Well it’s been a tough year all around the planet, starting with a devastating series of earthquakes in Japan (which will never happen in Cernavoda) to the wholesale looting of Greece to deadly riots in England and the ongoing “Occupation” of every major American city. I had the “pleasure” last night of listening to the latest projections on food price increases on the radio and my old nemesis The Economist has dire predictions ahead for Romania:
To add to the squeeze “social contributions” will continue to be levied on all revenues, including pensions and rents, and an increase in value-added tax passed last year will stay despite calls from foreign investors to lower it again. Red tape and corruption are still a plague, and court procedures are lengthy and inconsistent.
Almost half of Romanians tell pollsters they believe the economic crisis will last for more than three years. Two-thirds say they have been affected by redundancies or wage cuts. Only 7% approve of the government’s handling of the crisis. Bracing for stormy times ahead seems sensible.
The writers at The Economist are far too arrogant to tell you where that polling data came from but I know and it’s from the Soros Foundation:
Față de 24% dintre intervievații din 2009 care afirmau că lor sau cuiva din familie le-au scăzut veniturile, în 2011 57% dintre români reclamă același lucru.
Or in English, “57% of Romanians said their family income decreased in 2011”.
No matter who is doing the talking or the polling, things are tough here in Romania and there’s not much hope that things will get better. I’d like to give you some predictions for the future (especially positive ones) but today I want to talk specifically about the future itself. It’s a subject that fascinates me.
As most of you know, I have two cats who live with me. They are amazing animals and if I took them outside more often, they would be top predators. They would hunt and kill nearly every rodent and bird in the area. They have sharp claws, excellent vision and hearing, and incredibly athletic musculature which allows them to strike and rapidly pounce on their prey. Yet my cats, and every other animal on the planet which hunts, does so in a way that is completely different than the way humans hunt.
To put it as simply as possible, my cats, excellent hunters though they are, can only hunt animals that they can perceive with their senses. They can only pounce on mice they can see, smell or hear. It sounds incredibly obvious to say this but it’s important to lay the foundation. My cats depend on real-time input of their various senses to hunt and kill their prey.
Humans, on the other hand, from every society and tribe, use a concept that my cats struggle with, which is the concept of the future. A cat smells a mouse and begins to stalk it. A human sees the tracks of a prey animal and then follows these tracks to predict where the animal will be. Another human hunting technique is to go to a location (such as a source of water) and lay in ambush there, again using the concept of predicting the future to guess that the prey animal will be there in the future. Every society of human beings relies on various combinations of predicting the future to do their hunting.
And once you realize the importance of predicting the future to all humans, you begin to see it everywhere, from the astrological reports on the news here in Romania to weather reports to published schedules of sports matches and future television broadcasts to clocks and calendars. Entire religions are predicated on predicting the future if you do or don’t do certain things. Even Chinese style “fortune cookies” are a low-rent form of predicting the future. While few of us reading this blog are involved in farming, we know that predicting the future is absolutely essential to everything from when to plant seeds to when to harvest the crops.
When it comes to “tangible” things, whether tomorrow’s weather or scheduled political speeches, humans have a limited but otherwise fundamentally sound ability to usefully predict the future. If I say tomorrow is going to be cold, or that this plate will shatter if I drop it on the floor, or that drinking a Coke is going to make me burp, usually I’m going to be right. If I were a more “primitive” person I’m sure I could point at some animal tracks and predict that if we follow them we’ll come across a tasty deer.
But when the future is about “intangible” things, the ability of humans to correctly predict what will happen degrades noticeably. Tomorrow’s weather can be accurately predicted but saying whether it will snow or not on this day 10 years from now is impossible. I can fairly accurately predict what I will be doing tomorrow (blogging and working) but trying to predict what I will be doing in 10 years is impossible. After all, 10 years ago I was a government stooge in America, I spoke zero Romanian and I had no way of knowing I would move to a different continent.
It makes sense when I put it this way but humans have a seemingly in-built reliance on what some people call the “chicken fallacy”. I saw some chickens in a neighbor’s yard yesterday and I was reminded of this story. If you could somehow interview one of those chickens, she would tell you that life is great. She plays in the yard all day, gets food and water from a kindly human servant and everything is wonderful. If you could somehow ask her to predict the future, she would say that based on all past events that tomorrow will be more of the same. The only “problem” is that we know that tomorrow she’s going to get her head cut off and she will get served up as someone’s dinner.
Therefore, using the past as a kind of linear plot of data points to predict a future is very tempting to do but is quite often wrong. And yet it is exactly this kind of mentality which drives all economists, stockbrokers, IMF and EBRD and World Bank financiers, economic “advisers”, finance ministers and all of the “money men” around the world who feed data to certain arrogant magazines and who tell certain former sea captains what to do. They have their pet theories, couched in complicated mathematics, and they believe in them religiously as tools which not only can but absolutely will predict the future.
It’s easy to be a “regular Joe” in the street, to not be anyone “important”, to go do your schooling or go get a regular job, to complain when things are tough and go to the store to buy some champagne when things are going well. All of these “complicated” matters such as the economy, the government, IMF and bank loans and all the rest just “happen” and there’s not much more to do than either complain or celebrate. Roads get built or they don’t get built, loans get repaid or they don’t get repaid, corrupt officials get properly punished or they don’t, and all you can do is share your opinion about it with your friends over a cup of coffee or a glass of beer.
But that’s not really true. It seems that way – I realize that – but it’s not really true at all. From this point forward (hehe) I’m going to sound like a foolish dreamer but yet I’m going to use my own life to illustrate what I’m talking about.
First of all, let’s review the facts here, shall we? I was born in America. I have an American passport. I have zero family history that is Romanian. I didn’t speak the language when I came here. I really didn’t know anyone. I had no books or other helpful information on the culture or history of this place. I had no job lined up here and I wasn’t enrolled in any school. I wasn’t even a missionary for some church or religion. My friends and family had never been here and didn’t know anyone here. They certainly had never heard me speak about it. And in 1989 when Ceausescu was shot I was living in the Middle East and I was drunk and irritated when a friend wanted to tell me about it.
I taught myself the Romanian language without any schooling or formal coursework. Then I started a blog which I did not publicize in any way. I wrote posts for months that maybe only 10 or 20 people ever saw. I did this on my own time and had zero hope of making any money from it or even having anyone ever read it. I then quit my hard-earned job in order to write a book about this country, which I not only wrote but also edited, formatted and published myself. And now 10 million people just saw me on television, the book sales pay my rent, I have lots of friends (and hundreds more “friends” on Facebook), two cats and life is pretty sweet. And it will continue to get better.
Remember the “chicken fallacy”? If you went back in time and met me when I first moved here, especially on a cold winter’s night a few years ago when I was cold, drunk, bleeding and broke, when I didn’t speak the language, when I barely knew anyone, when I had no job, when I had no family connections, no money and no understanding of the culture, would you have ever predicted that I’d end up where I am today?
Last week I was talking to a friend I’ve known for a long time and they said, “Wow, you’re getting famous now” and my reply was “of course”. I always knew things would turn out for me well here. But how did I know that? Obviously looking at my past experiences and “predicting” the future from those would lead anyone to a much different conclusion, so how did I know? What motivated me to write all those posts on a free, unadvertised, unknown blog? What motivated me to quit my job and write a book that no publisher would touch? What exactly was the source of my confidence?
While doing research for my article on an X-Files episode concerning “Romanians”, I came across a different episode from 1995. In this one, Scully (the doubting, rational protagonist) meets a member of the “Syndicate”, the shadowy group of super elites who run the world in the show. Below is a very interesting clip from that particular episode:
Now I realize the guy in the clip is speaking from a sinister perspective, belonging to a group that secretly runs the world, but nonetheless his words are useful and correct for all of us. I left the United States in 2004 because I knew there was no chance for me to have a good life there. But I wasn’t surprised that things are going well for me here because I always knew they would. I didn’t know this because of my past, I knew it because I invented it.
I really like being Sam Cel Roman. I really like cracking jokes in Romanian and having fun on television, in my documentary, in my books, in real life and here on the blog. I like my cats and I like working at home in my pajamas. I like drinking with my buddies in town and fussing over vegetables with the ladies in the piata and all of the crazy adventures I have. Is my life perfect? Not even close. But is it pretty sweet? I’d say it is.
But is it the life for all of you? I doubt it. Some of you may want to be singers (and get paid for it too!). Others of you may wish to travel to exotic places. Others may want to be middle management stooges at a large corporation (hey, it’s possible) or be a marketing whiz or maybe a doctor or an engineer or perhaps behind the wheel of a luxury automobile going 200 kph down a highway in Romania. I don’t know but you do.
And believe it or not, it is that collective belief of how things are going to be which drives this world, not the IMF, not the bankers, not the politicians, not the courts and not the pet organizations of billionaire Nazi collaborators. It is the belief of all of us together which is the driving wheel of this experience we call life.
I never went to university. I only graduated high school because I was personal friends with someone and they did me a favor. I don’t have a rich daddy who pays all my bills. I am not exceptionally smart or overly handsome or two meters tall. I can’t properly hum a tune or dance very well. I came to this country with nothing but a bag of clothes and a crappy laptop. I didn’t speak the language and had no powerful friends. I was ten thousand miles from home and not one person I knew understood why I was moving here.
All I had was my belief, a belief that the future was going to be sweet, and lo and behold here it is. I came to this country by chance as a tourist and saw the enormous potential and knew this was a place I could make a home. And here I am, and all of you are reading this because all those years ago, when I had no cats, no friends and nothing but shitty old ProTV to watch, I knew it was going to be better. Everything I have ever done, and everything I continue to do, is based on that same belief.
The same option is there for you. You can listen to The Economist, the bankers, the politicians, the news reports, the money men, your neighbors, your mother, the taxi drivers and your friends and believe that things are bad, will continue to be bad and there’s “nothing” you can do about it. Go ahead, I really can’t stop you.
But if you’re reading this, maybe there is some hope. Maybe you can turn from being a penniless immigrant in a foreign land into someone with a good life. Maybe you can do what you believe in and have it work out for you. Maybe you can follow your heart, no matter where it takes you, and find that it makes life sweeter than you could ever imagine. Maybe you can even meet a very nice shepherd on the side of the road who gives you an onion and some cheese and you can enjoy one of the best meals of your life.
And if enough of you do that, well then I don’t really care what the “experts” say because I think Romania will be a very, very, very nice place to live. In fact, I know it. And I know it’s easy to read my words here or watch my videos and enjoy it as some kind of entertainment but you know what? It’s time for you to do your part too, especially if you want the future to be better.
O ROMÂNIE FRUMOASA E SARCINA TUTUROR