Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Taiwan’s future

Mediocrity and self-interest are far too often the norm in Taiwan. Given the existential threat it faces, the nation cannot afford this to go on, and there are people who are doing something about it

It’s been almost eight years now since I dropped everything in Canada and moved to Taiwan, a country about which at the time I only had a superficially academic knowledge of. Since then I have, in some ways, gone “native” by getting very close to the grassroots, the local vendor, the man on the street, the victim of forced evictions, the farmer whose land has been stolen by the state, and the idealistic youth that is rising to do something about it.

Through my work as a journalist, I’ve had the opportunity (sometimes the honor) of meeting presidents (three of them), ministers, senior government officials, legislators, politicians, diplomats, top academics, business leaders, generals, ace pilots, journalists, and many other individuals who make, and often are, the news.

Sad to say, but the majority of them were either mediocre, cowards, self-interested, self-promoting, Taiwanese-hating in disguise, or completely enthralled by the money god. Many couldn’t look beyond their banks accounts, the next elections, or an opportunity to get some publicity. Most cruise through life as if Taiwan isn’t facing an existential threat. Media moguls who purportedly fight for liberal values and Taiwan’s democracy behave no better than the worst tyrants on the other side of the Strait, mistreating their employees and altogether corrupting the very values they are supposed to defend. Taiwan first and liberty foremost? Think again. My bank account and land development — employees and Taiwanese, to hell with them. That’s more like it.

Such feebleness of mind and heart, such lies, would already be problematic in a “normal” country, but is all the more worrying in a country like Taiwan, whose existence and way of life are threatened by an authoritarian giant. How could Taiwan possibly meet that challenge when the people who are in charge of defending it are cowards, mental midgets, really, who require no more than the bare minimum from the people under them, and who will punish those who actually care and are willing to fight for this place? Such cowardice, the worst sin of all, as Mikhail Bulgakov wrote in The Master and Margarita, is nothing less than treason. How right he was…

Yes; I’ve brushed elbows with them, have attended banquets in their honor, interviewed them, written about them, and been employed by them. And you know what? None of them matter, for towering above them, like the tallest of Formosa’s majestic mountains, are the youth I have gotten to know in the past year — educated, politically aware, untouched by the corrupting money out there, driven not by the promise of glory but by a sense of justice, by injustice, by a desire to stand side by side with society’s most vulnerable against its most powerful. They are the students and activists who make short shrift of the mediocrities that pass off as ministers in this country, who will stop at nothing to defend and help define that which makes Taiwan unique. They are the residents of Dapu, Huaguang, Losheng, Yuanli and Taidong who have proudly and honorably fought for what is theirs when the government abused its authority to steal from them. I have learned so much more from them in the past year than I have in the previous seven cavorting with the rich and the powerful.

People speak of tearing down the government. I fear that doing so is only part of the mission ahead. A whole system has ossified that needs tearing down.

Where the future lies
It’s been an honor to get to know them, to watch them in action, and to document what they have been doing in the name of the country they call home. More than anyone, and despite the derision and criticism leveled at them (when in fact they should be celebrated for their ideals), they, above all, know where Taiwan’s essence lies.

“It is a sign of a nation’s extinction when there begin to be gods in common. When there are gods in common, they die along with the belief in them and with the nations themselves,” Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote.

That god is money. Taiwan’s activist youth knows there is a different god out there, one that animates their beautiful country. (Photos by the author)

No comments: