It’s not simply the circumstance the character is thrust into and how relatable it is that makes this scene from the anime ‘Nichijou’ funny and interesting to me. (I, myself, dreaded coffee shops back in high school.)
What makes this scene fascinating to watch is the way it epitomizes Asian culture’s disposition towards the concepts of freedom, choice, and autonomy which sets it apart from Western culture.
In an anecdote shared with me by a Japanese mentor, every breakfast time was a struggle for him while he was visiting the United States and had to stay at an American colleague’s house. Every single day of his stay, he was obliged to choose what type of cereal to eat and which flavor he wanted. He also had to choose a drink or beverage to accompany his breakfast.
He pointed out that this is an unusual occurrence in an Asian household where the host bears the onus of choosing. Relieving you of such responsibilities is seen as a courtesy by Asians.
Just take note of the barista in this clip; she empathizes with the customer and is more stressed about offering her choices. To Asians, having a plethora of choices does not represent freedom; it, instead, represents the very tragedy that defines the human condition — the lack of certainty and the corresponding anxiety it induces.
As Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”
It is for this reason why Asian societies have a penchant for authoritative governance and leadership. Asians do not see authoritarians as a problem; we see them as a solution to the intrinsic conundrum of life: meaninglessness and uncertainty.
Authoritarians prescribe meaning into our lives. Hence, we do not fear them; we are enamored by them because they relieve us of our existential dread.
Having said that, is it true that the West has it easier since its societies value ‘freedom’ and ‘autonomy’?
“No,” is my fast response. If you google ‘the illusion of choice’, you can find millions of books, articles, and journals discussing why the seeming abundance of ‘choice’ in the West doesn’t actually translate to ‘freedom’.
In fact, China, an ‘authoritarian’ country by Western terms, has seen far more transformation in the last two decades than, say, the United States. I once came upon a relevant comment on a YouTube video about the Thai demonstrations of 2020. User Hix Idom said:
“As an American, I’m not sure democracy will even make Thai people happier. Democracy only gives the illusion of choice, and it can be just as corrupt as your king. At least with a king, you know who to blame (and who to replace). In a democracy, you have 100 kings and none of them will take responsibility for the problems of the country. They will all be bought by international corporations and will destroy Thailand’s culture and people. The monarchy is part of your culture. Please don’t destroy it entirely.”
What does this mean for Filipinos, our society, and our politics? I’d say “quite a bit.’”
Indeed, Duterte’s election and the Filipinos’ choice for a ‘strongman’ like him represent a return to our Asian roots and a desire for clarity and certainty. Years of liberal, laissez-faire administration, while providing us with fullness and vigor, have also resulted in chaos and instability. Firmer governance, on the other hand, promises, at the very least, unity, permanence, and continuity.
This is something the stupid opposition and their idiot intellectuals continue to fail to grasp. First, they provide Filipinos with no clear alternative to a Duterte leadership. Second, they believed that by labeling Duterte as an ‘authoritarian’ or a ‘fascist,’ they would instill terror in the Filipino people. They only got the opposite of their intended effect.
After all, fascists are great in bed.
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