The Arrogance of “Us”
It seems to me that there are at least two kinds of explanations in the world: those that try to explain things as a result of factors that are intrinsic to the issue, and those that try to explain things as a result of factors that are extrinsic to the issue.
Put another way, do things happen because of forces “inside” the group or object being explained, or do things happen because of forces “outside” the group or object being explained?
This question seems to me to be at the heart of the discussion of the child refugee crisis on the US border. Tens of thousands of children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are arriving at the United States’ borders seeking entrance to the country by whatever means possible. Some have endured horrific conditions on their journey; others face horrific conditions no that they have arrived. It is a real human crisis.
The domestic US politics have been remarkable. Many describe the refugees as fleeing gang and drug violence in their respective countries. In this account, desperate parents pay smugglers vast sums in a faint hope that their children might live a better life — or live at all — in the US, whereas the murder rate is so high in El Salvador that it’s safer in Baghdad.
Put another way, the refugees as coming because of reasons that are intrinsic to their group: they have a problem they are seeking to solve through migration.
An opposite account asserts that the refugees are coming because the United States is the land of opportunity. They are attracted by our jobs and our benefits. They want our life … and so the children are sent as a wedge to open the border to all future comers.
Or, to use the logic offered here: the refugees are coming because of “us” — extrinsic factors are pulling them here rather than intrinsic factors pushing them.
Which is staggeringly arrogant. Americans are so damn convinced that they are so damn wonderful that they never question the notion that no one — or at least almost no one — would put their children on a bus and into the hands of criminal strangers to sneak them across multiple borders all for some plot to wedge their way into the United States. That is an act of desperation and fear, not hope and politics.
The “US” explanation is really an “it’s all about us” explanation. It compliments us. It makes us feel good about us. And it excuses us for our complicity in creating the problem of drug gang violence in the first place — since absent our market, why would the drug gangs exist?
But it has nothing at all to do with why all those children are arriving on our borders.
The arrogance of “Us.”
"The reason I call the audience ghosts is because it reminds me of a short story I read a few years ago. It was said to be a true story that took place in Udon Thani province. Coincidentally, I just found out that it is about to be made into a film by Five Star Productions. As far as I can remember, the story went something like this: The main character was a man with a travelling cinema show, he made open-air presentations in villages and temples. One day a very mysterious man hired him to show a film in a temple that was a long way off. By the time he had arrived and set up the projector and film screen, it was after dusk. Gradually people started to arrive in the darkness. While the film was running, the audience all sat still in an orderly fashion, their eyes looking up at the screen. They did not show any emotion, nor did they speak to one another until the film ended. Then they all got up and wandered away. At dawn the next day the film-show owner realized that he was in the middle of a cemetery, and that he had been paid to show a film for ghosts.
"When I finished reading this story, I felt sad: even ghosts wanted to watch films, just like everyone else. They were ghosts that still wanted to dream; they paid their final offering of money to buy dreams, which was film. If you notice the people around you while watching a film, you will see that their behaviour is like that of ghosts, lifting up their heads to look at the moving images in front. The cinema itself is like a coffin with bodies, sitting still, as if under a spell. The moving images on the screen are camera records of events that have already taken place; they are remains of the past, strung together and called a film. In this hall of darkness, ghosts are watching ghosts.
"I felt the same way last month, when I had the opportunity to visit an arthouse cinema in Taipei called Spot Cinema. It is run by a well known film director, a god, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and is supported by the government which had donated the premises. The decoration inside was marvellous. There was a bookstore, a shop selling DVDs, a restaurant and a coffee shop called Café Lumière. In several corners there were stills from Hou’s films, proudly used as decoration. On the stairway ceiling was a large black and white photo of a man riding a motorcycle with a girl sitting behind him, a scene from one of his classic films. The person showing us around was a man well past middle-age; he pointed to the picture of the young man on the motorcycle and said that they had been in the same class at school. It affected me deeply as I heard this; it wouldn’t be long now before everyone here would become ghosts. The old man showing us around was wearing glasses and already showing grey hair, but his friend on the motorcycle would always remain the same age."
— Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Ghosts in the Darkness
manchester, kishi bashi
"The function, the very serious function, of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing."
During lunch, an extraordinarily energetic Japanese student came over to our table (by introduction of another acquaintance) and said, “HELLO. NICE TO MEET YOU.” Even after establishing that we speak Japanese, in the beginning he would turn to our mutual friend and ask if we understood. He said things like, “I WANT TO MAKE YOU HAPPY.” He taught us a card game, which I knew from my childhood as “thirteen” (the game where 2 is the highest and you play until your hand is depleted). There are many versions/names for the game. Today, we’re calling it 大富豪. There are many special rules that I’ve never played with before; for example, playing a 7 means giving one of your cards to the player next to you. It’s a fun game so we played for a couple of hours. The energetic guy invited us to a mysterious drinking party for the Gion Festival. He wants 50 people to come in total—half Japanese, half foreigners.
At night, I went to dinner/alcoholic gathering with my classmate, my other classmate, her boyfriend, her Japanese conversation partner, and the Japanese partner’s friend. They are very fun. With this group of friends (as opposed to the friends I usually eat with at lunch), the conversation tilts academic and the relaxed atmosphere is honestly more my speed.
I spent most of the day around the busier parts of Kyoto because the program scheduled a mandatory event for later that day around that area. I found a music store and bought a couple of CDs. I found an anime/hobby store and got a manga magazine that a friend back home requested. I checked out the International Manga Museum, which is really more of a place to hang out and would probably be most useful if you’re looking to read older, more obscure titles. I also scoped out an authentic Vietnamese restaurant a friend recommended; it was not yet open but certainly smelled of home. I finally found classical Japanese literature at a bookstore and got a copy of The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon, which includes the original text alongside a modern translation.
The aforementioned event was dinner at a buffet followed by everyone going to see the musicians who play on one of the major floats of the Gion Festival rehearse. It was loud.
As a side note: there’s someone who always seems particularly lonely, like me. But, like with me, I don’t know if there’s anything I can do.
After the rehearsal, we spent a good chunk of time chatting and organizing ourselves. As opposed to the group on Thursday, this group of classmates (the aforementioned lunch friends) tends to be larger, and philosophy and religion don’t enter the conversation as often. Just a change of pace. Our group went to a cheap all-you-can-drink place that our friend remembered from her last semester in Japan. We spent a while walking around looking for it since our friend was leading us to the place based on her memory. It was only 1000 yen (~$10) for a few hours, which is significantly cheaper than any other place we’ve been to thus far. But not only that, the selection of drinks was diverse and our servers were excellent. After drinking, we caught up with some of the people who went to the bar and lit sparklers along the river for the 4th of July. A few of the bar people were new Japanese friends, and when we asked someone to take a group picture of us we kinda made even more Japanese friends. The strangers who took our picture were actually from the same university as us and we got to join their group picture as well.
In the morning we met the train station. Our Japanese friend organized a trip to an elementary school in the outskirts of Osaka for us to teach the kids English through a series of activities. We met many other exchange students and Japanese friends. There were upwards to twenty kids. Some of the kids were around 5th or 6th grade and already knew basic English greetings. Meanwhile, others, such as my group of three, were first graders and had never interacted with English. Our Japanese friend split everyone into random groups but that disrupted some friendships. My group of three defiantly stayed together. One of the older girls wanted stay with a boy. One boy had to leave early and his friend became difficult for a while. All in all, the kids were great and our friend is amazing for inviting us to something we can’t just casually do as tourists.
We went to lunch with our new friends and then parted ways. I got to see Osaka for the first time. It’s very different from Kyoto. Many more people and there are skyscrapers. We went to the Pokemon Center and I got some souvenirs for home. We then spent a couple of hours searching for a takoyaki place in the gay district but ultimately my friend couldn’t remember exactly where it was. Instead we went to a Mexican restaurant around there. I was skeptical at first because it can be hard to find authentic non-Japanese foods in Japan. Also, the menu’s cover featured an alpaca awkwardly photoshopped over stock photos of various Latin American countries. The restaurant offered Spanish and Peruvian dishes as well. With the gaudy decor and all of the countries mentioned, the place seemed on the surface to be rather gimmicky. However, the food was fantastic. We ordered quesadillas and nachos, which came with guacamole and a small jar of jalapenos. The jalapenos in particular were a treat as I’ve missed the kick of spicy foods. The food took a long while to come out, especially as I’ve gotten used to prompt Japanese service, but the cheese and beans were perfect. You can see the chef/probably owner, who I think was Argentinian, cook the food behind the counter, picking out the ingredients, the slow heat of the small stove. We ordered another plate of nachos.
We hurried back to Kyoto to meet with our friend, who couldn’t go the elementary school in the morning due to a cold. We went to the same all-you-can-drink place as the day before to celebrate his birthday. It was a nice, small gathering. One of us lives nearby the bar and so the remaining four of us spent the night at his apartment.
all of the music on my ipod is either too loud or too soft. i am very tired today. i still’ve not done my work. as this place is precious and my time here is short, each wasted hour stings especially sharp. as i’ve met many people, each lonely moment digs especially deep. some Lack has been fed and now flashes its eyes, bares its teeth. some days are so heavy; i want what i need but, ironically, some days company burns the throat.