Third Party & Independents Archives

Why Are Homosexuals Safer In China Than The US?

Many have said that the 2008 Olympics in Beijing were China’s coming out party to the world, but did you know about China’s real coming out party? In Shanghai this past June there was a successful gay pride parade carried out by the local LBGT (Lesbian Bisexual Gay Transgender) community. Although many out there can argue whether or not the existence of a LBGT community in China is advancement, no one can argue with the fact that a community such as this receiving greater freedom and tolerance is a sign of the Chinese government loosening control over individual rights. On closer examination we even find that the Chinese people actually have a different reaction to homosexuality than American people do. They are less violent by far. Why?

In the United States there is passionate debate about this subject as well as other issues and it’s this debate that has become the foundation of our strength as a nation, just as it will be for China in the future. On this particular issue, however, Americans and Westerners in general seem to be at a disadvantage. The subject was officially recognized about 12 years ago when the Chinese government decriminalized sodomy, in effect legalizing homosexuality. All available sources I could find (here is one http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/15/world/asia/15shanghai.html ) agree that there has been a lack of violence towards homosexuals in China before and since this law was passed (this is obviously in comparison to Western norms; please comment with links to any contrary evidence). This tells us something interesting about the prevalence of hate crimes towards the LBGT community in the West and especially the US.

Mainly, that the violence towards homosexuals in America is cultural and endemic to the West, not humanity. Can we clearly link this dangerous fear based reaction to a specific part of western history or culture? Can we find this linkage by looking at the differences between western and Eastern culture? The answer seems simple at first, violence itself. The way that these different cultures react to violence and how they hold it dear to their manhood isn’t exactly the same, but both cultures are extremely violent, right? Well, let’s take a look at that closely. In China, violence successfully brought about unity and conformity, but in Japan there was no conclusive victory to end hostilities as in China. A lack of conclusive victory by any European nation brought about the intense competition that made Europe the most bloodthirsty, greediest group of tribes to ever walk the earth. Japan continued the intra-tribal violence for centuries past Chinese unification, but this didn’t continue as long and as viciously as in Europe.

While fighting amongst each other over the centuries the Japanese developed a unique warrior ethic not seen anywhere else. This Bushido code shows another difference between western and eastern culture worth pointing out. The banning of firearms in Japan to maintain the Samurai warrior class highlights a certain respect and honor not as prominent in European society. Put simply, the Europeans practiced all kinds of behavior necessary within a warrior ethic (i.e. honor, chivalry, dueling, etc), but I don’t believe any European nation ever seriously considered banning firearms, not with neighbors like theirs. In fact, the development of cross-bow bolts and the training of uneducated and unchivalrous soldiers to shoot them helped end the age of knighthood. We can clearly see what the Samurai were avoiding by preventing firearms proliferation and smartly so. We can also see a clear example of a greater respect and honor towards violence in China within the phenomenon of Martial Arts. China is unparalleled in the development of unarmed combat techniques and this alone speaks volumes about the nations culture. So, what point can we take away? Generally, the evidence points to a greater warrior ethic and a higher value of honor in Asian cultures. Most of us don’t need to be told such a thing, but the evidence is above and please refute if you can.

In Europe, we have no holds barred, literally. Greater armies and greater weapons competing against each other in a bubbling cauldron of nations fighting for dominance made for some very nasty people. Well, nasty to everyone not on their side that is. These people spread around the earth and subjugated millions, but does the West’s ultra-violence account for such off the charts hatred of homosexuality? Not by itself, no. So, what else could it be?

At this point we are easily confused because of myriad examples of homosexual behavior existing in ancient texts regarding the Greeks, Romans and all kinds of folks in the middle ages. China’s historians have come to admit the same examples exist in their history as well. So, were stuck. Why do white guys feel the need to beat up on gays, while Chinese guys don’t? Can we blame religion on this? Wait, yes, we can blame religion? Thank God!

Just kidding, but seriously, let’s take a look at this. Do western religions bring the fire and brimstone necessary to justify this kind psychotic behavior against harmless people that mean no harm and are just trying to be allowed to be themselves? Yes, it does. When we look at Christianity and Islam, we find that the majority of all violence against homosexuals, and against everyone else in the name of God for that matter, comes from these two religions.

In fact, look around the world and you’ll see a majority of our problems being caused by followers of Muhammad and Christ (sorry if that offends anyone, but please refute and I will discuss). So, if you want a shortcut to finding all the evil being done against homosexuals or anybody else for that matter, just limit your search to Christianity and Islam and you’ll not have a hard time finding the data you want.

Now, let’s take the two pieces of the puzzle and put them together. A pinch of violent and conquering history mixed with a smidge of violent and conquering religion, bake for two thousand years and you get world class gay bashing by the best in the business. They’re still more biblical about this in Islamic cultures, where they simply topple a wall onto the homosexual and if they live … they live! Christians are more advanced and have taken God’s will out of the equation when it comes to hate crimes. These people are actually positive that God wants retribution and have the confidence to make sure and kill the hated one themselves. God’s will isn’t necessary, it’s assumed here. In the West, you’ll find homosexuals shot, hung ,beaten, dragged by automobile or any other number of horrible ways to die, but usually they are beaten to death because the assailant is having an emotional reaction to feelings they don’t understand. It’s the inherent connection between God and violence in the western mind that brings confused young men to the breaking point where they would rather take a human life that has nothing to do with them then face up to their own demons. I’m not exaggerating here! You know there are many western men out there that would rather commit murder and risk a lifetime of incarceration than allow their peers or family to think they’re gay. We all know they’re out there.

As Islamic culture advances, we will unfortunately see this same backlash against homosexuality and can expect a gay rights movement to come along in the Muslim world only after a more general civil and women's rights movement has been successful.

So this is what they’re lacking in Asia and specifically in China; a strong psychotic connection between an irrational thirst for violence to prove manhood and a desperate need for acceptance from a vengeful and merciless God. I hope it's not too hard to accept the possibility that China may have something to teach America this time.

One should take a step back from this embroiling tapestry of arguments, for a moment, and avoid getting involved in the various positions being taken out there or even to contemplate the insanity of some of those positions (gay doesn’t exist or it’s a mental illness that can be cured with psychiatry or Jesus). Just step back a second and witness the glory of the latest fight for freedom. In essence, the fact that there is a vigorous debate on an issue is good news, although the progress must be in the right direction. Every year, the homosexual community in China will gain more freedom and I believe this because the state run media in China is already trumpeting the Shanghai gay pride non-parade as a demonstration of China’s advancement of freedom. Gay pride is now a reason for Chinese pride and rightly so.

Posted by Frederick S. Friedman at June 30, 2009 2:34 AM
Comments
Comment #283783

Frederick, I CAN argue that this DOES NOT mean “the Chinese government [is] loosening control over individual rights,” as you say.

China limits rights based on their threat to the government and its control whose primary purpose is to prevent another revolution. The GLBT communities in China pose no perceptible threat to the Chinese government or, their objectives.

Here, it is a moral issue based on cultural religious perceptions. There, it is cultural issue based on a tradition which has broken down. If you have kept up with events in China, there is an inordinate shortage of females, and their traditional views of marriage have, of demographic necessity, had to evolve.

It is a mistake to confuse demographic realities with government and political will and intentions by design. Americans and Europeans make these kinds of mistakes constantly with China, because they fail to take into account that China has no Judeo - Christian history or traditions, and is an older civilization than any other of the Christian-Judeo nations.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 30, 2009 12:20 PM
Comment #283788

Technically, you CAN argue with anything you want, but you don’t move me very far by saying this isn’t an advancement of freedom in China, David. Bit of a stretch, don’t you think? A new freedom is a new freedom and homosexual’s in China would beg to differ with your razor thin argument.

Many people make the mistake that homosexual rights aren’t really as important as other individual rights and you seem to be making the same mistake, although you probably don’t believe it to be so. You may be trying to say that this isn’t a threat to the Chinese government, so there is no advancement of rights, but this isn’t the case. Over the last twelve years, there has been strong government resistance to any LGBT movement. Chinese state security has been squashing any organizing by gay rights activists for years, but LGBT activist have been struggling for every concession, every gay bar, every gay pride non-parade and soon they hope to push through an actual parade.

Trying to say that this is no advancement in individual rights because the Chinese government doesn’t feel threatened is a false argument because a significant portion of the Chinese government IS threatened by this type of community organizing, regardless of which group is trying to organize. Some in the Chinese government propaganda machine have decided to make use of the story to help China’s image, but don’t mistake that for government support of one individual right over another. It simply isn’t true.

The LGBT community is still heavily suppressed on the streets and on the internet, therefore I cannot respect the argument that no threat is perceived. Otherwise, the LGBT community would have advanced much further in your fictional China.

Speaking of fictional China, sorry David, but the shortage of females in China as a demographic phenomenon cannot account for greater acceptance of homosexual norms because this acceptance is not universal in China, it is extremely limited. Parents and families of homosexuals that come out of the closet still react very badly across the board. They’re nowhere near as open minded as most western parents and families these days (except for the issue of violence). The struggle for homosexual rights in China is a STRUGGLE, don’t mistake it for any kind of demographic eventuality linked to a Chinese population policy. Homosexuals have always been in China regardless of your demographics and now they are fighting for individual rights and getting them.

The additional argument that we don’t take a lack of Judeo-Christian tradition and history in China into account makes me think that you didn’t actually read the rest of the above posting. I focused on the difference between Eastern and Western cultures by using that exact point, David.
I claimed that the differences lie in the lack of Western religious thought in China.

I kind of think you’re playing devil’s advocate here David, but you did a very slip shod job of it. Thanks for the effort though.

Any other takers?

Posted by: Fred at June 30, 2009 2:29 PM
Comment #283791

Fred said: “but you don’t move me very far by saying this isn’t an advancement of freedom in China,”

But, I never said this wasn’t an advancement of freedom in China. Under Mao, it would not have been tolerated on ideological grounds. But, prior to Mao, and after Mao, homosexuality was not a very big deal in China. Don’t know about the history of transvestism in China.

I simply pointed out that China has never had a moral problem with homosexuality from a political point of view, except under Mao Tse Tung, due to the absence of importance or significance of the Judeo-Christian texts, interpretations, and beliefs on the topic.

Homosexuality in China traditionally was a disappointment to the family and potential suitors of the opposite sex, but, NOT a SIN against GOD and humanity. Ergo, the Chinese have a less dogmatic and visceral response to GLBT issues than here in the West.

You switched vantage point, Fred. If you want to discuss the psychological and anthropological response to homosexuality in China, I will be happy to do so in private email. Being a political web site, your article and my comments were addressing the political implications and responses.

The psychological and anthropological history and ramifications of GLBT issues in China are an entirely different topic, and far more universal.

To understand China, however, one has to shed one’s western traditional framework, to see China as she really is, not through the culturally tinted and tainted glasses of the Judeo-Christian traditions and history.

Americans are dependent (i.e. not free) in some different ways than the Chinese. (Though I hasten to add that China is rapidly catching up with the West in limiting even more freedoms previously enjoyed by rural Chinese in the name of federal run government.)

By our standard definitions of Constitutional individual freedoms, the Chinese are more subjugated by their government. But, then there is the Chinese viewpoint. The individual cannot exist apart from the society in which he/she lives, and therefore, the individual is obligated to insure the sustainability and viability of the society, and failing that obligation is a crime in China. Though, like here, not all criminals are apprehended, and not all those apprehended are found guilty and punished.

Like George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, some animals are more equal than others.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 30, 2009 3:25 PM
Comment #283793

David, when you say “Homosexuality in China traditionally was a disappointment to the family and potential suitors of the opposite sex, but, NOT a SIN against GOD and humanity. Ergo, the Chinese have a less dogmatic and visceral response to GLBT issues than here in the West.” you are agreeing with my point exactly.

The psychological and anthropological response to homosexuality in China is a factor in this political discussion about individual rights for homosexuals in modern China. I don’t understand how you believe this should be excluded from the discussion.

If this website prohibits the discussion the MANY factors that make up a nations modern political landscape, then you are severely limiting yourselves here David.

I agree that China doesn’t have a moral problem with homosexuality, that is my point. Western perceptions of the world help us to be this violent towards homosexuals and the lack of this in Chinese culture prevents such rampant and nonsensical violence. I really don’t see your argument with me, buddy. I completely agree that China is a different playing field for all issues and I’m trying to point that we have something to learn here.

When you say “I CAN argue that this DOES NOT mean “the Chinese government [is] loosening control over individual rights”, I can only take your words at face value. You are saying greater individual rights for homosexuals is not a sign of loosening control over individual rights in China. What can you possible mean here other than what you said.

Once again, my argument is that China is making an advancement, however small, in individual rights (I believe individual rights is a political subject, yes?) and I think you would be hard pressed to tell LGBT community in China they’re new freedoms don’t count. Just because it may be easier for the Chinese government to make concessions here, doesn’t negate the progress made.

I attempted to show that China is different in how it’s lacking many factors that cause the West to react as badly as it does to homosexual rights. Your counter is that China acts this way because it’s different than the west? Touche! I am making the same point, but I’m not focusing the subject on Mao specifically. Is that the bone you’re trying to pick?
Then please ADD to my point with this useful knowledge about the inherent difficulties we have in understanding the East and China. I could only agree that we see China with tainted eyes.

I think maybe you’re seeing a fight where there is none.

Posted by: Fred at June 30, 2009 5:48 PM
Comment #283794

Fred said:

David, when you say “Homosexuality in China traditionally was a disappointment to the family and potential suitors of the opposite sex, but, NOT a SIN against GOD and humanity. Ergo, the Chinese have a less dogmatic and visceral response to GLBT issues than here in the West.” you are agreeing with my point exactly.

My statement agrees with your article statement: “On closer examination we even find that the Chinese people actually have a different reaction to homosexuality than American people do. They are less violent by far.”

However, it counters your statement:

Although many out there can argue whether or not the existence of a LBGT community in China is advancement, no one can argue with the fact that a community such as this receiving greater freedom and tolerance is a sign of the Chinese government loosening control over individual rights.

The Chinese federal government traditionally took no action one way or the other toward gays and lesbians in their society, except for the brief period of the Mao Revolution. Your last statement implies that the Chinese government had a tradition of harsh treatment toward gays and lesbians. I can find no evidence of that in China’s history, save for the possible period under Mao Tse Tung, when all manner of brainwashing reeducation camps were implemented, in which sexual orientation indoctrination did play a role in some of those camps, as evidenced by Mao’s Tse Tung’s considering homosexuals products of the “moldering lifestyle of capitalism.”

However, at the end of Tse Tung’s rule, China almost immediately dispensed with federal disposition and punishment, or brainwashing of gays and lesbians. China’s number one threat to social stability is its population growth. Ergo, it is no surprise that China’s government response to GLBT issues is to leave them alone to not procreate as their desires dictate.

My reference to anthropological and psychological issues regarding GLBT behavior was obvious and plainly stated. WatchBlog is a political debate site, and hence, topics which do not relate to political issues are not appropriate for discussion here, per WB’s rules.

If anthropological or psychological evidence is a factor in shaping political policy, government policy, or political behavior, then it is appropriate for this web site. If China’s treatment of its Gays and Lesbians bears directly upon American politics, then it is fair game for discussion on WB. It does not appear to me however, that the cultural history of China’s treatment of gays and lesbians has any bearing on American politics or government policy. Which is why I said I would be happy to discuss those topics elsewhere.

In America and other countries, government treatment and protections for GLBT persons is a political issue, because it is a MORAL issue. It does not appear to be a political issue in China, and hasn’t been since the end of the Mao Revolution. Therefore, China’s disposition toward GLBT rights, is irrelevant by comparison to our own government’s consideration of the active protection of choices by the GLBT community.

In China, the government extends no more rights or punishments toward the GLBT persons than to any other of its citizens outside its own government. It’s not an issue there. It is here, because it is a moral issue here. Our Judeo-Christian morality makes it an issue of individual rights here in response to mistreatment of, and discrimination against GLBT individual freedoms, taken for granted by the rest of the society.

So, my point is, China is irrelevant, entirely, to this discussion on how America is dealing with the issue. Its like comparing apples to oranges, on many levels.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 30, 2009 6:58 PM
Comment #283795

David,

Leaves them alone, you think the Chinese government leaves them alone?
Excerpt from NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/15/world/asia/15shanghai.html “This month, public security officials forced Wan Yanhai, a prominent advocate on gay issues, including AIDS, to leave Beijing for a week because they feared he might cause trouble during the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

“Sometimes I feel like we are playing a complicated game with the government,” Mr. Wan said. “No one knows where the line is, but we just keep pushing.”

The government, of course, can push back much harder. Last month, China issued a directive requiring that all new computers include filtering software to block pornographic images as well as Web sites with words like gay, lesbian and homosexuality. Mr. Wan and others fear the new rules could effectively ban online information from AIDS organizations or groups that help young people grapple with their sexual orientation.

To further confuse matters, China Daily, the official English-language newspaper, splashed a story about Shanghai Pride on its front page and ran an editorial lauding the event as a welcome sign of China’s social reformation. The progress did not extend to the country’s Chinese press, however, which made no mention of the weeklong festival.”

Or how about an excerpt from Huffington http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/15/shanghai-pride-china-gay_n_215785.html “Xu, who founded Common Language, a grassroots gay rights group, has been caught in that web for the better part of 10 years. She calls the difference between the China of the late 1990s and the China of today “the difference between sky and earth” for gays and lesbians. But, she said, sometimes the old rules, or no rules, apply.”

It’s the apples and oranges argument that closes your mind to the truths to be learned from other cultures in this case. You still haven’t presented any argument that shows irrelevancy.

The fact that we consider homosexuality a moral issue is exactly what we should learn from China in this case. Please stop trying to be blind about the connection here.

Must I spell it out? We shouldn’t consider homosexuality an issue of morality. That’s the whole argument here David, you are completely missing it in a very straight kind of way.

There is nothing wrong with the morality homosexuality. Those who think homosexual acts are immoral are wrong and the Chinese seem to agree with this interpretation. There is a large portion of people that don’t believe homosexuality is wrong morally and they are up against religious people that do think it’s immoral.

Can’t there be a connection in the fact that we should follow the example of China and not consider homosexuality a moral issue? Asking for a little evolution here?

Saying that any other example of how a minority is treated on this planet is irrelevant is kind hard to understand as well.

Posted by: David at June 30, 2009 8:02 PM
Comment #283798

I hear that China decriminalized gay sex in 1997 and stopped calling homosexuality a mental disorder in 2001. They ask prominent gays to get out of town for events like the Olympics, but they evidently no longer arrest them.

Sounds like a really tolerant place, doesn’t it.

Of course we know there is not much gay bashing in China because we hear it from the Chinese media. Yeah. I guess China is just a paradise. I suppose that is why everybody in Europe and the U.S. is trying to move there. Some even hide out in packing crates to sneak in.

Posted by: Christine at June 30, 2009 8:16 PM
Comment #283797

David (NLN) said: ““This month, public security officials forced Wan Yanhai, a prominent advocate on gay issues, including AIDS, to leave Beijing for a week because they feared he might cause trouble during the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.”

You quoted it, but, apparently did not understand what it is you quoted. Your quote CLEARLY states that Wan Yanhai was expelled NOT BECAUSE HE WAS GAY, but, because they feared he may instigate civil unrest.

We do the same here, with folks OUR government believes will instigate civil unrest, i.e., expelling GW Bush protestors blocks away and out of sight of reporters wherever and whenever Pres. GW Bush was arriving or departing.

No difference.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 30, 2009 8:16 PM
Comment #283799

Christine, your sarcasm lacks ANY evidence whatsoever to support it. Your are entitled to your beliefs, just not your own version of the facts. But, then, you presented no facts whatsoever, so you get a pass on that one.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 30, 2009 8:18 PM
Comment #283801

One more thing, this Euro-bashing is interesting. Asia was sure a paradise in the old days. Didn’t Ghengis Khan pile the skulls so high that people thought it was a white hill. And didn’t he say that the best thing in the world was to kill your enemies, take his property and rape his women? That doesn’t sound so PC to me.

I think one reason why some people are so fond of non-western societies is that they don’t bother to read their histories.

Mao, BTW, is the world leader in murdering people.

We are all - all humans - descended from the most agressive people. The winners survived and they were not always the nicest guys. The group currently being pushed around always pretends that they are morally superior, until they get on top. Then they claim that they are just taking back whatever they lost.

Posted by: Christine at June 30, 2009 8:24 PM
Comment #283802

David

In 1997 the Chinese decriminalized gay sex. That is a fact. In 2001 they stopped calling homosexuality a mental disorder. Those are facts. You can take my sacasm as you want but do you find those facts comforting? It might not be terrible, but it hardly merits the praise of the world.

If you want sources, BTW, choose from this list -http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=china+gay+illegal&aq=f&oq=&aqi=. Or Google it yourself.

Posted by: Christine at June 30, 2009 8:35 PM
Comment #283806

Christine, I trust you are distinguishing David R. Remer’s from just plain David’s comments. Different people.

I wasn’t disputing your facts quoted just above.

MY comment regarding sarcasm was addressing your comment:

Of course we know there is not much gay bashing in China because we hear it from the Chinese media. Yeah. I guess China is just a paradise. I suppose that is why everybody in Europe and the U.S. is trying to move there. Some even hide out in packing crates to sneak in.

Which is loaded with your opinion and devoid of any facts whatsoever, as I said.

As to your facts presented in your first paragraph, I do not dispute those at all. In fact, I affirm them. Those facts do not constitute evidence of gay bashing by the Chinese government. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 30, 2009 8:54 PM
Comment #283808

David R

We don’t know how much gay bashing there is in China. I suspect there is not that much because the authorities keep a tight lid on almost everything. When you limit freedom in general, you limit freedom to do bad things too. But you really cannot trust the Chinese media to tell you about such things. They do not have a free press.

It is a mistake to compare a free society with an unfree one. You will always have more REPORTS of troubles from a free press. China, for example, has horrible pollution. We hear about it less often, therefore we sometimes infer that it is less a problem. That would be a mistake.

The main post says that homosexuals are safer in China and then goes on to invalid extrapolations about the causes. There is no evidence for this. We simply have lack of reliable data from China on this subject. We know that gay sex is no longer illegal in China and that attacks on homosexuals is illegal. This tells us that China has similar laws as most other countries.

Violence toward homosexuals is illegal in the U.S. too. Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. China, for example, has good health and food laws, yet people are regularly killed by tainted food, sometimes it even gets exported to us. If you want to read sources, google Chinese food scandal.

Posted by: Christine at June 30, 2009 9:23 PM
Comment #283809

Christine,

The bias against homosexuality is cultural. Western cultures are steeped in religious traditions that have a bias against homosexuality.
Chinese culture has no such bias because the “religions” (Buddism, Daoism/Taosism, etc) in China have no bias against homosexuality.
It has been that way for millenia.

All of the “news” you quote is all recent history and not a true representation of the true Chinese culture.

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at June 30, 2009 9:58 PM
Comment #283810

Christine,

“China, for example, has horrible pollution. We hear about it less often, therefore we sometimes infer that it is less a problem. That would be a mistake.”

Google “the most polluted cities in the world”, I did and got nearly 2.8 million results in .44 seconds.

I have never heard anyone “infer” that because it isn’t on page one “above the fold” that it’s less of a problem.
I was in China in 1995, and Dailin makes Mexico City look like the Swiss Alps.

China’s pollution became front page news because of the Kyoto accords.

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at June 30, 2009 10:14 PM
Comment #283811

Rocky

We only live now. I don’t know what a “true” representation of Chinese culture would mean in today’s world.

China has a long history with lots of glory and lots of shame. In that sense, it is like every place else in the world.

I always think it is interesting when we have the idea that faults are not the “true” part of a culture. We hear that traditional Islamic cultures are tolerant. Yet the anti-Semitism in the middle east would not be out of place among the Nazis. At what point are people responsible for what they are? How long can you get praise or blame because of the supposed traits of your ancestors.

Consider this. It seems that the extreme homophobia is indeed a middle eastern culture trait shared by Hebrews and Arabs. You don’t find the extreme problems with homosexulality in classical cultures in Europe until they came under the influence of the middle east, through religion. Maybe it was not the religion, but the culture of the ancient Semites that caused this.

Of course, this is pure speculation, but no more speculative than the original post or most of the subsequent comments.

All we can really say is that in the past some cultures seemed more homophobic than others, but we really do not have a lot of solid information on the subject. Today conditions are improved.

Posted by: Christine at June 30, 2009 10:22 PM
Comment #283812

Christine,

“How long can you get praise or blame because of the supposed traits of your ancestors.”

I would submit that Mao and even the current regieme in China don’t represent the actual people of China.
I have been to China. I have sat and had more than one beer with common Chinese. The common Chinese isn’t a Maoist.

BTW, Genghis Khan was from Mongolia.

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at June 30, 2009 10:31 PM
Comment #283814

Rocky

I agree. Mao ran China until a generation ago and his picture still adorns public buildings, but I don’t blame Chinese living today for Mao any more than I accept blame for things the U.S. did before I was an adult. Unfortunately, lots of people seem to hold longer historical gruges.

Ghengis Khan was from Mongolia, but still was sort of a local boy. His grandsons ran China. Besides, I was simply giving him, one of the worst tyrants in world history,and given the level of technology of the times probably the world’s champion killer, as a counter example to the Western-bashing. I read that a significant % of the central Asian population carries his genes. He and his relatives were active rapists and prodigious murderers. Talk about an evil empire.

Posted by: Christine at June 30, 2009 10:45 PM
Comment #283815

Christine,

“Ghengis Khan was from Mongolia, but still was sort of a local boy. His grandsons ran China.”

Genghis Khan’s grandsons ran China for less than one hundred years. Mao ran China for barely a generation, and they have actually been progressing ever since.

The Ottomans failed because they spread themselves too thin, and the West chose to go around them.
The Chinese just wanted to be left alone, but the West couldn’t take no for an answer.

The Chinese culture is thousands of years old. You are using the equvilent of a mere snapshot in Chinese history to judge the entirety of Chinese culture.

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at June 30, 2009 11:09 PM
Comment #283819

I was speaking to someone from the middle east a few years ago, he commented that everything in America is so new. He was not only referring to buildings, but politics and culture. (It was a positive comment). It may make some of us unaware of the context of older cultures.

The Chinese are very aware of the long history of China.

Posted by: gergle at July 1, 2009 12:35 AM
Comment #283820

We aren’t keeping score here. I don’t care who did it wrong then or now about whatever subject. Trying to keep score about who did what the most inhumane way is not the point here.

The human race has been stumbling around in the dark this whole time and we are finally beginning to reach enlightenment in this day and age, for real this time. I don’t give a flying you know what about any culture’s ego or feelings or even any perceived debts owed through history. Why can’t we just take a good look around and follow the highest expression of humanity we can find anywhere, anytime we can find it, on any issue, and use it for the greater good.

Point … I’m not trying to bash western civilization or raise up any other culture over your beloved narcissistic concept of Western culture. Your just missing the point. Any person or group/organization, or country/nation over another is not the issue here. If it happens to be a fact that your particular culture has conquered or been subjugated by another, don’t take it personally. I’m not congratulating you on the suffering of your ancestors or condemning you over the sins of your ancestors on either side.

I’m simply saying that gays are being killed over here by the general population and gays are not being killed over there by anybody. Following from that, I think it would be “NEAT” if we could follow another culture’s example and not be so terminally violent against people that are doing nobody no harm. Please don’t be offended if the people that did these bad things I’m talking about came from your backyard. Please don’t take it personally, if your culture is the one that doesn’t react in the best manner. Just try to see the solution as a way to stop confused young teenagers from murdering each other.

I hope that we are all still trying to travel an intellectual road here, where we can find new ideas and new examples with which to live by. I know idealism has had a rough time of it lately, but we should all trust in the hope of our future. I don’t see why left, right, or middle cannot take the best of humanity for what it’s worth and make some progress.

I like the irrefutable information that gays are safer from death somewhere in the world and don’t find any reason to be caught up in nationalistic or cultural competition while trying to recreate that outcome. Are any of you saying that you don’t want there to be less violence towards homosexuality?

Don’t take it personally if you have something to learn from somebody that isn’t perfect. Take the best from them and leave the worst. Hopefully, you’ll be better off for the effort. Hopefully, we all will.

Posted by: Fred at July 1, 2009 3:40 AM
Comment #283827

The US is culturally a Christian nation. Christians have a particular bias against non-conformity, especially in the sexual realm.

Consequently, the populace in general feels a moral superiority over homosexuals and hence a moral right and responsibility to discourage homosexuality by any means possible, up to and including murder such as the anti-abortion movement has amply demonstrated again and again.

This is of course triply ironic since Jesus was himself definitely a non-conformist, he preached we must love our neighbor as ourself and he never spoke against homosexuality, in spite of the tortured interpretation of his words spewed by the hard religious right.

To my knowledge the Chinese people have no such proclivities and never did.

Posted by: Greg House at July 1, 2009 8:46 AM
Comment #283832

Christine, such a cultural-centric view in your last comment. May I remind you that the Ancient Greeks and Romans created sanitation, indoor plumbing, courts and democratic representation. Then came the Christians and barbarians, and it was all lost to a papacy which committed millions to die at the hands of disease, no sanitation, few public works, the Inquisition and absolutely the most barbaric forms of torture, psychological and physical.

All of human cultural traditions have their cast of cruel leaders and followers perpetrating heinous acts (by today’s standards).

Fred is right. It is pointless to argue for a political or public policy position today based on comparative analysis of cruelty in the history of nations and people. They were all exceptionally cruel and barbaric at various times. This is something Europeans seem to be far more aware of than isolated Americans who have white washed their history (pun intended) to elevate their view of themselves and absolve themselves of the guilt of their predecessors.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 1, 2009 4:50 PM
Comment #283835

Christine said: “But you really cannot trust the Chinese media to tell you about such things. They do not have a free press. “

By the same token, one cannot conjecture defensibly about the existence of things in China which their press does not report on. At best, one can only admit one does not know, unless one has been there and born witness for them self to what goes on there.

In reality, however, China has a thriving tourist industry and many westerners have visited China. None who have, to my knowledge, have come back to report horrors of a tyrannically oppressive government squashing their people’s individual rights into the mud.

As for the one-child policy, first hand anecdotal reports are that the people of China don’t like being told how many children they can have, but, they also, in the same breath, admit it is improving their lives and incomes to control China’s population growth. They accept it, the way we accept police stopping us on the highway. No one likes being pulled over by the Authority, but, as a people, we accept the necessity of it for our own good.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 1, 2009 4:57 PM
Comment #283853

Rocky and Gergle


All cultures are actually equally old. We all emerged from Africa in the deep past. Some of us continue to live near ancient ruins, but all of us are heirs to the accomplishments and troubles of the past. We all also only live a short time on this earth. My parent’s culture is very different from mine, and I would hardly recognize the lives of my great grandparents. Culture is passed imperfectly from generation to generation. It only is an illusion that it continues. And there are sometimes some pretty significant cultural breaks.

America is lucky to be rid of some of the baggage of the past centuries. It is not because we are such a new country, but rather because we just don’t care. It probably has more to do with the cultural mixing in the U.S. We have so many cultural roots that we cannot get to crazy about any of them.

The U.S. is in fact the second oldest government in the world. Only the UK has had a longer history unbroken by radical change.


Fred

Don’t be disingenuous. If your point was not to bash Western Civilization, you expressed yourself poorly and by bringing up the extraneous information about Western history, you framed the debate in those terms. IF you just wanted to make a point re life being more dangerous for gays in the U.S., you should just give some numbers.

Do you have statistics about the numbers of gays being killed her e the U.S.? How does that compare with the general number of murders of young men in the same age groups? In 2007 16,929 people were murdered in the U.S. If we assume gays make up 5% of the population anything above 847 would indicate it was more dangerous to be gay. Anything below would argue for the opposite. Do you have any numbers to add? I cannot find any. There are numbers of “hate crime”. It is an old trick to conflate them with the worst outcomes, but they range from verbal assaults to murder, they are of no use. I am surprised that people talk so much about these things but know so little.

The U.S. does indeed have a higher rate of murder than many other countries but I have never seen reliable information telling us that gays were disproportionately affected. On the other hand, we have not had our government kill many millions of its citizens in cultural revolutions or forced collectivization. Since upwards of thirty million Chinese died during my lifetime from things like that, I think that over the course of a lifetime, the chances of violent death would have been higher in China.

David

Please see above to Fred. I have been arguing against the comparative. But Fred brought it up. It is a drive-by slander. The whole post is about comparing the U.S. unfavorably to China. When I bring up counter arguments, we get that “just kidding”.

I don’t know why free people are so eager to thank authoritarians for small favors. The article Fred links praises China for not actually doing but only threatening to interfere with a gay rights parade.

China has made great strides. But it is still not up to Western standards of human rights, pollution, rule of law, anti-corruption etc. This is not a surprise.

re the one child policy, as I mentioned in the other posting, I have no trouble with that for the Chinese. They have different standards. But I wouldn’t want to live those restrictions.

Posted by: Christine at July 1, 2009 8:43 PM
Comment #283857

Christine,

“All cultures are actually equally old.”

Really?

“Culture is passed imperfectly from generation to generation. It only is an illusion that it continues. And there are sometimes some pretty significant cultural breaks.”

This doesn’t make any sense at all.

The Chinese, the Koreans, and the Japanese would vehemently dispute the ridiculous conclusions you have put forth in just those few sentences.

“The U.S. is in fact the second oldest government in the world. Only the UK has had a longer history unbroken by radical change.”

You seem to believe that government equals culture. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I think you need to get out more.

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at July 1, 2009 9:59 PM
Comment #283859

Rocky

Let’s put this in the Asian (Zen) terms. They say that continuity is an illusion. We actually experience separate realities, but they are so close and similar that we mistake them for the same thing. A modern example would be video tape, made up of separate pictures, but giving the illusion of motion.

All culture is learned. If your ancestors spoke Chinese for 100 generations, but you grow up in a place where Chinese is not spoken, it is lost in you. You will not learn it any faster. The same goes for other cultural traits. Many traits are persistent for a long time; but many are relatively new. They just seem old. Americans tend to understand this better than many others in the world because we have experienced it because of our large scale immigration. Others, who have been more isolated until recently, are learning as globalization teaches similar lessons.

You possess your culture as long as you live, but if you are a reasonably intelligent person, you adapt and change. Your personal culture today is not what it was twenty years ago and not the one your parents taught you. It evolves and changes. You pass that culture along to your kids, but they don’t take everything you give them and they develop some other traits. As with evolution in the natural world, eventually it becomes so different that we no longer would call it the same species.

To take the natural example a step further, humans emerged later than cockroaches and so are a newer species in terms of what they are today. But human ancestry reaches as far back in nature as that of the cockroaches. We just changed more.

Back to culture, during an extreme upheaval such as the Cultural Revolution, many in the next generations are not taught the culture of their ancestors. It is lost. It might be regained through written sources, but that is not exactly the same, since that is accessible to all and incomplete. If you read the thoughts of Confucius or Lao Tzu and your Chinese friend does not, you possess more of that particular aspect of “his” culture than he does.

I know this is an uncommon interpretation, but it comes not for not getting around much (as you imply) but maybe by getting around too much. The more I travelled and encountered other cultures, the less I saw them as static and distinct. I found, as you must have, that each individual has his own traits. We can group them in “cultures” but the definition is fluid. The Japanese businessman who drinks Scotch Whiskey, dresses in business suits, drives home in a car and then watches TV has a lot more in common with a European or American business man, than he does with his ancestors 500 years ago.

How old is his culture? You have to ask yourself how old this guy is and when did all these things that make up his life come into his ancestral culture.

This, BTW, is the basis of all progress, toleration and generosity. Cultures and individuals can and must learn from each other. As they adapt and change, they become less like their ancestors.

Interestingly, they often “invent” tradition and attribute great age to them. So you see I am not only picking on the Chinese, think of Italian food. Pasta. How long has the Italians had pasta (think Marco Polo). Or the Irish and potatoes (an American native food introduced only a few centuries ago), or the British tea drinking habit, or the plains Indians with horses (introduced by the Spanish) It is always interesting to dig into “ancient” traditions.

Posted by: Christine at July 1, 2009 11:00 PM
Comment #283862

Christine: “All cultures are actually equally old.”

NOPE! The Roman Culture is vastly older than the American culture, and longer lived. The aboriginal culture of Borneo is older than ANY cultures in N. America.

Look up the definition of culture. All cultures are NOT equally old. The Ancient Chinese and Egyptian cultures predate any of the European cultures in existence today, and of course the modern Egyptian and Chinese cultures of today. Timelines are a bit complex to grasp as a arithmetic structure of history, but, one cannot appreciate the history of cultures without understanding timelines.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 1, 2009 11:41 PM
Comment #283867

Christine,

It’s not disingenuous to highlight aspects of history and religion with HONESTY and then ask you to relax that big American ego of yours that seems to feel so guilty about these aspects presented. You’re the one taking this personally, like as if I’m attacking your ancestor and place the Chinese above you in the process. If you need me to constantly qualify my statements with “BTW, America is still the best place on Earth to live.” then I think you’re the one with doubts. Me thinks she dost protest too much!

All of us seem to have a connection to many of these violent histories, but only some of us are getting so offended. If you don’t like that I’m presenting ugly truths and then asking everyone not to take it personally, but to learn something from it, then say that.

Don’t try to label me disingenuous because you’re coming off so incredibly defensive.
It’s that narcissistic defensive arrogance that nurtures the many flaws in American society.

BTW, America is still the best place on Earth to live! I swear I mean it. I live here and I love this country, but if you wish to continue to think we’re perfect no matter what, then I really don’t know what to say to you.

You have fun keeping score and I’ll continue trying to figure out something new with people that reflexively open their minds instead of reflexively close them.

Time for another qualifier; BTW, I do love my country too and I actually signed on a dotted line and took up arms voluntarily for my country.

And finally, from your last comment … “This, BTW, is the basis of all progress, toleration and generosity. Cultures and individuals can and must learn from each other. As they adapt and change, they become less like their ancestors.”

I couldn’t agree more! Cultures and individuals can and must learn from each other. The Chinese are obviously learning from us and we are obviously learning from them. Whether you agree at the moment or not:)

Posted by: Fred at July 2, 2009 12:21 AM
Comment #283870

Christine said: “re the one child policy, as I mentioned in the other posting, I have no trouble with that for the Chinese. They have different standards. But I wouldn’t want to live those restrictions.”

That’s a fair and responsible statement. One I can agree with, given my being born and raised here.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 2, 2009 1:08 AM
Comment #283877

Christine,

“Pasta. How long has the Italians had pasta (think Marco Polo).”

This is a minor point but one that is in error.

The Italians did have something like pasta before Marco Polo’s travels.
In fact he described that which he found in China with a word that he already knew before he left on his travels. Lasagna.
There is also a record of something like pasta in what is now Israel nearly 1,000 years before Marco Polo.

Like I said, it’s a minor point.

Do you not understand that culture is in the heart, not the head?
Just because your Japanese businessman isn’t wearing traditional Japanese clothing doesn’t mean that he isn’t upholding other Japanese traditions.
It’s the small things in a culture that matter.
Are you aware that Asians don’t use the word “no”. It’s considered and insult.
Go to Asia and watch how money is handled. It is always “presented”, not just put on the counter, as that is also considered an insult. Likewise observe how a business or calling card, is handled. It is never just handed to you, it is always presented.

Like I said, these are all just minor points, but they are important in the larger picture.

Back to the original concept of this thread.

Mao said that homosexuality was a “Western indulgence”, yet it existed in ancient Chinese literature.
Prejudice is learned. It’s not inherent.
If you look at all of the worlds religions the only place you will find a true prejudice against homosexuality is in the religions based on Judaism.
It’s not even really addressed in Buddhism, Dao/Taoism, or Confucianism, which are the philosophies that most traditional Chinese adhere to.

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at July 2, 2009 8:20 AM
Comment #283900

David

All human cultures are carried by living humans, who are born, live and die. Some people have or live with cultures that have not changed much over many years. Others are in more dynamic situations.

Take you Roman culture v American culture. A walk around our nation’s capital will reveal that much of the architecture is based on Roman models. The framers of our Constitution studied Roman law and government and learned from the successes and failures of the Roman Republic. American culture inherited much of Roman culture and adapted the parts that worked for us. American culture, in the sense of being called American originated only in 1776 or 1787, depending on how you want to count. But the culture of Americans has its roots as far back as the first civilizations.

Some people still live in Roman. They are also the heirs of Roman culture. They have kept more aspects of it than we have, in some ways. Their language is more closely descended from the Latin, for example. IN other ways, however, they have less of the Roman culture. Our system of government owes more to Roman models than the Italians do, for example.

I don’t know much about the culture of Borneo, but I am suspicious of any “ancient” culture w/o written sources. People’s memories change over time and they communicate imperfectly to each other. In a non-literate culture, it is possible to lose who parts of the culture. It becomes like a long chain. If someone dies w/o passing along the information, the chain is forever broken. In a literate culture, you can go back and read it, as happened in Western culture when Renaissance scholars rediscovered classics that had been lost to them for centuries.

Fred

Your whole premise is that China is a safer place than the U.S. You have given no proof of that. Instead you attacked Western Civilization and the U.S. Why did you bring in these extraneous arguments if you didn’t mean them?

If you want to sum up what your post really said (and leave out the extras) it goes something like this. “Situation for gays in China is improving and catching up with the U.S. & Europe” Okay? If you want to make comparisons to places where it is still bad, you can talk about places in the Middle East, where they still stone gays. You can blame their religion if you like, although I suspect you won’t. It is easy to accuse Christians of violence because they don’t really fight back. Muslims are a little more risky.

It reminds me of the puzzle of why animal rights people throw red paint on old ladies in fur coats, but usually leave leather clad motorcycle gang members alone.

Rocky

I didn’t know that re pasta. Thanks. I fell for the old invented in China myth. I guess lots of things can be invented independently in different places.

You make a good point about prejudice being learned. I just take it farther saying that every aspect of a culture is learned. That is my whole point re culture living only in living people. Culture is a set of beliefs and behaviors. It is an adaption to living. It lives in people and does not have a life independent of them. We are all heirs to any culture we want to and can learn about. Most educated Americans are familiar with Chinese classic writers such as Confucius and Lao Tzu. They were Chinese, but they don’t belong to China. Most Chinese are familiar with Newton and Einstein. They were European, but they do not belong to Europe.

All human culture belongs to all humans. Americans have been usually open, such that we have subsumed many others. Confusions, Lao Tzu, Plato, Aristotle, Newton, Einstein, Omar Khayyam and Rumi have now become part of our very ancient heritage available to anybody with a library card.

Posted by: Christine at July 2, 2009 9:41 PM
Comment #283902

Christine, sorry, but the content of your reply is obtuse and evasive of reality. Architecture DOES NOT MAKE a culture. It is but a piece of a much larger whole.

The Sumerian culture is gone, ancient history. The ancient Egyptian culture is gone. The ancient Greek culture is gone, though some of its history remains as instruction about history and the origins of modern cultures, which are nonetheless, distinctly apart and different from their origins.

This is history 101, I am talking here. Which makes your comment obtuse and apparently bent on sophistry to avoid admitting a misspoke phrase or half-baked utterance.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 2, 2009 9:54 PM
Comment #283904

Christine,

I would never pretend that all is hunky dory in China, but that said, the Chinese government isn’t the Chinese people, nor is it the culture of China.

“We are all heirs to any culture we want to and can learn about. Most educated Americans are familiar with Chinese classic writers such as Confucius and Lao Tzu.”

Sorry, you can’t be an “heir” to a culture by reading about it. If you haven’t had the life experience of that culture you can’t have a clue what it truly is.
Surely the people that live in the cities of China have been “Westernized”, but the folks that live in the country live much the same way they lived 500 years ago. They live without the luxuries you and I take for granted.
Most of China, outside the cities, still has no electricity.
That means no phones, no refrigeration, no computers, no TV, no lights.
These are the true Chinese people and the government of China doesn’t have much effect on these people except when the government confiscates the land they have worked for generations to build dams, and whatnot.

Rocky

Posted by: Rocky Marks at July 2, 2009 10:26 PM
Comment #283906

David

Han China is as gone as the Roman Empire and they are both as equally with us. Please tell me exactly when we have transitions. When Rome fell in 476, did the culture end? More importantly, when did it begin? When the Chinese were conquered by the Mongols, did that end their culture?

Cultures and civilizations are not like people. They do not live, grow and die. It only looks like that when historians classify them expostfacto. In fact, civilizations are constantly changing and adapting, even as they keep some things the same. At some point they are so different from what they were that we call them something else.

I don’t know if you are familiar with Oswald Spengler. He was an early 20th Century historian who wrote that civilizations have lifecycles. I used to think he was right, but as I saw more of how civilizations change, borrow and adapt, I changed my mind.

Evolutionary principles apply to cultures. As cultures develop, borrow and change, they eventually become so different that we call them different species. But “newer” species just developed more than “older” species. They are not newer of older as residents of the planet.

I think we have to go beyond the simplistic views of history 101 to see the bigger and more complicated picture.

You say the Greek and Roman civilizations are gone. Why do you think that? And why do you think Chinese civilizations remains intact? Chinese culture today is as distinct from Han China as Western culture is from the Romans. The communist Chinese made a special point of rejecting their heritage. Mao persecuted Confucians, Taoists and Buddhists. Our founders embraced the ancient classics. Thomas Jefferson’s library was full of Greek and Latin authors.

Who was more in touch with his heritage?

Posted by: Christine at July 2, 2009 10:39 PM
Comment #283907

Rocky

It depends on what you think of as culture. I understand your point about peasant not progressing much in 500 years, but peasants all over the world tend to be very localized in their cultures and prejudices. They also tend to be tied closely to the land and their practices. The higher parts of culture include its literature, history, science, architecture etc.

You are right that I could not absorb all the habits and prejudices of a Chinese peasant. But you or I could eventually become very well versed in the higher aspects of Chinese civilization.

A question we can ask ourselves is what makes a person a true part of a culture. Is the uneducated guy living in Appalachia where his ancestors have lived since 1776 the “true” American, even if he is unfamiliar with the key documents, philosophies and history of our republic? Or is the son of a recent (say) Chinese immigrant who studied American history and literature in college and got his PhD in the philosophy of William James and how it encompassed the writings of the founding fathers and the transcendentalists more in touch with the “real” America?

Posted by: Christine at July 2, 2009 10:52 PM
Comment #283911

Christine said inaccurately: “Han China is as gone as the Roman Empire and they are both as equally with us.”

Bits and pieces only, Christine, have been passed forward, but, the cultures themselves are dead, killed by myriad changes small and large. Would you really try to argue that the culture of Nazi Germany is the culture of Germany today? Perhaps you would. But, a very scant few would agree with you.

There are always 10% who will believe anything no matter how preposterous. Quite a sociological phenomena, that. Just like the 11% who gave Congress a positive approval rating during the last election.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 3, 2009 12:07 AM
Comment #283914

Christine said: “Is the uneducated guy living in Appalachia where his ancestors have lived since 1776 the “true” American,”

I see by this example above, why so many of your comments fail to achieve agreement or persuasive force. Thinking there is such a thing as a ‘true’ American is wrong thinking. To be an American is to be born in America or to have become a naturalized citizen, forsaking all other nations as their own.

To think in terms of true vs false American has no relevance whatsoever unless one is an Immigration officer assessing identity documents. And the term culture is complex when applied to America due to its having incorporated so much from so many other cultures, extant and long gone from the present.

In a very real sense, culture represents a snapshot in time and exists by that definition ONLY in that moment. Cultures are constantly evolving, and therefore, one cannot logically, nor rationally discuss culture outside of its temporal definition. Some things in certain cultures endure, such as our Constitutional framework for legitimizing current government. But, even our Constitutional culture has changed dramatically over the history of our nation, and the Constitutional culture of our founding fathers does not exist today. The very words and ideas through which they viewed their Constitutional legitimacy is no longer existent in the public mind of today. It now only exists in literary and historical works of their time.

Presidents and Senators were not elected by the American people then, nor were women or people of color enfranchised for electing Representatives to the U.S. House. Political parties did not exist at the founding of our Constitution or the election of our first president.

Nope. That culture exists only in history and in the very few minds alive today who have an intimate knowledge of that history. We have evolved a very different Constitutional culture for ourselves in this day and time. We can trace its evolution back to the culture of the founding fathers, but, the Constitutional culture then, bears little resemblance to the Constitutional culture we live under today.

Nowhere is this point I make here more evident, than in the writings of Adam Smith, and especially his Theory of Moral Sentiments, the precursor and foundational work for the later Wealth of Nations. Most Americans today could barely get through two chapters of this 1000+ page treatise without falling to sleep out of incomprehension.

Language shapes thought, perception, values, judgments, and emotional dispositions. And the language of our founding fathers was dramatically different than that which we speak, and think in today, as a society and culture. The culture of our founding fathers no longer exists. And that is as immutable as change is to the physical universe. For the one thing our species will never be able to do, is turn back the hands of time.

Adam Smith:

The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition, when suffered to exert itself with freedom and security, is so powerful a principle, that it is alone, and without any assistance, not only capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity, but of surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions with which the folly of human laws too often incumbers its operations.

And that is one of the lesser complex and more readily readable of Smith’s passages. Sounds like Smith is advocating laissez faire between industry and government, doesn’t it? And he does advocate distance between the public and private sectors of enterprise, their being of very different callings and purposes. But, he also writes in the Wealth of Nations:

Commerce and manufactures can seldom flourish long in any state which does not enjoy a regular administration of justice, in which the people do not feel themselves secure in the possession of their property, in which the faith of contracts is not supported by law, and in which the authority of the state is not supposed to be regularly employed in enforcing the payment of debts from all those who are able to pay.

Abruptly it would appear, Smith advocates for government oversight, regulation, and administration of justice as partner and foundation for free enterprise, but only to administer justice of debt obligations toward those who are able to pay. This harkens back to Moral Sentiments in which it is acknowledged by he, that serendipity and fate, especially at the hands of unscrupulous officials or merchants, can make paupers of any of us, and in such circumstances, debtor prisons and enforcements are cruel and lacking any ethical justification, whatsoever.

Now, tell me Christine, how many people do you know who think and converse on such topics in this manner using the cultural context of Adam Smith as insight into the nature of moral sentiment and relationship between government and private sector? I would venture a guess of perhaps less than 4 of all the people you have ever known. That is because the culture of Adam Smith no longer exists, though many of his precepts live today, without accountability to their originator, or original intent and meaning, I might add, all too often.

Adam Smith is almost never quoted in our modern culture. And very, very few, have ever read his work. But, nearly all MBA’s and economists profess to be intimately knowledgeable of Adam Smith and his prescriptions. Yet, one survey years ago, found that Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments was required reading in less than 1% of all undergrad or graduate business curricula.

We live in Cliff Note culture, and true understanding, insight, and wisdom from our past is not attainable through Cliff Notes. That is a part of our modern culture and why we invariably repeat the mistakes of our past, again, and again, and again.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 3, 2009 12:30 AM
Comment #283947


I am a wounded and disappointed that you evidently did not read what I wrote, since in order to “counter” my argument, you just paraphrased it:

In a very real sense, culture represents a snapshot in time and exists by that definition ONLY in that moment. Cultures are constantly evolving, and therefore, one cannot logically, nor rationally discuss culture outside of its temporal definition. Some things in certain cultures endure, such as our Constitutional framework for legitimizing current government. But, even our Constitutional culture has changed dramatically over the history of our nation, and the Constitutional culture of our founding fathers does not exist today. The very words and ideas through which they viewed their Constitutional legitimacy is no longer existent in the public mind of today. It now only exists in literary and historical works of their time.
If there is not a “true American”, is there a “True Chinese.” If not, what does that say about the spread or intergenerational aspects of culture?

So let’s sum up what WE believe

1) In a very real sense a culture is a snapshot in time that exists in that moment.
2) Cultures are in a sense of continual change and adaption.
3) Cultures are dynamic and carried by individuals. They are not in themselves living.
4) Therefore Chinese culture is not any older than American culture. They both exist in the present.

I think you underestimate our culture, however. Most people in most times don’t really care very much about anything beyond their own interests in comfort. This is just the way it is. But some are indeed interested in more.

ON this blog, we had an interesting discussion ranging from Han China, to ancient Rome to William James to Adam Smith … Nobody got paid to do this. It was just an intellectual exercise. There are a lot of people like us. Even if we disagree, we are thinking.

Thanks to you and Rocky.

Posted by: Christine at July 3, 2009 6:30 PM
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