Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Other People, not me..."

The narratives that we tell ourselves never cease to amaze me.  There appears to be a disconnect between the experiences of the self and the experiences of others.  During this past year I have been consistently confronted with two canned stories in particular that, despite their constant repetition, still get told as if this time it will somehow be unique.

I have read a few articles online about the current state of economic affairs in the USA. As well as hearing some first hand accounts from people back home or from people who have chosen to run away from it (i.e. show up here in Asia looking for work). Among the many bewildering claims that people have made there is one meme in particular that strikes me as disappointing...

It’s the average people stories; specifically  the articles that interview the previously hardworking average citizen that is now forced onto welfare/food stamps. The interviewees tell the tragic tale of how this came to be and then, without fail, they make a point of letting everyone know that they are not like "those other people" on public assistance who are lazy and just want to milk the system.  No, the interviewee just fell on some bad luck and needs a little help right now, but in general, they are still against public assistance and think people should go out and get a job.

Well, if people should go out and get a job, then what is their problem? Why don’t they go out and get a job? Oh wait, that’s right, they just fell on some hard times and need a little help, but that obviously can’t be true of anyone else during these glorious of plenty.

The second narrative concerns the stories that foreigners in Taiwan tell about each other (read: themselves).  Foreigners here often claim that most foreigners come to Asia for a set of standard reasons:

1. They have no marketable skills and can’t get a job back home.

2. They are weird and cannot fit in socially back home.

3. They have a bad case of "yellow fever." (A strong attraction to Asian women due to orientalization. Many claim it is partially caused by an inability to attract women back home, thus leaving the men no choice but to rely on their own exoticism as foreigners in order to find a mate.)

Most often these memes are repeated in a disparaging manner and are directed towards other foreigners.  Rarely (though it has happened) a foreigner will openly admit that they fit into one of these categories themselves.  In those few cases it is interesting to note that sometimes the list will still be derogatorily directed towards other people.

Leaving aside the issue of yellow fever for a moment, I wonder why it is deemed such a terrible trait to not fit in where one is born? If someone can find happiness living in a foreign land why is that a mark against that individual? - Especially among a group of people who have done just that!

Now, I know.  I have done the obligatory reading on social theory and identity.  I can see what is going on and on one level I do understand it.  What I don’t understand yet, is why we can’t move beyond this selfish narrative. 

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