Twofish's Blog

December 10, 2006

How 1970’s sitcoms ruined me – Mediations on International diplomacy

Filed under: media, mental health, personal, wikipedia — twofish @ 2:36 am

One of the useful things about trying to write a 2006-style sitcom is that it made me realize how
1970’s sitcoms and television shows gave me a distorted view of how the world works. If you look at the typical comedy and drama of the 1970’s, they have a very simple narrative structure. Problem. Conflict. Problem solved. End credits.

What I’ve learned is that life is not like that. The real big conflicts in life are not things that can be “resolved” in any meaningful sense, life is not like a television episode. Conflicts last for decades, even centuries, they mutate, they evolve, they become irrelevant. Sometimes they get out of control. But the narrative structure of the 1970’s sitcom where everything gets resolved when the credits roll. That doesn’t happen.

The problem is with the expectation of resolution is that it puts unrealistic pressures on the parties involved. You’ve seen the damage this has done with the Israeli-Palestinian talks, and in the Iraq War. The model in which there has been no resolution and everything has works out well is the PRC-Taiwan situation. That situation is not going to get “resolved” in any meaningful sense for decades, but that’s alright. Some arrangements can be made that keep people from killing each other.

Now if you take this notion that disputes often can’t be resolved only managed, and my notion that the affairs of nations can be understood by looking at the affairs of individuals, and vice versa, this view has implications for how I handle the situation with the fairy princess. When I was young, I made the mistake that this conflict between us could be resolved like the end of the 1970’s sitcom. I wrote a letter which I thought would end things. A treaty of sorts. The trouble is that it didn’t end things, and it can’t end things. The two of us are actors in a grand historical saga involving events that started centuries before either of us were born and will last centuries after we both die. As long as history goes on, it’s unlikely that the conflict between us will be “resolved” in any meaningful sense. It is not a concidence that the year I wrote the letter to her that I thought would fix things was the same year as the fall of the Soviet Union when people like Frances Fukiyama argued that history had ended.

I had this idea that at some point in the future that she and I would have lunch and that would fix things forever. However, this won’t work. The trouble is that what I’d like to communicate to her simply cannot be absorbed in one lunch. Feelings are complex. It takes a very long time (sometimes a lifetime) to comprehend what someone thinks about you. And like the interactions between nations, even the mechanics of meeting carry with it subtle (or not so subtle) implications. I couldn’t eat dinner with this woman right now, for many of the same reasons that Hu Jintao and Chen Shui-Bian couldn’t have dinner with each other without everything around them falling apart. I can’t send her an e-mail and she can’t send me an e-mail for exactly the same reasons that Bush and Kim Jong-Il can’t exchange e-mail.

And thinking that one e-mail or one meeting could “resolve” things between the fairy princess and I is as absurd as thinking that one meeting could resolve the Korean nuclear standoff or the PRC-Taiwan situation. It can’t. And assuming that it can puts intolerable pressures on me.

So I have to step back and think whether or not there is a better way of communicating with the fairy princess than trying to come up with a perfect letter, and we can take a page from international relations. When Bush wants to say something to Kim Jong-Il and vice versa, they issue a public statement, and they look for private intermediaries that can carry messages back and forth, and they should expect no conflict resolution just conflict management. I’m doing this with my blog. This is my equivalent of the State Department press briefing or the Korean Central News Agency. There are all sorts of subtle and sometimes hidden messages in these articles, just like press briefings between nations have subtle and hidden messages.

It might seem odd that I’m using the lessons of international diplomacy to resolve what might seem like petty personal issues. But I’ve lived a life where the affairs of nations are deeply interrelated with personal affairs. I am a child of the Chinese Civil War. I would not exist if certain key political leaders made certain key decisions (i.e. Truman’s decision to send the 7th fleet into the Taiwan straits). One of the core principles of my life is that the grand and the personal, the great and the small. They are all related if you can find the common key.

The key issue between the fairy princess and I is the same as the one between nations. How do you communicate complex subtle messages, and reach understandings that manage conflict, when the risks of getting it wrong are enormous. Innocent people may suffer and die, if you get the communications wrong.

This will take decades to manage. It won’t get done in 30 minutes, and to capture the full flavor of what is to be communicated will take hundreds of pages some with subtle allusions and baffling hidden messages.

In the past few days, I’ve been reading a lot of the papers of Benedict Kingsbury, who is the head of the International Law department at New York University. I came upon him after a bit of searching, and his papers seem to represent precisely the view of international law and human relations that I don’t merely dislike, but which I actively hate. They are very erudite, very learned, but in those papers, I don’t see any people. I don’t see any passion. I see a bit of condescension. In his world, people don’t bleed. They don’t hurt. They don’t fall in love. They don’t get angry. They don’t argue. And I think it is this world view that causes problems, because a world view that denies that people have feelings and emotions is dangerous in a world in which people actually do.

Look around you, look at the news, look at your life, look in your heart, and see if the clockwork, rational view of the world that he represents fits with with what you see. and what you feel If it does, fine, maybe I’m wrong about the way that the world works. But if it doesn’t, then maybe I do have something useful to say to you and to the rest of the world. And if I do have something that you can use, all I want is for you to listen. Nothing else. That’s all I want. That’s all I’ve always wanted. To be listened to, and taken seriously.

Look at me. They don’t take me seriously, because I act irrationally. I have feelings. I have problems. I cry. I bleed. Because of that, they see me as a statistic, not as an equal. And they have that attitude toward anyone that feels and bleeds.  Because I react emotionally, I cannot be trusted.  But just read what I’ve written, and make a decision on your own the degree to which you can trust me.

The problem with the world view of rationality conquering all is that it is an incomplete and incorrect description of the human experience, and the people who subscribe to it don’t see that it is incomplete and incorrect, and bad thing end up happening, and bad things are happening.

Just look around you.

Anyway I wrote this to point out that these issues are not going to be resolved by one post. I’ll be spending the rest of my life trying to understand and deal with what is going on. I’ll be spending a lot of time going through Professor Kingsbury’s writings and those of people like him. He is part of the Committee that runs the world, the legacy of British colonialism and Cecil Rhodes. They think that they’ve sanitized the system, and got rid of the nastier bits of racialism and imperialism, and they have, but there is still something there that is unhealthy, and they don’t see it.

I saw it. I wanted to tell them. But those folks that denied my application. Unlike wikipedia.

And that’s why I’m angry, and I don’t think that I’m the only one….

I think I’d make a great Platonic philosopher-king, but I’ve ended up a Confucian scholar-bureaucrat. I wanted to be a philosopher-king, part of me still does. But to become a philosopher-king, you have to be chosen by the other philosopher-kings, and if you aren’t chosen, they won’t invite you to their discussions, and parties, and will treat you with humilating condecension.

But to become a Confucian scholar-bureaucrat, you aren’t chosen, you chose yourself. There are books and guides, and descriptions of what you must do. It has something to offer for every human being that lives and breathes, and like wikipedia, the door is always open, and anyone can edit.

You philosopher-kings can go to hell. Unfortunately, you are taking the rest of the world with you.

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