Friday, 5 September 2008

The inevitability of mir

mir (mēr) - former Russian peasant community. The mir, which antedated serfdom (16th cent.) in Russia, persisted in its primitive form until after the Russian Revolution of 1917. In a community of free peasants the land was owned jointly by the mir; in a community of serfs, lands reserved for serf use were assigned to the mir for allocation. The mir, like a corporate body, had an assembly, obligations, and rights; it was responsible for allocating the arable land to its members and for reallocating such lands periodically. Woodlands, pastures, and waters were used jointly.
Mir is also a Russian word meaning World and Peace.

Have you read Le Guin's The Dispossessed? I know I've spoken about it here before. Everyone should read it. In it Le Guin presents many ideas that challenge norms. Including the idea of the book itself. It's fantasy and fiction, of course, but the ideas it presents are real propositions and the book is asking real questions about real life. She challenges assumptions of inevitability. One of the features of our modern life and the paths we're supposed to walk is that choices are made within very clearly defined boundaries. Some of these are physical or at least tangible - your choice of lifestyle must provide some way of obtaining food, for example.

But there are many that are not. I remember a conversation with a group of friends at varsity where someone had only just discovered that inflation was a recent phenomenon and therefore socially constructed rather than inevitable. This is true of many things, many so-called 'forces'. Studying history reveals some of the more bizarre fallacies of inevitability - such as the assumption that a money-based economy (with free-floating currencies) is inevitable. Others are revealed by any logical analysis of situations - post hoc ergo proctor hoc for example.

Le Guin's book challenges the fallacy that individual land-ownership and an individualistic, capitalist system are inevitable. Fallacies of inevitability are culturally specific. One of the reasons the Bolshevic system was able to take hold in Russia was that the cultural fallacy of inevitability was already one of collective ownership - which was probably a lot closer to reality than the one about individual ownership.

Jonathan is right. Some limits are inevitable and to some extent our opposition is only possible within the system and our choices are curtailed by what has been constructed. But sometimes we can escape a particular 'inevitability' by moving into a different cultural and social reality where different 'inevitabilities' have been constructed.

And perhaps, as resources become more and more scarce and cooperation becomes more and more crucial for survivial, history classes will start to teach the Russian 'mir' alongside the individualist expectations of land-ownership and it will become more feasible for people to make that choice

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