Monday, April 21, 2008

"I would prefer to describe myself as an alarmed soul"

"I would prefer to describe myself as an alarmed soul." [quote from Janwillem van de Wetering, The Empty Mirror]

Years ago, I watched a television documentary about Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor. At the end of the program, he was asked if he had any advice for viewers, if there was any lesson to be learned from the Holocaust. His answer, although not in these words, was essentially, "Yes. Don't try this at home." He meant that the brutality that can happen on a huge political scale also goes on in peoples' everyday lives, between individuals, in private and outside of history. Whenever and wherever it happens it needs to stop.

There are many people in the world who are moved by the situation of the Tibetans under Chinese rule not because they sympathize with or pity them but because they empathize. Anyone who has ever encountered someone who has lost touch with reality, anyone who at some point finds themselves under that person's control, even temporarily, can recognize instantly the behaviors the Chinese government is exhibiting. Lying about what has happened; sealing off the situation from outside eyes; betraying a half-recognition that it is losing its mind by projecting that loss of control outwards and trying to control the thoughts, words, and actions of everyone around it; insisting that what's going on is no one else's business; taunting and provoking with an extraordinarily imaginative twisting of the truth, to the point where this deliberate and unending misrepresentation becomes so unbearable that the people in its power are, the government hopes, pushed into becoming violent themselves, whereupon the PRC can project its own insanity onto them and tell the world, "See, it's not us who are out of control; it's them." All of this is the behavior of a human being or a government on the verge of psychosis. And we know from history that governments can become psychotic, just as people can.

When an individual human being is recognized as crazy, most people do not blame them for their insanity. But the vital step is to acknowledge that their behaviour is insane, rather than continuing to interact and reason with them on their own terms, as if they were in touch with reality. Once that acknowledgement happens, the person can be kept from harming themselves and others, and arguments that go on about what the practical reasons for their behaviour are, what they are trying to achieve, how to get them to stop abusing other people, even whether or not that abuse is really going on, become moot. Nothing works with a psychotic person. All other people can do is recognize and protect.

The Chinese government is on the verge of insanity. The role of the rest of the world is to protect the Tibetans. We protect by witnessing. We need informed, competent journalists and individuals moving and reporting freely inside Tibet. With its adoption of unfettered capitalism (in combination with a brutal authoritarian government) and, more symbolically but just as significantly, its hosting of the Olympic Games, China has "entered the world's stage," as the cliche goes, and become part of that world. Interactions between reasonably sane people are two-way. The Chinese government wants its interaction with the rest of the world to be one-way. The IOC hopes that greater openness with China will bring greater openness within China. It will not, unless other countries step up and talk back. The Olympic Games must not be held in a place and time in which a massacre is happening. Given the eerie silence emanating from Tibet, we can only assume the worst.

China does not need Tibet. It wants Tibet. That kind of wanting cannot stop itself and is never satisfied. The Chinese government must not be allowed to dictate the terms under which everyone else discusses this "problem." We have heard the word "problem" applied to other people before. But there was no problem then, just a mass psychotic delusion, and there is no "problem of Tibet" now. There's just reality: Tibet is Tibet. It is not China.

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