Sunday, November 7, 2010


(draft-ish, as most of my blog posts are)
Ever since spending 12 weeks in China (that is, incredibly, more time than I spend in a semester at MIT learning 6000x things... Man oh man did I waste my time this summer, in some senses), I've called into question a lot of my own beliefs.

I'm a passionate believer in the ideas behind the Millennium Development Goals (or here if Wikipedia's sad), so it seems like I should also fall in the group of people who agitate for human rights. Growing up in the United States of America, I should be a passionate believer in democracy. To me it should be
... depressing (depending on your viewpoint) ... that Obama has failed to press Russia or China very hard on rights, given how little leverage Washington has with these powers--and how such pressure has backfired in the past.

To add to that, this summer I found out that one of the relatives I'm closer to is child-less because she spent 20 years in prison. She loves children all the more for it. In fact, I learned that the story of my family's ties to the Communist Party are just as convoluted as the story of Communism in China itself (My grandfather's picture is in a small museum about the Revolution. He had a chance of being high up in the Community Party, but since my grandma, originally also a Party member, became leftist, in part due to the Party's treatment of aforementioned relative, he had to choose between staying with her and career advancement. He chose her.)*
*(don't hold me to the details here -- my memory ain't the best)

In some sense, then, my summer was invaluable. Irreplaceable, since my grandma passed away recently. My rant on the Chinese hospital system, I'll save for another day.

My heart cries out that we still live in a world where the injustice of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, of Aung San Suu Kyi, these wrongs can be perpetuated for so long. Where there are so many human rights violations in China.

Speaking of which, how do many Chinese think of the Tibetan situation? They buy the line that, in order for China to remain whole, we need to speak a common language. That's the function of Mandarin, why Tibetans are being taught Mandarin in schools. It's a net benefit to them -- many Tibetans, the western regions of China in general, are poor and can achieve better living standards by working with other Chinese, with the government. In America, everyone loves the Dalai Lama. He stands for peace, for love -- how could I not support him?

But my own relatives are more ambivalent. Because they've been prejudiced into not hearing what he actually stands for? If I supported the Dalai Lama, should my heart not equally cry out at the injustice being perpetuated on the Tibetan people by insisting they be a part of China?

Have the Chinese people been blinded by government propaganda, by growing up with biased textbooks? What is the truth? (Is there no truth? No way to know which way is truly "right," whether in two hundred years Tibetans will become a proud part of the ethnicities of China? Whether Tibetans will "gain" more than they "lose" from being a part of China?)

I get such strongly contrasting opinions from my friends in the USA. Since I live in the USA, I should be an ardent patriot, right? Since I believe in human rights, shouldn't I research our policies, defend my country with fierce debate and rhetoric?

The USA...

My beliefs became ever more conflicting when Arka, putz's resident Patriotic Indian (i.e. very proud of Indian democracy) told us how many Indians view Gandhi, that favorite of human rights activists and Westerners. That many Indians dislike Gandhi for tearing their country apart into Pakistan and India. That the independence of India was inevitable due to Britain's changing place in the world, and did not arise from the charisma of Gandhi. I'd never considered this, that perhaps Gandhi wasn't a universal standard of Good.

The USA...

Where our security services gets away with whizzing foreign citizens around and wrongly imprisoning people for years (and these are just the people we hear about). Where Guantanamo Bay exists. Where we decide to invade a country halfway around the world.

Where a relative of mine was arrested and made fun of in their local newspaper for not interpreting the police officer correctly and speedily enough (the arrest was baseless and unnecessary). Where the freedom of the press sometimes results in human deaths and other tolls, despite journalists' best efforts.

This kind of shattered my illusions about and belief in the fairness of our justice system. Do I still believe in its overall fairness and justice? Do I believe its the best possible approach given our human fallibilities? I don't know.

I'm not unpatriotic. I love America and the opportunities it afforded my parents to let me get to where I am today; the opportunities it affords me today. As my parents have said again and again, though, only they who love me so much would ever give me the criticism that I need to hear. Perhaps it's something similar for me... I love the promise of the USA so much, that I would like to see the reality of the USA get even better.

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