Tanks a Thank Think

Harry Drabik

Belatedly (putting me firmly in the human behavior camp) I recognized a blunder in an earlier statement on the Spartan use of IF as a reply. Luckily my bungling of the sequence didn’t damage the wit or utility of the Spartan position.  

Also belated, I recognize not having put out a broader stance on using scarlet letters, usually seen as a negative label. In a different way, of course, a positive (let’s say its gold) letter sets up a bias the individual has to carry and society contend with. Hester’s red letter seems an awful stigma to lay on an individual, though in a way it may work as officially recognized rebellion and become a powerful sign for individual ability to survive against social odds. A gold letter, say it was an H for heroine, sets up expectations and conditions an individual will have to struggle with in ways similar to dealing with a negative stereotype. Think, for example, how often gold letters showing entertainer success lead to a crash and burn ruin. For a great many of us success proves difficult to manage or even to survive. Scarlet and gold letters can prove equally daunting to individuals and damaging to society when given too much influence on how we act.  

Setting aside Sander’s socialist letter, I’m interested in his accent. Long ago I knew a French woman who did daily vocal exercises so she’d continue to sound French. Her identity as French or non-traditional American was vitally important to her, in a similar way I suppose to women retaining family birth names for use in legal relationships. That sounds tangled, but I think you’ll know what I mean. Anyway, if Senator Sanders has maintained his New Yorker Vermont brogue as a distinguishing characteristic it’s worked very well for him. I guess it’s a sign of who he is and where he came from. It’s distinguishing.  

Being on the Sanders subject I can expand by saying that I, too, spent some time in the sphere of communism/socialism back when there was an Iron Curtain and Bloc countries. Like Sanders, my experience inside Bloc countries was relatively positive. At the time people living inside drew distinctions between socialist and communist, but to be honest this was difficult to sort out and seemed to hinge on communist leadership of less committed socialist Bloc nations. Of the things impressive to me was the way central planning took care of citizens in Central and Eastern Europe. A generation earlier many urban areas were largely destroyed in WWII. The job of providing housing and basic services was a priority. You simply could not have a working city if half or more of it was in war ruins. I thought the system of decentralizing services and population was an interesting use of centralized planning. Decentralized centralization meant that someone somewhere in some bureau or office had a direct interest in what happened in your village or urban neighborhood. You’d probably never know or see them, but they were there making sure all was well and equitable.  

Coping with the aftermath of WWII was vital for the communist/socialist world, and it did look as if Russian style communism/socialism in the era Senator Sanders and I saw it was an inspiring success. If you talked with people long enough (being in a tavern serving warm beer seemed to help) you’d hear amusing remarks. These were most often built around people not getting paid enough and having to moonlight to make ends meet. A joke I heard often repeated was “They pretend to pay so we pretend to work.” I found it humorous. Also good for a nodding laugh were accounts from relatives working at major factories that didn’t produce anything (say they made tractors) because they lacked parts. The inside the factory was constant motion of busy workers. Not wanting to appear lazy or be dismissed the workforce was constantly in motion, but not productively. A tractor would be moved along from one station to the next where each crew took its turn, and at the end the incomplete tractor went back where it started to begin again. This may be exaggerated, but there was enough anecdotal evidence to make me think there was some truth behind the glitches with socialist centralized oversight and distribution. One telltale was the number of light trucks from one of the Bloc countries seen on roadsides out of commission waiting for parts. This was a common sight. People complained about it all the time often adding “We send them tractors that are no better.” As I look back I think a sense of ironic humor was necessary for survival in a system where getting things done was much less valued than social cooperation. “This model washing machine rarely works but is well designed.”  

Decentralized central socialism encouraged workers to act as they saw best. This freedom meant business hours were often set by workers. That itself could get confusing, but say you needed to go shopping for bread, stockings, and meat. Get to the bakery before the day’s quota of bread is gone and the staff left. The stockings you need are on a truck waiting for parts from Hungary. Meat came weekly on a butcher truck serving ten vicinities; morning here, afternoon there, next day two more. If the truck was delayed for parts you had a chance for meat the next week. Your work ending at five meant you’d never be on time for a store closing at three. Solo individuals were disadvantaged because it was the job of one person in a family to hunt down goods and stand in line to get them; impossible to do at work. The system, however, was everywhere called a success, meaning success in the sense of anything managing to get done.  

Regardless, I was impressed and reassured. Flying home I crossed nations equally devastated by WWII that were not experiencing the success of the Bloc countries. Under a different system they’d moved on. Belatedly, I figured that out.