My wife and I went on an outing outside of the city on Sunday and coming home – on a Sunday evening, mind you – it took us 5 hours to drive less than 80 km.
Heavy traffic was a lot of the reason. Beijing just doesn’t have enough concrete for the number of cars. And because many drivers refuse to queue (they will actually drive through a rest area on the highway just to jump a few cars ahead) the wait is that much longer for those of us who wait our turn. (I have seen as many as 10 cars side by side on a five lane highway.)
A lot of the time, however, was spent waiting in line at the security checkpoint on the highway coming into Beijing. Every highway coming into Beijing has one and while they are permanent they are not always in operation and even when they are there are different levels of scrutiny in effect. This time they were pretty serious.
They don’t tell you why they are checking, of course, or what they are really looking for. And they most definitely profile. Which is interesting when you consider that profiling, which is reviled in the West, is really a deductive concept. Profiling, from a deductive/statistical perspective, is unassailably effective. It is the inductive outcome that offends so many Westerners.
At any rate, when I finally got to the front of the line I was in, the policeman took one look at my big nose and Western face and waved me through. An inductive worldview with a very deductive work habit, I thought to myself. (If I am a foreigner in China he knows that I have already passed several layers of security checks.)
Security is similarly tight in the subway system. The normal security is not dissimilar to what you would find at most airports. All bags get scanned and when security is particularly tight passengers both walk through scanners and get wanded by hand – everyone.
There are also groups of special police who randomly move around the subway system armed with handheld electronic devices that can read the National ID card that every Chinese must carry with them at all times. Again, they profile. Not everyone is checked and they obviously don’t explain why they picked you out if they do.
What is perhaps most striking to me is how casually the Chinese seem to accept all of this. Never have I seen so much as a harsh look from a Chinese person chosen for scrutiny. They know the drill and just get on with it.
In fact, I dare to speculate that if you discussed the issue with the average Chinese they would say that it is the government’s job to be so careful. Individual freedoms normally fall below financial prosperity and security on the Chinese ranking of priorities. Certainly no one in China would ever suggest that everyone carry a gun, as a few in the US have seriously suggested. (In China, only the military and some police units are allowed to have guns.)
Certainly the truly unfortunate events in France may have been behind the heightened security. I don’t know. And the Chinese don’t seem to care. Not because they don’t care emotionally just as much as any Westerner does. They just don’t make the same connection between sad and why.
In the Western media in recent days I have read several articles along the lines of, “Why do they hate us?” You will never find such musings in the Chinese media. In their inductive worldview, “Why does it matter?” It is what it is.
I’m not suggesting that the West adopt the Chinese security system. Frankly, I’m not sure it could. The government can only implement that which is acceptable to its citizens. And in this case that means an inductive worldview and the patience and collectivism that goes with it.
When I return to the US I am always struck by how angry everyone seems. There is plenty to be legitimately angry about in the world, of course, but deductive thinkers sometimes seem to consider it part of our very identity. I think it is that cause and effect thing. Always trying to explain everything. When you do that inconvenience inevitably turns into impatience and it’s a fine line between impatience and outright anger.
China has surely made me a more patient person. And for that I am truly grateful. Of course I didn’t relish sitting on the highway for five hours. But I wasn’t ready to crawl out of my skin, either. And I went to bed, for right or wrong, feeling rather secure.
What happened in France is truly unconscionable. It is beyond my comprehension that anyone could even think it up for any reason whatsoever. But it really is what it is. And the world will have to deal with it.
I just hope that we, the citizenry, are ready for that. I hope that we can adopt more of an inductive mindset about things. In addition to being more secure, I think there will be a lot less anger in the air. And that, by itself, just might help.
Note: The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.
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