In Praise of East Asian Societies

Visiting Singapore’s Changi Airport, June 2019

As racism rises in the wake of the Coronavirus, I want to take a moment to express my total and absolute solidarity with East Asian-American communities, and members of the East Asian diaspora across the globe.

Last year, I was lucky enough to visit Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. I was immensely struck by the advanced nature of these societies. I walked away with elevated respect for the Asian work ethic, as well as the Confucian values and ideals that viscerally emanate throughout.

When I was in Singapore, I met with officials from their national water municipality. If I use that experience as a proxy for the level of talent in the Singaporean government, it is of no surprise that they dealt with Coronavirus so well — their government acts more like the private sector than any government I’ve ever seen. And while the rest of the World is mostly shut down, the Singaporeans have proportionally minimized their economic costs and are still sending their children to school.

Foolish Western intellectuals are prone to arguing that the United States could never operate like this; that China’s effectiveness in running the largest anti-poverty program in the history of the planet is only because of their authoritarianism; that Singapore is an edge-case and can’t be replicated; that Hong Kong is finished as an urban environment, period.

I’m going to call this exactly what it is: TOTAL BULLSHIT. If there’s anything we need to take away from Coronavirus, it is that many East Asian nations and cultures understand reality in 2020 in a way that American policy administrators do not.

I am not saying they are perfect — in fact the total opposite. They are totally rife with dysfunction. But we need to check our Western egos at the door and integrate the fact that Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea ran circles around us in responding to this crisis. That wasn’t a coincidence — that was an underlying systemic driver.

The Vice President of Taiwan is an epidemiologist. Singapore’s Changi airport is the most technologically-sophisticated border control operation on the planet. All of the East Asian nations learned from the 2002 SARS outbreak, and developed processes to mitigate the risk of pandemics.

Let’s take a nail and pound it into the coffin of American Exceptionalism. It is a shitty idea that has gotten in our way for the last thirty years. But no longer. It is time to learn from societies who know how to do it better than us.

At a personal level, I have always felt a deep resonance with East Asian people at an identity level. I find it easy to relate to the ambition and values of their families and connect to the immigrant/minority mindset.

This is because I am Jewish.

The Asian-Jewish connection is real; though we come from very different parts of the planet, there is a clear set of overlapping drives, norms, and belief systems.

I must note that I feel a similar pride about Israel’s highly effective response to Coronavirus in line with the East Asian nations.

So if you’re an East Asian American and feeling scared about potential rises in persecution in the West, or feeling inhibited to speak up right now, I’m going to invite you to do exactly the opposite: stand up and be proud of your identity, heritage, and societies. It’s time for you to be vocal about the future you want to create in the United States.

Our country has gone horribly off the rails, and gotten fat, complacent, and chaotic. Now is the time to reconnect to the Confucian spiritual drive towards political and social order; now is the time to build a resilient nation that is prepared for a century of existential risk. I have a pretty strong feeling Coronavirus is only the beginning.

You are needed more than ever; you belong more than ever; you are the very best people to interpret and understand the intense societal advancements that East Asian nations have made. You are the leaders who will help us integrate and advance back here.

Let’s make it happen.

Co-founder, Streetlight.