A sober discussion about the Olympics

There’s little doubt that the 2008 Beijing Olympics have become more a political affair galvanizing views of China between “Western bias” and “blind Chinese nationalism” than anything even remotely resembling a global, peace-celebrating sporting event.

Because of this, there’s been an endless barrage of reporting and blogging that has gone a long way to inciting these two opposing ends. So, it was with a bit of surprise and refreshment that I read Kai Pan‘s well-said “Utter Idiots and Why the United States Will Not Boycott the Beijing Olympics” at CNReviews.

Those on the polarized ends will never see eye-to-eye, nor do they care to. The battle has always been and will always be for those in the middle. I’d like to think I’m in the middle but unlike those on the ends, I think that’s exactly where I and the majority of people should remain. Yes, straddling the fence involves the fence being uncomfortably entrenched up my nether regions but I’ll deal. Why? Because the truth is–according to me, of course–that both sides are right and both sides are wrong. This has been the case and will unfortunately always be the case, and I’d very much prefer to associate myself with the “right” on both sides.

Perhaps,then, the reason I continue to be drawn into these debates is my idealistic–but childish–faith in the marketplace of ideas. I mean, if I know something and I don’t share it, who knows how many countless souls will be swayed into the abyss of ignorance, bias, prejudice, and greater idiocy? Ah, yes, how narcissistic of me but isn’t cherishing dissent in the presence of consent precisely the difference between Western ideals of democracy, freedom, and human rights, and the authoritarian “social harmony” of China?

But in addition to the wonderful ideal of passionate but reasoned discourse leading us all to enlightened decision-making and declared positions is the very practical notion of being practical. Trying to convince your mortal enemy that he or she is an idiot is like China trying to convince the Dalai Lama that he’s the incarnation of evil; it is a waste of time and there could be more productive things…

The article, in itself, is definitely worth the read, but it’s also got some solid and intelligent discussion going on in the comments.

Of particular note is a comment by Fool’s Mountain blogger, Tang Buxi:

I will say that I think language is one of the major obstacles, one of the major reasons for the irrational nature of a lot of debate. For most Chinese to post in English, they usually have to be extremely motivated. How many English-speakers out there, even the expats learning Chinese, have made a real effort to argue in Chinese on Chinese forums? Very few.

And who out there could possibly be “extremely motivated” about making a reasonable, moderate post? The only ones making that attempt to cross that language gap are those who happen to be extremely angry.

I think that’s why it’s incredibly important for those of us who see the “Chinese perspective” but don’t struggle with English to make our voices heard. It takes us little effort to repeat precisely what many moderate/reasonable/rational Chinese are saying, in English.