Where Did It Come From? Where Did It Go?: An inquiry into the disconnect between ethics and politics.

I have been studying philosophy, history, and political science for almost four years now. Throughout my time as a student here at Eastern, I have been introduced to many different political theorists, historians, and philosophers who have helped mold my understanding of the invaluable place justice and morality have in the political world. Although my mastery of the subject matter is far from complete, I will say that more often than not, I have been conditioned to notice how closely linked the philosophic and political worlds are. In my first political theory class, we talked about what the purpose of politics is. We concluded that ultimately, we engage in political discourse in order to figure out how to live well with each other. I left this first class feeling optimistic and hopeful. What a beautiful thing to devote my studies, and my life to.

Gradually, I have begun to understand the reality of the world around me- the world outside of the classroom. It is a world in which the end of political action is rarely invested in ethics at all. What I once thought was as an obvious connection, that is, between politics and ethics, became lost in a sea of power-hungry, money-seeking, self-serving motives. There seemed to be a only a very weak trace of ethics in our political structure.

Some political theorists argue that morality was never a part of politics to begin with. Power and domination are proper to politics, and any other factors we add in (ethics, economics, social issues, etc.) are not really reflective of what is truly political. This argument makes the answer to my question simple. Why is there a disconnect between politics and ethics? Maybe they were never really connected in the first place.

I, however, prefer to maintain the notion that matters of the ethical do in fact have a seat at the political table. In fact, I think that ethics is what ought to drive political action in every circumstance. This is an easy enough concept to grasp, and maybe even agree with, but the problem arises in the actualization of the implementation of ethics within the political world itself.

Single-dimensional issues rarely surface in modern day politics. A heightened awareness of intersectionality in many areas of political discourse complicate the application of ethics into political plans of action. Our culture emphasizes a necessity for instant gratification which has had a drastic affect on the way political discourse plays out. We desire to be rewarded and validated instantly, and the speed at which technology is advancing has furthered this dependency on instantaneous results of affirmation. This mindset seeps into the political world in an incredibly problematic way. We expedite plans of action in order to temporarily fix issues of injustice that often require a far more extensive reflection. Afterwards, we are disappointed to find that we must keep fighting the same characteristically “political” monsters of power, greed, and selfishness. Thus the cycle continues.

The problem is, most people aren’t actually interested in ethics. Many do not want to go through the tedious work of sorting fact from fiction, nor do they have any interest in taking the time to study what justice or ethics even is. We are easily distracted by catchy slogans and trendy info-graphics, and do not care to thoroughly examine the issues of the ethical or political. We forget the centuries of political and philosophic history that have come before us, and close ourselves off to learning, growing, and actually being intellectually equipped to make substantial changes in society. If our growing impatience is the cause of the disconnect between ethics and politics, what steps can we take to change?

As issues grow in dimension and complexity, so must our patience grow, if we are to make any long term changes at all. Aristotle coined us as political animals. If he is right, then it is everyone’s responsibility to bear the weight of learning how to live well with each other. This means we must take it upon ourselves to read more history and philosophy, think more critically, and be open to having our minds changed, sharpened, and hopefully, unified under a common goal of a more ethical political world.

The Large Majority: Asian Americans as the “model minority.”

In the United States, the Asian American demographic only makes up about 5.6% of the national population. On a global scale however, Asians make up around 60% of the world population, so to call Asians a “minority” seems almost paradoxical. And still, Asian Americans have certainly faced the
injustices, prejudices, and oppression that come with being of a minority race in America.

Historically, and still today, Asian Americans are referred to as “the model minority,’ a myth that feeds off stereotypes like high-paying careers (doctors and lawyers), hyper-intensified skill sets (mathematics and musical abilities), and characteristics associated with innocence, purity, cuteness, and child-like mannerisms.

All of these generalizations are micro-aggressive prejudices that stem from a history of exoticism. The origin of exoticism began as a result of western colonial expansion into an area known as “the Orient.’ The Orient referred to the land east of Western Europe, and originally included territories in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. As European imperialism, trade, and expansion heightened, trinkets, artifacts, and people were brought to Europe as “exotic goods.” These “goods” were considered treasured valuables, and the minimization of so many different cultures and people to a materialized ornament of possession had a direct connection to the model minority myth in the United
States.

Asian Americans are statistically known as having the highest average median income among American
households. While this statistic holds weight, it is often used as a pillar to support the model minority myth; it promotes the idea that all minority groups have an equal opportunity to acquire wealth, and this is simply not the case in the United States. This myth also allows micro-aggressions against Asians and Asian Americans to be normalized in media and culture. However, to dismiss racism against Asian Americans because of wealth distribution is to completely ignore the historical struggles of Asians and Asian Americans in the United States.

Throughout the course of American history, there has been a bevy of alienating legislative mandates
against Asian Americans: the Foreign Miners’ Tax of 1850, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the WW2 Japanese internment camps established by Executive Order 9066 from 1942-1945, to name a few. The plight of Asians and Asian Americans is in no way comparable to the struggles of other cultural groups in the United States, and yet, there seems to be an overall lack of knowledge regarding our nation’s history of racism against an entire group of people.

The racism that exists against Asians and Asian Americans today, primarily in the form of micro-aggressions rooted in stereotypes, is not always so easy to point out. We can take the recent COVID-19
pandemic as an example. Many people rushed to the defense of Asian Americans in response to President Trump’s referral to the virus as “The Chinese Virus.” While his language was insensitive to say the least, the counter attacks (from many white media outlets) called Trump out for “offending Asian Americans.” In this statement alone, an entire continent, that includes 48 countries, was condensed to just a single country: China. It was not just Chinese Americans who should be offended by Trump’s statement, but anyone who bore any semblance to Chinese culture or heritage, namely, any Asian American.

While Trump’s statement was problematic, the response was equally so, as it perpetuates the inability for the majority of Americans to recognize that not all Asians are Chinese (reminder: India, Iran, Afghanistan,
and Saudi Arabia are all in Asia) and that the Asian American experience is not the same across the board. Racism against Asian Americans often leads people to think of East Asia (China, Japan, North and South Korea, etc.), but many forget that much of what we refer to as the Middle East is also a part Asia. So, when critiquing racism against Asian Americans, it is crucial that the entire group of people is included in the conversation.

As a South Korean American, I can speak from my own experiences with various micro-aggressions;
combatting racism has been awkward to say the least. People are shocked to find that I am terrible at math, many ask and are quickly relieved to find that I am from “the good Korea,” and I have been told that my being half Asian is “cute” and “beautiful”. All of these offensive and uninformed stereotypes are casually disguised as compliments, and this is a direct result of the model minority myth.

The most important thing we can do as Americans is to properly educate ourselves about the racism that
exists in our own country, and actively work against the internalized prejudices we have formed about others.