The self-centered system

Does the world revolve around me? What a juvenile question it seems. Only children are told to share and think about other people before themselves. So at 24 years of age, no one should be reminding me that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Yet the older I get, the more I see how encouraged I am to think exactly this way: to do things that serve only me, my personal happiness, my independent desires. I keep hearing slogans compelling me to find myself, know myself, seek myself, meditate on myself. We were warned against this thinking back when we were toddlers, which is why I find it so odd that this now standard adult protocol, to the point that not being self-driven is actually deemed naive or juvenile.

I’m not the only one wondering about this, though.

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The research process

In college, it was beyond me to imagine staying in academia like some of my peers soon would, committing so much of life to research a small piece of the world, hidden away, not making money or anything. It seemed so restrictive and myopic, and in a self-induced way, no less. Academia doesn’t enjoy a great rap from non-academics. It’s that last-resort hideout for people – the “intellectuals” – who can’t find “real” jobs. It’s that place where people go to do nothing except read all day, and say lots of theoretical things that can’t be proven.

Doing my dissertation showed me the value of the pooh-poohed humanities and social sciences. I see how the death of these departments would be a very ominous sign for our society.

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Censorship

Censorship is on my mind. As usual, I can’t decide whether this is an organic development from the outside world, or a topic I’m currently cocooned in thanks to recent reading choices and discussions with friends. I want to say it’s both (but maybe that’s indulgent).

This issue may have started feeling close to me back in March, when that massacre/terrorist attack happened in Kunming, China. I remember meeting two friends for our usual Monday morning Breakfast Club and hearing about the tragedy of it from my Chinese friend. I expected to see it splashed all over my top news pages, but this was also the time when the Ukraine/Crimea/Russia issue was in full throttle, which I think pushed the farther-away China off the front pages. Later, another Chinese friend explained that many from back at her home were outraged at how (the few) Western outlets were reporting the situation, particularly by downplaying the tragedy (see: this article). As time passed, I was surprised I still wasn’t seeing the issue bubble up to big headlines in London or the states. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised? Others told me that China was doing a good job shutting down the story.

I probably first learned what censorship was in middle school, in the context of ridiculous, repressive governments and conspiracy theories. After that, it became something I more associated with North Korea – real, but extreme to the point it’s almost not. This past year, I learned about censorship in China on a much more personal level, from my small number of Chinese friends that help make up the even tinier elite fraction of the Chinese population that actually knows what’s in front and behind the “Great Firewall of China” because they jump it with VPNs. That’s the famous kind of censorship, the ban on Facebook and Line, the one that makes headlines, makes students roll their eyes, makes adults scoff at the government in charge. But these past couple of months I’ve been tuning into the censorship in its more implicit, social pressure, trendy/ing form. This is where it gets so complicated for me to figure out, because, as I said already, censorship gets such a bad rap… but if we do it for the current social mores, it’s okay, right? Continue reading

Travel will not make you more open-minded

This is what I’ve concluded in London. I’ve spent so much of my life harboring deep pride about the cities I’ve seen, the airlines I’ve used, and the times I’ve moved, and finally I’ve decided that traveling is one of the most loaded status symbols I’ve ever abused. Very early on, people learn that the places we’ve been to are tremendous social currency for either bragging to friends or applying to college or jobs. In both cases, the assumption is that travel has made us into more tolerant, independent, and culturally aware people.

ryanair flight

I think this is incorrect. I think that just as travel can genuinely break preexisting assumptions we have about the world and other people, it can lock worldviews into place or the kinds of people we surround ourselves with. Geographical location is only one way among many that people are different, and I think it’s very dangerous to assume that the plane tickets we buy come packaged with a new, “open mind.”

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The tarnished image of wealth

I’ve been trying to understand how the general American public can equate wealth with success, and simultaneously denigrate society’s wealthiest people. I find this combination very odd sometimes. A couple of friends have pointed me to that study suggesting a “perfect salary” beyond which happiness levels off, so perhaps our acceptance of others’ wealth lies similarly on a cliff? But I’m starting to think that what society really attacks is the publicity of wealth, and specifically the flaunting of it. I think this is how society reveals a buried, but core and widespread belief that too much accumulated wealth, in reality, is irresponsible. Continue reading

History lessons anywhere else

I’ve just finished NYT reporter David E. Sanger‘s book Confront and Conceal and was interested by his mention of how differently students in different places learn the story of international relations. Everyone, whether we majored in it in college or abandoned it in grade school, is influenced by the specific strand of history we were taught. It just comes out enmeshed and entangled in other parts of our lives, even if rarely given the credit for such influence. Continue reading