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, July 6, 2016

Reflection on Rauch


OK.  I have to admit something.  If you consider yourself to be liberal, progressive, enlightened, etc., please listen to me.  If you are conservative, right-winged, anti-everything-Obamaesque, conspiracy-obsessed, this is for you, too. 

First, you conservatives. You believe that the world is filled with corruption.  Even the person next to you cannot be trusted.  You believe that God created the world, with you in it, and that there is evil here but that goodness will prevail.  Star Wars.    Your beliefs and actions you try to keep under control, find out what is true and what is not, seek the good and avoid the bad. You believe that God is protecting you. Bad is really bad.  It can be found everywhere.  Your enemies are bad.  Especially those Muslims.  They do not believe in God the way you do.  They are part of the evil that lurks around every corner. Hilary wants to abort all babies regardless of their age in the womb.  And same-sex couples make you want to puke.  You believe people should be free, but only if they want to do what you think is right, like buy AK47s without a full criminal check. You want to rise to the top of the human heap.  “Work hard and reap the harvest.”  That is your motto. You are willing to give to the poor, but they must keep their distance.  All these street people could be as wealthy as you if they just worked hard.  But they don’t.  So no public fund of money should be wasted on them. Certainly taxing good people to support bad people is not good.  Christian teachings seem to accept the status quo, but only if you are wiling to treat others the way you want to be treated.  You are willing to say one thing (wage war) but do another (go to church).  That’s confusing to me.  I do not like conservatives. I am not one.      

Now, you liberals.  You are living in a fairly comfortable, exalted world.  You have met people, probably, who believe (and will tell you) that you are going to hell.  Not “to hell with you!” but you are going to hell.  But you do not believe in hell and you doubt that Jesus (or one of the prophets of Judaism or Islam) is the true voice of God. In fact you reject monotheism, but you love the narratives in its religions. You consider people who believe in traditional explanations of life and death to be misguided.  You yourself have gone beyond religion and seek the answers to life’s mysteries in history, literature, art, music and studies of the mind.  Science is your religion.  “Prove everything and keep looking,” that is your motto.  You have met others who are brighter than you, who know infinitely more than you do, and who will take humanity into realms that you cannot dream of. But you know you are intelligent.  You are well-educated, and look down on people who betray their lack of education by the way they speak and behave.  You trust people but are pretty sure only bright people should make the rules. You may support religion but seek the answers to life’s mysteries in history, literature and studies of the mind. If this fits your perception of the world you are a liberal. 

I am a liberal.  I have perceived a self that I call me who is more than himself.  I am the world.  I am all that I can see, hear, feel, know or imagine. I have discovered that through my study and practice of Buddhism.  Specifically, that is the existential proof I have discovered in zazen, the particular form of meditation that Japanese Zen priests engage in, as I have for 60 years. I now know that everything I love and everything I hate is me.  Anger and jealousy are as much a part of me as the most forgiving and altruistic feelings I may have.  At 81 my sense of myself as a tiny, lonely, frightened, defensive, potentially vicious little boy has been swallowed up by the me of all being.  That makes me kind, loving, helpful, thoughtful, forgiving, and socially responsible.  My job is to be still enough to see myself in the body and heart of every person, animal or plant that I encounter. That is very hard to do.  It does not come easily, especially for an only child. 

Which brings me to Donald Trump.  God help me.  I am Donald Trump!  Every childish thing he does, his desire for winning, making lots of money, seeing himself as the greatest person on earth, lashing out at his critics, drawing distinctions between himself and others, demonizing them, dismissing things he doesn’t understand, etc.  All of these characteristics belong to both of us.  The only thing that worries me about this is the harm we can do to the world if we have our way.  As someone I admire very much has said, governments are necessary to prevent people like us “from pursuing naked self-interest all the time.” In his brilliant piece this month in The Atlantic (“What’s Ailing American Politics” July/August 2016), Jonathan Rauch warns that all of us – “politicians, activists, and voters” -- have  “become more individualistic and unaccountable … [because] Americans have been busy demonizing and disempowering political professionals and parties, which is like spending decades abusing and attacking your own immune system.  Eventually, you will get sick.” Our naked self-interest has brought us where we are today.  “Chaos becomes the new normal – both in campaigns and in the government itself.”  “Neurotic hatred of the political class is the country’s last universally acceptable form of bigotry… [whereas the] core idea of the Constitution was to restrain ambition and excess by forcing competing powers and factions to bargain and compromise.”  Rampant individualism may actually bring down our republic. 

I am still savoring Rauch’s article. It will require several readings for me to fully digest it.  I think every teacher in every school in the country should make it required reading for bright students.  Certainly it should be a must-read for all our representatives in Washington.  It is succinct and clear, but it flies in the face of much that I had believed was going on, with me and my country. 

- GTW at home in Palm Desert, July 6, 2016

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