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Monday, October 15, 2012

Tongue-tied

Accotink Creek

Time was when I lived on an island far away from here that I used this blog to vent some steam, secure in the knowledge that only a handful of people were ever going to read my endless whingeing about some trifling matter or another. Now that I'm a diplomat-in-training, the realization has started to dawn that from now on, when it comes to blogging, I'm going to have to be more...er, diplomatic. Especially as one of my favorite targets is going to be my temporary abode in the near future. The result is a warmer, fuzzier and more boring blog, but there's little I can do about it. 

Take this morning, for example. On one of my favorite news sites (out of a former imperial European seafaring power), there was an article about making sense of a country by studying its language. Seeing as the county in question was the very one whose lingua franca I'm currently pulling out what little hair is left on my head in a desperate attempt to  master before departure, I took a look. Said article was one of those usual naive puff-pieces penned by Orientalists (oops) who have fallen in love with the culture, to the point that they have become blinded to certain not-so-pretty realities. Before, when I was free, I would have had a great time tearing something like this, and the person who wrote it, apart. But those days are gone. For example, when the author says...:

Why have we managed to get (Country X) so wrong? The reason is hardly rocket science. We insist on viewing it through a western prism. For the best part of two centuries, Western societies have seen themselves as the model for all others. But (Country X) isn't like us. It never has been and never will be. 

The great task facing the West over the next century will be to make sense of (Country X) - not in our terms but in theirs. We have to understand (Country X) as it is and as it has been, not project our own history, culture, institutions and values onto it. It will always fail that test. In truth such a mentality tells us more about our own arrogance and lack of curiosity than anything about (Country X).

... I wouldn't have hesitated to excoriate the writer for seemingly accepting the ridiculous assertions by the likes of former prime ministers LKY and MM that the values of the West (democratic political systems, constitutionally-protected freedoms such as speech, peaceful changes of administrations etc.) were somehow inimical to the so-called "values" of their particular homelands. I would've asked the writer if he or she thought that the value of a non-Western life was somehow worth less than that of one of their fellow citizens, and I would've then pointed out that such talk was nothing more than cynical justifications for authoritarianism and repression, dressed up in language designed to play on the guilt of persons such as our scribe. I would have also asked the author to explain why so many of Country X's citizens seemed to want to share so much of his or hers (the writer's) own country's institutions and values.

But I can't do that anymore.

A bit of Civil War railroad history

When the writer pens...:

True, (Country X) has called itself a nation-state for about a century. But 100 years is a mere pin-prick for a country that dates back over two (extremely long periods of time) . Modern (Country X) emerged in 221. By the time of the (particular name) dynasty - still more than 2,000 years ago - (Country X's) borders already closely resembled those of eastern and central (Country X) today.

...I would've enjoyed pointing out that while Country X's borders 2000 years ago may have roughly resembled Country X's current depiction on maps, those same borders have fluctuated greatly over the millennium, and of how the peoples living in those areas have not always enjoyed the benevolent hand of governance bestowed upon them by Country X's dominant ethnic group.

But those days are behind me now.

Fall is in the air

When the author writes of how a former European colony that is now back in the bosom of the motherland that is Country X is still proudly different politically and legally, I have to now resist the urge to hit back, no matter how much I would love to point out all the clumsy, heavy-handed attempts at trying to alter those very differences the writer celebrates into something more palatable that have been made by the leadership of Country X.

Stephen Foster, where art thou?

And when the writer refers to one of my former places of residence, it's all I can do to remember my training:

If (former residence) should decide at some point that its future lies with (Country X) and that it should accept (Country X's) sovereignty, I think the (people of Country X) will offer the (people of my former residence) the same deal - one country, two systems. But they will likely go further and give an undertaking that (country of former residence) can retain universal suffrage and its present multi-party system. Because what really matters to the (people of Country X) is not the system but the principle of their sovereignty. 

Must...maintain...control...I mean, how freakin' naive is this guy or girl!? Oh, if only I could provide the numerous examples, both historical and contemporaneous, that would point out how dangerously naive the above paragraph truly is. But official policy says I must not go there, and I have promised to uphold official policy.

My daughter flies through the forest

So this humble blog will continue to focus on the activities of myself and my family, like our fun outing today to Lake Accotink Park in nearby Springfield, and leave it those who are unencumbered to point out the errors and fallacies of the ill-informed. It looks like I'm going to have to wait until retirement before my curmudgeonly self can be set free again.


 

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