Week 6, Washington D.C.

I could never be a great journalist but I might make a decent historian. I don’t like to report events as they happen, but rather like to look at things as part of a trend or a grander stroke. It takes time to create a good narrative. What I’m writing now isn’t breaking news, but an account of what’s been going on in my head in the past few weeks.

So I’ve been in DC for a while. Long enough to really see the flow of the city and the people that reside here. Georgetown, the area where I live, isn’t the best representation of what it’s like to live in DC since it’s known for its 5 million colorful matchbox condos (or townhouses?) that are lined up from Prospect st up to Volta. However, an attorney/business women I met for coffee described it the best–DC is a city of many layers, and to experience all of the layers, you have to have friends in each. There is the governmental layer with the lobbyists and the Congressmen/women, politicians. Then there are the intellectuals, and the professors–DC being a city with a concentration of  world-renowned universities and think-tanks. There’s the  history and the arts in the Archives and the Smithsonians as well as in bookstores like Politics and Prose. There is also the nightlife, some high-end, and some a bit shady and maybe unsafe (e.g. in parts like Adams Morgan where one of my roommates were advised by a cab not to go after midnight.). There are many other layers, like the activists, writers, non-governmental organization (NGO) professionals, high-ranked officials et cetera, but my point is, DC is one of the most colorful, vibrant and exciting city to work and live in. As it is the case for most capitals, it is the figurative heart of America, pumping the blood to the rest of the country, feeding the policies and ideas to the 50 states. I was fortunate enough to be in DC for the monumental health care hearing. Some of my brave co-interns even stayed overnight at SCOTUS to witness the ruling. Everyone here at the minimum dabbles in politics. I am far from being fluent at it, but you cannot possibly live in DC and ignore what’s going on in Congress, the White House or the State department. It gets so American sometimes, I am more conscious of my nationality than I’ve ever before.

I’ll write something about the people I met at the program here at TFAS next time. Off to bed now.

-A

This is such a relevant essay to what I’m re-experiencing, moving back into a city. Not just any city, but THE city. Driving through the boroughs of New York is like crossing invisible borders. Going from one street to the next, it’s no surprise to see a sudden shift in ethnic composition. For example, we were driving in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, driving eastwards. You would see Latinos, Blacks then suddenly Orthodox Jewish men dressed in traditional black clothes. It’s something that I’ve been used to for most of my life. Even beyond cities, in different countries, and even countries in such close proximity like Canada and the US, the difference in the reception of diversity and multiculturalism is quite vast. This has a lot to do with the different policies each nation decides to implement. The institutionalization of diversity which trails behind the “lived experience” which aims to accommodate the cultural and economic differences has come a long way, but there are still many flaws.

 

The most interest region to look out for is Europe, which has recently experienced a manifestation of what Americans call “terrorism.” With a decreasing birth rate hanging below the replacement rate, the cluster of socialist countries will not be able to sustain the old age pensions with its aging population, without a change in their immigration policies esp. for migrant workers.

 

There are many myths, especially the ones in this post, which fuel more hatred towards the minorities. This hatred is more pronounced during economic downturns such as the one we’re experiencing, as more people are unemployed and disgruntled. In this situation, minorities and new immigrants are easy scapegoats to blame. There is hope, however, seeing that there have been surprisingly a historical trend toward more openness (i.e. France since the revolution vs. the film, Haîne), anthropologically speaking.

Interesting post!

Pandaemonium

I gave the Milton K Wong lecture in Vancouver on Sunday.  I very much enjoyed the event- it was a stunning venue, a superb audience and a good discussion of the issues. My thanks to the Laurier Institution, University of British Columbia and CBC for inviting me. Entitled ‘What is Wrong with Multiculturalism? A European Perpective’, the lecture pulled together many of the themes about immigration, identity, diversity and multiculturalism of which I have been talking and writing recently. It was a long talk, so I am splitting the transcript into two. Here is the first part; I will publish the second part later this week. It will be broadcast in full on 22 June on the CBC’s Ideas strand.


It is somewhat alarming to be asked to present the European perspective on multiculturalism. There is no such beast. Especially when compared to the Canadian discussion, opinion in Europe is highly polarised…

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Incredibly Exciting Summer Plans

As a sophomore (aka. rising Junior) this summer is my last summer where I will be able to do whatever I want without having to feel guilty about contributing the time towards my career (internships, extra classes, research projects etc.) I do have internships lined up and I’m still waiting on one application for a joint research program with one of the professors here, but the other day during my long runs, I realized that I should take this time to finally realize my dreams of doing a temple stay.

The initial dream was to simply take a break from this busy world and just read for a summer, but recently I’ve been getting more interested in religion, or my lack of one. This idea, needless to say, received a lot of support (financial backing as well, a bonus) as well, so I feel confident that the logistics side will go smoothly with this plan.

My only real concern in selecting the books and articles, and how much I should limit myself in using technology (e.g. laptop, cell phone etc…) I would obvious want to bring my laptop to write, since it’s faster, but I would probably leave the music at home.

I’m making a google doc where I will be making a list (checking it twice) of the things I want to read. It’s quite diverse in subject as well as region: it includes history, philosophy, literature, criticism, religious texts etc. from all over the world. I will be reading the Koran as well as other Arabic (translated) texts.

America and Atheism

If you were offended, I could lift your burdens of associating with (in this case, reading an account by) an atheist and call myself non-deist, not religious, human secularist etc. It’s really semantics, though. I am deeply rooted in Buddhist and Confucius beliefs since that is embedded in my parents’ cultures. Toronto was a different story, but when I got to America, the South more specifically, it became very difficult to tell people this fact. It almost felt like I was telling an American that I was a Communist in the 1950s. I’ve read somewhere that statistically America is 90% “religious.” I agree that the two lifestyles are driven by different motives (the religious one being guilt, and the non-religious one being personal betterment) coming from different value systems (selfless act of commitment to god vs. selfish act of fulfilling one’s goals).

This alienation of atheism became evident once more in one of my class discussions today. While discussing Freud’s “Civlisation and Its Discontents,” I was astonished at how disgusted people were by not only the obvious things (describing the only natural human happiness originating only from the genital etc.), but more so of Freud’s “pessimistic” view of religion. I was a little surprised at the responses. The discussion got me thinking about something else however–the system of beliefs that people follow, whether or not it carries a single label, doesn’t not mean the same for everyone, as a word like “happiness” may carry a different connotation of meaning.

Yes, Freud does not cover up the fact that he is trying to belittle religion, but we cannot say that he is completely incorrect in his analysis. Even before I read Freud, I had an inherent disposition to stay away from religion because it kept me from being an independent thinker. I do not believe in fate or the afterlife. You can always try to control your life, but there are many variables that may deter you from getting to your goal, so one must do everything in one’s power to get closest goal by working hard. In other words, I believe that world is quite chaotic. Life events are quite unpredictable as natural disasters are random (not controlled by a “higher being.” This naturally leads me to cling to science (as an imperfect measuring tool) and civilization (the preventing tool). The State must have strict laws that plays a similar role as religion–impose sanctions aimed at unmoral activities, such as murder and theft.

I may be too young to finalize and concretize my beliefs but I think it’s rather mentally unhealthy to depend on one’s imagination such as religion. For example, when one fails at one’s endeavors, one can easily blame a higher power for one’s failures from not working hard enough. I also think that creation of afterlife intensifies the fear of death rather than alleviating it. If we can assess the fear as the finite end, (i.e. not waking up the next day and experiencing life,) there are other ways without religion one can assuredly rest in peace by leaving a volume of work behind. The work, even after the author or creator’s death will live on as the next generation will (or will not) continue to read the name of the person in history.

Everything we do is essentially selfish, one way or another. We help the starving poor in Africa, and we feel good about doing so in the end. The word “selfish” itself carries a bad connotation, but the context of the civilized world, that is perfectly fine, because we have internalized (I hope,) what should make us feel good, such as helping the less fortunate, for it gives us joy.

Cynicism, oh how I detest thee.

I talked to a good friend today about her blossoming relationship. It’s hard to not be in love with her. She is really one of the warmest, most caring people I know. It’s amazing to me how she can let someone in her heart so easily.

Her words on hearing “I love you” from her significant other:

“It was like a slow motion bullet went right through me at that moment.” Damn that’s good.

***

One of the new things I started intensely started reading up is about is Buddhism and Hinduism from an e-book called “Hinduism and Buddhism” by Sir Charles Eliot. (Free on your kindle!) I have read about it in Korean and since my Dad’s side is very Buddhist–not to the extreme point of being ascetic or vegan–and very conscious of his daily actions vis-a-vis Buddhist teachings. It was interesting reading about it from the Western perspective. There are definitely Buddhist influences in Western philosophy, for example, in Nietzsche and his thoughts on morality and ethics.

From Sir Eliot’s book:

In Persia, where the original Pantheon was almost the same as that of the Veda, this idea produced monotheism: the minor deities became angels and the chief deity a Lord of hosts who wages a successful struggle against an independent but still inferior spirit of evil. But in India the Spirits of Good and Evil are not thus personified. The World is regarded less as a theatre for the display of natural forces. No one god assumes lordship over the others but all are seen to be interchangeable–mere names and aspects of something which is greater than any god.

Of course, this is expressed differently in Nietzsche, but in “Good and Evil,” the problem of relativity of ethics arise.

The reason I bring this up is because it made me think about the relative feeling of being in love. It may seem like I’m forcing a connection between the two ideas here, but I’ll try my best to explain. I don’t believe in “soul mates” or that there may be a single person (apart from the whole population or similar people) who one is meant to be with. In my mind, this is connected to relativity in ethics. There is not a concrete way to be right, or moral. I maybe taking things too far by understanding the concept too literally, though.

What is an intellectual?

I’ve been looking for a definition of “intellectualism” and came across it in one of the books from my history classes…

Revolt of the Masses–Ortega y Gasset describes the “Excellent man” in the passage below. I rather think it suits what I have in mind for an “intellectual.”

That man is intellectually of the mass who, in face of any problem, is satisfied with thinking the first thing he finds in his head. On the contrary, the excellent man is he who contemns what he finds in his mind without previous effort, and only accepts as further effort in order to be reached.

I’m now *officially* a runner after completing a successful first 5K yesterday. I placed first in my age group for female! My body is quite sore, but my mind is ready to consume the books from my list (but not limited to.)

I was going through my twitter feed and found out with some more clicking that Alain de Bottom will be coming to Boston in 3 days! (March 14) It saddens me that I won’t be in Boston to see him in person… He often made it to my “If you were to have dinner with 3 famous people” list. Next time.

Off to Starbucks I go…

Another round of books for Spring Break

8 days to read:

For Pleasure…

The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen

On Suicide by Emile Durkheim

For Class…

Civilization and its Discontents by Freud

Nazi Culture by George L. Mosse

The World of Mexican Immigrants by Judith Hellman

Extracurricular…

Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict

The New Arab Revolt: What Happened, What It Means, and What Comes Next

complete numbness

Yesterday, I wrote for 14 hours in total. Most of that was editing what I had in the beginning 6 hours to make it better. You would think one would stay away from writing anything unnecessary after typing away for more than half a day, but here I am, writing a blog post.

I’m very ready to go home at this point. Reality is kind of slipping away. I’m starting to get into the robotic phase where I’m not really contributing anything to conversations because all I’m thinking of is the most efficient way to catch up on work and getting shit done. You know, tunnel vision. I stop noticing people when I walk down the street. Don’t realize that I’m humming to myself in public etc…It gets pretty bad. It’s mostly uncomfortable for other people. I just feel numb while all this is happening.

AFter 14 hours though, a paper becomes your baby. I had no shame when I secretly kissed before I sent it off to the real world (aka. under the scrutiny of the arbiter). It’s good that I cared how it turned out while writing it, but it’s also bad because you get emotionally invested. So if I get a bad grade, I think I will be upset for an entire week. So this is how my parents feel…

Anyhow, I must go back to writing about things that will be getting graded! Oh the joys of being a intellectual history major…