Chile: Perspective

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I’ve finished a month in Chile! Apart from being a significant milestone, this means that I’m already a fourth of the way done with my stay here. Not only can I take the bus without getting lost, but I finally know which routes go where. I can order food without people answering me in English. I’ve even completed my first weekend trip to a small mountain town called Pucón. Chile no longer feels alien and unfamiliar – maybe I’ll never look and act native, but at least I’m no longer conspicuously foreign.

Most importantly, after three weeks of rearranging and swearing (on my part) and advising and accommodating (on the university’s part), I finally have a class schedule. I think. Let’s not jinx it.

I’m in five classes, and since some of the classes meet only once a week, it feels like a light load. However, I’m still plenty busy since it takes me an average of 40 minutes to get from my house to Valpo and the Chilean government has decided to further complicate my life by refusing my application for a Chilean ID. As of right this moment, I’m in a modern Latin American poetry class, a class on globalization and social justice, a class on political change within the region, a class on Chilean culture and communication, and a Latin American history class. By some miracle, I also sweet-talked Croft, the Poli Sci department, and the Spanish department into giving me credit for all of them. It took all of my not inconsiderable powers of persuasion.

Much like my schedule at Ole Miss, there are classes that I love, and classes that are completely fome (the Chilean word for lame). My poetry class fits into the latter category. There’s no rhyme or reason to my professor’s lectures and when someone asked a question about linear time last week (after class, I might add), he talked for about half an hour and somehow addressed Chinese immigrants in Brazil. My culture class and my two history classes are wonderful, though, and they make me happy to be in Chile and happy to be studying what I am

I started writing this post to talk about my globalization class, however. It’s causing me a lot of conflict. Never have I been in a class where I so fundamentally disagreed with what was taught. And this is coming from a liberal democrat going to a majority-Republican school in the Bible Belt. We’ve only had one real class meeting, and it’s already making me re-evaluate the way I think about education and where I stand on the political spectrum.

Some background – In American terms, I am pretty far to what we think of as the left. I don’t normally enjoy sharing my political views on a public forum, as I believe it’s the epitome of low class to squabble over politics where everyone can see you and very few people, if anybody, cares. I firmly believe that you don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to, but I’m making an exception here because I think I learned an important lesson this week.

I learned that to the rest of the world, I actually lie pretty far to the right.

Cue shock and horror.

This week in globalization, I was assigned a chapter from a book by Immanuel Wallerstein. Wallerstein has done some groundbreaking work in political science, especially in his writing on globalization and core-periphery relations. The article I was assigned spent about 15 pages bashing liberalism and capitalism, the very foundation of my education in political science. I’d been taught that liberty and equality were only possible through a capitalist model. Private ownership is a good thing. The accumulation of capital makes the world go round. Not according to Wallerstein. Wallerstein and my professor both believe that capitalism infringes upon the basic human rights of many minority groups and that the world is going to eventually become socialist.

As if that weren’t jarring enough, I had to give a presentation about how liberalism is self-contradicting because it actually infringes upon the rights of minorities. Several other students in the class also had to give presentations on other chapters from the same book, still bashing liberalism and even the United States. A few of us were able to politely voice that we didn’t agree with Wallerstein, but all of that was lost to the professor who began highlighting the “important” parts of our presentation – basically that liberalism is awful.

I spent a good hour after the class thinking of refutations to everything I had just read and heard. Yes, liberalism has its faults, but no other political philosophy is perfect either. And yes, the United States is deeply flawed and in economic trouble, but Wallerstein’s prescriptions for growth would create more problems than it solved. I began to get really angry at how outdated this class was, and how generally wrong a lot of the material was.

Eventually it dawned on me that the veracity of Wallerstein’s claims isn’t the point. I was looking at things from the wrong perspective. I’m never going to agree with a word that he says because all of my formal education is from the United States. If I’d been raised in South America, parts of Europe, and maybe even India, who knows what my political beliefs would be. I don’t think I’m brainwashed, but I am a product of my environment. From now on I’m going to have to take this class in perspective. I’m in Latin America, where the scars of McCarthyism aren’t burned into the collective mindset. It could be constructive to be taught from a point of view that is more critical of the United States than I’m used to. He’s not wrong and I’m not wrong – we’re just at an impasse.

I have realized that I am way more patriotic than I thought I was, though I never thought of myself as blind to my country’s flaws. I’m also, on a global scale, way farther to the right than I thought I was (but this still puts me at the global center). As my professor spoke to us, I was reminded of something Dr. Allen said during the first day of my International Economics class last semester. When asked by an exchange student if the Democratic Party was the American equivalent of a socialist party, she laughed. “The problem with American politics is this,” she said, in her characteristic sarcastic tone of voice. She held her hands in front of her, indicating a space of about 3 inches between them. “All of our politics take place in the center, and we argue over this much ground.” Only now do I fully appreciate that. We think we are so polarized, but on a global scale, we argue more about application than political philosophy. It’s important for us to remember our role in the world, and remember particularly that there are very rarely absolutes.

You know what I’m craving? A little perspective. That’s it. I’d like some fresh, clear, well-seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?

– Disney’s Ratatoullie 

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