Sunday, September 29, 2013

On hegemony

One of my new tasks at the new job is to write original mock-TOEFL academic reading scripts. Earlier today, I used the word hegemony in writing about the British empire in 1865 so I found it kind of creepy when the main headline in the collected news stories displayed on QQ International, a Chinese chat program that is ubiquitous here, used the same word:

China won't seek hegemony, FM tells UN

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized China's development strategies and foreign policies on pressing international issues on Friday. UN's Syria resolution on point

Why creepy? Because when I visited Amazon.cn, it blared an advert at me for the Kindle Paperwhite because it already knew for what I would be searching. Is China Daily reading my New Oriental TOEFL scripts before anybody else in my office...or was it just a coincidence? OK, I am kidding, but read the rest of the headlines and I am not that far off from the brave new world we have created.

The rest of the headlines impressed on me just how broken the current day hegemonic empire has become--you know, the land of the free and the home of the brave(s). The healthcare debacle, spying on our own people, Detroit's bailout and bankruptcy. Yikes!  

US House votes to delay ObamacareUS spy agency mapped people's behavior -NYT
Shanghai Free Trade Zone begins operationMiss Philippines crowned Miss World 2013Home schooling popular with Chinese parentsXi to attend APEC summit in IndonesiaBankrupt Detroit gets $300 million in aidChinese student killed in USFM urges early resumption of six-party talks

We certainly need to get our act together before we are enslaved by the Tea Party. "No taxation even with representation" is not a way to run the country. Diminishing the Constitution has becoming a national pastime or, as Daniel Ellsberg put it in The Guardian a few months back:
Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the US constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their private lives, have been virtually suspended.
Finally, let me say, I had the task of looking over some old SSAT prep materials last week. One of the articles, on gentrification's pluses and minuses, cited Detroit as a success and SoHo as a failure. I coached my colleagues that presenting students with such a reading is, at best, anachronistic, and more likely tasteless. It would be like having students read an article from 2007 about how great the building boom in Chengdu and the rest of Sichuan was or having students read an article about the wonderful policies of Bo Xilai as mayor of, first, Dalian and, then, Chongqing. Not wrong, just kind of eerie given the Sichuan earthquake and China's "trial of the decade."

As I watch Michael Bloomberg sing the praises of the rich and what they have done for New York's schools and safety, I am a bit apoplectic about his elitism; however, SoHo is the success story, despite the fact that the best minds of our generation are no longer dragging themselves through these negro streets looking for an angry fix (yes, I know Ginsberg was from San Francisco, which just lost out to Seattle as the most LGBT-friendly city in the nation, but you get my point). Detroit is the failure. Suburbs and nearby urbs are the new ghettoes in Detroit, but less so in metro-NYC.

I am genuinely worried that if people don't start paying attention to Howard Dean, who has unwisely tied his reputation to Robert Reich's over the last few weeks, we are going to be in for a whole lot more hurt. China may not seek hegemony, but its rising star may eclipse our own.