Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Obligatory Post Election Blog Post: Part 2--I think I've Become Very Out of Touch

Subtitle: My Strange Life in Expatriate Land

Actually, let me quote myself, because it still holds true.

Before I start this story, there's an oddity about the ex-patriot community here I should explain. Namely there are no conservatives here. None. There are none in Oita, none in Gifu, none in Sapporo. In my 3 years plus here in Japan, I've only meet one conservative I can think of. 
Some of you may be thinking, "That's just Joel's liberal bias", or "He's just hanging out with the wrong people". But I assure you it is not I alone who have made this observation. Several other American expatriates have observed to me, "There's so many Bush supporters back home, how come we never run into any of them here in Japan?" Even Japanese friends have occasionally commented, "The news reports say Bush is very popular, but how come every American I meet hates him so much?" 
Now as to why this is I can't really say. The expatriate community, or at least the English teaching expatriate community, is almost entirely composed of people in their 20s, and as an age demographic that is obviously pre-dominantly liberal. Also in order to get into many of the English teacher programs a university degree is required, and statistically people with higher education degrees tend to be proportionately more liberal than the population as a whole. 
But of course there are plenty of college educated young conservatives, and indeed I knew many of them at Calvin College. Why do none of them seem to end up in Japan? 
It is a question we Americans here in Japan have often pondered among ourselves. The usually answer is that conservatives are very small minded and so don't tend to want to travel outside of their own country. Or, as a corollary, any one who does a lot of travelling can not help but become more liberal as they are exposed to different view points outside of the American media. 
I imagine this is an answer which would infuriate many of my conservative friends back home, but in the absence of any conservatives to refute it over here, it has become a sort of conventional wisdom. 
At the time, one of my old Calvin friends Chris Baker, who was living in Hong Kong at the time, chimed in on the comments section to say something to the effect of "This is so true!"  Chris Baker offered an additional explanation that I hadn't considered--namely that the Americans make up a very small percentage of the expatriate community.  The rest of the expats are Canadian, English, Scottish, Irish, Australian, New Zealanders, South Africans, Indians, various Europeans, et cetera.  And by and large, the American Republican Party has very little support outside of America's boarders, so all these other nationalities tend to look on the Republican ideology with a lot of scorn and derision.  So Chris Baker theorized that this was causing conservative Christian Americans to just be quiet and outwardly conform.
...He may be on to something.  Although I've yet to meet any closeted Christian conservatives.  In my experience all the American expats are genuine liberals.  But anyway...

Back in 2004 I was writing about my experiences in Japan.  But it's also held true in the other countries I've lived in since.  It was true in Cambodia (as I noted here), and it is true in Vietnam.

It is also, by the way, a phenomenon which the locals pick up on, and which confuses them.
When I lived in Japan during the Bush years, Japanese friends would say something like, "It's funny.  I haven't met a single American person who likes Bush.  And yet he keeps getting elected.  Why is that?"

I've been getting the same question this year from confused Vietnamese friends, who have the same question regarding Trump.  "None of my American friends like Trump," they will tell me.  "So how can he be getting so popular in America?"

All of this is to say: I have grown completely out of touch with conservative Christians.

When I wrote that original post back in 2004, I had only been abroad for 3 years, and it was still a novelty to live in a place that wasn't dominated by conservative Christian rhetoric.  Now I've been living abroad for almost 15 years, and I tend to forget that this conservative Christian ideology exists at all.

...Until I see something posted on Facebook by a former high school classmate, and then I think, "Oh yeah, there are people out there who still believe this."  And I spend some time contemplating how deep the gulf is between their thinking, and my thinking, and how we both started out in the same place, but ended up so different.

During this past election season, some of my former high school classmates became Trump supporters.  They posted stuff on Facebook and on their blogs.   Some of them were even intelligent people--one of them had been our valedictorian back at Ada Christian middle school. And I looked at it, and I thought they had lost their minds. And I began trying to contemplate how smart people could have come to this point, and I started forming theories about human rationality and irrationality, and all that stuff.

And then the election came, and it turned out that these former high school classmates of mine hadn't lost their minds after all--it turned out that they were now representing the mainstream of American political opinion, and I had just become so out of touch with things that I thought they were crazy.

No comments: