John Baglow

A tale of two countries

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Yue Yue.jpg

A story out of the so-called “People’s Republic” of China has been horrifying millions over the past few days: I suppose we might salvage some hope from its evident capacity to inspire that emotion in so many.

A two-year-old child was videotaped wandering into a roadway in Foshan, where she was struck by a van. The driver stopped, backed over her, and sped off. No one helped her for several minutes, as she lay there in agony: they simply walked around her. Then a second van ran over her without stopping. Finally a rubbish collector offered assistance, calling for help as she tended to the little girl. Apparently a nearby shopkeeper told her to mind her own business.

Then the institutions kicked in where people failed. The kid was taken to hospital, where, despite medical attention, she is reportedly brain-dead. The two van-drivers are now in custody.

So much for the “new Soviet man [sic].” Sixty-odd years of Chinese “socialism,” marked for much of the time by a bizarre personality cult, ideological lunacy and mass murder, is now a museum example of rapacious robber-baron capitalism, replete with gross exploitation, pollution, disease and grinding, hopeless poverty.

The Chinese regime soils the very concept of Communism. What happened to little Yue Yue seems metonymic of a brutalized, numbed society run by a hierarchy whose only currency is force. The fact that an anguished online conversation has broken out in China over this incident, however, is reassuring. One hopes those speaking out are not rounded up and their organs sold to the international idle rich.

By way of contrast, the other week I had a glass or two at a local Ottawa pub with two close friends. On the way out, one of them stumbled on the outside stairs, which are in some need of repair, and fell headlong on the pavement, hard.

Within seconds a crowd of concerned people gathered. She was helped to her feet. A woman whom I swear looked eighteen introduced herself as a doctor, and insisted on checking her over. Two young men brought supplies from their car to try to repair her broken glasses. People didn’t disperse until they saw her walk to the car.

This happened in Harper’s Canada. But I couldn’t imagine a better collective expression of caring in any alternative society we might want to build.

Two mere anecdotes, and no doubt counter-anecdotes abound. If I draw any lessons from them, they are these: people overflow crude ideological constructions. Authoritarian governance breeds apathy and indifference, but can never entirely crush the human spirit.

We build our visions of the possible out of the world we inhabit, not only by contrasting the present negative with imagined alternatives, but by glimpsing the positive out of which those alternatives can be conceived.

We lose the will to be human when we passively accept what is and surrender our ability to dream. Another reason, I think, for us to support and defend the “intelligent chaos” of the #Occupy movement, its values and its confusing welter of imaginings: to #occupy our world in the present, we must just as surely #occupy our own future.

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This page contains a single entry by John Baglow published on October 18, 2011 11:54 AM.

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