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Slanting Toward The East

The other day, I came across a video of a guy running from police using a motorcycle.  The commentators are breathless talking about how unsafe the driver is, weaving in and out of traffic.  I laughed hysterically.  He is driving far better than what I consider everyday driving in Jakarta.  The Indonesian word for "weaving in and out" is nyelip-nyelip, and it is the reason why people use motorcycles in Jakarta.  Asian drivers are, by comparison to US drivers, completely bat-s**t crazy.

Let me just emphasize that life in Asia is BAT-S**T CRAZY.

Not that I'm complaining.  I'm one of those people who likes a little anarchy with my coffee.  Western civilization is just too regimented and regulated for my tastes.  I'm one of those people who, if there was a still a frontier, I would be on the next train out.  Not that I am all against a little routine, but I just can't abide having to walk on eggshells lest I "trigger" someone or step ever-so-slightly outside the "legal" boundaries.

Living in Indonesia means that I can get my fill of city life and then take a short jaunt into the jungle and live completely by my wits.  I love camping, hiking and anything where I pretty much make my own rules, though I am always careful to respect my surroundings and those who will follow later.

In my experience, Westerners who live in Asia do so for the simple reason that life is freer.  There aren't so many rules about what you can and can't say or do.  It's a much more relaxed way of life with a stronger sense of live and let live.  Kind of like Texas used to be before all the Yankees took over.

I say Westerners who live here, because it's not something readily apparent to a tourist.  It takes time to expand and figure out where the new boundaries are.  Some people can't handle it and run screaming for the exit after a couple of weeks.  They realize fairly quickly that imposing one's rules on those around you doesn't fly here, and those used to having their lives regimented to the tiniest detail are fearful of having too much responsibility laid on them.

I often wonder is the Western mentality is what drove people to leave and colonize.  Certainly, North America attracted thousands escaping the severe lock-step mentality of European culture.  There's a certain type of European - and by that I mean Americans as well - that craves being left the hell alone.

Unfortunately, once these folks set up housekeeping, the busy-bodies come right behind and start dictating rules again.  That's what drove the American expansion across the western half of the continent.  The free spirits went out ahead to get away from the hive mentality, but were quickly overwhelmed by the hive once things were tidy and operating smoothly.

Asia is definitely unusual for most Westerners.  When someone is fat, you call them fat.  When they are crippled, you call them crippled.  There is neither political correctness nor euphemistic language.  People talk plainly and do pretty much as they please, and by extension, allow others the same courtesy.

It's the "liberal" western mentality that drives so many people to leave the West and come East.  I put "liberal" in quotes because the root comes from the Latin for "free," and having a small group of people dictating what one can think and say is definitely NOT free.  Nor is forcing someone else to accept one's own idea of "free."  Free is the ability to think, say and do whatever one pleases, especially within the domain in which one lives.

Almost to a soul, the Westerners I meet who live in Asia talk about the freedom here.  As long as I don't push, no one will push back.  If I don't try to force someone to believe what I believe, then I am pretty much free to believe it.  Very simple, clear rules.

Granted, there is a spectrum of freedom in Asia.  Each of the vast number of cultures here have their boundaries, but they are broad and not overly enforced, and certainly no one will take you to court for what you believe.  /The point where you got spanked is when you overstep propriety or start proselytizing.  Up to that point, you might get a sidelong glance or raised eyebrows.

Western intolerance is not a new phenomenon.  It dates back centuries.  Between religions and politics, the West has always been ready to force compliance with the ruling dogma.  It shows up in culture, science, personal relationships, and a dozen other more subtle ways.

Some Westerners, steeped in Western propaganda, will likely take umbrage with these statements.  I will likely get a flood of email telling me what an insensitive jerk I am, or how I don't know what I am talking about.  I suspect those are the people who would run for the exit here, being terrified of the sudden release of constant pressure to conform.

I am well aware that the East considers the West to be far too open, and the West considers the East to be far too rigid, but having lived in both places, I feel confident in my statement that the East is more free and less rigid - and yes, that includes mainland China.

I realize that I am speaking in gross generalizations here.  I could write books on comparative cultures across Asia and the world.  I know full well that Japanese culture is very rigid, and Korean culture is very regulated and Thai culture is pretty much wide open unless you insult the king.  However, when it comes to being able to have one's own beliefs and the ability to speak openly about them, Asia beats the West by a mile.

Yes, speech is only one of many individual freedoms, but it is the most important.  The ability to speak one's mind without reprisal is a hallmark of liberty.  Perhaps it is that Asian culture is far older and more mature than Western.  Perhaps it is just that no one cares or wants to humiliate in public.  Whatever the reason can be debated for hours on end.  Whatever way you want to slice it, I would much rather live bat-s**t crazy.

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