Enigmas, Suicidal Resistance, Tibet, First Americans, & Dead Poets

I have a roommate who is something of an enigma. He rented the room in my apartment and then never moved in. Perhaps he will but I have not heard from him in a week. His check cleared, there was no address on it, just an account number. I have a cell phone for him, but I have not heard from him since last weekend when he said he was too busy to move. Strange.

Then I started to think a little about this young man from China, Hong Kong specifically. Perhaps this is simply the Chinese government checking up on a blogger that has written sometimes favorably and sometimes not, about the Chinese government. After all they have commented by the bucket loads on my posts that are supportive of China and would have commented more if I hadn’t called them on their fairly transparent use of dummy internet sites to make the same comments over and over. He wanted me to call him, Jackie, as in Jackie Chan, at the time I didn’t think much of it. But hell, if the Chinese want to give me a minor subsidy, and keep tabs on me, well, I need all the support I can get. Interesting thing is I can’t prove any of this. Its just a theory I came up with this morning to explain this mystery roommate. Perhaps he had an accident, or fell in love, or had to go back to China, or got deported. Who knows? Probably he will show up one day and simply move in and my mystery will no longer be of interest.

Be that as it may, I have a new English class and we watched a movie, “Dead Poets Society” and in it one of the main characters commits suicide. Blocked in his ambitions by an over controlling father who wants his son to become a Doctor and not an actor as he seems to intend to become. Thwarted and unable to come up with a viable alternative, such as running away, this takes place in the Boston suburbs in the 1950’s when parental authority is not to be questioned, or at least not by a certain dutiful son of the middle classes, who sees suicide as a way out of his anguished state of frustrated ambition.

The story falls apart in historical context, after all in the mid 1950’s there was a vibrant alternative culture in most cities with Jazz clubs and beat poets finding their muses and companionship in cafes and bars. Perhaps to a small town person without transport to a city, this would seem to be an insurmountable obstacle, but youth is generally resilient and will find a way, unless the youth has in some way been led to a fatalism that would preclude positive action of this sort. A young Miniver Cheevy perhaps or a would be Richard Corey. The theater is the youth’s ambition and the father stands as fate blocking his path to his hearts desire, will he find freedom and break the bonds of fidelity or succumb to the forces of tradition and his father’s unbending thwarted personal ambition, making of his son a mere pawn in his personal chess game with death? Shades of the Seventh Seal.

Below are reproduced these poems from my own junior high school English classes, a faint memory from early times when such things seemed so important.

“Miniver Cheevy

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam’s neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the mediaeval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.”

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miniver_Cheevy

“Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.”

by Edwin Arlington Robinson.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Cory_%28poem%29

Those two poems are the only thing of note I remember from Junior High School English, that and the teacher playing “Societies Child” but Janis Ian and Simon and Garfunkel’s version of Richard Cory

“They say that Richard Cory owns one half of this whole town,
With political connections to spread his wealth around.
Born into society, a banker’s only child,
He had everything a man could want: power, grace, and style.

But I work in his factory
And I curse the life I’m living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be
Richard Cory.

The papers print his picture almost everywhere he goes:
Richard Cory at the opera, Richard Cory at a show.
And the rumor of his parties and the orgies on his yacht!
Oh, he surely must be happy with everything he’s got.

But I work in his factory
And I curse the life I’m living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be
Richard Cory.

He freely gave to charity, he had the common touch,
And they were grateful for his patronage and thanked him very much,
So my mind was filled with wonder when the evening headlines read:
“Richard Cory went home last night and put a bullet through his head.”

But I work in his factory
And I curse the life I’m living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be,
Oh, I wish that I could be
Richard Cory.”

http://www.lyricsfreak.com/s/simon+and+garfunkel/richard+cory_20124655.html

Shawn Phillips singer did a version of this song.
“Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn
Gruelling as he assailled the seasons
He wept that he was ever born
And he had reasons
Miniver mourned the right renowned
That made so many and named so fragrant
He mourned romance now on the town
And art a vagrant
Miniver scorned the gold he sought
But so annoyed was he without it
Miniver thought and thought and thought
And thought about it
Miniver loved the medici
Albeit, he had never seen one
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one
Miniver cursed the common place
And eyed attack ye sooth with loathing
He missed the medieval grave
Of iron clothing
Miniver Cheevy born too late
Scratched his head and kept on thinking
Miniver coughed and called it fate
And kept on drinking”

http://lyrics.wikia.com/Shawn_Phillips:Miniver_Cheevy

In the modern world we have thwarted desire in many forms that take suicidal forms. For instance think of the Tibetans immolating themselves. From the viewpoint of the Chinese Government they are feudal remnants of a previous era when tribal superstitions reigned and the people lived in poverty. China works hard to improve the living standards in Tibet, removing decaying housing for modern more sanitary housing, perhaps not as colorful, but an improvement in the lives of the people. Then along come these deluded monks, full of enthusiasm for a dying way of life, much like American Indians when faced with the juggernaut of American Progress that wiped out their way of life, so the same is happening in China and with much the same justification, progress, perhaps without the racist implication that the only good Indian is a dead one not made explicit in removing troublesome Tibetans making room for Chinese progress.

Westerners wring their hands over the fate of the Tibetans, just as do-gooders in 19th century America wanted to preserve the last of the native Americans from the safety of the long pacified eastern bastions of European civilization, New York City and Boston. American government policy decided to Europeanize the last of the Natives, forcing their children into boarding schools and their lands to be broken up into individual plots.

Tibet is the wild west of China, but an interesting difference, Tibet historically had a period when it dominated and almost conquered China some thirteen centuries ago. Chinese historical memory is long. Something that we Americans cannot comprehend. Tibetan, Mongolian and Uyghur’s were some of the many people that the Chinese had to fend off to maintain autonomy. The Mongols actually conquered China, as did the Manchus later. But Chinese cultural institutions were so strong that they were able to dominate and assimilate all conquering forces over the centuries.

Back to suicide, so in modern Tibet, like on Native American reservations there are high suicide rates. These are people driven to a form of cultural despair.

“A youth-suicide epidemic is sweeping Indian country, with Native American teens and young adults killing themselves at more than triple the rate of other young Americans, according to federal government figures.

Native youngsters are particularly affected by community-wide grief stemming from the loss of land, language and more, researchers reported in 2011. As many as 20 percent of adolescents said they thought daily about certain sorrows—even more frequently than adults in some cases, the researchers found.

“Our kids hurt so much, they have to shut down the pain,” said Garreau, who is Lakota. “Many have decided they won’t live that long anyway, which in their minds excuses self-destructive behavior, like drinking—or suicide.”

The lasting effect of the abuse and the loss of land and culture is often called historical trauma. Martus calls it genocide. “They set us up to kill ourselves,” he said. “The point of all the policies was ‘take them out.’”

-Stephanie Woodard from “Suicide is epidemic for American Indian youth: What more can be done?”

http://openchannel.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/10/14340090-suicide-is-epidemic-for-american-indian-youth-what-more-can-be-done?lite

“On Monday (Feb. 4) state-run CCTV produced and broadcast a documentary called about self-immolations in Tibet called “Outside Tibetan Separatist Cliques and the Southern Gansu Self-immolations.” It accuses the United States official external broadcaster, VOA, or Voice of America, as well as the Dalai Lama, of inciting suicides in Tibet.

In the film, a Tibetan monk is interviewed who is supposedly recovering from a self-immolation attempt. The monk said he was inspired after seeing other immolators who were treated like heroes on Voice of America’s broadcast. The film accused “outside forces” of inciting the immolations, and VOA in particular.”

http://ntdtv.org/en/news/china/2013-02-07/chinese-state-media-accuses-voa-of-encouraging-tibetan-suicides.html

This from the South China Post.

“The self-immolations of monks and nuns in Tibetan-populated areas were extreme actions that had disturbed and undermined social harmony, Premier Wen Jiabao said yesterday.

But he also said the young Tibetans involved were innocent and he felt ‘deeply distressed’ by their behaviour.

‘The so-called government in exile in Dharamsala, India, is a theocratic one, no matter whether it is under the direct control or indirect influence of the Dalai Lama,’ he said. Wen accused the government in exile of attempting to ’separate Tibet and Tibetan inhabitants from China’.”
http://www.scmp.com/article/995479/wen-distressed-tibetan-suicides

And then finally a short notice about Chinese arresting those they hold responsible for the suicides. This from the Times of India.

“Stepping up its crackdown against self-immolation protests in Tibet, China has detained 70 suspects for a string of suicides in November last year, coinciding with the once-in-a-decade leadership change in China’s ruling Communist Party.”

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-02-08/china/36992172_1_immolation-dalai-lama-tibetan-separatists

The situation may be seen as similar, ethnic minorities who had a tradition of independence swamped by a more populous dominant culture, with despairing youth committing suicide as a way out for their thwarted dreams. Among the Tibetans the despair is recent and still dominated by the political hope that these actions might force the Chinese to loosen their hold on the Tibetan homeland, at least to allow them some cultural respite. This in contrast to the state of affairs among the American Indians who after a century or two of dominance by the alien western culture have almost no hope of autonomy, but simply give in to despair. Political hope as was expressed by the radical political socialist nationalist American Indian Movement or as is now expressed in Canada among the first nations people protesting at the border has been quashed in the United States and has led to the suicide of no hope as opposed to the political suicide of hope found among Tibetans and Islamic fundamentalists.

Yet Canadian suicide rates among native Americans is high, perhaps higher in some respects than among their counterparts in the USA. The numbers from Canada are a decade old.

“Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death for First Nations youth and adults up to 44 years of age. (A Statistical Profile on the Health of First Nations in Canada for the Year 2000, Health Canada, 2003)
First Nations youth commit suicide about five to six times more often than non-Aboriginal youth.

The suicide rate for First Nations males is 126 per 100,000 compared to 24 per 100,000 for non-Aboriginal males.
For First Nations females, the suicide rate is 35 per 100,000 compared to only 5 per 100,000 for non-Aboriginal females. (Canadian Institute of Child Health, 2000)

Suicide rates for Inuit youth are among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national average.

Historical determinants, such as the legacy of residential schools, are believed to have shaped the mental health of Aboriginal people. A research project commissioned by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation found that 75 percent of the case files for a sample of Aboriginal residential school survivors contained mental health information with the most common mental health diagnoses being post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse disorder and major depression. (Research Series, 2003)”

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fniah-spnia/promotion/mental/index-eng.php

Political activism among Canadian first nations is an indication of the education levels being achieved by Natives in Canada with major increases over the last half century.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/whats-behind-the-explosion-of-native-activism-young-people/article7552791/

Groups like Idle No More have formed to organize Native resistance to Canadian Government policies that are abusive to native peoples.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idle_No_More

http://idlenomore.ca/

http://warriorpublications.wordpress.com/

Perhaps the Tibetans can learn from the experiences of the Native peoples in North America in their resistance to the onslaught of modern civilization. Perhaps not. Perhaps the Chinese will come up with a way that does not involve the genocide of the Tibetan people, certainly the Chinese have coexisted with Tibetan and Mongolian and other cultures in East Central Asia for thousands of years. It would be a shame for all traditional culture both Chinese and other native cultures of Asia to be swept away in virtually one stroke by the strong hand of modernism. Suicide is a cry of resistance, perhaps it will not be a futile one.

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