A Man with a Flashlight


Welcome
March 23, 2007, 11:04 pm
Filed under: The Beginning

As you can see, there’s not much here now. A little about myself and the kind of subjects I might talk about on this page in the future.

My parents were hippies – and still are, in the changed way of most old hippies, a little more groomed and presentable but still very much children of that moment in history. (Young people now who claim to be hippies aren’t the same thing – because in the sixties it was an original act, a trend to be sure, but a trend happening for the first time.) I grew up conversant in the New Age, hearing a lot about naturopathic medicine, organic food, and the empowerment of women. I was encouraged to be creative and read books, and forbidden to watch television, which I did anyway at my friends’ houses.

We lived in a liberal county of a conservative western state. When I was twelve my parents put me into private school, much against my will, as it meant leaving behind every friend I knew. In private school most of my classmates had more money than my family, and some had quite a lot. But many had names like Rainbow, Bodhi, and Sunshine, and long-haired parents who wore rough, dyed shirts from India and Nepal. At the time I didn’t really think of them as hippies, but as normal adults like my own parents.

Like more and more Americans these days, we lived surrounded by like-minded people.

College brought some continuity and some change. Though colleges are supposed to be extremely liberal, and mine was somewhat, I met more Republicans than I had before. My college was in New England, and I saw a different face of liberal politics – people who dressed formally, whose people had been in New England for generations, who looked conservative to me. Their liberal views were not a rebellion against any older generation, but a continuation of their parents’ and grandparents’ politics – a tradition of civil rights, union support, and environmental conservation. I went abroad for a year, to several third-world countries, with students who opposed globalization and international trade. I had friends who went to the Seattle WTO protests. I still regret not going, not to stop the meetings – I have no position on them – but to have been there, and to have seen it.

Up until then I had seen nothing to challenge the culture I had grown up in. I felt privileged to be American, from the west, and brought up liberal.

A year out of college I moved to Taipei. I had studied Chinese and wanted to continue learning, and friends told me there were job opportunities teaching English.

I arrived with badly incorrect expectations. I had been in India before, knew there was similar poverty in China, and expected Taiwan to be a little more developed. I found an affluent, urban nation, where technology is in many ways more advanced than in America. A few decades before, Taiwan had been the low-tech factory of the world, known for cheap labor and products, like China and Malaysia are today. And sweatshop labor, I had been taught, exploited the workers without developing the economy.

So how could Taiwan have developed? This is where my reconsideration began. Living in Taiwan, I began to consider areas where liberal politics seemed blind, content with rhetoric but lacking curiosity. And, living in a foreign country, I came to understand more deeply what it meant to be American. “Proud to be an American” is just a slogan, designed to produce a reflex response, not thought. But there are good grounds for that pride, if you look with the right eyes.

I still consider myself more liberal than conservative, and I don’t wish to focus mainly on politics. It is an easy subject to write badly about. But when I do write about politics, I want to spend more time criticizing liberals than conservatives, because I think liberal politics badly needs to reconsider what its core values must be.

I also want to write about the way people are living in Asia, and what that means for Americans. Every culture thinks of itself as the center of civilization, but in some things, I believe, we can learn from the Chinese and the Japanese. In other things we can appreciate our own culture’s traditions better by knowing that they are not universal, but unique to ourselves.

And of course I’ll write about whatever else strikes my fancy. Posts won’t generally be this long – it’s a blog, not a novel – and now that the introduction is out of the way there’s no need to stand on ceremony. Let the wild rumpus start!

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