Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Riding the bus into town today, a young lady sitting beside me said, "Did you hear about CNN?" By now, I suppose everyone in China has heard of CNN. But how do you explain a phenomenon like Jack Cafferty to someone in China? It is not easy. Guys like him have an audience because they have built a reputation for "telling it like it is." The problem is that their boisterous bravado is calculated. They are not really "pushing the envelope." They get paid to say that stuff. America is a civilization which is clearly in a state of decline, and the Americans as a people have become so desensitized that they cannot be persuaded anymore to watch a news program that does nothing more than tell them what's happening. They have to have it put to them in a raucous, rowdy manner. I want to be clear about what I mean by this. I am not opposed to a strong debate. I watch the McLaughlin Group, which can get pretty lively. But there is a difference. A program that gives respected journalists from several sides of an issue an opportunity to argue is not offensive, in my opinion. But these mouthy, ill educated types like Cafferty are a little hard to take.

I tried to explain to the young lady who asked me, that Cafferty came from a very unstable home where he was not taught the kind of manners that one expects from those who are given respect in society. Both of his parents were alcoholics. His father was married eight times. Concepts like "saving face," i.e. showing at least a modicum of regard for the personal dignity of the one(s) we are talking about, are so foreign to someone like Cafferty that I doubt he could even carry on an intelligent conversation about the subject.

Perhaps it would be better if China did not get quite so upset about gadflies like him. Guys like Cafferty tease China to get exactly the type of reaction China is giving them. So their naughty behaviour is actually being rewarded by China's reaction. But if China's response is a bit overwrought, the response of many in America is downright nauseating. One interviewer commended him for his courage. Courage?? Complete nonsense. Networks like CNN pretend to be barely tolerating clowns like Cafferty to enhance his reputation as unpredictable and just a bit over the edge. In fact, CNN and other networks hire guys like Cafferty precisely because they say stuff in a shocking manner, because they know that their audience has an appetite for this kind of stuff. Believe me, there is absolutely nothing courageous about what guys like Cafferty and Don Imus do for a living.

But let's look at the larger picture. Is there anything China can do to neutralize some of these issues? A couple weeks ago police raided the Tongkor monastery and arrested a couple monks because they had pictures of the Dalai Lama. Is this really necessary? Chinese people don't read about these incidents, but the rest of the world does. Americans shake their heads in disbelief at this kind of thing. I have to confess that I myself find it hard to understand.

I do not suggest for a minute that China should give way to the obnoxious protesters who tried to disrupt the torch relay. Stealing an Olympic torch from a disabled athlete in a wheel chair is unspeakably sick behaviour. But China is being portrayed by the western media as intransigent because of her unwillingness to dialogue, and I am afraid China has, perhaps unwittingly, contributed to this growing perception. Here's how it works, in summary:

Western Media to China:

"Are you willing to talk to the Dalai Lama?"

China to Western Media:
"Yes, we are willing to talk to him, as long as he renounces independence and ceases his secessionist activities."

Western Media to Dalai Lama:
"Are you willing to renounce independence?"

Dalai Lama to Western Media:
"I do not favor independence. I think that autonomy within the Chinese system is better."

Western Media to China:
"The Dalai Lama does not support independence, and is willing to work with you to determine what kind of autonomy is best for Tibet. Are you now willing to talk with him."

China to Western Media:
"He says that, but he doesn't really mean it, so we're not going to talk with him."

To China's eternal consternation the world believes the Dalai Lama, and does not believe China. China's repeated statements that they are willing to talk with the Dalai Lama (Hu Jintao reiterated it just the other day) do not molify anyone, they just serve to underscore the difference between what China says and what China does. China is a sovereign nation. No other country should be able to tell the Chinese who they will talk with. If the Chinese do not wish to negotiate with the Dalai Lama, then they shouldn't. It's their decision. But they shouldn't keep saying they're going to talk with him and then not do it, because it is causing them to lose credibility in the eyes of the watching world, and that is why ill-mannered demonstrators are given far more press than they deserve.

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