"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan
The last time I wrote a little about how I thought or behaved before I went to America, my experience in Los Angeles, my encounter with actual Americans in their native environment, and how my thinking has changed since then.
I think that trip has changed my thinking in more profound ways than I thought. Even though it has almost been eight months since my stint, but now I’m still feeling some of its consequences unfold.
I think the core of realising that I am not a Westerner, and I will never be them, has caused my latent schizophrenia to re-surface. I read and think in English. Before that I have reconciled my Chinese background with my own English education and learning via an adoption of the English culture and civilisation, e.g. empiricism, pragmaticism, common sense, and even their commercial attitude, etc. A friend of mine has noted before that the Chinese are very much like the English just as the Japanese are like the Germans.
Lately however, I’m starting to feel the rift getting worse between my Asian and English side. As I said before, I don’t really care for virtual or vicarious identification with lost empires or peoples who are long gone and dead. It is interesting to discuss the Qing dynasty during the Opium War, etc, etc. But any Chinese who today feigns outrage at the wrongs and injustices perpetuated during the Opium War is indulging in a mere LARPish affectation, no more credible than Westerners attempting to role play knights at a Renaissance Fair. The past is the past, it is quite literally history. There is no real continuity between the Qing Empire of the past and the Chinese of the present, and any attempt at identification is merely a theatrical LARPish act. It is not longer a living thing.
What I am concerned with is the present and what being a Chinese means in the present as an immanent reality. I’ve increasing come to embrace those aspects of the “Asian mind” which so offends the Western world, especially our matter-of-factly objectivity and empiricism to the point of fatalism and self-loathing/negation. It is ironic that many of those who seek to defend Asians do so by trying to prove that Asians are better at being Westerners than Westerners, that is, essentially by adopting the Western frame.
For myself, I have reached a point where I don’t care to justify the Asian mind in Western terms. I can say, without the slightest tinge of shame, that we Chinese are a self-serving and materialistic people and we would descend into an anarchic race of back-biting and exploitative merchants and conman if Divine Providence, or evolution if you prefer, did not install into our brains a subservient and fear-inducing module, with a high bandwidth to our conscience, which instinctively recognises and cringes before a superior power who, we hope, out of a ruthless benevolent noblesse oblige, brutally whips us into shape with draconian measures that we might be fit for civilised life. Relentless stimulation of all our pain receptors and fear module by constant reinforcement of brutal and harsh strictures is the only way our conscience can be reactivated and sustained, and from there, a semblance of virtuous life made possible. (I can’t really explain it, but I find it to be true for myself. It’s like when I talk to my boss, suddenly I find myself drained of all my usual agitation and spirit and I speak mildly, even meekly sometimes, and I have this instinctive sense of fear of my superior, even to the point of paranoia. Not even a virtual entire lifetime of Western education can get rid of that from me!)
The Chinese calls such competent and virtuous rulers who have the heavy duty of saving the Chinese people from themselves as those who have received the Mandate of Heaven to rule over the Empire. For from our historical and present day experience, we know that without such rulers, China would suffer from years and even decades of chaos. That is why we are not even too picky about the racial identity of our Emperors, the Han Chinese having been ruled by Mongols and Manchurians before. Whoever can bring order has right of rule.
So, I admit, I take a certain perverse relish and delight in shocking those of the Western frame of mind with the Asian way of thinking in all its raw glory. It is fun to post videos and quotes from Singapore’s most prominent founding father whose matter-of-factly frankness about race and real politick is quite a sight to behold. It is quite amusing to see those of the politically correct frame of mind seethe at our Elder Statesman point blank and I-don’t-give-a-shit, statements about how we would never be equal in this world and about how the government must have the power to tell you where you can spit otherwise the country would fall into ruins, or how the government must enforce their enlightened policy over the petty and ignorant squawks of the masses. It is also funny to respond to gun problems and drug problems in America with, oh, just follow us and execute all gun users and drug traffickers! The most amusing one I think is our practice of caning violent and petty criminals, rioting? Rape? Vandalism? No problem, just brutalise their behinds with a cane and they’ll behave themselves in no time!
I guess in a way, I am taking the English empiricism, rationalism and objectivity to its “Asian” extreme, to the very point of fatalism and self-negation and the annihilation of the subjective. Subjective agency itself is subject to the cold and amoral facts anterior to our subjective desires. No romantic clap trap about the innate equal worth or value or capacity of people, just the facts and truth about us from an utterly objective point of view to the point of inhumanity.
The Western world has two terms for the external factuality of one’s life. “Fate” and “Destiny”. “Fate”, that that’s just the way your life is and there is nothing you can do about that, has more or less receded as a currency of common use in Western circles. “Destiny”, that there is a fixed goal or destination for one’s life, is still used in Western circles but also not much. Besides, “destiny”, unlike “fate”, has much more positive connations of salvic or glorious goal.
In Chinese societies, even today, 天命 or Fate is still very commonly used. My friends from more Chinese backgrounds would still use 任命, to surrender to one’s fate.
Perhaps I am mere being reactionary against the sound and fury of the Western spirit, who in their arrogance believes that it is capable of all thing, and I simply respond with, nah, we’re all too bound to what Fate has decreed for us in this world. 任命吧!
At this point of my life, I can see the world from both the Western and Asian point of view. It’s quite fun to be able to switch point of views as and when you need to to frustrate your opponents. But this fluidity does causes schizophrenic breaks in my own mind. Oh well. One can but hope for a Hegelian synthesis in the future I guess…