Thursday, July 9, 2009

Political activism as defined by Haruki Murakami; You can't just talk the talk otherwise you'll become elitist, hypocritical, and uncaring.

Re-reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (a really complex book I recommend to everybody, btw), I started to think about political philosophy for a few minutes.

Before I begin, let me sort of describe how I am "politically active" (not as a bragging tool). I wrote for the school newspaper and was really persistent in bringing the current events that were taking place in our school district, and had debates within our debate club related to political events. I spent a lot of my time (sometimes late night) reading late night news articles trying to understand what was going on around the world while forming a political opinion on what needs to be done around the world.

But, Murakami really challenged my political activism; this is how I interpreted it: you can't just talk the talk otherwise you'll become elitist, hypocritical, and uncaring. Yes, it looks really damn fancy and cool that you are above everybody else if you know something about politics, but what's the point of "political activism" if you can't comprehend this quote: "Nobody cares how much you know, but how much you care."?

Given that Murakami's tale takes place in the crazy 60s during the Japanese student protests, he places a very sexually liberated college student, Midori, in a student organization promoting "revolution" while ironically isolating her due to her ignorance and "slow understanding" (as definied by the group) of politics.

Midori joins a political group which uses big words she barely comprehends; the group does not make any attempts in explaining what those words mean. The first time she joins, she is told to read Marx, but since she can't understand it, nobody wants to associate themselves with her; meanwhile, the group goes on and lectures about political revolution. She notes that these people in the group, "aka" the working class, are trying to actually go up in social status just by impressing others with their political knowledge so they eventually be accepted (and quote, work for companies like "Mitsubushi and Fuji Bank").

These actions aren't political activism; that is plain arrogance and no action; how are people supposed to accept political activism (or politics in general) if this sort of elitist attitude exists, that people below your political knowledge aren't capable of being politically active?

This hypocrisy is apparent by the student protesters lack of full-sided commitment to the protests in the 60s. Toru Watanabe, the narrator, notes that in one semester, students went out of class just to protest the education system in Japan, and in another semesters, the protesters of the student movement aren't seen outside the classrooms as the leaders are all inside classes fearing that they won't graduate due to their involvement in protests.

That is true hypocrisy, letting fear or society's restraints (or society in general) lead one's lives in order to avoid changing the world.

But, how many of us who consider themselves "politically active" actually have been in these positions? Are you willing to go beyond the speech and debate part of politics that you see in high school, or the political junkies that claim they love politics to do something about the problems in the world? Are you afraid of changing the world (side note: how do you define changing the world; is it changing your community, changing your city, etc.?) because people claim you are too idealistic, don't realize the realities of government, and/or you fear you are hurting yourself?

After reading Norwegian Wood, I realized that I've been in this position and should not consider myself politically active, despite my knowledge about what's going on in politics.

It doesn't mean that much if I post Facebook links regarding political events going around the world, educating myself about issues in the Asian American community, or watching "political documentaries" or participating in all these ECs which enlighten your political thinking if the only thing you get out of it is a sense of pride for knowing a lot. It just doesn't, and that's what I have been doing these past few years.

How can I be politically active while going beyond being aware of the world around me?

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