Friday, July 15, 2005

Race and Identity

I'm reading an interesting book called Culture Moves about black identity and culture and how competing visions of it are expressed. It's very interesting, because the US is unique in that it has 'built-in' racial tensions like very few other places. In most other places, race lines conincide with nationality lines, which radically alters the discourse. It's an insight into a part of one of my countries that I cannot direcly experience, but that is such a big part of it that it's not really fair for me to say that I know this country without at least knowing the elements of that.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Deshi Men

Interactions with people have made me think about patterns and deep-seated problems with sexism and very destructive ideas of masculinity. All but one of the deshi men I have had to work with or otherwise be in close proximity to have had obvious sexist opinions, ideas, and concepts, which they have not hesitated to express and act on. If the deshi women I've met have such ideas, they don't push them on me. It is not only degrading, it is also problematic in another way: what is the appropriate way to frame this situation against a background? I think my answer is my moral principle number one: sexism is always immoral, regardless of cultural context. And when the sexists left their countries to come to one of mine, the burden of cultural understanding is on them. I get to do something about this one, because they came to my culture. That's also part of what pisses me off, because these people come to my country and spit in my face. I'm starting to understand how the neonazis and the Republicans can build such support for something really stupid - if enough people feel threatened, they react instead of thinking. I knew that intellectually, but I'm experiencing it emotionally as well. I just want to slap people, because they should know their place - next to me, not above me. Man, if you try to stand above me all you do is make it easy for me to bite your ankles. Cause there will be biting. I'm thinking that deshi men need to be treated like men from the Middle East - proceed with utmost caution until they show themselves to be able to interact with women in a good way.

I'm seriously considering giving automatic bonus credits to Western European men for being more respectful. Thing is, they've pissed me off plenty too.. just not in the same, insanely ridiculously completely unapologetic ways as others. Including American men. I've heard some sick shit come out of the mouths of American men.

And I have to admit... it feels good to think 'go to hell' straight off, because then I don't have to go through the same thing I've gone through for most of this academic year: give them the benefit of the doubt, be polite when they're asses, be polite but curt when they try to make you their mom or try to order you around, and they stay the hell away from them because they're so annoying. Every time here so far. K at Knox was fine - never had any problems with him - but man. Every single deshi guy I've had to deal with more than in passing since then has been a needy, unaware ass of some kind. I'm sick of this shit. I'm sure there are nice guys out there but they're going to have to prove themselves first.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Understanding the World

After writing that last post, I realize what exactly feels so incomplete about people with strong convictions about what the world is like - cynics, activists and optimists alike - that don't have a global focus. How can you claim to understand the world when all you've ever bothered trying to understand is a small part of the world? How can you be so sure when you're basing your conclusion on a small, rather arbitrarily selected part of the world and part of all possible human experiences? You may of course restrict your claim to the subset of the world you did consider, but I have yet to meet a person who does so.

To some extent it is human to assume everyone is like us - and on some levels, they are. Everyone can be happy, sad, melancholy, hopeful, distraught, anxious, scared, delighted, humorous, cynical, whatever. The chemicals running through our brains give us a lot in common. But as everyone knows, that's not exactly the end of the story. Circumstances create large variances in what being a human can be like. It just seems like this is a mistake we've made so many times that we should have learnt to spot it by now.

White, straight American men often write as if their experience is the human experience. Then white, straight American women point out that the white, straight American men are forgetting that being a white straight American woman isn't like being a white straight American man. And then black, straight American women point out that being a black straight American woman isn't like being either a white straight American man not a white straight American woman. And so on and so on, ad infinitum. Shouldn't it be obvious that after a few examples like this, you can see a more general pattern? What the world is like depends a great deal on who you are and who you were when you were born and where you were born? And therefore, making a claim to understanding how the world works without having at least tried to consider the range of human experiences is just silly?

Personally, I see the answer to how the world works as a piecewise solution. The differences in human experience are too great to say something in general that is valid for everyone, but if you do it piecewise (maybe groupwise is a better term here), you can have some hope to getting it all in, and different people can explore the different groups. Then when we've gotten the different pieces, we can put them together into some sort of overview, and probably go back to revising our first theories and so on. But the point is that every one of us only experiences one small slice of what being human is like - so how can anyone think they have it all figured out based on their own experiences?

Personal Belief System Belief #2

Knowledge is not power in itself, but it is the root of power.

If you don't know what's going on, you can never be anything but a pawn at best. Controlling a situation requires understanding what's going and why it's going on as best as you can. Including when the situation you're trying to control is your life situation. If you don't know why things are the way they are now nor how you can change them, you have ceded control of your life to other people, entities and chance.

There is no such thing as too much knowledge or too much thinking. Thinking may not be easy and may be painful, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Sudden Realization

I just really realized something that I've heard said many times while writing a paper about deposition of thin ruthenium films using atomic layer deposition: gender relations really are much more relaxed in the Nordic countries than in the United States. Here, people make things so much more difficult in a very subtle way. And that's what you pick up on in the air, elsewhere too - the more tense everyday gender relations are, the more sexist a culture is.

So now I have to ask myself: If I ever have children, would it be immoral of me to raise them completely outside the Nordic countries, knowing that? Or completely outside wherever I think gender relations are the best, if that isn't the Nordic countries at that point?

Sunday, April 10, 2005


I recently set about putting my photos in albums, and as I was sorting through my photos I realized that taking photos is very important when you move.

My pictures of Beijing are of my Beijing. Pictures of my favorite parks, of the walkways I used all the time, of the bike lanes I used to rollerblade on. Pictures of my friends' apartments. Pictures of me and my friends where we used to go hang out, or out on a special occasion. Even things tourists would take pictures of are different - my pictures of Tiananmen are of me and my friends standing together, laughing, in front of the gate lit up at night, a memory of the night we went out together to say goodbye because I was leaving for college. I have a picture of the subway train arriving. I have a picture of my bus, silingsan lu. I have pictures of the little boats on Beihai lake I always loved watching. Other people's pictures will never be the same, and most other people here see Beijing as somthing remote and exotic and not really real in the same way New York is.

I used to feel the same about my parents' pictures of Frostburg when we lived in Sweden. Everyone else's ideas about America came from movies and TV. Their images were of a controversial big country far away. My pictures were of everyday life. My picture of the White House has me riding on dad's shoulders when I was 4. I have pictures of my kindergarten, pictures of our house and of me playing with my friends. No wild car chases and no Beverly Hills 90210, but my America. I still have Christmas tree decorations I made at Beginnings, by Montessori-oriented kindergarten. Now that I'm back, they don't play the same role anymore. Everyone knows what everyday life in America is like, because we're all living it. Now, they're just childhood photos, not exotic childhood photos, but I'm happy I had them when they were something to hang on to almost as proof. Kind of like I hang on to my Beijing photos now.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Beginners and Taking Advice

It was recently suggested to me that a large part of my annoyance with a recent power struggle stems not only from the situation per se but also from the fact that the other persons involved are at a very beginning level of understanding cross-cultural life, despite extensive experience. I've realized that's absolutely right.

I'm sick of people talking about multiculturalism and multi-kulti and tolerance and all that, when only an extremely small minority actually has really thought about it. It's starting to seem like most immigrants and other migrants lack even the most basic intercultural skills, even after decades away from "home." It never occurs to them that maybe they don't get it, so they never will, because they won't try to learn because they think they've got it. And I'm sick of being understanding because they're so incompetent. Why is it my responsibility to always be the one understanding? Why isn't it in part their responsibility to learn?

In part I'm probably bitter because I became oppressively marginalized and these people just keep doing what they've always been doing like they have blinders on. How the hell is that possible? How the hell do you avoid noticing what's being shoved in your face every day? And how the hell can you be so damn sure that you get it? I worry about that almost every day! How can I know? I can't. And so the observation never ends.

Sometimes I just feel like smacking people when they just refuse to notice that their cultural norms and behaviors from somewhere else really don't work. And there just doesn't seem to be anywhere where people generally get it! Americans may be clueless in many ways but no one else seems any wiser when it comes to negotiating difference in their personal lives. Others may have more perspective on themselves as a country, but as members of a culture, not so much. Everyone thinks they do, but I'm lacking evidence that they do, while I have heaps saying they don't. People can spend the majority of their lives in a host country and never get that they don't get it. Some are always worse than others, though, and it would be interesting to see a study of which cultures have the most trouble learning a new one.

I just wish I could talk to someone who sees this too. The European Far Right has nothing to worry about - people can't change even when they want to. The immigrants can't change Europe asnymore than they can change themselves at a core level. The first step to recovery is admitting there's a problem, and everyone is agreeing that there is none.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

What I want to do with my life

I want to look forward. I don't want to look toward the past nor toward the sides to see what everyone else is doing. I want to make my own circumstances and make my own life. I want to create my own niche in life. And ideally, I'd like company on the way.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Open letter to migrants to the West

Dear Foreigners From Non-Egalitarian Countries,

I have heard many people say that you shouldn't be allowed to come here. I have heard regular people - not just the extremists on the far right - say that you don't try to fit in here and you create your own communities within our community and don't understand the larger community you are part of. I have also heard people say that you are lazy, that you just want to mooch off of our welfare systems, and that you don't respect women - not those from your countries nor those from ours. I have always thought - and said - that these claims are not reasonable, that most people regardless where they are from are normal, hard-working, honest, respectful people who not only can be part of our societies but can enrich them. I have always thought that open borders make everyone better off in the end.

Both for society at large an in my personal life, I have assumed that a simple model of respect should and is followed. When a minority of people from culture A are trying to live among a majority of culture B, respect is shown for the minority by the majority by being patient with their cultural gaffes and explaining the basis for traditions and manners - by helping the minority understand the majority. Respect is shown for the majority by the minority by the minority trying to adjust and understand the majority.

Basically, I envisioned a simple contract - mistakes are forgiven, because the minority is trying to learn how the majority works, and both try to find common ground so that they can get along. The minority does not have to adjust completely to the majority in every way, but it does have to adjust in key cultural norms and behaviors. The majority does not have to accept all of the minority's cultural behaviors, but some difference in behavior and thought must be tolerated. However, if there is a clash of fundamental values such that the majority and the minority hold mutually incompatible values that are so fundametal that neitherwill give them up, then two options remain. Either then minority must choose to leave, or they must give up those cultural norms after all.

If the minority were refugees, relocation should be attempted, but refugees are a different case from the one that has recently irritated me immensely. When the minority has chosen to come to country B, they have simultaneously agreed to make these cultural adjustments to the country they have chosen to move to. If they have misjudged and realize that their cultural norms are incompatible with the majority's, they still have to adjust if they stay. Just like one cannot rearrange someone else's house to be like one's own when one is visiting, one cannot expect a host country to adjust to your ideas of how things should be run unless you are also prepared to rearrange your country for visitors or expatriates.

It's really very simple: if you choose to come to the West, you have also chosen Westernization. You cannot come here and be the same person you would have been if you hadn't left. For example, if you want a Western education for its academic excellence, you have to consent to cultural Westernization as well. If you try to reject Western cultural norms, you are both not using your experience to the fullest and are being very rude to your hosts, who are not under any moral obligation to let you come to their country. You don't have to bow and say thank you incessantly, but you do have to keep in mind that you are in someone else's home. You don't get to pull the shots. You have to adjust to them, though, when someone else pulls them.

One of the values that absolutely must be respected and practiced every day is egalitarianism. Secular humanism and its values are extremely important in all Western countries (even though American has its own peculiar Christian fundamentalists that reject many humanist values), but out of all its values egalitarianism is the one that underlies almost all human interactions. If you cannot make egalitarianism a value of yours, you should not come to the West at all, or go home if you are already here. The equality of women and men, poor and rich, white, brown, olive, and black, straight and queer, old and young, married and single, powerful and disenfranchised is a value that is completely non-negotiable. Sure, you can find plenty of examples to the contrary. In fact, we have many academic departments studying just how that much principle is violated in practice. But that should also tell you something. No one can argue to justify the discovered violations without being ostracized by society. Once someone says, "You treated me badly because you think I am not equal to that other person", you must defend yourself or accept condemnation by others.

The example that is closest to my heart is equality of men and women. Society has subscribed to egalitarianism for a long time, but it has collectively only slowly realized its logical implications. Women have pointed out for a long time that if all humans are equal, then women must be equal to men in value and humanity and importance, and therefore women must be respected just as much as men are. Or, looking at it from our side, men should be respected just as much as we are. Women have fought for a long time for what is only a logical consequence of a deeply held cultural value. We have been punished harshly physically and mentally for our resistance to mistreatement and abuse by men, but things have progressed. There is still a long way to go, but we can look back and see where we started 300 years ago a long way behind us. I am proud as a woman of my female ancestors, who fought for my freedom. I know my grandmother would be extremely proud of me and my mother, if she were still alive. The world holds so much opportunity for me - so much more than for my grandmother, who was desperately poor in her childhood and had no opportunity for education. I am pursuing a Ph. D. in a male-dominated, high-paying field, I speak five languages, and have legislation and more awareness backing up my right to exist, so to speak.

So, to you who have come to the West: Respect me or go home. I will not put up with your gender roles and your social roles that are based on that someone is always superior. You have no right - no right - to come here and use those values. If you insist on using them - go home. Pack your bags and go home, where you can treat people like shit in peace. Don't you dare come here and think you can talk down to me, order me around and sexually harrass me and call me a slut because you'd do that at home to a woman. When you came here, you agreed to egalitarianism. That it's your "culture" is irrelevant. You agreed to something different when you came here. And if you looked, women where you came from probably have a lot they'd like to change about your culture when it comes to oppression of women, too. Don't you come here and think you're so superior - don't you forget that I don't give a shit who your daddy is, I don't give a shit how much money you have, I don't give a shit how hot you think you are - if you can't treat me with respect, you're getting jack shit back. Simple. Adjust or go home. We didn't have to let you come here in the first place, and you chose to come. Tough shit if you can't handle it.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Personal Belief System Principle I

The equality of men and women is universal and not culture-dependent. Therefore, any attempt to legitimize sexism or oppression of women, especially violent attacks on women because of their sex, through cultural norms is illegitimate. Being sexist is universally immoral.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Images of America

America and the consequence of her foreign policy is an insitution of things to talk about, even when something else is the main point.

Ultra Bra - Kahdeksanvuotiaana

Kahdeksanvuotiaana tiesin
että maailma tuhoutuu
kaksintaistelussa suurvaltojen
kahdeksanvuotiaana tiesin
että ihminen murskautuu

Kävikin niin, että sodat ovat
monimutkaisia kansallisia konflikteja
joissa ammutaan
ja joissa kuolee
aina vähän ihmisiä kerrallaan
joissa kuolee
aina vähän ihmisiä kerrallaan

Kahdeksanvuotiaana tiesin
että maailma tuhoutuu
kaksintaistelussa suurvaltojen
kahdeksanvuotiaana etsin
kartalta kaukaista paikkaa
joka välttäisi

Kävikin niin, että sodat ovat
monimutkaisia kansallisia konflikteja
joissa ammutaan
ja joissa kuolee
aina vähän ihmisiä kerrallaan
joissa kuolee
aina vähän ihmisiä kerrallaan

Kumitossut ja huppari päälläni
otsa kurtussa
löysin Pääsiäissaaret Tyyneltämereltä
myöhemmin tuli ilmi
että juuri sillä merellä tehdään ydinkokeita
missä on Pääsiäissaaret

Translation: When I was eight years old

When I was eight years old I knew
that the world would be destroyed
in a duel between the superpowers
When I was eight years old I knew
that humanity would be crushed
in a blink of an eye
of history

It turns out that wars are
complicated national conflicts
where they shoot
and where a few people
always die at a time
where a few people
always die at a time

When I was eight years old I knew
that the world would be destroyed
in a duel between the superpowers
When I was eight years old
I looked for
a distant place on the map
that would avoid the fallout

It turns out that wars are
complicated national conflicts
where they shoot
and where a few people
always die at a time
where a few people
always die at a time

Dressed in rubber boots and
my forehead wrinkled
I found the Easter Islands in the Pacific Ocean
later I found out
that on the very same ocean they do nuclear tests
where the Easter Islands are

If you're American and hadn't realized this sort of interconnections exist all over, little children far outside your borders have worried about what you will do for a long time. In fact, if you're from any large country, your foreign policy creates reality for eight-year-old kids in a lot of places.

Blur - He Thought Of Cars

Moscow's still red, the young man is dead
Gone to heaven instead, the evening news says he was confused
The motorways will all merge soon, lottery winner buys the moon
They've come to save us, the space invaders are here

He thought of cars and where, where to drive them
Who to drive them with
There, there was no-one, no-one

There's panic at London Heathrow
Everybody wants to go up into the blue
But there's a ten year queue
Columbia is in top gear, it shouldn't snow at this time of year
Now America's shot gone and done the lot

He thought of planes and where, where to fly to
And who to fly there with
Where, there was no-one, no-one

He thought of cars and where, where to drive them
Who to drive them with
There, there was no-one, no-one

So part of the craziness of the modern world is that America just goes nuts with its army. I will not insult my audience by pointing out the obvious connection to current affairs - this song came out on The Great Escape in 1995.

Ultra Bra - Lähetystyö

Panama, Panama, ihana maa
siellä saa palvella Jumalaa
oi lordi, saanko mennä juoksemaan
kohti kaukana siintävää Ameriikkaa

Voi sitä mekaniikkaa, toimintaa
mitä Ameriikka harjoittaa
ei ole muuta valtakuntaa
jossa taivaan valtakunta kajastaa

Panama, Panama, ihana maa
siellä saa palvella Jumalaa
oi lordi, saanko mennä juoksemaan
kohti kaukana siintävää Ameriikkaa

Haluan asua Ameriikassa
haluan kastua Ameriikassa
haluan paisua Ameriikassa
haluan vaipua Ameriikassa

(Translation: Missionary work

Panama, Panama, what a lovely country
you can serve God there
oh lord, can I go running
towards the dimly visible America in the distance

Oh all that mechanics, activity
that America practices
there's no other realm
where the realm of heaven shimmers

Panama, Panama, what a lovely country
you can serve God there
oh lord, can I go running
towards the dimly visible America in the distance

I want to live in America
I want to get wet [or baptized] in America
I want to swell [up and become fat] in America
I want to sink [into the ground or sink down] in America)

Heavy association with fundamentalist Christians. Note to Americans: Europeans don't really use "Lord" about god, certainly not in the Nordic countries, at least. That's an American thing.

Also, public religious expression isn't very socially acceptable. The line of reasoning is, crudely, that people who feel such a compelling need to shout out their religion and their religious beliefs could easily be compelled by said religion to do all kinds of objectionable things, because if you see yourself so strongly in terms of religion you are less likely to consider others and societal harmony. Unlike the US, there are no laws (except for France, now) against religious symbols, prayer, whatever in public places or schools - people will just wonder if you're a bit of a religious nut if you want to be public about your religion.

For devout American Christians, here's a little more explanining for why that is. There's history, of course. People were forced to go to church for a long time. Priests held an extraordinary amount of power, and many of the darkest and most immoral days of Christianity happened in Europe. Freedom from religion is very important, to the point where people want to see signs of it every day, not just in a law book. However, before you feel too sorry for your religious compatriots, (whom, by the way, you may have a lot less in common with than you think in how you interpret your faith) the worry is mostly with respect to Muslims. There have been some spectacularly gruesome crimes committed by male immigrant Muslims from very sexist and socially repressive societies against women in their own families which are at the very least linked up with how Islam is practiced in the country they immigrated from, like honor killings and organized serial rape of women as punishment for being too secular and living like girls in the host country. I don't want to get into what Islam really says and all that, but the common view is that some of it is culture, but that Islam is also culpable because it hasn't condemned the practices to the point of disappearance and because they often invoke "Islamic" ideals of behavior for men and women to explain their behavior (being the most generous to Islam here). So, people get nervous about religious people who can't keep their religion to themselves - you have to wonder what happens behind closed doors.

I guess what I'm saying is that for various reasons, Europeans tend to suspect you might not be able to play fair with others, be understanding toward others who are not like you, that you might have views that are incompatible with the views of society at large, and in the extreme case, not obey the laws of the country, if you insist on public expression of your religion. European Christians seem to have no problem. It's the immigrant Muslims' problem, not your religious compatriots'.

Blur - Magic America

Bill Barrat has a simple dream
He calls it his Plan B
Where there are buildings in the sky
And the air is sugar free
And everyone's very friendly
Well, Plan B arrived on a holiday
He took a cab to the shopping malls
Bought and ate till he could do neither any more
Then found love on Channel 44
La la la la la
He wants to go to magic America
La la la la la
He'd like to live in magic America
With all those magic people
Bill Barrat sent his postcards home
To everyone he'd ever known
They went
"Fifty-nine cents gets you a good square meal
From the people who care how you feel"

Rammstein - Amerika

We're all living in Amerika
Amerika ist wunderbar (America is wonderful)
We're all living in Amerika

We're all living in Amerika
Amerika ist wunderbar (America is wonderful)
We're all living in Amerika

Wenn getanzt wird will ich führen (When there is dancing, I will lead)
Auch wenn ihr euch alleine dreht (Even when you are turning alone)
Lasst euch ein wenig kontrollieren (Let yourselves be controlled a little bit)
Ich zeige euch wie's richtig geht (I'll show you how to do the steps right)

Wir bilden einen lieben Reigen (We'll make a lovely round dance)
Die Freiheit spielt auf allen Geigen (Freedom is playing on all the violins)
Musik kommt aus dem Weißen Haus (The music comes from the White House)
Und vor Paris steht Mickey Mouse (And in front of Paris stands Mickey Mouse)

We're all living in Amerika
Amerika ist wunderbar (America is wonderful)
We're all living in Amerika

Ich kenne Schritte die sehr nützen (I know steps that are very useful)
Und werde euch vor Fehltritt schützen (And I will protect you from missteps)
Und wer nicht tanzen will am Schluss (And whoever doesn't want to dance right now will in the end)
Weiss noch nicht dass er tanzen muss (Just doesn't know that he has to dance yet)

Wir bilden einen lieben Reigen (We'll make a lovely round dance)
Ich werde euch die Richtung zeigen (I will show you the direction to go)
Nach Afrika kommt Santa Claus (Santa Claus arrives in Africa)
Und vor Paris steht Mickey Mouse (And in front of Paris stands Mickey Mouse)

We're all living in Amerika
Coca Cola
We're all living in Amerika

This is not a love song
This is not a love song
I don't sing my mother tongue
No, this is not a love song

We're all living in Amerika
Coca Cola
Sometimes war
We're all living in Amerika

Just in case any deshis are reading this, the mixing of languages is symbolically important - Europeans are very touchy about anglification of their languages, which is seen as cultural imperialism. Mixing English and an European language upsets people a lot because it's seen as treason and/or "those damned yanks with their damned imperialist ways are here in our back yard!"

Another thing that might need clarification: EuroDisneyland was not a popular project, and it's as far as I know never made a profit. It was at least making losses every year for the first five years or so. It is a symbol of crap imperialist pop culture to a lot of people.

Blur - Look Inside America

Good morning, lethargy
Drink Pepsi - it's good for energy
The bath's on, smoke in the bedroom
Sore throat, and on my neck a nasty bruise
And where it came from
Well I don't know
But we played last night - it was a good show

Got to play a second rate chat show
A nationwide deal, so we gotta go
Jeff from the Company says it'll be alright
Got an ad on KROQ
And there's an in-store tonight
Well I build things up
Then I let them go
Got to get time share on the radio

Look inside America
She's alright, she's alright
Sitting out in the distance
But I'm not trying to make her mine
Looking for America
With its kookie nights
And suicides
TV says its alright
Cos everybody's hung up
On something or other

Stepping off in twenty
So the driver says
I should sleep tonight
But I think I'll watch videos instead
Annie Hall leaves New York in the end
Press rewind and Woody gets her back again
And the whole world could have passed through me
But I don't know that it means much to me

Look inside America
She's alright, she's alright
Sitting out in the distance
But I'm not trying to make her mine
I'm looking for America
With its kookie nights
And suicides
TV says its alright
Cos everybody's strung out
On something or other

And the whole world could have passed through me
But I don't know that it means much to me

Some more explanatory notes to Americans: Your way of denoting radio stations with four wacky letters that are impossible to pronounce and mean nothing is unique to you. In Europe, they have proper names. The national state radio stations are frequently simply numbered: Radio 1, Radio 2, etc (UK), P1, P2, etc (Sweden - short for Program 1, Program 2..) NRK1, NRK2, etc (Norway - NRK is the acronym for the national radio and TV corporation), YLE1, YLE2 (Finland - YLE is short for yleinen=common). Commercial stations pick whatever they like - like NRJ, which sounds like "energie" (= energy in French, but fits better on the car radio LCD displays), or Vinyl 107 (Obviously oldies station), Kiss FM, or Radio Mafia. So, the four letter radio station means it has to be a portrayal of life here, and Europeans hate memorizing the call letters.

Also, soda doesn't come out of the tap in Europe like it almost does here. In fact, it's common knowledge it rots your teeth and it's generally bad for you - so again, the positive connotation to Pepsi is not natural from an European point of view.

Everyone has a relationship or image of America. Like I said.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Blurring of cultural boundaries

Studying French in America is pointing out to me, bit by bit, how much more blurred cultural boundaries are in Europe than probably anywhere else, at the very least as compared to the United States and China. It certainly doesn't seem that way when you're there, because there are plently of things to mark the differences: local traditional cheeses as opposed to imported traditional cheeses, local traditions of design, glassware, architechture as opposed to foreign traditions of design, glassware, and architechture. But right there, the word "foreign" tells me something. Foreign isn't the right word. They're not foreign, they're.. from another European country. Logically, foreign is a completely acceptable choice, but the English word foreign has a feeling of.. far, far away and unknown and not understood. Not self, not familiar, not here.

Of course, Europeans express the idea "from another country" all the time - especially in debates about the EU. So what do they say, then? Well, they sometimes use words that I have to translate with "foreign," but they lack the feeling of far away. In fact, they're often used about things that are very common, very familiar, well-known and here right now. It has more of an essential overtone of origin, often invoked in slogans for intra-national products like "Suosi suomalaista!" (Favor Finnish [products/stuff/whatever]!) They put the focus more on the national rather than the Otherness of the foreign.

So in other contexts than exhorting consumers to pick local products to support local enterprises or farmers, what does one say? Well, European, for example. European as opposed to national. With the general discussions of the relative roles of the EU and nationstates and the on-going transitions toward integration, the relationship between central EU government - the European - and the individual nationstates - the completely Self - is in the back of your mind. Since one can't well mean European as opposed to us, whose country is in Europe but is not European, "European" has come to refer more to European as a whole, as a unified concept, as something more general that any nationstate is part of but no more than that. It is both Self and Other, and so its connotations - the way you feel when you say it - is very different from "foreign."

This type of language usage where region labels are used because there isn't a neat split between Self and Other is hardly new. Scandinavia and the Nordic countries have had passport-free travel for around 50 years between them for citizens of each other's countries, and their histories are heavily intertwined, as are their languages with the exceptions of Finland (Finno-Ugric language tree) and Icelandic (From the same tree as the modern Scandinavian languages, but retains many language features that are dead in the others, making it extremely difficult to understand. Think sort of like middle English). Switzerland has always had language diversity within its borders as well as fierce loyalty to a particular valley, creating both strong ties to the very local (the central government is very weak, and always has been) as well as to other countries via language in addition to the nation-state. For someone in a French-speaking valley in Switzerland, France or Belgium cannot be "foreign" in its English sense, even though they are different countries, there are different accents, and all such. When you already speak the language of a country, it is difficult to feel like a complete outsider the way you can if you can't even separate words out in speech and can't read a single thing. (Similarly, Americans seem to feel more kinship with other Anglo countries for the same reason, but America is far removed from it's sisters in a way people in Europe are not.)

Similarly, it seems that for Chinese, there are foreigners and Japanese. "Foreigner" seems to mean non-east Asian but including southeast Asian foreigners. However, there is a a bigger difference in perception between Chinese and Japanese than there is within Europe. Chinese food is Chinese food, Japanese food is different. Their tea is different. Their manners are different. Their culture is different. Although their histories have intertwined, they have not been as intertwined in terms of languages and movements of people as Europe's countries have been.

Food is, in fact, a good example. Ethnic restaurants in Europe tend to be non-European, like Thai, Chinese, Lebanese, Indian, kebab places, whatever. You won't see a German restaurant in France or an Austrian restaurant in Spain. Why not? Well, why would you want one? Local restaurants will serve dishes technically from all over Europe, in general, and it's just food. Wienerschnitzel is a very unremarkable lunch dish, despite a locality being in the name. Cheese is made everywhere - so buying cheese from France is not really different from buying cheese made in Denmark. For a purist, it may matter in terms of quality, taste, and tradition - but my point is that one does not really register a technically foreign cheese as foreign, it's just cheese. That it comes from all over Europe has more to do with modern cooled transportation than anything else. Wine has no origin, it's just wine. Some regions drink more of it than others, but some regions drink more milk than others. It feels more like a collective regional preference difference rather than Other. It's we. We drink wine, we eat cheese, we eat sausages and mash and coq au vin and moussaka and souvlaki and calamari and veal medallions in marsala sauce and schnitzel and beef stew and borscht. We cook with creme fraiche and roux and gravy and butter and olive oil and cream and tomatoes and herbes de provence and herbes, ce ne sont pas de provence. There are, of course, national and regional dishes - but they are few and not as common as all the dishes that are very similar. Those are the things we lift forward as separating marks, maybe with some things that are predominantly eaten in one region, because you don't notice all the similarities. It's just taken for granted.

In other ways, too, there is much more mixing than elsewhere. Food is relatively shallow; if that was all there was, one could argue America is very integrated with Mexico. What really has struck me in French class, to return to my starting point, is how little my classmates know about France, how foreign it is to them. La Sorbonne, for example. Le Quartier Latin. Expressions like "C'est la vie." But even more than that - l'esprit critique, the political discussions, all that. Still more familiar are some fantasy figures, almost icons, like Pierrot. One of my favorite toys as a small child was a turquoise silk Pierrot with a fine porcelain head and hat, sown to a pale yellow silk moon, crying. I so admired and felt sorry for Pierrot - why was he so sad? And why was he on the moon, all alone? But I envied him for sitting on the moon, something I had never done.

Later, in literature class, I did see a Self/Other split - but between European literature and non-European literature. We studied Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Proust, Brecht, Kafka, Ibsen, Voltaire, Strindberg, Shakespeare, all kinds of literature, poetry, and plays, all of which were considered something that one ought to know if one wants to pretend one graduated high school, because it was your literature. Later in the class, we were more free to pick what to study, and in a collective brainstorm we were naming famous authors and books they've written. I named almost every single American author and book on the board. Most of them no one had ever heard of except the teacher, who clearly considered them unnecessary. No mention of African, South American, Australian, or Asian literature.

Maybe Europe is the birthplace of one type of cosmopolitanism without being aware of it - a lack of black and white distinction between nationstates that is becoming generally integrated into identity conception, so subtly embedded in society that you don't even think about it. People like me do so to a completely different degree, and we do so consciously - but maybe Europeans can be the first people to society-wide identify with more than one nation-state. The circumstances are certainly favorable.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Score 1 for null hypothesis

Opinion voiced at panel discussion on global fundamentalisms: Europe isn't seeing a rise in religious fundamentalism in part because Europe doesn't feel as threatened by globalization. One piece of support for my null hypothesis.

One of the things I have the most difficulty understanding and sympathising with in the US is the excessive religiosity and especially the fundamentalism. The longer I've been here as an adult, the more it bothers me. Seems to be a general pattern for people. The mroe of it you see, the less you can stand it. At some point, you being public and vocal about your religion starts, in essence, pushing your religion on me, and I don't appreciate that. Especially, I dislike the idea that I ought to be behaving according to religious morals from a religion I don't believe in. It also sets up the scene for clashes and conflicts. That alone ought to be a good reason to keep your religion private. What you do in private is no one's business, assuming you're not breaking any laws. What you do in public, however, is subject to cultural and societal opinions, ethics, and restrictions. And, as far as I know, no religion considers it holy to self-aggrandize your piety. If you are pious, you can be perfectly pious without anyone knowing about it. If you don't feel satisfied unless you can show off how righteous and pious you are, then that has nothing to do with religion.

I still have trouble understaning why abortion and evolution are so controversial, especially evolution. None of the arguments I've heard explain to me why these issues, why now. The two seem rather randomly picked to me, really. The principles invoked to explain why these two issues are so crucial apply to all kinds of things where there is no similar outrage, and I can't figure out what has led to these two things being singled out for outrage.

I guess I've been gone long enough from Europe to start properly sorting out as an adult what is European. I saw many of the problems and the differences between the countries very clearly, but now I'm starting to see what is truly unique about Europe as a whole. Relative lack of insecurity about globalization is a pretty good trait to have.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Reality, realiteten ja todellisuus

Something even expats seem to have trouble grasping sometimes is that every place on Earth is real. Rather, I'm not saying that people think that some places are made up, but it does seem like many don't understand that everything they hear about, the news they see, it's right in front of someone. If they were that someone, it would be right in front of them.

For example, when you hear about people talking about snow skiing, they're thinking of old memories and resorts they've been to that you can touch, look at, live in, and be part of. If you snow skiied, it would all stand out in 3D to you too: all the smells, the sunlight, the kinds of trees, the cold, the types of snow, the mountains, the effect of the wind on the snow, the snow blowing into the air and into the light and glittering like a million little weightless crystals, the smell of food cooking when you walk into a restaurant... The fact that you've never done it or seen it doesn't mean that it's not real, that people aren't doing it or living it as I type. And anything that's real could one day be part of your life. Anything that is real really exists out there and is part of the collective human experience. Even though you don't deny that it's real - have you really affirmed to yourself that it is? That one day, you could be on a pair of skis, metaphorically speaking?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Tolerance for the Other

Even though I have tried imagining that I'd lived all my life in every country I've lived in, I'm starting to come to the conclusion that I never have and never will understand completely what life is like when you've only lived in one country. I can project and imagine, and that works well for most people, but then there's those people who are unsettled by change and/or globalization so much that they go to extremes in one way or another, and my abilities to emphathise nearly disappear. And then there's the odd mundane moments I can't imagine life without: I just watched two BBC shows on PBS. An air of... Europeanness came out of my television, and I couldn't imagine what it'd be like not recognizing that so intimately. The same thing used to happen with American shows in Europe. I can imagine not knowing many cultural norms, but I can't imagine not knowing many cultures. So, in this my tolerance comes to an end: when people are assertively close-minded enough, they are Other to me. This puts me in the classic dilemma - should I or should I not try to emphathise? Can I call myself open-minded if I don't? Where does the limit go? I'd say that neo-nazis are past the limit, but what I consider regular religious people are on the right side of the line. The current political situation here and elsewhere is pushing me to define the limit. I'm not sure it can be defined very well at all in the first place.

National Unity

I can't help but acknowledge that part of the identity shift I mentioned yesterday is due to the fact that it is becoming difficult for me to see myself as fully American in the current political situation. Part of it is due to the foreign policy and the propaganda circulating to support it, which I reject completely on both ethical and political grounds. Another part is due to the essentialism proposed by the extreme right (in an American context that never means the neo-nazis or associated groups, it means super-duper-conservatives and sometimes neoconservatives). Another is the militant religiosity that is so common here. And I'm not alone. I've seen a lot of LiveJournal posts lately voicing sentiments of alienation, from all kinds of people. So much for national unity.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Slowly changing identity

I am realizing that I am switching more and more to considering myself primarily a TCK, simply because it's easier. I can point to concerns in my life and say "Oh, it comes up from time to time for most TCKs" or "It's common for TCKs to feel that way". I can't say that very much for any other identity. Seen in terms of national identities (although I without a doubt retain them to some extent - I feel addressed when people speak of "my" countries), I am never typical of anything and I'm always somehow in the fringes - oh, look, another common property of TCKs.

In addition, this apartment and what it contains and why it's there puts me face to face with my need for the third culture. Next to my laptop is a pint glass with Paulaner, and my Paulaner is delicious and it makes me feel connected to... myself, really. European (especially German and English) beer is my beer. Clearly, in my apartment there should be my beer, not someone else's beer. There is a small tier of lucky bamboo on my end table, because lucky bamboo can be bought in our supermarket and it sits on our coffee table in spring. There are modern birch bookcases and a modern birch desk, because our houses and our apartments were always decorated with modern furniture, like most people's. There is a laughing Buddha, because it reminds me of dad. There is a scroll with a poem about long life that I bought downtown. My plates and utensils are some of the pinnacles of national design.

You see, when I say "in our supermarket," I mean Yansha Wangjing Wholesale Warehouse in Beijing. When I look at my lucky bamboo, I see something from Beijing - from home - not something I bought at Lowe's looking for something else. I see something from our family home that is also in mine - a tradition of sorts. Similarly, when I say "downtown", I mean "downtown Beijing." But it feels so close by when I look at the scroll. And when I say "national design," I mean "Finnish national design." I have the same plates as we did in Europe, the plates that my mother insisted on having. All these things make me feel closer to some other part of the world or something that is far away. I have pieces of everything in my apartment, and that's why it feels like home. And that really should tell me - or anyone else - that where I really feel at home is the third culture.

It's just that I've spent 19 years of my life before knowing what a TCK was thinking I was from one country or another. It's taking some time to fully realize that I am, in fact, a rather typical TCK. I realized this quickly upon reading about it, but emotionally, the realization hasn't set in quite as fast. I think it's starting to sink in now, three years later.

Building the Future

I'm in a cafe, doing homework, listening to the same drum and bass I've been listening to on the bus and walking around buildings. When I listen to it, I feel like the world is different.

When I listen to techno, the world is moving forward together. We - generation e - are growing into the ages when we and our worldviews will start to make an impact on society. The world is constantly moving and turning, but we have learnt how to not only live with it, but how to make the best of it.

We have created a system to both protect people from the excesses of capitalism and harnessed its power to generate income. Our societies are becoming more diverse and international, but our self-image is changing to fit. We have left our past behind and have set on a course to make ourselves better, so that the world can be a better place. And we all come together in the music, the music of our generation and the future.

I feel like part of the future. I feel like part of a global society. But I do not know if those I see around me at these tables, on the sidewalk, in the cars driving by want to create the future with me or not. I try not to think about it, because I have a sinking feeling that they do not. Ad if we don't build the future, who will?

My Graduate School Task

I have heard a lot of statements to the extent that the future does not belong to America lately. I have to seriously ask myself whether that is true. If the future does not belong to America, then it may be in my best interest to leave after my Ph. D.. My task must therefore be to read books from various disciplines in order to project whether America is not stepping forward as it should, so that in three years' time when I have to start making decisions of where to live I know where the future is.

Null hypothesis: America is not moving forward into the future as well as Europe is.

We shall see what some reading might do to the null hypothesis.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

New Languages

Learning a new language is learning new ways to express yourself.

Becoming part of a new language and culture is to make yourself more than you were.

At the heart of true multiculturalism lies multilingualism.

The New Imperialism

My current book is The New Imperialism by David Harvey, and it seems very interesting and well-written (in an academic tone, even!) but above all question raising. A number of things have caught my attention already.

In the course of examining hegemony and how hegemony is exercised, Harvey naturally examines the particular case of the United States as a hegemon. Harvey's conception of hegemony is "fashioned out of and expressed through and ever-shifting balance between coercion and consensus." (p. 38) He mentions a number of specifics that really made me stop and think of my own identity and self-image. He summarizes his examples with two brutal sentances: "The US has frequently relied upon domination and coercion and has not shrunk from the liquidation of opposition. Even internally, it has a history of ruthlessness that belies its attachment to its constitution and the rule of law."

Harvey explains the disparity between the examples and the perceptions of the American public by a combination of the American public living in denial and the American public passively saying c'est la vie. Of course, anyone with a personal connection to the United States has to ask him- or herself what personal implications this has, if Harvey is right.

I have heard criticism of US hegemony and imperialism for a long time. I have even had friends who found my emotional attachment to the US troubling in light of US foreign policy. Somehow, I still feel like I'm answering to them, because I'm reading similar things on the pages of Harvey's book.

Of course, there is one level of pure emotional attachment, an attachment of coincidence. When you've been part of a country, especially as a child, you can never divorce it completely. But actively regarding a country as good is a different thing altogether, and so I think that everyone with ties to the United States might benefit from thinking about the ethics of foreign policy. After all, if you support a regime across the board, you also support its foreign policy. If you do not know what your country is doing in other countries, you could be supporting a killer inadvertently. Extreme example, but it illustrates the principle.

I think I've been in denial at least to some extent, simply because it's not pleasant to discover that before you were born, your country was involved in staging coups to replace democratically elected leaders with a dictator more favorable to your country. That's not really the kind of history you want your country to have. I wanted to believe that the US had changed since then. Now that I'm presented with evidence to the contrary, that's becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. Maybe it is essentially the same mechanism that creates the denial in the first place. It's just not something you want to be true about your country.

If Harvey only dwelled on these rather manipulative facets of hegemony, I would maybe not take him that seriously, since the world is never that black and white. However, he points out something else that I can see; namely, that consent and cooperation are also essential to hegemony. He goes on to cite a number of specifics where the US has gotten general warm fuzzies from other countries for its actions.

While all this plays an important role in understanding the informal empire of the US, I think that there is another thought that begs to be thought out. How do you know that you have a reasonable view of your country, both historically and in current politics? How do you know when schools leave out parts of history that made a difference or when schools overfocus on something, giving a distorted view? Of course, systematic erasure of politicians in the Soviet Union and in China are the extreme examples.

However, Harvey mentions a more subtle and therefore more worrisome example: apparently, the US would like to believe that "it and it alone liberated Europe from the Nazi yoke, and it erases entirely the much more important role of the Red Army and the seige of Stalingrad in turning the tables in the Second World War." (p. 40) I remember being vaguely surprised in history class that the US involvement was so small in Europe - so little and so late in the game. I had an image of much grander and more decisive help - an army of Americans rushing ashore in Normandie. Not so at all. But how would Americans know?

I believe there is an answer, an answer that has been tested in practice since the Cold War: Cross-checking between countries. Every country presents some things in a skewed way. If you compare other countries' perspectives to that of the country you're in, you can spot it. That in turn means that international news is essential to both information and education. If you only know the point of view of one country, you will never know if what people are telling you is reasonable. The best way to ensure you have the full picture of politics in proper historical context is to check from the point of view of another country.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

I have arrived

I have been playing with the idea of getting a blog outside of LiveJournal, because I write in my LiveJournal a lot, but most of it isn't really personal as much as it is political or contemplative. The reason I got a LiveJournal was to stay in touch with my old college friends. In a similar vein, I recently found out that some other college friends have blogs here and have disabled anonymous comments. So, therefore, I have arrived. If I like this, I might make this my main medium for thoughts.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Life from the other side of the looking-glass

I'm reading my daily round of news on the Globalist and on BBC News. In light of what I read yesterday and the day before that, I can't help but wonder what these backlashers make of news items like that the UK will help pay some of Africa's debts, that the train fire that prompted rioting in Gujarat a few years ago was an accident most likely caused by people cooking on the train, or that two of the main figures in the Srebrenica massacre were convicted today. What role could such information play in a world where they are victims of a vast liberal conspiracy play? Where is there a space for ethnical cleansing, civil war, and poverty? I don't see one. Maybe that is because I do not understand this worldview and just can't explore it very well. On the other hand, maybe that is why people like the Daily Illini columnist I mentioned a few days ago lose the big picture. Maybe it's simply because the information that builds the big picture doesn't have a place in their worldview and thus doesn't quite register.

Now that I am old enough to have been alive/there for some of the recent historical background of news, my personal level of involvement has gone up a lot. I remember the news of Srebrenica, and the civil war in general - especially the news of the ethnical cleansing. Ethnical cleansing is to me one of those words that everyone learned through the news - kind of like tsunami is in many countries now. I remember the political discussion about whether visas should be required of refugees, of numbers cited of which countries took how mnay refugees, the high school cafeteria discussions about NATO's intervention, seen as unilateral action on the part of the US.

I also remember the cliqueishness of my junior high school along nationality lines. The Turks kept to themselves, the Iranians kept to themselves, the Swedes - as which I counted, because I was a hidden immigrant and because there were really no other white foreigners - didn't show interest in letting the foreigners join their social hierarchy. But as related to the news item, I remember the Bosnian refugees, especially the girl in my class. She was tall and thin and so sad. I wished that I could do something to help her, but all I knew about what she'd been through was from TV - and that's not a patch for anything. Besides which, it would have been difficult for me to win trust in the first place.

One of my early friends in Sweden was the daughter of some Iranian intelligentsia refugees. When I hear news of the democracy movement there, I think of her sometimes. When I attended a talk on islamic feminism two years ago at Knox, I thought of her. When I hear news of parents jailed for abusing their daughters in order to keep them from mixing with secular societies, I think of the women I know who were in the general setup and how furious I would be if they had been abused at home for hanging out with me.

In relation to all this, I also remember the rise in neonazi activity in response to the refugees. I remember the graffiti and the debates on what to do. But above all, I remember the neonazis in junior high. One of them was in my class. He was the ringleader of the badheads in the whole school. He had the standard attire of black bomber jacket, shaved head, Doc Martens, and violent attitude. I'd arrive for class and he'd be sitting there outside the classroom, flicking a butterfly knife in and out. I always would wonder if he'd actually stab someone - like me or one of the refugees or immigrants - if he got pissed off. He had this aura of unpredictability and instability that made you tip-toe around him, lest he decided that you were shit and got on your case. He was friends with one of the neonazi leaders for the whole region, who happened to be my Swedish teacher's son. This was a shameful secret whispered around the halls.

The moral of this long-winded parenthesis is that such news items draw my attention, because I think of people I've met and what this might mean for them. In my worldview, international news has a place to fill. I feel that it concerns my personal sphere because it concerns people in my personal sphere if not myself directly. You can find a link of most world regions pretty easily within your circle of acquaintances, in addition to just putting yourself in their position. Maybe this victim mentality focuses attention on themselves to such a degree that not even large news like the tsunami can jolt their eyes upward, toward the rest of us. That would be very unfortunate.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Identification reality check

Still reading What's the Matter with Kansas? and I am again simultaneously enlightened and confused. Enlightened, as to what has happened in the US on the grassroots level domestically. Confused, as to how I can understand so little of the emotions and perceptions that have given rise to this backlash and as to how I should relate to that fact. I alternate between a few views that are not very flattering to my claim to being tolerant of others who are not like me. Maybe I am not, actually, very tolerant; maybe I just feel like I can relate and understand most people so that I see very few people as actually not like me. For various reasons, I decide 'similarity' very much based on cultural interactions and/or similarities. If we can share a culture or subculture, third or otherwise, I consider us 'similar.' Of course, this gives rise to a large continuum of how similar, but the basic identification doesn't take that much.

Many of my friends who have some fact about themselves that make them different from me in some way society deems/has deemed significant doesn't really go into the 'similar' calculation, it plays more of a role like clothing choices or what music you like. It is a difference, just not the sort of difference that really matters when it comes to important stuff. Many of the readers on my Friends list may guess that they may be one. (Heck, in an extended way, everyone is. Even gender doesn't really register as an important difference in the sense that I don't see guys as fundamentally different from myself.) If you start saying that people are different from you because of any factual difference you are going to be a very lonely, bitter person. Therefore, it is not difficult to accept that they are not identical to myself - it's rather unavoidable and we're still basically similar, so... *shrug*

However, the people who are really dissimilar to me in the way turks are dissimilar to neonazis in the eyes of the neonazis and gays are dissimilar to homophobes in the eyes of the homophobes I am not so tolerant of; local people who don't care about the global, backlashers, or why not neonazis. Neonazis, however, are a special category, they need special discussion because they're such a test of the value of free speech and how far it should extend. I do not feel too bothered by my lack of tolerance for neonazis. However, people who live in one of Rosenau's Local or Isolated worlds are dissimilar to me in a very important way sometimes - I have trouble putting myself in their shoes. I can't really imagine it very well, especially the Isolated worlds, where it seems that many of the neocons live. In the end, I don't really want to, because if I'm honest with myself, I find it very difficult to respect their opinions enough to bother. I also feel that my reality checks are much better than theirs.

For example, it's difficult to believe in the "liberal media indoctrination" when you've actually seen old propaganda or news you know isn't covering the whole story/and or is propaganda. (Interesting related fact: the Chinese still haven't seen the pictures of the Tiananmen massacre. They know what happened, of course, but they haven't seen the pictures or video.) It's difficult to believe in a left-wing conspiracy when you've lived in one communist country and another so grassroots socialist that some call it the last bastion of communism on Earth. On the other hand, I have trouble believing capitalism is the root of all evil and that the US has a grand plan to take over the world for the same reason. I also know that Americans aren't all fake and shallow the way I know that all French aren't arrogant. I've seen things with my own eyes that keep my feet solidly on the ground - or at least so I'd like to think. I have an obligation to make sure I'm right - or to make myself right if I'm not.

Saturday, January 15, 2005


I strongly recommend What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives won the Heart of America to anyone who is as confused as I am over how the political situation can be what it is. Today's dose of reading was very explanatory again, and I'm starting to realize that a lot of things have happened domestically while I was gone that were too domestic to get reported elsewhere. Not surprising, in the view of Kosovo and all the following concerns and debates and actions, and the fact that there are terror attacks semi-frequently byt the ETA and the IRA among others. The book is suggesting that the right is using the tactics that the left has traditionally used for getting attention and generating support among the common people, only with economics stripped out, giving the curious result that the working class vote for policies that help the rich. This is a very interesting proposal. However, some of the tactics involve rhetoric that I, unfortunately, recognize.

One of the examples of this inversion of who is trying to gain the support of the common people cited is Johnson County in Kansas City, KS. Everyone's Republican; however, the posh neighborhood where people have Ferarris is the realm of moderate Republicans, and the parts of the county where the pain peels off the houses and there's car wrecks in front yards is the most fanatically (neo)conservative. Frank points out that the moderate republicans fulfil many of the "liberal" (which I know now why it is used in such a strange way now) "evil" stereotypes.

"The Mods are plenty conservative in their economic views, as noted previously. But they also fulfil the liberal-elite stereotype, if all you consider are the cultural attributes of liberaldom made famous by the good-natured loathing of commentators like David Brooks. There are moderate Kansas Republicans who drink chardonnay and who put Martha's Vineyard stickers on their Saabs. There are Mods who insists on European-style coffee and whole-grain breads and high-end chocolates. There are Mods who shop at Restoration Hardware and Whole Foods and who look down on those who shop at Wal-Mart. There are Mods who listen to NPR and who insist on speaking French tot he waitress when at a French restaurant. There are Mods who go to gay-friendly, super-Waspy Episcopal churches and who disapprove of the Patriot Act and who rally in support of immigrant rights. And there are Mods who assume that all working-class whites are racist. But such people aren't liberal. What they are is corporate."

Other than the new use of "mods" (fashion anyone?), what this sort of stereotype tells me personally is that combined with an emphasis on authenticity, I don't exist to the backlashers. My parents have driven a Saab for the past ten or so years. I learnt to drive in the one they still have, which has heated leather seats and a turbo. This is simply because my dad's company had a contract for corporate cars with the local Saab dealer, and it's not an exclusive car in Sweden. It is a car of the people, like American cars here try to make themselves out. (If you're American and hadn't thought this through, your national cars are the imports everywhere else, and buying what to you is a foreign car is the patriotic choice.) Half the freaking country drives a Volvo. I insist on whole-grain bread because European whole-grain bread was what my European mother bought and baked from scratch in Europe. I drink wine because my European parents sat me down when I was maybe 17 and said, 'You need to learn how to drink wine before you move out of home.'

See a pattern here? The stereotype is implying that people who drink lattes and drive foreign cars and drink wine and insist on quality foods lack some magical, essential American authenticity. In other words, it's implying that certain lifestyle traits and political beliefs are incompatible with being one of the people - the true, authentic, American people, because these people have to be putting on airs to live the way they do. I don't think they're putting on airs either, but for me personally, how could I possibly be what they think is authentically American? It's a factual impossibility. It rather implies that I and other Euro-related TCKs or even expats or European immigrants or their children can't be American. (shirou already seems to have been indirectly told so.) It seems rather clear that they have not thought this through in a 'global movement of people' perspective - and again, I don't exist for purposes of political debate, or at the very least I and they way I feel is irrelevant in the wake of some movement that's all about standing up for the people.

The irony is that up to now, I've always had to try to show that I'm one of the People - to the left. But then it wasn't about culture and nationality, it was about economics. So if Frank is right in his analysis, I'm going to get the same crap here for being inauthentic, just on another topic. And again, we return to that essentialist identity constructions really have to go.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Quality of life

After reading an op-ed piece in the Daily Illini, I find myself wondering what life is like for conspiracy theorists, anti-globalists, and other people who see the world as full of evil and decay. Constantly fighting everything and everyone must be completely and utterly exhausting. It must wear you down and significantly decrease your quality of life. I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

The columnist was arguing that although the United States is, as predicted, very generous and does not pay attention to nationality or religion in its great generosity (in this case for the victims of the tsunami), the United States must be prepared to pull out all help efforts when Islamic terrorism rears its ugly head in the region - which it will, because "our enemies" are always vigilant and ready to strike. I don't think I can follow the argument very well (how can the US be so generous when Europe has far outdonated the US? And how can the US be so generous when stopping all help is even discussed as an option?), but what exhausts me is the idea that enemies are everywhere. To live in a worldview where everyone is out to get you is not something I'd wish upon anyone. Why would one choose it voluntarily?

Imagine... after one of the most disastrous natural catastrophes in history, where citizens of many countries were affected, where the news spread like never before, via SMS and email in addition to traditional news, after the world united in aiding like never before... this man sees enemies in the bushes. And enemies of one country alone. He sees only one country and its problems. How sad. Normally, I'd get irritated, but somehow I just pity him. The real news of what happened and its implications has all passed him by.

Nearly 150, 000 people dead, rescue efforts, so many stories of people's lives shattered and loved ones lost, stories of the generosity and warmth of the locals toward the tourists, the aid pledges, the organization for evacuations, for identification of the bodies with forensics, the global questions of whether we could have done more to prevent death and to help immediately afterward... and all he can see is the "war" against terrorism. Being a part of global humanity seems to have passed this man completely by, and that too must be an incredible burden to bear. He must feel so alone - only some 250 million Americans as his company. 250 million cornered, hunted Americans. I couldn't live that way.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

US in crisis?

"In regions in crisis, nostalgia for the past and religious fundamentalism appear as shelters from the storm. In a globalized world, not paying attention to this is tantamount to paving the way for the clash of civilizations." -Jaques Chirac in the Globalist, 01/13/05

If nostalgia for the past is a major divider of American society as some would argue, then does that mean that the United States is a region in crisis? Or is it that nostalgia for the past and fundamentalism appear as shelters from the storm even if you're merely uncomfortable?

Either way, I don't think I've appreciated just how deep-seated resistance to globalization can be. Rather interestingly, that matches Rosenau's description of affirmative globals.

I also have to confess that part of my lack of sympathy - and thus lack of notice and understanding - comes from 'their' lack of sympathy for me - the oppressive marginality that I've lived under most of my life. I am being asked to conform to a local world, where everyone is from one single place that has a special place in their heart, where only local things matter and where I am just being unnecessary, annoying, superfluous, and weird in taking an interest in the rest of the world. I have been told not to speak languages other than the language of the host country by teachers, peers, and scout leaders. I have been told I've made things and facts up about other places just to make myself special both indirectly and directly. So when people feel that there is no place for them in globalization, I have a hard time sympathizing. There is no place for me in their local world and they let me know that very clearly. Now that the tables are turning, why should I feel sorry for them? After all, they can adapt in theory in a way I could not. If they just don't want to adapt, that's their problem. I've been trying for years and years to adapt to them. I know this is childish and immature, and so it's not something I like to acknowledge even to myself. Maybe if I dare think the thought through, I can get past it. When such ideas are in the light, their flaws often become immediately visible. After all, if I want a claim to being the bigger person - indeed, a cosmopolitan person - I have to be able to put myself in their shoes, difficult as it is.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


Inspired by smittenbyu's courage to reveal herself, I decided to take a little leap of my own. I posted a question asking if others had been thrown out of or rejected by a home... and I got almost an immediate response. I am not alone at all. The part of me that I have always been the most reluctant to touch upon, that extremely few of my real-life friends know anything about I actually share with others. That part of me I've only properly been able to share with Kary. I got a Christmas card from her saying that she was leaving in a few months, and I am very happy for her.

We both just thought that it is impossible to explain to an outsider who hasn't seen it themselves. It's not a secret per se, but it's both very personal but above all incomprehensible to most people, it seems. I've simply found, like my mom and a lot of other people in the third culture, that if I explain too much about life stories and citizenships and feelings and moving, I cease to be a person and become a misunderstood zoo specimen. I am a person. Therefore, I present myself in such a way that I know I will be met like one - I use the cultural chameleon property most TCKs have.

I feel almost like I felt sophomore year when I found a link to - I laughed and I cried and I couldn't believe that I could be described by an acronym rather than a life story with lots of points that were essentially incommunicable in practice. I'm actually very typical. And now I know that it's not just Kary and I, there's people out there who might have gone through the same things we have! I still can't believe it. Now, if people just knew what all these terms were...

Update: An email later, I realize that we're all third culture kids. This seems to be a problem stemming from being a hidden immigrant. Kids who are moving back into possible hidden immigrant-ness urgently need support and attention and above less hiddenness. Expatriates raising or thinking of raising children really have to get this kind of information. Really, really, need this kind of information. It's being discovered by trial and error, but there's no need for kids who are growing up today to discover what we already have.

This is an reference group orientation exploration milestone for me, I think. (An opportunity for me to explore how other TCKs see things.)

Afterthought: Maybe I do not cross cultures as much as I never exit the third culture. Maybe one can never truly leave one's culture - including the third.


logodaedaly pointed out to me what the culture wars are, and in my happiness over a new-found word I googled for it. I found something interesting: an article that argues that the divide is over modernity, not politics per se. This made much more sense to me than the culture wars as apparently usually thought of. The author, David Brin, mentions enlightenment ideals and how they are in decline here. This is very in keeping with my last post from yesterday. I really should re-read Distant Proximities again. If this is backlash to globalization, I think I and many, many others have vastly underestimated just how threatened the masses can be.

What's more, this could explain why on Earth the US uses old technology when the rest of the Earth is moving on. How many Americans even know what 3G is? Or know what NTSC and PAL are? (Not the people at my local Best Buy, apparently. That was weird.)

And it could explain the depth of emotion and the lack of rationale and the urgency which which arguments are made.

And why shirou got yelled at for speaking French. It was a reminder that the world is moving too fast.

This also fits in with something I read recently - that the world's only hyperpower has a sense of hyper-vulnerability of its people. You could see some of that after September 11 - of course it was a shock and it was unimaginable, but... the world has seen much worse. It's a cliche, but it really seems like Americans don't quite know how to react to trouble physically located in their country and seem to have trouble assessing the risk and the danger.

And it also explains why I am completely not understanding what is going on - I think globalization is ultimately a good thing and I'm counting on it. A mass emotional reaction against globalization wouldn't register on my radar other than by critical mass - which could well be what just happened, and here I am, dazed and confused like a drugged cat wondering what happened.

And it's reasonable in the sense that it doesn't require millions of people to be stupid or ignorant.

This fits. I should do some more reading and write something more rigorous to check if this really could be the explanation. Others have clearly tangented on the same ideas, I should find out what they've already said.

Update: Already reading stimulated new thoughts. I am reading What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank, and a line stood out at me. He argues that the neocons have successfully shifted focus from economics to authenticity. He writes, "What divides America is authenticity, not something hard and ugly like economics." In other words, an essentialist identity construction. And that explains where all this un-American business came from. This is all coming together - this is what Maalouf was talking about in some of his examples in In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. You can see it - the admonishment of moderation, the exclusion of multiple allegiances, everything.

Addenum (01/14/05): What's the Matter with Kansas just gave me another part of the puzzle. One of the reasons that I do not remember this ideological fighting and general craziness, in addition to being a kid and as such relatively politically unaware, is that these phenomena apparently started popping up after we left or right around the time we were leaving. I just ran across an account of how things shifted - and all key events are after 1989. That's why it doesn't feel familiar at all - it wasn't there last time I was living here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Putting the finger on it

The post-Cold War world is one of speed and change. It requires constant re-evaluation, assessment, and flexibility. No set of ideas, religious or not, will be a floating device. You actually have to learn how to swim. And the world is more complex now than it was, so understanding what is going on and even simple information sorting is much more difficult. Maybe what we are witnessing in the United States is a backlash toward globalization rather than reason and other enlightenment ideals, maybe the red states do not want to live in a complex, fast-moving world.

I was stirring my soupe goulash when I realized that I'm shopping for a country to live in after I complete my Ph. D. like one might shop for a car. I am actively planning my life set against a rapidly changing backdrop, and I am actively thinking of how to make myself essential to companies on a global plane. In short, I am preparing for this fast-paced, global lifestyle. (I intend to start the journey toward becoming fluent in French, so I'll speak all three major European languages.) My identity formation leaves me little to lose. But people from the red states maybe think that a successful backlash is possible, that we can turn back the clock ot when things were slower and they had to work less hard to make themselves needed.

I will re-read some of the material I read for my Honors. Maybe that could help me make sense of what is happening the the US and why there is popular support for the current foreign policy. Maybe, somewhere in there, I will find the explanation that will help me feel like this can still be a place I can call home without feeling that its values are in conflict with another home's.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Foreign Policy

(Rant warning: I am generally unhappy with the way things are and seem to be going through a mild bout of reverse culture shock combined with uncertainty of where I could be happy.)

I think that the US is seriously misreading where the future is going and I think the US is seriously forgetting where the past came from. CNN said yesterday that the Euro is the strongest currency on Earth compared to the dollar. The EU would have been thought a miracle 50 years ago. Cooperation, dialogue, and negotiation to secure real peace in our time have been shown to work in practice - it produced the world's strongest currency, among others. It has produced what hundreds of years of war couldn't. The future does not lie in soldiers and occupations. The future does not lie in attacks, terror, or mobilization. The future lies in openness, negotiation, and peace. Let the mission civilicatrice begin, then.

The reason peace is the future is the past. Humanity has seen centennia, if not millennia, of war, terror, and oppression of different kinds, that culminated in the deaths of millions of people in World War II and then in the gulags. Millions of people have disappeared during the night never to be seen again in the name of security. At least all of Europe has to live with the collective memories of the war. It doesn't seem that it has touched the US nearly in the same way. I hear news of things like Guantanamo and Iraq and no matter how I try not to think about it, the associations to the war come up, and it seems like no one else remembers here. We swore never to forget, but are we forgetting? Or, are Europeans remembering, but no one else? But how could anyone forget? One of our family friends was rescued by the Red Cross from a concentration camp. He still had the serial number tattooed on his arm. Part of our family lived behind the Iron Curtain. Another part had to fight for independence. Is it really so that without the personal connections to what happened, one doesn't care? Could it really be so? That others haven't learnt what can happen? That others maybe don't even know exactly how everything happened, how it could end up this way?

If this is so, I am afraid of what might happen here. It seems so ridiculous to make a comparison, but I seem to know very little sometimes. And it was unthinkable for it to happen in the first place. Our graduation speaker said that we live in interesting times, and I thought it an exaggregation. I sincerely hope he was wrong.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Irrational fear, hopefully

An opinion article in yesterday's Aftonbladet by Jan Myrdal argues that holding people who are not informed of what they are accused and against whom the government has no proof prisoners has no place in a civil society with rule of law. He mentions some old examples of when rule of law has not been upheld: political prisoners in France in the 16th and 17th century; Feb. 28, 1933, the new Hitler government decided that to protect the people and the state, no proof or trial was necessary to take people prisoners. Having just read a book about an Estonian child refugee and having seen some of my mother's old photographs, I think of all the people who disappeared during the night - both during Hitler's regime and during Stalin's. Trains full of people, some or most pretty arbitrarily taken. All the stories I heard as a kid about the Soviet Union and what happened to the people behind the iron curtain, people who we had belonged together with either by blood or by culture and tradition. All the letters with codes to sneak past the censure. And the immense pride that Finland has in having stayed independent - and all the sacrifices that people have made for their country to keep it that way.

Every time we go to visit my grandfather, we go to the graveyard. He shows us the family graves - there's two - and the graves of more distant relatives, even though we know where they are. And then we go to the war memorial section to look at our relatives who are buried there. The Winter War (Talvisota) and the Continuation War (Jatkosota) killed some of my relatives and hurt others. My great-grandfather was one who died. Afterwards, my great-grandmother couldn't afford to feed her six children. My grandmother and her siblings had to become huutolapsia, children who were auctioned off to the family who promised to take best care of them. Huutolapset often had to work hard for their food and most of the time didn't get a lot of love. They were at the bottom of society. My great-aunt Anni, the youngest, was lucky and ended up in a good family who treated her well. I don't know what exactly happened to the rest, because still is very shameful and painful for my family to talk about. Even my mother didn't know until for about five years ago, after my grandmother's death. Finland lost Karelia and had to take care of thousands of refugees. The Finns had to seek help from Hitler Germany to keep Stalin away; they had to seek help from a regime almost as feared as the one they knew they would have to fight. But Finland is independent. Estland, almost like Finland's sister country, was occupied first by Hitler and then by Stalin. Both did basically the same thing - got rid of anyone who might in any far-fetched way sometime in the future maybe possibly be part of the resistance movement. Killed or deported to Siberia or concentration camps.

The Finns were the primary means of smuggling information past the Soviet censure, because of the close ties between Finland and Estland. I heard stories as a kid about the efforts and the danger involved. My grandfather was asked to mail something by an Estonian stranger, someone who approached him in a very scared and secretive way in Helsinki. He did. Someone must have been told some very sensitive information thanks to him. The Estonian must have smuggled the letter - very dangerous - with her on an official sanctioned trip. I heard the stories of the watching and the eavesdropping and the poor Finns who crossed the border to join the Revolution. Most of them ended up in Siberia or killed. When the wall fell, everyone's first though wasn't political - it was happiness for the people on the other side. In the happy naivete that followed the tearing down of the wall, we all thought that now they could have what we had, that torn families could re-unite, that we could all be free and prosperous together like we should have been.

Although I know that such a fear is not warranted right now, there is a part of me that immediately thinks back to all this when I hear about things like holding prisoners without proof or trial. As a child, I often felt very grateful for having had such luck to have been born outside the Soviet Union when I heard the stories and felt the fear turned into action and later pride from my family. Both my mother and my father could have been inside the iron curtain if things had been different, my father more likely than my mother. I could have been born a Soviet citizen. My childhood could have been full of the fear and scarcity and corruption that my third cousin's was. Even though it is - I hope - irrational and I try not to think about it, sometimes I can't help but imagine a world where the US is like a rich Soviet Union, where not even being a model citizen and pledging your loyalty and belief in the System can save you, because that's just what a good terrorist would do to hide. And that just gives me a lump of cold ice in my chest. It's just too much. And it just can't happen. There must be a law of physics preventing it from happening.

I don't know what to think, what to really realistically think, when I hear things like that, that prisoners can be held indefinetly without accusation, prrof, or trial. I don't know what to think when I hear the propaganda touting the glory of fighting terrorism at any cost for the safety of the people. We've heard that argument before. Many, many times before. As soon as the safety and well-being of the people at any cost is on the agenda, innocent people start disappearing and dying. Nothing scares me so much politically as a Strong Leader who Only Wants My Best. And that's what I have. I just can't reconcile that with history, not at all. My solution seems to be to not think about it too much, but in some moments I think, "I have a foreign passport. If it starts happening, I'm leaving everything behind and I'm driving to an airport and I'm flying to safety." That's what worked last time, leave before the borders close. But I also can't bear the thought that this could happen in the US. It's just so unimaginable that it could be happening again, it's ridiculous, it's ludicrous. But I can't get rid of this irrational fear, as much as I would like, I can't reason it away. It makes my feelings toward America very complicated right now. I can't feel the solid foundation of being critical and patient and diplomatic like I do in Europe. I trust Europe. I trusted America, too. I don't know what to do now - I want to have faith in the way the country is built, in the people, even more or less in the politicians and the arms of government. But... faith is exactly what propagandists want. If I just have faith in that it will work out, I could be putting the gun in the hand coming to shoot me. As the old saying goes, "When they came for the blacks, I didn't speak up, because I wasn't black. When they came for the Jews, I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew. When they came for the Catholics, I didn't speak up, because I wasn't Catholic. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak up." Faith killed a lot of good people. I feel kind of like I might toward a loved parent that suddenly, unprovoked, hit me. How could it be? And what should I do?