by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog
It’s an idea that is worth discussing because – much like how China does not want to discuss possible modern reverberations from their atrocious (mostly upper-class) practice of female foot-binding – the West does not want to deal with the cultural legacy of four centuries of segregation.
It’s so perplexing to listen to Western commentators demand in the same breath both massive Great Lockdowns and that everyone agree that they have the world’s purest and widest ideals of freedom. In The New York Times article France Weighs Its Love of Liberty in Fight Against Coronavirus a French government adviser said, “We gave up an absolutely fundamental freedom, that of movement, while most of the Asian countries chose instead to be much more coercive on the individuals.”
But… freedom of movement is the MOST important freedom, and restricting it is the MOST coercion possible. What do you think prison is? More than anything else it is ending your freedom of movement.
The only thing more coercive than having your freedom of movement taken away is capital punishment and physical torture. (Well, maybe – how long do I have to be tortured to avoid being caged for decades?)
Thus, the “freedom” the West has given up is “freedom”; what they feared losing was actually mere “privacy”.
Instead of acknowledging global cultural equality during this pandemic, the West is instead having absurd, logic-twisting discussions about how Asia “is much more coercive” than the allegedly “freedom-loving West”. Just as Americans can easily be manipulated and distracted by data-driven fear, the French are – once again – obsessively thinking very deep philosophical thoughts (which are also very deeply jingoistic and self-flattering) about “liberté” while their heads are buried in the sand as to how very, very repressive their public polices actually are.
There are three primary reasons for a public debate and discourse which is so contradictory: 1) constant, self-flattering cultural chauvinism, which obviously runs on illogic, 2) stupidity and hysteria – the Western corona overreaction is something of a new peak, though 3) the West doesn’t understand that Asians see their own primary coercive techniques as less brutal than those of the West’s.
Perhaps there will never be a meeting of the minds on the last one, but I think it’s rather easy to explain.
The West has two types of social shaming/control, but Asians have a third… which is the worst?
The first type of social control which is dominant in Anglo-Saxon cultures is modern segregation: South African Apartheid, US Jim Crow, American Indian reservations, equally brutal aboriginal policies in Canada and Australia – Anglo-Saxons have a long history of wanting to be quarantined away from people.
In all these areas the non-Whites are imprisoned at much higher rates and for inhumanly long times and with an inhuman amount of solitary confinement – all are more quarantine. Their elderly are quarantined as well – into nursing homes. Sweden doesn’t have to go on lockdown because, stunningly, more than half of their homes contain just a single person (an unthinkable desire for self-segregation, to Iranian culture) – more quarantine.
The West’s Great Lockdown is so absurd because healthy people are hysterically quarantining themselves, as opposed to the normal practice of the quarantining of the unhealthy & vulnerable people. It’s like Westerners can’t comprehend the logic of quarantine, just as they apparently can’t understand the logic that taking away one’s freedom of movement is about as bad a punishment as there is?
Asian countries have proven that immediately quarantining the corona-infected, and often those they contacted, is the best way to keep total deaths down. China shut down Wuhan because Wuhan was sick – but they didn’t shut down the whole uninfected nation.
However, perhaps the Anglo-Saxon West rushed into the Great Lockdown with such ardour because they have such a very long practice and culture of separating themselves away from others? The Anglo-Saxon view is typified by the “separate but equal” segregationist ideal: equality is there, but only after separation first.
What the West has done in 2020 is to segregate themselves from people they assume to be somehow inferior – in this case, medically inferior. I am not saying that they did this consciously, as with their treatment of aboriginals and non-Whites, but sub-consciously. “Segregating others” can also be logically viewed as a way to achieve a desire for “self-segregation”. In some ways that expresses more Western individualism, but segregation is simply their preferred form of social control (surely we can agree that all societies use and need some form of social control.)
One sees the segregation idea in their child-rearing techniques: an unruly child is socially shunned by being given a “time out” – they are sent to stand alone in a corner. A non-conforming student is locked away in detention – he or she is segregated from the good students. Alternatives do actually exist – rapping their knuckles with a ruler or being forced to wear a dunce cap – but these techniques are now considered “coercive” and antiquated in the Anglo-Saxon West, which is certain that their methods are the world’s best.
I can partially see why they have that false idea: These segregationist ideas have the advantage of not leaving any physical marks, thus allowing the lawgiver to feel they have done nothing wrong. There are, however, unseen psychological marks.
In the Latin Western World – where Spain and France were the dominant imperialists – segregation was not employed anywhere on the scale of Jim Crow/bantustans/reservations. Intermarriage was even practiced. These Latin cultures instead chose forced assimilation backed by physical punishment – corporal punishment must be constantly menaced in a capitalist-imperialist society where segregation does not exist.
The French were a steamroller of brutality in Algeria, for example. Arabs were allowed in – allowed “to be French” – but only if they shamefully stripped themselves of any “Arab” characteristics. Their social shame was not created by segregation, but by being mocked and publicly rejected for not living up to “French” standards.
But what unites both cultures is their rampant economic segregation: from banlieues to favelas to trailer parks to gated suburbs to their “where’s the worst area we can put the most amount of poor people” government estates/projects – there is zero sincere effort at economically integrating residential areas via government policy and will. Just go to Havana to see the socialist-inspired difference: the waterfront property right downtown was handed over the poorest citizens in a total opposite tack from Western cities.
How Asian cultures create social control – quite different than in the West
What Asian cultures rely on is not no-contact isolation nor brutal, bitter, perpetual cultural combat – I guess we could call it “group-arguing to produce self-criticism”. It’s easier to illustrate it in action:
So somebody is asked in China, Vietnam or Iran about if they have coronavirus, where they have been, and if they will download a tracking app to their smart phone. That person responds, “I’m not going to submit to any of this – I always have the individual right to my total privacy!” This is, after all, what many Westerners would insist.
Here is a condensed version of the retort which has probably been used countless times in the past few months across Asia:
“Whaddya mean you won’t say where you’ve been – we got a pandemic going on. You been living under a rock recently? Whaddreya – selfish or something?! Who do you think you are – the emperor? Or are you a motherless dog or something? Well, WE are not motherless dogs – you WILL tell us where you’ve been and our mothers WILL be protected from your selfishness! Do you expect everyone here to somehow not be offended by this display of arrogance? Do you think we are doing this for fun? How can you not let us track you? I am being tracked, he is being tracked, she is being tracked – you are ruining everything! Why do you want to endanger everything?!”
And then more talk about how larger things exist than just yourself, the necessity of being humble, the sacrifices others have already made, etc.
“Oh, so you’ve finally come around eh? Funny principle you have – ‘I live while everyone else dies!’ Here, sign this admission of guilt for breaking the quarantine. No, there’s no fine – we are trying to help people, not make money – but sign it!
In China if you are involved in a transgression which required the involvement of authorities you will indeed sign an admission of guilt/self-criticism which boils down to, “I’m sorry and I will not do it again”. Public criticism was also part of Vietnam’s incredibly successful corona fight: only 300 cases despite 90 million people and a long border with China.
“Whaddya mean you won’t sign it?! You just told us you finally understood that you were wrong! You’re not going to make us feel bad like we did something wrong when it is YOU in the wrong. And you aren’t going to be able to go around saying that the government is bad when YOU were the selfish one, putting us all at risk over corona. Sign here!”
Iran has had televised confessions, showing that public self-criticism does play a cultural role; unlike in the US, where the judge has total discretion and power, Iranian law guarantees a reduced sentence for the guilty who confess to their crimes, showing that public confession is valued and rewarded.
So you’ll finally sign, eh? Wasting our time like this… in the middle of a crisis no less! We got other people to help! Who do you think you are?!”
We should now understand why BBC reported that in South Korea a majority said they complied out of fear of “criticism” (i.e. public social shaming) even more than out of fear of the coronavirus. That must blow a Westerners mind: the virus is so very, very scary, we must get awayyyyyyy!
Is there scarring with Asia’s preferred method? Meh… they don’t abandon you or beat you, at least. Western methods often seem to Asians as bewilderingly cruel psychologically, physically brutal, incredibly isolating and – of course – incredibly arrogant and self-centered.
Just as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity proved that the laws of physics are the same across the entire universe (thus it’s not better or worse to be standing in any one spot… anywhere) “moral relativism” says that any society’s morals and culture are all valid if we can properly understand them. So I am not saying the Asian model of social control/shaming is the best, but you must at least concede that it works for society – simply look at how they prevented the spread of corona in such a superior fashion.
The widespread prevalence of this type of social shaming – the “yelling parent” form – shows why Confucius was such a radical genius within his cultural context: for him the only explanation which needed to be given was one’s personal example – Confucius was not a yeller.
But such “torture” – i.e. being yelled at by the group, and a group which is usually led by an elder – is simply not part of Western culture. In the US a gun is pulled out after just 30 seconds of public yelling; in France yelling is only for at your romantic partner (and preferably in public view) – otherwise you have “lost your sang froid (cold blood)” which means a major loss of face for the French.
For Europeans (especially Roman Catholics) confession is done only in private; you will be waiting a long time if you are expecting public displays of humble self-criticism.
But Asians often agree, sadly, that you just can’t tell many Westerners anything because they will so loudly insist they already know it all. Furthermore, there’s no need for any discussion because of TINA – There Is No Alternative (to Western neoliberalism & neo-imperialism).
When it comes to the concept of shame, Westerners today insist that this is always a terrible and unproductive thing, and only found in “coercive” Asian societies and Abrahamic religions. Their lockdown is not “totalitarian social control” nor “shame-based” because it’s the West which is doing it – but try going out without a mask now and see how many “Karens” rudely confront you with essentially, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself for doing that!”
I thought the pandemic was reminding us all of global and human equality? Let’s simply agree that Karens exist everywhere, and that the West is just as repressive and “coercive” as Asia.
Corona contrarianism? How about some corona common sense? Here is my list of articles published regarding the corona crisis, and I hope you will find them useful in your leftist struggle!
A day’s diary from a US CEO during the Corona crisis (satire) March 23, 2020
If Germany rejects Corona bonds they must quit the Eurozone – March 30, 2020
Pity post-corona Millennials… if they don’t openly push socialism – April 14, 2020
Coronavirus – Macron’s savior. A ‘united Europe’ – France’s murderer – April 22, 2020
The same 12-year itch: Will banks loan down QE money this time? – April 26, 2020
The end of globalisation won’t be televised, despite the hopes of the Western 99% (2/2) – April 27, 2020
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of the books ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’ and the upcoming ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’.