Sun, Mar 25, 2012 - Page 8 News List


Two languages, one mind

Reading the exchange between Li Thian-hok and Jim Walsh on the US elections (Letters, March 16, 20 and 22, page 8), I, as both a British-Taiwanese and an academic, have a not-so-remote interest in the US and therefore feel inclined to say a few words.

Although my identity and qualification may seem irrelevant to the US’ politics, they nevertheless allow me to contribute from a less partial viewpoint. The disagreement, if there was any, between Li and Walsh cannot simply be dissolved by making inexhaustibly long lists of what the Republicans and the Democrats do or do not. They are obviously speaking two different languages and not conversing with each other.

Li has a special affinity for the Republicans, and asks Taiwanese-Americans to vote for them based on their past leaning to Taiwan. What he has in mind is not a matter for vigorous rational scrutiny, since he is not interested in the Democrats’ efforts on behalf of Taiwan — which have probably been no less than those of the Republicans, as Walsh has shown — nor in the validity and truthfulness of the Republicans’ election manifesto — if there is any at this stage — but rather in the ideological doctrines that underlie his commentary.

Li therefore opts for propagandistic communication that is aimed at influencing attitudes toward certain causes or positions. Walsh is not naive enough to think that, by mentioning former US president Jimmy Carter and the support of the Democrats for the Taiwan Relations Act, he can counteract Li’s bias, but these counterexamples are necessary because they effectively expose the weakness of Li’s argument. This is what Walsh means when he writes: “Any claim to the contrary is just flat wrong.”

However, ideological differences are necessary to maintain a democratic society. In UK politics, there have been several prominent ideologies, each of which has its set of firm beliefs that encompass economic, social and political principles. Despite what I have just said about the propagandistic nature of modern political parties, I have no problem declaring here my membership of the British Labour Party.

The reason why a political party exists is not that it instills in others what I believe — although this to a very large extent has become the single purpose of political parties — but that such a party reflects what I believe. It is unimaginable nowadays that one cannot express support for any political party which may lead to the improvement of society in different ways.

From my role as a junior academic researcher, there is a force within to see ideologies as obstacles to establishing sensible communication; my political convictions lead me to a particular political organization because I wish to see society heading in a clearer direction.

Li does not have to feel apologetic for what he wishes to see in the presidential ballot, nor is there any need on Walsh’s part to feel angry. They are just speaking of the same item on different terms, and both terms are beneficial to the development of democracy.

Kuo Cheng-lun

New Taipei City

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