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The gradual extinction of softness (hippocampusmagazine.com)
599 points by flabber 69 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 124 comments



Wow, what a beautiful piece of writing. The sayings from that period, the weaving of "recipes", and the little girl's mindset add a lot of color to this piece.


Agreed, it's equally beautiful and heart-wrenching. What a read.


I could not stop reading. For some reason the Vespa scene struck a chord and I don’t even have such a memory. Something universal in the magic of softness. I think we all lose a bit of softness as we grow up, can only imagine what that annealing feels like when you grow “down”.


> I’ve often wondered why, in a poor country where women work as hard as men to feed their children, feminine softness is so highly prized. As for me, I no longer consider it a valuable attribute.

Isn't this its own answer? It's prized precisely because it is unattainable for most.


That explanation doesn't work for me. Women in Germany at my age never had a shortage of anything. Yet most of them present themselves as strong and fiercely competitive. It's rare to see a German woman embrace her softer side or act playfully in public.


We live in a society where everyone is almost fending for themselves. When we lived in tribes, a woman would rarely have to provide for herself, be competitive or fierce. She could if she wanted, but only by choice. She could just as well embrace her softness, take care of children and so on. She would always be cared for by the tribe, and would never be alone, having to earn her own means of subsistence.

Not anymore. Now women can't depend on their family or partners for subsistence. If they do embrace their femininity, become softer, or forego job time to be more time with children, they earn less, they provide less for their kids. And worse, what if the relationship ends? What then? Now she has to be full the provider. A typical man role.

So it's too big of a risk to be soft and feminine.


> It's rare to see a German woman embrace her softer side or act playfully in public.

I don’t know what your age is but this is far from my experience.

In a professional context, no more or less playful / joking than men (this varies a lot by context, of course). But outside work, yes, in public, sure.


If it doesn’t, then think about foot binding in China. It was supposedly beautiful, but it also advertised something about your social status if you could afford to deliberately render your daughters useless for field work. Consider also the traditional Western reverence for fair skin being replaced with an appreciation for tans (first indicating that you could avoid field work, then later that you could afford vacations).


The context is quite different. In a “shortage” context, women must survive both against poverty and a patriarchal society, at the same time. In Germany they are free of both.


Not sure this holds up. I'm extremely familiar with subsaharan Africa. Whether a tribe is patriarchal, egalitarian, or matriarchal in nature, you tend to observe the females "embracing softness".

I don't have an answer as to why that is, but the "scarcity" theory is consistent with my observations. The "social organization" theory is not. That's not to say that "scarcity" theory is correct, only that it isn't contradicted by observation in the same way that "social organization" theory is.


Because she's describing what is more accurately self-effacing stoicism, and subservience, not precisely "softness"? Endurance and self-sacrifice are not soft.

e.g.:

> A good Asian woman is supposed to shine dimly, like a moon, and reflect her husband’s sunlight.

Not that she's completely sold on that model either.


> > A good Asian woman is supposed to shine dimly, like a moon, and reflect her husband’s sunlight.

> Not that she's completely sold on that model either.

As I read it, that is the "softness" / "stoicism" she's talking about. She's just exemplifying.


>Endurance and self-sacrifice are not soft.

I'm probably reading too much into this, but there tends to be a tradeoff between 'hardness' and 'toughness'. 'Endurance' requires some flexibility and ability to absorb/disperse energy that may require some degree of 'softness'.


Somehow that makes me think of fathers in western countries seriously imagining lives of their sons as foodball stars and even attempting to work towards this imagined future.


> Isn't this its own answer? It's prized precisely because it is unattainable for most.

No, the question is why value softness so highly when you cannot survive without "hardness", when as a soft woman, you cannot even feed your children. Softness will lead to death.


Such a good read. Gonna have to keep an eye out for her memoir. There's starting to be a flourishing of SE Asian voices with Viet Thanh Nguyen and Ocean Vuong. I hope more come, especially more women. Hopefully more cinema too; it'd be wonderful to have responses to the America centric and sympathetic portrayals of Vietnam.


Coincidentally, I read this amusing story about Ocean Vuong responding to students who were perplexed by his writing this very morning:

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/nov/11/what-...


What an incredible read. The protagonist has a non profit organisation that provides food and vocational training to Cambodian women in similar situation: http://mekongblue.com/ - there is a donation button and it only takes 3 minutes to donate via PayPal


They also sell silk scarves and purses https://mekongblue.ecwid.com


Thank you.


In case this piques anyone’s interest in Cambodian history, I’ve really liked this podcast: https://www.shadowsofutopia.com/. Good production quality, good depth of academic/scholarly research, and good presentation from the host. There’s a one-hour “recap” episode from earlier this year summarizing everything covered thus far; might be a good sampler (not seeing it on website, but up on Spotify/Apple Podcasts apparently).


My mother fled Cambodia and then Vietnam. She has said very little about that period, vague stories about escaping through the forest and people dying. Her family (the lucky ones) have been distributed far across the globe, the other half disappeared.

Reading this was gripping. I understand my mother better. Maybe in some ways the author being 9 allowed her to talk freely about the time that is too traumatic for someone of my mother's generation.


Funny that I read this and then came to post one word, "wow" and see that others have posted the same!

But, you know, wow. What an amazing piece of writing.


at first I thought I was reading the first part of a recipe (like in one of those fancy recipe books) and then I realized that's exactly what I was reading


Pol Pot and his government was responsible for the death of 1/4 Cambodian population in a short amount of time, not counting deaths from neighboring countries. A lot of Cambodians migrated to Vietnam (including the author of this wonderful piece). The history about this period is interesting if you're looking for a good read. It's not being widely taught, even during Vietnamese K12 education.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodian%E2%80%93Vietnamese...


Pol Pot came to power due to USA backed coup. USA spies tried to kill king of Cambodia multiple times but failed. So, they taught and financed guerillas to oust the king by means of military coup and install a pro-USA government.

Pro-USA government didn't last long, and Pol Pot took its place.

And, BTW, the most well hidden secret is that USA supported Pol Pot and even provided financial support to his government.

USA: making a better world through revolutions, coups and military invasions for more than a century!


>” And, BTW, the most well hidden secret is that USA supported Pol Pot and even provided financial support to his government.”

According to Wikipedia, the USA did not materially support the Khmer Rouge, though they did vote in favor of certain UN resolutions which favored the regime. Do you have some evidence or support for your claims?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegations_of_United_States_s...


IIRC from [0] US politicians long regarded the horror stories out of Cambodia as exaggerated tales at best, enemy propaganda at worst, since the Cambodian regime was opposed to the newly formed Vietnamese government.

They couldn't politically support the cause of their former enemy, so Cambodians suffered for longer, until Vietnam got bold enough to invade and liberate them (Edit: I don't know whether the aim was to liberate, the aim probably was to invade but it resulted in liberation).

But yeah, I don't remember any material support either. But the political support was deciding in keeping the madmen going in the country.

[0] "A Problem from Hell" by Samantha Power


Again according to Wikipedia, the Khmer Rouge were initially supported by the North Vietnamese and Chinese, only turning against the former later on. The USA appears to have opposed the Khmer Rouge until they were largely a spent force. Given the articles on the subject, and my understanding of the political situation at the time, I find it hard to believe that the USA abetted any Khmer Rouge activity.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodian_Civil_War


The article you cited ends with the victory of the Khmer Rouge in 1975. It deals with the events before the Khmer Rouge rule of terror, which lasted until 1979.

In terms of support, it seems you can even quote Kissinger on it:

"You should tell the Cambodians that we will be friends with them. They are murderous thugs but we won't let that stand in our way."

"The Thais and the Chinese did not want a Vietnamese-dominated Indochina. We didn't want the Vietnamese to dominate. I don't believe we did anything for Pol Pot. But I suspect we closed our eyes when some others did something for Pol Pot." (Edit, others meaning China in the context) [0]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegations_of_United_States_s...


It's more that they spent the entirety of the Cold War period propping up any dictators they could find as long as they weren't communists, and it usually backfired.


>” It's more that they spent the entirety of the Cold War period propping up any dictators they could find as long as they weren't communists, and it usually backfired.”

But the Khmer Rouge were the communists! They were officially the “Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK)”.


Yeah they supported the right-wing dictator that deposed the king who then joined Pol Pot and enabled his rebellion to succeed. And policy shifted after the 70s when they decided communism was ok, as long as you opposed the USSR. This was the justification for normalizing relations with China, who wound up supporting the Khmer Rouge, since they opposed post-war Vietnam (who they had just supported in the Vietnam War), which was a USSR ally.

It was a complicated time to be deciding who to coup.


USA murdered many Cambodian civilians while bombing enemy soldiers in Cambodia [0]. This behavior gave a lot of political capital to revolutionaries who later did genocide.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Freedom_Deal


Pol Pot was classic Marxist and everything USA fought against in the Vietnam, Korean and other Cold wars.


> Pol Pot was classic Marxist

It's not true. Pol Pot was a madman that created his own crazy theory that included parts of Marxism.

Where does Marx said that the city populations must be evacuated to the villages and teachers killed?

Anyway, the point is not in the details. My point is that USA meddling with politics in remote countries usually results in civil war, millions of dead people and economical decline that lasts for decades. It was true for Cambodia, it's true for Arab Spring countries, it's true for Ukraine which is the last known victim of USA backed revolution to this day. How many more victims this world needs?


It's remarkable how nearly everything you just wrote applies to Belarus (with small changes):

>Pol Pot and his government were responsible for the death of 1/4 Cambodian population in a short amount of time, not counting deaths from neighboring countries.

Adolf Hitler and his government were responsible for the death of 1/4 Belarussian population (a third of them Jews) in a short span of time, not counting deaths from neighboring countries.

A lot of Belarussians joined the partisan effort, the largest guerilla warfare of that war (including the writer of Come and See, an acclaimed film about those days):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Come_and_See

The history about this period is interesting if you're looking for a good read. It's not being widely taught, even in Russian K12 education.

Both Vietnam and Belarus were liberated by the Communists across the border, who have ruled both countries until the collapse of the USSR in 1991-1992. Ever since that, both countries have been under a de-facto dictatorial rule of a former communist official (though holding "democratic elections" on paper) - Hun Sen in Cambodia, Lukashenka in Belarus.

There are many differences, of course, but there aren't many countries that lost 25% of their population to genocide, were ruled by communists after that for decades, and have been ruled by the same person since 90s.


Come and See remains the most horrific film I've seen. Critically important how it shows the brutality of that war.

The Act of Killing is the most brutal documentary I've seen and in fact could not finish it. On Indonesia's executioners of communists.

For a take on the Cambodian travesty see The Killing Fields.


Not defending Pol Pot, but attributing mass death solely to his regime is a bit misleading when it corresponded with a hostile foreign power carpet bombing the region with hundreds of millions of bombs, many still unexploded, over a decade or so.


Not defending the US bombing of Cambodia, but it's a bit misleading to bring this up without quantifying that there's at least an order of magnitude difference in fatalities between the two.

What's noteworthy, though, is that the Khmer Rouge was fighting against the puppet government installed by the hostile foreign power; and that the king displaced in the coup sided with Khmer Rouge as a result, which meant quite a bit in terms of support.

That's to say, the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge would have not been there, if not for the US meddling. You don't have to take my word - take it directly from them[1].

[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cambodia-rouge/khmer-roug...


They can not be so easily delineated. Carpet bombing = loss of homes and farmland = general socioeconomic crisis = extreme political instability. And very much by design.


I agree, I just was pointing out that the death toll from the bombing wasn't even the worst consequence. Pol Pot was, in effect, the largest bomb dropped on Cambodia.


Much like the Iraq War created the Islamic State.


It's funny how many people died in the name of "anti-communism" and in the end it was Marxist-Leninists that finally overthrew Pol Pot


> Pol Pot and his government was responsible for the death of 1/4 Cambodian population in a short amount of time

I always found arguments that makes the point that "X is responsible for more deaths than Y" weak and invalid when they fail to mention the time frame.


He was quick. Took only four years I think.


Yea, I think when comparing the deadliness of ideologies, the true measure should be something like

mortality/(time x population)

For example, the Nazis killed 11M over 12 years and the German population was about 70M in 1939. Thus, their deadliness is 11/(70x12) ~ 1/70

The USSR killed 40M (a middling estimate) over about 70 years and the Soviet population was 170M in 1939, so their deadliness is 40/(170x80) ~ 1/340 or about 1/5 as deadly as the Nazis.

This intuitively makes sense to me since the Nazis actively sought to exterminate people, whereas most (not ALL) deaths in the USSR were accidental because communism is useless.


> over about 70 years

You included the most liberalized (less hard core communist) years of the Soviet Union.

> This intuitively makes sense to me since the Nazis actively sought to exterminate people, whereas most (not ALL) deaths in the USSR were accidental because communism is useless.

The Holodomor was caused by explicit policies. The purges were intentional. People who pointed out problems were considered anti-revolutionaries. Skilled laborers were purged or fled.


> For example, the Nazis killed 11M over 12 years and the German population was about 70M in 1939. Thus, their deadliness is 11/(70x12) ~ 1/70

I don't have real numbers, but I'd guess at least 95% of the people the Nazis killed were foreigners. So that math makes little sense.


Yep. Even ignoring non-Jewish victims, majority of holocaust victims were foreign Jews and not Germans of Jewish descent. Mostly because Europe and Africa as a whole had more Jews then Germany itself.

Ignoring Jews, Germans were more ruthless and murderous toward Polish or Russian people then toward western ones. And they much more ruthless and murderous toward western then toward Germans themself. (And yes they were ruthless and murderous toward German population too.)


Slavs generally, gypsies and other 'non-aryan' races. They had plans for the world after conquering it, which would basically wipe all local population in vast swaths of euroasia to make room for them. Jews were just first in line because Hitler was a war and childhood traumatized psychopath.


The Nazis also sent millions of German troops to war. Around 8 million of them died fighting IIRC.


I wouldn't call deaths in the USSR "accidental". Starving and executing kulaks was no accident, they were punishing the rich. People worked to death in the gulags were not an accident.

They may have killed less people per year compared to Nazis but that doesn't make them less deadly. In terms of sheer human loss for society, they were 4 times worse than the Nazis (according to your estimate). If you consider how much freedom and how many lives they ruined with forced labour, it's even more egregious.

I've always considered Nazis and communists to be in the same bucket: authoritarian killers.

Communists often get a moral pass somehow, unlike Nazi and I wonder if it's because most schools and history teachers are biased; they teach about Nazi concentration camps but don't teach about gulags. I had to read books and books in school about Nazis and I didn't even know Solzhenitsyn existed.


The difference is that the nazis were killing people based on who they were; the communists purged people based based on their belief that they had committed crimes against the state or were working against it.

One can dispute this belief, and no doubt they were both brutal, but there is a difference between a genocidal policy with the aim of extermination, and the state exerting its power to punish those it thinks are working against its interests.

Put another way, you could, in theory, avoid punishment in the Soviet Union by avoiding certain actions (although I know this is stretching things quite a bit), whereas those who were targeted by the nazis had no hope of escape.


>you could, in theory, avoid punishment in the Soviet Union by avoiding certain actions (although I know this is stretching things quite a bit),

sure, as long as we admit that in practice you really couldn't because punishment, although supposedly for crimes, was irrational enough to be essentially random.


No, you're seriously misrepresenting history there. First, the Nazis were also convinced that the Jews and certain other minorities had committed crimes against the state and the German people, so there's not a meaningful difference between Hitler's and Stalin's motivations. Second, calling the murdering of the kulaks

> the state exerting its power to punish those it thinks are working against its interests

is as bad and wrong as saying the same thing about the Holocaust.

> Put another way, you could, in theory, avoid punishment in the Soviet Union by avoiding certain actions

No, you couldn't. You're implying that the millions of people murdered, tortured, dispossessed, and imprisoned in gulags under Stalin somehow had it coming and could have avoided their "punishment" by just behaving better. Stop spreading lies, and stop trivializing the crimes against humanity committed by the early Soviet Union.


> First, the Nazis were also convinced that the Jews and certain other minorities had committed crimes against the state and the German people, so there's not a meaningful difference between Hitler's and Stalin's motivations.

This does not explain why the Nazis were also targeting the disabled and blacks, for example, does it? What crimes had the disabled and blacks committed against the state? Also, how could people not living in Germany, the Poles and Slavs, have committed crimes against the German state?

See, the Nazis were not motivated by any good faith belief that the groups they targeted had committed any specific crimes against the state. They believed that these groups should not exist at all, and they were prepared to, ultimately, hunt them down for extermination anywhere in the world.

I think equating the Communists and the Nazi is rather repugnant. Yes, both were brutal, but to downplay the unparalleled evil of the Nazi regime betrays a lack of critical analysis of what actually happened.


> One can dispute this belief, and no doubt they were both brutal, but there is a difference between a genocidal policy with the aim of extermination, and the state exerting its power to punish those it thinks are working against its interests.

The whole system was set up to routinely fabricate absurd evidence against innocent people and send them to Gulags (or straight against the wall). It was needed, because the rulers needed their population to be terrorized (less chance of a rebellion) and also because it provided huge amounts of free labor for the Gulags.

I don't think anybody up high believed for a second that any significant fraction of people they condemned to death, torture or lives destroyed in Gulags were guilty of anything.


In other words the Nazis had bad intentions but the Russians meant well...

I see echoes of this kind of thinking everywhere in the present.


> Communists often get a moral pass somehow, unlike Nazi and I wonder if it's because most schools and history teachers are biased

I think there is a simpler explanation (assuming you went to school in a Western country). The USSR under Stalin was allied with the western powers during WWII. Presenting Stalin as "just as bad" as Hitler would cast doubt on the whole moral justification of the war and would undermine the image of the western powers as the good guys who fought the evil Nazis to save the world from tyranny.


Also, one closely guarded secret nobody cares about: currently amount of people in prisons in USA is almost equal to the number of people sent to prisons and camps by Stalin.

So, who's more evil?


The one who did this:

"This contained official records of 799,455 executions (1921–1953),[7] around 1.7 million deaths in the Gulag,[8][9] some 390,000[10] deaths during the dekulakization forced resettlement, and up to 400,000 deaths of persons deported during the 1940s,[11] with a total of about 3.3 million officially recorded victims in these categories.[12] The deaths of at least 5.5 to 6.5 million[13] persons in the Soviet famine of 1932–1933 are sometimes, though not always, included with the victims of the Stalin era.[2][14]"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Excess_mortality_in_the_Soviet...


Wikipedia is also a propaganda tool. Are [9][9][12][13][14] written based on historical documents? On the documents from the Soviet/Russia archives? I seriously doubt so. Pretty sure, they contain same bullshit as Solzhenitsyn books: "I saw 2 millions prisoners walking to the camp and it was only one of Stalin's forced labor camps"...


> how much freedom and how many lives they ruined with forced labour, it's even more egregious.

How many exactly? West operate lies of notorious propagandists like Solzhenitsyn (which never had access to any statistics).

E.g. in the books published on the west you can find absurd numbers like "Stalin sent two millions to the camp X", and later historians prove that you can't place more than 1200 persons in camp X, and there weren't enough houses even for the guards for such absurd amount of people and there weren't roads or waterways to transport that many people, and there're no even you know payment sheets for the number of guards required to guard two millions prisoners.

But the West continue to regurgitate the same old lies over and over because who would want to know the truth? The best truth is that USSR was evil, so every tiny piece of evidence saying otherwise should be well hidden from public.

It's not like in the contemporary Russia there are powers willing to open that truth either.


Any positive insight after reading this piece is quickly tarnished by the only user's comment posted right now, someone who wrote "And this is what the people supporting BLM are working to. What a bunch of fools", Internet never fails to make me lose hope in humanity a bit more.


Don't let few primitives who spit their hate all around them poison the whole image. The thing is, if you're stupid and also wrong you don't know either of that, and facts won't change that.


I especially like how she calls out Vietnamese philosophers of their communist revolutions.

Most people don't realize how dangerous philosophers actually are, with their entitlement to enshrine great value in their musings without any requirement for them to be backed up with actual knowledge or existing data.

When you look at all the bloody revolutions you'll find philosophers inspiring and often guiding them.

Interesting thing to watch is "Power of nightmares" by Adam Curtis. It tracks the history of islamists and US neo-conservatists starting from their respective (very similar) philosophical roots.


Absolutely. Coming from philosophy to CS, I definitely appreciate I had much more power in the former. Hell, you can see the power of philosophy (or cod philosophy) if you read Facebook or Twitter comments about people's political stances.


I’m an American who’s lived in Cambodia for 3 years. Feel free to AMA.


Were you working in Cambodia on their wages (as opposed to remotely for more money), and if so how is that like?


Working remotely for American wages. Local software devs might make $600/month. Won’t get more than $2000/month as a foreigner either.

There’s some tech NGOs that probably pay more, but I don’t know how much more.


How has the country changed while you were there?


Access to luxuries has increased. Skyscrapers continue to grow. Roads have gotten a lot better.

Two years of that has been covid where luck, circumstance, and hard work combined to leave Cambodia nearly unscathed. Now we’re one of the most vaccinated countries in the world and Phnom Penh is almost at 100%.


What's the visa situation look like there for digital nomads?


No visa on arrival currently, and you'll need an invitation from a company to get a business visa. Business visa can be extended if you have a friend who owns a real company pretend to employ you.


Wow cheers thanks for the advice, as chance has it this is in the possibility of arrangement


What a pleasure to read…


Damn, that was a hard, painful read. Incredibly well written too. Thank you for sharing.


Sorry about the bad language, but this article is f*ing beautiful. An incredible read.


Wow


The US is headed that way. After we lose the first war with China, over Taiwan,[1][2] the decline will accelerate.

[1] https://americanmilitarynews.com/2021/03/us-will-lose-fast-i...

[2] 2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman, Admiral James Stavridis USN


I’m not a military strategist, but I don’t understand. That article you cited about America should w say the US would lose a battle with China ?

What about all the ICBMs, long range bombers, subs etc etc which would be used if something like that happened ?


The strategy described is that China takes Taiwan very quickly, and the US can’t stop them. Then it’s up to the US to choose how to retaliate.

They won’t be able to undo the invasion, and there’s no threat to the US directly. So there’s not much incentive for terrible retaliation.

The US might prefer to keep its promises to Taiwan, but at that point it would be choosing to let that go, or escalate into war with a nuclear power.


I gather that the point of the article was that we might 'lose' in the sense that we couldn't prevent them from taking Taiwan. That's plausible, it's sitting right off the coast of China. And I doubt we'd be willing to initiate a nuclear strike to prevent it from happening.

But China is a very long ways from being able to try and take on the US directly anywhere near North America.


What happens when Chinese intercept and disable all our sub's nuclear launch radio signals coming from Alaska, and all our subs become worthless?


You don't think the subs have a way to launch without a radio signal?


The submarines establish that the US has collapsed as a result of nuclear war with China, and execute their orders to retaliate. That’s the entire point of ballistic missile submarines.


You don't think we have some kind of satellite like to them?


You think China is going to use biological weapons to conquer Taiwan? I mean, why not just throw a few nukes in too?


> I mean, why not just throw a few nukes in too?

Perhaps they'd want to keep the existing infrastructure for themselves? That's hard to do if you turn Taiwan into a pool of lava...


China is not ideologically able to turn Taiwan into a pool of lava. It's a Chinese province populated by Chinese people. They can take control, they can suppress it brutally, but anything that might suggest they value the general run of people living there less than they value the people living in Jiangsu is a nonstarter.


It's not as though the chip fabs just run themselves... biological warfare would destroy any community of humans.


[flagged]


I don't have ADHD, but can't deal with writings like this. The flaw is mine, I'm losing out, I'm sure of it.

Others here write about the beauty of the article. All I read are convoluted, never ending paragraphs that don't tell me anything.

I stoppend reading carefully after 1 minute, started jumping ahead to see if this is leading somewhere. Finally, hopped to the comments here in hope they'd tell me the gist of what the core message of the article is about.

It's funny, I like reading fiction, well written sentences with grand narratives and all of that. But not in an article.


I don't have ADHD but I also could not finish this. I am too used to reading scientific papers where the gist is literally given in the first paragraph and interesting information is easy to find.


Gist is, she lived through Khmer Rouge genocide and Vietnamese communist revolutions thanks to luck and work skills she acquired during her youth that she started in relatively comfortable situation gradually getting worse due to destruction of her country (and Vietnam as well) and (not strictly related) deaths of women who supported her as a child (mostly mother, other maternal figure and older sister). She managed also to partner up with a decent man during the ordeal who's still her husband, but he's mentioned just in passing.

Now she's back in her still devastated home country, created an organisation helping women acquire skills they could use to earn money in a country that's about two tech-levels behind advanced countries of this world.

Most enthralling parts of the piece are memories of her luxurious childhood, which most modern kids in western countries would already abhor as abject poverty.


It's frustrating to me that my potential enjoyment of this piece, lauded as it is by several of the comments that are already here, was poisoned by the introduction. I imagine that

>I ran to visit my friend Yet, who lived in the village behind my parents’ house in Battambang, Cambodia.

will come off as innocuous to many, but my immediate impression was, "Wait... like a plantation?". I'm not intimately familiar with Cambodian history, but I had some understanding of it having been a French colony. With that colonization must have come a sharpening of class lines, as in many Western colonies, like Cuba, and the American South. Some quick research confirmed that. And then, after independence, a coup, with alleged but unconfirmed American backing; and then, after that, a vicious response by radicalized communist entities. Familiar trappings of the first tumultuous global century.

...I'm trying to figure out how to articulate this feeling. It's a sort of anger at the lionization of Western, Capitalist claims and ideals, at the whitewashing of the means by which they were asserted, at the implacable sneers towards anything in opposition to this story of glory. Not because I myself dislike freedom, and variety, and eating; but because the movements that rise up to challenge that status quo rise out of the muck-like detritus it generates and then plops right onto the heads of the poor and marginalized. I skim this piece and see not any sort of understanding of how the French Indochina, as a tentacle of the Western imperialism kraken, that produced the things the author lauds also sowed the seeds of its destruction; I see almost a willful and zealous blindness to this, in fact. When I talk to Castro's diaspora, same thing. When I talk to Lost Cause pushers, same thing.

All of this scares the sh*t out of me. It's yet another example of how suffering - true agony as far as the eye can see - can come from and produce the same sort of skewed priorities and world-view, over and over again, all around the world. When the world has wronged us so utterly - at least from our perspective - we're unable to see the wrongs we participated in, and how they could have contributed to the slow gestation of our despair. You see shades of it even here, today. I want us to get it right for once and this essay is stealing hope from me.


If you'd read it, you'd have found that the blindness is not there. But I don't think it's the piece you would have wanted either way. Willful zealotry is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. I see it in your comment, fwiw.


If you can show me a passage which seems to indicate sightedness, perhaps it can serve as an antidote.

I think I deserve an expansion of the accusation of willful zealotry on my part, at least.


This is a first person recollection of a nine year old girl's experience surviving two revolutionary civil wars and a genocide. Not incidentally, the sentiments you express were the precise sentiments weaponised to fuel and justify this bloodbath.

Stopping at paragraph one to "yeah but she's a bouge...." is a mark of zealotry.

As to "sightedness," which I take as meaning obligatory mentions of class issues, imperialism and foreign cultural influences... it's sprinkled liberally throughout the piece. Even the title. The "softness" she's talking about is bourgeois softness, compared to peasants who had been living almost as hard before.

Here's one passage: "It would be tempting to affect a survivor’s bravado, as if I had achieved my continued existence through will and wit. But my chief survival advantage was being born to a family that could afford to fly to Saigon. We used our dwindling gold to flee to a place where wearing eyeglasses did not put our lives in immediate danger."

I suspect this does not suffice, given my first paragraph. This is not an essay about how capitalist greed and imperialist arrogance are the ultimate culprits. This is a story where ideological zealots play the roles of crusader, conquistador and slaver.

The willful element is turning the story around. Capitalism and Imperialism the root cause, even if the actual atrocities were committed by anticapitalist anti-imperialists. This is always true and if it isn't, just "dig deeper" and find that it is true. That sounds like willful zealotry to me.

It's equivalent to blaming the caliphate for the inquisition, berating a muslim or jewish victim for blindness to the true underlying cause... Also, refusing to read something because it doesn't start with a declaration that ideologically conforms to your position is willful.

Have I met my obligation?


"This is not an essay about how capitalist greed and imperialist arrogance are the ultimate culprits."

My contention is that this is a problem, given what we know about the history of Capitalism and Western imperialist arrogance and its direct and deleterious effects on many (most) of the 3rd world countries these principles touched during the 19th and 20th centuries, and the ways in which those effects (predictably) hardened the hearts and ways of dissenters. Even in, as an adult, remarking on one's experience as a nine-year-old girl suffering at the hands of anti-Capitalist regimes. Maybe especially so, in an essay about survival being predicated on the weathering away of comfort(able biases). Maybe even more so, if the goal is to not have anti-Capitalist backlash repeat itself.

With that in mind, if you came away from my comment with the impression that I believe that a violent class purge, let alone the institution of capital-C Communism, is the answer, I have to think that you did not read very carefully.


I know, and that is precisely the problem. The zealot perspective is that every story is the same story. It's always a story about capitalist greed or always story about moral impurity or always a story about market interventions going awry. It's beyond bias. It's total tunnel vision.

In any case, this is her story, her perspective. Write your own story, and it'll be the story you want.

Meanwhile, how dare you, who wrote what you wrote demand that others read your comment carefully and generously for nuance... especially when you are taking the position of the kmer rouge yourself.


There is a reason that my issue with the essay is presented as one that maps to rhetorical phenomena similar to the one specifically in question. It's because the central issue is the repetition - the ubiquity - of Capitalism and Western imperialism's apparent innocence in regards to suffering in the world that it largely shaped. No story that perpetuates this falsehood can be called beautiful; it can't be called truth, or even helpful. Every story like this recreates it's own cruel circumstances for posterity. And to say so is the opposite of tunnel vision; it's to acknowledge on multiple levels that meaning is half-formed without consideration of context, even if that context damns one's sentiments.

>Meanwhile, how dare you, who wrote what you wrote demand that others read your comment carefully and generously for nuance... Because.

I may be a hypocrite, but I'm not wrong.

And in any case, our circumstances are different: I'm not misrepresenting her words; you're misrepresenting mine.


What apparent innocence? No one has argued anything like this. Not the author. Not me. The thing you are objecting to isn't apparent innocence of western imperialism. The thing you are objecting to is the existence of a story that is about something else... to the point of historical denialism in all but the most technical sense.

It also happens to be true that the particular atrocities this story was about were committed by anti-western, anti-capitalists. The events she is describing really did happen... to her. That is the context. Preceding these events were other events. The story isn't about those.

Your comments are whataboutism.

And yes, it is tunnel vision. It is essentialism and it is zealotry. It is having one story in your mind that explains anything and everything. Everything boils down to capitalism and western colonialism. Any telling of events that doesn't conform to your one and only allowable story is rejected without inspection. As you said, you can't get past the first paragraph is it's not a simple anti capitalism/colonialism narrative. Who here is the one avoiding challenges to their comfortable biases? Who is the reactionary here?

In this case, it happens to be particularly awful, given that the perpetrators shared your specific tunnel vision. Even if the atrocities are committed by anticapitalists, an author has exactly one paragraph to clarify that colonialism that is the true culprit. It's like telling responding to a victim of fascism with a "but what about communism." There are parallels to every argument you bring up.


> And in any case, our circumstances are different:

Oh yeah?

> I'm not misrepresenting her words;

Sez you.

> you're misrepresenting mine.

Sez you.


> My contention is that this is a problem, given what we know about the history of Capitalism and Western imperialist arrogance and its direct and deleterious effects on many (most) of the 3rd world countries these principles touched during the 19th and 20th centuries, and the ways in which those effects (predictably) hardened the hearts and ways of dissenters. Even in, as an adult, remarking on one's experience as a nine-year-old girl suffering at the hands of anti-Capitalist regimes.

This argument doesn't make any sense: "$FOO is bad because the anti-$FOO people are violent madmen"

You can't always shift blame away from the violent madmen.


$FOO is bad because $FOO's faults have tended to create anti-$FOO people.

Further: these faults also tend to drive anti-$FOO people to violence - often not even simply as a matter of course, but as an explicit strategy. In almost every case, the first to violence is $FOO. $FOO then encourages violence from the other side, to legitimize a crackdown. When anti-$FOO survives this crackdown, their behavior has been altered forever by their initial experience with $FOO.


In fairness, it's hard to blame a 9yo for colonialism. The author's family might have benefited a bit from it, in the sense that they lived over their own shop instead of on dirt between rice paddies. One suspects that good fortune could be overstated, especially when weighed against that family's extinction and her own travails.

Nguon's hatred for Khmer Rouge is genuine. However, she isn't foolish enough to consider herself a capitalist. The work she does now is simply unrelated to authoritarians, whether of the communist or the capitalist variety. The women's development center is more authentically anarchist than anything else.

It doesn't seem charitable to compare her either to idiot Confederacy buffs or to Miami Cubans. I understand where you're coming from, but keep in mind that her enterprise is selling scarves and purses to rich Westerners. There's only so much she can say without upsetting the customers.


I'm still not convinced of the wisdom of carrying water for these things which ultimately triggered catastrophe, through the backlash to their excesses. It's not a matter of there being no virtue in one side and no fault in the other; it's a matter of honoring the ambivalence so that one isn't caught off guard by earnest dissent. If your story is, "The evil authoritarians who destroyed my life, specifically, ruined everything," you're missing the military-industrial complex for the SCUDs; and there is an executive somewhere very happy about that, and also very happy to elevate your narrative which pretends that he doesn't exist.

My concern is that pride in the "greatness" of what civilization has become blinds people to the discontent which could rock everything we hold dear. Again.


Re-reading your original comment, I think your "like a plantation" impression was mistaken. In southeast Asia, even today, even in the countryside, the population is really dense. It isn't a sign of prosperity to have a village behind an auto shop. Everything has a village out back. Remember, western countrysides used to be more densely populated as well, before mechanization obviated all the farmhand jobs. Rural Cambodia was even more like that, fifty years ago.

But sure, colonization. USA ultraviolent body-count military colonization was in a sense a continuation of French opportunistic get-rid-of-the-king-and-install-his-half-brother colonization, but it is more properly considered an escalation. Similarly, Khmer Rouge "To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss" dictatorship was in a sense a continuation of Angkor-era feudalism, but it was really an escalation.

Lots of humans are tired of the escalation. You have fallen for the armaments manufacturers' narrative, so you can't hear an old woman cursing her persecutors without finishing her curse with "...and this is why capitalism is great". She didn't say that. "America" or "USA" or "capital" are strings that do not appear in TFA. Nguon DGAF which flavor of authoritarianism we prefer. She wants to enjoy traditional Cambodian crafts, and also French food, and also a bit of peace. Why should she care to follow idiotic USA "security" policy? She doesn't get a vote on that question, and the votes we get don't make a difference anyway. Every authoritarian system feeds on human blood; that isn't up to a vote.

It is tempting to try to preempt the "USA #1 always right!" bullshit, but I don't think you've accomplished that ITT. In future, focus on the truth, and don't worry about correcting old people on what they should really think about their most harrowing experiences.


Your comment is amazing. You read that article written by someone that narrowly escaped genocide and your mind immediately goes to what is essentially communist propaganda. You don't express anger once at the people involved in orchestrating the killing, you don't assign any blame to the actual ideology that was used to justify mass slaughter. Instead you just spout a programmed response.

That definitely scares the shit out of me.


You have a curious definition of the words "vicious" and "radicalized". Would you agree or disagree that characterizing Communist regimes as such, within a Communist regime, would have gotten me killed?


The real "break with tradition" was America and the CIA ousting Prince Sihanouk, who had been fighting militant communists, but was in dialog with the non-militant Cambodian left. A puppet Lon Nol was put at the helm, and the US then invaded eastern Cambodia (and shot Kent State students protesting that invasion) and carpet bombed the Cambodian countryside. This is what began the destabilization of Cambodia. Prince Sihanouk in exile allied with anyone against Lon Nol, which included the communists, and he supported the Cambodian People's National Liberation Armed Forces, which liberated Phnom Penh in the spring of 1975, right around the same time Saigon was liberated from western colonialism.


> liberated Phnom Penh in the spring of 1975

you neglected to mention the subsequent execution of 1.3m and the starvation of another million or so of these liberated people.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_Fields


The implementation of the leftist utopian visions that torture and murder and silence and "re-educate" millions and send millions more desperate refugees fleeing out to die at sea in little, overloaded boats trying to escape is not usually described as "liberation" by those, such as my family and many friends, who managed to survive these visionaries.


What do you make of the current state of culture in the West?


> What do you make of the current state of culture in the West?

One can't help but be reminded — perhaps that was your intention? — of the classic quip attributed to Gandhi:

   Journalist: “What do you think of Western civilization?”

   Gandhi: “I think it would be a good idea.”
(Though Quote Investigator concludes at least the attribution is probably apocryphal: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/04/23/good-idea/ )


If we look at how the things are evolving, the left might be planning another "liberation".


This was at least as beautifully written as the piece itself. Bravo, and a point well made.


Much appreciated.


> It's a sort of anger at the lionization of Western, Capitalist claims and ideals, at the whitewashing of the means by which they were asserted, at the implacable sneers towards anything in opposition to this story of glory.

Alas, capitalism isn't all that popular in the west anymore. Perhaps you need to look further afield to find its champions.


Not "in the West" but rather "in Western media and universities, especially outside STEM". By no coincidence, these are the most vocal minorities.

Capitalism is not cool with novelty-seeking intellectual elites anymore. But nothing established is; the purpose of these elites is to look for and research alternative ways. Most if these ways are detrimental or are dead ends. But so are most mutations that drive evolution forward.


Alas, if you look at opinion polls of regular folks, they aren't especially interested in capitalism either.

Eg minimum wages and tariffs are pretty popular.


Blaming all the evils in the world on capitalism is obtuse.




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