Showing posts with label conservatism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conservatism. Show all posts

Friday, December 7, 2018

Getting over electoral heartbreak


This post is coming late, because I took a short blogging break following my two post-election posts. The reason, dear readers, is that I was just so utterly heartbroken: every time I tried to sit down and write about 11/24, I'd get that sinking feeling in my chest and have to fight back tears. I just couldn't do it, so I gave myself permission to disengage for a bit.

It didn't help that immediately after my paper (for grad school) was due, which was immediately before the election, I got sick. I spent most of the week post 11/24 hopped up on decongestants and mucolytics. It wasn't pretty. Not even Sudafed could cut through the snot.

I can't say I'm entirely back. My heart still weeps, and I'm about to return to the US for the holidays (which I am genuinely excited about). So, the next few posts will probably be lighter "lifestyle" posts. Merry effin' Christmas.

Anyway. Before we get into hairstyles, British curry house curry and trips to the mountains, I do have some thoughts on marriage equality and political parties in Taiwan. Will populate with links later when I have more time. Taiwan Sentinel, Frozen Garlic, Taiwan Insight, The News Lens and New Bloom all deserve some linkbacks, and they will get them.

Looking at analysis of the election results, obviously I agree with the experts that Taiwanese voters rejected wonky 'policy' candidates (who were unexciting, establishment types that were heavy on experience and competence, but light on vision) in favor of "it's the economy, stupid!" talking-points-focused ones. I had hoped that this wave of electing sweet-talking, visionary-sounding, "let's try something new" populist candidates with authoritarian tendencies would be a global trend that Taiwan would have been wise to reject. Sadly, I was proven wrong. It's cold comfort to be reminded that Taiwanese voters are just like voters anywhere: no dumber, but also no smarter. They fell for it too. Damn. Time to stop pretending Taiwan is this wonderful, magical place where democracy works better. It's not.

But what this shows me is not that Taiwanese voters are "more conservative" than was previously thought (although they are not that liberal by global standards, they are still quite liberal by Asian standards), but that at least as of 2018, they're more willing to put their trust in a candidate that presents a powerful and cohesive vision, no matter how heavy that vision is on insane promises, or how light it is on actual policy details. It makes sense: when things are looking good and people feel secure, they'll vote for the wonky nerd candidate. When things are scary, they look for more of a leader. If that leader seems like "one of us", all the better. Who do you think most people want to lead them through the apocalypse: Professor McNerdington, or straight-talkin' Big Uncle Dirk?

(I want Professor McNerdington, personally - hell, I married Professor McNerdington - but I have to admit that most people seem to want Big Uncle Dirk. Nevermind that Big Uncle Dirk is a dumbass proto-fascist who can't even answer questions properly.)

This isn't to say that Taiwanese voters are dumb or ignorant for electing Big Uncle Dirk. They're anxious. It's not the same thing. They're no dumber or smarter than any other voters, and frankly although I don't agree with their choices this time, I kind of get it. 

The key, however, is that when it comes to voting for these types of candidates, it isn't necessary to agree completely with their platform. Do you think that most Kaohsiung voters agreed with their city government recognizing the 1992 Consensus despite national policy? Hell no! When your lizard brain is scared and wants to vote for the person with the most visionary talking points, it's fairly easy to justify the things you don't like with "well, I don't agree with everything he says, but we need to rejuvenate the economy and Big Uncle Dirk will do that! Professor McNerdington doesn't care about average folks like me!"

This matters! It means that embracing marriage equality was not - not not not not not - the reason why the DPP lost. Had they run better, more visionary campaigns that played to their and their candidates' achievements and strengths, conservative DPP voters would have shrugged their shoulders and thought "well, maybe I don't like it when dudes kiss, but this person is the better candidate". They don't have to agree with everything you say, they just have to buy into your overall vision. Super deep greens, no matter how conservative, are not going to vote for the KMT. And playing to conservatives who aren't committed to the DPP - some of whom would never vote DPP, including all those members of deep-blue anti-gay churches - was never a winning strategy. What they needed was a vision strong enough to allow voters predisposed to choose them to shrug their shoulders at marriage equality (which most Taiwanese seem to do, with the majority not expressing a strong opinion for or against) but vote for the overall idea of Taiwan's (or Kaohsiung's, or Taichung's) future.

Even better, if they'd enshrined marriage equality in the civil code back when the Council of Grand Justices issued their ruling, it would have been normalized by now, and they wouldn't have felt the need to present the conflicting message of a new, internationalized, outward-looking Taiwan, but...oh no, we're not sure what to do about the gays, um, uh...maybe we for us!

Then the deep-green conservatives and DPP Christians would have shrugged, figured the civil code change was a done deal, and voted for them anyway. They could have even spun it as "look at all the international publicity Taiwan is getting for this! Look at how we've differentiated ourselves from China! Taiwan stands for human rights, and that means equal rights for all!" The progressives would have had more faith in the DPP in that case, and turned out for them, too. That this was allowed to become the issue it did shows not how badly the DPP misunderstood conservative voters, but how badly the DPP got played. It became a problem because they let it become one.

And I do believe that marriage equality having been a done deal, or a part of a stronger overall vision, would have allowed the progressive column of DPP supporters to make up for whatever conservative votes they lost. But I doubt they would have lost as many as some believe, for two reasons: first, the NPP came pretty close to achieving its electoral goals (the News Lens calls their gains "modest", but many didn't even think they'd win what they did. I call it a victory). That shows that voters both want fresh faces and will vote for a cohesive platform, whether it's a liberal or conservative one. Dark blue Da'an voted for two openly gay Third Force city councilors. I realize that Da'an, heart of wealthy 天龍 Taipei, can't speak for all of Taiwan, but it does tell me that the marriage equality "issue" did not have to be the issue it was. Second, aside from the fact that the only reason the anti-gay referendums passed was because the benchmark for passing is far too low (and therefore it is not actually a particularly strong indicator of sustained public consensus), the only way the anti-gay groups were able to get their referendums passed was to change their language from "homsexuality is evil and brings disease!" to "let's have a separate law to protect 'their rights and interests'!"

That the left managed to push the issue that far shows not only that Asia is not a monolithically conservative place, but also that (and I'm quoting a friend here), the values being discussed are not "Asian values". That implies they are static and somehow inextricably tied to being "Asian" - that to change them means to change what it means to be "Asian". This is not true: these values are traditional. Values do change, in all societies. If you don't believe me, consider that 100 years ago in Taiwan, marriages were arranged and often involved actual sales ("I'll sell you my daughter as a maid and when she's 15 she can marry your son!") or multiple wives/concubines. That doesn't happen anymore. Cultures change. 100 years ago, many Western societies were not that different from Asian ones. My great aunt had an arranged the United States. My great-grandfather asked to marry my great-grandmother when she was, like, 10 (in a stunning show of liberalism for the time and place - around 1900 in southern Turkey - my great-great grandfather told him that she'd have to agree to the match, which she eventually did.)

We can and are changing the script on marriage equality in Taiwan and the DPP needed to take control of that narrative, and maybe wrap up the pill in some bacon so the conservatives would swallow it. They didn't. They backed away from it in trying to please conservatives and thereby let the other side control the narrative. That freaked out both conservatives and liberals. None of it was necessary.

Further to that point, for once I agree with Shelley Rigger (I've disagreed with her in the past): this election wasn't a referendum on the DPP's cross-strait policies, which I think most Taiwanese actually support. What the voters want is to stand our ground on China without instigating anything, but also to rejuvenate what is seen as a stagnant economy (I don't know how stagnant it actually is, but wages sure aren't doing well.) That's a difficult story to spin, as in many cases voters want conflicting things. We can't have warmer relations with China and stand our ground. China makes that impossible.

On that note, the fact that voters want conflicting things - nuclear-free with reduced pollution, for example - is a key reason why referendums are a bad idea. 
But the KMT somehow convinced voters in this election cycle that they could do it, so the DPP could have, as well.

And frankly, that's just it. The DPP - to quote a friend - needed to step up and take control of the story. To render marriage equality a non-issue. To advertise their achievements better (to put a better spin on pension reform, remind the working class of the gains in minimum wage, remind their core supporters of the ill-gotten assets committee and their no-confrontation-no-backing-down stance on China, their inroads into renewable energy vis-a-vis the KMT's complacency in that area) and have strong talking points on the economy, and to campaign on their candidates' strengths. To do less talking about their policy positions and more talking to the people: Tsai recently said she was going to talk to the youth about their disappointment with the DPP (will post the link once I find it). I have to ask: why didn't she do that before the election? People are saying rural Kaohsiungers are sick of feeling as though the DPP ignores them. Why didn't the party address that earlier?

Instead, they let the KMT and their anti-gay buddies control the narrative. They let Kaohsiungers be convinced that Kaohsiung - which is a much better city to live in than it was before the DPP ran it for so long - is horrible. It's not. Or that marriage equality is some sort of horrible assault on Taiwanese values (or that traditional values shouldn't change). It isn't, and they should. Or that pollution in Taichung is entirely the DPP's fault. It's not. Or that the need to shore up denuclearization with fossil fuels is the DPP's fault. Again, it's not. Or that it is acceptable to recognize the 1992 Consensus if it "rejuvenates the economy". It isn't.

Now we live in a Taiwan that is being called "post-Sunflower". In some cases yes - I am sure some activists think that everything they've tried to do has come to nothing - but this assumes that "voting for the DPP" is the same as "supporting the ideals of the Sunflowers". This is not the case, and never was. The Sunflowers were not a DPP-affiliated movement - the DPP has always been quite a bit more conservative - and while the DPP was able to coast in on their vision for awhile, I doubt they would have been able to maintain it even in the mildest of adversity. In fact, the increasing power of independent/unaffiliated voters and candidates is very much a legacy of the Sunflowers. The electoral success of the NPP is, too. The KMT was able to co-opt the Sunflower 'we need a change' image much to the actual Sunflowers' chagrin, but I doubt they'll be able to sustain it, either. 

I know it's hard to have that kind of vision - to control that story - when you are in power and therefore all problems can be pointed to as your fault by the opposition (nevermind that the opposition, in this case, created many of those problems). I know it's difficult to market achievements when voters seem to want instant results and are more likely to vote for Big Uncle Dirk if he promises them the world, even if he's light on substance.

But it is possible, and progressive forces in Taiwan (not just the DPP) have to do it, because we've already just taken one big step backward. We can't afford to take another: China is ramping up its threat, at least rhetorically. LGBT Taiwanese are committing suicide as a result of their perceived rejection by society. This is urgent. We can fight to counteract the surge in so-called 'conservatism', but will we?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Carry On, My Wayward Sun

Took me awhile to realize this: the choice of a light sea green for many pieces of pro-Taiwan merchandise wasn't made for merely aesthetic reasons. It was chosen because the color is associated with the old window and door frames as well as Datong electric fans that were once common in Taiwan and can still be seen occasionally today. The color has a deeper association with Taiwan than many people realize. 

The other day, I walked to the nearby general store to replace my dying external battery. I didn't know external batteries could just stop working like that - turns out, much like American democracy, they can. Many of the choices were already decorated, but I noticed the only ones with Taiwan-themed covers were slathered in the Republic of China flag. This of course means they all prominently featured the KMT 'white sun on a blue field'. Many also had "I love Taiwan!" or "Taiwan" printed on them.

There was no option to buy a Taiwan-themed battery that had any other design on it. It was the ROC flag or nothing. I bought a plain battery.

As I thought more about this, it didn't bug me that as a consumer, I couldn't get a pro-Taiwan design that I liked, or made sense to me, or was even pro-Taiwan to begin with (there is nothing pro-Taiwan about the KMT's history, and nothing pro-Taiwan about allowing one party's symbol to dominate the national flag of a country whose official name doesn't even contain the word 'Taiwan'.) It bugged me that the ROC flag, in many instances, is still the default symbol of Taiwanese identity.

When we complain that Taiwan can't even show its national flag at certain events, we are not complaining about the "Taiwanese" flag. That doesn't officially exist, although concepts abound. We are complaining about not being able to wave the Republic of China flag, which I have already written about. When a pop star is abused by Chinese trolls for waving her country's flag, they're not mad about a Taiwanese flag, they're mad about a Chinese flag that they don't like.

The problem here is that when waving the ROC flag is the default show of support, it pushes the idea of waving any other, more pro-Taiwan flag (really any one of the designs will do) into the realm of what some would call "extremism". When it's "sensitive", causes a kerfuffle or is an open act of protest to wave that sun - although still within the bounds of moderate discourse - you suddenly become a crazy extremist nutbag for saying "hey that flag actually sucks", and are left to choose from an array of not-quite-national-symbol designs, which further cement your status as a nutbag. In this worldview, nutbags reject officially approved symbols of "protest" - the ROC flag - and design their own (more extreme) symbols instead.

When the international media writes about people like Chou Tzuyu getting in trouble for waving the ROC flag, imagine what they'd write if she'd been abused for waving a flag that was actually Taiwanese.

This annoys me to the point that I can't even make a good meme about it without feeling all sorts of angst over my choices. Do I go with what's clear to international audiences, or do I get rid of that damn glaring sun the way I want to?


Further to that, when international discourse mainly recognizes two narratives - the CCP one and the KMT one, as evidenced by the dueling flags - to say both of them are riddled with problems becomes an 'extreme' position. Perhaps not in Taiwan so much anymore, but certainly on an international scale. At Exeter last year, I felt that arguing a pro-Taiwan position as 'not a part of China' was taking something of a controversial stance, without even getting into the ROC compared to Taiwan. Going further and arguing that not only was Taiwan not a part of China, it was not in fact Chinese (that is, that not even the ROC was legitimate) felt like arguing an extreme view.

Like, oh, you support the ROC? Hold up there bucko, that's a sensitive issue! Okay, but just remember, it's a sensitive and complex situation...

...wait, what? You support the Republic of Taiwan? You don't even think Taiwan is fundamentally Chinese? You don't even want to wave the ROC flag - that's not enough for you? That doesn't fit in with the framework I've adopted, which was written for me by the CCP, the KMT and media reporting on the issue! Therefore it must be extreme! 

This is especially troubling, as being pro-ROC at least in the US is (usually) a conservative stance. Being sympathetic to China is generally a liberal one. Moving beyond the ROC to support Taiwan, then, must be an extreme conservative view - even though in Taiwan it is very much a view espoused by most (though not all) of the left. Not even the extreme left. These days, just the normal, albeit young, left.

Nevermind of course that these days being pro-ROC is at least being nominally pro-democracy if you don't really understand the history of the ROC, and being sympathetic to China is being pro-dictatorship, when in the West the right-wingers are the ones who have a more authoritarian bent. The left assuages its guilt for being sympathetic to a brutal dictatorship by reassuring itself that "well they do things differently in other countries and we have to respect that, so we can't hold it against them or criticize them for not giving their people the basic human rights we demand for ourselves. Democracy is great for us but they don't need or want it because they're...Asian or something."

This bothers me because arguing a pro-Taiwan stance is not an extreme position. It's actually quite moderate. It's reasonable.

It's the position that reflects a desire to recognize what is already true.

It is a stance that recognizes the full breadth of Taiwanese history, simply from having read it. It is the stance that respects the will of 23.5 million people who are already self-governing in a liberal democratic system. It is the stance that understands the nature of the ROC's coming to Taiwan, their past crimes here, and how the label of being "Chinese" has been externally imposed rather than organically grown. It is the stance that understands how little support the last, wheezing scions of the old ROC order have as they face the short march to their inevitable sunset. It is the stance that is pro-democracy and understands that the ROC is a formerly authoritarian government which is only now democratic because the people of Taiwan insisted on it. It is the stance of someone who actually believes in liberal democratic values and is willing to apply that to global situations. It is the stance of understanding that doing so is not cultural imperialism when the people you are applying it to agree with you.

In a post-Sunflower world, it is the stance that reflects reality.

I don't even think it's terribly extreme to say that Dead Dictator Memorial Hall should go. Certainly the grounds are pretty and we can preserve them (without the dead dictator), but it's not insane to want to burn the whole thing to the ground. After all, it rhapsodizes the murderous rule of a horrible foreign dictator, turning him into a personality cult icon. Why shouldn't it go? How does this not make sense?

"Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man,
it surely means that I don't know"

In fact, I'd say being sympathetic to China is the extreme position, being pro-ROC is only slightly less extreme, and being pro-Taiwan is the normal choice. I can't even begin to assign 'right' or 'left' labels to this, though, because the original framework has been so skewed that it doesn't make sense in this dimension. It doesn't fit in with our laws of nature.

And yet the rest of the world only knows Taiwan's story through the media they consume. The vast majority have never been here and never will. The media reports the CCP and KMT narratives, and when they bother to include pro-Taiwan narratives, marginalize them so much that they're easily dismissed as the ramblings of a group of crazy ethno-nationalists who won't face the reality that Taiwan is fundamentally Chinese, or that it "shouldn't matter". Why "shouldn't it matter"? Because the left especially has grown so anti-nationalist/separatist that any attempt to assert sovereignty, even sovereignty a group already has, is seen as "extreme". The media isn't reflecting reality, it is helping to create reality. What scares me is I'm not even sure they realize it.

I'll leave you with this: when I was at Exeter, if the topic came up, I would argue a pro-Taiwan stance. I do not suffer the foolishness of the ROC. People listened, certainly they were too thoughtful to dismiss it out of hand. And yet more than once, a comment slipped out among my professors and cohort that made it clear that they still saw Taiwan as fundamentally Chinese (e.g. "Taiwan and the rest of China", or "we have a few Chinese students" when in fact we had only one, from Macau. The other identifies as Taiwanese.)

If that was their default, what did they make of my pro-Taiwan views?

Do they take for 'extreme' what I see as - what I know to be - merely normal?

In other words, get out of here, wayward sun.
There will be peace when you are done

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Marriage equality is coming - so why are people still upset?

This isn't a rhetorical question, nor is it meant to imply that those who are unhappy at the seemingly slow pace of the Tsai administration on making marriage equality a reality should not be. It's a sincere question, and worth diving into.

First, a backgrounder: on May 24th, Taiwan's judiciary ruled that, as the Constitution of the Republic of China guaranteed equality for all citizens, that this must include marriage for all citizens, and therefore marriage equality must be allowed in Taiwan. However, instead of this ruling taking immediate effect, the court gave the government 2 years to enact a law addressing this, or amend the civil code. If they do not, after the two years are up (so, May 24 2019) the civil code will simply be interpreted to include both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

The ruling was handed down six months ago, and so far the government has not taken action. A marriage equality bill was not included in legislation deemed a 'priority' by the Legislative Yuan in their current session, although newly-appointed Premier Watermelon William Lai has said that the a marriage equality bill will be filed by the end of the year and has vowed to "realize" same-sex marriage in Taiwan.

None of this should matter, in theory. The court has spoken and the legislators and Tsai could sit around with their thumbs up their butts and the result would be the same - if they don't act we get marriage equality anyway. In 18 months no less - not that long in the grand scheme of politics.

In fact, Frozen Garlic made the argument - and I largely agree - that the DPP is actually on our side when it comes to marriage equality (scroll down to find the relevant information in that link). They know that passing a civil code amendment is politically infeasible given that a large portion of their support are older southern pro-independence social conservative sore losers who know they've lost but don't want the civil code changed nonetheless. They also know that passing a law papering over the civil code won't please pro-equality activists who want to see a more fundamental change.

In fact, it's notable that the DPP legislators who are openly pro-marriage equality are almost entirely party list. Elected ones? Not so much.

So what is the DPP to do, considering these opposing forces and desire to stay in power? Nothing at all, perhaps, allowing the interpretation of the civil code to change while neither having to anger activists by passing an imperfect law, nor pissing off their more conservative supporters by proactively amending the code.

Thinking this way, you might even think they're on our side, and they might well be.

And yet, tensions are still running high and people are still unhappy with the government's lack of movement on the issue. Why? In less than 2 years they get what they want regardless.

There are a few reasons.

The first is that 18 months is a long time if the lack of equality affects you directly. People get sick and die in that time, and being married or not matters in terms of visitation, medical decisions and inheritances. or have life changes for which marriage matters to consider (for example, being offered a job abroad and wanting to bring their same-sex partner, but only being allowed to bring a spouse). I have one friend residing in Taiwan who recently married in the US, and is hoping to get his husband a marriage visa and residence permit. That is not possible until marriage equality is realized. That's quite a few visa runs at a not-insignificant expense. I have quite a bit of empathy for those whose lives are on hold despite the court ruling that Taiwan is a country that promises equality, because the government is not acting to implement the ruling. It sucks to be told "you have to wait for your basic human rights", even for just 18 months, and not even be sure at the end of that time what rights you will gain.

It stings even more to think that the reason why is because, if you are gay, some of your fellow countrymen do not fully support your equality, and the DPP is pandering to that. Their votes matter more than your humanity. It's politically pragmatic and therefore explicable - Tsai is their representative too, after all - and yet not necessarily forgivable if your life is directly affected by such political calculus. This is an idealistic take, and yet I have empathy. It's simply not persuasive to point out that this is what's happened: that's what loses progressive votes; it doesn't win them.

Another reason is simple worry over how "same-sex marriage" will shake out in reality. Note that I specifically did not say "marriage equality" here: if the government passes a law, LGBT Taiwanese are justifiably worried that the law will legalize same-sex marriage, but not necessarily grant equality. Same-sex marriage might well not be considered to include some of the benefits associated with opposite-sex marriage: the right to adopt and to fertility treatments/artificial insemination (currently not allowed for 'unmarried women', which same-sex female couples still technically are) are chief among these potential issues, but there are others.

However, similar questions will be raised if nothing is done by the 2-year deadline. If the civil code is simply interpreted to include same-sex marriage, how is that then interpreted in all specific details, including adoption, medical emergencies, inheritance, fertility treatment and other spousal rights?

This is understandably causing a lot of stress in the LGBT community, who can't be sure which option is better, as neither is ideal. Neither is an absolute guarantee not just of "same-sex marriage", but of full equality. There is worry that if social momentum pushing for marriage equality does not build again, that opponents will gain ground and full equality won't be realizable. These opponents are already going after legislators who support marriage equality as well as focusing on bogus, bigoted and frankly sexist "gender education" efforts in schools.

There is no clear solution here - if conservative blowback ensures that a proactive civil code amendment is not forthcoming, then there is nothing to do but stress out over which outcome might be worse.

There is also the sense that Tsai is, to put it bluntly, a coward or "people pleaser".

I don't necessarily agree with this, or rather, if she is a coward, this isn't the reason why (the nonsense regarding labor protections, however, is a different story).

I also don't see her as a people pleaser, given how many people she has actively displeased with her non-committal stance on marriage equality. She must be aware how many young progressives and LGBT Taiwanese are angry with her over what looks like more waffles than an Eggo factory. She and her party have likely concluded that it doesn't matter - it will happen anyway, the young progressives have no better alternative, and it's more important not to anger the southern conservatives.

However, I see the reasoning behind such vitriol.

If she is a coward on marriage equality, it's because the court ruling allowed her to be. She doesn't have to take a stand, because marriage equality will happen even if she takes none. This has given so many LGBT Taiwanese and other pro-equality activists a deeper sense of discomfort that she was given an escape hatch, a way out of having to make a tough decision, and so they doubt her.

If it really came to it, would she fight for us? If she had to? Or would she choose her more conservative voters over us, and over what's right?

We don't know, but given her muted response to LGBT activists between her inauguration and the May 24th ruling, I can't say with confidence that she would. Of course that makes those whose lives are affected by the wait for marriage equality nervous about her administration.

In fact, the lack of meaningful affirmative support for marriage equality - despite its being all but assured by the courts - is a part of the problem. Tsai (and the DPP) are not going to win the LGBT vote this way: "sure we sort of backed down on issues that affect you, but vote for us because the KMT is worse!" is simply not a winning message. Whether or not this is fair almost doesn't matter: it doesn't win votes. It's a stinker of a message, thoroughly unpersuasive.

Although the conservatives the DPP has to play to are perhaps more problematic than the moderates the Democrats tried to woo in 2016, they are making the same mistake: they're hoping a "sorry we didn't stand up for you more strongly but hey, the other guy is worse" message will win progressives in 2020. It didn't in the US in 2016 and it won't in Taiwan in 2020. Nor should it - the choice to play to your more conservative supporters may be politically calculated, but it does (and should) come with consequences.

Finally, I can imagine that many who threw their support behind her feel manipulated. Remember that during the campaign she came out as personally in favor of marriage equality, but never actually made that an official platform of the DPP or her campaign. That gave her the ability, technically, to then not push forward with it after her inauguration. After all, she never actually promised to.

However, she gave the strong impression that she not only wanted to, but would do so. To be let down on a technicality feels like manipulation to win young progressive votes, and to some extent it is. She must have known that we had faith in her and believed she would fight for us despite never making any concrete promises. Therefore, neither she nor any political observers can be surprised when we express disappointment at, if not "backtracking", her lack of responsiveness since taking office.

I do think Tsai is the best choice for 2020 (well, if she can quit throwing labor under the bus that is), and she is certainly better than another KMT princeling. If I could vote, I would vote for her. However, if I were gay, I am not so sure I could say that. I would feel too betrayed, too manipulated, too disappointed. If I were a gay Taiwanese voter, I am not sure there is a major party I could support at all.

In the end, I don't know what the way forward is. I want marriage equality to be realized in Taiwan before mid-2019. We can and should do better by those whose lives are directly affected by the current lack of rights. I want true equality, not simply same-sex marriage. I don't know how to best realize that, and perhaps the DPP's likely calculation is correct: allowing the civil code to simply be interpreted to allow same-sex couples to wed is the best way forward for all. Perhaps it will be easier to fight battles for full, true equality if we don't have to fight to amend an imperfect law, but rather for the civil code interpretation to include that equality.

Or perhaps it really would be too much of a mess to wait until 2019 and an imperfect law now is better than none at all. I don't know.

Perhaps we need better communication from the DPP - some assurance that they are, in fact, on our side and have decided that this is the best way to help us get what we want. I can understand how nervous LGBT people in Taiwan must be absent a strong affirmation of support from the ruling party.

This is not impossible: if they really do believe that waiting for the civil code interpretation to change is to the advantage of LGBT people in Taiwan, there is a good argument to be made there that could potentially help them retain the support of young progressives. Why aren't they making it? I want them to win in 2020, so I want them to communicate better.

They need a better message, a more persuasive one. I want them to create this message and it is frustrating that they are not doing so.

All I ask is that we continue to remember that, as we debate this issue from the safety of our relative privilege, that there are people whose real lives are affected by this, right now, across Taiwan.

We may not agree with their reasons for being upset, and we may not feel that way ourselves, but we need to remember that they are upset, and there is some justification for this. It may be hard to imagine that this is a stressful time for Taiwan's LGBT citizens and residents, given our recent victories. Yet it is. Remember that, despite marriage equality (or at least "same sex marriage") coming no matter what thanks to the courts, that LGBT people are waiting to see exactly how much "equality" the government will decide they get. Tempers are running high, but that's understandable. I'd be upset too.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ideological Bedfellows (Part 2): And all this time...

Reader, I googled myself.

from here

No, not like that.

Sometimes you just gotta make sure there's no random person who hates you so much they've dedicated a website to it or something. You never know. Turns out there is a guy, but it's not a whole website. That's not nearly dedicated enough and I am disappointed. Come on Internet, you can do better. 

Anyway, another thing I learned from this (oh yeah, besides the fact that I was totally in the Liberty Times in 2014 for my ancillary participation in the Sunflower Movement next to my friend holding a sign that says "CIVIL REVOLT" in Chinese and "FORCED TO REBEL" in English, which I also didn't know until very recently, so there's that) is that this editorial I wrote back in October actually got published in the Taipei Times, and I'd had no idea.

So please, enjoy. The gist of it is that the no-dual-citizenship rule for foreigners only (not Taiwanese) is an unfair double standard, if I can't naturalize and maintain my American citizenship due to family obligations I'll leave - though we won't go back to the US if we can at all avoid it - and all this talk about "attracting foreign talent" means nothing if this doesn't change, because the foreign talent doesn't really feel welcome or like they can put down roots here if they can't naturalize:

I would like to stay in Taiwan, likely forever. However, unless I can reasonably obtain citizenship it is not a viable option.
Under current laws, in order to become a citizen I must give up my original citizenship. This is unacceptable: I have aging family members in my country of origin whom I might have to return to care for indefinitely before eventually returning to Taiwan. The few months I would be able to stay as a Republic of China passport holder might not be enough. I would need work rights in my country of origin in order to support myself. In short, I must retain my citizenship.
Furthermore, it is not a restriction Taiwanese face when applying for dual nationality. They might have another passport, but under the law we may not. This is an unfair and frankly an unacceptable double standard.
Without citizenship, I cannot stay permanently, even as a “permanent resident.” We have the legal right to buy property, but would be hard-pressed to find a bank that would give us a mortgage (I am married, but not to a Taiwanese) and yet landlords balk at renting to the elderly. It is difficult to even obtain a credit card. As we age, social services available to citizens will not be available to us. Finally, I have no political representation: no right to vote, no right to organize a protest.
I work, I pay taxes and I contribute positively to a society that says it wants my contribution. What happens here affects me. This is my home, too.
I am not even a second-class citizen in the nation I call home — I am not a citizen at all, welcome to stay, but never fully allowed to participate.

It has been accepted as true - and there is truth to this - that positions on these sorts of issues are not demarcated by party lines. You would expect the DPP to be more pro-foreigner as they're the ones clamoring about the need to look away from China, but in fact it was the KMT who was set to relax regulations on foreign workers coming to Taiwan. You would think the more progressive New Power Party would be all about this, but they weren't: they actually resisted it. Many people report that it's people generally aligned with the pan-blue side who tend to be more welcoming to foreigners, whereas a lot of DPP types have a nationalistic streak in them. The same can also be said of Western-style liberal-conservative politics.

I'd like to posit, however, that this view is not entirely true, at least not anymore, and it is related to my last post on ideology in Taiwan today, which was more of a personal story.

Both sides have their xenophobic streak. For sure, there are plenty of independence supporters and deep green voters who still, after all these years and so much progress, hold on to some form of Hoklo nationalism (and there are still voters who are not green who accuse the whole party of being that way, which is unfair). On the other side, although this is not as remarked upon quite as much, there is a streak of Chinese chauvinism, of the "5000 years, since antiquity!" variety.

As far as I can tell, unless pertinent changes were made that I am unaware of when the DPP was in power (so, basically, the Chen years), the particular law affecting my ability to naturalize was created not by the Hoklo nationalists but way, way before that, by the Chinese chauvinists. All that time in power, and they have not sought to change it. The first I've heard of anyone seeking to change it has been this bill introduced by prominent figures in the NPP and DPP: the DPP, at least, being exactly the folks accused of 'Hoklo nationalism' and 'xenophobia', and the NPP being the ones against relaxing regulations allowing foreigners to work in Taiwan. They're the ones who basically made the nationality law one based on blood - on race, really - rather than on birth, length of abode or cultural assimilation and participation. They're the ones who seem to have more of an interest in keeping Taiwan ethnically pure, as per their definition (as silly as it is given the ethnic mix in this country to begin with, but that's their "We Are All Chinese but some of us are more Chinese than others" mindset - and with that mindset, if you are not Chinese, you can't be Taiwanese, as Taiwanese, to them, is a subset of Chinese).

Of course, I'd like to stress that these are political issues and general trends and not meant to smear an entire population. There are decent people on both sides, and jerks on both sides. Dehumanizing anyone by taking away their individuality or judging them based on the group they belong to is never okay. 

This also reflects my personal experience: it may not be politically correct to say this, but the honest truth is that I have felt more welcomed in Taiwan by people I could reasonably assume identified as pan-green, as a general trend. It's not that those more likely, in my estimation, to identify as pan-blue aren't also hospitable, it's that the welcome from them is more of host to guest rather than person who lives here to another person who lives here. As I've written before, in Tainan I was ushered into a taxi by a guy who ticked off every Hoklo stereotype - betel nut, spoke Taiwanese, blue plastic sandals - with "you're the next generation of Taiwanese" (妳是台灣的第二代!), whereas everyone and their Mandarin-speaking grandmother in Taipei seems to love asking me when I'm "moving home", as though home could not possibly be Taiwan. They don't mean to be insulting, but their base assumptions become clear, with that one question.

This kind of makes sense: the Third Force (student activists and other 'colorless' progressives) tends to be very open to foreigners in Taiwan as they're more international in their outlook, but there's a streak of Bernie Sanders-style labor protectionism that is baffling at best (Bernie was wrong about immigration too), and somewhat hypocritical at worst. However, they've moved beyond identifying Taiwaneseness as something ethnic or racial - which again makes sense because all attempts at arguing this are so ridden with flaws, and scream of an ethnocentrism that is discomfiting in the 21st century - and most of the DPP seems to be getting on board. 

A friend noted that the difference seems to be that, while both sides have their ethnic nationalist streaks, one (the pan-greens) seem to be more open to progress and more willing to change, whereas the other seem, well, not to.

I tend to agree, at least broadly - I am sure I could come up with some contradictory examples - and would say this is why the ideological split seems to be shifting as it is.

The same thing seems to be true of marriage equality. The two issues - Taiwanese identity and marriage equality - seem to be unrelated. There are plenty in the DPP who support one but not the other, and a precious few in the KMT who are aligned in the opposite direction. But when one side has been turning more and more liberal, while the other clings to the past, it makes sense that this divide too would be shifting. I hesitated at first to post this video, and it may well be creatively edited, but I do think it makes a point. Supporters of Taiwanese independence are slowly but surely moving towards supporting a country based on common values - and those values include freedom, democracy and acceptance. Who better to slowly turn towards support of marriage equality? Considering their support of the 'colorless' social activists, who are almost universally pro-equality, it also makes sense that this ideal would bleed from one to the other.

From this, it also bleeds into tactics. Yes, the anti-equality protesters tried to use Sunflower tactics to climb the walls surrounding the Legislative Yuan (ha ha), but by and large, in fact the strategies they employ are similar more to the pro-unification gangsters: starting fights, threatening journalists, smoke bombs, aggressiveness bordering on, and sometimes turning into, violence.

I can't be, for example, the only person who noticed similarities between the aggressiveness of anti-equality demonstrators at recent rallies and the aggressiveness of anti-independence/pro-unification gangs at today's self-determination forum, as well as in the past. I would not be at all surprised to learn there was crossover between the two.

I'd like to end with this: all of this points to a shift in Taiwan where the old truism that liberal and conservative social ideals do not necessarily fall along party lines may no longer be true, and we may well be left with a two-party system, one which is socially conservative (or at least more so), and one which is more traditionally socially liberal (again, at least more so). That means bills addressing social issues may no longer have much of a shot at bipartisan support, and that - oh heavens I hope not - campaigns will start hammering social issues and 'values' as they do in the US.

Considering what that's done to the US, if I am correct, I cannot say that it is a good thing. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Reader, I cried.


There are plenty of articles out there on the nuts and bolts of today's marriage equality rally: estimates are that 250,000 attended (and also that the "200,000" number quoted for the anti-equality rally was misleading: that was the total for every event across the country, not the demonstration downtown, which was more like 100,000 it seems). I personally feel, based on no scientific principles whatsoever, that it was more. I was at the protest against the military after Hong Zhongqiu's death - I remember estimates of 200,000 - this was more. I was at the Sunflowers, which was reported as 100,000 (but was well-known to be more like 400,000). This sure felt like more.

At that protest, we were able to walk up to the Jingfu Gate and more or less walk around - this time it was impossible to do that (we ended up seated near it only because we showed up on the early side). When I walked back to NTU Hospital to use the bathroom, I looked down Zhongshan Road away from the center of the rally, towards Zhongxiao - and I'm telling you, I could not see the end. It just kept going.

Edited to add: I've somewhat changed my mind on this after seeing the aerial photos. During the Sunflowers Xinyi Road was backed up to about a quarter of the way down the side of CKS and there were crowds in front of CKS as well. That was not the case this time - the center was more crowded but Xinyi and the area right in front of CKS were perhaps less so.

I'm not sure it matters, though, and don't take my word for it. If the anti-equality crowd was about 100,000 in Taipei, and we hit 250,000, we dwarfed them.

And yes, it matters.

They'll tell you that most attendees were young - this is true, though I did see some aunties and uncles and a few grandparental older folks around.

They'll tell you the numbers decisively outclassed the Bigot Rally last weekend.

They'll tell you that people from all major political parties spoke - the DPP, the NPP and Jason Hsu of the KMT (who, as KMT folks go, is not a bad dude. Perhaps delusional about his own party, but otherwise he's basically okay).

They will also tell you that Taiwan is poised to be the first country in Asia to legalize marriage equality, and that the final reading of the bill (there are three in question but the attendees today specifically support the one that would amend the language of the Civil Code rather than be appended to it, and certainly not a third bill proposing civil partnerships) is the day after Christmas.


That's all necessary information, but it's all already available, so I wanted to offer perhaps a more emotional reaction to this event.

This never had to be my fight. I'm straight and married. I could have easily stayed home and said it really wasn't my issue. It doesn't affect me directly (but, through my friends, it does affect me in a way). I came out because it was the right thing to do. If there's one thing my mom, who will have passed away 2 years ago this Monday, taught me, it's that you do things because they're the right thing to do, even if they don't have to be your fight. My mom was an activist and involved person in her community, as well as a big-hearted, generous and liberal person. I felt like I was carrying a touch of her spirit with me - at least if I believed in spirits, which I don't - by attending an event to support equal rights simply because it is the right thing to do, and for no other reason.


I've heard from others, too, that they had 'cry moments', or were getting misty-eyed. For a lot of people, it must have been really wonderfully overwhelming to see that their fellow citizens do, in fact, support them. Others were just blown away by the love, inclusiveness and camaraderie. I had mine too.

I have to say as I exited NTU Hospital MRT station and saw, before the event's start time of 1pm, that it was already packed, I had my first emotional reaction. This is really happening, I thought. Enough people are going to come out to support equality. We're really going to do this. 

As I met my friends and we walked toward Ketagalan Boulevard, I misted up again several times - just watching how big it was, how many people felt that not only should they quietly support marriage equality, but that they needed to come out in person to show the legislature how popular the idea really is. 


I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Often when I visit the US, I am asked about Taiwan with this assumption that it is a conservative country (if people asking can differentiate it from China or Thailand in any case). It's in Asia, which Westerners often associate with 'conservative'. It continues many traditions that have died out in China - which is not to say that Chinese culture is "preserved" in Taiwan as many like to claim, rather, these cultural elements have evolved to be uniquely Taiwanese - and religious practice has very deep and traditional roots here. There is no concept of the existence of a young Taiwanese Left (or of a society that simply is not that conservative), or that that left might have some striking similarities to the American Left. To this end, imagine my frustration when trying to explain something like the fight for marriage equality or even the Sunflowers to someone who has no concept of these movements in a non-Western context, or rather no room for them in their preconceived notions of what any given Asian country is like.

Even when I try to show, based on real evidence (poll numbers, social issues, civic activism), that there is a vibrant and popular Taiwanese Left that can now be said to outnumber the right, it's been dismissed because it doesn't fit their concept of a 'traditional Asian society'. Liberal causes can't be that popular, it's a traditional society. It can't be that progressive, it's Asia after all. 

I've heard this from a few expats in Taiwan who are opposed to equality (they do exist - I've come across at least three of them) - that foreigners in Taiwan are trying to force ideas onto a culture that is different from their own, against the wishes of the Taiwanese. No attention paid, it seems, to polls which consistently show majority support for marriage equality.

I hear this from Taiwanese who are opposed to change as well. It's not our culture, please respect our cultural differences, Taiwan is more conservative. 

Except, obviously, it's not. A quarter of a million Taiwanese would not have come out to support marriage equality, decisively crushing the numbers that came out to stand for reactionary ideals and anti-equality, if equality were not an integral part of Taiwanese culture. The fact that so many people were there at all speaks for itself - QED.

So coming out today and seeing hard evidence, by the numbers, that in fact equal rights is important to the people of Taiwan, liberal causes are popular, and people will show up made me a bit misty-eyed. I wasn't just trying to twist reality to fit my worldview - this is real. The enthusiasm is real. You could feel it - it wasn't angry, tight-lipped, prayerful, admonishing or dismissive (and outright threatening to outsiders, including journalists) in the way that the anti-equality rallies have been - it was warm, open, loving, and welcoming.

But what really got me was textual evidence of all of this:


I'm not going to lie - I am really happy I was not with my friends when I saw this. Something about this sign struck me like an arrow - I love the reclaiming of identity as people begin to call themselves "Formosan" to distance themselves from the "Chinese Provincial" sound that has unfortunately come to be associated with the name "Taiwan" for some. I love the historical callbacks not only to the Portuguese name, from a time before Chinese meddling (and a great deal of Chinese emigration), but to the short-lived and unrecognized Republic of Formosa and - at least in Chinese - to the Kaohsiung Incident. It was striking if you stopped to think about it, truly.

It could have been that, or perhaps the plainspoken sincerity and full-throated civic engagement in the semantics of "respect for basic human rights" and "We the people".

Or it could have just been that I'd been there all day, feeling all the feels and this sign was the spark that lit the underbrush.

At the time, I had been thinking about how the anti-equality church groups mobilized their people by getting congregations to go together: it was very much a group effort done through networks. Individuals may have chosen not to attend - and I have Taiwanese Christian friends who never would have attended an anti-equality event - but it's easier to be pulled into going when your entire  congregation goes. I considered that, and how such mobilization brought them about 200,000 in total (100,000 of which were in Taipei). I compared that, then, to how so many people who came to stand up for what is right did so of their own accord. Perhaps friends influenced friends, and the LGBT and activist networks were buzzing - Facebook was on fire in the days leading up to it, but then my Facebook feed wouldn't have had any of the anti-equality buzz - but in the end, it didn't take congregations grouping together to get the most numbers. It took lots of people who, on their own, decided they needed to physically show up and put their bodies on the street to show the government what is right. We didn't have church networks, but we crushed them, decisively, simply because it was the right thing to do. That was what was going through my mind.

Either way, I walked by this particular placard and I won't lie. Little tears - the good kind - started pricking at my eyes and a few ran down my cheeks. It wasn't quite an ugly cry, but had you looked, you would have noticed.

All in a good way, but odd for someone who does not cry very often, and almost never does so in public.


It's also worth pointing out that Pride, which attracted about 80,000 people, was very foreigner-heavy (though the majority was still Taiwanese). This was not - there were non-citizens there like me, but we were specks in a crowd. It needs to be this way, I think: Taiwan needed to show that the Taiwanese, and not foreign influence, were the driving force behind the push for equality.

That said, I do think it's important, if you're into this sort of thing, to attend rallies and protests for causes you care about as a resident. We have, by law, the right of assembly. It is one of the only rights to participate in the process that we are granted, even if we consider Taiwan to be our permanent home. So, we can and should take advantage of it. However, had this been a very foreigner-heavy event, the opposition could have easily used that to their advantage, pegging marriage equality as a 'foreign issue'.

Today, we showed the world that this is very much a Formosan issue.


I think this video really says it all. If you want to cry too, go ahead and watch it. I appear at some point, a clip from the longer video I linked to on Thursday night. I said something like, Taiwan is a place that accepts all kinds of people. [The Taiwanese spirit] is a spirit of freedom. It's a spirit of equal rights.

And that's really it - Taiwan proved today that this is exactly the case. The Taiwanese spirit is not one of discrimination, separation, dogma, inequality or exclusion. The Taiwanese spirit is the spirit of democracy and acceptance of different backgrounds, people and lifestyles (whether they are chosen or biologically wired).

This is why I am confident that the Taiwanese will push their elected legislature - which serves the people, not the churches that represent less than 5% of the people - to do the right thing on December 26th.

Because it is simply the right thing to do.

In the end, perhaps that's what brought on the tears for so many of us.


What can I say - we did good. Taiwan did good. We made it right after all of those anti-equality protests, and showed them, the legislature, President Tsai and the world what Taiwan is really about. It was inspiring.

I only just now realized that I totally got photobombed. Can you see it?

Anyway, enjoy some pictures:

NPP Legislator and former Sunflower leader Huang Guo-chang speaks





Some religious haters said 'if we allow same-sex marriage, what's to stop us from allowing people to marry Ferris wheels?' This sign mocks that, saying "only Ferris wheels want civil partnerships" (meaning everyone else wants to amend the Civil Code and have real marriage equality). 
Of course, the best thing about rallies and protests in Taiwan is the haul of fun stickers. The West has obviously not figured this out. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Fu-Jen Curfew Protests: religious vs. cultural conservatism

So, a few of my friends have shared this post about the protests surrounding curfews at the women's dorms of Fu-Jen Catholic University in New Taipei (link in Chinese).

I understood despite my piss-poor Chinese reading ability that the women's dorms have a curfew and are locked after that time, while the men's dorms are not - and this has not changed despite an ongoing dialogue with the administration that tends to agree and avoid rather than actually discuss the issue. The protestors (who seem to be organized as FJU Cinderella) are giving press conferences and engaging in a hunger strike.

Yes, the entire reason for the curfew is that the powers that be are terrified of female sexuality. It's not for safety reasons, or because there is some sort of known threat, or even for legal reasons. It's because those nice young university girls might (gasp!) be sexually active and do what they please with their bodies. We can't have that now can we! So many pearls to clutch, so little time!

My first thought, though, was not "Taiwan can be really conservative!" - it was not to attribute this particular problem to Taiwanese culture at all but rather to religious, especially (but not limited to) Catholicism. American-style fundie nonsense comes to Taiwan!

I realize there is a certain prudishness about Taiwanese culture as it is, and many aspects of life here are dealt with more conservatively at home for reasons that have nothing to do with Western influence or Western religion. As a friend put it, culture in this part of the world started to turn prudish in the 19th century before missionaries even got here. But, that prudishness can't be analyzed along Western lines, because it absolutely does not follow them (where in the West are you going to find sexy church dancers along the lines of Taiwan's sexy temple dancers?), and in many ways Taiwan is not all that conservative. I've said several times it is, in my experience, more progressive than any other country in Asia by a very wide margin.

That prudishness does come out in college dorm rules - but it seems to be equally meted out to men and women. At least, as far as I have been told (I have never lived in a dorm here), while women's dorms often don't allow male visitors at all or after certain hours, and many have curfews, that men's dorms do too. The double standard that men can play but women must keep their legs closed (and only the 'bad sort' of women let the men play) seems, to me, to come out later in life when wives are supposed to be forgiving of their husbands' indiscretions, men are seen as horndogs unable to help themselves, but mistresses are evil succubi and unnatural she-beasts. At college age, the censure against sex - because, again this is about sex plain and simple - seems to be aimed at both young women and men.

As per my memory, when my sister attended NCCU no men were allowed in her dorm, but she was likewise not allowed in the men's dorms. I've been told by Zhongshan alumni that the men's dorms are further up the mountain, cloistered away farther from main campus life (and therefore more susceptible to monkey invasion) than the women's dorms.

But, all I know is what I've been told by people who have actually had Taiwanese college dorm experiences. If I'm wrong about this or you have counter examples (or examples that support this view), please do leave them in the comments. I'm entirely open to being wrong about this as I am not writing from direct experience.

If that is true, however, the practice of keeping women under lock and key but not men, to me, feels like more of a religious stick-up-the-butt than a cultural one. That it's Catholicism, specifically, causing the problem here with the church's outdated and frankly offensive views on women's rights and equality. (I want to emphasize this as an establishment problem, not a personal one: just because the church has views I find repugnant doesn't mean those who identify with that religion necessarily have similar views. It is absolutely possible to be an openminded, even feminist, Catholic, though it does entail differing with the church on certain issues).

That's not to say that very traditional thinkers in Taiwan aren't woman-blamers and chauvinists: many are. A student of mine from a college in Danshui told me about how her father lets her brother sleep at friends' houses, doesn't have a curfew for him when he is home, and lets him stay in the dorms at his own university, whereas she is expected to live at home with her parents and commute to college, and be home by a certain time. This attitude is not unheard of here. It just doesn't strike me as the reason why the women are locked up like untrustworthy lusty schoolgirls while the boys are allowed to hot-dog it all over town without censure. No thought given to the notion that young people are gonna get it on (to be honest, not me, despite living in a co-ed dorm freshman year - I was a hopeless nerd and kind of still am), and that's only a problem if you make it one by not educating them properly or by thinking its somehow wrong or unnatural.

That, to me, feels particularly religious in origin. I hear echoes of the Republican party and religious right in it. Hell (pun intended) it's one of the many reasons I left the US: as an atheist I was sick of public discourse being skewed so far to the right that moderates in the US look conservative in every other Western country, and liberals in the US are moderates by any reasonable standard elsewhere. I am a flaming liberal by American standards but pretty moderate by European ones, and I see myself as a moderate. I'm not a Communist or anarchist after all and I am married, which is a pretty establishment thing to do, although I would not say I have a traditional marriage. I was sick of being demonized for not only not believing in God, but not believing in the whole raft of misogynistic bullshit that seems to come with strong religious faith. The whole aspirin-between-the-knees victim-blamey "she had it coming wearing that skirt" "boys will be boys" purity ring flood of pure stinky douche that has poisoned and divided my own clumsy culture by creating a culture war that nobody with any sense wanted.

I would hate to see it start up here. Taiwanese culture grows more progressive by the day. The last thing it needs is a bunch of Western-style fundies screwing it up.