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the american way of life: from the eyes of a foreigner

portugese/brazilian as seen by the 17th century japanese painter

(a documentary film project proposed to the public television in 1978)

the issue

it would be worthwhile to develop and support programs, courses, and media events that foster a logically sound and, hence, factual universal perspective of what is. this requires an international co-operation on the part of all educators who are now spending their material and mental resources on developing means and ways that deny or destroy each other. think of all the brains and resources that will be employed in the weapons industry.

though it is not popular, the time has come for a moment of pause and retrospection: have we, so far, educated our young to be able to face the new, the unknown with an open, uninhibited mind or have we not passed on to them all our fears and dread of the unknown and crippled their growth in the name of offering them the security of the known? - the known that was offered to us by "euro-centric" science (the term used by mr. soedjatmoko, rector of the u.n. university in tokyo), the common sense that guides all our thoughts and interactions enabling all nations to legalize fighting and require citizens to learn to fight.

if mankind is not evolving psychologically and inwardly, that is not because it has blossomed to the fullest and has now set upon the downward, decaying path. in the field of academic inquiry, the seed of knowledge does not seem even to be planted. it is being tossed around among those who are still trying to improve the old ways, unknowingly and unquestioningly mistaking them for the facts of life. being at the mercy of the funding agencies, both governmental and private, neither established academies dare nor concerned individuals can afford to work on something that questions the validity of the established ways. thus, despite the tremendous human potentials, academic researchers churn out only improvisations of the old: the computer is replacing the slow-moving manual counterpart; the heart and other organ transplants are replacing the diseased or weakened organs; chemical fertilizers and farm machinery are replacing the older forms; skyscrapers are replacing the older dwellings, christian beliefs are offered to replace other beliefs; and mx missiles and neutron bombs are offered as the most recent improvement over the slingshot - all in the name of progress. and behind these pretenses modern man hides his fear of the unknown known to him as the fear of losing the known, no matter how much the known is problematical, crude, and cruel.

thus, though we do not really know our ways of life to be true, we resent and try to stop our young from veering away from the known. because our elders never encouraged us to inquire and evolve, we grew up thinking that there is nothing new to look forward to. because we were conditioned to be constantly preoccupied with the idea of "fun", pleasure, we never had a spare moment to really know or even wonder whether the purpose of life was just to learn to secure an income and then to spend it in ways offered by our society. we did "modernize" our entertainment industry. now, instead of telling and listening to stories, we read and see them on the screen. instead of playing games on the ground, now we move electronic dots on the screen; and our academic institutions still serve the same purpose as before, namely to train the young for the need of the society to perpetuate itself.

what is proposed here is am inquiry, both institutional and individual, into what really is, rather than teaching and learning how to tailor and trim oneself to what is propagated to be. not as an exercise in futility in the philosophy classes of the idealized philosophers of the past, like plato, etc.; nor in the manner of monks who deified an inquisitor of mind, the buddha; nor in the line of political leaders who only deliver speeches passing the blame on to others for not being able to solve problems, but as a perfectly natural action of the brain's need to function in an intelligent manner and hence to inquire.

the inquiry

except in isolated cases, before the human brain evolves enough to fully function as an organ of reasoning and understanding, the physical being is already conditioned to fit in a given group in a given location. beyond the limits of social confinement lurks the unknown that the habitual being cannot comprehend. this unknown factor is, in most instances, other persons' or groups’ habitual behaviours that are different from one's own. and, as such, are by no means any more valid or stupid than those of one's own conditioning. seeing things done in a different way poses a problem for a habitually unobservant mind. and the difference, if somehow seen as an attractive or more effective alternative to one's own social means or manners, is then seen as posing a threat of socio-economic disruption. the single most common example is that of automation replacing manpower. and then, the more effective foreign-made product replacing the locally produced. in each instance, its final impact is registered as the loss of a job that was a means of earning a living in a given social set-up. in as much as the threat was from an outside element affecting the very social set-up, the entire society would fight back, putting aside its ornamental internal differences and proclamations of a united world and the peaceful co-existence of all. this is the ultimate threat that a local person, society, or government experiences when facing a foreign person, product, society, or government. not knowing how to respond to the element of attraction in the unknown, they all rely upon the conditioned reaction; escape or deny, avoid or eliminate. instead of avoiding and fighting the unknown, it is necessary to comprehend it. maybe it does offer something necessary and vital to our being. if not, knowing it to be useless, we won't waste our valuable resources in fearing it.

the united nations organization is the ultimate proof of the existing distance between two members of the same species, the human beings. but that general label in the actuality is only an ideological identity, as is the flag of the united nations organization; it flies only at that flag post at the u.n.o., and at u.n. sponsored meetings. but the member nations do not really associate themselves with that flag and what it stands for. they come with their own flags and ideals that are rarely similar and mostly outright contradictory. so far, the u.n.o. has remained only a political entity among foreign nations.

a foreigner is a person for whom everything is new - geography and landscape, climate and weather, vegetation and inhabitants, their dwellings and dresses, their languages and affairs, and their entire way of life. and for all of these elements of a given place that person is new.

when two strangers meet they greet or retreat, embrace or race, and eventually, assimilate or annihilate each other depending upon their perception of each other in relation with their sense of security. whatever a person's views and commitments, are in most instances, the results of one's first lessons in producing a conditioned response. these lessons are induced in a child's mind which is yet incapable of discerning true from false. this conditioning makes the child rush for the safety of the known. and the known is that immediate surroundings in which one is born and raised among only beings and things that had offered one safety and one's limited basic needs. thus the persons with whom one spent most of impressionable time of early childhood are one's kinfolks -- the mother, father, siblings, and to successively lesser extents:-neighbors, schoolmates, teachers, co-workers, employers, bureaucratic officials, and the various political and cultural ideologies, in that order. one's bed, bedroom, home, neighborhood, hometown, district, state, nation, and allied nations are offering the sense of familiarity and security in lesser extents in this order of succession.

thus a foreigner is a person one is not used to seeing. everything is strange about that person - the looks, sound of voice, language and thought, speech and actions. this strangeness is not necessarily beneficial or harmful. but because one does not know, it is subject to enquiry. in children not yet subjected to the fear, the element of curiosity is naturally active. such children are attracted to foreigners. this curiosity and attraction invoke enquiry. unless one knows the fact of the matter in one's own way of life, one is incapable of knowing that of a stranger's way of life. ignorance leads to fear and ignites defenses and offenses resulting in misery and death.

this is how those who have ventured out from one's own familiar surrounding in order to have more room have projected their habitual thought, speech and actions upon the new, the foreign element - be it a place and its climate, or a person and his way of life. the reception of the new, the foreign thing or being is equally dependent upon the native person's understanding and ability to act. the united state's official celebration of bicentennial was thus an admission of willing ignorance of the existence of the american indians whom the then foreigner but now native americans annihilated. why?

a familiar place is home and a familiar face is a friend. even a familiar pain feels more painful to depart from. patients kept in awkward positions then feel awkward to act normal, natural. this finding safety in familiarity becomes an underlying factor in a culture, molding its thoughts and practices. thus, chinese, who do not have romanticized useful relationship between a shepherd and dog, eat dog, unlike europeans who were once sheep raisers, or vegetarian indians would revere cow as a mother for her milk and for her very useful existence - bull is a tractor and their dung is source of methane gas energy and rich fertilizer and after their death, their skin, horns and bones are transformed into shoes, combs and other things of use. this useful familiarity is so ingrained in a traditional way of thinking that every culture reflects it in its religious and legal taboos. it defines a killing of a familiar being as a crime. thus persons who are warned against killing their fellow countrymen are trained to view the other side as "enemy", an "evil", a "gook", a "chimera", or any such name that would sound as strange as possible so that their biological similarities are ignored from the soldier's perception enabling him to shoot and kill. culturally and racially, europeans and westerners have felt more comfortable and united when fighting the east whose people are not "white."

the theme of this programme is the way of life of american people. what they think, what they speak, and what they do. why, how, and when they think, speak and do. thus the proposal encompasses the entire realm of life with its varied movements ranging between birth and death. each aspect of life will be a topic of a one-hour presentation to be shown once a month.

thus, this programme, "the foreigner", is proposed as the pilot for a series of some fifteen presentations. "the foreigner" will provide a basic outline of the programmes to be followed, not so much as a condensed preview of the forthcoming programmes, but rather an indication of the vastness of the area of perception lying ahead.

since motion is a significant character of life, a way of life is a way of doing things in a given manner in a given area. life encompasses every activity between its conception and termination, including the why of both. thus the series, "from the eyes of a foreigner", is in the form of an audio-visual presentation of the american way of life that most americans live, habitually, and with a taken-for-granted attitude that it has been so and is going to be so, forever.

through this presentation, an attempt is made to communicate with the people of the united states to bring into their awareness the ever expanding problem of war among people. the citizens of the u.s.a., like most people of the world, have been conditioned to view their way of life as the only true way, and to see any different way only in terms of a threat to the survival of their own. hence people are trained to actively participate in the act of destruction. the neo-nazi party and ku klux klan that advo¬cate white supremacy, can be seen as constitutional right of people only in the u.s.a.

the pilot, "the foreigner", presents, first of all, the question: what is the object of their fear? what is it in a foreigner that disrupts their usual way of doing things? is it in the foreign person or thing, or is the sense of fear within oneself? obviously, the ways of war have not spared a single nation from the ultimate self-destruction. the mighty civilizations of antiquity have returned to dust and the lesson of vietnam war has been that the sheer strength does not help.

in a time when a journey to the moon is no longer than a travel between two places in some remote parts of earth, it is now of utmost importance that we understand our own ways of life in the light of truth rather than treating things and beings in a habitual way; much more so when our thought, speech and actions are hurting ourselves and others without any reason and without intention to hurt.

the need to know is ever present in an organism that is always inter-related with everything and being around one. one may not be aware of this interdependence until one of the member elements stops functioning or is absent. a broken down thing of use, a falling out of a relation or a death of a known person disrupts one's course of action. similarly, when seeing someone doing things differently causes a disruption in one's practiced way one begins with a question: why? but the very question is often times produced by the fear of losing the known way of doing things.

thus, the purpose of the programme is to provide americans a situation in which to view themselves in thought, speech and action from, and not through the eyes (since eye as an organ is also an integral part of the wholesome person, and not a llooking glass to see through, still retaining the viewer's own sense of perception, and not that of the eyes) of a foreigner. seeing oneself from the eyes of another person enables one an impersonal and impartial perception; especially when the viewer's intention is not to blame or praise, but is simply to encourage others to see without an interpretation of any kind, social political or religious. the foreigner is neither an enemy nor an ally, for both the enmity and alliance develop later when both begin to fear each other. the purpose of this perception is neither to please nor frighten the viewer. rather, the viewers are urged to review their own words, actions, and reasons without any sense of identity acquired from an activity and thus, after separating the idealized doer from the deed, view the action as it is.

since people abroad and americans at home are led to believe that america is the land of science, and since science deals with the principles of truth that govern all branches of skills and knowledge, this programme invites the viewer to stop behaving as a native born, habitual american and give up the ideological identity, so that in the next hour of viewing the american way of life, the viewer oneself is the foreigner, a person for whom everything is new, unknown, and which requires a serious enquiry into what really is.

the audience of the programme is primarily the american people. on a global level it will be of interest and value to all developed and developing countries. the programme encompasses a broad age interest - high school through adult.

the programme is designed for broadcast use by public television as well as in-house use by schools and institutions of higher learning and other educational organizations. in order to make the most of the educational value of the programme, it is planned that an introductory writing be published in the t.v. guide and/or newspapers explaining the respective theme of the monthly presentation to enable the viewer to grasp the subject, and even to participate in the programme by writing what one felt. transcripts will also be made available of each presentation and further correspondence will be encouraged for the genuine enquirer.

1. conception - birth
2. upbringing - education
3. work
4. interpersonal relationship
5. urban life
6. government
7. crime and punishment
8. entertainment
9. thought - religion
10. death - last rites
11. person and nature
12. the new world in the old world

(even thirty years later it would be an eye opening experience if americans -- and the americanized world -- get to see how they are seen to be in the eyes of someone else. 'span' group welcomes any assistance in making this documentary possible.)

 


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