Thursday, November 24, 2011 |
Celebrated conservative humorist and reporter P. J. O'Rourke certainly gets around. In his new collection of travel writing, Holidays in Heck, he chronicles trips to places like China, the Galapagos Islands and the mountainous wilds of Kyrgyzstan, in central Asia. He also recently dropped by the Occupy encampment in Washington, D.C. He shared his thoughts on China and the Occupy movement with Day 6.
O'Rourke was curious about the changes happening in China, and he told host Brent Bambury that he felt the best way to understand what was going on was to talk to Chinese people "who are doing pretty well, not the billionaires," he said, adding that he was "trying to get a hold on what's going on politically, you know, through this sort of back door. "
O'Rourke was surprised to find that people weren't just reticent about sharing their views — they weren't even interested in politics. When he expressed his surprise to a friend with experience in business dealings with the Chinese, he was told, "Do you understand how bad all the governments of China have been for, like, 2,000 years? Their attitude is 'Ssh, the government is sleeping, don't wake it up.'"
"There's an odd egalitarianism to the Chinese," O'Rourke commented. "The driver yells at the boss, the boss yells at the waiter, the waiter yells at you. It's a fairly raucous and democratic place. There's a kind of social levelling. Gosh knows there's no economic levelling."
He noted that the gap between rich and poor is much greater than in the U.S. "We think of China as being this rich country. Boy, you step outside the cities, it is not."
Will that difference be destabilizing? O'Rourke didn't believe that it was a concern to the business establishment, but it worries the political establishment. "They don't know how to simultaneously harness market forces and remedy this radical disparity," he said.
O'Rourke also talked about visiting the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Washington, D.C., and noted what they have in common with the conservative Tea Party movement. Both groups feel that they are not being heard. "This is a democracy and they don't feel like they're in charge. They feel like something else is in charge," he explained. "They're not in agreement about what it is. The Tea Party is most worried about big government, the Occupy Wall Street people are most worried about big corporations. But I don't think it's a good thing in a democracy when people feel they don't have the ultimate say."
O'Rourke said that the Occupy movement reminded him of the hippies in the1960s, even though their political message is very different. He felt that their arguments were undercut by their appearance. "It's amazing how much more easy it is to take a person seriously if they don't have a nose-ring than if they do," he said.
Holidays in Heck
by P. J. O'Rourke
Buy this book at:
From the publisher:
"P.J. O'Rourke is one of today's most celebrated political humorists, and he has been hailed as 'the funniest writer in America' by both Time and The Wall Street Journal. Two decades ago he published the classic travelogue Holidays in Hell, in which he traversed the globe on a fun-finding mission to what were then some of the most desperate places on the planet, including Warsaw, Managua, and Belfast.
Holidays in Heck begins after the Iraq War, when P.J. retired from being a war correspondent because he was 'too old to keep being scared stiff and too stiff to keep sleeping on the ground.' Instead, he embarked on supposedly more comfortable and allegedly less dangerous travels — often with family in tow — which mostly left him wishing he were under artillery fire again..."
Read more at Grove/Atlantic.