Of Pints and Politics

When men drink, they become more honest.  They discuss what they want to discuss, and they say what they really feel.  They argue.  They agree.  They pat each other on the back.  They discuss sports, culture, and politics.  Unless someone has a specific problem they need help solving, women are usually an afterthought in these conversations…something to mention just to make sure there’s no misinterpreting that pat on the back.

Two things Westerners often observe about the Chinese: they don’t drink much, and they don’t discuss politics much.  I think there might be a connection.  But I think it’s natural for me to talk about politics.  Politics, by definition, matters.  If the rulers are screwing you over, it matters.  So it takes some work to get people not to discuss such things.

Like Americans, Hongkongers have been distracted from what really matters by a media that focuses on two things: celebrity gossip, and want creation.  The mindless materialism in this place is overwhelming.  It drives me to drink; it drives the locals to shop.  As far as destructive leisure activities go, drinking is undoubtedly harder on the body; shopping is harder on the mind, the body politic, and the planet.  So I go to my local pub, and I talk with Englishmen, Aussies, and a few Chinese (mostly raised in the UK or North America).

Contrary to popular belief, the Chinese are not blindly obedient to authority.  The Confucian concept of The Mandate of Heaven is not the same as the European concept of the Divine Right of Kings.   Confucianism teaches that when the ruler does not rule with the best interests of the people in mind, it is within the people’s right to disobey that ruler, and even overthrow him.  Chinese authoritarianism is not as Hobbesian as it appears (order is not valued over all else, though the competing value here seems to be prosperity, not freedom).  When the Chinese don’t respect an authority figure, they don’t confront that person directly.  They’re more likely to use passive-aggressive strategies to subvert that authority, like doing their job, but doing it badly.  They will often still appear to respect that authority.

After a few drinks, people are much less likely to pretend to respect authority figures.  And when a group of people get together over drinks, each may come to realize that he is not the only one who feels who hates his boss, or the government, or whatever.  Without this realization of shared grievances, collective political action is impossible.  Alcohol facilitates this feeling of shared antipathy toward authority.  Perhaps this helps explain why societies that don’t drink much also don’t tend to succeed in winning political rights from their rulers.  The pub brews revolution more than the tea house.  Just a thought.


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