Thursday, April 24, 2008

The land of the free

Here we have two countries, far apart geographically and culturally—China and the United States.

It’s been reported that, with every wave of Tibetan rebelliousness, the Chinese people grow more impatient with the Tibetans. They were ignorant savages until we gave them civilization! Without China, without us, they’d still be in a technological and cultural dark age. Who are they to question Chinese authority? How dare they? Why can’t they be more like us?

Meanwhile, the rebellious Tibetans think, “Without China, we’d be free.”

Americans in the Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago of the 1800s who read about the Indian wars in the west undoubtedly had a similar reaction. Those savages! Complaining about the desecration of their hunting grounds and their sacred this and that. Why can’t they live on farms and in towns? Why can’t they be more like us?

I suppose this is natural—we tend to be most comfortable with people just like ourselves. This explains Chinatowns, Little Italies, exclusive country clubs, high school cliques, and team pride. We like who we are, and we secretly wonder why others don’t aspire to be just like us—even when, like the Tibetans and the Indians, they clearly like who they are, too.

That’s why the public’s reaction to the government intervention at the FLDS ranch in Eldorado, Texas, is interesting. Given the unproven allegations of child sexual abuse and the group’s theological beliefs (including polygamy), I didn’t expect much sympathy from the public. Almost everything about FLDS is different—their religion; their dress and manner; and their work, community, and family lives. I expected many Americans to dismiss them as a dangerous cult, a threat to the normal order. Yet many people who are posting online seem sympathetic to them without worrying why they can’t be “more like us.”

Whether we admit it or not, I think part of that is because they have a certain resemblance to the middle class. Their dress may be old-fashioned, but it’s not exotic or foreign. They believe in God, although their theology is unorthodox. They practice polygamy, but so have others before them. Without the sexual abuse charges, they seem more eccentric than menacing.

Of course, it’s also easy to take their side because, unlike the Tibetans and Indians, they aren’t a different ethnic group that happens to have land and resources that the rest of us want. This makes it much easier for the man and woman on the street to feel for them.

I would like to think that part of it, too, is post-911 privacy and rights usurpation backlash. For years the U.S. government has taken advantage of our fears to insinuate itself into our lives and to ferret out our information—even data on the books we read and buy. At last there may be a sense that the government has gone too far, that George Orwell was only a couple of decades and a few details off. If hundreds of children can be taken from their mothers based on one unproven allegation made by phone by someone who can’t be found, what could happen to you or me and our families?

Like the Tibetans, like the Indians, we are not Borg. We will not be assimilated. Resistance is not futile in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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