There’s a new movie on the block called Crazy Rich Asians. In it, I see many of the problems that have caught like a cold onto the Asian community, and perhaps all colonized communities, and also all bourgeoise communities. It’s this snobby, snooty, supercilious view of people that I myself used to hold, and in this blog I want to dissect it, but also look at alternative views, and criticisms of those alternative views.
Crazy Rich Asians is a love story between a Chinese-American economics professor and her boyfriend, who happens to be the “Prince Harry of Singapore.” She is named Rachel, and he is named Nicholas. Most of the story happens in Singapore, where Nick brings Rachel to meet his catty and tyrannical family, who is also super super SUPER wealthy.
This family judges Rachel hardcore – they look at where she comes from, how much she makes, etc etc. But they also judge each other. For example, there’s a scene where they place each other in a hierarchy based on the accent with which they speak. If you have a British English accent, then you’re at the top. They judge you on little things that signify whether you’re part of their elite and highbrow society.
Anyways, I used to think similar thoughts. I believed (and was raised to believe) that because I had dark skin, I was inferior to other Indians with lighter skin. But there were things I did to try and prop myself up; for example, I’m better than other immigrants because I have a Canadian English accent, rather than an Indian one. Or that because I was born in Canada, I was somehow better than others; that this was somehow my country more than theirs. Another one: the thinner my lips are, the more elegant and blue blooded I am, because royalty has thin lips. Fun fact, thin lips are no fun kissing.
What happened here was that I confused my privilege with my competence. I was just lucky to be born in Canada, and that I was raised in Canada with Canadians that had Canadian accents. I cannot and should not claim those as my own accomplishments, because it was pure luck that gave these privileges to me. And it is definitely insufficient morally to claim that such things like privilege are what make you a good or a bad person.
I identify such thinking with racism, because both the privilege game and racism rely on immutable characteristics to place people in hierarchies. This is a silly game to play, because these characteristics are distributed randomly among people. How is that a fair game, or even a fun game!
One of the greatest expressions of this shows up in my culture’s view of sexuality and rape. If you’re raped, or if you’re sexually abused as a child, you kind of feel like used garbage, like you’re spoiled, like your purity has been poked and you’re not worth as much. And part of this without a doubt comes from your parents passing it on to you. This is not just something that afflicts South East Asian cultures, but definitely a part of the usual public milieu in which I live and work. This might be what all of the feminists are talking about with regards to Rape Culture.
But anyways, anyone who is forced to (1) play a game where (2) they always lose is not going to have a lot of fun. Furthermore, it necessarily involves tyranny to keep it going, because those at the bottom, and even in the middle, who were unlucky enough to have those immutable characteristics which were not valued, have every reason to flip the board over and start again. Because the rules for climbing the hierarchy are non-existant.
I think that a society or a group that runs on a hierarchy like this requires a lot of tyranny, but it could also survive another way: through the self-flaggelation of the people themselves. Because if you yourself believe that you deserve your lot, then there’s no need for me to enforce it.
Those who believe they deserve their lot are, as far as I can tell, insecure. This insecurity manifests itself in the supercilious attitude that they then use as a mask to place themselves above and below others. Because what else do they have to make themselves feel better? Accomplishments? Nope, don’t have any of that. So they go with the easiest card to play, and play the superiority game based on the things that they’re just lucky to score highly on: immutable characteristics.
There are two types of these supercilious people. The one is the very lucky guy at the top, and the other is anyone else below who has something that she can claim as giving her dignity, who is otherwise morally insufficient and a servile coward.
But let’s say you win the lottery; let’s say you are a straight, handsome, white, upper upper class, intelligent, billionaire man. Could you not say that people believe in a human value system that isn’t based on immutable characteristics because they are not in a position as wonderful as yours and they are therefore making up for the fact of their inferiority and jealously?
Indeed you could, but I doubt that people like this exist. These people are probably young, because they haven’t really had to work for what they’ve got, but they will eventually have to work to deserve to keep what they have (I hope).
There’s also the mirror opposite of this that is probably much more likely: the person who feels guilty for having so much privilege. I think that good ole’ Nietzsche is right about this one: “he that humbleth himself wishes to be exalted.” But not accurately or entirely. I think that the guilt or shame that comes as a consequence of being born into privilege has a reason in that people honestly feel like they don’t deserve the stuff that they have (so give it all to me, I won’t complain 😉 But another reason may be a kind of patronizing “we’re better than you but we don’t want to admit it, so let us do our part to even the playing field and deserve what we have by self flagellating ourselves, and hopefully this lets us pass unharmed through society.”
The fact is that we all look up to an ideal, and this fact cannot be ignored. Whether it be an ideal based on immutable characteristics or mutable, we all have one. I believe that in order to live a good life, your ideal has to have mutable characteristics. It’s okay if your ideal is unreachable because of the unreachability of perfection, but you should have the ability to choose whether you want to reach for that perfection or not. It’s in the striving for perfection that the meaning of life is found.