This post is an article, Quantum physics and alternate realities, from my website uzorchinukwue.com
I came to write the title story of my first novel, the Mind that Father Made, several years ago, after I decided to take up this profession and give up my old one (I had trained in UCL for three years and obtained a degree in computer science). It was a very different story when I first started it; I had had grandiose ideas on making it an epic tale of a man who loses his memory and goes on an adventure that would end with him wresting the throne from the ruler of a future Russian state.
But I had never visited Russia, and understandably ran into trouble as I began to imagine a principality (albeit an imagined one) based on the real country.
I therefore shelved the project for years and instead concentrated on writing other short stories and a novel.
I only came back to the Mind that Father Made during the first days of the largest financial crisis in recent years. It seemed to me that everyone panicked without restraint, and sometimes (again it seemed to me) without the sensitivity to understand that terror catches on, and if left unchecked will burn like a fire, destroying everything.
The first sense I got of this “fire destroying everything indiscriminately” was during an interview with Alan Greenspan. Now Alan Greenspan most will regard as a financial genius, a guru that stands head and shoulders above his peers. Alan Greenspan was the Chairman of the United States’ Federal Reserve; first appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1987 to deal with a failing economy, and then reappointed four times after that, until he left office in 2006. Greenspan was such a man respected by differing political views – the Republicans used him, and the Democrats, during the Clinton years. And so I was quite alarmed to see him question his beloved capitalism during that interview.
Now I am not saying that capitalism is a perfect system, by no means. And this article is not given to express the writer’s political views on the subject. Instead, I felt the need for everyone to exercise restraint, even as they began to threaten the destruction of the system.
In one of Martin Luther King’s speeches he quotes Henry David Thoreau, and I paraphrase, “In a full life you will find antitheses clearly marked.” In other words there is a need for balance in one’s affairs. I felt then, as I do now, that our approach to our theories needed to be balanced. There was clearly an imbalance in the system as it was, but then to call for the destruction of the whole thing would be like throwing out the baby with the bath water, that is to say to get rid of the good parts of a system with the bad. It is almost impossible to express in words the terror people felt at the beginning of the financial crises. To do so I would have to be a better writer, but I immediately saw that while we could no longer turn a blind eye to money grabbers, who will snatch violently at what they can get and gain, and without even a second thought to the affairs of their neighbour, we also could not allow the mistakes of a few lead us into the darkness of the past.
Of what darkness do I speak? Well, hard as it is to believe, all this has happened before…
The world was a very similar place 100 years ago. (I will again not digress into specifics, as this may hinder from concentrating on the major text.) The United States government hit on an idea to pay for the First World War by selling war bonds. It was the patriotic thing to do, buying these bonds, and the public jumped at an opportunity to help their government, essentially lending money to them by buying these financial products, while expecting to recoup their investments in a few years. Big business and banks got in on the act soon afterwards, also selling shares of their companies to the public. All of this went well at first, and with new technologies to invest in, like the automobile, steel and rail companies, there was no shortage of money in the market, as companies went public and got the everyday man thinking about his future and what venture he could take up to earn him a respectable return in the future. Then the money grabbers came along. They hit on a new process, which they termed, buying on margin. It effectively meant that they could buy shares, but with borrowed money. And so the complex scheme started, as people bought investments with money they didn’t have.
Soon the cards of this fragile structure would come crashing down and the people of the 1920s would be left with spiralling inflation, and immense individual and collective debt. Wikipedia says:
“The depression originated in the United States, starting with the stock market crash of October 29, 1929 (known as Black Tuesday), but quickly spread to almost every country in the world. The Great Depression had devastating effects in virtually every country, rich and poor. Personal income, tax revenue, profits and prices dropped, and international trade plunged by a half to two-thirds. Unemployment in the United States rose to 25%, and in some countries rose as high as 33%. Cities all around the world were hit hard, especially those dependent on heavy industry. Construction was virtually halted in many countries. Farming and rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by approximately 60 percent. Facing plummeting demand with few alternate sources of jobs, areas dependent on primary sector industries such as cash cropping, mining and logging suffered the most. Countries started to recover by the mid-1930s, but in many countries the negative effects of the Great Depression lasted until the start of World War II.”
The events in America would affect the rest of the world, and especially Germany, a country that had not fully recovered from the effects of their role in World War I and which was hugely dependednt on American loans. (Germany was bound by the treaty of Versialles, a peace treaty signed at the end of World War I between Germany and the Entente powers, and which was supposed to leave her weakened and incapable of posing a military threat to the Allied Powers.) Germany had borrowed a lot of money from the Americans to maintain her economy, but now that the States was in trouble they needed this money back, and badly. The resulting situation meant that the German economy crashed, just by its association with the United States. Overnight, the German people witnessed the failure of their state, as ordinary people struggled to make ends meet. This opened the way for so called reformers like the Nazis and Communists. These extremist views became increasingly more popular as people lost faith in their leaders and their economic system. History shows that while Nazism flourished in Germany, an equally corrosive Communism spread in Eastern Europe.
The Mind that Father Made asks what would have happened if Britain had joined the rest of Europe and gone for an extremist political position during and after World War II. Ultimately, I think, that we see similarities between this make-believe world and our present real one. It is scary to think that we have once again found ourselves in a position where we could so easily surrender to extremist views because of a greedy few. Just like our fathers, our morality was tested in recent times, and again we were left with a choice of whether to adopt a new system or change the one we have for the better. Those early days of the financial crisis seem so far away now, and once again we go careless, even as we forget how bad those times were. Many promised political and economic change. Many leaders said enough to the rich exploiting the poor. But we find ourselves strangely numb, having recovered from the initial shock. It is obvious that we will see those days again, because we did not take advantage when change was so very clearly needed, and when so many called for it. The Mind That Father Made is a little pessimistic, seemingly suggesting that things would have turned out the same regardless of changes in our past, but if there is one thing I am sure about, it is that the story says that individuals can and should make a difference. I began this article by calling for restraint and balance; restrain in our reactions to bad times and balance in attempting to create a fairer system, a fairer world. The first few years of a new century have shown us the flaws of capitalism, but it will take strength and courage and wisdom to try to refine this system, so that, while people are left free to pursue wealth, comfort, and happiness, they are not allowed to go overboard and make gains inspite of everyone else. Peter once asked the Lord, “who is my neighbour?” Well, look around you. And another once asked, “am I my brother’s keeper?” Answering Yes to this will lead to a fairer world no matter what market system our governments choose to adopt.