Are Humanities and Social Sciences Bad for Asians too?

If you’ve been reading the news these days, you’ve probably come across one, or more, or many articles and op-eds telling people about how terrible it is for students to be going into the humanities or social sciences.

How will you find a job with that Studio Art degree? Will that Philosophy PhD satisfy your hunger? That B.A. in Anthropology will just land you a job flipping burgers at McDonalds!

That looks delicious, except for the fact that I’m vegetarian.

Actually, they are right. Slightly. Humanities, arts, social sciences, and so on: unfortunately, these majors tend to make less money than their science and mathy counterparts, and they also tend to have higher unemployment, even though, from what I’ve looked up, they still make more money and have better employment prospects than people without college degrees. So perhaps, as some of these articles and op-eds suggest, there are too many people going into the Humanities and Social Sciences. Fine. Makes enough sense. Society needs people going into all sorts of subjects, not just politics and literature. But see, for me, there’s a wee bit of a problem.

 

 

I’m Asian.

Asians, see, don’t tend to go into Humanities and the Social Sciences. Lots of Asians go into science, or engineering, or tech, or medicine, or something along those lines. I notice, for instance, a shift from “lots of Asians” to “not a lot of Asians” when I go from, say, my science/tech classes to my humanities/social science classes.

That’s fine, really. I don’t have a problem with that. Actually, never mind, I do. Asians, along with other immigrant groups, tend to emphasize getting degrees in “useful” subjects much more than other non-immigrant groups. That’s perfectly justifiable, except so many Asians go into these “practical” fields that it’s become a problem of imbalance: some within the Asian and immigrant communities are starting to advocate for parents and other Asians to encourage their kids to go into fields other than the stereotypical doctor/engineer lineup.

Stop the madness.

What does this have to do with Humanities and Social Sciences enrollment in general?

It means that when I see the people saying that less and less people should be going into humanities and social sciences, I feel a bit conflicted. See, that might be true to some degree, but I’m also Asian. And as for us Asians, I believe the opposite should be happening – that more and more Asians should be going into the humanities and social sciences.

Frankly, I don’t enjoy hearing an older Asian man or woman saying that I should just become a doctor, and I don’t want to hear another of that from somewhere else. I’ve heard it enough times, and I can just tell when they are about to say it.  I don’t want to be another Asian doctor or engineer. I don’t need to. Some Asians are fine with those fields, and I respect that, but that is not for me.

It’s an odd conflict. In general, there are more people in the humanities and social sciences than there should be; yet within the Asian (and immigrant) communities, it’s the opposite, in my opinion.

KONG FU ZU SAYS

Confucius, an Asian philosopher. I heard he was totally into the Humanities or something.

How to find the balance?

I don’t know.

But I do know it’s a good idea to not do something if you’re that ambivalent towards it. On the other hand, I also know it’s a good idea to plan ahead. There’s nothing wrong being an Art/Philosophy/whatever major, so long as you know the risks and consequences, and plan accordingly.

I think that’s what we should be telling stupid kids like me, instead of “Take this major,” or “Don’t go into that subject.” I should be telling myself “Think about why you want to do this, the pros and cons, and how you are going to manage yourself with these tools.” After all, majors are nothing but tools. College degrees are nothing but tools. Some tools are better than others, certainly, but all tools are useful somehow. You just have to familiarize yourself with the tool, its purpose, its limits and its potential.

That said, being a doctor ain’t fun. I’ve heard (though I cannot verify) that the debt from medical school makes other college debts look like a joke.

92% of statistics are made up!

Though I guess you can be a surgeon and get good pay to pay off your debts. Then again, it’s pretty stressful being one, I’ve heard.

(Note: I use “Asian” in this article, but in reality I could substitute Asian with most other immigrant groups. See here for more.)

Denounce Rick Santorum: Unite Against the Skyrim-Hating Imperialist Reactionaries

I would argue with almost 100% certainty that Mr. Rick Santorum would probably hate Skyrim for it’s pro-gay stance and endorsement of paganism (not to mention its grey and gray morality and violence). But I’m not here to talk about his homophobia or how he embarrasses Christians who believe in the separation of Church and State. Those are issues I find a bit more touchy.

However, what has irked me was Santorum’s delusions concerning history. Or perhaps he’s just a liar. Maybe both, who knows. Ultimately, he follows a long line of American nationalists (or, if you prefer, “patriots”) who fling around outdated ideas of Western superiority and why the ideals of white folks are awesomer than the ideals of everyone else. While I do agree that French Fries taste better than Tempura and that Hollywood is better than Bollywood (actually, scrap that, they’re both equally bad), the mere existence of Santorum’s Eurocentric rhetoric shows the fact that many people still do not have respect for diverse peoples and cultures.

There have been two chief instances where Santorum advocated Eurocentric delusions. In one case, he argued that the Crusades weren’t that bad. In another, he argued that the British Empire collapsed because they didn’t do enough to spread their virtues via imperialism.

Crusades

Even for those of us with a basic knowledge of history, the Crusades were anything but pretty. Last year, however, Mr. Santorum begged to differ:

“The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom. They hate Western civilization at the core. That’s the problem.”

Ultimately, Mr. Santorum’s claim boils down to “the Crusades weren’t bad, the Crusaders weren’t mean, they were justified.” Right. BS. In the First Crusade, for instance, a bunch of Europeans went to the Levant and basically massacred the inhabitants of Jerusalem, regardless of whether they were Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. In the Fourth Crusade, as another example, a group of Crusaders basically got bored and decided to sack Constantinople and kill Orthodox Christians instead of Muslims. In short, the Crusaders sh*tted over one of the most prosperous and cosmopolitan Christian states in Europe. Most of the Western knights started killing, raping, and burning, and only the Italian knights were smart enough to hoard all the good loot, like priceless works of art, instead of smashing and setting them on fire. Love thy neighbor, anyone?

Additionally, many of the Crusades occurred not necessarily because of evil Muslims killing everyone (most Muslim states, actually, didn’t give a damn about your religion as long as you paid your taxes*). It was politics, pure and simple. The First Crusade, for instance, was partly a Byzantine ploy. Long story short, the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I inherited the empire in the 1080s when Turkish hordes of doom were knocking on his doorstep and about to annihilate the empire. Alexios, being a Machiavellian genius, decided to use the backwater states of Europe against the Muslims. Making up some bullsh*t about how evil the Muslims were, he promised the Europeans lots of rewards (like plunder and etc.) if they helped him fight against the Turks. The Crusaders thought this was an awesome idea; however, the Crusaders decided to screw over the Byzantines and go solo and Alexios’ plan turned into a fail.

That’s not to mention other Crusades, such as those against Orthodox Christians and pagans in Eastern Europe, led by the Teutonic Knights, who wore funny helmets. The Teutonic Knights were anything but pleasant; they even fought against their fellow Christians.

So much for your pure, virtuous Crusaders, Mr. Santorum. Heck, even conservatives disagree with you. Anyhow, it is a pity that the word “Crusade” still carries with it romantic connotations of a noble struggle, while the Islamic equivalent, “Jihad,” gets all the negative connotations thrown at it.

Britain is an octopus... sort of like the kind in Japanese tentacle porn or something.

British Imperialism

So said Rick Santorum, the brilliant historian:

If you look at every European country that has had world domination, a world presence, from the French to the British – 100 years ago, the sun didn’t set on the British Empire. If you look at that empire today – why? Because they lost heart and faith in their heart in themselves and in their mission, who they were and what values they wanted to spread around the world. Not just for the betterment of the world, but safety and security and the benefit of their country.

A translation of his rant: white people, in particularly the British, were just and noble bringers of civilization to the barbaric savages of the rest of the world.

Sadly, the British, like all empires – regardless of whether they were European, Asian, Middle Eastern, African, or whatever – wanted money. Resources. Power. They were not colonizers“for the betterment of the world.” They were directly competing with their fellow Europeans, such as the French, Germans, and Russians, for – again – money, resources, and power. Millions of non-Europeans (not to mention lower-class Europeans!) labored and toiled to produce the resources that led to the prosperity of the European middle and upper class. The European leadership justified imperialism and colonialism because it was supposed to make the world better (c.f. White Man’s Burden). It was, of course, just propaganda used to subjugate previously-independent peoples and states under European rule.  That is not to say all European colonials were evil resource-hoarders. I’m pretty sure a good number earnestly (albeit deludedly) believed that they were helping the poor, savage folk of the non-European world. Some probably thought it was business as usual. But that doesn’t ignore the fact that a whole wollop of non-white people (and poorer white folks, too) were essentially enslaved for “the betterment of the world”.

You know, Mr. Santorum, I’m not sure why the Indians and half of Africa wanted independence, then. Maybe Gandhi was too barbaric to understand the splendor and virtues of the superior British race? Or, you know, I’m also wondering, why then did your god-heroes like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson declare independence from Britain if it was so great, huh?**

Everyone is Evil, Including Europeans, Mr. Santorum

My point here is, people like Mr. Santorum are going off blabbering outdated notions of Western superiority. We’ve gotten much better today at scoffing at such nonsense, but the Crusade (*snicker*) against Eurocentrism won’t be over under buffoons like Mr. Santorum learn that the Westerners weren’t – and aren’t – angelic messengers and warriors of god. Europeans and Americans are just as good and bad as everyone else. There were Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian, African, and Native American madmen just as greedy and violent as European imperialists or Crusaders.

Being a complete douchebag isn’t just limited to a single ethnicity or racial group or religion. Being ignorant and delusion also isn’t just limited to a single ethnicity or racial group or religion, either. In fact, I suppose Mr. Santorum is a good example of the latter, at the very least.

History is never black and white. Even people we see as great and heroic can have darker sides. People we think of as villains can be heroes to others (case in point: see how Mongolians love Genghis Khan, not to mention the PRC). Heck, even Skyrim does a decent job at proving this point about history (albeit not as deeply as I hoped).***

All in all, we have a presidential candidate whose grasp on history is flawed at best, delusional at worst, and he has a whole mass of supporters who share his vision. Because of his insults to the glorious subject of history, as well as his offenses to diverse peoples and cultures, there is only one option for us: to denounce him and his imperialist, reactionary thoughts, and ensure they these thoughts not spread amongst the masses.

(As a side note, Mr. Santorum probably hates the new SimCity**** too, because it is pro-Environmental or something. Frankly, I don’t care – I just want to relive my childhood again. Long live SimCity! And that was a very long time since my last post…)

Disclaimer: I like the Imperials more than the Stormcloaks.

*The special tax, specifically, is called the jizya. In short, if you aren’t Muslim, you have to pay an extra tax, but otherwise you’re left alone; in the early years of Islam, Muslim leaders even stopped people from converting to Islam just so they could get more tax money. So much for your murdering-everyone-by-the-sword terrorist stereotype. Of course, some would then say that means the Islamic bureaucracies discriminated against non-Muslims anyways. In actuality, the Muslim leaders pretty much taxed the Muslims the same, by claiming the Muslims also had to pay an extra tax to fund charities (called Zakat). So, to summarize, Muslim rulers were just greedy tax hoarders Republicans would hate, and a lot of people originally converted to Islam for tax evasion… only to find out they pretty much had to pay the same amount as before.
**In reality the American revolutionaries weren’t exactly a bunch of nice folks, either, but I’ll rant about that another time.
*** For those of you who have no idea of what I’m talking about, basically, in Skyrim, you can join one of two equally flawed sides in the civil war. On one side you have the freedom-fighting but racist and overly idealistic Stormcloaks, on the other you have the cosmopolitan but bureaucratic and inefficient Empire.
****The new game was announced March 6. Apparently pollution from my city can drift over to my friends’ cities, which is good trolling material.

Christmas Miracles Happen in Trench Warfare and the Byzantine Empire

Christmas in USA #1 is arguably bipolar, sort of like the occasional female lead in anime. On one hand, there is consumerism and the excesses of capitalism; on the other, there is the warm sentimentality of gift-giving and family-celebrating. The bipolar nature of the holiday has taken on its own spirit throughout the world in places as far and weird as Japan – all in all very far removed from its quaint and ancient origins in the world of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

We should appreciate it all the while, regardless of whether we prefer to burn ourselves in the flames of consumerist greed or drown ourselves in the ocean of sappy family get-togethers and egg nog (I hate egg nog, actually). Either way, we’re still better off than those unfortunate men trapped in the battle hell of the Franco-German border 97 years ago, who had the luck of celebrating Christmas in arguably one of the stupidest and sh*ttiest wars in history. Yet every time I hear their story – the story of the Christmas truce – I almost cry a bit, literally, and am convinced that, somehow, humans are actually capable of being nice to each other for once.

The Christmas truce was, otherwise, very much like a Christmas miracle in every sense of the word, for 97 years ago – in 1914 – several months into World War I, things – for lack of better wording – sucked. Imagine this:

You have been sitting in (literally) a sh*t and mud filled trench for days, weeks, months even. And when you have been let out, it was only so that you could run at a blizzard of machine-gun fire, artillery shells, grenade shrapnel, and poisonous gas. And as winter dawns, as snow begins to fall, nothing has changed: you still sit in your trench, perhaps fresh from another run over the trench that killed or wounded half your buddies. Yet it’s Christmas, and you sorely miss your mother, father, lover, siblings, and everyone back home, and you miss celebrating the holiday with them. But perhaps you’ve been at war for too long that you don’t even know it’s already Christmas.

Suddenly, you hear laughter and singing in the far distance. You and your surviving trench buddies poke your heads slightly above the trench (but not too much, in case – as you’ve learned the hard way – there are snipers). And there, not too far away, you see candlelights, makeshift Christmas decorations, wine, cigarettes, warm food… and British, French, and Germans arm in arm, singing carols to each other.

An impossible sight. You’ve been shooting at these inhuman enemy imbeciles for months – and to make merry with them? Isn’t that treason? And yet. They – your friends and enemies over there – beckon you over. Come, join the fun, there is no war, no battle here, for now.

You still miss your mother, father, lover, siblings, and everyone back home. And chances are you will never see them again (it’s a miracle you lived this long). Your new family, in actuality, is here, on the battlefield, of all places. And so, putting behind your suspicions, nationalist bigotry, and raging war spirit, you decide to jump over your trench and cross over to the other side.

And very soon, instead of firing guns and throwing grenades, you are laughing and singing with your friends and enemies on Christmas. It sure beats killing each other.

AND so, The Christmas truce, as it was called, lasted for several days on some parts of the war front, and I suspect it would have lasted longer had not the commanders forced their troops to return to fighting. During the few days of the Christmas truce (or even just one day at some parts of the war front), soldiers trained to kill or be killed engaged in what to us would have been mundane Christmas activities: singing carols, giving little gifts to each other, even playing football (the normal kind, not the American kind). But to these men, it certainly beat blasting each other’s brains out. And amazingly, despite discouragement and condemnation from the higher-ups, Christmas truces occurred again – several times – on both the Western and Eastern fronts of World War I in succeeding years.

And so, this Christmas, we always hear about Christmas miracles or the true meaning of Christmas: perhaps we’ve heard of some douchey old bourgeoisie capitalist learning how to be nice, or how you shouldn’t commit suicide because people care about you, or how it’s okay to be different and special, or that Santa Claus is real. All nice and all, but nothing special, in my opinion. If we can be nice and friendly to each other on just one day, I’m pretty sure we can be nice and friendly to each other most days of the year anyways.

But the Christmas Truce was a true Christmas miracle. Men decided to be nice and friendly to each other even though they were supposed to kill each other and even though they probably had already killed each other’s friends and relatives. It takes a miracle to turn the other cheek. It’s hard, certainly, but possible.

And so, the Imperial Senate wishes everyone a Merry Christmas/Hanukhah/Kwanzaa, a Joyous Secular Holidays, and a Happy (Gregorian) New Year.

And actually, Santa Claus was real. Saint Nicholas lived in the Byzantine Empire.  How awesome is that?

Further reading: http://www.firstworldwar.com/features/christmastruce.htm

I don’t know if they actually bothered to build snowmen.

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

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.

The Historical Importance of 9/11 (Or Lack Thereof)

Stalin once said, “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.”

Except that quote might have been misattributed to him, but let’s ignore that.

9/11 was undoubtedly a tragedy by any means, and a sad example that even in the modern day and age, mankind is still capable of, well, terror. Now that the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is upon us, newspapers, television, and politicians will remind us of how important 9/11 is in a historical context, and how history took a turn for the better or worse – the War on Terror, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the realization that the world will never be the same…

Or is it?

As a student of history, I have to ask myself: was 9/11 actually an important event? Did it define the first decade of the new millennium? Will it have ramifications for decades and centuries to come? In truth, I feel the answer to all of these is a cautious “no.” Or at the least, “not as much as one would think.”

For the people who lost loved ones and/or who were directly affected, 9/11 is undeniably a turning point in their lives, and I won’t argue against that. But for the rest of us? For the world? I don’t feel that history is really controlled by single, prominent events like 9/11, even though we certainly like to think that way. We like to think that World War I was caused solely by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. We like to think that the Roman Empire suddenly collapsed solely because some Germans razed the city in 476 CE.

But history usually doesn’t works that way; I think history follows trends, not single events. For instance, World War I was going to happen, sooner or later (even Bismarck predicted the Balkans would cause a mess). The whole war was the culmination of decades, even centuries, of European competition for power and resources. And as for the Romans, the Empire was already on decline for two hundred years, and Rome wasn’t even the capital anymore (the capital shifted to Ravenna several decades previously). The whole Fall of Rome was the culmination of a trend of barbarian migrations and a failing Roman economy, and it didn’t happen overnight in 476 CE.

Occasionally, of course, you have some really crazy people or groups of people, like Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan, who totally upset the balance of things and define their era. But that doesn’t happen a lot. And I don’t think Osama bin Laden defined our era, nor did terrorism.

In reality, I think that history since the end of the Cold War has been defined by at least two main trends (there probably are more, but these two are the ones off the top of my head). Firstly, we have the technological boom and increasing globalization. Internet. Computers. The Eurozone (chuckle). E-Commerce. The entire world is connected so much more than it was even one year ago, than it was since 9/11. This has led to some good things – like the spread of knowledge and ideas – and also to some not-as-good things – like how the economic recession affected everybody in the world.

Secondly, we have the overall geopolitical trends. The collapse of the USSR appeared to make the US the dominant power of the world. But there are always rising powers, and even some older ones, waiting in the sidelines. China is the most prominent example, but other important ones include Russia, India, Brazil, and so forth. Furthermore, within the past two decades, it’s been clearly shown that the US doesn’t dominate the world 100%, and not just because it’s too focused on the War on Terror.

Other things have been happening in the previous decade, too – the Middle Eastern revolutions, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the establishment of the Eurozone, the economic recession …

Heck, has anyone noticed that the Republican presidential candidates don’t talk too much about the War on Terror? It’s all about the economy. 9/11? Yes, it’s sad, we say, but we’re more worried about our jobs and income right now. And that’s how Stalin’s purported quote works: when it’s one person, or something dear to us, or something immediate that we can focus on, it’s a tragedy. But when it’s something far away, or something we can’t exactly grasp, it’s just a statistic. And you can think of history like one very, very big and vague statistic.

Of course 9/11 was a terrible thing. We should remember those who died, and also remember what evils humans are capable of. But it wasn’t the only thing – good or bad – that has happened within this past decade or two. It didn’t define history so sharply. Rarely does history suddenly “change.” It usually slowly morphs from one era to the next. But that’s not all bad.

This will sound a bit corny, but it’s like growing a tree. We have to sow the seeds of prosperity and success for future generations. The seeds won’t become big trees right away – maybe not even in our lifetimes, but if we take care of them right, water them, and give them a supportive environment, they’ll be nice, big trees someday.

Of course, the problem is that everyone disagrees on how to take care of those seeds. And that’s how many conflicts start, from political deadlock to big wars.

But at least we can try. We can turn the seed of 9/11 – of all that has happened in this past decade – into something better for future generations. I’d like a nice tree, literal or symbolic. Not too many trees. A nice, solid, figurative tree in a huge figurative meadow of figurative flowers or something. I hope my grandchildren would appreciate that.


I’d Vote for Rick Perry if Teddy Roosevelt was his Vice-President and if He Learned Respect for Diverse Peoples and Cultures Like China

Teddy Roosevelt: Awesomest American ever.

I find Rick Perry problematic, much like how I find soggy French fries, inefficient bureaucracy, and Asian chicks who dye their hair ridiculous colors and act cutesy problematic. But that aside, I want to praise glorious People’s Republic of China at Perry’s expense.

In a recent interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, Perry made the following side comment about China:

You know, China disregarded the world for a millennium… and they lived in their own little world. [America] can’t afford to do that.

I don’t know if the average Chinese person would be offended, but I would be if I were Chinese. This attitude about historical China – that it was a reactionary, isolationist civilization that refused to change – is one that even some historians believe.

Even a quick glance at Chinese history within the last “millennium,” as Perry puts it, would easily undermine any such claim that China “disregarded” everyone else and “lived in their own little world.” Some examples:

  • China was one of the if not the largest economies in the world up until the 1700s and 1800s. Chinese products such as silk, ceramics, coins, and so forth, have been found as far as places like Italy, Arabia, Persia, India, Indonesia, Russia, Kenya, Mozambique, and maybe even Zimbabwe. Why the heck do you think all those crazy white dudes like Columbus wanted to sail to China? To be brainwashed by Chinese propaganda?
  • The Imperial Chinese government allowed for various ethnic, religious, and political groups to settle in China, not counting those that were already in China. During the past millennium, people such as Muslims, Nestorian Christians, Central Asians, Southeast Asians, Persians, and other white people all moved to China, particularly because of the lucrative economic opportunities.
  • China was very much involved in the political affairs of everyone around them. Up until the 1800s or so, nearby countries were forced/persuaded to pay tribute. These included states in modern-day countries such as Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Nepal, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, and all those Stans in Central Asia. You don’t go around asking for tribute if you, well, “disregard the world.” Additionally, China did get involved in international affairs in other states. For instance, China assisted Korea in defending against a Japanese invasion in the late 1500s, of which had important historical ramifications for the three countries and even Mongolia. China also invaded Vietnam a few times, but they all failed because Vietnamese housewives beat their husbands.

    Chinese ships helping their Korean comrades by blowing up Samurai.

  • Chinese ships helping their Korean comrades. The Samurai don’t stand a chance. Notice the rockets. So much for a backwards military.
  •  Perhaps one of the clearest shows of Chinese power and domination during the Imperial era were the voyages of Zheng He, which lasted from 1405 to 1433. Long story, a Muslim eunuch named Zheng He (he was Muslim, but the Chinese emperor didn’t really care about that, now did he?) was appointed admiral and sailed in this huge fleet to a bunch of places, including but not limited to Southeast Asia, Indonesia, India, Persia, the Middle East, and Africa. The ships sailed by Zheng He were possibly some of the largest ships in the world until the 1800s, reaching hundreds of feet in length and holding hundreds of sailors and other personnel. Regardless, Zheng He made a good point convincing most countries he met why pleasing China was a good idea (or at least that China meant $$$ and a good business opportunities).

    Zheng He, epitome of what Rick Perry considers to be a civilization that "lives in its own little world."

  •  Even after China stopped these voyages and put restrictions on merchants and other travelers on where they could go, that did not mean that China suddenly “lived in their own little world” and turned into a backwards reactionary state in two seconds. During the Ming Dynasty, for instance, when these restrictions were first imposed en masse, the Chinese were still willing to trade with Europe; in particular, China stockpiled on a lot of silver coming from Spanish colonies in the America (the collapse of Spain’s gold and silver markets in the early 1600s might have been one of the causes of the collapse of the Ming Dynasty). Again, this doesn’t show “disregard for the world” if you go stocking up on stuff that is mined half a world away by Amerindian and Black slaves.

So given all these blatant counterexamples to Perry’s claim that China “disregarded the world” and “lived in [it’s] own little world” for the last “millennium”, why do a lot of people like Perry – and even some academics – continue to claim that China was a stagnant, self-interested, reactionary civilization in the previous millennium, and particularly the last few centuries?

It’s quite simple, I think, and it all rests on the fact that the Chinese (and other powerful non-Western civilizations such as India, Persia, Indonesia, Arabia, and West Africa) weren’t (and aren’t) white Europeans. China didn’t go around exploring vast territories, killing most of the natives, colonizing now empty lands, and reaping in the resources. But Europe did. Since Chinese people aren’t like Europeans, the Europeans logically concluded that they must have been inferior. Respect for diverse peoples and cultures at its finest.

Though China didn’t go on mass murdering colonization rampages (that’s not to say they didn’t do very mean things themselves), they did progress in different ways. For instance, China developed a number of innovations during this time, including but not limited to gunpowder, barreled gunpowder weapons, paper currency, movable type printing, archaeology, grenades, land mines, naval mines, forensics, rockets, multi-stage rockets, bureaucratic red tape, and political corruption.

Technically this is a Korean weapon, but it is similar to a number of Chinese rocket weapons during the same era. In short, rockets beat samurai.

Economically speaking, China had no reason to go on crazy adventures like the Europeans. It was not necessarily because they had all the resources they needed back home; rather, it was because places like the Americas and the African coasts were too far away, and merchants were already moving back and forth between other parts of Asia and the Middle East already making good profits, so why bother waste funds sending Chinese men on risky expeditions to the middle of nowhere?

Perry’s claim that China “lived in their own world” is perhaps fueled by a Western misconception of China’s own perception of its place in the world. For a very long time, China considered itself the center of the civilized world, hence its modern name “Zhōngguó,” which means “Middle Kingdom” or “Middle Nation”. It had good reason to be, though, given all its achievements and how big it was compared to most of the states around it. Thus, when Europeans first came to China, the Chinese scoffed at them, particularly when the Europeans refused to pay respects to the Chinese officials in the Chinese way (kowtowing) for instance. So much for respect for diverse peoples and cultures. Europeans and Americans have since misinterpreted this attitude as an arrogant, self-interested one, since, of course, anybody who wasn’t going around colonizing and killing was either stupid and uncivilized or self-interested and backwards.

In fact, the Chinese were just as self-righteous, prejudiced, and conceited as the Europeans were. They just expressed their bastardom in different ways.

And that, I think, is what respect for diverse peoples and cultures boils down to: learning how and why other peoples and cultures are just the same bastards as you are.

I don’t blame Perry for his comments, though; as stated earlier, most people – and even a number of historians – still hold the same, outdated misconceptions of China, and these misconceptions won’t go away for a while. I just hope that everybody learns to respect diverse peoples and cultures. Seriously. It would make international relations a lot easier.

Anyhow, still, when it comes to Republicans, I think I’d rather trust Jon Huntsman over Perry when it comes to China. Actually, just make Teddy Roosevelt the Republican nominee again, seriously. I’d totally willingly vote Obama out of office if that happened.

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