Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Food, guns, and the individual

Human behavior is a continual source of intrigue for me. Perhaps that's why I gravitate toward the social sciences: sociology, anthropology, linguistics, etc. Human behavior rarely ceases to amaze and confuse, stimulate and perplex, amuse and frustrate. I'm rarely shocked, however. I end up asking a lot of questions, only occasionally out loud.

I find that the questions I regularly ask in the US are different form those I asked in China. Obviously, this is due to cultural differences in habits and common discourse. Below are a few questions I find myself asking a lot here.


The US diet, at least the diet I see exemplified by most of the people I'm surrounded by in the US, is confusing to me. Just two days ago I came across these two sentences in an article from the Harvard School of Public Health: "the average American gets a total of just three servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The latest dietary guidelines call for five to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables a day (2½ to 6½ cups per day), depending on one’s caloric intake."

This pretty much matches a comment I made on Facebook Nov 11: "It may just be that I'm in Texas, but after three days I'm already asking what Americans have against fruits and vegetables." Three months later, I'm still asking the same question. I have legitimately seen people go entire days without eating a single fruit or veggie. I usually get three by the end of breakfast.

I understand that health information is confusing and conflicting, but the vast majority of the world's cultures understand the value of vegetable matter, and those that don't typically live in extreme conditions with limited access to vegetables. After decades of public health education in the US, you'd think the average would be higher than three. Why isn't it? Why do Americans seem to fear vegetables?

Trigger fingers

People really are crazy about guns. Granted, I'm in Texas, which is crazier than normal with regards to guns. Even my mother has a gun now. Nevertheless, having lived in China where gun possession is outlawed, suddenly coming back to Gun Land is disorienting.

I suppose my questions are these:

Do people really think we're safer without guns?
I've known two people who've been shot in the US, and I've seen a man crumple to the ground after being shot. In my years in China, I've only known of (through a third party) one person who's been stabbed. I'm not saying China's more safe because it has fewer guns, but it certainly doesn't seem more dangerous.

Is society going to collapse if certain types of guns or ammunition are banned?
I understand hunting. I understand wanting to protect one's family. I understand that there are places in the US without a police force (e.g. parts of Montana). I understand that US history was gun-fueled. Does that mean every kind of gun is needed or should be available? Will the fabric of society be irreparably damaged if assault rifles or large magazines are off the market? I just don't understand.

The cult of the individual

When did people start becoming so focused on the self interests and preferences over good manners and goodwill?

Maybe the US has always been this way. Maybe I just didn't notice. Still, I would like to think that the influence of the Bible and/or China's face-saving culture has given me a new perspective.

Even when I was a vegetarian during university, when people made a meal containing meat, I ate it. It seemed the polite, kind thing to do. When in China, when people offered food or drink, I ate it (or at least tried to), no matter how nauseating the idea, taste, or texture of the food seemed. It seemed polite: a good way to love people. I'm confused by those who say, "I don't eat that," or "I don't like _____,"after someone has worked hard to cook a meal for them.

Last week I was on the phone with a dentist while waiting in line at Walmart's self-check area. Suddenly a man next to me leaned over and aggressively stated that I needed to wait in line. Granted, I was pacing, and Chinese culture is still a bit queue-challenged, so I can see how he might have though I was trying to cut in line. Still the whole situation was confounding. What has happened in that man's life to think (a) that I was going to breach social etiquette so blatantly, (b) that he had to be so protective of his "rights", (c) and that he had to assume I was up to no good rather than viewing me through a lens of goodwill?

These are just two recent examples, but they exemplify the question well. At what point has our focus in individual rights trumped that of respect for others? When did our own individualist worldview cause us to dishonor even friends simply because we have preferences?

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