John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey
the_gneech

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"In China, EVERYTHING'S Political"

That was said by a Newsday correspondent in Beijing being interviewed on Morning Edition as I was coming in to work today. The context was the SARS epidemic in China, and how it's being exacerbated by political wrangling between the current Chairman and previous Chairman. This isn't a problem inherent to socialism, although socialism certainly doesn't help ... this kind of behavior has been par for the course in China since the beginning of history.

Is it any wonder that Lao-tse, the Shaolin monks, and so many other Chinese sages over the centuries have advocated that you run, don't walk, to the nearest secluded mountain?

I have been a casual student of Chinese culture since college, and I gotta say, that observation is right on the money as far as I can tell. It's not easy for us straight-talkin', straight-shootin' American types to comprehend the pretzel-like nature of the Chinese character. Everything from an offhand comment to a martial arts move to a building permit performs at least two and usually three to five functions at any given time and operates on three or five different levels. More subtle? Yes. More efficient? Sometimes. Better? I can't say.

To us cowboy barbarian types, what others see as inscrutible elegance, smacks of corruption. Secrecy, even the secrecy of playing your cards close to your vest so to speak, suggests hidden motives, confidence schemes -- and the danger of a knife in the back. Or of the government not admitting there's an epidemic until hundreds of people are dying daily.

(Not that us cowboy barbarian types are necessarily paragons of virtue either -- but that's a topic for another ramble.)

I think that's one reason I hate living in Washington so much -- it's the exact same atmosphere. Everybody here has an agenda; everybody here wants something. Usually, it involves giving the government more power, because gangsters know they can steal more by working together than operating on their own. Even touchy-feely-do-goodery agencies (and I know, I've worked for them far too many times) are just blowing smoke. There are a few people in social programs who actually want to help make society a better place, but usually they're very low on the totem pole and basically do shitwork. Most of the people with day-to-day authority are either idiots, liars, or are just insane. As long as they put on acceptable show, they get their biscuit. If they manage to help people at the same time, that's a nice perk since it will make it easier to get funding next time. Even the occasional nice client is so mired in power struggles within their particular agency that the best they can do is mitigate the damage done by their evil coworkers or superiors.

People around here operate with a kind of resigned cynicism, a kind of "well, it would be NICE to do it right, but that's not what we do here" attitude. The only place I've worked that wasn't like that was LifeMinders in the early startup days, where it was assumed not only that you knew what you were doing, but that you wanted to do a good job -- that's why they hired you.

Unfortunately, I don't see what can be done about it. People around here talk reform constantly, but it's either just part of the show, or the reforms they want are worse than the problems they want to fix. The most practical reform -- radically disempowering the government -- is the one thing they all DON'T want. What they do want is to change the course of the 500-pound gorilla so it runs over the people THEY want run over, instead of having it roll over them the way the opposite faction does. Stopping the machine and letting everyone get on with their lives is unthinkable.

Pfui. Are there any secluded mountains handy?

-The Gneech
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