Chapter Five – Passage Five
Leaving America though, if I’m reflecting honestly, was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. The thing is– I simply no longer belonged there. It’d slowly but surely grown into something I no longer recognized, like a favorite sweater that once fit snugly and served you well which you wore for many years. But then slowly frayed and faded over time until one day, you looked in a mirror, and seriously didn’t like what you saw reflected back.
The truth was, even though America billed itself as a democratic republic, increasingly over the years, the country had grown increasingly autocratic in many ways. Sure, on paper, it was “one person, one vote” and there theoretically existed those highly vaunted “checks and balances” that you always learned so much about growing up as a kid.
But the reality was that, especially with the first term of the DTJ administration, for all practical purposes, via executive actions, Junior had unilaterally curtailed everything from voting rights to freedom of the press. America’s founding principles of “every man was created equal” (unless you’re black) had become more a mythological shingle that we hung in front of the shop to avoid any actual public scrutiny. People saw it every day, was comforted by it, and walked by contented, blissfully ignorant that they were in fact living under an increasingly authoritarian regime wherein all men were definitely not created equal.
I take another bite of my chicken-rice and chew for a moment. The koi fish in the pond before me swam happily about. I wonder, briefly, if they even at all realize or comprehend that they’re all in a pond. Do they believe that the entire koi universe simply stretches the length of their enclosure?
Yet, the koi really are so beautiful. What Shu said earlier had struck a chord. Is it such a crime to rely on others?
Maybe I was looking at America the wrong way. Growing up, we were taught individualism as a prime directive. Be yourself. Everyone’s a snowflake. Everyone’s special. And sure, one could simply lounge about sipping fancy dry martinis all day and spew bile and reams of discontent at DTJ or whatever poor hapless soul who happened to be in office. That ankle-high bar isn’t a particularly ambitious reach. But at the crux of it, thinking back about why individualism was such a cornerstone of the American identity– I realize now that there’s a fundamental basis of mistrust behind that core philosophy.
Here in China, I see that people simply trust their government. The CCP wants to steamroll your ancestral home to make way for the 2008 Beijing Olympics? Sure, no problem. The government wants to forcibly relocate your neighborhood to across the province for the new metro line? Awesome, sign me up. There was never any pushback. Chinese citizens simply trusted that their government knew what it was doing and that whatever inconveniences or sacrifices that was being asked of them was simply for the greater good. For the Chinese Dream.
Now, to be sure, this extreme deference has led to a totalitarian regime that’s curb stomped human rights, enabled forced sterilizations, and sprouted “mandatory reeducation camps.” But a more glass-half-full read on everything would also fairly conclude that the vast majority of Chinese citizens did have enough to eat, had jobs, and had roofs over their heads. And ever since the Chinese economy entered a “hybrid-pseudo-capitalistic-model,” the younger working generations in the major urban centers like Beijing and Shanghai now also had a way to constantly save up and buy the latest iPhone, PlayStation, or whatever shiny-new-toy-of-the-week. Consumerism was slowly becoming the new frontier now that Maslow’s basics needs were increasingly being met.
So, in short: America to me had grown increasingly into a place where we didn’t trust our leaders. We didn’t trust our most educated, men and women who had trained for decades to hone a specific expertise. In America, we believed in equality– freedom of speech had allowed everyone a seat at the table. And then the internet and social media had given everyone megaphones so we could hear everyone’s voice equally.
But did I really want to live in this world? A world where everyone had an equal voice? Where the pot-smoking teenager in his mother’s basement had the same amplification and audience as Nobel-winning laurates?