Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fresh Milk

I tend to disagree with something Scott has mentioned at least once in his many great blog posts.  It may be a nit-picky argument, but I think it is worth at least thinking about in further detail.  The idea I would like to consider is summed up in the following from Scott’s Nov. 29 post:


"One bone I would have to pick with him, and a lot of other commentators for that matter, is that he draws a distinction between the government and the governed. I don't care if we are talking about the US or China, or North Korea or Mexico, the government and the people are not separate entities. The culture of one is the culture of other. The US will never, ever, have a religious Hindu government. China will never, ever be ruled by Christian monarchs."


I agree that the culture of a people and its government are one in the same in general, and I agree with the last part of the statement that, for example, the US will never, ever have a religious Hindu government.  However, it seems that there still exists a more subtle distinction between the government and its governed.  I will try to give an example of why I think this way.


As the readers of this blog (however few they may be) may or may not know, I have spent several of the past years living in Mexico.  In fact, I still live in Mexico.  I only work in Texas, commuting daily.  If anyone manages to live, or at least spend a considerable amount of time, in another country, one begins to see all sorts of differences in the people, products, services, and the way things are done.  I suppose this is in short, witnessing the change in culture.  It is oddly amazing how effective countries are at keeping these differences intact and separate from each other.


It may seem trivial, but one of the first big differences I saw in Mexico was a phenomenon I would like to call Boxed Milk, as opposed to what I would call Fresh Milk.  I will define Fresh Milk as the milk that exists in the US in the refrigeration section of the supermarket.  It comes in either a carton or a jug and has a noticeable expiration date.  It is pasteurized, yet has a clean, refreshing taste.  In some parts of Mexico it is for a variety of reasons very difficult to find Fresh Milk, and the particular part I found myself in had none.  Instead, they only sold Boxed Milk.  Boxed Milk is milk that is ultra-pasteurized and comes in a sealed box, which is sold on the warm, dusty shelves along with sugar and canned goods.  Parmalat is a popular European brand, and Mexico has several others.  Since Boxed Milk is ultra-pasteurized, it has a distinctly over-cooked taste.


When I first encountered Boxed Milk and was forced to buy and consume it, I was shocked and appalled.  Apart from the horrible burnt flavor, I could not think of anything more foreign, un-American, and un-free.  I imagined that this Boxed Milk was the sort of thing that the Soviets would dole out to its lowly citizens in their weekly milk ration or the kind of item one would find on the shelves in a Cuban supermarket.  Something deep inside me despised this Boxed Milk.  Every time I bought it I felt a deep revulsion as if I was being forced to drink this garbage by some sadistic foreign overlord.


It took me about a year to finally be able to buy Boxed Milk somewhat happily.  One thing that helped was that I moved to a part of Mexico that had Fresh Milk.  Yet in the glorious presence of Fresh Milk, I realized that Boxed Milk isn’t all that bad.  It’s amazing how freedom changes one’s perspective.  It is actually quite efficient in that it does not spoil like Fresh Milk does.  And when mixed in chocolate milk or cereal, you can’t really tell the difference.


So, what does this have to do with the argument at hand?


As I mentioned, one of the things one learns when traveling and living in a culture different from his own is that he notices the differences, sometimes in frightening ways.  The other thing that happens is that he sees his own culture through different eyes. 


Fresh Milk seems so trivial and mundane, yet I am (or was) so violently attached to it.  What else might I unknowingly be attached to? 


Let’s try something not so trivial.  We talk a lot about the FED here on this post and of its evils.  Should we abolish it and return to the gold standard?  I know how my fellow bloggers would vote.  However, I am convinced that a national US vote would yield upwards of 90% in favor of keeping the FED.  Why, it’s an American institution!  It insures my bank accounts!  It keeps capitalism running!  We need the FED!


Let’s also consider a very non-trivial foreign example:  Mexico’s nationalized oil company, PEMEX, a great source of national pride for its citizens.  Any talk of privatizing or even altering this state-company results in a seriously passionate brouhaha, which actually happened recently. 


Now, imagine that PEMEX decided it wanted to buy Exxon or all US oil companies.  All gasoline stations in the US would be PEMEX, right down to the authoritarian Mexican eagle logo and green and red stripes.  How would that go over?


My point is that we harbor such passions not out of reason or logic but out of emotional patriotism, which are manipulated by the reigning government of any particular country. 


The flaw in the logic of this example is that one would come to the same conclusion of shock based on either reason or emotion.  So, I will try another.


I pointed out in a previous post the silliness of Bush’s recent statement that “I’m a market-oriented guy but not when I’m faced with the prospect of a global meltdown.” 


What if Bush had said:


 “I’m a Fresh-Milk-oriented guy but not when I’m faced with the prospect of a global meltdown.”


Aside from giving comedians a month’s worth of jokes, it would be ridiculous, right? 


And what if NAFTA were named NAFMA – North American Fresh Milk Agreement?  As opposed to the absolutely despicable ALBMA- Latin American Boxed Milk Alternative (in reference to ALBA, an agreement between Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Cuba).


Equally ridiculous.


Or how about the Emergency Fresh Milk Stabilization Act of 2008?


Just because the government calls it free, does not make it free.  Just because the government says it will be good and stable, does not make it good and stable.


Government labels put on institutions, agreements, laws, treaties, programs, buildings, and monuments give us the warm fuzzies of American pride.  That’s all fine and good until it approaches manipulation.  Most of them are so ingrained into our culture that we do not even realize it.  It is not until we have a Boxed Milk moment that we wake up and think.


Getting back to the argument at hand, I have a hard time understanding how the Government we have is the one We The Governed wanted.  But, then again, maybe we deserve it.  Maybe we are just too hypnotized by the latest gadget we can buy, last night’s CSI episode, last weekend’s game, that crazy Brittany Spears drama, etc…


Don’t blame the Government for not trying.  But, we’re making it too easy for them. 


It’s time for a Boxed Milk moment.


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