Gender as Governance: Sexual Politics in the Age of Globalization(以脆弱之名:性别治理及其权力意志)

【这是2019年9月20日何春蕤受上海昆山Duke University人文研究中心之邀,参与The Future of Humanities: The Gender/Sex Turn学术会议发表的主题演讲,文中最后一部份特别指出:性别政治使用「脆弱」作为单一框架,以描述座落于特定社会位置的主体,因而将各种阶层关系都绝对化、压迫化,造成了未可想像的社会后果,例如在处理事件时越过人际互动情况的复杂性,封闭一般常见的社会讨论辩论,搅扰司法体系的运作和原则,排挤华人社会原有的协调沟通机制,甚至鼓励将各种社会差异都化为武器,作为攻讦他人、发泄敌意和挫折的工具,最终造成更多的撕裂冲突等等。演讲全文可在此阅读,最后十分钟的录影可在此观看

The will to empower others and oneself is neither a bad nor a good thing.  It is political; the will to empower contains the twin possibilities of domination and freedom.[1]

Thank you for inviting me to share my work with you.

In case you didn’t know it yet, our Center for the Study of Sexualities came into existence in 1995 to spearhead gender/sexuality studies in the Chinese-speaking world in the midst of heated debates and controversy over the issue of female sexuality.  And the splitting of the Chinese term “gender” (性别) by inserting a slash right in the middle (性/别) was our way of keeping in view the complexities of both gender and sexuality and other social constructs, social differences (别), in all related social analyses.  I hope the work of the Center in the past 25 years has demonstrated this effort.

In the same 25 years, however, gender, or the gender-only view, for another set of historical reasons and conditions briefly explained below, has developed into a growing legal and administrative apparatus that now functions to regulate both public and private lives of everyone.  The creation of such establishments may have been celebrated as proud success by many state-oriented feminists, but as I hope to show today, these gender-based measures also make up the core strategy that not only circumscribes today’s sexual politics by moving more and more sexual practices into the realm of possible criminality, hence effectively compressing social space as a whole; but also fortifies an affectively-charged atmosphere where sex negativity is reaching a new height.  In other words, the success of Taiwanese gender politics was purchased at the price of further problematising, hence stigmatizing (and in many cases criminalizing) sexual activeness and sexual nonconformity, at the exact moment when diversity and friendliness became ubiquitous incantations.

Gender Equality through Juridification 用司法来硬推性别平等

Looking back at the 1990s, the rise of gender as a significant social justice issue in Taiwan was a development that moved in sync with post-martial-law redeployment of power in Taiwan.

As the opposition party (Democratic Progressive Party民主进步党) gained momentum contending for seats and offices and eventually winning major elections, their allied women’s groups and state-oriented feminists were inducted into the Taipei city government to form the Committee of Women’s Rights Promotion (妇女权益促进委员会) when Chen Shui-bian (陈水扁) became Taipei mayor in 1994.  The committee was duplicated on the level of the central government in 2000 when he won the presidential election.  It was in this process of electoral politics and power changing hands that gender as governance in Taiwan found fertile ground for maneuver and growth.

State feminists (国家女性主义者) have always dreamed about entering the political structure to create a more just world in terms of gender.  Now that they have the opportunity in Taiwan, what kind of political structure would they produce in the given historical context?  For an answer to this question, we will now turn to the concept of governance.

The term “governance” (治理) has been widely used by the corporate world as well as the political world to examine the effective and efficient management of business and politics that claims to abide by positive-sounding values such as transparency, openness, accountability, participation, etc., values that would prove to be less than amiable when it comes to shame-ridden sex-related issues.  But governance also describes the kind of development I just talked about in the case of Taiwan, where members of the civil society, women’s groups in this case, begin to actively take up more and more collaboration with the government, often serving as franchises for its various campaigns and policies, but more importantly, drafting, lobbying, mobilizing for new or amended legislation that would allegedly protect the weak and punish the evil.  During the legislative process, a will to power began manifesting itself: to ensure that the favorable collaborative arrangement remains in tact even when power changes hands again in the operation of two-party electoral politics, women’s NGOs are keen on creating juridical as well as legislative structures that not only embody their envisioned worldview (named “the good-woman feminist view”良妇女性主义 by my colleague Ding Naifei), but more importantly feature themselves as monitoring agencies (监督团体) that are legally entrusted to oversee the enforcement of such laws.  As a dense web of such laws and administrative measures are put into place, women’s NGOs have come to command a new kind of power, authority, and influence that makes questioning and resisting their worldview all the more difficult.  It is this meaning of governance that I am addressing today.

Gender governance is then first and foremost the installation of a series of legislation, both punitive and administrative, that claims to foreground gender equality as a core supreme value for Taiwanese society.  While legislative processes are notoriously slow in Taiwan due to factional fights along party lines, women’s groups have made truly dramatic progress since the 1990s in instituting punitive legislation in the areas of domestic violence, rape, prostitution, and child-protection—all are areas where deep-seated sex negativity and sexual stigma can be easily mobilized and magnified to justify the creation of harsher penalty for the cause of prevention and social control.  On its official website, the Gender Equality Committee of Taiwan’s central government boasts of the following achievement in legislation in recent decades, and almost all of the Acts have been drafted and propelled into place by women’s NGOs working alongside interested attorneys and opportunist politicians.  The list includes:

Child and Youth Sexual Transaction Prevention Act (1995; renamed Child and Youth Sexual Exploitation Prevention Act 2014)

Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act (1997)

Domestic Violence Prevention Act (1998)

Act of Gender Equality in Employment (2002)

Children and Youths Welfare Act (2003; renamed and expanded as The Protection of Children and Youths Welfare and Rights Act (2012)

Gender Equity Education Act (2004)

Sexual Harassment Prevention Act (2005)

Regulations on the Prevention of Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, and Sexual Bullying on Campus (2005)

Human Trafficking Prevention Act (2009)

Enforcement Act of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (2012) 

Jürgen Habermas has described this growing legal construction in our late modern era as “juridification”(法制化), as more and more formal laws are created in the socio-cultural sphere, the private sphere, and the body-related sphere of our life world, the density of which not only leaves little social space outside the reach and definition of the law, but more significantly edges out traditional measures of arbitration and other socially-embedded negotiation procedure.[2]  Let me add here that in Taiwan, ACTS (防制条例) are laws that are more narrowly directed at specific criminal activities–such as laws governing drug use, organized crime, money laundering, and now sex-related activities.  In other words, acts are prioritized to be applied to charges that are believed to deserve more severe penalty as punishment and deterrence.  In that sense, the successive creation of such laws that concentrate on gender and sexuality issues is bound to leave the impression that gender-related injustices are more urgent than other social grievances, while in the meantime consolidate the prejudice that sex-related activities are more heinous than other crimes.  And seen as fighting for the righteous cause of justice and protection of the weak, women’s NGOs have enjoyed a significant uplift in status and power that further justifies their standing in the government.

Gender Equality and Its Sexual Bias 性别平等及其性偏见

Let me give you an example of the gender-oriented “punitive rationality”[3] (惩罚原则) that underlies such legislation, which harbors an obvious disproportionality in sexual bias.

The earliest Act in this series of legislation, Child and Youth Sexual Transaction Prevention Act, had been drafted in the late 1980s by women’s groups in order to rescue aboriginal girls sold into city brothels by their parents and traffickers at the time.  But as such trafficking quickly dwindled and disappeared due to police crackdown and social condemnation in the early 1990s, and as self-managing teenage girls began appearing at city locations such as McDonalds to negotiate contacts and exchanges, the Act was quickly re-oriented by an alliance of women’s groups and Christian groups.  Rather than the original purpose of rescue after the fact which affects only those girls actually involved in sexual transactions, the Act, as it was passed in 1995, made proactive (未犯先抓) prevention measures mandatory for any teenage girl that “may be in danger of” becoming involved in sexual transactions (有从事性交易之虞).  Understandably, girls who “appear to be” less than demure or somewhat sexually assertive fall easily under this protective custody.

Later amendments in 1999 further broadened the scope of the Acts to respond to new developments in youth culture, such as the internet, cellphones, and the social media.  Now, the act of posting a few words on the internet that makes vague references to discussions/negotiations of sexual transaction, whether or not the message has been read by anyone at all, constitutes a criminal act, irrespective of the age of the person(s) involved, and if charged, penalty could be as high as 5 year imprisonment plus US$30,000 dollars in fine[4].  (Involuntary manslaughter carries but a two-year sentence in Taiwan.)  Imagine the consequence of such legislation for unsuspecting netizens (male or female, gay or straight, adult or children) who thought the anonymity of the internet offered up unlimited opportunities for sexual exploration and contact, but only later found out the hard way, that their mere messages of sexual interest constitute a violation of the law.  Statistics from the Ministry of Justice shows, between 2000 and 2008, more than 20,000 such cases were sent through the court process, all understandably burdened with huge sexual shame and stigma as well as bewilderment for the individual charged.  Still, advocacy groups continue to push for more amendments and now the hands of the law have been rightfully extended into every individual’s own personal hard disc drive or cloud space.

Newly amended clauses in other Acts prove to be equally inimical to things sexual.  Urged into place by women’s groups in 1999, the substitution of the term “rape” by “sexual assault” in the Penal Code also included a significant broadening of the latter’s definition that greatly enhanced the severity of legal consequences for a wide variety of sexual contacts or acts, effectively obscuring their difference in degrees of harm by subsuming all such contacts and acts under “sexual assault.”  Contacts between sexual/reproductive organs and body parts involving anyone under the age of 14 are now grouped under “sexual assault” whether or not consent is present, despite the nature or form of contact, nor without consideration for the actual circumstances (even bodily contacts between innocent playmates are to be investigated).  Since 2001, private exchanges of verbal or visual sexual materials on the internet are indicted as dissemination of obscenities.  Since 2005, any speech, image, behavior in real or virtual space could be considered sexual harassment if someone located on the weaker end of any hierarchically-structured relation (such as a woman, a gay or lesbian or trans, a younger person, a lower rank person, etc.) complains about “feeling offended or uncomfortable.”  Organizing private sex parties, no matter how discreet, is treated as inducing sexual intercourse or obscene act for a gain, and punishable as pimping since 2012.  Students fighting in jest or fun during recess on campus is now relegated to “bullying” or “sexual harassment” and must be dealt with swiftly and harshly, possibly leading up to the expulsion of the student culprit.  Teachers are required to report such incidents immediately to the Ministry of Education so that gender experts could descend upon the campus and conduct a detailed and meticulous investigation; any hesitation on the teacher’s part will land him or her a fine of US$1,000 or other forms of chastisement.  All in all, use of legal institutional force is increasingly justified by the moral and sex panics surrounding rumored sex predators and hypothetical or potential situations of harm, discomfort, or threat said to be located on the internet or on school campuses, two spaces where regulation of social and sexual interaction is becoming increasingly acute.

In the final analysis, measures specified in these gender-oriented legal Acts amount to an all-encompassing de-sexing mission that aims to purify social space of all things sexual so as to create a so-called “safe” environment for the allegedly weak and vulnerable.  Subjective emotions of shame, embarrassment, and repugnance[5] are also mobilized to sensitize the public to feelings of offense and harm when encountering things sexual, followed by feelings of righteous indignation and the demand for a severe penalty.  All in all, the gender equality doctrine is constructing a re-gendered normativity through which traditional values of propriety and chastity (now expressed as a faithfulness that is equally required of both sexes) may be returning in full force though in a very different language and tone.  Courtship impulses among the young can be “respected” if the youngsters “respect themselves”; attempts at making language more gender-neutral and gender-sensitive turn out to be occasions for thinly-veiled censorship; so-called friendliness only ushers in sets of strict rules of conduct and regulations that govern all interpersonal exchange.  In the end, all forms of sexual contact, sexual information, and sexual activities can be subject to surveillance and possible prosecution in Taiwan if complaints are filed in the name of protecting/respecting women and children.  While the equality- and protection-oriented pathos has been described as a sign of progress for Taiwan, it has also resulted in an environment imminently more treacherous and hostile for the sexually active or non-normative, and significantly more disciplinary for all.

The expansion of gender-oriented but sex-biased punitive rationality has greatly exacerbated sexual stigma by relegating more and more sexual matters to the possibly criminal through new or amended legislation.  As gender equality develops into a core state policy that is further sanctified by international covenants, embodied in administrative measures, a new kind of political correctness emerges that carries real political teeth and moral power.  It is in these punitive and administrative aspects that gender governance functions also as global governance, where the local is efficiently and effectively aligned with and hence subsumed under the global.

Gender as Global Governance 性别作为全球治理

The success of this developing legal framework is not without “outside help.”  Following upon the release of United Nations 1995 document, Our Neighborhood: Report of the Commission on Global Governance, local NGOs have become indispensable partners of the United Nations in policy-making as well as in the execution of policies in the post-Cold-War global order.  Participation in UN projects in turn adds to the political weight of NGOs that now find themselves actively involved in local politics, global negotiations, and international politics, capable of formulating rules of conduct even for nation-states.  The resulting and evolving system of interlocking unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral bodies of rules and documents gradually assumes the role of global principles and values, forging sometimes progressive, other times repressive, campaigns and measures.

Notably, the majority of women now involved in advancing gender mainstreaming or in overseeing that the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW,〈消除对妇女一切形式歧视公约〉) is implemented in Taiwan are hardly self-proclaimed feminists or social activists, but mostly women technocrats, academics, NGO organizers, and other elite women—referred to as a whole by the government as “gender experts,”(性平专家)—who are piggybacking on UN resolutions and protocols of gender equality to further their own professional standing or to make their entry into the government structure and resource-sharing circle.  Regrettably, the policies, programs, rules and regulations that are produced to implement gender equality are more bureaucratic than feminist and work to mitigate, instead of strengthening, local autonomy.

To begin with, the Enforcement Act for gender equality decrees that all terms and conditions specified in the UN Convention have the same effect as domestic laws.  CEDAW’s provisions and general recommendations are hence legally enforceable in Taiwan without exception.  Shifting focus from actual cases of litigation/adjudication(诉讼/裁决) to more general but proactive strategies of legislation/implementation (立法/推行), gender experts have been busy working to bring local and national legislations into alignment with international models of governance under the cause of mainstreaming and prioritizing “gender.”  That is to say, international protocols of gender equality, now viewed as national policy, dictate how gender equality is conceived, implemented, and assessed locally but all according to imported and imposed standards and procedures, to the exclusion of complicated local constituency-based issues and needs.  The last time a similar form of domination by foreign powers had led to the Chinese revolution of 1949, yet this current arrangement aroused no such nationalist fervor or resistance.  Taiwan’s own history of Cold War alliance with and dependency on the US and yet-to-be-decided nation-state status predisposed it to eagerly look up to the West, diligently performing global standards of civility, hoping to be hence considered for inclusion in the international community.  Consequently, the importation and imposition are delivered with such an air of ferocious righteousness and political correctness that they often forcefully override local realities and practices, creating discord at many sites of implementation, for example, in the government and on school campuses where existing structures of regimentation are well in place.  Such discords are of course interpreted by the gender experts as either expressions of lingering chauvinism or simply bureaucratic indolence, which called for more pressure and more monitoring, hence creating more discord, and so on and so forth.

In the personal realm, individual behavior and interpersonal interaction in daily life are also increasingly codified and framed in terms of newly instituted gender-sensitive propriety norms (符合性别考量的行为规范), and enforced with such a degree of political correctness that challenges or contentions are often effectively silenced.  Elaborate and proactive sexual harassment prevention programs in corporate and educational settings are now in place to act as the newest form of social discipline that entails not only preemptive reporting (主动通报) but also administrative accountability(行政责任).  In a society such as Taiwan where the etiquette of erotic and affective negotiations have not reached much consensus, where personal feelings of body boundaries are yet to be explored and navigated, and where individual experience and power of consent are yet to be practiced and exercised, the new legislations tend to only incite (诱发) more anxious tension and jealous suspicion in interpersonal communication, consequently leading to numerous cases of misunderstanding, false accusation, and vengeful allegation.  Still, as a locus of national/international performance, gender equality and its trajectory of development resolutely assumes a state-centered, top-down, sovereigntist, moralizing approach through which progressive values such as gender equality or gay-friendliness, acquire a new force that is, as described in the Facebook posting of a local queer author, “nice, polite, caring, euphemistic, but sternly non-negotiable,” to the extent that civil behavior that abides by gender norms is now compulsory, to be performed with non-reciprocal compliance.

Internally, this newly invigorated global gender norm is implemented with an unrelenting firmness grounded in a restructuring of Taiwanese government’s various departments and agencies to achieve “system-wide coherence” regarding gender equality measures.  This is “administrative rationality” at its highest level of performance, and reveals what good governance is really about: that is, increased bureaucratization.  The law demands that intra-governmental committees and assessment systems be organized on all levels of the government to ensure gender equality is at the core of all laws, acts, regulations, and resource allocation, while policy tools and techniques are created to integrate the gender variable in all policies.  Gender equality objectives and policies are prioritized among competing objectives, and accountability for outcomes is monitored constantly, as all agencies are demanded to regularly produce gender-based statistics and analyses to assess the execution of gender equality measures.  (Ironically, simple biological sex, the division between men and women, still constitutes the core of gender thinking and hence the basis of all calculation.)  To ensure cohesion in action, gender experts convene frequently to address possible fragmentation of policy and execution, by demanding stronger coherence and coordination on all levels.  Different branches of the government are hence effectively subsumed under the supervision and monitoring of gender equality committees.  The only ones not held accountable are the gender experts and NGO delegates who perform such supervision.

Requirements of accountability not only prescribe but also circumscribe necessary action.  Legislation of new punitive laws and amendments to existing ones are now accompanied by intensive, meticulous enforcement rules that regulate the actions of all offices and agencies involved, down to the smallest detail, and written with such density that demonstrates the female virtue of thoroughness in conception and organization, to the dismay of those who have to live by them.  Here is a good example, in order to comply with the newly erected CEDAW Enforcement Act, in the past three years, all government bodies are required to review their regulations and administrative measures and revise those that do not conform to CEDAW principles.  One can imagine the busy work that went into reviewing a total of 33,157 regulations and administrative measures, of which 226 were found to be non-compliant with CEDAW principles.  Amendments are quickly carried out and after that, the government is required to engage professionals, scholars, and representatives from NGOs to prepare national reports for the UN every four years on achievements made in eliminating all forms of discrimination against women, and to adjust its policies based on the outcome of reviews of this report.  This is how global consistency in gender governance is achieved and maintained, at the price of giving up autonomy and sovereignty.

Vulnerability and Its Unintended Consequences 脆弱及其未料想到的后果

Significantly, such consistency is sustained not only through the gender-equality-oriented legal regime, but more profoundly through consolidating and spreading the pathos of “vulnerability” throughout popular discourse.

Affectively-charged, the concept of vulnerability describes social division and its hierarchical implications by pointing to the fragility of certain populations deemed as suffering from their structural positionality in a society (结构上命定弱势).  However, in this age of mass media and social media, the narrative and depiction of vulnerability often end up inciting social/sexual outrage through portraying helpless and vulnerable women and children caught and fallen prey to depraved men occupying relatively more powerful positions.  The melodramatic narrative of absolute vulnerability effectively forecloses any possibility of close examination, not to mention discussion and deliberation, of what happened and the intricate motives of all parties making claims to the truth of what happened.  Instead of trying to understand the facts behind facts, that is, instead of trying to understand the complications and multiple realities of the human world, the internet public sees truth as an already decided legal verdict, guilty or not guilty, clearly demarcated as black and white.  Anyone who raises a shred of doubt or asks for more facts or details stands to be condemned as causing secondary trauma to the victim and must be treated as an accomplice of the culprit.  In the end, the concept may aim at highlighting deeply-entrenched injustices in hope of eradicating such inequality through law, yet the easy but autocratic arbitration of fault in gender/sexuality cases only serves to deepen existing stereotypes.

While the use of the term ‘vulnerability’ introduces a whole new way of viewing subjects and the effect of their positionality in the social structure, the term is also shifting our frame of reference and outlook in a way that lends itself to producing other impacts on our life world as a whole:

For one thing, this structural analysis of vulnerability tends to be thoroughly immersed in reckoning and retribution, and in protecting the victim to the extreme, that it often intervenes in the law’s proper course and conventional judgment.  A highly-charged witch-craze extends itself from the culprit to any judge that insists on sticking by the law and its processes, and overlooking popular verdict demands that clearly defy common legal interest.  With successive cases of grievance, the crowd’s unresolved frustration and anxiety are compounded and continuously build toward uncontrollable explosions of righteous indignation.  In this kind of energy build-up, preventive or proactive measures that aim to make up for vulnerability often run the risk of over-extension or crass application in the hands of eager zealots.  In recent years, these populist actions have grown strong and frequent.

For another thing, vulnerability discourse can easily weaponize various social differences by asserting, with moral outrage, the absolute undesirability and hence outright dismissal of all hierarchical structures as oppressive and victimizing, undemocratic and backward.  In recent years, the work place, the home, and the campus, three sites where hierarchical relationships are quite naturalized in their daily operations, have witnessed a wave of admonishing directives that work to intimidate the bosses’, the parents’, and the teachers’ authority and their demands for standards of performance.  All disciplinary measures, ranging from corporeal punishment to verbal reproach are either nullified or challenged.  A new flat world in social relations and performance evaluations is imagined, to be regulated only by the rights discourse of high individualism.

I don’t have time today to go into details about these developments and their consequences for social cohesion, but it’s obvious that in our day and age of growing civility yet precarity, the idea of vulnerability in relation to gender/sex triggers something in many if not all of us, to the extent that many feel a much stronger sense of righteous indignation toward gender/sex injustices than before.  But why do these explosions of energy and emotions tend to concentrate on gender/sexuality related cases and issues while many other social injustices usually meet with cold indifference?

My two-cent’s worth of an answer is: a gender/sex reorientation has already taken place in social life, in the legal domain, as well as in international politics, manifesting itself not only in the emerging structure of gender governance that I have just described, and not only in the global presence and strength of CEDAW and its demands, but also in the growing global currency, and just as often, tension, surrounding a host of progressive values exemplified and promoted by the UN as well as the so-called advanced countries.  Such values include respect, equality, diversity, friendliness, etc., and they are said to concretely describe a world where formal gender equality is heralded as a must-achieve goal for backward nations, women and children are to be vigilantly guarded because they are weak and vulnerable, coupled relationships must practice egalitarianism, and gay marriage right is a symbol of envied freedom and equality.  While those who embrace such values celebrate this proud progressiveness, previously acquiescent conservative crowds are also becoming outspoken and militant in contending what is perceived as Western influence or worrisome individualistic tendencies.  This deeply-entrenched and growing dividedness is already spreading in various societies and cultures.

If this gender/sex transformation has already produced a lot more than expected or desired, then how should we conceive of gender/sex studies in our own Chinese knowledge-production?  If most gender/sex-related concepts and theories are Western constructs with their respective socio-history and theoretical systems that so many of us are drenched in, then how should we re-conceive our mission to do research on gender/sex issues with at least a post-colonial/decolonializing vision?

I don’t have ready answers for these important questions and reminders; after all, this is a project that would need the work of a few generations before real results will mature.  But some of us have begun to reevaluate what had been left behind in our eager pursuit of modernity.  Some have turned to our age-old traditional cultures to try to excavate intellectual resources that maybe for historical reasons could provide usable ideas outside the Western paradigms but closer to the Chinese life world.  If the advancement of Western modernity had made other cultural heritages unappetizing and Western values and practices enviable so far, the table is now turning as, for example, China and India, two of the oldest cultures, regain their power of influence and hence a sense of confidence through the new globalizing economy.  Consequently, interest has again been ignited to study ancient—long before Western modernity made its presence felt in this world—ancient cultures and knowledges that had held out a complex and diverse wealth of gender/sexualities and other cultural possibilities.  But this time, not as underdeveloped immature hopefuls that serve only to make Western achievements appear all the more desirable, but, instead, as self-sufficient cultures and subjects in their own right and in all their brilliant exuberance.

As ideas and traditions are being excavated from local cultures, there is also the necessary work of rethinking the universalizing gender/sex discourses of Western civilized modernity in the context of a much larger framework of history, society, and culture.  Instead of the usual (a-historically-conceived) human rights claims phrased in individualistic terms, work needs to be done to examine the basic premises of politically correct ideas employed by gender/sexuality politics, and look into the historical social conditions that made them desirable and workable and universal in the first place.  Attention should also be paid to what emerging conditions and situations worked to expose their limitations and consequences.  The work of historicizing, contextualizing, and relativizing must pick up speed.

In the meantime, a host of other cultures and societies are finally becoming accessible new sources of knowledge as global mappings are reconfigured today.  For example, interest in the Islam world, Central Asia, the African continent, and their diverse cultures is growing and accumulating with the encouragement of the Belt and Road project.  To continue to think that some countries are, to quote someone bluntly, “shit-holes,” their cultures are uncivilized, their people are unenlightened, and their societies are backward, only manifests an unproductive and dangerous attitude.  In this upcoming long process of learning about the human world in all its historical phases and social complexities, we can only be humble and take in as much knowledge and understanding as possible to avoid passing categorical critique or judgment on all cultural resources at hand, progressive or conservative, traditional or modern.   It is time to cooperate and learn, not divide and judge.

Thank you.

 

[1] Barbara Cruikshank, The Will to Empower: Democratic Citizens and Other Subjects (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1999), 2.

[2] Jürgen Habermas, Life World and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason, vol. 2 of The Theory of Communicative Action (Boston: Beacon, 1987), 357-73.

[3] Paul Rabinow, ed., The Foucault Reader (New York: Pantheon, 1984): 337.

[4] The legislation had been put into place by opportunistic legislators who would not dare oppose the harsh but seemingly righteous demand of the women’s NGOs.  Judges, on the other hand, have abided by their professional code of proportionality and issued sentences of not more than six months even in obvious cases of violation.

[5] Norbert Elias’ work has traced how daily life in post-medieval Europe was gradually transformed by advancing thresholds of shame and repugnance as individual psychic structures were molded by changing social structures.  Recent developments in the affectively-charged constitution of citizenship in aspiring democracies are reflecting another stage of the civilizing process that works hand in hand with the governance project that is underway.  See Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations, trans. by Edmund Jephcott, revised edition, edited by Eric Dunning, Johyan Goudsblom and Stephen Mennell (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994, 2000).

 

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