Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Climbing the Ladder at Any Cost

   From our youth, we are taught about the importance of climbing the corporate or social ladder. While it is true that there many who have certain advantages when it comes to climbing these ladders because of various factors including their education and/or the financial standing of their family, the Horatio Alger myth would have us believe that such ladder climbing is available to each of us if we are willing to work hard enough.
   We live in a culture which is driven by consumerism.  The idea of having to “keep up with the Jones family” is almost ingrained in us from childhood.  Our entire economy is consumer driven.  People need to keep spending money and buying things in order to keep our country financially sound. 
  While it is certainly not mandatory that we become like animals in order to have financial or personal success, the fact is that this does happen.  There are people who would have no problem at all grinding people into the ground in order to get what they want.  The Roman playwright Plautus (d. 184 BC) made reference to this fact when he stated, “Homo homini lupus” (man unto man a wolf).  We know of many people throughout history who have ruined the lives of others simply in order to get ahead.
   However, instead of a wolf, what if it was a dog?  Imagine for a moment that a scientist places human male genitalia and a pituitary gland inside a dog and this dog slowly begins to speak and act like a human.  Imagine that this half-man/half-dog creation is able to adapt to life within our society rather well.  We have often heard it said that the business world is “dog eat dog”, so he would feel right at home. 
   Since dogs operate well according the pack model, this new “man-dog” would display his dominance within the pack and soon become the Alpha male.  Snapping and growling at anyone who challenged his position, he would have no problem biting someone’s head off (quite literally).  He would not be conscious of the notion that there is plenty of money to be made by everyone.  Remember, he has the mind of a dog.  If he has something he will defend it to the death and if you have something that he wants, he will do whatever he needs to do to take it away from you.  In the pack model, you are either the leader or you are nothing.
   This same mindset would carry over to his personal relationships as well. If he met a woman, his main ideas would be domination and breeding.  Since he has the mind of a dog, her feelings would be completely unimportant to him.  He simply sees something that he wants and he goes after it.  As long as you understand that he is the Alpha male, he will tolerate you, but do not expect to become his friend.  He has no friends, simply other creatures who are there for his convenience. 
   Imagine now that this “man-dog” enters the world of politics.  Now he is not only an Alpha male, but one with quite a bit of authority and power.  His strong personality might be what gets him elected, but do not be fooled for one moment, he has no interest in helping anyone who put him in power.  He uses the power and authority he has been given to grab as much for himself as he can.  You might say, “He was elected to help his constituents!”  His response would be, “I got what I want, if they do not have what they want that is not my problem.  However, if they have something that I want I will take it.”   Sound familiar?    
   We can imagine that this new failed medical experiment has caused major problems for the doctor who performed it.  At one point the “dog-man” actually reports this physician to the local housing authority because the doctor is occupying several apartments in order to do his experiments and the “dog-man” does not like the fact that someone has something that he cannot have. After giving this “person” a new life, this doctor is now forced to defending himself in front of the housing authority who wants to take away these apartments from him so they can use them for other purposes. 
    In 1925, Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940), a Russian physician turned author, wrote a story entitled Собачье сердце (The Heart of a Dog). The summary of this story is as follows: A bedraggled street dog is about to perish in the cold winter night, after having been scalded by boiling water earlier in the day. Suddenly, an elegant man feeds him and takes him home. The dog's savior is a famous and wealthy medical professor who rejuvenates people by hormonal manipulations.
    As soon as the dog becomes accustomed to his new life of plenty, he finds himself the subject of a strange experiment--the professor and his assistant implant the testicles and pituitary gland of a dead criminal into the dog's body. After a rocky post-operative course, the dog gradually begins to change into an animal in human form and names himself Poligraph Poligraphovich Sharik. The half-beast-half-man, who gets along very well in the prevailing proletarian society, turns his creator's life into a nightmare--until the professor manages to reverse the procedure.1
      The dog-man’s choice of a new name is satirical.  The word sharik means “ball” or “round” in Russian.  Interesting choice of a name given the gift he received from the medical professor. Sharik is still most popular dog’s name in Russia and Ukraine.
    Comparisons were made between Bulgakov’s “dog-man” character and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster.  However, in the case of Frankenstein everyone who encountered the creature rejected it because it was so unnatural.  Poligraph Sharik is equally unnatural, but fits in quite well in 1920s Russian society.  The Bolsheviks came to power by convincing the people that they needed to get rid of Czar Nicholas II and share all things in common.  In no time at all, these same people slowly began to turn on the very people that put them into power. The intelligentsias (the highly educated) were banished from Russia and those who did not leave were eventually executed. 
    The same thing could happen in our country as well.  While we are not a Communist society, human nature remains the same regardless of where one lives.  It is natural that people in power want to stay in power and they will do whatever it takes to maintain the power that they already have.  Many of the comments that were made in this story regarding the issues facing Russia in the 1920s could easily be applied to our country at this point in our history.
    Given Bulgakov’s satirical look at life in Russia following the Bolshevik revolution, it is not surprising that this work was banned from the Soviet Union.  It was first published in English in 1968 and was not published in the Soviet Union until 1987. 
     As I mentioned earlier, names are very important in this story.  The name of the person whose genitalia and pituitary gland were used was an alcoholic named Chugunkin.  In Russian, “chugun” means “cast iron” and this choice of name could easily be understood by the Russian reader as a parody of Joseph Stalin.  In Russian, “stal” means “steel”. 
     Climbing the ladder of success is certainly not a bad thing.  Every parent would want his or her children to be more successful than they are; however, climbing the ladder does not mean that we step on the fingers of the person on the rung below us in order to lift ourselves up.
      It is true that success comes at a price; however, that price should not include becoming an animal in the process. 

1Mikhail Bulgakov “The Heart of a Dog”

No comments: