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我的同胞們,只有亞洲人才有真正的價值觀嗎?

MY FELLOW PEORIANS: ARE ASIANS THE ONLY ONES WITH CORE VALUES?

By Tom Plate

July 28, 2004

LOS ANGELES -- It's time for the U.S. presidential-nominating Conventions again, so get ready for the quadrennial American "values" rhetorical tub-thumpers. It may make those “Asian values" speeches proffered by the likes of Lee Kuan Yew and Mohamad Mahathir seem exceptionally modest in comparison.

Do Americans really give much thought to our core values? Well, sure we do, especially in church on Sundays and every four years in the summertime. To be truthful, I doubt the Democratic national convention this week and the Republican one next month will clarify what our values are. There are many different views in our nation of 294 million people, with its wealth of cultural and ethnic diversity. Are the values of where I live, in Southern California, exactly like those of Peoria, Ill.? Other than that fact that we generally accept the tenets of the U.S. Constitution, we’re more likely to agree on what we’re against than what we are for. Check out this list of conventional wisdom on American values and their reality checks.

--AMERICAN VALUES EMPHASIZE EXTREME INDIVIDUALISM. Not really. Even Adam Smith, the founding intellectual guru of our capitalist ways, believed that man was by nature a social animal. Yes, America is an individualistic and entrepreneurial society, but, as the great U.S. political scientist and sage James Q. Wilson might put it, even Texans hook up in marriage, have children, put them through school, offer car rides to their teen friends and join clubs (especially gun clubs) and other organizations. American men and women, writes Wilson, were "meant not only to live in society but are inconceivable apart from it." We are not primarily a nation of loners and lonesome cowboys always looking for a fight.

 -- AMERICAN VALUES BACK PURE CAPITALISM ALL THE WAY. Not quite. Whether in Peoria or Beverly Hills, American values oppose spiritually bankrupt capitalism wholly unchecked by the law or totally protected from the proper oversight of competent government, well-thought-out public policy and informed public opinion. On the contrary, we know that free-market fundamentalism can, on one level, lead to capitalist fascism and, on another, to grinding daily drudgery, Clockwork Orange urban life and a rootless and angry middle-class passed around from one uncaring giant corporation to another. The scandals of Enron and Arthur Andersen – not to mention Martha Stewart -- go against the grain of American values.

-- AMERICAN VALUES PERMIT FREEDOM OF THE PRESS. This value is sometimes honored by us abroad more in theory than reality. This is a tragedy: Vigorous, even sometimes overwrought, debate is a core American value. The point of our First Amendment is not to protect opinion with which most people agree but to protect unpopular opinion, so that many points of view can be considered. And so when the virulently anti-American Iraqi newspaper al-Hawza was closed down by U.S. combat troops in March, on orders from higher-ups in the U.S. military, it chopped down a core American value and dismayed those who believe in freedom of expression. The paper has just been reopened by the interim Iraqi government. Similarly, U.S. electronic intelligence has been bombing anti-American Arab Web sites such as Alneda.com with viruses. The net effect has been to increase the importance of such sites in Arab eyes. If America is going to go this route, why not simply hand off a jamming contract to Beijing, which has much experience with this sort of intellectual and technological interference? (While we’re at it, why not have awarded Abu Ghraib prison management to the Chinese, too?)

It’s true the United States doesn’t always live up to the values traditionally blared at national party presidential conventions and touted by politicians on the stump. As the political scientist Wilson has put it, "Mankind's moral sense is not a strong beacon light, radiating outward to illuminate in sharp outline all that it touches. It is, rather, a small candle ... flickering and fluttering in the strong winds of power and passion, greed and ideology." American values may not always be coherent or consistent. But we know them when we see them; even more so, we know them when we don't see them.

 
 

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