American Interests, boys! You know what I'm talkin' about?

We all remember, from our childhood, "the Emperor's New Clothes". (If not, Google it.) In the story, everyone assumes that everyone else sees the new clothes the emperor is wearing, and that he himself is the only one not seeing the clothes because he is so stupid.

What does this story has to do with "American interests"? I think American interests (similarly, Chinese interests, European interests, etc) are nothing more than the Emperor's New Clothes: it does not exist. At least it does not exist in the way you think it does. Here's what I mean.

The phrase "American interests" is an unexamined consensus --- people think that they (vaguely) know what it means, but could never reach a definite answer. Iraq? Afghanistan? NATO? South China Sea? What does that have to do with your life? If you ask a thousand different Americans, you will get a thousand different answers, many of which contradict each other. Everyone refers to “American interests” repeatedly, assuming that others know what he is talking about, and the audience also assumes that they know what the speaker is talking about. But they don't. None of us know what the others mean when they say "American interests". We only imagine that we know.

But many people will say, “Of course I know what American interests are!” They will run into trouble when they try to write it down, or compare his list to a friend’s list. They will find out that common interests are not very common, and universal values not really universal. The reason that we are so convinced of the “national interests” is that our education and media have done such a good job at brainwashing. (Some brainwashing is necessary, and inevitable.) Your President, your parents, your Professors --- all those people you respect the most --- talk about a “common national interests” all the time, and they get so upset when Obama bowed to the Japanese Emperor.

The ambiguity of “American interests” creates a wonderland for politicians and speculators. Politicians take full advantage of the "American interests" and throw their own agendas into the basket. They repeat the phrase so many time, and with so much dignity and passion in their voices, that it becomes dumb and unpatriotic for you to even question what "American interests" are. They silence you by saying that you are acting against America's national interests, but they never bother to explain to you what kind of interests they are trying to protect. They say that other people are a threat to the American interests because they are not “American” enough --- never mind what it means to behave like an American.

When I look into the "American interests", I only see personal interests of opportunists wearing the coat of patriotism. Politicians want to get elected. The best way to get elected is by creating a fear that only HE can protect you from. The best way to slam the other candidates is to say that your opponent is not acting in the best interests of the country.

The same is true for many scholars. The best way to get research grants or get invited to panels and conferences (free food!) is by creating an enemy that HE knows the most about. For most people, and on most subjects, China becomes the perfect target to demonize. (This is not to say that China is always innocent.)

Politicians and scholars say that China is threatening America's position as a superpower. But for the most Americans, what's so good about being a superpower? It does cater to the vanity, but vanity is not real, and it's bad Karma. It is the politicians who really need the title of superpower because they have such a strong ego that they won't be able to breath without a strong sense of superiority.

By creating an unexamined consensus of "American interests", the politicians inevitably create the "threats" and the "enemies" at the same time. This kind of labeling has a dangerous tendency to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you call an African American an "angry black man", he will certainly get angry because of the false accusation. The same happens when you call another country "a threat" to American interests. When you call that country "a threat" 100 times a day, that country will be very upset and will most likely turn into some sort of threat, which "proves" that you are right. This is what many people in this country are doing.

In order to realize their self interests, the politicians put the well being of other people at risk. In order to get himself elected, he makes you hate the immigrants and Muslims and fear a fifth of the world's population (namely, China). You only vote once in a while, but as a by-product of election campaigns, you live in hatred and fear, day and night.

Similar things are happening in the finance world. In order to achieve an additional several billion dollars of profit, a whole industry went wild and caused a damaged of trillions of dollars and millions of unemployment. The gain of the industry is trivial in comparison to the loss of the society. Is this the equation of human nature? Are we bound to repeat this negative-sum game over and over?

The next time you hear someone talking about "American interests" (or any so-called national interests), think twice. Think about how those “national interests” relate to you. How does it ever become a “national” priority? Are you caught up in a nationalist fervor? Is your hormone level being manipulated by some politicians whose own hormone level is manipulated by greed? Why are other people your source of hatred and fear? What's so good about being "protected" from foreigners? Then, look inside of ourselves: hopefully, we will see where the illusions are coming from. The Emperor is not wearing any clothes.



Chinese president is visiting the Unite States. I am curious about how different media portrays this historic visit.

New York Times focuses on "Chinese leader's limits", saying that Hu might be "the weakest leader" of the Communist era. The article said that Chinese authority is less concentrated than 20 years ago, and therefore it is harder for the President to deal with economic, military, etc. Other clusters of power include the military, central bankers, head of state-owned companies, according to NYT.

The Washington Post quoted Chinese President Hu as saying that U.S. and China must work toward mutual trust. "The two countries could mutually benefit by finding "common ground" on issues from fighting terrorism and nuclear proliferation to cooperating on clean energy and infrastructure development."

Wall Street Journal also quoted Hu on the importance on US-China cooperation. WSJ also highlighted Hu's question to Dollar and the flawed international monetary system. Other discussion is mostly focused on economic issues like exchange rate.

Reuters also focuses mainly on the monetary issues and trade imbalances. It is quoted by many US media that Hu said, “the dollar-based international currency system is a "product of the past”.

MSNBC used the big headline of “distrust lingers on both sides” while interpreting Hillary Clinton’s talk, which is contrary to the main point that Clinton was trying to make. I wonder how the journalist could ever get it so wrong.

The Chinese media is overwhelmingly warm and positive about the future relationship between China and U.S. Cooperation, mutual interests, win-win, abandon the Cold War Mentality are the key words. China and the United States have no other alternative but cooperation. In contrast, the US media sounds very pessimistic and suspicious.


Tribe Academia

I love my professors. There is no doubt about that. Still, as I get closer and closer to the academic world and read more and more academic paper, I have come to realized that there is indeed a "Tribe Academia". The tribespeople have their own language, etiquette, and rules.

The academia is a quite unique world. You have to be "that" kind of people to join. You must be an intense intellectual laborer and be willing to use words that usually end with -ism, -ment, -tion, -lization, -ty, etc. When you speak, you quote all kinds of dead people. Your obscure language differentiates you from the rest of the population, which probably makes you feel good and ultra-educated. You have to be willing to sell yourself to a certain "school of thought" and fight for self-perpetuation, reproduction, and advancement of your sub-tribe. Your success hinges upon your ability to publish long, boring papers on old, boring journals.

Disclaimer: this is a biased sketch. Most of my Hampshire professors are not like this. Hampshire professors are way cool.

My one question to Tribe Academia is their separation from the real world. They make certain assumptions of the real world, and build their imaginative universe upon it. Then they advise those of us living in the real world what we should do, with a authoritative voice. For example, economists assume people are rational and perfect competition is possible. See what happened in 2008?

The worst thing is the academic language. As an international student, I can speak daily English pretty well. However, I was shocked to find out that the English speaking academia does not speak English. They speak Acadenglish, with many Latin, French, and German words. The different between daily English and academic English is greater than the different between daily English and daily Chinese.

Maybe this objection to Acadenglish comes from my lack of patience when I am doing my reading assignments. The authors seems to take great pleasure in turning simple sentences into huge language barriers. For what, I wonder? To get the worth of your PHD? To confuse your reader? To show off your vocabulary? To torture international students? Most of the times, there are obvious ways to say exactly the same thing in a simple and elegant way. But some academic people twist their sentences in a way that makes you want to punch them. If you want to say A, then say A! Don't tell us A+A-A+A-A=A!

But recently, my impatience turned into sympathy. The tribespeople in academia are also human. They also want to feed their family and be recognized by the community. They are just doing a job, like everyone else. In order to get money and fame, they have to publish articles on big journals. They have to speak the language of those old boys who are interested in self-preservation. They think, "the more mysterious we are, the better we will survive. Let's make the public believe that they are actually dumb and could not have survived without us. Let's make normal people feel ashamed of themselves by using words they can't even find in the dictionary! Don't let the public ever find out that the emperor is wearing no clothes."

This kind of thinking is understandable. Most people in academia are also victims of this inhuman system. We are all slaves to our desires, therefore we are subjects to those who monopolize what is desirable, like money and power. "How humans drive themselves inhuman", this might be a good title for a Ph.D.

Maybe it is time for some soul searching among academia. What's the real purpose of academics? Think about Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. Where did academia come from? Why do we search for knowledge and truth? What is the social meanings of academic work? Are we more interested in getting tenured, or should we follow our heart and shape and enjoy the world?


It's Actually Quite Fair

Japan is one of the most resource poor country in the world. But this lack of natural resources helped Japan to be one of the most efficient energy user and the most powerful innovators in sustainability industry. They are the champion of electric cars and electronics recycling. The competitiveness of Japan is largely built on its fear of resource stranglehold.

I don't envy those who have more privileges then I do because I know they are missing some important lessons. A lower starting point makes people more hardworking, vigilant and resilient. We see the real world better. When the real challenges comes, the stronger ones prevail.

The nature is fair. The wheel of history is fair. The world will always balance things out in the long run. But our lives are too short. Some of us only lived through the bad parts. Some of us only enjoyed the perks. Think about afterlife in that case.