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On the Decline of a Hero to Western Liberals

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It turns out that Aung San Suu Kyi is basically as bad as the Myanmar government on the issue of the Rohingya.

The Nobel Prize winner — and prospective presidential candidate — is seen around the world as a beacon of hope for Burma, but the Rohingya crisis has cast a dark shadow over her democratic credentials. As thousands of Rohingya flee to Burma’s democratic neighbors — Indonesia, Malaysia, and even earthquake-ravaged Nepal — the international community cannot ignore their persecution. They have suffered violent pogroms from Buddhist extremists. Their many successfully-run businesses have been burned. The government has barricaded them into concentration camps, where they are in dire need of food, water, and medical help. Aid groups that have been trying to help them face being banned from the country. Meanwhile, Aung San Suu Kyi’s response to this — the greatest human rights issue facing her country — is shocking.

In 2012, she said she “didn’t know” if the Rohingya could be citizens. In doing so she aligned herself with the government’s official policy that the Rohingya don’t exist. In fact, Burmese officials threatened to boycott the recent regional conference to address the migrant crisis if the other participants so much as used the word “Rohingya.” This is in spite of the fact that the Rohingya have lived in Burma for centuries — some scholars say they are indigenous people of the Rakhine state.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s more recent comments are no redeemer: “If I speak up for human rights, [the Rohingya] will only suffer. There will be more blood.” Why the evasiveness? Aung San Suu Kyi is courting the country’s Buddhist majority, among whom hatred for the Rohingya is rampant.

The real lesson here for western readers is that heroes don’t exist and that the entire idea of heroism should be eliminated. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be disappointed in her–we obviously should be sad that she is so indifferent to human rights violations against a minority–but it does mean that people exist in their place and time, have prejudices, and generally are flawed human beings. That Aung San Suu Kyi bravely stood up to the Myanmar military regime for so long in no way automatically means we should expect she cares about the rights of minorities, as we are discovering. The more interesting question is what it says about us that we would expect to her to hold our positions on this matter? Western liberals found her a useful way to project their values on idealized figure from the developing world, something far easier to do when the subject is under long-term house arrest by an awful regime. But that she would be more than willing to sacrifice minorities to win support from the majority population, is this surprising at all?

This doesn’t excuse her lack of interest in minority rights. I just don’t think it’s remotely surprising.

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  • Jhoosier

    I really hate to do this, especially on a post covering such a weighty topic:

    I can’t access LGM via mobile (android). I just get sent to an adult hookup site.

    • Ramon A. Clef

      Same problem here on iOS devices. It briefly shows a .ru address in the navigation bar and then redirects to the adult hookup site.

    • tsam

      Same here, clearing browser history and waiting about 15 minutes worked, though. (Safari-iOS)

      • Malaclypse

        Thanks. Had the same problem, and that seems to have fixed it.

    • I believe the problem is solved, once again. Maybe someday we can get to the root of why this happens.

  • LeeEsq

    I actually do not think the real lesson is that heroes don’t exist or even that heroes can have some very real and big flaws at the time. Aung San Suu Kyi is still a hero for her past actions, just a very tragic and flawed one rather than a saint.

    The real lesson is that in a globalized world, liberalism is going to face one of its biggest problems in a massive level. What do you do with people who reject the basic philosophical foundation of liberalism.

    The basic idea of liberalism, where all other liberal ideas come from, is that basically there is no such thing as the good life. Rather there are multiple versions of the good life and people should be allowed to basically pursue their version of the good life while quietly discussing it with their neighbors. My version of the good life might include Sunday brunch and yours might include Catholic mass. Liberalism argues that you shouldn’t impose Catholicism on me and I shouldn’t deprive you of the right to attend Catholic mass. Rather, both of us should be allowed to do as we please and debate the merits of our version of the good life peaceably.

    We know that there are lots of people across the political spectrum in the West that reject this idea and are very illiberal. In the United States, we have the Evangelical Christians and the white racists who rejected this idea and would impose their version of the good life on everybody. In Europe, it was the Fascists and Communists who opted foe illiberalism and conformity. One of liberalism problems is deciding what to do with the illiberal people. You can’t really impose liberalism but too many illiberal people can cause problems. Sometimes very severe and massive problems like wide spread persecution of a particular group.

    Globalization makes things even more frustrating because as the basic idea of liberalism comes from a particular time and line of thought in Western history, it grew out of exhaustion of the religious conflicts caused by the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment. People from non-Western cultures can argue that nothing in their intellectual and culturally history supports basic liberalism and reject any imposition of it as foreign or even imperialist. Like with Western illiberal, you can’t impose liberalism on them. You just can hope they decide to adopt it in some form.

    • Matt McIrvin

      A popular conservative argument is that this contradiction makes liberalism (and, more generally, “tolerance”) logically incoherent, so it must be rejected entirely. True tolerance means tolerance for intolerance, so it automatically destroys itself! I remember hearing a lot of self-congratulatory crowing about this after 9/11. Liberals were so soft, they couldn’t even oppose a bunch of ultraconservatives bent on chopping the heads off blasphemers, and now surely everyone would realize this.

      Of course, the other side of the coin is that illiberalism taken to its logical extreme means eternal war with other, possibly nearly identical forms of illiberalism. Somebody cracks their eggs on the wrong end, or some such thing, so they must be destroyed. Right-wing Catholics and Protestants seem remarkably allied in the US at the moment, but you know they’d turn on each other eventually if they kept on winning. American Dominionists’ vision greatly resembles that of the Taliban, but they could never remain allies for long.

      • Matt McIrvin

        Of course, I’m personally only tolerant of those who are intolerant of themselves. I’m trying to figure out whether I can tolerate myself or not.

        • Lee Rudolph

          I’m trying to figure out whether I can tolerate myself or not.

          Pro-tip: you can relax and leave the details to quantum fluctuations in the vacuum! (But, whatever you do, don’t think of England.)

          • Snarki, child of Loki

            (But, whatever you do, don’t think of England.)

            How about Wales? Is thinking about Wales okay?

            • petesh

              Baseball is often recommended.

            • Ann Outhouse

              Ydy. Meddwl am Gymru ydy iawn.

      • LeeEsq

        I’ve also seen it argued that imposing Western notions of liberalism, tolerance, feminism, and democracy on non-Western countries is a form of colonialism. Tariq Ramadan and other Islamist apologists are very fond of this argument.

        Liberalism still never figured out the solution to the illiberal problem. There might not be any solution but the small and gradual spread of philosophical liberalism by increased standards of living and the spread of the Western lifestyle along with some sticks if necessary. Too many liberals are also somewhat to very naive about how widespread philosophical liberalism is.

        • Davis X. Machina

          Liberalism still never figured out the solution to the illiberal problem.


          Rawls wrestled with this over the length of a book.
          Not sure if he succeeded.

          • LeeEsq

            He made a good faith effort to succeed but it is a basic flaw in the basis of liberalism.

            • Jordan

              I don’t know if its a basic flaw so much as it is a glaring problem that can only be at best grappled with and muddled through. And its fine to muddle through problems sometimes.

            • tsam

              I think we already have our answer to that one, don’t we? “Your right to swing your arms ends at the next guy’s nose” sort of thing. You can be as illiberal as you want, you just can’t impose that on others. So you set up certain liberties that can’t be violated by the government or other people, and enforce the laws.

              It’s better than my answer, which is to exterminate all the fascists the minute they grab a bit of power.

              • LeeEsq


                What do you if children are born to loving but illiberal parents? Part of liberalism, especially in the American context because of two Supreme Court cases, is that parents have the right to generally raise their children how they see fit with some limitations. You can’t make illiberal parents raise their kids like liberal parents and taking the kids away will make problems worse in most circumstances.

                • Well, this part of liberalism has traditionally drawn fire and appropriately so, cf Susan Moller Okin‘s Justice, Gender, and the Family.

                  And arguably the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is a very (modern) liberal document and makes the “some limitations” less a matter of circumscribing parental rights and more recognising that the basis of parental control is the welfare of the child e.g.,

                  Article 3

                  1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

                  Article 5

                  States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.

                  Article 12

                  1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

                  2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.

                  Article 13

                  1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.

                  and on and on.

                  I agree that in the US we give wide latitude to parental rights (though see all the recent free range kids stuff), but there is a strong liberal strain which holds that access to traditional liberal freedoms are critical for children.

                • tsam

                  I know it’s not that simple, but that’s a decent template for how to conduct governance. It’s an ethos, if you will. It means do what you want, but you cannot endanger others, or deprive them of life, liberty and property without due process of law…

                  I guess I’m saying that if our current system didn’t differentiate between class, race, gender, appearance, shit… It would work a whole lot better.

              • UserGoogol

                Where one person’s fist begins and the next person’s nose begins is very much an open question, and illiberal people are generally going to have a rather broad sense of what constitutes a punch in the nose.

                • njorl

                  Many have the opinion, “God’s pride is my nose.”

        • ThrottleJockey

          There is a tension between classic liberalism and multiculturalism. For instance a number of European countries are trying to limit the type of Muslims who immigrate to Europe:

          Baden-Württemberg, the first German state to propose a citizenship test, included questions that ask about a person’s views on forced marriage, homosexuality and women’s rights, for example — all things that relate to specific cultural issues that have caused tension between Germans and the large Muslim immigrant population.

          This week, the state of Hesse followed suit with a test comprised of many general knowledge questions, but also questions clearly targeted at Muslim applicants. It asks, for example, whether the applicant believes in Israel’s right to exist and whether a woman should be allowed out in public without the accompaniment of a male relative.

          And in the Netherlands:

          This is not exactly a run-of-the-mill homework assignment: Watch a film clip of an attractive woman sunbathing topless and try not to be shocked.

          “People do not make a fuss about nudity,” the narrator explains.

          That lesson, about the Netherlands’s nude beaches, is followed by another: Homosexuals have the same rights here as heterosexuals do, including the chance to marry.

          Just to make sure everyone gets the message, two men are shown kissing in a meadow.

          Even though I support gay marriage, Israel’s right to exist, equal rights for women, etc, these policies strike me as illiberal. To some extent you can’t be liberal unless you’re willing to tolerate intolerance. Not doing so suggests that your values are the only “true” values. And truth, as every good multiculturalist knows, is entirely relative.

          • LeeEsq

            These tests are a bit much and contradictory towards liberalism because it does include the right to be illiberal. They also won’t work and make the tensions between the average post-Christian European and the more conservative immigrants worse.

          • Malaclypse

            To some extent you can’t be liberal unless you’re willing to tolerate intolerance.

            Except liberalism is not about “tolerance” and never has been. Tolerance is based on the conceptual framework of superiority – note that is doesn’t make sense to talk about gays “tolerating” straight marriage. Liberalism is about respect for others, and not about “tolerance” at all. “Tolerance” is the bullshit framework at conservatives adopt so that we get to this tolerating intolerance crap.

            • Linnaeus

              I think “tolerance” is a term whose connotation has changed over the years – it’s now pretty much a synonym for the respect for the individual that you describe.

              • Malaclypse

                But it isn’t, or else we could speak of gays tolerating straight marriage. Tolerance is built on an edifice of inequality.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  I *think* you’re splitting hairs.

                  I do distinguish tolerance/acceptance from approval. Everyone should be “accepted”. Just because they should be accepted (given the full panoply of rights and protections that everyone else has) doesn’t mean they deserve approval. I tolerate the KKK’s Right to Free Speech. I don’t approve of their views however.

                • Linnaeus

                  Yes, I see your point. I’m saying that when I hear “tolerance” in most situations, I tend to interpret that term generously, as people using that term in most conversations mean the idea of accepting people/ideas/etc. It’s different in a forum like this, where we subject such terms to more scrutiny.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            yeah, sure you support gay marriage, Israel, etc. From a looooong distance- and if someone with a bit more power starts squealing, you won’t support them at all

            • ThrottleJockey

              WTF are you talking about? I’ve always supported gay marriage. Everybody should have the right to spend the rest of their life with someone they don’t like. :-)

              For real, I’m a live and let live guy. As regards Israel, the main problem is that they’re an apartheid state as Jimmy Carter said. That just means they need to liberalize their laws.

          • Even though I support gay marriage, Israel’s right to exist, equal rights for women, etc, these policies strike me as illiberal.

            What on earth goes through your head when you write such a thing?

            Oh this:

            To some extent you can’t be liberal unless you’re willing to tolerate intolerance. Not doing so suggests that your values are the only “true” values. And truth, as every good multiculturalist knows, is entirely relative.

            What?

            Tolerating intolerance does not imply that you allow people to impose intolerant policies. There are many conceptions and degrees (and components) of toleration, and liberalism does not need to embrace the most extreme version in order to be liberalism.

            Even in Rawls, the duty to tolerate intolerance does not extend to actions that would destroy your liberal society (esp. by a minority). Tolerance is *a* virtue, not the only virtue.

            So I think one can be perfectly liberal and embrace only permissive toleration toward intolerant groups. Indeed, given sufficiently active intolerance, you have to be fairly restrictive in your permission.

        • Ronan

          The fundamental point of liberalism , afaict, is that in a society people and groups have opposing interests and values , and the battles over these issues should take place under certain institutional arrangements. This has little to do with feminism or colonialism or whatever, which have little to do with “liberals”normative preferences historically

          • ThrottleJockey

            Interesting, Ronan. That’s a very process-centric approach. Very classically liberal.

      • Tyro

        Rod Dreher is awfully fond of arguing that modern liberalism has some kind of philosophical flaw or shortcoming that will inevitably lead to it all coming crumbling down (lately his hobbyhorse is the problem of “scientism”). And I suppose that one of the advantages of a totally coherent, fully-fleshed out philosophical system is that it is very “clean” and streamlined, rather than containing lots of subrules and exceptions. But at the end of the day, something that works is better than a hypothetical philosophical system that doesn’t exist in practice. Ultimately, most problems are not so complex to require expansive, totally coherent philosophical foundations before you can even begin to address them.

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          All philosophical/moral/political systems work much better if you remove the humans.

        • Davis X. Machina

          But at the end of the day, something that works is better than a hypothetical philosophical system that doesn’t exist in practice

          Those comprehensive systems take forever to die, though. Aristotelianism, with its four causes, endured in the teeth of empirical evidence for centuries, because it explained everything.

          You’ll see the same impulse in political philosophy. A lot of people don’t like Popper, for various reasons, but that was the sort of thing — comprehensive, historically-inevitable systems — he was aiming to rebut.

        • Linnaeus

          (lately his hobbyhorse is the problem of “scientism”).

          An old conservative hobbyhorse, at that.

    • Murc

      You can’t really impose liberalism

      Wait. What?

      You absolutely can. This is done all the time, quite successfully. It has been done since the modern concept of liberalism became a thing.

      • dn

        Quite.

        From where I’m sitting, it seems to me that philosophical liberalism can most easily be summed up in four words: “Reasonable people can differ.” When intractable differences threaten to cause problems, liberalism has a tried and true answer: pick sides by limiting the definition of “reasonable”. In a last resort we rely on the police to do this on the fly, which which is why the role of police in liberal society will never not be controversial (warning: long read, but absolutely worth your while).

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          many thanks for that. Found it very interesting

    • ThrottleJockey

      Very interesting post, Lee. I agree with much of it. But there are many different seeds of liberalism. The “Live and Let Live” variety you cite is only 1 type. Economic populism is a different type. Multi-culturalism is yet a third type. Not all liberals subscribe to all 3 strands. (And there are yet more varieties).

      Many people, ahem, Thomas Jefferson, may subscribe to classic liberalism without subscribing to multiculturalism. And as European liberals might tell you, because you support multiculturalism you probably oppose the Freedom of Speech protections at the root of classic liberalism.

      • Murc

        And as European liberals might tell you, because you support multiculturalism you probably oppose the Freedom of Speech protections at the root of classic liberalism.

        … how are the two at all incompatible?

        • ThrottleJockey

          Hate speech laws.

          In the US: A conservative firebrand said Tuesday she plans to paper at least 50 MTA buses with Islamophobic posters following a judge’s ruling the ads were protected by the First Amendment.

          In France:

          Last week, the actress Brigitte Bardot, an animal rights activist, was fined €15,000, or $23,000, in France for provoking racial hatred by criticizing a Muslim ceremony involving the slaughter of sheep.

          And even in Canada:

          A couple of years ago, a Canadian magazine published an article arguing that the rise of Islam threatened Western values. The article’s tone was mocking and biting, but it said nothing that conservative magazines and blogs in the United States did not say every day without fear of legal reprisal.

          Things are different here. The magazine is on trial.

          • Murc

            … huh?

            I don’t see how the presence of nakedly authoritarian hate speech laws have anything to do with support for multiculturalism being incompatible with support for freedom of speech.

            • ThrottleJockey

              Then you haven’t been oppressed enough. ;-) Many people from oppressed groups think all hate speech should be banned. This is especially common among Millenials. If you’re them then the hate speech you’re subjected to is a much more pressing issue than the abstract one posed by freedom of speech laws. In fact, the US has about the most liberal freedom of speech laws in the world…which might suggest that we’re ‘out of touch’ with most liberals on the planet.

              Now I’m pretty much a freedom of speech absolutist, but that doesn’t mean the other side is “wrong” per se.

              • Murc

                Again, none of that implies in any way, shape, or form that support for multiculturalism is actually incompatible with support for free speech. You’ve restated several times that there are indeed many people who do not support both, but if there are people claiming that support for both is actually incompatible (the “European liberals” you mention) I don’t know what their rationale is.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  It depends on what you mean by incompatible. I don’t think I said they’re in 100% opposition all the time but there are times when the two values come into conflict with one another and you’ll have to choose which is more important. We have an increasing number of liberals, especially younger liberals, who, when the two values collide, value multiculturalism over free speech. I mean, after all, many liberals in Europe strongly support the laws you above called nakedly authoritarian.

                • Murc

                  but there are times when the two values come into conflict with one another and you’ll have to choose which is more important.

                  Can you name some of these times? Like, give an actual example? Because I’m literally having a hard time thinking of any.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  I think the recent case at Northwestern involving Laura Kipnis (see below) is a good example of Multiculturalism/Feminism on one hand vs Free Speech and Due Process on the other. All of these values are important but in any individual situation they come into conflict.

                  Another one: The asshole Univ of Oklahoma frat SAE sang a racist song at a private function. When video of the song leaked, the school expelled them. Since SAE owned a frat house you could make a good argument that they also were likely to have discriminated against minorities in housing. For me that was reasonable grounds to ban the frat. I thought expelling the students for private, if vile, speech was over the top however. They weren’t harassing anyone–there were no minorities present at the function. They were *simply* spewing vile remarks. Had the video not been leaked minorities would not even had known. So, to me, they shouldn’t have been expelled over their comments. As I see it, racism is legal while discrimination is not; its a simple free speech case. My friend, however, said to me: “The guys learned that freedom of speech is not free of consequence.”

        • ThrottleJockey

          In case you think such conflicts between multiculturalism and freedom of speech could never happen here, there’s the case of Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern. A Title IX complaint was filed against her because of an online essay she wrote.

          Northwestern allows people accused of violations to bring a “support person” to hearings. Her support person was alarmed at how Northwestern handled the investigation and briefed the Faculty Senate on what he thought was the Administration’s over reach. A Title IX complaint was then filed against him as well.

          Regardless of whose side you take, Kipnis’ or the Title IX complainant, the fact is that liberal values conflict with one another. On one hand I’m sure the complainant felt like Kipnis was trampling over women, making it a hostile environment. On the other hand I’m sure the support person felt like both due process and freedom of speech were being attacked.

          • Wasn’t the complaint dismissed?

            • ThrottleJockey

              There were a number of complaints. I believe 2 were decided in the professor’s favor while the 3rd (against Kupnis’ ‘supporter’) was canceled by the complainant.

  • Steve LaBonne

    Since the beginnings of modern nationalism in 19th Century Europe, national “liberation” movements have always been ethnically exclusive, often to a murderous degree as we all know. The nation-state is one of the most toxic political compounds ever discovered. But no known alternative can compete with it for mass allegiance (of the ethnic majority). It’s truly a problem from hell. (We ourselves are partly ruled by a party that defines “real Americans” by their skin color.)

    • LeeEsq

      Nationalism and democracy go hand-in-hand. Once the idea that people should pick there own politicians rather than have their own politicians selected for them as hereditary right into their heads, people tend to navigate towards politicians like themselves. When the Hapsburg monarchy was more authoritarian and rural, the different ethnicities and religious groups could live more or less peacefully because peasants really don’t care what language their lord speaks for the most part. As it grew less authoritarian and more urban the ethnic issues became more important.

    • LeeEsq

      Some people fantasize about true world government but I think these people should be better what they wish for. In a true world government with actual powers, the illiberal are going to out number the liberal. About one-third of the seats are going to be controlled by the People’s Republic of China and India. If you add Pakistan and Bangladesh than your approaching about forty percent of the world’s population. Neither of these countries are known for liberal social attitudes despite their other virtues.

      • Tyro

        It’s kind of a “good government” fantasy– if only a bunch of technocrats could get together and figure out what the pareto-optimal solution was for every global problem, we’d be better off. The problem is that the essence of government is about putting out ideological beliefs into practice, not our pragmatic solutionmaking skills into practice. We’re willing to make sacrifices (or, more to the point, makes others sacrifice) for our beliefs and ideologies. A political system dominated by an ideology foreign to us just means that we will end up making the practical sacrifices they want at the expense of the practical benefits (and sacrifices) we preferred.

        • Lee Rudolph

          We’re willing to make sacrifices (or, more to the point, makes others sacrifice) for our beliefs and ideologies.

          And this is (too often) true at all levels of management, not only at strictly “governmental” ones. For instance, I frequently observed that when university administrators and their faculty suck-ups called for “hard choices” to be made, the choice invariably remained with them, while the hardness fell on others.

          • ThrottleJockey

            That’s what GOP pols say whenever they slash food stamps.

            “Well I cut the taxes on the rich down to zero, so of course we had to make hard choices about feeding the poor!”

        • LeeEsq

          There was a good example of this in the Sunday Review section of today’s New York Times. An editorial was arguing that the judicial system needs to be reformed to take into account what we currently know about human behavior and memory from science. The legal systems of the world where developed when scientific knowledge about human behavior and memory was limited and tend to reflect that. This does cause a great deal of injustice. There isn’t much evidence that reforming the legal system to take more scientific knowledge about human behavior and memory into account will make things more just. I can think of plenty of ways that the reforms to keep the status quo or make it worse. Eye witness memory is faulty but this could be used against alibi witnesses to (as in the defendant could not have committed the crime because he was having dinner with me at my apartment during this time) because there is no paper work. How do you know that the defendant was really there with you and not somebody who looked like him, etc.

          • The Dark Avenger

            Eyewitness testimony has been known to be unreliable for a long time, this isn’t something that has come out recently with the increase in understanding of neurobiology in the last 50 years or so.

            Also, with today’s technology, unless a perp or witness knows how to hack the systems involved, there are cell phone calls, video monitoring/recording systems and a whole host of other technologies that can place somebody at a given spot at a given time if any of them are involved.

            • ThrottleJockey

              There are limits and difficulties with even that technology though. The Feds had a hard time documenting that the engineer on that Amtrak de-railment wasn’t on the phone. The time stamps recorded by the cell phone company were inconsistently applied.

      • Of course, you essentially take this position to justify Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.

      • Manny Kant

        Who is actually proposing a world government of this sort? My guess is that the answer is basically “nobody.”

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          I hear the “No Labels” folks are close to proposing it.

          Or, as you said, “nobody”.

      • Jordan

        Nah, a “true” world government would reflect, insofar as it could, the opinions of all the people in the world.

        This is not the same thing as the opinions of the leaders of China, or India, or Pakistan, or Bangladesh, or the United States.

        This comment reflects a very common western practice: to identify the opinions of everyone in country X with the current political realities of country X and/or political opinions of the non-representative leaders of country X.

        This is not a good thing to do, in general.

        • LeeEsq

          Your at the same time, assuming that if we can find a way to count the opinions of all the people in the world that we would get something that lines up to liberal ideals in aggregate. From the evidence, it seems that illiberal beliefs outweigh liberal beliefs in aggregate and are more common.

          • UserGoogol

            By the standards of, say, the Democracy Index, much of the world is at least a “flawed” democracy. Beyond the OECD countries you also have sizeable chunks of the world like Latin America, India, and Indonesia who are committed to democracy, as well as various smaller bits of Asia and Africa.

            But also, authoritarians wouldn’t necessarily form a united front. The sort of things a (for instance) Chinese authoritarian wants is very different from the sort of things an Islamist authoritarian would want. There’s some things they’d agree on, but I think they’d be more focused on preventing the world government from being a threat to local authoritarians than have any realistic goal of making the world government itself authoritarian.

    • Ronan

      What exactly is the alternative to nationalism ? Colonialism ? Nationalism might have been “murderous” (at times) in practice , but what ideological or idetinty system hasn’t been ? It has also copper fastened democracy and encouraged egalitarianism on a scale unimaginable in recent history

  • Ahuitzotl

    It seems to me that that article is taking a fairly distorted view of her opinions. The first remark does not actually align her with the government views, and the second remark seems to be just pragmatism about the immediate negative consequences of a suggested line of action. To use that to suggest she doesnt care about the Rohingya or minorities, is building a fairly impressive mansion on some extremely scanty foundation work.

    • Manny Kant

      But the author says it is shocking!

  • Shakezula

    The real lesson here for western readers is that heroes don’t exist and that the entire idea of heroism should be eliminated.

    Only if your idea of a hero is someone who is 100% perfect all of the time – in other words, you don’t understand humans very well.

    The more interesting question is what it says about us that we would expect to her to hold our positions on this matter?

    Agreed. Why would you? There’s a lot discussion over the (mostly white) Western liberal habit of making non-white/non-western people into perfect idols of strength, dignity and grace. In short – not human. (Also, reducing them to a few quotes.)

    It’s a form of bias that really needs to be dug out of the collective conscious, with bone saws and scalpels if necessary.

    • Jhoosier

      Only if your idea of a hero is someone who is 100% perfect all of the time – in other words, you don’t understand humans very well.

      That seems to be a large portion of humanity, though.

      • Right–if we want to revisit the meaning of hero, that’d be great. But people really do put other people on a pedestal and expect them to be these purely moral demigods, which is of course not realistic for anyone to live up to.

        • Jhoosier

          The Loewen book, “Lies my teacher told me” covers this to a fair extent, specifically Helen Keller and her political views. Also, Washington never told a lie and Lincoln was super honest.

          It’d be interesting to go through different cultures looking for folk heroes and examine what, if any, faults they were supposed to have.

        • shah8

          I think the more pertinent aspect of the critique is that pedestals are a hostile act, akin to a backhanded compliment (a little bit). White people in privileged positions, like Charles Murray, use Asian Americans to demonstrate that violence towards blacks or hispanics are justified. As well as a justification for the oppression of Asians if and when they might get too many plummy positions. Then there are personas that figure into US foreign policy, like Chiang Kai Shek back in the day, or Nelson Mandela in the 90’s. Doesn’t make them hereos or villains, aside from what they do themselves, but how aware we are of their heroism or crimes is a function of the propaganda organs.

        • elm

          Do people really think that ‘heroes’ are perfect? It seems to be used commonly to describe military veterans but I doubt anyone truly believes that all of them are flawless. And SEK can certainly tell us that very few comic book superheroes are, or are intended to be, perfect. I think you’re ascribing to others a definition of a word they don’t themselves have.

          I also think Ahuitzotl above is right: Aung San Suu Kyi’s position on the Roningya isn’t good, but it isn’t as bad as the government’s.

          As I understand it (and I don’t know that much about the issue, so I could be getting this completely wrong), no one is going to win a democratic election in Myanmar who supports Rohingya rights. Kyi may honestly be ambivilent about their rights or may even be hostile to them, but if she wants to win she had to say what she’s saying about them. Perhaps she wants to improve their status but can’t until she gets into power. Perhaps she will oppress them just as much as they are now. But, as we know all to well on this blog, democracy is often about choosing the lesser of two evils. I doubt any of the regular commenters here, and I doubt any even somewhat sophisticated observer, thought she was perfect.

          • djw

            Do people really think that ‘heroes’ are perfect? It seems to be used commonly to describe military veterans but I doubt anyone truly believes that all of them are flawless.

            I doubt many people hold that view as a considered view, but it’s much more prominent as a lazy mental habit.

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          “purely moral demigods”

          If that’s what you think, you don’t know many demigods, just sayin’

          • Iuz

            Damn straight.

        • ThrottleJockey

          Very true. I couldn’t agree with you and Shakezula more. One of my best friends, a white guy, idolizes Obama to an unhealthy degree. Of course Boomers idolize Martin Luther King. MLK transformed civil rights in this country, but I’m not so sure that the Baptist preacher in him would’ve supported (for instance) LGBT rights. I’ve long since stopped having heroes, especially in the political sphere, because everyone has to sit down to shit. There’s no such thing as ‘heroes’.

          Fuck, even when it comes to MLK, I find myself having to ignore the evidence of extra-marital affairs. I prefer to just not think about it.

          • kayden

            Mrs. Coretta Scott King supported gay rights so I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to conclude that Dr. King would have done the same if he was still alive. Rev Sharpton is a big LGBT supporter as are several other prominent Black pastors I can think of.

            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-g-long/coretta-scott-king_b_2592049.html

            • ThrottleJockey

              True, Coretta Scott King does. Her daughter, however, the Rev. Bernice King, does not. The two of them disagree on whether MLK would or wouldn’t. Perhaps Coretta wanted to burnish MLK’s credentials among the modern left. Perhaps Bernice didn’t know her father well enough. Knowing a lot of black preachers I myself am skeptical, but whose to say?

              My only point was that “heroes” are hostages of their own times. Remember at one time Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was praised for its progressiveness. Now it ranks up there with Separate but Equal.

              • Hogan

                Remember at one time Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was praised for its progressiveness.

                I don’t remember that at all.

    • Nobdy

      This. It’s purity that doesn’t exist, not heroism. Oskar Schindler risked his life to save the lives of others. He is a hero, even if he wasn’t perfect and he wasn’t perfect because he was human and no human is perfect.

      Al Franken likes to use the metaphor that conservatives love America like a young child loves a parent. They think it’s perfect and when it does something bad they just assume it’s actually good and whatever it did there were reasons for it. Liberals love America like adults. We love it but realize it is flawed and want it to be better and want to help it be better. Our love is not unconditional.

      The same should be true for heroes. We can respect and even venerate them while realizing that as humans they all have agendas and blind spots and are petty and lustrous driven sometimes. Leave it to the Republicans to demand perfect purity. I’ll take a human Martin Luther King who was a philanderer over a magical daddy Reagan any day of the week.

      • tsam

        Their breathless slobbering over the perfection of the founders is just gross. PLENTY of flaws among those guys. They got a lot right, but they weren’t the saintly demigods cons and glibs insist they were.

        • Karen24

          The worst part of this unwarranted idolatry is that the founders themselves would object to it.

          • ThrottleJockey

            The Founding Father worship is especially loathsome. All the more so from coming from so-called “conservative Christians” who should recognize that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

      • Shakezula

        That’s why it is better to talk about heroic acts. Or at least it is a start, because you can acknowledge the extraordinary actions without dehumanizing the person who did them.

        But the pedestalization (to coin a term) of people who aren’t the dominant members of society is particularly dangerous because it is based on stereotypes about the mental and physical toughness of under-privileged members of society.

        In addition, revealed imperfections of the figurehead are used to attack whatever cause they support. So there were people who did clutch their brows over the fact King had affairs and gasping Whatevah Does This Mean for the Civil Rights Movement?

        Why was this even a question?

        • Davis X. Machina

          Or at least it is a start, because you can acknowledge the extraordinary actions without dehumanizing the person who did them.

          This, I teach my students, is the real meanng of the Herakles/Hercules myth. Bad father, awful man, hero.

          • Shakezula

            Great guy to have around if you need to clean your stables!

            • Lee Rudolph

              Or if you need a little time off to shrug!

          • tsam

            Also how history becomes legend becomes myth. Not that Heracles is history, but over time, the exploits become bigger and more magical. As demonstrated by Heracles and Odysseus, this dynamic has been around for a few years.

            • Hogan

              Odysseus indeed. Fucked his way around the Mediterranean for ten years, then showed up back home and slaughtered a bunch of guys who looked at his wife funny.

              • tsam

                And a bunch of female servants. Kind of an ass. Not to mention his ego nearly got his crew wiped out by the cyclops. Not a great guy, but TROY!!!

          • tsam

            Also how history becomes legend becomes myth. Not that Heracles is history, but over time, the exploits become bigger and more magical. As demonstrated by Heracles and Odysseus, this dynamic has been around for a few years.

  • tsam

    It surprises me when victims of persecution condone persecution of others. It shouldn’t, because it’s not uncommon for say, black people to be homophobic for example, and it’s puzzling to me. As a white male who’s never been subjected to discrimination, I don’t approve of mistreatment of anyone. It bugs me that some people can live through it and still use a religion, orientation, nationality, class or whatever as an excuse to oppress.

    • Jhoosier

      That just brings us back to Erik’s post on white supremacist suffragettes.

      • tsam

        It does.

        The bigger point of hero worship is right on target. It’s one thing to respect the accomplishments of someone we revere. It’s quite another to consider them infallible or above criticism.

    • Shakezula

      The idea that oppression should automatically make a person or group more empathetic to suffering is another example of how oppressed people are held to a HIGHER standard than people who are more privileged. Why does this make sense?

      We all have the same fucked up brains and DNA. We’re all just as likely to have biases and be assholes. The only thing that changes is the power your bigotry/lack of empathy has to make other people miserable.

      • tsam

        Well, there’s a difference between awareness and experience. Maybe we’re all dumb for holding them to a higher standard, but it seems like personal lessons should cause a whole lot more empathy than it does among those of us who have it comparatively easy, right?

        Thinking further, I think it might be true that oppressed people do feel empathy more often than those who don’t experience oppression. Just a hunch, I can’t point to any evidence of that.

        • tsam

          Let me rephrase: if a middle aged, American, straight, white, middle class male who has never gone hungry, had parents who did their jobs with education and example GETS IT, how does someone who has dealt with prejudice and bigotry or crushing poverty NOT get it?

          (Not rhetoric, I really am confused by this)

          • Hogan

            To use the Jewish example, there are at least two possible ways to take “never again”: let’s never let this happen to anyone, or let’s do it first to any bastards who look like they want to do it to us. They’re both human responses.

            • tsam

              Well I DONT LIKE IT. WHAT ABOUT THAT?

            • ThrottleJockey

              Actually, the Israeli treatment of Palestinians today is the perfect counter to Tsam’s point: If Jews could ethnically cleanse the Palestine, then any minority can mistreat another minority.

              At the end of the day we’re all tribal, and its only through an enormous amount of self-reflection and contemplation that we can escape that. I learned multiculturalism and cultural relativity from my parents. That didn’t stop my mother from saying some offensive things time-to-time about Latinos. I often found myself asking, ‘How could the woman who raised me to respect everyone say such unpleasant things?’ But there you have it.

          • Shakezula

            But there are plenty of people like you who don’t get it and it has powerful repercussions.

            So again – why should NOT getting it be reserved for people who have NOT suffered?

            This is a great illustration by the way of narrative about the Redeeming Power of Suffering, which results in society EXPECTING people (individually and as groups) who have suffered to be better than those who are not.

            And the more suffering X experiences the Better they’re supposed to be. So society has toxic ideas about the Kindly Holocaust Survivor and the Strong Black Woman in its thick wittle head. And society gets really shitty when the Holocaust survivor avoids people like the plague and the black woman suffers from depression.

            • tsam

              So again – why should NOT getting it be reserved for people who have NOT suffered?

              Not exactly reserved for them, there is just a higher likelihood, due to the fact that critical thinking is a built skill rather than an innate quality of humans.

              I don’t necessarily EXPECT marginalized people to be more empathetic, I guess I’m just wishing they all did. Solidarity matters. I realize it’s an undue burden to expect that of fallible humans.

              Shorter: Point taken, though I didn’t mean to imply that marginalized people HAVE to be more empathetic.

  • Barry Freed

    Not to play the hipster here but this has been known for at least two years.

    A little more than two years ago in a pronouncement with some very dark and ominous historic echoes she maintained that there is no such thing as the Rohingya.

    Much of the impetus for these anti-Rohingya pogroms is coming from the Buddhist monastic orders which were instrumental in bringing ASSK out of house arrest and into power by throwing their support to her in the mid to late 2000s. So she’s not going to do squat. It would mean turning on her base.

    • JR in WV

      What amazes me about this is the idea of Buddhist Extremists, Buddha was a pacifist, at least in theory.

      So people following in his path have become… Nazis? so strange.

      But then when I attended a Buddhist wedding ceremony in NYC some years back, there was much chanting in Japanese, with periodic bell ringing by the head chanter. Then when the chanting was over, people stood up and had cake and pop. Or tea.

      I thought that was odd, and the differences between what I have read about Buddhism in Tibet etc. and the Japanese version were so pronounced. But I’m not inclined to religions in general, and don’t need to seek an answer to the meaning of life and the universe past “42”.

      But Buddhist extremists… apparently violent and full of hate for non-Buddhists… now that is strange!

      • Shakezula

        Let me introduce you to the followers of a man named Jesus of Nazareth…

      • Hogan

        The farther a religion gets from its place of origin, the more local coloration it tends to take on. Missionaries who aren’t in regular contact with the head office (assuming there is such a thing) often make compromises with local practices for the greater good of at least nominal devotion. (There were Jesuit missionaries in the eighteenth century who were well on their way to synthesizing (syncretizing?) Chinese ancestor worship with Catholic veneration of the saints before the vicar general caught on and ordered them home.)

        • The Dark Avenger

          That’s why the Maryknoll missionary order wasn’t created until the 20th Century to propagate the Catholic faith in China and other places around the world.

          My grandfather had an amusing story about a Catholic missionary in China who had toiled somewhere in the interior of China for 40 years, from the 1880s to the early 1920s. Because of his work and his efforts he was raised to the status of an archbishop.

          The amusing part is that when he retired to Shanghai in the 1920s, he discovered movies, which of course wouldn’t be available in most, if not all rural regions of China back then. He became a movie fanatic, going to see as many as 4 or 5 a day. This was a bit offensive to the more conservative members of the laity and the hierarchy, but they could do nothing, because we was an archbishop, not some parish priest or Monsignor. He never said how they resolved it, but it was a bit embarrassing for the church, to put it mildly.

        • LeeEsq

          The Rites controversy occurred in the 17th century, not the 18th century.

          The Rites Controversy was actually more intellectually interesting than this. The Jesuits were very educated and when they got to China, they recognized that Confucianism was a secular philosophy rather than an actual religion. Jesuits understood that Confucius was Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle rolled into one and that they would never convince the Chinese to drop him wholesale anymore than the West could abandon Greco-Roman classics. They were basically trying to argue that you could be a good Catholic and Confucian at the same time just like good Catholics could read Greco-Roman philosophy. The only problem was that the Franciscans were also active missionaries in East Asia and they tended to be a bit more dumb and less cosmopolitan than the Jesuits. They thought that Confucianism and Catholicism were incompatible and the Pope sided with them.

          • Hogan

            That’ll teach me to work from faded memories of Jonathan Spence. Well, it probably won’t, but it should.

      • tsam

        That’s why I hate it when people say Buddhism isn’t a religion. It sure can be, and it can be every bit as destructive as the rest of them.

        • JonH

          It’s not clear what scriptural basis is being used to justify the abuse of the Rohingya, or to justify the similar behavior by Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

          I’m not sure it isn’t, in Burma, a case of a powerful monk preaching a nationalistic message that pulls in lots of money and support from people who want an easy-to-beat scapegoat rather than facing their real, difficult problems. And the monk has a lot of soldiers on his payroll, by which I mean his monk underlings, who have every incentive to follow the ideology, lest they lose their livelihood.

        • The Dark Avenger

          Well, it isn’t a religion in the sense of having a creator God or one God being in charge of everything, as in the Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc. theologies. Otherwise, it does have prayers, temples, and the whole 9 yards that are usually associated with the concept of religion.

      • joe from Lowell

        What amazes me about this is the idea of Buddhist Extremists, Buddha was a pacifist, at least in theory.

        So people following in his path have become… Nazis? so strange.

        It’s less strange if you understand it as a national/ethnic conflict with a religious veneer, like the Troubles in Ireland. It isn’t Buddhist teachings or even identity driving this, but a citizenry with a strong ethnic identity and a strong culture of conformity being hostile to a non-conforming ethnic minority.

        • JonH

          This. Add into it a situation where being a monk was often the best option for a young man, and those men end up relying on some nationalistic fascist top monk for their living, providing that top monk with readily available manpower.

          It probably is no coincidence that both Sri Lanka and Burma, where fascist Buddhist monks are a growing problem have both recently had a source of longstanding societal pressure and stress removed. Sri Lanka’s war against the Tamils ended, and Burma’s government has loosened up somewhat and allowed greater freedom.

        • Davis X. Machina

          Reminds me of my favorite joke from The Troubles.

          Mr. Wu is walking home late at night, having just locked up the Chinese take-away in Belfast somewheres.

          Two guys in balaklavas throw him up against a wall and ask him, “Alright boyo. Are ye a Catholic or a Protestant?”

          Mr Wu stammers out “But I’m a Buddhist!”

          And one of the gunmen says ‘That’s all well and good, but are ye a Catholic Buddhist, or a Protestant Buddhist??

      • Jordan

        Have you ever read about Sri Lanka?

      • JonH

        “But then when I attended a Buddhist wedding ceremony in NYC some years back, there was much chanting in Japanese, with periodic bell ringing by the head chanter. Then when the chanting was over, people stood up and had cake and pop. Or tea.”

        Sounds like Soka Gakkai, which is a bit weird and frankly cult-like. Pretty much all chanting, and veneration of the head of the organization; scrolls of the text they chant take the place of images of Buddha as you’d find at other Buddhist denominations.

        A friend of mine is a member and I went to a couple events because she’s hot. Overall it struck me as a bit like prosperity gospel with added cultishness. The introductory pamphlet is called “The Winning Life”, and basically they believe that if you just chant enough (as in, constantly) you can get whatever you want. *eye roll*

        • A family member of mine went to a Soka Gakkai group without really knowing anything beyond it being Buddhist. They seem to have done a good job of selling themselves in the West as just a mainstream, generically ‘Buddhist’ group. The pamphlets were well-designed and blandly encouraging — a significant improvement over the Hare Krishna and Larouchie propaganda I’ve seen, for instance.

          • Shakezula

            D.C. was Ground Zero for a major rift in the group that resulted in each side calling the other a cult. (And me realizing I couldn’t be having any form of organized religion.)

          • JonH

            They are the variety of Buddhism that has done best at attracting African-American members. I kinda suspect some of that is because of the promised, more concrete benefits, rather than the vague benefits (if any) of time spent contemplating koans and such.

      • LeeEsq

        The idea that Buddhism is a pacifistic religion is a Western fallacy. Most Buddhists have no problems aligning the martial way with Buddhism.

        • JonH

          “The idea that Buddhism is a pacifistic religion is a Western fallacy. Most Buddhists have no problems aligning the martial way with Buddhism.”

          What does that have to do with *Buddhism* though? If people really want to be militaristic, they’ll find some way to make it work with their religion, no matter what the religion’s scripture actually says.

          • UserGoogol

            An important difference is the way misbehavior is judged in Christianity and Buddhism are very different. Disobeying God and deviating from the path of enlightenment are very different problems, so the way you justify things that don’t really seem compatible with your religion is different.

            • JonH

              That’s true, but the Bible also has a whole bunch of God having people smite the unbeliever, “shall not suffer a witch to live”, etc. Which have provided plenty of fodder for people looking for justification.

              That sort of thing might exist in Buddhist scriptures, but if so, it’s probably in pretty marginal, obscure texts, or later independent statements by some locally important Buddhist.

  • twbb

    Eh, just about all western liberal heroes have held unsavory opinions at some point. Gandhi’s views on black South Africans (and his treatment of his family), Mandela’s embrace of violence, Mother Theresa’s support of dictators and failures as a healthcare provider, the Dalai Lama’s autocracy, etc. etc.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily a western failing, though. Assuming non-westerners have a more grounded view of reality seems to be driven by the same faulty mythmaking that creates non-westerners like Auung Suu Kyi as flawless heroes. It’s a human failing, not a western liberal one.

    • LeeEsq

      Was Mother Theresa ever a liberal hero? Gandhi, Mandela, and the current Dalai Lama are one but I don’t remember Mother Theresa ever being lionized as a liberal hero. Admired by lots of people yes but not seen as a liberal hero.

      For the Dalai Lama, the Chinese Communist Party could make a good faith argument that they were liberating the Tibetan masses from a theocratic, feudal system. Tibet before 1954 was certainly run like a Buddhist version of Afghanistan. The problem is that a lot of Western imperialist regimes also justified their imperialism on similar grounds, that they were freeing the masses from a horrific and archaic political and social system. There was often at least some truth in these arguments. The British in India got rid of a lot of the more horrible practices of the region like suttee. The problem is that these arguments were used to justify exploitation and control.

      • petesh

        Two problems with the “good faith” argument about the Chinese in Tibet — 1, the clumsy attempts by the Beijing government (both in the 50s and now) to use the religion for their own purposes; 2, the attempt to change the population by encouraging mass migration into Tibet. I havent been there since 1993, but both were obvious then and I gather much worse now.

      • Jordan

        Mother Teresa, from her Nobel peace prize speech

        “We are talking of peace. These are things that break peace, but I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing – direct murder by the mother herself. And we read in the Scripture, for God says very clearly: Even if a mother could forget her child – I will not forget you – I have carved you in the palm of my hand. We are carved in the palm of His hand, so close to Him that unborn child has been carved in the hand of God. And that is what strikes me most, the beginning of that sentence, that even if a mother could forget something impossible – but even if she could forget – I will not forget you. And today the greatest means – the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion.”

        It doesn’t get better from there.

        • ThrottleJockey

          I’m not sure that quote should tarnish her record. If you believe that life begins at conception, how do you not think that abortion is murder???

          • As Thompson in A Defense of Abortion rather compellingly argued, you can think of it as not murder even if you grant the fetus innocent personhood status.

            Any right to life is in tension with the other person’s right to control their body. Consider being inflected with a sentient version of the aliens from Alien and let their exit from your body be survivable (your chest bursts but you get better).

            And of course, life beginning at conception doesn’t mean that personhood does. There’s really a lot of work that needs to be done to get to abortion being murder.

            • ThrottleJockey

              I myself don’t believe that life begins at conception (I don’t even think it begins at viability) so I neatly avoid any philosophical qualms. I’m pro choice. That being said there are serious problems with that line of reasoning.

              Where the parasite/alien metaphor fails (and I’ve heard it many times) is that fetuses are not parasites. They’re fetuses. Mammalian biology results in a mother developing eggs which, when fertilized, she then carries. IF you believe that a fetus is a Life, then that fetus, necessarily, has its own right to life. Hence a parent could no more have a legal right to abort a 8 week old fetus than they could have a legal right to kill their 8 week old baby.

              • Your response is both off topic but gobbledygook.

                If you are a person you have a right to life. Your right to life is not dependent on your being a mammal. The embedded person’s right to life likewise. The whole point of the analogy is to stipulate that the dependent being is a person. The only point of the analogy in this form is to divorce the right to life considerations from the “but it’s your baby/biology etc” stuff.

                And really, in the alien example you would have biology mammalian biology results in cells, when impregnsted with an alien egg, which you then carry. The rest of what you wrote has nothing to do with anything. To the degree I can discern anything is that parental duties are key. But then that’s not a right to life argument. Sheesh.

      • twbb

        Yes I would consider her a hero to many liberals; they might have disclaimed the Catholic church as an institution but admired her for what they would consider as her compassion.

        A lot of the perception of Tibet internationally is based on a combination of Lost Horizon mythology, brilliant international marketing on the Dalai Lama’s side and terrible international marketing on China’s side, the tendency of developed countries (and this happens throughout history) to develop fascination with mystery cults, and a misunderstanding of Tibetan history.

        The Chinese Communist Party did liberate the Tibetan masses from a theocratic, feudal, and oftentimes medieval system. Unfortunately, they replaced it with something arguably as bad for a lot of the citizenry and destroyed a lot of irreplaceable culture while doing it.

        • LeeEsq

          The ideal of Tibet as a Buddhist utopia of people quietly living spiritual lifestyle in search of Nirvana has a lot of appeal to Westerners who do not like the materialistic aspect of Western life but also can’t stand Christianity. The Western equivalent to the imaginary Tibet are probably the Amish but they come across as to retrogressive for Western leftist anti-materialists. Westerners create an imaginary Tibet in their head and assume that reality mirrored fantasy before the Chinese invasion.

          One of the best things that happened to India and Gandhi’s reputation after Indian independence was that Gandhi had nothing to do with the forming of India’s government. This basically allowed Nehru and the India Congress Party to impose Western individualism on a communal society. Gandhi wanted India to be a land frozen in time in many ways. This would have been bad for most Indians from a liberal perspective and would have harmed Gandhi’s reputation.

          • witlesschum

            Damn, that’s gross. I’d never thought about Free Tibet any deeper than “The Chinese ought not be invading other countries and forcibly annexing them to China.”

    • Thom

      I’m not sure what you think is unsavory about Mandela’s use (not embrace) of violence, which was perfectly reasonable under the circumstances his movement faced.

      • djw

        Yeah, I don’t think the concept of hero requires strict pacifism.

      • twbb

        Violence is almost always unsavory in of itself. Sometimes it’s -necessary- though; was it in South Africa at the time he espoused it? It probably was, and when Mandela set up the military wing of the ANC they aimed at sabotage rather than casualties (and none of the bombings he was personally responsible for killed anyone). However, later the organization he created did some pretty indefensible bombings of civilian targets, and even less defensible torturing of suspected government agents.

        Whatever you think of Mandela’s part in this, however, I do not think it’s a controversial statement to make that a lot of liberals who praise Mandela just don’t know about them. The point of this story is there is a sort of uncritical creation of certain political and activist figures as almost inhumanly saintly paragons of virtue rather than actual human beings with flaws.

        • Thom

          Yes, I agree with most of your points here. And whether the turn to armed struggle was necessary or not is still being debated, but Mandela certainly made a good case for it. It is hard to charge Nelson Mandela with responsibility for violence occurring decades later while he was in prison, and much of it outside the direct control of the ANC in the context of a popular uprising. However, certainly the ANC and many individuals should be held responsible for what they did. But yes you are right about the distorted liberal image of Mandela.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Americans expect minority revolutionaries to preach non-violence. Its only the white revolutionaries we can trust with guns.

        • Shakezula

          The point of this story is there is a sort of uncritical creation of certain political and activist figures as almost inhumanly saintly paragons of virtue rather than actual human beings with flaws.

          Yes, and flaws aside, there’s a marked tendency to create & believe these incredibly simplistic (and often bizarrely contradictory) narratives about activists.

          For example there seems to be this belief that the people who did the lunch counter sit ins are how “normal” black people behave. Except those people were vetted and received extensive training so they could engage in that form of protest without doing normal things like run away or deck someone.

          To a greater degree King is held up as a model because he wasn’t radical and he didn’t upset white people. Which is he was slandered, threatened, beat up, jailed and eventually murdered.

        • kayden

          And a lot of liberals know about his embrace of violence and are okay with it given the circumstances that existed in South Africa at the time. Not all liberals are pacifists.

  • cpinva

    NEWS FLASH! hero has feet of clay! film at 11

    um, yeah, so what else is new. Sherman destroyed the confederate army in the south, absorbed fleeing slaves on his way to the sea. Sherman didn’t care for African americans or native americans personally. Roosevelt saved Europe from the Nazis, was himself somewhat anti-semetic. and the list could go on.

    as you note, people live in their time and place, even those who rise above it to a degree. we shouldn’t really be shocked when someone turns out to be just a flawed human being. we all have our prejudices, that we spend our lives attempting to overcome. even jesus hated the Pharisees. that’s ok, they hated him back.

  • JonH

    About the best spin that can be put on this is that she knows her freedom is at the whim of the government, and perhaps she feels that at 69 years old, she’s done her part and it’s time for someone else to step up.

    I mean, I don’t really expect John Lewis (75) to still be on the front lines, getting beaten up by cops. (I think he still gets arrested during protests, but I assume it’s during orderly protests rather than during riots, and there’s no risk of him getting his skull cracked, or 20 years of house arrest for speaking out or protesting.)

  • Karen24

    I think it’s due to the decline of the humanities. Anyone who studies history or literature is familiar with the ability of otherwise flawed or even otherwise repulsive people to rise above themselves and do great things. I love the story of Admiral Canares, leader of the Abwehr under Hitler, who despite serving the worst government humans have managed to create so far, nevertheless provided the Allies with essential intelligence, including providing Jews with papers as Abwehr agents. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who is usually treated as a hero and did heroic acts, nevertheless was a typical-for-the-time antisemite. Neither of those men were always heroic but the managed to rise above themselves when the situation demanded it. Make it possible for people to rise above ourselves if the times demand it, and, even more important, try to create a world that doesn’t need heroism very often.

  • Yankee

    I guess you can’t take the politics out of politics.

  • dilan

    my favorite version of this: get a liberal / left / progressive European talking about the gypsies.

    • Davis X. Machina

      On my footie board, it’s not that hard — actually quite easy — to reduce some of the most diehard, Foot/Benn Labour mossbacks to incoherence by mentioning the Travelers.

  • Atticus Dogsbody

    The real lesson here for western readers is that heroes don’t exist and that the entire idea of heroism should be eliminated.

    Terry Pratchett is my hero.

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