Last Week Tonight: Xinjiang, Podcast, Economics & You-know-who

So it has been a pretty exhausting week for me. My friend recommended me to do an mood diary, but that’s not why I’m writing. I am writing because – the urge is to feed further contents into my head (Universal Pension book that I’ve borrowed, the talk record for Chris and related thinking on strikes in Hong Kong, etc.), the stamina is literally ‘please, I just want a rest’, and just like a cigarette, a moment to pause and let the flowing streams of thought clear themselves a bit seems to be the best thing to do. I’m glad I finally have a concept of the week-end, a working week ending.

‘And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.‘ Genesis 1.31, 2.2.

Both in my mentally drained (let say disastrous) times and high-functioning times, no. I never had a weekend.

So there has been several things that I really learnt over the last week. It’s nice to dwell on them a bit because they are quite perspective-shifting, for a stubborn Anna.

First of all I was immensely happy and had that extraordinary sense of achievement from completing Chris’ ppt for Xinjiang in essentially 2 days. I knew I was suppressing it and let it loose – allowed myself to dwell a bit further on the fact that I was being smart to be able to tie the whole repressive-regime narrative over the Xinjiang issue back to some very fundamental capitalistic exploitation-based issue – of Uighurs essentially being forced to labour for fast fashion sweatshops within the camps. I felt so smart about the title ‘Political Economy of Repression – Unpaid Prison Labour’. Then I asked myself a bit more on bed before I slept (as the thought excited me & triggered that internal reward mechanism really well, lol) – so what?

So what? There’s not much of an answer to it. So what? How does my being smart mean anything to the one million Uighurs detained and 14 million living with a nanny app in their cellphones and security checkpoints outside every park and shopping mall?

A second and intimately related issue is that I started listening to podcasts, and I heard about the Uighurs. Podcasts, or just a (force-fed) voice over your ears, give an extra layer of intimacy to things being said to you. Maybe that’s because I’m an audio-person (I like singing, choral singing, fascinating about being a news anchor or a voice actor, …). It’s like someone helping to ask the questions to have in mind (with Current Affairs 101-type introductory podcasts, e.g. Today in Focus by Guardian) and bringing you over to their worlds through a speech extract at times, or an interview extract, a surrounding’s crowd cheer – it makes you feel present, it’s more sci-fi than ever (imagine the kind of futuristic tele-transport machines) – it’s certainly better than video clips you watch within a Youtube frame alongside many other tabs reminding you of your busily-scheduled life.

It makes questions a lot harder to answer. Someone is there, using his or her bare body to confront a mass machine of annihilation – of hope, or of physical matter like his or her relatives for that matter. So, what now. What now?

In part at least from listening to Jacobin Radio, even the act of running the radio is part of the answer to the ‘what to do’ – propagate unpleasant facts and underheard opinions to the rest of the world (literally, when even Lebanese infants know ‘Baby Shark’, the Internationale isn’t that hard to realise materially. Capitalism does very solidly give us the centripedal forces to unite.)

So Uighurs – pronounced ‘wee-gurs’, another perk from listening to podcasts for an infrequent English speaker – in deep Western China. I must say I had a very selfish reaction to the issue at first, when I was doing my research into Xinjiang’s political economy. It supplies literally 1/4 of China’s oil and gas when China’s a net energy importer. It is the route to Central Asia and Middle East where further oil is located. I had a moment thinking, China’s not gonna let go of Xinjiang because of that, and I am glad because I, as part of the Chinese materially dependent on China for our energy (let’s put aside the issue of nationalism & identity politics for now), am securing an important source of oil for myself, the resource-scarce deep South. It is EXTREMELY selfish. I wonder if US citizens sometimes think this way as well when they see home troops stationing at oil routes and oil allies in the Middle East – they are securing OUR energy for US.

It is a thought that has to be denounced and I abhor myself for that little impulsive cheer… but how else? How else are we to live in a universe where we compete for scarce resources based on national economic and political power? What still is of Hong Kong (and China for that matter) if we are no longer physically powered? How do we do politics differently by you know, freely trading with another region for the resources they are naturally endowed with, respecting their claims over it and respecting their legitimate claim to political union? (Ok it sounds as easy as this to me now. China can still fucking TRADE FAIRLY with an East Turkistan, even putting aside the urgent need to develop renewable energies. So does the US 🙂 )

So this leads in quite smoothly to a third point. I’ve been rethinking on the issue of mainstream neoclassical economics – which starts from precisely the standpoint that human beings allocate scarce resources to the most efficient ends for the persons that need them the most, through competition via the market. My friend and I are now working on some debunking of all the myths based on faulty and ethically gross assumptions made by economists. (I said in the tutorial this morning while reading J. B. Foster with a student: Larry Summer, World Bank Chief in 1992, had a doctoral degree in economics, but not basic common sense of a 9 year-old. That’s my sister who said outright dumping pollution from MDCs to LDCs is ‘CRAZY’, while Larry Summers advocated it using sound economic arguments without a blink in the eye or remorse :D)

Foster, J. B. (1993). “Let them eat pollution”: capitalism and the world environment. Monthly Review, 44(8), 10-21.

I am immensely, immensely grateful for my friend to be weathering out of my personal dramas with me in part through this project. I used to, and still feel a lot a rage about economics after having these non-sensical concepts force-fed to myself by choosing to do an economics degree. For a group of people that I cared deeply about (in convoluted and eventually harmful ways). My friend helped me to start to see the importance of putting effort in communicating these rage to others, and ultimately to myself for the former to be able to take place – it is such a relief to know, I have been right all along, and I can be proud about myself, my insistence, and that rightness can be communicated for a purpose that’s far, far larger than completing a rant for my own intellectual comfort. A purpose that links back to the group of people whose comments I cared or still care deeply about, to all people suffering directly from these faulty and ethically gross logics, to even my mom, dad and sister because we can find ways to understand each other again, to bridge that gap, even gulf from my intellectual & academic advancement far far ahead of them for the time being.

For the contents we can probably wait till we get something out, hopefully soon 🙂 One thing I can say for now is that markets only recognise preferences BACK BY PURCHASING POWER, and therefore takes background inequality in endowment and distributed entirely for granted. Right now I am too exhausted to go back into the details because that’s intellectual hard work. It feels a hell lot better to be working hard of these arguments than the Oxford essays I used to write though, for sure.

Fourthly and also related is, my relationship with others. People’s comment which I still care deeply till now. People’s stronger friendships or relationships with somebody other than me which get me insecure more than jealous. (Jealous is not really the right word. Insecure is.)

So there’s a line that I’d try to remember for some time if not the rest of my life from a very dear friend of mine. When your relationship with a person does not turn out the way you hoped or wanted it to be, adjust instead of avoid. Hell and heaven know how many people I had, have been or still am avoiding because I could not cope with the way we fell out, or more precisely, how he or she fell out from my very fucking ideal imaginations, assumptions and expectations of him or her. Very frankly, that list includes myself and I tried to annihilate her. (me.)

I am a really emotionally inept person and I’m literally crying a bit now. But here comes another line from another very dear friend of mine: maybe I am adapting better to myself this way, being openly admissive of my strong, intense emotions from something, someone, over a pair of oversized golden sunglasses and Temple. It’s natural and physical that I miss someone dearly, want something dearly, and get emotional over not being able to get to what I want to be. I am learning to make peace with this side of myself that’s perhaps really the truer me. At times I feel like it would do me good to try actively think back on my psychological unbearable times – to remind myself that that’s where I came from and there’s no need to be overjoyed for that being gone. It’s never going to go because it deeply engraved in the present me and it’s an important part of me, and of course it could happen again.

I still haven’t got a decided view over the broader issue of mental health. Is psychiatry a good thing or something to be denounced as strongly as my group of (ex-)friends do? Is positivity-based self-support a good thing or something to be outright ignored? I still don’t know. I am pretty sure thatI am all too prone to an all or nothing attitude and the reality is probably if not always something in between. For now all I can say for sure is that, mental health services and awareness in whatever form (to be debated about what it should be precisely) have to be a hell lot more extensive than they are now. I can’t imagine not seeing a doctor for half a year because that’s how long queues are in the public system in emergency cases. (Later I realised that there are ‘urgency level’ ratings and sorting, which solves a big part of this issue. But still, we don’t want things to get there before it can be resolved earlier.)

Back to the group of friends I cared a lot about. I realise I feel quite uncomfortable with the way they express their care and move forward, as I now do see a contrast in my interactions with other friends. I used to be a lot stronger in tone in expressing my frustrations at interacting with them, but now this is a different and genuine feeling that I want to explore a bit. So they would take you as a case study to further understand the mentality of Hong Kong students/ early graduates to facilitate further organisation of this segment of the Hong Kong political forces. By doing that they are still directly caring about you because their success, or ‘improvement’ in milder terms in that struggle against the normal order of the globe, has been and/or still is our common goal. We never walk alone, but sometimes we have to walk alone. We’ll meet in a few years if we happen to still be working towards the same goals.

I think I was forced to accept this without being able to take it emotionally. To be very very fair, I did a lot to sabotage the relationship and I had some really strong reflections over that probably around a month ago, a realisation on how far I went to gain their constant approval just to feel secure about my relationship with them. I realise I also tend to write in terms of ‘how I have improved, am improving and will improve‘ when I am trying to reply to their emails, even recent ones – I HAVE to prove my worth to them.

So there is a new, genuine and profound sense of relief right now, that I am no longer in that circle. Even though I love them dearly, just hints back at that way of communicating with one another suffocate me – probably a hangman’s knot I tied for myself. The relevant piece of relic is still inside their house.

Perhaps it’s time for me to accept – this is and has been the better way forward for either party. I feel really happy and proud of myself for what I have achieved, however little, insignificant and unplanned, in the last month, with friends that paid a patience that I am forever grateful for to me, an unworthy person struggling to find her place in the world and relationship with the swirls of madness playing out every single second on the globe, by forces beyond our control right now but will be if we try very, very hard. (Yes I am referring to capitalism and political, economic maliciousness. Not God or anything of that sort.)

Writing feels really good and I am definitely going to write more!

Thank you all my friends, companions, colleagues and comrades I’ve met, who accompanied me and from whom have been learning in the last few weeks. Maybe even Guardian, Vox and Jacobin podcast makers. It feels surreal when I think back on my universe just a few months ago, really.

Anna x

Author: Veronique

To be tenacious, patient and independent.

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