Friday, November 7, 2008

Electoral dysfunction

Wednesday was a bad day.

After lunch I stopped by the Flavor's Cafe, Boudha's hangout for the students in Kathmandu University's Buddhist Studies program. Most are white, middle-class Europeans and North Americans, young men and women in their 20's and 30's who image themselves, I imagine, as somewhat more progressive, open and tolerant than average, the kind of people who express their individuality through consumerism, the kind of people who make statements with goatees, malas, and Macintosh computers and iPods.

I'm sure most of them are quite nice on a one-to-one basis and over a coffee or beer we could find more than a few common interests and opinions. But Wednesday they were a herd, an obnoxiously loud gaggle barking and baying about the election results, making lunch miserable for any other customer not a part of their circle. For people who study Buddhism, they displayed a disappointing lack of concern for others or any sign of personal restraint. It seemed to me, too, that in their enthusiasm for Mr Obama they missed one of the important lessons of their faith, detachment from views or outcomes.

I was at the cafe for the internet service. For those with laptops it offers an office away from home, a comfortable place to spend a couple of hours doing computer work. But as yesterday was anything but comfortable, I packed up and headed over to the competition, Little Britain. The American owner of the shop had set up a TV and was broadcasting live news feeds for his customers. When I arrived the television was off and he asked if I was there to view the election returns. I said, no, just to use the internet. But shortly afterwards others arrived and the television was turned on and I was then subjected to the inanities of the talking heads on American news programs, as well as clips of Obama and McCain's speeches.

I fled to the patio to escape the noise and some of the ridiculous statements being made by “celebrities” and even by Obama himself. A European woman in her 60's came out to the patio and asked me if that - pointing to the crowd in front of the television - is exciting. Apparently to some it is, I said.



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