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On China, The West, and Democracy

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

There is a somewhat uncomfortable side effect of our now daily spattering by fecal trimpisms from the paranoid right. This is a grudging appreciation of the actual merits of both the mainstream media and even certain elements of the international foreign policy establishment.

Here is a good article about China and the challenges it presents to “The West” by the former Prime Minister of Australia. Kevin Rudd’s ten points certainly deserve careful, and perhaps actionable, attention. I’m also strangely grateful for Her Kissinger’s last question, “Vhut are we NOT seeing?” (Leave it to him . . .) 

As is “traditional” the ‘establishment frame” presented here assumes (or insinuates) a much higher level of commitment to “liberal democratic” norms in the US and the West than is necessarily supported either by deep history or by more recent developments. Along those traditional lines I can see how those on the rightward end of the political spectrum (here in “The Land O’ the Free”) might blanch at the successful Chinese example of a powerhouse international economy with so much explicit government involvement. Those on the left are as likely to point with dismay at the seeming triumph of Chinese style repression characterized by a sophisticated combination of technology, propaganda, and brutality.

What might be missing here though, is recognition of a chilling degree of similarity between the Chinese and US models in terms of both government dynamism in the economy and anti-democratic repression. (Let’s just casually reference gerrymandering, voter suppression, the carceral state, and the perennial necessity to remind ourselves that “black lives matter” despite the ever twitchy trigger fingers of nervous police officers.)

Of course, failures on our part to recognize any realities along these lines could be a tribute to the success of an ideological (“propaganda”) system which may well be “designed” to obscure the perhaps necessarily intimate dependence of our vaunted private sector on state resources while also simultaneously exaggerating and trivializing liberal democratic rights and norms.

It is chillingly possible that the most repressive tendencies in both the US and China will Googly converge into something so horribly pervasive it becomes the nearly unquestioned norm for several generations. This is my fear. Or rather my dread is that this has already happened to a large extent and is a set of dark developments with an accelerating momentum. At the risk of echoing 1950s style anti-communist paranoia, such a system could already be overcoming us via the powerful anesthetic properties of triumphalism, distractions, ignorance, and numbing fears. Unfortunately, one of the ways fear is generated is by raising the specter of war against “inscrutable” enemies, but this is certainly not Mr. Rudd’s prime intention in this quite thoughtful and very comprehensive analysis.

Whether we like it or not, there are many ways in which “the establishment” is “our establishment” and it often reflects the best of us – as well as our worst.

On a more hopeful note, despite always being resisted to varying extents by establishments everywhere, freedom is sustainable only through the complexities of liberal democracy whether establishments (or peoples) recognize this or not. This is true in China. This is true in the US. This is true wherever there is humanity.

Ignoring, for now, the disruptive potentials of obvious forces like climate change and nuclear irresponsibility, and despite the haze of the incessant mind crushing deceptions we are so prone to embrace, there is something in us that will always strive for a dignified, sustainable, and genuine freedom where human potential is valued in everyone.

If only we can survive as a species long enough to realize this just a bit more . ..

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