Friday, October 17, 2014

I like to live in America!

A few years ago, when I was asked for advice, I told the young person that to me living in America is not really about the material affluence, which I do enjoy, yes.  And, if affluence were all that was of interest, then there are plenty of other places on the planet now where one can earn planeloads of money--perhaps even more than what can be earned in America.  One can even stay put in the country of birth and earn in plenty.

Therefore, my advice was that coming to America should be about wanting a certain way of living and not really about the money.  "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" that embraces liberal democracy and values the individual's rights.

The fact that these values are precious to me, and are why I love living here in America, does not mean that I believe these are universal values either.  In my atheist framework, we are born, we live, we die and, therefore, it is up to each one of us to figure out how to live.  If others choose a completely different framework, and live happily or unhappily as a result of that, well, it matters not to me as long as they don't compel me to live according to their rules.  Nor do I find it necessary for me to try to convert others into my way of thinking--it simply ain't my business.

Thus, I often note that it is up to people to draw up their own social contracts with their fellow citizens.  All I know is that I do not care to live in countries where their social contracts are practically incompatible with my approach to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  Even after all these years, I shudder recalling the experience of the computer returning a "site banned" message on the screen when all I did was try to access my work emails during a visit to a country whose name begins with a U and ends with an S, and when staying in a city with a name that begins with a D and ends with an I.  (You solved the puzzle? hehehe!)

It also pisses me off when Americans think it is their responsibility to spread the idea of individual rights and the pursuit of happiness to the rest of the world, overtly and covertly.  This missionary zeal to export the American, and Western, model is also what the talented wordsmith and ideas man, Pankaj Mishra tackles in a lengthy essay, in which he notes:
In the 21st century that old spell of universal progress through western ideologies – socialism and capitalism – has been decisively broken. If we are appalled and dumbfounded by a world in flames it is because we have been living – in the east and south as well as west and north – with vanities and illusions: that Asian and African societies would become, like Europe, more secular and instrumentally rational as economic growth accelerated; that with socialism dead and buried, free markets would guarantee rapid economic growth and worldwide prosperity. What these fantasies of inverted Hegelianism always disguised was a sobering fact: that the dynamics and specific features of western “progress” were not and could not be replicated or correctly sequenced in the non-west. ...
China has more recently achieved a form of capitalist modernity without embracing liberal democracy. Turkey now enjoys economic growth as well as regular elections; but these have not made the country break with long decades of authoritarian rule. The arrival of Anatolian masses in politics has actually enabled a demagogue like Erdoğan to imagine himself as a second Atatürk.
I would not want to live in China or Turkey, but would love to spend a few days as a traveler in those countries.  Living there for an extended period of time will call for thinking about the issues that surround me.  For instance, at the high school reunion a couple of years ago, a classmate asked another classmate--who is now an American expat working and living in China--a few questions about his life there.  And asked for some examples.  The Indian-American expat in China talked about how in a matter of months the Chinese government got rid of an antiquated road system that did not have the capacity for modern needs and built a multi-lane freeway.  "What happened to the homes there?" the classmate asked.  The expat said he assumed that the government paid the people a fair compensation.  "If they protested?" was the follow-up.  The expat shrugged his shoulder.  "Not my problem" he said.  It was another reminder that I cannot live in a society and simply shrug my shoulder and say "not my problem."  A mercenary existence that does not appeal to me.

But, neither do I want my government to tell people in other countries how they ought to live and govern themselves.  As Mishra notes:
Recklessly exported worldwide even today, the west’s successful formulas have continued to cause much invisible suffering.

Whether it is via the economics of the market or the politics of democracy, a reckless export causes, and has caused, a lot of suffering.
The result is endless insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, wars and massacres, the rise of such bizarre anachronisms and novelties as Maoist guerrillas in India and self-immolating monks in Tibet, the increased attraction of unemployed and unemployable youth to extremist organisations, and the endless misery that provokes thousands of desperate Asians and Africans to make the risky journey to what they see as the centre of successful modernity.
It should be no surprise that religion in the non-western world has failed to disappear under the juggernaut of industrial capitalism, or that liberal democracy finds its most dedicated saboteurs among the new middle classes. The political and economic institutions and ideologies of western Europe and the United States had been forged by specific events – revolts against clerical authority, industrial innovations, capitalist consolidation through colonial conquest – that did not occur elsewhere. So formal religion – not only Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and the Russian Orthodox Church, but also such quietist religions as Buddhism – is actually now increasingly allied with rather than detached from state power. The middle classes, whether in India, Thailand, Turkey or Egypt, betray a greater liking for authoritarian leaders and even uniformed despots than for the rule of law and social justice.
Yep. Why meddle around?  I am not happy that Indians have elected to power a maniac whose rise to power was fueled by Hindu nationalism, nor am I happy with the Party in China, or with Russia's Putin, or ... the list is endless.  I blog about them.  I critique them, yes, as much as I critique America too--after all, America is no Eden.  But, at the end of it all, I recognize that those are their problems not mine or America's.


Ramesh said...

Sure. You like to live in America and I like to live in India, and that should be that. And, preaching isn't a great idea - to each his own.

Really - you had a problem accessing emails in Dubai ???? More likely that the NSA prohibited access from an "Islamic country", than the UAE banning anything. The only thing they ban is porn and calling the Prophet unmentionable names - which of this were you doing ??

Sriram Khé said...

This was way, way back in 2004.
All i had typed into the computer was my university home page URL, from where I would typically enter the email domain ... when i typed, the system said "site banned" in big, bold, red font letting ... scared the daylights out of me and I couldn't wait to exit the place.

BTW, "porn" and the "prophet" in the same sentence? Tsk, tsk, tsk ... Because you wrote that, you are not getting 72 virgins after you die ;)

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