Why Americans Should Care About Hong Kong

Umbrella Revolution

Courtesy Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images.

The American media tends to care about terrorists, Ebola, and occasionally an unprecedented stand for democracy. The Hong Kong protests fall into this latter category, and that is why we’ve seen any coverage of it at all. Yet coverage like this tends to die out quickly when there is no more sensation. Americans often become jaded in the aftermath of revolutions such as Occupy Wall Street, the ousting of Saddam Hussein, and the Arab Spring. Three years after the Occupy movement, income inequality is as pervasive as ever in this country. Usurping Saddam only led to a power vacuum that the U.S. failed to fill and eventually vacated to ISIS. The Arab Spring precipitated a game of musical chairs of governments in Egypt. It’s easy to understand why an American might click on an article about the Hong Kong protests, look over a few photos, share it on Facebook, and be done with his duty as a civilian. There is, however, an essential difference that makes Hong Kong particularly relevant to Americans and, frankly, everyone in the world. Unlike ISIS, the People’s Republic of China has the capacity to start a world war.

Now, I’m not saying that a world war is imminent or even probable; I’m saying that it’s possible. The problem is that no one ever expects disaster. Before the Holocaust, Hitler was simply Germany’s democratically elected leader with a funny mustache and poor social skills. Before Pearl Harbor, the U.S. thought Japan wouldn’t dare touch a country that was the newly minted world #1 power. Before 9/11, America had enjoyed nearly 60 years without war on her land, and the attacks seemingly came out of the blue. The truth is that disaster is never random — it always arises from an extremely unlikely combination of resources, motivations, and personalities. Because psychology is not always rational, it is useless to argue logic in the case of Hong Kong v. the PRC. Yes, logically it would disadvantageous for China to antagonize Hong Kong. It would be idiotic to commit a repeat of Tiananmen Square and prompt the international community to implement economic sanctions. It would be suicide to wage war agains the United States.

The PRC, while many things, is not rational. Despite the fact that China is on target to surpass the U.S. as the leading world economy within a year or two, the central Chinese government still views itself as highly vulnerable. In their eyes, China is under the siege of so many existential threats, both internal and external, that the possibility of collapse is inevitable unless it takes extraordinary offensive measures. These offensive measures include amassing as much wealth as possible, playing chicken with the U.S. navy in the surrounding seas, and reintegrating Hong Kong and Taiwan. Most importantly, China does not view the U.S. as a fading world power that is increasingly dependent on the Chinese workforce. On the contrary, in the Chinese worldview, the U.S. is the enemy in a dog-eat-dog world in which only the fittest will survive. Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell write for Foreign Affairs:

Whether they see the United States primarily through a culturalist, Marxist, or realist lens, most Chinese strategists assume that a country as powerful as the United States will use its power to preserve and enhance its privileges and will treat efforts by other countries to protect their interests as threats to its own security. This assumption leads to a pessimistic conclusion: as China rises, the United States will resist.

China is convinced that the U.S. is hellbent on its destruction and that it is more than willing to use weapons of massive destruction in an ideological fight to the death. This is the psychological context in which the Hong Kong protests are taking place. For the PRC, this confrontation with Hong Kong is 1) of critical national importance, in the sense that Beijing must win and 2) a method of testing the water in terms of international reaction. Much like the way the Nazi regime used the Spanish Civil War to test its military strength and call the international community’s bluff, China is now employing Hong Kong as a pawn in its “war” with the United States. So far, the reaction from the Obama administration has been one of deafening silence. While Washington’s silence is no doubt strategic and probably beneficial in the short term, I fear that China will take it as a show of weakness or apathy.

Though the PRC is far from provoking anything on the level of the Spanish Civil War, it certainly possesses the motivations and paranoias that predispose it to heading down that path. In the coming years, as China continues to rise and the U.S. continues its decline, a clash seems inevitable. Whether that clash is on the scale of a Cold War-style proxy war or a full-blown world war remains to be seen. Right now, though, our best litmus test for the future is to carefully follow China’s every move with Hong Kong and Taiwan. If China intends to embark on an imperial quest of world domination, surely it will start with the two territories to which it has the most legitimate claim. As a key player of the international community, and the one China views as singularly important, the United States must not follow in the footsteps of London during the Spanish Civil War; neutrality is not a position we can afford to take.

The Umbrella Revolution of 2014 is only the beginning.

You Can Have It All

Bride at the Bean

Do you think she has it all?

Sometimes, I think that the proverbial American dream has fucked us all in the head. In every advertisement of well-dressed, attractive white people, the message is clear: if you buy our car/underwear/laundry detergent, you will be Happy. Not only Happy, but Successful. Every little girl grows up dreaming of Prince Charming, a Tiffany diamond, a destination wedding, and a white picket fence. Unless you’re me, in which case you grow up dreaming of Mr. Tortured Artistic Soul, a vintage ring, a backyard wedding, and a library full of books. In this country, every stage of life is defined for you. If you dare to step outside the box, you become the person everyone scorns, partially due to their hidden jealousy of you.

College is supposed to be the time of your life, but hey don’t forget to keep up your GPA and land a six-figure salary when you graduate. Boys, sleep with as many girls as you possibly can, or else you will regret it forever. Girls, have a little fun here and there, but don’t forget that if you don’t find a husband by the time you graduate, you never will. Everyone, develop an alcohol problem, because it won’t be socially acceptable in the future. Your 20s are all about moving to New York City, climbing the corporate ladder, and making babies. If you’re a woman and you wait until you’re 29 and 11 months to have your first child, wow you’re so progressive. Wait until you’re 30 and you’ll have people asking if you know the statistics for older mother complications. If you’re a man and you have a child at 29 11/12 years, you’ll have people giving you weird looks. What are you doing to yourselfDo you know how much you’re missing out? When will you go to Vegas and steal Mike Tyson’s tiger?!

The Hangover

Our school system operates on the assumption that each child has a stay-at-home parent mother. Daycare costs as most as an Ivy league education. Feminists are going to war with each other over whether or not a woman can chose to stay at home. It’s not a choice, say those who vehemently oppose choice feminism, if a woman quits her job out of necessity because her husband refuses to quit his. Lean in, say some. Lean out, say others. Women can have it all, say some. Women can’t have it all, say others. As the middle class continues to disappear, it seems that the only people who can have it all are the 1%.

This is what I have to say to you, and especially to my fellow second-semester seniors who are terrified to fall into the abyss of uncertainty that awaits them upon graduation:

You can have it all.

Not only that, but you do have it all. It All isn’t some intangible, distant reward that you will only receive if you do everything right. It All isn’t what your family and friends have defined for you. It All isn’t what society, religion, or evolutionary biology tells you is important. It All is whatever you make it out to be. It All is yours, and nobody can ever take it away from you. It All is right here, right now.

I know that because I have it all. I don’t mean that in a my-life-is-perfect-look-at-my-successes way. I’ve written three books, but have yet to publish anything. I was recently denied both a Fulbright and a Princeton in Asia scholarship. Every day, I’m reminded of how much of a struggle life can be. Sometimes, I think I should enter a therapist’s office and never come out. Sometimes, I think that nobody should experience the inconvenience of loving me. Every day, I fail myself and those I love. But I am not a failure. I fight so that tomorrow, and the day after that, I can say that I have it all. And I do. I have the luxury of sleeping 10 hours a night, I have a horse I can ride whenever I want, I have a roof over my head I don’t have to pay for. I have friends to eat with, skate with, laugh with. I am getting paid to do what I’d willingly do for free: teach languages. On Monday, I am interviewing for a position I never thought I’d have a chance at. I have a boyfriend who isn’t perfect, but is perfect for me.

I have this blog, and the support of my wonderful readers. I have so much, and I am thankful. I have it all; I couldn’t ask for anything more.

What is It All to you? Do you think you’ve found it?

À la prochaine,

R

Privilege and the National Debt

I am of Asian ethnicity and I am female. Just those two seemingly insignificant facts ensure that I will never be in the highest echelons of society. But in all other aspects, my life is about as privileged as it gets. Of all the places in the world, I was born in the United States to highly educated parents. I have no physical conditions or abnormalities. Though I get a -1 for having divorced parents, both my mother and my father are highly involved. I’m about to graduate from the University of Michigan. While it’s not Ivy League, John F. Kennedy said himself that Harvard was the Michigan of the East. When I visit China, I am still hampered by my lack of male genitalia, but through my father’s connections, I am firmly entrenched in the top 1%.

What does the government shutdown mean for someone like me? Since neither I nor anybody in my family works in the government, it’s not likely to affect me much. When shit hits the fan on October 17th, and the country and possibly the world goes into financial crisis, I will most likely still be able to graduate and do a Fulbright. If the government shutdown continues until next year (highly doubtful), maybe there’s a slim chance the Fulbright will be temporarily suspended. In that case, I’d just do Princeton in Asia or a similar program. After that, I’d probably go to law school at Columbia or NYU or (a bit of a stretch, but hell I wouldn’t turn them down) Yale. By the time I graduated and chose from the most elite jobs, I’d be so completely enveloped in this so-called ( by Domhoff) “ruling class”, I would neither care about nor relate to the working class. I’d probably want to keep my “hard-earned” money and pressure lawmakers for more tax cuts. I’d say that the national debt was an issue, but secretly want to pass it down to the next generation, just like climate change. If I was wealthy and powerful enough, my children would attend boarding schools, Ivy Leagues, and continue in my footsteps.

If you don’t believe that this “privilege trap” exists, look at our government in recent years. How the hell did George W. Bush become president with a straight-C undergrad average? How was he allowed to spend $1.8 trillion on tax cuts? While it could be argued that Bush was an exceptionally bad and dumb president, even our highly intelligent supreme court justices are nonetheless susceptible to social pressures. For example, the Hollingsworth v. Perry Decision (over California’s Prop 8) can only be explained by the judges’ alma maters. Harvard voted 5-1 in rejection of Prop 8; Yale voted 3-0 in affirmation of Prop 8.

Supreme Court Diversity ComicFellow people of privilege, don’t fall into the privilege trap. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to Harvard or Yale, but if you do, for God’s sake don’t keep sitting with your friends like you’re still stuck in elementary school cafeterias. If you happen to get rich and sit on the board of directors at a Fortune 500 company, don’t use your influence to continue the hegemony of the 1%. If you enter politics, don’t vote on party lines like you have no personal opinion. Pressure lawmakers to do something about the national debt. According to my political psychologist professor, we have three remaining solutions. First, we could default, which is the only option that politicians would even touch. But this would likely cause a global economic crisis. Second, we could print more money, which would result in so much inflation that $16.7 trillion wouldn’t be that much. Unfortunately, that would put the vast majority of Americans under the poverty line. Third, we could apply 100% inheritance tax and solve the inequality issue. Except this would never happen.

I leave you with a timely quote from Warren Buffet.

“There’s class warfare, all right. But it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Salut,

R