Archive for November, 2012

Darwin was a man who stirred up a lot of shit.

His ideas were not that crazy; after visiting the Galapagos Islands Darwin observed that finches had different beak features on each of the the tiny island pockets.  He concluded that they must have come from some larger population of finches that migrated to the islands, but as time passed, groups of finches would learn to eat the specific foods on each island from small insects, to large rock-like nuts, and thus grew to be more and more different from their neighbours.

The process that I outlined (very unscientifically and in very general terms, of course) is called speciation, and is the idea that time, distance, and some geographical factors can lead to the creation of sub-populations, and that over time, with isolation, these groups will eventually branch off completely and become unique species within their own right.  The test?  If chance and geographic factors are removed, and the groups are somehow merged together onto the same island, they are prevented from mingling together and producing offspring that are not infertile.  Mules are a good example of that time that donkeys and horses were not the same species.




Cultural Speciation

Cultures can speciate too.  I’ve become acutely aware of how race is categorized in the recent US Presidential elections, with Asians kind of being lumped together as a voting bloc (we only make up 3% collectively, so maybe this is to our advantage influence-wise).  But I think in our need to represent ourselves in solidarity we are forgetting that there is a cultural speciation that is happening all over North America.  Asian-Canadians are an entirely different culture from both Canadians and Asians and sometimes this is leading to a bit of tension.

A few days ago there was this article in a Vancouver e-paper about the shark fin soup ban.  I’ve included the link but the restaurant owner says the following:

“His culture is totally Canadian, and he has no feeling for shark fin,” Chung reiterated to the Straight. “Canadian-born Chinese are based on Canadian culture….They’re called bananas for a good reason. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s not to be degrading. It just describes it well.”

From the rest of the article I can tell you that Chung does imply that there’s something wrong with being a banana. And who can forget  the CVC incident a few years ago when an Asian student society with a stronger “Canadian” cultural component found itself in the middle of hot water over some promotional campaign videos that mocked more “Asian” culturally dominated (wow, awkward wording) groups.

The reason for the tension is a level of cultural speciation.  I feel like while there is a continuum, a large clump of younger Asian Canadians immigrated to North America at least one generation ago and settled in areas where there was little cultural critical mass (*ahem*, Saskatchewan).  We grew up with friends who were not Asian, in classrooms that had little exposure to Asians before, and were generally treated like we were not Asian.  We were the “first movers.”  In the last fifteen years, there’s been an influx of Asian communities, places where Asians could read street signs their own languages, buy their own food, and generally forget that they were in Canada.  We aren’t separated by a geographical barrier, but we are separated by a temporal one that resulted in our being exposed to essentially two different cultural environments.

The result is two cultures that look the same but don’t really have much in common.  The worst part is that we aren’t recognized as two different groups by outsiders and are often lumped into the same category.


Where did the love go?

I’ve felt like there is a growing animosity between the two groups in general.  When I was younger I used to be embarrassed to be Chinese in thanks to a lot of externally inflicted self-internalized racism from grade 7 summer camp.  But the most animosity that I felt was not towards other groups, but towards other Asians. I used to take every “embarrassing” thing that a “more Asian” stranger did as a personal attack on my (self-evaluated) level of coolness.  My mother tells me that a lot of my “more Asian” peers tend to resent me and young people like myself for “choosing” to speak English, hang out with groups that are less homogenous and generally looking down upon newer immigrants.  We are kind of like the equivalent of “cultural traitors” and if the article is any indication, this is a thinly veiled sentiment across the board.  I don’t know how this happened, but we were raised in two different times and came out of the process hating each other.  The whole shark fin soup ban is kind of like a litmus test in terms of indicating which side of the “Asian spectrum” one will fall on.

How do we fix this?  We accept reality.  We do this by dropping our obstinant adherence to the belief that we have the same cultural obligations.   I think we need to recognize that the worlds that we faced when we grew up were not the same, we were not given identical cultural choices.  Our speciation took place not in spite of or due to our efforts, but just because of the circumstances surrounding the racial make-up of Canada at each point in time.

We need to accept that the speciation happened regardless of choice because we need it to blamelessly understand that culturally, Asians have diverged, and that because it was a circumstance and not a deliberate choice, “FOB’s” are not at fault for refusing to integrate into a “whiter” cultural norm.  On the other side, “Banana’s” are not at fault for “betraying their culture.”  Our peers were dealt evolutionary cards that we may or may not understand.


In spite of this, Mr. Chang is wrong about shark extinction.


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Why vote?

I found that really cute.

It’s my first time studying political science and now I wonder where it’s been for the last 24 years.  LSE might do it differently than other schools because it’s got quite an economics bent to it, but that’s what makes it really cool.  I’m working on a project right now about strategic voting and finding out all sorts of theories to explain things I kind of already had an intuition about.

Canada is the poster child for strategic voting.  After the right merged, we are left with a political spectrum with too many parties vying for the vote of a fairly liberal country, allowing a conservative minority to sneak away steady victories.

If you look at the political spectrum, you can see that Stephen Harper falls far to the right of where the country actually lies, and that well more than half of Canada is unhappy about it.

It is postulated that the median voter, the guy in the middle of a population, will be the tiebreak in any election (half the nation will be more liberal, half will be more conservative,) and his opinion will be the one that decides who wins and who loses.  When the party representing the country is so far to the right of our median, we have to wonder how we ended up with a country that is so unrepresentative of ourselves.

Strategic voting has become increasingly an issue of study in Canada because of how unsatisfied the voting process has left most Canadians; when I looked up strategic voting in general, all I could find was examples where Canadian ridings would try to vote in a coordinated fashion to defeat conservative candidates, share votes, trade votes, discuss their votes, etc.   It seems like no matter how the left has coordinated efforts, our attempts to unseat Harper has only been like struggling in quicksand; the more we try to escape the more deeply entrenched we are in his vision of Canada.

It is just the way the rules are designed that has led us to this.  But a bigger question to ask is this: in a system in which you know you are going to be dissatisfied with the result, why vote at all?

There are some academic papers that question the cost of voting; and it is a hugely costly exercise.  But the fact that even in elections, such as strategic-voting/dissatisfaction poster child Canada’s, there are rewards.  If they don’t come from winning your ideal choice of policy, then people must derive some kind of benefit beyond the results of voting.  Maybe the act itself is an act of love and devotion.  I think these benefits, not the likelihood of “your guy” winning, needs to drive a desire to vote nowadays.  Especially now with a growing sense of pervasive cynicism about the ability of candidates to commit to their promises.  We need to be motivated to continue, out of love and devotion, if the results themselves are not enough to get us to the polls on Tuesday morning.

I was flipping through facebook and found an old note I posted when I was 20, voting in my first federal election.  I was a bit idealistic back then, but I think I still harbour the same sentiments.

“Maybe it’s just me, but ever since I tracked the 2000 US presidential election as a seventh grader in California, I’ve been really looking forward to voting. Probably because I’m from China and therefore my parents are entirely apathetic about the democratic process (not a surprise). More likely because I naively believed my high school civics teacher, Mr. Serjeantson, when he said that it was a responsibility and a right. After all, I’m the first generation to take this seriously. Just think about all those who *fought* for this. Cool!

And that’s why I’m upset. I’ve heard more “I’m too busy”‘s with regards to this election than I have for any given invite to a birthday party or conference. Apathy in our age group is the highest it has ever been despite the huge investments made to get young people out to the polls. If you have enough time to get wasted with your friends and go out on a Saturday night, you clearly have enough time to get online and find out who shares your values in your riding. “I’m too busy” is bullshit. No one is ever too busy to take a right and a responsibility for granted.

I am a strong believer that people will make time for what they personally consider important (which is why I never sleep, haha!). So the next time you decide not to vote, just remember, it is not because you are too busy. It says you just plain don’t care. 

I personally don’t care who you vote for, but I care about the fact that you don’t care enough to vote. If you are too busy to vote, then are you too busy to know what you believe in? Are you too busy to care about your future and the future of those around you? What do you stand for? If you don’t know, how do you really know who you are?”

I think I don’t make any sense.  Maybe I’m too tired from studying this.  I think what I’m trying to say is, if you love something enough, you will do it without asking what’s in it for you.  And you hope.



(Obama 2012)

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