Sunday, August 31, 2008

Chinese happiness -- Hating the One-Liner

One of the biggest reasons I am enjoying this blog is that I am freed, at least thus far, from the insulting “one liner.” In other discussion groups, I couldn’t avoid them. I typically approach a subject by doing some study, seeking the best authorities I can find and then reasoning from them to a conclusion -- perhaps only a tentative or conditional one. Some, perhaps many, are impatient with that approach and in the midst of something I am writing, they will interject the “one-liner.”

The “one-liner” will be insulting, challenging, or perhaps merely disdaining, and since they develop no argument of their own I won’t be able to tell what their precise motivation is – or often even what they mean. Furthermore, they won’t have challenged my whole argument, just some brief statement they want to quibble about. If I respond, then it becomes readily apparent that they do indeed intend to challenge everything I’ve said. Of course they don’t know enough to do that, and I don’t know why they even want to try. They tenaciously hone in on their “one-liner” and defend it like a pit bull with his teeth wrapped around another dog’s throat.

I hate that. Such people won’t know enough to address the issues I am interested in, and it is demeaning to have to descend into a response to their quibble. Of course I can’t always avoid it, and it invariably leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.

So instead of talking about the recent grudging Western acceptance of the fact that the “Autocracies” aren’t going away any time in the foreseeable future, I must descend into a quibble challenging the idea that people who live in China can really be happy. Good grief, that was the hope for many years, that is, that they would be so unhappy that they would have a Western-Style Liberal-Democratic revolution, but they turned out to be happy enough, especially with standards of living that are growing rapidly. Everyone . . . I need a better word, because the quibbler will reject that right off . . . is watching China. The Chinese have a tradition of respecting elders. Their traditions are a good fit for an authoritarian regime as long as it isn’t too brutal. Even if it is, as it was under Mao, most Chinese went along because they always go along. Yeah there was Tiananmen Square, but how many people did that really represent, one percent of the Chinese population? (Ah, I would definitely be opening myself up for a quibble here because I don’t really know how many Chinese supported the Tiananmen Square position). And if the people were happy enough to tolerate Tiananmen Square . . .

Consider the Chinese novelist Yang Yi who won Japan’s most prestigious literary prize with a novel about Tiananmen Square:

In a very few words the author of the article, drawing from Yang Yi’s acceptance speech answers the question about Chinese happiness. She quotes Yang Yi to say ‘The staggering number of people in China, along with its millennia-old history, makes us incapable of having a Western-style democracy.”

The Macao based author writes, “A recent poll by the Washington-based Pew Research Center found that Chinese were the most positive about the nation’s direction among 24 countries polled, with 86 percent of Chinese saying they were satisfied.”

Good Grief! 86%? I doubt that 86% of Americans would say they were satisfied. And yet many of us doubt that the Chinese can be happy because they aren’t living in Western-style Liberal Democracies? What arrogance!

Now don’t get me wrong. I probably lean toward the Neocon idea (if any Neocons still hold it) that it would be a good thing to export Liberal Democracy – a good thing for those of us living in the West – because then everyone would be enough like us so we wouldn’t need to worry about wars , or at least very serious wars. But to balk and quibble about whether Chinese can be happy living in modern day China is . . . well you can see why I don’t like talking to people who engage in one-liners.

Lawrence Helm

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