Why Asia?

We are Glenn and Carol Webb. We are retired academics, now living in Palm Desert, CA, in the place shown just above our picture. We have spent most of our lives studying Asia, with Kyoto, Japan as our port of call. This blog consists primarily of essays, written by me, Glenn Taylor Webb, with the input of my wife, Carol St. John Webb. I began writing most of these essays just before we retired. Some have been published, some not. Most were first presented as lectures.

Our lives were changed by what what we experienced living in two cultures. The different ways of thinking about almost everything in Japan (and Asia in general) made us examine some of our fundamental views of life. As a history professor I had to keep a certain distance between historical events and their effects. But at this stage in my life (I'm 75) I feel like sharing with friends the impact that Japan today has had on my family as well as myself. I'm still writing things down. So take a look and let me know what you think.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Compassion or Indifference?


Yesterday’s election (June 5, 2012) has revealed to me that many Americans have decided in the face of confusing wars and skyrocketing debts that their path to happiness is making money in every way possible.

We all have seeds of compassion and indifference in our hearts.  Perhaps most of the time we are generous to others around us because we see them in need, and pity them.  We may also be encouraged by our religions that require us to act with compassion and love.

But when we feel threatened, our basest instinct (some would say our defense of personal freedom) can lead us to indifference, and we turn a blind eye to human suffering and pain that is less than ours.  At those times we look for any excuse to protect what we have by any means, and to make as much money as possible by hook or crook.

I fear that our acceptance of huge undisclosed gifts of money by corporations to so-called conservative causes has effectively blocked poor and middle-class Americans from a political voice.  Now that individual votes do not matter as much as money, how can a republic that upholds the principles of democracy survive?  We might as well close down all schools, hospitals, factories and public service organizations now.  Because there will be no future public service.  

Surely American democracy should allow anyone who wants to become wealthy to do so, within limits of the law.  But if the law is written by the wealthiest in our society, what’s to stop them from making money at the expense of the poor?  Then they can afford to build their own private institutions to provide services for their families, and to hell with the riff-raff.  And their huge military institutions will have the power of medieval armies owned by overlords.  

Many Americans today believe that success means being wealthy.  When we call a person “a success” that probably does not mean we think that person is compassionate. We simply assume they were ambitious, shrewd, clever, strong, hard-nosed, and ruthless in acquiring their wealth.  A “star” is someone who has made money in some field that most people do not.  No musicians, athletes, actors, etc. will be considered successful if they haven’t made tons of money. Even if they are quite good at what they do and are kind and compassionate to boot, they will not be on the success list. 

Then there are the people who are quite willing to slide along in life with minimal pay, or live on the street.  They are counterparts, in fact, to very wealthy people who inherited their wealth and don’t aspire to “make something” of themselves.  The one thing these people and all of us have in common is we are human beings.  As unreasonable as it may sound to Ayn Rand followers, I think we all deserve to be given respect and an equal chance to lead healthy, relatively pain-free lives.   

The great irony for me is that conservatives (my villains in this story) seem to trust human nature, whereas progressives (my soul mates) do not.  In political party terms, Republicans seem to feel human beings can be “trusted to do the right thing” and share their wealth with the poor.  For them, a measure of indifference towards the “less fortunate” is fine, and “less government” on human greed is appropriate. 

In contrast, Democrats clearly seem to be suspicious of human selfishness, and to require a government that protects basic human rights and needs.  It takes compassion, in my view, to set up such protections in the first place.  If they are taken down, oppression of the weak by the strong becomes a stone-age reality, and indifference will be the new American way.  Much of the voting yesterday tells me that our defenses against the enemy that lives in all of us are crumbling.

Glenn T. Webb
Palm Desert, CA
June 6, 2012