Human, Social & Political Sciences Personal Statement
Authoritarianism is in ascendance. Despite the long touted relationship between economic growth and individual freedom, countries like China are achieving that growth without returning any power to their people. The West, long a bastion of freedom and democracy, is cracking as populist movements gain traction in countries such as Britain, Germany and the UK. This trend fascinates me. Being able to witness the unfolding of such history is a rare opportunity, and my desire to develop the tools to understand what I witness drives my interest in politics and international relations.
In terms of modern political discourse, my favourite author is Slavoj Zizek. Although Zizek is mostly known for his contributions to philosophy, his analysis of today’s global capitalism is deeply enthralling. Zizek predicts the bifurcation of capitalism and democracy. He points out that China has developed, not despite of, but because of its poor human rights record. He calls this “capitalism with Asian values,” and while this is not exclusively Asian, its origin and exemplars are: for instance, South Korea’s rise was enabled by the strongman economic policies of Park Chunghee, whilst in my country of Vietnam, strong growth rates have coincided with a surge in censorship and the suppression of individual rights and liberties. As economic power shifts from West to East, and as Chinese influence continues to grow, I strongly believe that this economic model is only going to gain in popularity.
And in this context, democratic institutions are being placed under extreme stress. The US has been unrelenting in its attacks on the UN. Britain is preparing to depart from the EU while Germany is grappling with isolationist movements within its borders. Another institution, the press, is also under siege. In Manufacturing Consent, for example, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman discuss the role of mass media as a tool for political entities to disseminate their ideologies, accomplished through limiting discourse to a narrow spectrum while giving the appearance of neutrality by allowing very lively discussion within this framework. Herman and Chomsky also highlight the profit orientation of media entities. Specifically, they talked about the increasing commodification of news as a result of consolidation by big businesses. Today, six corporations own 90% of America’s news sources: they control most of what we hear, see and do, whilst simultaneously giving us the illusion of choice. George Orwell, a strident advocate of the free press, once wrote that “if liberty means anything, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” However, a quick glance at media institutions today shows that they are driven more by profit than truth, and are incentivized to create content which confirms rather than questions.
These changes are not confined to a single nation. The way in which technology influences communication is global, and as populist movements gain traction across every continent, we must recognize that this, too, is a global phenomenon. It is important that I am able to understand these changes both within societies and between them. I’ve had an introduction to these tangential dynamics through my work with Model United Nations, which exposed me to a wide range of global issues and perspectives. My volunteering work with various NGOs has allowed me to appreciate their importance as interstate actors and in facilitating international development. Nonetheless, these are only the first steps towards my study of our modern world and its predicaments. For me, history is at precipice of magnitude not seen since the height of the Cold War. Yet given both the power of technology and the volatility of our political environments, as individuals and groups we have the ability to alter its course. The pursuit of politics and international relations in higher education will enable to me understand, explain, and one day affect these changes.
I went with a non traditional essay format, only mentioning my own achievements a couple of times - the rest of the text was dedicated to the political works I have read and my analysis on them. Universities applied to: University of Cambridge - Accepted London School of Economies - Accepted UCL - Rejected