that he couldn't. It was a disruption which would lead to more disruptions. He sympathized with the people's suffering, but efficiency was the high principle he worshiped.
- You really think he believes that?
- Yes. His two principles are open society, and efficient management of marketplace ignorance. Together they are a sort of religion, the invisible hand of ignorance protecting itself by monopoly and social repression. He's collected every type here in these buildings - every variety of sexuality, nationality, age, race, each is in its cage, each incapable of communicating with the other types in their cages, each incapable of getting out of the cage by personal testing and experiment, incapable of looking for the truth. A zoo where there is no relation of red meat to heart attacks except the profit to be made by assuming there is one.
- And this is your good-by to the University.
- Red meat thrown to the cages!
Late 2011, Budapest, Hungary, Gellert Hill, The Citadel:
- It's quiet tonight. Am I right that something is happening? Some big change?
- What do you mean?
- Is the city finally going to take the Citadel back from the family? What really happened with the last family that had the place? What did they do? Really do?
- Sold drugs, ran prostitutes.
- And the boss was murdered, you told me.
- In the disco.
- What does the present "family" do?
- It's in the energy business.
- And you say they "control" the territory of the Citadel without a contract with the government, the city, which owns the land and buildings?
- Yes. Just like the other family.
- Can't explain.
- Influence? Bribery?
- Can't explain.
- This "family" holds the territory, operates their "energy business" from here. But no one from the energy business world seems to be around.
- That's correct.
- I am the only guest of the hotel.
- There was a taxi business when I first came here, a long time ago.
- The city shut them down.
- Can't explain.
- Influence failed?
- My boss always fails.
- But they are still here, in control of the Citadel.
- They built a terrace in the courtyard - you can see it over there, the wood floorboards are rotting away - but the city forbid them to use it.
- They say diplomats from nearby embassies complained about noise.
- Failure of influence again. And the new radio station here? What's that for?
- It costs them a lot. They have no advertising and 16 employees.
- And can't get a permit from the city. I've been following the drama. The police come, demand you stop broadcasting, you go off the air, then go on again immediately after the police leave. Then again. Then again. Then the police come, break down the door of the equipment room and carry out the transmitter in their arms. Then you set up broadcasting outside the city limits, still without a permit. Anything I left out?
- No. Sometimes I think this place is an insane asylum.
- Because all you guys here smoke and cough and smoke and cough, because one of you complains operatically non-stop and the other swears non-stop, because you yourself say you can't stop talking with people you don't like? Because the computer programmer in the corner room smokes so much that when he comes out into the lobby he leaves a scent trail in the air, who's a kind of walking ashtray? What about me? How do I fit in?
- You're crazy too.
- To be staying here.
- Yes. No one understands you. I try to protect you, tell everyone you're from a rich family, are here until the estate is settled.
- Sounds good
- I thought so.
- Might even have a little truth to it. Did I ever tell you the story of the fake and real Rolex I bought at a pawn shop in Atlantic City when I was visiting my mother there?
- I don't remember.
- The story goes like this. Dozens of casinos send send their losers out into the street where dozens of pawn shops buy their jewelry so they can go back to the casinos and lose more money. One afternoon I thought to visit the shops and look at their watches. At the first I came to there was a Rolex copy in the window. The Russian immigrant working there placed it on the counter and opened its back to show me the movement. He'd been tricked into buying this watch, he explained. The movement looked real, he'd never seen a fake movement before. How much did he want for the watch? 200 dollars. Take 150? Yes.
- You bought the watch?
- Yes. When I came next time to Budapest I sold it to another watch dealer for 600 dollars.
- The movement was real.
- And you knew it.
- And the pawn shop didn't. Real movement in fake watch.
- Great story.
- It is what I like to think life is like at the Citadel. We've got the "family" parading around, visiting the radio station that isn't a business, the hotel where I am usually the only guest, you guys working here smoking yourselves to death out of nothing else to do, I'm here seeing this because I make it look like a hotel and in my isolated life other people don't hear about it from me and show up asking to stay. It's all fake, but it is a real castle, it is the best place in Budapest, you and me are really here despite the fakery going on around us.
- Very poetic. Everyone is miserable here.
- Last night I was writing about Cain and Abel.
- From the Bible?
- Yes. Should I tell you what I wrote?
- How long will it take?
- One minute. Two, maximum.
- I'll be fast, fast. Here goes. Pay attention.
- The first humans were educated by God: they broke his rules, went adventuring, had children, created lives for themselves. The first human educated by humans killed his brother.
- Cain killed Abel.
- Yes. God's education was in breaking rules. Human education is about keeping rules. Cain was a farmer. He stayed put. He followed rules of when and what and where to plant. When he looked at the land he was reminded of which of his rules to apply.
When God did not accept his sacrifice Cain responded to God as he responded when a rule no longer applied because of change of weather: he simplified, uprooted the unrewarding rule from his world. If there is a rule, "Sacrifice to God / You'll be rewarded by his love", and no love is delivered, if you kill your brother whose sacrifice has been accepted the field is cleared of all sacrifice, nothing is growing there. Cain weeded Abel from his field.
As a shepherd Abel adapted rules to the terrain his herd wandered over. The land did not remind him of any set rule. Rules remained contingent. The story of Cain and Abel is about a battle between two ways of of applying rules, destructive and creative.
- You've written this down?
- Sure, not that anyone reads anything.
- Doesn't matter.
- Yes, that's the point I want to make. Write the truth in the midst of all the fakery, you're Abel living in Cain's world. You are the only guest of the "family" hotel at the Citadel. Down in the city when I tell people about where I stay I use the Italian word for family, "mafia". I hope they don't mind.
- Nobody is interested in you.
- I'm real taken as fake, safe so long as no one sees the reality and tries to profit by it.
- What good are you to anyone?
- Well, what good was it to Cain killing his brother? It was a symbolic act. And as we see at the Citadel the whole place is functioning as a symbol of the family's power, doing nothing else in fact. I am here only so long as there is no symbolic benefit in throwing me out. I am waiting for that time to come. It will, won't it?
- Yes. You know this place.
- 17 years since the first time I stayed here.
- Time have changed.
- The world is at war, economic, social war. Cain is out to eradicate Abel, out to weed him from his field. But, you know, history has moved on. Abel is more able.
- Abel is more able. I like that.
- Abel knows better, he can put into words just how the world is a war between those educated by man and those educated by god. He knows all the words thrown about around him are fakery, are all lies, gangsters' symbols of power. Education by man begins with killing a man, but proclaims itself to be education by god. It all about following rules and goes by the name of fundamentalism.
But education by God is something small and on the human scale, is the rule breaking and wandering life and goes by the name "humanism". God made humans, but humans make each other something else, something much worse, something fake, something oversimplified, something "fundamental".
- It's been much more than one minute.
- My words wandered to a field where other rules apply.
V. Getting Fit
I was spending nights at the all night cafe. They liked me there. But they couldn't understand how someone like me had no money, no friends, no work, had nothing in fact. I did exercises, noted how strong and lean I was getting. I thought about Beatrix, my annulled Hungarian wife, remembered when she had finally decided she wanted to see me again after I had returned from Greece to Budapest.
I'd had to wait a couple of weeks. We met at the Deak Ference metro station near Macdonalds. Beatrix was surprised. Everything was as before, better than before. She said, "How can we be this way with each other after all the terrible things we say about each other?" I knew the answer. Because I knew the answer I could be with her. Because she didn't know the answer, and could not even listen to the answer, Beatrix was never long with me. I said:
- You think about things, and like the way I think. You want things, you want my company. But you put both thinking and wanting at the service of your ambition to be rich and famous.
- What's wrong with that?
- You should want to be with the man you have decided is best and work if at all to be able to do that.
- I should work to be able to be with you? I don't have to work for that. I can be with you, I can be with anyone.
- I know. You are so attractive. You've worked at making yourself attractive. I'll never get through to you.
- You're arrogant. You think you're better than me.
- I can't get through to you because you put reasoning and desire in the service of ambition. When I tell you it's wrong to do that you say my reasons are useless to you in getting what you want.
- I'm not a hermit like you.
- But you love this hermit.
- I love making him my slave.
So though we love each other it is only a matter of time before she is gone again. She was gone in a week.
An email arrives while I'm at the cafe. A way out I'd been pursuing has worked, possibly. The laws of Israel, not the people administering them, wish my presence there. Not because I'd be a success. The Israeli Agency has put into writing their belief that I was a certain failure. But because they've been pushed, by me and diplomats - people like me sometimes fall into strange company - they've relented. I've slipped through the cracks. The state was founded on the idea of home, of giving individuals a home. Not the idea a group be given a place to be ambitiously enlarged and made more productive. But that is what was happening there now, the views of me and my wife were at war there. I ought to feel right at home.
VI. Buddha In Budapest
I have just seated myself with my back against Buddha, in the Philosopher's Garden, high in the Buda hills above Budapest. Buddha is one of set of statues of people of the idea, life size in bronze, around what should have been a fountain but is only an empty basin. Some symbolism here I don't have time for. I've got a beer in my bag, I want to relax from the noise and pollution down in the city. A group of black booted, black military outfitted shaved head young men have come to inspect the philosophers. They are Neo-Nazis, parading through the city and attacking the weak. Stamped in my passport is my new visa to Israel.
I look into the eyes of one young man. He looks back. What is he thinking? The day before I'd had a conversation with a young Turkish medical student. She said:
- Something is wrong here. You aren't Jewish are you?
- Yes, I am.
- I lived in Israel a long time. Only Jews talk like you do.
- Is that a compliment?
- Yes. But you don't seem Jewish.
- When I was in Israel a couple years ago Israelis didn't believe I was Jewish.
- I understand.
- What do you understand? I'm Jewish, I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles.
- You are too gentle, too nice. Maybe you lived in Europe too long.
- You think that is it?
Does the Neo-Nazi see gentleness or niceness? He is looking for trouble. I look, he looks. Then he turns away and walks on, bored I suppose by the kindness he's seen. Good. I take out my can of beer, sit my computer in my lap, look out at the view of the city. Soon I will be gone never to return.
The government of Hungary has written into its new constitution what it thinks are conservative principles of family, religion, nation. The principles are conservative in the sense they seek to enforce obedience to rules and punish disobedience. The swaggering patrols around the city feel implicitly authorized by the new government.
This afternoon, scavenging paper and tape from a bulletin board outside a Tel Aviv market, closed for the Sabbath, a man asks me if those were my things, my book on the bench around the corner. I go over, yes, my computer, my Celine book. Was that his Terry Pretchert book? Yes, he's leaving it. I can have it? I was looking for a book by him yesterday. Israel really brings me luck. Good and bad.
- What do you mean?
- When I first came to Israel, I flew from Thailand. I was selected for special treatement by the Israeli security. That means a two hour search. The only others selected were two Israeli Arabs.
- Why did they choose you? You're American. You're Jewish.
- That's what the Israeli Arabs asked me.
When I left Israel, again I was selected for special treatment. They refused to allow my computer on the plane. They said because it wasn't charged, and my charger broken, they couldn't check it. Why did they have to check it? They do. A week later it arrived in Budapest. And a week after that it burned itself up. It was just a year old.
But then, good luck, maybe, returns with my return to Israel. On the plane was a man reading a book on start-ups. I speak to him as we are walking the passages of the Tel Aviv airport, tell him I have an idea he might be interested in. I sent him an email, and now it looks like he has succeed in setting up a team to work on the business.
- Is that what you do?
- No, I write stories. Teach English.
- What is the book you are reading?
- That is another story, another piece of good luck. Do you know Celine?
- French writer, 1930s. This is his second book. I bought it a couple of days ago at a used book store here. Celine's writing is full a mockery, hatred of human life, and at the same time regret that it has to be this way. The ugly little details accumulate at times into surrealist exaggeration. It's amazing. His realism, his hatred of human life of human beings making each other miserable. The American writer Henry Miller who was living in France at that time admired him. And that is what makes this copy special: see here on the flyleaf? Big Sur, USA, 1949. Big Sur, the "Big South", was at the time a fishing village in Central California. Henry Miller moved there in 1944, and later the Beat writers went there. This book was there too, and somehow found its way here to Tel Aviv. Finding it was my good luck. Did you know Celine became the most virtuosic anti-Jewish writer in all of history?
- No, I didn't.
- Celine hated human ways and manners, and history brought him, with the advent of the Nazis, a ready made theme. The Jews excluded others, enforced on each other obedience to their archaic rules: you never even got a chance with them. Just like every other kind of human being, only more so, and if not more so, at least more openly so, and if not more openly, then making a conspiracy about it in addition. Carrying this book in my hands, talking to people here, as I am talking with you, I keep seeing what is happening through his eyes. The people here are smart, they can talk, talk well, they know what they are doing, but they don't want anything to do with me. I feel the exclusion, I feel anger, anger on behalf of the human race. Like Celine, like anyone looking for the answer, for the way to live that is livable, I am always at a beginning, demanding the world allow me to get started on the real life I'm waiting for. I get angry when I can't begin. I understand Celine. Not to say I think he is right or I am right getting angry. I think he is wrong and I am wrong. I prefer to read the book you bring me, comedy, fantasy, kindness. Pratchett is kind. Do you know him?
- Well, I see you want to go. I know I shouldn't say it, but like everyone else I talk to here you seem to be counting the seconds till you can get away and don't have to talk to me.
- My friend is waiting. He teaches English, has more work than he can handle. Maybe he can send work to you.
- More good luck.
- And I wish you more to come. Bye.
Around the corner and half way down the next block a cat is crying to me from the half wall above the sidewalk. I pet her and she calms down. A few more cats appear from the bushes. We watch together as a car, after many back and forths, angles itself into the parking space in front of us. I say to the woman driver:
- This cat invited me to join her. I think she wanted food, but settled for my company. We've been watching you.
She opens the back door of her car, takes out a stack of disposable dishes, a bottle of water, and a bag of cat food. She arranges the buffet on the sidewalk and the cats feast.
- Don't tell me you always drive around with meals for cats?
- I do.
- You know, this book I am reading is a book of hatred. I can be a hater too. I was just talking to a man about this book and hatred. That didn't help, and here I am with the cats. I see all the children, the babies in their mother and father's arms. This city is really a city of children. I see all the cats, wild and taken care of. I get angry at my life, at being here, just another foreign country, having to be here, another place I don't belong, another place I can't even get a start in. Then I tell myself, the people are the end, it's always and everywhere all over with people, you can't begin at the end, you can't expect to begin at the end, stop expecting the impossible. Look at the cats. The babies. There is an opening. You've seen it yourself. You've passed through the opening. Why can't you remember? You must be getting old....
- I've got to go. My friends are waiting.
- I know! I know! I'll stay here with the cats.
PART THREE: THE TEL AVIV DIALOGS
I.. Day Of Atonement
Note: a nationality has many qualities, good and bad, as individuals do. When the characters in this story talk about their nationality it is some qualities of the individual responding to some qualities of the nationality. It is far from the whole picture. With that said....
"What is anti-Semitism? Hating Jews more than they deserve." (Chief Medical Officer, Public Health Service, State Of Israel)
Day Of Atonement.
Motorized transport forbidden
Corner of Dizengof and Frishman Streets, Tel Aviv
- Do you know where I can buy cigarettes?
- Everywhere's closed. Have you tried the hotels on the beach?
- No. Where are they?
- You're not from Tel Aviv?
- No. From a small city. Not too far away.
- I'll walk with you if you like. I'm not going anywhere.
- I'd like that. Where are you from?
- Los Angeles.
- Nice. What are you doing in Israel?
- Israel is paying me to stay here for six months then leave.
- You're working for the government?
- Not exactly. How old are you, by the way?
- What are you doing in Tel Aviv?
- I came here with friends.
- Where are your friends?
- At the room.
- What are they doing now?
- They're sleeping.
- What have you been doing in Tel Aviv?
- Drinking. Doing other things.
- It's good.
- Why is it good?
- It relaxes me.
- Why do you need to be relaxed? You're 16. You're supposed to love excitement.
- I have too much excitement at home.
- What's so exciting?
- You don't want to know.
- I do. I have all this day where everything is closed to listen. I have all my life to listen. I'm not doing anything important.
- I thought you said you're working for the government.
- In a way. What's so exciting at home?
- My mother is a cocaine addict and my father rapes me all the time.
- If you didn't have such a fresh face and were not obviously in perfect health and sane I wouldn't believe you. You speak about terrible things so casually.
- It's been going on a long time.
- But you have been to the police?
- They say they have more important things to worry about.
- They don't believe you?
- They do. They don't care.
8:30. Beach Promenade
- This place is really something. Unbelievable, right?
- It is. We've been looking for cigarettes for an half hour, finally found the machine over there by the restaurant. Do you have change for a hundred?
- I've been looking for cigarettes too. What do you need?
- Three shekels more.
- Thanks. You're from Scotland?
- You can tell?
- Sure. What are you doing in Israel?
- Getting angry.
- Me too!
- What are you angry about?
-You tell me first.
- The people here.
- What's wrong with them?
- They're sick.
- You're about 70? Israel brought you here as a Jewish immigrant, said to you, "Here's a few hundred dollars, the market determines that with that money you will be able to sleep on the beach and buy cheap food and cigarettes. The history of the Jews compels us to invite you here, but the market is our true love. Thanks for coming, thanks for making a public display of our indifference to human life and of our obsessive greed. Enjoy Israel."
- You're funny.
- What are you going to do?
- Get cigarettes.
- See you later.
5:30 Hotel Entrance Steps. Near the beach.
- Hey! I know you.
- Who's your friend?
- A very interesting man. His family has been in Israel for hundreds of years. Sit down.
- What brings you to Israel?
- Like I told your friend at the beach this morning, Israel is paying me to come here and leave.
- And do what?
- That's all.
- I don't understand. Are you working?
- Are you? What is your profession.
- Software. But I do anything necessary to survive. You know the economic situation.
- Yes. I'm interested in the subject. Are you a protester?
- Protest is useless.
- The protests have gone on for years, nothing changes. My family built this country, made sacrifices. Fought wars, lived in tents before the city was built. I feel like it's all been for nothing. I'm thinking about the future. How I am going to live when there is no way to make money anymore.
- And you don't want to try to stop the government from destroying your country?
- The government doesn't listen. It doesn't have to listen.
- Have you thought about why?
- Why what?
- Why the government doesn't have to listen.
- The politicians do what they want.
- But there is a reason they get away with it.
- If you know, tell me.
- Alright. A few days ago I was at a cafe with a young book editor....
- Gentlemen, I am going now to the temple. We'll meet again.
- Bye. You were saying? You met an editor. An Israeli?
- Yes. And we were talking about why Iran wanted to make a nuclear bomb and what were the chances if they did of their using it against Israel. He argued that if they wanted to kill Israelis they could even now explode a "dirty" bomb offshore. They want to bomb as a symbol of power, not to use, which they know would be disastrous.
- What did you say?
- That the question is not what the government of Iran could be expected to think is reasonable.
- What is the question?
- Whether a terrorist, who did want to explode a nuclear bomb, could get the agreement of the government. To answer that question you need to know what kind of government it was and whether that kind was likely to resist or not.
- What kind of government did you say Iran was?
- How much time do you have?
- I'm going somewhere. Why?
- I can answer, but have to fill in some background first.
- I'll stay.
- The Israeli government doesn't listen to protest, the Iranian government might listen to terrorists. That's what we want to explain. Who a government listens to. Before I came to Israel, before I got married in Hungary, I used to travel from one European capital to another and buy and sell old watches to other dealers doing to same. I met them at markets, watch shops, cafes. What I learned early on was that the law of supply and demand didn't apply. Prices were set by an automatic monopoly making process.
- I don't understand.
- Let's say you are a millionaire owner of a watch shop in Zurich. You have thousands of watches for sale. A middle aged woman walks in and carefully takes out from its cloth wrapping a gold wristwatch and sets it on the shop counter. It was her grandfather's, she explains, and she would like to sell it. How much is it worth? The shop down the street told her it was only worth was the gold in the case, which could be melted down. Now the shop owner knows this is not true. He also knows no matter how many shops the woman visits, she is likely to hear the same thing. What does he do?
- He cheats her, of course.
- Of course he does.
- It's her fault: she could have sold it on the internet.
- She could have. So operating at the same time and same place there is both a free market system and monopoly market. The monopoly market arises when there is a limited number of buyers and control of information.
- Let's go back to the watch shops in Zurich. Each shop keeper tells the unprofessional seller the same story because each shop keeper has gone into the business for the same reason: greed, love of profit. Each shares the same character. The price monopoly depends entirely on this fact of people of the same character being attracted to particular professions. In a large market, where anyone can buy and sell, monopoly doesn't arise. But in any market with restricted access monopoly pricing is the rule, not the exception. So-called free market supply and demand is the exception.
- In fact there is nothing free about the free market. It begins with, is entirely dependent on strict prohibition against murder and theft, and ends, if spontaneous monopoly is not controlled, first with dispossession, then finally death of the majority of "free market" participants. You study the Kabballa?
- Yes. How did you know?
- This is Israel, you're the type.
- What type?
- The passionate type. The type that is passionate about understanding more than anything else. Am I right?
- You are right.
- I'm not a Kabbalist...
- What are you?
- Just a talker: The garden of Eden. Genesis. Eve eats the apple from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
- If I were a Kabballist I might think there was something in the latest news: the creator and co-founder of Apple computers has applied for Australian citizenship. Everyone there can have broadband internet connection, he says, but at his own house in California even he cannot because of monopoly control of business in the U.S.
- Is that true?
- Eve and Adam already have knowledge. They know how to live, what choices to make. What happens after eating the apple is that new choices arise that must be made without complete knowledge. There are better and worse choices, and we, living outside the garden, don't know how to choose. We are angry at the situation, and are ashamed of our anger, of our acting like animals. Have you read Plato?
- Good. In The Republic the Guardian class are described as being like dogs. They love those they know and hate those they don't. They have passion, and a strong sense of class. Like Adam and Eve after eating the apple, the dog-like guardians hate not knowing. The come together as a class spontaneously, a monopoly occupation based on similar character. The formation of social class is a response to, is avoidance of rage, of anger at not knowing what to do, how to choose between untested possibilities. Are you following?
- Yes. Are these your ideas?
- Mine, Plato's. Doesn't matter. Now, the question of the Israeli government not listening to protesters, the Iranian government possibly listening to terrorists. We ask, how much are the governments structured like free-markets, how much like a monopoly?
- I don't understand.
- How much are government decisions made reasonably, how much are they made by groups of people of like character associated into particular professions.
- Why does it make a difference?
- Because the human being, ashamed of his liability to rage, like a proud aristocrat places himself above passion by rooting himself is stable social arrangements, which themselves arise spontaneously by the coming together of people of like character. Reason, reasoning play no part in this fear of rage and spontaneous monopoly. The Israeli government doesn't listen to protesters because listening is not something monopolists do. The customer selling the watch is a subject, is subject to the operation of the monopoly. The complaint of the Israeli protesters is, according to the people in the government, only a complaint of those not like themselves. The protesters' complaints are no more listened to than a dog stops to hear the arguments of the stranger at the gate. With Iran, the question of access of terrorist to the government is whether the various monopolies established there would decide using a bomb would protect them from fear of the unknown and strengthen their class. I asked the editor if he knew how to answer that question.
- So you think, not just politics, but the economic situation is going to get worse?
- And get better when people know better.
- They won't know better. And as you say, the government isn't listening.
- Do you know the painting, The Garden Of Earthly Delights by Bosch?
- It pretty much sums up what we've we talking about. In Eden sexuality is open. There is no shame because there is no rage, no fear at not knowing what is good to do and what not. There is desire, which by definition is a lack, but satisfying that lack does not involve passion, passion in the meaning of one form of fear or another. If you watch babies smile, babies laugh, you will see they smile at what they know. But this is totally unlike the dog's knowledge of its pack. When a baby looks at adults acting as adults, acting as monopolists, he sees people who try to remake the world to suit the group they already know. Who do not want to know more than that, so look at the baby only with regard to the baby's significance to their own monopoly participation. But a baby looks at things in the garden as objects to be played with, learned individually. When the baby looks at the adult he sees a blank. He can't see the past and future group relations which determine every sound and move the adult makes with the baby, The adult does not try to know the baby. The garden the children live in is wild, unknown in itself, but safe, is a playground, not a threat to the known. Children don't know their own character, don't look out for friends of like character, they are not monopolists, so the unkown objects in the playground world are not a threat to that character and are not fled. When the objects are known, they are smiled at in gratitude for letting themselves be known. Babies laugh when known things are hidden, they have begun to learn how playing makes something unfamiliar become familiar, have begun to rely on, have confidence in this knowledge.The monstrous creatures in Bosch's Garden are animal parts made to comprise the whole animal, a perfect symbol for the way single character types establish whole societies in flight from rage and fear.
- Fantastic stuff. I've got to go.
6:30. p.m. Fasting period concluded. A woman sits outside at the pizzaria down the street.
- You look like someone I should meet.
- Sit down.
9 a.m. The next day, outside the King George Street Post Office.
- What's your number? I see about 20 people inside, but my number is a hundred more than the one up now.
- I was just laughing about it with the guard.
- I think they are counting the people who died waiting, as a kind of memorial.
- It's a crazy country.
- It's really crazy. Look at the guard: a 20 year old girl with a pistol at her hip managing, very successfully, to look fashionable. Do you ever go to the beach?
- Everyone does.
- Then you've heard the deafening announcement over the public address system? Where the city has paid someone to say no one works there? "Ladies and Gentlemen, No lifeguard on duty. Swimming forbidden." Which the swimmers ignore? But you don't want to know what I really think of the country. Do you? It's not good.
- You're not having a good time here?
- No. Are you?
- These last few years have been miserable.
- Good to hear! Tell me the story.
- You don't want to hear it.
- I do.
- What are you doing in Israel?
- My standard answer is the government has hired me to stay here 6 months then leave.
- To do what?
- What do you mean?
- Tell me your story and I will tell you mine.
- Let's go have a coffee when we're finished.
9:30 Cafe. King George St.
- Your story.
- I have the world's worst husband. Next week after fighting 3 years I hope the divorce will be final.
- What did he do?
- He beat me. Many many times. I went to the hospital.
- You went to the police.
- Many Times.
- Why isn't he in jail then?
- I didn't want to deprive my children of their father. They want to see him.
- That's bad, but...
- There is more.
- I'm waiting. What is your husband's profession?
- Film producer.
- What did the film producer do to make him the world's worst husband?
- He installed a secret camera into our bathroom/spa, so he could record our children and their friends naked.
- Really. I pulled the equipment out of the ceiling. I have the tape. He's a pedophile.
- I'll ask again: why isn't he in jail?
- Exposing their father will ruin the lives of my children.
- Why? It would be in the news for a day, then forgotten.
- No. You don't know Israel. It's a small place. Everyone knows everyone.
- I don't know anyone.
- Why are you here?
- As I said, the government is paying me to stay here for six months and then leave. They like the idea of American Jews being here, so they pay, but they like the idea of increasing the economic potential of the Jewish People more, so they want me to leave.
- They think you will cost the state money in benefits.
- What do you do?
- Talk. Write stories no one reads.
- You don't make money.
- No. The Israeli government told me I wouldn't make money here, and asked me to promise to leave.
- You can work here. You can clean. I can get you the job.
- Everyone tells me that.
- What do you say? You won't do it. You're too proud.
- In the last day alone I've met a 70 year old woman Israel brought here as an immigrant, with Israel then telling her she has go wandering around with no place to live because the marketplace determines that is how it should be, I've met a 16 year old girl who is raped repeatedly by her father and nothing happens, because of family connections and influence, I have heard from you that your husband is a pedophile and can't be prosecuted. In Israel there are only monopolies, economic and social.
- But Israelis are good people. I was at the post office to pick up 500 dollars my brother sent me, he knows I need it.
- Good to people in their gang, their pack, their cult, totally disinterested in those outside. The others can wander the streets like sleepwalkers or clean toilets, take it or leave it. I'll leave it.
Concluding words, from the Chief Medical Officer, Public Health Service, State of Israel:
"It's not smart for a government to insult a writer."
One Week Later
- We meet again.
- I put you in a story.
- With the Scottish woman?
- Yes. And the woman I met down the street at the pizzeria. That turned into its own story.
- Tell me.
- You have time? You're not going anywhere?
- No place I must go.
- Then let's walk.
- What have been doing lately, beside writing?
- Making everyone angry at me.
- Why? Let's sit down here.
- Did you see the way that couple looked at you?
- Wondering I suppose whether you're trying to be a holy man with your big black beard and wide brimmed hat.
- Why do you want to make people angry?
- I don't set out to do it. I respond to attack.
- There are times to speak, times to be silent. Do you know the old Hebrew saying, a clever man knows how to get out of trouble, the wise man knows to avoid trouble?
- You know, my friends, many are involved in the protests here. They are anarchists, I'm not. If anything I am anarchy.
- What do you mean?
- That I don't want to avoid trouble. I want to learn from it.
- I thought a lot about you in the past week. You call the people here money worshipers because you hate money. You're vindictive.
- I don't hate money. But I am vindictive. I don't want to hurt anyone, I want to destroy false views of the world.
- What good does that do you?
- "Better to be a wise Hebrew than a clever one"? I want to do it, I love doing it.
- But you are unfair. Israelis are good people. In the last ten years their lives have been devastated by economic policies taken from your country: privatization, monopoly, foreign labor. And they are waking up now. You can hear it everywhere, even in the talk of ordinary people. They are not money worshipers.
- They're victims of America. No, I don't buy it.
- Because of the way they talk to each other, live with each other. Take the political situation. The religious live in a kind of internal diaspora. They have contempt for the politicians, who work for the free-market monopolists, who have contempt for everyone. Like they did living among the Europeans, the religious have made their deal, traded their support for protection and possibility to go on practicing their rituals. Individuals make the same kind of deal when they talk with each other. They don't answer each other, only throw aggressive speeches back and forth. Ritual faces ritual in a sort of truce. They don't like each other. Do you follow?
- The protesters know they've been robbed. But the relation they have to each other, disdain barely restrained from violence, will not allow them to make a better life with each other. Even if they win a few political battles new economic exploitation is certain to arise.
- The alternative to worshiping money we have to consider is not what you think, living a simple life of family and work. The simple life is the life of ritual. Ritualists don't learn how to use public life to find out what might be better. They come into conflict with each other, then make deals. One side gets the better of the other, complains, protests, new deals are made....
- What's the solution then?
- To be willing to change. Ritualists, whether in making money or religious practice, don't want to change. Can I tell you the story of the woman I met at the pizzeria?
- If it applies.
- It does. You saw her?
- Yes. She looked like a classy woman.
- Designer sunglasses, jacket, jeans. Yes. Very fashionable. So sure of herself that when she took me to a school to get a haircut - I'd showed her a photograph of me taken two years ago at my marriage, she declared my present appearance to be a catastrophe - at the hair academy she was so critical of the instructor working on me he finally put down his comb and shears and stood listening to her instructions along with the whole room full of students and clients. Do you know what fashion is?
- It is uniformity and revolt at the same time, wearing a uniform and being in revolt at the same time.
- People see they are forced to conform, and say "not that" to the last style. Some aspect of the present time may be adopted in the new fashion, but not in any significant expression, not in the way art expresses the times. Art expresses the basics about life, good and bad, in language of the times adjusted to the circumstances of the times. Its truths are not new though its language may be, it is not in revolt.
- You're saying the protesters are playing at fashion. You're wrong. They're very very serious, very angry.
- They can not be anything other than playing at fashion, as long as they wear their uniform of ritual. But I want to talk about my new friend, Revital.
- A beautiful Hebrew name.
- Yes. What does it mean?
- Water of the morning.
- Beautiful. So beautiful Revital, in her fashionable clothes, was in roughly the same difficulties as I was when me met, and we went around the city with each other for about a week, staying together at temporary places I found over the internet. She liked to say she loved her life. She had these rituals, watching the same shows on her computer every day, concerts at which she would cheer, wave her arms as if she were actually there, it didn't matter to her, public or private, a cafe table or the beach. She wore her dark glasses even inside, even at her computer, because, she said, she didn't want people around to approach her. She liked to sing out a nonsense collection of Italian words. But she had this voice, a way of talking that was pure calm reason. I couldn't make her out. Seem crazy to you?
- After five days she dismissed me from her friendship.
- I don't know. I asked her what was wrong.
- What did she say?
- Nothing was wrong?
- First that, then she wouldn't answer. Last time I saw her she shouted at me to stay away and ran off.
- What do you think happened?
- I said something, I did something. What I want to say with this story is that she included me in her life of rituals, then excluded me. Like she said she had excluded her father the rabbi and Yeshiva teacher, excluded her whole family from her life.
- It's common here.
- Common most places. Wisdom is good as long as the conditions go on unchanged that are necessary for repeating your rituals. But when conditions fail you need to draw upon strength gained from practice dealing with a world you don't at first know what to do in. If the world never changed, you and your Hebrew saying would be right, it's better to be wise and avoid trouble than clever and escape the difficulties you brought on yourself. What the current politics shows is the the ritual wisdom here was bought at a cost of a way of life opposite that necessary to be clever and recover.
- I don't understand.
- All deals are off when you don't understand, the ritual rules don't apply. People are each others resource in their difficulty and like each other for it. They are literally good for each other, see it, feel it, know it, if they know nothing else. They don't live, as the people are doing here, fighting over money, ritualist against ritualist - that is what I mean when I use the phrase money worship - but with cooperation and appreciation in a search for friends and companions.
- So you make trouble to avoid trouble? Look at the situation you're in. You really think it's wise?
- You're the one with the beard. Would you like to read the how me and Revital met?
- It's on your site?
- Not at the moment. A couple days ago Google blocked the story you're in.
- Against their policies. Expressed hatred of group.
- What exactly did you write?
- A piece of Jewish irony, said by a Jew about Jews. "What is anti-Semitism? Hating Jews more than they deserve."
- That is self criticism. How can they censor that?
- You're not allowed to say a group is deserving of even a little hatred.
- But it's obviously a joke! Israel is the only place in the world where almost everyone living there says the country is bad, says it violently even. It's good, what's special about the place. No matter how bad people get, they love to think, somewhere in this country there are good people, really good people. Do you believe me?
- I do. Here's our meeting, a Jewish joke if you like:
- What are you doing in Israel?
- The government paid me to come here and write bad things about the place.
- No. Really?
- Really. They didn't want me to come because they believed I wouldn't help the people who run the place grab more money, but their hands were tied by the rules of the game, the idea that Israel is a Jewish state anyone born into the religion can go to.
- You're Jewish then.
- Sure. And you're Israeli.
- The people here are garbage.
- You know the story, while Moses was getting the laws from god up on the mountain the people down below forgot about him and started worshiping a gold statue of a young cow. The gold, the youth of the animal, its meat and milk are all promises of future wealth. The Jewish people were worshiping money. Moses went back to god and asked him what to do. "Kill them all", said god. Save the good, Moses answered, save those who were not worshiping money. God allowed the exception.
- We're the exception.
- And the spirit of Moses is bargaining with god what to do about the people down here.
- I want to leave this place.
- Me too. Voltaire called religion the great infamy. Money's the world's new religion.
- Money is good.
- Good used to a purpose. When making money becomes a principle overriding all other human activity it's bad. It literally is religion, a faith that putting money first will make life better.
- And you think you can stop it? By writing, talking? Look at all these zombies.
- I like provoking them, the walking dead. So do you. They don't get angry. It's amazing. It's truth revealed.
- What truth?
- About the garbage, the walking dead, what money worship turns people into. People pounding each other into pieces, each piece part of what is still technically a human being, each piece of detritus a separate calculation about how to get money. Between calculations the trash fragments walk the dead human around waiting for the next cue to money making.
- You say that?
- Why not?
- What do they answer?
- "Sorry to hear you're not having a nice time."
- There's more, but....
- You go too far.
- Have you ever thought about what is behind this famous Jewish self-criticism? There are two ways societies go wrong. They think only of their rules, nothing of the good life the rules are made to give us. Or they think only of the good life, construct an instance of it, and think nothing of the rules we need for getting there reliably. There are societies that combine both faults: individuals are left with no freedom at all. In what we call the West, our Christianity made societies produce pictures and instances of beautiful life. There is something melancholy and hopeless about this, the good is there, but no idea of how to hold onto it. The Jewish case is different. It is both without consistent beauty, because the rules are never allowed to pay off in a settled arrangement, and yet retains hope, because the world is left unconstructed, unfinished in imagination.
- Every society has its good and bad.
- Yes. But in the repressive societies individuals have no freedom to criticise, how the world looks and what you are to do in it is decided for eternity. In Christian societies you are not encouraged to find better rules of life, the door to improvement is seemingly closed, but you are soothed and calmed by the images of beauty. The Jewish society, though, is both without fixed beauty to rest on, and keeps open the task of making beautiful life, imposing on its members whether they like it or not the tools of rule making necessary to get there. There is a job to do and they know they are not doing it.
- The primitives are repressed, the Christians don't know any better, and the Jews can't help knowing better?
- Don't say I never said anything good about the Jews.
II. Close American Elections And The Fashion Business
- Fashion: remember our definition?
- Uniformity and revolt together.
- Too many people wearing the same uniform, and the new style doesn't seem very revolutionary anymore. Too revolutionary, not enough people adopt the new fashion and it doesn't become a uniform.
- Why should revolutionaries want to wear a uniform?
Because they are revolutionary only in the choice of role. They must have one role or another. They don't want to stand out alone.
- Fashion is a tool of monopoly economics.
- Because of the power of advertising. Advertising is the deliberate creation of fashion. The more advertising, the more the sense of uniform community created around the product being sold, and the more the product can be sold as a revolutionary improvement. Do you follow?
- The techniques of selling fashion can be applied to selling political candidates to voters. Some basic uniform is produced, a simple story of how life should be lived. For Republicans, it is small government and individuality, for Democrats, a fair and caring society. These ideas are sold as revolutionary, constantly threatened by the encroachments of the opposite party. Have you ever wondered why the Presidential elections are often so close?
- I've assumed it was because both sides are using the same techniques of persuasion and are equally good at it.
- That's what I first thought.
- Not anymore?
- I think that like in advertising fashions, political persuasion comes up against a natural limit: a too successful campaign, throwing a uniform on too many people, stops delivering the thrill of being in revolt.
- So the less successful campaign recovers and gains a more equal position.
- I never thought of it that way before. But if you are right why do monopolies arise?
- The goal of business is not making or selling products, but profit. Competition is eliminated by mergers, buyouts, under-pricing, government subsidies, exclusive agreements with suppliers and distributors. Customers of monopolies don't get to vote.
III. Driving With The Doctor To Tel Aviv
- I have to admit I looked at your writing. I couldn't get into it.
- You don't have time for it.
- Yes, like most people most of my time goes into making a living.
- How you think about making a living makes some other thoughts harder to accept.
- How do people think about making a living?
- Americans for example are famously puritanical. They don't like talk about sex in public life. It embarrasses them. Have you ever considered why?
- I read about a congresswoman who was silenced after using the medical name of female body parts. As a physician I find that ridiculous. I suppose it's just one of those things every group of people do without knowing why.
- They don't know why, but there is a reason. Like the Puritan can't admit attraction of people to each other into his public life, the free market advocate can't allow liking for people to affect his economic behavior.
- Puritanism is a barrier against change. When people like each other new relations - economic, personal, sexual, - are established which compete with established monopoly relations.
- What do you mean by that?
- Unregulated free markets result in concentration of wealth, monopolized wealth monopolizes influence on politicians. The rich impoverish everyone else, and repressive puritanism dispirits opposition by making it impossible for them to establish relation to each other, to communicate. A kind of stability results. It's the other invisible hand. The open society of the free market leads to the closed society of puritanism, so-called "austerity", and repression.
- But there are many immigrant groups that are not puritanical.
- Sure, but they are being assimilated. Control is being tightened in other ways as well. Shows of violence are acceptable so long as they serve as a warnings not to make a claim on a new relation. That is why they are hardly regulated, paradoxical though it seems that in a controlled society shows of sexuality are restricted but not violence.
- What about pornography? It's all over the Internet.
- Pornography is sexuality devoid of personal knowledge, and it's sold. It trains people to use money, the most impersonal of mechanisms, to do without making new personal relations. It's perfect for the free market.
- You're saying that puritanism leads to free-market economics?
- And free-market economics leads to puritanism.
IV. Repatriation. American Embassy
- What about Budapest?
- What about it?
- The American Embassy there said I had to provide an arrival address where someone lived who was on the tax roles as owner or had a rental contract for the property and would take indefinite financial responsibility for my future.
- That's Budapest.
- The American Embassy in Tel Aviv has different rules?
- We asked Washington for permission for you go anywhere and we got it.
- Why didn't Budapest ask permission?
- That is not our business. Our job is to loan a ticket home to Americans who are destitute. You are not destitute, so we cannot help you.
- That's the rule?
- Like the rule in Budapest? Prove there is no one in the world who will buy you a ticket and also provide the name, address, and phone number of someone who won't buy you a ticket but will take financial responsiblity for you?
- We're busy. There are other people here we have to see. You are not destitute. Why don't you sell the ring you are wearing? It's gold.
- The woman who sold it to me in Budapest told me it was silver. It cost 4 dollars. Do you want to buy it? You can use it to get married. I did.
- You can buy a ticket. You are not destitute. There is nothing more to discuss.
- You say I should live without money for three weeks until a payment I expect arrives, just enough to buy a ticket, then arrive in the United States, where I will be without money. I should be destitute before and after I buy the ticket, both here and in the U.S., because the American Embassy in Tel Aviv says it cannot make me a loan because I am not destitute. And this loan is publicly offered on the Embassy's web site and secured by confiscation of my passport until it is repaid.
- Yes. Have a nice day.
V. Economic Reality
- Look, I don't want to waste your time. I won't rent you the room. But are you hungry? I'll buy you dinner.
- I'm not hungry. I'll drink a coffee with you.
- Good. There's a cafe at the corner.
- You buy me a coffee but won't rent me a room. Why?
- You said you didn't want to put up the security deposit.
- But you live there too. You think I am going to break the windows, dig a hole in the floor? In the twenty days of the sublet?
- No. It's just the way things are here. When I was going to medical school in New York it was the same for me. The school had to sign on as guarantor for me to get an apartment.
- What you're saying is that everyone is afraid of losing moeny so you are afraid of losing money. You know it is not reasonable, but you're busy and can't take the time, put in the effort to clarify the situation for yourself. You don't have to, because there are others willing to rent the room on your terms.
- Yes. I work all the time. I have to, like a lot of people here.
- You know the social network "couchsurfing"? Just down the street, in the most pretigious building in the city, an internet found host, a complete stranger, turned over his entire million dollar apartment to me, handed over the keys and left town, for nothing. No payment, no security.
- On King David street?
- Yes. You're a doctor. You don't think your behavior falls under the heading of pathology?
- You admit there is no reason to distrust me, yet you do it anyway.
- It's a sick society.
- And you're a willing participant.
- I do what I can.
VI. Shooting Bullets In The Air
- I was a paramedic with the Israeli Army stationed in Nablus. I saw a lot.
- For example?
- Palestinians like to fire off rifles at their weddings.
- I've read about it. They seem to believe the bullets go up and up without stop.
- But the bullets come down.
- And they like to aim their rifles directly up? Imagining themselves growing taller along the bullet's path?
- Imagining themselves closer to god.
- And the bullets come down on them.
- You saw that?
- I saw the wounds. I had to treat them.
- Do you know what this reminds me of?
- A journalist in L.A. sent me an email a few days ago. She was writing a book on women who use men for profit and leave only destruction behind. She'd heard about my wife and me. It was a big story, and she wanted to feature it. We exchanged more emails:
- Will you consent to be interviewed?
- Are you still married?
- I'm not a lawyer, but probably we are.
- Will you testify in court? Sign the affidavit copied below on the email?
- Why this legal interest? What happened to the "big story" you're working on? I should have asked before: what led you to me?
- I know a girl from Church who knows the doctor your wife married. The doctor is suing her for divorce, and she wants money.
- I see. So she really married the doctor?
- You two should work together, not be enemies.
- I tried to warn him she had a husband.
- This woman has to be stopped.
- Is this true? Your wife married again without being divorced?
- And after I told her future husband she already was married. I don't know what the doctor expects to gain by hiring a journalist to gather information, if that's what's going on. If she knew the marriage wasn't valid, so did he. If afterwards they lived together like a married couple, in California the same division of property rules apply as to divorce. It's like he went into the marriage for the pure joy of the celebration.
- Like shooting bullets in the air.
VII. The Detective
- What made you think she's a detective?
- Her language. She talks about the case, not the story. She calls my wife "that woman", as in "that women has to be stopped". She asks me to send her my marriage documents she can pass on to authorities so my wife, that woman, will be stopped.
- She's confrontational. You saw her videos.
- She's been working on "the case" three weeks, she says. Why doesn't she ask me anything except whether I am legally married?
- She told you. She wants to write a story that makes people laugh. She already knows enough about you to make people laugh, you the ridiculous second or third husband in a series. And she's a young woman. She's keeping distance to save you the trouble of making unwanted advances.
- You're probably right. She's recently married.
- To her you are a comic figure whose advances have to be blocked.
- Like my wife has to be stopped. Why do I feel offended?
- You think everyone should like you.
- They should.
- Are you going to continue answering the reporter's questions? Now that you know she is real?
- Where's my interest here?
- Publicity. You are a failure at getting everyone to like you. Maybe she'll succeed.
- With my story.
- In the story she's writing you're one husband out of many.
- So where's my interest?
- What did you expect when you first heard someone was writing about your wife?
- The reporter wrote me that she knew where my wife was. I thought she might put me back in touch with her.
- Ridiculous man.
VIII. The International Cultural Foundation At The Tel Aviv Shopping Center
"The religious man wants to get his head into heaven, the madman wants to get heaven into his head and it breaks."
- What do you have to lose?
- My sanity..
- Maybe he'll do what he says, maybe he won't.
- Did you hear what he said? About Revital?
- He'd hire her too if he had the budget.
- And "crazy people have good minds." He was thinking of himself.
- He's only a little crazy.
- I told you about the internet sending me to different people to stay with every night, every couple of days someone new. Last night I was with a computer programmer.
- Was he alright?
- Sure. They always are. They're trying to cure themselves of selfishness. The programmer was convinced the day was not long in coming when computers became conscious, and humans, hooked up with computers, became able to communicate with each other for the first time, efficiently as computers communicate with each other.
- It's not far off.
- You think so too? He talked about "singularity": when the complexity of computers suddenly brought on consciousness, when humans hooked up to computers could communicate their thoughts directly with each other.
- Yes, I've heard about it.
- And you believe it?
- You don't?
- How much time do you have? I know, you have all day, like me. How much philosophy can you take?
- I like philosophy.
- Ok. What do we know about this so-called singularity? It is a relation between something we do not understand - consciousness, communication of thought to thought - to what we do understand. Do you follow?
- Not really.
- To get an idea of the likeliness of the singularity happening we can look at things of the same form and see what their origins are.
- What things of the same form?
- Religious things.
- Religion has overstayed its welcome. We're in another age.
- The programmer said the same. But in the search for singularity religion is way ahead. Thousands of years ahead.
- Religion establishes a relation between rules of action, and sight of the world; between strict obedience to the rules, and sight of an unlimited world which is called beauty, good, true, or god. It is a relation between technology of action, and unlimited thought.
- Like the singularity is a relation between computer technology and consciousness. I never thought of it that way.
- You are used to thinking of religion as stories and ritual, beautiful ideas and rules. Considered separate from each other rules of action and pictures of the world are reasonably rejected as arbitrary.
- And you say they have to be considered together.
- Yes. As a technology in itself, the right rules, leading to the right sight.
- What is the right sight?
- God. Or consciousness. Or truth, beauty, goodness, love.
- Revital watching the same Madonna concert movie over and over...
- Last night she was here shouting and dancing with her computer. She's getting worse.
- I know. And the Professor, your and my employer in his new international cultural foundation, wandering around the shopping center when he forgets his house keys and doesn't seem to remember to do anything about it, - they're escaping into rituals.
- The rituals are a primitive technology.
- You lost me.
- We're in Israel, a religious state. Even at the airport in Budapest on the way here I was deep in religion. Two women from the Jewish Agency who had arranged my trip were there escorting me, and waiting to check in an Israeli with beard and wide brim hat made me a slight bow and said, "Shalom". Do you know him?, one of my escort asked. "A Jew can greet a Jew", he answered.
- I was in a secret society I'd forgotten I'd joined. When I got to Israel this happened over and over. Strangers I'd stop to ask directions, or passing by on the street, a beach bum Yoga practitioner using the computer next to mine at the Apple store, would say to me out of nowhere, "you are a good man".
- You also forgot you were a holy man?
- I guess so. But do you what they all had in common?
- Burning eyes. The fanatic's glare. Maybe I have it too.
-That explains why I'm here at the shopping center with you guys. A fanatic knows the way, the rules, the rituals that get him out of the world, into the world without limit.
- Like you say Revital and the Professor do.
- Yes. The "unlimited" world is in the control, is managed by the limited.
- I don't understand.
- When we talk about a singularity, computers becoming conscious, we imagine in some way escaping from reasoning, getting past it to something better. But if rules lead us out to our escape, we are still tied to our reasoning selves.
- What other way is there?
- When the rules are improvised, conditional. In conversation, no matter how much you enjoy it, how much we get out of it, we don't want to repeat it word for word, even though that might work to get us out of ourselves. The conversation has its time and place. If we learn something we'll use it in another, different conversation.
- You're saying the fanatic's "singularity" is not real because it is tied to rituals?
- It's one model of the relation of consciousness to technology.
- What are the others?
- The example we just used: conversation. Where the "consciousness" reached, the new knowledge, is not encompassed by rules of ritual application, actually invalidates them for future use.
- How invalidates?
- Let's go back to computers and singularity. Somebody programs the computer. If it achieves consciousness, consciousness still would have its origin in, be tied to its programming. In conversation, there are no fixed rules. It would be as if the computer were programming itself.
- But that is what the programmers expect to happen, isn't it?
- Yes, they do. The problem is, the computer can never get beyond the stage of the fanatic. It's always dragging its rules behind it. In conversation, the rules are invented as you go along.
- Couldn't a computer do that too?
- Yes and no. In every word we speak, sentence we put together, we are already making use of the "singularity": that is what it means to create something from nothing, a new word, new idea, new technique.
- You're saying that for a computer to create its own rules as it went along it would already have to have consciousness.
- Yes. That's right.
- So when computers get sophisticated enough, and people attach themselves to them, we'll have a singularity, an interconnected world of fanatics. Of crazy people and their international cultural foundations. I hope you're wrong.
Travel Agency, Tel Aviv Shopping Center, Israel
- The airline cancelled my reservation?
- Then they have to offer compensation.
- Why not?
- You didn't pay for the ticket.
- If I paid for the ticket it wouldn't be a reservation, it would be a ticket. If they cancel a reservation they have to arrange another flight. They can't just cancel it.
- They can. If you don't pay for your ticket within 24 hours they automatically cancel all reservations. That's industry policy.
- I came back here a half hour after making the reservation.
- They still can cancel your reservation.
- What is a reservation if the airline can cancel at any time?
- I told you. You have to pay for the ticket for the reservation to be held.
- What does "held" mean if they can cancel it any time? They aren't holding anything.
- I don't have time for this.
- What is really going on here? Did you make a mistake? Was there never any flight?
- No. You didn't pay, so there is no reservation.
- Do you get some pleasure out of lying like this?
- You can leave now.
- I can leave any time. Now I want to know why you are lying. I know you are lying, you know I know, and you don't care. Why don't you care?
- We don't do things in the same way here.
- That's true. I have been in plenty of places people lie and cheat, but I can't remember being anyplace else where people openly lie, don't hide or make excuses.
- We don't have to make excuses to you. You don't like us, we don't like you.
- You don't like Americans? At least we don't proclaim ourselves to be liars and thieves.
- Get out.
- I'm almost out. Standing at the door. I'm trying come up with something better to say about your contempt for the truth.
- I told you to get out.
- Yes, I heard you. You want to cancel the conversation like you cancelled my reservation. If you don't get money the words don't count.
- I'm telling you, get out.
- I'm going. Absolute contempt for the truth. They should put it in the guide books.
- I'm going. One step, see? I'm gone.
X. Another Crazy Artist
- You can sit down. I'm leaving.
- I'll sit down only if you stay.
- I've got to go.
- My son is waiting. What are you doing in Israel?
- Same as I do everywhere. Think about being someplace else.
- Where do you want to be now?
- What's keeping you if that's what you want?
- Practical things.
- What kind? Don't you want to sit down?
- Not if you're leaving. What do you do?
- I'm a waitress.
- You're too old.
- That's not what you should say to pick up a woman, is it?
- What did you do before?
- I was a dancer.
- Everything is backwards. Used to be working in restaurants was a job for the beginning of a career, not the end.
- What about you? How do you make money?
- I don't make money, not often. Until recently I've been practical enough to evade the practical in life. Now I've decided to be professional. But only for the money.
- Are you making money?
- No. But I have hopes.
- Good luck. I've got to go now.
- I'm going too.
- Where are you going?
- The airport.
- Talking with me convinced you to leave?
- I'm not leaving. Probably not. I've got a reservation though. I going to the door to this place and look out. And think.
- Another crazy artist.
XI. On The Train To The Airport
- I'll sit next to the religious guy. What are you smiling at?
- What you said.
- Religion makes you happy, though, right?
- Where are you from?
- From Tel Aviv, to the airport, on my way home, I hope. Los Angeles.
- Been in Israel long?
- Too long. Months. The country is trying to teach me not to value possessions. Two telephones stolen, computer broken by an over-inquisitive puppy at a park bench, glasses stolen, fountain pen broken by rogue utility box I walked into trying to hide my eyes from the sun.
- Only things.
- Yes,.and every time I buy something I get cheated.
- So don't buy anything.
- Sorry to break in, but a few months isn't enough to know Israel.
- Stay much longer and there'll be nothing left of me. I'm not Job. Look, he's smiling again.
- Have you been to Jerusalem?
- Once, about 30 years ago.
- Only seeing Tel Aviv in Israel is like going to New York, visiting the Statue of Liberty, and saying you know the city. Tel Aviv is like New York, is like L.A. You haven't seen anything.
- Are you American?
- I'm Israeli now.
- For how long?
- 15 years. You're going to the airport? If you stay on this train, you could get off just before Jerusalem. There is a Yeshiva you should go to. I'll write you directions. They'll help you.
- In exchange for what?
- They won't ask you for anything. They'll give you a room, food, teach you Hebrew.
- I don't believe it. I'll have to practice their rituals.
- That's fair, isn't it?
-No. It's a bad deal. I can sell my conformity for a higher price. If I'm to compromise myself I'd rather be a banker or politician and take the world down with me.
- You're a cynic.
- I just want to go home.
- Do you have a house in L.A.?
- I don't have anything.
- Yes, I heard. No telephone, computer, pen. Go to the Yeshiva. They'll take care of you.
- Can't do it. This stop is the airport? I'm getting off.
- Here, take the directions. In case you change your mind.
XII. The Airport
- Can you check my reservation?
- Of course. What name?
- First initial?
- Yes, it's here.
- What's the price?
- The price the travel agent told me was different. Would you check it again?
- It's correct. 4,140 dollars.
- It should be about one forth of that. 4,000 Israeli Shekels.
- Business Class is expensive.
- I didn't ask for business class.
- Take it up with your travel agent.
- Ok. Now, can you check if you see the reservation I made last week with another travel agency?
- You cancelled it when you cancelled flights because of the hurricane on the East Coast. The travel agent said you wouldn't make me another reservation at the same price because you cancelled the flight in the twenty minutes between making the reservation and my bringing the money to pay for it.
- That's correct. If the ticket isn't paid for we aren't responsible for arranging another flight. It's force majeure.
- The storm is force majeure whether the reservation is paid for or not.
- Is there anything else I can help you with?
- You could honor the reservation.
- I am the ticketing agent. I can only sell you a ticket at current prices. Tomorrow you can call customer service.
- I already called them. They told me to have the travel agent call them, and maybe something could be arranged.
- Well then.
- The travel agent won't call them.
- There is nothing more I can do. Would you like to buy a ticket?
- He calls it "pay-it-forward".
- Who does?
- The head of the venture capital company that organizes these meet-ups.
- What's a meet-up?
- A meeting announced on a site called "Meet-Up".
- Just a new word then.
- Like "pay-it forward" is what anthropologists call "gift economy".
- You haven't told me what it is yet.
- You help other entrepreneurs at the meeting, and if everyone sticks around and stays in the club someone will end up helping you.
- And primitive people helped each other that way?
- Still do in some places.
- Are you going to make a pitch?
- I've never spoken in public in my life. But I think I will. After that journalist (*) I told you about wrote to me telling me about my wife's new husband trying to divorce her and asking me to document that she is still married to me, it's like it isn't my life anymore, so why be shy?
- You aren't afraid someone will steal your idea?
- The venture capitalist says don't worry.
- He'd be the first I'd worry about.
- Anyway when I leave here I'll write it all down, post it, and send the link to thousands connected to me on various social media.
- I don't really know. Maybe I am hypnotized by the numbers, like the journalist says my wife hypnotizes her husbands. Maybe I am trying to keep a crowd around me so someone might give me something back.
- Or someone become interested when they see others are interested. Bayshare is a good idea.
- You did well.
- The other speakers were applauded. I got silence and blank faces.
- Doesn't matter. The idea is too new. The venture capital guy said he like the idea. He said it was hedging and speculation at the same time. Is that true?
- And he said he would set up a meeting to find funding.
- A "meet-up". We'll see what happens.
XIV. Get Deported
- I saw the professor with a woman I guess is his wife.
- Me too. He was with her for hours.
- Maybe she's making an effort to take care of him. Have you seen Revital?
- Yes. She's the same.
- And you?
- Selling my computer. Going to a job interview this afternoon. What about you?
- The reporter in L.A. says she won't write about my wife after all. She's too dangerous, and I made it too complicated by "blogging" the story in progress. For me the complication just makes it funnier, but that's not her style.
- So what are you going to do?
- The reporter suggests the best way to get myself home is to get myself deported.
- But you're legal in Israel.
- The sad truth.
- You could get a job too.
- You know how I told you I used to travel in Europe, making money by buying and selling things? Today I found two financial accounting textbooks, wrapped in plastic, new, left with other books on a bench on the street. Worth hundreds of dollars in this country of the dollar. I gave them away.
- I can talk with you here at the shopping center, look at Israelis on the street, in the right mood I can joke and make small talk, but for the most part I can't stand dealing with them. Their rudeness is unbearable.
- It's how we are. We're a small country at war most of the time. You should understand.
- I think it goes deeper than that. The national character has miraculously reconstructed itself after thousands of years.
- What character?
- Slaves freed and given laws by god. I spoke with a religious Israeli who deals in expensive watches, and do you know what he told me?
- "The secret of being a Jew is to understand that there is no one else in the world but yourself."
- What did he mean?
- He meant that Jews make an agreement with God directly to follow the rules, not with each other. Everyday life with other people is unimportant compared with the deal with god.
- That's right.
- It's not a bad arrangement if the rules are good. Envy and resentment don't arise. And rituals are good for people. I'm not religious because I like to know for myself why rules are good before I make rituals out of them. But here's what I want to say: just before god gave the Jewish people their rules they were slaves. The combination of being former slaves, and the making deals directly and individually with god is responsible for what I can't take about Israelis.
- You said that already.
- If you are not god here it's hard to get anyone to listen. When people are trained not to respect the judgement of others, and are put into a condition of slavery where god's rules are not practiced - all rules are broken when you treat someone as a slave - you can expect pretty much the behavior we see all around us in this city. Neither care for each other nor real obedience to the rules, with the mere practice of rituals, whether orthodox or of the new, but biblically recorded old golden calf religion of money worship.
- It's what I said: the wars are responsible.
- Israelis tell me it's not the wars - less than ten percent of soldiers get near battle - but being in the army, being treated like slaves for a mandatory 2 or 3 years. Everything about Jewish life teaches them to be individually responsible for doing good, and then, at age 18, they become slaves where they are badly treated and cannot do good.
- When we get out of the army we've escaped slavery in Egypt again and we worship the golden calf. I like it.
- How did you avoid going to the army?
- I convinced them I was crazy.
- By being normal.
- They could see I was on edge.
- Which is normal.
- Most people can take being treated like a part in a machine.
- And other people see everything that happens in their lives as part of their lives.
- I wanted to get out of there,
- Most people can accept moments in their lives taken away.
- I couldn't.
XVI Rockets In Tel Aviv
- Why aren't you afraid? Rockets haven't landed in Tel Aviv since 1981.
- Why should I be afraid? I was here when the missiles from Iraq came, hundreds of them. What I didn't like was the gas masks we had to wear.
- But you weren't afraid.
- No. This for us is life as usual. Look around you.
- I am.
- Are you afraid? You were here in the neighborhood when the rockets came?
- No, I'm not afraid. I was here. When the alarm went off and we went down to the basement, and every wall and window was transformed into a possible danger, it wasn't frightening. If anything it was mildly exciting. Do you know what I think?
- Just before the rockets came within range and the sirens began to sound I was reading an article about whether democracy has been put into danger by the economic crisis, or rather redistribution of wealth, we are going through. Democracy may have to temporarily give way to dictatorship, the author argued, as the people can't agree on what to do. But democracies can temporarily transform themselves into dictatorships because people will want to get back their freedoms when the crisis is over. Dictatorships though fear transformation, that once they give people democracy they won't get their power back from them. I didn't like the argument.
- Why not?
- Because in the case of Russia we can watch the supposedly feared transition from dictatorship to democracy safely returning to dictatorship. And in the Western democracies we can see the supposedly safe transition from democracy to dictatorship showing signs of being a road of no return, particularly in the United States with its emergency laws eliminating legal protections.
- Then what do you think?
- The difference is not which form of government does the change, but the character of the people who live through the change. People who have been raised under dictatorship can't identify, don't understand and so can't resist the danger democracy faces from economic and social monopolies that quickly arise with the withdrawal of dictatorship. Dictators in fact can safely offer their people democracy because it is likely they, or people like them, will be allowed back into power as the lesser evil. But people raised under democracy feel the loss of their freedom under temporary dictatorship, and don't need theoretical arguments about democracy being the least bad form of government to know what they want.
- Most of the world thinks Israel is a dictatorship pretending to be a democracy. What do you think?
- That the opposite is more accurate. Democracy, temporarily a dictatorship. To decide whether the democracy is a pretense, whether the dictatorship is temporary or permanent, we have to look at the character of the people, the decisive factor. Americans born to freedom have let their freedom go without much protest because they've allowed monopoly economics and social division to erode their ability to appreciate democracy. They are in real danger of losing their freedom, or, in the terms of the argument, danger of their temporary dictatorship becoming permanent.
- And Israeli character?
- As you said, look around. Israelis take the freedom they can, where and when they can.
- We're strong people.
- And strong people can resist even their own dictatorship.
PART FOUR: THE TECHNOLOGY OF GOOD
From Democracy To Totalitarianism
We Americans don't like to stay at home. Canadians, Swedes, Norwegians, Australians, New Zealanders are unlike us. They haven't tried to reorganize themselves on the principle of money making. For them society is good enough because it allows them the home life they're satisfied with. The rest of us have set out to look for a better home. We leave home because as tolerant and skeptical democrats we know we are in truth living with strangers, and no matter what we tell ourselves we're not really comfortable. The Canadians, the Swedes, Norwegians, Australians, New Zealanders, don't care if they are living with strangers. They are in accord with Shakespeare, for whom the only justification for disrupting society is its failure to protect home life. But we are different. We are fascinated by the strangeness of our democratic life, and by money as a tool for resolving the strangeness. This fascination overpowers our love of home, suggests that since money is used by all the world with money we can be at home in all the world. We make the most money by perfecting ourselves in role. And to allow us make the most money the state must be perfected in its functions.
Democracy for those who love to stay at home is a tool for protecting their homes and does this job fairly well. Democracy for those who leave home for good is a tool for perfecting role play and leads to totalitarianism. This is how:
1. Democracy demands people accept their neighbors' different ways of life.
2. Because they don't get to know each other in what matters most to them people are strangers to each other.
3. As strangers, people play roles which establish probabilities that they are who they say they are.
4. People playing roles see nothing wrong with the idea that society should create the story and staging for their acting. Doing things in role for each others approval a priority is given to action, to doing, at the expense of thinking and desiring.
5. Stories about how role players ought to play together, whatever the particular story chosen, are about how society looks, what it says about itself, how it shows itself, not about what it actually does, just like roles are how people seem, not what they really do.
6. Putting the chosen story most efficiently into practice, protecting it, extending it, all of life is regulated, and totalitarianism is the result. What people want, how they think life should be best lived, are disregarded. It makes no difference if the disregard is in the name of free market or controlled market, everything is put into service of the market, which is another name for doing things in exchange for others doing things, which is to say, for role play.
A Society Of Money
1. Money is somebody's promise to pay, rather than some thing that is payment in itself, and money is transferable from one person to another.
2. When you play a social role, in compensation for playing by the rules, wearing the right clothes, using the right phrases with the right manners, the right facial expressions, you are entitled to certain treatment. The role you play is transferable, capable of being performed by innumerable others, paid for by your behavior in exchange for a promised response.
3. The more roles you play, the more promise. In personal life it is difficult without contradiction to play many roles at once. But in politics the opposite is true. Our President speaks of uniting in his person many contradictory roles of race, social class, geographic origins. Our other politicians are not far behind finding within themselves an equally rewarding magnanimity of origins.
4. In politics a collection of roles is expressed by collecting on the promise of money from diverse sources. (Contributions to election campaigns, offers of future employment, favors to friends and family.) The formal similarities between social role and money allows the one to be represented, and in some respects replaced, by the other.
5. This is what we mean when we speak about a society of money.
Specialized Society In Conflict
It does seem like our society acts like an organism with cooperative, technically functioning parts. But if so, why does it also show signs of its parts acting against each other?
According to the article, "Functional And Conflict Theories Of Educational Stratification":
"The evidence indicates that educational requirements for employment reflect employers' concerns for acquiring respectable and well-socialized employees; their concern for the provision of technical skills through education enters to a lesser degree.
"The higher the normative control concerns of the employer, and the more elite the organization's status, the higher his educational requirements.
"There has been only a mild trend toward the reduction in the proportion of unskilled jobs and an increase in the promotion of highly skilled (professional and technical) jobs as industrialism proceeds, accounting for 15% of the shift in educational levels in the twentieth century.
(Folger and Nam, 1964).
"Technological change also brings about some upgrading in skill requirements of some continuing job positions, although the available evidence (Berg, 1970:38-60) refers only to the decade 1950-1960. Nevertheless, as Wilensky (1964) points out, there is no "professionalization of everyone."
"The increasing supply of educated persons has made education a rising requirement of jobs.
"The large American corporations, which have led in educational requirements, have held positions of oligopolistic advantage since the late 19th century, and thus could afford a large internal 'welfare' cost" (of employing the less able of those in their own social class rather than those outside it who could do the job better)."
According to another article, "Leaps Of Faith", dealing with the question whether education is often a place of conflict rather than a preparation for cooperation and specialization:
Just as upper classes use education requirements to see that preferred jobs go to their own class, irrespective of functional capacity of employees, the lower classes deny themselves education, either as a deliberate act of resistance, or as unconscious victims of their cultural education, and so become ineligible for employment in the preferred occupations, not even as compliant subordinates.
Both articles agree that despite the obvious specialization and cooperation between specialists in our society, much of what goes on is conflict between groups which find their base of power in various specialties.
Both articles explain that the fact that a society is organized does not imply that organization must move in the direction of progress, defined either as greater productivity of goods or services, or passage to another form of social organization considered to be more perfect.
Specialization brings with it a change from our acting on what we know from our own experience, to learning how to manipulate the thoughts and actions of the people whose decisions our lives depend on. People in specialized roles naturally have an interest in protecting their own groups, because these are the people their lives depend on. They have no interest in a theorized future development in technical perfection of society as a whole in one form or another.
Functionalist theories and conflict theories both propose an order exists in society as a kind of natural law, and the two kinds of order are not incompatible with each other. In societies which are functionally specialized the social classes which take main possession of certain roles are in conflict with other social classes in other roles.
Herbert Spencer, considered to be one of the founders of modern functionalist theory, in fact proposed a third order: a future state would arise in which generosity, when it evolved from lower forms of behavior, would make government inessential. This kind of functioning can also, before it becomes dominant, coexist with the other two, in conflict with them.
Readers of Plato should at this point recognize a pattern: functionalism, conflict, and generosity as forms of social order are parallels to the three parts or faculties of the soul: the desiring, the spirited, and the rational.
Plato tried to imagine in "The Republic" what a society incorporating the three faculties of the soul would look like. He came up with totalitarianism in which each faculty was allowed its place, as workers, guardians, philosophers, each locked in fixed relation to the others.
This imagined society was presented as a functioning system, a fourth kind of order in itself, obviously in conflict with (because limiting) each of the interests of the three orders it incorporates, but suppressing conflict by its optimal functioning.
In Plato's imagined evolution, specialization leads to conflict leads to totalitarianism. Absent a mythological destiny of human beings, reason mysteriously evolving out of unreason, this was the best that could be hoped for.
Plato did not assume it was necessary to build a society on specialization. He described the overspecialized person as sick, and argued that making a society out of sick people was like in medicine treating symptoms without curing the disease.
As reason and stability are enlisted to aid individuals hold themselves together who are sick with desire, so for the class based on sick desire, the "oligarch" class, putting thinkers and fighters into stable, totalitarian relation to them is also in their interest. If they know it, they will work to establish this relation. Lacking knowledge, they may simply stumble upon actions which tend towards establishing this totalitarian relation, find they are rewarding, and go on doing them.
The social class of those sick with desire tells its stories of big government, of little government; the particular story doesn't matter. The stories are told to enlist the support of the other classes which, participating in the world of specialized roles, are burdened with the need of telling stories of themselves, reputation making. They chose between stories of the best society, looking for the one that most favorably solidifies and formalizes relations between classes, that is, allows them to most safely and successfully go on telling their own stories.
The story of relation between classes is not all that is going on between classes. Politicians elected telling stories of small government, once elected, enlarge the government, or vice versa. No revolution results, because voters, habitually paying more attention to stories than reality, don't consistently reflect and act upon what doesn't immediately interfere with their personal reputation making. Those who are most likely to pay attention to what really goes on, and do something about it, are those in the class of people the society is based on, those who have excessive desires that call for management, who want the excessive things the society is founded to produce, who unlike the other classes are more interested in things than ideas.
Plato left the question open whether different starting points could evolve different futures. If specialization leading to totalitarianism was a functional law, other functional laws could exist in conflict with it.
The Economic Model
1. There is order in specialized occupations, and there is order in the organization of society as a whole, protecting different classes of people from each other under principles of democracy and law.
2. There is conflict between social classes which dominate certain professions. The professions do not fight against each other, rather the classes of people of like temperament and manner occupying the professions use their organizations to gain and keep advantage.
3. There is conflict between the social organization founded on excessive desire and an entirely different social organization founded on generosity.
All going on at the same time. Organization in profession and democratic law, and conflict between classes, and conflict between the entire organized mess of classes fighting within law and specialties, and the beginnings of a new kind of organization based on generosity.
Without the opposing force of the principle of generosity the whole would by now have stabilized in totalitarianism or fallen apart in anarchy.
The same people who a drawn to making models of social life are the people who draw a line between themselves and others, and who fight for their side against the other side. If you say the world is economic in its main direction and momentum, and you do not allow that other models may change that dominance of past present and future, you are committed to fighting for your model.
We are so used to taking models seriously that we ignore the overwhelming evidence that what comes first is a temperament that wants to take sides. A Jean Paul Sartre first is an existentialist, a fighter for freedom, then he is a Maoist and Stalinist, a fighter for communism, because he felt he must act on his ideas, and he took the side, the only side he saw, that promised freedom, and he held to it despite evidence of the dictators' murderous careers.
The economic view of our times, the model most of us we live with, is made by a different kind of temperament, that of wanting things.
The economic view is also a model: and that means there is going to be some fighting going on for and against its application. Like Sartre began with emphasizing the spirited, forceful, defiant part of ourselves, and ended up fighting an economic battle, so those who begin with the economic, the desire to make and have and manage things, end up fighting to keep and expand these activities.
Sartre has kept much of his reputation. Anyone who reads his books knows he was well intentioned, that he was fighting out of a spirit of generosity. And it is not too long a stretch to argue that the economic order we have today would have collapsed long ago without a similar counter influence of generosity, reinforcing social stability. And that too, social stability, is a model which has its adherents who are willing to fight for it.
And these stories told of the economic destinies of individuals of various temperaments are models, though with a different application, not to take sides but to perform what the ancient skeptical philosophers called a purge: to loosen the hold of the dominant model of economics.
If we say that in modern capitalism workers own stock in, invest their pensions with the companies that work against their interest, that governments provide extensive social services, we are still explaining the complexity of our times entirely solely in economic terms. We've still got a model and we will end up taking sides over it.
We can't do much about the momentum of government generosity in social programs, workers pension funds invested in the speculations of bankers, the bankers' determination to flourish in doing what they know best. Alliances and animosities are obscure and entangled. People specializing in one side of human character throw themselves into a society of other people doing the same, and let come what may determine how the rest of their character is brought into alignment. A mix of wild chance and determined order does their thinking for them.
Instead of this, in our own lives, in our desire to have things, fight for them, and be generous about it all, could we not break free from where the momentum of our economy is taking us?
Human nature, mired in this mess of public order and disorder, can, possibly, pull itself out.
In the story I know best, from my own experience, maybe I have seen what it is like to have all this conflict and order within myself thrown at the world and receive it all back in like measure.
But what about it? Wouldn't that be just another kind of model? More confusion of models defended against other models, models attacking other models. But then, no. If I simply tell a story, the right kind of story, the model is implicit, safely ensconced in particular circumstance. There it can hurt neither author nor audience, it needs to be defended by no one. To say a story happened means a particular mix of character met a particular mix of circumstances, and then....
My wife came home one day and said to me,
- Who are you? What are you? Why are you in my house? Why are you in my life?
Or as Marx said,
"The capitalists have left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment’.",
I wasn't a paying proposition. Not that day, at least. Other days went better. I tried to figure out what to do with this wife. As I've said, I didn't believe in models of human relations. I didn't believe human society, human couples, human individuals, were moving forward in progress and complexity, nor did I believe the opposite, in theories of struggle class against class, husband against wife, part of self against part of self. I didn't believe in liberal principles of generosity, politeness and toleration of each others faults and self restraint and apologies and reiterated statements of love.
Instead I thought that I could, I should, and so I did throw my own collection of conflict and works and good nature into the mix of the mess outside me, represented by this embodiment of trouble my wife.
According to her I was a hermit disdaining the world (conflict), I was kind but useless (generous) I specialized in produced pages and pages of unread words and seemed satisfied going on doing it and doing more of it (acquiring). I incorporated all three models. What about her?
When we met she had specialized with absolute dedication in her career as a singer-pop star. Later she returning to school with equal application. She was at war with the world, or that part of it that was male, relieving that half of the species of its money with full professional skill. And the generosity that holds everything together? She tried to get along with me, with her family, she loved to cook for me and to flatter me with her confidences about her ex-husband, her ex-boyfriends all around the world, all of whom she kept in touch with, never know when they'd come in handy, better not burn bridges.
Now what I see, this is the first I'm looking at it, is that I was quite alright with my conflict with the world kept at a distance and generosity and acquiring of unread pages and being kind and useless. There was no story of getting my parts to like each other better. Not perfect, not close, but what was wanted was not better relations between members of the team, but each of the guys getting more of what they were already getting. The same was true of the wife, I think. I don't remember her ever questioning how she was made up. The action was in what happened when her mess of character got tossed in the recipe with my mess of character.
What happened? Our teams got more! More contempt for the world, more pages, more resigned kindness, on my part. On hers, it would be, a continual teasing fight with a male which she confided she greatly enjoyed, a strongly progressing new career, and holding it all together, a happy homecoming to me when time permitted.
And what good was that? Something was made between us, apart from the economic monolith, though made up of the same pieces. I really don't know what it was. I'm going to think about it more. Finding the unexpected is something to begin with.
The Technology Of Good
On the crowded train a young woman soldier sat on the floor with me in the vestibule, other soldiers stood above us. She asked me what I thought of her country.
- I haven't been here very long, but already want to leave.
- If I have to choose between bad places to live in I choose the bad place I come from.
- Where are you from?
- Los Angeles.
- How is it bad there?
- Same as here.
- Money. Worship of money.
- It's human nature.
- It's bad human nature.
- People will never stop being bad.
- Well, we don't know that, do we?
- We know. People will always cheat, steal, destroy.
- Yes, but they will also always want to love, understand, make things.
- Not enough. People will take what they want when they can.
- Yes. Though sometimes people want love more than money.
- A dream.
- You're sure? You're not very old. You haven't read much, seen much. You don't know.
- And you know me well enough to insult me.
- I've seen, read about better people, better places.
- Why don't you go there and live with them?
- Good times don't last, times change, people change.
- That's what I am saying. You can't rely on people to be good.
- But if we don't expect people to be better we can't make our lives better with each other.
- We can't.
- How do you know? It's a story, a myth, that people are more bad than good, that bad will always win out in the end.
- But history is one massacre after another.
- But is history proof?
- Why not?
- To be sure that we humans will always do bad because we are bad, we'd have to set up an experiment to see if we can exclude the exception.
- An experiment with good people? Where are you going to find them? Do you think you are good?
- Not bad. To do a thought experiment we don't need real people. Imagine getting people together who don't believe your myth, who want to try to be good.
- They won't succeed. Communism doesn't work.
- Communism is a myth about the destiny of property relations in history. I mean simply, can we, on the basis of what we know about human nature, exclude the possibility that if people used their inventiveness, their knowledge, if they experimented, they could not arrange things so that people got better rather than worse in each other's company?
- That's your thought experiment?
- Every civilization in human history has failed.
- Because the bad in us eventually dominates us and destroys us?
- How do you know?
- What would happen in conditions that gave the good in us a chance to establish itself more firmly in social relations.
- History shows it doesn't happen.
- But that is just it. You've a myth, a story that human nature is primarily bad and will always be that way, and our governments and manners express this. What would happen if our governments and manners expressed the opposite?
- It wouldn't work.
- Remember we're doing a thought experiment. It is conceivable, right, that we could learn how to communicate better with each other?
- What good would that do? Propaganda will bring out the bad and the good words won't be heard. People listen to the bad more than the good.
- They do now. Our experiment makes us ask, what if we developed means, techniques, a technology that reminds people of the good and keeps reminding them?
- That's fantasy.
- How do you know? To know, you need to test if there is anything that rules out the possibility. We need to know more about the new techniques.
- Even if they worked they'd be stolen and the advantage would be gone.
- Perhaps it isn't possible for them to be stolen.
- Why not?
- As acting bad makes it harder for us to be good, acting good makes it harder for us to be bad.
- A smoothly functioning army of soldiers who are good to each other is even more destructive.
- Sure. But would the soldiers good to each other want to be destructive?
- They'd have no choice.
- If they have no choice then they are good to each other not by choice, but habit: People really being made good resist being made bad.
- But good always loses.
- Imagine it once gets a good start. When things happen in nature we expect things to go on as they have. But when we are accomplices with nature, attempt to build something, our repeated failure doesn't convince us we won't succeed. If that were true we'd never build anything at all. We see signs that our building is succeeding in parts. History of failed civilizations doesn't show us attempting to conserve and build up on each other our partial technical successes. History doesn't build.
- Technology gives us greater power to destroy.
- What about technology of being good?
- There isn't any.
- Our thought experiment asks do we know there cannot be?
- Do you really think there can?
- A strange idea. As you said, history doesn't build, create anything new in human life.
- What about technology, our era of machines? Physical technology came out of nowhere. Moral technology can too. So our thought experiment concludes.
- But they're not the same.
- Why not?
- People have always used tools. But no one even has an idea what technology of being good is.
- Playing games and making art are technologies, organized ways of entertaining, of our being good for each other. Do you know what I did a few days after arriving in this country?
- No. What?
- I visited the offices of the world's biggest internet company to propose to them (actually to their receptionist) what I'm saying here.
- What did they answer?
- They didn't answer.
- Of course.
- In history there is a natural tendency for bad to organize. Destruction leads to more destruction. Unregulated trade leads to monopoly.
- That's what I have been saying.
- You have been saying human nature is responsible for the destruction and monopoly, not that it so happens that human nature left to itself in social relations leads to destruction.
- What difference does it make?
- We don't have to leave social relations to themselves.
- When we try to improve society it doesn't work. The bad wins. As you said, monopolies and gangs take over.
- Because we didn't apply technology to the good. Imagine if the hundreds of millions of people in the social network run by the internet company I visited here were guided to each other by what the network knows about them, and guided into creative activity. Would that be enough to counteract the destructive effect of gangsters and monopoly, of uninventive social life creating exclusive factions? Large numbers of people getting a taste of working creatively, being entrepreneurs with each other?
- I don't think so.
- But you don't know, do you?
Beatrix & The Presidents
- When does the bookstore close?
- Sit down here, next to me. Help me with my essay.
- You mean rewrite your essay.
- Whatever. Are you going to sit down?
- I'll sit over there.
- Why? You don't like me anymore?
- You oppress me.
- Then why are you with me?
- You're nice to look at. You're amusing.
- Go to hell.
- Send me your draft by email.
- Why should I send an email across the room?
- I'll work on it on my computer. Take it or leave it.
- You better do a good job.
- Or what? You'll fire me? What's the essay about?
- Comparing the speeches of Kennedy and Obama.
- What do you argue?
- You can read it. I'm sending it now.
- Now you sit down next to me?
- It's only temporary. I've fixed your homework.
- Send it to me.
- Did already.
- What did you think?
- Just a lot of talk. But similar, as you say.
- What did you think of my writing? And what's wrong with the speeches? They're good.
- Your writing is fine, in your usual poetically incoherent way. The Presidents' speeches are something like lies.
- Why lies? And watch out, if you keep insulting me.
- You watch out, if you don't want me to go back to my nice safe chair.
- Go ahead. What good are you?
- Good for editing your essays.
- Why are the Presidents' speeches lies?
- Because, unlike you, they don't show any spirit.
- Do I show spirit?
- Too much, and the wrong kind.
- What is the wrong kind?
- You keep telling me I don't love you, so you believe in love, right? It's real, it exists? It's something good?
- And you believe in self-discipline, work, study, ambition, right? Otherwise how could you always be insulting me for lacking it?
- You're a lazy bum.
- Let's say you are President. Not a lazy bum. You want to do the right thing about the economy, about the country's wars. You want to work toward a world where people love each other. You've made speeches about it. But what do you know from your own experience about overcoming pressure to do something else? How strong are you at defying the demands of other people?
- And that, according to you, is spirit? Defying the demands of other people?
- And defying your own urge to compromise.
- How is that not in the speeches?
- A leader needs authority, needs to speak from strength gathered from his own experience resisting demands to compromise. The Presidents' speeches are eloquent appeals to group members to be a better group members, to push each other to be better within the group.
- But that's fine.
- It's not. Because when the time comes the President is threatened, intimidated by enemies and political opponents, unless he has spirit he will not have the strength to resist demands to compromise.
- Find me a speech with spirit.
- Look up Vaclav Havel. Or get up and find his books on the shelves over there.
- Don't have time. Why do I have the wrong kind of spirit?
- Your spirit is mere defiance. It doesn't get you to do the right thing.
- Says you.
- Who you defy.
- Why not? You're not the President. You're just jealous. Those speeches are good.
- I'm going back to my chair. Read Havel.
- Send something to me.
- When I get back to safety.
- It's not that easy to get away from me.