This Thanksgiving, I’m Thankful for being neither a Dirty Capitalist/Communist nor an Eunuch

Thanksgiving, like Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s Day, is an arbitrary day given special meaning for the purposes of brainwashing propaganda and/or mass consumerism. For instance, why does one have to eat turkey on the 4th Thursday of every November (since none of us really know whether the pilgrims ate turkey at the first Thanksgiving)?

However, thankfully, most of us don’t really care anyways. I don’t care, because:

  1. it’s a holiday, so instead of doing work, there’s more time to be spent on sleeping, playing computer games, writing, and procrastinating
  2. I like eating cranberries. I like cranberries.
  3. I can arrogantly scoff at another mass propagandizing of history through mutual celebrations – bread and circuses, bread and circuses, bread and circuses
  4. it’s fun – despite the propaganda – getting to spend time with family and friends and something sappy sappy
  5. I actually like tofurkey, unlike most non-vegetarians, vegetarians, and vegans. Also, you just have to know which type of tofurkey to get, since there are several brands.

That being said, I figured I would compile a list of 25 random things I am currently thankful for. It would be a proper ritual and offering to my glorious ancestors whose lineage stretches back to the most noble and erudite scholar-gentry of Vietnam and China. Unfortunately I don’t know about any of my ancestors beyond my great-grandparents, so they’d probably be pissed as hell.

Anyhow, below in no particular, are 25 random things I am currently thankful for.

  1. I am thankful that I know how to use chopsticks. Otherwise, I would bring great dishonor to the nations of Vietnam, China, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea.
  2. I am thankful for music without lyrics, as it seriously assists my imagination.
  3. I am thankful that the Liberal Arts still exist so that slacker, lazy, disgraceful, parasitic-to-society, science-and-math-hating Asians like me still have opportunities to shame our ancestors.
  4. I am thankful for anti-American propaganda, which provides an interesting – and sometimes even more far-fetched – counterbalance to American propaganda.
  5. I am thankful that I can watch anime for the economics.
  6. I am thankful for my brain, as well as the other useful organs such as… of my body.
  7. I am thankful that Japan didn’t take over the world, contrary to what everybody in America thought in the 1980s.
  8. I am thankful for the most honorable US Congress, which continues to insist that tomato sauce on crappy, cheese-and-grease-and-oil-messy school pizzas counts as a serving of vegetable.
  9. I am thankful that I only had to buy a lunch entrée from the cafeteria once during High School (thereafter I had a throbbing throat and stomachache for several days).
  10. I am thankful for my mom and grandma, who often made me nutritious (albeit blander) lunches while I was in Elementary, Middle, and High School, so that I wouldn’t have to eat crappy school lunches.
  11. I am thankful that double-headed eagles exist.
  12. I am thankful for my friends, at least those who understand the complexities of running a Senate.
  13. I am thankful that I know that Europe isn’t the only place where civilization and history happened.
  14. I am thankful for French fries. The non-overly-greasy, delicious kind.
  15. I am thankful that I am not in the trenches of World War I nor will I ever be.
  16. I am thankful for my gods of fiction, namely, The Catcher in the Rye, Azumanga Daioh, The Lord of the Rings, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Grave of the Fireflies for inspiring me in my younger years.
  17. I am thankful that I don’t cry anymore when I watch sappy movies or TV series (well… except with once during Clannad… twice… thrice… no, that was it, three times… well, no, one time it was my nose that cried)
  18. I am thankful for being able to pronounce velar nasals at the beginning of words, unlike the average non-Vietnamese.
  19. I am thankful that I love rain.
  20. I am thankful for being tall, but not too tall.
  21. I am thankful that I tower over most girls.
  22. I am thankful for my family, since they are reasonably intelligent, relatively sane, and respectfully good people.
  23. I am thankful that I have food, shelter, water, clothing, and other clichéd necessities. For now.
  24. I am thankful for knowing how to read. Literacy is good. For instance, I could not have written all of this without knowing how to read. It increases my erudite machismo pride.
  25. I am thankful that I can feel anger. Feeling anger helps notify me that I am feeling upset, or frustrated, or disgusted. I am not an android, by the way.

Finally, and completely independently of the 25 thankful-nesses above (since I am OCD), I want to thank the Senate. You guys and your atrociously inefficient, massive, bloated, broken, useless, corrupt, disorderly, fraudulent, cumbersome bureaucracy absolutely rock.

Also, I suppose I should be thankful that you, dear reader, have reached this far in my rant. So, this Thanksgiving, be thankful for a whole bunch of random things, honestly. Also, be thankful that that that turkey unwittingly (unwillingly?) sacrificed its life for you.

Because the Byzantines did. They sacrificed their lives for freedom, democracy, liberty, and 21st century notions of civil and political rights. Turkey seized Constantinople from the Byzantines, and it wasn’t a nice thing to do.

Pic unrelated

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U mad? I mad. Eurocentrists MAKE ME MAD.

Not to mention that the Dark Ages are an outdated, Eurocentric idea.

I MAD. Eurocentrists make me MAD. Irate. Enraged. Furious. Angry. They are the great scourge in the most noble and magnificent academic discipline of history. They are like the ultra-capitalists and imperialists of history, reserving its richness only for the West – and only the West! – at the expense of all other cultures. They have no respect for diverse peoples and cultures.

The idea that Westerners (i.e., Europeans, Americans, Australians, etc.) are better than others is outdated, to an extent. Only racists would claim that white people are inherently better. Righht?

Yet the idea that Western civilization was somehow inherently better than other civilizations still remains in the academic disciplines of history and the social sciences, to some degree. It also remains in pop culture as well (see 300 with the democracy and freedom loving Spartans (not)). Sad as it is, some scholars – misguidedly, in my opinion – still try to find proof that something in the West allowed it to dominate the world, something that made them inherently better. Justifications range from the more plausible geographical reasons, to the less plausible but still (somewhat) reasonable economic reasons, to the more ridiculous “cultural” and “ethical” reasons.

An opinion piece on CNN recently attempted to justify the West’s rise to power using these very methods (see the article here). In this article, historian Niall Ferguson argues that the West had several so-called “killer apps” starting around 1500 that allowed it to beat the rest and dominate the world. Some of these “killer apps”, in my opinion, are reasonable (though I don’t fully agree with them). Unfortunately, others display – in my opinion – blatant Eurocentrism and ignorance about World history in general.

This disrespect for diverse peoples and cultures cannot be ignored. His blatantly Eurocentric arguments concerning history are easily countered with historical examples.

Ferguson’s firstly listed argument states:

Competition. Europe was politically fragmented into multiple monarchies and republics, which were in turn internally divided into competing corporate entities, among them the ancestors of modern business corporations.”

He maintains that Europe was 1) politically fragmented and 2) financially fragmented. This is true. Europeans fought each other. Nothing new. But here is the problem: he implies that everywhere outside of Europe was not fragmented, and that all non-European states and societies were somehow monolithic blobs that didn’t compete with each other. And because of this, Europe obviously could more easily take over the world.

The argument that everywhere outside of Europe was not fragmented can be easily countered with numerous counterexamples, of which even schoolchildren can understand. You want to see examples of fragmentation outside of Europe around 1500? Freaking overrated-katana samurai-dwelling Japan. You want more examples? I’ll show you (I’ve highlighted sarcasm in italics, since the internet makes it so easy to detect that, right?):

(end sarcasm in italics)

That’s a lot, don’t you think? And even if you read some of the histories of these supposedly “monolithic” non-European empires such as those in China, India, and the Middle East, you’ll realize how un-monolithic they were. China, for instance, was and still is divided into numerous ethnicities which display great cultural differences with each other – even if they speak the same language. That’s not to mention that China was often in political turmoil (see Dynasty Warriors) anyways throughout its history. India, too, was always divided into numerous groups – and moreso than China, because rarely did an Indian empire actually dominate the entire subcontinent for more than a couple generations. As for the Middle East, well, there were always various groups coming in and out, into and out of power. The point? Everyone is fragmented.

Here’s another of Ferguson’s arguments:

The rule of law and representative government. An optimal system of social and political order emerged in the English-speaking world, based on private-property rights and the representation of property owners in elected legislatures.”

I find it interesting he ignores the supposed developments of freedom and democracy in other parts of Europe. Still, his argument is one that is often applied to Europe: i.e., Europeans developed political systems based on democracy, freedom, and so forth before everyone else did, because Spartans stand for democracy and freedom, right?

Sure. Yeah. Europe was so much freer. They believed in democracy. Yup. Totally true.

(Actually, I feel sorry for Marie Antoinette. I personally believe she was misguided and kind of ignorant, but not cruel per se; popular conception got the better of her. She also never said “Let them eat cake.”)

Finally, there is one Eurocentric claim of Ferguson’s that is equally troubling:

“Beginning in 1500, Europeans and European settlers in North America began to get richer than Asians (and everyone else, too).”

Basically, Ferguson argues that Europeans became awesomer economically (and, by implication, politically, culturally, socially, etc.) once Columbus discovered America. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Did Europe really become better starting in 1500?

Let’s start with statistics. Looking at these this chart from the Economist, one can see that China and India had the largest GDPs in the world up until the mid to late 1800s. Now that’s interesting, isn’t it?

In case you were too lazy to click the link.

Even though China and India were “declining” in the 1800s, their economies still dominated the world up until then. They had not only more people, but more resources as well, including many luxury goods like silk and spices, as well as better trade networks. Why do you think those Europeans wanted to explore the world and colonize the first place? Because it was fun? Did Columbus go looking for China because he wanted to eat instant noodles and try General Tso’s chicken, or because he was looking to make profit where profit was being made? (If you want to read more on a case-study of China as a counterexample to Ferguson’s claims, you can see my previous blog post).

So Ferguson is, ultimately, like a neo-imperialist – and I do not mean that in jest. After doing a bit of research on the guy, I discovered that there’s been a lot of controversy about him, especially considering his Eurocentric claims. Thankfully, there are many historians who are much more cautious, open-minded, well-informed, and, may I dare suggest, respectful of diverse peoples and cultures. Many historians are beginning to challenge the Eurocentric mindset, but it’s only a beginning. Many would scoff at what Ferguson claims in his book Civilization: The West and the Rest: “no civilisation has done a better job finding and educating the geniuses that lurk in the far right-hand tail of the distribution of talent in any human society. […]maybe the real threat is posed not by the rise of China, Islam or CO2 emissions, but by our own loss of faith in the civilisation we inherited from our ancestors.”

Right. As a non-European, I find his claims that non-Europeans are un-innovative and superior insulting. Does this all even matter? After all, he’s just a historian, right? Should you care? Yes. You should. Historians are academics and professionals. Their conclusions may very well shape public policy, the way governments think and act. The more we all can disregard Eurocentrists – and all kind of centrists, nationalists, and fanatics – the more we can respect diverse peoples and cultures.

Don’t make me MAD like these Eurocentrists. I MAD. I was so mad after reading his article, it wasn’t funny. I VERY MAD. VERY VERY MAD.

Further reading:

Art thou enraged? I AM ENRAGED.