Letter to my son
While I was drafting an email to my son, I found myself setting out my philosophy of life and the goal of this blog. My son then helped greatly to improve it. It seems appropriate that this should be my first post of 2021 – a year of hope and, perhaps, new beginnings.
Jeremy, my dear son,
In our debates, you think that I go too far in my respect for China – and other ‘undemocratic’ nations. I defend the indefensible; I support a regime and its policies that you consider deplorable. I use my liberal, western, education and values to endorse cultures in which even I might be uncomfortable to live.
At the core of our debate is ‘freedom’ – however one may define it. Western cultures value individual freedom above all else. In Asia, especially China, individual freedom is subordinate to the good of the community. Maintaining harmony is more important to Chinese people than personal preferences and opinions. Until western people, media and politicians understand and accept this, true global co-operation will remain unattainable.
You are right, however, that I let my feelings run away with me sometimes. I am dismayed at the ill-informed criticisms of different cultures made by Western media and politicians. I feel embarrassed to be from a similar background. While my belief in Western culture is strong, my national pride is low. I feel guilty about the inane, biased, and thoughtless views of many Westerners. Most believe that their Western values are the only way to truth and justice for the world. This is colonialism at its worst.
I fall, sometimes, into the same traps – bias, thoughtlessness, and lack of balance.
But behind it all is this…China, (or Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, USSR – all currently ‘enemies’ of Western culture) – has the same right of existence and self-determination as the USA, UK and Europe. They have the same entitlement to believe what they choose to believe. They have had many centuries to develop their own culture and values. In 2002, President of the USA, George W Bush talked about ‘an axis of evil’. What possible right does anyone on the planet have to call another nation or culture ‘evil’? Yet, this degrading rhetoric continuestoday.
Yes, humans and nations are imperfect. They look after their own interests. Sometimes in doing so, they do things that others may find distasteful. Competition among nations is inevitable and can even be healthy. Every country, including China and the USA, has spies. Every country, including China and the USA cheats sometimes. Some countries are rich and some poor. This is undesirable for the world. One day humans may have evolved sufficiently to avoid these inequalities.
But not yet.
Son, you believe that every person has a right to free speech, to live as they wish and to choose their own government ‘by the people and for the people’. They have the right to strive for a better life, to seek happiness, to make mistakes.
Surely China, and the people of China, have the same right?
You argue that China suppresses the freedoms of its citizens. You are shocked and want to change this. What has it got to do with you? What right do you have to interfere? Over the millennia of known history – 10,000 years at least – Chinese people have shown themselves to be perfectly capable of changing their rulers, governments, and behaviours.
Chinese people do not need your ‘help’ or mine to do so.
You argue that, today, dissatisfaction in one society leads not to revolution, as it once might have, but to economic migration. This adversely affects Western societies. Yet this has been a feature of the world’s history also. Romans, Goths, Mongols, Saracens, Saxons, and many others have invaded to better themselves, as did colonial nations. Besides, most countries have benefitted from immigration.
China is not one of the nations exporting refugees. There were almost 150 million Chinese international tourists in 2019. Did any one of them seek refugee status in the Western world?
As you know, I have lived and worked in six cultures, two in Europe, three in Asia and one in the Middle East. Each is quite different from the others. I loved (and love) every one of them.
I have learned much from their different ways of looking at the world – what is important and what is good. Much of each culture was strange to me. I have been in the poorest slums and the richest palaces. I have been scammed by street beggars and importuned by wealthy businessmen. In my whole, long, life so far, I have never – not once – come across a person I would call evil. Some people were hard to understand; some took actions I did not like. What I have found is that, once you discover and accept the reasons why people behave as they do, you can appreciate them. You can deal with them. You can forgive them.
So, this is my plea to you, son – my call to action. If you believe yourself to be a true liberal, allow others their rights to be autocratic, or led by autocrats, if that is what they choose. If you dislike the norms and values of a culture, study how these may have arisen so you can understand, if not appreciate, them.
Above all, allow peoples, nations, cultures, to be as they choose to be, rather than as you would wish them to be.
You and the world will be happier and more secure.
Your loving Father
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