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?