It’s been a while since I’ve had an interesting conversation with a cabbie, but this morning Song Shifu impressed with his convictions, social analysis, and desire to share.
On the reason for China’s environmental problems: Song Shifu hails from Zhejiang, one of the core industrial areas. Throughout his home county, the rivers stink and smoke clogs the sky. These factories produce goods for European and North American countries. These countries have taken advantage of their strength to unload the contaminating industries on China.
When I asked about Mao Zedong and if there was a need for Revolution, Song Shifu had mixed feelings. The destruction of traditional values has not been good for the country. However, under Mao China stood up for itself. Now China doesn’t dare use it’s army because all the US has to do to influence China’s foreign policy would be to freeze the bank accounts of the Princelings and their children. Moreover, he wouldn’t fight against the United States, after all there was no animosity between the US and China. Contaminating industries notwithstanding. But Japan. He would volunteer to fight Japan.
Sounds like a good conversation. It’s true the western world exploits the developing world to prop up consumer culture, and that’s the economy we find ourselves in.
Mao is not as taboo a subject as people think, and people here often have well-thought out complex perspectives. Good to hear no animosity with the US (I’m especially glad Obama’s recent comments about those islands doesn’t seem to be that big a deal)
However, it’s still unfortunate people are still so riled up about Japan. Guess everyone needs an enemy to focus on, regardless of the realities of the 21st century world. There a few contentious issues worth talking about, but volunteering to fight?? Really? In fact, the globalist economies of Japan and China are just as tied together as the America and China, and I don’t believe anyone in charge on either side would seriously dare to disturb that ¥. Yet, nationalist sentiment keeps getting stirred up…
I think nationalism both here and back home is a highly abstract way of dealing with collective loss of place identities. We do not belong to places with the same depth that we used to. For example, I say I’m from NJ but haven’t lived there in decades. I don’t feel like a Shenzhener. So where do I take root? I think modern societies and immigrant societies are all grappling with these questions. Hence, it’s easy to stir up nationalist sentiments.
My experience with travel has left me thinking that a convenience sample of cabbies would make a great jumping off point for qualitative research in choice of key informants – their willingness to open up to travelers and sometimes offering to be an impromptu tour guide to go sight seeing is such a marked contrast to the reluctant informant who has one word answers to all your open-ended questions, it would be great to get away with using them as research leads somehow.
On nationalist sentiment being directed more towards willingness to fight Japan than another superpower like the U.S., I think Michael Ignatieff’s research on nationalism hits the nail on the head where he goes into the subject of “vanity of slight differences” borrowing from Freud, to talk about how near neighbors are more keenly aware of their differences – hence a melting pot city like Sarajevo can suddenly devolve into neighborhood ethnic cleansing skirmishes led by militias and gangs. Identity politics isn’t personal enough to inspire violence unless the differences are subtle, in this view. Rivalry for regional economic hegemony with a neighbor might just be easier to take personally than rivalry with a distant superpower. And among superpowers, trade negotiations are clearly about special interest group dominance, elitism rather than nationalism, whereas more modest economic competitions tap into a residual of nationalist score keeping. Willingness to go to war and willingness to riot over a sports match are probably directly correlated, you know?
I agree with the insight that miser cognition leads to conflict, especially when prolonged and deliberate. I’m not sure about the relationship between sports riots and the willingness to go to war, however. I don’t know why people go to war. In a sports riot individuals throw their bodies into the fray. But societies, not individuals go to war and that requires a mobilization of resources, which requires abstracting oneself from the heat. There is interest at stake.
That’s a good distinction, about societies choosing to go to war apart from volunteerism to serve in open conflict. I’m not sure people weigh the resource commitments before speaking in favor of war though, it always seems like a regrettable decision economically, and if we looked before we leaped it would happen a lot less often. The decision makers who favor war in the chain of command are thinking like bureaucrats who want bigger budgets within their purview, not cost controls. Belt tightening is a reluctant after-thought when overspending on war has gone on for too long to be ignored.