Monday, April 20, 2009

Freedom Ain't What It Used to Be: Jackie Chan, Miss California, Tea Parties

Recently, actor Jackie Chan pondered or asserted (depending on the actual context or your perception) that the Chinese, particularly of mainland China, "need to be controlled." He pointed to the other bastions of the Sinosphere - "experimentally" capitalistic Hong Kong and the democratic Taiwan - as examples of chaos that comes with freedom.

On the one hand, sure, a totalitarian regime creates neat and efficient order. For example, many of the pictures that the West has seen of North Korea show graffiti-free, litter-free open areas. The photogenic areas of Cuban cities are also clean probably for propagandistic purposes. Mainland China (rather, the People's Republic thereof) is the home to over a billion people. For those in charge, it makes sense to treat these hundreds of millions of people like sheep. The State gets to meet gross product quotas, and everything and everyone in the country is part of one big factory or ant colony or honeybee hive. Only those born into the elite class get a large degree of freedom; after all, the responsibility of freedom and overseeing the fate of the underclass obviously weigh heavy on them. (Hopefully, you all read sarcasm/cynicism in my words, since I do not agree with Mr. Chan.)

On the other hand, even though many governments and corporations and media outlets find it convenient to analyze demographics, people aren't sheep. Human beings still have the biological equipment in them to be free as tribalistic hunter-gatherers, or at least defy being pigeonholed and controlled by others. It's just the exponential level of humanity's social development that creates the desire for one class to control those deemed lesser: Some humans started herding sheep (and other animals); some of them settled and built civilizations; these populations multiplied so that civilized humans outnumber other humans; civilization ironically makes sheep of most civilized humans.

In effect, I'm trying to say a lot but neither have the space nor expertise to do so lucidly. In any case, without freedom, a lot of "bad" is prevented, such as the lack of productivity and the defacement of property. By the same token, without freedom, no one gets to choose to do "good," either. Everyone (rather, the controlled class) just obeys the "will" of the elite.

It's ironic that in a lot of Jackie Chan's movies (and animated series), he plays the underdog hero who saves the people not from chaos or entropy, but by the malevolent order of a big bad/dark lord/crime boss.

Let's bring this discussion about freedom home. In the recent Miss USA pageant, gossip-mogul Perez Hilton, in his capacity as contest judge, asked a question to runner-up Miss California about gay marriage. The beauty contestant had a nuanced answer that tried to incorporate both tolerance and firm stance of her own beliefs:

“Well I think its great that Americans are able to choose one or the other,” she said. “We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there but that’s how I was raised and that’s how I think it should be between a man and a woman. Thank you very much.”
It sort of looks like that Miss California tolerated the option for same-sex marriage as a civil, legal reality while personally disagreeing with it. That's a decent answer in my book.

I believe that people, no matter their orientation, should have the right to marry the partner of their choice. Marriage, in the eyes of the State, is a civil matter that affects tax matters. Two straight dudes could have an open marriage so that they can save on income taxes, and that is their prerogative. (This is not to say the tax consolidators will be free from social consequences, for they might likely be branded with a weird/comedic reputation by their peers.) Churches and religions could do whatever they want with the sacrament of marriage.

I also believe that people have a right to their own opinions, no matter how enlightened or ignorant or progressive or status quo. Miss California has the right to her opinion, especially the second part of her answer, even if I disagree. It was grossly unfair for Mr. Hilton to expect one "correct" answer (A - gay marriage should be legal and B - the contestant wholeheartedly supports it), and call the opinion "worst answer in pageant history." I mean, Perez Hilton probably gave Miss California less points (being a judge), and Miss California ended up as runner-up. Miss California expressed an unpopular opinion relative to the pageant environment, and she suffered some consequence because of that particular judge's criteria.

Again, I'm painting a lot of broad strokes without much cohesion. One thing I'm trying to say is that if I were a beauty pageant judge, I would not expect one ideal answer during the round of opinion-based questions. I would judge more on poise and cohesion (which this rant ironically lacks).

I'm also saying that freedom is good, and opinions are natural. While I currently support the Obama Adminstration's current handling of the nation's finances, I like the overarching intent of the libertarian-heavy anti-tax, anti-big government (fiscally speaking) Tea Parties. I am happy that, in the United States of America, we still have the freedom to debate. We have the right to express our opinions. I like that fiscal conservatives hold those (Paris Hilton) Tea Parties, even though social conservatives also show up and don't quite fit in, as well as fringe ideologues who have signs with Hilter/Chaplin moustaches on President Obama's face. Those people have opinions, too, and the context of the debate will determine whether those opinions are valid for the situation. (They're often not.) As long as the fringes of any side don't conspire and commit criminal behavior, they have the right to be as loony as they want to be.

So take that, Jackie Chan.

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