Archive for August 2014

Has America Been Saved from Racism?

August 28, 2014

After reading Ezekiel Kweku’s piece (goo.gl/s8xHZM) I felt some Americans’ view of racism mirrors some Christians’ view of sin: we once suffered under it but have now been saved and sanctified.

Under this model, people suffer under sin, but after they accept Christ they are saved and bound for heaven. In the same way, America was plagued by racism, but the forces of good conquered and now equality is on the march. Even some who are not Christian have absorbed this way of thinking, and it can be innate: in Taiwan the lifting of martial law and first presidential election are the moments some say the nation “became free, period.”

The “I Have a Dream Speech” and Obama’s Election are two of the most commonly recognized moments of the USA’s racial salvation, and it’s no coincidence that Martin Luther King and, to a lesser extent, Barack Obama have been deified in the process.

We can all be Christlike, yes, and thanks to his leadership and many astute statements King in particular can be considered a national prophet. That said, we must remember that no one and nothing can “change everything” the way we would like it to. After the Resurrection itself sin persisted, even among Church members, as Acts and Revelation make clear, and people who once accepted Christ can still fall away, as Judas did. In US history, meanwhile, we can see clearly that African-Americans steadily -lost- rights and status between the end of the Civil War and the first World War, and that on police violence we’ve made zero progress at best since “Do the Right Thing” 25 years ago.

Personal conversions are real and moments of social change happen. On an absolute, universal level Christ has triumphed over sin. But on this earth nothing is final. Not the ultimate destination of our souls, nor the ultimate destination of our society either. We want a conversion or an election to decide everything. To be inspired by such moments afterward is good and natural. But our daily works, day after grueling day, are themselves crucial, as are daily examinations of conscience to reorient ourselves.

Advertisements

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region

August 23, 2014

Amazon Link

I’m extremely fortunate to have stumbled upon this book. It reconstructed my views on developmental economics and doubles as a strong rejoinder to dogmatic laissez-faire.

It explains how Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China have advanced so much economically–by following the 18th century English and 19th century American and German models of protected development, best described by Friedrich List–and how Southeast Asian nations have struggled despite taking far more of the neoliberal prescriptions of Adam Smith and the World Bank and IMF than their northern counterparts. There’s much to learn about here but we can summarize the three steps to prosperity as follows:

1. Peasant farmers must be given ownership of their land and receive infrastructure and technical support to increase productivity and build wealth. Fair land redistribution spreads wealth so much better than trickle-down economics.
2. During industrialization, infant industries must be protected from foreign multinationals, but there must also be enough domestic firms in each field to allow genuine competition, as monopolies degenerate into rent-seeking. Deals with foreign firms must require technology transfer in exchange for market access to allow the nation to build its knowledge base. Promising companies need sufficient capital to undertake long-term investment. To determine which firms deserve funding, use export performance as a benchmark because it is an objective indicator of competitiveness.
3. Finance must be directed toward productive development, not real estate and stock speculation.

Again, it’s not what race you are that determines how well your country does; it’s how effective its policy is. Learn about what’s been proven to work by reading this.

Pope Francis’s Wakeup Call in Korea

August 20, 2014

“ASIAN YOUTH, WAKE UP!”

Pope Francis rarely gives speeches in English (like Asian youth, he is worried his English is too poor!) but he did for us in Korea and the above was the exhortation that he wanted to stick in our minds. For great reason.

But first let’s rewind a bit: I spent the weekend in Seoul to attend Masses Pope Francis said there. They were amazing. Most attendees came from countries where there are relatively few Catholics, so it was a joyful time for everyone to celebrate their shared faith, not just explain it, and make new friends from all over the place. There were spontaneous songs and dances all around, including some by a troupe of indigenous people from Hualien, Taiwan in traditional garb, and people from different countries so high they were jumping into each other’s pictures to say hello (so now our group is in the group photo for a big Korean seminary.) Many non-Catholics came to be a part of it all as well, and they were welcomed.

I saw the Pope with my own eyes thrice. The first time was as he was driven to the Seosumun shrine just outside Seoul’s old city walls to commemorate 124 martyrs who were killed there (echoing St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome). After that ceremony, he drove to the central plaza of Seoul to beatify the martyrs at a Mass with 800,000 attendees, and I followed him there on foot. We who were too far behind all watched the proceedings (Latin Mass, Korean subtitles) on giant Samsung LCDs mounted around the square.

At Seoul the police presence was extremely heavy, as if they thought we had all come to protest him: it seemed clear the Force’s methods and traditions had not significantly changed since the rule of the dictator Park Chung Hee. However, I was able to get much closer the next day, in a distant castle where thousands of Catholics had been killed over the course of a century of persecution.

He passed by on the Popemobile on a path 10-15 feet in front of me at the Asian Youth Day closing Mass for 40,000 people at Haemi Fortress. Each time he blessed us all (looking past cameraphones to people’s faces) and each time he was warm. As he approached youth would run toward the car yelling “Papa, Papa!” (He also said an Asian Youth Day Mass in a packed World Cup soccer stadium in Daejeon on Korean Liberation Day. He traveled there by high speed rail and only after the train got going did the conductor tell the hundreds of other passengers they were sharing a ride with the Pope!)

But the amazing thing about his trip is that his small-scale events had an even larger social impact than the aforementioned large-scale ones. When he wasn’t at Mass praying and blessing, he was meeting and a long lineup of the marginalized–families of children killed in the April ferry disaster, women forced into sex slavery during World War II, the elderly, disabled, and sick–and giving them love and concern. He spoke about social problems close to home like youth suicide–old as he is youth relate to him because he knows what they’re worried about. He met the President of Korea as well, but mostly the pontiff was with the least of our brothers, bringing journalists along with him to get them in the headlines, and saying loud and clear whom he wanted to receive more attention.

Korea is getting richer and richer and the Pope came and spoke about emerging problems people had started to feel and to tell them to do something about it, the way their forefathers risked their lives for faith. “Do not be afraid to bring the wisdom of faith to every aspect of social life,” he said. He also urged us to discern “what is incompatible with your Catholic faith … and what aspects of contemporary culture are sinful, corrupt and lead to death” and instructed us to look out for the elderly, poor, and sick.

Some people don’t want to get too involved in society or in politics, which is the structuring of society. They just want to live their lives. However, I’ve often thought, of late, that in free societies the people who can most afford to do this are those who haven’t yet felt politics and society crushing them. In other words, politics is abstraction for the fortunate, but it’s urgent for the unfortunate.

I think Francis in telling us to wake up was saying anyone who can afford to come out and see him can also afford to act. And I pray we all do! Perhaps I’m paranoid but my reading of social trends tells me that not only is there more than enough for Christians to do for others; there are also vises tightening on everyone, and we need to recognize them for what they are. Youth, wake up, and don’t despair. The Cross has the same power over death as ever.

Ferguson

August 14, 2014

“Chiraq.”

The conceptual bridge to police actions in Ferguson had already been built. Many many people have always (wrongly) thought of majority-Black neighborhoods as foreign countries. Now the public has been conditioned to think of foreign countries as Iraq, and our institutions, down to local government, have come to act and spend like occupying armies themselves.

I woke up thinking of what Henry David Thoreau said the Mexican-American War would do to our country: “The United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic, which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us.”

Recommended Reading: http://theconcourse.deadspin.com/america-is-not-for-black-people-1620169913

Recommended Social Network: Twitter

Robin Williams

August 12, 2014

I grew up thinking I’d see plenty of actors like Robin Williams, but then I didn’t.

On his comedy, Jeet Heer says: “Robin Williams (like David Foster Wallace) had alien minds: he thought quicker than we did and could make us share in his alien perspective. Williams had a hyper-link mind before hyper-link was invented. He could free-associate faster than you can google. Williams was perhaps the only person in history who snorted cocaine in order to slow down the speed of his mind…Just as Joyce wasn’t just a novelist but really all novelists rolled into one, Williams was all stand-up comedians in one body…As a meta-comedian perhaps Williams’s biggest influence was the TV remote control: he replicated the ever-shifting screen.” (more: https://twitter.com/heerjeet) A commenter responded to this: “This is why, to me looking back, some of his most memorable film work was in ‘Aladdin’.  Because he could flash through all these influences/characters without a body slowing him down.”

I find the comparison to a remote control astute. I recall multiple references to channel-surfing in my childhood; the unfocused jumping from one world to another, with dozens or even hundreds (satellite!) of choices, must have been a huge conceptual change to adults of the time. Not only was Williams preternaturally talented; he also met a need of audiences of the time for an artist who could personify the dizzying pace of the new era for people.

And yet before today it had been a long time since I’d seen a Williams performance or heard anyone talk about him, to be honest, but I think a big reason for that which no one has mentioned yet is the culture changed to become more like him, making him seem less unique. “Family Guy” is an obvious example of a show with the same irreverence and free association; on an interpersonal level we’re doing Williams-style free-association constantly through memes and GIFs; conversely, on a personal level we don’t have the same appetite for the media rush and instead find ways to control or channel it.

Comedy aside, Williams’s pathos also clearly had a huge effect on people, and not just because he played Dad so often. Reviews of his sentimental movies are mixed, to be kind, but their emotional core, Williams’s heart seeming to burst out of his body and his face displaying how overcome he was by how MUCH life was, was genuine. Today’s news makes clear to me what I heard him saying in those scenes: that life is overwhelming both for better and for worse, and we can either get away from it by withdrawing or handle it together through kindness.