All your Schadenfreude are belong to us?
Commenting on the debt-ceiling fiasco in Washington, DC, Xinhua took American politicians to task, and asked: “How can Washington shake off electoral politics and get difficult jobs done more efficiently?” But it is hard now for even the most nationalist Chinese commentators to go to town about the superiority of the “Beijing model”. One of its supposed advantages is precisely that it “gets difficult jobs done more efficiently”. And one example it used to point to as a source of pride was the world-beating high-speed train system. Whoops.
The second consideration dampening the regional celebrations is that many Asian countries are suffering from serious problems of their own. Of the three biggest, both Indonesia and, more acutely, India, are facing crises of confidence over their government’s failure to deal with corruption at the heart of their political systems. Even China is facing a rash of political protests. In particular, the fury caused by the high-speed train crash at Wenzhou in July, in which at least 40 people died, has raised troubling questions about the railways’ safety and, more broadly, about the political system itself.
The Guardian, not to be outdone, engages in a rhetoric of its own, claiming that international onlookers have been begun to “revel in schadenfreude.”
The National labeled a statement of bitter truth uttered by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, as “gloating”, when he said, “British politicians should look to help their own people instead of invading Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya to plunder their oil. Even if one hundredth of these crimes were to happen in countries opposed to the West, the UN and other organisations claiming to defend human rights would vehemently decry it.”
And these are just some of the reactions. A Google news search for “schadenfreude” reveals that more and more journalists and analysts (including Joshua Keating) continue to make fools of themselves, in an attempt to deligitimize such opinions (much like using scare quotes). Such elements in the international media seem to have succumbed to the oldest psychological malady in the book – labeling others’ opinions negatively to shift focus from the message to the messenger.
As far as I can remember, the world’s press (including the Chinese) has never used the word “schadenfreude” to describe the west’s reactions to any unrest in China or any other Asian country, perhaps because, in their minds, that criticism is legitimate. The journalists of The Economist, a newspaper that prides itself on “the quality of its writing”, might want to remember that “lecturing” or “advice” is not schadenfreude. If it was, they themselves would have been experten in it.