Heroic Rebels Required?
Here are a few thoughts on some comments to a few of my Stickman submissions. It’s neither complex nor a light read, so if you have ever used the word pseudo-intellectual this might not be a fun post for you. Writing stuff like this is one way I really get my kicks though – its fun to think about stuff, and I never know what I really think until I write it down.
Regarding Stick's comment to me on my article about Sarah, where he said that putting so much consideration on relationship was thinking like a woman, exclamation point, I have to say that idea, while true and worth noting, is limiting if it carries a negative connotation. I’m proud to be also able to think like the half of the species I love most. In another Stick submission I severely dissed all women by saying that since they are not used to the aggressive arguments required to develop clear thinking, preferring instead to emphasize social harmonies and categories, they were generally sloppy in thought. While there is some truth in this recognition of different cultural values in men and women, or at least a general skewing of some values being more or less predominant, it was rude to over-emphasize the negative, the lack of “masculine” thought in women, because there is a need to also praise women for thinking clearly, for the “masculine” approach to thought that so many women have amply mastered, and more and more do so. Western women are often put down or seen as less attractive than Asians to some men for loosing too much femininity. I suggest a balance of being able to be confrontational like a man and empathetic and socially aware like a woman are the required two halves of any complete man or woman. To bring about such new social values that would allow this, we must first socially recognize the value of it and work towards it, praising in men their excellence at femininity, and praising in women their excellence in masculinity. With such social support, a woman can be masculine as required, and not be forced to choose either masculinity or femininity only. She could wear an alluring feminine dress to a business meeting instead of a shoulder padded power business suit. A man could be feminine as required, with the vulnerabilities of being soft and emotional and empathetic. There would be no need to be nothing but powerful and strong to be sexy and socially supported, nor the need to be nothing but sensitive and have no balls.
Any good lover will tell you that emotional versatility, the ability to be passionately and aggressively on top as well as the ability to be passionately receptive on the bottom is a delightful trait to have in a lover. If a woman doesn’t occasionally want to be dominant, I’ll feel a lack, and I’ve heard the same from women, that if a man can’t be a bottom, they feel a lack. It is virtuosity with being feminine that can inform and strengthen virtuosity with being masculine. While being a top, being highly receptive while powerfully dominant is way sexier than dominant alone, and while being a bottom, being confidently able to express ones own needs while being fully receptive is sexier than receptive alone.
So if we want a society as sexy as possible, we need to encourage in each other non-traditional gender abilities. Outside of the bedroom, over dinner conversation, the same is true – if we want our mates to be both empathetic and intellectually stimulating. It’s true also in the office – if we want to encourage women to move into the male dominated professions, to be socially and economically free enough and morally responsible enough not to be gold diggers deriving their identity from the status of their mate, we’ll have to be careful to give attention and praise to their manly virtues, and if we want men to be considerate and caring of the impact of their business on family and society, we need to encourage in them feminine softness and empathy.
I loved Falang Dave's submission and thought it was brilliant. As to his argument, I agree that levels of personal development are ubiquitous – in any society there will be sociopaths and saints. It is the relative distribution that marks the general tone. Asia feels younger.
A reader asked me to speculate as to why Asian society places less value on art, truth and morals for their own sake and places more value on practical matters that relate to status than western societies. In this article I considered there are more people in Asia with underdeveloped egos than in the west. People aren’t forced by their parents, teachers, and peers, to be rigidly truthful, to develop a strong personal character, quite the opposite. Students are encouraged not to make waves, to idly listen and parrot, to use other people’s work and to cheat on tests. Pointing out faults in others, even criticizing their ideas is regarded negatively. When there isn’t social pressure to be carefully considerate in ones logical arguments and carefully introspective and on guard for personal faults, a rich structure resting on honesty, openness, creativity, truth and social concern can’t develop. As long as face holds higher value than personal development, the culture is doomed to backwardness, stuck in adolescence. The whole society has a fundamental flaw, at the root – all aims are towards status. More people in the west have as their aims the joys of their pursuits, not merely the joys of the fruits of their pursuits as status. More of us read for enjoyment as respect for the value of truth, more collect varied music or study art history or take five minutes to consider a sea shell for the joys and value of beauty. More of us consider our fellows when we choose how loud should be our motorcycle muffler for the value of moral social engagement. The value system is flawed in Asia, and this aborts the development of the individual and therefore the society. Concern for face is an adolescent phase that denies growth, because status is seen as more beneficial than making required mistakes and painful admissions of faults and confronting others. People have to be free to make fools of themselves to take off the straightjacket of unconsidered and inconsiderate values. It is a necessary part of growing up. Asia has tied itself down with its continued emphasis on social harmony through respect for face. In Canada you are free to criticize openly and publicly, and this friction leads to greater and greater inquiry and expression, and personal development, and all the advances that rest on those.
But stating the problem doesn’t answer the question of why it is this way. Why the culture is stuck in adolescence. Traditional European culture has placed much more emphasis on status than the New World cultures in North America, famous for individuality. North American cultural influence has been huge, we trade much with Europe, and together the movements towards a marriage of a European socialism and an American individualism is evolving in both continents. Asia is still basically feudal. Indonesia is basically owned by a few family interests. In Thailand connections are more important than skills. The social bonds and social climbing are more pragmatic and necessary here – you have to choose your allegiances and guard your image carefully. I see the emphasis on social bonds on the one hand or individuality on the other as a spectrum from Asia, to Europe, then the New World countries of the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Obviously we need a marriage of these spectrums, keeping our respect for social bonds, while growing into greater and greater individuality.
Asia puts more emphasis on face due to inertia and lack of social revolution. Europe had its renaissance and the overthrowing of Monarchies, America had constitutional democratic revolution, then its Vietnam War protests, its feminist movement. Cultural inertias were overcome by grand political movements. Even the Copernican revolution in thought was partly political – the state, which was not separated from religion at the time, nearly killed the guy for saying that the earth revolved around the sun. It isn’t safe to have grand political movements in Asia – you could be shot. If you criticize a businessman in the press, you could be shot. If you criticize the culture openly, you could suffer severe consequences. I don’t know what precipitates social revolutions, but Asia hasn’t had theirs yet. There is no counter culture, and starting one could be dangerous. Without one, inertia will remain, as social and political revolution may be the only way for evolution on this society-wide scale.
A society needs capitalism as its base – individuals free to choose their own methods of competing for resources, motivated in good measure by selfish ends. And on top of that it needs structured rules of social interactions – government and laws and state organization. The general people have to be involved in their governments in order for both capitalism and socialism to work. Without that corruption turns the state into a collection of family interests – it becomes a more feudal society with the rich land barons and their serfs. The U.S. is quickly going in that direction, and at the same time becoming more materialistic, but Asia was always feudal. General and sophisticated political awareness and discussion seems a key to social change. Some dissatisfaction will need to be sufficient to rally people for change and to empower them to be active in their own governance before face will loose its tremendous power. If democratic lawful self governance is not possible, then you need connections for power, and connections are largely about allegiances and cultivating your image. The cultural heroes will remain the well connected. The road to success will stunt real success, as status alone is a hollow and alienated aim.
Enough people have to be dissatisfied enough with the current state of affairs and feel empowered enough that they can band together and make a political change in order to overcome the barrier to conflict that face imposes. Once rebels are seen as heroes, people can have role models that then stress a value other than status, and personal development is then freed from the straightjacket of adolescent concern with image. Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. were partial inventors of the individual, in society. Before such grand rebels and revolutionaries, we accepted our place in our feudal society, did not look the King in the eye, and watched our image closely.
The power of inertia will keep Asia focused on face until there is strong enough dissatisfaction for social systems such as schooling or religion or women’s rights or mafia style corruption or under-regulated individual and corporate pollution, or labor rights, to start open public debate and criticism and reform. Without rebels as heroes with real social and political power, it’s safer to play cover tunes than make a new musical style. Better to fit in and not buck the system.
We don’t even have to think about these things in the west. We grew up taking for granted the courage of our heroes. Asia doesn’t have such heroes yet, and doesn’t know that it doesn’t have them.
The spirit of National Public Radio and Public Television in the U.S. is reformist, plus there is strong civic spirit of taking delight in the community of ideas for their own sake. It takes as its premise for being that public communication freed from commercial interest will be fuller and richer, less restricted by political and business interests, less a dumbed down sideshow of titillating sensationalism and the top 40 experience, and is a required part of a healthy society. Canada has the CBC and Britain has the Beeb – both publicly funded radio shows of very high quality. No one gets shot for expressing controversial or damaging views. Listening to them makes you feel part of an informed caring community, and is fun.
Any city without a café or bar that has open mike night for storytelling, poetry readings and music is a city missing a strong sense of community of spirit. We tell each other our stories, and that makes us connected and alive and growing. If people aren’t reading or writing, participating in culture, the culture is backwards.
I’d speculate that any society with few reformist heroes and little public involvement in government will suffer a similar poverty of the soul, and would be curious to hear from folks familiar with Arab countries what’s going on there. In communities with the greatest public involvement I’d expect to see the greatest attentions paid to the arts, truth (scientific, philosophical, meditative, psychological), and morals. San Francisco and Boulder Colorado come to mind.
I didn’t read that theory anywhere, it just occurred to me this moment. It sounds right, and I hope it gains me a lot of face. Or a job as a columnist. Or a new wife.
I’m off to Bali soon to start phase 2 of project life. Come visit.
Comments to follow at the weekend. I am SO BUSY at the moment….no time to read through all submissions at this point in time.