Scenery, machinery, people & love

We’re starting our last (for now) semester of grad classes. We’ve got an anthropology course, a world religions course, and a China research practicum. So it should be interesting, and for better or worse, our brains will occasionally excrete something from our studies onto the blog. From one of the anthropology texts today:

…we may mistakenly assume that our own desires are love of the people… themselves. …Western people tend to divide their world into three categories: scenery, machinery, and people. The first of these includes mountains, trees, weather, and other parts of the environment about which they talk, but which they cannot manipulate. These are enjoyed in a disinterested sort of way. Machines are tools people use in their lives to get their work done. These include cars, refrigerators, computers, and farm animals. Westerners enjoy and value these highly, and take care of them so long as they are useful and do the job… [But] not all human beings are seen as “people.” Westerners often see people of other cultures as part of the scenery. [Tourism example.] … Moreover, westerners often see migrant labourers and subordinates as machinery whose value lies in their productivity. When their productivity drops they are discarded… Basically, westerners only see friends and relatives as people – as humans valued for their friendships.

I could rant and rave for days and then be harshly self-critical for days more regarding stuff this quote touches on. Relationships with friends and family can still be “machinery”; we may ultimately maintain certain relationships because they provide for emotional or psychological felt-needs (conscious or subconscious) rather than actually relating in unconditional love. We don’t value them, but what they do for us. That’s selfish whether we realize what we’re doing or not, and it’s treating people like machines. I’d better stop before I start and just say that treating all people like people is hard.

Sometimes we (people) legitimately become part of one another’s “scenery” (imagine a packed subway car) or relate as “machines” (like when we’re doing our jobs). Living in an “ultra-urban” environment, I can think of plenty of instances where we become one another’s scenery out of necessity. But even allowing for legitimate examples like these, I think we can and should still acknowledge one another’s “people-ness” – as in, one another’s uniqueness and unfathomable value – even if in the moment we are playing scenery or machinery roles. I don’t mean just in smiles and sincerely kind words at the checkout counter (though we don’t do enough of that), but in our lifestyles, how we spend our time and resources, whether or not our lives have room for people who aren’t providing something for us (material or emotional). I think this requires seeing people from a certain perspective.

The couple in the photo is Mr. Hou and Mrs. Cai (married women keep their names here). They make really good egg-hotsauce-sesame-pancake-things that we eat a lot. We don’t know anything else about them – I hope that’s only because of the language barrier.

2 thoughts on “Scenery, machinery, people & love”

  1. So glad to get your writings today. Just printed and will read . It is a beautiful sunny day and we went out for brunch for out 51st anniversary . Grampa brought me a dozen red roses. Love to you both and a pat for chou chou. xoxoxox

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